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British Boxing 2019 in Review

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2018 was an astonishing year for British boxing and for all that 2019 didn’t quite measure up, there were some notable names and some astonishing moments, not to mention some astonishing fights.

Here we take a closer look, naming a British Boxer of the Year, a British Fight of the Year, the British Prospect of the Year, the British Breakthrough of the Year and finally the British Trainer of the Year.

This one is in the bag; I’ll see you this time next year for another yearly appraisal.

British Boxer of the Year: Josh Taylor

A lot has been said about the terrible emotional turmoil inflicted upon Josh Taylor in this past year, which should have been the best year of his life. Suffering a death in the family makes going to work in an office extremely difficult, so we can, some of us, imagine the terrible difficulty in putting your health on the line in one of the most emotionally wrought professions a person can chose. But set that aside. Strictly in sporting terms, Taylor has a head a year for the ages.

Set aside, too, just for a moment, his October meeting with Regis Prograis and look instead to his May clash with Ivan Baranchyk. Baranchyk was and remains absolutely real, a light-welterweight of prestigious strength and formidable durability. His 2018 walkdown of Anthony Yigit was painful to watch and saw Baranchyk ensconced in the top ten. This was the man Taylor had to overcome in the semi-final of the World Boxing Super Series.

He did so, and in doing so he fitted the last piece of the puzzle in his stylistic jigsaw, repeatedly slipping and ducking Baranchyk’s wild hooks, hooks he threw with both hands as he aggressively pursued a Josh Taylor that seemed happier on his toes than at any point in his career. It was a demonstration of stylistic flexibility unlike any seen on these shores for a number of years.

In the fourth, Taylor started to come down, to meet his more aggressive foe in the pocket. He was dominant here too, his more varied offense crowned with two-handed uppercuts and a sneaky trailing left from the southpaw stance.

Hit and hurt in the fifth he went to war in the sixth and twice dropped Baranchyk, who had never been down much less beaten in his 19-0 career. This was the round that determined his wide points victory.

Still, Prograis was something else again. Skilled, quick-witted and seemingly faster than Taylor he was a genuinely menacing opponent and at 24-0 was also more experienced. Expectations were that Prograis would box and move and that Taylor would have to assume the Baranchyk role in trying to hunt a more mobile fighter down and take it away from him. When Prograis elected to hold his ground, the result was a fight of the year contender and the result, a narrow decision victory for the Scotsman, made him the only reasonable choice for British fighter of the year.

It also saw him crack the TBRB pound-for-pound list at number ten.

So, Taylor had a hard year but a good one. It ended though, on a sour note. Scotland is not an easy place to be famous and Scottish blood runs hot come the weekend. In December, Taylor appeared in court having been involved in an altercation with a nightclub bouncer in the early hours of a Sunday morning during which he threw homophobic and racial insults. He pleaded guilty to the latter of these while charges relating to possession of cocaine were dropped.

If 2020 is to be as outstanding for Taylor as 2019 was, changes need to be made.

British Fight of the Year: Lewis Ritson UD12 Robbie Davies

Nowhere in the UK does big time sport quite like Newcastle. As a Scotsman, that’s not easy to admit and while I’d argue Glasgow a close second, Newcastle remains number one.

Lewis Ritson (20-1) is that city’s favorite fighting son and Robbie Davies (19-1) showed guts even agreeing to make the match there. What followed was as fine a demonstration of heart and intestinal fortitude as was seen in Britain this past year.

Brutal exchanges in the first foretold a knockout, but it was not to be. Despite Davies switch hitting impressively and scoring with either trailing hand, Ritson came roaring back in the final minute; they re-joined in the second and fought as though tethered. Ritson, ostensibly the puncher in the fight, couldn’t hit hard enough to get Davies off him. The referee was a mere spectator – clinches were as rare as retreat.

Both men were exhausted by the sixth but had gone to that strange place boxers visit when they know if they don’t hit, they’ll get hit. Every truly great fight of any length sees the combatants visit that netherworld, I think, and the man who copes with it better emerges triumphant.

And that man was Riston. This fight was, perhaps, a little too wide to be immortal, Ritson winning by valid scores of 117-112 and 116-112 twice (my score), but the twelfth round gives pause for thought.  Davies strength of character in coming back over and over again from Ritson bombs in this round was the highlight of both the fight and the British boxing year.

British Breakthrough of the Year: John Ryder

John Ryder (28-5) traveled out to Las Vegas in May and blasted out the unranked Australian puncher Bilal Akkawy in three. This put him in line for a shot at the world’s number one super-middleweight Callum Smith. This was awkward for Smith, who believed he was ready for box office. Ryder wasn’t that. He was, on paper, merely a solid contender, and with a 5’9 frame and 72” inch reach, probably a middleweight one. Smith, at 6’2, 78”, could perhaps be forgiven for taking the fight a little lightly.

If he did, it was in error.

Ryder slipped Smith’s very first jab beautifully. He then nicked a desperately close round on generalship. His plan, to wait, wait and wait, then punch his way in and aggressively smother Smith on the ropes with busy hands, resulted in a fight that was, although not electric, poised, absorbing and fascinating.

Again and again Smith seemed to find the range but again and again Ryder, using a deep stance but bracing his weight across alternate legs depending upon Smith’s position, continued to upset his rhythm and his work with rushing, mauling attacks. It was comical at first to see the little man bury himself on Smith and whale away but by the fourth it was clear that Smith was in a fight.

After eight they looked dead level and when Ryder crashed out of his corner in his tenth and eleventh the fight seemed in the balance. With a torrid twelfth too close to call any one of three results seemed possible.

With so many close rounds – and the first, second, fifth, eighth, tenth and twelfth were all desperately close – it is always possible that the official scorecards will seem unsatisfying and this was such an occasion. 116-112 twice and 117-111 seemed off. I had it a draw – many had Ryder the winner.

The reaction to this result was fascinating. Sympathy for Ryder was almost universal and it is interesting to me that the TBRB, Boxing Monthly and Boxing News all continue to rank Ryder among their top ten in the division. Even more unlikely, Eddy Reynoso, who coaches Canelo Alvarez, has mentioned Ryder as a possible future opponent. He made an impression in defeat that many fail to make in victory.

Ryder lost the only truly meaningful fight he boxed in 2019 but he’s the breakout star from the UK with some massive fights a possibility in his future, not least a possible rematch with Smith.

British Prospect for 2020: Daniel Azeez

Daniel Azeez (11-0) had a busy 2019, boxing thirty rounds across five different fights, all victories, four of them by knockout. But it is another number which makes Azeez my British prospect to watch for the coming twelve months and that number is “30”, his age.

Azeez took up boxing as an amateur late and after a respectable if unglamorous unpaid career, turned professional in 2017. A light-heavyweight, he’s not in a desperate hurry, but his apprenticeship should be truncated given his years.

As to that inglorious amateur career, Azeez is sure his style is more suited to the paid ranks.  This is a bell often rung by amateurs who met with limited success, but Azeez is a little more specific than most, picking perhaps the most “professional” fighter of all as the one his style most echoes, Marvin Hagler.

Azeez is built a little like the great middleweight, defined but with a certain litheness, and he favors the same attire for the ring: old-school ring-robe, knee-high socks, even the maroon colored trunks Marvin favored.

As to his style, there are some similarities. Azeez stepped up this past June against the stoic Charlie Duffield, who he did away with in six. What most impressed me about this performance was the steady manner in which Azeez broke his man down. He started off confidently, no small matter given that he was on the undercard of the Dillian Whyte-Oscar Rivas pay-per-view card, and by the fifth was exhibiting total dominance. That speaks of a layered offence rather than athletic superiority, though he enjoyed aspects of that too.

What made Hagler a genius was economy; he wasted almost nothing and that is perhaps the hardest skill to master in the ring because it combines so many elements of other skills and abilities. Azeez has the beginning of excellent timing in the ring and if he displays one third of what Hagler had in that department he has the makings of a very good fighter.

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In the plus column: his uppercuts are already wonderful, he has two very different right hands, one short, one over the top and both of them are very good punches; his jab is hurtful; he has footwork and balance of a much more seasoned fighter and sudden attacks don’t seem to compromise it.

In the minus column: he doesn’t use his jab nearly enough, though his use of upper-body feints mitigate that somewhat from a defensive perspective; his chin, of course, is unknown; I’m interested to see how he does against top drawer hookers; he’s in a very tough division.

It all adds up to very interesting and with an English title under his belt courtesy of his clear points victory over the awkward 9-0-1 Lawrence Osueke earlier this month and the man himself hinting at a shot at the British title in 2020, it is likely to become more so in this coming year.

British Trainer of the Year: Robert McCracken

Yes, that Robert McCracken, the one that oversaw Anthony Joshua’s disastrous knockout loss to Andy Ruiz before, admittedly, overseeing a victory in the return – the Rob McCracken everyone thought Anthony Joshua should have fired. The truth is that no British trainer has moved me to any great extent in 2019 so I am taking the opportunity to pay tribute here to McCracken’s wider work.

As the performance director at the English Institute of Sport, McCracken has worked at some point with not one, not two, but all six of the current British fighters to hold an alphabet title. Alphabet titles are murdering boxing, but getting one isn’t easy. So, it is worth noting that while he may not have worked directly this year with the likes of Callum Smith or Kal Yafai, he had a hand in the development of each and every one of them as well as any number of decorated amateurs.

And with 2020 being another Olympic year, he may just get the nod again in twelve months’ time.

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Rest In Peace Eder Jofre

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“I just thrill at that boy’s performance. He is a marvel of boxing perfection. There is nothing he cannot do.” – Barney Ross.

Between 1957 when he turned professional and 1965 when Fighting Harada caught up with him, Eder Jofre was 46-0-3. He reached heights that so few fighters have reached that you could probably name them without straining. He passed away this morning in Sau Paulo, Brazil, from pneumonia aged eighty-six. He had been hospitalised since March.

To say that his was a life well lived is an understatement.

Jofre was born in Sau Paulo in 1936, a decade that reflected this one in that it was a time of great political upheaval in his beloved Brazil, the thirties seeing the end of the Brazilian Republic, a communist uprising, a fascist uprising, and iterations of new constitutions peeled off like playing cards. It seemed to be sport, not politics that drove Jofre’s people though and his father had tried a fair hand at amateur boxing, later joining his brother to become a coach. The stars aligned and a fistic immortal rose from Brazil’s political ruins.

“At a young age,” wrote Chris Smith, author of the definitive Jofre biography Brazil’s First Boxing Champion, “[his father] put the gloves on Eder and started teaching him techniques and punching patterns…it wasn’t long before little Eder was jumping rope with the professionals.”

By the time he was seven years old, he was training like an amateur boxer and soberly asking his father’s permission to thrash school bullies. By the age of sixteen he was fighting as an amateur and in 1956 he was a part of the Brazilian Olympic team that travelled to Melbourne, Australia where he was eliminated before the medals by Chilean Claudio Barrientos – who would be stopped in eight rounds by Jofre when they met up again in the professional ranks.

Those professional ranks beckoned him a few months after his Olympic failure, the same time at which he decided to become a vegetarian, something he remained committed to until his death.  Early results were good. While Jofre was troubled by a tiny handful of South American draws, a local phenomenon that called for a wider separation of the fighters that was generally called for in the rest of the world, “O Galo De Ouro” as he would soon come to be known had set upon the road that would culminate in one of the finest runs in bantamweight and boxing history.

Another foible of the South American boxing landscape of the 1950s and 1960s was that in the unlikely event that you were able to free yourself from the massed banditry of the local toughs, you would often have to meet with ranked opposition before you were even allowed to contest for regional titles. Imagine the horror this notion would inflict upon the rather spoiled fighters of today, fighters who often achieve world championships without having to meet with the best.

For his part, Jofre ran up against the Filipino Leo Espinosa in June of 1959. Espinosa, a former flyweight, had extended the immortal Pascual Perez the full fifteen in 1956, even picking up a few rounds, before conquering a man who would soon be a fine champion in his own right, Pone Kingpetch, in 1957. He had a pedigree in excess of Jofre who had boxed just twenty-five contests.  Jofre admitted to his father before this fight that he was afraid, and his father suggested they cancel.

“No.  That’s the way it is.  Afraid or not, I am fighting.”

Such was his life.

It was not just Jofre’s career which was in its infancy but also the boxing in Brazil – Espinosa seems to have been only the second world-class fighter to visit the country and so as Eder went, so did boxing in Brazil. Jofre did not let his countrymen down. In the fifth he dropped the visiting Filipino with a gorgeous left hook – there is a famous photograph of Jofre bouncing, looking away from his fallen foe, his feet not touching the ground, frozen with both feet an inch above the canvas, floating. Espinosa got his disorganised legs under him and although he remained cool as Jofre’s battle-fever and inexperience showed, there was little likelihood of his winning after suffering such a blow. Jofre had graduated in a ten-round decision.

This set him loose on the trail of the South American Bantamweight title, a far more worthy, storied championship than it is today and held by the world-ranked Argentine Ernesto Miranda. For those who are not aware, Argentina-Brazil is as great a sporting rivalry as exists and his series with Miranda was the key rivalry of the first half of Jofre’s career. The two had met twice in 1957, registering a pair of draws before their respective careers diverged, and now they were to settle matters for the title. Their third fight, in February of 1960, was a strange affair in which Eder fought aggressively but was made to miss by Miranda, who never looked like winning but who boxed carefully enough to undermine Jofre’s offence.

This lack of aggression makes Miranda’s behaviour prior to their fourth encounter a few months later even stranger. Miranda behaved like a man fueled by hate, even stooping so low as to send insulting letters to Jofre’s wife and family. One must be wary of projecting on to great historical figures in unpicking their motives but here it seems to me is a key moment for Jofre. His bad intentions seem to me to have been unlocked by Miranda, not just in the fourth and final fight of their rivalry but for all time. Not even world-class opposition would be safe after this night.

It was not that Jofre was more aggressive than in their third fight, but rather he seems to have been more controlled. He missed less, countered more and made a backfoot fight impossible for Miranda.  They waged war with not a moment’s doubt as to the outcome. It was Jofre in three. After destroying his rival in the ring, Jofre the man found it within himself to forgive Miranda for some obscene pre-fight behaviour and even take him into his confidences.

It was inevitable now that Jofre would receive a shot at the title although for the privilege, Jofre had to travel to Los Angeles where he dominated and stopped the overmatched Eloy Sanchez in November of 1960. A brief and disturbing brush with the Italian Mafia aside, the championship fight went off without a hitch. Jofre cheerly named the bantamweight title a wedding gift for his wife-to-be.

In 1961 Jofre was matched with the world-class Italian Piero Rollo. Rollo had been beaten before, but never stopped by punches – so brutally did Jofre handle him that he was unable to answer the bell for the tenth. It was a sensational display of total dominance.

“I am never in a hurry,” Jofre explained, that control again.

“He is the best bantam in the world,” offered a barely recognisable Rollo.

I submit that Jofre was by this point already technically complete. When he met Johnny Caldwell the following year – Caldwell, too, made the awful mistake of making his contest with Jofre personal – he was as beautifully balanced as it is possible for a fighter to be, almost never out of punching position, delivering on boxing’s manual on shot after shot while also riffing on the classics. His uppercut, especially, was a thing of genuine beauty; Jofre could make space for that punch almost anywhere and throw it from unusual ranges and angles, making of it then a feint that certainly tied Caldwell in knots. An unbeaten Northern Irishman, it is hard to exaggerate just how tough this man was, but Jofre beat him so badly as to see him rescued by his distressed manager in the tenth.

The title picture, which had become confused by the retirement of Jose Becerra, was now clear – it was Jofre. Indisputably the world’s number one bantamweight, he would remain so for the first half of the 1960s, dismissing Herman Marquez, Kat Aoki, and, against the man most likely to rule if Jofre had never been born, he repeated his 1960 knockout of Jose Medel, this time in just six rounds. In 1964 he turned in his last great winning performance against Bernardo Caraballo, one of the most underrated bantamweights of all and the most underrated bantamweight of the era. Caraballo, out of Colombia, passed away himself earlier this year, and just as Jofre led the charge for boxing in Brazil, so did Caraballo in his country.

In the 1960s, in their primes, they duke it out ring-centre for control, both stylists, both big for the weight, both hungry for personal and national glory. This, I suspect, is not a fight any 118lb man could win against Jofre and soon enough Caraballo is moving away square, disorganised, harassed.  He succumbed in seven.

Jofre spans the eras. When he won his titles he was boxing for the old incarnations, the NYSAC, the NBA, by the time he lost them, he was defending the WBC and WBA championships, certainty ebbed even as his greatness flowed. The wonderful Fighting Harada was the man who came for him, by then tight at the weight and giving up a clear style advantage to his Japanese foe, Jofre was still able to make the rematch razor-thin after dropping a clear decision in the first fight. More glory awaited at featherweight in something of a second career, but Jofre’s best was behind him. He finally hung them up in 1976 during Muhammad Ali’s second reign; when he turned professional, Rocky Marciano had just retired.

This is a very short version of a very great ring-career. What is not posited here is his personal life. Eder’s was rich. He was happily married to Cidinha for more than fifty years; he had a close relationship with his children, who travelled with him, not least in his twilight years when Jofre revisited the site of his title-winning fight with Eloy Sanchez. He lived a life any one of us could be proud of after boxing, working in politics and Brazilian civil service, continuing to make friends right up until the very end.

I spoke to author Chris Smith about his enduring memory of Jofre, with whom he worked closely on their recently published book.

“A year ago, I had the pleasure of hosting him and his two kids and I asked him a few times “how are you feeling champ?” And he’d always respond “very, very happy.”  He told me he was the happiest person in the world.”

Beat that.

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Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame Returns plus Local Philly Fight News

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Still coming out of a global pandemic which suspended the 2020 ceremony and forced a limited version of the celebratory weekend last year, 2022 marks not only a return to normalcy for the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame (ACBHOF), but it gives a chance for fans to get the full interactive experience. This year, for the first time, all of the weekend’s festivities including the Induction Ceremony on Sunday, Oct. 9, will take place at one location, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

“This year we are really excited about the new things we have to offer fans, while we continue to deliver the type of access we’ve become known for,” states ACBHOF founder Ray McCline. “We want fans to understand that this weekend [second weekend of October] is going to be our home from now on. Working with Hard Rock has been special, and they’ve helped us with a lot of the logistics to really blend what they do [music entertainment] with the sports world and our event.” After listening to McCline passionately speaking about his goal to bring the sports legends and legendary fights back to life for the proud resort city that has a special role in boxing history, a sense of relief can be heard from McCline regarding the past obstacles the ACBHOF has dealt with.

“So far each of the past weekends have had their hiccups, those things happen when you’re hosting such a large event with so many moving pieces. This partnership allows for fans to come to one main site and stay immersed in all things boxing and music for the whole weekend,” says McCline. From the opening V.I.P. party on Friday night to the memorabilia show that will feature interactive displays with some of the sport’s legends teaching boxing basics, McCline wants the Hall of Fame Weekend to be known as the weekend when both fans and legendary boxers mingle in an up-close and personal way.

This year’s class includes Lennox Lewis, James Toney, Frank Fletcher, Kathy Duva (promoter), Kevin Rooney Sr. (trainer), and Pat Lynch (manager). Except for the V.I.P. party that starts the weekend and the Induction Ceremony that closes out the weekend, every other event is free and open to the public, notes McCline.

Some tickets remain for the kick-off party and ceremony. Fans interested in attending can visit ACBHOF for all the details.

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Marshall Kauffman’s Kings Promotions is presenting a show tonight (Saturday, Oct. 1) at Philadelphia’s 2300 Arena featuring bantamweight standout Christian Carto (19-1, 13 KOs) taking on his toughest test since his return. He battles Argentina’s Hector Sosa (14-1, 8 KOs) the former South American super bantamweight champion. Carto is always in fan-friendly fights and with a victory over Sosa can reemerge as a potential world championship challenger soon.

Light heavyweight Atif Oberlton (6-0, 5 KOs) returns to action in the co-feature. Oberlton was an accomplished amateur and many local boxing observers are dubbing the Philadelphian a future world champion.

Next weekend, on Friday night October 7th, several staples in Philadelphia boxing return to the Xcite Event Center at Parx Casino in Bensalem. Joe Hand Promotions and Joey “Tank” Dawejko (22-10-4, 13 KOs) are teaming up with Hall of Fame promoter Russell Peltz for a night of action featuring some of the best local talent.

Dawejko, a long-time fringe heavyweight contender from the Tacony section of the city fought off any talk of retirement on Sept. 1 when he scored a fourth-round stoppage over Mike Marshall (6-3-1, 4 KOs). Dawejko was back in the ring for the first time in seven months after deciding to make one final push towards heavyweight glory.

Dawejko takes on veteran Terrell Jamal Woods (28-53-9, 20 KOs) of Forrest City, AR, in a scheduled eight-round bout. Prior to his victory over Marshall, Dawejko contemplated hanging up his gloves in favor of the roofing business that he established this year. However, after a lengthy conversation with promoter Russell Peltz, the two agreed to team up again for one last run in the sport. At just 32 years old, Dawejko has had a fruitful career and not just from a financial standpoint. He has competed all over the world and has never turned down an opportunity at a big fight, or to join top contenders and champions in their training camps.

Many of Dawejko’s major career opportunities were taken at the last minute. This last push by him is about finally reaching for the one thing missing from his professional career, a gold belt that he can display that signifies that he was at one point one of the best heavyweights on the planet. Against Marshall he displayed fast hands and pin-point accuracy and his fight against Woods on Oct. 7 should be no different in terms of action and his progression.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 205: Zurdo Ramirez and More SoCal Fight Talk

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Southern California gyms are heating up even more than usual with major prize fights on the horizon in October.

Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez greeted media in downtown Los Angeles recently to chat about his upcoming light heavyweight world championship challenge against WBA titlist Dmitry Bivol in Dubai.

Usually, downtown L.A. is busy with walking and driving traffic, but things are not completely back to normal says the security officer at the Golden Boy Promotions headquarters. The pandemic is still in effect to a small degree.

Mexico’s Ramirez (44-0, 30 KOs) signed to meet Russia’s Bivol (20-0,11 KOs) on Nov. 5, at Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. It’s a battle of undefeated light heavyweights and round two of Mexico versus Russia.

It was a mere five months ago that Bivol hung a loss over Mexico’s number one fighter Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. Now he meets Ramirez who is several inches taller than Canelo.

Ramirez (pictured with Golden Boy Promotions president Eric Gomez) trains in Los Angeles and signed with Golden Boy primarily for one reason: he wanted a crack at stardom and to fight a world champion with clout. Enter Bivol who slapped Alvarez around for 12 rounds. Neither fighter was ever in danger of going down. Bivol won by unanimous decision.

Many say Bivol was too big for Alvarez, but I think Canelo simply has slipped a little in terms of preparing properly. I call it the “silk pajama syndrome.”

It’s hard to get up at 5 a.m. and train when you sleep in silk pajamas. Ever since Alvarez began hanging out with the yacht club guys and playing golf on a regular basis, he’s lost that hunger. If you’re a prizefighter, hunger is everything.

Canelo admits he plays golf almost every day including during his training periods. He’s also been seen attending Del Mar Racetrack to watch the ponies. Upper crust kind of stuff.

Ramirez, on the other hand, though he doesn’t appear like the usual Mexican roughneck, has a certain schoolboy kind of look. No one would ever guess he comes from a rough Sinaloa upbringing.

Even his manner of talk has a gentle charm.

‘I feel happy and excited to fight for the title with Dmitry Bivol,” said Ramirez inside the Golden Boy headquarters. “I’m ready to show in this fight what I can really do. I’m ready for whatever he brings to the ring.”

Both Bivol and Ramirez have sparred before.

“We didn’t do a lot of sparring,” said Ramirez, adding that it was enough to surmise what to expect when they meet in November.

Another who sparred Ramirez is former two-time super middleweight titlist David Benavidez. Both sparred recently and when asked who was better, Ramirez leaned toward Benavidez.

Interesting.

Zurdo and Benavidez also want a crack at Canelo the Golden Fleece of boxing. But the red head from Guadalajara has balked.

Though Benavidez and Ramirez are very good and capable of giving Canelo a struggle, neither has made a mark on sales. It’s one thing to be undefeated; it’s an entirely different thing to attract fans on television or sell tickets.

If Ramirez beats Bivol he is on the right path. If Benavidez, a very strong fighter, can attract a big name to enter the prize ring with him, then he too can entice Canelo to a showdown.

Jojo and Zepeda in San Diego

Another who appeared in Golden Boy headquarters were lightweight contenders Jojo Diaz and William Zepeda set to clash at the end of October in San Diego.

Diaz, a former American Olympian and two division world champion, last fought in December 2021 against Devin Haney before Haney became undisputed lightweight world champion. Diaz did far better than George Kambosos did against Haney.

The former featherweight and super featherweight world titlist showed moving up in weight was not a problem. And though he lost to Haney, he competed at a high level and landed solidly far more often than the Aussie did.

“When I looked at the tape I saw I could have done more,” said Diaz (32-2-1, 15 KOs) about his loss to Haney.

Now, the South El Monte fighter has a Mexican fighter streaking toward the top in Zepeda.

Mexico City’s Zepeda (26-0, 23 KOs) burst on the American scene two years ago during the height of the pandemic and soundly defeated two ranked American fighters in Roberto Ramirez and Hector Tanajara. Add two more knockout wins since then and the hard-hitting southpaw has blazed a path to the top.

Now its lefty versus lefty at the Pechanga Arena in San Diego on Saturday Oct. 29. Tickets are now on sale.

“I’m facing a very talented young fighter,” said Zepeda, 26. “It can be a good victory to beat a former world champion.”

Diaz, 29, expects and desires only hard fights.

“This fight represents everything. I’m coming off a defeat to Devin Haney,” said Diaz. “I’ve got a big set of balls and love to fight the best.”

It’s a Golden Boy Promotions card and will also feature the return of welterweight contender Alexis Rocha.

Commerce Casino

Six undefeated prospects are set to perform on Saturday Oct. 1, at Commerce Casino in the City of Commerce, California. The boxing card is staged by Elite Promotions and Red Boxing and partnering with nonprofit Breast Cancer Angles from Los Alamitos, Calif. to support their cause.

Situated near East Los Angeles, the casino has recently become a popular location for local club shows. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Expected to perform on the fight card are Brandon Mendoza, Cristopher Rios, and William King. For more information contact: redboxinginternational@gmail.com.

Premier Boxing Champions

Super welterweight contenders Sebastian Fundora (19-0-1, 13 KOs) and Mexico’s Carlos Ocampo (34-1, 22 KOs) meet on Saturday, Oct. 8, at Dignity Sports Park Complex in Carson, Calif. Showtime will televise the interim WBC super welterweight title fight.

Known as the “Towering Inferno” because of his 6’5” height, Fundora lives and trains in Southern California and defeated world title challenger Erikson Lubin by technical knockout last April in Las Vegas. He’s trained by Ben Lira.

Tickets are on sale for the card that also features Dominican fighter Carlos Adames who upset Sergiy Derevyanchenko last December by majority decision. Adames meets Mexico’s Juan Macias Montiel who battled Jermall Charlo 12 rounds and lost by decision for the WBC middleweight title.

SoCal note

Riverside’s veteran trainer Willy Silva contacted us to mention his nephew Sebastian Estrada (4-0, 4 KOs) faces undefeated Fidel Samano Lopez (5-0, 4 KOs) in a battle of undefeated super lightweights on Saturday in San Luis Rio, Mexico. It’s the main event.

Silva has trained many former top contenders such as Mauricio Herrera, Carlos Bojorquez, and Jose Reynoso the nephew of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez’s first trainer Jose “Chepo” Reynoso.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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