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Avila Perspective, Chap. 269: The TSS Female Fighter of the Year plus 2023’s Indelible Moments

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The TSS Female Fighter of the Year plus 2023’s Indelible Moments

Our beautiful sport lives on.

We had one of the best years in boxing in 2023. Champions fought champions and drew large crowds everywhere from Tokyo to Los Angeles to Riyadh.

Women’s boxing led the way in the previous year and that seemingly inspired men to follow their path this year. What transpired was a landmark year for boxing.

Let’s start with the women.

The Fighter of the Year for women is Amanda “Real Deal” Serrano who fearlessly fought three times beginning in February against Mexico’s Erica Cruz. After 10 turbulent and bloody rounds Serrano emerged victorious to become the first undisputed featherweight world champion.

She also became the first Puerto Rican undisputed world champion.

In midsummer Serrano fought Brooklyn rival Heather Hardy and then capped the year with a title defense set at 12 three-minute rounds against Brazil’s Danila Ramos. Even more remarkable was in announcing the fight, she challenged all fellow female prizefighters to demand the right to choose three-minute rounds instead of two-minute rounds. Also, to fight 12-round championships instead of 10, as the men do.

Two dozen fellow fighters signed a petition to follow her lead.

Incidentally, Serrano defeated Ramos in the first 12 three-minute round championship fight since 2007.

“Thank you, I’m so honored,” said Serrano who was also selected Fighter of the Year for other publications.

And to further explain why we selected Serrano, she also signed to manage female fighters to guide their future.

Ever since Serrano was signed by innovative Jake Paul, a few years back, her career has skyrocketed. Together they are burning new paths and new fans for the sport of boxing.

Speaking of Jake Paul (pictured above with Amanda), the social media giant took part in a mega fight when he defeated MMA star Nate Diaz last August. The crossover event was a box office and pay-per-view success.

Paul and other social media stars proved there is a market for their brand.

The social media star slash boxer started the year 2023 with a decision loss to Tommy Fury, the half-brother of heavyweight champ Tyson Fury. In the age of maintaining perfect records Paul shrugged off the defeat and proceeded to entice MMA star Nate Diaz into the boxing ring. Once it was announced, the mixture of personalities was a perfect blend. The bad boy of MMA versus the “Problem Child” and nearly 20,000 fans gobbled up tickets to see the clash at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Another 450,000 purchased the pay-per-view.

Those are very good numbers for a non-title fight that generated a total near $30 million dollars.

Paul then followed that up with an electrifying single punch knockout win over pro boxer Andre August in the first round this past December 15. The win over an actual pro boxer in the cruiserweight division added even more credibility to his abilities as a boxer and promoter.

Other Impactful Events

Beginning in February, Shane Mosley Jr, the son of a Hall of Fame boxer, helped bring pro boxing to their hometown of Pomona, California in an event that harkened to the days of the Olympic Auditorium, the Inglewood Forum and even the Hollywood Legion Stadium. It had that nostalgic local feel.

Mosley and a bevy of other local fighters put on one of the best smaller cards of the year. Perhaps the best fight on a Golden Boy Promotions card saw former world champion Luis Nery and top super bantamweight contender Azat Hovhannisyan brutalize each other for 11 nonstop rounds. It was intense and definitely a contender for Fight of the Year with Nery winning by stoppage.

In March we saw super middleweight rivals David Benavidez and Caleb Plant finally meet each other in the boxing ring to settle their feud on a Premier Boxing Champions card. For years each fighter verbally attacked each other’s abilities and finally met on March 25, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. They settled their feud in the ring with Benavidez defeating Plant and each gaining more respect for each other.

In April, the biggest money-making fight of the year saw Ryan Garcia and Gervonta “Tank” Davis meet at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and sell 20,000 tickets worth $27 million in revenue. Plus, more than 1.2 million pay-per-views were purchased. All told, more than $100 million was generated. Each fighter topped $30 million with Davis winning by knockout.

It was the most successful boxing event of the year.

Though Garcia lost his undefeated status he remains a huge draw in the prize ring. The win by Davis proved that offensive fighters are bigger draws than defensive fighters. Both Garcia and Davis proved to be the present-day version of Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy “Hitman” Hearns from the 80s. A rematch in the future would certainly break the cash register.

Memorable Moments in 2023

Another potential Fight of the Year saw Jaime Munguia of Mexico and Ukraine’s Sergey Derevyanchenko clobber each other for 12 rounds in a brutal display. Their blows were concussive and could be heard and felt throughout the Toyota Arena in Ontario, Calif. Munguia remained undefeated but needed a knockdown from a body shot to emerge victorious. Fans gasped when the battle between the two warriors finally ended.

In June, we saw the return of Teofimo Lopez meet undisputed super lightweight champion Josh Taylor of Scotland in Madison Square Garden. After struggling against decent but not super-talented opposition, the Brooklyn fighter Lopez unleashed his incredible array of fighting ability against champion Taylor. The boxing world was surprised and Lopez proved to be the talented star forgotten but not gone. The world awaits the “Takeover’s” next fight and hopefully against another star.

The year got even better in the heart of summer.

Welterweight champion Terence Crawford had chased Errol Spence Jr. for years in attempting to decide the true world champion of the 147-pounders. Both were undefeated and both claimed to be the true welterweight champion. They finally met in late July at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. It was five years in the making and after nine one-sided rounds Crawford proved too strong and dominated Spence with three knockdowns before the fight was mercifully stopped.

Crawford’s victory made him an undisputed welterweight world champion. He had already achieved undisputed world championship status as a super lightweight and the win over highly regarded Spence was the cherry on top of the banana split. The Nebraska fighter takes my vote as the best fighter pound-for-pound in the world.

Another pound-for-pound fighter Saul “Canelo” Alvarez returned to Las Vegas. The undisputed super middleweight champion was challenged by undisputed super welterweight champion Jermell Charlo. Challenge accepted. The twin brother from Texas saw Alvarez in person fight a year earlier. He determined Canelo was beatable and made it public that he wanted to fight the Mexican redhead. The two met at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas in September and the world saw the weight difference proved too much even for the talented Charlo. The match also proved that a motivated Alvarez is a dangerous foe.

In October, in a less ballyhooed matchup, newly crowned WBC super featherweight titlist O’Shaquie Foster defended his title against top contender Eduardo “Rocky” Hernandez in Cancun, Mexico. Because the referee correctly restricted Foster from clinching as a defensive tactic, the Texan was forced to battle inside and out against the powerful Hernandez and another Fight of the Year candidate erupted. It was a good one. After 12 exciting and awe-inspiring rounds, Foster finally stopped Hernandez at 2:38 of the final round to cap the title fight. It was extremely fun to watch.

In November, following Thanksgiving Day, undefeated fighters David Benavidez and Demetrius Andrade met in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Once again Benavidez proved that brilliant fighting skills are simply not enough. He pummeled Andrade and proved to be the best fighter other Canelo Alvarez in the super middleweight division. The performance also added to his market appeal and could lead to a clash with the big dog Alvarez.

And what about Devin Haney.

Fresh from a close win over Ukraine’s super talented Vasyl Lomachenko, the Las Vegas-based Haney brashly challenged super lightweight titlist Regis Prograis. It was a dangerous challenge against a powerful champion and looked to be a very tough match. It wasn’t. Behind a beautiful left jab, Haney kept Prograis at a suitable distance and dropped the champion in the third round with a lightning right. After the knockdown Haney cruised to victory. The buttery smooth fighter has established credibility as a true artist in the prize ring. Currently he’s in talks to meet Ryan Garcia in a super lightweight clash in March. Both have a history in the amateurs with each beating the other. Now they’re pros.

Finally, a few days before Christmas, the heavyweights were on display with many of the best signed and ready to confront each other in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It was a roster of the best heavyweights in the world not named Tyson Fury or Oleksandr Usyk. But with Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder, Joseph Parker, “Big Baby” Miller and others, it was an extravaganza that showcased the excitement of the heavyweight division. Knockouts were the theme and they were in abundance. The heavyweights are back.

Let’s not forget Japan’s “Monster” Naoya Inoue who became undisputed super bantamweight world champion with a knockout win over Marlon Tapales just three days ago. If not for Crawford’s dominating win over another pound-for-pound fighter in Errol Spence, the Japanese star would be this reporter’s Fighter of the Year.

Inoue deserves recognition as one of the most exciting fighters in this decade.

There were several other prize fights that appealed to the public and foreshadowed another great year for boxing. Though Showtime Boxing television ended, the sport continues to prove boxing will never die. Pro boxing has existed since the 1600s and will continue to have an audience.

Lookout 2024.

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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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