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Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Seven Boxers Who Have Been Inactive Too Long

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Professional boxers need to stay active for two reasons: (1) They have a short window to achieve their goals and leave the sport well-off financially, and (2) rest makes rust as my old friend Herb Lambeck, a prominent boxing oddsmaker, was wont to say. (MMA superstar Conor McGregor cited inactivity as a factor in his poor showing in his most recent fight. Prior to meeting Dustin Poirier, who knocked him out in the second round, McGregor had fought only two fights inside an octagon in the previous four years and one of those fights lasted only 30 seconds.)

Staying active during the COVID-19 era is a major challenge for many boxers. Listed below are seven who missed all of 2020 and who currently have nothing firmed-up for the immediate future. The seven are listed in descending order of inactivity.

Andrew Tabiti

Cruiserweight…Current Record: 17-1 (13 KOs), age 31

We last saw Tabiti on June 15, 2019. Yunier Dorticos was in the opposite corner. At stake was the IBF world cruiserweight title and a berth in the finals of the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament.

Dorticos, the Cuban “KO Doctor,” lived up to his nickname, knocking Tabiti from the ranks of the unbeaten in the 10th round with a smashing, one-punch knockout. The punch left Tabiti flat on his back, unconscious.

By now, Tabiti should have had at least one fight designed as a confidence-restorer, if not another high-risk assignment. Has he been sidelined by the coronavirus? Indirectly, yes. He trains at the Mayweather Gym in Las Vegas which has been closed for the better part of the last two months as a proactive measure to keep the virus away.

Rey Vargas

Featherweight…Current Record: 34-0, (22 KOs)…age 30

Vargas has been out of action since July 13, 2019, sidelined not by the coronavirus, but by an injury. Did he break his leg or his foot? And when did it happen? Reports are unclear, but it didn’t happen during the course of his most recent fight, a unanimous but yet unpopular decision over Tomoki Kameda in the fifth defense of his WBC 122-pound title. The organization would subsequently declare him “Champion in Recess” and then, more recently, make him the mandatory challenger for their featherweight title-holder Gary Russell Jr. Tall for his weight class, nearly 5’11”, it was inevitable that Vargas would eventually move up a notch.

Vargas left Golden Boy in January of last year and signed with PBC. There’s been no indication of when his fight with Russell may occur. The Russell brothers (it’s hard to tell them apart because they have the same first name) are never in a hurry to get back in the ring. Gary Russell Jr. has averaged one fight a year since 2015.

Keith Thurman

Welterweight…Current Record: 29-1 (22 KOs)…age 32

Thurman (pictured against PacMan) hasn’t fought since losing a split decision to the Filipino legend in July of 2019. Since that bout, he had surgery to correct an old hand injury. Hand and elbow injuries kept him out of the ring for 22 months following his victory over Danny Garcia in March of 2017 and prior to that he missed time with a neck injury suffered in a car accident.

Thurman hasn’t fallen completely off the radar. He has a following on social media and has served as a desk analyst for PBC boxing shows on FOX.

Keith Thurman “is one of the most beloved fighters in the world,” says a hammy FOX/PBC blurb promoting his TV work. “The welterweight division goes through Keith Thurman,” says Thurman.

Actually, it doesn’t. All the talk is about Errol Spence and Terence Crawford and when that megafight will finally get made. Thurman isn’t in that conversation. He called out Spence after Spence defeated Danny Garcia, but that “defi” created little buzz and Spence apparently has no inclination to fight him. Thurman would be wise to get back in the ring against any warm body just to remind people that he is still one of the top dogs in the welterweight division.

Marcus Browne

Light heavyweight…Current Record: 23-1 (16 KOs)…age 30

There are reports that there’s a fight in the works between Browne and 41-0 Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez, the former 168-pound world title-holder who is now campaigning as a light heavyweight. We will believe it when we see it.

We last saw the Staten Island southpaw in action on Aug. 3, 2019, when he suffered his first pro loss in a quirky bout with veteran Jean Pascal. Browne out-landed Pascal by a 2-to-1 margin, but suffered three knockdowns and the decision went against him by a 75-74 margin on all three cards after the bout was halted in the eighth frame following an unintentional head butt. With the upset, Pascal became a three-time light heavyweight title-holder.

Browne desperately wanted a rematch and thought it would happen early in 2020, but Pascal had other ideas. Meanwhile, Browne made news for all the wrong reasons. In March of 2020, he pleaded guilty in New Jersey to violating a protective order against an ex-girlfriend, the mother of one of his children. It was his fourth domestic violence incident.

Browne has some good wins on his ledger including a one-sided triumph over Badou Jack, but the former Olympian has yet to fulfill his promise and the sand is running out of the hourglass.

Kanat Islam

Middleweight…Current record: 27-0 (21 KOs)…age 36

Islam is an interesting specimen. An ethnic Kazakh, born in China, the two-time Olympian turned pro in the Dominican Republic and had several of his early bouts in Ecuador. He last fought on Oct. 26, 2019 in Kazakhstan.

It appeared that Islam was poised to become an important name in boxing when his contract was purchased by Egis Klimas in February of 2018 and he joined the camp of Vasyl Lomachenko in Oxnard, California. But a leg injury kept Islam out of action until July of the following year.

According to various reports, Islam was slated to return to the ring next month, but was forced to cancel the engagement because of unspecified health reasons. In Kazakhstan, he is getting his feet wet as a boxing promoter. We may have seen the last of him.

Diego De La Hoya

Super bantamweight…Current record: 22-1 (10 KOs)…age 26

Oscar De La Hoya’s cousin, Diego was ranked #3 in his weight class by the WBA heading into his contest with Ronny Rios in July of 2019. Rios stopped him in the sixth round. He returned to the ring five months later in his hometown of Mexicali and got back on the winning track with a 10-round unanimous decision over Venezuelan journeyman Renson Robles.

De La Hoya was having trouble making weight when he fought Rios and one suspects that he put on a lot of superfluous flesh in 2020. Mexicali, Mexico, has been especially hard hit by the pandemic. All of the boxing gyms were shut down in the spring and although they would reopen, they were shut down again and remain shuttered as we go to press. In fact, the mayor of Mexicali recently mandated a 6 p.m. curfew.

A former Mexican National Amateur champion, De La Hoya launched his pro career at age 19 at the MGM Grand. It figured that he would have roped in at least one secondary title by now, but that hasn’t happened and now he finds himself on the outside looking in.

Moruti Mthalane

Flyweight…Current Record: 39-2 (26 KOs)…age 38

The reigning IBF world flyweight champion, Mthalane has won 16 straight since getting stopped by Nonito Donaire way back in 2008. Ten of those 16 wins came in IBF title fights including stoppages of future champions Zolani Tete and John Riel Casimero.

Mthalane isn’t afraid to leave the comfort of his South African homeland. His last four fights were in Asia with the most recent coming in December of 2019. With a few more wins, he just may punch his ticket to the Boxing Hall of Fame, but at age 38, he’s running out of time and it doesn’t bode well that he missed all of 2020.

Mthalane, by all appearances, is marooned. South Africa is dealing with a second wave of COVID-19 infections. Gauteng Province, where Mthalane hangs his hat, is one of the hot spots. Travel in and out of the country is difficult. The Centers for Disease Control advises all Americans to avoid all travel to South Africa.

Photo credit: Ryan Hafey / PBC

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Andy Ruiz and Filip Hrgovic on the Road to Oleksandr Usyk

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Mexican-American Andy Ruiz and Croatian Filip Hrgovic were instructed by the IBF to begin negotiations for their fight for the Interim heavyweight title, which consequently provides the winner with the opportunity to face the champion Oleksandr Usyk who also holds the WBO and WBA super champion belts.

Ruiz (35-2, 22 KOs) and Hrgovic (15-0, 12 KOs) have 30 days, expiring on February 19, to reach an agreement. Otherwise, the IBF will hold a public auction to see who will promote the bout.

The IBF decision took into account the fact that Hrgovic is the top-ranked contender, while Ruiz is ranked third. The second slot is vacant.

About a year ago, the IBF had confirmed the fight between Ruiz and Hrgovic, with the intention of defining a mandatory challenger for southpaw Usyk (20-0, 13 KOs), but the American withdrew from negotiations due the fact that he was recovering from an alleged injury.

Thirty-three-year-old Ruiz from Imperial, California was victorious in his last two bouts, the most recent on September 4th in Los Angeles by unanimous decision against Cuban southpaw Luis “King Kong” Ortíz (33-3, 28 KOs).

After the victory over Ortíz, Ruiz stated that his immediate goal is to face former world champion Deontay Wilder (43-2-1, 42 KOs) as a victory over Wilder would provide him with the opportunity to face Brit Tyson Fury (33-0-1, 24 KOs), the current WBC champion.

A few weeks later, Ruiz received a boost from the WBC, which confirmed at their 60th annual convention in November that the winner of the fight between Ruiz vs Wilder would face the winner of Fury vs Derek Chisora  ​​(33-13, 23 KOs).

Fury, thirty-four years old, had no difficulty in defeating Chisora by way of chloroform in the tenth round on December 3rd at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.

However, now after the IBF mandate, Ruíz’s long-awaited confrontation with Wilder remains in limbo. Recently, Malik Scott, Wilder’s coach, expressed that although Ruíz is a strong adversary, he is not on the same level as Wilder.

Scott stated, “Andy Ruiz is a serious test. Not just for Deontay but for anybody. But for a disciplined Deontay, in my opinion, Andy Ruiz doesn’t even come close to being in the same league as him. Because what beats Andy Ruiz? Discipline! An old [Chris] Arreola gave him trouble just with discipline. Andy’s problem is he can’t beat disciplined fighters. I had Arreola winning by two rounds. Against Deontay, Andy is going to reach, he has to, we’re taller, and when he reaches, he’s going to pay like he’s never paid before.”

Prior to Ruiz’s recent two victories, he lost by unanimous decision to Brit Anthony Joshua on December 7, 2019 in Saudi Arabia. Only six months had passed since Ruiz knocked out Joshua in the seventh round and seized the IBF, WBA and WBO belts from him on June 1 at New York’s legendary Madison Square Garden.

Hrgovic, three years younger than Ruiz and born in Zagreb, Croatia, comes off a difficult win against Chinese southpaw Zhilei Zhang (24-1-1, 19 KOs) at the Superdome in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Although the three officials handed in scorecards of 115-112 (2x) and 114-113 in favor of Hrgovic, Zhang had sent the European to the canvas in the opening round.

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Álvarez in Spanish.

Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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Artem Dalakian, Sunny Edwards, and the Most Storied Title in Boxing

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When the mighty Roman Gonzalez departed the 112lb division in 2016 he vacated the title and broke the longest remaining lineage in the sport. In a moment of quiet heartbreak for the boxing aficionado, the final direct link with boxing’s glorious past was cut forever.

That lineage had begun back in 1975 with perhaps the greatest flyweight champion, Miguel Canto.  Canto cleaned house that year, shading the wonderful Betulio Gonzalez and the evergreen Shoji Oguma, part of a calendar year that saw him go 6-0 and establish his absolute pre-eminence in the deepest of flyweight divisions. In 1979, old in the face, Canto was out-worked and even in some ramshackle way out-jabbed by a swarming, aggressive Korean named Chan Hee Park. Park was a good fighter, Shoji Oguma lay in wait to send him tumbling with counter-rights, taking his turn in an impressive second tour. In 1981, the new generation asserted itself in the form of Antonio Avelar.  Avelar seemed, briefly, to be the real deal but he was unseated by a murderous punching Colombian, Prudencio Cardona, who inflicted upon Avelar the most violent knockout in flyweight history.

This heralded the advent of a series of caretaker champions, good fighters, all, but no great ones as the early eighties evaporated while the hot-potato flyweight championship passed from Fredy Castillo to Eleoncio Mercedes to Charlie Magri and others, none of them holding it for more than a matter of months. When the mighty Sot Chitalada wrestled it from the last caretaker champion in 1984, Canto finally had a descendent who could be named a peer. In two spells, Chitalada held the title into the 1990s whereupon it was ripped from him by the Thai Maungchai Kittikasem who then dropped it to an early emergent of the Soviet and former Soviet schools in Yuri Arbachakov.  Arbachakov was the first flyweight whose legacy was to suffer at the hands of the ABC title-belt madness, his record-breaking spell as champion marred by matches with WBC-nominated journeymen. Despite his lengthy title reign, Yuri managed to fight men who were held to belong in the top ten just twice as champion.

Less than a year after the lineal title and Arbakachov were parted, it would be wrapped around the waist of a youngster named Manny Pacquiao, who had crushed Chatchai Sasakul in eight who had in turn outpointed Arbachakov. From the madness of the alphabet soup to the emergence of one of the greatest fighters of our time, the story of the flyweight lineal championship is the story of modern boxing untrampled by titular uncertainty. The history of the championship, of the divisional king, can be traced back to a time when Muhammad Ali ruled the world and so a fistic tendril connects Ali, a hero to his people, to Pacquiao, a hero to his. Pacquiao nearly ruined it all though.  Manny missed weight for his 1999 match with Boonsai Sangsurat and had he won that fight, the title would have been vacated as he departed the weight forever, but fortunately, a weight-drained mess, he was crushed in three rounds.

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam then, when he lifted the title in 2001, became the latest great to trace his lineage back to Canto. Wonjongkam’s reign was as modern as can be imagined, dictated thoroughly by ABCs, fought almost exclusively in his backyard, and despite amassing an astonishing twenty title defences in two spells as king, his win resume underwhelms. A list of the worst ever lineal title challengers would draw heavily from Wonjongkam’s opposition.

Wonjongkam made way for Sonny Boy Jaro of The Philippines who made way for Toshiyuki Igarashi and Akira Yaegashi, both of Japan, underlining what has always been the most international of championships. And finally, at the end of the longest road in modern boxing, the title was lain at the feet of a great fighter from Nicaragua, the wonderful Roman Gonzalez.

Roman Gonzalez was my favourite fighters for years, I watched his boxing obsessively. More than a decade ago, I wrote an article predicting his eventual enshrinement as a pound-for-pound number one and his likely vanquishment by a southpaw, even going so far as to predict this would occur up at 115lbs, all of which came true. But it cut me when he stepped aside in 2016, the lineage that had begun with Canto destroyed, a lineage that had run through four different abdications and coronations at 160lbs, that ran all the way back to the last golden age of the flyweight division.

From the ashes, finally, a phoenix menaces. Far from stipulated, certainly not sure, but stirring. On Saturday night, Ukrainian Artem Dalakian (pictured) came to London to meet David Jimenez on the undercard of the Artur Beterbiev-Anthony Yarde fight. Dalakian-Jimenez is one of those rare and wonderful fights British and American fans are sometimes treated to, elite combat athletes who struggle to secure rewarding purses fighting low on a card which a just sport might see them headline. Jimenez, the challenger for Dalakian’s strap, refutes befuddlement with aggression, boxable but brutal, left floundering early in the biggest fight of his career against Ricardo Sandoval only to button up and fire forwards, hard-scrabbling enough rounds to conquer his more cultured foe. This would be his approach, too, against Dalakian. Dalakian is a fighter of no small culture whose activity suffered during those COVID months but with a legacy that stretches back to the last generation of top flyweights and a victory over Brian Viloria. Having boxed just twenty rounds in three years he was now bringing an unfortunate mix of rust and, at thirty-five years old, age.

Nevertheless, for me he dominated Jimenez. The younger man was reasonably quick-handed and tried to remain ambitious in his rushes, but Dalakian was never less than the cleaner puncher and rested on a steeper bank of experience that saw him nullify his more aggressive foe inside while consistently out-scoring him outside. It was a thoroughly impressive performance that confirmed Dalakian’s remaining superiority over most of the rest of the division. Jimenez, in just his thirteenth fight, had established himself firmly in the divisional top five and likely has a future at 112lbs if he wants it. This was a crossroads fight only in the sense that it tested the last generation with the new, and the new was found wanting.

This victory, a unanimous decision over twelve, was a significant one for Dalakian, however. For me, it establishes him as the number one flyweight in the world but at worst he is the number two. The man with whom he shares the top table is one Sunny Edwards, a London boy and very much the division’s coming man. Edwards has boxed nearly as many contests in the upper echelons of the division as Dalakian, and Dalakian’s victory over Viloria aside, Edwards probably has the most meaningful victory of the two having defeated the ageing Moruti Mthalane in early 2021. The recency of his important victories is the source of the tension concerning the number one divisional flyweight currently.

Sunny

Sunny Edwards

The hope is the two will settle this in the ring.

While it is not unusual for a fighter to arrive from foreign shores and never be seen in a British ring again, it is more often the case that they arrive with targeted opposition when they are boxing at title level, and from Dick Tiger to Zolani Tete, Britain welcomes foreign winners with open arms. It is likely that Dalakian has been brought to Britain to tease a fight with the only man in the division that might be seen as his better and in the only fight either man could hope to box and be similarly enriched. Some promotional tensions exist, but what would be unusual money for a flyweight contest might tip the scales.

And if they settle it in the ring, as the number one and number two flyweight contenders, they will start a new lineage, a new passage of the flyweight title. More than that, the fight would be a fascinating and evenly matched contest between Dalakian, a technician who will likely be forced to box with pressure as a result of his physical limitations and Edwards, a quick-footed slickster who will nevertheless have to commit to outworking maybe the only fighter in the division with superior straight punches. That is not to say that Mexican Julio Cesar Martinez will be excluded – clearly the division’s number three, he may yet have a say.

But if a new and meaningful lineage is to begin it is Dalakian and Edwards, the two best flyweights on the planet, who must seed it.

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Emanuel Navarrete Aims to Become Champion in a Third Weight Class on Friday

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Champion in both the super bantamweight and featherweight categories, the strong Mexican puncher Emanuel Navarrete will try to be champion at 130 pounds on Friday, February 3, when he faces Australian Liam Wilson at the Desert Diamond Arena in the city of Glendale, Arizona. ESPN will be broadcasting the fight.

For Navarrete (36-1, 30 KOs), who has a 31-fight winning streak since his one and only setback in July 2012, the duel with Wilson will be his debut into the super featherweight division.

Navarrete, 28 years old and born in San Juan Zitlaltepec, defeated his countryman Eduardo Báez with a sixth-round knockout last July in San Diego, California, where the winner made his third successful defense of the WBO featherweight title.

Subsequently, Navarrete decided to seek the WBO championship at 130 pounds which had been vacated after the talented American southpaw Shakur Stevenson (19-0, 9 KOs) was unable to make weight on the scale before unanimously defeating Brazilian Robson Conceicao on September 23rd in New Jersey.

The WBO accepted Navarrete’s request to fight for the vacant title and opened the doors to fellow Aztec Oscar Valdez (30-1, 23 KOs), ranked second by the WBO and third by the WBC.

But in December, Valdez’s camp announced that he was withdrawing from the fight after undergoing a medical evaluation. Australian Liam Wilson (11-1, 7 KOs), ranked third by the WBO, was designated to take Valdez’s place.

A confident Navarrete stated: “This is my opportunity to become a three-division world champion. I am going for that crown. Liam Wilson is a good fighter, but this is my moment, and everyone will see a much more complete ‘Vaquero’ Navarrete that has a lot of thirst for victory. My ideal weight is 130 pounds, and that will be demonstrated on February 3rd when I become world champion for Mexico and San Juan Zitlaltepec. Wilson will not get in the way of my dream.”

Navarrete began his string of 31 wins after losing in four rounds against his compatriot Daniel Argueta on July 26, 2012, at the José Cuervo Hall in the finals of the XVIII Gold Belt Tournament. Despite the setback, Navarrete was the one declared champion of the contest, as Argueta failed to show up for the mandatory weigh-in.

Although he is on the verge of conquering his third championship in a third weight division, Navarrete has not defined what his immediate steps will be.

“Let’s see how things evolve,” Navarrete said. “We will see how I feel (at 130 pounds), and then make the right decision. It all depends on how I perform in February and analyze the result. How my body assimilates to the new weight class and things like that.”

Likewise, Navarrete confirmed that he was having difficulty making 126 pounds and that during his career in both the super bantamweight and featherweight divisions he had tried to unify the titles with the other champions without success.

“You know that I have been seeking unification fights in other weight classes,” stated Navarrete. “That is what I want, and what I’m looking for. I hope I can unify in this weight class (130 pounds). But first I hope to win against Wilson, and then we will decide.”

When analyzing his possibilities in the super featherweight division, Navarrete said that he has a tall stature which can benefit him. In the same sense, he considered that now at 130 pounds he will not have to wear himself out to make weight so he will be strong.

Wilson, 26 years old, won the vacant WBO International belt against Argentine Adrián Rueda (37-2, 32 KOs) on June 29th of last year in Brisbane, Australia. Wilson’s lone loss came from Filipino southpaw Joe Noynai (20-3-2, 8 KOs), who knocked him down once in the 1st round, twice in the 4th round, and again in the fifth round on July 7, 2021, in Newcastle, Australia, before referee Phil Austin stopped the lopsided match.

Wilson, however, got even eight months later in a rematch where he chloroformed Rueda in the second round and regained the WBO Asia-Pacific title.

For his upcoming fight, Wilson has set up a seven-week training camp in Washington DC at Headbangers Boxing Gym where Isaac Dogboe trains. Dogboe has fought Navarrete twice and can hopefully provide some valuable insight. “I’m only going off YouTube footage, so to get the advice off Isaac and his trainer over here, they’ve been in the corner against him, they’ve seen him in person, up close, so I have to take their advice onboard,” Wilson added.

Wilson is confident going into this fight, even though he has less professional experience. “He’s been in these fights so many times before. This is my first 12-rounder,” Wilson said. “In a sense, he has every reason to overlook me – I’ve only been in 10 rounders, he’s been 12 rounds multiple times, he’s a two-division world champion and for him it’s just another fight, for me it’s what I’ve dreamed of. I think I’ll be the bigger, stronger fighter. I believe I’ll be the biggest puncher he’s fought.”

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Álvarez in Spanish.

Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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