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Art of Boxing Series – Tim “Desert Storm” Bradley (Part Two)

David A. Avila

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Tim Bradley appeared on the professional boxing circuit like an unpinned grenade and exploded on the Southern California scene.

When Bradley began fighting regularly under the Thompson Boxing banner and defeating veterans and fellow prospects with ease, the biggest questions were how far can he go and where did he come from?

Thompson Boxing Promotions was barely in its fourth year of existence and suddenly and surprisingly had a fighter with amazing fighting skills and an aptitude to match. The matchmaker and head of operations Alex Camponovo was handed the duty of guiding the early career of Bradley.

It was quite an experience to see Bradley perform on club shows in Ontario and see him electrify audiences with his abundance of talent. It was simply no-contest as he buzz-sawed through the competition with his speed and quick reflexes.

I remember wondering how the bigger boxing promotion companies missed signing Bradley. At the time, Top Rank and Don King Productions were at the top of the heap and Main Events had some pretty good fighters too. Golden Boy Promotions had started a few years earlier but was in its infant stage.

So how did every one of these companies miss Bradley?

One thing that did seem apparent was his size. He was small at 140 pounds and too muscular to drop down to 135-pound lightweight. Though he showed outstanding speed, his power was not what other fighters at the super lightweight class were able to do and that’s to deliver eye-popping knockouts.

But Bradley could out-box almost anyone’s socks off and not by running.

Thompson Boxing’s matchmaker Camponovo, who was also brand new to the boxing world, realized he needed to move Bradley quickly. Both Camponovo and Bradley were relatively unknown to the boxing powers and that was an advantage early.

Conversely, being new to the game caused unexpected problems.

The first time Thompson Boxing staged a Bradley fight outside of his power base in the Inland Empire, problems arose. A fight card was held at the L.A. Athletic Club in downtown Los Angeles and Bradley was set to face a Brazilian fighter named Marcos Andre Rocha Costa.

According to his record he had one fight and one loss. But no way to verify if that was indeed Rocha Costa. When he appeared in the boxing ring, the Brazilian was about seven inches taller and a southpaw.

Bradley walked into the ring on July 21, 2005 eager to please the crowded venue that had people hanging over the side of an elevated running track that surrounded the ring. Everyone was excited.

Immediately both fighters engaged in high volume punching and it was apparent that the taller Brazilian was extremely talented. Around the third or fourth round, Rocha Costa connected solidly and buzzed Bradley who teetered a bit. It could have been the end. Instead, Bradley erupted in the next round and slipped into another gear that Rocha Costa could not match. Referee Pat Russell stopped the fight as Bradley had battered his way to victory by knockout.

It was an impressive turnaround.

After the fight, the Brazilian fighter surprisingly said he had seven wins and one loss. Both Bradley and Camponovo had dodged a tremendous bullet.

Bradley returned to the Inland Empire and racked up more wins at the Doubletree Hotel and Omega Products International, including a victory that handed him the WBC Youth title that ranked him in the top 20. Those wins also led to a co-promotional deal with Gary Shaw Productions who had a television deal with Showtime.

But first, he needed to beat Africa’s Nasser Athumani who had 24 pro fights and 17 wins by knockout when they met on April 13, 2007.

“I fought a guy named Athumani, an African guy, and he hit hard like a son-of-a-gun. That guy could punch,” said Bradley about the southpaw slugger from Kenya. “He had more knockouts than I had fights and he hit me with an uppercut in the first round. I ended up stopping him but I don’t remember anything about the fight. I was out man.”

Another big moment arrived a few months later on July 27, 2007 when he met Mexico’s rising star Miguel “El Titere” Vazquez who had only one loss. That single Vazquez loss was on his pro debut against a youngster named Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. He had not lost another fight since when he stepped in the outdoor boxing ring at Omega Products International in Corona, California.

“He broke my rib, man. I fought from the second round on with a broken rib,” said Bradley of his confrontation with Vazquez who would later become a world champion in the lightweight division.

Bradley was promised a world title shot if he could defeat Vazquez. When he suffered the broken rib early in the fight, his trainer Joel Diaz asked him if he wanted to stop the fight and lose his place in line for the world title

“I had to bite the bullet or the title and everything we worked for was down the drain if I quit. I had to fight. I had to bite down and go through the pain and it hurt every time I threw a punch. Vazquez had no clue he hurt my ribs. I didn’t show it. We were taught that. He was extremely tough,” said Bradley of that fight against the future lightweight world champion.

Bradley won the fight by unanimous decision using primarily a jab.

World Titles or Bust

Junior Witter was a clever switch-hitting speedster in the mold of Prince Naseem Hamed and grabbed the WBC super lightweight title with a unanimous decision over DeMarcus “Chop, Chop” Corley. He was coming off back-to-back knockout wins over Arturo Morua and Vivian Harris when he met Bradley in Nottingham, England on May 10, 2008.

Bradley and his team arrived early and immediately discovered that being the challenger was indeed a challenge.

First, his corner man Samuel Jackson was denied entry into the country because of his name. The actor Samuel Jackson had been banned from returning to the United Kingdom for an earlier incident. So, when Bradley’s corner man of the same name arrived, he was blocked at the airport for a long while until the mix-up was cleared. Then, when they arrived for their room, they discovered it was too small for everyone to fit.

No problem, they just found more rooms.

Bradley confessed to being totally prepared for Witter. He also knew that he was unknown to the champion and the crowds expecting to see Witter blow out the American called “Desert Storm.”

“It was one of those things. They didn’t know me. When you fight guys from other countries you don’t know what they have,” said Bradley who had prepared diligently for Witter for more than a year studying film.

As an amateur Bradley was taught by Hall of Fame trainer Al Mitchell to study film of prospective opponents. He had sat with the trainer many times as an amateur in Marquette, Wisconsin looking at tapes of other fighters and breaking down their strengths and assets.

Bradley retained the habit of studying opponents and used it as a weapon. When he faced Witter he was more than prepared for battle despite the crowd.

“I would study him every night for at least an hour and a half. I would just try to come up with a game plan,” said Bradley. “He was so awkward there wasn’t one thing I could do. But he made mistakes pulling back. I had to set things up. I knew I had a bigger gas tank. He would fade in the second half and I had to come out stronger in the second half.”

Witter was also open for an overhand right and Bradley connected in the sixth round to change the momentum drastically and push the fight in his own favor. After 12 rounds Bradley was declared the winner by split decision.

“I caught him by surprise,” said Bradley. “He didn’t know anything about me.”

Neither did American fans at the moment, when Bradley returned to his own country with the WBC title wrapped around his waist. But that would change quickly as he faced a murderer’s row in the super lightweight division.

Beginning in September 2008, Bradley faced Edner Cherry, WBO titlist Kendall Holt, Nate Campbell, undefeated Lamont Peterson, undefeated Luis Abregu, undefeated Devon Alexander and then Joel Casamayor in succession and emerged without a defeat.

In two of the fights against Peterson and Alexander, the Palm Springs area fighter was the underdog and passed each foe with dominating performances.

It was hefty stuff but, after Casamayor, his next fight would be the test of all tests when he met Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on June 9, 2012.

Pacman and Marquez

Pacquiao had just defeated Mexico’s masterful counter-puncher Juan Manuel Marquez by majority decision in yet another close fight in their third meeting. The speedy southpaw was looking for someone other than Marquez and signed to fight Bradley on June 2012.

In a match that featured two speedy and under-sized welterweights, Bradley seemed more energetic throughout the 12-round fight while Pacquiao seemed to take his foot off the pedal for two minutes each round. Then the Filipino superstar would increase the intensity in the last minute or so and attempt to basically steal the round.

It worked with one judge, but two others saw Bradley the more dominant fighter and he won the WBO welterweight title by split decision. Pacquiao and his fans were incensed and to this day Bradley gets attacked through social media by the keyboard minions whenever the subject arises.

“The first fight was the biggest disappointment and that changed me. It was actually a blessing and a curse at the same time. I got my opportunity to fight Manny Pacquiao and be able to make big time money,” said Bradley about the after-effects. “But after the fight I was ridiculed and demonized. But now there is nothing that can faze me. It’s turned me into a man that can accept any kind of criticism. It doesn’t matter what anybody says to me. The curse is I would never have that victory. It would never be fulfilling to me.”

But it’s in the record books. Forever.

That fight changed Bradley and also might have changed Pacquiao too. Right after the Bradley loss, he signed to fight Marquez a fourth time six months later. Pacquiao exchanged knockdowns with the Mexican fighter and then ran into a Marquez right cross that knocked him out. It was the most decisive win between the two.

Pacquiao would fight Bradley again in two rematches but not before the Palm Springs fighter defeated Marquez by split decision on October 2013. It remains Bradley’s most satisfying win of his career.

“I beat Marquez after he knocked Manny out,” said Bradley of his fight with Marquez that took place at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on October 2013. “That was my most fun fight.”

Bradley said he had always studied Marquez, especially in his fights against Pacquiao; and he picked up a few clues about the Mexican counter-puncher that he calls “the perfect fighter” and one of the best in boxing.

“I countered the counter. Fighters at the top level, every time your hand leaves your face you got to expect something to come back. They have a high IQ and are quick on the trigger,” said Bradley about fighting top opposition. “Marquez is probably the second- best counter puncher. Floyd (Mayweather) is the best. I knew something was going to come back. I knew I had to finish and I had to be first and I had to be last.”

The plan worked smoothly and Bradley won by split decision.

“I fought the game plan I wanted to fight. I had fun. It was the easiest $4 and half million I ever made in a fight. It was so easy,” said Bradley.

After Marquez came Pacquiao in the rematch. In fact, he would fight Pacquiao a third time too and lose both by decision.

“He beat me fair and square,” said Bradley about the two losses to Pacquiao.

Bradley lost only two fights in his entire pro career and both were to Pacquiao. That’s a pretty incredible career feat and proves his mastery of the art of boxing. He was never known as a knockout puncher nor did he have size or long arms. He simply used tools he was born with to the umpteenth degree.

Still Studying

Today, Bradley is part of ESPN’s team of boxing commentators alongside Joe Tessitore, Bernardo Osuna, Mark Kriegel, and fellow boxer Andre Ward.

Just as he did as a fighter, Bradley prepares like a demon when it comes to analyzing upcoming fights. He finds it strange that many active prizefighters do not study their opponents.

“You have to be a student of the game. I don’t understand how you don’t do that. None of these guys study opponents or study boxing. I don’t understand how you don’t watch your sport. I don’t get it,” said Bradley of those who don’t study film of old fights or prospective foes.

Studying upcoming match ups is what he still does when at home.

“I still watch boxing today. I just love the craft of it. I love the sweet science of it. I love where the underdog learns to beat the favorite,” said Bradley on the preparation through film study.

As part of the ESPN television commentating team he’s developed a reputation for being straight up.

“They call me the Charles Barkley of boxing,” jibes Bradley of former basketball’s star Barkley’s reputation doing basketball analysis for TNT. “I make my opinion based on my knowledge of the sport. I’m not one of those guys that say all the Top Rank guys are going to win. I thought Deontay Wilder was going to win. I’m not one of those biased types.”

Like fans, fighters and everyone who loves the sport of professional boxing, he looks forward to the return of prizefighting when this worldwide epidemic ends.

“I love my job. I love being around the guys and the game. Being around Andre Ward, Bernardo Osuna, Tessitore and Mark Kriegel, honestly, I think we are the best,” said Bradley, 36. “I’m the crazy one.”

Crazy about boxing.

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The Top Ten Super Bantamweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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It has been interesting to see how transient fighters are when they inhabit the smaller divisions. Up at cruiserweight, fighters spent on average 50% of the decade in their division to earn their spot among the top ten; here at 122lbs it is nearer 30%.

This results in a list of fighters with less purchase on the list, generally. Occasionally though, even at the smaller weights, a fighter will rack up a list of serious victories in a short space of time and hit the heights – and the divisional stalwart is also not unheard of. Here, one of each of these type towers over the rest of the decadal division but the numbers ten through three kick up a lot of interesting fights, and some very interesting fighters.

In accounting for these fighters, the term “one hit wonder” is used liberally. Here I am not seeking to denigrate either the fighter or his wider opposition; it merely denotes a fighter who has one win of real significance which is often accounted for in some detail.

This is another symptom of a generation of fighters happy to put on a mere four pounds to visit the next division up for their next big test.

10 – Rico Ramos

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 16-6 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

The tenth slot was a shootout between Kiko Martinez, who did a little more at the weight, and Rico Ramos, who did a little less, but who was defeated at the poundage only by Guillermo Rigondeaux; Martinez, meanwhile, was thrashed twice by Carl Frampton and once by Scott Quigg. The Scott Quigg tilts me towards Ramos, whose purple patch of 7-1 gets him over the line.

The jewel in his super-bantamweight crown for the period January 2010 until December 2019 was his come-from-behind knockout victory over Akifumi Shimoda, one of the top contenders of 2010 and 2011. Shimoda himself has a claim to the number ten spot based primarily upon his superb victory over Ryol Li Lee, but Ramos eliminated him when they clashed in Atlantic City in July of 2011.

Ramos, an American of Puerto Rican descent, had been boxing since he was eight years old but seemingly had no answer to the Shimoda jab which was opening up other opportunities for the Japanese; Ramos, circling to his right at the beginning of the seventh, brought Shimoda onto a left hand, but it was unheeded and Shimoda continued to boss the real-estate and find a home for his bodypunches. A right hand from Rico seemed to gather his attention though and having landed yet another left Rico finally had his man rooted to the spot, and circling, he landed a left hand as beautiful as any thrown in the 122lb decade. Shimoda was up at nine but immediately took a second header to the canvas.

Ramos was chased from the division by Rigondeaux, as noted, but certainly there is no shame there.

09 – Rey Vargas

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 34-0 Ranked For: 42% of the decade

Rey Vargas has traced an old-fashioned career arc, occupying a spot at super-bantamweight since 2015 and slowly creeping his way up the ranks to inhabit the number one spot, without, really, meeting anyone to justify that ranking. Sometimes longevity is its own reward.

His highest-ranking victim was Tomoki Kameda, and it showed when they met in July of last year; Tomoki had real success early and took a handy lead out of the first third of the fight. Vargas though is a freakishly tall superbantam at near 5’11 and he has the reach to match. From the fifth on, he deployed a controlling jab birthed by a pedigree amateur career that has been augmented by some serious professional experience. The double-uppercut right hand he landed in that round set him apart; the cards may have been a little wide but clearly Vargas was the right man.

He was the right man too five months previously when he was faced with another tough assignment in Franklin Manzanilla. Manzanilla, out of Venezuela, had scored an impressive victory over Julio Ceja in just four rounds in his previous fight and set some problems for Vargas with his rushes and fouling. Vargas found himself with cuts over both brows from “accidental” head-clashes as early as the eighth and Manzanilla had two points docked for hitting on the break and pushing. But Vargas showed some of his best boxing, dominating at distance with the jab and outlanding Manzanilla with fluid combination punching when they met at mid-range.

Vargas has a little more depth than these two fights – Azat Hovhannisyan and Ronny Rios have both made waves since he beat them – but they remain his fistic cornerstones, and despite some impressive boxing this makes him borderline for inclusion. His paper record and longevity in the ratings at 122lbs has seen me favour him over one-hit wonders like Jeffrey Mathebula and Akifumi Shimoda.

08 – Isaac Dogboe

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 21-2 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

Isaac Dogboe’s pressure appeared functional rather than thrilling before his big step up against Jessie Magdaleno in 2018. Magdaleno had been inactive but had also defeated no less a figure than Nonito Donaire in 2016 and was heavily favoured.

In the first round Dogboe was dropped while pressing Magdaleno too hard and he lost the third too, to a gorgeous Magdaleno counter left. But all the while his pressure was beginning to look a little more than workmanlike. He was adept at keeping Magdaleno moving and again and again Dogboe, out of London via Ghana, would fetch his man up against the ropes and let go. Still very much in touch on the scorecards after four, Magdaleno was being aggressively outgeneralled and was steadily losing touch with the fight. His solution was to come out at the opening of the fifth and attack; Dogboe promptly dropped him with a single left hook.

Dogboe so dominated Magdelano that night that the favourite found himself in need of a knockout by the ninth. The then world’s number one super-bantamweight showed no sign he might achieve it and in fact slipped further and further from his technical best, eventually reduced to sagging on the ropes and beckoning Dogboe in. It was a sorry sight and one the referee interrupted in the eleventh after Dogboe perpetrated the second knockdown of the round over his withering opponent.

It was an impressive and rather unexpected performance, albeit against an opponent who seemed to struggle a little with rust after a year out of the sport and it set Dogboe up as the world’s number one super-bantamweight.

Dogboe never added to his 122lb legacy though; his own nemesis was lurking in the wings.

07 – Emanuel Navarrete

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 31-1 Ranked For: 26% of the decade

Like Dogboe, Emanuel Navarrete fought the usual learning fights, stepped up to take on some journeymen and was then launched right into the deep end to face off with the world’s number one super-bantam. Dogboe-Navarrete was a fascinating contest in that it pitted a Johnny-come-lately against an even more recently arrived contender. Dogboe, as the man with the pedigree opponent on his ledger, was favoured.

Navarrete, who is tall with a reach that seems planetary, allowed Dogboe inside to do his work. It felt wrong and even dangerous until Navarrete landed a triple left hook, up and down, on the inside, to win the second round. From here he controlled the fight, impressive and dominant in out-fighting the smaller pressure fighter whose nightmare had come to visit him in the ring: a fighter he could not push back but rather who was pushing him back. The ninth through twelfth were a parade, the bigger man marching down the smaller pressure fighter in what amounts to the most disheartening position a pugilist of any kind can find himself.

Unfortunately for Dogboe he had a rematch clause. Navarrete, who now knew how Dogboe moved, thought and fought, beat him mercilessly in that rematch. The fight becomes difficult to watch around the eighth; Dogboe’s corner, brave to the near last, finally pulled him as he was blasted to the canvas in the twelfth and final round.

It seemed to me that something special had emerged in that fight, but the truth is we don’t yet know. Navarrete has fallen afoul of the ABC strap he wears in defending against underqualified challengers whose selection for their “title shot” is based upon matters other than fistic. So, the jury remains out on Navarrete, who nevertheless was impressive enough in his twin maulings of Dogboe to comfortably make the list.

06 – Jessie Magdaleno

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 27-1 Ranked For: 22% of the decade

Here, we meet the last of the one-hit-wonders on the list but Magdaleno possesses the finest of all of them: Nonito Donaire. Donaire, it is true, had had some of the glitter removed by Guillermo Rigondeaux, but in November of 2016 he remained the top contender to the legitimate title he had once held. Then Magdaleno came calling.

What most impressed me was Donaire’s near abandonment of his left hook. It was oft repeated that he had one of the “best left hooks in the sport” and if Bernard Hopkins had established the removal of such a potent weapon much ink would have been spent on his exaltation. Magdaleno was less fashionable and has remained so, but it was a wonderful technical achievement. Moving unhurriedly, seeking for single shots, he countered beautifully throughout with the right jab and right hook of his own, taking every opportunity to strike without – shades of Hopkins again – ever over-extending himself. The result was Donaire sheathing his own hook in obedience of the rule that you don’t hook with a hooker, while Magdaleno freely threw his own; to the body, especially, he was prestigious.

Donaire went to the straight right and a fascinating tussle ensued, summed up perfectly in the ninth where Donaire hurt Magdaleno on the ropes, only for Magdaleno to charge him and dominate the remainder of the round, putting him out of sight on the cards; Donaire closed with real strength as Magdaleno’s energy waned.

But the decision clearly belonged to Magdaleno.

It was not too long after this that Magdaleno ran into Dogboe. The reasonable question would be, if Dogboe beat Magdaleno how does Magdaleno come to be ranked above him here? It’s a fair question. The mathematics, for me, says that Magdelano’s defeat of Donaire is more impressive than Dogboe’s defeat of a rusty Magdaleno; I accept that this is arguable but balk at Magdaleno as low as eight given his wonderful performance against Donaire.

05 – Toshiaki Nishioka

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 4-1 Ranked For: 19% of the decade

Toshiaki Nishioka was the number one super-bantamweight coming into the decade and remained so until he was removed by the sumptuous power-punching of Nonito Donaire (and an over-excited referee).

How you feel about his overall standing here will depend upon how you feel about Rafael Marquez and his standing in October of 2011. Having lost three of his last six, including two of those wars with Israel Vazquez, Rafael was ostensibly on the slide, but the fight itself shows a fighter that, while no longer at his withering best, remained stoic and technically brilliant, very much a fighter that had to be mastered.

This, Nishioka did. To this day he maintains that Rafael is his most skilled opponent and he boxed with great care to control him, refusing to contest the inside and avoiding any over-commitment with the jab. Meanwhile he drilled Marquez with his trailing left, a wonderful punch that he throws with as much variety as anyone this century. Flying it quickly to the body was his stock in trade in the early going but he began to risk a wilder, wider, harder punch when he realised how wary Rafael had become. Rafael had success, not least in the second half of the eighth round where it seemed he might actually assume control of the fight, but Nishioka out-fought and out-worked the former lineal champion in the tenth and eleventh to put the decision to bed. It was a deeply impressive performance that cemented his status as the first number one super-bantam of the decade.

Nishioka’s other wins do little other than demonstrate his superiority over the field, especially his October 2010 contest with Rendall Munroe. Munroe brought guts but little else as the fight turned into something of a parade down the stretch; still, re-watching it was worth it for the feinted straight and uppercut through the middle that Nishioka used to tilt Munroe’s head back in the third.

Placing him at number five is a borderline call, but Nishioka was a clearer number one than anyone running eight through six. I am happy that should see him placed above, rather than below, the one-hit wonders.

04 – Leo Santa Cruz

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 24-1-1 Ranked For: 27% of the decade

Leo Santa Cruz departed 122lbs in 2015 with his undefeated record intact having made his impact on the first half of the super-bantamweight decade. His meaningful arrival at the poundage, the equivalent of a Mack truck pulling up inside a jewellery store, came in August of 2013 against Victor Terrazas. Terrazas, a tough, dangerous fighter was unsupported by the type of chin that would have made him genuinely world class. Nevertheless, the world’s number two contender was a serious proposition for Santa Cruz, and was coming off a nerveless, brutal battle with Cristian Mijares which he won by the narrowest of margins.

Terrazas started aggressively as Santa Cruz brought pressure, all high guard and work-rate. But, as we saw while looking at featherweight, Santa Cruz is much more than that. His punch selection is excellent, his sense for the backfoot superb for a front-foot fighter, his jab is thudding and accurate but he can box squarely enough – weight generally over his back leg, when he does so – to lead with the right without courting disaster. Terrazas was complimented during fight commentary for “making this an inside fight” – but an inside fight suits Santa Cruz just fine. He has reach and the technique to use it but is comfortable trying to land punches behind the elbows.

The two fought on even terms until they didn’t, when towards the end of the second Santa Cruz, tougher and better, opened up while the two stood head to head at the ropes. Terrazas emerged wounded and in the third, emerged giving ground. Dropped twice, he seemed broken in part by the psychological pressure, although it was the consistent, severe punching that did the damage.

Santa Cruz’s number two win was over Mijares, undoubtedly damaged goods, but still ranked. Santa Cruz couldn’t stop him, but what he did was in many ways worse: in a fight as different as that with Terrazas as could be imagined, he thrashed Mijares and rendered him a fistic irrelevance.

Santa Cruz was a very dangerous super-bantamweight.

03 – Carl Frampton

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 24-2 Ranked For: 35% of the decade

Carl Frampton slotted in right behind Santa Cruz at featherweight, but here he nips in just ahead of his great rival. A clash at 122lbs would have been helpful though – there is very little to separate them.

What does separate them is the additional work Frampton did at the very top of the division. He met no fewer than three top five contenders during his time fighting as Guillermo Rigondeaux’s understudy – the Cuban was champion throughout Frampton’s stay at the poundage – and soundly defeated all of them.

First up was Kiko Martinez, who Frampton had already defeated in a European title tussle but met again in 2014. Frampton, who probably entered his peak that night, couldn’t put the more experienced Martinez away as he had in their first fight but he did dominate almost completely with a healthy mix of jabs and bodyshots. Chris Avalos, who failed miserably when he moved up to featherweight but was a serious super-bantamweight, visited Frampton’s Belfast stronghold in 2015.  This was Frampton’s finest performance at the weight, his right hand excellent, despite the scruffy squabbling in the second his dominance near-complete.

Frampton’s final fight at 122lbs showed the toll weight-making was taking upon him. He was dominant over the first six against a reticent Scott Quigg, even breaking his jaw in the fourth, but the Englishman came on in the second half of the fight which was, in the end, very close.

Santa Cruz was more impressive in the victories he did have at 122lbs but it was Frampton, in the end, who scored the more numerous and more impressive victories.

02 – Nonito Donaire

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 18-5 Ranked For: 25% of the decade

The decade 2010-2019 produced two legitimate super-bantamweight champions and it is fitting that these two lead the pack. Nor is it close – there is so much clear blue water between Nonito Donaire at #2 and Carl Frampton at #3 that they may as well be on different lists.

Donaire stepped up to 122lbs in 2012 and immediately tackled a divisional strapholder, the number eight contender, Wilfredo Vazquez; after taking a decision form him over the twelve, it was Jeffrey Mathebula, the number six contender who towered over Donaire but nevertheless gave up a similar decision. This second fight is crucial because against both he and Vazquez it is possible to see Donaire over-reaching, under-boxing, pushing far too hard for the knockout which he openly demanded of himself in the press. In the tenth round of his fight with Mathebula, Donaire was so completely out-boxed that in the eleventh and twelfth he limited himself to his more direct sphere of influence and in doing so dominated Mathebula completely, cracking one of his teeth in the process. You could almost hear the penny drop.

I consider that Donaire found himself at 122lbs that night and the result was Donaire’s 118lb form suddenly materialising in the super-bantamweight division. His next fight was against no less a figure than Toshiaki Nishioka, the most accomplished fighter in the division, a meeting between the two best super-bantams in the world and so the beginning of a new lineage at the weight. Donaire was the absolute pinnacle of cool as far as his inherent aggression would allow; he won every round and devastated Nishioka in the ninth round of a non-competitive rout propelled by his right hand rather than left hook. When he butchered Jorge Arce two months later, in December of 2012, he had completed the single best unbroken run of the decade at 122lbs and one of the better runs at any weight.

This being boxing, the end of that run was just around the corner.

01 – Guillermo Rigondeaux

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 15-1 Ranked For: 92% of the decade

Donaire met with Cuban amateur legend Guillermo Rigondeaux in April of 2013 in a huge fight between the two best super-bantamweights in the world. It was also as one-sided as any top tier match of the decade as Rigondeaux, in absolute control for ten of the twelve rounds, picked Donaire’s wings off in a study of lethal economy.

Rigondeaux breaks rhythm. A combination of feints, very astute defensive dips and slips and single power-punches make establishment of offense against him agonising. Donaire, a fluid fighter who counter-pressures his opponents to the canvas, was particularly afflicted by the Rigondeaux malaise.  Rigondeaux threw infrequently; still he out-landed Donaire in every round but one.

The Cuban spent the years in which Donaire was tying together his superb 122lb run emerging from the pack and was just 6-0 when he tangled with number five contender Ricardo Cordoba. Rigondeaux dominated with ease until Cordoba snapped his head back with a jab, flashing him.  Rigondeaux responded in away entirely unacceptable to the American fight fraternity: he ran away.

Rigondeaux took a split decision and learned his final lesson: professional fighting in America calls for more fighting than amateur boxing does anywhere. Rico Ramos, then still unbeaten at 20-0, was the man to bear the brunt of this newly learned lesson as he was blasted to the canvas in the first round and tormented through the sixth when a body punch – and the better part of valour – kept him on the canvas.

So Rigondeaux was primed when he stepped into the ring with Donaire, for all that he was professionally inexperienced. Donaire was made to understand it and the litany of excuses he laid out after the fight – his shoulder was bad, he didn’t study his opponent, his was distracted by his wife’s pregnancy – could not disguise his out-and-out inferiority to Rigondeaux.

The argument as to who would be the decadal number one at 122lbs ended there, but there is more to recommend Rigondeaux as one of the longest serving lineal champions in boxing. In a division that sees fleeting commitment, even by its most prominent fighters, Rigondeaux’s devotion to super-bantamweight has been unusual.

He never became the superstar his management wanted to make him – too technical, too careful, too defensive – but there is no questioning his status as the best of the decade.

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Remembering “Doin’ Damage”

Ted Sares

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Remembering-Doin'-Damage

On June 3, 1997, Darroll “Doin’ Damage” Wilson met Courage “No Limit” Tshabalala at Philadelphia’s legendary Blue Horizon where no seat was a bad seat. The fight was a true Philly Classic, one of the most exciting fights of the year. The result was a surprise, but not as surprising as the upset that Darroll Wilson pulled off in March of the previous year when he fought the much bigger Shannon Briggs at the Convention Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Wilson vs. Briggs

Brooklynite Shannon Briggs (25-0) had achieved a reputation for being a guy who ended his fights early, as in first-round KO’s, but on this occasion, things kind of reversed themselves, as the gutsy Wilson (15-0-2 going in) survived a furious first round and then used his superior skills to shockingly take out “The Cannon” with a sharp left hook two rounds later.

Wilson, who lived close to Atlantic City in Mays Landing, N.J., had done considerable damage to his opponents until he met David Tua (24-0) in Miami and was KOd in the last second of an otherwise even first round by the streaking “Tuaman.” But losing to the short but super-powerful Tua was no disgrace. In fact, for Darroll, the best was yet to come.

 After beating limited Ron McCarthy, Darroll met the highly-touted Tshabalala (20-1). “Courage” had previously been shocked by Brian “Bam Bam” Scott (21-3) in the late Scott’s career definer in 1996, shattering the myth of the South African’s extraordinary power and alleged 72-1 amateur record (with 71 knockouts). Scott won using a fast and sharp combo, stopping him in the second round. Most of the 270-pound native of Kansas’s opponents had losing records which further amplified the shock factor– though Courage’s level of opposition was equally suspect.

Wilson vs Tshabalala (June 1997)

After Ed Darian Derian announced the fighters, the bell rang and Courage quickly decked Wilson with a power jab and then dictated matters for the rest of the round as he went on the stalk. The second round was uneventful until the last 15 seconds when Tshabalala opened up with a number of power shots. Wilson answered, but his answer came after the bell for which he received a firm warning.

Late in the third round, Wilson was hit clean by a perfect Courage right cross. He went down hard, got up, and then fell back down on Queer Street. Just as Referee Rudy Battle was about to signal the end of the fight, the round ended and Wilson was allowed to continue. Lou Duva, Courage’s manager, protested the call in his usual hyper/hysterical fashion but to no avail. Lou’s signature protests had acquired the feel of the little boy who cried wolf too often and this one was no exception.

Tshabalala came out fast in the next round trying to put away a still stunned Wilson, but the muscular Darroll did what he did against Briggs and, weathering the fierce storm, began to connect with his own shots. Both men went at it full-tilt boogie until the South African, exposing a stamina issue, finally went down, spit out his mouthpiece, and was counted out. He had nothing left. The Blue Horizon went bonkers.

Tshabalala had now participated in one of the upsets of the year and one of the most exciting fights of the year. Though a loser in both, he was nevertheless on everybody’s radar.

Bert Cooper (September 2002)

Darroll would go on to win some and lose some but against the very best opposition including David Izon, Frankie Swindell, Mike Rouse, Tim Witherspoon, Ray Mercer, and Oliver McCall. He ended his career in 2006 with a 27-10-2 slate and– before he took three years off–he scored another big win by stopping Bert Cooper (36-21) at the Blue Horizon in 2002. After this loss, Bert himself would take an eight-year hiatus from boxing, but for all practical purposes, he was done. (Cooper was a tragic figure with a deceptive record—a quintessentially sad boxing story– and the ups and downs of his life beg for a telling.)

As for Darroll Wilson, he always gave his best and on at least three occasions, he did some remarkable damage.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com or on Facebook.

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Leo Upends Williams as Boxing Returns to ‘Showtime’

Arne K. Lang

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Leo-Upends-Williams-as-Boxing-Returns-to-Showtime

Showtime Boxing kicked off their late summer/fall season tonight with a three-fight card behind closed doors at the Mohegan Sun Casino Resort in Uncasville, CT. Tonight’s show is the first of nine live boxing events that the cable TV giant announced on July 22. The season will run through Dec. 12 with the concluding match a WBC bantamweight title bout between defending title-holder Nordine Oubaali and ageless showstopper Nonito Donaire.

Unfortunately for Showtime, there was a COVID-19 complication right out of the box. Philadelphia bantamweight Stephen Fulton, who would have been the “A” side in tonight’s main event, tested positive on Wednesday, forcing some shuffling. Tramaine Williams was bumped up from the co-feature to challenge Angelo Leo for the WBO world super bantamweight title vacated by Emanuel Navarette.

Angelo Leo hadn’t prepared for a southpaw and it took him a bit find his groove, but he found it and won a fairly lopsided decision over a previously undefeated opponent who was fighting in his home state. The scores were 117-111 and 118-110 twice.

Leo, 26, worked the body well and had more fuel in his tank as the bout progressed into the late rounds. In winning, Leo became the first world title-holder from Albuquerque since Johnny Tapia. Promoted by Floyd Mayweather’s “Money Team”, he advanced his record to 20-0. It was the first pro loss for New Haven’s Williams who fell to 19-1.

It figures that Leo will make his first defense against Stephen Fulton.

Other Bouts

In another 122-pound match that was also penciled in for 12 rounds, Ra’eese Aleem thoroughly outclassed late sub Marcus Bates en route to a 10th round stoppage. This was their second meeting and Bates, who entered the contest 11-1-1, was looking to avenge his lone defeat. In their initial go in Philadelphia in April of 2018, Aleem won comfortably on the scorecards. Bates recently explained that loss away by saying that he believed that someone tampered with his water bottle, giving Aleem an advantage.

Aleem, 30, steadily broke Bates down. The referee halted the one-sided match when Bates, who appeared to have sprained his right wrist, turned his back on Aleem after absorbing a hard left hook. Aleem, the pride of Muskegon, Michigan, improved to 17-0 with his 12th knockout.

In the opener, a light heavyweight match slated for 10 rounds, Houston’s Joseph George (11-0, 7 KOs) landed a bombshell of a left uppercut in the ninth frame to put away Marcos Escudero (10-2) who was well ahead on the scorecards when lightning struck.

This was a rematch. When they fought last November on ShoBox, Escudero outworked George, but George landed the crisper punches and prevailed on a split decision. Escudero, who is from Argentina but had his early pro fights in Florida, outworked George again (George likes to fight with his back against the ropes, a strategy he needs to reconsider) but as they say, it only takes one punch in this business, and Joseph George, who is managed by NFL all-pro tackle Trent Williams, brought the howitzer.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / Showtime

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