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Hits and Misses from Another Weekend in Boxing

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The boxing scene this past weekend lacked the international superstar flavor of previous weeks when Naoya Inoue and Canelo Alvarez did their things on grand stages but, in fact, there was a vast slate of important matchups all over the world and by the time all the punches had been thrown and landed, there was a strong list of qualified candidates for this week’s TSS Hits and Misses feature.

Here are the most important takeaways from another busy weekend in boxing.

HIT: Lee McGregor and Kash Farooq’s Brilliant British Bantamweight Battle 

There was no reason for undefeated bantamweights Lee McGregor and Kash Farooq to fight each other this early in their careers. Sure, each man boasted one of the most prized domestic titles in the sport, McGregor the Commonwealth title and Farooq the British version. But those belts are usually won by fighters making their way up the rankings, especially in cases where the belt holders so aptly appear capable of someday competing at the world level, so it didn’t make much sense for either man to take the unnecessary risk.

But McGregor, 22, and Farooq, 23, fought each other anyway, with McGregor (pictured on the right) edging out the split decision by scores of 115-112, 114-113 and 112-115 in what turned out to be just as terrific a fight as envisioned.

It was a close contest that could have gone the other way. Regardless, the fans in attendance at Glasgow’s Emirates Arena were treated to a riveting battle between two of Scotland’s best young fighters.

That one had to lose for the other to accomplish the life-changing unification win was less important than the grander scheme view of the sport that is always this: the best versus the best at any level benefits both the winner and the loser for whatever comes next.

MISS: Bill Wanger’s Troubling Revelations on Chris Mannix’s SI Boxing Podcast

Bill Wanger, EVP, Head of Programming and Scheduling over at Fox, revealed to Chris Mannix on the S.I. Boxing Podcast some troubling details about how he, one of the most powerful figures in boxing today, views the current state of the sport.

Among the most unreasonable claims by Wanger were that to alleviate the title belt confusion in boxing the PBC might be on their way toward creating their own belts, the idea that the PBC already possesses 99% of the top overall talent in boxing and that the WBO title Terence Crawford wears is somehow less important than those worn by PBC welterweight titleholders Errol Spence and Manny Pacquiao.

All three of those viewpoints show one of two possibilities. Either Wanger doesn’t know anything about boxing at all or he’s willing to obscure the truth for his own agenda. The latter is most likely the case and it’s not something all that new to the sport. Promoters and TV executives probably lie more than anyone else in boxing.

But haven’t we had enough of that already? Boxing has been shooting itself in the foot for decades now because it seems to constantly attract the same kinds of people with the same kinds of agendas.

It would be nice to see someone try something different.

HIT: Pablo Cesar Cano’s Surprising Resurgence at Junior Welterweight

Mexico’s Pablo Cesar Cano suddenly looks like a legit contender again. Cano is just 30 years old, but just two years ago he appeared to be on his way out of the sport after losing three out of four bouts.

But in the latest edition of Golden Boy Fight Night on Facebook Watch, the 30-year-old junior welterweight rallied from a first-round knockdown to stop Roberto Ortiz in the very next round. It was Cano’s third straight win, and his last two were stunning knockout victories.

In January, Cano was a huge underdog when he scored an impressive first-round stoppage over former lightweight titleholder Jorge Linares. Now Cano has done something similar with his quick stoppage of the hard-punching Ortiz at the Plaza De Toros in San Miguel de Allende.

Cano is a solid professional, the kind of hardworking fighter that makes boxing better. It takes courage and tenacity to get through the tough times in a hard sport, but Cano stayed resilient, and now he’s set up for more big fights.

MISS: Boxing’s Continued Inability to Create Competent Judges 

Showtime’s “Shobox: The Next Generation” series is one of the better programs in the sport because it offers talented up-and-comers a chance to showcase their abilities to a larger audience.

But these smaller shows, such as the one that took place in Sloan, Iowa on Saturday night, can often lead to some wacky scores being turned in from judges who just don’t seem to know what they’re doing.

Such was the case when unbeaten light heavyweight Joseph George was awarded a split-decision victory over Marcos Escudero on Saturday night. Judges Bob LaFratte (97-93) and Carlos Sucre (97-94) somehow saw things go the Houston-based fighter’s way when almost everyone else who watched the fight on TV and in the arena, including judge Gloria Martinez, scored the fight for Escudero.

Boxing needs better judges. Everybody knows that. But whatever the solution ultimately turns out to be, the sport needs to do something proactive to keep bad judges out of those seats in the first place.

HIT: Rocky Fielding’s Return to Win Column After Devastating KO Loss 

Rocky Fielding was trounced by Canelo Alvarez in just three rounds last December.

Some fighters never recover from getting worked over like that, and the more times it happens, the less likely the fighter can muster the will to move forward.

On one hand, the 32-year-old’s only two losses came against Alvarez, who has since gone on to stop Sergey Kovalev for the WBO light heavyweight title, and Callum Smith, the undefeated WBA champion whose World Boxing Super Series tournament performance showcased him as the best 168-pounder in boxing.

On the other, though, Fielding was completely outclassed in both cases, and as fast as Alvarez beat him, Smith did it even faster by stopping Fielding in just one round back in 2015.

So, there was no telling if Fielding could take a step toward becoming a relevant contender again. But the former 168-pound secondary titleholder rebounded nicely by dispatching the heavyhanded Abdallah Paziwapazi in two rounds on Friday night during his hometown return at the Olympia in Liverpool.

Fielding might not ever be able to seriously compete against the very best fighters in the sport, but he’s proven to be a hard out for just about everyone else. He’s the type of fighter who adds depth to a division and maybe someday he can be something more.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel  

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A Travesty of a Heavyweight ‘Title Fight’ and More

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It’s official. On Wednesday, Feb. 22, a formal press conference was held in Sofia, Bulgaria, to announce the forthcoming fight between Mahmoud Charr, formerly known as Manuel Charr, and Kubrat Pulev. They will meet in Bulgaria’s capital city on March 30 at a 12,000-seat arena.

Charr vs Kubrat bears the imprimatur of a world heavyweight title fight (WBA version). Charr is considered the champion, notwithstanding the fact that others have held the title since he first laid claim to it more than six years ago.

The WBA, as we know, recognizes two champions in some weight classes, a “super” champion and a “regular” champion. The “super” designation was created in 2000. It was designed to segregate title-holders into levels of accomplishment. In theory, a “super” champion has made five successful defenses and is recognized as a world title-holder by at least one of the three other major sanctioning bodies. “Super” champions are allowed certain liberties with respect to mandatory title defenses.

The bifurcation was greeted with hoots of derision. The Panama-based WBA trivialized the sport.

Mahmoud Charr

Mahmoud Charr was born in Beirut but has resided in Germany since he was a little boy. He won the vacant title with a 12-round decision over unexceptional Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany.  It was a close fight. TSS ringside correspondent Phil Woolever had Ustinov winning 7 rounds to 5, but conceded that the verdict could not be called an injustice.

The title that Charr won was vacated by Ruslan Chagaev who won the belt from Fres Oquendo, lost it to Lucas Browne, and got it back by decree when Browne’s post-fight urine tests showed evidence of banned substances. But Chagaev never fought again. His fight with Browne was his last.

Charr’s first defense was to come against Fres Oquendo. Slated for March 23, 2019 in Cologne after being pushed back from September of the previous year, the match never came to fruition when Charr tested positive for two banned substances. Things get really muddled from here with Charr pushed to the sideline by legal battles complicated by Don King’s shenanigans. King arranged a fight in Florida between Charr and his fighter Trevor Bryan and succeeded in getting Bryan the WBA belt when Charr was unable to get a visa. The belt is vacant again after Bryan was knocked out by Daniel Dubois who, in turn, was knocked out by “super” champion Oleksandr Usyk.

There are more threads to this saga but let’s not go there. Suffice it to say that after defeating Ustinov, Charr was out of action for the next three-and-a-half years. He’s had only three fights since 2017 and to say that his opponents were men of low repute would be giving them the best of it. In his most recent assignment, in December of 2022, he scored a second-round stoppage over 46-year-old Swiss-Albanian slug Nuri Seferi. That brought his record to 34-4 (20). He has been stopped three times, most recently in 2015 when he was halted in five frames by future cruiserweight champion Maris Briedis.

Kubrat Pulev

Kubrat Pulev will have the home field advantage in Sofia. Charr will have youth on his side. He’s 39; Pulev is 42.

Pulev sports a 30-3 record. The losses came at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko (L KO 5), Anthony Joshua (L KO 9), and Derek Chisora (L SD 12). He last fought in December at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, CA, where he won a lopsided decision over Polish journeyman Andrzej Wawrzyk.

In a previous engagement here at the Hangar, a concert hall that seats a shade over 3,000, he TKOed Bogdan Dinu. That bout is remembered mostly for what happened after it ended. In an incident that went viral on social media, Pulev surprised Jennifer Ravalo, a self-styled journalist, with a kiss on the lips. That animated women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred and led to an 8-page spread in Playboy (of Ravalo, not Allred). The California State Athletic Commission fined and suspended Pulev and mandated that he undergo sexual harassment training. The suspension lasted 120 days.

The match between Charr and Pulev, says a blurb about it, is an “eagerly anticipated” clash between “two evergreen living legends.” We will let you provide the punchline, The winner is expected to fight Martin Bakole who was knocked out by Michael Hunter.

Jake Paul

Jake Paul, the enfant terrible of prizefighting, returns this Saturday on a card in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that will air on DAZN. Paul, a so-called influencer who brought his big social media following with him when he took up fisticuffing, is coming off a first-round stoppage of Andre August, a no-name fighter from Texas. Saturday’s sacrificial lamb is a fellow from Dickinson, North Dakota (by way of Benicia, California) named Ryan Bourland.

Bourland, who is reportedly 35 years old but looks older, scored his signature win in 2018 when he avenged a previous defeat with a 10-round majority decision over Jose Hernandez. He has fought only one since then, TKOing a fighter with a losing record in a 6-rounder at a lodge on a remote Indian reservation in North Dakota. That improved his ledger to 17-2 (6 KOs).

Regarding Jake Paul, Thomas Hauser once wrote that he’s worked hard to become a better boxer and is “certainly better than a Golden Gloves novice.” There was a time when this reporter, perhaps naively, thought that Jake had the potential to become a legitimate top-15 cruiserweight, but his recent choice of opponents suggests that he is comfortable just spinning his wheels.

His bout with Bourland will play second fiddle to Amanda Serrano’s featherweight title defense against Germany’s Nina Meinke (18-3, 4 KOs). Although Amanda has a lot of mileage on her odometer, she is expected to have little difficulty with Meinke. In another bout of note, Puerto Rican campaigners Jonathan Gonzalez (27-3-1, 14 KOs) and Rene Santiago (12-3, 9 KOs) will meet in a 12-rounder with Gonzalez’s WBO light flyweight title at stake.

—-

Let’s conclude this write-up on an upbeat note. Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, a frequent TSS contributor, informs us that his fifth and presumably final anthology is nearing completion with a likely release date of April or May. “Championship Rounds, Round 5” includes a foreword by Gerry Cooney and has drawn glowing reviews from the likes of Dave Kindred and Dr. Gordon Marino who both had an early peek at the manuscript. Kindred, a renowned sportswriter and author, was the subject of a 2021 piece on “60 Minutes.” Marino, a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, has written extensively about boxing for the Wall Street Journal.

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Results from Orlando where Berlanga KOed McCrory in a Possible Prelude to Canelo

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Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom organization was at the Caribe Royale tonight, a non-gaming resort near Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Unbeaten super middleweights Edgar Berlanga and Padraig McCrory squared off in the main event.

The fight started slow, but it soon became apparent that McCrory, a 35-year-old father of three from Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a domestic-level fighter, notwithstanding his undefeated (18-0) record. Berlanga, whose last five fights had gone the distance, roughed him up with some dirty tactics before taking him out in the sixth round with a crunching right hand that sent the Irishman face-first to the canvas. As McCrory pulled himself upright on rubbery legs, the towel flew in from his corner. The official time was 2:44.

As well-documented, Berlanga opened his pro career with 16 consecutive first-round knockouts. Nonetheless, he was let go by Top Rank in what purportedly was an amicable divorce. This was his second fight under the Matchroom banner. Eddie Hearn signed him with an eye on scoring a big-money match with Canelo Alvarez. The red-headed Mexican superstar is committed to returning to the ring in May on Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas, but hasn’t yet locked in an opponent.

If Berlanga gets the nod, he would be a heavy underdog, but the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico angle (coupled with Berlanga’s new-found reputation as a dirty fighter) would make it an easy sell.

Co-Feature

In only his third professional fight, Cuban defector Andy Cruz was bumped into the co-feature. That was in recognition of his amateur pedigree. Among his accomplishments, he was 4-0 vs. Keyshawn Davis with the last win coming in the gold medal round of the Tokyo Olympics.

Cruz, 28, was expected to win as he pleased against his Mexican opponent, Bryan Zamarripa, and he did win all 10 rounds on all three scorecards, but in common with many great Cuban amateurs, he seemed to lack something in the power department. Zamarripa was 14-2 heading in.

Other Bouts of Note

In a 12-round welterweight contest that was devoid of drama, Uzbekistan native Shakhram Giyasov, an Olympic silver medalist who has lost precious few rounds as a pro, won a lopsided technical decision over well-recycled 34-year-old Mexican Pablo Cesar Cano.

Giyasov (15-0, 9 KOs) sent Cano (35-9-1) to the canvas in the third round with a body punch. At the end of round 11, as their feet were tangled, he pushed Cano to the canvas and the Mexican ostensibly suffered a broken ankle when he fell. That sent the bout to the scorecards where the decision (109-99 x3) was a formality. With the victory, Giyasov earned a shot at WBA belt-holder Eimantas Stanionis.

The 12-round bantamweight match between Antonio Vargas and Jonathan Rodriguez, two fighters of Puerto Rican descent, was framed as a WBA bantamweight title eliminator. Rodriguez, the underdog, floored Vargas in the opening stanza. He had scored a stunning first-round knockout of 27-1 Khalid Yafai in his previous start and it appeared that another upset was brewing. But the match quickly turned one-sided in favor of Vargas who put Rodriguez on the canvas in the very next frame (and had two points deducted for hitting him after the bell) and then put him down again at the end of round seven with a sweeping left hook after which Rodriguez’s corner properly pulled him out.

Vargas, a 2016 Olympian who had home field advantage in Florida, improved to 18-1 (10 KOs) and became the mandatory opponent for Takuma Inoue who won earlier today in Tokyo. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Rodriguez declined to 17-2-1.

The opening bout on the TV portion of the card was a 10-round flyweight affair that looked like a runaway for showboating Yankiel Rivera until gritty Andy Dominguez made things interesting.

Rivera, who improved to 5-0 (2), was Puerto Rico’s lone representative in the Tokyo Olympics. In Mexico-born Andy Dominguez, he was fighting a former three-time New York City Golden Gloves champion who was also unbeaten (10-0 heading in). Rivera dominated the match but was caught napping in round nine and Dominguez, although all busted-up, hurt him and almost put him down. That was most lopsided round of the fight, but also the only round that Dominguez won in the eyes of the judges.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Junto Nakatani Turns in Another Masterclass on Saturday’s Tripleheader in Tokyo

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In a rather odd juxtaposition, several of boxing’s best little men were on display today at Japan’s National Sumo Arena in Tokyo. The best of the lot, Junto Nakatani, improved to 27-0 (20 KOs) while tearing away the WBC world bantamweight title from Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (28-4-5) who was making the first defense of the title he won in Las Vegas in May when he upset Nonito Donaire.

It was a one-sided beatdown. Nakatani, who had a 5-inch height advantage, won every round before ending the contest in the sixth. The end came at the 1:12 mark when Nakatani terminated the affair with his second knockdown. The first came earlier in the round, the result of a straight left hand. The finisher was a big right hook.

With the victory, Nakatani became a world title-holder in a third weight class. He’s an outstanding talent, worthy of pound-for-pound consideration, and would be favored in a unification fight with Takuma Inoue.

Inoue, the younger brother of pound-for-pound king Naoya “Monster” Inoue, did his part to bring the match to fruition with a ninth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jerwin Ancajas in the main event. Inoue (19-1, 5 KOs) was making the first defense of the WBA diadem he won with a wide decision over Venezuela’s mildewed Liborio Solis. That title was conveniently vacated by Takuma’s renowned brother.

This figured to be the most competitive match on the card and Ancajas (34-4-2) had his moments before Inoue ended the contest at the 0:44 mark of round nine with a four-punch combination climaxed by a shot to the liver. Heading in, Ancajas, who had a long title reign at 115, was 9-2-1 in world title fights and hadn’t previously been stopped.

In the first of the three title fights, 29-year-old Kosei Tanaka became a four-weight belt-holder in record time with a unanimous decision over Mexicali’s stubborn but out-classed Christian Bacasegua “Rocky” Rangel. At stake was the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title.

Tanaka, who previously held belts at 105, 108, and 112, started slow but the outcome was never in doubt after he knocked “Rocky” to the canvas in the eighth frame. The judges had it 119-108, 117-110, and 116-111. With the victory, Tanaka improved to 20-1 (11). In his only defeat, he was stopped by countryman Kazuto Ioka. He hunkers for a rematch but, if it happens, he might wish that it hadn’t. Ioka is long in the tooth – he turns 35 next month – but is very good and shows no signs of slowing down. Rangel (22-5-2) had won nine straight heading in, but against questionable opposition and was making his first start outside Mexico.

The Teiken Promotions card was presented in association with Top Rank and aired in the U.S. on ESPN+.

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