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Boxing Odds and Ends: An Olympic Recap and a Repulsive Scorecard

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The boxing competition at the Tokyo Olympics is over and for the fourth straight Olympiad the U.S. team was bereft of a gold medalist. But the U.S. men’s team emerged with three silvers which seemingly bodes well heading into the 2024 Summer Games in Paris. The three U.S. boxers that advanced to the finals were super heavyweight Richard Torrez Jr, lightweight Keyshawn Davis and featherweight Duke Ragan.

Davis and Ragan and middleweight Troy Isley were late additions to the five-member men’s team. When two Olympic qualifying tournaments were cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the International Olympic Committee Boxing Task Force adapted by concocting a formula that left Team USA no choice but to temporarily lift its rule whereby a boxer was disaffiliated once he or she turned pro. Presto, Davis (3-0 as a pro) Ragan (4-0) and Isley (2-0) were back in good standing. (Isley won his first fight in Tokyo, but lost his second. The other USA entrant, Delante “Tiger” Johnson, got as far as the quarterfinals before he was eliminated.)

In Tokyo, the Cubans reasserted their dominance, winning four gold medals and five medals overall. The Cuban gold medalists were heavyweight Julio la Cruz, light heavyweight Arlen Lopez, welterweight Roniel Iglesias, and lightweight Andy Cruz.

The 32-year-old Iglesias, who turned away Delante Johnson on his road to the finals, was competing in his fourth Olympiad. He won the gold in 2012 but came a cropper in Rio when he was knocked out in the second round by the eventual silver medalist, a fighter from Uzbekistan. The 23-year-old Cruz has been a thorn in the side of Keyshawn Davis who was the most heavily-touted member of the U.S. contingent. In Tokyo, Cruz and Davis were meeting for the fourth time and Davis has yet to beat him. As was true in their first encounter in Nicaragua, Keyshawn was on the wrong end of a split decision.

The big story coming out of the 2016 Games was the performance of the team from Uzbekistan in Rio. The Central Asian nation, home to roughly 32 million, captured seven medals: three gold, two silver, and two bronze.

This time around, only one Uzbek entrant captured a medal, but it was the gold and it was in the most prestigious weight class.

The match between Bakhodir Jalolov (pictured in the red) and Richard Torrez Jr was a rematch. They met in 2019 in Ekaterinburg, Russia, and Jalolov scored a brutal knockout, putting Torrez to sleep in the opening round.

Torrez won the first round of the rematch while sending the bout to the scorecards, but Jalolov, the much bigger man and a southpaw, not to mention undefeated (8-0, 8 KOs) at the professional level, is a beast and he pulled away to cop the decision. It was yet a valiant effort by Torrez Jr whose father advanced to the quarterfinals of the 1984 Olympic Trials while a senior in high school.

Hailing from the town of Tulare in America’s breadbasket, California’s San Joaquin Valley, Torrez Jr, 21, is not your conventional boxing personality. A fan of classical music – he has chosen Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” for his motivational ring walk – Torrez was reportedly the valedictorian of his high school graduation class. (In 2019, we wrote that if Torrez were to win gold in Tokyo, he would command the highest signing bonus to turn pro of any boxer in the history of the sport.)

Heading into the tournament, Jalolov had the shortest odds of any boxer in the “future book.” A total of 276 boxers descended on Tokyo and he was the shortest favorite on the board. Interestingly, he would be the only top seed on the men’s side to win a gold medal. By contrast, all five of the women’s weight classes were won by the #1 seed.

The biggest upset was forged by 23-year-old Brazilian middleweight Hebert Sousa. He brought a 35-14 record to Tokyo per BoxRec and was fortunate to reach the finals after winning his first three matches by split decision. In the gold medal round, he was matched against #1 seed Oleksandr Khyzhniak who was expected to follow in the footsteps of countrymen Wladimir Klitschko, Vasiliy Lomachenko, and Oleksandr Usyk and bring home the gold for the Ukraine (Lomachenko did it twice).

Khyzhniak looked as if he was home free after dominating the first two frames. But midway through the third and final round, Sousa snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a left uppercut that knocked the Ukrainian on the seat of his pants. Khyzhniak arose on unsteady legs and the referee stopped the fight.

Gloria Martinez-Rizzo

 Eimantas Stanionis was dominating veteran Luis Collazo on Saturday night in the main event of the PBC show on FOX from the Minneapolis Armory when an accidental head butt terminated the contest in round four, resulting in a “no decision.” But all the talk the next day was about the bizarre decision rendered in the co-feature, a 12-round welterweight match between Gabriel Maestre and Mykal Fox.

Many of those tuning in on TV likely turned off the tube before the decision was announced. PBC’s unofficial scorer Marcos Villegos had it 119-109 for Fox, giving Maestre only one round. Why stick around to hear ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. read the scores when the verdict is a foregone conclusion?

Ah, but as Yogi said, it’s never over until it’s over and, after all, this is boxing. All three judges gave the fight Maestre. They had him winning by scores of 114-113, 115-112, and 117-111. The 117-111 tally was submitted by Florida judge Gloria Martinez-Rizzo.

Prominent boxing writer Scott Christ called her scorecard repulsive. Tom Gray, the managing editor of The Ring magazine, called it one of the worst decisions that he had ever seen. “The verdict was so bad,” said Gray, “that it literally requires government intervention” (while acknowledging that there are more pressing concerns for our government during these messy times).

Martinez-Rizzo, a Miami-based Nicaraguan, has been a licensed boxing judge for 14 years but hasn’t been particularly active. One might ask what were her qualifications for the job.

BWAA vice-president Jake Donovan didn’t ask this question for his follow-up story for Boxing Scene but he provided the answer. Donovan noted that Ms. Martinez-Rizzo is married to longtime Florida fight facilitator Ricardo Rizzo. A google search finds Ricardo Rizzo in Panama City in 2015 paying his respects at the memorial service for WBA president Gilberto Mendoza Sr who had passed away at age 75. Mendoza’s son of the same name inherited his father’s post and still runs the organization. The Mendozas were born in Venezuela and the WBA was headquartered there in Caracas before the firm relocated to Panama City.

About Gabriel Maestre, the recipient of the gift decision: He represented Venezuela in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. Now 34 years old, he was 3-0 as a pro heading into his match with Mykal Fox which was his U.S. debut.

True, Maestre was a two-time Olympian, but a closer look at his amateur record, 75-34 per BoxRec including a 9-8 mark in the semi-pro World Series of Boxing, suggests that he wasn’t going to be all that great as a pro.

So how is it that the WBA had him ranked #4 at welterweight after only three pro fights? Go ask Gilbert Mendoza Jr but be certain to get fumigated after leaving the interview.

P.S. – It’s doubtful that Gloria Martinez-Rizzo will ever judge another fight and that has nothing to do with her actions in Minneapolis. It has been discovered that she has a history of racist tweets including calling former first lady Michelle Obama a “monkey face.” Her twitter page has since been deleted.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A Travesty of a Heavyweight ‘Title Fight’ and More

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It’s official. On Wednesday, Feb. 22, a formal press conference was held in Sofia, Bulgaria, to announce the forthcoming fight between Mahmoud Charr, formerly known as Manuel Charr, and Kubrat Pulev. They will meet in Bulgaria’s capital city on March 30 at a 12,000-seat arena.

Charr vs Kubrat bears the imprimatur of a world heavyweight title fight (WBA version). Charr is considered the champion, notwithstanding the fact that others have held the title since he first laid claim to it more than six years ago.

The WBA, as we know, recognizes two champions in some weight classes, a “super” champion and a “regular” champion. The “super” designation was created in 2000. It was designed to segregate title-holders into levels of accomplishment. In theory, a “super” champion has made five successful defenses and is recognized as a world title-holder by at least one of the three other major sanctioning bodies. “Super” champions are allowed certain liberties with respect to mandatory title defenses.

The bifurcation was greeted with hoots of derision. The Panama-based WBA trivialized the sport.

Mahmoud Charr

Mahmoud Charr was born in Beirut but has resided in Germany since he was a little boy. He won the vacant title with a 12-round decision over unexceptional Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany.  It was a close fight. TSS ringside correspondent Phil Woolever had Ustinov winning 7 rounds to 5, but conceded that the verdict could not be called an injustice.

The title that Charr won was vacated by Ruslan Chagaev who won the belt from Fres Oquendo, lost it to Lucas Browne, and got it back by decree when Browne’s post-fight urine tests showed evidence of banned substances. But Chagaev never fought again. His fight with Browne was his last.

Charr’s first defense was to come against Fres Oquendo. Slated for March 23, 2019 in Cologne after being pushed back from September of the previous year, the match never came to fruition when Charr tested positive for two banned substances. Things get really muddled from here with Charr pushed to the sideline by legal battles complicated by Don King’s shenanigans. King arranged a fight in Florida between Charr and his fighter Trevor Bryan and succeeded in getting Bryan the WBA belt when Charr was unable to get a visa. The belt is vacant again after Bryan was knocked out by Daniel Dubois who, in turn, was knocked out by “super” champion Oleksandr Usyk.

There are more threads to this saga but let’s not go there. Suffice it to say that after defeating Ustinov, Charr was out of action for the next three-and-a-half years. He’s had only three fights since 2017 and to say that his opponents were men of low repute would be giving them the best of it. In his most recent assignment, in December of 2022, he scored a second-round stoppage over 46-year-old Swiss-Albanian slug Nuri Seferi. That brought his record to 34-4 (20). He has been stopped three times, most recently in 2015 when he was halted in five frames by future cruiserweight champion Maris Briedis.

Kubrat Pulev

Kubrat Pulev will have the home field advantage in Sofia. Charr will have youth on his side. He’s 39; Pulev is 42.

Pulev sports a 30-3 record. The losses came at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko (L KO 5), Anthony Joshua (L KO 9), and Derek Chisora (L SD 12). He last fought in December at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, CA, where he won a lopsided decision over Polish journeyman Andrzej Wawrzyk.

In a previous engagement here at the Hangar, a concert hall that seats a shade over 3,000, he TKOed Bogdan Dinu. That bout is remembered mostly for what happened after it ended. In an incident that went viral on social media, Pulev surprised Jennifer Ravalo, a self-styled journalist, with a kiss on the lips. That animated women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred and led to an 8-page spread in Playboy (of Ravalo, not Allred). The California State Athletic Commission fined and suspended Pulev and mandated that he undergo sexual harassment training. The suspension lasted 120 days.

The match between Charr and Pulev, says a blurb about it, is an “eagerly anticipated” clash between “two evergreen living legends.” We will let you provide the punchline, The winner is expected to fight Martin Bakole who was knocked out by Michael Hunter.

Jake Paul

Jake Paul, the enfant terrible of prizefighting, returns this Saturday on a card in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that will air on DAZN. Paul, a so-called influencer who brought his big social media following with him when he took up fisticuffing, is coming off a first-round stoppage of Andre August, a no-name fighter from Texas. Saturday’s sacrificial lamb is a fellow from Dickinson, North Dakota (by way of Benicia, California) named Ryan Bourland.

Bourland, who is reportedly 35 years old but looks older, scored his signature win in 2018 when he avenged a previous defeat with a 10-round majority decision over Jose Hernandez. He has fought only one since then, TKOing a fighter with a losing record in a 6-rounder at a lodge on a remote Indian reservation in North Dakota. That improved his ledger to 17-2 (6 KOs).

Regarding Jake Paul, Thomas Hauser once wrote that he’s worked hard to become a better boxer and is “certainly better than a Golden Gloves novice.” There was a time when this reporter, perhaps naively, thought that Jake had the potential to become a legitimate top-15 cruiserweight, but his recent choice of opponents suggests that he is comfortable just spinning his wheels.

His bout with Bourland will play second fiddle to Amanda Serrano’s featherweight title defense against Germany’s Nina Meinke (18-3, 4 KOs). Although Amanda has a lot of mileage on her odometer, she is expected to have little difficulty with Meinke. In another bout of note, Puerto Rican campaigners Jonathan Gonzalez (27-3-1, 14 KOs) and Rene Santiago (12-3, 9 KOs) will meet in a 12-rounder with Gonzalez’s WBO light flyweight title at stake.

—-

Let’s conclude this write-up on an upbeat note. Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, a frequent TSS contributor, informs us that his fifth and presumably final anthology is nearing completion with a likely release date of April or May. “Championship Rounds, Round 5” includes a foreword by Gerry Cooney and has drawn glowing reviews from the likes of Dave Kindred and Dr. Gordon Marino who both had an early peek at the manuscript. Kindred, a renowned sportswriter and author, was the subject of a 2021 piece on “60 Minutes.” Marino, a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, has written extensively about boxing for the Wall Street Journal.

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Results from Orlando where Berlanga KOed McCrory in a Possible Prelude to Canelo

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Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom organization was at the Caribe Royale tonight, a non-gaming resort near Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Unbeaten super middleweights Edgar Berlanga and Padraig McCrory squared off in the main event.

The fight started slow, but it soon became apparent that McCrory, a 35-year-old father of three from Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a domestic-level fighter, notwithstanding his undefeated (18-0) record. Berlanga, whose last five fights had gone the distance, roughed him up with some dirty tactics before taking him out in the sixth round with a crunching right hand that sent the Irishman face-first to the canvas. As McCrory pulled himself upright on rubbery legs, the towel flew in from his corner. The official time was 2:44.

As well-documented, Berlanga opened his pro career with 16 consecutive first-round knockouts. Nonetheless, he was let go by Top Rank in what purportedly was an amicable divorce. This was his second fight under the Matchroom banner. Eddie Hearn signed him with an eye on scoring a big-money match with Canelo Alvarez. The red-headed Mexican superstar is committed to returning to the ring in May on Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas, but hasn’t yet locked in an opponent.

If Berlanga gets the nod, he would be a heavy underdog, but the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico angle (coupled with Berlanga’s new-found reputation as a dirty fighter) would make it an easy sell.

Co-Feature

In only his third professional fight, Cuban defector Andy Cruz was bumped into the co-feature. That was in recognition of his amateur pedigree. Among his accomplishments, he was 4-0 vs. Keyshawn Davis with the last win coming in the gold medal round of the Tokyo Olympics.

Cruz, 28, was expected to win as he pleased against his Mexican opponent, Bryan Zamarripa, and he did win all 10 rounds on all three scorecards, but in common with many great Cuban amateurs, he seemed to lack something in the power department. Zamarripa was 14-2 heading in.

Other Bouts of Note

In a 12-round welterweight contest that was devoid of drama, Uzbekistan native Shakhram Giyasov, an Olympic silver medalist who has lost precious few rounds as a pro, won a lopsided technical decision over well-recycled 34-year-old Mexican Pablo Cesar Cano.

Giyasov (15-0, 9 KOs) sent Cano (35-9-1) to the canvas in the third round with a body punch. At the end of round 11, as their feet were tangled, he pushed Cano to the canvas and the Mexican ostensibly suffered a broken ankle when he fell. That sent the bout to the scorecards where the decision (109-99 x3) was a formality. With the victory, Giyasov earned a shot at WBA belt-holder Eimantas Stanionis.

The 12-round bantamweight match between Antonio Vargas and Jonathan Rodriguez, two fighters of Puerto Rican descent, was framed as a WBA bantamweight title eliminator. Rodriguez, the underdog, floored Vargas in the opening stanza. He had scored a stunning first-round knockout of 27-1 Khalid Yafai in his previous start and it appeared that another upset was brewing. But the match quickly turned one-sided in favor of Vargas who put Rodriguez on the canvas in the very next frame (and had two points deducted for hitting him after the bell) and then put him down again at the end of round seven with a sweeping left hook after which Rodriguez’s corner properly pulled him out.

Vargas, a 2016 Olympian who had home field advantage in Florida, improved to 18-1 (10 KOs) and became the mandatory opponent for Takuma Inoue who won earlier today in Tokyo. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Rodriguez declined to 17-2-1.

The opening bout on the TV portion of the card was a 10-round flyweight affair that looked like a runaway for showboating Yankiel Rivera until gritty Andy Dominguez made things interesting.

Rivera, who improved to 5-0 (2), was Puerto Rico’s lone representative in the Tokyo Olympics. In Mexico-born Andy Dominguez, he was fighting a former three-time New York City Golden Gloves champion who was also unbeaten (10-0 heading in). Rivera dominated the match but was caught napping in round nine and Dominguez, although all busted-up, hurt him and almost put him down. That was most lopsided round of the fight, but also the only round that Dominguez won in the eyes of the judges.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Junto Nakatani Turns in Another Masterclass on Saturday’s Tripleheader in Tokyo

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In a rather odd juxtaposition, several of boxing’s best little men were on display today at Japan’s National Sumo Arena in Tokyo. The best of the lot, Junto Nakatani, improved to 27-0 (20 KOs) while tearing away the WBC world bantamweight title from Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (28-4-5) who was making the first defense of the title he won in Las Vegas in May when he upset Nonito Donaire.

It was a one-sided beatdown. Nakatani, who had a 5-inch height advantage, won every round before ending the contest in the sixth. The end came at the 1:12 mark when Nakatani terminated the affair with his second knockdown. The first came earlier in the round, the result of a straight left hand. The finisher was a big right hook.

With the victory, Nakatani became a world title-holder in a third weight class. He’s an outstanding talent, worthy of pound-for-pound consideration, and would be favored in a unification fight with Takuma Inoue.

Inoue, the younger brother of pound-for-pound king Naoya “Monster” Inoue, did his part to bring the match to fruition with a ninth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jerwin Ancajas in the main event. Inoue (19-1, 5 KOs) was making the first defense of the WBA diadem he won with a wide decision over Venezuela’s mildewed Liborio Solis. That title was conveniently vacated by Takuma’s renowned brother.

This figured to be the most competitive match on the card and Ancajas (34-4-2) had his moments before Inoue ended the contest at the 0:44 mark of round nine with a four-punch combination climaxed by a shot to the liver. Heading in, Ancajas, who had a long title reign at 115, was 9-2-1 in world title fights and hadn’t previously been stopped.

In the first of the three title fights, 29-year-old Kosei Tanaka became a four-weight belt-holder in record time with a unanimous decision over Mexicali’s stubborn but out-classed Christian Bacasegua “Rocky” Rangel. At stake was the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title.

Tanaka, who previously held belts at 105, 108, and 112, started slow but the outcome was never in doubt after he knocked “Rocky” to the canvas in the eighth frame. The judges had it 119-108, 117-110, and 116-111. With the victory, Tanaka improved to 20-1 (11). In his only defeat, he was stopped by countryman Kazuto Ioka. He hunkers for a rematch but, if it happens, he might wish that it hadn’t. Ioka is long in the tooth – he turns 35 next month – but is very good and shows no signs of slowing down. Rangel (22-5-2) had won nine straight heading in, but against questionable opposition and was making his first start outside Mexico.

The Teiken Promotions card was presented in association with Top Rank and aired in the U.S. on ESPN+.

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