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

Matt McGrain

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Super-featherweight has been refreshing after the minefield that was 140lbs and has contained the best fights I have reviewed during this series. There was a complication in that many of the top fighters of the decade only came to the dance once with an equal; there was far too much dusting of unranked fighters, journeymen and alphabet mandatories unqualified for the shot.

This has made the weighing of individual wins more pertinent than in other weight classes and you may find more words about given fights than is normal. Hunt some of those fights down if you missed them; I named this the most exciting division in boxing in 2016 and it certainly delivered.

Rankings are by Ring from January 2010 until October 2012 and thereafter by TBRB.

10 – Orlando Salido

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 10-4-2 Ranked For: 25% of the decade

We have run into some strange and interesting number tens during this series, but perhaps none more so than Orlando Salido. Siri, the veteran, the great survivor of the sub 135lb decade, makes the list essentially on the strength of two draws.

In April of 2014 Salido was spanked, fair and square, by Roman Martinez, the Puerto Rican, who used his equalising straight right hand to drop Salido and secured the decision over twelve. This was a punch Salido remained unable to neutralise even in their rematch fought five months later,  Martinez managing to drop him once more, but in truth, Salido bossed their second encounter, ceaseless, blank-faced pressure catching up to the younger man who was lucky to escape with the draw. Salido, if not quite robbed, had been pick-pocketed.

The judging was perfectly reasonable in his next fight, a June 2016 draw fought with the mighty Francisco Vargas in one of the better fights of the decade. I scored it a draw, two of the judges scored it a draw, and while talk that Salido had the better of this fight too is overstated, he did not have the look or feel of a man defeated.

Salido won fights at the poundage, but nothing that meaningful. It is these drawn performances that put him in contention but the real reason he slips in are the shortcomings of his rivals for the spot.  Albert Merchado defeated Jezzrel Corrales who was butchered by Andrew Cancio who was ripped up by Rene Alvarado. Juan Carlos Salgado and Argenis Mendez cancelled one another out and offered little besides, Gervonta Davis’s best win is number eight contender Jose Pedraza and the excellent Takashi Miura defeated the similarly ranked Gamaliel Diaz on his best night. In the end, by a process of painful elimination it became clear that the most reasoned argument was Salido, who probably should have been awarded a victory over Martinez (ranked 9 here) and who fought Vargas (ranked six) to a standstill.

09 – Roman Martinez

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 7-4-2 Ranked For: 68% of the decade

Roman Martinez had a strange and troubling super-featherweight career defined by oddities and questionable draws. He was lucky to get away with the share against Juan Carlos Burgos in 2013 and equally so against Orlando Salido in their 2015 rematch and had either of these fights been scored against him he likely would have had to make way for his conqueror. Draws are what came back though so he pitches up here ahead of both in the number nine spot.

Key to his placement is his performance in his first fight with Salido. Martinez boxed with the cooler head of a more experienced fighter that night, staying organised despite being subjected to ceaseless pressure, moving laterally at speed and countering Salido with consistent, clean punches.

Martinez also turned in a spirited, clever performance against number ten contender Diego Magdaleno two years prior to his meeting with Salido, taking an earned split decision. This second win over a made man threatens to propel him up a list comprised in part of one-hit wonders but those draws, and his being on the fortunate end of them, pin him back.

Unexceptional, that right hand excepted, Martinez has remained a figure of significance within the super-featherweight division for nearly 70% of the decade; this, in tandem with the Salido victory makes him difficult to exclude.

08 – Ricky Burns

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 16-6-1 Ranked For: 11% of the decade

Ricky Burns is another reason for Martinez ranking no higher than nine.  In short, it is difficult to rank Burns any higher and more difficult still to rank Martinez ahead of Burns, for the best of reasons: Burns beat him.

It remains the most outstanding performance of Ricky’s career, a performance of great competence over a fighter who echoed his best attributes. Both these men were superbly conditioned and capable of performances of real courage but were limited in both power and speed. Burns, far and away the lesser of the two punchers and with no equivalent of the Martinez right hand, was firmly outgunned. Technical surety and superb temperament brought him the clean win. Burns was hurt badly in the first round by one of those Martinez right hands; by the end of the sixth he all but had the fight wrapped up having won every round since.

Martinez wasn’t for quitting of course, and he damaged Burns with surging, wild attacks through the middle rounds to narrow the fight up but Burns closed like a champion, winning the eleventh and twelfth with room to spare. It was a rousing performance that demonstrated everything Burns did well.  One of his generation’s underrated jabbers, he was cool under the most vicious of fire and brave to a fault.

Burns exited 130lbs the following year, unbeaten at the poundage that decade, 5-0, having mastered, in Martinez, a fighter of worth.

07 – Rances Barthelemy

Peak Ranking: 3 Record for the Decade: 25-1-1-1 Ranked For: 14% of the decade

The Cuban Rances Barthelemy may seem a rather perverse choice at number seven given that he was never ranked higher than three divisionally, but he had Mikey Garcia and Takashi Uchiyama to contend with. He met neither man in the ring, but his performances in his two fight series with Agenis Mendez are more than enough to justify his placement on this particular list.

In their first fight, in January of 2014, Barthelemy seemed a fighter unassailable.  His left hook seemed ear-drum shattering; his body-punches drew air in through the collective teeth of those who witnessed them; his jab put commentary in mind of George Foreman. Mendez landed as few as three punches in the first. The left uppercut, left jab and left hook Rances landed in combination to drop Mendez in the second was a thing of absolute beauty; the two wide hooks he landed from square shortly thereafter to knock Mendez out, less so, not least because they came after the bell.

Barthelemy’s knockout victory was changed to a no-decision, the correct decision, and a rematch was ordered.

Barthelemy was not the fighter he appeared to be in that first astonishing fight with Mendez, but he looked the clear superior of Mendez once more, taking a clear decision win despite dropping points for clumsy low blows in both the ninth and tenth round. Mendez, it should be remembered, was no joke. The world’s number two contender, he had split a series with the excellent Juan Carlos Salgado, winning their second fight by way of fourth round knockout and rendering himself one of the best super-featherweights in the world. Barthelemy usurped him, then defeated Argentine tough Fernando David Saucedo and departed for lightweight.

That makes him undefeated at the poundage and in combination with those two superb wins, he’s earned the number seven spot.

06 – Francisco Vargas

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 26-2-2 Ranked For: 43% of the decade

Japanese puncher Takashi Miura, ranked two, is the key fight of Francisco Vargas’s career, the totality of which was boxed between January 2010 and December of 2019, almost all of it at the 130lb limit, no small matter in rating him here.

Miura, an onslaught southpaw who traded on thudding punches and sheer aggression had put away a series of good opponents in the course of raising and defending his strap, key among them Gamaliel Diaz, who he had dispatched in nine in 2013; Vargas met him in 2015 and in a thrilling first round took his legs and challenged his heart with a zinging right-hand wedded to some exceptional short-arm work behind. Takashi, too hard to succumb, battled back and a superb fight was sparked, dominated early by Vargas to the point of one-sidedness. Takashi though seemed wrought of iron, insidiously fighting back before dropping Vargas with a stunning one-two behind a delightful uppercut.

This was a nice wrinkle to the fight, Takashi suddenly producing superb, technically adept punches to swing it into his lane, but it was Vargas now who took a turn in proving his heart and guts. Cut, bruised, Vargas rallied thrillingly in the sixth round as the two exchanged vicious body shots and opposed straights. Behind on the cards, hurt and then punished at the end of the eighth, Vargas sent Takashi scrambling to and then from the canvas in the first seconds of the ninth before blasting him out to win perhaps the best fight of the super-featherweight decade by way of stoppage. It was an exceptional performance.

Almost as astonishing was Vargas’s first fight of the following year, against Orlando Salido. A wonderful ebb and flow war, savage in culture, the official scorecards read 115-113 to Vargas and 114-114 twice, which echoed my own.

Worn by these battles, Vargas was eventually chased from the division by Miguel Berchelt. As we shall see, there is no shame in that.

05 – Mikey Garcia

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 22-1 Ranked For: 11% of the decade

Mikey Garcia, fleeting as always, spent a short spell in the rankings at 130lbs but also served a modicum of his apprenticeship there, putting meat on the bones of his 2013/14 campaign. In these years, Garcia bought the number five spot on this list.

In 2013 he met Roman Martinez, no slouch as we have seen, and who had a good first round; but in the second Garcia established that glorious left-handed jab as Martinez, content to wait outside, seemed lost. Then Martinez sprang his trap, the same trap he sprung against Salido, that wrought straight right and Garcia was on the seat of his trunks looking up.

He was also calm personified, reassuring his corner, making eye contact with the referee then up at six and took control of the fight. That left jab made way for the straight right which in turn made way for the left hook, a staged attack any general would be proud of. Martinez was finished in eight, struggling desperately for breath behind a superb left hook to the body.

Three months later, Garcia met Juan Carlos Burgos who was coming off the rough end of two split draws. Burgos made it difficult for Garcia early with his range but once Garcia found him, he won every remaining round.

Garcia dashes through divisions so quickly it is hard for him to make a meaningful impact and he was not helped at 130lbs by contractual disputes which kept him out of the ring for some months; when he returned it was as a lightweight. Here, there are enough shallow but exciting legacies to see him into the top five. Garcia’s style may not inspire passion, but it is to be admired.

04 – Jezzrel Corrales

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 22-2 Ranked For: 23% of the decade

Jezzrel Corrales missed weight in October of 2017 for his match with Alberto Machado and was promptly stopped in the eighth round of a lacklustre performance. At the 130lb limit, he was never beaten.

It is fitting, too that he is the only member of the one-hit wonder club that makes the top five. His one hit is actually two, and far and away the best of the bunch.

In 2016, Takashi Uchiyama was the undisputed number one super-featherweight on the planet and remained in the habit of importing and dominating quality fighters from outside his native Japan.  Corrales, a Panamanian stylist, seemed just the latest in a long line to leave Japan with nothing but wounds and Yen.

Corrales claimed ring centre, unafraid, rearing and ducking the worst of Uchiyama’s attentions, punching at every opportunity. This is hardly a layered plan but Corrales has an equaliser as good as a poison-speared punch: he is among the fastest-handed fighters on this list. In the second, he moved off before bringing Uchiyama back to ring centre and pot-shotted, especially with his left.  Repeatedly feinting with a southpaw jab to the body, he bought an Uchiyama counter then blasted over a lighting quick straight that dropped Uchiyama and heavily. The Japanese’s reign was essentially over, although he was able to stagger his way through to the final seconds of the round before succumbing.

Jezzrel Corrales owns the single best win of any fighter on this list.

He arguably owns the second best, too, returning to Japan for a rematch eight months later, once again triumphing, this time on the cards. Flashed off balance in the fifth, Corrales nevertheless earned a decision, the fact that it only came on two of the three cards probably flattering Uchiyama.

A strange, pawing, dipping fighter, Corrales interested me from the start with that low lead, varied feints and riffing style. He achieved little else of note divisionally but undoing the clear divisional number one on two separate occasions is more than enough to earn him a top five spot.

03 – Vasyl Lomachenko

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 14-1 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

Too low?

Arguably, but for anyone who has been tuning in regularly, it’s clear that these lists are driven not by the how but the who; Vasyl Lomachenko receives maximum points for the how, but in terms of the who, he really does come up short. Clearly better than the one-hit wonders that populate much of the rest of the list, he is clearly worse off than the men ranked above him. Lomachenko’s assault on lightweight was all conquering and saw him outwit and outhit the best the division had to offer, at 130lbs he never faced a man in the top five.

The highest ranked fighter Lomachenko met at 130lbs was Roman Martinez, number six. Martinez, a fighter we have run into over and again, finally reaches the end of his super-featherweight journey.  Lomachenko tore him apart like a wolfpack before dispatching him with an uppercut/hook combination as astonishing as anything I have seen. In his next three fights, Lomachenko forced the retirements of three different men, most impressively Nicholas Walters, then met with the man that makes his ranking so malleable: Guillermo Rigondeaux. Lomachenko beat Rigondeaux clean and clear; it was not a close fight. Rigondeaux retired in his corner with an injury but did so after being outclassed by the better man. The problem is that Rigondeaux, a genuine pound-for-pound force moved two weight classes north to make the contest happen. So how much meaning should be allowed? The final word, perhaps, should belong to Lomachenko himself:

“This is not his weight, so it’s not a big win for me.”

Rigondeaux achieved nothing at 130lbs, before or since. That is weighted here – Lomachenko ranks three.

02 – Takashi Uchiyama

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 11-2-1 Ranked For: 61% of the decade

Takashi Uchiyama was the darling of the hardcore boxing fan in the early part of the decade. When he met Juan Carlos Salgado in the first month of 2010 it was not the slipping version that would go 1-1 with Argenis Mendez in coming years, but rather the monster that had knocked out no less a figure than Jorge Linares the year before – in one round.

Uchiyama met Salgado ring centre and established himself as the more accurate and heavier puncher then went to work breaking him down. A technically superb performance, it was capped by a savage assault in the eleventh which culminated in a hooking clinic in the twelfth, for all that it was a tiring one, followed by a vicious stoppage with just seconds remaining. The purists were hooked.

In truth, this was something of a summit for Uchiyama, which was a shame because the feeling was he might make pound-for-pound. He never left his Japanese stronghold and the invitees were of middling quality. Still, he inflicted an impressive number of first defeats and in 2011 imported a slipping Jorge Solis, against whom he perpetrated an astonishing one-punch knockout in the eleventh having arguably won every single round up to that point.

There were quick knockouts, too, like the one he scored against the prodigy Jomthong Chwatana and when he needed the cards they were usually wide. His shocking defeat at the hands of Corrales and his insistence upon remaining home keep him from the top spot here, but that’s a judgment call.  Placing him at the top would be valid.

01 – Miguel Berchelt

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 37-1 Ranked For: 27% of the decade

I suspect that this is my first genuinely controversial placement of the series but justifying heralding Miguel Berchelt as the most accomplished super-featherweight of the decade will be easy. That is because he is the right choice.

First, there is his paper record, which is one of the best on the list. Berchelt (pictured) suffered a single loss in 2014 and since then has smeared a series of ranked men all over the ring, mostly by way of knockout. He has fewer losses than Uchiyama, more wins, and more wins against ranked opposition. Although Lomachenko has no losses at the weight, he has significantly fewer wins and fewer wins against top men.

Most of all, what impresses about Berchelt is that he has been doing his business among the top five. While Lomachenko was matched exclusively outside the absolute best of the best, Berchelt has operated frequently in such company.

Most of all, it his domination over that company that has impressed.

Berchelt took the step up against Francisco Vargas in 2017 and handed the superb Vargas a vicious beating. Vargas out-sped Berchelt by a margin which was a problem for him for perhaps four minutes. Berchelt’s greatest strength is his ring-awareness; he knows where he is at all times and he knows where his opponent is at all times. This perennially puts him in position, or something like it; Vargas meanwhile was relying on technical ability and speed to keep him in control. He was repeatedly hurt in the second in what looks in retrospect to be the beginning of the end. After losing most of the intervening rounds in a fight that mounted in intensity and savagery as it progressed, Vargas was stopped in the eleventh, his face coming apart.

In his next fight Berchelt, not one for resting upon laurels, matched number four contender Takashi Miura unveiling a new horror at championship level. Berchelt, who is the best puncher in the super-featherweight division, is also the best mover. He circled Miura as mercilessly as he beat him, bringing the brave Japanese onto a series of stiffening punches. By the fifth, Miura had given up boxing and pressure both in favour of single-shot hail-Mary left hands, some of which landed but never in quantities high enough to win him a single round on my card, or the card of judge Max DeLuca.

The following year, 2018, Berchelt thrashed mortal enemy and number five contender Miguel Roman in nine then rematched Vargas. By now he was peaking. Compact shots follow each other quickly to the target, his hand speed maximised on combination punching, but it is his accuracy during clutch exchanges that sets him aside. Berchelt cracked Vargas in just six rounds and exited the decade the unequivocal number one active super-featherweight. Uchiyama was ranked number one in January of 2010, and it is fitting that these two duke it out for the decadal top spot.

Berchelt is my choice based upon his having more wins, fewer losses and his having beaten more highly ranked fighters.

 

The other lists:

Heavyweight

Cruiserweight

Light-Heavyweight

Super-Middleweight

Middleweight

Light-Middleweight

Welterweight

Light-Welterweight

Lightweights

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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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HITS and MISSES from Another Weekend on the Boxing Beat

Kelsey McCarson

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Unlike last weekend, there wasn’t just one big fight card for everyone to watch. Instead, the boxing audience in the United States primarily had two separate fight cards to enjoy, one on Friday night from Mexico City featuring stalwart super flyweights, and another one on Saturday night from Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut featuring an important welterweight matchup between hopeful contenders.

Here are boxing’s latest HITS and MISSES from this weekend.

HIT: The Super Super Flyweights

Two of boxing’s best were on display when Juan Francisco Estrada stopped Carlos Cuadras in the 11th round of the main event in Mexico and Roman Gonzalez won a unanimous decision over Israel Gonzalez in the co-feature.

Both Estrada and Gonzalez are exceptional talents who have accomplished more during their impressive careers than most fighters could dream. The two rivals were thought to be on the way to an important rematch against each other a few years ago when Wisaksil Wangek, who fights under the name Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, burst onto the scene in 2017 to shockingly hand Gonzalez the first two losses of his Hall of Fame career as well as Estrada his first loss since Gonzalez defeated him by decision six years prior.

But Estrada has won five straight now, including his rematch against Sor Rungvisai last year, to set up one of the most scintillating fights in the super flyweight division in ages. Gonzalez is already considered by most to be an all-time great, and Estrada isn’t far behind him. After both won their latest fights, it looks like a rematch between the two is finally going to happen.

MISS: Long Delays for Viewers Between Bouts

It boggles my mind how none of the various television networks and streaming platforms in the sport have figured out anything to do worthwhile when fights end sooner than their scheduled number of rounds. It happens so often in the sport that it would seem reasonable to suggest somebody would have come along by now with some kind of plan. Just a few years ago, it seemed swing bouts were still on the table. What happened to those?

On Friday night, if one tuned in to watch the main card tripleheader on DAZN, one was presented with over 45 minutes of waiting around for the next fight to happen after WBC flyweight champ Julio Cesar Martinez needed just two rounds to stop Moises Calleros.

The single most frustrating part of the equation, which has probably been mentioned in this column before, is that Dana White and the UFC pulls it off every single fight card. So, the template already exists, but boxing television partners, even on ESPN where both the UFC and Top Rank coexist, refuse to use it.

HIT: DAZN’s Todd Grisham and Sergio Mora Impromptu Roadshow

Regardless, while I don’t believe it’s reasonable to hope for the beautiful accident that was Friday night on DAZN for every card, I could hardly be mad when DAZN’s dead air was filled with the antics of Todd Grisham and Sergio Mora, who were calling the action on the night. Both are probably underrated at what they do.

Their sometimes jovial, sometimes hostile banter is fun. No, people don’t tune in to hear these guys go back and forth with each other, but it was at least entertaining to hear their near-comedic and entirely impromptu routine, especially because it also surrounded the surreal experience of watching WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman make his in-ring television interview debut with boxing titleholders Mikey Garcia and Emanuel Navarrete.

Boxing is a strange culture. Sometimes even the bad parts of the sport can be good.

MISS: Lip Service from Everyone About Boxing’s Biggest Issue

One of the biggest boxing stories of the weekend was when retired boxing champ Floyd Mayweather ranted against title belts. Indeed, one of the most difficult things to explain to any outsider about the sport is how boxing’s complicated and somewhat absurd championship system works.

Of course, Mayweather is right about there being too many world champions in boxing. But the problem is that people who might actually be able to make those kinds of changes in the sport say things like that without actually doing anything about it. Heck, even WBO president Paco Valcarcel publicly stated that he agreed with Mayweather, even though that sanctioning organization now offers something called a WBO “Global” belt.

Mayweather, Valcarcel and others can’t simply point their fingers about the issue in hopes of getting it fixed. Instead, both men (and others) who wield actual money, power and influence in the sport, would be better served by actually taking measures to change things.

Mayweather, as a promoter, could keep his fighters from the alphabet gang altogether. And Valcarcel? The shortest and easiest path for him to help, short of shutting the WBO down right now, is to stop offering so many titles.

HIT: Matchmaking for Showtime’s Tripleheader

The matchmaker listed at BoxRec for Showtime’s tripleheader was Tom Brown, and it really should be pointed out what a terrific job he did in putting last Saturday’s card together. Of the three fights we saw on our televisions on Saturday night, all six fighters competing had a legitimate chance to win.

There were no gimmes on this card, and that’s rarely the case.

In fact, all the so-called A-sides had rough nights. Undefeated junior lightweight prospect Malik Hawkins suffered the first loss of his career via stoppage to Puerto Rico’s Subriel Matias. Rising 130-pounder Xavier Martinez almost did the same when he was knocked down twice in one round by Claudio Marrero before digging down deep to earn the decision. And the main event? Sergey Lipinets vs. Custio Clayton was such a hotly contested fight that it was scored a split-draw. So, Showtime’s latest card was a breath of fresh air in a sport sometimes too obsessed with promoting future fights over present matters.

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A Fistful of Murder: The Fights and Crimes of Carlos Monzon

Thomas Hauser

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A-Fistful-of-Murder-The-Fights0and-Crimes-of-Carlos-Monzon

Book Review by Thomas Hauser — Carlos Monzon was born into extreme poverty in Argentina on August 7, 1942. He was mean, violent, surly, brutal, arrogant, occasionally charming, handsome with a smoldering sensuality, and remorseless. His life was marked by street fighting, drunken behavior, domestic violence, and more than forty arrests. In the midst of it all, he found boxing.

Monzon’s story is told by Don Stradley in A Fistful of Murder: The Fights and Crimes of Carlos Monzon. It’s the latest in a series of short books from Hamilcar Publications published under the imprint Hamilcar Noir that deal with boxers whose lives were marked and often terminated by violent crime. Told in 128 pages, the story moves at a brisk pace.

Monzon had one hundred professional fights in a career that began in 1962. He reigned as middleweight champion from 1970 until his retirement in 1977 and was honored as the 1972 “Fighter of the Year” by the Boxing Writers Association of America. All told, he compiled an 87-3-9 (59 KOs) record with 1 no contest. The three losses came during the first two years of his career when he was a novice.

Monzon was a big, strong, tough fighter with a good chin and a basic skill set: stand tall, throw a sharp jab, and follow with a hard right behind it. Mark Kram described him as “a perfectly shaped middleweight, tall with long arms and with style running through every sinew up to his dramatic Belmondo face.”

By contrast, British boxing commentator Reg Gutteridge described Monzon as having “little ring grace” and added “he clubs as if wearing a Roman cestus on his fist.”

Those who question Monzon’s greatness point to the fact that the best of the fighters he beat were past their prime (e.g. Nino Benvenuti) or past their prime and naturally smaller men (e.g. Emile Griffith and Jose Napoles). Monzon was also held to a draw by Benny Briscoe before besting Briscoe on a close decision in a rematch. And he only narrowly defeated Rodrigo Valdez in the last two fights of his ring career.

But as Stradley writes, “A strange thing happened to Monzon in retirement. He became a better fighter. The boxer who had often been dismissed as a classless thug was now revered as an all-time great. During the next decade when lists were made of the top middleweights or of great championship reigns, Monzon’s name would always be near the top.”

How good was Monzon?

Hall of Fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler says that he would have been competitive with any middleweight in any era. More significantly, in 2007, I had a conversation with Bernard Hopkins in which I asked Bernard to speculate as to how he would have fared in the ring against Sugar Ray Robinson, Marvin Hagler, and Monzon. Hopkins’ answer is instructive:

“Sugar Ray Robinson at 147 pounds was close to perfect,” Bernard said. “But at middleweight, he was beatable. I would have fought Ray Robinson in close and not given him room to do his thing. He’d make me pay a physical price. But at middleweight, I think I’d wear him down and win. Me and Marvin Hagler would have been a war. We’d both be in the hospital afterward with straws in our mouth. We’d destroy each other. My game-plan would be, rough him up, box, rough him up, box. You wouldn’t use judges for that fight. You’d go by the doctors’ reports. Carlos Monzon? I could lose that fight. Monzon was tall, rangy, did everything right. I see myself losing that fight more than winning it.”

Stradley’s recounting of Monzon’s ring career is largely pro forma. The more compelling portions of the book lie in the portrait he paints of Monzon’s personal life.

Monzon had virtually no formal education and was close to illiterate. At age 19, he married 15-year-old Mercedes Beatriz Garcia. The newly-wed couple lived with her family in a two-room shack where they slept on a mattress on the floor.

“In many ways,” Stradley writes, “Monzon was the typical wife abuser. He was obsessed with control; he had an evil temper; he drank too much.” In 1973, Mercedes shot her husband in the arm and shoulder after a quarrel between them.

Monzon’s pattern of physically abusing women, assaulting people in public, reckless driving, and other anti-social acts was a constant in his life before, during, and after his championship reign. But as his fame grew, so did his following.

“Monzon,” Stradley notes, “didn’t look like other fighters of the day. He was photographed to look like a stylish Latin pop star, usually in a long leather coat, with plenty of gold jewelry. Argentina’s El Grafico [a popular magazine] treated Monzon like a model, featuring him in regular photo spreads.”

In 1974, while married to Mercedes, Monzon met Susana Gimenez (a popular actress and talk show host). Soon, they were involved in a torrid affair that lasted for four years. At one point, Mercedes complained to her husband about Susana and he punched her in the face, breaking the superciliary arch above her eye. Monzon was arrested and avoided a prison term by pleading temporary insanity. A divorce followed.

Susana’s film credits included adult-oriented comedies. In Stradley’s words, “Monzon had abandoned the mother of his children for a slutty clown. It didn’t help that her sartorial sense ran towards pink denim.”

Even so, Stradley recounts, “Monzon and Susana were now the most photographed twosome in Argentina. Journalist Alfredo Serra estimated they appeared on more than three hundred magazine covers, describing the pair as combining ‘the strength, beauty, fame and glamour of the world in a single couple.'”

During his championship reign, Monzon parleyed his fame as a fighter into several film roles. Then he retired; his relationship with Susana ended; and he met Alicia Muniz Calatayud.

Alicia had worked as a model and belly dancer in addition to once managing a hair salon. She and Monzon married in Miami because his divorce from Mercedes wasn’t recognized under Argentine law. They lived together from May 1979 through August 1986 and again during a brief reconciliation in 1987. On several occasions, Alicia filed complaints with the police alleging that Monzon had beaten her.

By 1988, Stradley writes, “Monzon was still famous but no longer important. Most of the time he was drunk.”

On February 14, 1988, during a weekend they were spending together, Monzon murdered his estranged wife.

“Here’s what probably happened,” Stradley posits. “When Alicia came for the weekend, she reminded him that he was late with his monthly payments [for child support]. They returned from their night out, a night where they’d been unfriendly to each other and a witness had seen Monzon hitting Alicia. At some point before 6 a.m., she said something that made the dynamite in his head go off.”

Monzon told conflicting stories after Alicia’s death, all of which centered on the claim that she’d accidentally fallen over a balcony railing during an argument between them. Then an autopsy report revealed that Alicia had been strangled to death.

“Medical examiners,” Stradley recounts, “estimated thirty-five pounds of pressure or more had been applied to Alicia’s throat. Strangling only requires eleven pounds. They estimated it had been done with a two-fingered grip, probably thumb and forefinger in a kind of one-handed death clamp. It takes only twenty seconds or so to strangle someone into unconsciousness. The damage to Alicia’s throat would take much longer. It wasn’t done by accident or in the heat of the moment. It took a few minutes of full-on rage. Alicia had been strangled long after she had passed out. It’s also rare that a strangling victim has visible marks on the neck or throat. The imprints on Alicia were clear and deep, as if someone had tried to squeeze her head off at the neck. He dumped her body over the balcony to make it look like she’d fallen.”

Monzon was charged with murder. The trial was broadcast live on radio throughout Argentina. Monzon testified that he and Alicia had argued about money and admitted that he had slapped her. “I have hit women on other occasions and nothing happened to any of them,” he told the court. “I hit all of my women except one. My mother.”

A three-judge panel found Monzon guilty of murder. He was sentenced to eleven years in prison with the possibility of time off for good behavior.

By 1993, Monzon was allowed to spend daytime hours and weekends outside of prison. On Sunday, January 8, 1995, after attending a barbeque, he was behind the wheel of a car, probably drunk and definitely speeding.

“By the rules of his furlough agreement,” Stradley writes, “he had to be back at the Las Flores prison by 8 p.m. He didn’t want to risk being late. He only had a short time left to serve on his sentence and didn’t want any infractions on his record. So he drove fast. He’d always been a terrible driver. Being in prison hadn’t made him any better at it.”

While speeding back to the prison, Monzon lost control of the vehicle which turned over multiple times, killing him instantly. Two other passengers also died in the accident. He was 52 years old.

After Monzon’s death, his body lay in state at City Hall in his hometown of Santa Fe. An estimated ten thousand people filed past it. Twenty thousand more lined the route to the Municipal Cemetery while six thousand mourners waited at the cemetery entrance.

Argentine president Carlos Menem told the nation. “Remember Carlos Monzon as a champion, not as a man jailed for murder.” But Argentinian journalist and political commentator Bernardo Neustadt took a contrary view, declaring, “We are a macho society that idolizes a man who beats or violates a woman; a macho society that taught Monzon to dress up, to speak a bit better, but didn’t teach him to think; a macho society that wasn’t horrified when Monzon said he beat all his women.”

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – Staredown: Another Year Inside Boxing – will be published by the University of Arkansas Press this autumn. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. He will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame with the Class of 2020.

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