Top 10 Pound-For-Pound Boxers, Says Me

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Everyone loves a Pound-For-Pound list, mostly because people like to complain and argue about stuff that can’t be definitively proved true or false. Politics, religion, and lists like this one are the stuff barroom brawls are made of. Since this is my list, I’ll tell you my decisions were weighted toward recent performances in the context of the level of competition. That means if you’ve been fighting top level opposition, even if you struggled some, that’s going to weigh in your favor. If you’ve been fighting B-level guys, you damn well better be winning convincingly, and be fighting in a division where you don’t have better options. The second most important criteria is overall skill level. This is maddeningly subjective in many cases, but applies most prominently with one particular fighter. What I considered third is overall resume, meaning if I couldn’t separate two guys by the first two criteria, I went with who had the deeper resume, even if it meant going back several years. This might be why about half my list is composed of guys who aren’t likely to be on here a year or two from now, or maybe won’t be fighting at all. Lastly, if I found myself thinking, “It’s absurd for the purposes of this list to be going back more than five years to make a decision,” I brought it back to the primal question of P4P lists: who would beat who if they were the same size right now? That really only came into play with the placement of two fighters on my list, who both happen to be welterweights.

In any case, here’s my list…

10. Shinsuke Yamanaka 27-0-2, 19 KO

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The 34 year old southpaw has held the WBC bantamweight title for almost five and a half years, and in that time has defended it a dozen times. A fearsome puncher, Yamanaka has stopped 9 of his 13 opponents in title fights. As with most fighters below featherweight, US fans are largely unfamiliar with Yamanaka, but via the magic of youtube anyone can watch him ply his trade and appreciate the craft and power he brings to the ring. At 34 years old, I don’t expect Yamanaka to fight much longer, and I doubt we’ll ever see him on American television, as all of his fights have taken place in Japan and bantamweights don’t earn much money here. The most recognizable names on his ledger are Vic Darchinyan and Anselmo Moreno (who he beat twice, once by SD, then last year via KO7). His most recent defense was last month against Mexico’s Carlos Carlson, who he stopped in the 7th after dominating him the entire fight.
Next fight? Being a WBC guy, he’ll likely fight whoever the mandatory is in the fall. Right now, the #1 ranked WBC bantamweight is a young, undefeated Mexican named Luis Neary (23-0, 17 KO).

9. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez 48-1-1, 34 KO

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Canelo is the biggest attraction in boxing today, beloved in Mexico and by Mexican-American fans, and with his drawing power exceeding his abilities, he also has no shortage of haters. We’ve been waiting for almost a year and a half for Canelo-Golovkin, and I’ll be as disappointed as anybody if we don’t see it in September, but Canelo is in a tight spot. He’s the cash cow of the sport, and the only major money maker at GBP. While it’s somewhat understandable why they’d like to move him cautiously, the fact that he’s not protecting an undefeated record kind of makes it a moot point. If he fought Golovkin and lost, but didn’t quit or get totally steam rolled, I don’t think his reputation or earning power would be damaged much, if at all. And if he won, that would certainly enhance both. In any case, Canelo is in the #9 spot because of his underrated hand speed, combination punching, body punching, and upper body movement. He’s used these to great effect to beat guys like Miguel Cotto and Erislandy Lara. Though more recently he’s been in cash-grab fights with Amir Khan and Liam Smith. His Next Fight, on Cinco de Mayo weekend, is against Julio Caesar Chavez Jr. It’s a fight that can only elevate his marketability, and might prove some points if he can beat the naturally bigger man.

8. Keith Thurman 28-0, 22 KO

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The 28 year old boxer-puncher holds the WBA and WBC Welterweight titles, and is in his physical prime. Although he hasn’t been KOing guys now that he’s consistently fighting elite level fighters, he’s proven in his last two wins that he can adapt and win fights without relying on his power. Some will argue against his placement above Canelo, but it’s hard to argue against having him on the list at all. He won close but clear decisions against Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia in his last two fights, and there is talk of him trying to add the IBF welterweight title to his collection by fighting the winner of the upcoming Kell Brook – Errol Spence fight. If that happens, you’d be hard pressed to name any fighter in the sport who has fought three fights in a row against that caliber of opponent.
Next fight: Hopefully the winner of Brook-Spence. If for some reason that falls through, I’d love to see him lobby for a Pacquiao fight, or that failing, Amir Khan, Lamont Peterson, or Adrien Broner.

7. Manny Pacquiao 59-6-2, 38 KO

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The 38 year old Filipino senator is a boxing legend, a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer with a resume that compares well to anybody’s. Some derided him for fighting Jesse Vargas last November, and while it’s true I can easily name five other guys at 147 I would’ve rather seen him fight, Pacman seems to be somewhat a prisoner of Bob Arum, whose actions indicate in recent years that he prefers to get a cut of the purse from each of the guys in the ring when it comes to Pacquiao fights. And to be honest, I don’t really care to watch Pacquiao in the ring, he doesn’t have anything left to prove, he hasn’t KO’d anyone since he stopped Miguel Cotto in 2009 (not a typo), and he’s pretty much performing on the fumes of the great fighter he was for about a decade and a half. I almost kept him off my list, but then I realized those fumes were still good enough that I couldn’t think of any welterweight I’d confidently favor to beat him right now.
Next fight: He holds the WBO title, and his mandatory is a guy named Jeff Horn, an undefeated Aussie fighter. Yawn.

6. Terence Crawford 30-0, 21 KO

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The 29 year old Crawford currently holds the WBC and WBO Super Lightweight titles, and reigns over a division that doesn’t really have any worthy challengers for him. Crawford’s overall skill level is only second to Lomachenko’s. He fights equally effectively from an orthodox or southpaw stance, and is able to switch smoothly and at will no matter who he’s fighting. In some ways, Crawford reminds me of a blend of the young and older Floyd Mayweather Jr, in that he’s very aggressive, a great finisher, but also has a very high ring IQ and usually takes the first few rounds to see what his opponent has to offer before applying his game plan or an adjustment to dismantle his foe. Crawford’s biggest win was over highly regarded fellow champion at the time, Viktor Postol. Crawford took the measure of the taller jab specialist in the first two rounds, then put a frightful beating on him the rest of the evening en route to a wide UD win. Other than Postol, Crawford has spent the past three years fighting a collection of good but not great fighters, B-level guys who brought a variety of styles and challenges to the table, and he’s beaten all of them pretty easily. At 29, he’s got some time to raise his stock, but the biggest names for him are up at 147. An in-house Top Rank clash with Manny Pacquiao seems inevitable, but it appears Bob Arum doesn’t want to make that fight until he’s absolutely certain Crawford would win (and I’d favor Crawford right now), so why not fight Tim Bradley? Bradley’s a smaller welterweight, they could even do a catch weight of 144 or 145. In any case, right now the only person who can stop Terence Crawford is Terence Crawford; if he can stay out of trouble outside the ring, he could find himself at the top of the sport in the next two years.
Next Fight: Crawford will defend his two belts on May 20 against the light hitting Felix Diaz. It should be another dominant showcase win.

5. Gennady Golovkin 37-0, 33 KO

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The WBC, WBA, and IBF Middleweight Champion has become one of the most polarizing figures in boxing, as some fans and media overrate him as P4P #1, while others decry his level of opposition and accuse him of being a hype job with punching power and not much else, who fights “cab drivers” to pad his record. He was able to justify the biases of both camps when he won a controversial UD against Brooklyn’s Daniel Jacobs last month. Jacobs was undoubtedly Golovkin’s toughest test, and even though I scored it for Jacobs, there were many close rounds (and I know people who were at the fight who all said GGG won and that it wasn’t particularly close). So I’ll exercise a bit of humility here and grant that my scorecard may have been inaccurate. If it had been a more exciting fight, I’d watch it again, but life is too short. It was competitive, but not with the kind of action that warrants a second viewing. That aside, GGG’s previous foes might be less than stellar, but the fact remains that Curtis Stevens, Martin Murray, and David Lemieux are all dangerous fighters, and Golovkin didn’t just beat them, he dominated them with both skill and power. GGG doesn’t possess the fastest hands or feet, but he might be P4P the hardest puncher in the sport, and he’s an expert at cutting off the ring and has perhaps the best chin in boxing, which are three virtues no one wants to see standing in the opposite corner when the bell rings. GGG has been angling for a huge showdown with Canelo Alvarez, and fans can only hope it actually happens this September, though Canelo needs to get by Julio Caesar Chavez Jr in May first, and GGG may try to unify all four middleweight belts by fighting (and likely defeating) WBO champion Billy Joe Saunders. Golovkin is 35, so time is not on his side. Hopefully both he and Canelo win their upcoming fights and we get to see a great action fight in September for the undisputed, unified, middleweight championship of the world.
Next fight: GGG says he wants to fight in June, and would like Saunders, but may choose to wait on Canelo in September.

4. Roman Gonzalez 46-1, 38 KO

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Many are saying, “how is this guy so high on the P4P list? He lost his last fight and struggled in the one before that!” The 29 year old Nicaraguan boxer-puncher has faced top level competition fairly consistently for the past few years, and until he moved up to Junior Bantamweight, he was. dominant. The fact that he moved up to a fourth weight division, took on two of the best opponents available, and engaged in very close, exciting fights both times is not the kind of thing I’m going to penalize a guy for, even if he lost one of those fights. It should be evident to everyone that Chocolatito’s power is not the same at 115 lbs as it is at 112 lbs, and he’d be wise to move back down to flyweight where there are plenty of attractive fights for him. Like NFL running backs, fighters at the lighter weights don’t age particularly well, so unless he’s ready to hang up his gloves soon, going to war against guys who can take his power at 115 lbs isn’t the greatest idea. Like Pacquiao and Yamanaka, Gonzalez is not much longer for this list, but if everyone in the sport was between 108 and 112 lbs, I can count on one hand the number of guys I’d favor to beat him.
Next fight: Lots of people would like to see him fight the 23 year old phenom, Naoya Inoue, but I’d prefer to see him rematch Juan Francisco Estrada at 112.

3. Vasyl Lomachenko 8-1, 6 KO

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The 29 year old WBO super featherweight champion of the world has once-in-lifetime talent. His footwork, hand and foot speed, power, mastery of distance and timing, and combination punching make him must-see TV. Widely regarded as the best amateur of all time, the Ukrainian southpaw won a featherweight titIe in his first pro fight, lost to the rugged veteran Orlando Salido in his second fight (Salido failed to make weight for the fight, enjoyed about a 15 lb weight advantage on fight night, and committed a wide variety of unpenalized fouls throughout the night), and has since not only beaten, but dominated fighters like Gary Russell Jr, Roman Martinez, and Nicholas Walters. In fact, he completely undressed Russell, who looked completely lost coming out of his corner for the 5th round, and he forced Walters, a widely respected and feared bad ass, to quit on his stool after 7 one-sided rounds. In his most recent fight, he comprehensively beat and outboxed a very tough Jason Sosa, whose father stopped the fight after 9 rounds, fearing for his son’s safety. Lomachenko is so good I wouldn’t argue with anybody who had him at the top of their list. He’s certainly on his way there.
Next fight: It looks like a showdown with Mikey Garcia is inevitable, but I’ll be surprised if Garcia is his next opponent.

2. Andre Ward 31-0, 15 KO

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The 33 year old 2004 Olympic gold medalist won the WBA, IBF, and WBO light heavyweight championships via very controversial UD over Sergey Kovalev last November, and it looks like the contractually mandatory rematch will take place in June. A defensive specialist with top level infighting skills, Ward has been a somewhat polarizing figure his whole career, despite his soft-spoken confidence and lack of personal baggage outside of the ring. A smothering, defensive style difficult for the casual fan to appreciate doesn’t help, and neither has a long bout of inactivity (only two fights in three and a half years) after winning the Super Six tournament in 2011. And without going into detail, let’s just state the obvious: with his quiet confidence, undefeated record, and squeaky clean family man lifestyle, if Ward came from two white parents instead of only one, he’d be the most popular athlete in America. Anyway, he ended his spell of inactivity by agreeing to fight Kovalev, but needed to shake off the rust with a trio of showcase bouts against guys who posed no significant threat, stopping the first one, Paul Smith, and winning wide UDs against Sullivan Barrera and Alexander Brand. Many will ask why he’s not at the top of my P4P list after winning a UD over Kovalev last November, and honestly I was tempted to have he and Krusher tied at the top, but I felt Kovalev beat him. I’ve watched the fight three times and scored it for Kovalev each time, even while giving Ward more of the close rounds. In any case, this will (barring injury to either fighter in training camp) be sorted out in June when they have their rematch. Or maybe not. Maybe they have another close fight with a controversial outcome and we get a trilogy. I wouldn’t complain.

1. Sergey Kovalev 30-1-1, 26 KO

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The 34 year old former IBF, WBO, WBA light heavyweight champion is one of the most fearsome punchers in the sport, and has very underrated boxing skills. He doesn’t have the fastest hands, but nobody in the sport gets all their weight into their jab the way Kovalev does, and with snap at the end of it. When he follows it with the straight right hand, it’s a lethal combination. He won his first world title, the WBO strap, by stopping Nathan Cleverly in 4 rounds in August 2013. After Adonis Stevenson bolted from HBO to SHO via Al Haymon’s PBC in early 2014, Kovalev and boxing fans were cheated out of a tasty match up of 175 pound KO artists. Kovalev then fought a trio of WBO mandatories before winning every second of every round in a UD victory over the aged legend, Bernard Hopkins. Favored by many to win, Hopkins suffered a violent knockdown in the 1st round, then managed to stave off the efficient aggression of Kovalev for the rest of the fight, before going for broke and trying to KO Kovalev in an exciting 12th round. The victory garnered Kovalev the IBF and WBA titles, which he held until the Ward decision. I have Kovalev rated above Ward because I thought he won the fight, and has faced better competition in recent years. The rematch is scheduled for June 6, so in the near future there might be more clarity at the top of this list, or maybe another close fight with a controversial decision leads to a trilogy. Either way, the fans win.

A Month Of Sundays: Panic Now, Eagles Fans, Before The October Rush!

While it looks like he’s about to stomp the punter’s face further into the turf WWE style, Travis Benjamin is merely leaping over him to collect the AMOS POTW award.

This week, AMOS will get right to the point and declare Travis Benjamin the AMOS Player Of The Week for Week 2, and then move on to the Week 3 picks. Although Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Adrian Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, Giovani Bernard, Matt Ryan, and of course Tom Brady were strong candidates, the Cleveland WR caught 3 passes for 115 yards, 2 of which were TDs, and returned a punt 78 yards for a TD in the Browns 28-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans. Congratulations to Travis Benjamin, the Week 2 AMOS POTW!

Picks

Here is what I wrote Wednesday night about the Thursday game…

Washington (1-1) +3.5 at NEW YORK GIANTS (0-2)

This man has not thrown an interception all year. Call me crazy, but I’m thinking next week when he plays against the Bills, he’s due.

“This is obviously a must-win game for the Giants, who would be sunk at 0-3, even in the suddenly shabby NFC East. With the Eagles floundering, the Cowboys hurting, and Washington being themselves, the division is now wide open, but if the Giants go to 0-3 they’re pretty much done. I do think the Giants will win Thursday night, it’s hard (but fun!) to imagine them blowing another double digit 4th quarter lead, but these division games are always tough, so I’ll usually take the team getting more than 3 points. The Giants will keep their season alive, but it’ll be close.”

Okay, so the game wasn’t very close, but Giants fans have to admit, they were getting a little scared in the 4th quarter.

Pittsburgh (1-1) -1 at ST. LOUIS (1-1)

It’s almost unfair how many weapons the Steelers have on offense now.

This should be a great game, as the Steelers explosive offense comes up against a formidable Rams defense. But with Le’Veon Bell returning to the lineup, I expect the Steelers to win. I hate the Steelers as much as humanly possible, but it’s hard not to appreciate a team that, under the new PAT rules, is committed to going for 2 points after every TD.

MINNESOTA (1-1) -2.5 vs San Diego (1-1)

Peterson had 31 touches for 192 yards last week.

I’m a little concerned the Chargers will be able to beat the Vikings with their deep passing game, as WRs Keenan Allen and Malcom Floyd are tough match ups for the Vikings CBs, but it looks like Adrian Peterson is beginning to feel like himself, and as long as the Vikings can stay in the lead or at least within one score and Peterson isn’t expected to pass block, the Vikings should win. And most of the time any spread less than 3 is a pick ‘em.

HOUSTON (0-2) -6.5 vs Tampa Bay (1-1)

JJ Watt, when he heard Jameis Winston had said it would be “fun” to play against him.

I went back and forth on this one quite a bit; a rookie QB vs JJ Watt, or a Texans offense without Arian Foster or DeAndre Hopkins that is QB’d by Ryan Mallett. This has all the ingredients to be a very ugly game, but perhaps hilariously so, as every fan likes to see an overall #1 draft pick QB like Jameis Winston befuddled and humiliated by an all-time great defensive lineman like JJ Watt. Earlier this week, Winston said he was “looking forward” to playing against Watt, to which Bucs right tackle Gosder Cherilus said, “I wish he didn’t say that.” I expect to see some pivotal turnovers and perhaps a JJ Watt TD dance or two before this game is over.

NEW YORK JETS (2-0) -2.5 vs Philadelphia (0-2)

The two biggest surprises of the young season so far meet Sunday in a battle of teams going in two different directions. The Jets are looking to make Ryan Fitzpatrick this generation’s Trent Dilfer, while the Eagles are on the precipice of one of the most disastrous implosions in NFL history. With his roster finally shed of star players who doubted his genius, Chip Kelly is in the unenviable position of a guy who very publicly insisted and got everything he wanted, and now has to live with it.

LeSean McCoy was jettisoned in favor of DeMarco Murray, who is averaging half a yard per carry in two games, or just under $100,000 per yard according to his 5 year, $40 million contract. And it’s not just Murray; the Eagles have amassed a grand total of 70 rushing yards in two games, even though they also acquired Ryan Matthews in the off-season and retained Darren Sproles. Sam Bradford is an obvious downgrade from Nick Foles, and Zack Ertz, their tight end, is their best receiver. Their offensive line sucks, and their defense spends 40 minutes on the field every Sunday, suffering attenuated breaks from duty because of the offense’s inability to get even a single first down on many of their “drives.” It is only a matter of time before the defense throws in the towel and guys like Murray solace themselves by reveling in their wealth rather than focusing on the disaster taking place on the field every Sunday. Eagles fans are already impatient, and once they go to 0-3, there will be early calls for Kelly’s head, which will grow louder throughout the season. Think of the day Jameis Winston is going to have in Houston, and then apply that feeling all year to Chip Kelly. This is the easiest game to pick this week.

CAROLINA (2-0) -6.5 vs New Orleans (0-2)

If you score a TD upside-down, it should be worth double points.

The Saints might be the worst team in football right now. And thankfully for Drew Brees, he’ll probably get some time off after suffering a bruised rotator cuff against the Buccaneers last week. There is speculation he’ll play Sunday, but it was reported he didn’t throw the ball in practice at all Wednesday. His back up, Luke McCown, isn’t terrible, but the rest of this team is, especially the defense. And Carolina has an outstanding defense, so I expect the Panthers to put a hurting on the Saints.

NEW ENGLAND (2-0) -13.5 vs Jacksonville (1-1)

The face Brady will make when he rides the bench mid-way through the 3rd quarter with a 35 point lead Sunday.

The Patriots are playing outstanding football and the Jaguars are the perfect team for them to host after nearly blowing a big lead to Buffalo last week. This will be a very long day for the Jaguars.

Cincinnati (2-0) +2.5 at BALTIMORE (0-2)

The Ravens will be seeing plenty of this on Sunday.

This is a huge, must-win game for Baltimore, but unfortunately for them they are running up against a team that is playing extremely well. The Cincinnati secondary had no problems shutting down the dual deep threat of Malcom Floyd and Keenan Allen last week, so Steve Smith and whoever else the Ravens have shouldn’t pose a huge problem. The Laws Of Parity say the Ravens win, but I like the Bengals, and since they’re also getting points, I’ll take them.

CLEVELAND (1-1) -3.5 vs Oakland (1-1)

Enjoy the Week 3 AMOS Crap Bowl, Cleveland fans! Raiders fans won’t be able to enjoy it because they’re starting in an early game on the east coast, and that is the only reason the Browns are favored by more than 3 points.

Indianapolis (0-2) -3.5 at TENNESSEE (1-1)

Little known fact: Andrew Luck fought the Battle Of Shiloh.

I don’t like giving more than 3 points here, because not only are the Colts 0-2, but they’ve looked like shit getting there. But I have to believe Andrew Luck is going to right the ship, at least on the offensive side of the ball (though if they’d let him play defense, I bet he would). I’m not certain they cover the spread, but I’ll be surprised if the Colts don’t win.

Atlanta (2-0) -2 at DALLAS (2-0)

This fuckin’ guy…

If Romo was healthy there’s no doubt I’d be taking my Cowboys, and honestly I still believe that if the defense can stop or at least limit Julio Jones, and the running game can help them control the clock, they could win. But Jones is playing the best ball of anybody at WR right now, so it would be foolish to assume anybody is going to completely shut him down. The Ryan-to-Jones combo is going to start clicking at some point on Sunday, and there won’t be much Brandon Weeden can do about it.

…and this fuckin’ guy.

Beyond this game, it doesn’t look good for the Cowboys, but if they can pull off a 3-5 record over the next 8 weeks and have Romo and Dez return to a 5-5 team, they will win the NFC East.

San Francisco (1-1) +6.5 at ARIZONA (2-0)

Could these guys really be 3-0?

The 49ers looked great against a mediocre team, then lousy against a good team, but in all fairness they played Pittsburgh in the early time slot traveling from the west coast, which was an easy loss to predict (even though I didn’t – I had as much pre-season rust as anybody). The Cardinals have beaten two very crappy teams, so I expect this to be another competitive divisional game that will be decided by less than 7 points either way.

SEATTLE (0-2) -15 vs Chicago (0-2)

Clausen can expect a lot of this on Sunday.

This is a classic get-well game for the Seahawks, who are gracefully considering a reduction of fines against Kam Chancellor for his two game holdout. The Bears will be without Jay Cutler, which doesn’t sound so bad until you realize Jimmy Clausen will be their QB. It’s going to be a very, very long afternoon for Mr. Clausen, who will be facing one of the best defenses in the league.

On a side, note, it will be interesting to see if the Seahawks get tight end Jimmy Graham involved more in their offense Sunday. Graham has 7 catches for 62 yards and 1 TD in two games and is clearly frustrated. Are the Seahawks a little gun shy about going out of their way to get the new guy the ball after their experience with Percy Harvin? Hard to say, but it’s even harder to believe he was only thrown to twice last week in the Seahawks 27-17 loss to the Packers. In any case, a home game against a dismal Bears defense would seem an opportune time to fluff Graham’s stat sheet and get him and Russell Wilson on the same page.

Buffalo (1-1) +3 at MIAMI (1-1)

The Dolphins could use that guy from “The Office” at QB.

Buffalo is simply the better team, so I’ll take those points.

Denver (2-0) -3.5 at DETROIT (0-2)

Whether it’s Stafford or Orlovsky at QB, you can count on seeing a lot of this.

It’s do-or-die for the Lions, and I’m pretty sure they’re gonna die. Matt Stafford will probably not be playing, and the Denver defense is good enough to carry the ghost of Peyton Manning toward another NFC West division title. I’m sorry, Lions fans, but you guys are toast.

GREEN BAY (2-0) -6.5 vs Kansas City (1-1)

Who needs Jordy Nelson when you can have Max McGee? And hey, who wants front row tickets to the first Super Bowl?

Replay of Super Bowl I! And I’m calling the same final score, 35-10, Packers.

Last week: 7-9

Season: 16-15-1

Leading With The Chin: Cruisin’ For A Bruisin’

This is always hard to look at.

One of the oldest stories in boxing is that of the faded ex-champion who doesn’t know when to hang up the gloves, and ends up fighting past the point where he can maintain his dignity or his health. Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and many others suffered this fate, some for financial reasons, others perhaps because they couldn’t imagine a meaningful life outside the ring. For their fans or anybody with a heart, it can be hard to watch, but often we find it difficult to look away, at least until about the third or fourth round when our capacity for self-deception is exhausted and the only person on Earth who still thinks the aged pugilist has a chance is the man in the ring himself.

Friday night on Spike TV boxing fans will see the aged shadow of former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver climb through the ropes for a heavyweight bout against Steve Cunningham. Author of the single greatest instance of sh*t-talking in all of sports history, the once rangy and powerful 175 lb southpaw has been plying his trade at cruiserweight and heavyweight the last five years, and is undefeated above the light heavyweight limit. Tarver claims he wants a heavyweight title fight, but at 46 years old it’s hard to imagine him doing anything but disgracing himself if he were to fight Wladimir Klitschko or Deontay Wilder, the two reigning heavyweight titlists.

The first obstacle between Tarver and his dream-that-would-surely-be-a-nightmare is Steve “USS” Cunningham (28-7, 13 KO). At 39 years old, Cunningham is no fresh-faced phenom, but he still fights near his best fighting weight, a few pounds above 200, and has looked decent for a smaller heavyweight since moving up in 2012. Why Cunningham continues to fight is no secret, as the Philadelphia native has a 9 year old daughter who recently received a heart transplant and who spent the first year of her life in a hospital. It’s tough to make serious money as a cruiserweight, particularly in the U.S., so Cunningham spent the prime years of his career fighting in Germany and Poland, where a cruiserweight can make a decent living and fight for world titles. While Cunningham also claims to a want a heavyweight title shot, his relatively diminutive size and 3-3 record at that weight indicates his chances wouldn’t be much better than Tarver’s of winning a belt. But Cunningham knows this, and is looking to squirrel away a few good paydays before hanging up the gloves and beginning his second career in the sport as a trainer.

Prediction

The winner.

Cunningham’s lack of power makes it hard to believe this fight won’t go the distance, but I suspect he’ll be so dominant after the first three rounds that fans will wish he could just end it with one punch. Tarver will stalk and stumble and grab as Cunningham uses lateral movement and superior hand speed to pepper the older man with jabs, double jabs, and overhand rights. If he works the body with any consistency, Tarver won’t have the energy to do anything but hang around and take Cunningham’s relatively light but quick punches. Tarver may go for the early KO, which is really his only chance, but Cunningham knows this and won’t be caught. I’ll be very surprised if Tarver wins a single round.

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LWTC: 16 Fights By The End Of 2016 That Can Make Boxing A Mainstream Sport Again

 

If the PBC gets lucky enough to get a fight like this on major network TV, the sport will certainly grow and flourish.

With 2015 not yet halfway over, boxing has already had a banner year, at least in terms of widespread exposure to a mainstream sports audience. Long relegated to a niche audience by ghettoizing itself almost exclusively to premium cable and pay-per-view, boxing is now reaching more fans via Al Haymon’s PBC series than it has in two decades. Launched a couple months ago, PBC bouts featuring some of the top names in the sport began regularly appearing on various basic cable stations and major network TV, and are reportedly garnering a respectable number of viewers. While Haymon’s venture is still building steam and trying to build some of his fighters into recognizable stars, boxing’s two biggest stars recently squared off in a bout to which over four million viewers were willing to pay $100 to watch. So it’s safe to say boxing has reached more fans in recent months than it has in a long time, and it is primed to reach even more in the coming years.

Caveat emptor.

With this expanded access to American eyeballs comes a responsibility to provide a quality product (at least if the sport expects to grow). A generation ago, sports fans were turned on by the spectacle of Mike Tyson KOing guys with ferocious brevity, and subsequently turned off by the fact that they’d just paid $50 to watch him perform for less than 10 minutes. The Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, while a long-anticipated (five years too long) match up of top stars, fell well short of all the hype surrounding it. In the wake of the Mayweather-Pacquiao boregasm, it’s still too early to tell what effect the lack of action in that fight will have on those who paid so much to see so little, but boxing needs to continue to match up its best fighters in each weight class in significant bouts if it expects to expand its viewership.

Exactly.

So while fans were taken for a bit of ride, they certainly asked for it, and if we look at the bright side, there are strong possibilities for a lot of good, significant fights to take place relatively soon. Below, I’ve listed sixteen fights I’d love to see happen in the next 12 months, along with why they’re important, how they might play out, and what can stop them from happening. Even if only half of them happen, it  could still go a long way toward putting boxing back in a place of prominence in American sports culture.

  1. Wladimir Klitschko vs Deontay Wilder

Everyone wins. Except the guy who loses.

Why?

Is that really a question? This would be a fight for the unified Heavyweight Championship Of The World, contested by a pair of six and a half foot tall knockout machines. What can be bad about that? Wlad is notoriously chinny, and Wilder’s chin has yet to be tested, at least against someone with Wlad’s skill and power. This fight absolutely needs to happen, ASAP!

What Would Happen?

Could go either way, but I see a changing of the guard here. Wilder has the size, reach, and power to be a constant threat to Wlad’s glass chin, and my money says he’d be hitting it frequently enough to either put Wlad in a defensive shell or lay him out on the canvas.

What Could Prevent It?

This is more of a “who” question than a “what” question, and it has a two part answer. First, there’s Alexander Povetkin. Last week Povetkin KO’d Mike Perez, positioning himself as Wilder’s mandatory for the WBC title. It’s possible Povetkin would be offered “step aside” money so this fight can happen, but that brings us to the second part of our answer, which is is Al Haymon. Will Haymon pay Povetkin step aside money? If so, will he then insist this fight take place in America (if Wlad’s promoter, K2, wants it in Germany)? Will Haymon create his own PBC heavyweight belt that Wilder will fight for? My hope is that whether this fight takes place in Germany or the U.S., it’s broadcast on NBC or CBS in the States. The Heavyweight Championship Of The World is not as prestigious a title as it was 35 years ago, but if all the titles were held by a charismatic, American knockout machine like Wilder, there could be renewed mainstream interest in and regard for the title. And it would give a huge boost to Haymon’s efforts to bring boxing back into the mainstream of America’s sports consciousness. Al Haymon has more to gain than to lose by making this fight happen. Do it, Al. Do it!

2. Sergey Kovalev vs Adonis Stevenson.

You wouldn’t know it from this picture, but there is some serious bad blood between these guys.

Why?

Again, unifying titles. Kovalev holds three belts at light heavyweight, Stevenson holds one. This fight should have happened last year, but Stevenson fled HBO thinking he’d get a more lucrative (and less dangerous) fight against Bernard Hopkins on Showtime. Instead, Al Haymon tried to wait Hopkins out during negotiations so he’d be stripped of his belts, but Hopkins outsmarted him and walked across the street to HBO where he was able to get a very lucrative fight with Kovalev, which made Kovalev a star. Since then Kovalev has fought and beaten another top fighter Stevenson was supposed to fight, Jean Pascal, and then Kovalev’s manager, Kathy Duva, backed out of a purse bid she knew she couldn’t win against Haymon for the Kovalev-Stevenson fight. So there’s been bad blood in terms of the business end, but also Kovalev has repeatedly called out Stevenson in post-fight interviews (while Stevenson, until very recently, has dodged that same question in his post-fight interviews), referring to him as a “piece of shit.” There was also an apparently racist tweet from Kovalev, where he posted a photo of him pointing a t-shirt with an ape wearing boxing gloves and making disparaging remarks about Stevenson. As if all of that weren’t enough, both of these guys pack a huge punch and are very aggressive in the ring, this fight could be nothing but an explosive war.

What Would Happen?

Either guy could score a KO, but you have to go with the more skilled man, and that’s Kovalev. He’s also got the better chin. It would be fun while it lasted, but I think Kovalev would make relatively short work of Stevenson, shaking him in the early rounds with his right hand and taking him out by the 6th.

What Could Prevent It?

Promotional issues. In early 2014, this was a sure fire major bout, and now, since both guys have increased their individual profiles and brewed all this bad blood, it would certainly be a major event. But the redrawn lines of boxing’s “cold war” are between HBO and Al Haymon, and it seems at this point that there is more of a Berlin Wall between them than a mere line in the sand. So for now this fight isn’t happening, which sucks, but it looks like we’re going to get the next best thing…

  1. Sergey Kovalev vs Andre Ward

This guy is allegedly returning to his day job.

Why?

I know some of you are sitting there saying to yourself, “Andre Ward, Andre Ward… that name sounds so familiar…” He’s not that guy who won the Heisman Trophy and played point guard for the New York Knicks,

Not him…

and he’s not that guy who won the Heisman Trophy and played QB for the Detroit Lions;

…or him…

Andre Ward is that guy who won Showtime’s “Super Six” tournament and cleaned out the super middleweight division four years ago and has since alternated suing his promoter with calling out guys in the weight class below him, all the while acting like he’d never heard of Sergey Kovalev.

… there he is!

Well, now that Ward is emerging from his hibernation and apparently can’t make 168 lbs anymore, there is talk of a fight with Sergey Kovalev happening sometime in the next 12 months. This is great news for boxing fans, as this is a very compelling match up.

What Would Happen?

Like most of his fights, Ward would make this an ugly one. He’ll charge in at Kovalev with his head and forearms flying, trying to rough up and back up the bigger, harder hitting man. This may work in the early rounds, and if it does it will certainly set the tone for an ugly, foul-filled fight. However, if there’s a decent referee, I believe Ward will eventually be deducted a point and be forced to fight in a manner that is not only more within the spirit of the Marques of Queensbury rules, but also more advantageous to Kovalev. Kovalev will be able to land some power shots as Ward charges in sporting a more legal defensive shell, trying to do body work, but Kovalev will clip him on the temple with a compact, looping right hand or hit him on top of the head with a shot that jars Ward’s neck and makes his legs wobble. After that, it will be a matter of survival, but Ward won’t survive, Kovalev will get him on the ropes and finish him off in an ugly fight with a gratifying ending.

What Can Stop It?

A loss by either guy before this happens, or a more lucrative and less dangerous fight coming Ward’s way (like Stevenson, for instance). But I’ll be very surprised if this doesn’t happen, and in the last couple weeks there have been rumors that it’s being talked about for 2016.

  1. Carl Froch vs Gennady Golovkin

Everybody wants it, that’s who.

Why?

I’ll admit this wasn’t on the list in my first draft of this article, but since then there’s been talks between the teams about doing this fight this year. And it’s a very compelling fight. Many fans are clamoring for Golovkin to face a top level fighters, and Carl Froch is looking to close out his career with a big fight and a big payday. This would be a win-win for everybody, especially the fans.

What Would Happen?

This is a tough one to call, it depends on a lot of factors. With Froch talking retirement, there’s a chance he’s just not as focused on fight night as he’s been throughout his career. If that’s the case, it could be a long night for him. Froch has one of the best chins in the game, and Golovkin is one of the hardest punchers; Froch could end up taking a lot of punishment in this fight if he doesn’t bring his “A” game.
On the other hand, Golovkin isn’t a big middle weight, and he’d likely have to take this fight at 168 lbs. How would he fare at that weight against a bigger man who will likely be able to stand up to his power? And how will he fare against a guy who remains on the fringes of most people’s pound-for-pound lists? Froch would be, by far, the most talented, accomplished fighter Golovkin has faced. There are huge question marks for both guys, but I suspect Golovkin would win, seeing how George Groves gave Froch some trouble, and since the second Kessler fight Froch has looked a bit slower of hand and foot.

What Could Stop It?

Unless something expedites Canelo Alvarez’s move up to middleweight, I can’t see either guy having a more lucrative opponent, so as long as Froch doesn’t decide to just retire without a farewell fight, this looks very likely to happen. Perhaps the most interesting question about it is where the fight will take place. You’d have to think they could get 50,000 fans in Wembley Stadium for it, perhaps more, but Froch has expressed a desire to fight in Las Vegas before his career is over.

  1. Miguel Cotto vs Canelo Alvarez

Let’s do this.

Why?

This is the most lucrative fight in boxing that doesn’t involve Floyd Mayweather. It’s for the lineal middleweight title, and it’s got that Puerto Rico vs Mexico thing going on. Cotto obtained the lineal middleweight title by beating up a crippled version of Sergio Martinez, and outsmarted himself out of this fight last month by trying to play Mayweather and Canelo off each other in what he hoped would become a bidding war, but Mayweather worked shit out with Pacquiao and Canelo decided he wasn’t going to wait for Cotto to stop acting like a bitch, so he fought James Kirkland, which left Cotto fighting Daniel Geale in a couple weeks for a lot less money.

This fight needs to happen, and it needs to happen soon. The WBC, in a rare move of principle, has said it will strip Cotto of their belt if he defeats Geale and doesn’t fight their #1 contender, Gennady Golovkin, next. My guess is that they’ll make an exception if Cotto comes to terms with Canelo, with the stipulation that the winner fights Golovkin. Or maybe Cotto pays Golovkin step-aside money (who am I kidding?), or Cotto just drops the title and fights Canelo purely for money at 156 lb catch weight.

What Happens?

Canelo is too big, too active, and too young for Cotto. Cotto would make it a fight early, and Canelo will learn a thing or two from him, but at the end of the day Canelo’s size and punching power will be too much for Cotto, who will wilt under the cumulative effect of Canelo’s intermittent, hammering flurries.

What Can Stop It?

Floyd Mayweather. The only way this doesn’t happen is if Floyd fights Cotto in September. Which I wouldn’t put past him, since he surely wasn’t happy with Canelo trying to take Cinco de Mayo weekend from him. In fact, I’ll be very surprised if this doesn’t turn out to be the scenario. Though that would likely only delay this fight, not prevent it.

Some of you might be thinking, “what if Geale beats Cotto?” I don’t think that would stop this fight, I suspect they’d just have it at junior middleweight.

  1. Gennady Golovkin vs Canelo Alvarez

Hopefully we don’t have to wait 5 years for this.

Why?

Either as a middleweight title unification fight, or just a big money fight for Golovkin, this promises a lot of hype, and fireworks to match. If Golvokin wins, he can move up to 168 or, if there are any decent guys left at middleweight he can dust them off and move up. If Canelo win, he can begin what might be a long reign at 160 lbs.

What Happens?

Golovkin wins a close, exciting fight in which both men receive numerous chin checks, and each unloads a ferocious body attack. I think it ends in the late rounds with a Golovkin hook to the liver in a fight in which Canelo is ahead on the scorecards. And there’s a rematch.

What Can Stop It?

Canelo. If he can stay at 154 lbs, maybe even do a pair of fights (or even a trilogy) with Cotto to pad his bank account, Golovkin might get sick of waiting for him and be enticed to move up to 168 after picking up the vacated WBC belt and realizing there’s nothing else for him to do at 160.

  1. Kell Brook vs Amir Khan

There’s only one person who doesn’t want this, unfortunately, his name is Amir Khan.

Why?

Because this is the fight all of England wants, right?

What Will Happen?

Brook will lose the first two or three rounds while he adjusts to Khan’s speed, then take Khan apart in the middle rounds and score a KO with a booming right uppercut as he’s backpedaling from an attacking Khan in the late rounds. Khan is rarely in a boring fight, and I expect this one to be exciting while it lasts, but Brook is too slick, to strong, and too talented not to find Khan’s chin frequently enough to take him out before the final bell.

What Can Stop It?

Khan doesn’t want this, but with Pacquiao on the shelf for at least a year (if not forever), and Mayweather exiting the scene, what excuse will Khan have to not take this fight? I believe Khan and Cotto are running neck-and-neck for the September Mayweather sweepstakes, but I suspect Cotto is going to get that fight. Maybe Khan gets a shot at Mayweather next spring and is able to delay this fight indefinitely? That wouldn’t surprise me. But even if it doesn’t happen, maybe instead we get…

  1. Kell Brook vs Keith Thurman

Will Haymon risk one of his guys losing to Kell Brook again?

Why?

Because these guys are the two best welterweight not named Mayweather. Each of these guys believes they are the best in the world, they’re both on the large side for welterweights, and both are blessed with equal amounts of skill and power. This would be a great fight.

What Would Happen?

This is a toss up. I think Brook is more skilled, but Thurman has more power. I have no idea what would happen, and that’s why it’s one of the 3 best fights on this list.

What Could Stop It?

Amir Khan or Al Haymon. If Khan does fight Brook and the fight is lucrative (guaranteed) and is close, there could be a rematch or a trilogy. The other possibility is Al Haymon, who has already watched one of his titlists lose his belt to Brook.

  1. Danny Garcia vs Lucas Matthysse II

If you don’t want to see this again, maybe boxing isn’t for you.

Why?

Did you see their first fight? This is guaranteed to be a barn burner, and they are still the two best guys at 140 lbs.

What Would Happen?

This is another toss up, as their first fight turned on Matthysse’s eye swelling up from what was ruled a punch but turned out to be a forearm. Though in the last 18 months Matthysse has been in a pair of absolute wars with John Molina and Ruslan Provodnikov, while Garcia has received a gift decision against Mauricio Herrera, , committed a legalized assault on Rod Salka, and had a competitive fight with Lamont Peterson. I’d love to see Garcia-Matthysse II, asap.

What Could Stop It?

This is dead in the water. Al Haymon isn’t going to let Lucas Matthysse back into the fold after ditching him for Golden Boy and HBO. It’s a shame, because this would be a great fight now, and frankly there should’ve been an immediate rematch after their first fight. Hopefully fans will get a couple of good consolation prizes, like…

  1. Lucas Matthysse vs Terrence Crawford

Let’s do this!

Why?

Both guys fight on HBO, both are 140 lbs, and both are two of the best fighters in their division.

What Would Happen?

This is another great match up, but I would have to go with Crawford. Matthysse has put some hard miles on himself the past couple of years, and Crawford is a rare talent who is able to not only switch effortlessly from an orthodox to a southpaw stance, but he’s able to change his approach and his game plan according to shifting variables in the fight. That said, his chin is a bit questionable, as he was severely buzzed by the much smaller Yuriorkis Gamboa, but he also responded well to that buzzing by knocking Gamboa out. This would be a great fight, but I think Crawford outboxes him and also has the judges on his side a bit as this would likely take place in his hometown of Omaha, where he’s able to pack the local basketball arena every time he fights. Unfortunately for Matthysse, this might be a significant psychological disadvantage, as he’s been robbed by hometown decisions in the past against Devon Alexander and Zab Judah.

What Could Stop It?

I don’t think anything can stop this from happening. Matthysee may take a well-deserved soft touch or two over the course of the next 6 months or so, but I can’t imagine this fight not happening in early 2016.

  1. Danny Garcia vs Adrien Broner

Which guy will be the top banana of the PBC?

Why?

Because both of these guys are going to herald in the first PBC belt at their own invented 144 lb weight class. I believe this fight has been in the works for over a year, as Broner has been fed a series of tomato cans and one limited contender since losing to Marcos Maidana, while Garcia only needed to win a fight the public demanded against Lamont Peterson to fulfill his end of the bargain.

What Will Happen?

Broner is probably possesses more raw athletic skill, but Garcia is a much smarter fighter and this will tell on fight night. Broner’s own worst enemy dwells between his ears; he’s the kind of guy who believes his own bullshit to such an extent that he forgets how hard he has to work to live up to all that bluster. Garcia has some trouble with guys who move their feet a lot, but he’s also busy enough when they’re in range that he doesn’t necessarily lose rounds to them. I see Broner using his mobility the same way he did against John Molina, but not getting the same results, as Garcia has much better hand speed and a much more dynamic arsenal. Broner will spend a lot of time circling the ring, shaking his head, after getting the worst of most of their brief exchanges, then he’ll be in a state of disbelief if the cards don’t go his way. Or maybe he gets a very controversial decision and it sets up a rematch.

What Can Stop It?

Broner. If Broner gets arrested for doing something stupid, or comes into training camp too heavy and sustains an injury. Otherwise, this is happening.

  1. Vasyl Lomachenko vs Nicholas Walters

This has Fight Of The Year written all over it.

Why?

Because boxing, that’s why. This is the most intriguing match up on this list and could produce the most entertaining fight. Lomachenko is the real deal, he can do it all and isn’t afraid of anybody, while Walters is an absolute brute of a fighter with heavy hands, lots of athleticism, and a killer instinct. This needs to happen.

What Would Happen?

I’d jizz in my pants, that’s what would happen. I have absolutely no idea who would win this, any outcome is possible, which is part of why it needs to happen.

What Could Stop It?

I don’t see either guy having a more lucrative opponent, so the short answer is: nothing. This has trilogy written all over it, think Morales-Barerra.

  1. Carl Frampton vs Scott Quigg

It would be a shame if this doesn’t happen.

Why?

This is becoming the British version of Mayweather-Pacquiao, at least in terms of all the drama involved in making this happen. This fight would be huge in England, it seems like there’s too much money on the table for it to not happen. And we’d get to find out if either of these guys (whoever wins) really wants anything to do with Guillermo Rigondeaux.

What Would Happen?

I think this might be a little anti-climactic, in that Frampton will either stop Quigg or win a wide decision.

What Could Stop It?

Egos. Either the fighters or their promoters could just be assholes. This is boxing, that shit happens all the time.

  1. Guillermo Rigondeaux vs Leo Santa Cruz

Only Photoshop could get Santa Cruz this close to Rigondeaux.

Why?

I used to love Leo Santa Cruz, I really did. But no one has fought such a long string of tomato cans since Butterbean. Santa Cruz’s level of opposition has dropped so low that he’d have accumulated less ring rust the last 18 months if he’d just sat on his couch watching reruns of Chico And The Man. Now I’d just like to watch someone pick him apart and beat the crap out of him. So that’s why.

What Would Happen?

Rigondeaux could finally get another name scalp on his resume by dominating Santa Cruz for 12 rounds of target practice. And then Rigo could start begging for either Frampton or Quigg, while politely ignoring the fact that several big name opponents await him only 4 pounds above at featherweight.

What Could Stop It?

Fan disinterest. Or either guy being unwilling to meet go up (in Rigo’s case) or down (Santa Cruz) a few pounds. Or promotional bullshit. Is Rigo still with Top Rank? I should know this, but I don’t care. I’d like for this fight to happen, but at the same time it’s hard to feel bad for Rigo, who at 34 years old ought to forget all these guys at 122 and move up to 126 where he can make some money before he’s too old to compete.

  1. Roman Gonzalez vs Juan Francisco Estrada II

Check out their first fight on youtube, it’s well worth your time.

Why?

Did you see their first fight? If not, go to youtube and watch it, it’s well worth your time (especially if you can watch it at work and you get paid by the hour). Gonzalez is easily one of the 3 best fighters in the world, and Estrada gave him his toughest test and is still the top rated flyweight. This simply has to happen.

What Would Happen?

As eager as I am to see this again, I actually think Gonzalez would win by a wider margin, or might even stop Estrada. Gonzalez is a special fighter and he just seems to keep getting better, which is a weird thing to say about a guy with 43 professional fights.

What Can Stop It?
Nothing. Gonzalez doesn’t seem to be particular about his match making, it’s hard to imagine him not wanting to defend his title against the top contender. And of course Estrada wants another crack at the title.

  1. Roman Gonzalez vs Naoye Inoue

Naoye Inoue is no joke.

Why?

They are the two best little guys in the world. Gonzalez is one of the best fighters in the world, period, and Inoue might be as well, but it’s too early to tell. At 8-0 with 7 KOs, Inoue is running neck-and-neck with Lomachenko for the titlist with the fewest pro fights. Inoue won the light flyweight title in only his 6th pro bout, and at 22 years old looks capable of reigning for a long time at 115 lbs after committing elder abuse against the 39 year-old former junior bantamweight champ, Omar Narvaez. Both Gonzalez and Inoue are heavy punchers with aggressive but crafty styles. This might end up being the best fight on the list.

What Would Happen?

I have to lean toward Gonzalez in this one, but it’s not a fight I’d bet money on (though I’d pay a good deal to see it).

What Can Stop It?

Gonzalez has no shortage of viable opponents at flyweight, so this might not happen within the next 12 months, but I’ll be surprised if we don’t see it before the end of 2016.

How Many Of These Fights Will We Actually See Before Summer 2016?

Hopefully we’ll get half of them, maybe more. The only ones I definitely don’t see happening are Brook-Khan, and Garcia-Matthysse 2. We might never see Frampton-Quigg, or Rigondeaux-Santa Cruz, or Kovalev-Stevenson, and I’ll be surprised if we don’t have to wait more than 12 months for Golovkin-Alvarez. That leaves us with 10 of these fights that have a decent chance of happening before summer 2016, but this is boxing, you have to figure injuries, unexpected losses in the interim, or other kinds of weirdness will delay or prevent two or three of these fights from happening, so fans will be lucky to get half of them. If that sounds overly pessimistic, keep in mind that it’s extremely unlikely we’ll have to wait five years or pay $100 for any of these fights, and that in itself is good for the sport.

 

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Leading With The Chin: Finally…

Better late than never.

Tomorrow night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather will face off in what is expected to be the most lucrative boxing match in the history of the sport. An event five years in the making, this fight pits the two biggest attractions in the sport, who happen to be, in the opinion of most people, the two best boxers as well. While each man is at least a shade past their best days, it’s still by far the most interesting and competitive match up for both men. And each is expected to earn a nine-figure payday for their labors.

It could have been worse.

The fight is so big there are more preview programs on various cable networks than any gainfully employed person has the time to watch. As someone who has spent far too much time thinking about this fight from 2010 until giving up on it ever happening a little over a year ago, I can’t imagine there is anything on those programs that will enhance my experience as a spectator on Saturday. But those shows aren’t geared toward people who follow the sport closely, they’re manufactured to educate casual fans and drum up pay-per-view buys, which are estimated to come in at around 3 million, which would shatter all PPV records.

Money Makes The World Go ‘Round

In 2010, back when this fight was first proposed and then negotiated, it seemed like a no-brainer. Just like now, both fighters were the two biggest attractions in the sport, and they were also neck-and-neck atop everyone’s mythical “Pound For Pound” list. They routinely did huge PPV numbers, and were at or very near their athletic primes. Negotiations fell apart primarily over disputes about drug testing time tables and protocols, and both guys went their own ways. Between then and now Mayweather fought a lower caliber of opponent in 7 fights, not surprisingly remaining undefeated, while Pacquiao engaged in 9 fights, two pair against top 5 “Pound For Pound” fighters Juan Manuel Marquez and Tim Bradley. Pacquiao went 7-2 in those 9 battles, “losing” a bogus split decision in the first Bradley fight, and getting knocked out cold for several minutes in the 6th round of his thrilling fight with Marquez.

The century is young, but there you go.

Over the course of those years, it seemed inevitable that Mayweather and Pacquiao would eventually lace up the gloves and meet in the ring in the fight everyone wanted to see, simply because there was too much money to be made. Even with the ugly promotional/network “cold war” that raged early in this decade and continues to this day, boxing history is replete with examples of business interests who plainly hated each other putting aside their personal beefs for the sake of their own self-interest.

These guys hated each other as much as any two people in history, but when it mattered most, they put aside their differences and made fights happen.

So for four years heated debate continued on the internet about who would win the fight, how it would happen, who would “win” the negotiations; all of that and so much more crap was debated by fans in ways that would shame sentient beings to relive.

This appeared to be the final nail in the coffin of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight.

Sometime in early 2014, many hardcore boxing fans seemed to give up on the prospect of this fight ever happening. I was among them. Pacquiao’s scary KO loss to Marquez in December 2012 made people wonder if Pacquiao would ever fight again, and if he did, would he be the same guy? That, combined with all the idiotic and convoluted shifts in the boxing business, made it seem impossible to imagine the two sides ever coming to terms and making the fight happen. Pacquiao’s PPV sales decreased sharply, and his promoter, Bob Arum, began having him fight in Macao, China, where the site fee paid by the casino freed him from having to sell a lot of PPVs to make a tidy profit. It appeared Pacquiao was being cashed out by Arum, while Mayweather, bereft of compelling opponents, was reduced to conducting fan polls on his website about who he should fight next, with the only two choices being the crude and limited Marcos Maidana, or the chinny Amir Khan.

It almost always comes with great responsibility.

A confluence of events propelled both sides toward each other, as Mayweather’s two fights against Maidana last year (the first one was unexpectedly very close, the second one was not) did numbers we can only assume were insufficient in the eyes of CBS/Showtime executives to justify the enormous amounts of money Mayweather was guaranteed. We don’t know what the PPV numbers were, because Showtime decided at that time it was in their best interests to enact a new policy that didn’t include making those numbers public. What we do know is Mayweather was guaranteed $32 million per fight, and people familiar with the PPV business commonly believed one million buys were necessary to turn a profit on those events. Showtime had signed Mayweather in early 2013, and no doubt were banking on getting the Pacquiao fight at some point, so with no opponents left who possessed the right blend of ring aptitude and marketability, the man many said Floyd was ducking loomed larger than ever.

This is what happens when you run out of credible opponents.

Though “loom” is a peculiar verb to use for a guy who was having his own troubles. Last year it was reported that Pacquiao, who supports a notoriously large entourage, was in serious tax trouble in both the US and his native Philippines. And since he’d avenged his “loss” to Tim Bradley in very convincing fashion, and nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez seemed completely uninterested in fighting Pacquiao a 5th time, Pacquiao was reduced last November to fighting a guy named Chris Algieri. Hardcore fans know Algieri had made a name for himself earlier last year by almost being knocked into the middle of next week by Ruslan Provodnikov in the first round, then got up and ran and jabbed his way to a debatable victory; casual fans either don’t know him at all or perhaps saw a bit of something on TV about a boxer going to fight in China who lived in his parents’ basement on Long Island.

Canelo Alvarez deserves a bit of credit for helping make this fight happen.

Another less pressing but nonetheless significant factor was Canelo Alvarez’s switch from Showtime to HBO last year. Alvarez instructed his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, to book him to fight on Cinco de Mayo weekend. It looked like Canelo, arguably the sport’s 3rd biggest attraction, was going to fight the next biggest attraction, Miguel Cotto, in a classic Mexico vs Puerto Rico battle that would have surely done big PPV numbers. Mayweather, who has cashed several extremely large paychecks fighting PPV fights on Cinco de Mayo weekend for 4 of the past 5 years, would have had no choice but to fight Pacquiao if he wanted to compete head-to-head with that fight and still make money.

This chance meeting set the wheels in motion.

With Mayweather and Pacquiao both hard up for opponents and facing different financial pressures, it only took a fortuitous meeting at a Miami Heat basketball game for the two fighters to talk face-to-face and make this fight finally happen. The fighters worked things out on their own, and the big money network guys behind them basically told the problematic promoters/managers of the fighters to put their bullshit aside, that there was too much money to be made, and the fight was going to happen.

Past The Due Date?

Pacquiao won a clear decision, but after being robbed in the first fight you’d expect him to take it out of the judge’s hands.

Some things get better with age, but that doesn’t frequently apply to boxers. This is undoubtedly the biggest fight that can be made in the sport, but there’s no denying that from a purely competitive stand point, this would’ve been a lot better in 2010 or 2011. While both guys are chronologically 5 years older, it’s indisputable that Pacquiao has the harder miles on him, particularly in that time period. There’s evidence one of the effects of the devastating KO he suffered at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012 is a reduced zeal to finish his opponents. Nobody expected him to knock out the iron-chinned Brandon Rios in his next fight 11 months later, but in his victory in the Bradley rematch last April he occasionally tempered his attack after eating some of Bradley’s haymakers, and Bradley’s not a guy with a lot of power. Then last November in the Algieri fight, Pacquiao battered the overmatched Long Islander all over the ring for 12 rounds, knocking him down several times, and won by the widest scores you’ll ever see in a 12 round fight (119-103 twice, and 120-102), but was unable to finish him off. Does anyone believe a pre-KO Pacquiao wouldn’t have knocked Algieri into the middle of next week before the final bell?

There’s no way a younger Mayweather would’ve been in this situation against a fighter of Maidana’s style and caliber.

As for Mayweather, he’s extraordinarily well-preserved, though at 38 years old he’s definitely lost some of his hand speed and foot speed. As any NBA player in his mid-30s will tell you, one of the first things that goes with age is lateral movement. While Freddie Roach would like you to believe Mayweather’s legs are “shot,” he doesn’t appear to have lost much foot speed, aside from the initial explosiveness on his first step. Once he gets moving, he’s as swift and graceful as ever on his feet. His two most recent fights, both against Marcos Maidana, illustrate this well, as he had trouble getting off the ropes in the first half of their first fight, which ended up being close, then managed to stay off them for most of the second fight, which was a wide UD victory for Mayweather.

He’s all business for this one.

So the fight isn’t what it would’ve been in 2010, and that’s good for Mayweather, as Pacquiao was at his absolute peak at that time, while Floyd was staging exaggerated sparring sessions on PPV against guys like Victor Ortiz. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a good fight now. Pacquiao is unquestionably the most dangerous opponent out there for Mayweather today, and you need look (or listen) no further than to the curious silence coming out of the Mayweather camp leading up to this fight for evidence of that. For years Mayweather has sold himself on the aura of his undefeated record, using a mixture of rare skill, hard work, and carefully chosen opposition to keep his “0” intact. During a 21 month “retirement” toward the end of last decade, he participated in a WWE exhibition that set the blue print for his subsequent marketing of himself and his staging of his fights. Mayweather brought all flashy showmanship and traash talk of the WWE to his promotional efforts, and in lieu of being able to stage scripted combat, he frequently chose opponents who stood no better chance than a WWE actor playing the losing role. All of the salesmanship and trash talk is gone from the build up to this fight; there are no disparaging comments about Pacquiao, no drama with family members, no clowning for the press. Mayweather is all business and focused entirely on his training camp, because this is the first time in many years he’s faced an opponent he knows demands this level of his attention. This is the biggest fight of his career, and while many people have ridiculed him for being illiterate and socially retarded, inside the ring and within the business world of boxing you’d be hard pressed to find a more adept intellect.

POSSIBLE OUTCOMES

Mayweather by Decision – 40% chance.

This could very easily be a typical Floyd fight; he checks out what Pacquiao has to offer the first two and a half or three rounds, ceding those rounds to him, then starts countering Pacquiao to win the middle rounds in increasingly comfortable fashion, though maybe Pacquiao is able to steal a close 7th round by landing something significant in the last 10 seconds. Going into the 10th round, Floyd has a lead, Pacquiao turns up the heat and wins a couple more rounds on activity and aggression, but Mayweather emerges victorious by close decision, 115-113.

Pacquiao by Decision – 25% chance.

See the scenario above, with Pacquiao winning the first 3 rounds, one middle round, and all 3 late rounds, maybe even scoring a knockdown along the way for a 10-8 round.

Draw – 20% chance.

A lot of people in Vegas are taking this bet, as the odds are favorable and in a fight this lucrative there is an obvious built-in incentive for a rematch. I’m not saying judges will go out of their way to make it a draw, but it wouldn’t at all surprise me if this were the result. It would basically look like the two outcomes described above, but with a handful of rounds that could go either way.

Mayweather by KO – 10% chance.

In 2010, this would’ve been the least likely outcome, but if you factor in the size difference (Floyd is significantly larger) with Pacquiao having suffered a frightening KO two and a half years ago that has changed his psychological approach to combat, it’s not hard to imagine a fight where Floyd has built sizeable lead that leaves Pacquiao no choice but to go for the KO, opening himself up for an exquisitely timed 2-3 combo that sends the Filipino Senator to the canvas. I don’t think Floyd will score the “lights out” KO Marquez did, but I can see him dazing Pacquiao, then hitting him with an unanswered flurry until Kenny Bayless steps in and stops it.

Pacquiao by KO – 5% chance.

This is the least likely scenario, as Pacquiao isn’t nearly as aggressive as he was 5 years ago. The Marquez KO lurks in the back of his mind, and Floyd has only been shook once that I can remember, and that was in the 2nd round against Shane Mosley. I don’t think it’s too far-fetched Pacquiao wobbles Mayweather at some point with a left hand high on the head, or even scores a flash knockdown, but he’s become more of a volume puncher than the KO machine he was until the end of 2009. In 2010 this would have been at least the 2nd most likely scenario, but now this is only more likely than a DQ win for either guy.

Prediction

Although he’s 22 months older than Pacquiao, Mayweather is the fresher physical specimen, he’s more focused than ever, and perhaps most importantly, he’s simply the bigger guy. He’s an inch and a half taller, has a 5 inch wing span advantage, and is a more natural welterweight. The old adage about a good big man beating a good smaller man applies here. Mayweather’s size advantage will mean less offensively than defensively, as the shoulder roll he employs is extremely effective against punches coming from a lower trajectory, and he will, as usual, be able to dictate distance with his jab, even if it’s only being thrown at the right shoulder of the advancing southpaw.

Once he’s figured out what you do, you have to do something else.

Additionally, Pacquiao doesn’t have the size to back Mayweather up to the ropes and keep him there the way Maidana did in their first fight. This fight will be fought primarily at ring center, where Mayweather thrives. Neither man has tended to start fast in recent years, and I don’t expect them to behave any differently tomorrow night. Mayweather will spend the first three rounds getting down Pacquiao’s hand speed and the foot movements that tend to precede particular attacks, and he will figure out how to neutralize and counter those tendencies. It will cost Mayweather at least two rounds, probably the first three, then he will apply his craft and enter his comfort zone, effectively countering the smaller southpaw’s lead left hands and then wheeling out of danger to reset the distance. By the midway point the fight will be even on the scorecards, but Mayweather will clearly have the momentum.

Pacquiao has underrated accuracy, and going into a shell against him is a very bad idea.

By the 7th or 8th round, Pacquiao will realize he has to change up his game plan and will become more aggressive. Mayweather will still land some effective counters, perhaps the more obvious head-snapping shots, but Pacquiao’s busier work rate and hard, accurate lefts that come behind jabs and left feints will produce a bit of blood from the mouth or nose of Mayweather. Not fond of the taste or sight of his own blood, Mayweather will revert to what he does best, which is retreat and counterpunch the suddenly more confident and assertive Pacquiao, and pick his spots to get in the pocket, throw combos, and get out. This will be the telling moment in the fight, because if he can do this without getting caught himself and turning this into more of a firefight, he will regain control of when and how they exchange blows. If he does get caught with more of Pacquiao’s left hands, and especially if Pacquaio can follow those with right hooks, Floyd will have to go deeper into his tool box than he’s had to in many years, and will have to be more active throughout the fight than he’s been since he fought as a lightweight. I suspect Mayweather will succeed at this point in the fight and be able to dictate the action. He’ll cruise for the last few rounds, Pacquaio will win a late round or two on sheer aggression, and Mayweather will win a close split or majority decision, which will lead to a rematch in September.

Will he agree to a rematch if the fight is close?

Overall, I don’t expect the action in the ring to live up to the hype surrounding the event (how could it?), but I do expect to see a very high level of skill displayed by both fighters, and there will be more exchanges than we’ve seen in a Mayweather fight in a long time; it will be the kind of performance appreciated by hardcore fans, but not as much by the many casual fans who will be shelling out serious money to see the fight. If Pacquiao wins, he’s contractually obligated to a rematch, while Mayweather is not, but it’s hard to imagine there not being a rematch in September if the fight is close.

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Leading With The Chin: A Non-Title Title Fight and $1.4 Million Gamble

The second best fight possible at 140 lbs.

This is the fight we’ve all been waiting to settle for, ever since late 2013 when it became apparent Al Haymon’s “takeover” of boxing, now known as the “Premier Boxing Champions” series, was rumored to be imminent. Danny Garcia’s thrilling victory over Lucas Matthysse on the undercard of the Mayweather-Canelo PPV in September 2015 was the kind of fight that begged for an immediate rematch, but boxing fans were fed lesser fights in the light welterweight division as Haymon maneuvered his 140 lb fighters toward the positions he wanted them to be in for the launch of Premier Boxing Champions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy boxing is now on major network TV, that the sport is getting mainstream exposure, that it has a chance to grow its fanbase and fighters have a chance to make more money, but as a long time fan who has suffered through the promotional “cold war” that has delayed and/or blocked some of the biggest fights in the sport for the last several years, I’m understandably a bit impatient. And while Al Haymon isn’t entirely responsible for the cold war, he’d become a pivotal figure in it and his ascendance on the scene resulted in fans being stuck with gross mismatches like Garcia-Salka, Peterson-Iforgothisname, and Adonis Stevenson vs pretty much everyone since he signed with Haymon 15 months ago. Premier Boxing Champions has a lot of promise, but at this point in time Al Haymon owes a debt to boxing fans that will take more than a few decent fights to repay.

There’s no excuse for this rematch not happening a year ago.

But Danny “Swift” Garcia versus Lamont Peterson following the Thurman-Guerrero bout a few weeks ago isn’t a bad start. It’s not Garcia-Matthysee II, but it would be hard to find a better opponent for Garcia at 140 lbs, since we’re limited to Haymon fighters only fighting other Haymon fighters. Though that brings up another issue, which is the 143 lb catch weight. Why is this fight taking place at a catch weight? Garcia holds the WBA and WBC 140 lb titles, while Peterson holds the IBF strap, but none of those will be on the line tomorrow night. I applaud everyone involved for that; I’ve long thought that with 17 weight classes there is no reason titles should be fought for at catch weights. One explanation for the catch weight in this fight is Garcia plans to move up to 147 afterward, win or lose, and will vacate the belts. Peterson claims to not know why Garcia wanted a catch weight, but says he just wanted the fight, so he didn’t make it an issue. Good for him, though the IBF says he will be stripped of his belt if he loses to Garcia.

Peterson landing a right hands against a guy who isn’t Danny Garcia.

Lamont Peterson (33-2-1, 17 KO) is a good fighter and he has a great story. But in May 2013 Matthysse earned his title shot at Garcia by bouncing Peterson off the canvas like a basketball before scoring a highlight reel KO in the 3rd round.

This isn’t the best part of Peterson’s story, but is probably the most relevant concerning tomorrow’s fight.

Peterson’s only other loss was to Tim Bradley back in 2009, and his draw was against Victor Ortiz a year later, so his most impressive victories are a questionable decision he received versus Amir Khan, and an 8th round TKO over Kendall Holt he scored three months before losing to Matthysse. There are scores of examples of Triangle Theory not working in boxing (Matthysee beat Peterson, Garcia beat Matthysse, so Garcia will beat Peterson isn’t necessarily a valid conclusion when we recall the fights between Ali, Frazier, and Foreman, to give just one example), but in this instance if we account for styles and Peterson’s penchant for going toe-to-toe when he shouldn’t, it’s hard to imagine him winning this fight.

Garcia was given a lot of this last year against Herrera, and then he was also given the decision.

However, if Peterson has the skills and brains to implement Mauricio Herrera’s stick and move game plan that worked so well against Garcia last year, he’s got a chance. I think he has the skill, but I suspect Peterson’s nature will get the best of him and he will exchange with Garcia at close range more often than is healthy. Peterson isn’t a bad fighter at mid-range or inside, but like Matthysse, Garcia is a better one, and a bigger puncher. If Peterson tries to live in the pocket he will most certainly die there.

Peterson didn’t come anywhere near doing this to Matthysse.

Garcia (29-0, 17 KO) is strong and heavy-handed, and while he doesn’t do anything spectacularly well, he does everything better than most guys. There are fighters with a bigger punch, better hand speed, quicker feet, better defense, higher ring IQ, etc., but there probably aren’t more than two or three guys at or near his weight class who can legitimately claim to be better than him at all those things, or even most of them. As hard as it is to name a particular strength Garcia possesses, it’s even more difficult to point out a specific weakness.

Prediction

Your winner.

Peterson will come out looking to box at first, as his cornerman, Barry Hunter, will undoubtedly tell him to, but Peterson doesn’t always follow his trainer’s directions in the ring, and unless he’s able to experience a lot of early, obvious success with a stick-and-move style in the first 3 or 4 rounds, I think he will resort to standing his ground more often and for longer periods than is wise, and Garcia will work his body. Hunter will implore him between rounds to stick to the less engaging style, and Peterson will start some rounds complying, but Garcia’s early and mid-rounds body work will limit Peterson’s lateral movement, and the late rounds will become Garcia’s style of fight. Garcia will score a knockdown in the 10th or 11th round, and Peterson will get up, only to be finished in the 12th when the ref stops the fight as he’s being pounded along the ropes. It will be a big win for Garcia, and a tough loss for Peterson.

Quillin-Lee

This should be good…

I’m much more excited about this fight than the headline bout. The middleweight division is admittedly shallow talent-wise, but Peter Quillin and Andy Lee are the best middleweights not named Gennady Golovkin. Lee’s WBO middleweight title will be on the line, which he obtained last December by knocking out Matt Korobov with a hellacious right hook in the 6th round of a fight Korobov appeared to be dominating. Six months earlier Lee had also KO’d a prospect named John Jackson in the 5th round of a fight Lee was losing, so if anyone can be said to have a “puncher’s chance,” it’s Andy Lee.

Kid Chocolate: Another middleweight who wants nothing to do with Gennady Golovkin.

Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin (31-0, 22 KO) lost the WBO title he’s trying to regain Saturday when he refused to fight Korobov for a $1.4 million purse last year. It seemed like an odd move, as Korobov wasn’t seen as an especially dangerous opponent and the payday would’ve been (by far) a career high for Quillin. I don’t know what Quillin’s payday is for this fight, but it was speculated that Haymon advised him to drop the belt on the promise that future earnings would be greater than what he gave up when he relinquished his WBO title.

Quillin was unable to dispose of Konecny, who was brought in to be KO’d.

In any case, Quillin’s resume includes the very faded former champions, like Antwun Echols and Winky Wright, and current top 10 contender Hassan N’Dam, and the gutsy trial horse, Gabriel Rosado. Quillin knocked down N’Dam six times in their fight, so he has some pop, but he doesn’t have the one punch KO power Lee has. Regardless, Quillin is a sturdy favorite, as he’s the more overall skilled fighter, though at times he seems to fight down to the level of his opposition, as he was unable to put away the very overmatched and diminutive Lucas Konecny in his previous fight (which was last April), and he had his hands full with Rosado.

For all his technical shortcomings, Lee’s right hook is not something any sane person wants a part of.

Lee (34-2, 24 KO) is a gutsy southpaw whose two losses were to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr in 2012 and Brian Vera in 2008. In 2011 he avenged the loss to Vera, and other than that his resume is littered with victories over journeymen. He’s held a few minor titles as a pro before capturing the WBO belt, and represented Ireland in the 2004 Olympics, where he defeated Alfredo Angulo. I wouldn’t quite call Lee a crude slugger, but at 30 years old he is what he is, which is a guy with some skill, a bit of craft, a big punch, and a huge heart. He doesn’t necessarily stand there intentionally taking punishment, but if he has to take some shots to gain a chance to land his own, he’ll do it.

Prediction

I don’t think he’ll stop Quillin, but a late knockdown should get him a close decision.

While Quillin is justifiably the favorite, I like the underdog here. Lee isn’t someone to take lightly, and I expect Quillin to come in with some considerable rust, having been out of the ring for an entire year. This will be Lee’s 4th fight in that same time frame, and he’s fresh off a couple of KO victories. I think Lee will come out aggressive early, back Quillin up and make him fight as much on instinct as on skill. If he can catch him with something big early, the undefeated challenger might find himself regretting turning down that payday for the Korobov fight last year. If Quillin had looked particularly good against Konecny or Rosado, I’d be taking him, but Lee’s penchant for pulling off upsets combined with Quillin’s ring rust and lack of impressive recent performances point toward another upset victory for Lee. It seems counterintuitive for a guy with Lee’s punch to win by decision, but I think Lee will win the early rounds, working Quillin’s body along the ropes, Quillin will adapt in the middle rounds and use his superior hand speed to buy a few rounds, but then the bigger man (Lee is 6’2”, Quillin 5’11”) will wear down the challenger by pressing the action and increasing his punch output. Lee will catch Quillin with something in the late rounds, perhaps sending him to the canvas, but at the very least hurting him enough for Quillin to alter his approach, and Lee will win a hard-fought decision.

He whose name shall not be spoken on PBC broadcasts that feature middleweight “championship” fights.

Hopefully the broadcast team Saturday night will mention Gennady Golovkin’s name as a future opponent for the winner more times than we heard Sergey Kovalev’s name mentioned on last week’s CBS broadcast of the Adonis Stevenson-Sakio Bika fight, which was zero.

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Leading With The Chin: POS on CBS

Only a boxer can get away with wearing jeans, a t-shirt, a sport coat, and his own custom made baseball hat.

This Saturday will be the second major network installment of Al Haymon’s “Premier Boxing Champions,” as Adonis “Superman” Stevenson headlines in a light heavyweight title defense against Sakio “The Scorpion” Bika on CBS at 3:00 EST/12:00 PST. Stevenson has held the WBC and lineal 175 pound title ever since KOing Chad Dawson in the first round of their June 2013 fight, and has widely been seen as ducking WBA, WBO, and IBF champion Sergey Kovalev ever since. Anyone skeptical of this premise ought to ask themselves what Tavoris Cloud, Tony Bellew, Andzrej Fonfara, and Dmitry Sukhotsky all have in common, and the answer is that they’ve all been offered contracts to get in the ring and challenge Stevenson for his title since he KO’d Dawson. Kovalev has not.

This is likely as close as Kovalev will be allowed to get to Stevenson anytime soon.

It’s not uncommon or unfair for a relatively unknown contender who upsets a prohibitive favorite to defend his new crown against a soft touch or two; after all, a guy ought to be allowed to make a little money while he’s champion, it may not last long and he’s worked his ass off to get there. But Stevenson fled HBO for Showtime and Al Haymon when there were negotiations for a Kovalev fight brewing that were serious enough that Kathy Duva, Kovalev’s promoter, sued Stevenson, Haymon, Showtime, and Golden Boy Promotions for luring Stevenson from HBO. She later dropped the suit when Graterford Penitentiary graduate Bernard Hopkins outsmarted Harvard graduate Al Haymon and took the belts he had last summer to HBO to fight Kovalev when Haymon was trying to run out the clock so Hopkins would be stripped of his titles.

“I’d like to thank Al Haymon…”

In any case, Stevenson has been steered toward some softer competition by Haymon since signing with him at the beginning of 2014, and tomorrow’s fight against Bika is no different.

Bika throws another haymaker seen from a mile away.

What is different about this Stevenson fight is that it will be on CBS. Bika (32-6-3, 21 KO) is a very crude, shopworn guy coming up from super middleweight for this fight, and his barroom style and reckless approach to the sport appear tailor made for Stevenson, who ought to be able to score a spectacularly telegenic knockout against tomorrow in front of a large audience, or at least administer an impressive beating against a guy who refuses to go down. At 25-1 with 21 KOs, Stevenson should be able to land plenty of lead left hands (his best punch) straight down the middle against the wild-swinging Bika. And since Bika has never been stopped, he should stay upright for long enough that casual fans will believe it wasn’t a mismatch.

Adonis Stevenson: Pioneer of women’s boxing.

Clearly this match was made to promote Haymon’s series, and the KO I expect to see will also put Stevenson in the running for future major network appearances, which in itself is a little strange, considering his past. While it hasn’t been well publicized outside of boxing circles, Stevenson did a 20 month stretch in a Canadian prison at the turn of the century for crimes that make what Ray Rice did to fiancée look like a polite misunderstanding. In short, Stevenson is convicted of crimes related to pimping, beating his prostitutes bloody and breaking their bones, and making them fight each other when they didn’t bring him enough money. Stevenson was around 20 years old when he did this stuff, and to his credit has stayed out of trouble since his release almost 15 years ago. While boxing has a long history of giving men with no other options a last chance at earning an honest living, it would be hard to find another example of someone convicted of crimes as heinous as Stevenson’s in the main event of a major network telecast. I’m not saying Stevenson shouldn’t be fighting on CBS, but I do think it’s odd that Haymon, who is launching a pretty risky endeavor by purchasing several dates on major network TV this year to broadcast boxing, chose to put Stevenson on CBS rather than on Spike TV or ESPN or just kept him on Showtime. I also think it’s a bit of a surprise that there’s been no uproar about this, but perhaps it’s far enough in the past that people don’t care, or they just aren’t aware of it.

Prediction

Bika’s chin is likely too strong for him to experience Stevenson from Chad Dawson’s point of view, but I won’t be surprised if the fight ends with him on his feet seeing more than one guy throwing punches at him.

Bika is a very strong man who throws everything he has into almost every punch, but he also throws them from a mile away and is very susceptible to straight punches. And Stevenson is no crude power puncher, he’s a pretty athletic guy with no small amount of skill, and he should be able to land almost at will for most of the night. Bika does have the proverbial puncher’s chance, as Stevenson has shown himself to be a bit chinny, but Bika, who has never shown much sweetness or science in his practice of the sweet science, looked particularly awful in his most recent fight, a UD loss to Anthony Dirrell last August. In that fight Bika crossed the line from garden variety recklessness to inept clumsiness as he looked off balance every time he threw a punch or took one. Tomorrow night I expect him to look much the same, except he will be eating much harder punches from the bigger and more powerful Stevenson than he did from Dirrell. Bika’s heart and chin will keep him on his feet, and he may even finish on his feet, but he will take a terrible beating that the referee will stop by the 9th round, if Stevenson doesn’t knock him out cold first.

The Undercard

Artur Beterbiev puts Tavoris on Cloud 9.

The supporting bout on the CBS telecast from Montreal will feature another pair of light heavyweights, Artur Beterbiev (7-0, 7 KO) versus Gabriel Campillo (25-6-1, 12 KO). Beterbiev turned pro less than two years ago after a stellar amateur career that featured two stints on the Russian Olympic team and medals in various international competitions. The 30 year old Russian came to the pro game with enough skills to compete against stiffer competition than most newly minted professionals, as he only fought five journeymen to start his career before stepping up to fight the shopworn Tavoris Cloud last September, and another prospect last December in Jeff Page, Jr. Beterbiev looked good against Cloud, but appeared to have a lot of room for improvement against Page, as he was knocked down in the first round and didn’t appear very calm under fire. However, he came back in the second round of that fight and stopped Page, but he did it with a lot of roundhouse punches, some of which looked like rabbit punches. His victory was legitimate, but I could see a more seasoned pro being able to survive an attack that sloppy, and perhaps turn the tables on Beterbiev.

Hey, wait, aren’t you Tom Brady?

Is Campillo that kind of pro? Clearly Haymon doesn’t think so, or he wouldn’t be putting a prospect of Beterbiev’s stature in the ring with him. Campillo doesn’t have a big punch, and his best win was against Beibut Shumenov six year ago when Shumenov was only 8-0, and Shumenov beat him in a rematch five months later. So while Campillo is a former WBA champ at 175 lbs, I don’t think he poses much risk to Beterbiev and was chosen as his opponent to get him some rounds, as Beterviev has fought a total of 15 professional rounds in his 7 fight career.

Prediction

Beterbiev should win, and don’t be shocked if he gets Stevenson next.

The crafty southpaw Campillo should give Beterbiev some looks he hasn’t seen in his pro career, and he might even win some of the early rounds, but Beterbiev will make even the rounds he loses look close because of his aggression, and eventually he will hurt Campillo, maybe even early in the fight, and score a knockdown or two. By the 10th round Campillo will look ready to go, but he’ll be able to elude Beterbiev’s undisciplined charges and will run out the clock and make it to the final bell, but the Russian will win a wide UD in a fight that teaches him a lot about fighting a smart, experienced boxer with a wide array of skills.

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Leading With The Chin: Kell Brook Will Test His Leg, Al Haymon Will Test Drive Gary Russell, and the Charlo-Martirosyan Fight Will Test Our Ability To Stay Awake

Brook made a big splash in America last summer.

While the big news in boxing the past few weeks has been the agreement between the two best welterweights in the world to finally fight on May 2, the return of the third best in that weight class has flown under the radar. After making his U.S. debut last August by outclassing the impetuous Shawn Porter for the IBF strap, Brook celebrated by going on vacation and suffering a severe stab wound to his leg. This Saturday Brook will face a rugged Romanian named Jo Jo Dan. The 34-2, 18 KO Dan will travel from his adopted home of Montreal, Canada to help Brook test drive his leg in Sheffield, England.

Not Jo Jo Dan, but Brook’s real opponent, his stab wound.

The lack of buzz for this fight is understandable, given the opponent, and the choice of opponent is also understandable, given the stab wound. Brook is a marvelously skilled boxer who can fight moving forward or backward, and hits with speed, accuracy, and power going either way. At 28 years old he seems like a prime candidate to ascend the peak of the welterweight division, once Mayweather and Pacquiao square their hash and move on to less violent occupations. But Saturday night Brook needs to prove that he’s fully recovered from his stabbing and can still move around the ring and use his legs to create the same zip and pop on his punches.

 

Prediction

As my brother used to say to me as a kid, “Why are you hitting yourself in the face?”

The durable Dan is a perfect opponent, as he’s only been down twice in his career and never stopped, so Brook should get enough rounds to have a good sense of where he stands physically, and yet he should be able to win comfortably, perhaps even by KO. The fight should go at least into the middle rounds, perhaps as late as the 8th or 9th, before Brook is satisfied with his leg’s performance and decides to end the affair after administering a prolonged and comprehensive beating. I hope I’m correct and the leg is healthy, because I’m looking forward to Brook getting in the ring with guys like Amir Khan, Marcos Maidana, and especially Keith Thurman. He’s likely to lobby for the winner of the Mayweather-Pacquiao bout, but my hunch is that fight will be close enough (and more than lucrative enough) to warrant a rematch, meaning Brook will be one of the many welterweights watching the division’s two cash cows walk off into the sunset with all the money for themselves.

 

Gonzalez vs Russell

Unfortunately for Russell, fights aren’t won with abs.

While Kell Brook is taking his leg for a test drive, Al Haymon will be assessing the damage on one of his assets with the highest ceiling, Gary Russell, Jr. A highly accomplished and decorated amateur, Russell turned pro in 2009 and spent five and a half years showing off his hand speed against a couple dozen ham & eggers (and one very faded former flyweight champion) before finally agreeing to fight a live body last year when he stepped into the ring with the greatest amateur boxer in history, Vasyl Lomachenko.

While there was plenty of this in the Lomachenko-Russell fight, it was Lomachenko’s body work that told the tale.

Lomachenko took Russell to school, roughing him up, marking him up, and outsmarting him on his way to a majority decision that should have been a lopsided unanimous decision. Rarely have I seen a fighter look so completely bereft of ideas as Russell was while standing in his corner before the 5th round of that fight. Russell was exposed as a guy who had been getting by on his hand speed against inferior opposition, and he displayed a deficit most commonly afflicting guys with knockout power: the penchant to completely rely on one outstanding physical attribute and the almost complete helplessness in the face of someone who is able to neutralize that asset. Once Lomachenko adjusted to Russell’s hand speed in the 4th round and began to time him, the fight was over and Russell knew it.

Beating the crap out of Christopher Martin must’ve felt good after being dismantled by Lomachenko, but it’s not going to help Russell on Saturday night when he’s in the ring with Gonzalez.

Since that June, 2014 bout, Russell has had one fight, last December against a guy named Christopher Martin, who wasn’t any better than any of the guy Russell had fought before Lomachenko. As a fighter in Al Haymon’s stable, Russell was regarded (pre-Lomachenko) as someone who could make a big splash on network TV, has he had a flashy, crowd-pleasing style, a clean image, and a weight class with half a dozen attractive opponents. Post-Lomachenko, Haymon needs to take his guy out for a spin and assess the damage, hopefully discovering that Russell is able to bounce back from his defeat and perform well against a guy who poses a legitimate threat.

Russell’s not gonna like this.

Thirty-three year old Jhonny Gonzalez turned pro, like many Mexican fighters, as a teenager and learned his craft in the prize ring. He lost his first two fights, and has gone on to amass a record of 57-8, 48 KO. In his 17 year career, he’s beaten guys like Fernando Montiel, Irene Pacheco, and Abner Mares, while losing to Israel Vazquez, Gerry Penalosa, and Daniel Ponce De Leon in title fights. Gonzalez has held titles at bantamweight, featherweight, and will defend the featherweight title he regained two years ago when he steps into the ring with Russell Saturday night.

 

Prediction

Your winner.

An obviously seasoned, crafty, and powerful veteran, Gonzalez appears to be Russell’s last chance at propelling himself to the upper echelons of the sport. Gonzalez is a steep challenge for Russell, probably too steep. Russell may have the fastest hands Gonzalez has ever seen, but he’s definitely seen fast hands before and knows how to deal with them. I expect him to make things rough for Russell in the early rounds, not letting the younger man dictate the pace and distance. Russell does have some power, and I expect him to catch Gonzalez a few times early on his way in, maybe even hurt him once or twice, but those will be punches landing while Gonzalez closes the distance, which he’ll do successfully with enough frequency to make the fight his style of fight. Russell will win some early rounds, essentially winning the some battles but losing the war and Gonzalez takes him to school on the inside, wears him down, makes him thirst for some space, and when Russell gets that space the relief will be tangible, he’ll lose a bit of his focus, and Gonzalez will catch him with a big punch that will send him to the canvas. Russell might beat the count, but he’ll be in no condition to continue and will be counted out somewhere between the 7th and 10th round.

 

Jermell – Martirosyan

Even the poster makes me sleepy.

Jermell Charlo (25-0, 11 KO) is the slicker, less powerful of the Charlo twins, and he’ll be facing his toughest opponent yet in Vanes Martirosyan (35-1-1, 21 KO). The 25 year old Charlo has elevated himself from “prospect” to “contender” in the last couple of years, particularly after defeating Demetrious Hopkins in 2013 (in one of the most boring fights you’ll ever see), and then administering a boxing lesson on the very tough Gabriel Rosado in 2014. Saturday night the more classically crafty Charlo will face his stiffest test yet in the awkwardly crafty Martirosyan. The biggest names in the win column on Martirosyan’s resume are a faded Kassim Ouma, and prospects Joe Greene and Willie Nelson, but his most impressive performances were in his lone loss and his lone draw, against Demetrius Andrade and Erislandy Lara, respectively. Both of those fights were very close, and I wouldn’t argue if you wanted to say Martirosyan won them both, but the bigger point is he competed at that level with a guy like Lara, who is one of the 20 best boxers in the world, and a guy like Andrade, who fights in a style similar to Charlo’s but is probably better at it.

 

Prediction

The winner?

Jermell Charlo is generally thought to be the better of the Charlo twins, and maybe I simply suffer from a style bias, but I prefer the more aggressive, more powerful Jermall Charlo and believe he will go farther in the sport. That said, I don’t think either brother would have an easy time with Martirosyan right now. Jermell will likely land the flashier, more visible punches, and may even get credit for punches that are blocked or are rolled off, while Martirosyan lands the less-frequent but more-effective counters. I see this as a close fight that could go either way, it won’t be especially exciting, it will be difficult to score, and Charlo will come away with a disputed decision while Vanes Martirosyan is left to wonder why he’s come up on the short end of a crooked stick for the third time in a row.

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Leading With The Chin: Kovalev-Pascal, Berto-Lopez

Kovalev should be on NBC, because he is definitely must-see TV.

Saturday night HBO will broadcast the light heavyweight championship fight between the most fearsome champion in boxing, Sergey Kovelav, and his challenger, Jean Pascal. Kovalev (26-0-1, 23 KO) was named Ring Magazine’s 2014 Fighter Of The Year, based almost entirely on his impressive shut out UD victory over the legendary Bernard Hopkins last November. While Kovalev’s detractors (amazingly, there are still some hanging around) point out that Hopkins was a few weeks shy of his 50th birthday, the fact of the matter is nobody picked Kovalev to win their fight the way he did; using a mixture of power, skill, and guile, Kovalev outboxed and outfoxed the wily veteran, winning every second of every round. Even the resolutely obstreperous Hopkins freely admitted afterward that Kovalev was the better man is “the real deal.”

The Alien was Krushed.

The victory over Hopkins added the IBF and WBA 175 lb titles to Kovalev’s WBO belt, and now the only one he lacks is the WBC strap held by Adonis Stevenson, whom Kovalev has been vociferously calling out for about two years. Stevenson fled HBO for Showtime in early 2014 when the prospect of a showdown with “Krusher” Kovalev seemed imminent, and has since sought out the least qualified challengers possible to defend his title against. At the time, many people thought Stevenson was looking to land a fight with Hopkins when he signed with Al Haymon, as Hopkins was the biggest payday in the weight class and likely a less dangerous foe than Kovalev. Kovalev responded to Stevenson’s flight by hilariously referring to him as a “piece of shit” in his broken English, and then reaped a windfall when Hopkins outsmarted Al Haymon and chose to fight Kovalev rather than wait around for Stevenson, who appeared to be waiting for a deadline to pass so that Hopkins would be stripped of his belts.

The long and short of this is that Kovalev is the true light heavyweight champion, and he scored another point in his out-of-the-ring war with Stevenson (the only war Stevenson is interested in engaging in with Kovalev) when he landed Jean Pascal (a guy Stevenson was rumored to have been trying to land a fight with) as his opponent for his first defense of his new belts.

Take a good look at that smile, you’re not likely to see it much on Saturday.

Pascal (29-2-1, 17 KO) is a highly proven commodity, having shared the ring with the likes of Carl Froch, Chad Dawson, Bernard Hopkins (twice) and Lucien Bute, amassing a 2-2-1 record against that elite level of competition. An impressive physical specimen, the Haitian-born Canadian was a sought-after opponent of Adonis Stevenson, whose own Canadian heritage would have made for an enormously lucrative and compelling match up in Montreal. Instead, Kovalev will have the chance to defend his titles and cash that check in front a standing room only crowd at the Bell Centre.

Pascal lands a big right hand against Bute.

Pascal is more of a brawler than boxer, an extremely muscular light heavyweight who throws mostly roundhouse punches, often over-committing to them, which leaves his feet in unorthodox places whether the punches land or not. He’s not an easy opponent for lesser fighters because of his physicality, and he’s no walk in the park for elite guys because his crude approach blended with his strength and athleticism make him a hard guy to prepare for. That said, he’s a 4:1 underdog in this fight, and that has as much to do with him as it does with the immense force that is Sergey Kovalev.

 

Prediction

Hard to tell which hand put him to sleep, but it didn’t really matter to Ismail Sillakh.

While Pascal would pose a serious challenge to any other guy at 175 pounds, it’s hard to see how he could beat Kovalev. Kovalev was thought to be a crude slugger who couldn’t cut off the ring, couldn’t fight moving backwards, was technically mediocre, and would be out of his depth as soon as someone could take his punch. He proved against Hopkins that none of that was true. Kovalev is a complete fighter, and the cherry on top is that he’s a finisher with a killer instinct. It took all of Hopkins’s guile and courage to make it to the final bell of their fight last November, as Kovalev attacked him relentlessly in the final round, even though he’d won every second of the previous 11 rounds. That is kind of terrifying. And admirable.

The Krusher plying his trade.

Kovalev will come out at the opening bell and apply steady aggression on the hometown fighter, using his jab and right hand to force the underdog to start out moving backwards and rethink in the early rounds whatever plan he had coming in. Anyone who saw Pascal’s two fights against Hopkins knows he struggles and hesitates when he has to start thinking, and nothing makes a fighter think on his feet the way a guy with deadly power applying relentless pressure does. As the man coming forward, throwing and landing more numerous and effective punches, Kovalev will win the first two rounds and Pascal will head to his corner at the end of the second round looking for guidance. Unfortunately, Pascal is a fighter who not only relies on his athletic gifts, but also relies on the advice of Roy Jones, a fighter who relied entirely on his (much greater) athletic gifts to rule the 175 lb division over a decade ago.

Pascal doesn’t have anywhere near Roy’s level of athletic talent, which makes it hard to imagine how Jones can help him.

Jones won’t have anything constructive to offer Pascal, who will then go out and run from Kovalev, while picking his spots to throw desperation bombs. I won’t be entirely surprised if he lands some of them and maybe even scores a flash knockdown, but Kovalev will keep coming and as Pascal unravels mentally, Kovalev will score more frequently and with more authority, until he times one of Pascal’s wild flurries and lands a right hand that knocks Pascal unconscious before he hits the canvas. I’ll be shocked if this occurs later than the 5th round.

Pascal will have the home crowd, but Kovalev will win them over by the end of the night.

This might sound like a dismissive prediction, but I believe Kovalev is that good. I have a hard time envisioning anyone at 175 lbs or 168 lbs beating him, including Andre Ward or Adonis Stevenson (who I seriously doubt will ever get in the ring with him). Speaking of which, I fully expect Kovalev to call Stevenson out in his hometown, before his home crowd, and refer to him once again as “a piece of shit.”

 

I’d Like To Thank Al Haymon Lite

Last week’s debut of Premier Boxing Champions on NBC will be followed by a lesser card on a lesser network. Spike TV will broadcast a fight featuring two Al Haymon fighters who are at a crossroads in their careers.

Berto-Lopez

This should be a good action fight that ends in a knockout that for all intents and purposes ends the career of the guy who hits the canvas. Both guys are battered, flawed warriors who come to fight and have everything to gain by winning and everything to lose by losing. Each guy’s stock was higher 3-4 years ago, and because of coming out on the losing end of their biggest fights (and sustaining some serious damage along the way), they are well-faded versions of themselves.

Berto in happier times, pre-Ortiz.

The 31 year old Berto (29-3, 22 KO) made a name for himself in 2008 when he knocked out Miguel Angel Rodriguez in the 7th round to win the vacant WBC welterweight title. With a multi-fight contract with HBO in hand, the then-undefeated Berto fought a string of second-tier contenders like Steve Forbes, Luis Collazo, Juan Urango, and Carlos Quintana over the course of the next 3 years, successfully defending his title each time. All those guys were decent contenders, and to have them sprinkled among a string of defenses wouldn’t do shame to any champion, but to have no one better than those guys (when better challengers were available) raised the ire of knowledgeable boxing fans, as did the steady wind at Berto’s back from the broadcast team at HBO.

That didn’t tickle.

In 2011 Berto fought another guy of that same class, but caught him before he was entirely exposed and/or damaged – Victor Ortiz. Berto and Ortiz engaged in an extremely entertaining fight, which ended with Ortiz taking the WBC title by UD (though his real prize was landing a fight with Floyd Mayweather in his next bout). A few months after losing to Ortiz, Berto was given a “get-well” fight against a small but unexpectedly tough named Jan Zaveck. Berto had his hands full until the fight was stopped in the 5th round because Zaveck coundn’t see out of one eye. Berto then took a 14 month hiatus and took a brutal beating from Robert Guerrero, who was allowed by referee Lou Moret to hold Berto’s head with his right hand while pummeling his face with his left all night long.

Berto can thank Lou Moret and Robert Guerrero for his this.

In July 2013 Jesus Soto Karass gave him hell and stopped him in the 12th round of an entertaining fight, though part of what made it entertaining was the obvious erosion of Berto’s hand speed and athleticism. He’d lost 3 of his last 4 fights, had been suspended for failed a PED test, and was relegated to gatekeeper status. Last September he performed that role by winning a UD against Steve Upsher Chambers, who couldn’t win more than one round, but still gave Berto more work than expected.

Lopez at the high point of his career, after breaking Victor Ortiz’s jaw.

Now, within the Haymon fold, he has been pitted against another guy who is past his best and made his name in the ring against Victor Ortiz. Josesito Lopez (33-6, 19 KO) pulled an upset over Ortiz in 2012 in a bout that was supposed to be a showcase for Ortiz in preparation for a big payday against Canelo Alvarez. In a stunning upset, Lopez broke Ortiz’s jaw in the 9th round, ending the fight. Three months later, Canelo was forced to settle for Lopez as his opponent. Lopez was a tall 140 lber before fighting Ortiz, was a thin welterweight, and was downright puny at junior middleweight compared to the brawny Alvarez. Predictably, Alvarez bounced him off the canvas like a basketball for 5 rounds before it was mercifully stopped. In June 2013 Marcos Maidana KO’d Lopez in the 6th round, and since then Lopez has somewhat rebuilt himself by beating a trio of guys you’ve never heard of.

 

Prediction

Lopez should be able to do a good bit of this against Berto.

This fight will be an all-action guilty pleasure for fans, who will enjoy the bruises and bloodshed that will lead to someone’s career effectively ending, while the winner will undoubtedly be fed to a serious contender looking to showcase his talents before landing a major title fight. At 5’9.5” and 30 years old, Lopez is 3” taller than Berto and a year younger, and doesn’t have nearly as many tough miles on his odometer. Berto didn’t look good in his UD victory over Steve Chambers last September, as he’d lost some of his hand speed, some of his athleticism, and wasn’t able to put away the 5’11” journeyman. Lopez is at least a couple of cuts above Chambers, he’s aggressive, and he has some pop. I think his size and aggression will give Berto all kinds of problems, which Berto will respond to by going to war. This fight will likely feature multiple knockdowns, most of them scored by Lopez, who will emerge victorious when he stops Berto around the 8th or 9th round. Hopefully a Lopez victory will land him a fight with Adrien Broner rather than someone who could seriously hurt him, like Keith Thurman or Marcos Maidana (again).

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Leading With The Chin: I’d Like To Thank Al Haymon…

 

Al Haymon makes it rain on fighters, and on himself. But can he cut my cable bill?

Saturday night in Las Vegas the MGM Grand will host the first of a series of boxing events broadcast on NBC called the Premier Boxing Champions. The card features a pair of bouts pitting some of the biggest names in the sport against each other, as welterweight Keith “One Time” Thurman defends his WBA welterweight title in the main event against Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero, and Adrien “The Problem” Broner faces John “The Gladiator” Molina. Thurman, Guerrero, and Broner are three of the many big names in the sport who in recent years have signed managerial contracts with Al Haymon, the mastermind behind the Premier Boxing Champions, while Molina is a contender looking to make a bigger name for himself.

The Sugar Man when boxing mattered to Americans.

For at least a couple of decades, boxing has relegated itself to the fringes of the American sports consciousness at a time when interest in sports in general has skyrocketed. The reasons for this are too numerous to mention here, but suffice to say boxing has ghettoized itself by putting its biggest fights and its biggest stars on premium cable networks like HBO and Showtime, removing itself from the commercial sphere and making itself virtually unavailable to a generation or two of fans. Now it looks like Al Haymon is trying to change all of that, as he’s got a slew of other dates set up on NBC, CBS, and some basic cable networks that will give the sport (and particularly his fighters) the kind of broad exposure on a regular basis that hasn’t been seen since the days of Sugar Ray Leonard.

Leonard is a vital part of what might be a revival of boxing in the American sports consciousness.

This is great for fans, and it’s long overdue, not only in terms of the historical perspective, but in terms of Al Haymon giving the fans the payoff they deserve for suffering through all the mismatches and “stacked” cards he’s put on in the past couple of years. There’s been no shortage of legitimate griping from fans who paid their cable bills and watched champions and top contenders like Danny Garcia, Adrien Broner, Lamont Peterson, and many others defeat hand-picked opponents, gain huge six-figure paydays, and then say in post-fight interviews, “…I’d like to thank Al Haymon…” There has been great clamor on the internet (where the majority of boxing discussions occur these days) for these top-flight fighters to fight each other rather than fight exaggerated nobodies on the same card. Now it appears those big fights between the best fighters are going to happen.

Hopefully the days of fans being subjected to fights like this one are largely over.

In the coming months we’ll see Andre Berto vs Josesito Lopez on Spike TV (Shawn Porter will be fighting Roberto Garcia on the same card); Alfonso Gomez vs Yoshihiro Kamegai on FoxSports1; Adonis Stevenson vs Sakio Bika on CBS; and Danny Garcia vs Lamont Peterson supported by Andy Lee vs Peter Quillin on NBC. These are the kind of fights that a few months ago all would’ve been on Showtime. While it’s too early to cancel our subscriptions to HBO and Showtime (HBO is putting on some really good fights in the next few months as well), the fact that these fights are happening at all is great news, and it’ll be interesting to see what the rest of the year brings.

Here’s one great match up we have to look forward to.

It’s a risky proposition for Haymon (and/or his investors), who are banking on not only thrilling fights, but marketable personalities engaging in those fights. Boxing has no shortage of engaging characters in and out of the ring, but these people have been performing on premium cable for so long they’ve grown accustomed to doing and saying whatever they please whenever they please, which might not fly on primetime major network television. In the long term, it will be interesting to see if it’s a viable endeavor, but in the short term, it should bring boxing fans a lot of great fights.

One Time vs The Ghost

The kickoff!

Thurman (24-0, 21 KO) and Guerrero (32-2-1, 18 KO) will be fighting for the WBA World Welterweight Title in a bout everyone but Guerrero wanted to see a year ago. The former featherweight and super featherweight titlist made his move up to welterweight in 2012 and landed a jackpot fight with Floyd Mayweather in 2013, to whom he lost a very wide UD. Apparently, the money he made went to his head because he was inactive for over a year after that fight, and whenever he was asked about fighting Thurman, he acted like he’d never heard of him. When Guerrero finally did return to the ring last June against the slow but sturdy Yoshihiro Kamegai, he made the boxing world question his sanity when he chose to brawl with Kamegai after clearly outboxing him in the first few rounds. It made for a thrilling fight, but Guerrero incurred a lot of unnecessary punishment, as he’d proven in the early rounds he was quite capable of jabbing the bejeezus out of the slow and clumsy Kamegai. Guerrero won a close but clear UD, but in the post-fight interview, when asked again about fighting Thurman, he referred to him as “Keith Urban,” in a joke that only he found humorous.

America is going to like Keith Thurman.

Keith Thurman is perhaps the one fighter who lost the most by waiting for Al Haymon to pull the trigger on this network TV deal, and consequently stands to gain the most if he proves to be as good as many people think he is. For the last 18 months his name was bandied about as a potential Mayweather opponent by fans eager to see the pound-for-pound king in with someone who might pose a threat, but the knockout sensation from Clearwater, FL, was instead relegated to fighting fringe contenders like Diego Chaves and Jesus Soto Karass, the faded former champion Julio Diaz, and most recently an undefeated Italian named Leonard Bundu. Thurman stopped all of them except Bundu, against whom he won every second of every round, and was left wondering why he couldn’t get a fight with a guy like Berto, or Guerrero, or Devon Alexander, or any other welterweight whose name he could add to his resume as an argument for getting a fight with Mayweather. Some fans accused Haymon of keeping him off the big stage so that Floyd could fight a guy like Maidana, who is rightly perceived as not having the skills that Thurman has, though their power is comparable. Whether that is true or not, Thurman is finally getting the big fight he’s been craving, and if he wins, there are surely bigger things in his future, as the exposure on NBC could make the exciting boxer-puncher with KO power in both hands a huge star.

Robert Guerrero is a good opponent for Thurman, as he likes to engage in prolonged exchanges.

I was impressed by Guerrero at the lighter weights; he fought with equal measure of aggression and skill, and he was a big southpaw who looked like he was skilled enough to be effective with 147 pounds in his 5’8” frame. The biggest names on his resume at lightweight were Joel Casamayor and Michael Katsidis, both of whom Guerrero defeated by wide UD. He doesn’t have extraordinary power, but he fights smart and is busy enough to keep anyone occupied both mentally and physically. A lot of people like his chin, but I can’t help remembering how Casamayor, who was so far past his best when they fought that it’s not unfair to say he was shot, almost knocked Guerrero out with a jab in the final round of their 2010 fight. It was five years ago, and may have been due to a momentary lack of concentration in a fight he was winning by every measure imaginable, but it’s worth noting because Thurman is the first guy with serious power he’s faced since then (and Casamayor wasn’t a power puncher in his prime).

If an old man’s jab is going to do this to you, what will happen when you get hit by one of the biggest punchers in the sport?

As for Thurman, his prodigious power is complimented by enough craft to make him a tough match for any welterweight on Earth. In the last three years he’s fought a collection of fringe contenders (Orlando Lora, Jesus Soto Karass), faded former champs (Carlos Quintana, Julio Diaz), and accomplished foreigners (Jan Zaveck, Diego Chaves, and Leonard Bundu), and he’s stopped or dominated all of them. He’s been ready for a higher level of competition for a while, and now he gets his chance to make a name for himself in the welterweight division in front of a major network audience on a Saturday evening.

 

Prediction

It’s hard to see it going any other way.

I can’t see this going well for Guerrero. His biggest victory at welterweight is against Andre Berto, who he was allowed by referee Lou Moret to batter with his left hand while holding his head with his right all night long. Thurman (nor the referee) will allow him to do that on Saturday. Thurman is going to come out aggressively, looking to make a big impression with an early spectacular knock out. I won’t be surprised if he gets it, but I also won’t be surprised if the magnitude of the moment gets the best of the 26 year old in the first two or 3 rounds and he fights with less discipline than necessary. Even if that’s the case, Guerrero doesn’t have the power to eliminate room for error, so I can easily see Thurman calming down and relying on his skill more than his power to bank the middle rounds and gradually wear down Guerrero with well-placed body shots, and go for the kill again in the late rounds. Thurman says his plan is to go for the KO in the first half of the fight, and if it’s not there box his way to a decision win down the stretch. An 8th round TKO sounds about right, but I won’t be surprised if he’s able to take him out inside of three rounds.

Broner vs Molina

Is it just me, or did you expect Broner to be holding a stogie in his fist too?

Broner is the only fighter in Al Haymon’s stable that stands to gain more than Keith Thurman by winning Saturday in front of an NBC audience. The 25 year old Cincinnati native turned pro in 2008 and within 3 years was fighting for a minor title at 130 lbs. He won a unanimous decision over the slow, awkward, but powerful Ponce De Leon, then fought the undefeated Eloy Perez for the vacant WBO super featherweight title. In one of his most impressive performances, Broner stopped Perez in the 4th round, then stopped Vincente Escobedo five months later in the 5th round before moving up to lightweight, where he absolutely annihilated Antonio DeMarco, stopping him in the 8th round. At 5’6.5”, Broner isn’t an especially tall, but he has a broad frame, especially in the upper body, enabling him to move up to welterweight, where the big money is.

This used to be amusing.

Broner is a mix of skill, power, and persona, as he’s cultivated a goofy schtick where his 400 lb father enters the ring after his victories to comb his hair during post-fight interviews. In the tradition of Muhammad Ali, he also speaks very highly of himself, to the point where it’s sometimes hard to tell if he’s serious or just trying to sell himself. He’s aligned himself with Floyd Mayweather (whose embrace of the younger man has been lukewarm), dubbing himself “Little Bro,” to Floyd, and referring to himself as the heir apparent not only to the pound-for-pound title, but the financial place atop the sport Mayweather has occupied for the last several years. He’s even declared that he’d be the first boxer ever to earn a billion dollars, which is going to be difficult to pull off for a guy who has posted video of himself taking a dump at Popeye’s and performing cunnilingus on a stripper.

How much he believes of any of this is hard to tell, but it serves him well in terms of garnering attention from the boxing media and fans, and it was a smart move to align himself with and ride the coattails of the sport’s biggest attraction. When Broner fights, people tend to watch, at least in bigger numbers than fighters of comparable levels of achievement.

One of these guys was enjoying himself.

He skipped the junior welterweight division and made his welterweight debut in 2013 in a title fight against the division’s most vulnerable titlist, Pauli Malignaggi. A feather-fisted slickster who, at 32 years old seemed to have lost a bit of hand and foot speed, Malignaggi was ripe for the picking. In a lackadaisical performance, Broner outpointed Malignaggi by calmly walking him down for 12 rounds and landing the heavier (but less numerous) blows, scoring a split decision victory.

Broner in a less festive mood.

To this point, I was a fan of Broner, and when he signed to defend his title against Marcos Maidana, I thought it was smart match-making; first you move up and fight a guy with no punch, then you fight a guy who has a punch but little else, then you go after someone with the whole package (or at least a good blend of the two). Broner was the favorite in the Maidana fight, but the problem with “The Problem” was that he believed too much of his own bullshit when he was in the ring with a guy who could put a serious hurt on him. Maidana came out at the opening bell and did just that, landing a furious overhand right that set the tone for the entire round, one in which he stalked a retreating Broner who seemed to have no answer for Maidana’s nuclear bombs, other than running and clinching. Late in the round Maidana had Broner in the corner and missed with a huge right hand, Broner spun him around and mimicked anally raping him.

It was a classless and foolish move, and early in the second round Maidana made him pay by knocking him to the canvas with a thunderous left hook.

He beat Broner from pillar to post the rest of the round, but to Broner’s credit, he stayed on his feet and survived.

Rounds 3-7 were sort of a war of attrition, where both guys had their moments and there was a lot of good action. In the 8th round, Maidana dropped Broner with another fierce left hook.

Broner got up, but was clearly still hurt as all he could do was clinch and grapple, hanging on for dear life. In one of the clinches, Maidana hit him with another hard left hook, then pushed his head up from Broner’s chest into his chin. Broner then took an ugly, calculated dive, seeking a disqualification victory. In the finest moment of referee Lawrence Cole’s career (not saying much), he wasn’t buying it, and forced Broner to fight on, though he inexplicably allowed Broner a minute of rest before resuming the round.

To Broner’s credit, he fought back the rest of the fight, losing a unanimous decision and his precious undefeated record. At that point, the only things he had in common with Floyd Mayweather were his stance in the ring, his penchant for shoving opponents away with his left forearm, and his counter right hand. He’d received the kind of ass-whipping that can either break a fighter or help him learn and improve, and at this point it’s still too early to tell which way the loss has affected Broner.

Floyd: “…will you take the fuckin’ picture already…”

It was back to square one in terms of developing him as a legitimate contender, and Al Haymon did the smart thing by dropping him down to junior welterweight and putting him in with a couple of guys who didn’t have the power to hurt him. In 2014 he fought Carlos Molina (no relation to John) and Emmanuel Taylor, a pair of craftsmen who had 19 knockouts between them in 39 fights. Broner was able to score UD wins against both guys, though he still showed a tendency to be lazy with his hands and his feet, and to pose in the ring rather than taking the initiative to use his considerable hand speed and combination punching to keep his opponent docile.

If Broner takes Molina lightly, he’ll definitely see some of this.

In some ways, John Molina is the junior welterweight version of Marcos Maidana for Adrien Broner. He’s not a highly skilled, quick, or crafty fighter, but he’s a bit awkward and has good power, as his 27-5, 22 KO record shows. Although he lost both of his fights in 2014, he faced much better competition than Broner, as he lost to Lucas Matthysse in a barn burner, and to Humberto Soto. At 5’10.5”, Molina is a very big junior welterweight, not the kind of guy Broner will be able to shove away with an elbow or a forearm. His five losses have all been to very good fighters, though one of them was to Antonio DeMarco, who knocked him out in the first minute of the first round of their WBC lightweight title fight back in 2012; the same DeMarco who Broner absolutely dominated two months later.

 

What’s At Stake?

Broner stands to lose a lot, or gain a lot.

For Broner, absolutely everything. A loss to Molina would be devastating, as he’s slated to fight four times on NBC this year, meaning Haymon wants to give him a chance to be the big star he thinks he is. A win would position him for a fight against a bigger name, maybe even a champion at 140 lbs. A loss would turn him into a name to be cashed out against dangerous prospects or champions looking to build a fan base with a fight against a gate attraction who poses a minimal threat.

A win would be great, but as long as he’s competitive and entertaining, there will be more of this in John Molina’s future.

For Molina, he can lose and still maintain his current position in the sport, which is that of an entertaining but limited fighter who usually puts on a fan-friendly performance. If the fight is entertaining and competitive, it almost doesn’t matter if he wins or loses, though obviously he’d prefer to win, and if he won impressively, like by spectacular KO, he’d likely get a fight with one of the bigger names in the division.

 

Prediction

This seems most likely, but it’s not at all a foregone conclusion.

Broner has all the skills and tools to beat Molina, but everything depends on what’s going on between his ears. If the brash young fighter focuses too much on putting on a good show, or doesn’t take his opponent seriously, he’ll be in a world of trouble. Molina is the bigger man by about 4 inches, and it’s not hard to imagine him smothering Broner’s offense by simply throwing straight two-punch combos and leaning on him, ala Wladimir Klitschko. It’s also not too difficult to see Molina taking advantage of Broner’s lack of concentration in the ring and catching him with something big while the smaller man is clowning for the crowd.

That guy trying to crawl into the ref’s womb is John Molina, who had just received a 40 second ass whooping.

On the other hand, if Broner comes in focused and takes his opponent seriously, and stays busy with his hands and especially his feet, he should be able to outbox Molina, and maybe even stop him if he presses for that in the late rounds. I believe Broner will come out focused and aggressive early, looking for the same kind of KO DeMarco was able to get against Molina. If the early KO doesn’t come, he should at least have 3 or 4 rounds in the bank. What he does with that lead will likely determine the outcome; if he boxes smartly, moves his feet and picks his spots to exploit his considerable hand speed advantage, he should be able to box his way to a wide UD victory, maybe even busting up Molina’s face along the way.

If he chooses to sit on his early lead and tries to clown and humiliate Molina, he might get caught with a punch he will regret the rest of his life.

This guy had Broner figured out 2,500 years ago.

I’ll be surprised if Broner fights a disciplined fight for the entire 12 rounds. Somebody famous once said, “Character is destiny,” and Broner’s character is bound to come to the surface in the biggest fight of his life. Molina will patiently endure Broner’s antics in the middle rounds and wait for his openings. He’ll miss some big shots, and he’ll go into the late rounds needing a KO to win. Broner will turn up the heat to try to close the show, and Molina will catch him with something that will either send Broner to the canvas or at least seriously wobble him. But Broner will survive the crisis, then run out the last round or two to score a wide, but scary UD victory.

Thanks!

One thing is certain; no matter the outcome of the fights, everyone, including the fans, will be thanking Al Haymon afterward.

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