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Avila Perspective, Chap. 78: Adventures in the I.E., Favorite Moments and Tank

David A. Avila

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Perspective, Chap. 78: Adventures in the I.E., Favorite Moments and Tank Davis

Accidents happen but once in a while they produce surprisingly good results.

When Jermell Charlo defeated Tony Harrison by knockout to win back the WBC super welterweight world title last weekend in the Toyota Arena in Ontario, California, it unexpectedly presented one of the best boxing cards of the year to fans in the Inland Empire; an area otherwise known as the “I.E.”

Despite a postponement due to injury and changes in venue, Premier Boxing Champions cobbled together a large boxing card filled with shocking upsets, turn-arounds and skilled prizefighting.

It was the best fight card by anyone all year that I attended.

The super welterweight world title fight was supposed to take place back in June in Las Vegas. But when Harrison hurt his ankle the fight was canceled and Charlo fought someone else in the casino town.

One of the people working with TGB told me that the rematch was headed for Dignity Health Sports Park formerly known as the StubHub Center. But a few opposed the idea and opted to go to Ontario where the late great Dan Goossen had presented multiple fight cards in the past.

It worked.

The Inland Empire has become the center of the world when it comes to prizefighting in my estimation.

Hear me out.

Three of the most powerful boxing training camps are situated in the Inland Empire: Robert Garcia Boxing Academy is in Riverside; Joel and Antonio Diaz have their gym in Indio; and Abel Sanchez has the Summit in Big Bear Mountain. All three gyms are located in the I.E.

That trio of gyms represents dozens of the best fighters in the world. And when you add about 30 more boxing gyms spread out in the same area it further emphasizes my point that the I.E. is the eye of the hurricane.

Fans in that area are rabid for boxing.

For me it represented an opportunity to drive for only 15 minutes instead of two to three hours on crowded freeways and stopped traffic. It was the same for the thousands of fans from the I.E. who showed up at the Toyota Arena. Usually the I.E. fans are forced to drive to Los Angeles or Las Vegas to watch boxing. But not on Dec. 21.

A couple of years ago a Las Vegas demography expert told me that the casino capital of the world charts which people are their bread and money. According to this expert from the MGM properties, the majority of its visitors arrive from the Inland Empire.

It makes sense.

Inland Empire residents are accustomed to driving for large chunks of time to get to work in Los Angeles or Orange County. They also are willing to attend sporting events in Los Angeles or Las Vegas; unlike residents of Los Angeles or Orange County who are basically spoiled and prefer to stay in their own counties.

So, when a marquee fight card was placed smack in the middle of the I.E., they willingly arrived despite little advertisement and even less reporting by local newspapers and television.

The TGB and PBC fight card was a success anyway.

My Best of the Year

It’s the end of 2019, the best year for boxing in my estimation in two decades. I consider 1999 one of the best in boxing for the last 20 years with multiple mega fights that included Felix Trinidad versus Oscar De La Hoya, Lennox Lewis versus Evander Holyfield twice and a few others.

Though mega fights were rare in 2019, one that did occur took place in Saudi Arabia with Anthony Joshua reclaiming the heavyweight title from Andy Ruiz. But there were many other electrifying fight cards on a smaller scale throughout the year worldwide that presented multiple candidates for Fight of the Year starting with the super featherweights Can Xu vs. Jesus M. Rojas; followed by super bantamweight battle between Danny Roman and TJ Doheny, plus the super flyweight rematch between Juan Francisco Estrada and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in Los Angeles. The following month of May saw super welterweights Julian Williams and Jarrett Hurd battle toe to toe for 12 rounds; in June the first heavyweight clash between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz took place; welterweights Errol Spence Jr. and Shawn Porter met in September; super lightweights Regis Prograis and Josh Taylor clashed in October; and Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire collided in December. All were tremendous fights and truly made 2019 one for the ages.

For me three fights in particular stood out and grabbed me.

In January a super featherweight world title fight saw China’s Can Xu out-slug Puerto Rico’s punching machine Jesus M. Rojas in Houston, Texas that proved to be the opening salvo for 2019. Xu won that fight with a tireless abundance of strategic punching in bunches seldom seen. Both fighters were a blur of fists and fury. Xu won the fight and became a national hero in China.

In April, the super bantamweight unification clash between Roman and Doheny in the Inglewood Forum was a slam bam affair that just grew fiercer by the round. Roman took the lead and when it looked like Doheny was done he suddenly put on the reverse brakes and an all-out war commenced. Roman eventually won but both gave a cup of their soul in their 12-round battle. On the same card, Mexico’s Estrada’s rematch with Thailand’s Sor Rungvisai resulted in a perfect example of how to diffuse a bully of a puncher with the science of boxing. It was memorable stuff on the same night in the same boxing ring.

The month of May saw a formerly undefeated super welterweight titlist Jarrett Hurd engage Philadelphia’s Julian Williams in a rarely seen battle of inside fighting that harkened back to the 1950s and 60s. It was inside fighting at its best with both exhibiting a high art form of fighting close quarters with neither fighter clinching or grabbing. It also showed how a good referee can also contribute to a wonderful display of boxing. The sweet science was never sweeter than that fight held in Fairfax, Virginia. It’s the type of fight that James Toney made famous.

Though many may not agree I just have to pick Williams and Hurd as the Best Fight of 2019 in my eyes. It should be shown to fighters, trainers, promoters, matchmakers, referees and judges everywhere on the art of fighting inside. Beautiful stuff.

The year 2019 was also in my estimation the best in 20 years for its pure number of memorable fights.

Gervonta vs Gamboa in Last Hurrah for 2019

Gervonta “Tank” Davis meets Yuri Gamboa on Saturday Dec. 28, at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. Showtime will televise the battle for the vacant WBA lightweight world title.

Davis (22-0, 21 KOs) left the super featherweight division and meets former featherweight champion Gamboa (30-2, 18 KOs) to try out the heavier weight division.

One thing about Cuba’s Gamboa has always been his desire to entertain fans. Unlike other Cuban fighters he never puts fans to sleep with a defensive first strategy. He goes for broke.

Last year Gamboa put up his own money to salvage his career by self-promoting a boxing card in Florida. It paid off. Now he’s set to meet one of the most dynamic punchers below 147 pounds in Davis. It won’t be easy but you can never count out Gamboa. He can whack too.

“I’m very appreciative to have this opportunity to fight for the world title on Saturday night. I have to make the best of this position that I’m in. I’m still at the level where I know that I can compete and beat the best fighters in the sport,” said Gamboa. “I’ve faced stronger fighters than Gervonta and I’ve been able to beat them. He’s not going to bring anything I haven’t seen.”

Davis has always possessed power and speed in abundance. Let’s face it. The man has no neck. You can’t hurt a man with no neck. Just kidding. But Davis has shown a considerable chin though he’s rarely had to prove it.

If you haven’t seen Davis or Gamboa before, well, you are in for a treat. They don’t play around.

“Saturday night it’s going to be an action-packed fight and we’ll see who’s got what it takes,” said Davis. “I know that Gamboa is a tough opponent and he’ll lay it all on the line. If it goes 12 rounds, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m looking to make this a great fight for me and also for the fans.”

Fights to Watch

Sat. Showtime 6 p.m. Gervonta Davis (22-0) vs Yuri Gamboa (30-2); Badou Jack (22-2-3) vs Jean Pascal (34-6-1).

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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“—C’mon!” (from the pen of Springs Toledo)

Springs Toledo

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-C'mon

“—C’mon!” said Teofimo Lopez with two seconds left in the 12th round. It was a Brooklyn thing to say on a Brooklyn-type Saturday night, and Lopez timed it well. He’d just crashed two hooks at either side of Vasiliy Lomachenko’s head and ended their saga as it began—with sharp words.

“My son will destroy Lomachenko,” Lopez’s father told EsNews in August 2017. Three months later Lopez was in the gym mimicking his style. “Same side always,” he said as he tapped the bag and dipped to his right. “Nuthin’ different.” “Lomachenko is a diva,” he said last week. “I don’t like him … I’m the type of person, I say something I mean it. If you have a problem with it, come see me.” Lomachenko came to see him all right, and both brought their fathers as if the whole thing was a schoolyard scrap.

Lomachenko’s father is a silent sage. His modern training techniques are part of the “performance revolution” that has transformed every sport, including the sport that’s barely a sport, and not necessarily for the better. Papa Chenko’s futurama theories seem at once scientific and idiosyncratic. Pundits who never heard of Freddie Brown think they’re next-level stuff. There’s Lomachenko holding his breath under water to build lung strength; there he is touching that board with blinking lights to improve hand-eye coordination. When Lomachenko was 9, his father went so far as to enroll him in a Ukrainian folk dance school to expose him to hobak, hutsulka, and the kolomiyka, and you can see it in all the hopping and side-stepping he does around the ring at 32.

Papa Lopez is anything but silent, though he too is a sage—a naysaying sage with street instincts picked up during a few round trips through hell. He takes no one’s word for anything and if he takes a break from a tirade and asks a question, it has about as much tact as a shiv. When Lomachenko is holding his breath in the pool is someone else there too, denting his rib cage with hooks? Those lights blinking on the screen, do they feint? And dancing school? Dancing school? Brooklyn itself rolls its collective eyes.

Papa Lopez laughs without mirth at the consensus opinion, at the so-called experts. But he couldn’t laugh off the indisputable fact that Lomachenko has been knocking off a parade of world-class fighters. So he plopped down in front of YouTube to see for himself what was happening.

And what did he see?

He saw that the so-called Matrix style is a series of tricks; that Lomachenko is pulling fast ones on the gullible in the opposite corner and in press row. He saw opponents cooperating with him as he gauged their strengths and weaknesses in the first round or two and measured the distance between his glove and their chin. He saw them mesmerized by nothing-shots—“pitty pats,” he called them, “patty-cakes,” and wondered if it would have been easier or harder, given the language barrier, if Lomachenko just came out and asked them to throw something so he can find the best route around it to sock them in the chops.

Papa Lopez also saw that Lomachenko is preoccupied with not getting hurt; that he habitually slips, dips, and veers off to his right against the conventional stance. Teofimo, 23, saw the same thing. They both know why he prefers that direction: it’s the safest route.

His offense, which has two prongs and lots of frills, doesn’t contradict his preoccupation. Lomachenko wants to draw out his opponents to counter them. He stands a half-step off the perimeter where they can’t quite reach him and he can’t reach them. Then he baits them. If they take the bait, he hops in with a jab and then hops back out of reach. He’s making calculations, looking for patterns, and once he finds them he exploits them with minimal risk to himself because, like Floyd Mayweather, he already has a pretty good idea of what they’re going to throw. When is he most aggressive? When his opponent is least aggressive—out of position or covering up. He isn’t comfortable with uncalculated risks. Like Floyd, he wants control; and that only happens with an opponent’s cooperation.

Stanley Crouch, the late cultural critic and Brooklynite who was at least as contentious as Papa Lopez, understood the set-up. “What a boxer ideally wants to do is turn the opponent into an assistant in his own ass-whipping,” he said. “That’s really what you want the other guy to do—to assist you in whipping his ass.”

Lomachenko built a reputation on willing assistants.

And defeating him was easier than anyone anticipated. The fighter of the future bowed to all-American unruliness and old-fashioned fundamentals.

Old School’s comeback Saturday night was long, long overdue. Lopez used his strength and length to draw an invisible border with a warning that said “this far and no farther.” Then he enforced it. Instead of letting Lomachenko freely angle around him like he’s some stiff at the prom, he angled with him and threw punches. When Lomachenko slipped and sallied past his invisible border, he adjusted his distance and sent the dogs out. He stopped his momentum. He never let him take control. He never cooperated.

By the 8th round, Lomachenko realized that he had no chance to win unless he let go of his preoccupation with defense. He had to “sell out,” as Andre Ward said, by getting closer and sallying in when it wasn’t safe. Lomachenko won the 8th round—the first of only three that two judges scored his way—but it didn’t matter. His mouth had dropped open as if he was getting ready to admit futurama’s failure. “I heard him huffing and puffing and I knew I had him,” said Lopez.

The 12th round reminds us that Old School remains the gold standard in the sport that’s barely a sport. When Papa Lopez had a nervous moment in the corner and urged caution, Lopez refused. “I’m a fighter, I can’t give him that,” he said, as if to remind us that Old School is more than dust, that it’s a disposition.

Teofimo Lopez now stands in a succession of lightweight kings whose dispositions were the impetus behind achievements that make this succession very possibly the most majestic of them all: Joe Gans. Benny Leonard. Tony Canzoneri. Barney Ross. Henry Armstrong. Ike Williams. Carlos Ortiz. Roberto Duran. Julio Cesar Chavez. Pernell Whitaker.

Floyd Mayweather is in that succession too, but the business model that guided his career was rebuked Saturday night. Lopez pointed to the past, polished it up, and declared its superiority. “We’re bringing back what the Old School was. You fight the best and push on it. I’m not here to pick and choose who I want to fight because I want to defend my title and keep that 0,” he said and shook his head. “No. Nah!”

The lightweight king now beckons chief rivals Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia, and Gervonta Davis to disavow the business model and take up the red flag. He looks north to Josh Taylor and Jose Carlos Ramirez’s battle for the jr. welterweight crown and beckons either of them—or both.

 “—C’mon!”

 

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Kelsey McCarson’s HITS and MISSES: Takeover Edition

Kelsey McCarson

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Boxing is back!

Okay, boxing had technically been back for a few months now. But didn’t it seem to be more fully back to normal with the weekend’s lightweight unification battle between Teofimo Lopez and Vasiliy Lomachenko on ESPN?

Make that double the case now that another edition of HITS and MISSES follows the latest big weekend in boxing, the first installment since the global pandemic began. 

HIT: Teofimo Lopez’s Undisputed Takeover

It’s one thing to parade something like “Takeover” around as your nickname while promising to be the next great fighter in the sport. It’s quite another to actually pull that takeover off, and do it at the tender age of 23 against a three-division world champion that’s a massive betting favorite. 

But that’s what Lopez did on Saturday night in Las Vegas, and he accomplished it in a way that almost nobody expected. 

Lopez dominated Lomachenko from the start of the fight. He outboxed the clever southpaw savant in a way few people dreamed possible and took home the unanimous decision win. Even among the few who thought the young lion might somehow usurp the old guard, most of that crew thought it would probably be one big punch that sent Loma down for the count.

By the end of the night, Lopez had solidified his status as boxing’s newest superstar. He also became the first undisputed lightweight champion since Pernell Whitaker. 

But even if the whole WBC Franchise fiasco leaves you in a place that questions that specific designation, Lopez used his post-fight celebration time to call the other WBC belt holder Devin Haney about a possible future showdown. 

So, Lopez is the undisputed best thing to happen to boxing in a long time. 

MISS: Vasiliy Lomachenko’s Slow Start

I like to think Lomachenko is still somewhere out there right now feinting and shuffling his feet around like a dancer. Seriously, though, what was Lomachenko doing for most of Saturday night? He certainly wasn’t attempting to win the fight. 

Much was made by the ESPN announcers about how Lomachenko would start slow in fights because he liked to download his opponents’ movements before settling on his attacks. But Lomachenko didn’t seem all that interested in attacking Lopez until somewhere around the eighth-round. By that time, the 32-year-old was way too far down on the scorecards for anything to matter all that much.

Sure, the last third of the fight was fun to watch. Lomachenko did end up having his moments including a strong 11th round, but it would have been a better fight if Lomachenko had started sooner. 

Instead, the fighter ESPN has long argued deserved to be ranked above everyone else regardless of weight class dispassionately saw his titles ripped away from him with relative ease. 

HIT: Edgar Berlanga’s KO Streak

Last year, I noted that Berlanga’s incredible streak was probably a case of matchmaking gone awry and that Berlanga would likely suffer later in his career because he wasn’t getting any rounds under his belt that mattered. 

My reasoning? Even terrifying power punchers like Deontay Wilder and Gennadiy Golovkin didn’t dispatch their early opponents in such decisively one-sided ways. 

Maybe it was just the lack of boxing around due to the global pandemic, but now I’ve flipped on Berlanga’s knockout streak. The 23-year-old scored his 15th first-round stoppage in a row against Lanell Bellows on Saturday’s Top Rank on ESPN card. 

It’s become one of the most interesting and noteworthy streaks in the sport, and this time Berlanga stopped an opponent who had never suffered that fate before in any round, much less the first. 

Berlanga’s 15 KOs in 15 fights is good television. 

MISS: Boxing Judge’s Viral ‘Social Dilemma’

Lewis Ritson was awarded a split-decision victory over former lightweight titleholder Miguel Vazquez on Saturday in England in a junior welterweight bout dubbed by the Sporting News as the “worst decision of 2020.”

According to CompuBox, Ritson’s “constant forward movement and snappier punches” earned him the nod on two of the judges’ scorecards even though Vazquez had out-landed him in all the important punch stat categories (193-141 overall, 80-75 jabs, 113-66 power).

But the biggest controversy was the viral picture of judge Terry O’Connor apparently looking at his phone during the fight that he scored 117-111 for Ritson. 

That didn’t sit well with anyone who believes judges should be watching the fights they’re tasked with scoring.

But in the wake of Netflix’s documentary film “The Social Dilemma,” that shows just how ingenious today’s artificial intelligence is at boosting user engagement so companies can sell advertising time to the unwitting people on the other end who don’t know why they can’t put their phones down. Maybe O’Connor and others should be mandated to place their phones in a place they can’t be accessed during fights. 

That would keep the social media outrage that’s going on right now over the few seconds O’Connor spent looking away from the action and point it more toward what appears to be boxing’s bigger problem: phones or no phones, too many boxing judges don’t know how to score fights. 

HIT: The Wonder of Complementary Programming 

Boxing counterprograms itself so much these days through the different promotional companies and networks out there that it’s nice to enjoy at least one day in recent history where a big fight happened and there weren’t any other big fights attempting to grab our attention. 

Not only did that happen, but ESPN wisely chose not to split programming between it’s MMA and boxing audiences on Saturday. 

ESPN is the home to Top Rank on ESPN boxing as well as the world’s leading MMA promotional company, UFC.

Like Top Rank, the UFC had a massive fight card on its schedule on Saturday, and the boxing/UFC audiences are fractured enough that both cards could have somewhat reasonably ran against each other. 

Instead, the UFC’s Fight Night card in Abu Dhabi ran early in the evening, and it meant UFC fans who might be somewhat interested in the big fight in boxing could be funneled to the main card featuring Lopez vs. Lomachenko. 

That’s great for both sports, the promoters and ESPN, too. Top Rank’s Bob Arum and UFC’s Dana White might hate each other for personal and political reasons, but the rising tide of complementary programming on ESPN will ultimately have all ships rising. 

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

 

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 Teofimo Takes Over: Upsets Lomachenko

Arne K. Lang

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Teofimo Takes Over: Upsets Lomachenko

Four belts were at stake tonight when Vasiliy Lomachenko locked horns with Teofimo Lopez at the MGM Grand Bubble. There were two stand-alone belts (IBF and WBO), one fractured belt (WBA), and one belt of little provenance contrived especially for this fight. But this was a fight that didn’t need any alphabet baubles to legitimate it. In the history of the 135-pound division, few matchups have been as compelling.

Heading in, Lomachenko had faced eight former or current world title-holders and had won 13 straight. Lopez, nine years younger at age 23, was undefeated (now 16-0) but few thought that he was ready for the likes of the Ukrainian marvel who many considered the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world. But the Brooklyn-born Lopez, who represented Honduras in the 2016 Olympics, started fast and finished with a flourish to win a unanimous decision.

The judges had it 116-112, 117-111, and 119-109, the latter score turned in by Julie Lederman whose tally struck the TV commentators as way too wide. Lomachenko started slow, arguably losing the first six rounds, and when he finally let his hands go more freely he was playing catch-up with too big a deficit to overcome.

Co-Feature

Los Angeles junior welterweight Arnold Barboza Jr., a consensus 13/5 favorite, maintained his unblemished record with a unanimous decision over former world title challenger Alex Saucedo who suffered his second loss in 32 fights. Saucedo scored the bout’s lone knockdown with a straight left hand in round seven (it was initially ruled a slip, but overruled by replay judge Joe Cortez), but Barboza, now 25-0, had the faster hands and routinely beat Saucedo to the punch to win by scores of 96-93, 97-92, 97-92.

Berlanga

Edgar Berlanga, the 23-year-old Brooklyn-based Puerto Rican, continued his spectacular start to his pro career with another first-round knockout, his 15th in as many opportunities. The victim was 34-year-old Lanell Bellows (20-6-3), a Mayweather Gym product who hadn’t previously been stopped.

A super middleweight, Berlanga, the 2019 TSS Prospect of the Year, hurt Bellows with a sweeping left hook and opened a gash over Bellows left eye with an overhand right before referee Robert Hoyle interceded. The official time was 1:19.

Other Bouts

In a bout contested at the catch-weight of 142 pounds, 22-year-old Bronx southpaw Josue Vargas, whose lone setback was by disqualification, improved to 18-1 with a unanimous decision over San Antonio’s Kendo Castaneda (17-3). The judges had it 100-89, 99-90, and 98-91.

Vargas, who was Teofimo’s chief sparring partner, scored a flash knockdown in round two with a straight left hand. Castaneda, who acquitted himself well in defeat in a Bubble bout with Jose Zepeda that he took on 7-days notice, is an honest workman hampered by a lack of punching power.

Featherweight Jose Enrique Vivas (20-1, 11 KOs) wasted no time dismissing John Vincent Moralde (23-4), whacking out the Filipino at the 1:16 mark of the opening round. The Mexico-born Californian, Vivas sent Moralde to the canvas in the opening minute with a cuffing left hook and then went for the kill, felling Moralde for the count with a vicious body punch.

In a 6-round welterweight contest, Houston’s Quinton Randall advanced to 7-0 (2) with a unanimous decision over Jon Carlos Rivera who was 4-0 with 4 KOs (and 1 ND) coming in. The scores were 59-55 and 58-56 twice.

Rivera, from Philadelphia via Vieques, Puerto Rico, was the aggressor, but the 30-year-old Randall, who is backed by a strong team, had height and reach advantages that Rivera couldn’t overcome.

In the TV lid-lifter, 17-year old welterweight Jahi Tucker improved to 2-0 with a unanimous decision over Charles Garner (1-1). All three judges gave Tucker all four rounds, but Garner wasn’t fazed by Tucker’s amateur pedigree – the Deer Park, Long Island teenager, was ranked #1 at 138 pounds while still a sophomore in high school – and acquitted himself very well in defeat.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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