Kovalev-Alvarez II

Sergey Kovalev managed an upset in his rematch with Eleider Alvarez this past Saturday for the WBO Light Heavyweight title.  After two punishing losses to Andre Ward, Kovalev’s confidence was shaken.  In late 2017 and early 2018, his performances were adequate but nowhere near the way he looked before Ward.  Alvarez has advantages in age and reach, but an inferior skill set.  He was losing on all three judges’ scorecards when he rallied against a fatigued Kovalev in round 7 of their first fight.  The win will buoy his career for the time being, and allow Alvarez to explore matches with other stars from whom he would otherwise draw no interest.

Kovalev, on the other hand, has a second chance at a championship run.  His perceived vulnerability will make it easier for him to sign an opponent, and at his age–his peak performances are likely behind him–he has no time to lose.  His potential opponents don’t offer much for Kovalev in the way of a learning curve.  Dmitry Bivol might be his best bet for a warm-up, less likely to physically overwhelm Kovalev than Oleksandr Gvozdyk, who is recently responsible for the brutal conclusion of Adonis Stevenson’s career.  Gvozdyk is at least less experienced against high level competition, whereas Bivol has thoroughly beaten gatekeepers Joe Smith Jr. and Jean Pascal, and knocked out Sullivan Barrera (a feat that Andre Ward failed to accomplish).  Kovalev may find the alternative even less appealing.  Artur Beterbiev is very young and inexperienced, and his technique shows it, but he’s been on my Fighters to Watch radar for years now.  His best competition yet may have been an aging Tavoris Cloud, but he dispatched him with the same brevity with which he’s disposed of all 12 other opponents–by early knockout.  He’s as likely as any other champion to take Kovalev out of the running, and probably end his career.  If I had to guess, I’d say someone’s likely to do it sooner rather than later.

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Spurious Speculation

The two biggest fights on the horizon boast marquee fighters, but offer surprisingly little competition. The hype surrounding these promotions is meant to keep boxing in business and give fans an illusion of excitement, but it’s a transparent effort.

The first will be this coming weekend when the aging Manny Pacquiao takes on Adrien Broner. Pacquiao’s recent comeback has been impressive, and Broner’s predictable defeats were less one-sided than we might have expected, but that still doesn’t make this a good fight. Broner’s popularity has suffered from the moment he stepped up in competition and showed his total lack of ability–buoyed only by his clearly absurd self-aggrandizement. The fighters who’ve beaten him (Maidana, Porter and Garcia) are talented, but many fighters retire after three or four losses, and he’s still clinging to the hope of some unrecognized greatness.

Pacquiao, a legend in his own time, is coming off a big win over the younger Lucas Matthysse. He has every right to expect us to tune in after seven losses. We might not expect much of a future for him, but he’s still showing enough grit to get through the likes of Adrien Broner with very little difficulty. Don’t buy in to the hype–this one’s a safe bet.

The recently announced fight between Terence Crawford and Amir Khan has been in the works for some time, but has only increased in its obsolescence. Khan has proven that he’s unwilling to take on competitors who are risky to his record and who don’t provide a huge financial windfall. He’s also proven that he’s too undisciplined to be competitive at even the sub-elite level. Still holding out on the one relevant opponent, Kell Brook, who could make a good fight, Khan seems to be wringing every cent he can out of his losses.

Crawford’s recent performances have only reinforced my opinion that he’s the most special of a uniquely talented group–distancing himself from slightly lesser standout Errol Spence Jr. Aside from stalwarts Viktor Postol, Raymundo Beltran and Ricky Burns–Crawford has knocked out just about everybody he’s fought. You can see him thinking in the ring, and, I’d argue that he’s still developing and learning from his fights. And not because he’s carefully selecting opponents. On the contrary–Crawford is the one being avoided. His combination of technical prowess and raw power make Crawford one of the most unbeatable fighters around, and Khan has no such qualities. Two stepping-stone fights for fighters at two very different stages of their careers, but two you can reliably read about the next day without missing much.

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DAZN–the Austrian streaming sports network, not the hotel chain ticker symbol–has recently expanded its access to viewers in the US and other countries. While in the future DAZN promises to offer multiple sports, they’re primarily a fight-sports network at this point. My short-lived subscription with ESPN+ was not at all encouraging, so I didn’t have high expectations for my viewing experience this past weekend when I sat down for Alvarez-Fielding.

Right away I was treated to complete inactivity. The screen showed a still photo advertising the fight and a message saying “fight started at 6PM” (it was already past 7 at this point). The time elapsed showed 0:00/0:00. Helpful? Not.

After stomping off to the fridge to make a drink for the fight I had planned my night around, I returned to the couch to find the same inanimate image on the screen. What is the logical thing to do in these circumstances? Test it. I checked my internet connection, I checked other apps on the TV, and I tried other fights on DAZN. Internet was fine, other apps fine, but DAZN still did nothing.

Finally, staring at a still image of Canelo, I realized I would either have to watch the fight on a much smaller screen or give up completely. I chose the former, and gathered my things to make my way to my computer. After fuming for ten minutes or so while googling known glitches in the app, I heard the audio from the television kick on. Apparently, if I’m willing to cross my fingers and pray like I’m starting up a 1980s Nintendo game, I’ll most likely have great success using DAZN, but I really prefer being able to turn on the correct channel–especially when I’m paying an additional monthly fee for this service.

The card turned out to be very entertaining with multiple knockdowns aside from the main event, and the pause/fast-forward/rewind featuers seemed to work better than they did with ESPN+. The ESPN+ streaming service is similarly disappointing, with its claim of a boxing video archive, but comes at a lower price. It was bad enough finding out that the best broadcaster of the sport for the last 30 years, HBO, was dropping boxing altogether, but to know that fans will be relegated to these dysfunctional apps is too much.

On the bright side, they’ve put together an attractive lineup, including last week’s middleweight title fight, and this weekend’s guaranteed thriller rematch between Whyte and Chisora. We can expect good things from that one, even if we have to throw salt over our shoulders to get a clear picture.

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Looking Forward, Looking Back

Adonis Stevenson was badly injured this past weekend in a fight against the previously untested Oleksandr Gvozdyk.  He went down twice; once in the third and once in the eleventh rounds, but looked extremely unstable before and after the final knockdown.  Referee Michael Griffin could and should have checked Stevenson more thoroughly to confirm his recovery after the knockdown.  The fight really should have been stopped either before, or immediately afterward.  

Three years ago I was in attendance for a fight in which the warning signs were much less apparent.  I, along with hundreds of other fans, booed and catcalled Prichard Colon after his bout with Terrel Williams.  He repeatedly complained of shots to the back of the head and other rough tactics, but we were unable to see what was happening clearly.  Williams showed great ability and fought well, and he objected to Colon’s complaints, not realizing the damage done to his opponent.  Williams, whose career was gaining momentum at the time, took two years to return to boxing.  He’s fought only twice since.

The fight was compromised by bad officiating all around.  The end result was a disqualification, because Colon’s team was under the impression the fight was over, and failed to vacate the ring before the beginning of the final round.  Improving official oversight might help to prevent some of these incidents in the future, but the truth is there won’t always be complaints of shots to the back of the head, or even a string of unanswered punches to indicate the severity of some life-altering injuries.  Colon is still in a vegetative state after his disqualification loss, but there’s little doubt that if he’d come through the fight in good health (and maybe a win) he would now be one of the most prominent welterweights in the sport.

The risk is inherent in boxing, in fight sports in general.  Until we’re ready to put a stop to them, the injuries will keep happening.  Some of them fatal.  The same could probably be said for professional football, but being a fighter requires a certain amount of pride.  Training for any sport involves some version of a play-through-the-pain mentality.  The particular combination found in boxing, however, might be especially dangerous.  A serious and sincere effort to reform officials and ringside practices is long overdue, and should begin immediately, but it’s possible that waning popularity for the sport we love might just be a good thing.

For now, we’re in a waiting period, with a chance to reflect.  It’s been a decent year of fights, with fewer defensive technicians taking center stage and more all-action fights across multiple divisions.  There’ll be a comparative drought until mid-March, but then we get a veritable wonderland of welterweight wars.  Starting March 9th, it’s Shawn Porter vs. Yordenis Ugas, March 16th Errol Spence Jr. vs. Mikey Garcia, March 23rd will be Terence Crawford and an opponent yet to be announced, and finally, on March 24th Lamont Peterson will take on Sergey Limpinets.

All these fights are exciting, not only because of the fan-friendly styles of the athletes themselves, but because they’re all important to the landscape of the division.  Porter is coming off a huge win over Danny Garcia, which takes some of the stigma away from his two losses, which were to elite level fighters anyway.  He’s likely to win the fight, which will root him firmly at the top of the division.  Spence-Garcia is a megafight, hence the pay-per-view pricetag, but it’s more likely than almost any other possible match to live up to our expectations.  The winner will rule the division and possibly unify the belts.  Crawford is always exciting and will be the only real challenger to Keith Thurman and the winner of Spence-Garcia. The four of them together form the most highly skilled and competitive elite group in any division.

Finally, Peterson is taking a very calculated risk this time against Limpinets.  His last outing left him with both eyes swollen shut in a 7-round destruction by Errol Spence.  The inconsistent talent level of his opponents and his inactivity (only three fights since his 2015 loss to Garcia) are puzzling so late in his career.  Age shouldn’t be the issue at only 34, but 2019 will probably mark the beginning of the end for Peterson.  Hopefully he’ll put an exclamation point on a great career, in contrast to his recent performances, and leave the ring in the glory he deserves.

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This Will Be the Year

Once again I’m happy to report that my pessimism led me astray.  This past weekend’s fight between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder turned out not only to be surprisingly competitive through twelve rounds, but also was unmarred by improper officiating.  I was mystified at how consistently well Fury fought, looking stronger, more coordinated and more focused than I’ve ever seen him.  For the first time, I suspected his win over Klitschko wasn’t a total fluke.  He was able to land several counter shots that required considerable accuracy and timing, and he withstood most of Wilder’s hardest blows.  But both fighters proved their critics wrong in one way or another.

Wilder didn’t disappoint his fans, either.  He managed two knockdowns in the last few rounds and kept his punch output up throughout the fight.  He struggled with Fury’s reach and mobility, and admitted in the post-fight interview that he had been rushing the knockout rather than sticking to a gameplan.  The only potential criticsm for Wilder was that he showed no killer instinct when he had Fury hurt, and actually allowed him to come back and hurt Wilder enough to nearly score a knockdown of his own.  The scorecards were all reasonable, resulting in a split draw, with most fans feeling that Fury did enough to win on points.  I had him ahead 114-112 at the final bell, but was satisfied with the call.  

The fight agreement included a rematch clause, meaning that Fury should have no choice but to make Wilder his next opponent.  There’s a good chance Wilder’s assessment is accurate, that if he’s patient and careful, he can get a knockout in the next fight, or at least keep better control and get the win.  Either way, fans will have that match to look forward to, not to mention the inevitable clash between Anthony Joshua and its winner. 

Overall, I am less convinced of Wilder’s superiority to Joshua after watching the fight.  I still believe him to be a better fighter than Tyson Fury, but Fury’s size makes his newly discovered coordination and accuracy make his hands formidable weapons.  While I think Wilder is unlikely to be bullied by Joshua, physically, Fury has a better chance of avoiding the lean-and-punch tactic AJ is so fond of using.  If I had to guess the result of the rematch, I would again predict a knockout for Wilder.

The undercard featured exciting matches with Luis Ortiz and Jarrett Hurd.  Ortiz has essentially been on the decline after his loss to Wilder, though he demonstrated he can still handle gatekeepers with ease. Hurd is making a name for himself in a very competitive division, but has yet to test himself against the best.  There’s nothing big on the horizon until Pacquiao-Broner in late January (if you even consider that a big fight), but if the judging in 2019 more closely resembles Fury-Wilder than most of the other fights in 2018, we’re in for a good year.

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Flash in the Pan

Two of boxing’s most notable athletes will get in the ring this Saturday to compete for the WBC Heavyweight championship.  The size of the combatants lends an extra element of excitement, both coming in over six and a half feet tall, both weighing over 220 pounds.  During Mayweather’s reign over the sport, analysts loved to talk about the decline of boxing, pointing to the lack of competition and the trend toward a more defensive, less exciting style of fighting.  Since his departure, the noose around the threshold for competition has been loosened, and big rivalries have sprung up all over the scale between fighters who are willing to stand and trade punches.  

The heavyweights are exciting enough, especially given how the division has been viewed as the keystone of popularity for the entire sport.  You’ve got Fury, Wilder, Ortiz, and Whyte–not to mention the string of gatekeepers who have planted themselves firmly at the line between competitive and dominant.  At Cruiser you’ve got Usyk, Glowacki and Lebedev.  Light Heavy is even more densely packed with talent: Adonis Stevenson, Bivol, Eleider Alvarez, Kovalev, and Beterbiev.  Middleweights have stolen the spotlight a bit from Welter, but the 140 and 147-pound divisions are still both consistently interesting.  All the way down the line to Mikey Garcia in 135, Gervonta Davis at 130–126 boasts Leo Santa Cruz, Carl Frampton and Gary Russell Jr.–the problem for the sport in the past year has not been a lack of competition.  

The problem, in my opinion, is a combination of bad officiating and bad oversight.  I’ve seen some of the worst decisions of my life in the past year, and not because the scores were so blatantly wrong–a lot of them were close, subjective rounds that only strayed a few points in one direction or the other–it was that they were so predictably, absurdly swept under the rug. 

Oh, this judge scored 5 indisputable rounds for the wrong fighter, no big deal.  It is a big deal.  And there have to be consequences for improper conduct in order to establish any accountability for the fighters and officials, and consequently, credibility for the sport.  Not only are bad decisions allowed to stand, bad matchups are made all the time–the majority of televised boxing–and good matches are prevented from being made by sanctioning bodies with restrictive convoluted processes, contractual stipulations and promotional disputes. 

The business of boxing is getting in the way of the sport of prizefighting.  Boxing is unlike any other sport.  It will never be completely objective and will probably never have a clear hierarchy, but if the rules of the contest don’t facilitate determining a winner, then the rules have to be changed!  

Take the latest sideshow Mayweather has brought to the tradition of pugilism.  First he wants to have a rematch with Pacquiao, then he’s training for an MMA rematch with McGregor.  Finally, he’s got an MMA fight but it’s with somebody we’ve never heard of…oh, wait…just kidding.  There isn’t a lot going on in boxing right now, so this back-and-forth nonsense is featured in the headlines for a signficant period of time.  

It even affects the sport’s biggest fights.  The recent megafight rematch between Saul Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin was an incredible fight.  It actually made me appreciate the first fight more than I did initially.  Both fights could go either way, and I was equally happy and equally dissatisfied with both decisions.  That being said, the first fight was marred by a ludicrious scorecard, and the second was muted by congratulatory character given to the decision.  As if an entertaining fight should convince viewers to ignore the fact that the decision doesn’t reflect what happened.  

Sometimes it goes so far as to bring about the end of a great athlete’s career.  Having one last shot, giving his fans the greatest performance of his career, Wladimir Klitschko had his moment of ultimate glory stolen by the cheating Anthony Joshua.  I’m not saying he definitely would have won the fight, but he probably would have survived, and that alone would have been enough after the epic back and forth battle he’d endured.  Joshua blatantly used holding and hitting as a practiced method to defeat Klitschko, with little more than an offhand comment about the legality of the punch from analysts.  Joshua has since demonstrated his commitment to the technique in other fights, yet nothing has been done to correct this error and Joshua remains one of the sport’s most affluent and popular stars.  

That’s all to say that there are really a lot of great fights out there to be made, and some of them are already in the works.  Saturday, we’ll see the crafty Deontay Wilder up against the power of Tyson Fury.  Normally, it would be nice to make a prediction based on the styles of the fighters and compare that to their performance and the subsequent scores pronounced by the judges.  In this case, though, there’s really no point.  One fighter, Fury, is huge and strong, but has a lack of experience with top fighters and suffers from recent emotional issues.  Wilder–on the other hand–while unconventional, has formidable power of his own, plenty of speed, and superior technique. 

I wish I could feel confident about the result, which should be that the superior fighter overcomes the size of his opponent and defeats the inferior fighter by late knockout with superior accuracy and well-timed combinations.  But, you never know.  It could be a decision and the scores could be really bad.  The referee could develop amnesia and forget the rules, or blindness and fail to see illegal blows.  The corner team could pull back the tape on their fighter’s glove to get a few seconds’ rest at a crucial moment.  

I guess in the end the fans have to create their own objectivity.  The sport may not be what it could be, but the fighters are still showing up and doing their jobs.  We have to determine for ourselves who matters and who doesn’t, what’s fair and what’s not.  No matter what the ShoStats or CompuBox numbers say, no matter what the scorecards read–we’ll know.

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I knew I wasn’t going to like the analysis of this past weekend’s fight between Manny Pacquiao and Lucas Matthysse, but I’m still disappointed.  I have to admit, I could have been a little biased against the fight because of the ESPN+ app’s complete incompetence (had to use 3 devices to finally get the live fight).  No hard feelings against commentators Joe Tessitore and Tim Bradley, who were as insightful and as enjoyable as ever–but as for my general ESPN experience, I want my five bucks back.

Since I’m on the topic, (and no one reading this cares much about coherence anyway) ESPN+ really sucks.  They promise boxing fans a big archive of fights from ESPN Classic.  Wow!  I thought, 5 bucks a month and you get live fights too, what a deal!  It’s not, it’s really not at all.  Sure, I got to see a fight for 5 dollars, but it was a big hassle to get it to load correctly and process my new subscription.  Then, because my SmartTV’s version of the ESPN app doesn’t offer the ESPN+ service, I had to watch the fight on a damn laptop.  There were distracting audio and video issues not caused by my equipment, and the quality of the broadcast in general was just very low for a subscription service.  The classic fight “archive” is basically the Ali-Frazier trilogy, a few clips from Ali’s other big fights, and a Mike Tyson the-early-years knockout reel.  There are are few recent ESPN fights included, but hardly enough to constitute an “archive” (at least not one worth paying for). But enough about that, the fight sucked too.

In the ESPN analysis of Pacquiao’s performance, writer Nick Parkinson claims the fight “silenced arguments that he is on the slide after losing to Jeff Horn a year ago.”   You know who else had a team rally around them to claim a new beginning after a big loss?  Ironically it was another fighter trained by Freddie Roach, Miguel Cotto.  Even moreso, his unexpectedly dominant performance also came against an aging Argentine, Sergio Martinez.  For years, Martinez had been consistently able to compete at the highest level of the sport, just like Matthysse, and suddenly–all at once–he wasn’t even close.

The same thing happened this past weekend with Pacquiao.  The disparity between the fighters was so great that I’m actually skeptical of the fight’s authenticity.  I doubt any corruption was responsible for the result of Cotto-Martinez, but certainly the post-fight analysis is the same with Pacquiao-Matthysse.

Parkinson isn’t the only sycophant singing Pacquiao’s praises.  Fellow ESPN writer Noel Zarate claims Matthysse was “doomed” from the beginning: “Once those fighters survive the first round, they usually have a different perspective on Pacquiao’s speed and power.”  I’d argue that looking at Pacquiao would tell you very little about the fight when compared with watching Matthysse.

From the first round, the formerly strong, healthy-looking Argentine seemed like he was suffering from severe arthritis. Or some exotic flu.  He couldn’t move laterally, his hands were slow and hesitant, and he shuffled his feet nervously as if he expected to be knocked out early.  The referee’s reaction is its own mystery.  But there was only person who came to mind in watching Matthysse’s inexplicable transformation: Sergio Martinez.

Neither Martinez nor Matthysse was a young man when these incidents occurred (at least not for a prize fighter) but the contrast between their defeats and their previous performances is too extreme to accept without some analysis.  When Cotto fought Martinez in June of 2014, he was coming off losses to the pound-for-pound champion, Mayweather, and a lesser but still formidable Austin Trout, who was fighting just below the elite level.  He easily beat a low-level journeyman in his next fight, securing his comeback and drawing a lot of attention.  Then, after his destruction of Martinez, this new Miguel Cotto was hailed as the second coming–a better, stronger, wiser Cotto.  Bullshit, I thought, he didn’t find a fountain of youth, he was in the ring with an invalid.  But the critics praised him as having found his inner strength, adjusted his training and his style to be more exciting.

And what happened?  He took one more warmup fight against a  journeyman, and won.  Yet another affirmation for the delusional analysts imagining he was somehow better than he was 10 years and 5000 punches ago.  Then he went after Saul Alvarez, and refused to even stay in the ring to accept the announcement of the obvious result.  Another two fights, and he’s losing to the journeymen he had built his comeback on just three years earlier.

Enter Jeff Horn.  He wasn’t shy about using his head or forearms to get an advantage, and the bloody mess that resulted in his match against Pacquiao showed both that Horn’s talent was very limited, and that Pacquiao was fading.  Yes, Horn was physically much bigger than Pacquiao, but also at a totally different skill level.  Everyone agrees Pacquiao should have been given more rounds on the scorecards, but we should also agree that he should have performed a lot better against a fighter like Horn.  In case there’s any confusion, yes; Jeff Horn probably would have beaten Matthysse this past Saturday, too.

It was naive to think, even with an outstanding performance, Matthysse could have taken a decision in that situation.  The crowd in Kuala Lumpur gave a standing ovation every time Pacquiao wiped sweat from his forehead.  But I’m confident that I can read Pacquiao’s performance (along with his history) just as well as I did Cotto’s.  A lot of the similarities are coincidence, but taken all together, the result is inevitable.  Pacquiao got lucky, either through dishonest business practices or by pure chance (or some combination of the two), fighting an ebbing shadow of the fighter we expected to see as his opponent.  He gets a boost in confidence and popularity, but his ability remains the same.  He’s obviously still got some spark left, but the consequences of so much punishment from so many wars are unavoidable.

The excitement generated by his wins will get him set for another big payday in the next year or two, and then he’ll retire, because he’ll be utterly defeated by someone not much better than Jeff Horn.  If he’s smart, he’ll stop talking about a fight with Terence Crawford, and set his sights on something achievable.  If he does, we’ll get to watch an entertaining conclusion to a great career.  If not, he’s the one who’s doomed.

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Two of boxing’s most entertaining athletes will be in the ring tonight (technically tomorrow) in an attempt to prove their place in the division.  Both Pacquiao and Matthysse are getting a little long-in-the-tooth for fighters, Pacquiao having a few more wrinkles and scars than his opponent–but they can both still punch.  While those characteristics from lesser fighters typically would not send you running to schedule a recording on your DVR, this is match that fight fans have wanted to see for years.  There will be some complaints, of course, that that’s when the fight should have happened–years ago.  But in this case, I would argue that the timing of this fight might be ideal.

A couple of years ago, Pacquiao was still going strong, notching another win over inexplicable rival Tim Bradley, coming off his loss to Mayweather.  Though Pac was already slowing down, he was still considered very much at the elite level, whereas Matthysse at his best was never really in that group.  On the contrary, two years ago Matthysse was coming off a bruising loss to Viktor Postol and did not fight at all in 2016.  His next two wins came over questionable competition.  So why is this a “good time” to fight someone like Pacquiao?  Two words: Jeff Horn.

Pacquiao’s loss to Jeff Horn is probably not legitimate.  The judges probably should have given it to him.  But the fact that I had to qualify those statements with the word “probably” is a huge red flag.

As a matter of course, fighters coming off a big victory (especially if they’ve never fought anyone of substance before) talk like they knew they would win and everyone else did too.  It’s similar to the bravado you see at the weigh-in, where clearly less talented, less fit athletes communicate superiority and intimidation through comically absurd rituals.  That’s exactly what Jeff Horn did after his win over Pacquiao.  He talked himself up as if everyone just hadn’t noticed how talented he was all this time, and finally they were taking notice.  He made those claims enthusiastically and repeatedly, right up until his next fight, when he took on Terence Crawford.  Crawford is very definitely an opponent of substance, to put it lightly, and dealt with Horn accordingly via 9th round KO.

That result tells us that Pacquiao was not just “robbed” in Australia, he also put on a substandard performance.  Excuses became a part of the Pacquiao strategy years ago, but the technique really started to show after Mayweather with the shoulder claim.  Since then, Pacquaio has shed his former long-time trainer Freddie Roach and seems to think the responsibility for the loss to Horn falls on everybody but himself.

Unfortunately for him, the years weigh heavier on the battle-scarred, and while Matthysse never had the talent that Pacquiao did, he also never went through the wars he did.   Think about it, Pacquiao has fought a laundry list of the hardest-hitting, most punishing boxers of his era: Brandon Rios, Tim Bradley (x3), Erik Morales (x3), Juan Manuel Marquez (x4), Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito, and Miguel Cotto.  That last name being the only one in the list who could even compare his career of punishment to Manny’s.  Oh yeah, and Cotto lost his final fight, then retired.

I don’t begrudge Pacquiao another high-level fight, but it’s a good thing he kept his sights low and went for Matthysse, an aging puncher, rather than the rumored bid for Crawford, who might put him in an Larry Holmes-Muhammad Ali situation.  I would always expect a good fight from these guys, but the stars may have just aligned to make this a great one.


State-side we’ve got a great matchup taking place right now at UNO campus in New Orleans.  Hometown hero Regis Prograis continues his campaign to the top of the junior welter ranks against Juan Velasco after his impressive win over Julius Indongo.  He’s on a collision course with one of boxing’s other biggest stars, Terence Crawford, but for now we can enjoy watching him develop.  Good luck to Rougarou, and great love to all the athletes and fans down there in NOLA, and especially to Mike and FNF Gym where I got my ring experience.  Here’s to unlicensed Freret Street keg parties!

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Tonight Errol Spence Jr. will get the mandatory challenger for his 147-pound title “out of the way,” as he puts it.  Facing the nearly anonymous Carlos Ocampo, Spence will probably have an easy night.  Much like what we saw in last week’s fight between Crawford and Horn (for another 147-pound belt), this fight will be a showcase for one fighter’s superiority.  Unlike last week’s fight, though, tonight’s winner will already have his place in the division carved out for him.  Spence said in an interview after his victory over Kell Brook that he didn’t know who Ocampo was, but looked forward to getting him out of the way as his mandatory.  While the concept is the same, it might be more helpful for fans to call the opponent in fights like this an “obligatory”, since he’s more ornamental than anything else.

Having been too long away from the game, I missed the larger context for last week’s title fight between Terence Crawford and Jeff Horn.  What I didn’t realize was that Crawford’s win marked his move from 140 to 147, where he now resides with much more robust competition.  The downside here is that Regis Prograis-Terence Crawford could be further down the road than we thought.  The silver lining, though, is that his move means a lot of talent has been concentrated into the 147-pound division.

It might be frustrating for us to see Spence in the ring with a nobody at such an important part of his career, but just like Crawford-Horn, tonight’s fight is a necessary speedbump.  Not too long from now we should see Crawford and Spence in the ring together, and it’s probably best for everyone if Spence doesn’t try to unify the belts before his 25th fight.  We can’t help but wonder if it will be worth the wait after the ultimate disappointment of Mayweather-Pacquiao, but I have a feeling it will be.

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The Rule of Rankings

Tonight Terence Crawford will take on Jeff Horn in his first match since becoming undisputed junior welterweight champion.  Quite a step down, you might say, except that he vacated that title just 11 days after winning it.  To be fair, he had already beaten everyone significant in the division, and the rankings still show him at the top.  But who are the champions at 140?  Currently, there are two official champions, and believe it or not, they are Kiryl Relikh and Jose Ramirez.

Jeff Horn gained notoriety for his ugly, improperly scored brawl with Pacquiao in July of last year.  While it was impressive for someone so obviously lacking in talent to survive such a fight, his performance inspired no delusions in the discerning fan.  Though undefeated, Horn has won all his fights in Australia, his biggest opponents being Ali Funega and Randall Bailey.  Horn’s team is adorably effusive, claiming that they think Crawford has “made a mistake” in choosing their fighter for his next opponent.

It’s true that Horn is the naturally larger fighter, and that he did enough to get a reasonably fair points decision over Pacquiao, but that’s the best he has going for him.  Crawford has been confronted with dirty fighters in the past, and has either matched with his own (more effective) dirty tactics, or has simply negated the effects with his vastly superior talent.  While the fight against Indongo was competitive, Crawford was still well within the limits of his abilities.  Horn was clearly at or near his limit with Pacquiao, and may not have won that fight.  In Crawford, he’ll face a harder punching, younger, fitter, in-his-prime opponent.  The suggestion that Horn has a shot because he’s physically larger is laughable, but should not surprise us.  It’s the same routine they pull out for every mismatch when they need to keep squeezing revenue out of a fighter who chooses lame opponents, or who has no other choice.

Right now, Crawford is first in the rankings for his division, but holds no titles.  Second-ranked is the very deserving Regis Prograis, probably the only legitimate challenge for Crawford at this point.  One titlist, ranked third according to ESPN, won the vacant WBC belt in his biggest bout to date from Amir Imam.  Who?  Exactly.  As is so often the case, there are really only two or three guys in the “top ten” who matter at all.  One or two others might stick with it and earn journeyman status, but many of the rest have peaked already, far below the elite level.  Viktor Postol (rated last) can be expected to continue fighting just below the top of the division, or even make another bid for supremacy, similar to what Amir Khan did a couple of divisions higher.  While Ricky Burns is probably finished with elite competition, he still represents the next highest level of talent.  Then you have Barthelemy and Lipinets, neither of whom I’m interested in ever seeing box again, ranked 9th and 7th, respectively.

You can’t trust the rankings, you can’t trust the titles, and you certainly can’t trust fight promoters, but you can trust in talent.  Crawford has that to spare, and so does the next-in-line and only opponent worth watching: Prograis.  Granted, the next division up is much deeper with talent, but I’d like to see Crawford hang at 140 to give fans a full appreciation for his talent before moving on to “bigger” things.  If we can’t have Prograis-Crawford next, maybe they’d grant us Crawford-Pacquiao.

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