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The Top Ten Bantamweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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The Top Ten Bantamweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Bantamweight has not yielded a legitimate, lineal champion since Bernardo Piñango became too big for the division in the late eighties.  This is a division of fractured titles, championship silos, promotional business decisions often related to title shots higher up the food chain.  Such is the water in which we are forced to swim and if you didn’t love boxing, you’d hate it.

Unsurprisingly then, there is little purchase for many of the men on this list; their placements could happily be reversed, there is confusion all the way into the top two.  This one was tough.

Happily, numbers one and two all but select themselves despite the different paths through the bantamweight mess those two countrymen struck.  Summitting back to back they summit here, too, in my analysis of the bantamweight decade, which may have been tricky but was always a pleasure.

Rankings are Ring Magazine up until the founding of the TBRB in late 2012, from which time their rankings are preferred.

10 – John Riel Casimero

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 15-4 Ranked For: 5% of the decade

There was a three-way shoot-out for the number ten spot contested between Zhanat Zhakiyanov, Rau’shee Warren and eventual winner John Riel Casimero.  Zhakiyanov and Warren each have an impressive win but a handful of losses; Casimero’s unbeaten record at the weight was preferred.

It helps that the win that carries him is arguably the finest of the three.  At the decade’s very end Casimero turned in an unexpected victory over top contender Zolani Tete in what may have been the most thrilling performance for the bantamweight decade.

Heavily favoured, Tete received Casimero in his adopted British homeland in expectations of another bantamweight victory in defence of his strap. Casimero had other ideas. He ceded ring centre, waited for Tete to square up over his jab then pounced. The relationship of Manny Pacquiao to Casimero is a promotional one but the lineage of his style is there to see. In the third, Casimero brought pressure and reduced his frame of movement from three hundred and sixty degrees to around a hundred; this pushed Tete from his front foot onto his backfoot and as a result, when Casimero undertook his final rush of the fight, Tete didn’t have that quarter of a second that transferring his weight provided. Casimero sent Tete onto his haunches, then all fours, with two short right hands. His follow up saw the referee stop the fight and provided Casimero with an unexpected victory and a space on this list mere weeks from decade’s end.

Perhaps it should not have been so surprising. Casimero’s career has been as outrageous and varied as any fought between 2010-2019 and although his arrival at bantamweight in 2017 was greeted with little fanfare, he tied together several wins against moderate opposition while Tete languished with injury. Casimero the bantamweight will bear watching in the twenties.

09 – Fernando Montiel

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 14-4 Ranked For: 10% of the decade

Mexican puncher Fernando Montiel would be named among the Dons of the division 2000-2009 but for 2010-2019, he barely catches on, the reason being his 2011 departure for 122lbs where he saw out the rest of his career. For the decade to hand, Montiel has a record of just 4-1 at bantamweight, the loss coming at the hands of Nonito Donaire.

Each of the four wins has its moments of interest, but it his April 2010 dispatch of the then world’s best bantamweight Hozumi Hasegawa that speaks most forcefully for him. The Japanese, who refused to leave his eastern stronghold, had not lost since his fifth fight way back in 2001 and was heavily favoured. Montiel, who had lost but never been stopped, allowed Hasegawa to control the ring real estate and even allowed him to work without wholesale resistance, a strategy that had painful consequences in the first and second. Montiel did not appear quite lost, however, and worked himself into proximity to his opponent often, and when he was close, he threw hard, wide punches, punches that perhaps one would not normally throw at a world class fighter. Montiel sought the knockout. In the third, just like the first and second, he ate more than his share, but it was all in search of hard single shots.

In the fourth, Montiel landed not a single shot but a series of shots topped by a very hard punch, a left hook, and Hasegawa, unaccustomed to this kind of trouble, looked suddenly disorganised, then perturbed, then crumpled among the ropes, the referee interceding to protect him from the scything battering Montiel carried behind.

It was a punch that bought Montiel one of the best wins of the decade against the pre-eminent strapholder for the weight-class.

08 – Ryan Burnett

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 20-1 Ranked For: 22% of the decade

Ryan Burnett passed me by early. He seemed too vulnerable and his clear desire to emulate Roy Jones rather tiresome. The low left hand and quick-footed lateral movement look beautiful against professional losers, but when the step up comes all too often that style falls flat.

Well Ryan Burnett made it work. His final foray into the 118lb ranks was at the end of 2018 against no less a figure than Nonito Donaire. Burnett fought with the Filipino on equal terms, arguably bagging the first two rounds, but suffered a bizarre and catastrophic injury to his back in the fourth while throwing a punch. Suffice to say that that loss isn’t held against him here.

As for wins, when he stepped up to take on Zhanat Zhakiyanov in late 2017 it felt more akin to a leap than step. Up until this point, Burnett’s best opponent had been the solid Lee Haskins. Zhanat was ranked the number two contender in the world and was a grim, insistent, stiff-jawed pressure-fighter. In his last fight he had clambered from the canvas to defeat the talented Rau’shee Warren and Burnett seemed sure to be outpaced. Instead, he stepped into the pocket with the Kazak and outfought him there, not all the time, but often enough to take the majority of the rounds. A key moment came in the third when Burnett landed a beautiful left-hand counter on his opponent and Zhanat suddenly seemed to notice he was there.

Renowned for his incredible commitment to training, impressing even Andy Lee who spent time in the Kronk, Burnett seemed as strong in the tenth as he had in the third.

A clear unanimous decision was his reward and when he met number seven contender Yonfrez Parejo five months later he hardly lost a minute in securing another. Ready for Donaire, it was tragic that injury kept him from testing himself at that level.

07 – Anselmo Moreno

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 10-5 Ranked For: 59% of the decade

Number eight is probably a little hard on Ryan Burnett but I’m a sucker for a divisional stalwart and Anselmo Moreno was one. Only one other bantamweight was ranked for a longer spell in the decade and that man was Moreno’s fistic mortal enemy, Shinsuke Yamanaka, who he could not best in two attempts.

When he came up against Vic Darchinyan in 2011, Moreno bested him and more. It was a one-sided thrashing of a fighter who, although inconsistent up at bantamweight, had only been so unreservedly defeated by Nonito Donaire. Fast and awkward, Moreno was more than anything brutal in his consistency. He never got greedy, never went looking for punches that were not there and landed his power punches at an absurd rate. Most splendid of all was his one-two, but almost as impressive were his uppercuts, his trailing right to the gut smuggled in behind his leading shoulder.  Darchinyan was tough enough to see the bell but there was little else to recommend him that night.

This seemed to open up a world of exciting possibilities for Moreno, but despite the fact that he spent six years ranked among the best bantamweights in the world, his opposition was miserable for much of it. Moreno understandably but disappointingly took the ABC route, avoiding meaningful opposition, preferring a steady stream of limited bantams propped up by their alphabet paymaster of choice.

In 2010 though, Moreno fought a fascinating pair with the number six contender Nehomar Cermeno.  The first was a litany of low blows and slips on a greasy canvas in a bizarre and absorbing contest that went to Moreno in a split; the rematch saw the same result, but the split was erroneous, Moreno a clear winner.

Overall though, Moreno’s career was a disappointment that saw him run 3-3 versus ranked contenders, the most hurtful of these losses occurring against a Dominican named Juan Carlos Payano.

06 – Juan Carlos Payano

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 21-3 Ranked For: 47% of the decade

Juan Carlos Payano clutches the number six spot on the basis of that September 2014 victory over Moreno. Payano’s overall record against ranked contenders is not only no better than that of Moreno, it is actually a little worse (though he had the bad luck to run into both Luis Nery and Naoya Inoue) but the difference is not such that Payano’s victory over Moreno is overhauled. Simply put, there is no way Payano can be ranked below Moreno.

Their fight ended in an unsatisfying technical decision after six, Payano receiving a nasty cut during the second round which caused the doctor to pull him while streets ahead in the fight. On the face of it, this sounds unsatisfying and it must be admitted that the more experienced Moreno might have found him late in the fight, but Payano’s plan was brilliant. He busted Moreno’s rhythm and in doing so removed any chance at all that Moreno would break his own. Aggressive, dirty and fast, Payano was smothering and busy inside, persistently outhitting Moreno to rack up rounds.

Much like Moreno defeating Darchinyan, Payano defeating Moreno was his clear high water-mark but also like Moreno, Payano fought a fascinating two-fight series with another top contender winning and then losing against Rau’shee Warren in a pair of fights so close that any given result could have reasonably been rendered for either fight. As it was, Payano took a split decision in a filthy, thrilling first fight and Warren took a majority decision in a rematch punctuated by fast-handed technically sound punching.

Overall, it is an underwhelming career for a #6 but given the other contenders for the spot are Moreno, who he defeated, and Burnett, whose unfortunate injury against Nonito Donaire leaves him something of a question mark, I’m satisfied that Payano is the right choice.

05 – Abner Mares

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 22-3-1 Ranked For: 19% of the decade

Abner Mares was the beneficiary of the single worst refereeing performance of the decade (which is saying something) in his August 2011 victory over Joseph Agbeko. The likely reasons for Russell Mora’s apparently inability to recognise the numerous low blows Mares landed cannot be printed here due to libel laws but it was an embarrassment both to the sport and to Mares who seemed unable to properly control himself. Fortunately, Agbeko would provide him with a chance at redemption in a rematch, something Mares grasped at with both hands.  He all but outclassed Agbeko second time around, and although he remained – always has – a roughhouse handful, his work was cleaner, his superiority clear.

That eventful 2011 was preceded by a comparable 2010. In May he fought a brilliant, difficult, dynamic combat with Yonnhy Perez in a battle of undefeated contenders, ruled a draw, Mares unlucky not to get a nod by my eye. Perez was never the same and Mares was confirmed tough; nobody at bantamweight would ever succeed in making him blink. Later that same year, he met with Vic Darchinyan. The much more experienced Darchinyan boxed rather than fought and a flash knockdown and a serious cut above the right eye tested the younger man’s temperament, but Mares came flying through, sweeping the ninth through twelfth by my card with a sapping pressure and a drilled left hook.

Five fights in two years are enough to break Mares into the top five. His is a tenuous grasp, but his unbeaten status at 118lbs, the high level of competition he faced – only one other bantamweight fought a two-year period this intense – in that short spell speaks highly for him. And, honestly, he’s a better optic fit than Payano. At higher weights his style was compromised against larger fighters, but at bantamweight he was a glory of dirty pressure fighting.

04 – Luis Nery

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 30-0 Ranked For: 32% of the decade

Of all the fighters on this list, Luis Nery has the single best win. Nery, blessed with punch and chin both, was in his early twenties when he flew out to Japan to take on the world’s best bantamweight Shinsuke Yamanaka. Yamanaka, unbeaten for more than a decade, was clearly favoured. Nery overcame Yamanaka’s technical surety early with a controlled fluidity that saw him outscore his more prestigious foe; Yamanaka began to inch closer in the third, scoring with his jab and straight as the fight threatened to turn into something truly thrilling. Nery put a stop to this in the fourth, more aggressive now behind his southpaw one-two, Yamanaka, for the first time in my experience, throwing a concerned look to his corner. He was right to be concerned. Nery looked less controlled thrashing Yamanaka around the ring, but it was the thrashing that was the pertinent point.  Yamanaka was rescued by his corner with thirty seconds of the round remaining.

Now, the detail: Nery failed a test for performance enhancing drugs, was cleared, but ordered to provide Yamanaka a rematch. Nery did so, and was once again triumphant – but he failed to make weight, weighing in at the super-bantamweight rather than the bantamweight division. He receives no credit for that win here.

The victory over Yamanaka alone is enough, to be frank, to haul him into the top five; he tops out here at four thanks to his 2019 victory over Juan Carlos Payano, still holding onto his ranking, blasted from it by a gorgeous left hook to the body in the ninth round, making him 3-0 versus men on this list.

Had Nery made weight for his second contest with Yamanaka as he did for Payano, he would have made number three.  That indiscipline sees him docked a spot.

03 – Nonito Donaire

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 18-5 Ranked For: 28% of the decade

Recently, I was asked to contribute a vote to a project concerned with determining the greatest bantamweights of all time. The top ten turned out fine – but there, ensconced within the top twenty, was Nonito Donaire.

This is completely inexplicable. Donaire has fought but a handful of bantamweight contests and all of them were fought between 2010 and 2019 and the absolute highest he could rank on this list is number three; the notion of his ranking amongst the greatest bantamweights in history is bizarre.

Donaire makes that kind of impression though. His two stints as a bantamweight were both highly visible (for the division) and highly entertaining. He stepped up in 2010, already a pound-for-pounder, already something of a crossover star thanks to the frantic joy he inspired in HBO. In 2011 he faced off against divisional number one Fernando Montiel.

Montiel, huge at the weight, a power-puncher, himself ranked on the Ring’s pound-for-pound list, was nevertheless an underdog such was Donaire’s super-flyweight reputation. Boxing was the expectation for his strategic approach, Donaire meanwhile was expected to seek a home for his vaunted left hook. Instead, Donaire emerged face-first, used his jab only as a cosmetic buttress, and lashed at Montiel with straight rights. He dominated completely, and perpetrated a knockdown so savage it had the appearance of the grotesque. Montiel continued to kick and paw even as he was ensconced in some distant netherworld; he collapsed his way to his feet and the perpetually hapless Russell Mora allowed the fight to continue for two needless punches.

The only other significant fight of Donaire’s first bantamweight stretch was visiting 115lb legend Omar Narvaez who was so terrified of Donaire he did not even try to win a round, losing twelve nothing to a fighter in his absolute prime. Then bigger opponents, and purses, bid him north. He returned to the division a less stellar figure with a 2018 victory over Ryan Burnett, before staging a thrilling, fighting loss to Naoya Inoue in 2019.

A significant decadal figure, Donaire perhaps could have found himself in the running for the divisional top twenty had he remained at the poundage throughout the decade; in reality, he spread himself far too thin to challenge for a top two spot.

02 – Naoya Inoue

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 19-0 Ranked For: 15% of the decade

Naoya Inoue rocketed into the bantamweight division with back-to-back first round knockouts of number five contenders Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano. McDonnell, a huge bantamweight who had never been stopped, was overwhelmed by a combination of body attack and swarming two-fisted pressure in mere seconds. Large, but without the technical acumen to live with Naoya, he was always going to become unwound against the Japanese, but even more impressive was Naoya’s one round destruction of Juan Carlos Payano. Payano, though no classic technician, had proved himself an adaptable, thinking fighter against world class opposition. Naoya spent the opening seconds looking at him, and soon matched his pawing jab with one of his own, all the time measuring him. Having done so, and found him wanting, Naoya stepped across his man opening up the channel inside the half-jab and knocked him unconscious, again, in mere seconds.

Emmanuel Rodriguez, the world’s number six contender, had won nineteen in a row when he agreed to travel to Scotland to meet Naoya on a Josh Taylor undercard and managed to last into the second.  These were some exciting minutes though as the two met ring centre, both happy to linger in the danger-zone, Naoya getting to demonstrate aspects of his defence – the turn and block in the first round was consistently good – and his chin, as he twice ate straight right hands from Rodriguez.

All the while though, Naoya was testing his opponent, seeking his weakness. At the start of the second he demonstrated the full array of punches he had identified in the first as applicable, summiting in a monstrous left hand that set Rodriguez neatly on the canvas. It seemed to me no man was capable of surviving Naoya’s attention when hurt.

I was proven wrong by Nonito Donaire who survived a knockdown in the eleventh to post a clear twelve round points loss in Naoya’s final fight of the decade in the fight of the year. Donaire used all his veteran’s instinct to push, trick and survive Naoya, even banking some rounds on the way.

What this added up to was a veritable number one decadal resume, built in just eighteen months.  He is edged out by a man who spent the best part of a decade building his.

01 – Shinsuke Yamanaka

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 17-2 Ranked For: 66% of the decade

The selection of Shinsuke Yamanaka as the bantamweight number one for 2010 to 2019 was inevitable. First and foremost is his longevity which is equivalent to that of numbers two, three and four combined; his winning record against contenders which includes the highest number of defeated men of note on this list; and finally the length of time during which he was ranked the best bantamweight in the world, longer than anyone else considered.

The raw data screams Yamanaka (pictured on the left against Anselmo Moreno), and although Naoya’s enormously impressive two-year run gave me pause, the raw data must have its answer.

Not that an analysis of Yamanaka’s bantamweight decade was in any way dry. He was a fighter with an enormous capacity for work, something he built upon, making him a perennially mobile and perpetual puncher, albeit one that measured rather than sought to overwhelm with volume. He carried his workrate late and he carried his power late, the former helping him home in his first contest of real international meaning, his 2012 contest with Vic Darchinyan. Darchinyan was yet to sink to gatekeeper status when he travelled to Japan to face Yamanaka and he looked dangerous early; late, though, there was only one fighter in the contest as the Japanese out-worked and out-fought his game opponent down the stretch, winning all but one of the final six rounds on my card.  That he held his power was made apparent during his bloody 2013 contest with #6 contender Malcolm Tunacao, who was bowled over and rescued by the referee midway through the twelfth and final round of a tough fight.

After dusting #8 contender Stephane Jamoye in seven in 2014 (if you haven’t seen the straight left to the gut to finish him, find it; it is a sickener), Yamanaka embarked on the series that would define his bantamweight career, two fights with Anselmo Moreno. Yamanaka got to Moreno a little late, but Moreno still inhabited the world’s top five 118lb contenders and was still a fighter of excellence.  Their first fight was a knife edge, a split decision for Yamanaka and a draw on my card; Yamanaka followed the puncher’s way, offering an immediate rematch having learned how Moreno moved.  More, he embraced his role of puncher, deepening his stance, doubling his jab and looking to make trouble. He got it early, Moreno tattooing him with fierce regularity, but Yamanaka’s chin was equal to the job and in the sixth he was rewarded, inflicting heavy knockdowns on his opponent who he finished in the seventh.

Naoya Inoue is a better fighter than Shinsuke Yamanaka and I am satisfied of the fact, but these lists are about the most accomplished decadal fighters – Yamanaka was clearly that. For every Jamoye or Moreno there was a Carlos Carlson (22-1) or Diego Santillan (23-0), fighters who did not rank but could wield a glove. Inoue’s 4-0 doesn’t come close.

At least not yet. As boxing bounces back from the Covid-19 epidemic, it will be interesting to see what the bantamweight division of 2020-2029 delivers.

Photo credit: Naoki Fukuda

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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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