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Scoping Out the Heavyweight Undercard in Saudi Arabia

Matt McGrain

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Promoter Eddie Hearn has been threatening an all-heavyweight card for some time now, and although this Saturday’s undercard to Andy Ruiz-Anthony Joshua out in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, doesn’t quite qualify it’s unlikely he will come closer this side of a Joshua-Tyson Fury superfight.

Working back from chief support we look here at the heavyweights in action and what they bring to the mouth-watering rematch of June’s monumental shock.

First and foremost is one of ring history’s great ring survivors and arguably one of the great heavyweight contenders, Alexander Povetkin. Povetkin, 35-2, has been a player in the heavyweight division since his 2007 knockout of Chris Byrd, an astonishing stretch during which he has dueled with and dusted contenders from three different heavyweight eras over the course of more than twelve years. He was unlucky enough to share his entire prime with one Wladimir Klitschko before falling in a worthy stab at Joshua last summer and this has doomed Povetkin to failure in achieving heavyweight pre-eminence; but the moment Wladimir called time on his career, Povetkin became the de facto old-man of the division with all the ambivalence that status imparts.

The forty-year old’s latest tilt at the divisional big dogs began with a fittingly plodding but wide decision victory over Hughie Fury in August and continues in Diriyah against 18-1 former cruiserweight Michael Hunter. Hunter, who boxes out of Las Vegas, made a minor name for himself in giving pound-for-pounder Oleksandr Usyk his toughest fight back in early 2017 and cemented his place as a heavyweight gatekeeper with an impressive twelve round decision over prospect Sergey Kuzmin in September. The step up here to take on a fabled but faded contender in Povetkin is an old-fashioned and well-reasoned trajectory and maybe Hunter has got his timing right.

“[Povetkin] is ruthless and a warrior,” the American recently told Boxing Scene.  “He has everything it takes to beat a guy on the come up like me.  People really don’t know what I have so this is a test.  This is the perfect opportunity for me.”

It is. For an older fighter without a punch the swarmer is the living nightmare in the ring. Povetkin, though, has a punch, and so for him the nightmare is of a different sort. A mobile fighter with generalship, then, is the chief tormentor. Hunter has the mobility and if he has the generalship, Povetkin could be in for a long night. There is an appealing symmetry here: Povetkin gatecrashed the heavyweight rankings by beating Byrd, a quick-footed, quick-thinking fighter who by rights should have been boxing in a lower weight division. That description is probably very close to an optimum Hunter but Povetkin has some hard years on him.

If the old man doesn’t get control of the fight early look for him to drop a narrow decision to a fighter Eddie Hearn would love to feed to one of his primed big beasts – either way expect an absorbing contest.

Before Povetkin takes to the ring, his natural successor, the Croation Filip Hrgovic, now 9-0, takes his own step up against aging American Eric Molina (now 27-5). It was once said of James “Buster” Douglas that he “lost every fight Don King ever wanted him to lose.” With the exception of a victory over an ancient Tomasz Adamek the same can be said of Molina who has obliged for several different promoters against four different money fighters. This is once again the expectation on Saturday as the 2018 Sweet Science prospect of the year hops onto an undercard stacked with fighters he may look to match next year.

“It’s a big step up for me in terms of level of opponent and also the size of the event,” Hrgovic admitted to Croatia Week of his fight with Molina. “The whole world will be watching…I’m expecting a hard fight. Eric Molina fought two times for the world title…I am expecting the hardest fight of my career.”

Maybe, maybe not. If the world is watching Hrgovic at all, it is watching to see the fighter’s limitations tested. Questions about the Croat remain unanswered: can he hold a punch from a confirmed puncher and is he available for punches only because he believes himself equal to them or is his defense a legitimate issue? Until we see him pushed against a quality opponent we can’t know.

At the moment, however, Hrgovic, like Povetkin once did, gives the impression of a serious fighter who will one day hold a strap and will also have a say in which fighters make the very top and which do not. Whether or not he himself will summit is dependent upon the answer to these questions. It’s unlikely Molina will provide these answers. Look for Hrgovic to become the fifth money fighter Eric Molina obliges in suffering a ten count.

Still with me? Good. Prior to Hrgovic’s potential emergence from the shadows is a fascinating redux in the form of Londoner Dillian Whyte (26-1). Whyte enjoyed the sympathy of almost the entire boxing world during his six-hundred day wait for a title shot while ranked as the WBC’s number one contender but that sympathy came to a juddering end when he was revealed to have failed a drug test prior to his twelve-round encounter with the dangerous Oscar Rivas. Whyte, an entertaining and engaging speaker, was suddenly silent as the bizarre machinations of the UK Anti-Doping agency were laid bare for all to see. Somehow Whyte is cleared to fight, and promoter Eddie Hearn has delivered an inconsistent and vulnerable opponent who nevertheless holds some name recognition, Mariusz Wach. Former Povetkin victim Wach, who boxes out of Poland and holds a well-padded record of 35-5 has had his own problems with steroids, testing positive after making it through twelve one-sided rounds with Wladimir Klitschko in 2012. Perhaps only in boxing could two men who have traced positive for performance enhancing drugs compete as a part of a show awash with cash in a country where homosexuality and public displays of affection are illegal.

Unfortunately, this fight may be weirdly compelling. Whyte is a confirmed puncher but Wach did twelve with Wladimir and saw the twelfth, too, with Povetkin. He is clearly slipping but there is no future for the Pole if he succumbs early but Whyte, too, has reason to impress. I’ll pick the Brit to get the job done in the first half of the contest thereby inflicting the quickest stoppage of Wach’s career in what may be his last fight.

Finally, we get to meet Magomedrasul Majidov a fighter desperately in need of a nickname but one with a serious amateur pedigree that makes him much more interesting than his 1-0 record.

Also interesting is his age: 33. Turning professional in their thirties seems more and more the norm for crack amateurs hailing from Eurasia and this Azerbaijani is no different, which makes him a man in a hurry. 6’3” and 230 he will be the smaller man in the ring against the 6’6”, 250lb British journeyman Tom Little, who has been banged out in each of his last three fights against Hrgovic, Daniel Dubois and David Price. On paper then this should be meat and potatoes for three-time world amateur superheavyweight champion Majidov, but he received a minor scare in his first professional fight against an American journeyman named Ed Fountain. Majidov defeated one Anthony Joshua in the 2011 amateur championships but punching for pay has always been a different matter and I expect Little to charge his inexperienced opponent at bell. Brief fireworks may ensue. Hopefully they will continue right up to the main event.

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Lipinets and Clayton Battle to a Draw at the Mohegan Sun

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight’s PBC show at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Casino, billed as a “Showtime Special Edition,” was to feature Sergey Lipinets against Kudratillo Abdukakhorov in the main event. That match-up would have pit fighters born in neighboring countries in Central Asia, the first major fight of its kind on American soil, but Uzbekistan’s Abdukakhorov had visa problems and a Canadian filled the breach.

Custio Clayton, whose 18-0 record was suspect because he had done all his fighting in Eastern Canada, proved to be more than just a worthy opponent. The 33-year-old ex-Olympian from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia held Lipinets (now 16-1-1) to a draw and the general feeling was that he had done just enough to edge it out. Don Trella scored the 12-round welterweight bout for him (115-113), but Trella’s counterparts Glen Feldman and Tom Schreck both had it even at 114 apiece.

Conspicuously bigger than Lipinets – to the eyes if not on the scale – Clayton did his best work in the late rounds. Lipinets, briefly the IBF world 140-pound title-holder (he lost the belt to Mikey Garcia; no shame there) is something of a one-dimensional fighter and as the rounds wore on he connected with fewer punches on the more multi-dimensional Canadian.

In theory, the winner would have been in line for a match with Errol Spence.

Martinez-Marrero

Prior to tonight, Sacramento junior lightweight Xavier Martinez had never fought beyond the eighth round and tonight it appeared that he wouldn’t see the ninth. He was on the deck twice in round eight and nearly didn’t make it to the bell. But he lasted the full 12 to win a well-earned unanimous decision over Claudio Marrero

Marrero, a 31-year-old southpaw from Santo Domingo, DR, was well behind on the scorecards when he caught Martinez with a big right hook shortly after the start of the eighth round. He pressed his advantage and knocked him down again with a flurry of punches. But Martinez recuperated and prevailed on scores of 115-111, 114-112, and 114-112 to keep his undefeated record intact, advancing to 16-0.

This was quite a departure from Martinez’s previous bout when he knocked out his opponent in 21 seconds. Marrero (24-5) lost for the fourth time in his last five outings. The match was billed as a WBA 130-pound title eliminator.

Matias-Hawkins

The TV opener was a 10-round junior lightweight contest between Malik Hawkins and Subriel Matias. Hawkins, a former National Golden Gloves champion from the same Baltimore gym that produced Gervonta Davis, came in undefeated (18-0). Puerto Rico’s Matias, who opened his career with 15 straight knockouts, was looking to rebound from his first defeat, having lost a 10-round decision to Petros Ananyan on the Wilder-Fury 11 undercard.

Matias’s bout with Ananyan was his first start since his match will ill-fated Maxim Dadashev. The Dadashev tragedy may have preyed on his mind, but according to his promoter Juan Orengo, he was lax in his training for Ananyan. Whatever the case, Matias rebounded from that defeat tonight, saddling Hawkins with his first pro loss.

Matias forged ahead in the sixth, knocking Hawkins to his knees and then pursuing him around the ring to apply the finisher. Hawkins survived the onslaught but had no argument when he was pulled out by the ring physician before the next frame.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Juan Francisco Estrada KOs Carlos Cuadras; Chocolatito Wins Too

David A. Avila

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WBC super flyweight world titlist Juan Francisco Estrada led a triumvirate of world title fights with a sizzling knockout victory over Mexican rival Carlos Cuadras to retain the world title and set up a future clash with former foe Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez who won his bout in the co-feature.

In front of a small Mexico City crowd Estrada (41-3, 28 KOs) proved he could defeat Cuadras (39-4-1, 27 KOs) again and did it emphatically to retain his title by knockout. There was no squabbling about scorecards in this clash like their first encounter in 2017 that ended with Estrada by decision.

It did not begin well for Estrada who endured Cuadras imposing his strength and speed behind a very strong left jab in the first three rounds. And then a sneaky right uppercut followed by a left hook sent Estrada down for the count in the third round.

But that only proved to be a spark for the fighter known as “El Gallo.”

Estrada realized he was falling behind, especially after the knockdown. Instead of counter-punching, the boxer from Sonora, Mexico began moving forward and became an aggressor. The dynamics of the fight changed suddenly.

Cuadras was hurt by a body shot in the sixth round and spent most of his time looking to avoid more contact. Estrada was in full control.

Despite the change in momentum no round was easy for either Mexican pugilist. Both exchanged freely always looking to end the fight with a big blow. Though each were hurt at times, neither showed signs of relenting.

From the eighth through the 10th round Cuadras seemed to find a second wind, or maybe it was desperation. The Mexico City native known as “Principe” fought possessed and managed to swing the momentum back toward his way for maybe two of those rounds.

In the 11th round both exchanged blows and Estrada connected with a left and right and down went Cuadras. The former world champion got up and was then floored with a counter right cross. He got up again a little shaky and Estrada attacked with a four-punch combination that forced referee Lupe Garcia to stop the fight for a technical knockout at 2:22 of the round.

Estrada retained the WBC super flyweight world title and will now meet Chocolatito.

Chocolatito

Nicaragua’s Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (50-2, 41 KOs) proved that an opponent like Mexico’s Israel Gonzalez (25-3) can be faster, taller, longer and younger but the Nicaraguan will find a way to beat you. He did that with a convincing unanimous decision win after 12 rounds to retain the WBA super flyweight world title.

Chocolatito will now probably meet Juan Francisco Estrada for a long-expected rematch. In their first encounter back in 2012, the Nicaraguan won by decision in Los Angeles.

Chocolatito looked dominant in his ability to deflect the speedy combinations by the young Mexican fighter Gonzalez. Nothing worked against the Nicaraguan who skillfully manipulated his way through barrage after barrage and connected inside with body shots and uppercuts.

It was a masterful performance.

JC Martinez

Mexico City’s Julio Cesar Martinez (17-1, 13 KOs) was defending his WBC flyweight world title against Moises Calleros (33-10-1) a virtual bantamweight weighing more than 7 pounds over the 112-pound flyweight limit. Even the extra weight could not help him.

In the first round, Martinez exploded with a blistering three-punch combination the sent Calleros to the floor dazed and confused. He beat the count and survived the round.

The second round wasn’t too kind for Calleros who became the punching bag for the quick-fisted Martinez who opened up with a nine-punch salvo that forced the referee Cesar Castanon to end the slaughter at 2:42 of the second round.

Other Bouts

Diego Pacheco (10-0, 8 KOs) used his height and reach to score a knockout with a snapping right uppercut to the chin of Mexico’s Juan Mendez (12-3-2) in a super middleweight fight. The end came at 2:02 of the second round with Mexican referee Rafael Saldana stopping the fight at the perfect moment.

Austin “Ammo” Williams (6-0, 5 KOs) powered through Esau Herrera (19-12-1) with body shots and combination punches to win by knockout in a middleweight battle. The end came at 1:36 of the fifth round.

Otha Jones III (5-0-1, 2 KOs) and Mexico City fighter Kevin Montiel (6-0-1) fought to a split draw after six rounds in a super featherweight clash. Both fighters started quickly with Jones having good rounds in the middle portion of the six-round fight, but he tired and allowed Montiel to rally from behind. The scores were split with 58-56 for Jones, 58-56 for Montiel and 57-57.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Fury’s Next Opponent, Lomachenko Redux and More

Arne K. Lang

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Fury’s Next Opponent, Lomachenko Redux and More

It wasn’t long ago that Bob Arum was talking about potting Fury-Wilder III at Las Vegas’ new Allegiant Stadium in December. But Arum and his business partner Frank Warren have switched gears. Fury-Wilder III is on hold indefinitely.

According to Team Fury, Wilder invalidated the rematch clause in the Articles of Agreement for Wilder-Fury II by failing to activate it within the required time frame. That opened the door for Fury to choose a different opponent for his next fight. The frontrunners are reportedly Agit Kabayel and Carlos Takam. The fight is expected to come off in December in London.

Agit Kabayel, a 28-year-old German of Kurdish descent, is 20-0 (13 KOs). He came to the fore in November of 2017 when he upset dangerous but erratic Dereck Chisora, winning a 12-round decision at the Casino in Monte Carlo. In his most recent fight, in July of this year, he won a lopsided 10-round decision over an obscure opponent before a small gathering (per COVID policy) at a public park in Magdeburg.

Carlos Takam (39-5-1, 28 KOs) is best known for taking Anthony Joshua into the 10th frame before succumbing when they met three years ago this month at Principality Stadium in Wales. Takam was called in from the bullpen when Kubrat Pulev was forced to pull out with a shoulder injury.

In his most recent fight, the 39-year-old French-Cameroonian won a 10-round decision over unheralded Jerry Forrest at the MGM Bubble. As had been true when he was matched up against Joshua, Takam got the call when his opponent’s original opponent fell out. Takam replaced Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller who failed his pre-fight drug test, as was his custom.

In the words of fight writer Kenneth Friedman, regardless of whether it’s Kabayel (pictured) or Takam, “this will be a stay busy fight for Fury, and not one meant to be serious entertainment for the boxing public.”

We appreciate boxing writers who refuse to sugarcoat, but this strikes us as a bit harsh. Kabayel can fight more than a little, and should he get the call he may prove to be as pesky as Otto Wallin.

Lomachenko

It has come out that Vasiliy Lomachenko was damaged goods heading into his bout with Teofimo Lopez. He had a shoulder ailment that forced him to miss a week of training in the gym. This past Monday, Oct. 20, the noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neal S. ElAttrache – the head team physician for the LA Dodgers and LA Rams – put Lomachenko under the knife.

Dr. ElAttrache told Yahoo! boxing writer Kevin Iole that Loma had a bruised rotator cuff and a chipped piece of cartilage and that the injury was in the same area in his right shoulder where Vasiliy suffered a torn labrum in his bout with Jorge Linares in May of 2018.

Lomachenko’s promoter Bob Arum said he had no knowledge that the Ukrainian was less than 100 percent. Neither did the bettors. Had the word got out, the wiseguys would have “steamed” the underdog.

We’re reminded of the 1995 fight at the Caesars Palace outdoor arena between Oscar De La Hoya and the late Genaro “Chicanito” Hernandez. It leaked out that Hernandez had suffered a broken nose in his final sparring session and the odds favoring De La Hoya zoomed from 4/1 to 17/2.

In the sixth round, a punch from Oscar broke Hernandez’s fragile nose. The blood came down in torrents, Hernandez quit at the conclusion at the round, and the bookies took a bath.

From a betting standpoint, injuries are far more relevant in an individual sport such as boxing than in a team sport. A heavy sports gambler of our acquaintance, now deceased, invariably bet on an NFL team missing one or more key players. “The back-ups were All-Americans too,” he said by way of explanation.

The contract for Lomachenko-Lopez did not include a rematch clause. Teofimo has no interest in a rematch and has earned the right to move on. However, we would bet that most fight fans would love to see them go at it again. Lomachenko is expected to be fit to resume his regular training regimen in January.

Davis vs. Santa Cruz

“In what is being billed as a 50/50 fight….” reads a SHOWTIME press release heralding the forthcoming match between Gervonta “Tank” Davis and Leo Santa Cruz.

What an interesting choice of words. Who exactly is it that is billing this as a 50/50 fight? Certainly not the bookies. As of Friday, Oct. 23, Davis was anywhere from a minus-460 to minus-680 favorite at prominent betting establishments offshore. (For the sake of convenience, let’s just say that Gervonta is a 5/1 favorite.)

No, this is hardly a 50/50 fight, at least not in the view of the bet-takers who have no choice but to be transparent. But in defense of SHOWTIME, this is an intriguing contest between a brash upstart who has yet to taste defeat and a 32-year-old veteran who has suffered only one defeat in 39 starts, a defeat that he avenged.

Gervonta Davis (23-0, 22 KOs) will walk right through Leo Santa Cruz if he fights as well as he did against Jose Pedraza in 2017. But if “Tank” fights as he did later that year against Francisco Fonseca, Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 KOs) will make it warm for him.

Davis vs. Santa Cruz will play out on Halloween before a live audience in the San Antonio Alamodome. It is the main attraction of a PPV event with a suggested list price of $74.99. It will be interesting to see what numbers it draws since the show goes head-to-head against an ESPN+ card featuring the U.S. debut of Naoya “Monster” Inoue.

Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions, which handles Tank Davis, has predicted that Davis will someday command “Mayweather money.” He bases this not merely on Davis’s talent, but on his large social media following. The 25-year-old Baltimorean has a big presence among the hip-hop crowd.

At stake in the Davis vs. Santa Cruz fight are a pair of WBA titles hitched to different weight classes. One of the belts at stake is the WBA lightweight title.

Hey, wait a second, didn’t Teofimo Lopez just win this very same title?

In Deadwood, South Dakota, one can visit the saloon where Wild Bill Hickock was shot dead while playing poker. Or one can walk down the street and visit a different saloon that claims to be the place where Hickock was shot dead while playing poker.

WBA president Gilberto Mendoza doesn’t own those two saloons, but he could have.

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