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British Boxing 2019 in Review

Matt McGrain

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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.

azeez

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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The Hauser Report: Garcia-Redkach and More

Thomas Hauser

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Boxing made its debut at Barclays Center on October 20, 2012, with a fight card headlined by four world title bouts. Danny Garcia, Erik Morales, Paulie Malignaggi, Peter Quillin, Devon Alexander, Danny Jacobs, and Luis Collazo were in the ring that night. The franchise grew nicely. Fans who went to Barclays saw good featured fights with solid undercard bouts. But as of late, the arena’s fistic offerings have faded.

Barclays cast its lot with Premier Boxing Champions. And PBC has moved its prime content to greener pastures (green being the color of money). There were five fight cards at Barclays Center in 2019. Each one struggled to sell tickets.

January 25 marked the thirty-ninth fight card at Barclays. The arena was half empty. The announced attendance was 8,217 but that included a lot of freebies. There were six fights on the card. As expected, fighters coming out of the blue corner won all of them. That’s what happens when 6-0 squares off against 2-10-1.

Three of the fights were televised by Showtime Championship Boxing, which has also been diminished as a consequence of a multi-year output deal with PBC.

In the first of these bouts, Stephen Fulton (17-0, 8 KOs) and Ukrainian-born Arnold Khegai (16-0, 10 KOs) met in a junior-featherweight bout. Each had fought the usual suspects en route to their confrontation. There was a lot of holding and rabbit-punching which referee Steve Willis ignored. Eventually, Fulton pulled away for a unanimous-decision triumph.

Next up, Jarrett Hurd (23-1, 16 KOs) took on Francisco Santana (25-7, 12 KOs).

Hurd is a big junior-middleweight who held the WBA and IBF 154-pound titles until losing to Julian Williams last year. Santana is a career welterweight who had lost three of his most recent four fights and had won only three times in the last five years.

Hurd was expected to walk through Santana. But he was strangely passive for much of the fight, which led to the strange spectacle of Santana (the noticeably smaller, lighter-punching man) walking Jarrett down for long stretches of time. Francisco is a one-dimensional fighter and was there to be hit. When Jarrett let his hands go, he hit him. But he fought like a man who didn’t want to fight and didn’t let his hands go often enough.

By round seven, the boos and jeers were raining down. Hurd won a unanimous decision but looked mediocre. That’s the most honest way to put it. One wonders what tricks losing to Julian Williams last year played with his mind.

Also, it should be noted that, when the winning fighter thanks God in a post-fight interview and the crowd (which supported Jarrett at the start of the bout) boos at the mention of The Almighty, there’s a problem.

“The crowd didn’t love it,” Hurd acknowledged afterward. “But you gotta understand; I got the unanimous decision and I did what I wanted to do.”

The main event matched Danny Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs) against Ivan Redkach (23-4-1, 18 KOs).

Garcia had a nice run early in his career, winning belts at 140 and 147 pounds. But later, he came out on the losing end of decisions against Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter. Other than that, he has gone in soft for the past five years.

Redkach is a junior-welterweight who had won 5 of 10 fights during the same five-year time frame.

There was the usual pre-fight nonsense with Garcia telling reporters, “We picked Redkach because he’s dangerous and we knew he’d be tough.” But in truth, Redkach had been whitewashed by Tevin Farmer at 135 pounds and was knocked out at the same weight by John Molina Jr (who never won again).

Garcia, like Hurd, was a 30-to-1 betting favorite.

Redkach fought a safety-first fight. Also, safety second and third. There wasn’t one second when it looked as though he had a realistic chance of winning the fight or fought like he did.

One of the few proactive things that Ivan did do was stick out his tongue from time to time when Garcia hit him. Then, at the end of round eight, he bit Danny on the shoulder while they were in a clinch. At that point, one might have expected referee Benjy Esteves to disqualify Redkach. But Esteves seemed to not notice.

Rather than go for the kill after the bite, Garcia eased up and cruised to a unanimous decision. Meanwhile, by round eleven, the crowd was streaming for the exits. Most of the fans were gone by the time the decision was announced.

Garcia and Hurd had set-up showcase fights scheduled for them. And neither man delivered the way he should have.

Meanwhile, a final thought . . . Sunday, January 26, would have been Harold Lederman’s eightieth birthday.

Harold was the quintessential boxing fan and loved the sport more than anyone I’ve known. He never missed a fight at Barclays Center unless his health prevented him from coming or he was on the road for HBO. He died eight months ago.

As Saturday night’s fight card unfolded, I imagined Harold sitting beside me. He would have had a kind word for everyone who came over to say hello and loved every minute of it. Harold Lederman at the fights was a happy man.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book — A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing — was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. On June 14, 2020, he will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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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 6-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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Featured Articles2 weeks ago

In L.A., Tyson Fury Promises Hagler-Hearns Type Fight; Wilder Smiles

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