October 15, 2013

KO Digest Spotlight on Boxing's Up and Comers - Deontay Wilder

The Bronze Bomber
When English born Lennox Lewis first captured the attention of the boxing world by defeating Riddick Bowe to win a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics, 2008 American bronze medalist Deontay Wilder was 3 years old in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. When World Heavyweight Champion Wladimir Klitschko beat Chris Byrd for the IBF title in 2006 to begin one of the most dominant title reigns in heavyweight championship history, Deontay Wilder was 21 years old, two years away from his pro debut, an amateur boxer with less than twenty bouts. He still hadn't won any medals, at least with boxing gloves on. Wilder is now 27. If he isn't already the best young heavyweight prospect in the world, he soon will be. More than a decade ago, when Lewis cemented his legacy by defeating Mike Tyson and Vitali Klitschko to defend the heavyweight title, younger brother Wladimir was 26 years old and shaking off two terrible setbacks, waiting for his own championship run to begin. Today, after a historic stretch of dominance, Wladimir, 37, is finally decelerating as he approaches the finish line of a race that will soon end with a parade in Canastota. The young contenders likely to sprint to the front of the post-Klitschko pack include the motley crew of Kubrat Pulev, Tyson Fury, and  Bryant Jennings.

Then there is America's undefeated Bronze Bomber, 29-0 with 29 KO's, 6'7", 230 pounds, powerful, mobile, and possessing an unbelievably long 84-inch reach. Trained under the tutelage of 1984 Olympic gold medalist Mark Breland and promoted under the Golden Boy Promotional banner of 1992 gold medalist Oscar De La Hoya, you'll understand how Wilder generates his impressive knockout power when you see him fight. KO's intrepid scribe Terry Strawson caught up with the unbeaten Olympian and shines his busy spotlight on one of boxing's biggest up and comers. 

"I've always been strong. I've always played sports all my life," said Wilder. "I'm a very athletic guy. I have a natural strength, it's something that can't really be taught or developed. I was just one of those skinny kids that could lift just as much as the bigger guys. They would be amazed because I was never that big compared to the other guys on the football team but I could lift as much as they could. But you know, I also have a great strength and conditioning coach by the name of Peter Khourey and we definitely go hard in the weight room to add to that already natural strength."

Breland and Wilder - Gold and Bronze
Alongside Khourey is long standing coach Jay Deas who has been there since day one. Mark Breland was brought on board when Wilder turned professional in 2008. The two are assisted by Russ Anber to ensure Wilder has all he needs in preparation for, and during, the fights that have been coming thick and fast. Outside the ropes, Wilder's career has been steered by boxing power brokers Shelly Finkel, and more recently, Al Haymon. Promotional giant Golden Boy adds further clout to a collection of extremely influential and well versed men -- the Bomb Squad.  

A week from now, Wilder will be heading to Atlantic City as he readies himself to open the televised portion of the Bernard Hopkins vs Karo Murat undercard on October 26th. The show, which was originally scheduled during the summer, will present Wilder with his second appearance on Showtime in a few months. He is coming into the fight on the back of his frightening knockout of one-time world champion Siarhei Liakhovich in August. Liakhovich should have mounted a genuine challenge to Wilder as he did recently to heavyweight hopefuls Bryant Jennings and Robert Helenius. As it happened, he ended up on the wrong side of a highlight reel knockout that will live long in the memory of fans.

"Any time you face a former world champion, it is going to be your biggest fight but I trained hard for that fight. I had no doubts in me, the thought of him being a former champion never really came into my mind at all. I looked at him as just another guy at my weight and I want to keep getting to the top, so I had to take him out and I did it in incredible fashion. On to the next one," said Wilder. "All these knockouts are just heaven, even some of the guys at the top are scared to fight, or scared to put their record on the line because I'm just knocking everybody out." 

Nothing to protest about
The knockout of Liakhovich was chilling. Less than two minutes into their fight at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, CA., Wilder let off a one-two combination to the head of Liakhovich which forced him into the ropes and he followed up immediately by repeating the sequence. This time, the right hand landed flush and Liakhovich had already begun his descent when a follow-up left hook landed to the top of his head. It left the "White Wolf" convulsing uncontrollably on the canvas. "It was very scary, recalled Wilder. "I say two prayers [before a fight], an individual prayer and a team prayer. In my individual prayer I tell God that I don't want to hurt nobody. I do want to knock them out but I don't want to hurt them to the point they can't go back to their family or support them, or continue to box and do something that they love. I don't want to take that from a man. To see him like that was definitely scary for me. I don't want to go in the ring and kill nobody, that is not my mission. My goal in boxing is to be the heavyweight champion of the world."

Wilder is on his way. His journey from Alabama to Atlantic City has been nothing short of amazing, bordering on miraculous. In 2006, the twenty one year old Wilder stepped foot into a boxing gym for the very first time. In 2008 he was at the Beijing Olympics collecting a bronze medal for the United States. It's a remarkable story that Hollywood would have trouble making seem believable. There's more too. On that fateful day back in 2006, Wilder was on his way to the gym in search of fame and fortune to fulfill a childhood dream, and to enable the hopes and dreams of a child - his daughter Naieya. Born with a spinal condition that left a gap in her spine, Naieya proved to be the catalyst for her father's rapid rise toward the pinnacle of boxing. "I got into boxing for my 8 year old daughter," revealed Wilder last week to KO Digest. "She was born with Spina bifida and, at the time, I was in college at Shelton State. I gave it up to look after my daughter. To make a long story short, I walked into a gym because I felt boxing was my last opportunity to be a famous athlete, or something like that. I walked into the gym and knew then that this was for me."

Wilder beats 2000 Gold Medalist Harrison in one
It would appear Wilder's initial thoughts were correct. However, opinion remains divided amongst fans and experts alike. His detractors will tell you he is over-hyped and that he has not fought anybody. His supporters will have you believe he is the hardest puncher in history and the answer, and heir apparent, to the Klitschko brothers who have dominated for over a decade. The facts tell us that he has beaten a former Olympic gold medalist (Audley Harrison) and a former WBO heavyweight champion in his last two outings, and it took him under three minutes to get rid of the pair. He is a former Olympic medalist, the current WBC Continental Americas belt-holder and his undefeated record of 29 wins with 29 knockouts is unprecedented. Quite frankly, Deontay Wilder is a phenom and may not get the credit he deserves.

"I'm ready to put on a show for the fans," said Wilder. "A lot of fans want to see me fight a lot of guys and I want to give that to them and show them how easy it would be to beat some of their favorite fighters. There is definitely no heavyweight in America that is going to beat me, or in Europe or anywhere else. I am the best, and I want to prove that. On the other hand though, we have a plan and we have been sticking to it. It's been going great but they see me blow guys out and make it look easy. Roy Jones Jr did it throughout his career, he made the fight look easy, but what people don't see is that I'm in camp and I work my ass off in training. That's where the hard work is, so when I go to the fight, I'm excited, I'm having fun, and I just blow guys out, make it look like they're nothing. When somebody else fights the guys I fight, they're like 'Oh, this is a great fight, he beat a former world champion', just like when Bryant Jennings fought Liakhovich, it was a great fight, but when I knock him out in a minute and change, it's a different story."

Wilder calls out Thompson and Jennings
His next assignment against Nicolai Firtha (21-10-1) is unlikely to quell the skepticism from some quarters but will present Wilder with an opportunity to turn in his 30th knockout in as many fights. It offers more experience to the 27 year old who has been continually learning on the job and it's yet another quick turnaround. Wilder, known as the Bronze Bomber, has fought about six or seven times a year since his pro debut and this represents his fourth bout of 2013 - he may fight again in December too. Wilder cannot afford to overlook Firtha though. The crafty journeyman has shared the ring with Tyson Fury and Alexander Povetkin amongst others, and he had the 6'9" Fury in a world of trouble during their 2011 scrap.

"I was in LA, for another fight, and I spoke to Richard Schaefer and De La Hoya and we definitely talked about getting a bigger fight, even Al Haymon called me and asked me who I wanted and I told him two names (Tony Thompson and Bryant Jennings), but with it being just three weeks notice, and some fighters were wanting main event money for the opening TV bout. We knew that nobody close to the top ten would want to fight me on that notice, the only person that would want to fight me on that notice, is myself," said Wilder. "You can give me a days notice, I'm ready. I'll fight anybody. I stay trained up, I stay in shape. That's why I have been one of the busiest heavyweights in the world. I'm not sure how far along talks got [with Thompson or Jennings] but the guy that stepped up to the plate, and said he wanted to fight, was Nicolai Firtha. He's a tough guy, he was in the Klitschko camp with me. He comes to fight. He says I've never been hit and he's coming to hit me and show the world what's up. So, you know, when you get a guy like that, already talking with confidence, you know he's not coming to lay down. He's coming to fight."

Is Wladimir Klitschko in Wilder's future?
"We never look past a fighter, you know, it all depends on what happens in this fight. This is going to reveal my future and after it we'll know more. If I take him out in a good fashion like I am supposed to, then December [on the undercard of Adrien Broner and Marcos Maidana] is a possibility. Hopefully, they are in negotiations with 'somebody' at the top right now. We don't want to look past nobody but hopefully they have the ball rolling. People are always telling me to step-up but somebody needs to step-up and fight me because I don't really hear nobody calling my name out. I'd love to fight Chisora." Reports during the summer suggested a fight between the pair fell through. "You got that Chisora thing, we offered them to come over here, I'd love to show my British fans how easy, or my non-believers, how easy that fight would be."

It may surprise many a casual fight fan but there actually are plenty of options available to Wilder, and his handlers, in the heavyweight division. Chris Arreola just defeated Seth Mitchell in impressive fashion and seems to have refocused again. The pair are ranked #2 and #3 by the WBC and a bout between them would make sense. Bermane Stiverne, who is ranked #1 by the WBC, is another talented and credible option. Bryant Jennings, Tony Thompson and Tyson Fury all fit the bill. There are others and the next year will provide us with more definitive answers. "In twelve months time, I should be definitely fighting for a title, if not, already having one. 2014 is going to be beautiful. A lot of answers are going to be revealed and a lot of people are going to be upset, and it ain't gonna be none of my people," laughed Wilder. "And when I say my people, I mean my fans and the people that have been following me, and supporting me."

Wilder, his esteemed colleagues, and all of his people have reason to be excited. The heavyweight division has been in a steady, if not rapid, transitional period and Wilder is certainly the brightest of a new hopeful generation. His sheer size and strength, coupled with his raw and natural power, make him a formidable opponent for any of the foremost heavyweights. His alliance with Shelly Finkel, and Al Haymon in particular, enables him to pack as big a punch outside of the ring as he does inside, while 29 knockouts in 29 fights hasn't hurt. I wouldn't miss his next fight.

Written by Terry Strawson ~ for KO Digest

Look for a new KO Digest "Spotlight on Up & Comers" on the 15th of every new month

October 7, 2013

The Sweet Side of the Sweet Science - Women's Boxing Monthly Vol. 8

Claressa Shields - USA's only 2012 Gold Medalist in Boxing
By Mark A. Jones – The AIBA Women’s Junior/Youth World Boxing Championships were held from September 20-29 in Albena, Bulgaria. Team USA competed in the event for the first time forming a 10-woman team starring 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist, Claressa Shields (Flit, MI.), the first boxing gold medalist the United States has witnessed since Andre Ward won gold in 2004. The AIBA is the international governing body for Olympic-style boxing, which recently changed the rules in regard to age divisions forcing Shields and other 17 and 18-year-old boxers to compete in the newly formed youth division. Shields, now pounding the books as a Broadcast Journalism major at Olivet College, in the preliminary rounds, stopped all three opponents inside the distance.

With a 2-1 decision over Elzbieta Wojcik of Poland in the finals, Shields won the gold medal and was awarded the Best Youth Boxer trophy. Poland, the surprise of the tournament, won team honors in the youth (17-18 y/o) age group followed by Kazakhstan and China. The United States finished seventh winning one gold and two bronze medals. Russia edged Kazakhstan on the strength of four golds to win team honors in the junior (15-16 y/o) age group. The US finished third fueled by gold medal performances from Caitlin Orosco (Anaheim, CA.), and Jajaira Gonzalez (Glendora, CA.).

A look back at September 2013 in women’s boxing:

Yamaguchi vs Fujioka
In the women’s professional ranks, as with their male counterparts, the lightest weight classes are often overlooked. In September, Naoko Fujioka (10-0, 6 KOs) officially dropped her WBC minimumweight title to challenge fellow Japanese power-puncher, Naoko Yamaguchi (22-3-3, 18 KOs) for the WBA female super-flyweight title on November 13, in Tokyo, Japan the home town of both fighters.

On September 7, in Frederikshavn, Denmark, on the Sauerland Promotion’s “Nordic Fight Night,” “The First Lady” of boxing, Cecilia Braekhus, 145 ½, Bergen, Norway, defended her WBC, WBA, and WBO welterweight titles with a ninth round technical knockout of 18-year-old Oxandia “La Loba” Castillo, 146 ½, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Castillo (12-1-2, 9 KOs), was virtually unknown before winning the WBO female light-middleweight title with a devastating second round knockout of longtime champion, Hanna Gabriel in February. Entering this contest, Castillo was considered to possess significant offensive prowess but little in the way of comprehensive boxing skills that would cause her to be considered anything but one-dimensional.

Braekhus looks like the best because she is
After absorbing Castillo’s best in the first round, Braekhus (23-0, 7 KOs), at 31-years-old and likely in the prime stage of her career, may have composed her best effort dismantling the young hard-charger with far superior boxing ability. As the fight wore on, Braekhus increased her control boxing beautifully from long range landing repeatedly with one-two combinations and lead rights. In the final seconds of the ninth, a barrage of well-placed right hands from Braekhus went unanswered causing referee, Mickey Vann to stop the action saving Castillo from any further punishment. With the win, Braekhus cemented her status as the pound-for-pound best female fighter and has now successfully defended her WBC title an impressive 12 times and her WBA title 11.

On September 7 in Saarbruecken, Germany on a talent-laden boxing card titled, “Night of Champions” the Jordanian born Raja Amasheh, 111, in front of supporters from her adopted home country, secured the WBF female super-flyweight title with a ten-round unanimous decision victory (96-94/97-94/98-92) over 23-year-old upstart, Eva “The Golden Baby” Voraberger, 114 ¼, Vienna, Austria. With the momentum of a 15-bout winning streak, Voraberger (16-3, 8 KOs), who normally campaigns as a flyweight, landed the heavier blows throughout having some success countering the swarming attacks of Amasheh. Initiating most of the exchanges, Amasheh (16-0-1, 4 KOs) gained the advantage by way of sheer punch volume operating primarily in the middle of the ring where she enjoyed a speed advantage. With the win, Amasheh moves into the alphabet title picture in the loaded super-flyweight division; whereas Voraberger, against a quality opponent, gained valuable experience that will lend her well in the future.

On the same card, Rola El Halabi, 139 ½, Ulm, Germany by way of Beirut, Lebanon, competed in her third fight since suffering three gunshot wounds inflicted by her former manager/stepfather in the dressing room just prior to a 2011 title fight. Halabi, successfully defended her WBF light-welterweight title with a sixth round TKO of Sopo Putkaradze, 137 ½, Tbilisi, Georgia. Halabi, who holds stoppage wins over the current IBF welterweight champion, Eva Halasi and Mia St. John improves to (13-1, 7 KOs). Putkaradze, who weighed the heaviest of her career, drops to (6-1-2, 1 KO). 

The winner is La Guerita
On September 7, in Mexico, Katia “Katty” Gutierrez, 108, Los Mochis, Mexico, the former IBF minimumweight champion, moved to light-flyweight to battle former light-flyweight and flyweight world champion, Irma “La Guerita” Sanchez, 108, Guadalajara, Mexico. The feeling out period was dispensed with by both fighters in this contest as they were familiar with the other from their 2011 IBF light-flyweight title fight which Sanchez won by a unanimous decision. Sanchez (26-6-1, 7 KOs), aggressively stalked Gutierrez (18-4, 4 KOs) attempting to force her less experienced opponent, (239-145 in rounds boxed) into close range exchanges along the ropes; however, Gutierrez, a counter-puncher, required space to work accomplished enough in the middle of the ring to make the fight interesting. The contrasting styles led to back-and-fourth spirited action witnessing neither fighter gaining a foothold until the final round. With the decision in doubt, Sanchez summoned the previous 238 rounds of boxing experience and successfully forced Gutierrez onto the ropes landing almost at will over and under the shell-like defense that Gutierrez was forced to adopt. In the end, Sanchez won a split-decision victory by the strange tabulation of (98-96/98-96/ 96-98).

Three Questions - Sweet Side Q&A with Jennifer Hamann

Jennifer is a thinker in and out of the ring
Since earning a B.A. in Philosophy from Seattle University in 2009, Jennifer Hamann of Seattle, Washington, is flourishing in her journey to be a great boxer, sticking and moving her way to an impressive 27-2 record and earning a #1 ranking at featherweight (125 lbs.) in the USA Boxing elite women’s division under the tutelage of coach Tricia Turton.

Now a graduate student at Seattle University, Jennifer’s journey of juggling books, life, and the sweet side of the sweet science continues which can be followed on her boxing blog The Road to Gold: A Journey to the 2016 Olympics. This month, KO Digest asks "Thee Questions" of Hamann.

Q: While enrolled at the Seattle University, you earned a B. A., in Philosophy and competed in track & field and soccer. Most boasting a similar resume would not enter the gritty world of boxing or would do so cautiously, on a white-collar level. Since donning the gloves and headgear of the amateur ranks, you have pounded out a 27-2 record having succeeded on both the national and international stages. Why boxing, and what is motivating you to prepare for a potential berth on the 2016 United States Olympic Team?

A: The day I landed my first clean left hook in the ring woke me up to something I didn’t think I was allowed to feel – satisfaction without guilt, anger without reserve, expression without apprehension. Boxing saved me from a life of settled mediocrity and quashed expression through the power of a punch. I didn’t need boxing to save me from the streets or pull me out of trouble. It has done something even more powerful by igniting a sense of permission to express myself through my body, regardless of my image, gender or socioeconomic background. I like breaking the rules – if this was something I wasn’t supposed to be good at, then I was sure as hell going to do it. In college I comfortably holed myself up in my philosophy books, imagining what it would be like to practice and experience some of the theories and ideas I read about in class. A career in academics and the study of philosophy was a logical and safe path that seemed set out for me from the beginning. I grew up with a philosophy professor Dad who indoctrinated the Socratic method in our family dinner conversations.

Q: After a fantastic showing at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England, women’s amateur boxing was dealt a severe body-blow when the IOC decided to maintain only three women’s weight categories; flyweight, lightweight, and middleweight for the 2016 Olympics. Will the decision by the IOC compel you to vacate the featherweight weight class (125-lb) and compete for the lightweight (132-lb) USA Olympic Team berth?

A: I fight at 125 for a reason – my body and boxing are their best at this weight class. But when those pastries and happy hours get away with me, I can throw down at 132 and will be happy to do so in a few years if the senselessness of only three weight classes for women in the Olympics sticks around. Frosting covered pastries and my butt taking a regular seat at happy hour is good for the soul but not the figure, so I’m also thankful that boxing is a bitchin workout.

Q: In 2009, you initiated your amateur boxing journey at Cappy’s Gym in Seattle under the tutelage of former professional boxer, Tricia Turton. Since, you have followed her to the newly founded, Arcaro Boxing. 
What has Coach Turton meant to your development as a boxer?

Boxer Hamann and Coach Turton
A: Tricia was and still is a great boxer who was unfortunately not given adequate coaching to take her title fights to the level they could have been. However, I’m grateful that in order to right this wrong, she has giving herself wholeheartedly to a new generation of boxers. She works with our styles rather than trying to change them to fit some mold. I’m a sassy Sagittarius with a roaring temper and she helps me use this to my advantage in the ring, rather than make me change my personality. I’ve also learned that loyalty goes a long way, and this new gym, this new team, is a team win! I didn’t win Nationals – my coach, my supporters, our clients and my teammates helped along the way.

I hope I can say that for all of us for the 2016 Olympics.

Read More: www.hamannroadtogold.org

A look ahead to October 2013 in women’s boxing:

On October 11, in Santa Fe, Argentina, Alejandra Marina “Locomotora” Oliveras (30-2-2, 15 KOs), in front of her hometown fans, seeks her fourth major world title when she battles #6 ranked, Lely Luz Florez (14-5-1, 8 KOs) Monteria, Colombia, in a ten-round contest for the interim WBC female light-welterweight title. Florez, a former interim WBC female light-welterweight champion, is no slouch winning the belt with a first round stoppage of then undefeated and all-around tough customer, Chris “Bombon Asesino” Namus of Uruguay. Since, Florez has battled to a (4-4-1) record losing the light-welterweight belt in her first defense by a split-decision to Monica Silvina Acosta. In contrast, Oliveras throws every punch with bad intentions having won her last eleven bouts, eight within the distance since a 2011 failed attempt at the WBA and WBC light-welterweight titles, a razor-thin decision loss to Acosta. Most recently, Oliveras held the WBO female featherweight title successfully defending it five times; she also boasts three defenses of the WBC super-bantamweight title and briefly held the WBA lightweight title. Oliveras may have the punching power to bypass two weight classes, but does she have the physical stature? At only 5’ 1”, she will experience a severe height disadvantage to Florez who stands 5’ 4 1/2". 

Marina Barbie Juarez back in action in Mexico
On October 12, at the Hard Rock Hotel in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Mexican women’s boxing pioneer, Mariana “Barbie” Juarez (37-7-3, 16 KOs) Mexico City, will defend her WBC International female super-flyweight title for the first time against the unranked and virtually unknown, Buakaew OnesongchaiGym (6-1-1, 0 KOs) Trang, Thailand, over the ten-round distance. The feather-fisted OnesongchaiGym, by winning the WBC Asian Boxing Council female flyweight title in April, gets a dance with Juarez, but must be considered a mere tune-up for the Mexican superstar with a super-fight with the WBC super-flyweight titleholder, Zulina Munoz (39-1-2, 26 KOs) possibly on the horizon.

On October 23, in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, the two-time Maxim cover girl Lauryn Eagle (7-3-1, 3 KOs) Peakhurst, Australia, who over her brief career has won the Australia female lightweight title and the WBF female super-featherweight title remains active in a scheduled six-round bout against Eileen Forrest (0-2-1) Coorparoo, Australia. This a rematch of their November 2010 meeting that ended in a majority-draw with a single judge favoring Eagle by a wide margin. Forrest will be making her first start since May 2011, a first round knockout loss to the current WBC super-featherweight champion, Diana Prazak (12-2, 8 KOs). In addition to the Maxim covers, the 25-year-old Eagle has won Miss Teen Australia, Miss Teen International and starred in the second season of Celebrity Apprentice Australia.

Lethal Lindsay vs The Force
On October 25, in Albany, New York, “Lethal” Lindsay Garbatt (7-6-2, 3 KOs) Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, battles Jackie “The Force” Trivilino (9-5-3, 1 KO) Plattsburgh, New York, in a ten-round bout for the interim WIBA featherweight title. This is a rematch of their July meeting that witnessed Garbatt score a knockdown in the eighth and final round earning a split-draw in what was an action-packed fight. Garbatt holds impressive wins over elite featherweights, Jelena Mrdjenovich and Melissa Hernandez and has experience wearing WIBA title belts winning the super-featherweight version in 2010 with a split-decision victory over Mrdjenovich. This will be the first world title experience for Trivilino who was unsuccessful in two attempts at the New York State featherweight title drawing with and losing a close decision to, Nydia Feliciano. 

On October 26 in Toluca, Mexico, Ibeth “La Roca” Zamora (18-5, 8 KOs) defends her WBC female light-flyweight title against KO Digest’s #3 pound-for-pound female boxer, Ava Knight (12-1-3, 5 KOs). Zamora, fighting out of San Cristobal Huichochitlan, Mexico, won the title in March by edging Japan’s Naoko Shibata in Tokyo by split-decision. In June, she stopped worthy challenger, Maricela Quintero by eighth round retirement making her first defense a successful one. Zamora, once the interim WBA minimumweight champ, owns wins over Jessica Chavez, Anabel Ortiz, and Esmeralda Moreno. Each of her five losses came to elite competition. Ava Knight, hailing from Chico, California, is no stranger to punching for pay in Mexico traveling south of the border for each of her last six fights (6-0, 2 KOs) with each involving a world title. Moving down from flyweight (112 lbs.) to the light-flyweight class (108 lbs.) should not be a problem for Knight who scaled 108 pounds in a January, 2013 fight dominating the competent Susana Vazquez.

Can La Roca upset Ava Knight?
Here is how the two female fighters break down in ten key categories. Knight holds a slight advantage in 6 out of 10 of them with 2 even:

Power: Knight                    Speed: Knight  
Chin/Durability: Even    Size: Knight    
Accuracy: Knight              Skills: Knight                            
Conditioning: Even          Punch Volume: Zamora 
Defense: Knight                 Quality of Opposition: Zamora
KO's Sweet Side Prediction: This is the quintessential bull against the matador match-up displaying the aggression and punch volume of Zamora against the size, speed, and boxing ability of Knight. Both fighters have the possession of above-average punching power with each owning knockout victories over quality opposition. Knight, who holds wins over A-level competitors Mariana Juarez, Arely Mucino, and Kaliesha West, all who campaign above light-flyweight, should have enough to decision Zamora, but it will not be a walk in the park. 

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

Persoon is #12 P4P
1- Cecilia Braekhus (23-0, 7 KOs) Norway
2- Erica Farias (18-0, 9 KOs) Argentina
3- Ava Knight (12-1-3, 5 KOs) USA
4- Christina Hammer (15-0, 7 KOs) Germany
5- Jessica Chavez (19-3-2, 4 KOs) Mexico
6- Yesica Bopp (25-1, 11 KOs) Argentina
7- Ann Sophie Mathis (27-3, 24 KOs) France
8- Jelena Mrdjenovich (30-9-1, 15 KOs) Canada
9- Diana Prazak (12-2, 8 KOs) Australia/USA
10- Marcela Acuna (39-6-1, 17 KOs) Argentina
11- Melissa McMorrow (9-3-3, 1 KO) USA
12- Delfine Persoon (26-1, 11 KOs) Belgium

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

October 1, 2013

KO Digest Interview: Ray Beltran - "I don't want a Burns rematch"

Beltran beats the champ only to get robbed by the judges
Boxing is always true to the individual, but often unfair to the masses. On a personal level, the game never lies to a fighter. There is no deceiving Father Time, nor is there any substitute for training and the heart and dedication of a champion that cannot be faked.

On the other hand, despite the effort of the fighters, the powers that be in boxing spoil the sport on occasion with decisions of questionable repute due to money and other shady circumstances. Ray Beltran is an honest fighter, never caught up on the wrong end of the law or the bad side of boxing. Behind the scenes, he is an average man who cares for his family like any other, and has quietly arisen as a contender in the lightweight division despite numerous obstacles.

A rather unglamorous record that now stands at 28-6-1 with 17 knockouts, including several losses earlier in his career could cause some fans to write him off at first glance. But as of late, the 32 year old Beltran has found himself in the midst of a career resurgence. Victories over Hank Lundy and Ji-Hoon Kim set the stage for a September battle against Scotland’s WBO lightweight champion Ricky Burns. Beltran broke Burns’ jaw and knocked the champion down in the eighth round, but still only received a draw, a robbery that transcends the likes of controversial but close decisions such as Julio Chavez Jr vs Brian Vera and even the scoring dispute in Floyd Mayweather Jr vs Canelo Alvarez. Make no mistake—these were bouts in which the scoring was well off, but the right man won “The One” and Vera hardly blew Chavez out of the building despite being the busier man. In the dubious case of Beltran vs Burns, the better man did not win, and nor did the fans win in a decision that holds no merit. "I beat him and I dominated him," said Beltran. 

Phoenix, Arizona's Ray Beltran knows the rise in boxing has not always been the easiest journey. He moved from Mexico to America when he was a child, turned pro at the young age of 18, and has been on the wrong end of decisions because he is not the most well-known and well-backed combatant. But don’t let the defeats and challenges fool you—like any good fighter, when hit hard by blows in and out of the ring, Ray Beltran comes back stronger.

KO Digest's Joel Sebastianelli: Your most recent fight was arguably your biggest, taking on Ricky Burns overseas. Burns entered the fight as the WBO champion, the favorite, and had the advantage of fighting at home in Scotland. In your training and preparation for the fight, did you account for the possibility that it might take a bit extra to wrestle a win away on the scorecards?

Aint gonna be no rematch because he don't want one
RB: That’s the way it is all the time when you are dealing with the being the visitor. I think I did enough to win the fight the way it happened. I beat him and I dominated him. He can keep the belt. They have called me about a rematch and this and that, but I think that to go all the way over there, I wouldn’t do it again. I felt frustrated. But at the same time, I knew that could happen.

KOD: It appeared you won at least 6 rounds in the fight and Burns was knocked down in the 8th round. When it was over, how confident were you that you had pulled off the victory?

RB: I was confident. I was putting pressure on and landed my best shots on him. He was holding a lot and trying to get away too much. That’s the reason I thought I won the fight. Here’s the way I think about it: I fought for a belt. They say champions are made, but they don’t always bring the champ the belt because some guys know the right people. After this fight, there was nothing I could do about it. He knew the right people and I don’t think that’s right. I’m not interested in the belt, I’m interested in making my name known. If I fight a guy for a title, I don’t want actually to fight the guy for a title, I want to fight him because he is a champion. 

KOD: Controversial decisions have long plagued the sport of boxing. The draw against Ricky Burns, the close Chavez Jr-Vera fight, and a slew of others very recently have highlighted perceived issues with scoring in fights. Is there anything that could remedy this problem, or are bad decisions in boxing beyond fixing?

RB: The people make the champion and make him powerful. As long as people keep paying for fights, like Chavez Jr-Vera, the same thing will continue. It is all about the money. I don’t know if there’s anything they can do in boxing, except allowing the government to get more involved. In football and other sports, there is a lot of government involvement. They don’t put up with bullshit. With the federal government involved, the sport would be more straight up and clean. They could organize a real world champion—no made up champions. 

Beltran takes it to the champion
KOD: Burns actually broke his jaw early in the fight. Did you realize in the moment how badly you had hurt him?

RB: Well, I knew he was running a lot, but I didn’t know why. Maybe that’s the reason he did that and was holding so much also. I knew something was wrong with him, but I didn’t know that it was his jaw.

KOD: How likely is a rematch between the two of you?

RB: I don’t want a rematch. I am not interested in it.

KOD: Backtracking a bit, one of your key victories that set up the title fight with Burns was an NABF title tilt against Hank Lundy. Lundy was favored and talked a lot of smack, but you emerged with the majority decision. Did the cut in the third round effect you, and did you need to adapt to pull off the win? 

RB: Not really. I’m the kind of fighter that if I get hurt, I get stronger. The more I get hurt, the more I get up and the harder I fight. I kept going to make sure I would win. Lundy is a good fighter. He didn’t bother me. The only thing he could do by talking is fire me up even more to fight harder and beat him. That’s just the way it is with him.

Beltran hammers Hank Lundy
KOD: Following the Lundy fight was a battle against aggressive Korean slugger Ji-Hoon Kim. Both of you were floored in the opening round. Was combating his up-tempo style a more difficult task than you originally anticipated?

RB: No, not really, but he could punch. He was one of the hardest fights I had. I think he was just very aggressive and in your face. 

KOD: Where does his power rank among others you've faced?

RB: I think Kim was one of the most powerful. He really hit hard.

KOD: You have sparred with welterweight kingpin Manny Pacquiao on numerous occasions. 
How has stepping into the ring with an all-time great helped you improve as a fighter?

RB: I was learning in the gym. It’s a lot of work, but working with him has taught me a lot. It helped me with my patience. This game is very unpredictable. Manny was very fast and powerful.
It helped me to keep my concentration and stay calm.

Beltran gained experience and exposure in sparring with Pacquiao
KOD: This opportunity came about through Freddy Roach, who has trained both you and Manny. Roach has a lot of fighters under his wing. Have you ever felt overshadowed, particularly around big fights for Roach’s stars like Pacquiao and Khan?

RB: Not really. I think being around those guys has helped me. When I sparred with Manny, it helped get my name out there. People got to know me more, then I fought and earned my own respect.

KOD: What do you think Manny Pacquiao has left after losing to Juan Manuel Marquez? Does he still have what it takes to be a top ten pound for pound fighter in the sport?

RB: People talk about his two losses, but against Bradley, he had the fight won. Against Marquez, he was doing great until he got hit with that shot. I think it is a myth. He has enough left. I think the Rios fight is a tough fight for Manny, but because of his power, I think that he is going to win, but you never know. Rios is a strong guy too and anything can happen, but he should be able to win the fight.

KOD: Who do you want to fight next, and who do you consider to be the best fighter in your division?

Beltran feels he beat Gamboa with counterpunching
RB: There are a couple guys. But I would love to fight Yuriorkis Gamboa. He has a lot of power and a big name. He is the kind of guy that is very powerful, but I can go out there and make it difficult for him. He is very aggressive, so I can counter punch him and I can beat him. When he gets too aggressive, he throws combinations and leaves himself open. It is not going to be easy, but I think counterpunching is a key to beating him.

KOD: In boxing, many fighters desire a pristine record, and in the age of big TV contracts, an undefeated record means more than it ever has before. Do you feel as though your 6 losses and lone draw are something that have hindered you in earning respect and publicity at times?

RB: If you are losing and making no noise, people will look at your record. But if you have been doing good and beating up good people, the fans won’t even think about the number. They will be only looking at you and the way you have been doing.

KOD: Early in your career prior to 2005, you suffered three losses and lot in steps up against Ameth Diaz, Sharif Bogere, and Luis Ramos Jr. Since the Ramos fight, you have rattled off impressive victories against Hank Lundy and Ji-Hoon Kim, along with looking strong against the aforementioned Burns. At age 32, do you feel as though you are in the midst of a career revitalization?

RB: Professionally, yes. I look the strongest I have ever been. I have been on TV, I have a higher concentration level than ever before and that helped me make adjustments on myself. I lost a few fights but came back stronger.

Fallen Phoenix USA Boxer Alexis Urbina
KOD: You have a fundraiser upcoming in memory of Alexis Urbina, a 17 year old boxer who was recently murdered. Tell us a bit about the event, and you relationship with the young star.

RB: I know his family. They are my friends. I saw them whenever I'd go to the gym. We would talk. We were a part of the Phoenix boxing community. It's hard to find out about the kid. It’s all about people. You never know who might be next, so you have to help people and I try to put myself in the other person’s place. 

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