Giants of the Times


Image result for nikolai valuev

A lot has been made in the past week of Tyson Fury’s return to Trump-style communication, that is, harassing people on Twitter without using factual statements.  He used this strategy before with Klitschko, and it worked.  He got his shot at the title, and the big lazy manic-depressive actually pulled it off somehow.  He won.

Hey, it shocked me too–but now people who claim to know boxing are making a big deal about Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder avoiding Fury.  They treat a potential rematch between Klitschko and Fury as a foregone conclusion, that Klitschko will lose.  I’m pretty puzzled as to why anyone would feel that way.  Have you not been following heavyweights for the last 11-14 years?  Because that’s how long the Klitschko name has adorned the top of the division.  Sure, it was a lackluster era for the heavies, but the same was said about Floyd Mayweather before he started fighting Cottos and Pacquiaos.  While the first fight between Fury and Klitschko was one-sided, the sheer absurdity of the circumstances (Fury sang “Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” after his victory) made it clear that a rematch would be worth seeing.  Joshua-Klitschko will undoubtedly be less exciting to watch than that fever dream was, but it brings gravity and competition back to the division.

We have to keep in mind that Wladimir Klitschko turned 41 a few weeks ago while Tyson Fury is still only 28.  The older Klitschko gets, the less he’ll be able to compete with any young, large, skilled opponent, and the more likely it becomes that his successor will be just another pudgy Russian or technical Slavic fighter whose name will fade as quickly as it appeared (we’re looking at you, Ibragimov).  Remember Nikolay Valuev?  Do you remember how big he was?  A 7-foot tall 330-pound monster with enough chest hair to weave a bathroom mat.   He lost to David Haye (a man with a 100 pound weight disadvantage) 8 years ago.  Haye went on to fight Klistchko just 6 years ago, and was humiliated, unable to compete on any level.  In other words: just because you’re the biggest, or have the biggest mouth, doesn’t mean you’re competitive.

Fury is slightly less bound by his lumbering physique than Valuev, but no more talented.  It should come as a shock to everyone if he manages another win over Klitschko, and an even greater shock if he gets a match and can even compete with the other two, younger, more talented, more physically impressive champions.  Joshua probably isn’t as skilled as Wilder, but both are so far beyond Fury physically that skill won’t be as much of a factor, if they ever meet him in the ring.  It’s certainly impressive that Fury managed a win over a Klitschko, at any age, and he did it while suffering from mental illness.  I’m not saying Fury got lucky, but there’s a reason no one expected the fight to go the way it did.  Just as it was for Lennox Lewis-Oliver McCall II, the rematch is a clean slate for the more talented, and more physically and mentally fit fighter.

That being said, Joshua and Wilder are no small potatoes themselves.  I would expect either of them to handle everyone in the heavyweight division easily, except each other and Klitschko.  There are others on the periphery; Luis Ortiz comes to mind, but then so do the allegations of doping and use of banned substances.  As far as I’m concerned, however well it was concealed, there’s as much likelihood that Fury was using PEDs leading up to Klitschko as there is that Marquez did leading up to the last fight with Pacquiao.  As far as Helenius and Price, the behemoths seemed to have a better shelf life than Fury, but have faded out of the picture so completely that it’s not worth speculating about the reasons why.

When Klitschko and Joshua meet this Saturday, expect a real test of Klistchko’s viability and his skill.  If he can get past Joshua or even put up a convincing fight, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him solidly defeat Fury in a rematch at some point in the future.  If not, and they never meet, it’s very likely that Wilder and Joshua, in that order, will lead the division head and shoulders (no pun intended) above everyone else.

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Are We Not Entertained?


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ESPN’s follow up on Prichard Colon.

The futility of the search for someone to blame here is the real story.  There never was, and never will be anyone to blame because no one knew.

I saw this fight live last October, and even though I’ve had first-hand experience with boxing and brain trauma, nobody in the crowd–and I’d venture to guess no one in the ring either–knew what was happening.  People get the impression that boxing is some kind of primitive ritual to determine who can hurt who the most.  It’s not.  It’s an art and a science, and we’ve focused so much on the artistry that we haven’t worked out the science enough to keep our athletes safe.  All the cliches about not knowing the “meaning of quit” and “the heart of a warrior” are just decoration for people putting their lives on the line for a sport they love.  It’s no different from football, horse racing and many other sports.  We can’t reduce it to a special situation where we ignore the dangers because it’s a “contact sport” or a “combat sport.”  The AIBA is moving in the right direction–they removed the requirement for headgear in the games, rejecting the conventional wisdom that headgear prevents brain injuries–but it’s not enough.  Everyone involved in the sport has to shift their perspective.

The problem in this one incident was that no one did anything to stop the damage and get help, but the larger tragedy is that no one (other than Colon himself) could have done anything.  There’s nothing in the regulations that would have allowed, or even suggested an official way to end the fight based on injury.  Nothing to point to that would show that the doctor should have stopped the fight, that the corner should have taken the complaints more seriously, or that the referee should have noticed indicators that something was wrong.

The most frightening part of this incident is that it has happened before.  There are dozens of similar stories are scattered throughout boxing history, but even now, nothing has changed.  An old-school boxing fan might say that the rules are this way to preserve the dignity of the sport and of the fighters.  It’s true, pride and stoicism are a big part of boxing.  But does anyone really believe that an entire generation of young athletes would reject the sport if they’re told “we might have to stop the fight even if if you feel okay, because sometimes you don’t know until it’s too late”?  They wouldn’t, because it would be a simple reality of the sport, like a rain delay in baseball.  But ask that same old-school fan if Colon should have told his corner, or the referee, that he wanted to quit?  A pretty resounding “no,” would be your answer.  Any boxer or trainer will tell you that the willingness to fight through pain is what makes a fighter a fighter.  It’s ingrained in you as fundamental to the sport from the moment you put on the gloves.  This means that there were no options that would have resulted in the end of this fight at a time early enough to diagnose and treat Colon.  None of the individuals with the authority to stop the fight had any official means to do so available to them.

The only solution is a change in the sport itself.  What might that look like?  There are much smarter people than me to answer that question, but at the lowest levels, maybe that would mean we stop telling these kids to suck it up if they feel shaky after getting hit.  Maybe officials at amateur contests would remind the fighters and the referee that the fight can and should be stopped if someone feels dizzy or off-balance.  Maybe one day we could even hear Michael Buffer, before invoking his signature line, reminding spectators before a big fight that we want both men to come out of the ring safely.  Some might think of it as a concession to modern sensibilities, but, in reality, it would be an evolution.  An advance in the science of sport.  Sure, it’ll change the way we look at wins and losses.  “Somebody’s ‘o’ has got to go” might be a phrase we hear less often and take less seriously.  But there are a lot of people out there who would be grateful for it.  There are a lot of human beings out there wearing boxing gloves right now who would rather someone tell them “it’s okay to lose, I’m calling this one,” than listen to a doctor explain the odds of them ever walking again.  If that sounds too melodramatic, then think about it in practical terms: this fight was stopped on a technicality when the corner of one fighter thought the fight had ended and began removing his gloves.  Would fans really prefer the fight to be stopped for something like that, than for the safety of one of the competitors?

Trainers, fighters–fathers, sons–mothers, daughters–remember Prichard Colon.  Have compassion when you’re getting ready, or helping someone you love get ready for their next fight.  Use your imagination when you’re picturing what boxing should look like when you or someone you love gets under those bright lights and hears the roar of the crowd.  These men and women are not gladiators for our entertainment, they’re our friends, our family.  They’re us.

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Excitement Returns with a Price Tag


After a fairly unremarkable winter, spring 2017 could be expensive for boxing fans, whether through pay-per-view or premium cable channels.  Most recently announced was the superfight rematch between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev.  Their first, highly anticipated contest did not disappoint us, except possibly those hoping for the cards to go Kovalev’s way.  I can see giving that fight to Ward, though I had it going to Kovalev.  The level of competition makes the second fight tantalizing, especially because they’re getting right back in the ring rather than waiting years handling other challengers, during which time factors like age and total number of fights can diminish the potential of a rematch.

Though not everyone is looking forward to it, the May 6th bout between the sport’s best junior middleweight and a never-relevant light heavyweight will be big for boxing.  I’ve been disappointed in Canelo’s choice of opponents for years now.  I can’t help but reiterate how unfortunate it was to waste the opportunities earned by this massive talent, previously managed so impeccably.  Most importantly, the timing of his fight with Mayweather was incredibly ill-advised.  It’s possible he could have made more money, and certain that he would’ve fought a less youthful Mayweather, had he waited until after the Pacquiao showdown.  Even the warm-up fight against Austin Trout was unnecessarily risky.  Then, less than a year later after a tune-up against Angulo, he’s fighting Erislandy Lara, ostensibly to silence some group of critics.  Most boxing fans will tell you that that group mainly consisted of Lara himself.  He knew his place in the division was so dubious (due to his boring style) that regardless of his unbeaten record and his obvious talent, only a Tony-Bellew-level campaign of harassment would get him a lucrative fight.  He was right, and he got it.

Finally, a little over a year after the Lara fight, fans got to see Alvarez in the ring with the venerated Puerto Rican star Miguel Cotto.  The fight lived up to all expectations and further illustrated the skill of both fighters.  For some reason, this prompted the junior middleweight Alvarez to take a fight with a popular junior welterweight, Khan, who had recently moved up to 147.  After the inevitable knockout, Alvarez felt inspired to decree his notorious “we don’t fuck around” challenge, implying (if not saying explicitly) that he would fight middleweight star Gennady Golovkin any time.  Turns out, he was smart enough not to do so right away.  His reasoning?  Golovkin is too big at 160.  Fair enough.

He took a tune-up with another junior middleweight next.  We’re all thinking, “Golovkin now…?”  Nope.  Instead of fighting the middleweight who was too big last time, he signed a fight with a light heavyweight, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., a man with no legitimate wins over any significant fighters.  I guess Canelo’s rationale is, “If I can beat a huge, sloppy son-of-a-legend, maybe I can beat the smaller, competent fighter.”  Aside from giving up millions of dollars and a shot at making history, that sounds reasonable.  Reasonable, that is until you consider the alternative.  If he doesn’t win, Canelo’s record will be irrevocably stained in a way that no number of losses to the likes of Floyd Mayweather ever could cause.  In that case, he’ll double the number of losses on his record, and in doing so show the world that a lazy never-was could beat a once-great smaller man.  That’s not to mention the physical damage he could sustain that might cause a severe setback, either long-term or in his immediate future.

Okay—frustration vented, moving on…

Just a few weeks from now, at the end of this month, we’ll be treated to one of the top two potential matches in the heavyweight division.  Not only will we see the most dominant heavyweight of the last decade back in the ring, but he’s fighting one of the two boxers who could take his place in the next ten years.  Anthony Joshua has proven himself to be more than just a sturdy slugger with wins over Dominic Breazeale and Eric Molina, and 100% of his wins coming by knockout.  His size, power, youth and skill make him a formidable opponent, even for the likes of Wladimir Klitschko.  So far, there hasn’t been lot of evidence to measure Joshua by, but we can expect to see him exposed one way or the other.  He’ll be seen as the legitimate successor to the division, or as a flawed behemoth who was unable to cope with the meticulous technique of his opponent.

And in mid-May we’ll see Terence Crawford back in the ring against Felix Diaz.  I saw Diaz take on Lamont Peterson at the DC Armory; the decision was taken away from Diaz by the hometown judges.  Everyone around me in the crowd was not only disappointed in Lamont’s performance, but also thought he was losing the fight overall.  Some even left before the end of the match, catching me in the parking lot to find out, to their dismay, that Peterson got the decision (even though we were initially rooting for him).  Diaz is a legitimate opponent, though I don’t know if wins over Adrian Granados and Gabriel Bracero necessarily warrant a match against Crawford.  It’s likely this will be another padding-the-record fight for Crawford, who is biding time until the demand is high enough for the big fight against Errol Spence Jr.  That fight would’ve been the highlight of a great series this year, but given what we’ve had to work with so far, we’ll take what we can get.

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Big Talk


This past weekend Keith Thurman defeated Danny Garcia in an important welterweight title unification fight.  I had predicted Garcia taking the win by decision, but his inactivity during the fight prevented his superior accuracy from being the deciding factor, as Thurman was relatively accurate himself.  Mostly, though, he was busy.  Thurman started out at such a fast pace that just about everyone, including Garcia, questioned whether he could maintain it.

It was clear before the fight that Thurman was the better natural athlete, and if anything, had a slight size advantage.  Those factors were likely highly influential in the outcome, as Garcia kept his composure and displayed impressive technique throughout the fight, but was unable to increase his output in key rounds.  Garcia’s response, and that of his corner team, was somewhat extreme–they suggested Garcia might retire after his first defeat, at 28 years old. Thurman’s assessment was more realistic, saying he knew he had won when he heard the scores, but in reality the scores reflected a very close fight: 2 judges had it 115-113, and one had it 116-112.  This supposed ambiguity is reflected in contrasting statements from analyst Dan Rafael, who initially praised the fight as being “between undefeated, prime, 28-year-old titleholders was as good as it gets in boxing, and Thurman and Garcia produced an entertaining fight that was often tactical but had enough exciting exchanges to keep everyone on the edges of their seats,” but later commented that he hoped “Angel was right that there won’t be a rematch, because it is unnecessary. Thurman was the rightful winner and the fight wasn’t good enough to warrant one.”  My perspective and that of many viewers more closely matched his first appraisal.  Sometimes enthusiasm for the new champ clouds objectivity.

Speaking of objectivity, there was none of that in the charade perpetrated by David Haye and Tony Bellew.  The fighters primed their audience for the fight with violent histrionics at press conferences and claims that someone would die in the ring, both agreeing that Haye was the most feared heavyweight in boxing.  Where they came up with that alternative fact is anyone’s guess.  Bellew identified himself as a fat cruiser, and claimed he was now the best heavyweight, having beaten Haye, whose most significant win was over Dereck Chisora (now at 7 losses, 26 wins).  I’m sure they have a fan base in the UK, walking the line between professional wrestling and boxing, but for fans who seek more than sensationalism from their athletes, the fight was meaningless.  Even moreso, given that David Haye lost due to a torn Achilles tendon.

Mayweather is still purporting negotiations between himself and McGregor.  Arum reports that talks of a fight between Pacquiao and Khan are little more than rumor, not that either of them should be ranked at the top anyway.  I think we all know how Gennady Golovkin vs. Danny Jacobs will go.  And Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (a light-heavyweight) is still convincing fans it means something for him to fight the world’s best junior middleweight in May.  Lots of big talk, not much to say.

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Big Flop for B-Hop


Bernard Hopkins has had a truly unique career.  23 years is a long time for anyone, in any profession, to hone their craft.  But that’s how long Bernard Hopkins was considered one of the best in the world at what he does.

Up until this past Saturday, Hopkins had been at the top of his profession since 1993. With a record of 21-0 the young(er) Hopkins took on one of the soon-to-be-great legends of the sport, Roy Jones Jr.  Suffering his first defeat, and one of the few one-sided losses of his career, Hopkins pushed onward, blazing through another 20 opponents before taking on no less than Felix Trinidad.  Winning his first signature fight gave Hopkins the momentum to blot out 4 more never-weres on the way to his greatest accomplishment of all.  In 2004, Hopkins had his first of what would turn out to be many opportunities to play the role of the hopeless underdog. Hopkins’ defeat of Oscar de la Hoya was a passing of the torch.  While Hopkins never possessed any of Oscar’s flash in the ring or his irresistible charisma outside the ring, he was consistently showing the skills to take on the best in the business.

Hopkins won a few more at middleweight after De la Hoya, but eventually ran into a roadblock.  Whether the real problem was weight or not, we’ll never know, but the roadblock made itself evident in the form of Jermain Taylor.  After moving up a full two weight classes to light heavyweight, Hopkins resumed his crusade to the top in 2006, when he took the title from Antonio Tarver.  He defeated feared fighters like Winky Wright, completely battered Kelly Pavlik, and even avenged his loss to the great Roy Jones.  During this time at light heavyweight the only fight in which he was outmatched in skill was against Calzaghe, another titan of the industry.  He was an “old man” during all of these fights, having passed what would be considered prime boxing years before he even went to light heavy.

Two years ago I watched live as Hopkins knocked down Beibut Shumenov while the crowd filed out the door.  Everyone there expected to see an old man falter against a lesser opponent, so they packed up prematurely.  Instead, he won just about every round, and physically dominated the younger, larger fighter.  That kind of transcendent greatness doesn’t often show itself more than a few times in an athlete’s life, and for Hopkins, the Shumenov fight was the last time.  What we saw when B-Hop fought Kovalev, who is now considered by many number 1 or 2 in the world, and when he fought Joe Smith this past weekend, wasn’t pretty.  But it wasn’t a travesty.  Hopkins made history.  This past weekend, he did it one last time, he just didn’t come away with a win to show for it.  I salute Bernard Hopkins for being one of the most meticulous athletes in the history of any sport, and I’m grateful to have witnessed his ability.  Like with most fighters, it will serve us better to remember the achievements of his better years than to reflect on the conclusion to one chapter in the story of this great athlete.

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Fates and Furys


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In his recent interview with Rolling Stone, Tyson Fury came clean about the delays in the fight with Klitschko, and provided some insight into his state of mind.  This was just after having tweeted an announcement that he was retiring, and then retracting the statement, also on twitter.  Actually, words like “statement” and “announcement” are somewhat overly generous terms for the incoherent regurgitation he posted online:

Boxing is the saddest thing I ever took part in, all a pile of shit, I’m the greatest, & I’m also retired, so go suck a dick, happy days. 🙂 🙂 🙂

Then, just hours later…

Hahahaha u think you will get rid of the GYPSYKING that easy!!! I’m here to stay. #TheGreatest just shows u what the Medea are all about. Tut tut

So, ignoring the incomprehensibility of this thoroughly unsettling rant, tweeting something so strange and then hysterically retracting it hours later, especially when it concerns his career, ought to be enough indication that he’s in no condition to fight.  It’s almost redundant when, during the interview, Fury admits that the doctors diagnosed him with “…a version of bipolar.”  His followup, however, was far from redundant: “I’m a manic depressive. I just hope someone kills me before I kill myself.”  Whatever that is, it’s not redundant.  These disturbing, semi-lucid comments only confirm the kind of mental instability we’ve speculated about in the past.  Klitschko has made statements to the effect that Fury’s mental health issues account for his behavior since long before their fight in November of last year.  It was around that time, when Fury managed to defeat Klitschko, that even Fury’s own family made comments indicating that he was suffering from psychological issues.

The Fury camp claimed two setbacks that have delayed the rematch with Klitschko as being due to injury, but this interview reveals otherwise.  As if by some mysterious intervention of fate, the potential disaster of the rematch has been avoided, as after repeatedly testing positive for cocaine, and refusing to defend his championship, he’s likely to be stripped of his titles.  Most boxers probably sit somewhere below the threshold of ideal mental composure, but putting someone with serious issues in a ring with Wladimir Klitschko would be criminal.  With shades of the infamous Lennox Lewis-Oliver McCall rematch, Fury, in his current condition, against Klitschko, would be even more catastrophic.  Fortunately for McCall, he was in decent physical condition for the rematch against Lewis, and his immediate collapse signaled his opponent early enough not to use full force.  For Fury, it may not have turned out so well.

If, by some miracle, these events lead to the eventual signing of a legitimate opponent for Klitschko, then this embarrassment of the sport may serve some purpose.  For example, rumors indicate that a fight between Klitschko and American Anthony Joshua might be possible.  That would not only mark the long-awaited return of Americans to the top of the heavyweight ranks, but also the first exciting Klitschko match in years.  With Deontay Wilder also waiting in the wings, there is always potential for a rejuvenation of the heavies, but if Klitschko’s last 20 fights are any indication, the fights just won’t be made.  In all likelihood, Fury’s stain on the sport will be merely a shameful episode people reference less and less as time goes on, but maybe a power vacuum in the sport’s glamor division could be the catalyst for something positive.  We can always hope.

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Fury Fight Off Again


Still in recovery from the disappointment of the first canceled rematch between Tyson Fury and Wladimir Klitschko, fans are now enduring yet another delay, as Fury has presented a letter from his doctor stating that due to mental health issues, the fighter will be “unavailable for the foreseeable future.”

Now, beyond the obvious possibility that the out-of-shape behemoth only managed a victory over Klitschko by some stroke of luck, this delay is perplexing for many reasons.  For one thing, this will be the second time Fury has canceled the fight for health issues in about three months.  The first injury was probably legitimate.  After all, an overweight man who brags about not training wouldn’t be anyone’s top choice to survive a heavyweight-title-fight training camp.  But come on, who among us was familiar with Tyson Fury and thought he did not have mental health issues?  Wladimir has said that himself in interviews and at press conferences.  Dressing up in a five dollar batman outfit and knocking over a display table in front of the press doesn’t exactly speak to a person’s mature, stable demeanor.

Are we really expected to believe that this diagnosis by Fury’s doctor is some kind of revelation?  Even if it were, could it possibly be a coincidence that Fury has just now reached the absolute pinnacle of his career, or, more to the point, that not calling off the fight would mean putting his reputation on the line?  Fury’s accomplishments, up to the Klitschko fight, were minor and unimpressive, for a 7-foot-tall man, at least.  Now, he could lose all the respect and admiration in 36 minutes or less, if he can’t perform the way he did in the first fight.  He’s even been accused, along with his brother Hughie, of using PEDs.  So maybe the success against Wladimir was a direct result of doping, or maybe he needed the drugs to sustain his oversize frame and (probably) enlarged heart.  But all of a sudden, he has health problems that prevent him from fighting for the foreseeable future?

And how about that for phrasing?  “Foreseeable future” implies that the condition is serious enough that Fury may never fight again, much less return in time to fight the aging juggernaut who challenges his place at the top of the division.  At this point, Wladimir could hold on for a couple more years, with great success, but to give any meaning to that time, he would have to fight the biggest guy (physically) in the division.  If Fury did come back, and finally made the fight, and kept the date, he’d win or lose to man who had passed his prime a decade earlier.

Based on the tests of character, displays of talent, and the statements made by Fury in the past, it’s hard to believe that these delays are pure coincidence.  It’s not very plausible that his mental health issues were unknown up until this diagnosis, either.  We were all very impressed by the performance Fury put on during and after the match against Klitschko, but now we all have to face reality.  Turning one fight into a circus of novelty is one thing, but to associate the heavyweight championship with a farce is another thing entirely, one boxing fans won’t tolerate.  We won’t cater to his ego or his warrior mentality; we won’t acknowledge his accomplishments to soften the blow of this exposure.  Fury is a phony.  We suspected before, and now we know.

It’s not that there aren’t other interesting fights to be made at heavyweight, there are, but protected prospects will likely never meet a close-to-prime Klitschko.  We’ll have to wait for another cycle to run through before we get an active heavyweight scene again, and by then, we may have already said farewell to Klitschko’s glimmer of greatness.

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Contradiction


Following his triumphant demolition of the delicate Amir Khan, Saul Alvarez had strong words about the possible match with Gennady Golovkin, saying things like “we can put on the gloves and fight right now, we don’t fuck around.”  After all, he had just won a middleweight title, somehow.  Of course, neither fighter was actually at 160 pounds in that fight, but nevermind that.  Alvarez won by knockout and showed the kind of ferocity his fans have been longing for since we first watched him on television.  He didn’t really want to put the gloves back on and fight him right at that moment, but we thought he might be willing to make him his next opponent.  Alvarez ended up making what was probably the smart decision, and declined the offer, giving up his “middleweight title.”  Fans and commentators criticized him for the deicsion, and Golovkin says it made him lose respect for Alvarez, but as Ring magazine pointed out in its most recent issue, it wasn’t long ago that fans were pushing for a fight between Golovkin and Andre Ward, who even now isn’t a full-size light heavyweight.  Golovkin openly admitted that Ward was too big for him, even though the difference between weight classes is about the same(13 pounds from welter to middleweight, 15 pounds from middle to light heavyweight).  Maybe Alvarez shouldn’t have made such a big deal about being willing to fight him right away, but it seems his place as fighter-most-willing-to-take-anyone-on is secure.  At least, he’s as willing as anyone else.

Last night Danny Jacobs set the record straight, breaking down his opponent in a rematch from last August when Sergio Mora put on a good show until his ankle broke during a fall.  The result of the previous fight implied that Mora might have a shot against Jacobs, scoring a knockdown early in the fight before his injury.  In the rematch, Jacobs showed superior power from the outset, and Mora showed no improvement in his strategy, electing to slug with Jacobs and fight off the ropes when necessary.  Jacobs may have more talent than we’ve given him credit for in the past, and his power seems to carry him through a lot of situations where he’d otherwise be outsmarted.  Mora, on the other hand, has been fighting to establish relevance, if not dominance, for years.  With yet another loss on his record, it seems he’ll never quite make it to that level.  His best hope will be to spend a few years serving as official gatekeeper for young fighters who haven’t been tested yet, then fade away into anonymity, and hopefully, preserve his health.

Tonight’s fight features an unusual match between Golovkin and Brook, drawing comparison to the weight disadvantage overcome by Ray Robinson taking on Jake Lamotta.  Clearly, “Special K” Kell Brook is no Ray Robinson, but whether he’s special enough to handle Golovkin remains to be seen.  Golovkin is the only one with a lot to lose here, because if he doesn’t do very well, as Alvarez did against Khan, then his reputation will suffer greatly.  If, on the other hand, Brook were to get blown away in the first or second round, fans would chalk it up to the size difference and move on with their lives.  Golovkin speculates that appearing vulnerable might be the only way to attract Alvarez for their showdown.  I won’t hold my breath, but it might not be up to Golovkin whether he appears vulnerable this time.  Brook is fast and accurate enough to force Golovkin to measure his power.  If Golovkin’s too wild, Brook may be able to score enough points to win rounds, and make the decision close.

After five years of writing about the sport, I’ve come to expect the contradictions you see every time you watch a fight.  It can be frustrating, but that’s also what makes the science sweet. Tonight, Golovkin will probably beat Brook, probably by knockout.  Unless Brook wins, which can’t happen.  Unless it does.

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Redistribution


I’ve been decompressing since my trip to Peru a few weeks ago, and since then there’ve been a lot of interesting fights, just not a lot of significant results.  For example, the recent showdown between Shawn Porter and Keith Thurman proved to be nothing less than what we’d hoped (for the most part).  The two former sparring partners went at each other with full ferocity for 12 rounds.

Porter was especially aggressive, using risky lunges to overcome Thurman’s distinct reach advantage.  The technique worked successfully, reducing Thurman’s output without putting Porter in real danger.  In fact, Porter landed as many or more flush shots than his opponent, but none were as effective as Thurman’s hardest shots.  While I think Thurman deserved the win, the cards were a little skewed by my recollection, and his performance was certainly discouraging to anyone who expects to see Thurman become the standout welterweight in the sport.  Fighting as he did against Porter, we can imagine similar problems against other fighters like Danny Garcia, Errol Spence Jr. or even Lamont Peterson.  I don’t include Khan in the list because while Khan could cause Thurman problems, he’s not likely to get the fight, and if he did, he’d be difficult for entirely different reasons.  The fight failed to show any improvement for Thurman, and even seemed to obscure his already confirmed talents, but the resulting stagnation also affected Porter.  While Porter’s performance was impressive based on our expectations, a loss against a lazy Thurman won’t keep anyone at the top of the division for long.  Despite the entertainment value, the fight doesn’t affect either fighter’s career much.

Thurman is still very young, though, and at least gives the impression of being hungry not only to win but to learn more after each fight.  If he’s sincere in his philosophical opposition to fighters like Amir Khan, he could keep improving and keep winning, and maybe even make it to the top one day.  If I were in his corner after the fight against Porter, I’d be telling him to work on two things: distance and timing.  Thurman uses his reach effectively when his opponent doesn’t try to take it away from him using timing and aggression, but when he’s forced to adapt, Thurman struggles.  Gaining confidence in his punches at full extension would make Thurman’s whole arsenal more formidable, and it would improve his ability on the outside tenfold.  Rhythm is an asset that can change the momentum of a fight immediately.  Some of the best fighters of our era, like Klitschko, Mayweather, Alvarez and Golovkin routinely give away the first 2-4 rounds in order to get a sense for how their opponents move and react.  Then, when they hit their “rhythm,” they’re unstoppable.  Thurman’s timing is impeccable and it’s usually noticeably superior to any opponent’s timing, and his speed is always on par.  What Thurman has showed less of in recent fights, and failed to show at all in his bout against Porter, is rhythm.  He needs to be able to fall back on muscle memory and a comfortable routine sometimes so he’s not always trying to improvise.  Oh, yeah.  And, you’re not Mayweather: keep your hands up.

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Tonight Chris Arreola will serve as replacement for Deontay Wilder’s previous opponent, Alexander Povetkin.  Povetkin tested positive for a banned substance before the fight against Wilder in May, so Wilder started looking for replacements.   Chris Arreola, who has admitted how undeserving he his of the title shot, will once again give his all against a physically superior fighter.  In the past when he’s been met with top opposition, Arreola has shined, showing his world-class heart and chin.  At other times, against lesser, sometimes much lesser opponents, Arreola has looked like what you would expect from his someone in his physical form: lazy, slow, dangerous only for a few seconds at a time.  My theory is that such a rare opportunity will inspire Arreola to perform the more way he did in the years when he kept coming up as mandatory title challenger year after year.  Unfortunately for him, nobody really expects Arreola to do well enough to win or even make it through 12 rounds.  For Wilder, this is one more box checked in his route to the top of the division, and at least he’s fighting someone with real experience and talent.  Some day soon, we can hope, we’ll get to see him silence the intolerable Tyson Fury and bring American heavyweights back to prominence.

Rather than focus our attention on superfights and hypotheticals, though, we should really be appreciating the small things in our sport of kings.  There may be no fantasy fight on the horizon, but the Olympic games begin in less than three weeks and for the first time we’ll see professional boxers fighting for their countries (with no headgear) against the new generation of pugilists.   America’s beacon of hope from the last summer games, Errol Spence Jr., is still going strong, building his talent and making a name for himself in the hottest division in the sport.  The talent pool is calming down and the detritus is settling to the bottom.

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The Late Greatest


What can be said about a man who’s had such a profound impact on everyone, in so many ways?

As athlete, he was a God.

As pop culture icon and political figure, he was a King.

As a man–he was a Saint.

Now, with God, he can just be a man.

 

Our generation will never know such benevolence, wisdom and vitality again.

 

aliliston

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