September 19, 2016

An Open Letter To Tyson Luke Fury

Furious Travellers
Dear Champ,

We need to talk.

As Angelo Dundee would say, “you’re blowing it, son.”

Even though the bout was boring as hell, your historically important victory over Wladimir Klitschko for the championship brought new life to the heavyweight division. You shook up the world and boxing owes you a collective nod of appreciation, if not necessarily all the scorn that comes your way for blithely speaking your mind as heavyweight champion of the world.

Please keep walking the walk. And talking the talk.

You said you’d lick that Klitschko and you did. But have you been keeping up with recent events in your kingdom since seizing the throne last November in Germany? Your British countryman Anthony Joshua has blown right by you in terms of popularity, scoring two big knockouts in London this year to grab and defend the IBF title they stripped from you after you won universal recognition from King Wladimir. Speaking of that alphabet soup move, were you expecting the IBF to recognize you in perpetuity regardless of how fat, happy, and inactive you got? Good thing they saw the writing on the wall and prevented you from taking hostage of their title belt. The only question is would it have been big enough to keep your pants up these days? Your American counterpart Deontay Wilder has been making new fans as the active WBC champ but every time he hits somebody a little too hard, he damages his brittle hands.

The "Bronze Bomber" will probably not fight again this year. Will you?

While it’s true that you only just won the championship nine months ago, you’ve failed to defend it since, gaining weight, injuring your ankle, and withdrawing from a scheduled July 9 rematch against Klitschko. You’ve been awfully quiet since that return bout got scrapped and I miss hearing from you big guy. We all do. You’re a riot on the mic. You’re our furious heavyweight champion who talks shit and gets hit—by his own self and sometimes by others. You’re our walking, talking reminder that the heavyweight champion of a world at war should be a larger than life figure, unpredictable in his acts of sanctioned violence, beholden to no regular man’s rules or public sensibilities. Can you be yourself inside and outside of the ring or have the job pressures already overwhelmed you?

Bored of Control
It’s now September 2016 and you have no plan to do anything. Talk about the Klitschko rematch has faded away, and as heavyweight champion of the world, it appears you have no plans whatsoever to defend that linear title; instead you’re now sidelined watching the parade go by. It’s high time for you to get in shape, get back in the ring, and handle your rematch business with Klitschko. Now I hear he’s suing you to get in the ring? How pathetic. Plenty of other well deserving big men are out there (Luis Ortiz and Joseph Parker to name two) waiting for a shot at the same title you got your shot at because the gentleman you beat was, if nothing else, an active, fighting champion who took on all deserving comers.

If none of this interests you, do us all a favor and stop jerking us around.

Vacate the heavyweight title immediately and announce your retirement. Endorse Wladimir Klitschko as "the man who sued the man" and head for the pubs. Your place in British boxing history is secure as is your place in Irish Traveler lore. I’ve heard you say that nothing could ever be as rewarding as having been the one to finally dethrone Klitschko, and I can understand and respect that. I really can. Yet you can clearly see that the business of ABC heavyweight championship fights is moving into a lucrative future with or without you as its "real champion" so why not take your rightful place as undefeated Gypsy King of the world and be the great heavyweight champion you could be if you really wanted to be? You ended the recent era of "boring" heavyweight title events and replaced it with what?

A world without a heavyweight champion?

Yours in fistiana,

Jeffrey Alan Freeman,
American Boxing Writer

EDITOR'S NOTE: On October 12, 2016, Fury vacated the World Heavyweight Championship.

"An Open Letter" Originally Published On The Sweet Science on August 31, 2016

September 7, 2016

The Case For Marlon Starling: Why “Moochie” Belongs in Canastota

Starling celebrates with trainers Roach and Futch
By Jeffrey Freeman — It’s hard for the typical fight fan to understand exactly what the current criteria are for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Boxing, unlike baseball or professional football, does not rely on a cold and calculated interpretation of statistics to determine eligibility and induction. It’s much more complicated than that. Or far more simple, depending on how you look at it. In our sport, the observer has real power. Greatness is in the eye of the individual beholder. What he or she sees, thinks, and does -- matters.

Don’t believe me? Consider any split or majority decision.

According to their website, the mission of the IBHOF (located in upstate Canastota, New York since 1989) is, among other things, to "chronicle the achievements of those who excelled" in boxing. A closer look at the site reveals more about their procedures: "Members of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an international panel of boxing historians cast votes. Voters from Japan, England, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Germany, Puerto Rico and the United States are among those who participate in the election process."

Bowe dumped his green belt in the trash can
I’ve been to the IBHOF many times and the Brophys, Director Ed and historian nephew Jeff, do a great job along with their loyal President Don Ackerman.

In recent years, however, the Hall, and some of its young new voters in particular, have come under fire for their selection of some less than unanimous choices such as Arturo "Thunder" Gatti, Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, and Riddick "Big Daddy" Bowe. Critics and dissenters point to their losses and other perceived shortcomings while those who voted for them must surely have had their focus on the achievements and fame of those they ultimately helped to enshrine.

Personally, I’d have voted for two of three but that’s just me.

Enter Marlon "Magic Man" Starling, the former undisputed welterweight champion of the world from Hartford, Connecticut. Starling retired from boxing in 1990, a year after the establishment of boxing’s first true hall of fame. In those twenty five plus years, Starling’s name has yet to appear on the ballot for IBHOF voters to either vote for or not. Before discussing Starling’s qualifications, let me make one thing clear about the balloting process. It’s a closed one. What that means is that a small group of IBHOF insiders figuratively pick names from a hat and then put those choices on the official ballot for the public consideration of their various international voters. Arturo Gatti, for example, could not have been voted for and voted in had his name not been selected by this panel in the first place.

The identity and decision making process of this internal group remains a mystery to most outsiders.

They hold the 24K gold key to induction.

Moochie beat Breland for the WBA
Why then would they want to put Starling’s name on the ballot? Well, for starters, theirs is a hall of fame, not a hall of feints. Starling was actually a master of both. When Starling plied his craft in the competitive cauldron of the 1980s, he frequently appeared on network television in primetime. It was there that mainstream fight fans got to know "Moochie" and his "Starling Stomp" signature move. In televised battles against Donald "Cobra" Curry, Jose "The Threat" Baret, and Johnny "Bump City" Bumphus among so many others, Starling made an unforgettable impression on a generation of fans who still remember him today and must wonder why he’s not in the hall if lesser skilled pugilists are. The IBHOF’s inclusion of Gatti could be seen just as controversially as the exclusion of Starling.

Compiling a career record of 45-6-1 (27), Starling made his pro debut in 1989 after an inauspicious amateur career where he lost in Lowell, Mass to Robbie Sims of all people. As a professional prizefighter inspired by the late great Muhammad Ali, Starling had a defensive peek-a-boo style that made him very difficult to hit, let alone beat. Not unlike Ali, Starling also possessed the gift of gab.

The young welterweight ran his record to 25-0 before his first loss, a twelve round split decision to Donald Curry in 1982. To this day, Starling disputes that subjective defeat just as he disputes his lack of inclusion in the hall of fame where he is regularly a guest of honor during annual induction weekends. "The Hall of Fame is special. I think Marlon Starling does belong in there," says Marlon of Starling. Even more ironically, "Cobra" Curry is also still waiting for a call from the hall that might never come. Curry’s qualifications include having been the single best pound-for-pound boxer on the planet for a short period of time, but that’s a debate for another day.

From 1983 to 1986, Starling stayed busy in search of a big money superfight against the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard or Tommy Hearns. Neither match-up was meant to be for "Moochie" who had to settle for televised bouts against contenders Kevin Howard, Floyd Mayweather Sr., and Simon Brown, all of whom Starling defeated by decision. "I have the respect of the Big Four. That’s what matters to me," says Starling of Leonard, Hearns, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, and Roberto Duran. "Whenever I see those guys, I get their respect."

A February 1984 rematch against a prime Donald Curry ended in the disappointment of another decision loss for Starling.

It was in 1987 however that Starling began to make the most of the opportunities coming his way.

A televised shot at the WBA welterweight championship against legendary amateur Mark Breland was all that stood between Starling and the welterweight title. Following a virtuoso performance from Starling that highlighted the vast difference between a seasoned pro and a professionally inexperienced amateur, Breland collapsed in the eleventh round and just like that Starling was champion of the "whole wide world" as he proudly told Alex Wallau on ABC after the win. In actuality, Starling was not yet the man who beat the man because of somebody out there named Lloyd Honeyghan.

Starling came back strong after the Molinares bout
It was Honeyghan who upset Donald Curry for the world welterweight championship in 1986 and before Starling could move to unify or win universal recognition by beating Honeyghan, he’d have to go through the politics of a rematch "draw" with Breland (one judge scored the fight for Starling as did most fans and media) and a strange (again televised) knockout loss-turned-no contest (NC) against Tomas Molinares in 1988. Starling was knocked absolutely senseless from a punch that clearly landed after the bell to end the fifth round.

Though it was later ruled a no contest and the result nullified, Starling lost his WBA championship and his momentum. Worse, he was made to look like a fool by HBO’s Larry Merchant during the unforgettably uncomfortable post-fight interview where Starling claimed that not only wasn’t he knocked out, he was never even knocked down. It looked like the end was near for Marlon Starling.

But like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, Starling’s best days were still ahead of him. Less than a year after the Molinares debacle, Starling received a shot at Lloyd Honeyghan. Because Honeyghan had so thoroughly thrashed Curry to win the WBC welterweight title, few observers expected “Moochie” to emerge victorious, particularly after his brutal "knockout" by Molinares. Boxing the fight of his life, Starling totally dominated and embarrassed Honeyghan, stopping the puffy "Ragamuffin Man" in nine rounds to lay claim to the undisputed world welterweight championship. By fighting and defeating the very best in the world, Starling had achieved his career goal of becoming the best welterweight in the world, the true welterweight champion of the "whole wide world."

Starling is THE world welterweight champion
After reaching his professional peak with the thumping of Honeyghan, Starling defended the championship once before an ill-fated, economically driven, move to middleweight where he came up short against defending 160 pound world champion Michael Nunn, losing by majority decision. One judge scored it a perfectly even draw, 114-114 while two others had Nunn winning by wide scores.

In his final bout, Starling returned to welterweight where he dropped the 147 pound world title to Maurice Blocker by a majority decision before retiring in 1990, never to return, forever young in the eyes of those who saw him box under the bright lights of commercial network exposure. Again, another judge saw it all even in what was a very close fight in the ring and on the final scorecards.

So, does Marlon Starling belong in the International Boxing Hall of Fame? I’d say he does. I asked Starling himself and he answered me with a question. "How can Riddick Bowe be in the Hall of Fame if Marlon Starling isn’t” asked Marlon in his uniquely rhetorical third-person fashion. Still, that’s not the path to Canastota, even if by all accounts Starling should at least be on the ballot by now.

You see, boxing is, like most everything else where so much money and power is involved, very political. Being outspoken, like Starling is and always has been, can hurt you in this game. Rightly or wrongly, it can prevent you from getting where you want to go. As a fight writer, I have experienced it personally and I have seen it applied to some brave souls who make their living in this, the cruelest sport.

The Magic Man in Canastota where he belongs
Marlon Starling was a master defensive fighter. He won the legitimate world championship of the welterweight division, putting himself on a straight line that can trace its lineage all the way back to Sugar Ray Robinson, the best to ever lace up a pair of gloves. Starling was a TV star during the glory days of Wide World of Sports and Saturday afternoon boxing for the masses. Starling overcame strange and controversial defeats to persevere where few expected he could or would. Starling’s outgoing and accessible personality endeared him to fans and it’s good to see that nothing has changed.

Starling, who turned 58 on Monday, August 29, is still sharp as a tack because boxing is about hitting and not getting hit. Starling still communicates with his many fans and makes himself available at boxing events for them to meet and greet him. In the end, Starling made his mark of excellence on the sport he chose to compete in and he did so in a way that made an indelible impression on all those who saw him fight. I will see you in Canastota Champ.

Written by Jeffrey Freeman 

Originally Published on The Sweet Science

June 22, 2016

KO Digest Rates The Top Five Best Weight Divisions In Boxing Today

Ward-Kovalev is happening at light-heavyweight
By Jeffrey Freeman, KO Digest 
1. Light-Heavyweight: An 'Original 8' weight class with an active, power-punching linear world champion on top in Adonis "Superman" Stevenson. That's a hell of a good place to start. Then there's the other champion in the division, Sergey "The Krusher" Kovalev, a pound-for-pound star. The "Krusher" is supposed to defend his belts against Andre Ward later this year. At 175, a real world champion reigns and a real superfight is on tap. Don't forget the young guys on the way up after their big upsets. Thomas Williams Jr. just obliterated Edwin "La Bomba" Rodriguez in a firefight. Now he gets a title shot. Joe Smith Jr. just upset Andrzej Fonfara on TV (KO 1) to become an overnight top ten contender. And to round out the best division in boxing, Artur Beterbiev is a murderous prospect-contender with future sights set on his amateur rival Kovalev. It's like those violent 1970s again.

The only thing missing is a definitive way of getting Stevenson and Kovalev into the ring for more than just cheap talk and middle fingers. 

Fans are confused about why this is not happening. The real reason is actually the opposite of what you've been led to believe. 

Porter says he's coming for Thurman's head
2. Welterweight: Another traditional boxing weight class packed with elite talent. Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao might be gone but the new generation of boxing stars will cut its teeth right here at 147. Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter are set to rumble this weekend in Brooklyn for the WBA title. 

British IBF champion Kell Brook is a truly special talent who beat Porter for his championship. Brook might actually be too good for his own good, like Rigo and Lara et al. Danny Garcia now holds the WBC title once held by Floyd. The winner of Thurman-Porter will probably target DSG on PBC. Throw Amir Khan, Tim Bradley, Jessie Vargas, Sammy Vasquez, and super-prospect Errol "The Truth" Spence Jr. into the mix and welterweight is looking damn good for years to come. 

Does Ortiz have time left to win the championship?
3. Heavyweight: Hard to believe isn't it? After too many long years in the Klitschko dominated doldrums, the heavyweight division is back in action. The price? No, not David. A splintered world championship. Tyson Fury's 2015 upset of Wladimir Klitschko for THE title pumped much needed new life into the division. The Fury-Klitschko II mandatory rematch happens soon and we're all wondering if the first "fight" was just a fluke, or a joke. American Olympian Deontay Wilder has the WBC title, three defenses of his green belt, and a televised date with Chris Arreola. Say what you want but that should be a fun fistfight. Across the pond in the UK, the IBF has their belt on Anthony Joshua. What a commotion he's been kicking up with his punching power. Oh and let's not forget 37 year-old Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz. TKO winner over Bryant Jennings, Ortiz looks like a polished heavyweight from yesteryear. 

DeGale and Jack are on a course to unify
4. Super Middleweight: It took a while for 168 pounds to snap back into shape after the slow departure of Andre Ward from the world championship and the weight class itself. Ward is a light heavyweight now. A new crop of excellent young fighters are picking up where Ward left off. IBF champion James DeGale beat Andre Dirrell for his title and has already defended it twice against Lucian Bute and Porky Medina. DeGale, like Ward before him, has a chip on his shoulder and a desire to prove just how great he can really be. Badou Jack has the WBC title and just might be better than anybody truly understands. He beat Anthony Dirrell, George Groves, and arguably also Bute. WBO titlist Gilberto Ramirez is a good young undefeated Mexican technician. His shutout of Arthur Abraham was eye-opening. There is talk of Golovkin challenging Ramirez when "Triple G" moves up to super middleweight. It looks like unification fights will be able to be made while the UK's Callum Smith represents the future for the young guns. 

Canelo carries Oscar belt
5. Junior Middleweight: On its face, this division looks stacked. You have Erislandy Lara, Charlo twins Jermall and Jermell, Austin Trout, Julian Williams, and Demetrius "Boo Boo" Andrade. If these fighters can all somehow mix it up, 154 could be very special. The talent is right there with no rush by anybody to jump up to GGG's 160. Keep in mind that welterweights move up to junior middle. 

Keep in mind also the existence of Canelo Alvarez, 155 pound catchweight champion of economically correct match-ups like one against WBO champ Liam Smith. For all intents and purposes, Canelo's middleweight charade is over. 

Alvarez's star power tops off the division he really fights at and belongs in. 

Lomachenko is the future
Honorable Mentions: Middleweight (160) is ruled by undisputed champion Gennady Golovkin. While all roads should lead to GGG, Triple cleared out the division and is now being shamelessly ducked by Canelo. Junior Welterweight (140) will soon have an undisputed champion when Terence Crawford meets Viktor Postol. Then what though? Crawford will be a welterweight before you know it, leaving behind his second vacant championship. Crawford did that at lightweight for those keeping score at home like KO. Featherweight (126) still has star power and not for nothing but Leo Santa Cruz faces Carl Frampton soon in a top quality pairing. Lightweight (135) has a unification fight in its future when Jorge Linares squares off against Anthony Crolla for the WBA & WBC. This is a good thing but how long until Vasyl Lomachenko (WBO junior lightweight champ) is a full fledged lightweight?

June 20, 2016

KO's Ringside Notes & Quotes XV — The Fifteenth & Final Round

Dark future without a star to lead the way
By Jeffrey Freeman, KO Digest 

Welcome to the post-Ali, post-MayPac era.

It's not exactly an exciting "new era" like the one violently brought about by Iron Mike Tyson thirty years ago but it is what it is. Economically correct matchmaking. Traditional weight divisions where the two top fighters refuse to face off. A sport that many long-time fans no longer recognize. This is boxing in 2016. The biggest money fight of OUR time is a bad memory and an overdue cable bill. The "Greatest" of ALL times is forever silenced. Thank God. Muhammad Ali's gradual decline, like that of our glorious sport, was a painful ordeal. For Ali at least, the pain is mercifully over. For those of us left behind, it's just the beginning. Of the end. Our shrinking meat pie of paid pugilism cannot survive the bigger and bigger chunks being carelessly devoured from its barely breathing carcass.

Without a new young superstar to lead us into the future, there isn't going to be one worth waiting (or paying) for...

A realist against an opportunist
How good is IBF heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua? Opponents don't seem to have much of a plan to defeat him in the ring. Before Joshua tangled with Charles Martin, the American sized up the undefeated British boxer. As a big underdog, I asked him what he expected. Martin told KO Digest: "I'm a realist. I'm gonna go in there and see what's in front of me. If I see Joshua unraveling, I'm gonna take the initiative." AJ KO 2. Next up for Joshua is another relatively inexperienced American in Dominic Breazeale. Does "Trouble" have a plan or is he in just as much trouble as Martin found himself in? "I am an opportunist and if I see an opportunity, if he exposes something or shows a weakness of some sort, I am going to take advantage of it," said Breazeale. Sound familiar?

One Question & Answer Time
One Time Thurman Needs More Time — "I don't like you guys' approach to these questions. Everyone is talking about the new king, the new king. Mayweather cast a huge shadow over this division. It's not like there was a successor lined up waiting. There is work to do. I'm a humble fighter. I like to humble myself on the regular. The young generation has a lot of work to do before there is a king on top of any of our names. Yes, I'd love to get through Danny Garcia and solidify more of the debate of the best at 147. To see the best at welterweight, it's going to take a little time. I feel like you writers are rushing to get the best to claim the best. And claiming the best is cool. There is nothing wrong with that but to get the best is not even gonna happen this year but I look forward to the journey and process."

In Case You Missed It — Light heavyweight Andrzej Fonfara was shockingly knocked out in the first round on June 17 in Chicago by unknown Joe Smith Jr. "Now everybody knows who I am," said the 21-1 (18) winner. "This is the best thing that could have happened. It feels great." Conversely, it was the worst thing that could have happened for the Polish Fonfara. Positioned before the defeat as the de facto #1 contender at 175 pounds after challenging champion Adonis Stevenson and knocking out Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Fonfara now sees his stock drop considerably while Smith has put himself in position for a shot at light heavyweight champion Superman Stevenson.

"I'll talk to my promoter," said the big winner. "But I'm hoping for another big fight to get myself to a world title."

Molina (R) upsets the Siberian Rocky
John Molina Jr. talks to KO Digest about his appeal — "Fans root for me because I've been the underdog every way you can imagine. I started late in this sport. I didn't start boxing until I was 17. I didn't turn pro until I was 24. I had only 22 amateur fights. I had to take the scenic route. I wasn't supposed to be here. But I did make it and I'm showing everybody in the world that if you stick to something you apply yourself to, you can make it in life. I think that's why fans are so intrigued with my style. I'm a first class example of getting past discouragement."

WBA featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz sizes up July 30 PBC opponent Carl Frampton — "Frampton is a good fighter. He has power and skills and he moves when he has to but he has a weak chin. When he gets caught with a good punch, he goes down. He doesn't like pressure and I have that."

WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder talks about challenger Chris Arreola for the fourth defense of his green belt — "Because of Povetkin's decision to use a banned substance, the fight didn't happen. I'm disappointed but it's not gonna stop me from being an active heavyweight champion. This is the longest stretch that I've been out of the ring and I'm anxious to get back in and continue my quest to become undisputed heavyweight champion. This is another fight in that process. I respect Arreola for getting in the ring with me but we all know who the real champion is and I'm going to prove it July 16."


Boxing writer Jeffrey Freeman grew up in the City of Champions, Brockton, Mass during the marvelous career of middleweight champion Marvin Hagler.

Freeman then lived in Lowell, Massachusetts during the best years of Micky Ward's illustrious career. A member of the RingTV expert writer prediction panel for 4 years, Freeman is also editor-in-chief of KO Digest, a social media outlet for the sweet science. Known affectionately as "KO" by friends and readers, Freeman covers boxing for The Sweet Science in New England.

June 6, 2016

Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee — Our World Without Muhammad Ali

The Greatest is Gone But Not Forgotten
By Jeffrey Freeman, KO Digest 

On the Friday that devout Muslim Muhammad Ali died in the United States of America, a ruthless Middle Eastern war was raging in Islamic State held territory in Syria and Iraq. Western backed forces, along with brave allies in the region, were fighting brutal ISIS jihadists to liberate cities and towns from the genocidal terrorist organization. The ultimate result of this global conflict continues to hang in the balance. Only one certainty now exists in the decades long struggle between the West and radical Islam. Things are going to get worse before they get better.

The world is again inching towards total war.

I could not possibly begin to imagine how Ali, an American Olympian from Kentucky who took the name of Islam's holiest Prophet and joined the Nation of Islam, regarded the often violent relationships between his birth country and his spiritual Meccas ten thousand miles away. What I can imagine, like John Lennon might have, is only that it could've been very different had Ali been able to live up to his true potential on Earth: peacemaking ambassador of goodwill for all mankind. As a peaceful Muslim American of global fame and international respect, Ali was in a unique position to serve as a much needed bridge between these two increasingly disparate worlds. In fact, Ali did have some some success in this regard, when in 1991 during the first Gulf War, he met with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to arrange the return of American "guests" held against their will by the dictator.

The Louisville Lips 
Unfortunately, Parkinson's Syndrome, exacerbated by the sheer brutality of boxing, robbed Ali of his once unmatched powers of diplomatic communication.

"People are bombing people because of religious beliefs. We need somebody in the world to help make peace," Ali told a captive audience in Newcastle, United Kingdom during a speaking engagement there in 1977. "When I get out of boxing, I'm gonna use my name and my popularity to help unite people," Ali told the fascinated crowd. Nobody seemed to doubt his sincerity. "God is watching me and He wants to know how we're treating each other," Ali emphasized. Two years later in Tehran, Iran, 52 of Ali's fellow American citizens were taken hostage for 444 days by Muslim extremists who attacked the U.S. embassy. I'm sorry Muhammad, nobody ever made world peace in the Middle East. Only more war and more terrifying terror. Tragically, Ali lived to see his religious faith hijacked by terrorists who then rammed it into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The horror of it all continues to rage to this day with no clear end in sight.

Imagine with me a different world then.

One in which Muhammad Ali retires from boxing after winning the heavyweight championship of the world for a third time against Leon Spinks in 1978. No more comebacks. No terrible beating from a young Larry Holmes. Instead, imagine that Ali, like Vitali Klitschko today in the troubled Ukraine, got out of boxing and went immediately to work on the political problems that plagued his people. Ali could surely have become a Mayor like Klitschko or even a People's President. All doors were open to Ali, all possibilities within reach for a man of his immense stature. Perhaps President Jimmy Carter might've asked Ali to be involved in the historic Camp David Accords. In 1974, Carter's predecessor Gerald Ford brought Ali to the White House as part of his Presidential effort to heal the nation in the wake of Watergate.

The effect of Ali was always to turn enemies into friends. To unite the divided.

Imagine Ali in a position to help negotiate peace between his Islamic world and his Western world.

Ali with his parents Odessa and Cassius Senior
Odessa Clay's magnificent son was a perfect reflection of both cultures.

Nobody but Ali in his duality could have pulled it off. That it didn't happen without him is proof enough of that. People are still bombing other people because of religious beliefs. In life, Ali spoke often of his "getting ready" to one day meet God.

Though I'm sure he was more than ready when the day finally came, nothing could've better prepared Ali than unifying the world in peace before he died. The sad truth is that Ali's boxing related health complications prevented him from becoming any of these things. Author Joyce Carol Oates put it best in her masterwork 'On Boxing' when she wrote of the sport in question:

"More than any other human activity, it consumes the very excellence it displays."

Boxing afforded Muhammad Ali a great deal before demanding its heavy price be paid in full. That's pugilism's poetic justice. 

What's So Civil About War Anyway? — Bostonian Civil War soldier Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, writing home to his mother during the war to end the institution of slavery in America: "We fight for men and women whose poetry is not yet written but which will presently be as enviable and as renowned as any." One of those men was Muhammad Ali, the great American poet of pugilism. Shaw, along with thousands of other men who made the ultimate sacrifice, fell in battle on American soil so that Ali could one day live in freedom.

Ali and Frazier are no more
Greatest Goodbye — The only person who could possibly explain, eulogize, and commemorate Muhammad Ali is gone. That person was Ali himself. Ahead of his time and far beyond his Earthly peers in nearly every way imaginable, there exists nobody out there today capable of putting into words the true meaning of the man better than the man himself already did. Still, many will try but all will fail. Don't take my word for it. I'm as inadequate as the rest of these pretenders and wordsmiths. Go back and listen to the great man. Ali said it all. He told you who he was and why it mattered. If you didn't pay attention, I'm sorry for your loss.

Where There's Smoke There's Fire — There's been a lot of talk about which of Muhammad Ali's 61 prizefights find him at his absolute best. Many fans and media point to the 1966 destruction of Cleveland Williams and say "The Greatest" never looked better. This may be so but if you could still ask Ali, he'd say what he always said about the question. He'd disagree with you. He'd tell you that Williams was really not all that good of a fighter and that he (Ali) was young and fast and pretty when he knocked him out. Ali points to the third Joe Frazier fight as the truest example of when he was at his very best in the ring. Ali said Joe was much better than Williams and that he (Ali) had to be even better than his own younger self to whoop him. So who you gonna believe? Ali or your own lying eyes?

The Week Muhammad Ali Died — In years past, it had become a familiar routine on social media. News would break of Ali's latest trip to the hospital and the online world would go crazy with worry, blowing the truth of the matter way out of proportion. Nobody was "closer to death" more often than Ali apparently was. When we first became aware early last week that "The Greatest" was hospitalized, the reaction was deliberately muted. Oh, this again? Thoughts and prayers to Muhammad but I'm sure he's probably fine. In fact, the wolf was right outside the door, hungrier than ever. As the week dragged, so did feet when it came to Ali. Nobody wanted to believe it nor did they think they could, or should. Let's just wait and see what happens we thought. By Friday, things went from here to there faster than any Ali combination. Just like that, we'd been a rope-a-doped and Muhammad Ali was gone. If you blinked, you missed it.

The little boy who cried wolf is really crying now.

Goodbye Muhammad, we love you forever

"World Heavyweight Champions may come and go,
But in Muhammad Ali's case, this will never be so.
Because, forever, he will always be,
The People's Champion,
To you and to me."

Poem from Ali's #1 fan,

Paddy Monaghan

June 2, 2016

KO's Ringside Notes & Quotes XIV — Boxing vs MMA, Pros in Rio Olympics

Gold Medal Pugilists Loma and Rigo
By Jeffrey Freeman, KO Digest

The decision of the AIBA to allow professional fighters to compete against amateur boxers in the Olympics raised many eyebrows yesterday. The most common response I observed online was one of disapproval. Why the revulsion with increased competition?

A reactionary imagination immediately envisions undisputed world middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin pummeling some skinny Golden Glover into submission to win a Gold Medal in Rio. The reality of "pros versus ammys" should prove to be very different. Firstly, most top notch prizefighters don't wish to go backward, compete for free, or risk any number of the undesirable outcomes which might arise from such an unusual undertaking. They have everything to lose, and little to gain. Secondly, the line is already very blurred. 

As recently unpaid pugilists, Vasyl Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux could've easily handled themselves against an invasion of semi-skilled pros introduced into their ranks to compete under their rules. My educated guess is that there are other Lomas and Rigos out there waiting to turn this debate on its ear with surprising, medal-winning victories over unsuspecting, under-skilled pros.

Money May and Mister Trump
Don't Be EC In America, the 2016 Presidential Election is nearly all about "political correctness" and whether or not "PC" will be rejected or continued here in the land of the free. Boxing now faces a similar decision. Unless it's cast off in favor of maintaining what makes boxing so great to begin with, a strange new phenomenon I call "economic correctness" will continue to take hold of how bouts get negotiated and ultimately made. It already affects how fans relate to boxing and boxers. You can see "EC" influence today when they argue A vs B side dynamics, or against a particular match-up because it doesn't make "dollars & sense" to the more moneyed pugilist. If we're all not careful, "talkin' boxing" will soon be like studying undergrad economics at the local community college. 

2008 Olympic Bronze Bomber
Pugilism, Politics, Pressure & Presidents — On a lively May 11 international boxing media conference call with WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, the 2008 American bronze medalist claimed that opponent Alexander Povetkin would be under "a lot of pressure" fighting in front of Russian President Putin when the pair collide May 21. Wilder talked about unifying the title and bringing clarity to the division. I asked him who he'd like to someday defend his championship in front of as new American President: Trump, Clinton, or Sanders? Wilder burst into laughter at the question. "I can't get into the politics man," he said good naturedly. "You're sneaky," he told me before continuing diplomatically, ever the uniter. "All of them are more than welcome to come to a Deontay Wilder fight," he chuckled. [Editor's Note: Wilder-Povetkin was cancelled when challenger Povetkin supposedly failed a PED drug test.

Wilder defends a valuable green belt
The Man Who Didn't Beat The Man Yet — The WBC heavyweight champion talks to KO Digest about his claim to THE world heavyweight championship — "I already feel like I am the man. I've got the most prestigious belt. I got the WBC belt that people want their name on. I want more though. I'm hungry. I'm greedy. All these heavyweights know who the real threat in this division is." 

Middleweight Champions The real reason Canelo Alvarez versus Gennady Golovkin is (was) such a high demand title bout is because the undefeated "challenger" GGG has been made to wait a VERY LONG time for a shot at the linear title. Triple G is the most deserving fighter of this kind in all of boxing, with the possible exception of Sergey Kovalev at light heavyweight where Adonis Stevenson still holds an iron clad claim to the linear championship. 

Canelo dropped his WBC to duck GGG
Ironic is Golden Boy Ring Magazine denial of this inconvenient fact. Golovkin's credentials as undisputed #1 middleweight contender for years now (think Clubber Lang) have led some to label Golovkin uncrowned champion. Catchweight manipulations have stoked the fires of Canelo-GGG because fans feel the recent linear champions are not playing fair while they duck Golovkin for bigger money fights. Golovkin could lure neither Sergio Martinez, Miguel Cotto, nor Canelo Alvarez into the ring with him for a shot at the championship. He shouldn't have to "lure" the champion. The system is broken. The lineage is compromised. Fans have grown apathetic but at least they still understand the value of a good fight. When that's gone, will there be anything left for boxing to hang its hat on?

All about the Money
Ultimate Fighting Crap What a shame boxing can't take itself seriously enough to summarily reject a staged Floyd Mayweather "comeback" against some 3X tapped out cage fighter. With today's internet fight fans more focused on business and economics than tactics and strategy, a "Boxing vs MMA" exhibition bout will be very easy for the lowest common denominator fan to understand. Mister Money May will get a 99-1 split of many million ignorantly spent PPV dollars while his "ultimate opponent" gets a slightly larger pile of peanuts than he's used to getting for kicking and choking other men. Floyd will use the example of such "easy work" as explanation for why he should never risk his undefeated record for a similar payday against a real risk like undisputed world middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin. In their lust to be EC (economically correct), fans will vote against their own interests by supporting and buying Floyd's trash.

The Good Old Days?
Mob Rule The constant complaining from uneducated boxing fans about Al Haymon, his PBC, and the Watson Brothers gets on my nerves. Ours is a sport governed by no one single person, open to almost anybody with enough economic endurance to grab the narrative and run with it. Not happy with Haymon? Now seeing Don King's rape of the 80s through the rose-colored 20/20 vision of nostalgic hindsight? Or maybe you'd like to go even further back to the "good old days" of boxing when it was run by violent mob crime families. Perhaps you'd prefer real gangsters like Blinky Palermo and Frankie "The Czar of Boxing" Carbo be back in charge of promoting bouts and "setting up" fights? Like most things with a long history, it's easy to bitch and moan without having to know any of it. 

Bellew is now WBC cruiserweight world champion
Bombs Away Congratulations to Tony "Bomber" Bellew on achieving his goal of becoming a world champion. Bellew won the vacant WBC cruiserweight championship last weekend at home in Liverpool with a smashing TKO of Ilunga Makabu. Back in June of 2013, KO Digest spotlighted a then 175 pound Bellew as an 'up and comer' to keep an eye on. "I just want to be a world champion," Bellew told KO. Since that time, Bellew fell to champion Adonis Stevenson in a shot at the world light heavyweight title, gained a revenge win over hated rival Nathan Cleverly, co-starred as Pretty Ricky Conlan in CREED, then moved to cruiser to win the WBC belt. Bellew's championship outlook? "You have got be able to adapt. That's one of my strong points. I can deal with any style put in front of me and that is what I plan on doing." 

Lara claims he wants to fight GGG
Dream Big — If Erislandy Lara (or any other top rated junior middleweight for that matter) wants to challenge Gennady Golovkin for the undisputed world middleweight championship, all he has to do is stop talking, move up to middleweight (160 pounds, 6 more than 154), win a fight, and get a title shot. Lara currently holds a WBA world title. I'm sure he'd have NO PROBLEM arranging a shot at another WBA champion at middleweight. Truth is, these junior middles today want nothing to do with GGG at 160. Better for their health to wait for Triple G to get old or move up in weight. You all heard Jermall Charlo's response when asked on SHO about moving up. Charlo suddenly changed his mind and has decided to stay in a safe division where he will never fight two of the other world titlists, his twin brother Jermell, or his stablemate Lara. 

Boxing writer Jeffrey Freeman grew up in the City of Champions, Brockton, Massachusetts during the marvelous career of middleweight champion Marvin Hagler. Freeman then lived in Lowell, Massachusetts during the best years of Micky Ward's illustrious career. A member of the RingTV expert writer prediction panel for 4 years, Freeman is also editor-in-chief of KO Digest, a social media outlet for the sweet science. Known affectionately as "KO" by friends and readers, Freeman covers boxing for The Sweet Science in New England.

May 9, 2016

TSS Ringside: Alexis Santos Gets Revenge KO, Del Valle Destroys Crespo

Photo by Pattee Mak
SALEM — While undersized Lawrence, Massachusetts heavyweight Alexis Santos (16-1, 14 KOs) was quietly getting prepared for a rematch against 6'7" Daniel "The Mountain" Martz in the locker room of New Hampshire's Rockingham Plaza race track, Anthony Joshua (16-0, 16 KOs) was across the pond in London, England taking advantage of a suddenly wide open heavyweight division. Joshua knocked out American heavyweight champion Charles Martin (a month ago, on April 9) in the second round to claim the IBF crown. It's a newcomer success story that the 26-year-old Santos would like to duplicate. The soft-spoken but palpably violent Santos took an important step in that direction on Saturday night in the Live Free or Die State, registering a seventh round knockout of Martz to pick up the vacant IBO International heavyweight title before a raucous crowd of Santos fanatics.

There was a lot of holding (and trash talking) in the early going while Martz tried to use his size and Santos tried to close the gap to do damage on the inside. They both enjoyed some success but excessive holding marred the action. Martz ignored vulgar taunts from the pro-Santos crowd and he patiently pecked away with the jab and follow-up right hands. Santos kept himself, and his crowd, in the fight with a determined body attack that paid key dividends. In the sixth, Santos hurt Martz with an overhand right and pursued him like a man possessed. A wicked left to the body in the sixth had Martz holding on and backing up. In the seventh, Martz could no longer keep Santos off of him. The end came at 2:02 when Steve Smoger counted to ten with Martz down from exhaustion and body pain. The 6'0 Santos, who tipped the scales at 218.5, improved to 16-1 while Martz, from Clarksburg, West Virginia, weighing 242.8, fell to 14-4-1 (11 KOs).

Martz earned his money
After the fight, Santos said he'll fight anybody and fears nobody. That's the right attitude. Martz was coming off a first round knockout loss to Kiwi heavyweight prospect Joseph Parker, 18-0, last December. He defeated Santos by TKO in 2014 at the House of Blues in Boston. Santos was down in the first round and he injured his right knee in the third, causing that bout to be stopped.

In the co-main event, featherweight Luis Del Valle, 21-2 (16), from Bayamon, Puerto Rico, impressively knocked out Josh Crespo, New Haven, Connecticut, 6-3-3, (2) in the second round of a scheduled eight. Del Valle was walking Crespo down early in the first, landing long right hands with ease. In the second, Crespo ran into a perfectly timed right cross that buckled his knees. Another hard cross sent him crashing face-first to the canvas. Crespo tried to rise but he pitched forward before crashing again. With Del Valle looking on anxiously in a neutral corner, Crespo beat the count but he was hurt and defenseless. Crespo's trainer Brian Clark got up on the ring apron and signaled for the referee to stop the fight, which he did at 2:17.

In a super middleweight contest, Russell "The Haitian Sensation" Lamour, 13-2 (6), from Portland, Maine, got back in the win column after a second decision loss to New England rival Thomas Falowo last November, beating Borngod Washington, Queens, New York, 3-18 (1), by knockout. Lamour got tagged more than expected in the first round but that only served to wake him up. Lamour was back in total command in the second round, scoring a knockdown that Washington got up looking rather lame from. In the third, Lamour trapped his hurt opponent in the corner and wailed away until he collapsed. Referee Steve Smoger called an immediate halt at 1:38.

Joseph Perez, East Hartford, Connecticut, 12-3-2 (3) had an easy night at the office against hapless Paul DeSouza, 0-10, Sommerville, Massachusetts, chasing him around the ring while doing enough damage to bring about a merciful stoppage at :46 of the second round. DeSouza is a cage fighter who needs to stay out of the boxing ring. ~ Casey Kramlich, Portland, Maine, 3-0-1 (1), scored a second round TKO over Jason Kelly, Dorchester, Massachusetts, 5-1 (3). Kelly showed the effects of a bad beating to the body and he was looking for a way out late in the second round. Kelly's corner then stopped the fight, a wise decision considering the defeated body language of their brave boxer. ~ In the lid-lifter, Jaba Khositashvili, 1-0 (1), Georgia, made an impressive pro debut against Greg Thomas, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (1-8), scoring three knockdowns in the first round before referee Dave Greenwood stopped the mismatch at 1:37.

Boxing writer Jeffrey Freeman grew up in the City of Champions, Brockton, Massachusetts during the marvelous career of middleweight champion Marvin Hagler. Freeman then lived in Lowell, Massachusetts during the best years of Micky Ward's illustrious career. A member of the RingTV expert writer prediction panel for 4 years, Freeman is also editor-in-chief of KO Digest, a social media outlet for the sweet science. Known affectionately as "KO" by friends and readers, Freeman covers boxing for The Sweet Science in New England.

Venue: Rockingham Park
Promoter: Big Six Entertainment
Matchmaker: J. Russell Peltz
Ring Announcer: John Vena
Attendance: 1,000 (approximate)

Originally Published April 9 on The Sweet Science 

April 7, 2016

Life Imitates Hart: Dashon Johnson Wages a Philly War for Redemption

Hollywood Ending in Philadelphia
By Terry Strawson — To tell any story correctly, you have to start at the beginning. As an adviser to Dashon "Flyboy" Johnson, I almost feel as if I should begin further back, but when matchmaker, friend, and former contender Andy Nance forwarded us an offer to fight Jesse Hart for his NABO and USBA titles in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the story of the fight itself began to take shape.

Initially, fighting the WBO's number three rated super middleweight, two or three weight classes above our preferred weight (in his hometown of Philadelphia no less) wasn't exactly provoking too much excitement in me. "Hard Work" Hart puts his punches together better than most fighters in the division, barring maybe Andre Dirrell, and the height and weight advantages he possessed were almost alarming. In the murky waters of professional boxing however, we are forced to consider almost every offer between welterweight and light heavyweight.

We have to look at accepting fights similar to the way Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics viewed acquiring players in Moneyball:  

"We've got to think differently," says Brad Pitt's analytical character. "We are the last dog to the bowl."

A look at Johnson's (19-19-3, 6 KOs) record does not offer a glaring example of shrewd business and matchmaking. He has shared the ring with countless prospects, contenders, and former world champions; often on a couple days or a couple weeks notice. Sporadic yet impressive upsets have blended with disappointing losses more often than not. However, over the last year or so, Johnson has reevaluated and refocused himself to his craft. The results have been positive. His last two victories in particular offered confidence, and enough evidence to warrant proceeding with negotiations for the Hart fight. He had captured the WBA NABA super middleweight title with a dramatic knockout in a rematch with once-beaten Mike Gavronski, following that up with a victory over hard-hitting Izaak Cardona.

Fly Boys Simpkins, Porche, Johnson, Strawson
Still, it was not a decision taken lightly. We watched endless fight footage, training clips and interviews of Hart. We even followed him and his team on Instagram and Facebook. It was evident, to us at least, that there was little chance of Hart actually training for us the way we were training for him. How could a man next in line for the WBO world championship possibly be taking a man with 18 losses as seriously as we knew he should have been? How in the world could he possibly be?

We refused to offer any material for promotional purposes, turned down interviews from the likes of Steve Kim and focused solely on a three-a-day training regimen (that Dashon does alone most days) geared towards dragging Hart into deep waters and drowning him. My friend, and Philly fighter Malik Scott, warned me that, "Hart is a real young lion." I told Scott: "Lions don't swim too well."

They're actually not bad, but you get the point.

By the time we headed to Philadelphia, hometown of Rocky Balboa and countless real life boxing greats, we were brimming with confidence. And, as in the Rocky spinoff CREED, another young Johnson (Dashon) was traveling from California with a point to prove in the City of Brotherly Love. It felt right. We were treated very well by Hall of Fame promoter Russell Peltz and by his team too. We ran up the Rocky Steps, took pictures at the Rocky and Joe Frazier statues, and took a ride through the mean streets of Philly.

It was gritty and it was real. I loved it. We weren't there for that though.

All Hart until the end, then more heart
The bout was to take place at the 2300 Arena on Swanson Street in South Philadelphia. From the outside, and as my memory serves me, it looked a little grimy. On the inside, it was actually a beautiful building, perfect in my opinion for hosting prizefights. There was an old-school feel to it, a blend of brickwork and bright lights. The violent atmosphere was growing throughout fight night as knockouts seemed to be the favored method of victory. Most in attendance were anticipating another stoppage in the main event and the environment seemed to grow more hostile as we drew closer to fight time.

The referee Ernie Sharif had come into our dressing room to give his pre-fight instructions. You know the spiel, the same shit every referee says before every fight. No punching after the bell, your shorts look a little high so this will be considered good and so on. It's worth mentioning at this point however that Sharif said: "If you are to be knocked down, and you're not up by a count of nine, you will be counted out." It will become seemingly apparent that he never said such a thing to Jesse Hart. We will get to that later...

The fight itself was very intense. After the official introductions, with the likes of Bernard Hopkins seated at ringside, the action began quickly. To be honest, it was all Hart in the early going. We knew that though. Hart was snapping his jab and using every inch of the ring as he did so. As I eluded to earlier, Hart combines speed and power really, really well and he was pinging his shots at my fighter frequently without much of a response in the first couple of rounds. At times though, the output of Hart forced a wry smile from me. If he kept this up, he would not be able to keep this up, I thought.

It was not until the third round that Dashon fired back with something significant of his own. We, his trainer Jermaine Simpkins, cutman Billy Porche and myself, were imploring him to do more, and let his hands go. At the same time, we were weary of the dynamic and sizable threat in front of him. Hart looked fucking huge! Obviously, we were aware of the height and weight discrepancies long before our arrival in Philadelphia, but when they got in the ring and started exchanging, you would have thought we didn't care about him. Hart was putting rounds in the bag, and looking fairly impressive doing it. There were uppercuts, left hooks, straight rights and everything in-between it seemed. My wry smile turned to concern at times and at this point, I was screaming. We knew we would forfeit the first two or three rounds but as we entered the fourth and fifth, we needed to get a move on, and to his credit, Johnson did exactly that.  

I don't know if it was enough to steal those rounds but Dashon's aggression was certainly becoming more effective.

Johnson uppercutted by Hart
The end of the sixth round is where things began to get really interesting. After a more encouraging chapter, Dashon landed a massive shot at the bell and as Hart was barreling to the canvas, referee Ernie Sharif quickly ruled that the blow had come after the bell. To me, it was pure bullshit. However, I was buoyed by our ability to hurt the bigger man rather than deflated by the apparent skullduggery of the local referee. I wasn't even mad at the old school behavior in Hart's corner that allowed for an extra ten or fifteen seconds for their charge to clear his head. Hart was on Queer Street and I would have done the same thing. This is not merely an opinion. You can buy the fight at GFL.TV and see for yourself.

The next couple of rounds were a blur to me and the atmosphere was insane.

It's difficult to explain. How can just 1,500 people be so loud, I thought? The sweat was dripping from all over me, even my forearms were drenched and I constantly attempted to dry myself with my shirt or the towel. I knew, no matter how hard I tried to yell, Dashon was not going to hear me. It felt like a bad dream where you try with all of your might to cry out, and you just cannot make a sound. I felt like we were running out of time. And we were. I turned to the lads in the corner and said, "He's too tired, I don't think it's happening."

When Dashon came back to the corner before the last round, he looked spent.

He's usually the most aware and relaxed fighter in between rounds but our boy seemed finished to me. Still, we rallied that man from every angle and charged him with every drop of passion and emotion we could muster. We gave him a bit of water too of course. He went straight to work. I might have made it seem like Hart was faded by this point but he was still going strong. I would not be surprised if the tenth and final scene in this drama earned Round of the Year recognition, as it was something else. Hart was hoping to make a statement, and Dashon needed to make one. They were both throwing, and landing, heavy leather at this stage. At one point, as Jesse unloaded with everything in his arsenal, I worried. Momentarily. The clock was ticking down, and I kept looking at the big screen as it dwindled. "Two minutes," I yelled, "One minute!" Time seemed a more daunting opponent than Hart now. With less than a minute on the clock, Jesse tagged Dashon with a combination of big punches and my heart was in my mouth, but Johnson was not done yet.

As fast as he ate a big shot, he fired one back and had Hart dazed on the ropes. I was screaming at the top of my lungs as I felt one more shot would have ended the fight, but the noise inside the 2300 Arena was deafening. As Hart looked to hold on and recuperate a little, Dashon kept chopping away. As he chased Hart around the perimeter of the ring, he landed one more massive, clubbing right hand that sent Hart sprawling. It was unbelievable. It almost seemed too good to be true. Unfortunately for us, it was too good to be true.

Long-count from a home-town referee?
The conduct of the referee was once again brought into question as Hart rose to his feet fairly late. To me, it was ten seconds he spent on the canvas. I mean, even Larry Merchant would've had that count at at least nine, and according to his pre-fight instructions, that should have been enough to see Dashon register a knockout victory. It was painful to watch Hart climb to his feet the way "Pretty" Ricky Conlan (from my hometown of Liverpool) did in the CREED climax.

The only consolation, one that really has not yet fully resonated with Dashon, is that just like Adonis Creed did against Conlan, and Rocky did against Apollo, he had won the hearts and respect of the people. Hart won a close decision.

Dashon had shocked everybody. Well, just about everybody.

I asked promoter Russell Peltz for his two cents.

Gonna Fly Now Boy
"The fact that Johnson signed his contract right away, got his medicals right away, and refused to get caught up in the pre-fight hype told me he was in seclusion and taking the fight seriously," Peltz told me. "I expected it to be Hart's toughest fight but no one could have predicted a fight like that. I thought Johnson would make his presence felt earlier, and in a way he did because he forced Hart to move a lot early and expend considerable energy. I had it 95-94 (Hart) because I have to credit Johnson for the knockdown in the sixth round because I thought Hart was hurt from the first shot, not necessarily the second one which dropped him."

"I wanted to make the rematch," Peltz continued. "I think it's a mistake for Hart to not accept it, simply to prove he's better than he showed that night and to show us a marked improvement by doing better the second time around. However, I understand the mentality of modern-day boxing where it's all about getting the W and moving on, even if it makes no sense to me. A lot of fighters today succeed that way because when they get to the title fight, nine times out of ten the guy in the other corner came up the same way, simply by getting the W's and getting the hype."

Ain't gonna be no rematch? Who knows. Hart (now 20-0) has expressed no interest in it. Neither has Top Rank. I don't blame either. And I applaud Jesse Hart for showing his heart and rising from the canvas. I just applaud Dashon Johnson more for putting him there.

I'll leave you with a quote fitting for both men.

"It ain't about how hard you hit. 
It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. 
How much you can take and keep moving forward."

Rocky Balboa   

April 4, 2016

The Evolution of a Trilogy: Why Pacquiao-Bradley III Matters‏

"Pac Man" Bible Belts "Desert Storm"
It would be all too easy for boxing fans to dive into the depths of cynicism and dismiss the third meeting between Manny Pacquiao (57-6-2, 38 KOs) and Timothy Bradley (33-1-1, 13 KOs), scheduled for April 9 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, as unimportant or irrelevant. Many fans are doing exactly that. The officially non-title, 12-round bout is in danger of falling like a tree in the proverbial woods. It can be persuasively argued that the now long-dead issue of who's superior has been already twice decided. After two WBO championship fights, 24 relatively tepid rounds, one outrageous 2012 robbery, and then a clear UD points victory for Pacquiao in 2014; I'd say Bradley can't beat Pacquiao.

But not so fast. This is boxing.

Things evolve. They even marinate.

Believe it or not, Pacquiao-Bradley III is being promoted by Bob Arum's Top Rank Boxing as their Filipino cash cow's swan song, the final fight in a legendary career that began more than twenty years and 20 pounds ago. Would Nebraska's Terence Crawford have been a more intriguing opponent for Manny's North American finale?  Sure, but that's just how the primaries of pugilism work. Not enough people in the grassroots of boxing know who "Bud" Crawford is yet or believe that he would have pulled enough votes in the "general election" of a pay-per-view prizefight against Pacquiao. It's still all about the money and Bradley makes more dollars and sense, or so Arum claims about this particular cash-out. Looking to the future, the two-term Filipino Congressman now has a seat in the Philippine Senate to run for in 2016. After speaking out against homosexuals last month, even Pacquiao's own promoter was forced to rebuke his homophobic, politically pandering comments. Perhaps feeling a bit disenfranchised on Super Tuesday III, Arum then came out publicly against American Presidential candidate Donald Trump. In a Super Tuesday press release to promote the ‪Pacquiao-Bradley III‬ undercard, Top Rank included a curious "No Trump" campaign slogan to publicize the international flavor of its undercard participants. According to Arum's publicist Fred Sternburg, "Unlike Trump, we believe in the American Dream and in America being a melting pot for immigrants."

"The undercard," Sternburg told me, "is a symbol of that."

In fact, fighters from no less than seven nations are represented on it, including "King" Arthur Abraham versus Gilberto Ramirez for the WBO super middleweight championship and Oscar Valdez versus Evgeny Gradovich at featherweight. Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, France, Lithuania, Germany, and Armenia are all sending their best to America to compete on the world stage of a global sport. 

Interesting. But what does the main event symbolize? That's very much open to interpretation.

The first fight was an awful robbery
To purists, the fight represents an encounter between the de facto #1 and #2 rated welterweights in the world. Accordingly, it is being seen by some as a box-off for the lineal world welterweight championship left vacant by Floyd Mayweather Jr. last year when Mayweather retired undefeated after decisioning Pacquiao. The Transnational Boxing Ratings Board will presumably recognize the winner as new world welterweight champion. The TBRB rates Pacquiao #1 and Bradley #2 at 147. That's easy to understand. Ring Magazine ratings are a bit more difficult to fathom with Kell Brook #1 and Pacquiao #2. The Ring rates Amir Khan #3 and Bradley #4. The real problem here is that if Manny wins as expected, he might also retire as expected and then leave the beltless welterweight title "vacant" again. It's confusing, I know. But maybe you're one of those fans who thinks the notion of a linear title is outdated and antiquated. In any case, "the" welterweight title, such that it still exists, is a key reason why Pacquiao-Bradley III matters.

To others, it represents the first official meeting between trainers Freddie Roach and Teddy Atlas. In boxing, competition among trainers is as fierce as anything you'll find in the ring and both chief seconds surely want to achieve victory against the other for personal reasons. Atlas refers to himself and his new pupil as "firemen" putting out fires. If they can extinguish the final embers of Pacquiao's Hall of Fame career and emerge as the last men standing from this apparently redundant trilogy, all will not have been in vain. Roach, longtime trainer of Pacquiao, has already taken verbal shots at Atlas for his unabashed love of the spotlight. It's a charge Atlas doesn't deny.

Roach vs. Atlas: Part One
Teddy might very well be the most entertaining aspect of the show on April 9.

It's easy to imagine the trainer getting emotional in the corner while willing Bradley to victory. It's also just as easy to see Atlas growing frustrated with Bradley's limitations and resorting to the kinds of tomfoolery and ballyhoo in the corner that made him so famous in the first place.

One other reason the match-up matters is the possibility of an unexpectedly great fight. Few envisioned Pacquiao's fateful fourth meeting with rival Juan Manuel Marquez to be anything other than what the first three fights were; tactical affairs won, lost, or drawn by inches. When it was least expected, a Hagler-Hearns-esque war emerged from the apathetic response of the boxing community to the announcement and promotion of a fourth fight. What if after two fights and 24 rounds, Pacquiao and Bradley are done warming up and are both ready to throw down and go for the knockout? It's a strategy that Bradley attempted without success in the second fight.

Following that humbling loss, I asked Bradley about where he went wrong. "I went in with the mindset that I had to knock him out to win," he told me. "The plan was to outbox Pacquiao and everybody knew it, even Pacquiao. I didn't do that. I went straight at him. I attacked him. I had some success on attack but I could've been a lot better in the late rounds if I'd taken my time."

Will Bradley be lured into another brawl?
Fans know one thing about "Desert Storm" Bradley. He likes to battle even when he promises to box. It's in his nature to fight back hard and find himself in the trenches like he did with Ruslan Provodnikov and Diego Chaves. Or Bradley can box like he did when he outpointed the great Marquez in 2013. If Pacquiao wants to go out in a blaze of glory, Bradley will almost certainly be willing to oblige him, particularly with the bombastic Atlas in his corner. If Manny's shoulder is not fully healed from rotator-cuff surgery, that could also provide Bradley with the opening he needs to avenge his only defeat and entertain fans in the process.

A legitimate Bradley victory would help solidify his position as a top American pound for pound star at a time when boxing's international stars are taking over the mythical P4P list that's now headed by a Nicaraguan named Roman Gonzalez and a Kazakh named Gennady Golovkin. A Pacquiao win would allow for Manny to ride off into the sunset on a high note after the embarrassing 2015 defeat to Mayweather and the 2012 knockout loss to Marquez.

Or it might open the door to more fights and more money

Either way, there is more at stake here than meets the eye.   

To be clear, Pacquiao-Bradley III matters.

And now you know why.

Written by Jeffrey Freeman, originally published on The Sweet Science