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The Sky is the Limit for Globetrotting Aussie Featherweight Skye Nicolson

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The Sky is the Limit for Globetrotting Aussie Featherweight Skye Nicolson

What had been a golden era of Australian boxing took a tumble last weekend. Tim Tszyu was shockingly upset by Sabastian Fundora. Liam Wilson and Michael Zerafa were smoked by Oscar Valdez and Erislandy Lara, respectively.

The first opportunity to right that listing ship comes this Saturday when Queenslander Skye Nicolson touches gloves with Denmark’s Sarah Mahfoud in the first boxing event at the newest mega-resort on the Las Vegas Strip, the Fontainebleau. At stake is the WBC world featherweight title vacated by Amanda Serrano.

Nicolson represented Australia in the Tokyo Olympics following in the footsteps of her brother Jamie Nicolson who was a member of the Australian boxing team at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona. She’s 9-0 as a pro and is coming off a ninth-round stoppage of Lucy Wildheart who went the distance with the likes of Estelle Mossely and Mikaela Mayer. Mahfoud (14-1, 3 KOs) has won three straight since losing on points to Amanda Serrano.

Since turning pro, Nicolson, whose primary residence is now in London, has kept her passport handy. She’s fought only once in her homeland, that a 2022 fight with fellow Aussie Krystina Jacobs in Brisbane. The other eight: twice in New York at Madison Square Garden, twice in Cardiff, Wales, in Dublin, San Diego, Tijuana, and in Leeds, England.

The first of those two appearances at Madison Square Garden was in the big room on the undercard of the historic fight between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano. Nicolson’s bout came early in the program which afforded her the opportunity to join the throng in the sold-out arena as if she were a civilian. “That was the best fight I have ever seen and the atmosphere was incredible,” she says, an observation echoed by most everyone who was there.

We caught up with Nicolson last Thursday on her first day at the DLX Gym in Las Vegas. The gym’s “professor emeritus” Kenny Adams was also on the premises.

As we watched Skye work the pads with her co-trainer Eddie Lan, Adams mouthed a few impressions that we jotted down on our notepad: “good balance…nice jab…nice combos…she’s got some pop…..” The 83-year-old Adams, a 2024 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee, effectively gave her a 5-star review.

The other member of Team Nicolson is co-trainer Bradley Skeete, the former British and European welterweight champion. Their stay in Las Vegas hasn’t been all work and no play. This past weekend they went and had their picture taken in front of the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign, a must-do for many first-time tourists. (That’s Skeete on the right.)

The hot-button issue in female boxing today is whether the ladies should fight 2-minute or 3-minute rounds. Some see this as a black-and-white issue, but Nicolson’s thoughts are nuanced.

“I think 2-minute rounds have been great for the growth of women’s boxing,” she says, while allowing that there may come a day when a longer distance would make more sense. “The 2-minute rounds force the women to fight at a faster pace, which makes the fights more fan-friendly,” she notes, concurring with our thought that Taylor-Serrano likely wouldn’t have been nearly as exhilarating if it had been fastened to 3-minute rounds.

The most prominent exponent of 3-minute rounds is Serrano who junked her WBC featherweight belt when the WBC was unyielding. That gesture did Nicolson no favors as she had become Amanda’s mandatory opponent and Sky’s fondest dream since turning pro has been to lure Amanda Serrano to Australia for a world title fight.

“I found it interesting that Amanda waited until she had 50 fights under her belt and I was her mandatory (before she drew a line in the sand),” says Nicolson with a smirk. Should they ever fight, Nicolson, 28, who has no aversion to fighting 3-minute rounds (“it would actually suit my style better”) will have youth on her side. The 35-year-old Serrano, who has answered the bell for 234 rounds as a pro, has a lot of mileage on her odometer.

Skye Nicolson’s back story is welded to a terrible tragedy.

On Feb. 28, 1994, her brothers Jamie, then 22, and Gavin, age 10, were killed when the car that Jamie was driving drifted over the center line of a highway and collided head-on with a truck. As an amateur, Jamie had been ranked #1 in his weight class and his pro career was just getting started. The brothers were heading to Jamie’s boxing gym in the Gold Coast suburb of Nerang, a facility that would be renamed the Jamie Nicolson Memorial Gym.

Skye’s parents were born in the UK; her father, Alan, in Scotland and her mother, Pat, in England. They met in England and started a family before migrating to Australia where they opened a shop that sold and installed curtains and venetian blinds. On the side, her father coached boxing beginning with their first-born Allan Jr, a regional amateur champion who is now one of Australia’s most respected boxing coaches.

Nothing can ever expunge the pain of losing a child, but Alan and Pat thought that perhaps having another child might assuage the hurt. In August of 1995, eighteen months after the deaths of the brothers she never knew, Skye Nicolson came into this world. And to her parents’ amazement, she was just like Jamie in so many ways, inside and outside the ring. “Skye came into their lives to heal their broken hearts,” wrote Brisbane Courier Mail sports columnist Mike Bruce for a 2012 story on the Nicolson family.

Nicolson says that although her late brother has always been an inspiration, she never felt any pressure to continue his legacy. She took up boxing at age 12 for physical fitness and got hooked.

Alan and Pat will be in attendance on Saturday at the Fontaineblue when Skye takes the next step on her journey. Alan Jr (26 years her senior) is flying over as well, as is her sister Katie and her husband who live in Dubai.

As for what awaits Skye Nicolson when she hangs up her gloves, work as a TV sports pundit would seem to be in the offing. The lady is photogenic, has a smile that could light up the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, is nonplussed when a photographer sticks a camera in her face, and is very well-spoken.

But that’s putting the cart way before the horse. Sarah Mahfoud is no slouch. She not only went the distance with the indomitable Serrano, but won three of the rounds on two of the scorecards. Moreover, after last weekend’s Waterloo, it’s hard to back Australian boxers with a great deal of confidence. But no matter what happens on Saturday, good things are in store for Skye Nicolson. We wish her well.

—-

Richardson Hitchins and Diego Pacheco appear in the co-features of Saturday’s card which will be live-streamed around the world on DAZN.

Brooklyn’s Hitchins (17-0, 7 KOs) opposes Argentina’s Gustavo Lemos (29-0, 19 KOs) in a 12-round bout framed as an IBF title eliminator at 140 pounds.

Diego Pacheco (20-0, 17 KOs), a stablemate of David Benavidez, meets Colorado’s Shawn McCalman (15-0, 7 KOs) in a 12-round super middleweight affair.

There’s been some confusion about when the event will start. Keep in mind that Matchroom’s last promotion in Las Vegas kicked off in the late morning for the sake of British television. We have been told that the first bell on Saturday for what shapes up as a 7-fight card will go at approximately 2:40 pm local time.

“Welcome to Las Vegas” photo credit: Melina Pizano / Matchroom

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In a One-Sided Beatdown, Batyr Jukembayev TKOs Shopworn Ivan Redkach

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In a One-Sided Beatdown, Batyr Jukembayev TKOs Shopworn Ivan Redkach

The noted trainer Brian “BoMac” McIntyre had two fighters on tonight’s ProBox card in Plant City, Florida, and brought along the ace of his stable, Terence Crawford, to provide moral support.

The main event, contested at 140 pounds, had an Eastern European flavor pitting Kazakhstan’s Batyr Jukembayev against LA-based Ukrainian Ivan Redkach. Jukembayev, Crawford’s stablemate, needed no moral support as Redkach fought a survivor’s fight for as long as it lasted. A 33-year-old southpaw, the Kazkh won every second of the fight until the mismatch was halted at the 2:18 mark of round five.

It was the fifth straight win for Jukembayev (23-1, 17 KOs) whose only defeat was inflicted by Subriel Matias, the current holder of the IBF world title at 140. Redkach (24-7-1) was stopped for the fourth time including a fight with Regis Prograis where he succumbed to a phantom low blow. Now 38 years old, he should not be allowed to fight again. His showing tonight bore stark evidence that he is completely shot.

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a 10-round junior lightweight affair, Jonhatan Cardoso, a 25-year-old Brazilian, advanced to 17-1 (15) with a split decision over LA’s Adam “Bluenose” Lopez. This figured to be a fan-friendly fight and didn’t disappoint. Both fighters threw punches in bunches although Lopez’s workrate declined in the late rounds.

Lopez, now 17-6-1, is better than his record. His first five losses came against opponents who were collectively 109-6 at the time that he fought them. The son of the late Hector Lopez, an Olympic silver medalist for Mexico and a three-time world title challenger, “Bluenose” doesn’t have a signature win, but has a signature moment. He knocked Oscar Valdez down hard in their first of two meetings, a fight he took on 1-day notice when Valdez’s original opponent was scratched after coming in 11 pounds overweight. As a pro he has limitations, but is a high-octane fighter who rarely has a bad fight.

Two of the judges favored Cardoso. Their tallies were 99-91 and 96-94. The dissenter favored Lopez 97-93. The scores were all over the map, but the right guy wn.

Also

In the TV opener, Omaha-bred junior welterweight Charles Harris Jr scored a unanimous 6-round decision over Oceanside, California’s Kyle Erwin. The judges had it 58-56 and 59-55 twice.

A protégé of “BoMac,” Harris Jr., who began his pro career in Mexico at age 16, improved to 9-1 (7). It was the second pro loss for Erwin (7-2) whose lone prior defeat was the result of a cut.

In an unrelated matter, today (May 22) was the day that Ryan Garcia’s B-sample would be opened and analyzed. So we were all led to believe.

Confoundingly, it appears that opening the urine specimen and testing the contents aren’t performed on the same day. Dan Rafael enlightened us. “Will take a few days for results but certainly possible it could stretch into early next week due to weekend and holiday,” Rafael tweeted today on his Fight Freaks Unite platform.

Why wasn’t this made known beforehand so that fight journalists could plan their day accordingly? I place the blame on the New York State Athletic Commission.

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Oleksandr Usyk from a Historical Perspective 

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Oleksandr Usyk flipped the heavyweight division onto its head this past Saturday night in the Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, travelling a long way from home to seal his greatest victory. Usyk, small by modern heavyweight standards, towers over most men at 6’3″ and 220lbs and sporting a reach that lineal champions Ezzard Charles or Joe Walcott would have killed for. Things have changed though, and in the middle rounds of his war with Tyson Fury, Usyk suddenly appeared tiny. Fury, a giant at around 6’8” and over 260lbs seems a heavyweight for this century. Usyk, a journeyman in the most ancient sense of the word, feels like a throwback to a more savage time. His greatest achievements have taken place on foreign soil. The last time he boxed at home was almost a decade ago and given the situation in Ukraine and given Usyk’s 37 years, it is unlikely he will ever box there again.

Usyk took chances in the seventh and especially the eighth to take charge of a fight that seemed to be slipping away from him. In the vertigo inducing ninth, it was he, not Fury who appeared the giant. Usyk draped the Englishman over the ropes like so much fresh meat and tenderised him to within an inch of unconsciousness, the sheer hugeness of Fury perhaps preventing a referee’s intervention on behalf of his opponent, and not for the first time. Against both Deontay Wilder (the first fight) and Otto Wallin, a more squeamish official would have stepped in and stopped the fight, and here, too, there was a case. If Usyk seems a throwback, then Fury has been refereed like one, spared stoppages likely to be inflicted upon his peers, he was allowed once again to continue boxing, as Joe Louis was against Max Schmeling, or Jack Dempsey was against Luis Pirpo. But with Fury buckled at the knees, Usyk seemed the true heavy man in the ring.

In historical terms, Usyk is not a small heavyweight. He would have dwarfed “The Galveston Giant” Jack Johnson in the ring and loomed large over “Big” George Foreman. Usyk has every attribute necessary to make an unpleasant evening for Joe Louis, but it should be noted that while his footwork and speed and technical excellence would be the source of the discomfort, his excess of height and reach are the wildcards. Usyk would seem two to three weight classes bigger than Rocky Marciano, mainly because he is, and the towering Sonny Liston would look up. Circus strongman Jess Willard and the mob-sponsored Primo Carnera would both look down on Usyk – but not by that much. Usyk would stand eye to eye with Muhammad Ali but prime-for-prime he would outweigh him by ten pounds, as he would Larry Holmes. We must skip Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield and reach all the way into the Lennox Lewis era before we find men from history that truly out-size Usyk on a consistent basis.

Size, as Usyk has proven, is far from everything. Big by historical standards, he is small by modern standards. What else is now true in the wake of the seismic fistic events of Saturday night? Firstly, Usyk is unquestionably ranked the #1 heavyweight in the world. Of this, there can be no dispute. Accounting for his two wonderful defeats of another “super” heavyweight, Anthony Joshua, he is 3-0 against the rest of the top five and sitting unassailably at the head of the heavyweight table. More, and I have been surprised to see it disputed in some corners, Usyk is now almost as equally unassailably the pound-for-pound number one. The only fighter breathing the same air as Usyk right now is Naoya Inoue. Inoue has been operating at or near the highest level for longer, but the level of his opposition has not been as rarefied. Comparing the first phase opposition defeated by Naoya to the murderer’s row of cruiserweights that Usyk ran into during the Super Six series can lead to only one conclusion. Although Naoya’s busy, weight-class-bursting style has topped him out for most of the past two to three years, only one of these men has consistently been beating bigger, taller, longer opposition at the highest level, and that is Usyk. It is not a matter of opinion – he is the smallest man in my heavyweight top ten.

01 – Oleksandr Usyk

02 – Anthony Joshua

03 – Joseph Parker

04 – Tyson Fury

05 – Filip Hrgovic

06 – Zhilei Zhang

07 – Agit Kabayel

08 – Daneil Dubois

09 – Martin Bakole

10 – Joe Joyce

Usyk lives among giants now and where there is parity of height (Kabayel) he is the lighter man by 15 pounds. This is not true of Naoya, who despite his weight-hopping, still manages to run into fighters of the same height and of shorter reach. The opposition argument is narrow, but the relative size opposition is not and there is no pound-for-pound credential more significant than that of consistently out-fighting bigger men. Usyk has done so and will continue to do so for as long as he fights. There is simply no smaller man in his class.

Not since the heyday of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield has a lineal heavyweight champion consistently fought bigger men and not since Mike’s hype-infused prime has a heavyweight menaced the number one pound-for-pound spot. Usyk has not enjoyed anything like the same machine support as Mike did; indeed, he has laboured in the shadow of more prominent men until such time as he thrashed them. He is a true manifestation of pound-for-pound glory in the unlimited class. Where does this leave him in terms of all-time standing?

I am reluctant to rate active fighters for reasons that are obvious enough; Usyk could be pole-axed in three by an irate Fury in a December rematch and all this ink is for naught. But what I am willing to do is play let’s pretend and imagine Usyk as retired and consider his place in heavyweight history now.

Usyk’s raw numbers are low-grade at just 22-0 with 14 knockouts. Worse, most of this was built in the cruiserweight division and not the heavyweight division. Against men weighing in as heavyweights, Uysk is essentially 7-0, and only 3-0 against ranked opposition. On the other hand, one of these victories came against Daniel Dubois, now ranked, and the 3-0 was posted against Tyson Fury, generally held to be the best or second-best heavyweight in the world, and Anthony Joshua, ranked behind only Fury at the time of his first fight with Usyk. So, when he stepped up, he stepped up to tackle the best in the world and has become lineal as a result. It’s a hard ledger to wrestle with, but fortunately we have a career that is comparable in the shape of Gene Tunney.

Tunney, a career light-heavyweight, earned a heavyweight legacy built of essentially one man: Jack Dempsey. Past-prime and inactive, Dempsey was ripped apart by Tunney in their legendary first fight and did better in a losing effort against the genius “Fighting Marine” in a rematch, much like Joshua did against Usyk. Tunney then boxed the limited but game Tom Heeney and retired. The rest of his heavyweight career was spent beating great middleweights like Harry Greb and limited losing-streak gatekeepers like Charley Weinert and Martin Burke. One thing that must be noted is that Tunney is matching men who are smaller than Usyk’s cruiserweight opposition to his heavyweight credit. Men like Mairis Briedis and Murat Gassiev would have been big men in Tunney’s era, but they aren’t counted towards heavyweight legacy for the Ukrainian – either would constitute Tunney’s second-best heavyweight scalp, I think. Tunney’s wider resume does not necessarily include fighters who compare that favourably even to Dereck Chisora or Chaz Witherspoon, the men who make up Usyk’s second layer of opposition.

The point is, Tunney was made a legend for defeating a champion. Both Fury and Joshua were active, physically enormous fighters that Usyk simply unmanned with a type of genius Gene Tunney would have stood to applaud. Tunney appended to his light-heavyweight career the important part of a heavyweight career – the part where you fight and beat the champion, and it has made him a stalwart of heavyweight history. This, Usyk too has achieved, but I have been more impressed with Usyk’s summit than Tunney’s. To be direct: Usyk should rate higher at heavyweight than Tunney.

What that means is that the top twenty at heavyweight is the minimum Usyk can expect from history’s eye should he retire undefeated. In such a case, I would place Usyk in this sort of company:

18 – Ezzard Charles

19 – Oleksandr Usyk

20 – Jersey Joe Walcott

21 – James J Corbett

22 – Peter Jackson

23 – Ken Norton

24 – Max Schmeling

25 – Vitali Klitschko

26 – Riddick Bowe

27 – Gene Tunney

Also illustrative of a point is Tunney’s career pre-heavyweight. Tunney, every bit as brilliant as Usyk in the ring (although notably smaller, and successful against notably smaller opposition), laced up his gloves on close to ninety occasions and his level of competition dwarfs that of Usyk. That is no indictment. All it really means is that Usyk isn’t among the thirty greatest fighters ever to have drawn breath, like Tunney is. He can join an enormous and star-studded cast that includes Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins and Carlos Monzon in that. I do think, though, that Oleksandr Usyk’s career, were it to end tomorrow, could be readily compared to that of Evander Holyfield and that means that an unbeaten Usyk, lineal cruiserweight and heavyweight champion of the world, current pound-for-pound king, is within spitting distance of a list that captures the fifty greatest fighters in history.

56 – Ruben Olivares

57 – Wilfredo Gomez

58 – Vicente Saldivar

59 – Oleksandr Usyk

60 – Evander Holyfield

61 – Ted Kid Lewis

62 – Lou Ambers

63 – Rocky Marciano

64 – Abe Attell

65 – Manuel Ortiz

A retired Naoya Inoue would join him in the top seventy, I think, and a retired Bud Crawford the top ninety.

Boxing is dead, haven’t you heard?

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Another Victory for Ukraine as Berinchyk Upsets Navarrete in San Diego

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Whether it was inspiration or perspiration, Ukraine’s Denys Berinchyk motored past Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete by split decision to become the WBO lightweight world titlist on Saturday.

Just hours after his fellow countryman Oleksandr Usyk became undisputed heavyweight world champion, Berinchyk joined the club.

“This is a great night for all people of Ukraine,” Berinchyk said.

The undefeated Ukrainian Berinchyk (19-0, 9 KOs) gutted out a win over Navarrete (38-2-1, 31 KOs) who was attempting to join Mexico’s four-division world champion club in San Diego. The lanky fighter known as “Vaquero” fell a little short.

Through all 12 rounds neither fighter was able to dominate and neither was able to score a knockdown. Just when it seemed one fighter gathered enough momentum, the other fighter would rally.

A butt caused a slight cut on Navarrete in the 10th round. That seemed to ignite anger from the Mexican fighter and he powered through the Ukrainian fighter the next two rounds.

In the final round Berinchyk bore down and slugged it out with the Mexican fighter as both relied on their weapons of choice. For most of the night Navarrete scored with long-range uppercuts and Berinchyk scored with overhand rights.

After 12 rounds two judges scored it 115-113, 116-112 for Berinchyk and one 116-112 for Navarrete. Ukraine gained its third world titlist in one a week. Berinchyk joins Usyk and Vasyl Lomachenko as world titlists.

“He’s a very tough guy,” said Berinchyk of Navarrete.

Welterweights

A battle between undefeated welterweights saw Brian Norman (26-0, 20 KOs) knock out Giovany Santillan (32-1, 17 KOs) in the 10th round to become the interim WBO titlist.

For nine rounds both welterweights engaged in brutal inside warfare as each tried to beat the sense out of each other.

Norman worked the body early as Santillan targeted the head. Neither fought more than two inches from each other.

The younger Norman, 23, connected with a right cross during an exchange that wobbled Santillan in the eighth round. From that point on the Georgia fighter began setting up for his power shots. Finally, in the 10th round, uppercuts dropped Santillan twice. In the second knockdown Santillan went down hard as referee Ray Corona stopped the fight immediately at 1:33 of the 10th round.

Other Bouts

Heavyweight Richard Torrez (10-0, 10 KOs) knocked out Brandon Moore (14-1) in the fifth round for a regional title.

Lightweight Alan Garcia (10-0) defeated Wilfredo Flores (10-3-1) by decision after eight.

Photo credit: German Villasenor

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