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

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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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Gay Talese, an Icon of the ‘New Journalism,’ Wrote Extensively About Boxing

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Rejected by every college and university he applied to except one, Gay Talese is one of the most celebrated and decorated American writers over the last seven decades.

Beginning at Ocean City High in New Jersey where he wrote for the student newspaper and later the Ocean City Sentinel-Ledger, Talese, 92, went to the University of Alabama where he worked on the student newspaper, the Crimson White, and after a stint in the Army, wrote for The New York Times, Esquire, The New Yorker and numerous magazines.

Not wasting time, Talese has published more than a dozen books, including “The Kingdom And The Power” (1969), “Honor Thy Father,” (1971), “Thy Neighbor’s Wife” (1980), “Unto The Sons,” (1992) and “A Writer’s Life,” (2006).

Talese, who earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism, wrote what many consider the finest magazine profile ever published, his magnum opus for the April 1966 issue of Esquire, titled “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold,” which the magazine proclaimed its greatest feature during the magazine’s 70th anniversary.

In July 1966 and for the same publication, Talese wrote another classic, “The Silent Season Of A Hero,” about New York Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio in retirement.

Talese’s interests are many and so are his subjects, including profiles of three boxing luminaries, Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Floyd Patterson.

To say Talese writes with a light touch and a careful eye to detail is an understatement and his penchant for listening and simply hanging around have served him well and brought his subjects to life in what became known as New Journalism. (Practitioners of the New Journalism adapted the writing techniques of the novel to non-fiction storytelling, often immersing themselves in the narrative. Famous writers identified with the genre include Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, and Talese.)

In one of Talese’s most enduring boxing features, he shined the light on Ali. It ran in the September 1996 issue of Esquire, slightly less than two decades before Ali’s passing in June 2016 at age 74.

The title is “Ali In Havana,” and it captured the essence and luminosity of the three-time heavyweight champion after the lights dimmed.

This section by Talese comes early in the piece: “Although Muhammad Ali is now fifty-four and has been retired from boxing for more than fifteen years, he is still one of the most famous men in the world, being identifiable throughout five continents. As he walks through the lobby of the Hotel Nacional toward the bus, wearing a gray sharkskin suit and a white cotton shirt buttoned at the neck without a tie, several guests approach him and request his autograph. It takes him about thirty seconds to write ‘Muhammad Ali,’ so shaky are his hands from the effects of Parkinson’s syndrome; and though he walks without support, his movements are quite slow, and Howard Bingham and Ali’s fourth wife, Yolanda, are following nearby.”

Talese adds a short while later: “On the bus, as always, Ali is sitting alone, spread out across the two front seats in the left aisle directly behind the Cuban driver. Yolanda sits a few feet ahead of him to the right; she is adjacent to the driver and within inches of the windshield. The seats behind her are occupied by Teofilo Stevenson, Fraymari [Stevenson’s wife], and the photographer Bingham. Seated behind Ali, and also occupying two seats, is an American screenwriter named Greg Howard, who weighs more than 300 pounds. Although he has traveled with Ali for only a few months while researching a film on the fighter’s life, Greg Howard has firmly established himself as an intimate sidekick, and as such is among the very few on the trip who have heard Ali’s voice. Ali speaks so softly that it is impossible to hear him in a crowd, and as a result whatever public comments or sentiments he is expected to, or chooses to, express are verbalized by Yolanda, or Bingham, or Teofilo Stevenson, or even at times by this stout young screenwriter.”

Talese slides this nugget into the feature:

“Stevenson did not actually explain that it had been merely another photo opportunity, one in which they sparred open-handed in the ring, wearing their street clothes and barely touching each other’s bodies and faces; but then Stevenson had climbed out of the ring, leaving Ali to the more taxing test of withstanding two abbreviated rounds against one and then another young bully of grade-school age who clearly had not come to participate in a kiddie show. They had come to floor the champ. Their bellicose little bodies and hot-gloved hands and helmeted hell-bent heads were consumed with fury and ambition; and as they charged ahead, swinging wildly and swaggering to the roars of their teenaged friends and relatives at ringside, one could imagine their future boastings to their grandchildren: On one fine day back in the winter of ’96, I whacked Muhammad Ali. Except, in truth, on this particular day, Ali was still too fast for them. He backpedaled and shifted and swayed, stood on the toes of his black woven-leather pointed shoes, and showed that his body was made for motion – his Parkinson’s problems were lost in his shuffle, in the thrusts of his butterfly sting what whistled two feet above the heads of his aspiring assailants, in the dazzling dips of his rope-a-dope that had confounded George Foreman in Zaire, in his ever-memorable style, which in this Cuban gym moistened the eyes of his ever-observant photographer friend and provided the overweight screenwriter to cry out in a voice that few in this noisy Spanish crowd could understand, ‘Ali’s on a high! Ali’s on a high!’ ”

Talese penned a touching and poignant portrait of Louis, the “Brown Bomber” in the June 1962 issue of Esquire. The title is “Joe Louis: The King As A Middle-Aged Man.”

Early in the profile, Talese wrote this of the beloved former champion: “Though his tax difficulties have eradicated all his assets – including two trust funds he had set up for his children – Joe Louis is still a man of great pride. He refused the money that hundreds of citizens sent him to help with his government debt, although he still owes the government thousands and could have used the cash. Last year Joe Louis earned less than $10,000, most of it from refereeing wrestling matches (he earns between $750 to $1,000 a night), and from endorsements or appearances. The last big money he made was the $100,000-a-year guarantee he got in 1956 for wrestling. He won all his matches – except those in which he was disqualified for using his fists – but his career ended not long afterward when the 300-pound cowboy Rocky Lee accidentally stepped on Louis’s chest one night, cracked one of his ribs, and damaged some of his heart muscles.”

A little later in the feature, Talese penned this: “And on and on it went, as Louis walked down Broadway: Cab drivers waved at him, bus drivers honked at him, and dozens of men stopped him and recalled how they once traveled 130 miles to get to one of his fights, and how they’d put their heads down to light a cigarette in the first round, then before they could look up, Louis had flattened his opponent and they had missed everything: or how they’d had guests at the house that night to hear the fight, and while they were struggling in the kitchen to get the ice out, somebody came in from the living room and said, ‘It’s all over! Louis knocked ‘im out with the first punch.’ “

In the March 1964 issue of Esquire, Talese, who wrote thirty-seven stories on Patterson, the onetime youngest heavyweight king, authored a gem titled, “The Loser.”

Midway through the feature, Talese wrote, “One hour later Floyd Patterson was jogging his way back down the dirt path toward the white house, the towel over his head absorbing the sweat from his brow. He lives alone in a two-room apartment in the rear of the house and has remained there in almost complete seclusion since getting knocked out a second time by Sonny Liston.

In the smaller room is a large bed he makes up himself, several record albums he rarely plays, a telephone that seldom rings. The larger room has a kitchen on one side and, on the other, adjacent to a sofa, is a fireplace from which are hung boxing trunks and T-shirts to dry, and a photograph of him when he was the champion, and also a television set. The set is usually on except when Patterson is sleeping, or when he is sparring across the road inside the clubhouse (the ring is rigged over what was once the dance floor), or when, in a rare moment of painful honesty, he reveals to a visitor what it is like to be a loser.”

A short while later, Talese adds: “Now, walking slowly around the room, his black silk robe over his sweat clothes, Patterson said, ‘You must wonder what makes a man do things like this. Well, I wonder too. And the answer is, I don’t know … but I think that within me, within every human being, there is a certain weakness. It is a weakness that exposes itself more when you’re alone. And I have figured out that part of the reason I do the things I do, and cannot seem to conquer that one word – myself – is because … is because … I am a coward.’ He stopped. He stood very still in the middle of the room, thinking about what he had just said, probably wondering whether he should have said it.”

In all three features, Talese steers clear of mythologizing and allows the reader to decide the merit and quality of each man.

They were all supremely gifted in the ring, but each had their foibles and flaws outside the squared circle. That is, they, like everyone, were merely human.

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Zhilei Zhang and Deontay Wilder Meet at the Final Crossroads

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Six feet six inches and 290lbs are our favourite statistics when it comes to Big Bang Zhang, out of Zhoukou, China. Here are two more: he’s forty-one years old and he has lost two of his last four, including a woeful shortfall against a rejuvenated Joseph Parker in the Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, in March.

Kingdom Arena, Riyadh is the site too of his next fight this weekend against Deontay Wilder as a major part of the Five vs Five card Matchroom and Queensberry promotions have developed. Our favourite Wilder stat: forty-three wins, forty-two knockouts. More pertinent though are his record for the 2020s, which stands at 1-3, and his thirty-eight years of age.

This is not just a crossroads fight; it is the place where someone finds out they’re no longer on the list to receive the riches of Riyadh – when someone finds out their time on the island of relevancy is over. It is impossible to imagine Wilder remaining a part of the title picture after posting his fourth loss in five matches in his thirty-eighth year; it is impossible, too, to imagine Zhang remaining a problem anyone on the world scene needs if he loses his third fight in five with his forty-second birthday in sight. For someone, the dance will be over this Saturday night – but who?

In trying to determine what Deontay Wilder has left, the most important statistic of all is 12-0. That was what my scorecard read after the twelve humiliating rounds Wilder posted against Joseph Parker last December. Wilder entered the ring dry and tight, and I expected him to move into the contest as he warmed up and loosened up, but the pattern of the fight did not change. A word here for Parker, a gentleman despite the questionable friendships he keeps: his boxing was excellent. Asked about Wilder’s performance afterwards he said that he felt that “inactivity has played a part” but that “sticking to the plan Andy Lee laid out” got him there. All of this sounds right to me. Parker was extremely disciplined and it was exactly what was required. He feinted Wilder with his left and sought the right hand, arraying himself against his foe’s greatest weakness, his balance. An ill-balanced fighter, Wilder was kept under disorganised control by a sparse but disciplined offence.

With that important point out of the way, we need to return to Wilder’s absolute inability to change the pattern of the fight. I do not think he won a single minute of a single round, he was as conclusively beaten by Parker as it is possible for a fighter to be on points, although it should be noted that two judges were generous enough to find two rounds for him (the third saw it as I did). Competence was the word that most expresses what undid him – competence in footwork, diligence in offence.  Wilder looked, at times, a novice before Parker’s double-jab, travelling all the way to the ropes to escape a much shorter punch. His own jab, of course, was compromised by his gunslinger’s stance. Wilder often throws the punch from low down, lengthening the time the punch is in the air, shortening the required reaction time of the opponent. Parker was unamused by this punch, parrying it off his gloves or slipping outside the range – Wilder found himself falling over his front foot when what he wanted was to be on his back foot and the panic a miss could induce in him was apparent by the fourth, impeding his organisation still further. Wilder spent so much time leaning away, shuffling back, his offence was banished.

Allowing that the best answer is “a little of both” we must ask whether this was something that Parker did to Wilder or something that Wilder did to himself – or worse, is this who Wilder is now?

Wilder’s excuses for his awful performance against Parker were varied; some days it was the long flight to Riyadh; sometimes it was the improper use of a cryo-chamber. These are far from the strangest excuses that Wilder has produced for a loss, as Sweet Science readers well know. His more recent public musings have seemed even more cryptic, including an apparent obsession with his own death, not always entirely negative in the sense that he is curious about the afterlife, but still an interesting train of thought for an elite athlete. Through the gaps in the stream of consciousness though comes the things we want to hear. “The flame, the fire, has been relit inside of me. I fell out of love with boxing but I’m in love with it again…I went back to being a student of the game.”

More, Wilder always lost rounds – against the last southpaw opponent he met, Luis Ortiz, he lost almost every round he did not score a knockdown in, but this lack of ring generalship is counterbalanced by his overwhelming power. He never landed that shot on Parker because Parker, with the help of coach Andy Lee, decoded him.  Wilder has clearly slipped, but it may be his general lack of form and balance, though savagely exposed on this occasion, means he is still a good chunk of what he used to be – and just because Parker decoded him, doesn’t mean Zhang can.

Zhang looked lethal decoding his own Waterloo in smashing Joe Joyce to pieces twice. Slow-moving, big punching, and apparently lacking all survival instincts against a big-hitting southpaw, Joyce was perfect for Zhang, but the Chinese looked wonderful getting the big Brit out of there. Zhang, too, was badly exposed against Joseph Parker, but their fight was not nearly so one-sided. In fact, Zhang swept Parker in the early rounds, culminating in a third-round knockdown that put him firmly in charge of the fight. Zhang’s enormity was a part of the equation. He forced Parker out of ring centre (which Parker dominated against Wilder) simply by existing. Zhang two-stepped to the outside to land single shots while Parker struggled a bit with his backfoot range. Andy Lee noticed this and his advice to Parker after round two, felt, at the time, inadequate but he was quite correct: “He’s gonna slow, and slow, and slow.”

A Scene from Zhang vs Parker

A Scene-from-Zhang-vs-Parker

What Lee recognised was Zhang’s stamina issue would be the definitive factor in the fight, in combination, of course, with Parker’s own excellent engine. The later the fight goes, the more Zhang feels those 270-290lbs. The disaster that was the second half of his fight against Jermaine Franklin victim Jerry Forrest is most illustrative of this. I thought Zhang was lucky to get away with a draw in that fight and he dropped every one of the final five rounds for me. Stories abound that Zhang’s kidneys went into failure in that fight, some claim, and one that has never been verified. Big Bang now apparently consumes two gallons of water every day. How then, to explain his second half collapse against Filip Hrgovic?  Zhang did well through the early part of that fight but dropped a razor-thin decision after losing five of the final six on my card. Parker, though, seems the final proof of Zhang’s greatest weakness – dropped in the third, Parker came over his front foot in the fourth, showed head movement, and suddenly had a tiring Zhang circling. Brave, committed, Parker is all of that and Zhang did not like it in the late parts of the fight. He won eighth with another bomb, but apart from that he won not a single round on my card post the third. Zhang is a molasses in elite terms in the championship rounds. He seems to have no strategy to win rounds late against world-class opposition; rather he plods, and waits for the 180 seconds to pass, relying upon his size and chin to keep him out of serious trouble.

What a wonderful mesh this produces for the massive confrontation between Zhang and Wilder this Saturday night. Early, Zhang’s naturalised pressure will make a reluctant Wilder uncertain about throwing as Zhang does his best work. As the rounds grind by, Zhang will start to blow and the opportunity for Wilder to take over will present itself. Here, we will really find out what it is that Wilder has left. A handful of punches is enough to win rounds against Zhang in the second half of the fight, and I mean that literally. But Wilder threw fewer than fifteen punches per round in five of the twelve rounds he boxed against Parker, an incredible absence of activity – and he lands a low percentage anyway much of the time. He was essentially in hiding against Parker – Zhang hits harder and is more menacing generally. Does Wilder really have “the fire” back in his belly, and has he really fallen in love with boxing once again? If so, still the division’s best puncher, he will have no problems landing late on ranked heavyweight boxing’s juiciest target. If not, we could witness some of the dullest rounds boxing can deliver, a gun-shy former predator doing his best to avoid contact with a blown forty-one year old.

In boxing though, the round is always scored to someone. The prediction here is difficult because it is about how the two fighter’s malfunctions will intertwine, not their strengths. The bookies, rarely wrong, have made Zhang the favourite and that makes the most sense – his performance against Parker was less abhorrent than Wilder’s. But were Zhang’s struggles perhaps more fundamental? I think that even the Wilder we saw against Parker would have got moving against the iceberg that is late-fight Zhang and he still carries bazookas. It is not lost on me that Wilder’s busiest rounds against Parker were late in the fight when he came alive to the disaster that was unfolding. Wilder still has enough pride to be desperate whereas Zhang will find himself too exhausted for his desperation to matter.

Untidy, ugly, wildly entertaining rounds may be the fight fan’s reward for sticking with the turgid middle part of this crossroads combat.

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Christian Mbilli has the Wow Factor: Dismisses Mark Heffron in 40 Seconds

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Christian Mbilli has the Wow Factor: Dismisses Mark Heffron in 40 Seconds

The Gervais Auto Center in Shawinigan, Quebec, Canada, roughly 100 miles south of Montreal, hosted tonight’s card on ESPN+, a co-promotion of Camille Estephan’s Eye of the Tiger Promotions and Bob Arum’s Top Rank. Arum wasn’t there; he was in Leeds, England, but the outcome would have mitigated his aggravation at seeing his fighter Josh Taylor fall short earlier in the day.

Super middleweight Christian Mbilli, of whom Arum owns a piece, needed only 40 seconds to conquer British import Mark Heffron who, on paper, was a very credible opponent. Mbilli backed Heffron into the ropes and collapsed him with a left hook that landed under his rib cage. Heffron, 30-3-1 heading in with 24 KOs, went down on all fours and was counted out. The contest was over almost before it began.

The Cameroon-born Mbilli, a 2016 Olympian for France who turned pro in Montreal, is ranked #2 by the WBC and WBA; #3 by the IBF and WBO. With the victory, he advanced his record to 27-0 (23 KOs). His next fight will reportedly come in August with rugged but battle-blistered Sergiy Derevyanchenko in the opposite corner. Mbilli has been chasing a fight with Canelo Alvarez, but has scant chance of landing it. At this juncture of his career, the red-headed Mexican undoubtedly wants less daunting assignments.

Co-Feature

Arslanbek Makhmudov, the Russian Lion, rebounded from his poor performance against Agit Kabayel with a second-round stoppage of sacrificial lamb Milan Rovcanin. Makhmudov (19-1, 18 KOs) knocked Rovcanin to the canvas with an overhand right in the opening round. The punch knocked Rovcanin sideways, his head resting on the ring apron. To Rovcanin’s credit, he beat the count and launched a futile offensive after he arose. A similar punch ended the brief bout at the 2:32 mark of the next frame.

Makhmudov is certainly heavy-handed, but he moves at a glacial pace and would be up-against-it against a world-class opponent with faster hands and better footwork. Rovcanin, who had  been feasting on fourth-raters in his native Serbia, declined to 27-4.

Other Bouts of Note

In a bout contested at the catch-weight of 178 pounds, Montreal-based Mehmet Unal, a 31-year-old former Olympian for Turkey, scored the best win of his career with a fourth-round stoppage of 34-year-old Laredo, Texas campaigner Rodolfo Gomez.

Gomez, routinely matched tough and better than his record (14-7-3 heading in), protested loudly when the referee waived it off, but his corner stood poised to throw in the towel. He hadn’t previously been stopped, let alone knocked off his feet. Unal improved to 10-0 (8 KOs).

Super middleweight Mereno Fendero, a 24-year old French Army veteran, improved to 6-0 (4) with a six-round decision over 38-year-old Argentine journeyman Rolando Mansilla (19-15-1). Fendero won every round on all three cards including a 10-8 round on one of the cards although there were no knockdowns. Although badly out-classed, the teak-tough Mansilla, a glutton for punishment, earned his pay.

Local prospect Alexandre Gaumont, a middleweight, improved to 11-0 (7) with an unpopular 8-round split decision over Argentina’s Santiago Fernandez (8-1-1). Two of the judges gave Gaumont six rounds, ridiculed as home town bias, with the other awarding five rounds to the Argentine who received a loud ovation as he left the ring.

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