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HITS and MISSES: AJ’s Mandatory Destruction of Kubrat Pulev and More

Kelsey McCarson

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HITS and MISSES: AJ’s Mandatory Destruction of Kubrat Pulev and More

It was another big weekend in boxing. While most of the world was glued to their seats at home watching Anthony Joshua climb back into the ring for the first time since the pandemic struck, there were several other important fights and high-profile prospects on display.

With all that in mind, here are the biggest and best HITS and MISSES from another busy weekend on the boxing beat.

HIT: Anthony Joshua’s Mandatory Destruction of Kubrat Pulev

Unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua seems to be on his way to making the biggest fight in British boxing history happen, but the 31-year-old first needed to take care of business against 39-year-old Bulgarian challenger Kubrat Pulev on Saturday in London.

AJ dominated and stopped Pulev in nine rounds. Pulev had entered the fight having won eight straight contests since his lone defeat to Wladimir Klitschko in 2014, so it was a solid win over a notable challenger.

Now, Joshua appears to be all the way back from his upset loss to upstart Andy Ruiz back in 2019. Sure, Joshua had already avenged that shocking defeat later that same year, but there was still at least some cause of concern among the masses that maybe it was more than just a blip on the radar. Maybe Joshua just wasn’t what people thought he was.

But now? Joshua is quite clearly one of the two very best heavyweight boxers on the planet, so it’s high time for him and WBC titleholder Tyson Fury to meet in a winner takes all superfight.

MISS: WBO’s Ridiculous Position on Boxing’s Biggest Fight

If Joshua and Fury do fight next as many hope, there’s a chance that the important heavyweight battle will crown the first undisputed heavyweight boxing champion since Lennox Lewis pulled off the feat way back in 1999 against Evander Holyfield.

Well, that’s what everybody thought until Joshua beat Pulev on Saturday, and WBO president Paco Valcarcel went on social media to suggest that his alphabet organization wouldn’t be allowing its champion (Joshua) to fight anyone but Oleksandr Usyk next.

Huh?

Look, Usyk is one of the most intriguing storylines in boxing, but there’s not a bigger fight to be made in the world right now than Joshua vs. Fury. So Valcarcel essentially saying on social media that his organization would stand in the way of crowning the undisputed champion in boxing’s glamour division is ultimately just another example in a long line of them of why it will always be in boxing’s best interests to figure out a way to kick these sanctioning organizations to the curb.

HIT: Shakur Stevenson’s Masterful Boxing Skills

Shakur Stevenson won every single round against Toka Khan Clary on Saturday. His immediate hopes for superstardom notwithstanding, the southpaw is as good as it gets inside a boxing ring.

According to CompuBox’s Dan Canobbio, Stevenson has out-landed his opponents 1,249-351 through his first 15 fights. That level of superiority on defense is an incredible skill to have, one I’ve anecdotally heard in Houston-area gym stories which say that some of the best and brightest prospects in the sport have been reduced to tears and anger over not being able to land a single punch on the guy during sparring.

None of those things will pay immediate dividends for the 23-year-old, but Stevenson’s consistent excellence over time might someday put him in a position to become boxing’s next big thing.

Look, everybody loves the knockout, and Top Rank’s 23-year-old prodigy Edgar Berlanga is a guy that will continue to gets all sorts of attention so long as he keeps dropping his opponents in under three minutes. But Stevenson’s ceiling is as high as they come.

Is he the next Floyd Mayweather? That’s a big ask, but Stevenson surely appears to be on his way to having a chance.

MISS: Clay Collard’s ‘Fighter of the Year’ Push

Much was made on social media about someone at the latest Boxing Writers Association of America meeting nominating ex-UFC fighter Clay Collard as boxing’s Fighter of the Year for 2020. That motion did not pass, but people made mincemeat over it anyway.

At the time of his nomination, of course, Collard had won five fights during 2020, a few of which came quite surprisingly.

So, despite the vitriol spewed by some people who didn’t quite share the same opinion about the matter, Collard was entering his final fight in 2020 with at least the chance of being considered one of the most remarkable stories of the year in the sport.

How could he not be in the running for Fighter of the Year?

Regardless, Collard didn’t appear to fight with the same kind of energy he used in his five other previous fights as a professional boxer on Saturday. Perhaps the MMA star has simply had enough of limiting himself to just two fists and is ready to jump into next year’s Professional Fighters League MMA tournament.

Or maybe his opponent Quincy LaVallais was just too slick.

Whatever the case, Collard missed a huge opportunity to keep his undefeated run going as a professional boxer. He might not have been the BWAA’s Fighter of the Year, but he would have surely been mine.

HIT: Masayoshi Nakatani’s Thrilling Comeback 

It didn’t seem like the 31-year-old from Japan was brought to The Bubble at MGM on Saturday to win his fight, but Masayoshi Nakatani scored a thrilling comeback knockout victory of Felix Verdejo anyway.

Verdejo, 27, was on a redemption tour of sorts. The Puerto Rican had shockingly lost his undefeated record back in 2018 via 10th-round stoppage to an even more unheralded opponent than Nakatani, but the former Olympian had righted the ship by reeling off four straight wins.

Things appeared to be heading toward a fifth straight victory when Verdejo dropped Nakatani in the first round and again in the fourth. But Nakatani kept employing his craft over all other available options, most notably quitting, and eventually turned the fight around to score the dramatic knockout win in the ninth.

The best part? Nakatani’s only other loss was to Teofimo Lopez last year in a 12-round decision. When that happened, most observers (including me) chose to blast Lopez over his effort and focus rather than give credit to Nakatani.

In hindsight, maybe Nakatani is just a whole lot better than people thought.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The WBA’s 50-Year-Old Cruiserweight Contender and More

Arne K. Lang

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Boxing’s seniors tour continues on Sept. 11 when Oscar De La Hoya returns to the ring after an absence of almost 13 years to fight former MMA star Vitor Belfort. The bout is scheduled for eight two-minute rounds and will count against De La Hoya’s professional boxing record which currently stands at 39-6 (30). More details will be revealed tomorrow at a Los Angeles press conference.

De La Hoya turned 48 in February. If he is looking for inspiration, he need look no further back than this past Saturday where cruiserweight Firat Arslan continued his ascent toward yet another world title shot with a fourth-round stoppage of Argentina’s Ruben Eduardo Acosta. Arslan is older than Oscar, he’s 50!

The match took place in Goeppingen, Germany, before a small gathering in Firat Arslan’s gym. It was sanctioned by the WBA for an “international” belt. A southpaw of Turkish descent, Arslan (pictured on the right) entered the contest ranked #5 by the repugnant organization and will presumably move up a notch.

Arslan is in his 24th year as a pro. His signature win was a 12-round decision over Virgil Hill in 2007. Hill was then 43 years old. Coincidentally, the man that Arslan just defeated was also 43.

The victory over Hill, a future Hall of Famer, earned Arslan a world cruiserweight title. He lost it to Guillermo Jones after one successful defense and would come up short in three other stabs at a world cruiserweight title, losing to Marco Huck twice and to Yoan Pablo Hernandez.

One doesn’t know if Ruben Eduardo Acosta turned up in Germany intent on rendering an honest effort. He went down three times from body shots and was counted out on his last trip to the mat. But the Argentine sported a decent record (38-17-5) and had gone seven years without being stopped, a pocket of 17 fights.

There’s an obvious difference between Arslan and De La Hoya. Arslan was out of the ring for 21 months after losing his title to Jones, but has otherwise maintained a steady schedule. His weight has never ballooned between fights and he has the physique of a man twenty years younger. De La Hoya has led a sedentary life since leaving the ring and is effectively starting over. He figures to weigh about 170 for Vitor Belfort which would be 25 pounds more than he carried for his last fight against Manny Pacquiao.

De La Hoya vs. Belfort is being promoted by Triller and will air on FITE. Triller and FITE are also collaborating on the Aug. 3 event at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden. The headline attraction of what will supposedly be a 10-fight card finds heavyweight contender Michael “The Bounty” Hunter taking on former amateur rival Mike “White Delight” Wilson.

Those attending the event who are over the age of 15 must provide proof of full vaccination or a negative test result within the previous 72 hours. Despite this potential deal-breaker, tickets purportedly disappeared fast, portending a complete sell-out.

Of course, there’s more to the event than boxing. Local rap groups DIPSET and THE LOX will battle it out in a competition ballyhooed as iconic in the promotional literature.

—-

A more compelling fight takes place in North London on Sept. 25 when IBF/WBO/WBA heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua defends his belts against former unified cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk. It will be the first boxing event at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium which opened in April of 2019. Built for the Tottenham Hotspurs, a Premier League soccer club, the stadium was also conceptualized with an eye toward housing an NFL team.

The soccer pitch is retractable. Underneath is an artificial turf for American football. Having the football field at a lower level than the soccer pitch will allow spectators in the first row to see over the heads of football players and coaches standing on the sideline. In soccer, the front row can be closer to the playing field because soccer players sit on chairs when they are not in the game. Moreover, the stadium has a separate entrance dedicated to NFL events and the press sections for American football and for soccer are configured differently.

Pro football fans in the U.S. tuning in on television will be get a bird’s eye view of the new stadium on Oct. 10 and again Oct. 17 when the NFL plays games in London, renewing a tradition that was interrupted last year by Covid-19. The NFL recently signed a 10-year deal with the landlord of Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

For the record, the Oct. 10 game features the Falcons against the Jets. On Oct. 17, it’s the Jaguars against the Dolphins. Both games will start at 9:30 am ET, 6:30 am PT. Football fans on the West Coast are advised to set their alarm clocks.

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Fast Results from London: Massive Heavyweight Joe Joyce Keeps on Rolling

Arne K. Lang

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Ponderous but formidable Joe Joyce moved one step closer to a title fight tonight at the Wembley Arena with a sixth-round stoppage of Carlos Takam. Carrying 264 pounds on a six-foot-six frame, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist was simply too big for his 40-year-old French-Cameroonian adversary.

In his previous bout, Joyce methodically dismantled favored Daniel Dubois with a steady dose of his thudding right jab. Dubois quit in the 10th round with a busted eye socket. Tonight’s fight followed a somewhat similar pattern.

Takam landed some good shots in the first two rounds as Joyce was slow to find his rhythm, but Joyce stuck to his game plan which was to wear him down and Takam’s punches gradually lost steam in the face of Joyce’s constant pressure.

Early in round six, Joyce rocked Takam with a big right hand and didn’t let him off the hook. Takam protested when the referee indicated that he had seen enough and the stoppage did strike many as premature, but the handwriting was on the wall for the veteran who declined to 39-6-1. The official time was 0:49.

Joyce is of Scotch-Irish and Nigerian descent. College educated with a degree in fine arts, he acknowledges that he has no great passion for the sport of boxing and is in it for the financial rewards, not the glory. At age 35, he isn’t going to get any better, but he appears to have a rock-solid chin and his nickname, Juggernaut, is quite fitting.

Joyce entered the bout ranked #2 by the WBO, a notch below Oleksandr Usyk who challenges title-holder Anthony Joshua on Sept. 25.

Other Bouts of Note

Ekow Essuman, a 32-year-old Nottingham man, born in Botswana, unseated British and Commonwealth welterweight champion Chris Jenkins, winning on an eighth-round stoppage. A hard right hook followed by a flurry of punches forced the referee to waive it off. The official time was 0:53.

Essuman, who was favored in the 3/1 range, improved to 15-0 with his sixth win inside the distance. A Welshman, Jenkins (22-4-3) was making the fourth defense of his domestic title.

London super welterweight Hamzah Sheeraz, who has been training at the Ten Goose Gym in Van Nuys, California, improved to 13-0 (9 KOs) with a fifth-round stoppage of Spain’s Ezequiel Gurria (15-2). Gurria was down twice in the fifth round before the bout was halted at the 2:23 mark.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel

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Steen, Bocachica, and Martino Jules Stay Unbeaten in Cornhuskerland

Arne K. Lang

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The long-running Showtime series ShoBox:The New Generation was at the Heartland Events Center in Grand Island, Nebraska last night. Super middleweight Isaiah Steen and welterweight Janelson Figueroa Bocachica, both of whom are managed by 2020 BWAA Manager of the Year David McWater, were featured in the main bouts.

Cleveland’s Steen, the half-brother of 2016 U.S. Olympian Charles Conwell, improved to 16-0 (12) with a 10-round unanimous decision over previously undefeated Kalvin Henderson (14-1-1). Steen started slow and slowed down again in the final two rounds, but dominated the middle rounds and won by scores of 96-94 and 97-93 twice. Henderson, a part-time schoolteacher in Fayetteville, Arkansas who earned a degree in music from the University of Arkansas, was hampered by a pulled muscle in his right shoulder which he believes happened in the fourth round.

Steen hopes to land a spot on the big show coming up in Cleveland in five weeks. Charles Conwell is already booked. He will oppose Massachusetts veteran Mark DeLuca in a supporting bout to the freak fight between Jake Paul and Tyrone Woodley.

Janelson Figueroa Bocachica, a Detroit native of Puerto Rican ancestry, kept his undefeated record intact, but just barely. He was held to a draw by Shinard Bunch who appeared to have done enough to edge it.

Bunch, whose middle name is Showtime (no fooling) fights out of Trenton, New Jersey and is trained by Chino Reyes who guided Jason Sosa and Tevin Farmer to world titles. He entered the bout with a 15-1 (13) record but was moving up in class in his first scheduled 10-rounder. Only six of his wins had come against opponents with winning records.

Bocachica (17-0-1) performed below expectations for the second straight fight, having been hard-pressed to turn away Mark Reyes Jr. in his previous go. One of the judges scored it for him (96-94) but the others had it 97-93 Bunch and 95-95.

The TV opener was an 8-round featherweight contest between Martino Jules, a 24-year-old southpaw from Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Aram Avagyan, a 30-year-old Armenian who began his pro career in Russia and is currently domiciled in California.

Although neither were big punchers, the Armenian had the odds in his favor. A 2016 Olympian, he had fought the tougher schedule and was the bigger man, coming in two pounds over the featherweight limit (which reportedly cost him $2000). But his performance was sloppy – he was repeatedly warned for leading with his head – and the decision was a foregone conclusion when Jules was credited with scoring a knockdown late in the final round.

In his biggest win to date, Martino Jules improved to 11-0. It was the first pro loss for the 30-year-old Avagyan who declined to 10-1-2.

Photo credit: Esther Lin / SHOWTIME

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