April 15, 2014

KO Digest Interview: Wladimir Klitschko - "My mission is not done"

Dr. Steelhammer speaks politics and pugilism
To boxing fans around the world, Wladimir Klitschko’s career needs no explanation or introduction. Boasting a heavyweight title reign that ranks behind only Joe Louis in calendar length and with a staggering streak of 15 consecutive defenses, the Ukrainian has held the division in check since April 2006, having firmly entrenched himself into history as one of the sport’s most dominant champions. Outside the ring, particularly to fans in the United States, Klitschko’s life and approach to the sweet science is largely misunderstood. To some, the champion is robotic and boring, but to the close-knit camp that has surrounded him for years, boxing resembles chess. Wladimir and his brother Vitali teamed up to clear the board of all potential challengers, complementing each other as King and Queen to protect their titles and each other from threats. With Vitali now fighting a different battle, one for political reform in Ukraine, the younger Klitschko has been left to fend the board himself against Alex Leapai on April 26 and later against a budding crop of rising stars that include undefeated American Deontay Wilder. At 38, he is still going strong in defense of his legacy and his titles, but as new pieces sprout up on the opposition’s board, new opportunities have arisen on his side as well. Claiming that his biggest battle is still to come, one must wonder whether or not the defining fight in his career will come in his native country, fighting not for sport but for a brand new start in Ukraine—once again, alongside his brother.  

KO Digest's Joel Sebastianelli: This very special KO Digest interview is being conducted on April 10 the 10th anniversary of your lowest point in boxing, the KO loss to American Lamon Brewster. It looked like you were done in boxing, your brother Vitali advised you to retire, fans lost hope and all looked lost. What a difference a decade makes, 10 years later, you are undisputed world heavyweight champion having beat anyone and everyone and on the verge of another title defense, this time against Alex Leapai, an unknown opponent. What were the key elements of this decade long transition that saw you possibly being down and out to now being undefeated for a ten year span?  

Wlad lost the fight and he lost respect
Wladimir Klitschko: I never was paying attention to how many years I was undefeated or how many title defenses or anything like that because as an insider, you don’t really keep track of it. But as an outsider, you guys remind me of that—and you’re right, actually. When I think about it, on the tenth of April 2004, I was fighting for the WBO title to get back the WBO title against Lamon Brewster, and I lost that fight. As a matter of fact, that was also the first fight that I started to work with Emanuel Steward. Actually, I was watching that fight lately and I was watching through the years as motivation. It’s always something that I wanted to pay back because I really got a lot of criticism after that fight and I was written off the stage of boxing. I was just someone that was over and done and nobody would even think that I could come back and make my sporting career a big success. So, even this first fight with Emanuel, that also kind of gives a lot of respect to Emanuel because he stuck with me. I lost respect from a lot of people, my opponents included, and to gain that respect back, it takes some time. It takes some strength. I said “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and that’s exactly what happened. I was almost killed in that fight, killed with the way of my desire for a win, my ambitions in sports, and my ego is the most important part. As an athlete, you have to have a big ego, and I do have a huge ego that helped in the past to get where I am today. Even at 38 years old, I haven’t achieved what I have in my mind. I’m not going to share it with you, but I’m not done with my mission yet because my payback for all the criticism I received from everyone is not over yet. I’m on my way to where I want to be, but I’m not there yet.

KOD: Alex Leapai isn’t viewed by much of the world as a real challenge to you. How do you feel about your opponent’s skillset and worthiness of fighting for the heavyweight title against one of the most dominant champions ever: you?

The pure violence of Alex Leapai
WLAD K: There’s always a consistency in failure or success. If you take a look at the three fights I lost in my career, I lost against the guys I shouldn’t lose to. The first was Ross Purity; nobody had heard anything about him except for the fight he won against me. Corrie Sanders gave a great fight for Vitali, but those days I remember, even TV didn't want to show that fight, he was a complete underdog, but you know, he made it. No disrespect to Corrie—I really respect the guy and liked him a lot, rest in peace Corrie. No disrespect to Lamon, but I shouldn’t lose that fight. Those three fights, I lost against guys nobody thought at the beginning I was going to lose to. If I fought some champion such as David Haye, Sultan Ibragimov, or Chris Byrd, people would understand that’s a great challenge. But to lose against guys nobody expected me to lose to? I definitely don’t want to have a reputation in this consistency of losing to guys I shouldn’t lose to. The less my opponent is known, the less people expect for him to give a challenge to the champion, the more the person is an underdog, the more I’m focused because I still have an aftertaste in my mouth after I lost the fight against Brewster ten years ago today. I haven’t forgotten about it, I know exactly how I need to stay focused and I will achieve my goal to defend my titles. It took me a lot of time to collect those belts and to be where I am today. I’m not going to take easy Alex Leapai. He doesn't have a lot of knowledge about technique and strategy and neither does he coach, but he has tremendous health. Physically, he’s just a violent guy in the ring. You can see the pure violence, and he's been very successful with it. That’s how he became the number one mandatory. I didn't chose to fight Leapai. He surprised a lot of guys who never thought he’d make it with Denis Boytsov, who I was supposed to fight as a mandatory but instead I am fighting Leapai. He wants to make Australian boxing history and shock the world and shock the champ. Congratulations to him. I’m taking this challenge very seriously.

Checkmate
KOD: In the outstanding 2011 documentary “KLITSCHKO” you said "Since 2005, it hasn't been boxing, but PURE chess." This seems to be a much different approach than many other fighters take. Please explain that strategic mindset in greater detail and which chess piece best describes you, the KING? 

WLAD K: Through the years, you have to get flexibility to fight tall guys, short guys, skinny and a little heavier, and with good technique or pure violence like Leapai. A lot of different guys that were as technical as David Haye— Haye was really, really technical in the fight, the same as Ibragimov. Very quick and very technical, same as Chris Byrd. Or strength and confidence from Sam Peter in 2005. His confidence was as big as a building, and he was just tremendously strong and a heavy handed guy. Anyway, there are different guys with different techniques, including southpaws and different tactics so I would say probably the Queen because the Queen can move anywhere—if you know about chess. A combination of the Queen and the horse, a Queen that sits on a horse, because I think that makes perfect sense with the figures that I chose this flexibility—you need to make moves that are unexpected. Many guys when they fight me, they see only robotic and one side of me, which is good probably because it’s better to be underestimated than overestimated.

KOD: For both you and Vitali, your “secret weapon” was, for a long time, each other. Without Vitali in your camp and without him in the sport of boxing at all, how and why do you continue your career in the absence of your brother? 

WLAD K: It’s a déjà vu because I’ve been in this situation before. In December 2004 after the Danny Williams fight, Vitali retired. He was absent for four and a half years until he came back. So for four and a half years, I was the only Klitschko fighting. And now it’s kind of the same situation. Now he’s retired again and the focus is on me. I’ve been there and done that, and it’s repetition again. Do I miss my brother being in the sport? Yes. But, I think right now, he’s having much more complicated goals that he wants to achieve in politics. I admire his desire, his courage, and what’s he’s doing. He’s definitely someone who needs to stay focused on the politics in Ukraine, especially with all the circumstances we have in the country. You can’t do both and sit with one butt in two chairs at the same time simultaneously, so he chose to retire and continue his life with politics. But, I’ve been there before and I'll continue to defend my titles. I don’t want to talk about the future too much. The first and next step is Leapai and that’s what I’m focused on right now.

KOD: Upon venturing to America professionally, both you and your brother met with promoter Don King in 1996 and decided to reject his contractual advances. In a foreign land and having the largest sum of money ever thrown at you, why did the two of your elect to stay away from King? Has your perception of him changed at all over time? 

Klitschko shows no emotion for Don King
WLAD K: Well, after the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, we received a lot of different contracts from different promoters and one of them was Don King. We were comparing all the contracts and trying to get the best possible deal that made the most sense, and King’s contract was not one of them. That didn’t satisfy our imagination of how things should work, and that was it.

KOD: As an indirect result of rejecting his offer, you gradually forced King from the upper echelon of the heavyweight title picture, but for the first time in years, he has possible in-road back into the division with his WBC title challenger Bermane Stiverne. Do you feel any responsibility or need to defend the division, the titles, or yourselves against King?

WLAD K: I have nothing to do with Don King—fortunately, because he never was my promoter. He was the promoter of other guys I fought, so we had some fights and some contracts with Don King Promotions. I’m not going after Don King in this case. I’ve never had anything to do with him and I am totally emotionless in regards to his name. I care about fighters that I fight, that’s it. But just to take away the opportunity from Don King to hold one of the titles, that’s probably the idea, to hold all the titles under one name, but who stands behind the fighter as a promoter—that’s important in negotiation and eventually when you negotiate not with the fighter, you deal with his manager and promoter, but honestly, I have zero emotions in regards to Don King. I’m not interested and I don’t care.

KOD: Looking at the rest of the heavyweight division, three other names I would conclude have the most potential and would perhaps be deserving of a title shot are Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, and Kubrat Pulev. 
What’s your take on each of those fighters?

Klitschko respects Wilder for his knockouts
WLAD K: Honestly, I’m impressed with the record of Deontay Wilder. He was in my camp before the Marius Wach fight, and he’s a very athletic guy. It looks like he really wants to become a champion. He has the desire, strength, and talent to become one. Tyson Fury was also in my camp but I can’t say much about him because I think he’s kind of young and green behind his ears. It's always been in the history of boxing that suddenly some guy just pops up and conquers. You mentioned some names and so did I, but maybe there is somebody that we didn’t even talk about. Who knows, like a Mike Tyson. Who would have thought a 20 year old kid could become the heavyweight champion? Nobody. So suddenly he was right there in the picture. In boxing it's the same, if you look at the scale of the markets, it goes up and down, up and down. You have some times that are exciting, and you have some times that are less exciting. It’s always been like that. Any of them can show their skills. But I know boxing well, and I’m really impressed with Deontay’s record of 31 wins with 31 knockouts. Whatever people say about him not fighting great competition, it might be this way, but to have the skills and the ability to knock all of these opponents out spectacularly, it deserves some respect from my side.

KOD: You’re a dominant and dangerous giant of man. Do you ever worry about seriously hurting an opponent and to your knowledge have you ever? How would you even know if you were seriously hurting somebody? Nobody seemed to notice that Magomed Abdusalamov was being internally destroyed in the ring against Mike Perez in November. 

Haye disrespects Klitschko with his antics
WLAD K: Fighters are one family. We need each other obviously to make the excitement of boxing, and we need to compete with each other, but that doesn’t mean that I wish to hurt someone that after the fight with me, he’s going to become handicapped or worse. My goal and my task of course is to dominate and conquer any opponent that is going to be with me in the ring, but at the end of the fight, I wish they’re going to recover well and that there are going to be no downsides in their life outside of the ring. Sometimes, I get upset and emotional when opponents think it's a part of the promotion that some of them want to send my brother and me to the hospital because they want to beat us up so badly, or say some stupid things. I’m looking at them and thinking “seriously guys, do you even know what you’re talking about?” I think mentioning things like that is just stupid. It’s a full contact sport so there are things in boxing history where unfortunately guys end up handicapped or even killed in a fight so I definitely hope they recover well and maybe get even better with their skills and learn from fighting me, or sparring me.

KOD: Growing up in a Soviet Republic, the world was a different place, particularly in regards to the USSR’s relationship with the United States. Many kids in schools were taught a very different reality of life in the States, and although the boundaries and ideologies of nations have shifted over time, some Cold War sentiments remain among individuals old enough to remember this time period—with that being said, your relationship with America is rather enigmatic, because in boxing, it seems that you love the US but the US does not necessarily love you back. Why does this relationship exist? Does this have more to do with the fact that you are viewed as a Russian fighter who beat all the best Americans and killed the heavyweight division in America—a traditional American domain—and took the title overseas? Is it because of residual Cold War feelings, or is it something else? Why are you not embraced in the States?

Klitschko and his American fiancée at a Miami Heat game
WLAD K: I disagree with you about not loving. When my brother and I are in the United States, we meet people and people meet us, and most of the time, if not all of the time, people are excited and we receive only positive emotions. The Klitschkos haven’t fought in the States since Vitali in 2009 against Arreola. Even if we haven’t been present with our fights, we still have a following in the States and people know who the Klitschkos are, and we receive only positive emotions from the fans. I think there’s also—if we talk about politics right now, politicians are trying to divide and conquer. Politicians are trying to brainwash people with their system, their agenda, and their propaganda. I’ve seen it, I’ve been around in this world for long enough. I grew up in the Soviet Union and I was born in the Soviet Union and I know what ‘Soviet times” means. I see what’s going on in Ukraine, and the Ukraine is coughing out the Soviet times, that's what is happening right now. It’s like a side effect after a certain illness, when you have a cold and you’re coughing out things like that. Eventually, we’re going to get healthy. On the other hand, also why I haven't been fighting in the States is because of the world [economic] crisis. We do have a huge following in Europe and it’s amazing to watch where, in two days, you sell 50,000 seats in a stadium. This still amazes me how people watch boxing matches in a stadium. If you sit in the last row you really can’t see a lot, but people get excited about it. There is a following also on the economical side because of the difference between the Euro and the US dollar, by 30 to 40 percent, so on the economical side, it’s something that made us fight in Europe more often than the States. With that considered, I look forward to going back to the States and fighting so boxing fans and Klitschko fans can see me perform on American soil and I look forward to it. There’s definitely a connection with the United States because I do live in the US and my fiancé is an American, et cetera, and I spend a lot of time with my friends in the States as well, and part of my career is connected. My team has Americans, Italians, Germans—I have plenty of guys from the States on my team that have been with me for ten years, so there is definitely a connection. But as I said, on the political side, politicians are trying to use propaganda, as it was in the past, to say some of the countries are good and some are not good like in Cold War times.

KOD: To what extent were you influenced by the film Rocky IV? Who did you root for?

Yo Klitschko!
WLAD K: I’m very happy you mentioned Rocky. I’m also a co-producer of the Rocky musical that’s hitting Broadway with Sylvester Stallone. We started in Hamburg which was very successful for over a year, then Broadway was the next step. I'm a fan of Rocky and I’m thinking about Alex Leapai because he’s an underdog. In a way, he’s kinda Rocky with the things he’s trying to do in his life. But Rocky, at the end of the day, is a story about love between Adrian and Rocky because eventually, as he said, “Yo, Adrian, I did it!” With Ivan Drago and all the propaganda from the West side, seeing the Soviets through Drago, and presenting it in a different way, it’s a part of history now with Rocky.

KOD: You’re greeted by loud cheers and over 50,000 fans at your fights in Europe. Your last fight in the US in 2008 against Ibragimov was not met with many cheers, and despite holding the heavyweight championship of the world, many Americans even in the media don’t seem to latch on to you like they have other heavyweight champions like Ali and Tyson. What do you think about the American boxing media? Do you feel as though you’re misunderstood?

WLAD K: I’m not done with my career. I can’t really look back and say what was good and what was wrong. Hopefully I’ll be back fighting in the States soon. Florida is my home state in America. There’s another line: “you have it, you don’t care about it. You don’t have it anymore, you miss it.” There’s a lack of competition and good names in the States. Deontay Wilder and Bryant Jennings are both undefeated fighters from US and they’re building up themselves. That’s something that’s eventually going to come up with a fight for the title. It’s very complicated when you don’t have challengers. If David Haye had been from the States, it would be a different story but he's British. There’s a difference on the promotional side as well. Or, maybe it’s a boring style. But I was influenced by the American style through Emanuel and I still have American culture with Jonathan Banks who is following in Emanuel's footsteps.

KOD: In your childhood, your family was small and closely knit—mainly just your mother, your father, your brother Vitali and youreself. Even as your career moved overseas and progressed professionally, your team was kept small. But in the last few years, that team has diminished slightly, as both Emanuel Steward and your father tragically passed away. How have you carried on through those losses in your personal life, and in particular, how has the transition to Jonathan Banks been carrying on as the spiritual heir to KRONK and as your head trainer?

The world heavyweight championship coach
WLAD K: If you think about Jonathan, even to me it’s kind of interesting because he’s coaching the champion, he’s seven years younger than the champion, he never was working as a coach, and then he followed in the footsteps of Emanuel, taking over Emanuel’s job in a big fight while he was preparing for his first fight with Seth Mitchell that he fought one week later after my fight in November 2012. It’s pretty amazing that he can coach and it’s a big picture when preparing not just a regular guy, but working with the heavyweight champion. I think his story is amazing and he’s doing a great job. I think he has this analytic mind that is important for a coach, and he learned from Emanuel a lot because he has been in my camps over and over and over; and he was my sparring partner. Jonathan met my father as well, and he spent a lot of time with Emanuel and he was around me for a long time. In a certain way, he was learning from Emanuel and me because he was much younger when he got in our camp for the first time ten years ago. He was 21 years old ten years ago.

Manny lives on through Mr. Banks
It’s very tough to lose someone that you’re close with, but in a certain way, we’ll end up meeting each other later on. Whatever was taught before, and I learned a lot, I feel Emanuel’s presence when I’m in training camp and in the gym. Even the gym is set up the way he wanted it. For example, the clock and the boxing clock stays together in one spot, and then you have TV screens around the ring, the fights of the opponent needs to be shown over and over and the more you watch it for weeks, the more things you see and study. There’s a lot of little details, even like how to meet with fans and how to approach people, and how to set up the camp and sparring partners that need to be sharp and the best you can get. There are a lot of things I learned from Emanuel. In a certain way, when I train in sparring or do whatever work, he’s whispering in my ear. I hear his voice. I’m not psycho or anything—I hope—but I’m just saying that his presence is still there.
It’s not something where the man is gone and everything is gone. It’s not like that.

KOD: Despite Vitali being gone, the name Klitschko still holds the heavyweight division in check.
But for how long can this go on? When you eventually do retire, what do you see in life after boxing?


WLAD K: It is too early for me to say anything right now but I am preparing myself for that period of time. I don’t want to say something that is going to affect anything in my official life after sport. Just wait for it and you will know about it.

KOD: If things don’t go according to plan politically, do you think your brother would consider a return to boxing?

Brother Vitali now fights on the front lines in Ukraine
WLAD K: Well, for right now, there is not any question that he will be back in boxing. All his time and his concentration and his focus is on the politics because people expect this certain performance from him in the political field, not in the boxing ring. 

KOD: For a while, your brother was pursuing Ukrainian Presidency but is now seeking the role of Mayor in Kiev. What don’t Americans see about what’s going on in Ukraine? We can view the television reports, but there’s always something that’s lost in translation through the media. From what you see of what’s happening in Ukraine, what would you want people around the world to know and understand about the situation in your country?

King Klitschko's most difficult fight lies ahead
WLAD K: The Ukrainian people want to live in a country without corruption and dictatorship like we had with President Yanukovych. Eventually, Yanukovych is running for his life after everything that happened. There was a lot of death, over 100 people got killed and shot by the special police force with sniper rifles and AK-47s, which is unbelievable to even imagine. People that had no guns and no weapons got shot during the day on the 17th and 18th of February. Today we’ve got a geopolitical problem because Crimea is now taken by Russia, which is a  tremendous historical mistake. It breaks international and geopolitical law. You cannot just take over part of a country because you think it belongs to you. Alaska is probably going to be the next one. Alaska might be reconsidered about loopholes in the contract that were not done right. So, Ukraine is going through a lot of crisis right now: political, geopolitical, and economic. Fortunately, the world was talking about it and paying attention. Observers and news reporters have come to the country, and what is going on in Ukraine, the world is getting to know. It’s very simple to know through social media or the news—it’s not complicated. In all the propaganda that is going on in Russia, that in the Ukraine everybody demonstrating are fascists, is totally nonsense. Do I look like a fascist because I was there at the barricades and I was there and involved in the country? My brother is a part of the opposition and I was observing it at the beginning when it was just a 100 people on Maidan in Independence Square to over half a million people, and I haven’t seen any fascists. The complication of the situation is out there. I hope this evolutionary process of democracy in our country is going to proceed faster than slower.

The Future of Boxing

KO Digest Interview conducted by Joel "The Future" Sebastianelli

Joel joined KO Digest in January 2013 and has been a fixture on press row in the New England area for three years. In 2012, he served as the host of “The Boxing Fix” on Leave it in the Ring Radio. Sebastianelli is the future of boxing journalism and broadcasting.

Joel can be found Tweeting on Twitter @JJSebastianelli  



April 8, 2014

The Sweet Side of the Sweet Science - Women's Boxing Monthly Vol 11

The team of Rijker and Prazak win again
By Mark A. Jones – Since the last edition of “The Sweet Side of the Sweet Science” (January) much has transpired in women’s boxing. The consensus #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the sport, Cecilia Braekhus, cemented her claim to that title with a dominant ten-round unanimous decision over former light-welterweight champion, Myriam Lamare. Super-featherweight Diana Prazak, who carries the weight of Australian women’s boxing on her shoulders, impressively dismantled a former featherweight champion in fellow Australian, Shannon O’Connell. Prazak, trained by Lucia Rijker, has developed into a force in the ring, and because of her success; an ever-growing number of Australian female boxers are gaining well-deserved recognition. 

USA vs Canada
In the amateur ranks, the 87th annual New York Daily News Golden Gloves finals are scheduled to be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on April 18-19. Christina Cruz (Atlas Cops & Kids), the tournaments only seven-time winner, will look to add an unprecedented eighth title this year. She pounded out a 3-0 decision over Emily Colon (Glen Cove BC) on March 1 in the quarterfinals of the 125-pound division. On March 29 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, elite women’s boxing teams from the United States and Canada met in an International duel. It was the first such meeting for the United States in 2014. The US won the first six bouts and settled for a 7-2 team victory over their Canadian counterparts.

Winners: 112 - Marlen Esparza USA, 119 - Christina Cruz USA, 125 - Tiara Brown USA, 132 - Queen Underwood USA, 141 - Marie-Eve Dicaire Can, 152 - Myriam DiSilva Can, 165 - Franchon Crews USA, and Youth - Jajaira Gonzalez USA 

A look back at January - March 2014 in women's boxing:

On January 4 in Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Daniela Romina “La Bonita” Bermudez, 114, won the vacant WBO female super-flyweight title with an eight-round technical knockout of “Triple L” Linda Laura Lecca, 114 ¾. The 24-year-old Bermudez (16-2-2, 5 KOs), who fights out of Rosario, Argentina, now stands as a four-time champion winning world titles at both bantamweight and super-flyweight. She showed well in defeats earlier in her career against the current WBA & WBO light-flyweight champion, Yesica Yolanda Bopp and the current WBA featherweight champion, Edith Soledad Matthysse. It was the first stoppage loss for Lecca (9-2-1, 3 KOs) of Lima, Peru.

On January 18 in San Clemente del Tuyu, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Ana Laura “La Monita” Esteche, 138 ¾, of San Martin, Buenos Aires, won the WBA female light-welterweight title with a ten-round unanimous decision (98-92/99-91/98-92) over the previously unbeaten Monica “La Gata” Silvina Acosta, 139 ¼. The 35-year-old Acosta (19-1-2, 5 KOs) fighting out of Santa Rosa, Argentina, was making her fourth defense of the WBA title. Esteche, with the upset win, moves her record to a deceiving (10-3-1, 2 KOs). The 23-year-old emerging star failed in previous attempts at world lightweight titles losing hometown decisions to fellow Argentine Victoria Noelia Bustos and Columbian Enis Pacheco.

Quick hits from January:

Southpaw Monica Lovato (13-1, 5 KOs) entered the ring for the first time in six years scoring a stoppage victory over DJ Morrison (TKO-4). Lovato is best known for winning the IBA female bantamweight title with a split-decision victory over Mexican boxing star, Mariana “Barbie” Juarez in 2007. Arely Mucino (19-2-2, 10 KOs), in her home town of Monterrey, Mexico, rallied to get past former longtime WBA super-flyweight champion, Tenkai Tsunami (19-9, 9 KOs) winning a controversial ten-round majority decision. Tsunami, a native of Tokyo, Japan, tasted defeat for the fifth time in Mexico. The first-ever Chilean born world champion, Carolina Rodriguez moved to (11-0, 1 KO) successfully defending her WIBA bantamweight title for the first time with a ten-round unanimous decision (100-89/100-89/99-89) over Simone Da Silva Duarte (14-5, 6 KOs). Duarte tasted the canvas in the eighth round. Yazmin “La Rusita” Rivas (29-8, 9 KOs) won the vacant WBC Silver female super-bantamweight title with a ten-round unanimous decision over the hard-hitting Calixta Silgado (11-3-2, 8 KOs) by the scores (100-90 x 3)

Braehus retains her title as the best in the world
On February 1 at Arena Nord, Frederikshavn, Denmark, Cecilia “First Lady” Braekhus, 145, of Bergen Norway, retained the WBA, WBC, and WBO female welterweight titles with a commanding ten-round unanimous decision over challenger Myriam Lamare, 143, of Marseille, France. Braekhus, the consensuses #1 ranked pound-for-pound female fighter in the sport, moved to (24-0, 7 KOs) with the victory that included a seventh round knockdown of the well thought of French challenger. "The only reason Lamare was still standing was her twenty years of experience,’’ said Braekhus. “Me and my new coach Otto Ramin have trained explosively, and that came through in this fight.” Immediately after the fight, the 39-year-old Lamare ended her eleven-year professional career announcing her retirement.

“Cecilia was very strong, an incredibly good boxer,” said Lamare. “For me, the time has come to step down. I wish Cecilia all the best.” Lamare (22-4, 10 KOs), a three-time, light-welterweight champion, exits the sport having defeated several contenders during career losing only to Braekhus, Holly Holm, and Anne Sophie Mathis. Matched against an excellent opponent, Braekhus, at the age of 32, looked better than ever and appears to have reached the height of her career.

Mighty McMorrow dropped a decision to Barbie
On February 22 in Puebla, Mexico, Mariana “Barbie” Juarez, 114 ¾, Mexico City, Mexico, defended her WBC International female super-flyweight title for the first time with a ten-round unanimous decision over “Mighty” Melissa McMorrow, 112 ½, San Francisco, USA, by the scores (96-94 x 3). McMorrow, the WBO female flyweight champion, elevated to super-flyweight for this contest and showed well against the larger and immensely popular Juarez. This super-fight featured an excellent contrast in styles with Juarez having enough success from long-range to stave off a late rally from McMorrow, an extreme volume-puncher, who tried to take the fight to the inside. McMorrow, the tough-luck loser in this fight, at a minimum earned a draw.

Quick hits from February:

Esmeralda “La Joya” Moreno (25-7-1, 9 KOs) once a pound-for-pound ranked fighter, is attempting recapture top form after a year hiatus from the ring due to childbirth. She moved to (0-1-1) since her return dropping an eight-round, split-decision (77-76/75-77/75-77) to Maribel Ramirez (9-6-2, 3 KOs). Kristin Gearhart (3-0, 1 KO), a bright American light-welterweight prospect out of Chicago, scored a stoppage victory over Allanna Jones (RTD-3). Mako Yamada (7-0, 2 KOs) won the WBO female minimumweight title with a ten-round, split-decision over hard-punching slugger, Su-Yun Hong (9-1, 5 KOs) by the scores (96-94/97-93/96-97). Yamada, at the age of 19, becomes the youngest female world champion. Fernanda Soledad Alegre (18-1-1, 9 KOs) defended her WBO female light-welterweight title for the ninth time with a sixth-round technical knockout of Marisol Reyes (13-8-1, 6 KOs). Although underrated, Alegre is one of a long line of female world boxing champions from Argentina and is one high profile victory away from pound-for-pound mentioning. In a battle of two elite flyweight prospects, Kenia Enriquez (10-0, 5 KOs) emerged winning a six-round unanimous decision over Noemi Bosques (4-1-2, 1 KO). The scoring (60-53/60-53/59-54) was not indicative of the competitiveness of the fight. Enriquez scored a knockdown in the first round.

La Loba is an Avenger
On March 1 at the World Trade Center, Naucalpan, Mexico, WBC female super-flyweight champion Zulina “La Loba” Munoz,115, of Mexico City, Mexico, successfully defended her title for the fifth time with a six-round technical decision (59-55/ 58-56/58-56) over 33-year-old Alesia “The Tigress” Graf, 115, of New South Wales, Australia, by way of Belarus. Graf (26-4, 11 KOs), in September 2007 claimed Munoz as one of her victims (UD-10) during her nearly five-year stint as the GBU female super-flyweight champion. Since, the 26-year-old Munoz (41-1-2, 26 KOs), has gone undefeated, winning world titles at bantamweight and super-flyweight and she has developed into one of the most exciting and popular fighters in all of women’s boxing.

Clearly, “La Loba” Munoz treated this highly anticipated rematch as an opportunity to avenge the only loss of her career stated, “I can say that I feel much more mature and experienced defeating Alesia. I have thoroughly prepared to give my audience a memorable fight, which I dedicate to Don Jose Sulaiman.” In contrast, Graf, who has not defeated a world-class opponent since 2009, was confident that she would defeat Munoz and leave with the title.

From the opening stanza, the ultra-aggressive Munoz dominated with her left hand consistently landing jabs and hooks keeping Graf off-balance, unable to mount an effective counterattack. After sustaining a cut over her left eye from an accidental headbutt at the end of the third, Munoz stepped on the accelerator in the fourth leading with left hooks, some of which had a noticeable impact on Graf. The aggressive nature of the bout caused referee Kenny Bayless to have his hands full with the two fighters constantly clashing heads. Graf, who suffered a cut over her left eye from an accidental head butt earlier in the fight, with a minute remaining in round six, sustained a severe cut over her right eye from yet another accidental head butt. After evaluating the damage, the ringside doctor called a halt to the contest resulting in the technical decision victory for Munoz. The fight was co-promoted by Canelo Promotions and Golden Boy Promotions and was televised on Mexico Televisa and USA Fox Espanol. Newly installed WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman Saldivar, stated that the fight for the WBC female super-flyweight title between current champion, Zulina Munoz and challenger Mariana Juarez (39-7-3, 16 KOs), is mandatory. The WBC has set a deadline for promoters to reach an agreement on the details of the fight, and if no agreement is reached, a purse bid will be conducted at a future date.

Winner and still champion Christina Hammer
On March 1 at the GETEC Arena, in Magdeburg, Germany, Christina Hammer, 159, defended her WBO & WBF female middleweight titles for the seventh time each with a one-sided unanimous decision victory (100-90 x 3) over former two-division world champion, Jessica Balogun, 156 1/4. The 23-year-old Hammer, who simultaneously with her middleweight titles holds the WBO super-middleweight belt, enjoyed a four-inch height advantage over the 25-year-old Balogun, a trait which she exploited over the course of the 10-round fight. Hammer appeared relaxed throughout keeping her hard-charging opponent at arm's distance landing at will with straight punches from the outside. Balogun, best known for winning three rounds on two scorecards against welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus in 2012, tried to take the fight to the inside against Hammer, but ran into uppercuts and hooks when Hammer adjusted to her tactics.

With the win, Hammer improves to (17-0, 8 KOs), whereas Balogun falls to (23-3, 11 KOs). Hammer has essentially cleaned out the middleweight division. Her next title challenger will likely elevate from the welterweight or light-middleweight classes. This match up was promoted by SES Boxing and televised live in Germany on SAT1.

Prazak fires her guns at Shotgun O'Connell
On March 1 at the Melbourne Pavilion in Flemington, Victoria, Australia, Melbourne native and two-time world champion, Diana Prazak, 127 ¾, successfully defended her WBC female super-featherweight title for the first time with a fifth round technical knockout over former featherweight title holder, Shannon “Shotgun” O’Connell, 129 ¼, of Slacks Creek, Australia. At the time of the stoppage, Prazak was leading (39-35) on each scorecard. The Prazak title defense originally received second billing on the card to a male middleweight bout between modestly ranked fighters. It was elevated to the main event when the middleweight bout was reduced in rounds.

The 34-year-old champion, a slugger with ever-improving boxing ability, nearly ended the fight early knocking the elusive O’Connell down twice in the second round with crushing right hands. The knockdowns were a harbinger of things to come as Prazak's physical strength, coupled with a two-fisted attack caused O’Connell to wilt under the pressure eventually prompting a referee stoppage at 1:56 of the fifth round. Prazak, who is currently based out of Los Angeles, California, moved her record to (13-2, 9 KOs). Under the tutelage of her trainer, Lucia Rijker, Prazak has developed from a one-handed banger into a two-fisted fighter boasting a left-hook that not only complements her right-cross, but essentially won her the WBC super-featherweight title with a knockout of popular Swede, Frida Wallberg (KO-8) in June 2013. It is no coincidence that the counter left hook was the signature punch of Prazak’s trainer during her active boxing career. The 31-year-old challenger won the WBF female featherweight title in June 2013 by knockout over Gabisile Tshabalala (KO-7). Before Prazak, her most significant fight was a decision loss to then WBA featherweight champion, “Defector Girl” Hyun-Mi Choi in South Korea. With the loss, O’Connell drops to (8-3, 5 KOs).
She is trained by former IBF lightweight champion, Philip Holiday.

Quick hits from March:

Hardy brings the Heat
Heather Hardy (9-0, 2 KOs) took a significant step in her maturation into a world-class, super-bantamweight with an eight-round unanimous decision victory over former world title challenger, Nydia “Dha Phenomenal” Feliciano (7-5-3)by the scores (78-74/78-74/79-72). Flyweight prospect Joselyn “Princesa Tapatia” Arroyo-Ruiz moved to (16-0, 7 KOs) by stopping Leidis Martinez (KO-2) who drops to (4-4) with the loss. The 19-year-old prodigy, who started punching for pay in 2011, has already won a minor title (NABF flyweight) and is on the cusp of making serious noise in the ultra-talented flyweight division. In a stunning upset, Yazmin Ortega (2-2-1, 1 KO) scored a ten-round unanimous decision over former two-division world champion, Irma Sanchez (28-7-1, 8 KOs). Ortega earned the Sanchez fight by knocking out Lourdes Juarez, the sister of Mexican boxing superstar, Mariana Juarez in February. In a non-title bout, heavy-handed WBC featherweight champion, Jelena Mrdjenovich (32-9-1, 16 KOs) won a ten-round unanimous decision (100-89/99-90/98-91) over survivalist Fatuma Zarika (24-7-1, 14 KOs). Zarika hit the deck in the first round courtesy of a left-hook from Mrdjenovich and looked to survive the rest of the fight. In anticipation of her super-fight with Delfine Persoon, in April, “La Pantera” Erica Anabella Farias stayed active improving to (19-0, 9 KOs) with a ten-round unanimous decision (98-91 x 3) over Maria Eugenia Lopez (8-8-2). Farias scored a knockdown of Lopez in the tenth. Sonya “The Scholar” Lamonakis (9-1-2, 1 KO) won the vacant USA New York State female heavyweight title with an eight-round unanimous decision victory (79-73/78-74/77-75) over Tiffany Woodard who drops to a deceiving (4-8-3, 3 KOs). Marcela Eliana Acuna (41-6-1, 18 KOs) defended her WBO female super-bantamweight title with a sixth-round technical knockout of Estrella Valverde (9-4-1, 1 KO).

The Sweet Side Previews Erica Farias vs Delfine Persoon:

KO Digest breaks down Farias vs Persoon
On April 20 in Zwevezele, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, Erica Anabella “La Pantera” Farias (19-0, 9 KOs) of Virreyes, Argentina, goes on the road to make her twelfth defense of the WBC female lightweight title facing her toughest challenger to date, Delfine Persoon (28-1, 13 KOs) of Roeselare, Belgium. In this battle for supremacy of the lightweight division, both fighters are 29-years-old and are currently among the pound-for-pound best in women’s boxing. Farias, from the rich women’s boxing hotbed of Argentina, receives less attention than fellow Argentine fighters Marcela Eilana Acuna and Yesica Yolanda Bopp, but has carved out a niche in her home country displaying elite power-punching during her current four-year reign as WBC champion. First appearing on the radar in 2012 with devastating stoppage victories over Lucia Morelli (TKO-5) and Erin McGowan (TKO-7) winning the WIBF and IBF lightweight titles respectively, Delfine Persoon has developed into a very dangerous puncher with her right hand.

With the momentum of a stellar 2013, that witnessed her post a record of (7-0, 3 KOs) including knockout wins over Eva Halasi (TKO-3), then the IBF welterweight champion and Lucia Morelli (TKO-10), which secured her the WIBF, WBF, and WIBA lightweight titles, Persoon poses a serious threat to Farias’s reign as champion. Stylistically, Persoon aggressively moves forward behind a jab in a straight-line looking to deliver her hard right hand. As with most European boxers, she needs room to punch and is an ordinary at best infighter. She often reaches with her punches leaving herself open to counters. She has elite power, good hand speed, and is exceptionally strong. Of the two, Farias is the more complete fighter adding long-range boxing ability and movement to her impressive arsenal recently. She throws a wide left hook, ordinarily considered a technical flaw, but it works to corral her opponent into her right hand. The most prominent common opponent is former WIBA featherweight champion, Irma Balijagic Adler (14-5, 7 KOs). Adler lost a lopsided decision to Persoon (UD-8) in October 2013 but suffered a stoppage loss to Farias (TKO-1) in June 2012.

Here is how the two female fighters break down in ten important categories. 
Farias holds a key advantage in 6 out of 10 of them with 1 even:

Power: Farias                        Speed: Farias  
Chin/Durability: Farias      Size: Persoon   
Accuracy: Persoon               Skills: Farias                            
Conditioning: Even             Punch Volume: Persoon
Defense: Farias                    Quality of Opposition:  Farias

KO's Sweet Side Prediction: Persoon, early in her career suffered a stoppage loss to Zelda Tekin, who, in her next fight received a two two-year suspension for refusing the post-bout doping test. Farias has knocked down six of her previous ten opponents stopping five of them. With the venue in her home country, Persoon could possibly obtain a decision win if she lasts the distance; however, I see this as doubtful and believe Farias lands early and often earning a stoppage victory in the mid-rounds.

Three Questions - Sweet Side Q&A with Sarah Kuhn

The Knockout
Welterweight contender Sarah “The Knockout” Kuhn, ranked as high as #4 by the IBF, turned professional in 2010 after a brief, but successful amateur career winning the New York State Golden Glove title at 152 lbs. in 2009 and 2010. Since turning professional, Sarah has pounded out a deceiving record of (7-4-1, 1 KO) with three of her four losses resulting from razor-thin decisions. In 2011, Sarah went on the road for the first time leaving the cozy confines of Albany, NY, for Mableton, Georgia, where she secured the WIBC light-welterweight title with a ten-round unanimous decision over Lisa Garland. As with most boxers, Sarah holds down a full-time career and recently signed with an upstart boxing equipment company to promote their products.

Q: How did you get your start in boxing?

A: In 2008, I wanted to change up my workout routine. I was stuck in the world of dieting and going to a gym with no direction, no one pushing me and no results. I've always been a heavy girl and pushed over 200 lbs in my late teens. I just couldn't figure it out. I tried all the fad diets, crash diets, treadmill routine, and swimming. As a child I took ballet, tap and jazz for about 10 years, so I decided I would give that a try again! A few doors down in the same plaza I saw a sign for Sweeney's Boxing and Fitness. I thought "hey why not" and I walked through the door. This would change my life. Rick Sweeney, the owner and my trainer looked at me, and one of his first questions was "how much do you weigh?" followed by "do you want to fight?" All he saw was a girl walking into a boxing gym. I made an appointment for a free trial, and that's where it started. I worked my butt off that day. I proved to myself that I could get through that workout and after a long talk with myself, I decided to stay. My 3 times a week turned into 6 days a week. I trained 4 hours average every day, trying to learn this sport that I knew nothing about. It's the first athletic thing that I've been really good at. I played a lot of sports growing up, but I just wasn't very good at any of them. For some reason this sport came naturally. Six months later I had my first amateur match. I walked into the gym weighing 178 lbs., and I stepped on the scale at 152 lbs. that night. The first round of that fight was a whirlwind. I've never been so scared in my life! My opponent had a little more experience, all I remember in the first round is taking a beating. I remember thinking to myself "Sarah, mom is watching you get punched in the face right now, she must be so worried and upset." After the first round ended I walked back to my corner. Rick says to me "are you tired?" "No," I said. "Well look at her, because she is exhausted. Now go punch her back." And that's exactly what I did. In the 3rd round, the ref stopped the match, and I won my first fight and the Adirondack Regional Golden Gloves. I went on to win NYS Golden Gloves the following month. My amateur career was pretty short. I finished with a 6-3 record, my last fight being in the National Golden Gloves, which was a great experience in being there with all of those amazing women.

Q: The Albany, NY area has several successful boxing gyms. 
Which is your home and who is your trainer?

A: I train with Rick Sweeney at Sweeney's Boxing and Fitness in Delmar, NY. There are a few gyms in the area, but even less with female boxers, and even less than that who want to work with female boxers. Rick happens to prefer working with female fighters. We both knew my style was a little more conducive to professional boxing. I'm not the quickest boxer, and endurance is definitely my strong point. So here I am 5 years later, still following this journey. I’m just a small-town, home schooled girl from Schoharie, NY, who is ranked in the top 10 in the world, getting ready for my 13th professional fight. I truly believe our lives will take the path that they are meant to; we just have to be willing to take that turn. We have to trust our souls, even when we don't know why it's leading us that way. This has been the most difficult and rewarding journey of my life. I'm looking forward to seeing what the future brings me, and no matter what it does bring, because of this experience I know I'll be able to conquer it. I don't believe I would have had these opportunities at any other gym. Rick is a special trainer. He's been like another Dad to me. He's sacrificed a lot, time, money and taken me all over the country to fight, and all over the state to spar. I was meant to find him. I work very hard for him, and he works very hard for me. We both do it for the love of boxing. It's certainly not for the money! It’s great to see more and more females coming in over the years too. I'm very proud to know that I share a part in that.

Kuhn has a hand in Machina Boxing equipment
Q: Recently, you signed with Machina Boxing of Philadelphia to promote their line of boxing equipment. Can you please describe your relationship with this upstart business?

A: My role is to basically give ideas on what styles I do and don't like as a professional boxer. The fit of their gloves are engineered to fit a woman's more narrow hand, the clothes are flattering and supportive, and their new sparring equipment is some of the best I've ever used. Before I signed on they didn't have headgear or 16 oz. sparring gloves. I was able to tell them what I thought was the best fit, most comfortable, practical and protective. I try it out and give feedback which goes to the designer. Machina is breaking into the professional competing side of it, and I'm very proud that I've had a hand in that. They are going to provide stylish and good quality equipment, and I am excited for what they bring to the table. It's wonderful to know that there is a company out there that believes in 'us'. Sometimes I feel like the bigger companies just think of women's boxing as an afterthought. I think products from Everlast, Title, and so-forth are great, but just because you make something the same way and color it Pink or Purple (girlie colors) don't mean it's designed for a woman! That's where they are different. I'm very happy for the opportunity to represent them and women's boxing. Thank you for this chance to tell a little bit about myself. I love this sport; I love the ins and outs, the ups and downs. I love the challenges, and the victories that I have gained whether I won or lost the match. I try to live the other parts of my life like I do boxing.
Take chances, train hard, FIGHT and then no matter the outcome, learn.

KO Digest's Dynamite Dozen Pound-for-Pound Ratings:

Braekhus is still #1 Pound For Pound

1- Cecilia Braekhus (24-0, 7 KOs) Norway
2- Erica Anabella Farias (19-0, 9 KOs) Argentina
3- Marcela Eilana Acuna (41-6-1, 18 KOs) Argentina
4- Christina Hammer (17-0, 8 KOs) Germany
5- Diana Prazak (13-2, 9 KOs) Australia/USA
6- Yesica Yolanda Bopp (26-1, 12 KOs) Argentina
7- Ann Sophie Mathis (27-3, 23 KOs) France
8- Jelena Mrdjenovich (32-9-1, 16 KOs) Canada
9- Jessica Chavez (19-3-3, 4 KOs) Mexico
10- Delfine Persoon (28-1, 13 KOs) Belgium
11- Ibeth Zamora Silva (19-5, 8 KOs) Mexico
12- Naoko Fujioka (11-0, 6 KOs) Japan 

"The Sweet Side of the Sweet Science" is written by women's boxing expert Mark A. Jones - exclusively for KO Digest. You can find more of Mark's work on his women's boxing blog:  Boxing Jones

April 1, 2014

KO Digest Interview: Joey McCreedy - "This is my dream come true"

Fall seven times and stand up eight
If you ask Joey McCreedy, he’ll proudly proclaim he’s fighting for the WBC light heavyweight championship. And he’s not wrong.

McCreedy’s matchup with Top Rank's undefeated Irish Seanie Monaghan (20-0, 13 KOs) on April 12 in Las Vegas is set for the WBC Continental Americas light heavyweight title. But in Joey’s world, this fight is for more than just a minor version of a major title. This pay-per-view undercard bout, seen by much of the boxing world as a mere precursor to the next big Manny Pacquiao fight, is his Rocky moment, the type of rare opportunity that only comes once and has the ability to change far more than his win-loss record. For McCreedy (15-6-2, 6 KOs), this title fight is about pride. Fighting out of gritty Lowell, Massachusetts, McCreedy has fought his entire life to be recognized, even in the early days when life was centered on football instead of boxing.

Anyone from the Greater Lowell area associates the town with amateur boxing (and Micky Ward) but Joey McCreedy is still somewhat of an unknown commodity outside of local boxing circles. Trained now by Ward and fellow Lowell fighter Sean Eklund, McCreedy’s shot against Monaghan is not unlike Micky’s 1997 HBO PPV shot in the dark against the undefeated Alfonso Sanchez, a come-from-behind victory against steep odds that shaped the remainder of his now storied career. McCreedy is his own person, but listen to him talk for long enough (we listened for over an hour) and he even begins to sound like Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, the latter of whom will not be in his corner come April 12.

"Dicky is going through some injuries. He can’t really be on his feet a lot or bounce on his legs," claims McCreedy. 

Paid vacation in Vegas  
Fittingly, this fight is about second chances—or, perhaps more aptly, tenth or eleventh chances at this point. McCreedy’s hard knocks began outside the ring, when a high school football career disappeared due to low grades and a lack of academic ambition that slipped potential scholarships off the table. The Army National Guard also proved to be out of reach, and six different losses in his professional career have bumped him down a peg or two on the ladder of competition. Yet, no matter the strength of the blow, McCreedy stands back up and keeps on charging, making the man in the Japanese proverb sound bush-league. Sure, the man in the proverb stood up eight times, but were any of the seven times he fell due to an obliterated jaw against Andre Hemphill or a literal back stabbing in the form of attempted murder? Spend enough time on the streets of Lowell and you’ll see some things you can’t un-see, and as much as McCreedy identifies with his hometown, he’d like for his family to have the chance to see the world from outside the city limits, a chance he never got. Until he started boxing.

"I've fought in Canada and Florida. You meet so many different people. It’s fun to travel like Micky did. It’s like a free vacation to see other places, what they’re like, to see things differently. It’s good to get out there."

On his 29th birthday (February 19) McCreedy got the greatest gift of his career in the form of an opportunity, but the job is far from complete. This gift is like boxing’s version of “some assembly required.” The gift box is glamorous, but without the hard work and dedication to assemble it, it sits on the shelf as a tale of what might've been. For McCreedy, this isn’t just about a title, a payday, or an HBO spotlight. It’s about much more than that. This fight against Monaghan is McCreedy's everything. KO Digest caught up with The Champ of Lowell by telephone on St. Patrick's Day 2014 during a break from his training with Wardthe reigning Pride of Lowell. Were that a WBC title, it would surely be Emeritus.

KO Digest's Joel Sebastianelli: How did you first get started in boxing?

Joey McCreedy: When I was about 12 years old, my dad brought me down to the West End Gym and I did it just to stay in shape for football, because that was my main goal: to become a pro football player. Being a pro boxer wasn’t what I wanted to do. I was seven years old when I started playing football. I did boxing just for conditioning, speed, and for the footwork. I was introduced to Dicky Eklund, who grew up with my father and trained Micky Ward. Football got put on the backburner after high school. I was getting recruited as a running back by a few colleges, but got denied because of my grades. I was the captain of the football team and let it get to my head. I didn’t go to class and I did stupid things, getting away with things and not taking school seriously and in the end, it bit me in the ass. I got denied going to college and my back was against the wall. I was still messing around with boxing, but lost in the Golden Gloves one year and didn’t want to do it anymore. I gave up and went to go join the National Guard like my father, but I failed the test and picked up boxing aside from my construction job to pay bills over the summer. By then, I took it seriously and won the Golden Gloves and made a name in boxing. I watched Micky Ward beat Emmanuel Burton and Arturo Gatti, and that’s when I fell in love with it. I won a few amateur fights, and Dicky suggested that I go pro and my style was a pro style.

Boxing saved Joey from the streets
KOD: Of all of these life experiences you've had—many of them very negative—have these setback actually helped you as a fighter somehow?

JM: Definitely. Every experience I went through, whether it’s football, people doubting me, or having my back against the ropes and not knowing what to do with my life, made me realize that if you want something out of life, you’re going to have to work hard for it. I didn’t want to be a person struggling in life living paycheck to paycheck and not knowing what I’m going to eat at the end of the week or if my bills are going to be paid. I want to be comfortable and live a great life, and the only way I’m going to do that is if I put in the hard work. I live in a bad neighborhood around crack houses, where at night you hear gunshots. It makes me even stronger because I don’t want to see my little brothers grow up the way I grew up. If my Mom and Dad didn’t put me through sports, I would be dead, in jail, or in a gang, because that’s basically how Lowell is. A lot of people don’t make it as a professional athlete from Lowell because there are a lot of distractions. I’m thankful they kept me out of that.

KOD: You were born and raised as a product of Lowell, a famous fight town with plenty of gritty history. How has Lowell shaped you as a fighter and a person? What does it mean to you when you tell somebody you’re from Lowell?

JM: It means everything to me. I can get out of Lowell, and hopefully one day I do, but it’s like the saying goes: you can take the kid out of Lowell, but you can’t take Lowell out of the kid. My family grew up here, so something about Lowell always makes me come back. It’s a city where everyone is tough to survive. In any sport, if someone says “you’re facing someone from Lowell,” you know you’re going to have to train because these kids come from nothing. I come from nothing. Everybody had to fight to get to where they are. I fight for my fans, my family, my friends, and for the whole town. At the end of the day, we’re all one big family, and without their support, I would be nothing.

Trainer Dicky Eklund and fighter Joey McCreedy
KOD: How has Lowell’s boxing legacy influenced your career?

JM: Lowell is an amateur town, not a professional town. When you hear Lowell in boxing, you think about the Lowell Golden Gloves. Everybody came here to fight—if you do your history report, every legit fighter fought at a time in their life in the Golden Gloves in Lowell. West End Gym was the gym where everybody started out. Larry Carney, the Christakos Brothers. It’s a mill city, a fighting town. I’m proud to be from Lowell. I love Lowell.

KOD: It hasn’t been easy for you inside or outside the ring, filled with plenty of ups and downs and experiences that shaped you. How have you stayed so resilient through all the setbacks?

JM: God, believing in myself, and not giving up. The support of my friends. I wanted to give up plenty of times in high school, when people said I was too small and never going to make it. I was told I was an awesome kid and tough as nails, but I was too small. I never believed it. I wanted to believe in myself even in boxing when people said I was never going to make it. It made me so tough being an underdog since I was a kid. I was always a great athlete, but I wasn’t an A+ anything. I was a C+, but it’s OK to be that because that’s who I am, and it makes me train so much harder to prove those people wrong. When I got my jaw broken, the doctors didn’t want me to fight. My mother and father didn’t want me to fight anymore. My friends didn’t want me to fight anymore. People didn’t want to see me get hurt again and go through what I went through. It was a rough time and a life changing experience where I had to ask, “is this for me? Is this what I want to do?” I went through an eight week period of having my mouth wired shut. I don’t wish this on any fighter or any person in the entire world. I can’t describe the pain. All I can describe is what I went through—addiction, depression, pills, basically anything to stop the pain. It was an eight hour surgery with my right and left sides of my jaw broken. I had to eat baby food, and I couldn’t even walk because I was so tired. I was crying every day. I was a prisoner locked up in my house, taking liquid Percocet, liquid morphine, anything they gave me I took. Waking up every day knowing I couldn’t talk made me feel like I was in jail with my life taken away from me.

KOD: How did you get over the hump and decide that life and your career would go on after the Hemphill fight?

McCreedy refuses to give up in boxing
JM: A lot of people told me to give up, but I sat back and contemplated all the hard work and setbacks I’ve been through. I decided that I’m not the type of person who gives up. I want to prove to everybody I can come back stronger than ever and be a world champ, to make a run after this. I even thought that if I break my jaw again, I’ll hang ‘em up and go to work like a normal person. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened. I took it day by day and trained so hard because I knew what everyone would think of me when I came back. The fighters I face might think I have a glass jaw, but my jaw is actually a hundred times stronger. I have titanium plates in my bones in my jaw—like a bicycle chain. When I came back in 2006, I fought Chris Traietti, a National Champion amateur, an undefeated fighter. It’s like being in jail and picking the biggest person and knocking him out so nobody messes with you—that’s what I did. Then right after I fought Vladine Biosse in 2008 on ESPN, I went into the Smokehouse in Lowell. I came out of the bathroom and got hit in the back of the head with something and blacked out after hitting my head on the floor. I awoke in the middle of the hall. I was stabbed six times. I almost died. They missed my kidney by about two inches. The doctors told me I was lucky to be alive. Of course, I was out of boxing for a little bit after that, but I came back. If you hit me, I’m going to get back up.

KOD: Now you’ve got the biggest fight of your career ahead of you against WBC Continental Americas light heavyweight champion Seanie Monaghan on April 12 in Las Vegas on the Pacquiao-Bradley II HBO PPV. How did you get this fight, and how emotional was the potential breakthrough for you?

McCreedy will have Micky and Sean in his corner - no Dicky
JM: This is my dream and I’m not going to stop, I don’t care what it takes. I was getting ready to fight for CES after I re-signed my contract with Jimmy Burchfield. I was just back in the swing of things after winning four fights in a row (Editor's Note: actually it's two in a row and it would be five had McCreedy beaten Shujaa El Amin in Lowell in 2012. Instead, McCreedy lost a ten round decision) but I was miserable in training and can't go out for my birthday, just killing myself in the gym. But, I got the phone call about fighting Monaghan, and I ran it by everybody. I’m not getting any younger. I’m only 29, but that’s still old in boxing, so I took the fight. This is a great opportunity. I’m training the hardest I’ve ever trained with Micky Ward. He’s the best trainer to have in my corner for this fight. I’m not with Dicky Eklund right now because he’s going through some injuries on his leg. He can’t really be on his feet a lot or bounce on his legs, so for a fight like this, I need somebody there to be one hundred percent by my side and healthy to be in the right mindset. Dicky is a great trainer. I love him. He started me out, he taught me everything I know in boxing, and if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am now. I owe him everything but right now I'm with Micky for this fight and everything has been going great. Micky has been through everything and he knows what it takes to go ten rounds strong. Micky is waking me up at 5:30 in the morning every day running four to six miles. We’re going more than ten rounds in the gym every day sparring, doing things I never did in my career. My body is like, what are you doing to me?

KOD: So you believe this is not only the biggest fight of your career, but the toughest fight as well?

Ward turned his boxing life around against Sanchez in 97
JM: Oh my God yes, this is the toughest fight, a life changing experience, a dream come true for me. This is my Rocky. This is the biggest payday, it’s about 90 percent bigger than any other fight payday I’ve had. It’s a great opportunity that I’ve dreamed of. This is like a Rocky story, like how he got an opportunity for the heavyweight championship of the world, or like what happened to Micky with the Sanchez fight when everybody doubted him. I’m getting a lot of good feedback from Lowell, people coming to Vegas to see me fight and rooting for me. This is something that I can look back on when I’m 60 years old, telling them I fought for the WBC light heavyweight championship on a Manny Pacquiao pay-per-view card. I can look back and say “I got my shot.”

KOD: How has Sean Eklund been an asset to your camp?

JM: He does all my conditioning work with me every morning and really pushes me. We’re good friends and we’ve been through a lot together, so he knows what to say to push me. He even knows how to piss me off in a good way so I get the most out of training. He’s an excellent teacher. I owe a lot to him for getting me into great shape, and we still have a few weeks to get ready for this fight. I’m only six or seven pounds away from my weight limit because I’m eating right, I’m running a lot, and I’m focusing with no distractions. My Beast Squad Family is my team, people I cannot live without.

KOD: You said this fight is your “Rocky moment,” but when I was thinking about this fight, the boxing movie that came to mind for me was “THE FIGHTER,” especially because of the connection to Irish Micky Ward. 
Do you see any parallels between yourself and Micky in terms of this upcoming title fight?

McCreedy hopes to write his own sequel 
JM: I’m not saying that I’m just like Micky, because nobody is like him and nobody will be. If I went through the type of fights that Micky went though, I wouldn’t be here right now. He’s not normal. Those three Gatti fights alone, I’m not sure how he’s standing! The fight for me that comes to mind is the Sanchez fight. I’m the underdog getting the chance of a lifetime. Of course, the comparison is going to come up, and that’s normal, but I’m Joey and I’m making my own future. It’s still an honor to be mentioned in that category, but there’s only one Micky Ward.

KOD: We’ve touched on your alliances with Micky and Dicky, but what about your relationship with Jimmy Burchfield? You’re back with CES promotions once again after a period away. 
How did you wind up with them again?

JM: Me and Mr. B have a connection. He’s been there for most of my career and he’s done a lot. We had a great three year contract, but I thought the grass was greener on the other side and I went with another company. I learned my lesson and I got screwed, but things happen. I kept winning again as a free agent and I wanted to expand my career and get back on top to where I was before the ESPN fight [with Biosse]. I called Jimmy, we set up a meeting, and now things are great. They got me this fight and I couldn’t ask for a better birthday present. It’s the best gift I’ve ever gotten because if everything is done right, this will change my life. I believe in God and I believe everything happens for a reason—He gave me this opportunity for a reason, put it on my lap, and said “here you go. You have to put the work in, you have to want it, and you have to do this.” They can get me the fight just like you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make him drink it. CES is behind me and I look and Jimmy like a father figure. He talks to me like a son and I love him for that. He cares for his fighters and loves them. If Mr. B thought I was going to get hurt, he would have told me not to take this fight, but Mr. B knows I can beat him if I put in my hard work and bring my A game, I can be WBC champ.

McCreedy has a message for Monaghan
KOD: Monaghan seems to think you’re an easy opponent, and his résumé of past fights is highly acclaimed. Is he is viewing you as an easy opponent, does that serve as an extra motivating factor?

JM: They’re looking at me like “OK, we’ve got two Irish fighters. It’s going to be an exciting war for five or six rounds, but our guy is going to win because he's better.” Well, he’s no Olympian and he’s no world class fighter. He’s the same person as me; he bleeds just like I do, he has two hands just like I do, and he doesn’t have a lot of amateur fights, just like me. He hasn’t been in with tough competition, but I have. If you look at my record, I’ve been in there with guys who can bang like Otis Griffin and Hemphill. They’ve been in there with tough contenders. I’m not saying I’m better, but I’m saying that they’re wrong for overlooking me. They have another thing coming because I’m so hungry and I want this more than life itself. I’m not going to Las Vegas to lose. I’m going there to take that WBC belt and bring it back home. I know that mentally, I’m focused and ready for this fight. If they think this is going to be a short night, well I’m sorry—they're in for a long night. I’m not a stepping stone for anybody. I don’t care how big he is or what his attitude is like—nothing scares me. I'm not backing down. I’ve been through everything, bigger things than him that didn’t put me down, so I’m not going to let him put me down. I’m going to fight my balls off and win, lose, or draw, I’ll give it everything I have—my heart, my soul, my blood, everything.

A happy McCreedy in Lowell with a title on his waist
KOD: A lot of fans and media are very critical and think all the title belts in boxing are worthless, but I've heard more than a few fighters discuss how important they really are. Why is having a title, even a minor one, so important to you and most fighters?

JM: It means something to the fighter. It doesn’t matter if it’s a plastic belt called the “Budweiser Belt” it’s something you’re fighting for. They say the titles don’t mean anything, but to the fighters, they do. It’s something you’re training for, and when you finally get that opportunity, it’s like working a full time job and having one month to earn a bonus. It’s just like that. When you work so hard for something, whether it’s a belt, money, or respect, it’s something you can live with for the rest of your life. You don’t have to give that belt back—it’s yours! It’s like my New England belt: Vladine won, but I fought hard for it and I was a champion at one time. I’ve got something to prove that I was. It means so much when you can actually see something you’ve fought for.

The Future of Boxing

KO Digest Interview conducted by Joel "The Future" Sebastianelli
 

Joel joined KO Digest in January 2013 and has been a fixture on press row in the New England area for three years. In 2012, he served as the host of “The Boxing Fix” on Leave it in the Ring Radio. Sebastianelli is the future of boxing journalism and broadcasting.

Joel can be found Tweeting on Twitter @JJSebastianelli