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The Brutal Efficiency of Canelo Alvarez

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On Saturday night, November 6, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez scored an eleventh-round knockout over Caleb Plant at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas to secure the fourth and final belt in his quest to become the “undisputed” super-middleweight champion of the world.

Alvarez is widely regarded as the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world and boxing’s brightest star. Three months ago, SportsPro (a London-based company) released a study that listed him as the fourth “most marketable athlete in the world” (behind Simone Biles, Naomi Asaka, and Ashlyn Harris). The next-highest-ranked boxer was Anthony Joshua at #75. The study was keyed to social media metrics. Canelo has close to 18 million followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok and, according to SportPro, has generated more than 578 million impressions on these platforms.

In reality, the list is an indication of potential rather than true marketing power. For example, in 2020, SportPro named Ryan Garcia as the twelfth “most marketable athlete in the world.” LeBron James is now designated as #24. Most people would rather have LeBron’s marketing income than Garcia’s.

Canelo, now 31, turned pro at age 15 and has improved steadily throughout his career. He entered the ring to face Plant with a 56-1-2 (38 KOs) record, the sole loss coming against Floyd Mayweather eight years ago.

“I didn’t have the experience, the maturity,” Canelo said earlier this year about that fight. “I wasn’t the boxer I am today. Very different. That moment hurt a lot. But at that moment, I got to thinking, I’m not going to let this kill my dreams. Someday, I’m going to be the best boxer in the world. And now I am.”

One might add that, at age 15, Canelo was held to a draw by a fighter named Jorge Juarez (who finished his career with an 8-27-3 record). Only an idiot would suggest that this “blemish” on Canelo’s record diminishes his accomplishments as a fighter. The same is true of the loss to Mayweather.

Plant, age 29, came into the Canelo fight with a 21-0 (12 KOs) record and the IBF 168-pound belt around his waist. He has a compelling backstory focused on a hardscrabble upbringing in Ashland, Tennessee, and tells it with great drama.

Canelo wanted Plant’s belt. He’d won his first 168-pound title (WBA) against Rocky Fielding in 2018 and added the WBC and WBO straps against Callum Smith (2020) and Billy Joe Saunders (2021). Becoming a unified champion appealed to him.

When Canelo-Plant was first announced, it was undetermined which network would host the pay-per-view telecast. Canelo had fought his most recent six fights on DAZN with Golden Boy and Matchroom as his promoters. This would be a Premier Boxing Champions card, which meant that Fox or Showtime would handle the pay-per-view and DAZN would be out in the cold.

Most boxing observers expected that Fox would get the nod (as it had with previous Premier Boxing Champions offerings like Fury-Wilder II and III, Pacquiao-Thurman, Pacquiao-Ugas, and Errol Spence’s forays against Mikey Garcia, Danny Garcia, and Shawn Porter). But Showtime sent a “don’t-take-us-for-granted” message to PBC impresario Al Haymon when it went into the Jake Paul business earlier this year, and Canelo-Plant wound up on Showtime Pay-Per-View.

Asked how he felt about changing promoters and networks, Canelo answered, “I just want to fight with everybody and have relationships with all the promoters and do the best fights out there. If I need to fight [on] Showtime with PBC, I’m good. If I need to fight [on] DAZN with Eddie Hearn, I’m good. I’m good with everyone, having a relationship with everybody.”

That made sense. But there was one misstep that Canelo’s team seemed to make in the negotiations for Canelo-Plant. And they’d made it before.

Plant’s purse for fighting Canelo was reported to be $10 million. That number was negotiated in significant measure as a consequence of the purses believed to have been paid to Canelo’s most recent five opponents – Danny Jacobs ($12 million), Sergey Kovalev ($12 million), Callum Smith ($6 million), Avni Yildirim ($2.5 million), and Billy Joe Saunders ($8 million).

This is an area where Floyd Mayweather got it right. There came a time when Mayweather told the world that the belts were largely irrelevant. People were paying to see Floyd Mayweather. If a fighter wanted to fight Floyd, he stood in line and accepted a purse (generally between $1 million and $3 million) that left the lion’s share and more for Floyd.

Canelo’s most recent fight (against Saunders) drew 66,065 paying fans to AT&T Stadium in Texas. There were also 989 complimentary tickets that night for a total attendance of 67,054. Plant’s most recent fight was against Caleb Truax at the Shrine Exposition Center in Los Angeles. Prior to that, he’d fought Vincent Feigenbutz at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. One might also note that Canelo’s two fights against Gennady Golovkin in Las Vegas generated a combined live gate in excess of $51 million.

It has been widely reported that PBC guaranteed Canelo “nearly $40 million” to fight Plant (which was in line with previous guarantees to Canelo for his fights on DAZN). There’s a school of thought that Canelo should be concerned with what he makes, not his opponents’ purses. Still, $10 million for Plant seemed excessive. Had Caleb beaten Canelo, he might have become a $10 million fighter. He wasn’t before they fought and he isn’t now.

The promotion moved into high gear at the September 21 kick-off press conference in Los Angeles. Plant was introduced first and stood on stage facing the audience. Canelo came out next, stood beside Plant, and made a point of not standing in Caleb’s space. Both men were wearing sun glasses. As pre-arranged, they then turned to face each other. Canelo took his glasses off. Plant moved into Canelo’s space, put his hands behind his back, and started jawing. Canelo responded. Plant said something Canelo didn’t like. Canelo gave Plant a two handed shove to the chest, pushing him back. Plant came forward, slapped at Canelo with his left hand, and missed. Canelo countered with a quick jab that jammed Plant’s sunglasses into Caleb’s cheek beneath his right eye and drew blood followed by a slapping right hand.

What caused the blow-up?

Plant later said that it happened “because he’s a bitch.”

Canelo said Plant suggested that Canelo had sexual intercourse with his own mother and noted, “He can say whatever he wants to me but not to my mom. And he swing first. I just push him, but he swing first. Then I do what I do.”

Meanwhile, when it was Plant’s turn to speak, he took the microphone and accused Canelo of being a “cheater.”

In February 2018, urine samples taken from Canelo by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) had tested positive for clenbuterol, a banned substance. Canelo denied wrongdoing, and the amount of the drug in his system was consistent with the inadvertent ingestion of tainted beef. But a boxer is responsible for what goes into his body. Canelo agreed to a six-month suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission and paid $50,000 out of his own pocket for year-round VADA testing. There was no admission of wrongdoing on his part. But there was an acknowledgment that clenbuterol had been present in his system. Since then, Canelo has been tested more thoroughly by VADA than any boxer ever, always without complaint and never with an adverse test result.

“Did he get suspended for six months?” Plant asked rhetorically at the kick-off press conference. “Did he test positive? It’s not a ‘well, he said he is’ and ‘he said he ain’t.’ It’s not up for discussion. It’s not what I say. It’s what the commission said. It’s what the banned substance list said. I don’t want this to be in our sport. There’s no room for that in our sport. And you know, he got suspended for six months. So it is what it is. He’s a cheater.”

When it was Canelo’s turn to speak, he looked directly at Plant and said in English, “I just want to say something. You are not on my level. And you will see November 6. You don’t want to find out. I promise you. Thank you, everybody. I see you November 6. You know what I do.”

PBC wisely skipped the ritual, post-press-conference staredown. But thereafter, it sent out promotional material referencing the press conference itself as “epic” (presumably because of the altercation). “Epic” is a word that, in boxing circles, was once reserved for actual fights like Ali-Frazier III in Manila.

Plant was more measured than PBC in characterizing the physical confrontation between the two fighters. “It’s boxing,” he said. “How many times has that happened before us? How many times is that gonna happen after us? People make such a big deal out of that because it’s a headline and a way for you guys to promote whatever videos you all are making or whatever for the fight. But it’s just like, he pushed me; I got one on him; he got one on me; and that was it. I’ve been in worse scuffles than that. So, what’s the big deal, really?”

Title unification was the marketing message during fight week.

“Only five male fighters in the history of boxing have accomplished becoming undisputed champion,” Canelo said. “I want to be the sixth.”

Canelo’s big wins had come against Miguel Cotto, Gennady Golovkin, Danny Jacobs, Sergey Kovalev, and Billy Joe Saunders. Plant’s big wins had been against Jose Uzcategui, Mike Lee, Vincent Feigenbutz, and Caleb Truax. With that as background, Canelo opened as a 7-to-1 betting favorite and the odds moved slightly higher during fight week.

Plant voiced optimism throughout the proceedings:

*         “I know that people don’t believe me when I tell them I’m winning on November 6. All those people who tell me that I can’t do something, you live believable lives and you do believable things. I promised myself that I was going to run this all the way to the top with no problem crashing and burning along the way. I set out to live an unbelievable life and accomplish unbelievable things. The people who doubt me are the reason that I’m here.”

*         “I can’t focus on what other people say about me. If I listened to the doubters, I wouldn’t even be here. People are going to say what they’re going to say. But I get the final say, and I can’t wait to prove everything in the ring.”

*         “The moment isn’t going to be too big for me. The closer we get, the smaller the moment feels.”

Meanwhile, Canelo predicted that Plant wouldn’t last eight rounds and said, “I respect his skills. He’s a good boxer. He boxes well. He’s got a good fast jab, good combinations. He’s tall, and it’s going to be rough in the early rounds. It’s not an easy fight. But I have the skills and I have the experience of being with fighters of all kinds of styles in the ring. I’m very confident that I can do it. Not confident in a bad way; just confident in what I know and what I can do. As the fight progresses, I am going to be able to get him out of there.”

Still, this wasn’t a computer game. Nothing in boxing is preordained. A fighter has to prove himself anew every time he enters the ring. And Canelo knew that.

Now a confession. I didn’t watch the fight live. I’m a big Canelo Alvarez fan. But I don’t like boxing’s pay-per-view model. And with Anthony Dirrell vs. Marcos Hernandez (who now has two wins in his last seven fights) as the chief supporting bout, I decided I’d track Canelo-Plant through online reports and watch it on YouTube afterward rather than spend $79.99 to see it in real time.

At 11:30 PM eastern time, I went online to Boxing Scene to see where things stood. Dirrell had knocked out Hernandez shortly after 11:00 PM. Most likely, it would be a while before Canelo-Plant started. I checked back at 11:50. There was still no indication that the fight had begun. I turned to ESPN.com and read that the ringwalks were underway.

Back to Boxing Scene. Keith Idec scored round one for Plant and gave rounds two, three, and four to Canelo. ESPN was lagging behind on its scorecard but offered several sentences of commentary for each round that it scored.

At the end of eight rounds, Boxing Scene and ESPN each had Canelo ahead 78-74 . . . Then, at 12:39 AM, Boxing Scene reported, “Canelo drops Plant with hard punches in eleventh and then finished him off with another series of big shots to knock Plant down and out with the fight being waved off by the referee.”

 

Several minutes later, I saw the knockout on YouTube. On Sunday, I watched the entire fight on one of several YouTube postings.

Coming into the bout, Plant had seemed to think that his skills were sufficient that he could will himself to victory. But that was a false hope.

Canelo has a will of iron too. And he’s a professional. He always comes into fights in shape. He’s a superb boxer, seamlessly blending defense with offense. He has a great chin. And now he has “man strength.”

Canelo has carried his power with him – and then some – while moving up in weight. He carries his power late in fights. And trainer Eddy Reynoso brings out the best in him

 For most of Canelo-Plant, Canelo was stalking with Caleb in retreat. Plant tried to survive and score points when he could. But he was overmatched. Plan A wasn’t working for Caleb, and there was no Plan B. Canelo was quicker. Canelo hit harder. Canelo’s arsenal was more varied. Canelo took his time. He was disciplined and patient. As the fight wore on, his body work took a toll. Ultimately, he beat Plant into submission.

The end came in round eleven. A left hook followed by a brutal right uppercut (the most damaging blow in the sequence) and another left hook as Plant was sagging occasioned the first knockdown of Caleb’s career. He stopped his fall by thrusting both gloves against the canvas and rose up.

“Do you want to fight?” referee Russell Mora asked.

“Yeah,” Plant answered.

Caleb said it like he meant it. But he had nothing left. Canelo chased him around the ring, pinned him against the ropes, and knocked him down again with three crushing right hands – two up top and the third to the body as Plant was falling.

It was over.

After the fight, the fighters exchanged words of respect in the ring. Then Plant was taken to University Medical Center for observation. As of this writing, he has not commented publicly on his defeat.

As for what comes next, Canelo says that, after four fights in eleven months, his body needs rest. Most likely, he’ll return to the ring on May 7, 2022 (Cinco de Mayo weekend).

Meanwhile, boxing fans have heard a lot in recent years about how Mexican fans have been slow to embrace Canelo in comparison with Julio Cesar Chavez. Sometimes one needs distance to judge the full measure of greatness. Looking back over the past decade, it’s clear that Canelo has established himself as a great fighter. The Mexican people should be proud of him.

Indeed, Canelo might be the greatest fighter to ever come out of Mexico. But when asked to compare himself with other Mexican ring greats, he says simply, “I’m doing my history. Other fighters do their history. I don’t want to compare myself to other fighters. I do things for myself, my history. The goal is to be an all-time great.”

He has already reached that goal. The question now is, “How much better will he get?”

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Thomas Hauser is the author of 52 books. In 2005, he was honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America, which bestowed the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism upon him. He was the first Internet writer ever to receive that award. In 2019, Hauser was chosen for boxing's highest honor: induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Lennox Lewis has observed, “A hundred years from now, if people want to learn about boxing in this era, they’ll read Thomas Hauser.”

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Gay Talese, an Icon of the ‘New Journalism,’ Wrote Extensively About Boxing

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Rejected by every college and university he applied to except one, Gay Talese is one of the most celebrated and decorated American writers over the last seven decades.

Beginning at Ocean City High in New Jersey where he wrote for the student newspaper and later the Ocean City Sentinel-Ledger, Talese, 92, went to the University of Alabama where he worked on the student newspaper, the Crimson White, and after a stint in the Army, wrote for The New York Times, Esquire, The New Yorker and numerous magazines.

Not wasting time, Talese has published more than a dozen books, including “The Kingdom And The Power” (1969), “Honor Thy Father,” (1971), “Thy Neighbor’s Wife” (1980), “Unto The Sons,” (1992) and “A Writer’s Life,” (2006).

Talese, who earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism, wrote what many consider the finest magazine profile ever published, his magnum opus for the April 1966 issue of Esquire, titled “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold,” which the magazine proclaimed its greatest feature during the magazine’s 70th anniversary.

In July 1966 and for the same publication, Talese wrote another classic, “The Silent Season Of A Hero,” about New York Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio in retirement.

Talese’s interests are many and so are his subjects, including profiles of three boxing luminaries, Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Floyd Patterson.

To say Talese writes with a light touch and a careful eye to detail is an understatement and his penchant for listening and simply hanging around have served him well and brought his subjects to life in what became known as New Journalism. (Practitioners of the New Journalism adapted the writing techniques of the novel to non-fiction storytelling, often immersing themselves in the narrative. Famous writers identified with the genre include Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, and Talese.)

In one of Talese’s most enduring boxing features, he shined the light on Ali. It ran in the September 1996 issue of Esquire, slightly less than two decades before Ali’s passing in June 2016 at age 74.

The title is “Ali In Havana,” and it captured the essence and luminosity of the three-time heavyweight champion after the lights dimmed.

This section by Talese comes early in the piece: “Although Muhammad Ali is now fifty-four and has been retired from boxing for more than fifteen years, he is still one of the most famous men in the world, being identifiable throughout five continents. As he walks through the lobby of the Hotel Nacional toward the bus, wearing a gray sharkskin suit and a white cotton shirt buttoned at the neck without a tie, several guests approach him and request his autograph. It takes him about thirty seconds to write ‘Muhammad Ali,’ so shaky are his hands from the effects of Parkinson’s syndrome; and though he walks without support, his movements are quite slow, and Howard Bingham and Ali’s fourth wife, Yolanda, are following nearby.”

Talese adds a short while later: “On the bus, as always, Ali is sitting alone, spread out across the two front seats in the left aisle directly behind the Cuban driver. Yolanda sits a few feet ahead of him to the right; she is adjacent to the driver and within inches of the windshield. The seats behind her are occupied by Teofilo Stevenson, Fraymari [Stevenson’s wife], and the photographer Bingham. Seated behind Ali, and also occupying two seats, is an American screenwriter named Greg Howard, who weighs more than 300 pounds. Although he has traveled with Ali for only a few months while researching a film on the fighter’s life, Greg Howard has firmly established himself as an intimate sidekick, and as such is among the very few on the trip who have heard Ali’s voice. Ali speaks so softly that it is impossible to hear him in a crowd, and as a result whatever public comments or sentiments he is expected to, or chooses to, express are verbalized by Yolanda, or Bingham, or Teofilo Stevenson, or even at times by this stout young screenwriter.”

Talese slides this nugget into the feature:

“Stevenson did not actually explain that it had been merely another photo opportunity, one in which they sparred open-handed in the ring, wearing their street clothes and barely touching each other’s bodies and faces; but then Stevenson had climbed out of the ring, leaving Ali to the more taxing test of withstanding two abbreviated rounds against one and then another young bully of grade-school age who clearly had not come to participate in a kiddie show. They had come to floor the champ. Their bellicose little bodies and hot-gloved hands and helmeted hell-bent heads were consumed with fury and ambition; and as they charged ahead, swinging wildly and swaggering to the roars of their teenaged friends and relatives at ringside, one could imagine their future boastings to their grandchildren: On one fine day back in the winter of ’96, I whacked Muhammad Ali. Except, in truth, on this particular day, Ali was still too fast for them. He backpedaled and shifted and swayed, stood on the toes of his black woven-leather pointed shoes, and showed that his body was made for motion – his Parkinson’s problems were lost in his shuffle, in the thrusts of his butterfly sting what whistled two feet above the heads of his aspiring assailants, in the dazzling dips of his rope-a-dope that had confounded George Foreman in Zaire, in his ever-memorable style, which in this Cuban gym moistened the eyes of his ever-observant photographer friend and provided the overweight screenwriter to cry out in a voice that few in this noisy Spanish crowd could understand, ‘Ali’s on a high! Ali’s on a high!’ ”

Talese penned a touching and poignant portrait of Louis, the “Brown Bomber” in the June 1962 issue of Esquire. The title is “Joe Louis: The King As A Middle-Aged Man.”

Early in the profile, Talese wrote this of the beloved former champion: “Though his tax difficulties have eradicated all his assets – including two trust funds he had set up for his children – Joe Louis is still a man of great pride. He refused the money that hundreds of citizens sent him to help with his government debt, although he still owes the government thousands and could have used the cash. Last year Joe Louis earned less than $10,000, most of it from refereeing wrestling matches (he earns between $750 to $1,000 a night), and from endorsements or appearances. The last big money he made was the $100,000-a-year guarantee he got in 1956 for wrestling. He won all his matches – except those in which he was disqualified for using his fists – but his career ended not long afterward when the 300-pound cowboy Rocky Lee accidentally stepped on Louis’s chest one night, cracked one of his ribs, and damaged some of his heart muscles.”

A little later in the feature, Talese penned this: “And on and on it went, as Louis walked down Broadway: Cab drivers waved at him, bus drivers honked at him, and dozens of men stopped him and recalled how they once traveled 130 miles to get to one of his fights, and how they’d put their heads down to light a cigarette in the first round, then before they could look up, Louis had flattened his opponent and they had missed everything: or how they’d had guests at the house that night to hear the fight, and while they were struggling in the kitchen to get the ice out, somebody came in from the living room and said, ‘It’s all over! Louis knocked ‘im out with the first punch.’ “

In the March 1964 issue of Esquire, Talese, who wrote thirty-seven stories on Patterson, the onetime youngest heavyweight king, authored a gem titled, “The Loser.”

Midway through the feature, Talese wrote, “One hour later Floyd Patterson was jogging his way back down the dirt path toward the white house, the towel over his head absorbing the sweat from his brow. He lives alone in a two-room apartment in the rear of the house and has remained there in almost complete seclusion since getting knocked out a second time by Sonny Liston.

In the smaller room is a large bed he makes up himself, several record albums he rarely plays, a telephone that seldom rings. The larger room has a kitchen on one side and, on the other, adjacent to a sofa, is a fireplace from which are hung boxing trunks and T-shirts to dry, and a photograph of him when he was the champion, and also a television set. The set is usually on except when Patterson is sleeping, or when he is sparring across the road inside the clubhouse (the ring is rigged over what was once the dance floor), or when, in a rare moment of painful honesty, he reveals to a visitor what it is like to be a loser.”

A short while later, Talese adds: “Now, walking slowly around the room, his black silk robe over his sweat clothes, Patterson said, ‘You must wonder what makes a man do things like this. Well, I wonder too. And the answer is, I don’t know … but I think that within me, within every human being, there is a certain weakness. It is a weakness that exposes itself more when you’re alone. And I have figured out that part of the reason I do the things I do, and cannot seem to conquer that one word – myself – is because … is because … I am a coward.’ He stopped. He stood very still in the middle of the room, thinking about what he had just said, probably wondering whether he should have said it.”

In all three features, Talese steers clear of mythologizing and allows the reader to decide the merit and quality of each man.

They were all supremely gifted in the ring, but each had their foibles and flaws outside the squared circle. That is, they, like everyone, were merely human.

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Zhilei Zhang and Deontay Wilder Meet at the Final Crossroads

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Six feet six inches and 290lbs are our favourite statistics when it comes to Big Bang Zhang, out of Zhoukou, China. Here are two more: he’s forty-one years old and he has lost two of his last four, including a woeful shortfall against a rejuvenated Joseph Parker in the Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, in March.

Kingdom Arena, Riyadh is the site too of his next fight this weekend against Deontay Wilder as a major part of the Five vs Five card Matchroom and Queensberry promotions have developed. Our favourite Wilder stat: forty-three wins, forty-two knockouts. More pertinent though are his record for the 2020s, which stands at 1-3, and his thirty-eight years of age.

This is not just a crossroads fight; it is the place where someone finds out they’re no longer on the list to receive the riches of Riyadh – when someone finds out their time on the island of relevancy is over. It is impossible to imagine Wilder remaining a part of the title picture after posting his fourth loss in five matches in his thirty-eighth year; it is impossible, too, to imagine Zhang remaining a problem anyone on the world scene needs if he loses his third fight in five with his forty-second birthday in sight. For someone, the dance will be over this Saturday night – but who?

In trying to determine what Deontay Wilder has left, the most important statistic of all is 12-0. That was what my scorecard read after the twelve humiliating rounds Wilder posted against Joseph Parker last December. Wilder entered the ring dry and tight, and I expected him to move into the contest as he warmed up and loosened up, but the pattern of the fight did not change. A word here for Parker, a gentleman despite the questionable friendships he keeps: his boxing was excellent. Asked about Wilder’s performance afterwards he said that he felt that “inactivity has played a part” but that “sticking to the plan Andy Lee laid out” got him there. All of this sounds right to me. Parker was extremely disciplined and it was exactly what was required. He feinted Wilder with his left and sought the right hand, arraying himself against his foe’s greatest weakness, his balance. An ill-balanced fighter, Wilder was kept under disorganised control by a sparse but disciplined offence.

With that important point out of the way, we need to return to Wilder’s absolute inability to change the pattern of the fight. I do not think he won a single minute of a single round, he was as conclusively beaten by Parker as it is possible for a fighter to be on points, although it should be noted that two judges were generous enough to find two rounds for him (the third saw it as I did). Competence was the word that most expresses what undid him – competence in footwork, diligence in offence.  Wilder looked, at times, a novice before Parker’s double-jab, travelling all the way to the ropes to escape a much shorter punch. His own jab, of course, was compromised by his gunslinger’s stance. Wilder often throws the punch from low down, lengthening the time the punch is in the air, shortening the required reaction time of the opponent. Parker was unamused by this punch, parrying it off his gloves or slipping outside the range – Wilder found himself falling over his front foot when what he wanted was to be on his back foot and the panic a miss could induce in him was apparent by the fourth, impeding his organisation still further. Wilder spent so much time leaning away, shuffling back, his offence was banished.

Allowing that the best answer is “a little of both” we must ask whether this was something that Parker did to Wilder or something that Wilder did to himself – or worse, is this who Wilder is now?

Wilder’s excuses for his awful performance against Parker were varied; some days it was the long flight to Riyadh; sometimes it was the improper use of a cryo-chamber. These are far from the strangest excuses that Wilder has produced for a loss, as Sweet Science readers well know. His more recent public musings have seemed even more cryptic, including an apparent obsession with his own death, not always entirely negative in the sense that he is curious about the afterlife, but still an interesting train of thought for an elite athlete. Through the gaps in the stream of consciousness though comes the things we want to hear. “The flame, the fire, has been relit inside of me. I fell out of love with boxing but I’m in love with it again…I went back to being a student of the game.”

More, Wilder always lost rounds – against the last southpaw opponent he met, Luis Ortiz, he lost almost every round he did not score a knockdown in, but this lack of ring generalship is counterbalanced by his overwhelming power. He never landed that shot on Parker because Parker, with the help of coach Andy Lee, decoded him.  Wilder has clearly slipped, but it may be his general lack of form and balance, though savagely exposed on this occasion, means he is still a good chunk of what he used to be – and just because Parker decoded him, doesn’t mean Zhang can.

Zhang looked lethal decoding his own Waterloo in smashing Joe Joyce to pieces twice. Slow-moving, big punching, and apparently lacking all survival instincts against a big-hitting southpaw, Joyce was perfect for Zhang, but the Chinese looked wonderful getting the big Brit out of there. Zhang, too, was badly exposed against Joseph Parker, but their fight was not nearly so one-sided. In fact, Zhang swept Parker in the early rounds, culminating in a third-round knockdown that put him firmly in charge of the fight. Zhang’s enormity was a part of the equation. He forced Parker out of ring centre (which Parker dominated against Wilder) simply by existing. Zhang two-stepped to the outside to land single shots while Parker struggled a bit with his backfoot range. Andy Lee noticed this and his advice to Parker after round two, felt, at the time, inadequate but he was quite correct: “He’s gonna slow, and slow, and slow.”

A Scene from Zhang vs Parker

A Scene-from-Zhang-vs-Parker

What Lee recognised was Zhang’s stamina issue would be the definitive factor in the fight, in combination, of course, with Parker’s own excellent engine. The later the fight goes, the more Zhang feels those 270-290lbs. The disaster that was the second half of his fight against Jermaine Franklin victim Jerry Forrest is most illustrative of this. I thought Zhang was lucky to get away with a draw in that fight and he dropped every one of the final five rounds for me. Stories abound that Zhang’s kidneys went into failure in that fight, some claim, and one that has never been verified. Big Bang now apparently consumes two gallons of water every day. How then, to explain his second half collapse against Filip Hrgovic?  Zhang did well through the early part of that fight but dropped a razor-thin decision after losing five of the final six on my card. Parker, though, seems the final proof of Zhang’s greatest weakness – dropped in the third, Parker came over his front foot in the fourth, showed head movement, and suddenly had a tiring Zhang circling. Brave, committed, Parker is all of that and Zhang did not like it in the late parts of the fight. He won eighth with another bomb, but apart from that he won not a single round on my card post the third. Zhang is a molasses in elite terms in the championship rounds. He seems to have no strategy to win rounds late against world-class opposition; rather he plods, and waits for the 180 seconds to pass, relying upon his size and chin to keep him out of serious trouble.

What a wonderful mesh this produces for the massive confrontation between Zhang and Wilder this Saturday night. Early, Zhang’s naturalised pressure will make a reluctant Wilder uncertain about throwing as Zhang does his best work. As the rounds grind by, Zhang will start to blow and the opportunity for Wilder to take over will present itself. Here, we will really find out what it is that Wilder has left. A handful of punches is enough to win rounds against Zhang in the second half of the fight, and I mean that literally. But Wilder threw fewer than fifteen punches per round in five of the twelve rounds he boxed against Parker, an incredible absence of activity – and he lands a low percentage anyway much of the time. He was essentially in hiding against Parker – Zhang hits harder and is more menacing generally. Does Wilder really have “the fire” back in his belly, and has he really fallen in love with boxing once again? If so, still the division’s best puncher, he will have no problems landing late on ranked heavyweight boxing’s juiciest target. If not, we could witness some of the dullest rounds boxing can deliver, a gun-shy former predator doing his best to avoid contact with a blown forty-one year old.

In boxing though, the round is always scored to someone. The prediction here is difficult because it is about how the two fighter’s malfunctions will intertwine, not their strengths. The bookies, rarely wrong, have made Zhang the favourite and that makes the most sense – his performance against Parker was less abhorrent than Wilder’s. But were Zhang’s struggles perhaps more fundamental? I think that even the Wilder we saw against Parker would have got moving against the iceberg that is late-fight Zhang and he still carries bazookas. It is not lost on me that Wilder’s busiest rounds against Parker were late in the fight when he came alive to the disaster that was unfolding. Wilder still has enough pride to be desperate whereas Zhang will find himself too exhausted for his desperation to matter.

Untidy, ugly, wildly entertaining rounds may be the fight fan’s reward for sticking with the turgid middle part of this crossroads combat.

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Christian Mbilli has the Wow Factor: Dismisses Mark Heffron in 40 Seconds

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Christian Mbilli has the Wow Factor: Dismisses Mark Heffron in 40 Seconds

The Gervais Auto Center in Shawinigan, Quebec, Canada, roughly 100 miles south of Montreal, hosted tonight’s card on ESPN+, a co-promotion of Camille Estephan’s Eye of the Tiger Promotions and Bob Arum’s Top Rank. Arum wasn’t there; he was in Leeds, England, but the outcome would have mitigated his aggravation at seeing his fighter Josh Taylor fall short earlier in the day.

Super middleweight Christian Mbilli, of whom Arum owns a piece, needed only 40 seconds to conquer British import Mark Heffron who, on paper, was a very credible opponent. Mbilli backed Heffron into the ropes and collapsed him with a left hook that landed under his rib cage. Heffron, 30-3-1 heading in with 24 KOs, went down on all fours and was counted out. The contest was over almost before it began.

The Cameroon-born Mbilli, a 2016 Olympian for France who turned pro in Montreal, is ranked #2 by the WBC and WBA; #3 by the IBF and WBO. With the victory, he advanced his record to 27-0 (23 KOs). His next fight will reportedly come in August with rugged but battle-blistered Sergiy Derevyanchenko in the opposite corner. Mbilli has been chasing a fight with Canelo Alvarez, but has scant chance of landing it. At this juncture of his career, the red-headed Mexican undoubtedly wants less daunting assignments.

Co-Feature

Arslanbek Makhmudov, the Russian Lion, rebounded from his poor performance against Agit Kabayel with a second-round stoppage of sacrificial lamb Milan Rovcanin. Makhmudov (19-1, 18 KOs) knocked Rovcanin to the canvas with an overhand right in the opening round. The punch knocked Rovcanin sideways, his head resting on the ring apron. To Rovcanin’s credit, he beat the count and launched a futile offensive after he arose. A similar punch ended the brief bout at the 2:32 mark of the next frame.

Makhmudov is certainly heavy-handed, but he moves at a glacial pace and would be up-against-it against a world-class opponent with faster hands and better footwork. Rovcanin, who had  been feasting on fourth-raters in his native Serbia, declined to 27-4.

Other Bouts of Note

In a bout contested at the catch-weight of 178 pounds, Montreal-based Mehmet Unal, a 31-year-old former Olympian for Turkey, scored the best win of his career with a fourth-round stoppage of 34-year-old Laredo, Texas campaigner Rodolfo Gomez.

Gomez, routinely matched tough and better than his record (14-7-3 heading in), protested loudly when the referee waived it off, but his corner stood poised to throw in the towel. He hadn’t previously been stopped, let alone knocked off his feet. Unal improved to 10-0 (8 KOs).

Super middleweight Mereno Fendero, a 24-year old French Army veteran, improved to 6-0 (4) with a six-round decision over 38-year-old Argentine journeyman Rolando Mansilla (19-15-1). Fendero won every round on all three cards including a 10-8 round on one of the cards although there were no knockdowns. Although badly out-classed, the teak-tough Mansilla, a glutton for punishment, earned his pay.

Local prospect Alexandre Gaumont, a middleweight, improved to 11-0 (7) with an unpopular 8-round split decision over Argentina’s Santiago Fernandez (8-1-1). Two of the judges gave Gaumont six rounds, ridiculed as home town bias, with the other awarding five rounds to the Argentine who received a loud ovation as he left the ring.

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