Five things we learned: Alvarado-Rios III

January, 25, 2015
Jan 25
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Brandon Rios was victorious in the third fight of his all-action rivalry against Mike Alvarado on Saturday night by scoring a third-round stoppage at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield, Colorado.

Here are five things we learned from Rios’ victory:

1. It was over before it started

It took somewhere between 30 seconds and a full minute to gain an accurate feel as to how this fight was going to end. Alvarado came out tentative, with the kind of body language to suggest he lacked confidence. To make matters worse, he was barely throwing any punches. Rios (33-2-1, 24 KOs), meanwhile, looked every bit as motivated and in shape as he said he was coming in. He swarmed Alvarado (34-3, 23 KOs) with power shots throughout, including a vicious right uppercut that simply couldn’t miss. But the story of the fight proved to be one that many were leery about coming in -- Alvarado, 34, is simply not the same guy. With legal issues looming outside the ring and too many wars in succession on his résumé catching up with him, Alvarado proved that both his head and his heart just weren’t in it on this night. Both referee Jay Nady and the ring doctor did the right thing in calling a halt to the bout following a damaging Round 3 in which Alvarado tasted the canvas for the first time in the rivalry.

2. Rios isn’t done yet

At 28, whispers of Rios’ rapid decline thanks to excess damage filled the air just as much as they did for Alvarado entering the fight. But Rios not only scored a much-needed win to quiet even his own talk of premature retirement, he looked fresh and dangerous in doing so. Entering the fight in the best shape of his career, Rios moved well and was constantly on the offensive. After the bout, Rios said the win saved his career. And he wasn’t far off from the standpoint of holding serve as a must-see main event fighter and avoiding a free fall into gatekeeper status. Rios would make an interesting opponent for just about anyone whom promoter Top Rank does business with, from Timothy Bradley Jr. and Juan Manuel Marquez to fellow brawlers Ruslan Provodnikov and -- provided the politics can be worked out -- Lucas Matthysse. Sign me up for all of the above.

3. Alvarado deserves criticism

It’s a harsh reality for any fighter to face, but Saturday’s fight looked like the end of the road for Alvarado, who put forth a lifeless performance after looking distracted and distant in the week leading up to the fight. It’s not surprising when you consider he faces possible jail time after being arrested on Jan. 3 for possessing a handgun as a convicted felon. But it was also unprofessional and climaxed with a profoundly sad postfight interview. As his hometown fans booed him in the background, an emotionally charged Alvarado told HBO’s Jim Lampley that he was far from his best on this night and it was his preparation that was to blame. “I wasn’t training as I should have been and this is what I get. I ain’t done yet. I’m far from done. I didn’t give it all I got. So this is whatever. It is what it is.” Alvarado thrilled fans in recent years with a meteoric run from relative unknown to action star, making a name for himself by creating chaos in the ring just as the same was happening for him outside of it. And while his boxing future is very much uncertain, here’s to hoping he can find peace in his personal life.

4. It was an anticlimactic ending to a great trilogy

Rios and Alvarado were simply made for each other -- a pair of warriors with unrelenting styles and nearly unbreakable wills who put on two violent classics that quickly entered the pantheon of great action fights. But they had an opportunity in their rubber match for their rivalry to make a leap into the upper room of history. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. This fight certainly wasn’t enough to remove Alvarado-Rios from anyone’s list of best trilogies. In fact, many of the top rivalries -- including Gatti-Ward and Barrera-Morales -- featured one fight of the three that wasn’t up to the level of the rest. But it did leave a somewhat sour aftertaste thanks to the quick, one-sided nature of the fight, failing to give the rivalry that one final exclamation point to be remembered by.

5. Ramirez’s hard-earned win will be valuable

It wasn’t the showcase knockout that super middleweight Gilberto Ramirez may have expected coming in. But thanks to the guts and boxing acumen of Maxim Vlasov in Saturday’s co-main event, the unbeaten prospect nicknamed “Zurdo” was able to score a victory that is likely much more valuable. Ramirez’s cardio was pushed to the limit and his toughness was tested in his close unanimous-decision win. Ramirez (30-0, 24 KOs), whose aim is to become boxing’s next great Mexican star, was far from exposed, yet certain deficiencies were revealed. It’s a bit of a wake-up call for Ramirez against a tough opponent in a step-up fight, which is what every young boxer needs.

Five things we learned: Stiverne-Wilder

January, 18, 2015
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By becoming the first American to win a heavyweight title since 2006, unbeaten slugger Deontay Wilder silenced his critics with a wide unanimous decision win over Bermane Stiverne on Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Here are five things we learned from Wilder’s victory:

1. He answered every question we had of him

Wilder had knocked out all 32 of his opponents entering the fight yet hadn’t faced the kind of step-up opponent to instill a necessary amount of confidence that he was ready for Stiverne (24-2-1, 21 KOs). Outside of his massive power, we knew very little about Wilder’s intangibles. But short of delivering a knockout, Wilder (33-0, 32 KOs) backed up just about every word spoken leading up to the fight. Despite feeling Stiverne’s power and twice appearing to be hurt, Wilder’s chin was more than equal to the task against a heavy puncher. He also dispelled any notions of him being simply a puncher. Although the fight was far from a technical showcase, it was exciting and Wilder got the better of the action by proving that he can box, too. Behind his long jab, Wilder kept himself out of trouble, controlled the distance and utilized a fairly responsible defense.

2. Wilder benefited from the fight going the distance

Raise your hand if you had this fight going the full 12 rounds? Or how about simply more than four rounds, which was the most Wilder had gone in six years as a professional? That’s what I thought. Not only did Wilder impress by showcasing the better gas tank in the championship rounds (despite a few sloppy moments from both), but also it was the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native’s reputation that most benefited from the fight going the distance. Had Stiverne, who was hurt and dropped at the bell in Round 1 (although referee Tony Weeks did not rule it a knockdown) become stoppage victim No. 33 in the early rounds, Wilder would have likely retained his critics. Instead, he was given every opportunity to prove himself as anything but a one-dimensional hype job. “The Bronze Bomber” made Stiverne think twice about coming forward with big right hands, and he knew enough to rely on his size advantage with the lead in hand late in the bout. Wilder was taken into deep waters -- a place many figured he would drown -- and he passed the test with flying colors.

3. Stiverne was game, yet not ready for prime time

Deservedly so, the prevailing narrative from the fight centered around what Wilder was able to do in order to claim a piece of the heavyweight crown. But while Wilder’s performance made a statement, it was far from complete, benefitting greatly from the things that Stiverne, 36, was unable to do. Not only was it a shock to most watching at home that both fighters were still standing late in the fight, it was Stiverne who looked the most surprised. The native of Haiti, who fights out of Canada, was simply unable to cut off the ring consistently and was far too patient (throwing just 327 punches compared to 621 for Wilder) in looking to pick his spot with heavy counter shots. Despite showing a strong chin, Stiverne failed to establish his jab, gassed out late in the fight and never varied his attack or moved his head. While it was Wilder’s thin resume that drew plenty of criticism coming in, it clouded the fact -- in hindsight -- that Stiverne’s wasn’t much to write home about either outside of a pair of wins over brawler Chris Arreola.

4. Wilder very well could be that guy

He’s unbeaten and athletic with crushing power. He’s 6-foot-7, lean and ripped and covered in tattoos. And boy can he create a colorful sound bite. Wilder, the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist with the All-American back story who picked up the sport late, has all of the makings to be a crossover star. The 29-year-old possesses the kind of must-see excitement that the division has lacked for over a decade. But if he continues to improve and knock out those placed in front of him, he also represents a potential missing link to reconnect the sport with its casual fan base. And with advisor Al Haymon having announced this week a deal with NBC to bring boxing back to network TV in prime time, Wilder very well could get that chance in a division that’s not exactly overflowing with elite talent.

5. But don’t expect a unification bout anytime soon

While Wilder’s victory brings excitement to an often dormant division, it doesn’t lend itself toward any future clarity thanks to the way things stand politically. With recognized heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko -- who holds the three remaining titles -- having signed an exclusive deal with HBO and Haymon’s fighters currently persona non grata on the network, the search for an undisputed champion will likely have to wait. For now, at least.

Monroe tangles with Vera on FNF

January, 15, 2015
Jan 15
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Veteran Bryan Vera promises to be a nuisance for 2014 Boxcino middleweight tournament winner Willie Monroe Jr. when they collide on Friday at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York.

The 10-round bout is the main event of this week's "Friday Night Fights" (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET), and given the contrast in styles between the brawling Vera and the technical ability of Monroe, it should be an exciting bout.

Vera (23-8, 14 KOs), a native of Texas, has been on both the winning and losing end of some epic bouts against top-level opponents, including a pair of competitive defeats in his last two bouts against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

Monroe (18-1, 6 KOs) made a name for himself in 2014 with impressive decision wins over Donatas Bondorovas, Vitaliy Kopylenko and Brandon Adams in the Boxcino middleweight tournament. The victories improved Monroe to 8-0 since his lone defeat, a split decision against Darnell Boone in 2011.

A victory on Friday against a tough, experienced opponent in Vera would likely vault Monroe into recognition as a serious contender in the middleweight division.

"This will tell us if we deserve the third-place WBA ranking," said Monroe's manager, Damian Walton.

Walton acknowledges that it won't be an easy fight for his fighter against an opponent in Vera who is no stranger to playing the spoiler role.

"Bryan Vera is a difficult opponent," Walton said. "He's a tough guy who isn't afraid of anybody, and he needs to win this fight no matter what. Bryan [Vera] is in a downward spiral in his career, and a victory will put him back on the path to big things. That's why we have a lot of respect for him, and we thank him for accepting this fight."

Monroe enters the fight as the favorite because of both his recent success and the great expectations that accompany him. But fans will have their eyes on whether Vera can test the young fighter, especially after the veteran appeared to raise his game during his first fight with Chavez -- a split-decision loss that many felt he had won.

Vera also owns an upset win over current middleweight titlist Andy Lee along with a pair of victories over fellow "The Contender" alum Sergio Mora. He also earned a hard-fought TKO against former junior middleweight titlist Sergiy Dzinziruk in 2013.

Last August, Vera took part in the first event of fighting promotion Big Knockout Boxing, which is contested in a pit instead of a ring. Vera was stopped in the sixth round against Gabriel Rosado, but the result doesn't affect his boxing record.

Following the fight, Vera acknowledged he looked bad and his manager, Dave Watson, admitted he thought accepting the fight had been a mistake. However, Vera appears to have recovered, and his preparation for this Friday’s fight seems to back that up.

"Before finishing his preparation in Texas, Bryan spent four weeks training in Montreal and sparred 50 to 60 rounds with sparring partner Jean Pascal," Watson said.

Regardless, Watson was cautious when referring to Monroe.

"We're definitely not taking this lightly," Watson said. "He has two [regional] belts, and there's a reason why he won the [Boxcino] tournament. He has a lot to lose and a lot to gain, and I think that all fights at this level are difficult. Like I always say to Bryan, 'There are easier fights.'"

A member of a boxing family, Monroe is a quick opponent with good technique who moves well and hits accurately, despite owning just six knockouts in 19 fights. Against Vera, he'll need to pay attention to defense because Vera adapts well and puts constant pressure on opponents, along with having respectable power to finish the job.

Vera will look to close the distance, unleashing bursts inside and out, trying to harm his opponent with power punches. Monroe, meanwhile, will move around the ring and punch from angles or with quick combinations. Monroe will avoid direct confrontation and focus on a decision win.

Haymon Boxing announces first two cards

January, 14, 2015
Jan 14
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NEW YORK -- True to form, Al Haymon never actually showed his face or addressed the media at Wednesday’s news conference announcing his plans to bring boxing back to network TV in prime time.

But the reclusive and powerful adviser/manager’s actions spoke volumes as it pertains to the future of the sport thanks to his multiyear deal with NBC Sports to produce a new series titled “Premier Boxing Champions,” featuring 20 overall dates and five that will air Saturday nights on NBC.

Fans and critics have debated over the past few years whether the intentions of Haymon, who doesn’t speak to the media and is known for getting his fighters the most money for the least amount of risk, are a good thing for the overall health of the sport.

Haymon’s response to those questions came through loud and clear on Wednesday. And it’s clearly hard to argue with the idea of bringing big-time fights back to the masses on free TV, provided of course that the level of quality for each card remains on par with the first two that were announced: Keith Thurman-Robert Guerrero and Adrien Broner-John Molina for March 7 and Danny Garcia-Lamont Peterson on April 11.

And that, of course, is where the proof needs to actually show up within the pudding over the long haul. Critics have a right to withhold their celebration when you consider Haymon’s history of matching his fighters soft on both HBO and Showtime.

The good news is that there’s clearly enough incentive this time around for Haymon to consistently put on great fights when it’s he who is fronting the money as a time buy. But can that model sustain itself in the long term, relying on advertising to pay for the fights? Will that fact alone affect the quality of fights over time?

Boxing as a whole limped through an awfully disappointing 2014, with much of the blame falling on Haymon’s perceived unwillingness to match any of the marquee names in his star-studded stable of more than 150 fighters against each other. The result was one unexplained mismatch after another on premium cable.

And while the announcement of the “PBC on NBC” goes a long way toward explaining why last year was so painful, does it make it right? Why did the networks, Golden Boy (which has acted as Haymon’s promoter of choice in recent years) and, most importantly, the fans need to suffer in order for Wednesday’s long-rumored announcement to create such cheerful feelings? (And why were those fights allowed to air by the networks in the first place?)

[+] EnlargeAl Haymon
Ramon Cairo for ESPNAdviser Al Haymon is bringing boxing to prime time on network television with his new series "PBC on NBC."
Does Haymon’s new plan only feel so good because our expectations have been lowered so far? As much as fights like Thurman-Guerrero and Garcia-Peterson are appealing, couldn’t they have taken place just as easily one year ago?

Being a boxing fan makes it easy to start preparing for rain on such a sunny day as this one. It’s an aptly titled cruel sport that not only takes more from its combatants than it ever rewards, it very often breaks the heart of a fan just as quickly as it captures it.

But despite what it took to get to this point, the star-studded arrival of Haymon’s PBC -- with the news conference held in the same studio where “Saturday Night Live” is filmed -- is a breath of fresh air for the crossover potential of a sport longing to reconnect with a faded casual fan base.

Those close to Haymon said all the right things on Wednesday, including a willingness to work with any promoter and the announcement of an advanced drug testing plan. And despite initial rumors, fighters who appear on the PBC won’t be exclusive to the series, giving them the option to float between pay cable and pay-per-view in search of the biggest opportunity.

Haymon has used the shadow of his reclusiveness to work the magic of his great influence and Harvard-educated mind behind the scenes, graying the definition of his title as adviser by those who believe he has just as easily acted as a promoter and matchmaker. And there’s little question the launch of the PBC could be just the beginning of Haymon’s attempt to take over control of the sport.

One thing we do know is that Haymon has long been a tremendous advocate for the entity within boxing that most often gets the shortest end of the stick: the fighters. But provided he continues to use his vast powers for the good of the fans, Wednesday’s announcement could go down as a turning point for the sport.

And that's something to be excited about.

Is Wilder the next great heavyweight?

January, 14, 2015
Jan 14
10:09
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It has long been said in America that as the heavyweight division goes, so does boxing. And taking a quick glance at the past decade, business hasn’t been all that good.

So if you ask any expert the one solution that might most help bridge the gap between the casual fan and the sport, the emergence of a dynamic American heavyweight would undoubtedly top the list.

It wouldn’t hurt, of course, if said heavyweight had the requisite level of size, strength and cocky exterior. He would not only need to be powerful, but be able to sell himself through his look and ability to talk.

Basically, this mythical creation would look and sound a heck of a lot like unbeaten Deontay Wilder, which makes Saturday’s showdown against heavyweight titlist Bermane Stiverne at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/PT) all the more interesting.

The crux of the intrigue circles around the fact despite being six years and 32 fights into his professional career, we really don’t know all that much about whether the 6-foot-7 Wilder is for real.

What we do know is that Wilder (32-0, 32 KOs), a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, has unquestionable power, specifically in his right hand. It’s a notion that’s illustrated by the fact no opponent has yet to make it out of the fourth round against the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist.

Yet Wilder’s painfully slow matchmaking has done more than delay the proper appraisal of his true class within the division. It has also created a considerable amount of doubt, and idea that the hype surrounding Wilder might be too good to be true.

Wilder, 29, has violently feasted on a potpourri of faded names and no-hopers that, in theory, are no different from the resumes of similar promising heavyweights in recent years. But the major difference is that Wilder has not only lingered for far too long under the category of prospect without having properly stepped up in class, he also has yet to find himself in anything resembling a compromising situation.

Because of that, we know next to nothing about his intangibles. Does he have a strong chin? Can he box anywhere as good as he can punch? Does he have the stamina and toughness to find a second life in the championship rounds?

There are some truths that can only be discovered inside the ring, meaning not only do critics lack sufficient evidence, so does Wilder. It’s the same scenario that fellow protected prospect Gary Russell Jr. encountered last June when he finally stepped up in class for a vacant featherweight title against Vasyl Lomachenko and discovered some hard truths about himself.

Wilder, of course, is facing an opponent in Stiverne who is solid, but not on the same level as Lomachenko. Unlike Russell, he also benefits from being a big puncher, which could prove to be a great equalizer should he fall behind.

But just the same, the untested Wilder is going all-in by simply accepting the fight with Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 KOs), who knocked out Chris Arreola last May in their rematch to claim the title vacated by Vitali Klitschko’s retirement.

Should Stiverne succumb early to Wilder’s power in the same way that 32 fighters have before him, this conversation will become null and void as Wilder chases potential stardom and (hopefully) a unification fight with recognized champion Wladimir Klitschko.

But if the idea of Wilder as boxing’s next big thing proves to be nothing more than a fairy tale, criticism of his handling up to this point will be justified.

That, in a nutshell, is what makes this heavyweight title fight between two prime sluggers a rare case of must-see TV for the division. And it has truly been a long time since we have been able to say that.


Brandon Rios in his own words

January, 8, 2015
Jan 8
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After two all-action classics against each other, Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado are ready for a third dance to settle the score.

The pair of exciting sluggers will meet in a rubber match on Jan. 24 in Broomfield, Colorado (HBO, 9:45 p.m. ET/PT), not far from Alvarado's hometown of Denver.

Rios (32-2-1, 23 KOs), who fights out of Oxnard, California, won their 2012 first meeting in nearby Carson by seventh-round TKO. Alvarado (34-3, 23 KOs) returned the favor in their 2013 rematch in Las Vegas by unanimous decision.

With both of their first two fights finishing as finalist for fight of the year, their rivalry has a chance to enter the all-time pantheon with an equally exciting third bout.

Rios recently took time away from training camp to talk about his preparations and more:


How would you describe your first two fights against Alvarado?

Our first two fights were exciting and have become legendary. I am proud to be associated with them and with Mike Alvarado. We gave the fans and ourselves the best we had to offer and produced spectacular performances. It was so intense and so close. All I kept thinking in each fight was "Don't stop. Keep moving forward."

What are you working on in training camp?

I am training hard and well for this fight. [Trainer] Robert [Garcia] and I are working on using the ring in case Alvarado tries to run. I run in the mornings at 6 a.m. if the weather permits it. On mornings when it is raining I run on the treadmill in my home. The training method I am using is going back to the basics that I used in our first fight.

What do you expect in the final chapter of this trilogy?

I expect Alvarado to do what he did in the second fight, which is to run and move. He thinks I am going to follow him like I did in the second fight. His fight game did change from one fight to the other as he didn't fight toe-to-toe in the second fight. He did move and run around more in the second fight. At least I think he did, you can call it whatever you want. We are working on everything we think he will be bringing to the table, but this time we will be 100 percent ready for him. Preparation is our motto.

Do you have any concerns about fighting so close to Alvarado's hometown of Denver?

No, I don't have any concerns fighting in Alvardo's hometown. It is only a few of hours away from my hometwn, Garden City, Kansas. We are looking to get some Garden City friends and family to come and support me in Denver. I am actually looking forward to fighting in his hometown. It is part of what makes boxing and sports so fun and challenging. Look, he fought me in Carson, California, which is close to my home base of Oxnard. I look forward to fighting him in front of his fans this time.

Perez defends title against Maicelo on FNF

January, 7, 2015
Jan 7
6:39
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Darleys Perez will defend his interim lightweight title in the season premiere of ESPN's "Friday Night Fights" when he faces Jonathan Maicelo on Friday (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ines, California.

Perez (31-1, 20 KOs), of Colombia, is 3-0 since suffering his first career defeat against Yuriorkis Gamboa in June 2013 and will be making the second defense of the interim belt he won last July on his home turf against Dominican Argenis Lopez.

Peru's Maicelo (21-1, 12 KOs) has also lost only once in his career. In April 2013, he was stopped in Round 8 on FNF by Rustam Nugaev. Maicelo returned to FNF last July when he won a split decision against Art Hovhannisyan.

Perez and Maicelo match up well in terms of age and physique. Both are 31 and stand in at 5-foot-7, with Perez holding a mere half-inch reach advantage. Perez, however, holds a distinct advantage when it comes to experience.

The fighters have different styles, too. Maicelo is aggressive, elusive and explosive, although sometimes his eagerness leaves him dangerously exposed to counterattacks. Perez, on the other hand, is more technical and not as fast, but wields more power.

Perez is very patient and solid defensively, waiting for the right moment to counter. Maicelo isn't known for being as careful defensively. He usually sets the pace and counts on the explosiveness and speed of his combinations.

It's a style that could prove risky for Maicelo against a dangerous fighter in Perez.

"Perez is a very astute, veteran fighter, but I'm taking this fight very seriously," Maicelo said. "My trainer and I have been working in a very smart manner, and I can assure that I'm in the best shape of my life. I know if I win, I can become a world champion, and I'm sure I'll come out on top."

Perez knows he is in for a difficult challenge as well.

"Maicelo is a tough opponent, and I'll have to use all my skills to win," Perez said. "I feel like I have an advantage in this fight, and I know what I have to do to win. It's going to be an exciting fight because we both have a lot to lose. We both need to win to get to the next level, and that's exactly what I'm going to do."

What nobody doubts is how important this bout is for both fighters. That's why both followed a demanding schedule leading up to it. Maicelo fought more than 100 rounds of sparring at his training camp in New Jersey under the careful watch of trainer Butch Sanchez.

Perez, meanwhile, carried out the first stage of his preparations in Colombia and the last two weeks in the Pedro Alcazar Gym in Panama under the orders of trainers Orlando Pineda and Celso Chavez, who was in the corner of former titlist Anselmo "Chemito" Moreno in previous years.

In the co-feature, rising Californian Francisco Santana (21-3-1, 10 KOs), who has won his past nine fights in a row, faces fellow unbeaten Kendal Mena (20-0, 11 KOs) in a 10-round welterweight fight. Santana, who will be fighting for the first time at 147 pounds, was originally scheduled to fight Sebastian Lujan and then Randall Bailey, but both were ruled out.

Thurman OK with tune-up fight

December, 11, 2014
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Depending upon the way you look at it, 2014 will go down as either a lost year for unbeaten interim welterweight titlist Keith Thurman or the final stages before his possible launch to boxing stardom.

In support of the former is the fact that Thurman (23-0, 21 KOs), while still unproven at the elite level, has been unable to capitalize on the buzz he entered 2014 with as an attractive candidate to maybe one day face Floyd Mayweather Jr.

After taking a showcase bout in April and blowing out faded former lightweight titlist Julio Diaz in three rounds, Thurman was sidelined by an injured left shoulder. The native of Clearwater, Florida, makes his return Saturday in a bout that screams adjectives like “showcase” and “get-well” all over again -- something not uncommon in 2014 for fighters managed by Al Haymon.

Thurman, 26, faces Leonard Bundu at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET). The fight is a co-feature with the Amir Khan-Devon Alexander welterweight bout.

Bundu (31-0-2, 11 KOs) is a native of Sierra Leone who fights out of Italy. While he's unbeaten, he is also 40 and is making his first appearance fighting outside of Europe. From Thurman’s perspective, Bundu is the right opponent at the right time, considering Thurman’s preferred opponents -- which he identified as Khan, Marcos Maidana and Robert Guerrero -- were either unavailable or unwilling to sign a deal.

“Coming off of a layoff, it’s kind of not that uncommon for fighters to not go and fight the big names and to take a warm-up to brush off the dust,” Thurman said. “I already knew the different names that I was looking at weren’t going to be possible this year. So I simply told Al Haymon, ‘Well, at least give me a guy that doesn’t have six to seven losses on his record. I would like a respectable opponent.’ And he showed up with Bundu.”

An August split-decision win over unbeaten British welterweight Frankie Gavin certainly helped Bundu's chances. Thurman is prepared for a difficult fight considering Bundu's style.

“He doesn’t look 40, you know?” Thurman said. “When you watch him, he’s a hyper fighter. He’s real short, [fights] in and out similar to Manny Pacquiao. He’s a 2000 Olympian. He’s still undefeated so obviously he has a decent grasp on the sport of boxing and knows what the judges are looking for to win a fight.”

While Thurman’s 2014 has played out slower than most expected, it hasn’t dimmed his bright potential when you consider his youth, tremendous power, respectable boxing ability and contagious personality. He caught the attention of upstart promoter Roc Nation Sports, founded by rap mogul Jay Z, which offered Thurman a three-year, $6 million deal to essentially become the face of their operation.

It was an offer he declined, drawing criticism in some boxing circles because of what some construed to be a power play by his manager/adviser Haymon, who has had issues with Jay Z and his wife, Beyonce, dating back to Haymon’s past in the music business.

Another Haymon fighter, former middleweight titlist Peter Quillin, vacated his belt in September to avoid a mandatory defense against Matt Korobov after Roc Nation Sports won the rights to promote the fight in a purse bid.

While Thurman was flattered by the offer, he believes remaining a promotional free agent is the right move, claiming he felt “personally a little ambushed” by Roc Nation.

“I already knew I was going to fight on the Showtime card in December. To me, it was a rushed contract,” Thurman said. “They wanted me to get a fight this year. I’m pretty sure they wanted me to switch over to HBO. And I just felt comfortable knowing what I was going to do.

“Another thing was there were just a few stipulations that I didn’t like, and I didn’t feel like [Roc Nation] was offering me anything that we weren’t going to be able to do on this side of the fence with Team Haymon.”

What also gave Thurman confidence is his belief in himself and the value of his stock within the sport. He wants those who criticize him to wait and see how 2015 ends before declaring whether he is a wise businessman or not.

“I believe I’m going to need a very big statement at the beginning of 2015,” Thurman said. “I would like to open up the year with a respectable challenge that could force the Mayweather fight to happen a little bit more easier.”

Thurman isn’t the only welterweight who plans to use Saturday’s card at the MGM Grand as a de facto audition for a Mayweather fight, as both Khan and Alexander have similar hopes for 2015. But whether Thurman can land such a fight is still unknown.

Without experience against A-level competition, Thurman remains a risky proposition whose crossover potential from a brand perspective is still in the development stages. Much of this hearkens back to the criticism about how softly matched he was in 2014.

Yet Thurman remains optimistic about his chances, especially if he can open the new year with a big fight.

“I think [a Mayweather fight] is realistic,” Thurman said. “First thing is, I’m one of his mandatories. So the WBA -- even though they will probably let the king do whatever he wants -- could at some point in the year issue the mandatory to where they force Floyd to either fight me or vacate his WBA title. He has the WBC as well, so he could easily do that if that’s what he chose to do. Or he could take the fight.”

But Thurman, nicknamed “One Time” because of his power, will need to get past Bundu first. In case you were wondering, he likes his odds.

“I do have a motto that it’s KOs for life,” Thurman said. “I’m always looking for the knockout. I’m always looking for them to slip up one time. Drop their hands one time. Run into a punch one time.

“We are going to be in Vegas. I’m not a big gambler but I’m somewhat of a gambling man. I like blackjack. I like poker. And when we have 12 rounds to land one punch, I like my odds.”

Trout ready for fresh start against Grajeda

December, 10, 2014
12/10/14
12:29
PM ET

Call it a moment of clarity within the chaos. But former junior middleweight titlist Austin Trout remembers that moment quite well.

Down for the second time in Round 3 of an expected get-well fight against Daniel Dawson in August on ESPN’s “Friday Night Fights,” Trout was on the verge of a stunning third straight defeat.

“When something like that happens, everything that you have on the line is going through your head -- your career, your future and everything you worked for,” Trout told ESPN.com. “I kind of told myself it’s time to let go and go for it.”

It may have been hard to calculate in real time exactly how damaging a defeat it would have been, but Trout (27-2, 14 KOs) made sure not to find out. The native of Las Cruces, New Mexico, put aside his technical southpaw style to step on the gas pedal, knocking Dawson down in Round 8 and claiming a wide decision.

Trout, 29, makes his return Thursday in the main event of an ESPN boxing special (ESPN2, 10 p.m. ET) against Luis Grajeda in a 10-round junior middleweight bout at the Pechanga Resort in Temecula, California.

“The thing that got me in trouble [against Dawson] was that I was getting too anxious, so I had to tell myself to get it together and stop getting hit with that shot,” Trout said. “Daniel Dawson had one heck of a right hand, and I’m not taking anything away from him, but I shouldn’t have gotten hit with that.”

With his pair of high-profile 2013 defeats against division elites Canelo Alvarez and Erislandy Lara behind him, Trout looks to rebuild momentum toward another title. To do that, he’ll need to get past the gritty Grajeda (18-3-2, 14 KOs), 27, a native of Mexico who was competitive in defeat against Willie Nelson on FNF in August.

“I’ve seen two sides of Luis Grajeda from looking at film,” Trout said. “There’s a come forward, rough, tough, fight you the whole fight type of Grajeda, and there’s also the one who sits back and tries to counter you a bit. But with the looks that I have had [in training camp] with Lamont [Peterson], Hank Lundy, Robert Easter and the guys from Band Camp, we’re going to be ready for any kind of Luis Grajeda that he’s going to be.”

Trout moved his training camp to Washington, D.C., under the guidance of former amateur coaches Barry Hunter and Mike Stafford. Not only did it provide him with a feeling of team and family, it increased his access to top-notch sparring partners.

“I worked with them back in the amateurs, and I feel like I was at my sharpest point back then when I was under their tutelage,” Trout said. “It’s something that I have wanted to do for some time, so it was something that I just pulled the trigger. I didn’t want to go through my career thinking about what if.

“These are my peak years, and I definitely want to bring out the best of my abilities for the time that I’m supposed to be at my best.”

Trout called it an honor to headline Thursday’s card, which will be a tribute to late promoter Dan Goossen, who passed away suddenly in October at the age of 64, and is loaded with name fighters on the undercard. In the co-main event, Antonio Tarver and Johnathon Banks square off in a 10-round heavyweight bout.

“It’s going to be a tribute to a great man of boxing in Dan Goossen, rest in peace,” Trout said. “But to also be on top of the card with all of these great names under me, it was just a couple of years ago that I was on the undercard of Antonio Tarver when he was the main event in California. It shows where I’m coming, where I’m going and the direction I’m headed, and I can’t be more humbled by the experience.”

What we learned: Pacquiao-Algieri

November, 23, 2014
11/23/14
3:50
AM ET

After Manny Pacquiao's one-sided thumping of unbeaten 140-pound titlist Chris Algieri on Saturday to defend his welterweight belt at the Venetian Macao's Cotai Arena in Macau, here are five things we learned:

1. Algieri may have won the promotion, but he badly lost the war

When Algieri was originally announced as Pacquiao's opponent, the reaction from boxing pundits centered around concerns of him being undeserving. With just one major win -- and a debated one at that -- Algieri made the unlikely leap from club fighter to pay-per-view co-headliner in less than one year. But something happened along the way to Macau -- Algieri stole the show. With Pacquiao busy training in Asia, Algieri won the promotion of the fight by soaking up the spotlight with his confidence and flamboyant swagger. If anything, it had a major effect on the odds of the fight, with Pacquiao closing as low as a 6-1 favorite. But the fight was a completely different story and more one-sided than the harshest of critics could have envisioned. (Raise your hand if you remember ever seeing a 120-102 scorecard before.) When Algieri wasn't moving backward, he was getting knocked down -- six times! The jab that dominated much of the prefight headlines was largely nonexistent. With nothing powerful coming back in return to keep Pacquiao honest, Algieri (20-1, 8 KOs) was quickly exposed as too one-dimensional against a complete -- and still very much elite -- version of Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 KOs) one month shy of 36.

2. Algieri's trainer produced one of boxing's most infamous moments of 2014

It's easy to question Algieri's strategy of giving away the early rounds with hopes of hurting and eventually stopping Pacquiao late in the fight. Algieri not only entered the bout with just eight knockouts in 20 pro fights, his attempt at magically rebranding himself as a puncher failed just as miserably when Timothy Bradley Jr. tried the same thing in his April rematch with Pacquiao. In the end, Pacquiao not only proved how wide the gap exists (in both class and experience) between him and Algieri, his speed as a counterpuncher simply overwhelmed Algieri each time he stood still long enough to throw a meaningful shot. But adding insult to injury were the untimely comments made by Algieri co-trainer Tim Lane to HBO's Max Kellerman during Round 9. "[Algieri] is going to put him asleep here in a few minutes. I'm going to let him go one more round. I've got him in the cage right now." Almost immediately after Lane told Kellerman the round (“10 or 11”) that he was going to let Algieri loose, Pacquiao floored him hard with a perfect left cross. It's a dubious moment that will likely live on for years in seven-second videos on social media. And it perfectly illustrated how delusional Algieri's strategy proved to be.

3. No more talking about Mayweather-Pacquiao until it happens

It's a vicious cycle. Five years into the soap opera that is Pacquiao's nonexistent superfight with pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr., it's still the biggest fight the sport can make. And it's still on the tip of everyone's tongue. Sometimes we care about it and sometimes we pretend we don't. Other times we really don't care. But eventually it's rinse and repeat all over again. Deep inside we all want it, we just don't want to talk about it anymore. And given the chance following his domination of Algieri, Pacquiao did very little of it. Sure, when prompted, Pacquiao told Kellerman, "I think I'm ready to fight [Mayweather] next year." But there was no big call out or challenge to close the live broadcast. No trash talking was to be found. And it was somewhat apropos. Top Rank's Bob Arum and Mayweather adviser Al Haymon are either going to sit down in the same room and negotiate who gets what percentage of the purse or they won't. So no more talking about labor pains. We want that baby.

4. Lomachenko is the goods

He dares to be great in often unprecedented ways. Yet despite making his first title defense in just his fourth pro fight, 126-pound titlist Vasyl Lomachenko continued to impress and make strides. The two-time Ukrainian Olympic gold medalist dropped and outlasted Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo in a wide unanimous-decision win. But not only did Lomachenko (3-1, 1 KO), 26, impress with his movement, improving craft and power shots, he was forced to showcase his toughness in an unexpected way. Lomachenko, a southpaw, hurt his left hand after building an early lead and was forced to switch stances and fight off Piriyapinyo (52-2, 33 KOs) with one hand. Despite slowly working his injured left hand back into the mix late in the fight, Lomachenko never gave in to the pain, nor did he buckle mentally under the pressure caused by the sudden turn of events. In just four pro fights, Lomachenko has been forced to showcase his physical talents just as much as his intangibles. He not only has star written all over him, he took a major step forward toward a possible 2015 showdown with fellow featherweight titlist -- and huge puncher -- Nicholas Walters. Bombs away!

5. The Vargas-Jones marriage is a happy one

With future Hall of Fame fighter Roy Jones Jr. making his first appearance as his trainer, secondary junior welterweight titlist Jessie Vargas made a considerable leap in a hard-fought decision win over Antonio DeMarco. Vargas (26-0, 9 KOs) temporarily put to rest some of the negative stereotypes that have followed him with an exciting and gritty effort in his second title defense. Not only did Vargas ultimately outclass the southpaw DeMarco (31-4-1, 23 KOs), a former lightweight titlist, he showed good heart and a strong chin by routinely trading heavy shots at close range. Vargas had developed a reputation as a fighter who routinely received the heavy benefit of the doubt on the scorecards. But he earned everything on Saturday, becoming a dark-horse a candidate to possibly face Pacquiao in 2015. And a lot of that credit has to go to Jones, who also assisted in light heavyweight Jean Pascal’s corner during his impressive January win over Lucian Bute.

Manny Pacquiao in his own words

November, 18, 2014
11/18/14
4:20
PM ET
Following two consecutive loses in 2012, welterweight titleholder Manny Pacquiao has won two fights in a row, a lopsided decision victory against Brandon Rios in Macau, China and a dominating win in 12 rounds against Timothy Bradley in April.

Pacquiao (56-5-2, 38 KOs) returns to the ring to face junior welterweight titlist Chris Algieri on Nov. 22 at the Cotai Arena at the Venetian Macao in Macau (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET).

In his own words, Pacquiao discusses how he's preparing for the fight and what fans can expect to see.

Your trainer Freddie Roach has been quoted lately saying Manny could fight at 140 or even 135 for the right fight. What are your thoughts and what does the future hold for you in boxing?

"The reason we are fighting this fight at 144 pounds is because I wanted to see how I performed at a lower weight. If I do well, I could easily fight at 140 for my next fight. 140 is the weight I walk around at when I'm not training for a fight. So that is no issue and even 135 would be easy for me to make.

"The real question is how do I feel and how do I perform when I return to those lower weighs?

"I could be faster than when I fought at welterweight and (junior middleweight) and if my power remains the same, I may be able to score more knockouts at lower weights. I weighed 138 when I knocked out Ricky Hatton, 142 when I stopped Oscar De La Hoya and 144 when I scored a TKO of Miguel Cotto. Many people consider those fights some of my best, so why not go back down if that is where the bigger and better fights are going to be fought?

"But now I am the WBO welterweight champion and my only focus is to defend that title. I didn't realize how much it meant to me until I won it back in my rematch against Timothy Bradley. I love being a world champion and i have poured my heart and soul into this training camp. My sparring mates have been the biggest and best I have ever had in training . I am leaving nothing to chance when I step into the ring against Chris Algieri on November 22.

"I want to win this fight so badly and I want to win it in a way that will have boxing fans on their feet screaming and cheering. I owe that to my fans and I owe that to boxing. Today is my last day of training camp. I will spar four rounds, work the bags, shake out and then fly to Macau for Fight Week. I have been at weight for since late October. I am ready to battle!"


What kind of goals do you still have for your career at age 35?

“As I have said before, boxing is my passion and public service is my calling. As I approach my title defense against Chris Algieri I have found that my passion for boxing has increased. I do not feel old. I feel great and I find I am able to train as hard as I always have and I enjoy it. More importantly, I still enjoy boxing -- a lot.

“As long as my skills and my passion remain strong I want to continue my boxing career. When I retire, I want it to be on my terms. I do not want to spend my retirement regretting that I walked away from boxing before I was ready. I do not want to come back and fight after I retire.

“My goals are to finish as a world champion, winning my remaining fights. Since the last Marquez fight I have approached every training camp and every opponent with 110% dedication. I would like to keep challenging myself in the opponents I will face in the future.

“I have not set a date or determined an age when I will retire. As long as I can keep fighting at the level I expect from myself I will continue my boxing career.

“I do have one specific goal and that is to give the boxing fans the fight they have always asked for. I want that fight too. I believe good faith negotiations could produce that fight. But it is impossible to negotiate when you are the only one sitting at the table. Two fighters who want to fight each other have never been kept from fighting each other.”


Pacquiao and China, is that helping boxing popularity? Why fighting in China?

"Asia is a fertile market for boxing. The sport has been very popular in the Philippines, Japan and Southeast Asia for a long time, but China, with its billions in population, has long been an untapped source for potential boxing fans.

"Boxing owes a great debt to Zou Shiming, China's two-time Olympic gold medalist, for opening his homeland to boxing by fighting professionally at The Venetian Macao these past two years. Shiming has sold out the Cotai Arena every time he has fought there while allowing fighters like me to share his cards and display our talents to his enormous fan base -- both in-person and throughout the country on television. There's even a new televised boxing show which was developed from the popularity of The Venetian Macao shows.

"I love fighting in the United States. I have fought many fights in Las Vegas but when I fought Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito at Cowboys Stadium it added a whole new dynamic to the event. Not only did fans from the Dallas-Fort Worth area get to experience boxing at a world championship level, but millions of fans tuned in to see those two fights because they took place at Cowboys Stadium. It was exhilarating.

"The same is true fighting in Macao, China. Fans from all over the world are watching my fights at The Venetian Macao not just because of the fight itself but because they want to see a live event from China. And the billions in China now have the opportunity to watch world championship boxing on their own national and regional networks. That is a lot of exposure for fighters and for sponsors of boxing events held there.

"It is also tapping into a new segment of athletes which can only improve the sport and its popularity. Every country loves to root for their own athletes and by having more Chinese fighters in the professional ranks more Chinese fans will begin following our sport and making it a bigger international attraction.

"I love fighting in Las Vegas but when I fight in Macao I feel like I am playing a home game. Macao is only a 90-minute flight from the Philippines so many of my countrymen are able to attend where the expense of traveling to the U.S. may have been too much for them. Fans from Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Europe filled the Cotai Arena the last time I fought there, and that was a great experience. And the Chinese fans were so enthusiastic. It was a wonderful experience to fight for them. The biggest difference between fighting in Las Vegas and fighting in Macao is that virtually all the fans are in their seats before the first bout begins. They really love their boxing in Macao."


How difficult is it to prepare for a fighter who has an awkward style like Algieri, someone with MMA experience and not too much video to study from?

"Chris Algieri poses many puzzles for me to solve. In terms of his height and reach, only Antonio Margarito surpasses him in the scope of opponents I have faced. Algieri is also the most scientific, fluid and fittest fighter I have ever opposed. All of those factors, plus he is five years younger than me, make him the most dangerous opponent of my career.

"To me, boxing is a lot like chess. You don't just move a piece and wait for your opponent to respond, you have to see the board and think 10 to 12 moves ahead and anticipate the variables your opponent may counter with. Algieri does that and he does that very well. If you look at his recent fights -- against Mike Arnaoutis, Emanuel Taylor and Ruslan Provodnikov -- each victory for him was considered an upset. Yet Algieri never considered himself an underdog, he went into each fight confident and with the right game plan and no matter what happened in the ring, he was disciplined enough to stay with that game plan. And it worked. He outfought them and out-thought them.

"Algieri's reach and height will require me to work on closing the distance with him in the ring and I will need my speed more than ever to be able to score damaging blows to him while avoiding his own counters. I watched him fight Provodnikov and he fought the perfect fight against him. But I do not intend to fight Algieri's fight. I intend on fighting my fight and more importantly, making him fight my fight. This will be a battle of wills as much as it will be a battle of blows. There will be a lot more going on in the ring than fans will realize, and it will be fast and it will be exciting.

"There are no shortcuts to victory. My success begins and ends in training camp. You win a fight by winning each round and it is the same in training camp. I give my all each and every day -- running in the morning, working out in gym and praying in my home -- and focus on being the best I can be physically, mentally and spiritually. That is how I am preparing to fight Chris Algieri. I am sacrificing everything to defeat him and produce not just a convincing victory but my most impressive performance."

Chris Algieri in his own words

November, 18, 2014
11/18/14
4:13
PM ET
Junior welterweight titlist Chris Algieri is having a good year. In February he defeated Emanuel Taylor to set up a title fight against Ruslan Provodnikov four months later. After being down twice in the first round, Algieri rallied to defeat Provodnikov by split decision and win the title.

Algieri (28-0, 8 KOs), who was a heavy underdog before the fight with Provodnikov, credited his conditioning to being a nutritionist and taking care of his body.

On Nov. 22, in the biggest fight of his career, Algieri will face welterweight beltholder Manny Pacquiao in Macau, China (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET). Pacquiao has won two fights in a row since losing consecutive fights in 2012 for the first time in his career -- a split decision against Timothy Bradley Jr. and a sixth-round KO to Juan Manuel Marquez.

In his own words, Algieri talks about the advantages of having the perfect diet, exercising and preparing for a 12-round fight against one of the best fighters in the world.

Which one of your victories taught you the most about overcoming obstacles inside the ring?

“My 10th pro bout against Julius Edmonds. I went into the fight with a sore right hand and then broke my left hand in the 2nd round. Finding a way to win has always been a major part of my style and strategy. I didn’t even tell my coaches I was injured until after the fight. I finished the fight with a 4th round KO and that truly was one of the biggest obstacles if not the biggest I have ever had to overcome.

“And let’s not forget in my most previous fight against Ruslan Provodnikov. I made a mistake in the first round and I paid for it. I was forced to pay the price and fight the remainder of the fight with a badly swollen eye. But, I still found a way to win. Sticking to the game plan, and staying focused in times of adversity, that’s what separates me from other fighters. My mental make-up and my mental strength has always been the difference in my fights, and that is what will propel me once again to victory on November 22nd.”

What is it about your opponent’s style that makes it so difficult? Is your kickboxing knowledge an advantage? Leg movements is very important when you have to fight against an opponent like Manny Pacquiao.

“It is not so much Manny’s style but his experience level that makes him such a dangerous opponent. He has had over 60 pro fights and been fighting for a very long time against the top fighters in the world. It is going to be my job to test how bad he actually still wants this.

“My kickboxing experience is an advantage not so much my knowledge of the sport. It is another one-on-one sport, the training and preparation is similar and at the end of the day you are in a fight. I have been fighting pretty much all my life.

“Yes Manny has great footwork. He is in and out and side to side, so being able to control the space in the ring is very important when fighting with someone with a style like Manny. Being a ring general is going to be a big part in this fight as it is with all my fights.”


What type of challenges come with preparing for a fight on another continent with a much different start time? What’s at stake for the winner inside the welterweight division? What are your goals for the future in boxing?

“It just means you have to do a lot more time management in terms of scheduling and thinking ahead. You can’t just wing it, but I don’t do that with any part of my training anyways, so it is of no concern to me. Also we will be fighting at noon over there, and that is exactly what time I always spar, so that will actually be better for me. I am a morning person so being able to fight during the day will actually play in my favor.

“This is the top of the sport. The winner here goes on to make the biggest fights that are possible not only the welterweight division but in all of boxing. A win will propel me into the top of the pound-for-pound ratings and viewed as one of the best fighters in all of boxing.

“At this point I want the biggest fights out there. I have spent a long time fighting off TV and outside of the public eye. Now I want that exposure and I want to fight the biggest names out there in boxing. I want to show that I belong here. It has taken me a long time to get to this point, and I don't plan on leaving now that I am here.”

Does being a nutritionist give you an advantage on how to prepare your body for a 12-round fight and 12 weeks of training? Describe your diet, exercising habits and hours of sleep.

“I average between eight to nine hours of sleep a night/day between naps. I generally eat between five to seven times a day, around 3,500 calories during training camp. I eat lots of fresh fruits and colorful veggies to help with recovery.

“I also eat a lot of complex grains and no processed foods. I prepare and cook about 90 percent of my own food and meals.

“I train six days a week. Most days I train twice a day. I do strength and conditioning twice a week, cardio four times a week and boxing five days a week. With my cardio I do more sprint work than distance work, but I alternate between the two.

“I also get weekly massages for recovery once a week and take an ice bath after every sparring session, which is not fun, but it is necessary.

“I take a very scientific and calculated approach to everything I do when in training leading up to the fight and in the ring on fight night. Manny said that I will be the most conditioned and smartest fighter that he will ever face. He is right.”

Five things we learned

November, 9, 2014
11/09/14
2:51
AM ET

After Sergey Kovalev’s one-sided domination of ageless wonder Bernard Hopkins in Saturday’s light heavyweight title unification bout from Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, here are five things we learned:

1. Kovalev is who we thought he might be.

It was easy to question whether Kovalev (26-0-1, 23 KOs) was everything his gaudy knockout percentage led you to believe entering the fight. But despite his never having been past eight rounds as a professional or having faced an elite opponent, the Russian destroyer finally earned the critical respect he has coveted. In fact, he might even be better than we thought. Facing a durable, difficult opponent who was able to take the fight into the championship rounds, Kovalev showed us there was far more to his craft than a big right hand. After making a statement by knocking the 49-year-old Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 KOs) down in the opening round, Kovalev nearly bookended the feat by coming dangerously close to becoming the first fighter to finish Hopkins in the closing seconds of the final round. In between, it was all Kovalev, all the time, in a performance that solidified him as for real.

2. There are plenty of wrinkles in Kovalev’s game.

Through 26 professional fights entering Saturday night, Kovalev hadn’t been in too many situations in which he needed to prove he can box. His power has been more than enough. But Kovalev made a statement with both his poise and his accuracy in the way he systematically dismantled Hopkins. The “Krusher” was never in a hurry and held back from emptying the tank until the final minute of Round 12. He was prepared to box for 12 full rounds and did that by using his jab and footwork to constantly corner Hopkins. Even when he had Hopkins in compromising situations, Kovalev never overextended himself, and by doing that, he avoided falling into any traps. His head movement was strong. There was a thought coming in that if Hopkins could make Kovalev think instead of react, the wily veteran could gain control. But Kovalev not only never gave him that chance, he proved he has both power and polish. And that’s a dangerous combination.

3. Give Hopkins full credit for taking the fight.

Hopkins entered the ring less than two months shy of 50 (50!!!). Sure, you already knew that. Hopkins’ age was -- rightfully so -- the major selling point for the fight, as “The Alien” once again looked to defeat a younger fighter in his prime, who they said he couldn’t beat. But this was a fight Hopkins didn’t need to take. It was an old-school gesture from a guy who wrote the book on daring to be great. It was a gift for the sport in a year when more often than not, the best refused to face the best. Hopkins ended up spending the majority of the night in survival mode amid Kovalev’s constant onslaught. He needed every inch of his legendary chin to make the final bell. But he took on a dangerous challenge against arguably boxing’s biggest puncher to find out how great he can be. That’s how things used to be. And that’s how they still should be.

4. The fight was a passing of the torch.

Adonis Stevenson might still be, from a lineal sense, the champion of the world at 175 pounds. But Kovalev’s shutout victory proved he is very much the division’s most dangerous fighter. Saturday’s fight was also a passing of the torch in a way that is bigger than simply the light heavyweight division. Historically, a new star in boxing doesn’t fully begin to shine until he takes out an established name. Kovalev did just that against Hopkins, and a new star was born -- a humble knockout artist with a big smile and unique sense of humor.

5. Sadam Ali had a coming out party.

Unbeaten welterweight Sadam Ali had the glossy record and strong amateur pedigree as a 2008 U.S. Olympian entering his step-up fight with hard-punching Luis Carlos Abregu. But what he sorely lacked was experience against an established name. To make matters worse, he was coming off a shaky split-decision win in his latest bout. All of that quickly became null and void once Ali (21-0, 13 KOs) entered the ring in the co-main event. After boxing circles around the surprisingly cautious Abregu (36-2, 29 KOs) in a fight that thoroughly lacked excitement, Ali stepped forward to make a statement in Round 6 by flooring the durable Argentine with a big right hand. Ali continued to pour it on in Round 9 to score a breakthrough stoppage that announced him as a welcome new name to a loaded division at 147 pounds. We knew Ali could box, but we didn’t know he could punch -- at least not on this level. But his performance has many taking notice.

Five things we learned

October, 19, 2014
10/19/14
1:08
AM ET

After an exciting doubleheader at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, featuring knockout victories from a pair of unbeaten titlists on the rise, here are five things we learned from the card titled “Mexican Style”:

1. Golovkin is ready for true crossover stardom

Although Gennady Golovkin’s second-round knockout of veteran middleweight Marco Antonio Rubio on Saturday proved somewhat anticlimactic, it was no fault of the “Kazakh KO King.”

Golovkin’s 18th consecutive knockout and 12th straight defense of his 160-pound title only escalated American boxing’s love affair with the grinning, humble fighter wielding dynamite in both hands. Golovkin (31-0, 28 KOs) has not yet fully made the leap into the conscious of the general sports fan, but he doesn’t appear to be far off.

Plain and simple, he delivers on the action promised in a time when fans haven’t consistently received an equal payout for their money spent. With the brands of boxing’s incumbent kings growing tired due to factors such as age and unwillingness to make the best fights available, Golovkin, 32, is a breath of fresh air to the sport.

While his few remaining critics are quick to remind that he has yet to face true A-level competition, his insistence on staying busy and being willing to fight anyone over a span of three weight classes has more than compensated. The Tysonesque buzz that has followed Golovkin from one devastating knockout to another is real. It won't be long now before the rest of the American sports world begins to fully take notice.

2. California debut proves GGG’s brand has closed the gap

Mixing his danger with his lack of a native fan base made it an easy justification for Golovkin to become boxing’s most avoided fighter. But prospective opponents can no longer make the excuse that GGG is not a marketable draw.

[+] EnlargeMarco Antonio Rubio, Gennady Golovkin
AP Photo/Alex GallardoGennady Golovkin, left, scored his 18th consecutive KO victory by stopping Marco Antonio Rubio in Round 2 on Saturday.
Golovkin made his West Coast debut in front of a sold-out crowd of 9,323 at a venue that repeatedly opened extra seating in the lead-up to the fight. Three months earlier, he made his debut in the big arena at New York’s Madison Square Garden to spectacularly knock out former titlist Daniel Geale in front of more than 8,500 fans.

GGG is ready to fill the big arenas and make the leap onto the pay-per-view level for the right fight in 2015. What that will do is dramatically enlarge the name-value of his potential opponents.

With Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez signing a long-term deal to return to HBO, along with his promoter Golden Boy showing a newfound willingness to play nice with others, big fights are on the horizon at middleweight.

By the time the winner of a possible spring 2015 showdown between Alvarez and middleweight champion Miguel Cotto has his hand raised, Golovkin -- who became Cotto’s mandatory challenger in winning a vacant interim title Saturday --- should see his brand further developed.

Although that won’t make him any less dangerous for the winner to face -- especially if his knockout streak continues -- potential Golovkin opponents can no longer contend fighting him isn’t a smart move, financially.

3. Bad weekend for Rubio

Despite entering the fight as a heavy underdog, Rubio (59-7-1, 51 KOs) was expected to challenge Golovkin in ways other recent opponents were unable to do.

Rubio, 34, entered the fight with height and reach advantages over Golovkin, along with respected durability. With 51 knockouts in 59 victories entering the fight, he also represented arguably the hardest puncher Golovkin had seen.

But the native of Mexico lost both his interim belt and his ability to challenge Golovkin for his full title the day before the fight, when he weighed in over the middleweight limit at 161.8 pounds. Despite having two hours to shed the extra weight, Rubio never made it back to the scales and forfeited $100,000 of his $350,000 purse.

To make matters worse for Rubio, along with his unprofessionalism, he failed to live up to his end of the bargain inside the ring. Despite a solid opening round in which he pressured Golovkin and landed a mixture of left hooks and body shots, Rubio folded quickly once he tasted GGG’s power in Round 2.

Golovkin set up Rubio’s exit with a perfect right uppercut that sent him reeling and running for cover along the ropes. Golovkin swooped in and capped off a flurry with an overhand left to the top of the head that sent Rubio to the canvas.

Rubio sat up quickly but took his time getting up, as referee Jack Reiss counted him out with Rubio appearing to not want any more.

4. A featherweight star is born in Walters

Secondary beltholder Nicholas Walters entered Saturday’s bout against 126-pound titlist Nonito Donaire known mostly for his power, which stopped 10 of his previous 11 opponents.

But the native of Jamaica left the bout with a memorable knockout against the biggest name in a loaded, red-hot division.

Walters (25-0, 21 KOs), 28, announced himself to the boxing public in his first appearance on American television by outworking and ultimately stopping Donaire in Round 6.

Out-jabbing Donaire to the tune of 44-4 according to CompuBox, Walters set the stage for his devastating power. Donaire was floored in Round 3 for the first time in his career on a beautiful uppercut that opened a cut above his right eye.

By Round 6, Walters was simply wearing him down as the bigger man and finished him with a right hand to the side of the head that sent Donaire to the canvas face first, moments before referee Raul Caiz Jr. called off the fight.

The victory also showcased Walters’ humility and the respect he held for Donaire during their postfight interview. Walters not only doesn’t lack for confidence, but he’s also a potential handful for any of the other titlists in the division, including two-time Olympic gold medalist Vasyl Lomachenko.

5. The end is near for Donaire

Donaire gave Walters full credit for the victory and said he entered at his best and never trained as hard for a fight in his career.

But what Donaire’s loss illustrated was that, at 31, the former four-division titlist is no longer the guy who captured fighter of the year honors in 2012. It also gave credence to the thought Donaire had moved up one weight class too big.

Either way, the future of his career, at least against elite opponents, appears to be over. While Donaire refused to take the bait when HBO’s Max Kellerman suggested retirement after the bout, his comments spoke volumes.

“I have to go back to the drawing board,” Donaire said. “I know I can’t compete with guys like Walters. He was just overwhelming me. I succumbed to his size and power and his overwhelming aura.”

Golovkin in his own words

October, 10, 2014
10/10/14
3:13
PM ET
After a dominant victory over Daniel Geale in July, Gennady Golovkin is ready to take his act to the West Coast to face Mexico's Marco Antonio Rubio on Saturday, Oct. 18 (HBO, 10 p.m. ET) at the StubHub Center in Carson, California.

Golovkin (30-0, 27 KOs), a middleweight titlist since 2010 -- when he beat Milton Nunez in Panama -- faces Rubio (29-6-1, 51 KOs), who owns an interim title in the 160-pound division.

For this fight, Golovkin is back training in the mountains of Big Bear in California.

In his own words, Golovkin talks about training and fighting in California and the opportunity to build a fan base on the West Coast.

Discuss what it feels like to be fighting in California for the first time.

“I first came to Big Bear to train over four years ago with my coach, Abel Sanchez. I liked that it was quiet and peaceful and a good place to work and prepare for my fights.

“The other fighters in camp made me feel welcome right away, as did Coach’s family. I missed my wife and son back in Germany, but knew this would be best for my career. And I would see my family when I go back home in between fights.

“Along with training, I’ve been able to attend other fights and have always been approached by fans who wanted my autograph and picture. While they see me fight on HBO in New York City, they also always wanted to know when I would be fighting in Los Angeles.

“The StubHub Center I’ve been to many times for other fights, and each time the support from the fans increases. Also, when I go into Los Angeles for other events, fans are very supportive as well.

“So this fight against Marco Antonio Rubio is a gift to all my fans here in Southern California, everyone who kept asking about fighting here and have been so supportive. I’m very happy to be fighting on October 18th at the StubHub Center and promise a great show to those in attendance and those watching at home on HBO.”

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