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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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Weekend Boxing Recap: Okolie in Manchester, Ramirez in Fresno and More

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The media room at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas was as underpopulated as North Dakota this weekend. Only a handful of America’s A-list boxing writers attended the Benavidez-Plant card. Prominent wordsmiths like Kevin Iole, Mike Coppinger, and Dan Rafael were nowhere to be found.

Inside the boxing arena, however, the joint was full. One guesses that the Grand Garden was configured to hold 13,865 as that was the announced attendance and there didn’t appear to be an empty seat in the house. And the attendees arrived earlier than was the norm for a major Las Vegas fight card. The high rollers that arrive fashionably late (if there were any) were vastly out-numbered by true boxing fans, primarily Mexican-American on this particular occasion, who left the show in good spirits after Arizona-born David Benavidez, the self-styled Mexican Monster, manhandled brave but out-gunned Caleb Plant.

There were notable fights elsewhere on Saturday. Across the pond in Manchester, England, Lawrence Okolie, widely regarded as the sport’s best cruiserweight, won a lopsided decision over Australia’s David Light, advancing his record to 19-0 while successfully defending his WBO world title belt.

Okolie (pictured) was making his first start in 13 months. In the interim, he ditched his promoter Eddie Hearn in favor of Ben Shalom and ditched his trainer Shane McGuigan in favor of SugarHill Steward.

He and McGuigan appeared to be a great fit. With McGuigan in his corner, he was 7-0 with six wins inside the distance. His initial foray under Steward was a dull fight reminiscent of some of Okolie’s early efforts. He had a point deducted for excessive clinching but it was a moot point as Okolie breezed, winning by scores of 119-108, 117-110, and 116-112. Light was 20-0 heading in, but was sorely outclassed.

By all accounts, the Okolie-McGuigan divorce was an amicable split. Okolie trained for this bout in Miami and McGuigan had too much on his plate to accompany Okolie to the Sunshine State.

Okolie appears headed toward a domestic showdown with fellow Londoner Richard Riakporhe who is also unbeaten (16-0, 12 KOs). Physically, these two late-bloomers, both of whom stand six-foot-five, are virtual clones. A bigger fight for him would be a match with IBF belt-holder Jai Opetaia, the lineal cruiserweight champion, who is still recovering from the two broken jaws he suffered while de-throning long-reigning 200-pound champion Maris Briedis in a fight that will live long in Australian boxing lore.

The Okolie-Light undercard was cheesy including a BBBofC super featherweight title fight between Michael Gomez Jr and Levi Giles, two fighters who built their records on the backs of professional losers. Gomez won a split decision. Also, 31-year-old heavyweight Frazer Clarke, a bronze medalist in the Tokyo Olympics, improved to 6-0 (5) at the expense of Romania’s Bogdan Dinu, a late sub who performed about as expected, retiring on his stool after two rounds.

Fresno

The Benavidez-Plant card went head-to-head with a Top Rank show in Fresno featuring local fan favorite Jose Carlos Ramirez. It was the second fight back for Ramirez after losing a close decision to Josh Taylor with all four 140-pound belts on the line and his first fight in 13 months. In the opposite corner was former world lightweight titlist Richard Commey, a 36-year-old Ghanaian.

Ramirez came out like gangbusters and hurt Commey in the opening minute. But Commey survived the onslaught and came back to win some of the middle rounds. In round 11, Ramirez closed the show. After decking Commey with a right hand that didn’t appear to be particularly hurtful, he delivered a vicious left hook to the liver and Commey was counted out while taking a knee.

fresno

Ramirez improved to 28-1 with his 18th knockout. His promoter Bob Arum is expected to rekindle negotiations with Regis Prograis who won the vacant WBC 140-pound diadem in November with an 11th round stoppage of Jose Zepeda. Commey (30-5-1) has lost three of his last five.

In the co-feature, East LA’s Seniesa Estrada picked up a second world title belt at 105 pounds with a lopsided decision over Germany’s previously undefeated Tina Rupprecht.  Estrada (24-0, 9 KOs) won all 10 rounds on all three cards which was misleading as many of the rounds were close.

(The victory opens the door to a true unification fight with Costa Rica’s Yokasta Valle who has won 15 straight since losing a decision to Rupprecht in Munich in 2018. Valle was also in action on Saturday night. At a beach resort hotel in Guanacaste, Valle successfully defended her titles with a wide decision over Mexican invader Jessica Basulto.)

In another bout of note on the Fresno card, SoCal lightweight Raymond Muratalla (17-0, 14 KOs) overcame adversity to score a ninth-round stoppage over Tijuana’s Humberto Galindo (14-3-1).

Galindo caught Muratalla against the ropes in the opening round and put him down with a left-right combination. Muratalla returned the favor three rounds later and ended the contest in round nine with a series of punches which deposited Galindo on the deck where he stayed for the 10-count.

According to Jake Donovan, Top Rank plans to pit Muratalla against Namibia’s Jeremiah Nakathila on the Lomachenko-Haney card tentatively scheduled for May 20 in Las Vegas. Nakathila upset Miguel Berchelt in his last outing, dominating the former super featherweight title-holder en route to a sixth-round stoppage.

Also

Two 10-round preliminaries preceded Saturday’s SHOWTIME pay-per-view at the MGM Grand. Both contests played out in a similar fashion.

In a super bantamweight contest, Culiacan, Mexico’s Kevin Gonzalez stayed unbeaten with a clear-cut unanimous decision over Colombia’s Jose Sanmartin. The judges had it 99-91, 98-92, and 97-93.

Gonzalez, who advanced to 26-0-1, fought mostly in flurries but worked the body well and landed the cleaner punches. It was the U.S. debut for Sanmartin (34-7-1) who had been in with the likes of Emanuel Navarrete and Mauricio Lara.

In the lid-lifter, Orestes Valasquez, a 29-year-old Cuban defector who has been training in Las Vegas under Ismael Salas, stepped up in class and won a 10-round unanimous decision over Argentina’s Marcelino Lopez. The judges had it 97-93 and 99-91 twice.

A 16-year pro, Lopez brought a 37-2-1 record. His signature win was a second-round blowout of former world title-holder Pablo Cesar Cano. Valasquez was extended the distance for the first time after opening his pro career with six wins by stoppage.

Ramirez-Commey photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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David Benavidez Starts Slow but Finishes Strong, Overcomes Caleb Plant

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LAS VEGAS-David “The Mexican Monster” Benavidez proved too strong and simply overpowered Caleb Plant after a tight early half of the fight to win going away by unanimous decision in the super middleweight elimination fight on Saturday.

Plant would not quit.

“Caleb Plant is a tough fighter. He gave me everything in the first few rounds,” said Benavidez who had predicted he would not go the distance.

Arizona’s feared Benavidez (27-0, 23 KOs) was unable to stop Plant (22-2, 13 KOs) but battered his way to victory before a sold-out crowd at the MGM Garden Arena. Despite no knockdowns it was clear who was stronger.

Plant used his speed and footwork to maneuver in and out of danger in the match and gained control for the first four rounds. His hand speed and ability to clinch in tight quarters with the aid of referee Kenny Bayless gave the Las Vegas-based fighter an early advantage.

Things turned around when Plant clinched then smacked Benavidez who thought it would be a clean break. That seemed to spark Benavidez into berserker mode.

From the seventh round on Benavidez punched through clinches and would not allow Plant to take advantage. In the eighth round Benavidez powered through and Plant seemed staggered and hurt by the Arizona fighter’s power. But he kept upright.

Benavidez took advantage of Plant’s inability to maneuver as he did before and hammered the former champion who lost to Canelo Alvarez with triple left hooks and overhand rights. Plant would not go down and held on and absorbed the punishment.

The 10th round saw Benavidez dominate every second of the round. Plant tried fighting back but his punches lacked any power and Benavidez battered him from post to post, It was a round that could have been stopped or scored 10-8.

“I think I was catching him with a lot of power shots and that’s why I’m called the Mexican Monster because I keep coming like a monster,” said Benavidez.

Plant proved unwilling to quit despite cuts on his face and withstanding some hellish blows. The slender super middleweight refused to go down and somehow withstood the punishment.

It was remarkable bravery on his part.

When the final bell rang Plant tried valiantly to fight it out with Benavidez but just did not have the power to hurt the most feared man in the super middleweight division. Despite all the heated words during the promotion of the fight, the two warriors hugged and shook hands warmly. The animosity was gone.

“I know there was a lot said between us but in the end we settled this like men. He’s a helluva fighter. I’m happy we gave the fans the best rivalry of the year or the last five years. I’m just very happy,” said Benavidez.

Plant was equally benevolent.

“David’s a hell of a fighter. We settled it like men in the ring,” said Plant. “You roll the dice someone is going to get their hand raised. No excuse, David was the better man, he is a hell of a fighter.”

Benavidez now is the number one ranked WBC super middleweight and a mandatory for Saul “Canelo” Alvarez who is undisputed world champion.

Other Bouts

Arizona’s Jesus Ramos (20-0, 16 KOs) proved too strong for Michigan’s strongman Joey Spencer (16-1, 10 KOs) and ended the fight by stoppage at the end of the seventh round in the super welterweight contest.

Ramos scored early with a left-hand knockdown in the first round and powered his way past Spencer in almost every round. Spencer was valiant throughout the match but just couldn’t match Ramos speed or strength. Most of the fight took place in close.

“After the first round knockdown I kinda knew my power was too much,” said Ramos.

Despite an early first round knockdown Chris Colbert (17-1, 6 KOs) won by unanimous decision in a lightweight fight over the more aggressive and busier Jose Valenzuela (12-2, 8 KOs) in a decision that left the fans very displeased.

“He lost for a reason,” said Colbert as fans booed lustily.

A counter left cross floored Colbert in the first round and Valenzuela took control early with more punching to the body and head as Colbert covered up. It was a tactic he used often and was rewarded by the judges.

Valenzuela was not pleased at all.’

“I dominated,” said Valenzuela.

All three judges scored it 95-94 for Colbert.

Welterweights

Canada’s Cody Crowley (22-0, 9 KOs) imposed his will early against Arizona’s Abel Ramos (27-6-2, 21 KOs) and held on for the victory by majority decision down the stretch in a brutal war for the right to fight for the WBC welterweight title.

A knockdown scored in the 11th round by Ramos by a counter right cross was reversed by the Nevada Commission after a replay of the blow revealed his glove did not touch the ground. That proved beneficial to Crowley in the scoring.

Crowley pressured Ramos throughout the first eight rounds then the fight changed and was fought at a distance as Ramos used pot shots to score heavily from that moment on.

Ramos rallied by staying in the middle of the ring and using the space to crack the always pressuring Crowley with long range shots. From the ninth round on the scoring got tighter with Crowley scoring rapid combinations and Ramos scoring with heavy shots.

After 12 rounds one judge saw it even 114-114, two others saw Crowley the winner 115-113, 116-112. Crowley now gets the shot at the WBC title held by Errol Spence Jr.

“This fight was something else,” said a tearful Crowley whose father recently died. “If not for my dad I wouldn’t be here today.”

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 229: Benavidez, Plant and NCAA Hoops in Vegas

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 229: Benavidez, Plant and NCAA Hoops in Vegas

If you know the history of Las Vegas, it’s endured a number of phases since its first major growth spurt when the Hoover Dam project brought thousands to the desert region in the 1930s.

Then came the New York phase when the Flamingo Hotel was built in the 1940s and was followed by numerous other major casino hotels like the Sands, the Dunes and the Aladdin. Of course, boxing was always a way to entice people to the desert.

This Saturday, four star boxing returns to Las Vegas. But it be competing against the western regional finals of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Prepare for crowds.

Las Vegas is packed.

Undefeated David Benavidez (26-0, 23 KOs) meets once-beaten Caleb Plant (22-1, 13 KOs) at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Saturday, March 25. The TGB Promotions card will be televised on Showtime pay-per-view.

The winner gets a shot at undisputed super middleweight champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. And that means big money.

It’s all happening in Las Vegas and so will the NCAA tournament. Expect an extremely crowded Strip as fans of boxing and basketball convene on the strip by the thousands. Its also a gambler’s paradise for betting so make sure you allow yourself time because the lines will be long at the sportsbooks.

When I first visited Las Vegas in the early 1970s sports betting was done outside of the casinos. The state law back then prohibited sportsbooks inside hotel-casinos. My favorite sportsbook, for sentimental reasons, is the Westgate Hotel, formerly the Hilton International. It’s has a huge sports betting area.

I’m not a betting type of guy but sports betting to me is the center of everything and adds luster to the atmosphere of Las Vegas. You won’t find a sports book in California.

Boxing has always been a sport made for betting, probably since the stone age.

When Benavidez steps into the prize ring he will be the big favorite but if you truly know boxing, Plant does have a chance. Anything can happen in boxing. Anything.

A man can parachute from the sky and land in the middle of the fight as happened back in 1993 when Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe were combatting for the heavyweight title at Caesars Palace. Of course, this won’t happen on Saturday because the fight is indoors at the MGM Hotel.

One major lesson about pro boxing is that nothing is a sure thing.

Though Benavidez has power and has never been defeated, he could tear an Achilles tendon right during the fight. Or he could break a wrist delivering a punch. I’ve also seen a great fighter like Pernell Whitaker get his clavicle broken from a single punch and be unable to continue.

Don’t bet your house on the outcome.

What you will see on Saturday is two very talented super middleweights with completely different fighting styles engage. They do not seem to care for each other but that doesn’t matter. It’s a fight, not a marble contest.

Words have been exchanged all through the promotion. But words don’t mean a thing once the first bell rings.

Plant has speed, agility and solid defensive skills. His only loss came to Canelo Alvarez. That’s more a medal of honor than an embarrassment.

“I feel I’m the better boxer, I have the better IQ and I have more experience,” said Plant. “I have the better pedigree and its going to show on Saturday night.”

Benavidez has power, speed and a very solid chin. He seems to intimidate foes with a come forward style that reminds me of a young George Foreman.

“We’re going to see what that chin is like on Saturday,” said Benavidez.

Supporting fights

Cody Crowley meets Abel Ramos in an welterweight elimination fight for the WBC title held by Errol Spence Jr.

Both of these guys are rough and tough. It’s the ram versus the bull.

The other Ramos, Abel’s brother Jesus, is fighting Joey Spencer in a super welterweight clash.

Six other fights are planned at the MGM Grand.

Top Rank

Fresno’s Jose Carlos Ramirez (27-1, 17 KOs) gets a hometown crowd when he meets Richard Commey (30-4-1, 27 KOs) on Saturday March 25. The former super lightweight titlist needs a win to get back in the hunt. ESPN will televise the Top Rank card.

“All of a sudden after one loss people started walking away,” said Ramirez. “We’re focused on Richard Commey.”

Commey wants what Ramirez wants too, a title.

“I really want to become a two-time world champion, so I’m coming strong,” said Commey.

Also on the same Fresno card will be WBA titlist Seniesa Estrada (23-0, 9 KOs) seeking to unify the minimumweight titles against Germany’s WBC titlist Tina Rupprecht (12-0-1, 3 KOs).

“This is the moment that Ive dreamed of since I was seven years old,” said Estrada. “Its crazy to think how far I’ve come in this sport.”

Rupprecht is also excited.

It’s a big honor to fight for both titles,” Rupprecht said. “This is always what I wanted.”

Fights to Watch

Sat. Showtime ppv 6 p.m David Benavidez (26-0)  vs Caleb Plant (22-1); Cody Crowley (21-0) vs Abel Ramos (27-5-2).

Sat. ESPN 7 p.m. Jose Carlos Ramirez (27-1) vs Richard Commey (30-4-1); Seniesa Estrada (23-0) vs Tina Rupprecht (12-0-1).

Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp / TGB Promotions

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