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New Champ Teofimo Lopez Continues Upstaging Bigger Names; Lomachenko Next?

Bernard Fernandez

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New Champ Teofimo Lopez Continues Upstaging Bigger Names; Lomachenko Next?

NEW YORK – It is standard practice in all sports, not just boxing, that any phenom who draws growing attention is soon said to be the “new” someone or other, a stylistic successor to a superstar who previously set impossibly high standards of excellence. Such comparisons can place enormous pressure on the flavor-of-the-moment upstart, who has to deal with the long shadow cast by the legendary figure to whom he has been unfairly linked, in addition to the already-difficult task of establishing himself on his own terms.

Consider the plight of such OK-but-not-great heavyweights as Jimmy Ellis, Greg Page and Larry Donald, all of whom patterned themselves as wannabe Muhammad Alis both in and out of the ring, and in each case came up far short of replicating the one-of-a-kind original.

The iconic figure to whom newly crowned IBF lightweight champion Teofimo “The Takeover” Lopez has been most frequently compared is all-time great Roberto Duran. It is far too early in the 22-year-old Lopez’s career for such assessments to have any real validity, but what happened here Saturday night in Madison Square Garden, and quite possibly might happen next spring, could serve to legitimize the Brooklyn-born knockout artist’s chances of becoming something so much more than just another flash in the pan.

Not only did Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs) electrify the on-site crowd of 10,101 and an ESPN viewing audience with what basically was a one-punch, second-round dethronement of the formidable Richard Commey (29-3, 26 KOs), he essentially upstaged the ostensible star of the show, WBO welterweight titlist Terence “Bud” Crawford (36-0, 27 KOs), who retained that belt with a ninth-round stoppage of Egidijus Kavaliauskas (21-1-1, 17 KOs). And there are more than a few knowledgeable observers of the sweet science who consider Crawford to be the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet.

What makes Lopez’s latest tour de force so impressive is not the manner in which he destroyed Commey, who is arguably the finest fighter to come out of Ghana since Hall of Famer Azumah Nelson, but the fact that it was witnessed from ringside by WBC/WBA/WBO lightweight ruler Vasiliy Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs), whose next outing could pair him with the ultra-self-confident kid for the undisputed 135-pound title. There are those who would say that Lopez is still too inexperienced to test himself against Loma, another established king of the ring with ample support as the sport’s pound-for-pound best, but impatience has always been a distinguishing feature of the very young, who want what they want and want it now.

“Ya’ll know who I want to fight next,” Lopez, in a not-so-veiled reference to Lomachenko, said after he separated Commey from his senses with a crushing overhand right that sent the Ghanaian crashing to the canvas early in round two. A fighter’s natural competitive instincts enabled a discombobulated Commey to lurch to his feet on unsteady legs, and those same instincts sent him backing into the ropes for support, as if there was any to be had. Lopez knew just what to do, boring in and taking target practice against an opponent incapable of fighting back until referee David Fields stepped in and acknowledged the inevitable after an elapsed time of 1 minute, 13 seconds.

Lomachenko is just as cocksure in his assessment of his abilities as Lopez is in his, and he said, sure, he’d be open to a clear-the-decks showdown with Lopez, a match that seemingly could be made easily since both fighters are promoted by Top Rank and thus regularly appear on ESPN telecasts.

“We want all the titles,” Lomachenko said of a scrap Top Rank CEO and founder Bob Arum said he is just as anxious to make as the would-be combatants. “Now (Lopez) is a world champion and interesting for me, because he has a title. I think yes (that his next bout will be against Lopez). I will prepare for this fight.”

It could well be that Lopez, who won his weight class at the 2015 U.S. Olympic Boxing Trials but was inexplicably left off the American squad, obliging him to represent his father’s birth country of Honduras in Rio de Janeiro, is getting too far ahead of himself in pressing for an immediate go at Loma. Canelo Alvarez, then only 23, was not nearly as well-rounded a fighter as he is now when he took on Floyd Mayweather Jr. on Sept. 14, 2013, losing a unanimous decision. The more prudent move might have been for Team Canelo to wait a couple of years for the Mexican sensation, another claimant to the much-debated pound-for-pound throne, to gain more seasoning, but, again, youth always feels it must be served sooner rather than later.

Promoter Lou DiBella, who will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on June 14, had a vested interest in the Commey-Lopez fight as he has Commey, but he couldn’t help but be impressed by what he’d seen of the winner.

“He’s got dynamite in his fists,” DiBella said of Lopez. “All you can do is just shrug your shoulders and say, `OK.’ That kid is a very athletic offensive force. Richard got caught with that dynamite and that was that. The fight was over when that big punch landed.”

But there is more to Lopez’s evolution as a potential megastar than a big punch. Style points count at the box office as much as talent, and DiBella said Lopez “has charisma coming out the ying-yang. When you have that kind of arsenal, you have a chance against anybody, including Loma.”

Lopez certainly understood – again – that this most recent occasion to shine came on the same night as the Heisman Trophy presentation in New York City. He celebrated another star turn by quickly tugging on an LSU football jersey bearing the No. 9 worn this season by Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow, a virtual replay of what Lopez did on another Heisman night in 2018, when he needed only 44 seconds to demolish veteran contender Menard Menard at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, whereupon he produced a red Oklahoma jersey with the No. 1 worn by Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray.

It might be said that Teofimo Lopez is now the quarterback of his own destiny. And should he do unto Loma what he did to Menard, Commey and more than a few others, maybe those way-too-early comparisons to Duran won’t seem quite so wildly exaggerated.

Circumstances making the possibility of a Lomachenko-Lopez showcase event being made without fuss or bother must be at least a bit irksome to Crawford, who, despite still being at the top of his game, is 32 and possibly aware that his window of opportunity for making the high-visibility, high-paying legacy fights he desires must soon begin to close, at least a little.

No disrespect to Kavaliauskas, an Oxnard, Calif.-based Lithuanian whose full name is so long that for brevity’s sake it was shortened to his nickname, “Mean Machine,” on all promotional materials, but he is not on the more exalted tier as WBC/IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr., WBA welter titlist Manny Pacquiao and former division champs Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter, all of whom are controlled by Premier Boxing Champions, Matchroom Sport, DAZN or Fox/Showtime. That is a reality that, whether fight fans like it or not, diminishes the likelihood of their ever sharing the ring with Crawford.

Nor is Crawford, an introvert by nature indisposed to the sort of chest-thumping that is second nature to others, apt to brag and preen his way into a brighter spotlight. He does most of his talking with his fists, and they again made a compelling argument as to his exceptional skill level, if perhaps at a lower audible than, say, Ali, Mayweather or even the evolving Lopez.

Deftly switching from southpaw to orthodox and back again, as is his wont, Crawford – a native of Omaha, Neb., who was cheered on by an actual Heisman Trophy winner, Nebraska’s Johnny Rodgers, who made his way to the Garden after appearing at the Heisman presentation – probed for weaknesses in Mean Machine’s defenses before turning up the heat in the fifth round, when, from an orthodox stance, he registered the first of his three knockdowns with a straight right. He put his game opponent down twice more in the ninth, prompting referee Ricky Gonzalez to wave a halt to the proceedings after an elapsed time of 44 seconds. At the time of the stoppage, Crawford led 79-72 on two of the three official scorecards and by 78-73 on the other.

“I thought I’d have to entertain ya’ll for a little bit,” Crawford said of his tactical delay before pressing the issue. “He’s a strong fighter, durable, and I thought I’d give the crowd something to cheer for.”

Arum suggested that, standard roadblocks to the contrary, Crawford’s next opponent could be Shawn Porter, but that hardly seems as inevitable at this point as Lomachenko-Lopez. To say Crawford is frustrated at being fenced off from the kind of competition that could certify his belief that he is an all-time great would be an understatement.

“I’ll fight anybody. I’ve been saying that for I don’t know how long,” he said, somewhat ruefully. “I’m not ducking anyone on the PBC side or Top Rank platform. I want to fight all the top guys.”

In the third fight of the card televised by ESPN, two-time Olympian Michael “Mick” Conlan (13-0, 7 KOs), the Northern Island representative who believed he was screwed out of a medal in Rio on a controversial decision that went to Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin, and responded to the verdict by taking off his gloves and giving obscene single-finger expressions of his discontent to Russian president Putin, who was seated at ringside, got his revenge of sorts on a wide, 10-round unanimous decision over Nikitin (3-1, no KOs).

“I needed to right this wrong,” Conlan said. “Full credit to Nikitin, who fought his heart out. There’s no bad blood. There never was. Now, we can put this chapter of my career behind me.”

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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Fast Results from Brooklyn: No Surprises as Garcia and Hurd Win Lopsidedly

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight, Philadelphia’s Danny Garcia made his eighth appearance at Barclays Center. Garcia’s 2017 fight with Keith Thurman drew 16,533, the attendance high for a boxing show at the arena. A far smaller crowd was in attendance tonight to see Garcia take on Ivan Redkach in a non-title fight slated for 12 rounds.

Redkach, a 33-year-old LA-based Ukrainian, is a southpaw. That’s no coincidence. Garcia hopes to land big-money fights with Errol Spence and/or Manny Pacquiao, both southpaws.

Redkach (23-4-1 coming in) turned his career around in his last fight with a career-best performance, a sixth-round stoppage of former two-division title-holder Devon Alexander, a 15-year pro who hadn’t previously been stopped. But there was a class difference between he and Danny Garcia, a former WBA and WBC 140-pound world title-holder and former WBC 147-pound champion.

Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs) was simply sharper. His workrate slowed late in the fight, allowing the game Redkach to steal a few rounds, but at the final gun he was relatively unmarked whereas Redkach was conspicuously bruised. The scores were 118-110 and 117-111 twice. The crowd booed at intervals, understandable as they were subject to a drab 7-fight card that was even less interesting than it was on paper.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Jarrett Hurd, making his first start since losing his WBA/IBF super welterweight title to Julian Williams last May, went on cruise control from the opening bell and jabbed his way to a lopsided 10-round decision over Francisco Santana. Hurd, who improved to 24-1, finally let loose late in the 10th frame, putting Santana (25-8-1) on the canvas with a succession of left hooks, but by then many in the crowd had probably nodded off.

This was Hurd’s first fight with new trainer Kay Koroma who has drawn raves for his work with America’s elite amateurs. The scores were 97-92 and 99-90 twice. SoCal’s Santana has now lost five of his last eight.

The opening bout on the main TV portion of the card was a 12-round super bantamweight contest between Philadelphia’s Stephen Fulton and fellow unbeaten Arnold Khegai who currently trains in Philadelphia.

Fulton (18-0, 8 KOs) simply had too much class for Khegai (16-1-1), a Ukrainian of Korean heritage. Although Khegai frequently backed Fulton into the ropes, the Philadelphian had an air-tight defense and connected with many more punches. The fight went the full 12 with Fulton prevailing by scores of 116-112 and 117-111 twice.

If the WBO has its way, Fulton will proceed to a fight with Emanuel Navarrete, but don’t hold your breath as Navarrete is promoted by Bob Arum who undoubtedly wants to extract more mileage from him before letting him risk his belt against a crafty fighter like Stephen Fulton.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Sacramento Honors Diego ‘Chico’ Corrales

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight (Saturday, Jan. 25) former two-division world boxing champion Diego “Chico” Corrales will be posthumously inducted into the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame at the organization’s eighth annual induction ceremony at the Thunder Valley Casino Resort.

Corrales, who grew up in Sacramento, the son of a Columbian father and a Mexican mother, turned pro at age 18 and went on to compile a record of 40-5 (33 KOs). He won his first title in 1999 with a seventh-round stoppage of previously undefeated Robert Garcia. Now recognized as one of boxing’s top trainers, Garcia was making the fourth defense of his IBF 130-pound title.

Five years later, Corrales won the WBO world lightweight title with a 10th-round stoppage of Brazil’s previously undefeated Acelino Freitas. That set up a unification fight with the WBC belt-holder Jose Luis Castillo.

Corrales and Castillo met on May 7, 2005, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. To say they put on a great fight would be an understatement. The boxing writers in attendance will tell you that this was the greatest fight of all time. It was named Fight of the Decade by The Ring magazine.

The final round, the 10th, was unbelievable. Heading into the round, Corrales was ahead on two of the three scorecards, but his left eye was swollen nearly shut and during the round he was knocked down twice. No one would have faulted referee Tony Weeks for stopping the fight after the second knockdown. But, somehow, Corrales was able to rally, pulling the fight out of the fire with a barrage of punches that had Castillo out on his feet when Weeks waived it off.

Two years to the very day of this iconic fight, Diego “Chico” Corrales died in a motorcycle accident in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas when he rear-ended a car while traveling at a high rate of speed. He was 29 years old.

Corrales was a thrill-seeker. In a 2006 profile, Las Vegas Review-Journal boxing writer Kevin Iole enumerated these among Castillo’s hobbies: jumping out of planes from 14,000 feet, bungee jumping from 400 feet, snowboarding in treacherous terrain and scuba diving amid a school of sharks. “He lived his life the same way he fought,” said his promoter Gary Shaw, “with reckless abandon.”

It might seem odd that it took so long for Corrales to be recognized by the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame, but there was a period when Corrales’s name was mud in his hometown and perhaps the organization’s founder, Las Vegas sports radio personality T.C. Martin, a Sacramento native, thought it appropriate to let old wounds heal.

In 2001, shortly after suffering his first pro loss at the hands of Floyd Mayweather, Corrales pled guilty to felony domestic violence in the beating of his first wife and would serve 14 months in prison. “The whole family has worn a black eye for it,” Diego’s brother Esteban Corrales told Sacramento Bee reporter Marcos Bretan.

For all his recklessness, the incident didn’t jibe with his persona. In the company of Las Vegas sportswriters, the soft-spoken and well-spoken Corrales came across as polite and humble.

Corrales, one of five inductees in the 2020 class, joins three other boxers already installed in the Sacramento Hall: Pete Ranzany, Loreto Garza, and Tony “Tiger” Lopez.

Ranzany, a welterweight, fought four former or future world champions and was a fixture in Sacramento rings in the late 1970’s. Garza wrested the WBA super lightweight title from Argentina’s Juan Martin Coggi in France and successfully defended the belt here in Sacramento with a one-sided conquest of Vinny Pazienza. Lopez, Sacramento’s most popular fighter ever, made the turnstiles hum at the city’s largest arena where he fought eight of his 14 world title fights beginning with his 1988 humdinger with defending IBF 130-pound champion Rocky Lockridge.

Among the speakers at tonight’s confab will be Kenny Adams. Perhaps best known as the head trainer for the 1988 U.S. Olympic team that won eight medals in Seoul, Adams currently trains Nonito Donaire. He was with Diego Corrales for 24 fights, during which Corrales was 23-1, avenging the lone defeat by Joel Casamayor. Festivities start at 7 pm.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Ramirez-Postol, Taylor-Serrano and More

Arne K. Lang

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It takes a strong constitution to be a boxing promoter because things always go wrong. The only law that governs boxing is Murphy’s Law.

Carl Frampton’s first fight under the Top Rank banner was slated for Aug. 10 of last year in Philadelphia. With the fight five days away, Frampton suffered a freak injury while sitting in a hotel lobby. A boy playing behind a curtain knocked over a seven-foot pillar which fell on Frampton’s left hand, fracturing it.

This was the second time that a Frampton fight was knocked out by a freak injury. Two years earlier, a homecoming fight in Belfast had to be scrapped when Frampton’s opponent, Andres Gutierrez, slipped in the shower in his hotel on the eve of the battle and suffered severe facial injuries.

The latest bout to fall out because of an odd development is Jose Ramirez’s Feb. 2 WBC/WBO lightweight title defense against Viktor Postol at a Chinese golf resort south of Hong Kong. The event fell victim to the coronavirus, more exactly the fear it has instilled.

The virus, which produces flu-like symptoms that are resistant to conventional antibiotics, apparently originated at an outdoor food market in the city of Wuhan where live animals are sold. The numbers vary with each new story, but according to one account there have been 444 confirmed cases in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital city, and 653 cases worldwide including two in the United States, a man in his 30’s living near Seattle and a Chicago woman in her 60’s.

The fear of a pandemic (an epidemic becomes a pandemic when it spreads across multiple geographic regions of the world) has led to some drastic measures. The Chinese government has reportedly put 12 cities on lockdown, blocking traffic in and out. At many airports, visitors arriving from China are being screened. There are now thermal cameras than can record a person’s body temperature remotely.

Jose Ramirez (pictured with his promoter Bob Arum) was scheduled to leave for China yesterday (Jan. 23) but was intercepted. Viktor Postol is already there and apparently stranded until an outgoing flight can be arranged.

The Ramirez-Postol fight was to air on ESPN. No make-up date has been set.

– – –

British promoter Eddie Hearn says he’s close to finalizing a fight between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano. Hearn says the fight will take place in the U.S. in April. It figures that Madison Square Garden is the frontrunner.

If the fight comes off on schedule, this will be the biggest women’s fight in history!

That’s because the odds attached to the fight figure to be in the “pick-‘em” range and that guarantees that boxing writers and others in the boxing community will be surveyed to get their picks – about which there figures to be considerable disagreement – and that will greatly enhance the pre-fight buzz.

Taylor, 33, last fought in November in Manchester, England, advancing her record to 15-0 (6 KOs) with a unanimous decision over Christina Linardatou, a fighter from Greece via the Dominican Republic. It was Taylor’s first fight at 140 after previously unifying the lightweight title with a hard-fought decision over Belgium’s Delfine Persoon.

Amanda Serrano, a 31-year-old southpaw, born in Puerto Rico and raised in Brooklyn, has won titles in five weight divisions. She last fought as a featherweight, turning away gritty Heather Hardy, but has competed as high as 140. Boasting a 37-1-1 record, she’s won 23 straight, 18 by stoppage, 10 in the opening round

What sets women boxers apart from their male counterparts is that the women have a significantly lower knockout ratio. Amanda Serrano is the glaring exception.

Despite a less eye-catching record, Taylor has arguably fought the stiffer competition considering her extensive amateur background. As a pro, her victims include Cindy Serrano, Amanda’s older sister by six years. Taylor whitewashed her in a match at Boston Garden, prompting the elder Serrano sister to call it a career.

– – –

The most bizarre (non)story to appear in a boxing web site this week involved former unified heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe. A man representing Bowe, identified as Eli Karabell, was frustrated because Eddie Hearn wasn’t returning his calls. Karabell had offered Hearn the right of first refusal on Bowe’s next fight.

Bowe, now 51 years old, last fought in a boxing ring in 2008 when he returned to the sport after a three-and-half year absence for an 8-round bout in Germany. In 2013, he appeared in a kickboxing fight in Thailand where he was stopped in the second round after being knocked down five times by leg kicks.

“Will there be another chapter to write for Bowe?” concluded the author of this piece.

Egads, let’s hope not.

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