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Avila Perspective, Chap. 120: Boxing’s Best Pound for Pound

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 120: Boxing’s Best Pound for Pound

When Saul “Canelo” Alvarez first stepped into a prize ring in the USA in 2008 it never occurred to me or others that the redheaded Mexican would be a world champion in any division, let alone four.

It’s been quite a journey.

Canelo is the same height as Terence Crawford and shorter than Errol Spence Jr. He’s once inch taller than Vasyl Lomachenko. Yet, he’s willingly fighting much bigger adversaries than anyone else and winning.

Can you imagine Crawford or Spence fighting Sergey Kovalev, Gennady Golovkin or Daniel Jacobs?

That’s a primary reason Alvarez heads my list of Pound-for-Pound best in 2021. Without a doubt he deserves to be at the top of the list by accepting more risks than any other fighter. Of course, someone like Crawford just needs a willing partner to prove his mettle.

Top 12 Pound for Pound 

1. Saul Alvarez (54-1-2, 36 KOs) Mexico 30 years old – After decisively beating Callum Smith for another super middleweight world title will he finally receive applause? He has won world titles in the super welterweight, middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight divisions. The guy is only 5-8 in height. He is shorter than Errol Spence Jr. and the same height as Terence Crawford. Could either of those fighters beat a super middleweight or a light heavyweight? I rest my case.

2.  Terence Crawford (37-0, 28 KOs) USA 33 years old – This switch-hitting Nebraskan needs a marquee fight in the worst way. Will one of the many welterweight stars step up? Talks were underway for a match against Manny Pacquiao, but I just don’t see PacMan accepting a fight that dangerous for a final fight. Crawford is too dangerous for a goodbye fight and apparently too good for other welterweights. He’s got a killer instinct.

3. Tyson Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs) United Kingdom 32 years old – A year ago this giant heavyweight was clubbed to the floor by one of the biggest blows I ever witnessed and got up. It was immediately apparent to me he could win a rematch with Deontay Wilder if they fought again and he did. He has all the tools including an impressive chin. A match against fellow Brit Anthony Joshua would sell in America or Great Britain.

4. Errol Spence Jr. (27-0, 21 KOs) USA 30 years old – Surviving a near fatal car accident and returning to the ring was a near miracle for the welterweight champion. Now the only question remaining is will he fight Terence Crawford. Words have been exchanged but no contracts have been signed. Will they finally meet in 2021? Spence should demand the fight before it’s too late. Be like Mikey Garcia and take a chance.

5. Gennady Golovkin (41-1-1, 36 KOs) Kazakhstan 38 years old – “Triple G” only has one loss and a draw yet most of the boxing world seems to think he’s over and done. Fans can be fickle but other fighters know the real deal. Golovkin remains one of the most dangerous fighters on the planet. Now that he has a media platform in DAZN will he meet other avoided fighters like Demetrious Andrade? Or maybe even move up in weight and fight some of his fellow Europeans? He’s not done yet.

6. Teofimo Lopez (16-0,12 KOs) USA 23 years old – The fast-twitch action by Lopez along with his boxing smarts allowed the Brooklyn fighter to defeat the near legendary Vasyl Lomachenko. Lopez looked very big for a lightweight and will probably be moving up a weight division soon. Too bad. The lightweights are booming right now and a match against the young guns Gervonta Davis, Devin Haney or Ryan Garcia could bring mega bucks. We shall see.

7. Naoya Inoue (20-0, 17 KOs) Japan 27 years old – The talented bantamweight engaged in one of the best fights of 2019 but was also taught a few lessons by Nonito Donaire. It will serve him well as he continues his journey toward super stardom in America. It’s rare when a smaller weight fighter can attain stardom, but “Monster” Inoue has that special blend of skill and personality needed. Let’s see how far he can go.

8. Vasyl Lomachenko (14-2, 10 KOs) Ukraine 32 years old – as an amateur he was a superstar, but that may have detracted him from truly adapting to the pro game. He is still young enough to become a more aggressive fighter. He has an abundance of talent and needs to concentrate on going for broke. Strategy only takes you so far. After all, it is called fighting. He has the ability to become a good fighter, not just a good boxer. Some people will not understand this.

9. Anthony Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs) United Kingdom 31 years old – though he avenged his knockout loss to Andy Ruiz, his method in winning was comical. This huge heavyweight with gargantuan muscles ran around the ring jabbing and avoiding exchanges with the smaller chubby guy. It was ridiculous. However, his last win by knockout over Kubrat Pulev took some of the shame away. A match against Tyson Fury is the answer to redemption for Joshua.

10. Mikey Garcia (40-1, 30 KOs) USA 33 years old – Few have the talent and ring smarts as this California fighter who began as a featherweight. Yes, he lost to Errol Spence Jr. back in 2019 but it seemed worth the risk. One thing it did teach was that welterweights are just a little too big for him. Who knows? Can he be another Roberto Duran and move up several divisions to seek big money fights or should he drop to super lightweight and compete there? Garcia still has that high fight IQ.

11. Manny Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs) Philippines 42 years old – The Filipino superstar last fought in July of 2019. We’re in 2021 and PacMan has to get going if he wants to continue in the merciless world of prizefighting. Though he no longer has the power to knock out any of the elite fighters, he seemed to retain most of his speed and that incredible ring knowledge accrued over 26 years as a professional. Does he have one more megafight remaining?

12. Oleksandr Usyk (18-0, 13 KOs) Ukraine 33 years old – As a cruiserweight he was dominating. As a heavyweight he is a skinny southpaw with not enough pop to beat the big boys who roam the division like massive dinosaurs. Usyk may need to drop down in weight or simply go for the big fight and take a beating for the money. He is too small to compete as a heavyweight. But as a cruiserweight he could dominate for a few years and make a little money.

Honorable mention: Jermall Charlo, Demetrious Andrade, Roman Gonzalez, Miguel Berchelt, Jermell Charlo, Juan Francisco Estrada, Deontay Wilder, Andy Ruiz

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Late Sub Jonnie Rice Bursts Michael Coffie’s Bubble on a PBC Card in Newark

Arne K. Lang

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Every thing that could go wrong went wrong as promoter Al Haymon and his associates were patching together tonight’s card at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. But it couldn’t have worked out better for journeyman heavyweight Jonnie Rice who turned his career around with a smashing TKO of heavily favored and previously undefeated Michael Coffie.

Positive Covid tests scuttled two 10-round fights on the undercard. The main event had already been disheveled when Coffie’s original opponent Gerald Washington flunked his Covid test. Enter Rice (pictured on the right) who was on standby and seized the moment.

Rice, a Columbia, South Carolina native who has been living and training in Las Vegas, came in sporting a 13-6-1 record but five of his wins had come against no-hopers in Tijuana and he had yet to defeat an opponent in a match where he was the “B” side. But these facts were misleading as five of his six losses had come against hot prospects with undefeated records and he had honed his craft sparring against the likes of Tyson Fury, Filip Hrgovic, and Michael Hunter.

Based on “strength of schedule,” Rice, 34, had the edge over Coffie, the 35-year-old ex-Marine who brought a 12-0 record but was relatively untested. And Rice, who started fast, took the fight to Coffie and out-landed him. Coffie’s left eye was swelling and he wasn’t firing back when the referee waived it off in the fifth round.

Dirrell-Brooker

Tonight’s PBC fare came in two helpings with appetizers and the main event on FOX preceding a club-level show on FOX’s affiliate FS1. The main event of the nightcap was a 10-round light heavyweight bout between Andre Dirrell and Christopher Brooker.

Dirrell, who previously held an interim version of the IBF 168-pound world title, looked very sharp coming off a 19-month layoff, scoring three knockdowns before the fight was waived off in the third round. The Flint, Michigan native improved to 28-3 (18). Philadelphia’s Brooker fell to 16-8.

More

Junior middleweight Joey Spencer (13-0, 9 KOs) scored an 8-round unanimous decision over James Martin (7-3). Spencer won comfortably on the scorecards – 80-72 and 79-73 twice – but was unimpressive.

Local fan favorite Vito “White Magic” Mielnicki Jr (9-1, 5 KOs) rebounded from his first pro loss with an impressive second-round stoppage of Noah Kidd (6-4-2).

Philadelphia welterweight Karl Dargan (20-1, 9 KOs), a former two-time national amateur champion, returned to the ring after a long absence and  stopped LA’s Ivan Delgado (13-4-2) in the third round.

New Jersey heavyweight Norman Neely advanced to 9-0 (7) with a unanimous decision over rugged Texas brawler Juan Torres (6-4-1). Neely won all six rounds on all three cards.

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Leigh Wood’s Big Upset Spangles the Rebirth of Eddie Hearn’s Garden Party

Arne K. Lang

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Last summer, hamstrung by the pandemic, Eddie Hearn hit upon the idea of holding boxing events outdoors in the expansive backyard of the family estate on the outskirts of London (now Matchroom Sport headquarters) where he grew up. Four shows were staged there.

The series has been revived. Today was “episode 1” of Season Two of Matchroom Fight Camp, otherwise known as Eddie Hearn’s Garden Party. Two more shows are penciled in over the next two weekends.

The match-up getting the most buzz was the welterweight contest between fast-rising Conor Benn and battle-tested Adrian Granados. Unfortunately, Benn tested positive for Covid-19. But the main event, a WBA world featherweight title defense by Can Xu (aka Xu Can) against Nottingham’s Leigh Wood stayed intact and produced a memorable upset.

Xu, who is co-promoted by Oscar De La Hoya, was installed a 4/1 favorite. Although he wasn’t a big puncher with only three knockouts to his credit in 20 starts, he rode into Hearn’s backyard riding a 15-fight winning streak for the third defense of his WBA “regular” title. But he started slow, perhaps the result of ring rust — it was his first fight of 2021 after missing all of 2020 – and he never did crank up the volume that had carried him to victory in his three title fights.

Wood, a stablemate of Josh Taylor who has made great gains since hooking up with Ben Davison and Lee Wylie, landed the heavier punches and was ahead on the cards when he took the fight out of the judges’ hands in the final minute of the final round. He decked Xu with a hard right hand and then trapped him on the ropes, forcing the stoppage that came with only 17 seconds remaining.

The 32-year-old Wood improved to 25-2 (15). Xu falls to 18-3. The deposed champion has a rematch clause so we may have a sequel.

Other Bouts

Chris Billam-Smith, trained by Shane McGuigan, won a hard-fought 12-round split decision over Belfast’s Tommy McCarthy in a cruiserweight scrap with three domestic titles at stake. The judges had it 116-112 and 115-114 for Billam-Smith, now 13-1, with the dissenter favoring McCarthy (18-3) by a 115-114 tally.

McCarthy wobbled Billam-Smith late in the first round with on overhand right, but could never land his Sunday punch on the Bournemouth fighter in a see-saw struggle with many close rounds. There were no knockdowns but McCarthy suffered a cut over his right eye near the end of round six from an apparent head butt.

McCarthy had Carl Frampton helping out in his corner which infused the contest with the aura of a grudge match. Frampton was the best man at Shane McGuigan’s wedding, but their friendship dissolved in a bitter court fight. At the end of the grueling fight, Billam-Smith and McCarthy embraced in a show of mutual respect.

Liverpool super-welterweight Anthony Fowler whose lone setback came at the hands of Scott Fitzgerald (a split decision) won his sixth straight with an eighth-round stoppage of Germany’s Rico Mueller whose cornerman was on the ring apron when the slow-acting referee waived it off at the 2:12 mark. Fowler, who is also trained by Shane McGuigan, improved to 15-1 (11). His next bout is expected to come against fellow Scouser Liam Smith in October. This was the second fight this month for the game but out-gunned 33-year-old Mueller (28-4-1) who was subbing for veteran Tex-Mex campaigner Roberto Garcia who pulled out with a back injury.

Also, Jack Cullen (20-2-1, 9 KOs) scored a 10-round unanimous decision over Avni Yildirim (21-4) in a 10-round super middleweight contest. Yildirim, from Turkey, was looking to atone for his hollow performance against Canelo Alvarez this past February. While he had his moments, he was out-worked by the lanky Lancashire man who won by scores of 100-90, 08-92, and 97-93.

Photo credit: Alan Walton / Matchroom Boxing

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Avila Perspective, Chap 146: De La Hoya Returns Plus Other Boxing Notes

David A. Avila

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Sitting in front of several dozen reporters, the favorite son of Los Angeles area boxing, Oscar De La Hoya, and former MMA champion Vitor Belfort spoke about their mutual return to prizefighting.

“I can’t lie. I miss getting hit,” said De La Hoya.

It was a statement also shared by Belfort.

After years away from the prize ring, both return to exchange hits as boxing’s De La Hoya (39-6, 30 KOs) meets MMA’s Belfort (26-14, 18 KOs) on Sept. 11, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Triller Fight Club card will be shown on pay-per-view via FITE.tv and other modes.

De La Hoya, 48, last absorbed hits from a fighter when Manny Pacquiao battered him almost 13 years ago back in December 2008. It was a shock to the senses to see the great East L.A. fighter take blow after blow while unable to hit back.

He was only 35.

Many attribute that loss to a ridiculous agreement to weigh under 145 pounds before facing Pacquiao. At the time De La Hoya was the real gate attraction and pay-per-view king. He held all the cards but agreed to the demands acutely devised by Freddie Roach. It proved to leave De La Hoya too weak to fight back and after eight rounds the one-sided beating was stopped.

De La Hoya retired after that fight. Ironically, he called for a press conference and it was held right where he recently announced this upcoming fight against Belfort. It’s also near a statue built in his honor.

Sitting nearby, Belfort patiently waited his turn to speak. For the Brazilian MMA fighter, it’s only been a mere three years since he exchanged blows in a prize fight. It was a knockout loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 224 in Brazil.

When Belfort spoke to the media, he expressed a desire to get hit too.

“Its fun. I’m going to have joy when I get hit. You cannot get better than that,” said Belfort.

It’s a common sentiment held by former greats. I’ve heard the same comments from James “Lights Out” Toney who ridiculously was not voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame this past year.

Getting hit becomes as common as breathing for most professional fighters, especially those that began boxing at a young age such as De La Hoya.

“The truth is I miss it. I miss it very much,” said De La Hoya who began lacing up gloves as an amateur at five years old.

According to oddsmakers, Belfort is the favorite to win. Probably for a number of reasons including he fought a mere three years ago. Belfort is the heavier fighter and has fought foes in the 205 pound-division called light heavyweight in MMA. Plus, he is simply bigger than his foe.

“I hope I don’t end up killing him, but everything is on the table,” said Belfort. “If he doesn’t have joy in what he does he could come back in a coffin.”

Prizefighters are masochists. All truly good fighters have a streak of masochism inside. They know they’ll be pummeled with blows that truly hurt and they look forward to it. But the bitter truth is taking hits in your 30s and taking hits near your 50s are two vastly different scenarios.

It’s an extremely dangerous fight for both.

As someone who spent nearly a month in a hospital after experiencing a cerebral hemorrhage, otherwise known as a “brain bleed,” I’m stunned by the fact that more boxers are not damaged from brutal blows. I pray nothing like this occurs to De La Hoya, Belfort, or any retired boxer who returns to the prize ring for a possible payday.

They are prizefighters and like any former high-performance athlete, they miss competition.

“When you love it, no matter what happens, I’m ok with it,” said De La Hoya.

Fans will attend Staples Center by the thousands simply to see “the Golden Boy” once again and pay tribute to one of the greats. Many of those attending will be praying silently for the fighter’s safety.

I know I will.

England Fights

WBA featherweight titlist Xu Can (18-2, 3 KOs) defends against Leigh Wood (24-2, 14 KOs) on Saturday July 31, at Brentwood, England. DAZN will stream the world title fight.

This is the third defense for Can who has not fought in almost two years. The last defense was at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California when he soundly defeated Manny Robles III.

Can took the title from Puerto Rico’s Jesus Rojas, a rough and tumble fighter who takes a pound of flesh from everyone he faces. Against Can he was unable to deal out the usual punishment.

Wood is a former super bantamweight contender who has never really faced international competition. He did face former world champion Gavin McDonnell but was stopped. Perhaps the move up in weight will help.

Fights to Watch

Fri. Estrella TV 7 p.m. Erick Leon (14-1) vs Juan Marcos Rodriguez (10-3).

Sat. DAZN 11 a.m. Xu Can (18-2) vs Leigh Wood (24-2).

Sat. FOX 5 p.m. Michael Coffie (12-0) vs. Jonnie Rice (13-6-1)

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