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3 Punch Combo: Notes on Saturday’s Top Rank Card and Friday’s ‘Sho-Box’ Overture

Matt Andrzejewski

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3 Punch Combo: Notes on Saturday’s Top Rank Card and Friday’s ‘Sho-Box’ Overture

THREE PUNCH COMBOLight heavyweight is currently one of the deepest divisions in boxing. While superstar Canelo Alvarez appears to be one-and-done, the top end is still loaded with talent and just a step below are many viable contenders knocking at the door. In order to get a title shot against one of the division’s elite such as Artur Beterbiev (15-0, 15 KO’s) or Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11 KO’s), these contenders must square off against one another to separate themselves from the pack.

This Saturday at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, NY we see two such contenders meet when former WBO light heavyweight champion Eleider Alvarez (24-1, 12 KO’s) squares off against Michael Seals (24-2, 18 KO’s). The winner is all but guaranteed to get a much bigger fight later this year.

Alvarez (pictured) is a former decorated amateur who holds some big wins as a pro against several former world champions. The biggest of those wins came in August of 2018 when Alvarez shockingly knocked out Sergey Kovalev to take Kovalev’s WBO light heavyweight title. However, in the rematch six months later Alvarez would lose a lopsided decision in a fight in which he was easily out-boxed.

Alvarez, 35, is by trade a boxer-puncher. Technically sound, he likes to work behind the left jab looking to land the right behind it. This is how he set up the fight-altering knockdown of Kovalev in their first fight. In addition, Alvarez is an excellent counterpuncher and generally keeps a very tight defense.

His biggest flaw is his work rate. He is not a high-volume puncher and can get out-worked as we saw in the rematch with Kovalev.

Seals, 37, does not have a comparable amateur background or resume as a pro. But what Seals does have is natural athleticism. Similar to Alvarez, Seals is a boxer-puncher who will look to work behind the left jab. While he may not be as technically proficient as Alvarez, Seals does possess much quicker hands and has more power in each of his fists. And he has shown a willingness to keep his hands busy even if that means getting into a firefight.

Defensively, Seals has some issues. He often holds his left low and does not exhibit much head movement. In short, he is not hard to miss and this could be an issue against Alvarez.

I like this fight a lot as each fighter has the tools to expose the other’s weaknesses. Alvarez could find a home for the right hand behind the left jab with frequency, but Alvarez will also have plenty of dead spots and Seals with his quick hands should dominate those moments. There is plenty of intrigue to this bout and I have been looking forward to it since it was announced.

The Return of Felix Verdejo

One time blue-chip prospect Felix Verdejo (25-1, 16 KO’s) will make his return to the ring on Saturday when he faces Manuel Rey Rojas (18-3, 5 KO’s) in the Turning Stone co-feature. a scheduled ten round lightweight bout. This will mark just the third time Verdejo has fought since his stunning loss to Antonio Lozada in March of 2018 and will mark his first fight with new trainer Ismael Salas.

2020 is a critical year for the now 26-year-old Verdejo whose career, for a variety of reasons, has not gone as planned. But as I have alluded to in the past when writing about him, the talent is still there and he still has time to get things turned around.

In his last fight in April, Verdejo scored arguably his best win as a pro when he won a ten round unanimous decision over Bryan Vasquez. But his performance lacked sizzle. He gets a chance at a fresh start with Salas in his corner to start 2020 and will need to put on a show to get some buzz back in his career.

Rojas is a 26-year-old journeyman who is on six fight winning streak since getting stopped by Andy Vences in the second round back in December of 2015.

On paper, this is a spot where Verdejo will shine. Anything less would be a major step back. But assuming Verdejo can look like his old self, he could soon be in line for a major fight. With Vasiliy Lomachenko likely to fight Teofimo Lopez in the first part of the year in a major lightweight unification fight, Verdejo could find himself in the ring with the winner or loser in what would be a big fight towards the end of the year.

ShoBox Returns

The popular prospect-oriented series ShoBox returns on Friday with a tripleheader from the WinnaVegas Casino & Resort in Sloan, IA. The card is headlined by fast rising super middleweight Vladimir Shishkin (9-0, 6 KO’s) who takes on the unbeaten Ulises Sierra (15-0-2, 9 KO’s) in a ten round contest.

Shishkin, a 28-year-old Russian who trains under Javon “Sugar” Hill in Detroit, reportedly had more than 300 amateur bouts. He is coming off a pair of impressive performances.

In October of 2018, Shishkin stopped former world title challenger Nadjib Mohammedi in the tenth round of their scheduled twelve round fight. The following August, he made his U.S. debut on ShoBox against Andre Ware.

Ware was coming off an upset over the highly touted Ronald Ellis and many thought he posed a threat to Shishkin. But from the opening bell, Shishkin consistently found a way to land precision, heavy handed shots on Ware until the fight was stopped in the eighth round.

Shishkin can best be described as an aggressive boxer-puncher. He likes to press forward working combinations behind a ramrod-like left jab which is itself a major weapon. His footwork is excellent as evidenced in the Ware fight and he often positions himself at just the right angles to land precision heavy handed combinations. His hand speed is above average and his defense surprisingly very sound for such an aggressive style.

In this day and age in boxing, usually some video exits on everyone. Well, for Ulises Sierra, 30, there is almost nothing out there on him. What we do know is that his gaudy record was built on subpar opposition; he’s faced only three fighters with a winning record. His best win came his last time out in April when he won a ten round unanimous decision over 41-year-old journeyman Fidel Hernandez.

On paper this looks a showcase for Shishkin. But Sierra’s unbeaten record adds a little intrigue. I am interested to see how Shishkin performs as he could very well get a title shot before the year ends.

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Tyson Fury Roared and Deontay Wilder Remained Silent at their L.A. Presser

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TSS special correspondent LAUREN RODRIGUEZ was on the scene for the Top Rank Promotions press conference in downtown Los Angeles on June 15 at which the third meeting between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder was formally announced. Here is her report.

The third fight between Tyson “Gypsy King” Fury (30-1, 21 KOs.) and Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) will go down July 24th in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena. This continued mash-up between the two comes 16 months since their last bout. The first fight, in December 2018, ended in a draw and their second in February 2020, ended in a victory for Fury in the 7th round.

Fury carried the press conference while Wilder remained largely muted.

The WBC champion Fury remains undefeated, a status he is adamant in maintaining. The heavyweight boasted a white suit patterned with images of himself in a crown and wearing the belt he won off Wilder.

“This is a reminder of what happened to him last time, this is a remembrance suit of Deontay Wilder’s ass-kicking.”

The “Gypsy King,” an entertainer, left little words unsaid as he berated his silent opponent.

“It shows how weak a mental person is, it shows the emotional effect the last fight had on his life… I was worried about him after the defeat I gave him,” said Fury.

An Alabama native, Wilder has a 93% knockout rate, the highest rate for any heavyweight.

Wilder wanted no part in other questions from Q/A moderator Christina Poncher, or the media, as he remained silent with headphones and sunglasses to shield him from questions.

Wilder’s trainer, longtime friend and former heavyweight contender Malik Scott answered very few questions for the fighter as tensions rose.

“He’s very stubborn, like most legends and gifted people they have their things with them. As long as he gives me what I want in the gym, I don’t care about the stubbornness cause we’re going to get this done,” said Scott.

If it’s one thing Fury and team all agree on, it’s that history will repeat itself in this third fight come July.

When it comes to what we can expect this time, Fury’s trainer SugarHill Steward stated, “All I have to say is, over time, he [Fury] now has power to knock a man out with one punch. His boxing IQ is one-punch knockout power.”

In Gypsy King fashion, we will have an entertaining show come next month. Fury intends on moving his weight all the way to 300, so he can give Wilder a bigger knockout in the ring and fans a bigger show.

“This time I’m hoping to take him out early, one, two, three rounds max.”

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Tokyo-Bound Aussie Heavyweight Justis Huni Stops Rugged Paul Gallen in the 10th

Arne K. Lang

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Had Justis Huni fought Paul Gallen two months ago, the match would have been trashed as little more than exhibition. During his record-tying 19 years in rugby, Gallen evolved into one of Australia’s most well-known sporting personalities. When Gallen took up boxing in 2014, it was thought that he did it as a lark; as a way of cashing in on his name recognition. And his first 11 opponents were a motley bunch of former rugby players, MMA fighters, 40-somethings, and boxing novices.

Then came the night of April 21, 2021. In a shocker, Gallen demolished former WBA heavyweight titlist Lucas “Big Daddy” Browne in less than two minutes. “Gallen transformed from a rugby league player to a bona fide prize fighter before our very eyes,” said prominent Australian sports journalist Andrew McMurtry.

That knocked Lucas Browne out of a lucrative match with Justis Huni and vaulted Paul Gallen, who turns 40 in August, to the head of the queue. They met Wednesday night (Australia time) at a convention center in Sydney and Huni, five-and-a-half inches taller, 15 pounds heavier, and the younger man by nearly 18 years, saddled Gallen (11-1-1) with his first defeat.

Heading into the fight, Gallen conceded that the heavily favored Huni was faster. However, he thought that he could wear the bigger man down. “If I get through those first four to five rounds, I’ll be in his face the whole time and I think I can knock him out late,” he said.

It proved to be the other way around. Huni dominated the fight and when he knocked Gallen down in the 10th with a big right hook, the referee stepped in and stopped it. But Gallen, who had a bum shoulder from his rugby days and thought that he fought most of the fight with a broken rib, showed tremendous heart.

It was the fifth professional fight for Huni (5-0, 4 KOs) who won the Australian heavyweight title in his pro debut. Of Dutch, Swedish, Samoan, and Tongan heritage, he quit school at age 15 to give boxing his full attention and will represent Australia in the Tokyo Olympics which start next month.

Brisbane-born Huni is already being talked-about as the best-ever Australian-born heavyweight. The rap against him is a lack of one-punch knockout power which won’t be a detriment in Tokyo.

In undercard bouts of note, Brisbane middleweight Isaac Hardman (11-0, 9 KOs) scored a 4th-round stoppage of Emmanuel Carlos (12-2) and middleweight Andrei Mikhailovich, a Russian residing in Auckland, New Zealand, advanced to 16-0 (9) with a second-round stoppage of previously undefeated Alex Hanan (13-1).

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Three Pros are Joining the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team, Ruffling Some Feathers

Arne K. Lang

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USA Boxing, the agency that controls amateur boxing in the United States, has a rule that prohibits professional boxers from competing in their tournaments. That rule remains in effect, but yet three pro boxers – middleweight Troy Isley, lightweight Keyshawn Davis, and featherweight Duke Ragan – will suit up for the United States in the forthcoming Tokyo Games. The announcement, which fell largely under the radar, came on June 7.

USA Boxing is subservient to AIBA, the sport’s international governing body, and to the International Olympic Committee. The Boxing Task Force of the IOC changed the rules to allow Isley, Davis and Ragan to compete and the honchos at USA Boxing are none too happy about it.

Blame the Covid-19 pandemic which forced the postponement and ultimately the cancellation of several qualifying tournaments including the “Americas” tournament in Buenos Aires at which boxers from 42 national federations – including the United States — would be competing for the Olympic slots allocated to this region. A total of 286 boxers from around the world will compete in Tokyo in the eight men’s and five women’s weight divisions with the coveted slots dispersed among four Continental Regional Divisions.

With no tournament, the Task Force redesigned the quota allocation process using world rankings to determine the national squads. The rankings were formulated using a point system from events held between January 2017 and October 2019.

The re-jiggering opened the door for Isley, Davis, and Ragan to rejoin the team. Isley and Davis had their first pro fight in February of this year. Ragan turned pro in August of 2020.

Team USA protested that the BTF allocation was unfair to the boxers that finished first in the final domestic qualifying tournament (December 2019 in Lake Charles, Louisiana), but their claim was denied. Isley and Ragan were knocked out of that tournament before reaching the finals; Davis finished first when his opponent in the finals took ill and had to pull out, but he was subsequently booted off the team, reputedly for missing too many practices which he attributed to a family health emergency. That unfrocking has been rescinded.

Before he left the team, Keyshawn Davis was considered the U.S. boxer with the best chance of winning a gold medal in Tokyo. A southpaw, he earned his spurs at the Alexandria Boxing Club in North Alexandria, Virginia, which was also the home gym of Troy Isley who lived right down the street.

The common thread between all three of the returnees is Kay Koroma who coached Davis and Isley at the Alexandria club where he was the top lieutenant to the club’s patriarch Dennis Porter and at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs where he served as an assistant to Billy Walsh. Duke Ragan, who hails from Cincinnati, is Koroma’s nephew.

Koroma came to the fore in 2016 when he earned raves for his work with Olympians Claressa Shields. Shakur Stevenson, Charles Conwell and others. But Koroma, one of the hottest young trainers in the sport, won’t be available to work with the 2020/21 team before it heads off to Tokyo. “My plate is too full,” he told The Sweet Science.

Koroma, like many of his former pupils, turned pro himself. He continues to work with Shakur Stevenson, whom he has known since Shakur was 13 years old, he assists veteran coach Al Mitchell with Mikaela Mayer and he recently replaced Ronnie Shields as the head trainer of rising heavyweight contender Efe Ajagba.

Isley, Davis, and Ragan comprise three-fifths of the men’s Olympic team. Super heavyweight Richard Torrez Jr and welterweight Delante “Tiger” Johnson flesh out the quintet.

USA Boxing released a letter to its membership expressing frustration over the decision of the IOC Task Force which killed the dreams of seven boxers who hoped to snare an Olympic berth at the Buenos Aires tournament or, barring that, the Last Chance tournament in Paris which was also a casualty of the pandemic. The letter can be read at the USA Boxing web site.

The seven boxers who were fenced out are:

Darius Fulgham (heavyweight, Houston, TX)

Rahim Gonzalez (light heavyweight, Las Vegas, NV)

Joseph Hicks (middleweight, Lansing, MI)

Charlie Sheehy (lightweight, Brisbane, CA)

Bruce Carrington (featherweight, Brooklyn, NY)

Anthony Herrera (flyweight, East Los Angeles, CA)

and

women’s flyweight Andrea Medina (San Diego, CA).

USA Boxing insists there are no plans to allow professionals to compete for the United States in the 2024 Olympiad and beyond. This is a one-shot exception forced by a unique circumstance. But, needless to say, when it comes to amateur boxing, nothing is etched in stone.

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