August 5, 2015

KO's Ringside Notes & Quotes IX — #MayBerto, Klitschko, Fury & Krusher

Back to back Money grabs
By Jeffrey Freeman, KO Digest

Back in August of 2011, on an international media conference call held to promote Andre Berto's comeback bout in Biloxi, Mississippi against unknown Slovenian journeyman Jan Zaveck, I questioned the former WBC welterweight champion about his future in boxing and whether or not he had one after a decision loss to known quitter Victor Ortiz. I asked Berto if he believed he was at risk of becoming a "forgotten fighter" were he to lose to Zaveck.

Perturbed, Berto's response was two parts annoyance and one part incredulity. It was the first time a prizefighter had ever gotten publicly irritated with me for doing what I consider to be my job as a boxing journalist.

"Is that what it is?" Berto asked rhetorically instead of answering my question. "You lose one fight you’re forgotten about? Fighters have shown for years and years they lose one fight and then come back a whole lot bigger than they were before. Saying that kind of thing blows my mind about you reporters and just the sport in general sometimes." Berto then continued to let me have it.

"You’ve seen a guy like Shane Mosley resurrect his career three or four times. A guy like Bernard Hopkins and all these other guys, and they have four, five, six losses. I’m still young. I went through a tough defeat. I had a bad night. I don’t care about what people think or what they’re gonna write. At this point I’m just doing this for me, my family, and the real Berto fans out there and that's it!"

Four years later, Berto has two more losses. And a September 12 SHO PPV date in Vegas with Floyd Mayweather.

Fuck You
Middle Finger To The World — Light heavyweight champion Sergey "The Krusher" Kovalev is very crass. Read some of the things he supposedly says in Russian and you might think he could be called KKK to Gennady Golovkin's GGG. While the always smiling "Triple G" embraces fans of all colors and nationalities, Kovalev seems stuck in a Cold War mentality. Perhaps this war footing suits Kovalev best and we should all just appreciate his honesty as well as his brutality.

Boxing, at the level Kovalev plies his dark art, is not courtesy class. Such candidness is hard to come by in today's politically correct era. The "Krusher" is anything but PC. Kovalev employs two primary methods of verbally dealing with opponents he dislikes and who he plans to crush. The first is to call them "pieces of shit" when asked by the media about them. Adonis Stevenson and Jean Pascal have been so excrementally labelled by Kovalev. Who'll be next? His second method is to threaten an ass kicking and then casually deliver one. When I met Kovalev in New York last year at his WBO ring ceremony, I caught a candid shot of him as he was being photographed. 

They say a picture is worthy of a thousand words. This one of KK is worth at least two.

Business as usual for Klitschko
Furious Styles — Tyson Fury wants his fight against Wladimir Klitschko to be personal between them. At a recent face-to-face press conference to promote their highly anticipated October 24 heavyweight championship title bout in Germany, Fury repeatedly told the defending champion that it's "personal" for him and "personal" for them. Klitschko was quick to interrupt Fury to remind him that it's never personal for him, that boxing is always business, that there is no animosity here or in the ring. Dr. Steelhammer, ever the chess grandmaster, does not want his opponents to dislike him or to arm themselves with a burning contempt for him as a person. It's another subtle way Wlad K protects himself at all times. More than anything, Klitschko wants everyone he fights to be in complete and total awe of him, the long reining world champion with hands and arms full of strapping title belts. Some are awed and some are not but most are beaten before they ever get in the ring because Klitschko disarms them with his pure class.

Last year, KO Digest interviewed Wladimir Klitschko (64-3, 53 KOs) by telephone. It was a great 45 minute Q&A with "Dr. Steelhammer" as he readied for the challenge of Alex Leapai. We asked the champion about some of his future potential challengers, including the UK's massive Tyson Fury (24-0, 18 KOs) who Klitschko faces on October 24 in Germany. Regarding the young Fury, Klitschko kept it short and sweet: "He's young and green behind his ears." 

George is still taking Cannon shots at Briggs
KO Digest Grills Big George Foreman On the current state of the heavyweight division and why American fans have lost interest in recent years: "It's like a vacuum cleaner from outer space. We're looking for heavyweights, we're searching everywhere, looking under beds and rocks, looking for a great heavyweight. There just aren't any around. If there were, we could take over. But for some reason, everybody has the glamor of all the other sports, basketball, football, and baseball has taken over. But boxing will be back. A heavyweight will come on the scene and you won't have to worry about who's heavyweight champ of the world. His name will ring loud but it will be an American."

What about old 43 year old Shannon Briggs George?

"I don't think he was very good even when he was good." 

Waiting for Chavez Jr. to get serious about boxing
Wasted Talent — Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is frustrating for boxing fans to abide with his myriad weight issues because we can see the obvious talent he possesses underneath all that baggage. A great fighter lies just beneath the surface and we have seen flashes of that potential, particularly in the championship rounds against Sergio Martinez. When Chavez Jr. punches, it's clear how big and strong he really is, what he's truly capable of in the ring, and the damage he can inflict. It's not too late for Junior to live up to his birthright but we're all growing tired of seeing it squandered. Will the real J.C. Jr. please stand up?  

Before Shawn Porter fought Kell Brook, I asked him:
If you beat the "Special One" will you fight Keith Thurman?
"Showtime" told me: "I'll fight 'One Time' two times!"
Now that he's beaten Broner, will he fight him one time?
"It's a fight I wouldn't turn down," Porter told KO Digest.

The Super 6 is History — The super middleweight division just ain't what it used to be. Andre Ward doesn't really fight at that weight class any longer. Carl Froch is officially retired. Arthur Abraham is a fossil who just refuses to go away. Robert Stieglitz was knocked out by him last month. James DeGale is a new world champion who I had the pleasure of covering up close in personal in Boston last March. Badou Jack is one of the worst fighters to ever hold a WBC title. George Groves may turn out to be a good fighter but Froch whooped him twice. The Dirrell brothers are overrated and fresh out of title belts in their fighting family. J'Leon Love turned out to be a TMT bust. And there is no superstar prospect in the 168 pound weight class for boxing fans to look ahead to.

If Gennady Golovkin moves up from 160, there isn't much there for him.

Super model with her super middle man
Shedding Skin — Carl Froch was wise to retire from boxing last month. At age 38, the writing was on the wall for the former WBC & IBF super middleweight champion. A youthful George Groves couldn't beat Froch in two fights but he did send a strong message and a hurtful warning that was too loud to be ignored. Far too many in boxing linger on past their primes or past their potency. It's refreshing to see that not all boxers are cut from this same cloth. There is an undeniable dignity in walking away on top or very close to it. Carl Froch was a throwback fighter whose record of consistently facing top quality opponents more than earned him the right to retire before having to face even more of them as his own skills waned. Gone now is the possibility of Froch vs. Gennady Golovkin. There will be no Wembley Stadium rematch with Andre Ward. Fellow Brit James "Chunky" DeGale can have Froch's old title belt but barring an unlikely "Cobra" comeback, he'll never get Froch in the ring. 

All of this fleeting allure only adds to Froch's legacy in the squared circle. History will now have to be the final judge of where Froch rates in comparison to Joe Calzaghe and all the other great super middleweight world champions. In the meantime, Froch can now finally afford to let that beautiful woman in his life (red hot model Rachael Cordingley) weaken his legs a little more often. 

Paulie and Froch have a similar future in retirement
Malignaggi's Media Magic Trick — He might not have looked it after Danny "Swift" Garcia was done beating him up last Saturday night in Brooklyn, but Malignaggi really is one of the lucky ones. The "Magic Man" doesn't have to say goodbye to boxing even though he'll probably retire from active competition at age 35 after back to back TKO losses. For many fighters, retirement from boxing is the hardest thing in the world to deal with because for most of these guys, there is no longer a role for them in the sport they love. Some boxers keep the love alive by becoming trainers but the vast majority have no boxing in their lives after boxing aside from what they see on TV. This is one of the best parts about being a fight writer. Boxers come and go though the years but the writer gets to stay and see this cycle play out. For Malignaggi, his role as a ringside commentator will serve not only his own need to stay involved but it also benefits all of us who get to bask in the glory of his wisdom.

Winner gets a shot at Hulk Hogan?
Crossing The Mason-Dixon Line

Hulkster & Antonio Tarver Talk Trash

With Sylvester Stallone's ROCKY spinoff CREED hitting theaters soon, it's interesting times for former protagonist ROCKY characters Thunderlips (played by Hulk Hogan) and Mason "The Line" Dixon (Antonio "Magic Man" Tarver). Hogan, a pro wrestling icon and an overly protective father (as well as a self-admitted racist) is now embroiled in an N-word controversy that's already resulted in his complete removal from WWE history books. The Romans, in their reign, called it damnatio memoriae, condemnation of memory.

Apparently, Vince McMahon is still a stone cold promoter and one badass boss. 

Racial tirades are no longer tolerated in the year 2015 and nor should they be. Coincidentally, Tarver, 46, and still vying for a very unlikely shot at the heavyweight championship of the boxing world, got all fired up on an international media conference call the very next day with upcoming opponent "USS" Steve Cunningham, a "real American" who, as a "war tested Veteran of this damn country," fights for the rights of everyman. Things got verbally heated during the pro wrestling like exchanges and at one point, Tarver actually said to Cunningham, "Nigger, you out your rabbit ass mind if you think you're going to fucking beat me. You're distracted homie."

KO Digest Special Feature: Rating Boxing's Five Best Weight Classes

Bradley survives a late storm against Vargas
1. Welterweight — Packed with stars, up and comers, power punchers, and defensive wizards, this Original 8 division is championed by the best fighter in all of boxing, Floyd Mayweather Jr., while its top ten rating list reads like a who's who in boxing today with the likes of Manny Pacquiao, Tim Bradley, Shawn Porter, Amir Khan, Kell Brook, and Keith Thurman.

Welterweight is also where the best junior welterweights show up when they're looking to move up for the big money. Danny Garcia stopped Paulie Malignaggi in 9 at 147 to begin his welterweight campaign. One can even envision former lightweight champion Terence Crawford packing on the needed pounds to someday soon compete with the big boys. And let's not forget Sadam Ali, one of the best prospect/contenders in all of boxing.

2. Light Heavyweight — It might look a little top heavy right now with Adonis Stevenson and Sergey "The Krusher" Kovalev as rulers of a division without too many credible threats left (beyond each other) but 175 will very soon be the place to be. Former super middleweight champion and elite P4P talent Andre Ward has his sights set on Kovalev's title belts. Edwin "La Bomba" Rodriguez will soon be lobbing bombs at "Superman" for the linear title. Polish puncher Andrzej Fonfara is better than anybody thought he was and we'd now like to see more of him after he made Chavez Jr. quit on his stool. Artur Beterbiev is just 9-0 but a serious force to soon be reckoned with. Bernard Hopkins and Jean Pascal represent the old guard and both might have a trick or two left up their sleeves. Sullivan Barrera (16-0) looks like a solid pro and you should keep your eyes on him.

Golovkin is a middleweight wrecking ball
3. Middleweight — The always popular glamour division that was once ruled so marvelously by Hagler and Hopkins is now ruled with bloody fists by Gennady Golovkin, winner of his last twenty prizefights by knockout. The WBA champion appears unbeatable, fights often, and routinely makes trophies of other men. The aging and undersized Miguel Cotto still holds the linear title for what that's worth and a Superfight against Canelo Alvarez promises to bring excitement to the championship before GGG's takeover of 160 is complete.

Fighters like Peter Quillin, David Lemieux, and Andy Lee should not be counted out and they will soon be tasked with the dirty job of dismantling Golovkin if they can. Lemieux gets a chance on October 17 at MSG in NYC.

4. Super Bantamweight — Small in stature but big in star power and potential marquee match-ups, the 122 lb. weight class boasts fighters such as world champion Guillermo Rigondeaux, Carl "The Jackal" Frampton,  Scott Quigg, Leo Santa Cruz, Abner Mares, and Nonito Donaire. Santa Cruz and Mares are set to rumble this month on ESPN. Frampton and Quigg both just won impressively and the pressure is on to make them fight before Frampton moves up to featherweight. Donaire has now won twice since the brutal TKO loss to featherweight champ Nicholas "Axe Man" Walters last year and the "Filipino Flash" looks ready for a return to big fights against the best in his weight class. 

Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Freeman

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July 21, 2015

Gennady Golovkin's Hunt For Greatness and Signature Fights Continues...

Triple G
Nobody really wants to fight WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin. Not if they know what's good for them they don't. Junior middleweights Canelo Alvarez and Erislandy Lara claim they do. 50 year-old "Alien" Bernard Hopkins says he does too but that's just to chide Floyd for boss Oscar. Add American welterweight Timothy "Desert Storm" Bradley as well. He's no coward, or so he says.

Let's get serious.

Golovkin, 33-0, 30 KOs, has now defeated twenty consecutive opponents by knockout. The overall record of those twenty doomed pugilists was a combined 496-66-12 going into combat with Golovkin. Half of those twenty men GGG hammered into submission had never been stopped before in their professional boxing careers. Then they ran into "Kazakh Thunder" as Jim Lampley likes to call it on HBO. The newly inducted International Boxing Hall of Fame announcer is right. Golovkin is a force of nature. His fourteen successful defenses of the WBA 160 pound title have all come by stoppage against credible contenders (to wit: Martin Murray, Marco Rubio, and Daniel Geale, et al.) whose best was just not good enough to even go the distance.

Golovkin massacres Gabe Rosado
With Golovkin on such a brutal tear through a glamour division once ruled so marvelously by Hagler and Hopkins, there are not many options left for "Triple G" and some of his remaining potential opponents are literally making themselves scarce. After every new win, the talk from GGG is always of "big fights" but who really wants to get beaten up by a modern day Mike Tyson who looks like Harry Greb and sounds like Borat Sagdiyev? And so Golovkin waits for his career defining fight(s); wins again and again (by KO) and waits some more...

Andre Ward, recently thought to be an ideal adversary for Golovkin, is now suddenly in the light heavyweight title picture against unified WBA, IBF, and WBO champion Sergey "The Krusher" Kovalev, this according to Main Events promoter Kathy Duva on a media conference call held to promote Kovalev's July 25 mandatory defense against 40-1 long shot Nadjib Mohammedi.

"We all agree that fight [Kovalev-Ward] is going to happen," said Duva of ongoing negotiations with Team Ward to make the match-up a reality at 175 pounds. This development rules out the possibility of Ward fighting Golovkin anytime soon or before a bout with Kovalev can materialize in late 2016. "Triple G" vs. "S.O.G." at 168 seemed reasonably doable, if not handicapped in favor of the larger Ward, but Golovkin against a light heavyweight strikes me as unrealistic. Golovkin is a small but powerful middleweight. Ward was 171¾ for his recent return bout against Paul Smith. This is the "moving up and away from" strategy by Ward. Some might argue that Ward's recent inactivity issues and current jump in weight suit him just fine if the objective all along was to avoid a dangerous fight with Golovkin at or near super middleweight.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.? Andre Berto is up next for "TBE" from what I hear.

I'm sure "Money" would rather swim with sharks than fight a hungry apex predator like Golovkin.

After one or two more "easy wins" Mayweather will almost certainly retire undefeated rather than glove up with Golovkin at any weight.

Carl Froch did just officially retire. No GGG for that defanged "Cobra" and there had been talk.

Cotto and Golovkin
And Poor Miguel Cotto, the Puerto Rican star sounded like he forgot his English homework last month on HBO when Max Kellerman asked the undersized linear world middleweight champion about the unbeaten Kazakhi elephant in the room. Funny and sad at the same time, it was something boxing fans won't soon forget. Even sadder, Cotto and Golovkin will probably never clash as they should. More than any fighter in boxing, Golovkin "deserves" a linear title shot. When Cotto finally sells his championship claim in a business arrangement similar to the one in which he purchased it from Sergio Martinez, the buyer (...and the new!) will hopefully be Golden Boy's cash cow because there's good reason to believe Canelo Alvarez is at least willing to challenge Golovkin for middleweight supremacy. Still, Cotto versus Canelo will definitely have to happen before Golovkin can get either of them in the ring.

I don't exactly hear animal lover Peter Quillin barking for a Golovkin fight.

Unfortunately, "Kid Chocolate" is melting away before he can even be devoured.

Who else is there? Canadian firecracker David Lemieux, the new IBF middleweight champ? Fun fist-fight it'll be for sure but a pure massacre in the ring. Another KO for Golovkin. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.? He got stepped on like a stone by Andrzej Fonfara last April. For now, the "Lion Cub of Culiacán" is out of the GGG mix. Maybe someday he'll serve as a suitable punching bag for Golovkin.

Former Emanuel Steward KRONK protégé Andy Lee should thank his lucky stars that fate interceded on his behalf. If that one had gone off as scheduled last year, "Irish Eyes" would not be smiling so brightly for Lee today. Accordingly, Lee gets the one and only pass when it comes to "ducking Golovkin" because he did already sign on the dotted line. The popular WBO middleweight champ is now more appropriately matched against Billy Joe Saunders this September at home in Ireland.

It's not that Lee won't fight Golovkin, it's that he shouldn't.

No chance to win. High probability of getting hurt.

In the meantime, Golovkin's championship knockout streak continues.

So too does his long wait for a "big name" fight.   

By Jeffrey Freeman, originally published on The Sweet Science 

July 11, 2015

KO Digest Ringside Report — Beltway Boxing in Parkville, Maryland Results

Barakat belted out on the boxing Beltway
TALL CEDARS HALLA perfectly fine little club show almost ended in disaster Thursday night when Travis Reeves, Baltimore, Md., 194 ½, (10-2-2, 4 KOs) knocked out Samer Barakat, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 193, (5-2, 3 KOs) in the sixth round of a main-event eight-rounder. Barakat, a powerful but very crude slugger, fell partially out of the ring, unconscious from a right-hand shot in a neutral corner and began to breathe heavily. He was taken overnight to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma hospital and passed his cat scan and was released Friday morning, according to a spokesman with the Maryland State Athletic Commission. It was the kind of knockout that should make a fighter – and boxing commissions – think long and hard about retirement.

In March, Barakat lost his first fight, to Eric Martel Bahoeli, of Quebec City, and in that bout he was dropped and dazed in the first and then floored again. He scored a knockdown in the second and was dropped himself again in the third on the way to a loss by decision in a four-round bout.

Reeves controlled most of the action against Barakat and scored a third-round knockdown. Barakat is a roundhouse puncher who wades in with his gloves down. With any separation between himself and any decent opponent, he is an accident waiting to happen. Despite the obvious openings, however, Reeves could not finish him off. By the fifth round, the fight was devolving and getting sloppy, which played into the stronger Barakat’s hands, but the sixth-round landed him on a stretcher, ending the night.

Kevin “The Scarecrow” Womack, Baltimore, Md., 154, looked like the best 7-5-3 (5 KOs) fighter in the world in stopping Tyson Harrison, Greensboro, N.C., 155 ½ , (2-3) by TKO at 1:56 of the first round in a scheduled six. Womack, 5-foot-11, scored a knockdown with the very first punch of the fight, a stiff jab, and it was stunning to see. As soon as the fight resumed, he was on Harrison with a blur of young Thomas Hearns-like combinations. Referee Ken Chevalier finally waved it over with Harrison overwhelmed by punches in his own corner. Womack went to center ring, landed a perfect back flip that left him facing his opponent’s corner and he walked over to wish him well.
It was the kind of awesome performance that makes you want to see a fighter again.

Womack fought at 152 pounds in the Gold Gloves but he dropped down into the 140s early in his pro career, which began in 2011. After winning his first four bouts, he went 0-5-2 in his next seven. Now, he’s 3-0-2 in his past five, drawing with Jesse Cook (14-1), inhaling Nathaniel Rivas (5-1) and now the win over Harrison. He’s fought four times since May 8, and he is fast and exciting.

Undercard Results:

Damont Giddins, Salisbury, Md., 147, (2-1, 2 KOs) admired himself for three rounds before rallying to score a TKO 1:40 in the fourth and final round over Travis McClaren, Danville, Va., 147, (1-7, 1 KO). McClaren dropped Giddins with a hard right uppercut in the second round and looked like, although far less strong or talented, he might hustle his way to a decision win. Giddins pulled himself together in the fourth and scored a devastating knockdown with a right that saw McClaren land on the side of his head. In no condition to continue and barely responsive, McClaren was allowed to continue by Chevalier and he got blasted out against the ropes. 

Totally unnecessary punishment. 

Benson (R) decisions Black
Dennis Benson, Hampton, Va., 227 (3-5-2, 1 KO) scored a split-decision win over Carlos Black, Washington, D.C., 224 ½, (1-2, 1 KO) in a four-rounder. We saw it 39-37 for the winner in a spirited and somewhat crude encounter of in-shape big men. 

Shakeel Phinn, Brossard, Quebec, Canada, 174, (2-1, 1 KO) turned out to be the good fighter down from Canada as he scored a sharp unanimous decision win over Danny Waters, Rockville, Md., 169 ½, (0-1) in a fast-paced four-rounder. Waters had a lot of success in the muay thai ranks and was trying conventional boxing as a pro for the first time. He fought well but the sharp, well-schooled and busy Phinn was just too much. 

Nicholas Rodriguez, Somerset, Ky., 127 ½ , (0-2-1) and Arthur Parker, IV, Lancaster, Pa., 131 ½, (1-13-2) fought to a split draw in the quiet opener, for which the first bell rang at 8:34 PM. 

Images & Words by John Scheinman for KO Digest  

June 21, 2015

Clearly Canadian: Lemieux chills out N'Dam in Montreal, wins IBF 160 lb. title

Lemieux's potent left hand is raised at home

BELL CENTER — Middleweight contender Hassan N'Dam has a great chin and he showed it again in Montreal, Quebec, Canada Saturday night against power puncher David Lemieux. Fighting for the vacant IBF middleweight championship, the pair put forth a spirited battle at the Bell Center which saw N'Dam knocked down four times throughout the fight from Lemieux's sizzling left hooks. The result was a unanimous decision for Lemieux and with the victory, he lays claim to the IBF title which was recently stripped from Jermain Taylor. Promoted by Golden Boy and Eye of the Tiger Management, the fight itself was very entertaining and it was a nice style match-up with N'Dam (31-2, 18 KOs) as the boxer and Lemieux (34-2, 31 KOs) as the pressure fighter. Two judges scored the fight 115-109 for Lemieux  while the third had it 114-110 for the new champion. Off TV, I scored it 115-110 for Lemieux. 

In the opening round, Lemieux, 26, set the pace with intense pressure and his left hook landed well as N'Dam, 31, tried to establish his range. In the second, N'Dam (from Pantin, France via Cameroon) found himself under pressure on the ropes and he actually tackled Lemieux as a defensive tactic. His relief was only temporary as a massive left hook from Lemieux dropped N'Dam in the corner. Lemieux's efforts to finish off the badly wobbled N'Dam were in vain as the game N'Dam managed to stay on his feet.

Lemieux scored four knockdowns
In the third, N'Dam missed wildly as Lemieux wisely targeted his body. When Lemieux's punch accuracy began to wane, N'Dam got himself back into the fight behind a solid jab. N'Dam boxed well from the outside in the fifth round but another left hook from Lemieux had N'Dam backing up before N'Dam was able to reestablish control of the frame. The sixth was a disaster for N'Dam and he fell twice from left hooks, resulting in a 10-7 round for Lemieux. N'Dam stole the seventh round with cute boxing but Lemieux again caught up to him in the eighth round, scoring yet another knockdown off a crunching left hook.

In the ninth, N'Dam continued to box while Lemieux looked to end the fight. As the later rounds wore on and turned into the championship rounds, Lemieux seemed to tire a bit and he ran out of viable ideas for putting N'Dam away. In the eleventh, they traded power punches and it was hard to tell who got the worst of it. In the final round, N'Dam let his hands go good but Lemieux kept up his attack until the final bell. Before the fight, N'Dam's manager Gary Hyde insisted that Lemieux was nothing but a "hype job" and N'Dam all but guaranteed an early KO win over Lemieux.

With the impressive performance in front of his frenzied hometown fans, Lemieux takes another step closer to a middleweight unification fight against WBA champion Gennady "Triple G" Golovkin (33-0, 30 KOs) while N'Dam looks towards an uncertain future in a glamor division where he's good enough to be a contender, but not good enough to be a world champion.

By Jeffrey Freeman, originally published on The Sweet Science 

May 27, 2015

PBC on NBC TV — Behind the Scenes in Boston for The Sweet Science

Grand Slam on the Grandstand
Covering the PBC on NBC show in Boston last week was hard work but it was very rewarding. I'd like to tell you some more about what that was like for me to be there and to do that. For the first time since creating the KO Digest in 2010, I (Jeffrey Freeman) was credentialed under a different media outlet (The Sweet Science) and I was working for somebody else (Michael Woods). As my friends and loyal readers in the boxing community know, I set the bar very high for all things boxing media related but this live coverage assignment needed to be taken to the next level. That much I was very stressfully aware of.

Unaware of exactly how I'd go about achieving this end, I took the advice of my editor to "be the artist" and trust my instincts. It all worked out splendidly. 

That creative effort began for me at Fenway Park on Thursday for the final press conference before the Saturday afternoon card on nearby Comm Ave May 23.

Dirrell, the Greatest, Micky Ward, and DeGale
Like a Red Sox player on the base paths, I ran around the ball park talking to everybody, making impressions, and obtaining quotes and pictures. I took full advantage of the opportunities for one-on-one interactions with main event participants James DeGale and Andre Dirrell. It was during these exchanges that I worked side-by-side with USA Today's Mike Coppinger and others.

I also enjoyed a great conversation with "Magic Man" Paulie Malignaggi and even got a close-up look at that fatefully sliced left eyelid of his. As a cut, I've seen much worse but I could now see with my own eyes why his Brooklyn Brawl at the Barclays Center against Danny O'Connor had to be scrapped.

I met international media members from across the pond and close to home. On a media sign-in sheet that was left out by the entrance of Gate E on Lansdowne Street, I somehow managed to beat the UK's "Sky Sports" but not Cary Shuman from the Independent Newspaper Group. Imagine that. Having covered my fair share of boxing press conferences for KO Digest, I can say without question that this one at Fenway Park for The Sweet Science was the best and most fun. The free food was pretty good too by the way in the form of a full buffet of Fenway Franks with all the fixings.

On a belly full of Beantown bites, I covered the final presser like it was my job, because frankly, it was. 

Baytown in Beantown
The weigh-in on Friday at Faneuil Hall was more of the same. For any boxing reporter or photographer worth his or her salt, this was a target rich environment. After taking some more great photographs, I spent my time there conducting on the spot interviews with some of the undercard fighters such as Spike O'Sullivan, Ryan Kielczweski, Danny O'Connor, Chris Gilbert, Logan McGuiness, and Baytown, Texan Craig "El Gato Negro" Baker. Sporting a "Flip The Bird" Larry Bird T-shirt, Baker gets my vote for "most fun fighter to talk to" a day before a big boxing match. Baker, who was stopped in three rounds by Edwin "La Bomba" Rodriguez, sat right next to me in front of the weigh-in stage while he waited for his time to go up there and hit the scale. After I took a shot of him in his cool shirt, Baker posted it on social media and we watched as the likes and comments poured in.

As a native Texan, I felt a responsibility to make Baker feel welcomed in my city.

When I arrived at the venue on Saturday around noon, I parked in a special media lot that was only $5 for the day. As I gathered my things and got ready to make the short walk over to the Agganis Arena, an arriving vehicle honked its horn. It was good friend and fight photographer Pattee Mak. We chatted it up on the short walk to pick up our press passes. As we made our way from the credentialing desk to the ring, we passed through the "backstage" area of the entire PBC production team. There was a spot to stop and take photos with the PBC and NBC logos as a staged backdrop. From there, it was into the arena which was still being set up. Before taking my seat in pressrow, I took a few minutes to converse with fellow early-bird Lee Groves. The Ring Magazine's Travelin' Man was there to count punches for COMPUBOX and he gave me an impromptu verbal preview of the article he was working on for RingTV about his time spent working in Boston.

I'm eager to get down to work - Photo by Pattee Mak
Before you knew it, the Agganis Arena was filling up and the fights were officially underway at 1:38 PM. One undercard bout quickly turned into another and then another. There were four first-round knockouts and two that went the distance. Before you knew it, it was 4:30 PM and the show was going live on NBC television. With tunnel vision, I blocked out all the distractions and wrote about DeGale vs. Dirrell while simultaneously scoring it round by round. In the end, I had it 116-110 for DeGale. It was only afterwards that I came to realize some people on social media had it a draw or a Dirrell win.

I'm still not sure what fight they were looking at. 

When there were no more boxing matches left to cover and no more quality content available to gather, I packed up my media bag and said my goodbyes to friends and colleagues. Fellow boxing writer Steve Tobey tried to convince me that he was retiring from fight writing after many years of service but I didn't want to believe him. With good friend and boxing publicist Bob Trieger by my side, we made our way from the ringside press section towards the area where I first came in. What better place to depart the premises I thought. It was a good thing I did that.

As we walked towards the service exit, I suddenly saw James DeGale and his British posse as they emerged from the dressing room to leave the venue. I knew I had to approach DeGale and talk to him about the fight, that my job as a journalist was not complete. As I did, somebody from his team made a halfhearted attempt to stop me but DeGale immediately recognized me from our fight week interactions and "Chunky" gave a subtle nod that it was OK I talk to him. And so that's just exactly what happened.

Boxer & belt, KO behind the scenes in Boston
After covering a televised world championship bout in Boston, I walked and talked with the new super middleweight champion of the world, interviewing him for my Sweet Science article, all the while curious to see that IBF championship title belt that seemed to be banned from the PBC promotion and from the NBC telecast.

"Where is your new title belt?" I asked DeGale.

It was in a small locked case that his Dad was carrying for him. With British boxing promoter Eddie Hearn looking on, DeGale then stopped and removed the beautiful red belt before posing with it for me just outside the building nearby an ambulance parked on standby.

An hour or so later, I was home filing my ringside report for TSS. 

Thanks for reading. See you at the fights my friends!

Images & Words by Jeffrey Freeman

May 7, 2015

Willie Monroe Jr. has boxing genetics on his side against Gennady Golovkin

The Mongoose says he's the one to upset Triple G
By Jeffrey Freeman — Willie Monroe Jr., 19-1, 6 KO's, is a very confident middleweight contender going into his May 16 challenge of WBA champion Gennady Golovkin, 32-0, 29 KO's, at the Forum in Inglewood, California. "This is the fight I asked for. Golovkin is the best." At just 28 years of age, Monroe Jr. cites Sugar Ray Leonard, Pernell Whitaker, and Roy Jones Jr. as his primary boxing influences. "The guys I look up to are fast and elusive and can do special things that other fighters can't pull off, and in such a pretty fashion." 

Born to a fighting family, Monroe's great uncle Willie "The Worm" Monroe was the first, and some say only fighter to ever conclusively defeat the great Marvin Hagler, doing so by unanimous decision in 1976 in Philadelphia. As you can imagine, there's persistent confusion about who's who and how they're related.

Monroe's father, also named Willie Monroe, was, as described by his son, "a good middleweight" in the 1990's.

Great Uncle Willie handled Hagler in 76
Monroe Jr. says that boxing is in his blood and that after he wins the Golovkin fight on May 16, he'll give the sporting world a deeper look into his personal life, about which he says, "I've been the underdog since I was conceived in my mother's womb. I mean that literally. I'm one of those people who's always looking to prove people wrong. I relish being the underdog."

Does Monroe Jr. know he's an off the board underdog, expected by nobody to be able to defeat the marauding Golovkin, a winner of 19 straight by knockout, with 13 of those KO's in defense of the WBA title Monroe Jr. will soon fight for?

Of course he does. It just doesn't seem to bother him one bit.

"I'm the one who can take Golovkin's cloak of invincibility."

Big Drama Show or another KO for GGG?

May 6, 2015

KO's Ringside Notes & Quotes VIII — The #MayPac "Money Grab" wrap-up

The Farce of the Century
By Jeffrey Freeman, KO Digest 

Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao turned out to be so much worse as a fight, and as an event, than any of us could've imagined. It's still hard to believe something so big could suck so bad. The undercard was terrible. The promotion was next to nonexistent. Any relationship between the two boxers was long ago reduced to contempt and then chronic disinterest. This was not a rivalry. This was not the biggest fight in boxing history. This was a money grab, a fleecing, a shameful shake-down and boxing got shook up. 

The "fight" itself was so terrible they actually killed the allure of a rematch. They couldn't even get that right. Can you believe it? The three hundred million dollar men delivered a final product not worthy of the novice class Golden Glove semi-finals in Lowell. It was all so bad that not only don't we want a sequel, we'd all like to go back and undemand this debacle, a waste of space on my DVR so foul I deleted it to make room for the movie Grudge Match.

Duran and Leonard put on a better show in 1989
DKSAB — Scour the world wide web long enough and you will read and see things that defy belief. Two girls, one cup. Creation science websites. Mass beheading videos. The list goes on and on. And now, the latest in online insanity. Brace yourselves. I'm going to say this very slowly so it doesn't knock you down where you stand. Get ready. Here it comes. There are actually people out there on planet Earth who scored the Mayweather-Pacquiao whitewash for Pacquiao. Let that sink in. Try not to scream. I know it hurts. My head aches too.

Obviously, Floyd won at least 9, but maybe even 10 or 11 rounds and yet despite this, Al Gore's internet will show you misguided scores of 115-113 for Pacquiao like this was Marvin Hagler-Sugar Ray Leonard and not the Leonard-Duran III redux it obviously was. KO scored it 117-111 for Mayweather in a waltz.

A picture worth a thousand words and 300 million dollars
Class Dismissed — The ultimate lesson of ‪#‎MayPac‬ was heard (and learned) loud and clear by every single prizefighter in the world of professional boxing who dreams of low risks and big rewards. That lesson was that when boxing fans actually want to see you and some other guy fight it out in your primes, no matter what you do and no matter what people say; don't fight that fight, at least not right away. Instead, what you do is wait, delay, duck, dodge, put it off, and build it up. Then when sports fans worldwide are finally ready to fork over the really big bucks, you grab that cash with both hands and give them a pay-per-view sparring session.

The Last Words KO wrote one very wrongheaded prediction on RingTV's "Fight Picks" by Anson Wainwright but also lots of foreboding pre-fight analysis for ‪#‎MayCrap, the greatest fleece in boxing history. What follows was my best and most accurate:

Mayweather left boxing fans wanting less

"It's no secret that Floyd Mayweather is a defensive counterpuncher who looks to minimize contact and do just enough punching to win boxing matches. Mayweather will not expose himself to a firefight if it's not absolutely necessary and the onus is on Manny Pacquiao to make it absolutely necessary."

"Mayweather, 38, against Pacquiao, 36, on May 2 is an overdue money grab and the fight itself comes with a high probability of being boring to the eyes. The least they could do is make the build-up exciting for fight fans and enticing to mainstream sports fans who long ago abandoned boxing."

April 19, 2015

Ringside Report — Lucas Matthysse busts up and beats Ruslan Provodnikov

Boxing Warriors Invade Verona
VERONA, NEW YORK — Believe it or not, not every fight in the world of boxing is fought for a worthless title belt or a whopping pile of cash. While it's true that the sport of boxing is a business, for Lucas "The Machine" Matthysse and Ruslan "The Siberian Rocky" Provodnikov, it's the hurt business. There was no junior welterweight championship at stake tonight at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, NY., and their collective paydays for the bout are comparable in amount to what Floyd "Money" Mayweather would need just to pay a very small percentage of his soon to be even more massive tax burden.

Matthysse and Provodnikov both fight for the gory-fisted glory that can can only be won when engaged in Fight of the Year type performances. This is who they really are - warriors. In 2013, Provodnikov (24-4, 17 KO's) battled American Timothy "Desert Storm" Bradley to a close decision loss in the "KO Digest Fight of the Year" and in 2014, the Argentine Matthysse (37-3, 34 KO's) stopped John Molina Jr. in the eleventh round of a knockdown, drag out, slobberknocker to win the highly coveted "Ring Magazine Fight of the Year" award. 

It's easy then to see why boxing fans were so excited to see these willing warriors go at it. Both boxers are best described as brawlers and neither man is the type to take a backwards step. The match-up immediately begged the question of what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object. That is why anticipation was so high for their April 18 clash at the Turning Stone Casino in upstate New York, a somewhat curious location for a pairing that was preemptively being compared to the unforgettable drama witnessed a decade ago in three epic fights between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward. During fight week in Verona, the pre-fight promotion shifted to Hagler-Hearns comparisons due to the fact that it coincided with the thirtieth anniversary of their unforgettable April 15, 1985 WAR in Las Vegas. According to Derek Bonnett of, HBO's Jim Lampley was spotted on the afternoon of the fight at the nearby International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota comparing it to Brandon Rios against Mike Alvarado.

Matthysse wins the war on HBO
In the ring on Saturday night, Matthysse and Provodnikov lived up to all the expectations in front of a capacity crowd that was frenzied from the very beginning. Provodnikov came to the ring to the sounds of "Burning Heart" by Survivor and the tone was set for a Rocky night of boxing. Provodnikov did his part by blocking jabs with his face like the "Italian Stallion" against Apollo Creed. Matthysse couldn't miss with it and he jumped out to an early lead by keeping the fight in the middle of the ring where he controlled the pace with the jab and follow-up power punches. A clash of heads in the second resulted in a nasty gash over the left eye of Provodnikov and it bled all night. In the fourth, Provodnikov won his first round by pressing the action and landing his left hook. Matthysse took back control and won the next five rounds by being more accurate with his punches than the onrushing Provodnikov. In the tenth round, a mouse appeared under the right eye of Mattysse and Provodnikov closed the fight strong, winning the last three rounds by forcing his left hook into the fight and onto the face of Matthysse. In the eleventh, Mattysse was visibly hurt for the first time in the fight and it looked like a significant shift in tide was taking place.

Provodnikov's face tells the story of the night
In the end, it wasn't enough and Matthysse was awarded a majority decision win by scores of 114-114, 115-113, and 115-113. HBO's Harold Lederman scored the fight a draw, while KO Digest scored it 116-112 from press row in favor of Matthysse. At the post-fight press conference, Provodnikov apologized profusely to his fans for failing to win the fight and he wore a dejected look of disappointment on his badly bruised face. "It was a close fight, but the better man won. Send me a rematch contract and I'll sign it," said Provodnikov. 

Matthysse bluntly acknowledged to the media present that he was "hurt" in the eleventh round and "tired" in the last three frames and he also noted how difficult it was to slow Provodnikov down in the ring. "I knew he was going to keep coming forward and I prepared for that and I won the fight."

Images and Words by Jeffrey Freeman, KO Digest

April 15, 2015

The Reflections of a Brocktonian Paperboy -- Extra! Extra! Read all about it

Hagler wins the WAR against Hearns
By Jeffrey Freeman — In 1985, there was no internet.

It was a different world 30 years ago. News and information was passed by word of mouth and on the printed page. Things were not as immediate as they are today in the age of social media and online reporting. Newspapers were the primary source of dispatch and most regular people had a paperboy who delivered it to their front door 7 days a week. Growing up in Brockton, Massachusetts, a massive paper route was my first job. I made about $150 a week with tips. I was 15 years old and used the money to buy boxing magazines and other youthful treasures like comic books and baseball cards. 

I had over 100 subscribers to the Brockton Enterprise and another 100 or so for the Boston Globe. Some people got both papers. Others got just the Sunday editions. It was a lot to keep track of and a lot of "pulp non-fiction" to go door to door with but I enjoyed it more than you can imagine, being the bearer of all the latest news.

8 minutes of fistic fury
The Boston Globe was a morning paper. The Brockton Enterprise was an afternoon paper. Sunday mornings were a nightmare for me and my ten-speed bicycle. The big stacks of fat Sunday papers that were waiting for me at the end of my driveway when I woke up at 4AM was an intimidating sight to behold. However, one day in particular stands out for me as a young news carrier. That was Tuesday, April 16, 1985. The Monday night before in Las Vegas, Nevada, "our guy" Marvelous Marvin Hagler had knocked out Thomas "Hitman" Hearns in the third round of an instant classic to retain his World Middleweight Championship and make his mark on history.

Brockton Enterprise Victory Edition April 16, 1985
And so it came to pass that during the early morning hours of April 16, it was my distinct honor and privilege to deliver the front page, good news to the waking people of Brockton (in my south side neighborhood anyway) that our hometown Marvelous One was indeed still champion of the whole wide world and winner of the most exciting prizefight in middleweight boxing history.

Later that day after high school in the City of Champions, I proudly did it all over again with the Brockton Enterprise. It only occurs to me now that when it comes to the timely delivery of boxing news, I've been at this for a very long time.

As always my friends in fistiana, thank you for reading.

April 7, 2015

KO's Ringside Notes & Quotes VII — Countdown to Mayweather VS Pacquiao

By Jeffrey Freeman, KO Digest 

April 6 — No press tour for Mayweather vs Pacquiao is a mistake.

The "biggest fight in boxing history" is just 27 days away and I bet you haven't heard it being talked about at the water-cooler once. Superfights are supposed to get the world talking and the people buzzing. Well, the world is awfully quiet about this one. The "big lie" in this promotion (if you can even call it a promotion) is the notion that this fight "sells itself" so they don't have to even bother. Nothing but drugs and hookers sell themselves in Las Vegas. Boxing matches, even really big ones, still need to be hyped, especially in a down economy. The truth is, boxing just does not matter to the world like it once did. Of course, addicted boxing fans will buy it like a strung out junkie buys heroin and cigarettes but most people are not addicted to boxing and most people don't care one way or another because there's no reason for them to care. Nobody is selling it to them as the "Fight of the Century", only assuming they'll buy it for whatever price they ultimately decide on for the pay-per-view. Ali vs Frazier or Hagler vs Hearns this is certainly not. Those were highly anticipated global events made even bigger and more fun by proper promotion. Then the fights themselves were amazing. Bottom line, Americans don't support Floyd Mayweather across nationalistic lines and Manny Pacquiao is from a far away land that most people don't care to understand.

Mayweather, 38, against Pacquiao, 36, on May 2 is an overdue money grab and the fight itself comes with a high probability of being boring to the eyes. The least they could do is make the build-up exciting for fight fans and enticing to mainstream sports fans who long ago abandoned boxing. KO still loves it though and here's what to expect in Vegas. 

KO Digest Previews Mayweather vs Pacquiao

Money Meeting Manny in Miami 
First and foremost, this match-up will be about offense versus defense.

Manny will be the more aggressive fighter. Floyd will be the more defensive boxer. The product of these styles, and how well they are imposed, will determine a winner. We'll see a super fast Superfight, a southpaw against right handed counterpuncher. Don't expect to see Mayweather's lead right land with regularity. That punch won't be there for Money because Manny won't be there to get hit with it. Floyd's jab will have to be razor sharp and his left hooks hard and accurate. Pacquiao must be a non-stop punching machine from every angle he can wrangle. The Filipino promises to break Floyd's D and take his O.  

Pound For PoundIrish Micky Ward talks to KO about the best fighter on the planet — "There's only one Floyd Mayweather. Everyone tries to be like him, he's the best. He's leaps and bounds ahead of everyone even at his age. It's incredible how he works so hard, that's why he is who he is. People don't see how dedicated that kid is. He's proven himself over and over."

Opponents often speak of how tiring it is to keep up with Pacquiao in the ring. American Tim Bradley has elite level conditioning and was exhausted after four rounds in both of his fights against Pacquiao. If Manny can "beat the brakes" off Mayweather early and wear him out, the fight will be his for the taking. If Mayweather can impose his defensive advantages and turn them into offensive opportunities, he will win the bout on points. What I am expecting is a legacy struggle. Both combatants are in that rarest of position in the sport of boxing where a win is worth so much more than just a world title belt or a better place in the current pound for pound ratings. This one is for "all time" history and perhaps it will be the fighter most aware of what's truly at stake who will win.

Head to Head
Ten Key Categories

Defense: Mayweather
Power: Pacquiao
Chin: Mayweather
Accuracy: Mayweather
Hand Speed: Pacquiao
Legs: Mayweather
Foot Speed: Pacquiao
Training Quality: Pacquiao
Elite Experience: Pacquiao
Counterpunching: Mayweather

PREDICTION: Does it help to carry the hopes and dreams of an entire nation into battle with you? Can Mayweather beat Pacquiao—and "Pride of Dedham, MA" Freddie Roach? Yes and no. Pacquiao somehow scores a tricky balance knockdown early for a critical 10-8 round and wins a close split decision. Offense overcomes defense but not by much. There will be those who say Mayweather won and those who agree with the Las Vegas judges. Maybe there will be a rematch and maybe there won't be, but when history looks back on the whole of Mayweather and Pacquiao, it will remember who tried to avoid the fight—and who finally won it.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Someday they'll get it on and settle it then
Amir Khan still doesn't want to fight Tim Bradley. It's now being reported that Khan turned down a proposed 2015 Bradley bout in favor of facing Chris Algieri. Back in 2011, when Bradley was in training for the Joel Casamayor fight, I asked "Desert Storm" about Khan, queried who's ducking who, and quizzed Bradley on their history of going back and forth but never fighting.

Bradley told KO, "One day, me and Khan will get it on in the ring and we can settle it then but I was supposed to fight Khan way before, in fact I was supposed to fight him after I fought Lamont Peterson but then Khan went on to sign with Golden Boy and Golden Boy didn't want no part of it. He ducked me first! We tried to make the deal, we kept calling but they never picked up. When the time is right, me and Khan will settle our differences, and we're gonna get it on."

According to King Khan, the time is still not right.

Lee is a never say die Irish warrior
Irish Eyes Are Smiling -- WBO middleweight champion Andy Lee keeps his promises and lives up to the lofty expectations that were set for him by late trainer and mentor Emanuel Steward. Back in 2011, when he was getting ready for the Brian Vera rematch (Vera stopped Lee in seven rounds back in 2008) I asked Lee about his recent do-or-die win against Craig McEwan in March of that year. After having live covered that memorable battle at MGM Grand Foxwoods, I was interested in Lee's outlook on the sport of boxing and where he sees himself fitting in. Are you a come-from-behind brawler or really a boxer? 

Lee told me, "I have shown in the past that I have what it takes to do both. I showed that I have what it takes to come back and dig in at the end. That [win over McEwan] gave me great belief in myself that if I have to do that, no matter how desperate the situation, I have it inside myself. There is no quit in me. I'll keep fighting until the end. If I have to go to war, I'll go to war."

Lee faces Peter Quillin on April 11 in Brooklyn on NBC. 

March 25, 2015

In Your Face — Adonis "Superman" Stevenson is focused on Sakio Bika

Knockouts sell, even on free TV
By Jeffrey Freeman — For a "piece of shit", Adonis Stevenson sure keeps his pimp hand strong and his title fight schedule busy. The WBC light heavyweight titlist is the recognized world champion of the historically action-packed 175 lb. division regardless of what Sergey Kovalev says about it or calls him on HBO. Since winning universal recognition as World Light Heavyweight Champion in 2013 with a smashing first round technical knockout of Chad Dawson, Stevenson has defended his crown four times with three of those wins coming inside the distance by way of powerful "Superman" punches. After a KO Digest "Fighter of the Year" award in 2013, Stevenson then made "bad press" headlines in 2014 for doing what nearly every other boxer in the world who matters has done, which is sign a contract with adviser Al Haymon. Rightly or wrongly, it was perceived by many as an effort to "duck" or delay a unification bout with Kovalev.

The result was an end to Stevenson's time on HBO, a "defection" to rival cable network Showtime, and an indefinite dissolution of Stevenson vs. Kovalev. After Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao, there might not be a bigger fight in all of boxing that fans want to see more than Superman vs. Krusher. It has to happen for the good of the sport and Stevenson has reportedly stated that he is willing to fight Kovalev and that the highly anticipated fight will happen eventually. Until then, boxing is left with the two best light heavyweights in the world facing anyone and everyone but each other. If this scenario sounds familiar, it's because Mayweather and Pacquiao did more or less the same dance at welterweight, fighting inferior competition, before finally signing to a long overdue Superfight scheduled for May 2. To his credit, Kovalev has racked up recent wins against Bernard Hopkins and Jean Pascal but now faces the reality of boxing politics in the form of a mandatory ABC title defense against unranked, unheralded Nadjib Mohammedi. That's exactly the kind of name recognition that Stevenson was in the ring with twice last year against Andrzej Fonfara and Dmitry Sukhotskiy.

Kovalev against Stevenson is what fans want
Where Haymon has advised Stevenson after a sub-par 2014 is back to his adopted hometown of Quebec City, Canada, as part of boxing's "next big thing", Haymon's Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) on primetime network television.

After drawing huge ratings for PBC's debut on NBC earlier this month, Haymon's PBC banner is now expanding and debuting again, this time on CBS, April 4, when Stevenson, 25-1, 21 KO's, puts his lineal light heavyweight championship on the line, for the fifth time, against Australian Sakio Bika, 32-6-3, 21 KO's, a former super middleweight belt holder and a notoriously dirty fighter. Fan and media reaction to the free match-up on CBS has been critical to put it mildly. For one thing, Bika has never fought at light heavyweight, and for another, he's coming off a unanimous decision defeat at the hands of WBC 168 lb. champ Anthony Dirrell. Interestingly, Stevenson himself came up from super middleweight and won the 175 lb. title in his light heavyweight debut.

Stevenson is nonetheless focused on the task at hand and claims to be free of distraction. "Bika is in my face right now. I don't see Kovalev or anybody else in my face," said Stevenson on a March 25 media conference call to promote the Bika bout. Despite the best efforts of reporters to get in Stevenson's face about a future Kovalev bout, Stevenson stuck to the carefully scripted, Haymon approved, talking points and didn't let his emotions get the best of him, saying to those who dared ask, "I don't think about Kovalev. I do want to unify the light heavyweight title but that's after Bika. My focus now is on this guy."

The Scorpion believes in himself even if nobody else does
Stevenson's Kronk trainer Sugar Hill actually likes the fight, even if boxing fans don't. "Bika comes forward. He wants to fight and Adonis loves to fight and go toe-to-toe. This is important for the maturity of Stevenson to be in the ring with a strong, determined veteran who's never been knocked out. This fight is a test and Adonis loves to be tested and I love for him to be tested as well." 

Feeling disrespected that the media is hyper-focused on Stevenson and Kovalev and not his chances to pull off the upset, Bika himself is fired up for the test. "I've been in this business a long time. I have fought the best in the world. Nobody is giving me any respect! Can I handle the big boy? Can I handle Adonis at light heavyweight? It's a big challenge but I'm sure I can. I'm very sure I'll take care of my business and win the WBC title. On April 4, you will see."

Stevenson then offered a final reminder for Bika and for Kovalev: "I'm the man at light heavyweight. I'm the Superman!"

March 1, 2015

KO Digest Interview: John Molina Jr. — “I wasn't supposed to be here”

When a loss is really a win
Articulate junior welterweight John Molina Jr. hates to lose. At anything. That includes prizefights, checkers, and trash can basketball. What's ironic is that were it not for a loss last year to Lucas Matthysse in the Ring & BWAA Fight of the Year, Molina might not be in the enviable position he now finds himself. It was against the "Machine" Matthysse that the "Gladiator" showed fight fans what he's truly capable of when a boxing match becomes a war of attrition.

Despite the 11th round defeat in the championship rounds, Molina is now on the front of boxing's long overdue return to the mainstream. His fan-friendly style is one that new primetime viewers will easily relate to. On March 7, "good guy" Molina takes on "bad guy" Adrien Broner in the first of two bouts to be aired on NBC as part of Al Haymon's new Premier Boxing Champions banner.

It's a truly big deal and Molina, 32, is well aware of what a win over Broner could do to boost his career. While it's not wise to mistake Molina's kindness for weakness, one can't help but like him as a person and as a pugilist. Molina, 27-5, 22 KO's, California, comes to fight and rarely leaves anything behind in the ring. KO Digest caught up to Molina less than two weeks before the Broner bout and found him to be unflappably affable during a 45-minute telephone conversation that came on the heels of a long day spent in Los Angeles talking to writers and reporters at a scheduled media workout. Mourning the recent losses of his grandfather Sid and good friend Andy Gee, Molina plans on dedicating his fight against Broner to Grandpa Sid and to the memory of Gee, who passed away from cystic fibrosis at the tragically young age of just 28. "I'm going to honor Andy March 7. He will be on my boxing trunks for this fight." 

Molina has five losses but does it matter?
KO Digest: How well are you adjusting to the intense media attention that now comes with fighting on the first ever Al Haymon PBC card on NBC? 

John Molina: Nothing changes. A fight is a fight. We're prepared.

KOD: How big a deal is this PBC on NBC, not just for you but for boxing?

JM: Outside the boxing community, for boxing as a whole, it's huge, because it's putting boxing back into the mainstream of sports, right where it belongs. I won't say boxing has been a black market event, but this is definitely putting it back in the mainstream—where everyone knows somebody like Peyton Manning or Kobe Bryant because of primetime TV. This will make us all more household names. Everybody is going to know who we are. Back in the day, the champion of the world was almost as big as the President of the United States.

KOD: What can you tell us about your dealings with the mysterious Al Haymon? 

JM: Al Haymon is the best manager in the business. He is an advocate for us fighters.
He has definitely enhanced my career and I am very grateful to fight under this banner and be a part of Team Haymon.

KOD: You're coming off back to back losses but that doesn't seem to matter like it might have in the past where being undefeated was the winning formula. As you prepare for the biggest fight of your life, to what do you attribute this apparent contraction?  

JM: I think it's very fitting that we're going back to the old days of boxing, given my style, and why the fans gravitate towards me. Fans root for me because I've been the underdog every which way you can imagine. I'm very grateful for that. 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 so I had to take the scenic route to get here. 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, with how I fight. Fans enjoy it because that's exactly what it is. I'm there to fight you. I'm not there to outpoint you.  I'm there to beat you up.  Fans relate to me because of that.

KOD: You’re a pretty powerful guy and you have never been afraid to trade—you have the name "Gladiator" for a reason—but the first fight on NBC is a game changer. Is there a stronger temptation than normal for you to give viewers an all-action fight?

Al Haymon's PBC banner
JM: I'm on a grand platform of 130 million homes worldwide on primetime television, so of course I want to perform my best. I hate to lose at checkers, let alone a fight of this magnitude. We're already a known name now, and we passed a couple of humps, and so a win over Adrien Broner would catapult my career into the stratosphere and that's where I want to go. I'm a family man and this is how I provide for my family. Boxing has done nothing but wonders for me financially.  I don't ever want that to change. It wasn't always like that.

Now that we're here, I want it to stay like this forever. I don't want this lifestyle to change for my family. That's motivation enough to get me up and ready for this fight, especially being on the platform of NBC primetime television.

KOD: The main event you and Broner are fighting under on March 7 is Keith Thurman vs Robert Guerrero. 
What are your thoughts on this welterweight fight and how do you see it playing out? 

JM: Very intriguing. They're both my friends. I imagine Guerrero would be the underdog given the momentum that Thurman has built up but if he is an underdog, he's a very live one. Thurman is the young hungry guy. Some people might say he's not battle tested yet. Other people say that somebody like Guerrero will bring out the best in him. I think Guerrero is in every fight, he's a former world champion. If Thurman is not what everyone is expecting him to be, Guerrero will be the guy to reveal that to everybody, to expose that. I think Thurman, Guerrero, Broner, and myself are going to set the bar very high for the inaugural show back on NBC primetime.

KOD: Adrien "The Problem" Broner is a controversial character who elicits a very wide range of negative emotions in fans and fighters alike. He plays the villain role very well. Taking the emotions out of it, what is your assessment of Broner as a fighter?  

Boxing is back on primetime
JM: As a fighter, you cannot deny the accolades he's accomplished in the ring. He's a three time world champion and a showman, but that's completely irrelevant. I have to worry about the Adrien Broner that shows up March 7. I don't have to worry about the antics outside of the ring. As a fighter, he is very talented. He had an extensive amateur career.  I think he has some shortcomings. The reason he didn't go to the Olympics, I heard, is because he got in a little trouble when he was younger. What he's accomplished at such a young age speaks volumes about the kind of fighter he is.

Do I think I have the kryptonite to his power? Absolutely, I think our styles are going to clash very well. I'm very confident. I think he realizes he's in a real fight. No disrespect to his last two opponents, but I am not them. I don't believe that Emanuel Taylor or Carlos Molina posses the power I posses. The punches they were touching Broner with, if I touch Broner with those same punches, which we know we will, we gotta see what the outcome is going to be. The one God given ability that Broner has is hand speed, it's phenomenal, but we know what I do with hand speed. Hank Lundy had it. So did Mickey Bey, but we ended up on top in those fights.

Broner punches bag
KOD: Broner is known as quite the trash talker. The worst thing I've head him say about you is that you're a punching bag who apparently punches back. 

JM: That's actually quite big of Broner to say. That's actually a compliment given his past rants and raves for past opponents. When I heard that, I said, OK, I'm in his head, he's thinking about me. He knows he's in a real fight whether he wants to play it cool as a cucumber or not, March 7, it's irrelevant regardless of what we both say. It's going to be me and him in the ring fighting. So let me take it a step further. I'm a punching bag who can knock you out.

KOD: They say you sometimes learn more from your losses than from your wins. You've had four losses in the past two and a half years. What did you learn from your losing experiences that you can take into the Broner fight?

JM: Nobody like to lose. The Matthysse fight was actually a weird kind of oxymoron. It was like the only way in a loss where you can be a winner.  That loss catapulted my career. Matthysse was like this boogieman in the sport of boxing. The fight that came about between him and I put me on the map. That was a rare occasion where you can lose a fight but actually win. You can learn a lot from a fight like that being in there with a power punching beast like that. If I had to pick between who hits harder, Broner or Matthysse, I would say Matthysse, wouldn't you? So there is a lot you can take from a loss, but the moral of the story is sticking to everything in life. Discouragement is a key word in boxing. If you can get past that, it lends itself to anything in life. If you can get past discouragement, you're going to make it in whatever you focus your ability on. I am a first class example of getting past discouragement.

KOD: You are now best known for the Fight of the Year loss to Matthysse. You had him down twice early but he rallied back to stop you in the eleventh. The performance was valiant and earned you new fans, new respect, and new opportunities. What is it like to come so close to victory but not be able to grab it, particularly for a fighter like you, one that's known for those late round heroics?

Molina had Matthysse down but could not finish him
JM: I don't want to be the loser in anything in life. That's a fight that down the line I think we'll need to readdress and open that one back up.  The fans deserve it. Both of us fighters deserve it. That was a brutal, all-out dog fight. It could be a trilogy like Ward-Gatti or Rios-Alvarado. I can see the makings of a rubber match. Somewhere down the line I believe we're going to have to lace them up again. I think the fans will clamor for it. But yes, getting that close and not finishing on top with the win, there were some things I learned. I'm going to chalk that one up to inexperience. That was just my second time at that level. Had I known then what I know now, I think I would have stepped on the gas pedal when I actually had him hurt. When I had him hurt in the first and second rounds, I didn't realize how hurt he really was. Had I put the onslaught on like I did against Bey, I could have ended the night in the second round. I was being a little too cautious. I didn't know if he was playing possum to try and coax me in to catch me with a big shot. These are the many different variables that go through a fighter's head when you're in the ring. You're trying to read your opponent. But I'm not crying over spilled milk. Matthysse did what he had to do to get the win. Did we give the fans a treat? Absolutely. Did I learn a lot from the experience? Absolutely. It's a fight I'd want to address one more time.

Molina gives the edge to Matthysse
KOD: Matthysse vs Ruslan Provodnikov just became official for April 18 at the Turning Stone Casino, in Verona, NY. What do you think about this venue? Is it big enough to hold a fight that is already being speculated on as a Fight of the Year candidate? How do you see this one going down in the ring?

JM: Us fighters can fight in the backyard. A fight of this magnitude with these two proven warriors, I can't say I agree so much with the location. I feel it has more of a making for like a StubHub in Southern California, a location that would be more appealing to the fans. I'm sure the fighters aren't going to look too much into the location as much as they're looking to be prepared for a fight like that. This is not going to be "Dancing With The Stars" this is going to be a real hell of a fight.  I've never been in the ring with Provodnikov. I have shared the ring with Matthysse and I think he is a bit better technically. I would bet that Matthysse comes out on top. I'd tell Ruslan that as soon as he has Lucas hurt to step on the gas pedal. Don't play it back. The respect has to go out the window. Not in an ignorant or naive way where you get caught cold because you're so wide open but the respect in the ring has to be a happy medium. When you have the man hurt, finish him.

KOD: That is exactly what you did in 2013 against Mickey Bey. That tenth and final round was the consensus "Round of the Year" and you scored a dramatic come from behind knockout victory. What are your recollections on that incredible fight with Bey? 

Molina beats Bey with a tenth round TKO  
JM: Going in, my back was against the wall. A month before that, I'd lost to a guy who I was like a 15 to 1 favorite to beat but I didn't train properly against Andrey Klimov. He was set for me to go and dismantle but I didn't do it. I chalked it up to training.  I went into my promoter's office and told him, "I don't care who you get me, get me a fight. Make it happen." The next day, I get a phone call, "OK, we have a fight. Mickey Bey. You have 28 days to get ready." At this point I'm thinking Bey was an outstanding amateur, he had some roadblocks, and he got busted for the testosterone allegations that he had in Vegas. So I said send the contract and I'll sign it and I'll get ready. Then they were reluctant to take it because Bey's team was wondering why I'd sign the contract so fast, like do I know something they don't know? So my back was against the wall at this point and I needed to show the world that the Klimov loss was just a hiccup. Bey finally accepted the fight but here is the kicker. Everybody thought I was, but I wasn't making huge money at this point. Bey took the lion's share. I got paid more for hole in the wall club fights, that's how embarrassing it was.

The opportunity itself was bigger than the purse. The fight was one-sided where he was outpointing me, yes. He was fighting very technically sound. But if you watch, I was tracking him down. We both landed our shots but mine were putting more of a worse for wear on him. Before the last round, I hit him with a devastating body shot that really hurt him. I knew I was getting close to knocking him out. The tenth round came and I'm behind on all the score cards. At this point I was not with Al Haymon.  We knew that going into Floyd Mayweather's backyard in Vegas, with the most influential man himself, ringside, which is Mayweather, against his undefeated prospect, the best guy in his stable, with his promotional team, long story short, I knocked him out with 58 seconds left in the fight. That fight changed my life. I signed with Haymon and we're today fighting on the biggest event in boxing. People ask me what was going through my mind in that last round, I say, "I have a mortgage to pay! I have a daughter I want to send to college."  

KOD: Your 2012 fight against Antonio Demarco was for the WBC lightweight championship of the world. It looked like a quick stoppage in the first round before any kind of fight could even break out. Can you talk about that loss from your point of view?

JM: I think it was an inexperience issue. I messed up and got a massage 30 minutes before the fight. I don't want to blame it on that, Demarco is a hell of a fighter and a hell of a warrior. There was a lot going on behind the scene that world doesn't know. My daughter was born and five days later my mother-in-law passed away. It was an emotional gauntlet I was going through in my head. That's not to take anything away from Demarco. Were my legs buckled? Yes. Some people say it was a premature stoppage. Given the nature of the Mattysse fight, I think the world would now agree it was definitely a premature stoppage and the fight had the trimmings of another fight of the year candidate. Jack Reiss is a hell of a referee but I believe he made the wrong call that day. Had he made the right call, the world would have been treated to another fight of the year. I don't see a rematch happening. I don't see Demarco's name being what it once was to make it worthwhile. At the end of the day, boxing is a business and it needs to make financial sense. I would actually say Demarco is the nicest guy I've ever had the opportunity to share the squared circle with. To this day, we're friends.

What color is Goossen's outfit?
KOD: You're trained by Joe Goossen. What does he bring to the corner? 

JM: Joe is a soothing calm voice in the trenches of warfare. I've had my best moments with him and I've had some of my worst moments with him. He's probably forgotten more than I know in boxing after his 40 years in the business. He is the man for the job and there is a reason why we are with him. Joe is a trusted voice. In that ring, when we are at war, if he tells me the grass outside is blue, and you ask me what color the grass is, it's blue. That's how much trust you have to have in a trainer when you go into war. He's a well respected trainer and trusted set of eyes. He has the fight of the year with me and Matthysse and the fight of the decade with Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo. So, he's been in this position before and he's been able to navigate though to victory. Joe knows what the heck he's doing in that ring.

KOD: Let's say you make your fans very happy by beating Adrien Broner on network television. What are your long and short term goals after March 7 and how do you see yourself blossoming into Al Haymon's Premiere Boxing Champions banner on NBC?

JM: There is not much I can say right now about after Broner. Right now, this is my fight. This is the one for me. When the dust settles, I believe this will catapult me into becoming a household name, especially on the NBC platform with 130 million homes. Broner plays a hell of a villain. People love to hate him. I've always taken the high road and the world knows that. I'm like the working class man in the sense of where everyone rallies behind me and is pushing for me. I think it's going to be quite fitting after I beat Adrien Broner, it's going to give me the name and get me all the extra accolades that I need to catapult my career to the stratosphere.

KOD: This Broner brawl at the MGM Grand in Vegas looks and feels like a "good vs evil" match-up. Is that why Al Haymon chose this fight to serve as the very first bout to be shown on network television after such a long time away from primetime airwaves?  

JM: Al knew exactly what he was doing when he put this fight together. I think it will be a brutal, barn burner. I'm going to hit him every opportunity he gives me. I'm going to bully him and make him know he's in a fight. That's the key to victory.  I believe this is classic boxing at its best. I think the world is going to see what they've been missing. There is a villain and a hero and we already know who wears what hat. I'm rightfully the underdog but I have the lottery ticket in my hand right now and I have to go cash it in.

Molina favors Mayweather to win
KOD: OK, last question. Speaking of winning lottery tickets, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao are finally set to fight on May 2. They'll each make in the range of 100 million dollars. What are your thoughts on boxing's ultimate match-up and who is going to win Superfight 2015?

JM: You're not talking about the fight of the year or of the fight of the century. It's bigger than that. You're talking about the biggest fight in the history of boxing. Do I wish this happened four or five years ago? Of course. You want to see these guy at their prime peak. But, with that being said, I think casual fans are going to tune in to see the biggest fight in the history of boxing.  I think if anyone can figure out the enigma of Mayweather, Pacquiao could have some kind of recipe for destruction against Mayweather but with that said, if I have to bet with my hard earned money, you have to side with the guy that's undefeated, and that's Mayweather. If it happened four or five years ago, it would be a little closer, but I'd still see Mayweather figuring it out and getting the win.

KOD: Any final words for your fans John?

JM: I'm very thankful to them for keeping me relevant, for falling in love with my style, my never say die attitude. I'm very thankful for the opportunity to showcase my ability on the grandest stage in boxing on NBC primetime. This fight is dedicated to my grandfather Sid who just passed away and to my best friend Andy Gee who lost his battle with cystic fibrosis two weeks ago. I'm going to honor him on March 7. That really took the wind out of my sails, my little brother Andy who I grew up with. He was only 28 years old. Andy will be on my trunks for this fight. We will mourn his death after the fight but we're going to celebrate his life with a victory.

KO Digest Interview conducted, written, and produced by Jeffrey Freeman, KO Digest EIC