February 25, 2013

Bantamweights & Below - Boxing's Other Five Weight Divisions Vol. 2

Minimumweight Denver "The Excitement" Cuello
By Derek "DBO" Bonnett ~ Boxing's littlest warriors continued to slug it out under the radar while physically larger pugilists took center stage in the month of February. No world titles happened to be on the line, but a host of top ten contenders kept busy making their 2013 debuts or by keeping their ring rust at bay.

Outside the ring, Leo Santa Cruz has vacated his IBF bantamweight title to campaign at 122 pounds. He gave up his number three ranking in my divisional compilations for a number five ranking at super bantamweight. Replacing him at bantamweight is Malcolm Tunacao, who came in at number ten.

The new year is still young, but the action in the lighter weight classes is beginning to heat up with myriad world title fights on the line and numerous contenders clashing against one another.

But first, here's what the month of February produced at Bantamweights & Below:

World Class Boxing at Bantamweights & Below:

On Friday, January 25, at Wat Bannamtieng, Maha Sarakham, Thailand, Wanheng Menayothin kept active with a six round unanimous decision over Jack Amisa. Menayothin made his 2013 debut and raised his record to 26-0 (8). Amisa fell to 20-26-2 (14) losing for the twelfth consecutive time and winless since 2008. Menayothin remained my number sixth ranked strawweight, but he is in serious need of a challenge since he faced Florante Condes in 2011. His quality of opposition will be monitored to more accurately reflect his ranking amongst the best in the division. However, Menayothin figures to jump in the rankings due to attrition with Akira Yaegashi and Moises Fuentes moving up in weight for separate title shots.

On Monday, January 28, at Bangplama School, Suphan Buri, Thailand, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai won a unanimous decision over Elmar Francisco in a six-round bantamweight bout. Rungvisai won for the fourth time since moving up to bantamweight after losing his 115-pound title to Yota Sato. He elevated his record to 24-5-1 (9). Francisco fell to 16-17-2 (4). Rungvisai held onto his number six bantamweight ranking in my standings, but is in need of improved opposition if he is to advance himself toward the number one spot. With four wins between himself and his title loss to Yota Sato at 115, Rungvisai remains unranked at 118 as of this month. He should be nearing a title shot against fellow Thai-fighter, and WBO titlist, Pungluang Sor Singyu if common sense were applied to boxing.

On Saturday, February 9, at Arena Itson, Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, Mexico, Julio Ceja remained unbeaten with a fifth round KO over Henry Maldonado in a bantamweight bout. Ceja improved his dossier 24-0 (22). Maldonado fell to 16-2 (11). Ceja retained his number eight bantamweight ranking in my divisional ladder. Ceja is rumored to be heading toward a match-up with Jamie McDonnell for the IBF bantamweight title recently vacated by Leo Santa Cruz. The number three and number one contenders, respectively, would be heading into their first title fights. The IBF's number two spot is vacant.  

On Wednesday, February 13, at Pratunampra-in, Wangnoi, Ayutthaya, Thailand, Oleydong Sithsamerchai, won a unanimous six round decision over Falazona Fidal. The super flyweight contender improved his record to 46-1-1 (16) with the tune-up win. Fidal dropped to 19-34-1 (7). Sithsamerchai fought for the second time within a two month span and held onto his standing as my number six super flyweight. Last month's KO Digest Bantamweight and Below: Give That Man a Title Shot! recipient, Sithsamerchai is ranked as high as number three by the WBC and could be eying a shot at Yota Sato in 2013.

Also on this card, Kompayak Porpramook moved up to flyweight full-time and scored a third round TKO over Narongnoy Patanakan Gym. The former WBC 108-pound champion raised his record to 49-4 (34). The little known Patanakan Gym has a documented record of 0-2. Porpramook was previously ranked fourth at 108 pounds, but has yet to crack my flyweight standings.

Also on this date, at Emperor's Palace, Kempton Park, Gautang, South Africa, Hekkie Budler decisioned Renan Trongco in a twelve round minimumweight bout. Budler received winning scores of 118-110 and 117-111 twice. Budler's resume improved to 22-1 (6). Trongco fell to 12-4 (8). Budler remained ranked number eight among my top minimumweights. With solid wins over Florante Condes, Michael Landero, and Juanito Rubillar twice, the number three ranked WBC contender's title shot might just be on the horizon. 

On February 23, at Gimnasio de Estado, Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, Giovanni Segura, 29-2-1 (25), made his return to the ring after fourteen months away from the ring against Omar Salado. Segura stopped Salado in the ninth round of a ten round super flyweight bout. Salado fell to 23-6-2 (14). Segura had not fought since his stoppage loss to Brian Viloria. Segura tested the super flyweight water for the first time and, even though Salado was not a proven 115-pounder, the Mexican former world champion climbed into my super flyweight rankings at number nine given his elite pedigree.

Bantamweights & Below Featured Rankings: Minimumweight (105 lbs. or below)

1. Denver Cuello ~ Philippines ~ 32-4-6 (21)   
2. Moises Fuentes ~ Mexico ~ 16-1-0 (8) ~ WBO
3. Mario Rodriguez ~ Mexico ~ 15-6-4 (11) ~ IBF
4. Akira Yaegashi ~ Japan ~ 16-3-0 (9)   
5. Nkosinathi Joyi ~ South Africa ~ 23-1-0 (16)   
6. Wanheng Menayothin ~ Thailand ~ 26-0-0 (8)   
7. Juan Hernandez ~ Mexico ~ 20-2-0 (14)   
8. Hekkie Budler ~ South Africa ~ 22-1-0 (6)   
9. Carlos Buitrago ~ Nicaragua ~ 24-0-0 (15)   
10. Xiong Zhao Zhong ~ China ~ 20-4-1 (11) ~ WBC

* Both Fuentes and Yaegashi have signed world title fights at 108 and 112 pounds respectively. Fuentes has yet to vacate his title. It is unclear whether each man will return to 105 if they are met with a negative result in their upcoming bouts.  

Bantamweights & Below: On the Horizon

On Wednesday, February 27, at Todoroki Arena, Kawasaki, Kanagawa, Japan, Juan Carlos Reveco, 29-1 (16), will defend his WBA flyweight title against Masayuki Kuroda, 31-3-2 (13), in a twelve round bout.

On March 2, in Windhoek, Namibia, Pungluang Sor Singyu, 43-1 (28), will make the first defense of his WBO bantamweight title against Paulus Moses, 19-0 (10) in a twelve rounder.

Also on this date, in Mexico, Mexico, Carlos Cuadras, 27-0 (22), will take on Victor Zaleta, 20-3-1 (10), in a twelve round bout.  Also on March 2, at Cebu Waterfront Hotel and Casino, Barangay Lahug, Cebu City, Cebu, Philippines, Donnie Nietes, 31-1-3 (17), will battle Moises Fuentes, 16-1 (8), in a twelve round WBO light flyweight title bout.

On March 8, in Accra, Ghana, Joseph Agbeko, 28-4 (22), will make his return to the ring after over a year off when he meets Luis Melendez, 34-8-1 (25), over twelve rounds.

On March 9, in Mexico, Ulises Solis, 35-2-3 (22), will meet Edgars Sosa, 47-7 (28), for the third time as a professional in a twelve round bout. Ulises Solis has been removed from the junior flyweight division to campaign at flyweight. He has not been ranked at 112-pounds at this time. Replacing them at junior flyweight are Alberto Rossel, who re-emerged at number nine. Luis Alberto Rios filled the ten spot. 

On March 16, Megapolis Convention Center, Panama City, Panama, John Riel Casimero, 17-2 (10), will meet Luis Alberto Rios, 18-1-1 (13), in a twelve round IBF light flyweight title fight. Also on this date, at Coliseo Miguel Grau, Collao, Peru, Alberto Rossel, 29-8 (13), will defend his interim WBA light flyweight title against Walter Tello, 18-6 (7), over twelve rounds.

Bantamweights & Below: Give That Man a Title Shot! 

Denver "The Excitement" Cuello, also known as Cuello D. Singwancha, just might be the boxer most deserving of a title shot in the whole sport of boxing. Cuello, my number one 105-pounder, is ranked in the top three by the WBC, IBF, and WBO. The excellent Kazuto Ioka gave up his titles to head North seemingly to avoid meeting the Filipino fireplug.

Outside of a disqualification loss he was winning, Cuello has not tasted defeat since June of 2006. In that time, he has built his record to 32-4-6 (21) and recorded big stoppage wins over Muhammad Rachman and Ganigan Lopez, whom previously held long standing rankings in my divisional ladder. The Lopez fight was supposed to be an eliminator for a WBC title fight, but Cuello stood by to watch Xiong Zhao Zhong make history as he become China's first world champion with a WBC title win over Javier Martinez Resindez. Cuello is expected to return on March 23 against an opponent to be named.

Written by Derek "DBO" Bonnett exclusively for KO Digest

February 23, 2013

Lamont Peterson thrashes Kendall Holt in a capital performance

Capital Punishment - Peterson executes Holt on ESPN
WASHINGTON DC - By John Scheinman

Fresh off his victory over Gavin Rees, rising boxing superstar Adrien Broner is expected to continue campaigning for the time being at 135 pounds.

On Feb. 22 at the D.C. Armory in Washington, D.C., Broner watched intently from ringside as Lamont Peterson resumed his long dormant career against another comebacking fighter, Kendall Holt.

Broner may have decided 135 might not be such a bad division after seeing the fearsome display put on by Peterson, 29, Washington, 31-1-1, in his methodical dismantling of Holt, Paterson, N.J., 28-6, in defense of his IBF junior welterweight title.

Peterson hadn’t fought in 14 months, following the debacle of a failed drug test for steroids following his scintillating victory against Amir Khan in December 2011 at the Washington Convention Center. The fight propelled Peterson into elite status, and the drug test knocked him right back down and into mothballs. He had his title taken away and then restored, and against Holt he kept it the hard way.

Peterson may have won the first round of the fight, but Holt was in charge in the next two frames, advancing and ripping fast left hooks to the body. Peterson, particularly in the third round, appeared to not have the focus or attack plan necessary to beat Holt, who moved well, punched briskly and fired shots in the middle of Peterson’s combinations.

That didn’t last long. Peterson scored a knockdown in the fourth round and then the route was on. It was as if two different fights took place. "I felt one of his shots; it hit me right on the button,” Peterson said. “I didn't feel anything. Once I knew where to put my guards, I felt more comfortable in there and started coming forward.”

Holt, a former titleholder himself, reportedly had to lose eight pounds in two days to make weight, but he certainly must have been fit to take the beating Peterson doled out.

Peterson and Holt exchange on the ropes
After pressing the action early, Holt was forced to either evade or outright retreat the rest of the fight. Peterson pressed him with a relentless attack, beautifully mixing head and body-shot combinations. Holt was brave, no question, but the KO Digest scorecard had Peterson win 10-8 in the fourth (with the knockdown), 10-8 in the fifth, 10-7 in the sixth (another knockdown) and then the end came by TKO at 1:42 of the eighth round in the scheduled 12.

That Holt survived the sixth at all – when the fight easily could have been stopped – was a testament to his gameness.

The crowd of about 3,500 was raucous and partisan in the old Armory, periodically breaking out into chants of “D.C.! D.C.! D.C.!”

At the end, Holt, who hadn’t fought in 12 months, has his back to the ropes and took a terrible sequence on unanswered head shots before referee Tony Weeks finally leaped in to rescue him. “I knew I could put it together and get him out of there,” Peterson said. “I just had to be patient and wait for the time. The last time I caught him on the ropes, I just let my hands go and then stopped [him]. I knew I could finish it. I just couldn't let up.”

Less than a month before Peterson-Holt, Golden Boy Promotions signed Peterson to a promotional contract, this the same Golden Boy whose executive called Peterson a disgrace after the positive drug test following the Khan fight. 

The Problem scouting 140 lb talent in DC
Clearly, a shrewd and wise move. The only blemish on Peterson’s record is a loss to Timothy Bradley and it may be tough getting that opponent back in the ring. With this action-packed victory and unmistakable presentation of world-class form on ESPN2, Peterson likely has erased a lot of the ill will held against him for the drug test. People like exciting fighters, and he is one. Broner is a Golden Boy-promoted champion not too far away in weight. Both of them will continue to build on their sterling careers and don’t be surprised if a showdown is in the offing.

KO Digest Ringside Report by John Scheinman

February 22, 2013

Lowell's Finest - The five best professional boxers from the Mill City

The Pride of Lowell - Irish Micky Ward
By Jeffrey Freeman -- Fight fans around the world now know the name "Irish" Micky Ward and some of them even know that Micky is from Lowell, MA but they might not realize that Ward isn't the only successful boxer to come from this city. Fans may also remember Ward's infamous half brother Dicky Eklund for his fight against Sugar Ray Leonard - and his own demons - with both battles having aired on HBO, but what about some of the other boxers from the Mill City who fought in relative obscurity during the dark years before Dicky and Micky really put Lowell on the map? Names like Beau Jaynes and Larry Carney, they were once the talk of the town. Now they're all but forgotten except by die-hard fans from the New England area that saw them fight and still remember their local ring exploits.

Long overshadowed in Massachusetts by Brockton as an elite boxing town, Lowell is proudly known more for its amateur boxers than for its professionals. Lowell has the annual Golden Gloves tournament and twice hosted The Nationals, in 1973 and 1995. Brockton was home to former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Marciano and former World Middleweight Champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler, both of whom actually competed in Lowell during their amateur days. Mike Tyson also boxed as an amateur in Lowell. So did Sugar Ray Leonard.

With that in mind, let's take a closer look at five of the best professional boxers from the fighting Mill City of Lowell: 

Micky Ward, 38-13 (27 KOs) -- Far and away the best and most well known fighter from Lowell. Younger half brother of Dick Eklund. Fought professionally from 1985 to 2003. Biggest victories include wins over Arturo Gatti, Louis Veader, Shea Neary, Reggie Green, and Alfonzo Sanchez. Held the WBU light welterweight world title. Was stopped on a cut in Boston by Vince Phillips in a 1997 bid for the IBF junior welterweight title. Gained new fans, new fame, and three big paydays for his epic trilogy with the late Arturo Gatti. Micky's left hook to the liver was the stuff of legend. Gained even more fame when a Hollywood movie called The Fighter was made about his life in 2010. Originally retired in 1991 after a string of disappointing defeats, came back strong in 1994, winning nine straight. Enjoyed a career renaissance from 1999 to 2003, engaging in a series of incredibly entertaining fights including the Gatti trilogy. Wildly popular in his hometown where he still lives today, Ward is known affectionately as The Pride of Lowell. 

David Ramalho
David Ramalho, 28-1-1 (18 KOs) -- A Golden Glove champion as an amateur. Active as a professional from 1976 to 1981. Earned a reputation as a strong body puncher. Only loss came via unlucky 1st round KO in his 13th pro fight against DC Cunningham. Beat Jimmy Farrell for the New England featherweight title in 1978 in Boston after a draw against Farrell four month earlier in Lowell. An unfortunate work related back injury cut his boxing career short. Son of Arthur Ramalho, owner of the famous Ramalho's West End Gym in Lowell where he is currently a trainer of young fighters alongside his brother Joey.

Beau Jaynes
Beau Jaynes, 53-44 (13 KOs) -- New England Golden Glove featherweight amateur champion. A pro from 1965 to 1979. New England champion in four different weight classes. Brother-in-law of Micky Ward. A good boxer with a solid chin who threw nice combinations in the ring. In his first 40 fights, he went 32-8, winning the New England featherweight title as well as the New England super featherweight title before suffering a TKO loss to future lightweight champ Mando Ramos. Rebounded to win the New England super featherweight title against Leo DiFiore in Portland, ME followed by the New England lightweight title versus Ken Campbell. Lost in a try for the New England junior welterweight title in 1974, dropping a decision to Brockton's Tony Petronelli. Won the New England welterweight title in 1975 beating Tony Lopes. Faced the biggest challenge of his career in 1976, taking on future hall of fame world champion Antonio Cervantes in Venezuela, losing by KO. Fought his last big fight in 1978, losing by TKO to future world champion Sean O'Grady. 

Larry Carney
Larry Carney, 28-11-2 (19 KOs) -- An extremely accomplished amateur winning three New England Golden Glove Championships, Carney fought professionally from 1961 to 1971. Revered in Lowell during his heyday, Carney was the precursor to Micky Ward as Lowell's most endearing fighter. Won the New England middlweight title in 1963 using his good left hook to stop Peachy Davis in the second round at the old Boston Garden. Defeated Joe DeNucci in 1964. Won the New England light heavyweight title in 1967 by defeating Pete Riccitelli. Brother-in-law of Micky Ward. Died in 1992 at the age of 52.

Along with Jaynes, he introduced Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund to the sport of boxing.

Dicky Eklund
Dicky Eklund, 19-10 (4 KOs) -- Fought more than 100 amateur bouts before turning pro in 1975. Older half brother of Micky Ward. A talented boxer with a clock in his head, Dicky knew very well how to steal rounds by flurrying in the last 30 seconds. Best described as "wasted talent", Dicky went the distance in a gutsy losing effort to a young Sugar Ray Leonard in 1978 on HBO, getting up from three knockdowns to hear the final bell. Claimed for many years to have knocked Leonard down in the fight when in fact it was just a slip. His beating of Allen Clarke in 1981 was as brutal a knockout as you'll ever see. Lost a decision to Kevin Howard in 1982, two years before Howard would become the first fighter to legitimately knock down Leonard. Won the New England welterweight title in his second to last fight defeating James Lucas by split decision in Portland, ME in 1983. Was known as the original "Pride of Lowell" before drugs and criminality ruined his career and landed him in prison. Gained notoriety as an emaciated crack smoking drug addict in the 1995 HBO documentary High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell. Portrayed famously by Academy Award winner Christian Bale in the 2010 film The Fighter. A talented trainer and a great motivator, Eklund trained Micky Ward to some of the biggest wins of his career. Currently trains nephew Sean Eklund (11-4, 2 KOs) and local light heavyweight Joey McCreedy (13-6-2, 6 KOs), Lowell's two top pros.

Al Mello
Honorable Mentions: Al Mello (welterweight, 43-10, 23 KOs, fought from 1924 to 1931, once appeared on the cover of The Ring magazine), Phinney Boyle (welterweight, 73-38-18, 22 KOs, fought from 1913 to 1927, member of the New England Boxing Hall of Fame), Paul Frechette (featherweight, 65-84-18, 10 KOs, known as the Blond Tiger, fought the great Willie Pep in 1941), Billy Ryan (light heavyweight, 25-8-2, 18 KOs, fought pro from 1957 to 1962, trained by Allie Colombo, once billed as a protege of Rocky Marciano), Danny Heath (16-11-1, 8 KOs, won the New England welterweight title in 1969), Jackie Morrell (light welterweight, 11-14-1, 8 KOs, fought Johnny Bumphus, Marlon Starling, and Kevin Rooney in the 1980's, currently a USA boxing judge and referee), Manny Freitas (light heavyweight, 20-28-2, 17 KOs, fought pro from 1967 to 1979, well known for breaking Tommy Dragon's jaw in 1970, stopped by Marvin Hagler in 1973), Roy Andrews (lightweight, 75-20-6, 22 KOs, known as Baby Face, a pro from 1942 to 1954, won the Merrimack Valley featherweight title in 1943 and the New England lightweight title in 1950), and Don Halpin (heavyweight, 10-23, 8 KOs, a tough journeyman who fought Tex Cobb, Jimmy Young, Tony Tubbs, and Mike Tyson in the 1980's).

"Lowell's Finest" written by KO Digest Editor in Chief Jeffrey Freeman was originally published in the official 2013 Lowell Golden Gloves USA Boxing program. It is republished here online and edited for context.

February 15, 2013

KO Digest Spotlight on Boxing's Up and Comers - Ricardo Williams Jr.

Ricardo Williams Jr snaps the jab on SHO
By Terry Strawson - Born on June 25, 1981 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Ricardo Williams Jr. was an Olympic Silver medalist in 2000, an inmate at FCI Ashland in 2005, and over the course of 2012, he looked to reestablish himself as a genuine prospect in boxing.

Williams Jr. began boxing at the age of seven, and he went on to compete close to 400 times as an amateur. He is a southpaw with footwork both sharp and conservative. His hand speed is noticeably superior to most. His composure and ring intellect allowed him to comprise an impressive resume culminating with the Silver in Sydney 2000. In the semi-final of that tournament, a 19 year old Williams squared off against Diogenes Luna of Cuba in what proved to be a thrilling contest.

"The day before the fight, the coach was trying to get me to watch the kid," Williams Jr. said referring to Luna, "But I had seen him fight and I knew he was a straight up slugger so I was telling myself 'I'm just going to box this guy and I'm going to stop him on points' and I really didn't think much of him. But I could tell from the first 30 seconds of the fight that, you know, I probably should have studied him," chuckled Williams Jr., "Because he wasn't allowing me to box at all. He was in my chest in the whole night." 

Williams in 2000
The fight was fought at a frenetic pace set by Luna, and the unrelenting Cuban - who went on to win the World Amateurs in 2001- was ahead on points in the early going. In the second half of the fight Williams Jr. fought back.  Luna was slowing after what had been a ridiculously high output and Williams Jr. was now finding more openings for his rapid-fire combinations. He went on to win 42-41 in one of the most competitive and entertaining amateur contests in recent memory.

The final against Muhammed Abdullaev was not meant to be, and despite many believing that the less than perfect scoring system employed at such events could have cost Williams Jr., he is at peace with how things developed. "I think they missed a few points," he said, "But if you go back and look at the Luna fight, they missed a couple points there too, from me and from him also, so you got to take the bitter with the sweet."

"I think the Luna fight was one of those fights that could have gone either way so I just look at it like the decision went my way that day but it went the other way [in the final], so you know, you got to take the bitter with the sweet," Williams preached.

A philosophical outlook reserved for those, like Williams Jr., who have endured both the bitterness of disappointment and the sweetness of success during their time inside the ring and out. His reward for a fantastic showing at the games was a professional contract from Lou DiBella that came with an unprecedented signing bonus worth 1.4 million dollars.

Along with the hefty bonus, Williams banked his first victory against Anthony Simpkins (5-0-1) and rattled off a further six against solid opposition before a fight with former IBF Champion Terron Millett (27-3-1). The Millett fight was the co-main event of Tapia/Barrera in 2002, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Millett, who knocked out Vince Phillips to gain the IBF light welterweight title just three years earlier, had only lost to Sharmba Mitchell, Zab Judah and the late Arturo Gatti. "That was a guy we trained for. I had seen him fight Zab Judah and I knew he was real strong because I had seen him land a shot on Zab and he knocked Zab down and Zab was really hurt. So I knew I couldn't slip up," said Williams Jr.

Where Judah had gotten reckless, the younger Williams Jr. had not. Williams outboxed Millett from the beginning and cruised to a comfortable and lop-sided decision victory. "I just looked at a lot of things Zab did because me and Zab, you know, we have a similar style, so me and my father watched the tape and seen how he adapted to what Zab did and pretty much got our gameplan from that fight right there."

It was a successful night for Williams Jr., and he had passed a big test very early into a career that seemed to be blossoming beautifully and heading in the right direction. Unfortunately, trouble was already brewing and following a couple of lack luster performances including losses against journeymen hardly worth a mention, Williams Jr. was in trouble.

"Around the Millett fight I was already messing around in the street, and the money that was coming from the street really brings the problems with training because you see all the money from the street and you think 'what am I running for? I got championship money already," Williams Jr. explained.

Williams Jr. was sentenced to three years at the Federal Correctional Institution at Ashland, Kentucky, on charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. He served just over two and a half years. "I went in there with the wrong attitude like I had something to prove, but there was a lot of guys in there who had been in there for 20 or 30 years who pulled me to the side and said 'Eh look, you don't wanna be coming in here with three years and leaving after thirty."

Upon his release from FCI Ashland Williams Jr. signed with Gary Shaw Productions and dispatched of Sebastian Hamel (9-13-1) in the first round of the scheduled six. The deal with Gary Shaw, and co-promoter Antonio Leonard, never amounted to much according to Williams Jr. and shortly after he signed with Goossen Tutor Promotions and a move to Houston, TX beckoned.

After putting together a respectable run of 9-0 since his release Ricardo Williams Jr. was slated to challenge Carson Jones (32-8-2) for his USBA welterweight title. Williams Jr. started brightly, showcasing the snappy jab and elusiveness that we'd become accustomed to but he was caught flush by Jones and ultimately succumbed.

Although he demonstrated the courage and bravery we take for granted from men in his position he was unable to defend himself properly against another barrage from Jones. Veteran referee Steve Smoger intervened as he slumped to the canvas again. "That was a fight that I was absolutely destroying the guy and just got caught with a lucky punch. At the end of the day it was a weight I probably shouldn't have been at."

After the fight; Williams Jr., now trained by Derwin Richards and Edward Jackson, decided to drop down to 140 lbs and campaign at the weight he had began his career. "I think I weighed in for the fight at 146 and we had to do a second weigh-in the next day and I came in with all my clothes on and weighed like 149 and then he came in at around 156 damn near naked" laughed Williams Jr.

His next outing, which was eventually agreed upon at 143lbs, was yet another chance at redemption and the challenge was provided in the form of a tough and capable Anthony Lenk (14-1). It was a non-televised bout on the undercard of Andre Ward and Chad Dawson at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, CA. He looked sharp from the opening bell, but he was forced to exchange a little more than he may have wished. Lenk, who is based in Las Vegas, was on the offensive from the jump and charged forward effectively throughout.

Only 31, Williams looks to make up lost time
"I knew from watching him that he could box a bit. I knew he didn’t have a real big punch but I knew he could box. But I just really felt in my heart that he didn’t have the experience to come away with the win against me. That was my first fight since the Carson Jones fight and I think my timing was a little bit off but I was just happy to come away with the win."

At the final bell Williams Jr. was on the right side of a majority decision and, although the fight was close, it was certainly the correct call. It was my first time seeing Williams Jr. in the flesh and despite his reservations about his performance he had definitely made a believer out of me.

That fight positioned him for a showdown against the unbeaten Luis Ramos Jr. (23-0) on December 8th of last year. Ramos, a prospect held in high regard by Golden Boy Promotions, was a slight favorite heading into the bout and there was an edge to the action immediately. Williams Jr. was down in the second round after an awkward exchange but by the fifth round Ramos had cuts over both eyes and the action was brought to a halt.

The fight ended somewhat controversially as one or both of the cuts appeared to be caused by accidental head-butts but Williams Jr. felt at least one was caused by a punch and is at ease with the official decision.

"If you look at the first head-butt we clashed heads but after that I threw a hook and he grabs his eye, so you know, but the second head-butt may be what caused the cut," Williams Jr. explained. "I was very happy [with the performance] because each fight I know I’m getting stronger and each next time around I am going to look better than before." The victory against Luis Ramos, although controversial, had put Williams Jr. back into contention amongst the front-runners of the 140lb division.

As our interview concluded I coaxed Ricardo into commenting on the likes of Danny Garcia, Amir Khan, Lamont Peterson and so on but the Cincinnati native maintained the class he has shown in the second half of his career. "I take my hat off to everybody and respect everybody in the 140lb division and whoever gives me the best opportunity to provide for my family I’m ready to get it on. When that time comes I’m going to win."

Williams Jr., at a young 31, still has plenty to offer the sport and indeed his family. In a division as healthy as light welterweight Williams certainly has his work cut out but his credentials are comparable to those atop the 140 lb limit. His Manager James Prince, who has been of paramount importance according to Williams Jr., is currently working alongside Promoter Dan Goossen on a potential ring return in March.

"I think he's earned the right to a big fight," Goossen told KO Digest.  

If 2013 is not the year that Williams Jr is granted a shot at a title, it should certainly be the year in which he positions himself. "I'd like to see some type of title elimination or at least get him up in the top 2 or 3 in the world, and have that progress into a world title shot," Goossen said.

"He's only had one loss since 2004. He took a few years off, came back in 2008 and since then he's had twelve victories with the one loss coming when we took a gamble in a title elimination bout at 147. We're back down to where he should be and, from that standpoint, he definitely deserves it," Goossen continued.

A refocused and resurgent Ricardo Williams Jr, once again, has a prosperous boxing career seemingly headed in the right direction.

Overall Rating: B

Written by Terry Strawson - exclusively for KO Digest

February 1, 2013

KO Digest Interview - Steve Cunningham: "People underestimate me"

USS Steve Cunningham
Sometimes, bad things happen to good people.

Over the course of his career, two-time cruiserweight champion turned heavyweight challenger Steve Cunningham has become all too familiar with this unfair but prevalent part of life. More than once, Cunningham has braved the politics of boxing, dropping many a controversial decision and leaving the ring with an unsatisfied feeling, robbed of the deserved taste of victory.

Despite these misgivings at the hands of boxing's judges, Cunningham maintains a positive attitude. He's confident, willing to fight anyone in the heavyweight division but carrying himself with dignity and respect.

At 36 years of age, he still looks and feels youthful, and his quiet confidence may have earned him the role of this decade's version of "The Road Warrior," Glen Johnson. At the surface, this is a compliment, for Johnson and Cunningham both are revered among boxing fans for their fighting spirit. However, each man's career carries a complex legacy. With so many razor thin losses and lacking well-deserved recognition, it's not hard to wonder if each combatant could have done a little bit more, if their careers and talent are unfulfilled, albeit by no fault of their own. With the career hour glass running out of sand, Cunningham is determined to seize his destiny and capitalize on the opportunity at hand—that is, if the misguided powers that be will allow him.

KO Digest: After high profile fights both in America and abroad, fans are familiar with Steve Cunningham in the ring, but not many are familiar with Steve Cunningham before boxing. Tell us about your upbringing in Philadelphia.

Steve Cunningham: I grew up with my mother and father until I was about 7, then tension arose when we moved around throughout the city in three or four different spots. I was very angry and started fighting a lot, always getting in trouble because of fights in school and getting suspended. In 10th grade, I started to take school seriously and decided to join the United States Navy. After I joined the Navy, I got the chance to go to the gym and box, beginning boxing at age 19. My first amateur fight was against the light heavyweight champion of the Navy.

Cunningham does PT in Philly
KOD: Over the years, Philadelphia has developed both a reputation as a well-established boxing hub, but also as a city of trials and tough times. Was is difficult to stay out of trouble in your youth, and did that encourage you to pick up boxing?

SC: Not really. I always wanted to get into a boxing gym when I was young, but the only neighborhood gym was in was a place where the guys didn’t like me, and I couldn’t go. I tried to play basketball and was a good defensive player with energy, but I couldn’t score!

KOD: What lessons did you learn during your service in the United States Navy?

SC: The main thing I learned was attention to detail. We woke up so early, worked so much, and by noon we still had tasks to do and half of the day left. I also learned to appreciate what I have, and it helped me understand who I could be. I went around the world in the Navy, and it showed me there’s a bigger world outside of Philly.

KOD: In amateur boxing, you earned the title of National Golden Gloves champion at 178 lbs. in 1998. Do you feel that amateur boxing did a good job preparing you for the professional ranks?

SC: Indeed. I believe anyone who is going to fight professional needs to have a significant amount of amateur experience because it truly does prepare you. I had less than sixty amateur fights, and I fought all different kinds of styles, and you get used to fighting away from home. This is key, because you won’t always fight at home, and it prepares you for that step up.

USS Cunningham sinks Marco Huck
KOD: “USS” is one of the more unique nicknames in the sport of boxing. How did this nickname come about?

SC: Everyone in boxing has a catchphrase or nickname. “Iron” Mike Tyson, Evander “Real Deal” Holyfield. A name helps market you, helps identify you, and understand where you’re coming from. My wife and I were going through names, and she suggested “USS.” I thought it sounded great; nobody had it and I was like a ship of war. Later, I traveled overseas to fight just like a warship, so the name fits perfectly.

KOD: How difficult was the transition from cruiserweight to heavyweight? Do you think you are as dangerous and challenging a fighter at heavyweight as you were at cruiserweight?

SC: Yeah, I totally do. People underestimate me. They saw me go down to Adamek the first fight. They think I’m small and I don’t have power, but let them think that. At the end of the day, Steve Cunningham comes to fight, and I fight my best every time. Critics say I shouldn’t have fought Adamek the second time. Critics said I would go overseas and lose, and I was successful. Critics outside of boxing said I wouldn’t do what I’ve done in boxing, but I’m a two time world champion and trying to become heavyweight world champion. Critics criticize—that’s what they’re supposed to do.

KOD: In your early career, you fought seemingly everywhere. Of your first twenty fights in America, you fought in thirteen different states. Why not stay in one city and develop a fan base?

SC: I started with a small promoter down South, and I was cool with it. I’m not one of those guys who needs a crowd rooting him on to succeed. You need to do what you need to do no matter where the fight is. When I was a kid watching boxing, the world champions used to fight all over the world. But now, guys want to stay and home and be protected in front of their fans. That’s a sign of weakness to me.

KOD: Were there any disadvantages to frequently fighting away from the friendly confines of home, or were you used to venturing from city to city?

SC: I was used to it, and there wasn’t that much pressure for me to perform in front of people. I fought Marco Huck in the city he grew up in, and in a case like that, he needs to perform and fight with the extra pressure.

KOD: As your career progressed, you’ve fought multiple title fights in Germany and Poland. How different is the boxing atmosphere in Europe? Do you find the crowd to be more receptive to divisions like cruiserweight and heavyweight than fight fans stateside?

SC: It’s much better in Europe. For the cruiserweights, it’s an accepted, money making division. When I switched promoters and focused on America, the fight purses were extremely low. I might as well have been fighting for the NABF title. Right now, boxing in Europe is like boxing used to be in America. The fighters are appreciated and treated as though they’re special athletes. If you aren’t fighting on TV in America, then nobody gives a damn about you.

KOD: For better or for worse, when boxing fans think of Steve Cunningham, the first thing that comes to mind is your adversary Tomasz Adamek. Two great, grueling fights, and two very close and contested decisions. Is he the toughest opponent you’ve ever faced in the ring?

SC: No, he wasn’t the toughest opponent. Fighting Adamek was like fighting two different people in two different fights. The other person I was fighting was the politics of boxing. I never argued the result of the first fight—he won that cleanly. I thought it was going to be a decision, and who can argue three knockdowns? But the second fight wasn’t close like people said. He was clearly outboxed and the politics and incompetence gave him that win. Adamek is one dimensional. All he can do is come forward and throw shots, he’s just big. He doesn’t have leg movement and he can’t box. I outboxed him.

Adamek attacks but never sinks USS Cunningham
My new trainer Nazim Richardson showed me the things I was capable of doing, and I've seen why I lost the first fight. I went into that first fight being a world champion, my first time fighting on American television. I was coming off the Marco Huck stoppage and wanted to be a star by knocking him out. We underestimated him a little bit. This second fight, I didn’t underestimate him and took him for what he was, a good fighter with a solid chin. Not even Vitali Klitschko could knock him out. My goal wasn’t to knock him out this time, I just wanted to beat him up and outbox him.

KOD: Although you looked great against Adamek in December, you are 36 years of age. Have you begun thinking about your life plans after the bell tolls on your career as a fighter for the final time?

SC: We’ve been thinking about that for years. We invested the money I made as cruiserweight champ. We bought a pizza hop, we own two apartments, and have some operations going on the pay the bills and do what we need to do once the boxing stops. We don’t splurge. I don’t have a $100,000 car, we don’t live in a mansion. It’s about living within your means, because boxing won’t be around forever. I hear the age thing a lot. I am 36, but I look good and I feel good. I answered that question the same way Bernard Hopkins and Sergio Martinez answered that question. I feel great, I live in the gym, and I feel awesome.

Adamek and Cunningham have thrilled millions
KOD: The second fight against Adamek aired on network television on NBC. How special was it to be a part of boxing return to NBC’s airwaves, and do you feel fights accessible to the general public on network television are crucial for boxing to thrive again and receive a rise in popularity in the 21st century?

SC: In order for boxing to really get that jump start, network TV needs to play a big role in that. Over four million people watched my fight, and it was the average fan that watched and kept the channel on. The fight was good and people stuck around.

KOD: The scorecards in the second fight did not reflect the opinion of most viewers present ringside, nor did it mirror the observations of those who watched on television. After the final bell, did you believe the result of the fight was in question? What was your initial reaction after hearing the judges score totals?

SC: When the final bell rung, the first thing that popped into my head was “you’re going to win this decision.” There was no doubt in my mind that I didn’t just beat this guy. I looked at my trainer face, who is a straight shooter, and he had that look on his face like “we lost.” I’ve seen that look before at the second Hernandez fight, where I didn’t perform to my duties. He was almost in tears clapping for me, and so was my wife, as if to say “you did it!” When they announced it was a draw, I was disappointed. We were watching Adamek before the decision, and everyone in his corner had a somber look, even his wife, who was praying. He was looking down, and when they said it was a draw, he lifted his head up and accepted the draw.

Afterwards, the Pennsylvania boxing commissioner was writing numbers into the scorecards, and all I can think is “why are these numbers changing? What’s going on?” If you remember, one judge had an impossible score without knockdowns. It was all shady and shifty, and the commissioner was right in the middle of it. That split decision was total bull! I was so disappoint that, after a performance like that, people will still pull off a robbery. I thought at first that these judges didn’t know what they’re doing. The tenth round was my best round of the fight, but two judges scored that round for him. They must have had their scorecards already filled out before the fight, it was ridiculous.

Cunningham on the wrong side of unpopular decision
KOD: We’ve seen this happen before. Bouts against Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, Yoan Pablo Hernandez, and the aforementioned Tomasz Adamek have each had controversial endings. Why does this always happen to you?

SC: The first fight against Wlodarczyk was in Poland, and those Polish guys do it dirty. You can blame it on me not knocking guys out, but I’m fighting upper echelon guys and not every fight will end by knockout. It’s a business. When I was with Saurerland, I fought Hernandez, who was also promoted by Sauerland. The week before the fight, I learned that Sauerland was also his manager. If I won, the promoter still kind of wins, but I’m an American who doesn’t speak the language. He had a TV deal and spoke the language, so the whole team benefited. But, I’m a Christian, and I believe God has a plan for everything that happens. I’ll get through it and keep pressing on.

KOD: If Tomasz Adamek wasn’t the toughest fighter you’ve ever faced, then who was?

SC: The toughest fighter I’ve ever had to face is Sebastiaan Rothmann. I fought him in South Africa in Carnival City, which is close to Johannesburg and has a very high altitude. I trained there for four weeks in hopes that it would help me. It did, but in the fight, he was coming off of just losing his IBO world title and he was trying to get back in the mix. If you look at his record, he brought most guys to him to fight at that altitude. He was a very good fighter, and by about the fifth or sixth round of that ten round fight, I started feeling the altitude bad. It was off the charts and it was killing me, another fight where it was like I was fighting two different people. I had to fight the altitude and I had to fight him, and it was definitely my toughest fight.

KOD: Do you want a third fight with Adamek?

SC: If a third fight presented itself on HBO or Showtime, I would take the fight. But do I want it, would I call for it? No. I did what I set out to do. Tomasz Adamek beat me that first fight because I fought his fight and he had a rough time doing it then, as well as in this fight. For years, it burned in me because I beat this guy. Every time I watched that fight, I was mad because I fought a bad fight and could have beaten this guy. It took us less than thirty minutes to fight this dude after he called us. After I performed my job, I feel like I did what I set out to do and quenched that thirst. Adamek knows he has a problem, put out two or three posts about why he looked the way he did, he crashed his car, and he’s a depressed man. He’s having issues.

KOD: What’s your take on how the heavyweight division currently stands, particularly in regards to the dominance of Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko?

SC: The Klitschkos are dominant because they’re in shape, they work hard, and they utilize their size. They’re the most dominant heavyweights of our time. I would be honored to fight one of them. The only way to be the best is to fight the best. European heavyweights have come up because they watched us beat guys and have been learning from us, and now they’re the dominant fighters. American heavyweights think just because you’re big, you’ll win. But weight makes you sluggish and sloppy, it doesn’t make you powerful. All it does is make you big, and that’s why we’ve seen the downfall of the American heavyweight. It’s pitiful.

Tyson Fury & Wladimir Klitschko
KOD: In recent days, a lot has been made about the possibility of a fight between you and Tyson Fury in April in New York. Are these reports true? If they are, how close is the fight to being finalized?

SC: My promoter has been talking with his people, but I haven’t heard anything solid yet. I haven’t gotten a contract to sign yet. I just want to fight if he’s willing to come to America. I also know there’s other guys he’s deciding on.

I'd have to step outside of the box a bit and do something different with this guy. He’s big, he’s massive! I want to be recognized for doing things people haven’t seen before, and I want to knock him out. But he'd better hurry up and decide, because we can go some other routes. 

KOD: Fury is a prospect with a lot of money behind him and many important people banking on his success. Are you concerned you’ll be robbed again?

SC: I just go in there to fight, to win, and to win convincingly. It’s not the sport of boxing if the guy with the most money behind him wins just because. That’s ridiculous, though we know that’s what happens sometimes. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing and I’m not concerned about that. 

The Future of Boxing

KO Digest Interview conducted by Joel "The Future" Sebastianelli

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

Joel can be found Tweeting on Twitter @JJSebastianelli