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Deontay Wilder May Be a One-Trick Pony, But What an Extraordinary Trick It Is

Bernard Fernandez

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Deontay Wilder May Be a One-Trick Pony, But What an Extraordinary Trick It Is

Scientists with instruments precise enough to gauge such matters tell us that the return stroke of a lightning bolt (the current that causes the visible flash) moves upward at a speed of about 220 million miles per hour, or one-third the speed of light.

Reason also tells us that WBC heavyweight champion Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder’s vaunted overhand right can’t possibly move that swiftly, but its effect is no less destructive when it lands flush. Down on all three official scorecards through six rounds Saturday night at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand and seemingly in no particular hurry to do what he almost always does in the ring, Wilder finally flashed his signature lightning bolt in the closing seconds of the seventh. Thudding against Ortiz’s forehead with a concussive force only occasionally glimpsed in big-man boxing, it so electrified the dangerous Cuban southpaw that he collapsed onto his back, the whites of his eyes rolling in his head. His groggy attempt to pull himself upright before referee Kenny Bayless reached the count of 10 failed.

It went into the books as a knockout after an elapsed time of 2 minutes, 51 seconds, boosting Wilder’s professional record to 42-0-1 with 41 KOs, but no matter. The remaining nine seconds in the round, and the subsequent one-minute rest period, almost surely would not have been enough to sufficiently restore the shaken challenger’s equilibrium or to enable him to avoid that lethal weapon of a right hand for five more rounds.

It was not exactly a replay of their first meeting, on March 3, 2018, in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, when Ortiz (now 31-2, 26 KOs, 2 NC) had Wilder in trouble in the seventh round before going down and out himself in round 10. The put-away shot in that clash was a demonstration of the champ’s versatility, such as it is, with a ripping right uppercut nearly separating Ortiz’s large head from his broad shoulders.

“I was clear-headed when I hit the canvas,” Ortiz said, despite evidence to the contrary. “When I heard the referee say `seven’ I was trying to get up. But I guess the count went a little quicker than I thought.”

But there was nothing amiss with Bayless’ sense of timing, just as there was nothing wrong with the surprising patience exhibited by Wilder before capitalizing on the opening he knew would come. He didn’t take up boxing until the relative advanced age of 19, logging just 40 or so amateur bouts (Ortiz had nearly 400), including his bronze medal turn at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, before turning pro on Nov. 15, 2008, with, natch, a second-round stoppage of Ethan Cox.

The lightning bolts have continued to crackle with metronome regularity, the only two times Wilder, now 34, has been obliged to go the distance being his title-winning unanimous decision over Bermane Stiverne on Jan. 17, 2015, and a rousing split draw with lineal titlist Tyson Fury on Dec. 1, 2018. It should be noted, however, that Wilder floored Bermane three times en route to a first-round stoppage in the do-over on Nov. 4, 2017, and had Fury down twice, including a knockdown in round 12 that was almost identical to the way he put away Ortiz in Vegas. The only difference is that Fury lurched to his feet and gathered himself enough to fight back and make it to the final bell.

Throughout much of Wilder’s pro career he has fought as if his hair were on fire, wanting to get his man out of there as soon and as savagely as possible. For his second go at Ortiz, he was unaccustomedly restrained, landing just three of 31 punches in the first round and five of 31 in the second, according to statistics compiled by CompuBox. For the night, he was on target with just 34 of 184, a tepid 18.5%, with the 40-year-old Ortiz no busier, landing 35 of 179 (19.6%). The pace was almost glacial compared to the undercard bout in which WBA super bantamweight champion Brandon Figueroa and Julio Ceja, who fought to a split draw, combined to connect with an astounding 784 of 2,811 through 12 action-packed stanzas. Figueroa thus retained his title, which would have become vacant had he lost to Ceja, who came in four pounds over the 122-pound limit.

But they say all good things come to those who wait, and Wilder, co-trained by Mark Breland and Jay Deas, appears to have finally learned there are benefits that can be gained by waiting to pick your spots before unfurling that dynamite right hand.

“You know, my intellect is very high in the ring, even though I don’t get no credit for it,” said Wilder, seemingly nonplussed by the scorecards that had him trailing 59-55 on those submitted by Dave Moretti and Steve Weisfeld and 58-56 on Eric Cheek’s. “But, you know, I had to go in and I had to go out. I had to throw the right hand a few times and I finally got my measurement, and I took the shot. I seen the shot and I took it. I think I hurt him one time, buzzed him a little bit with the left hook. That was the start of it, and then I took my (cue) from there.”

Maybe it now is time to assess how Wilder’s punching power stacks up against the hardest-hitting heavyweights ever. By defending his WBC title for the 10th time and whacking out Ortiz again, his kayo percentage rose a bit to 95.3%, tops among anyone who has ever held a world championship in the sport’s most prestigious division, topping the 88% mark registered by the late, great Rocky Marciano (49-0, 43 KOs). It can be argued, of course, that any such number is somewhat subjective, dependent upon the quality of opposition faced. It is becoming increasingly difficult, however, to dismiss the Tuscaloosa, Ala., native – still absent from many astute observers’ top 10 pound-for-pound lists – as a one-trick pony whose right hand is the only weapon in his arsenal. He still uses his jab mostly as a range-finder, but the word going into the second Ortiz fight was that he had been working to make his left hook something more than ornamental, which seems to have been the case. It’s not at the Joe Frazier level yet, but if it ever gets there, watch out.

Lou DiBella, who was involved in the staging of several of Wilder’s earlier defenses, disputed the notion that Wilder is still as raw and unrefined as he was when he dethroned Stiverne.

“I don’t work with the dude anymore, but the `Wilder has no talent’ narrative is trash,’” DiBella tweeted. “The ability to destroy an `A’ level opponent with a single punch at any SECOND of a fight is a singular, awesome TALENT. Give @BronzeBomber the credit he deserves. He is a scary man.”

Next up for Wilder is the contracted rematch with Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOs) on Feb. 22, should Fury prove he is recovered enough from the nasty gash above the right eye he suffered in his Sept. 14 unanimous-decision victory over Sweden’s tougher-than-expected Otto Wallin to proceed on that date. If Wilder’s history in rematches with Stiverne and now Ortiz is any indication, an exclamation-point finish against the “Gypsy King” no doubt would further certify the Alabaman as a big enough hitter to be part of the conversation when rating the power quotient of such legendary heavyweights as Marciano, Sonny Liston, Joe Louis, George Foreman, Jack Dempsey, Earnie Shavers, Vitali Klitschko and Mike Tyson, who was in attendance Saturday night and looking his age at 53 with a beard gone gray and a bit of middle-age paunch.

But what Wilder really wants is to have what the most recent undisputed heavyweight champion, Lennox Lewis, had, which is to scoop up all the alphabet titles, eliminating any doubt as to his claim to be the biggest, baddest and best heavyweight of his generation. The other three most widely recognized belts (WBA, IBF and WBO) are currently held by the rotund but quick-handed Andy Ruiz Jr. (33-1, 22 KOs), who defends them in a rematch with Anthony Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs) on Dec. 7 in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia. The outcome of that matchup remains to be determined, as is the likelihood of a full unification pairing of the winner and Wilder. Just as there were promotional and television obstacles in the recent past, when HBO and Showtime were highly reluctant to make bouts involving fighters from the other side of the street, the fact that Wilder is with Premier Boxing Champions, Fury with Top Rank, Ruiz with PBC and Joshua with Matchroom Boxing and DAZN could prove problematical. The sad fact is that Riddick Bowe never swapped punches with Tyson, who also rose up from the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, or Lewis, who had defeated him in the gold medal bout at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Sometimes the most contentious battles are waged not inside the ropes, but in paneled boardrooms where the cutthroat business of boxing is conducted.

“I am the best in the world and I say it with confidence,” Wilder said prior to the Ortiz rematch. He repeatedly has stressed that he wants fight fans to think of one man, one name, one face, when it comes to global recognition as the true heavyweight champion.

Time will tell if his quest is fulfilled.

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Jason Moloney TKOs Baez

Arne K. Lang

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Top Rank was back inside the MGM Grand “Bubble” tonight for chapter six of their semi-weekly ESPN summer series. Jason Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney twins, accomplished what his brother Andrew Moloney was unable to accomplish in this ring on Tuesday night, adding a “W” to his ledger and looking good doing it. It came at the expense of Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez.

It was Jason Moloney’s second start on U.S. soil after coming up just a tad short in a bid for the vacant IBF world bantamweight title at Orlando in October of 2018. Against Baez, he fought a smart tactical fight, blunting the Mexican’s superior reach by fighting him at close quarters. Baez fought from the third round on with a cut over his right eye and then suffered a cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By then the fight was becoming increasingly one-sided and Baez’s corner did not let him come out for round eight.

Jason Moloney improved to 21-1 with his 18th knockout. Leonardo Baez, who took the fight on short notice after Maloney’s original opponent Oscar Negrete was forced to withdraw with a detached retina, slumped to 18-3.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Abraham Nova advanced to 19-0 with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow but won no new fans with a lackadaisical performance. Nova, born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic and raised in Albany, NY, showed little but his jab through the first seven rounds until hurting Sparrow with a big right hand in the eighth. The judges had it 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91.

Sparrow (10-2), whose lone previous loss was by disqualification, was making his first start in 15 months. He was slated to fight Ryan Garcia in Los Angeles last Sept. 14 but never made it to the weigh-in after being arrested by U.S. marshals on a charge of threatening a woman with a gun after she threw his clothes out the window…

Other Bouts

In an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Gonzalez advanced to 15-0 with a unanimous decision over Ecuador’s Luis Porozo (15-3). The scores were 76-74 and 77-73 twice.

Gonzalez wasn’t particularly impressive although he did score two knockdowns. He decked Porozo near the end of round two with a left hook following a straight left and decked him again near the end of round seven with a left uppercut to the body.

In a rather ho-hum fight, welterweight Vlad Panin improved to 8-1 with 6-round majority decision over San Antonio’s 36-year-old Benjamin Whitaker (13-4). Panin, a Belarusian who grew up in Las Vegas and earned a BA in English from UCLA, has a good back story but seemingly a limited upside in the fight game.

In an entertaining 6-round welterweight clash, Filipino campaigner Reymond Yanon improved to 11-5-1 with a split decision (59-55, 58-56, 56-58) over Clay Burns. A 33-year-old ex-Marine from Fort Worth, Burns declined to 9-8-2.

The opener, a heavyweight bout slated for six rounds, matched two Phoenix-based fighters in a rematch. Kingsley Ibeh, a former standout defensive lineman for the Washburn College Ichabods, avenged his lone defeat and improved to 4-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Waldo Cortes (5-3). Ibeh, who at 286 had a 39-pound weight advantage, softened Cortes up with a series of uppercuts and Cortes was on his way down when he was tagged with a glancing left hand. He got to his feet, but referee Vic Drakulich waived it off. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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