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The Top Ten Light-Welterweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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140lbs is far and away the most difficult decadal divisional ranking I have put together. The problem was losses and how to weigh them – is it better for a fighter to meet six top men with a 50-50 return or to fight just two ranked contenders and return a 100% win ratio? I have done my best with such questions and I think it’s led to an interesting and varied list and one that is excitingly weighed towards active fighters currently in or around their primes.

Rankings are by Ring for 2010-2012 and TBRB for 2013 to 2019.

10 – Zab Judah

Peak Ranking: 3 Record for the Decade: 6-4 Ranked For: 34% of the decade

Zab Judah was the old man of the division in 2010 when he returned from 147lbs to once more ply his trade at the poundage that made him famous – and he was the old man of the division still when someone named Cletus Seldin stopped him in eleven rounds last July.

Zab was tempted back up to 147lbs in spots through the decade but it seems that at 140lbs he had a rule, and the rule was top talent. Nearly every fighter Judah met at light-welterweight during the decade was a ranked man, and usually they were favoured to beat him. 27-0 puncher Lucas Martin Matthysse was certainly an interesting choice for his first major opponent back in his home territory of 140lbs and it made for an interesting fight. Seen as somewhat controversial in some corners of the boxing world, the fight was indeed close, Judah outboxing a stubbornly shy Matthysse early, Matthysse cornering Judah and tattooing him with right hands late; any close scorecard is reasonable and certainly no robbery was perpetrated against Matthysse that night. The one-time bad boy of the division was back.

He looked great in dispatching Kaizer Mabuza (ranked seven) in early 2011 and if you have any doubts about his finding God between his light-welterweight runs, listen to his post-fight interview for this fight; still an underdog, he crushed Vernon Paris (ranked ten), winning all but the eighth before closing the blinds on him in the ninth, his speed dazzling.

Judah lost too. He was stopped by Amir Khan and despite a thrilling championship-rounds rally, was out-pointed by Danny Garcia. Despite this, and his ageing legs, the veteran Judah is good for the spot.

09 – Amir Khan

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 12-4 Ranked For: 40% of the decade

The most important fight of Amir Khan’s career was his 2010 clash with Marcos Maidana. His disastrous 2008 first round knockout loss to Breidis Prescott had loomed over every contest he had fought since, but not after this; Khan absorbed brutal shots from Maidana as he was pasted all over the ring in a dramatic tenth round but he proved himself tough enough to drag himself home for a close points victory. It was redemption and a thing of beauty, arguably the fight of the year, certainly one of the fights of the decade at 140lbs.

It was also Amir Khan painted in microcosm as all his strengths and weakness were laid glaringly bare. Fast hands and excellent punch selection were compromised by poor concentration; overall quickness was compromised by lazy footwork – poor punch resistance and some balance issues dented what should have been a glittering package. Khan made peace with these shortfalls on this night and embraced what he was, a gifted but flawed fighter.

It is hard to imagine then a more fitting passing of the torch than his 2011 fight against Zab Judah, the original brilliant but flawed light-welterweight for this timeframe. Khan’s superiority was near total but his knockout of Judah was not without controversy, a borderline low-blow bodyshot the final punch. That said, the four completed rounds were without wrinkles; Khan’s superiority was near total.

Losses followed but there were circumstances. His 2012 knockout loss to Danny Garcia was clean and there can be no complaints but his 2011 loss to Lamont Peterson was beset with controversy.  You can take your pick from Khan’s allegations of poor refereeing, incompetent judging, out-and-out corruption as film emerged of a man apparently connected with the Peterson camp interacting with one of the judges, and finally the discovery post-fight that Peterson was using synthetic testosterone, a banned substance or at the very least one that needs to be declared. The fight, which I scored 112-112, was a disaster for boxing and it is hard to hold it against Khan in the normal sense.

It also should be noted that the strangeness surrounding that fight sees Peterson falls short of the list. Unconvincing as it is, it remains by far Peterson’s best win, his second being over Dierry Jean, not a combination that sees him named as one of the ten best from this decade.

Khan makes it, balanced neatly between being the last debatable entry and the first top ten lock.

08 – Lucas Matthysse

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 14-5 Ranked For: 52% of the decade

There is little to separate Lucas Matthysse and Amir Khan but in keeping with the theme of the list, the difference was losses: more of Matthysse’s were close and debatable. Viktor Postol beat him clean in 2015, his last fight at 140lbs, as did Danny Garcia in 2013 but in earlier fights with Zab Judah and Devon Alexander, he was very unlucky. I saw him winning both fights by a single point, a point earned in each case by a knockdown and although these were certainly no robberies, that Matthysse received the nod in neither split decision loss can certainly be considered a misfortune.

At the very least, neither proved themselves a definite superior to Matthysse.

For key wins, Matthysse holds impressive stoppage victories over Ajose Olusegun and Lamont Peterson, and he was the first man to lay both low, his destruction of Peterson, who he dropped three times in three rounds, brutal.

In 2015 he ran into fellow puncher Ruslan Provodnikov and the two put on the expected fight of the year candidate.  This fight is key in Matthysse’s 140lb legacy, not for proving what he was, but for what he was not; he was not a one-dimensional pressure slugger.  He deployed boxing to edge this fight and most especially in the first and second rounds, it was superb.  More, he controlled the range almost absolutely in the first half of the fight, deploying uppercuts and a left hook to devastating effect as Provodnikov plodded into his kill-zone.

Matthysse lost a little too often to menace the top five, but it is difficult to imagine the top ten without him.

07 – Devon Alexander

Peak Ranking: 3 Record for the Decade: 24-1 Ranked For: 25% of the decade

Devon Alexander is tough to rank for the poundage and decade to hand. Never ranked higher than number three, he was also a prospective pound-for-pound number one according to HBO’s Max Kellerman. This is the kind of division of opinion Alexander prompted. On the one hand, he seemed, in the wake of his 2010 knockout of the iron-jawed Juan Urango, to have every single attribute a fighter might need for the very top, but there was an underwhelming stiffness in his work that never quite satisfied.

Some dissatisfaction began to manifest itself as regarded the scorecards rendered in his favour, too. In his very next contest against Andriy Kotelnik, Alexander made both his own corner and the HBO commentary team very nervous, but he deserved his victory, for all that it was closer than most expected – I myself had it to Alexander by a single round, with a swing round in his favour.

His next fight, with Lucas Matthysse was legitimately debateable, and I wasn’t alone in seeing that as a win for Matthysse, although it was close, and because it was close the result is respected for the purposes of this list.

Before the Matthysse fight, Alexander posted his single loss at the weight, to Timothy Bradley.  Bradley misses out on this list because that was his single 140lbs win of note for the decade.  Alexander, meanwhile, is included, but a little lower than he might have been if not for his meeting with Bradley. Alexander was pulled late in the fight by the doctor but looked quite a lot like a man who didn’t want to be there for more than the reported reasons, specifically that his eyes were “burning” after the latest in the long line of headclashes. He dropped a technical decision.

After that it was 147lbs for Alexander and some less rewarding years; the timing of his departure limits his standing here.

06 – Mikey Garcia

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 20-1 Ranked For: 13% of the decade

Mikey Garcia sitting at six does not sit particularly well with me. Garcia fought a tiny handful of contests at the weight but in those few contests he out-performed Devon Alexander, who fought a similar number of contests, so ranks above him.

For all that it feels a little awkward it can be stated with surety that reviewing footage of 140lbs Mikey Garcia was a pleasure. There are better fighters ranked above but there are none with more technical acumen than he. Watching him box was a pleasure.

Mikey emerged as a legitimate 140lb fighter in 2017 in crushing Adrien Broner with generalship and bodywork, outwaiting him after taking an early lead. Mikey did no more than he needed to, but he consistently did enough, seizing control and only relinquishing it for spells late in the fight when it had essentially been decided.

This was also his strategy against Sergey Lipinets, the former kickboxing champion, in what was his definitive performance at the 140lb limit. Lipinets, unlike Broner, refused to go away strategically- speaking but Mikey battered him with straight punches early before out-jabbing him in the middle rounds and out-fighting him late.

Mikey was never stretched in his brief visit to light-welterweight, was unbeaten, crowned champion against Lipinets and consistently outclassed the opposition. His departure to 147lbs was a shame for his 140lb legacy but he made himself one of the key fighters of the divisional decade.

05 – Jose Carlos Ramirez

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 25-0 Ranked For: 20% of the decade

Jose Carlos Ramirez slides in ahead of Mikey Garcia based upon his divisional longevity, an entire career contested at the poundage and in the decade to hand.

Ramirez, young, American, a puncher, an action fighter, has generated heat for some time but his graduation night fight against Antonio Orozco in 2018 turned heads. Orozco, who was tough and brave and aggressive and all the things we want our prize-fighters to be, has never really recovered from the beating Ramirez put upon him. Unbeaten going in he is 1-1 since and looks a changed man.  Ramirez, who fights a little shorter than his 5’10, is an aggressive pressure boxer with little guile to his punching game but who is clever about space and time. He also has a well-made jab and although the punches he throws behind that jab sometimes look a little wild and can leave him  vulnerable to punches up the middle, they are hard and consistent.

Orozco, ranked four no less, twice climbed from the canvas, first from a right hand to the head after Ramirez swarmed him out of position and connected big, then from a left hook to the body that hurt just to look at. Ramirez won no fewer than eleven of the twelve rounds on the scorecards of all three judges. It was a massacre.

In early 2019 more was made than should have been of the trouble current number nine contender Jose Zepeda caused Ramirez in a worthy losing effort, but he did, perhaps, expose certain weaknesses in Ramirez, who it should be noted hasn’t yet reached thirty fights. Zepeda wore his right guard low to neutralise the left hook and pivoted and flicked his own jab to neutralise that of Ramirez – but he also lost eight rounds on my card, and that of one of the judges.

Ramirez summited, at least as far as the decade at hand is concerned, in his July 2019 contest with Maurice Hooker. This was always to be a defining fight for the winner, an American remaining unbeaten in a clash of beltholders.  Ramirez emerged the man in charge, dragging Hooker into a dogfight from the very first round, dropping him, hurting him, before retiring him on the ropes in the sixth.

It will be interesting to see what it takes to lay Ramirez low in the 2020s.

04 – Regis Prograis

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 24-1 Ranked For: 25% of the decade

Regis Prograis shades Ramirez by the narrowest of margins and based upon a loss. At the decade’s end he dropped a majority decision to Josh Taylor in a meeting of the division’s two top contenders; the decision was based upon geography. In America, Prograis would likely have been given the nod by the narrowest of margins, in the UK, Taylor took it. In reality the two were so evenly matched they might fight consecutive draws at a neutral venue.

As to the wins that helped him into the top five the definitive one is over Julios Indongo, who was coming off a defeat to pound-for-pounder Bud Crawford. Prograis got the job done more quickly than Crawford, dispatching Indongo in just two rounds. Hard jabs to the body and chest, fast, cornering feet and gorgeous slipping of the Indongo jab forced the taller man to let Prograis inside.  Here, he did his best work and although his performance was reckless, it was deeply impressive.  Stiffening power in the southpaw jab and obliterating power in the overhand left saw Indongo broken. The speed of the Prograis pressure was, and remains, unequalled in the division.

A year later, Prograis met with strapholder and number four contender Kiryl Relikh, the all action Belarusian who bounced back from a tough 2016 to win a rematch with Rances Barthelemy (having been very unlucky to drop the decision in their first fight) and defeat Eduard Troyanovsky in impressive back-to-back performances. Relikh, who had never been stopped, was dropped by a bodyshot in the very first round by Prograis who then set out to torture him with power-boxing two classes above anything Relikh had ever seen, prompting his corner to pull him midway through the sixth. Prograis dispatches top class opposition with ease.

A special fighter then, just one who ran into another one in the shape of Josh Taylor. That fight was close enough that Prograis deserves a rematch; if he gets one, it will be in the next decade.

03 – Josh Taylor

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 16-0 Ranked For: 23% of the decade

Josh Taylor’s career trajectory has been sensational. He has arguably been the story of the 140lb decade, and he could be found duking it out with number three contender Viktor Postol in just his thirteenth fight.

Taylor looked to have got past that challenge by the barest of margins that 2018 night in Glasgow despite the ludicrously wide official scorecards, but he was enormously impressive none-the-less.  Counter-surging throughout he never let Postol get away from him and take control of the ring and the glorious knockdown he scored in the tenth made him a winner as I saw it.

A year later Taylor, now 14-0, found himself in the ring with Ivan Baranchyk, the number seven contender and a legitimate strongman puncher, a serious challenge for the young Taylor. Taylor dropped Baranchyk twice in the seventh to take a clear unanimous decision win.

This led, in October of 2019, to the already legendary night in London when Taylor met Prograis in the unarguable 140lb fight of the decade. This is a fight of which it might be said that neither competitor deserved to lose but it felt more than that: both competitors deserved to win. This was reflected in the draw I scored, and one of the judges scored, the other two officials seeing it for Taylor.

What was most impressive on the night was seeing Taylor adjust to the early running, using the learning from his more recent fights to show Prograis different looks, moving, countering, and most of all butting up on the inside for exchanges. Taylor never dominated the fight but he outfought Prograis for stretches enough that he was the likeliest winner. That superb result has made him the #3 for the old decade and the de facto number one going into the new.

02 – Danny Garcia

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 21-2 Ranked For: 34% of the decade

I suspect there will be some who respond to Danny Garcia ranking at number two with surprise and even horror. I sympathise.

There was something underwhelming about Danny when he broke onto the world scene in 2012 against an ancient Erik Morales and his performance, too, in that fight was underwhelming. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t winning, that he did win, and by my eye quite comfortably. What I did not know about Danny then was that these were typical operations. He missed, yes, but he deployed controlled boxing nonetheless and with technical surety. Combined with his natural size and swiftness, this made him a formidable fighting machine at the poundage, and one that could afford to wait.

So, he did wait, boxing at a single sure pace until it was time to go through the gears, like he did late in that first Morales fight.

Danny redrew the way he was viewed by boxing in his very next fight against number one contender Amir Khan. An underdog who did not excite as an opponent, Danny was expected to be out-sped and outhit and probably stopped. He turned those tables after two tough rounds but in truth, he made no magic; he just bet on himself as better, then calmly, economically deployed himself and waited. A huge counter left hook had Khan down and in serious trouble; he never recovered and was brutally dispatched in the fourth much to the chagrin of the HBO commentary team. It was an easy night’s work.

Whispers had somehow emerged that Danny had been a little lucky against Morales, so Danny rematched him and blasted him out, then he matched Zab Judah, the number four contender, dropped and decisioned him and then he matched a second number one contender in Lucas Matthysse, who he outpointed in a thriller.

He had exclusively matched and beaten ranked opposition for five consecutive fights, outpointing veterans Kendall Holt and Nate Campbell before he had even begun that run. There is no more impressive sequence in the light-welterweight decade.

The bottom line then: Danny went 5-0 against top ten opposition, which is better than our number three, Josh Taylor; he beat up two #1 contenders whereas Taylor has defeated just one, in a life and death struggle; and he spent longer ranked in the decadal divisional top ten. As a Scotsman I would love to rank Taylor above Danny, but how can it possibly be justified?

01 – Terence Crawford

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 26-0 Ranked For: 24% of the decade

There was never even a question of some another fighter claiming the number one spot. Terence Crawford is as locked in as almost any number one has been in this series.

Although 140lbs was just a stopover on the way to 147lbs and from 135lbs where he reigned as champion, Crawford made maximum impact during a relatively short stay. He avoided alphabet ordained soft-touches in favour of legitimately excellent fighters with whom he could make legitimately excellent fights.

This, at least, was the theory. In reality Crawford knocked out every man he met at the weight with but a single exception in Viktor Postol. Postol was the first number one contender Crawford out-classed at 140lbs, but wouldn’t be the last. Crawford took his time in that fight and in others, boxing what tends to be labeled a “slow start” by television commentary teams but is in fact him taking a long hard look at his opponent.  After three rounds, Postol was 2-1 up but who could doubt after watching Crawford land his dialed in southpaw left in the fourth and drop Postol twice in the fifth that he had been measuring Postol? He did not lose another round and Postol, a world class fighter, looked a novice next to him.

This is the affect giants have on their opponents.

Still, Postol did better than Thomas Dulorme, measured through five then ruthlessly dispatched in six; John Molina, battered out in three; Felix Diaz, the ranked welterweight who dropped down to take an awful beating at the hands of Crawford – Diaz has never been the same; others. This brought him to his second number one contender at the weight, Julius Indongo.

Lithe and long, Indongo, out of Namibia, had previously stopped number four contender Eduard Troyanovsky, and was the first man to do so. Indongo looks too relaxed to be really explosive but he has torque on his trailing left hand, especially on his uppercut. Himself a contender for this list, he met Crawford in his last fight at 140lbs in August of 2018. Their fight was not competitive. Crawford dispatched him in three rounds, brutalising him to the body.

Sometimes when a dominant fighter moves up in weight, there is a sense of disappointment but not when Crawford left for 147lbs. There was no point in his remaining at 140lbs. There was nobody there to test him.

The other lists:

Heavyweight

Cruiserweight

Light-Heavyweight

Super-Middleweight

Middleweight

Light-Middleweight

Welterweight

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Usyk vs. Chisora Sets the Table for a Strong Night of Boxing

Arne K. Lang

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It’s been largely lost in the ragout, at least on this side of the pond, but Saturday’s busy fight docket includes the return of Oleksandr Usyk, the former Olympic gold medalist who left the cruiserweight ranks as a legitimate four-belt champion. The 33-year-old Usyk (17-0, 13 KOs), opposes tough but erratic Dereck Chisora, a 36-year old Londoner by way of Zimbabwe. Chisora (32-9, 23 KOs), has won five of his last six, the setback occurring in his second encounter with arch-rival Dillian Whyte.

Usyk vs. Chisora, a Matchroom promotion, will play out at Wembley Arena with no fans in attendance. The Ukrainian southpaw is ranked among the top three heavyweight contenders by all four major sanctioning bodies although he has fought only once as a heavyweight, turning away under-trained late sub Chazz Witherspoon who was all in after seven frames. Usyk weighed 215 for that contest and is expected to come in about 230 for Chisora.

Usyk, who has anglicized his first name to Alexander on his English-language twitter feed, is a big favorite, but this is a tricky fight for him. The consensus 2018 Fighter of the Year, Usyk has fought only twice since unifying the cruiserweight title with a lopsided decision over Murat Gassiev in July of that year and 55 weeks have elapsed since his last start. If he needs the early rounds to shake off ring rust, he could find himself clawing out of a hole, and sometimes the hole is too deep as Usyk’s stablemate Vasiliy Lomachenko can attest. Moreover, Usyk has yet to face a naturally bigger man who can bang as hard as “Del Boy.”

The Usyk-Chisora card will air in North America on DAZN with the main event ring walks anticipated about 6 pm ET.

The tiff is hitched to an interesting undercard. Once-beaten Welshman Lee Selby, briefly the IBF featherweight champion, tangles with Australia’s undefeated (18-0) George Kambosos Jr. Savannah Marshall, who saddled Claressa Shields with her only amateur loss, meets former Shields opponent Hannah Rankin with a vacant world middleweight title at stake, Belfast’s Tommy McCarthy opposes Belgium’s Bilal Laggoune for a domestic cruiserweight title, and then there’s the heavyweight fight attracting buzz between popular Yorkshireman David Allen and Christopher Lovejoy.

The buzz surrounds the mysterious 36-year-old Lovejoy who is 19-0 as a pro with all but two of those KOs coming in the opening round.

All of Lovejoy’s fights were staged in Tijuana. Only one of his opponents brought a winning record. For a certain stripe of fighter, Tijuana is the equivalent of a feed lot, a place where livestock go to get fattened up before they are sent off to the slaughterhouse. David Allen is limited, but the most likely scenario in this fight is that it ends with Lovejoy sitting on his stool.

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Diego Magdaleno is Locked and Loaded for Saturday’s Fray in San Antonio

Arne K. Lang

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Diego Armando Magdaleno, the son of a former semi-pro soccer player, was named for Argentine soccer star Diego Armando Maradona. But Diego’s father Jesus is hardly disappointed that his son devoted his energies to a different sport than soccer as Diego, the oldest of Jesus’s three boys, has carved out a nice career as a boxer. On Saturday, he faces Isaac Cruz at the San Antonio Alamodome and a win could thrust him into a third crack at a world lightweight title. Magdaleno vs. Cruz will be televised as part of a SHOWTIME PPV event anchored by a battle between title-holders Gervonta “Tank” Davis and Leo Santa Cruz.

The bookies don’t know what to do with the Magdaleno-Cruz matchup. One can find odds on fights of lesser importance, but with the fight only four days away the pricemakers were in quandary. Team Magdaleno, however, is approaching the fight as if they are the “B” side. Mexico City’s Isaac Cruz, who boasts a 19-1-1 record and is undefeated in his last 15 starts, has a fan-friendly style and is only 22 years old. In theory, he has more value to the promoter going forward than Magdaleno (32-3, 13 KOs) who turns 34 this week.

Magdaleno relishes the underdog role. He was the “B” side in his most recent fight when he opposed Austin Dulay in Dulay’s hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, and he carved out a clear-cut 10-round decision. Dulay, the younger man by nine years and less experienced at the pro level, was in over his head. Their fight was nationally televised on FOX.

Diego Magdaleno was born in Beverly Hills, California, but unlike many folks born there wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. “We were more like the Beverly Hillbillies,” says Diego, a reference to the popular sitcom that ran on CBS from 1962 to 1971.

For many years, Diego’s father, an immigrant from Sahuayo in the Mexican state of Michoacan, worked at the flagship West LA branch of an iconic Greater Los Angeles hamburger chain. Diego’s parents now manage a 7-11 in Las Vegas.

When Magdaleno first laced on the gloves it was at the Brooklyn Avenue boxing gym in the gritty Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles, the same gym where Oscar De La Hoya trained for the Olympic Trials. He continued with the sport after his family – he has three older sisters – moved to Las Vegas.

Diego influenced both of his younger brothers to become boxers. Jessie Magdaleno surpassed him in name recognition when he upset Nonito Nonaire in November of 2016, earning him the WBO world super bantamweight title. Jessie lost the belt in his second defense, succumbing to Isaac Dogboe, but has won three straight since that mishap, advancing his record to 28-1. The youngest Magdaleno brother, Marco, was 4-0 as a pro when he abandoned the sport, having secured a job with good pay and benefits in the construction field.

Diego has applied some of his ring earnings toward a real estate investment in Scipio, Utah, where he owns a parcel of land adjacent to a pioneer home. Scipio is a four-hour drive from Las Vegas and figuratively a million miles away. What does one do for fun in Scipio, pop. 288? The first thing that popped up in our internet search was to go grab a sandwich at the Burger Barn.

There’s a back story there. The pioneer home, built in 1886, was recently purchased by Diego’s fiancée Shannon Torres, a descendent of one of Scipio’s founding families. She and Diego are restoring it. Diego professes to be amazed at the craftsmanship. “When we pulled up the carpets,” he said, “the original hardwood floors were still in great condition.”

Shannon Torres has a boxing background, having fought as an amateur and having sparred with the likes of Mia St. John. She is also a nutritionist. Diego confesses to having a sweet tooth, being fond of cheesecake and anything with peanut butter. “She knows how to make those things for me so they are not as unhealthy,” he says.

Magdaleno’s first loss came in April of 2013 when he lost a split decision to Ramon Martinez in Macao. Diego thought he won the fight, but only one of the judges concurred. At stake was Martinez’s WBO 130-pound world title. His second world title opportunity came against WBO lightweight champ Terry Flanagan on Flanagan’s turf in Manchester, England. That didn’t go well.

“When I got in the ring, it felt like there was sand under my shoes,” said Diego. “My right foot was sliding underneath me. I overcompensated and that caused me trouble.” Magdaleno loaded up on his punches, a fatal mistake, and was knocked out in the second round.

Top Rank dropped Magdaleno after that fight but would eventually bring him back to fight their rising star Teofimo Lopez. His fight with Austin Dulay was his first fight back after his loss to Lopez (TKO by 7) and his first with new trainer Bones Adams (pictured on the left) in his corner.

Mag

Isaac Cruz poses a different threat than Dulay partly because Cruz, who stands only 5’4 ½”, is a lot shorter. But Magdaleno is confident the result will be the same.

“His style is attack, attack, attack; it’s one-dimensional,” says Diego. “I have been in there and done things that this kid has never seen. I am a big step up for him.”

Unlike many prizefighters, Diego Magdaleno knows where he is heading after his career is finished; he is already a licensed real estate salesman with one listing to his credit. He’s bi-lingual despite having spent only three months living in Mexico, that as a first-grader, and his linguistic versatility will come in handy in his second career. “I know just enough Spanish to get by,” he says, but having heard him speak in his parents’ native tongue we can attest that he’s being much too modest.

For the time being, however, Diego isn’t looking past Saturday night. Magdaleno vs. Cruz is expected to go first on the four-fight PPV portion of the card which kicks off at 9:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. PT.

Magdaleno/Dulay photo credit: Stephanie Trapp

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Will Leo Santa Cruz’s High Volume Punching Stymie Big Hitter ‘Tank’ Davis?

Bernard Fernandez

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WBA “super” 130-pound champion Gervonta “Tank” Davis, short (5’5½”), short-armed (a 67½-inch reach) and powerful, has been described by some as a miniature Mike Tyson, which seems reasonable for an undefeated fighter who has won all but one of his 23 professional bouts inside the distance, more than a few of those knockouts of the spectacular variety. And if Davis’ comparisons to “Iron Mike” weren’t enough to stamp him as an emerging superstar, there is also the fact that he is a protégé of Floyd Mayweather Jr., the vainglorious owner of a 50-0 record and distinction as the richest prizefighter ever to lace up a pair of padded gloves. “Money” bills himself as TBE, “The Best Ever,” and he goes so far as to suggest that the big-hitting southpaw from Baltimore for whom he has such high hopes might someday approach his status as a cash-cow and true icon of the ring.

“The ultimate goal is to get him to surpass me,” the 43-year-old and ostensibly retired Mayweather said of the financial and fistic potential of Davis, who turns 26 on Nov. 7 and arguably is in the early stages of his prime. “I’ve been his age. Where he’s trying to go to, and what he’s trying to accomplish, I’ve already accomplished.”

Although Davis has appeared on the undercard of two Pay-Per-View shows headlined by his famous and fabulously wealthy mentor, both he and Mayweather consider his watershed Halloween night confrontation with WBA “super” featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 KOs), in San Antonio’s Alamodome, as Tank’s real coming-out party. It is, after all, Davis’ first time atop his own Showtime PPV event, perhaps the first of several such marquee appearances if the level of public interest in him continues to spike. Ascending to PPV status is a rite of passage both men consider to be a significant key to all the boxing kingdom has to offer, an exclusive club to which many aspire but only a chosen few are allowed to join. The tariff to boxing fans is a $74.95 subscription fee.

“I said, `Tank, you under Mayweather Promotions. So, it’s May-Per-View,” Mayweather told the kid who would be he during the first episode of Showtime’s “All-Access,” the infomercial whose purpose is to help convince pandemic-strapped fight fans to open their wallets.

“I’m grateful for what Floyd did for me, as far as opening doors,” said Davis, who signed with Mayweather Promotions in 2015. “If it wasn’t for Floyd, I wouldn’t have been a champion at 22. He gave me a chance to fight on his Pay-Per-View card. Now I’m here, on my own Pay-Per-View.”

To hear Mayweather and Davis tell it, it is Tank’s singular, reputation-boosting turn in the spotlight, with Santa Cruz more or less along for the ride. The Vegas sports books seemingly are complicit in that perception, with Tank anywhere from a -$350 to a whopping -$710 favorite, odds which could fluctuate throughout the rest of the week as more and larger wagers are placed. Despite his being a four-division world champion, Santa Cruz, the 32-year-old, Mexican-born resident of Rosemead, Calif., whose current title is that of WBA “super” super feather ruler, also considers this particular bout to be historic as it is also his first PPV appearance. And, no, he isn’t bothered by the long odds against him (which range from +260 to +475) or Davis’ reputation as a compact instrument of pugilistic destruction.

“Nobody believes in me,” he said, almost reveling in his rare role as an underdog. “They think I’m this other guy. But I asked for this fight for a reason ’cause I want to prove myself. I’m going to compete and give my all. I’m not scared.

“Gervonta Davis is a great fighter with great skills, great power. I think he’s the most dangerous fighter in the division. Why not go after him? To prove to the people that I’m not scared of nobody.”

Santa Cruz might not pack as much power as Davis, but his forte is high-volume punching. When he defeated Vusi Malinga via 12-round unanimous decision for the vacant IBF bantamweight strap on June 2, 2012, in Carson, Calif., CompuBox statistics revealed he had unfurled a remarkable 1,350 punches, an average of just under 113 per round. Nor were those numbers an aberration for the human perpetual motion machine; in his two confrontations with Abner Mares, both of which were won on points by Santa Cruz, the read-out showed Leo connecting on a combined 730 of 2,115. Many opponents scarcely have time to think, much less react, when Santa Cruz is firing shots with machine-gun rapidity. No wonder he dares to believe Davis will be similarly flustered.

“I think so,” Santa Cruz said when asked if the quantity of his fusillade will more than offset Davis’ superior quality in terms of power. “When you have a fighter on top of you, throwing punches, he’s not letting you think; he’s frustrating you. He’s not letting you do nothing.

“If I do that, it could be dangerous ’cause he’ll be waiting to counterpunch me, to land those big shots, the uppercuts and hooks. So, I got to do a very smart fight, a perfect fight, to beat him.”

For TV purposes, the storyline outside the ropes sometimes is nearly as important in selling the product as what takes place inside them. In that regard Davis and Santa Cruz, so seemingly different in some regards, are strikingly similar in that they were children of poverty, hardly unusual for a sport where years of deprivation can stoke a burning desire to succeed. Santa Cruz’s motivation might even be hiked a bit higher because of the ongoing medical circumstances of his trainer-father, Jose Santa Cruz Sr.

Jose Sr. could be the star of his own medical reality series, the most recent episode being his near-death brush with COVID-19. But the patriarch of a boxing family (brothers Jose Jr., Antonio and Roberto are also involved in Leo’s career) had previously survived a bout with sepsis, a potentially life-threatening infection, and, in 2016, the diagnosis of Stage 3 myeloma, a blood cancer, that invaded his bones. The father had to undergo weeks of radiation and chemotherapy, and although he pulled through Leo cited concerns for his dad’s health as a contributing factor in his sole pro defeat, in which he relinquished his WBA super featherweight title, by 12-round majority decision, to England’s Carl Frampton on July 30, 2016. Santa Cruz avenged that setback, also by majority decision, six months later.

Jose Sr. continues to serve as Leo’s trainer, but so many medical crises have been met and overcome by the father that the son has learned, as best he can, to cope.

And the COVID-19 which again could have brought Jose Sr. the eternal 10-count?

“When he went (into the hospital), they gave us little hope,” Leo said of his dad’s most recent downward plunge on an emotional roller-coaster on which the entire family has been obliged to have seats. “They said he was going to pass away, that he wasn’t going to last the night. We were all depressed and crying. His lungs were failing, his heart was failing. He coded two times; he died and they brought him back to life.

“I had memories of when he used to go on the bus with me, pushing me in the gym, telling me what to do. All those memories were playing in my mind. I really didn’t think he was going to make it. I thought they were going to call us and say, `Hey, your dad passed away.’ But we prayed, we had hope. Thank God, the next day we were told our dad was still in critical condition, but he was doing a little bit better. Day by day he improved. God listened. He made a miracle. My dad survived. Even the doctors were saying that they didn’t know how that happened.”

As was the case with Santa Cruz, who recalls the occasions when the family’s electricity was shut off because of unpaid bills, Davis’ childhood also was hardly a real-life version of Leave It To Beaver. In 1999, while his father was in prison and his mom was battling drug addition, he was placed into child protective services at the age of five. For the next several years he shuttled between foster homes and shelters. But then, at seven, he found his way into the boxing gym run by Calvin Grove, who knew the pitfalls of life on the streets (he had served 10 years behind bars on drug offenses) as well as the need throw-away children such as Gervonta Davis had to finding someone and something to believe in. Ford, now 56, is so much more than Tank’s trainer now; he also is his father-figure and inspiration not to become another faceless, nameless crime statistic.

“Boxing, I would say, saved my life,” Davis said. “All the guys I came up with that were older than me, they got killed. If you got one foot in the street and one foot in the gym, it’s not going to work. You got to be all the way committed with something.

“When I came to the gym, I felt the love that I needed as a child. Calvin basically raised me. What I been through and what I seen coming up, I knew I don’t want to go backwards in life. I know what that brings.”

In addition to Davis-Santa Cruz, the PPV portion of the undercard features the return, after a layoff of 13 months, of former WBA and WBC Diamond super lightweight champion Regis “Rougaroo” Prograis (24-1, 20 KOs), in a 10-rounder against Juan Heraldez (16-0-1, 10 KOs); the WBA junior welterweight title matchup of San Antonio’s Mario Barrios (25-0, 16 KOs) vs. Ryan Karl (18-2, 12 KOs), and a lightweight scrap pitting Diego Magdaleno (32-3, 13 KOs) against Isaac Cruz Gonzalez (19-1-1, 14 KOs).

Photo credit: Esther Lin / Mayweather Promotions

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