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.