Two-time world-title challenger Alfonso Gomez has an interesting way of describing the past three years of his career.
Gomez, 34, best known from his run on Season 1 of "The Contender" reality series, ended a two-year stretch of inactivity last July when he outpointed Ed Parede, but has fought just once over the past 32 months.
"I was a caterpillar, and during those two years I was in my cocoon," Gomez told ESPN.com. "That's pretty much what happened. Even though it appears he's not doing anything, he's doing everything and changing everything about himself. I healed myself and mentally evolved."
With elbow injuries behind him and a refined focus on his future, Gomez (24-6-2, 12 KOs) returns on Friday to face Japan's Yoshihiro Kamegai (25-2-1, 22 KOs) at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California, (Fox Sports 1/Fox Deportes, 10 p.m. ET) in a 10-round junior middleweight bout.
The fight appears on paper to be brilliant matchmaking for those who love action, as neither boxer is the kind to take a step backward. But Gomez, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, is quick to reference his newfound maturity, calling himself a smarter fighter who wants to stretch his career by making wiser decisions in and out of the ring.
"Five years ago, I had the mentality as a typical Mexican who wants to be the next [Julio Cesar] Chavez or wants to be the warrior and please the crowd and take unnecessary chances and punishment," Gomez said. "We let our emotions control us, unlike now, when I let my mind control my emotions.
"I don't need the injuries or those extra punches that I could have avoided. Now, it's about looking good in there, winning and going on to the next one."
Gomez credits his 2004 appearance on "The Contender" with helping him secure opportunities, including high-profile bouts against the likes of Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez.
"People still remember me from those days but it makes me kind of cry when I hear guys with beards or fighters that are going for championships say, 'Hey, Gomez! When I was a kid I used to watch you,'" Gomez said. "I would be like, 'When you were a kid? You look my age!'"
Gomez describes himself during his time on the reality series as "this little Mexican engine that could." But he quickly became a fan favorite due to the honest and exciting manner in which he fought.
"What I liked about that show -- and I think this is why people liked me -- is that I went in there without any masks or any preconceptions or anything," Gomez said. "I went in there purely naked with nothing but myself and the belief in myself.
"And I proved it. Even calling out Peter Manfredo in the first show -- everyone laughed at me and nobody believed in me. But it's not about them; it's about me believing in me."
Belief in himself is something Kamegai, 32, simply isn't lacking. No stranger to going to war inside the ring, the fearless fighter believes it's his heart and iron will -- which were on full display last June in his fight of the year candidate with Robert Guerrero -- that separates him from other fighters in the sport.
But what is it exactly that fuels Kamegai's fearless determination?
"It comes through the training," Kamegai told ESPN.com through a translator. "I felt [against Guerrero] that it was a fight that was going to change my lifestyle and basically my career, to improve the comfort of my living. It's only 36 minutes out of my life, so I'm not going to give up and I'm going to give the best that I have."
Kamegai understands what's at stake on Friday with the opportunity to showcase his relentless style to American fans in a main-event slot. He believes the key toward providing fans with the best possible fight -- while giving himself the best chance to win -- is to get Gomez to fight at his pace.
Gomez, meanwhile, has his eyes set not only on being victorious but looking good in doing so. He believes it will help him secure a quick turnaround, including a potential spot on the May 9 undercard of Canelo Alvarez-James Kirkland.
"I believe beating Kamegai more soundly than Guerrero did is really going to put into the minds of promoters and fans that I really am at that level," Gomez said. "So it's a very important opportunity where people are going to compare and are going to see that either Gomez is out or Gomez is in."
Gomez is also chasing a rematch with Alvarez, who defeated him in 2011 by sixth-round TKO thanks to a questionable stoppage, which Gomez chalks up to merely "boxing politics." Although Gomez is proud of what he has accomplished in his career, he admits there's a bit of unfinished business remaining.
"That's why I want to prolong my career, so I can continue to have that opportunity to ascent into higher opportunities and more security that comes with being at the elite level," Gomez said.
But what happens if Kamegai is able to force Gomez into altering his game plan to box and turn the fight into a toe-to-toe brawl?
"It's very important for me to execute my game plan properly," Gomez said. "But at the end of the day, if it comes down to being dirty and grimy and needing to be a warrior, I'm not shy. I have done it all of my life."
After a thrilling defense of his three light heavyweight titles against Jean Pascal, here are five things we learned about Sergey Kovalev’s eighth-round TKO victory on Saturday at the Bell Centre in Montreal:
1. It’s time we crown Kovalev
He’s the best light heavyweight in the world -- lineal title or not. But he’s also one of the best fighters in the world -- period -- regardless of weight class. If you’ve been late to the party on giving the destructive Kovalev (27-0-1, 24 KOs) his pound-for-pound due after his shutout in November of ageless wonder Bernard Hopkins, his performance against Pascal should be enough. Was he tested by the determined and awkward former champion? Without question. But it was how Kovalev responded to being stung by a series of wild counter right hands in Rounds 5 and 6 from Pascal that showcased his true character and intangibles. Kovalev weathered the storm and reset himself by going back to the basics and rebuilding behind his jab, which opened up the door for his big right hand and left hook. More importantly, through equal periods of success and vulnerability, he never lost track of his head or emotions and remained stoically patient. Despite performing in front of a hostile crowd, Kovalev continued to prove how remarkably unflappable he truly is.
2. Pascal went out like a champion
There have been some fighters who have tasted Kovalev’s violent, thudding power and wanted no more. Some have even gone as far as insinuating that Hopkins, then 49, retreated into survival mode for the next 11 rounds after surviving a first-round knockdown last year. But the athletic and unorthodox Pascal (29-3-1, 17 KOs) came to win and was bold enough to go out on his shield in order to thrill the raucous crowd in his adopted home city. His willingness to load up on heavy shots and repeatedly swing for the fences with a mixture of looping hooks and quick right hands won back Kovalev’s respect after it appeared Pascal was on the verge of being stopped. It also made for an incredibly fun fight. Pascal swelled Kovalev’s eyes and if he didn’t outright hurt the Russian slugger, he clearly gave him something to think about more than once. Pascal showed tremendous heart to survive both a knockdown late in Round 3 and a tsunami of power shots the following round as he wobbled on unsteady legs. At 32, Pascal has become known more for being the money man in the division than being a threat to its crown in recent years. But he proved on Saturday that he’s still a legitimate threat to any elite fighter.
3. Kovalev is a technician
It’s his power that gets the fans in the building. (And with 24 knockouts in 27 fights, it’s rightfully so.) But the more Kovalev steps up his level of competition, the more we are finding out just how good of a boxer he is and how well he sets up his punches. Kovalev’s big jab is a weapon as much as it is a range finder, which allows him to slowly stalk his opponents and cut down the distance. But he used body shots just as effectively to slow down Pascal – who had never been down as a professional entering the right -- and set him up for big shots. With responsible defense and tremendous poise, we are not only watching a complete fighter in Kovalev, we are watching the ascent of a truly great one.
4. We don’t need a rematch ... yet
Referee Luis Pabon’s stoppage in the eighth round with Pascal standing, yet badly hurt in the corner from a pair of right hands to the side of the head was one of those that you didn’t love, but surely didn’t hate. It saved Pascal, who spoke out against it after the fight, from further punishment as he appeared to be out on his feet. But I don’t think it was enough to necessitate an immediate rematch. As much fun as this fight was and as difficult a challenge as Pascal proved to be, Kovalev was on his way to a victory. Not to mention, Kovalev has bigger fish to fry in the future (see below). But keep the memories of this fight fresh in the back of your mind. One to two years from now, it may end up making a lot of sense (and cents) to do again.
5. Kovalev deserves a shot at the lineal title
A showdown between “The Krusher” and lineal champion Adonis Stevenson has been one that fans have clamored for since both hard-hitting light heavyweights enjoyed parallel meteoric rises in 2013. And despite the political hurdles that remain ever since Stevenson left HBO in 2014 and joined forces with adviser Al Haymon, we could be getting closer. Kovalev’s victory over Pascal made him the mandatory challenger for the WBC title held by Stevenson, who was in attendance on Saturday. For what it’s worth, Hopkins reported on the HBO telecast that Stevenson told him he’s willing to fight Kovalev, who must first face his own mandatory challenger, Nadjib Mohammedi, of France. If Stevenson refuses, he would be stripped of the title. Either way, Kovalev, not to mention the fans, is deserving of the fight. And in a year when Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao can end a nearly six-year soap opera to sign the contract for their May 2 superfight, it’s clear that anything is possible.
With the pomp and circumstance behind us from Wednesday’s news conference in Los Angeles with Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao -- the only time the two boxers will meet before fight week of their May 2 superfight -- here are five things we learned:
1. Mayweather was calm, confident
The true A-side of the promotion, Mayweather spoke last and was notably poised and void of emotion. The pound-for-pound king predicted an “action-packed fight,” noting that he has been in the gym pushing himself to the limit because he has never wanted to win a fight so bad. While the unbeaten Mayweather never took a shot at Pacquiao or his team, he did attempt to plant at least one psychological seed by saying, “One thing I do know about any sport: When you lose, it’s in your mind. If you lost once, it’s in your mind. If you lost twice, it’s in your mind. From day one, I was always taught to be a winner, no matter what.” This was a far cry from Mike Tyson biting Lennox Lewis’ leg and threatening to eat his children. Yet Mayweather, in his own way, let his intentions be known.
2. Floyd is the bigger man
The news conference wasted little time giving the people what they came to see: the first stare-down between the two fighters. Unlike normal protocol, Mayweather and Pacquiao stood face to face alone on the stage at the start of the news conference. No words were spoken, and both fighters stood a more-than-respectable distance apart. But even though the measurements of each fighter had long been public information, it’s always important to see just how well two competitors literally size up. Mayweather, with advantages of nearly 2 inches in height and -- more importantly -- 5 inches in reach, didn’t tower over Pacquiao per se. But Floyd was clearly a bigger man, which could play at least a part in helping some form their opinion regarding which fighter has the advantage on fight night.
3. It was one big happy family
It was deemed inconceivable that, given the outrageous sums of money at stake, it took this long for a sporting event of this magnitude to be made. Egos persisted to the point that many were resigned that the fight would never happen. Yet nearly six years later, here we were. And many of boxing’s most bitter rivals -- from Mayweather and his former promoter, Bob Arum of Top Rank, to opposing television executives Stephen Espinoza (Showtime) and Ken Hershman (HBO) -- blended into one big, dysfunctional yet incredibly cordial family on Wednesday.
Arum, 83, set the tone early by shaking hands with Mayweather and saying, “We’re all family. We’re all part of this boxing family, and we are so proud to put on this event.” Later on, after responding to some snarky comments from Espinoza with, “Everybody has their own opinions,” Arum softened and turned toward Mayweather again, saying, “You missed me, right Floyd?” Smiles and laughter ensued. Even after Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach concluded his comments by admitting that the plan is to “kick [Mayweather’s] ass,” it was Floyd who calmly fielded it with a lighthearted chuckle.
The term “cooler heads prevailed” is one that the business of boxing has become foreign to. But whether or not the amicable behavior showcased on Wednesday was exclusively fueled by financial interests, it was a welcome – and, quite frankly, logical – change.
4. Pacquiao has Mayweather’s respect
Mayweather was calculated in the way he spoke about Pacquiao before, during and after the news conference. It’s clear he has a great deal of respect for Pacquiao’s ability and the danger that this fight represents regarding Mayweather's coveted unbeaten record. The fact that it took so long for this fight to happen speaks volumes in support of that point. Pacquiao has also never appeared this confident in the way he has talked about an opponent, going so far as to predict a knockout earlier in the day on multiple ESPN platforms. He was also outspoken in the previous months, aggressively calling out Floyd in a way that went beyond his typical response of, “I’ll fight whoever my promoter wants.” Mayweather made one thing clear in an interview with Showtime’s Brian Custer immediately after the news conference: “Everybody keeps talking about how this fight happened. This fight happened because of me.” Pacquiao may be the most difficult challenge Mayweather has faced, but there’s no question this is the fight he wanted.
5. This fight is a big, big, big deal
You already knew that, right? No one is breaking any news by saying that. But to see the entire sports world focused on a single news conference -- with wall-to-wall live coverage on "SportsCenter," to boot -- had to feel good for any boxing fan. This is what things used to be like, when the sport held a much larger role not only in the hierarchy of sports but also in the attention of the casual fan. Closed to the public, Wednesday was an event that was literally a red-carpet affair. With 600-plus members of the media applying for credentials, the event was a big deal and it felt that way. The next 52 days leading up to the fight will surely be a wild ride.
Former two-division champ Bernard Hopkins will serve as the expert commentator on the "HBO World Championship Boxing" telecast on Saturday. Hopkins, having faced both fighters, provides his thoughts on the light heavyweight championship fight in Montreal between champion Sergey Kovalev and Jean Pascal .
"March 14 is going to be a great night for the light heavyweight division and boxing in general with a strong overall fighter in Jean Pascal taking on the light heavyweight champion, in my opinion, Sergey Kovalev. Both guys are going to lay it all on the line, but only one is going to walk away with a victory. Having fought both, I know how tough they both are ... in their own ways.
“Jean Pascal is a tricky guy to fight because he’s going to throw punches from unorthodox angles and in nontraditional ways. You can get hit all over with shots because he delivers them in very deceiving ways. He’s not a guy who’s going to sit in the pocket. You have to be careful because he can sneak up on you and put you on the canvas. You have to outthink him and outwork him. That’s the only way to beat him. Not everyone is going to have the IQ to beat him, but you need to have a solid game plan to have a chance.
“Sergey Kovalev’s biggest strength is his size, but he’s also capable of moving quickly, and it’s unexpected. His talent is tremendous, but he also has the accuracy and foot movement to subsidize the talent. He has a great coach in John David Jackson, a former world champion who’s seen every style you can mention. You have to give some credit to the teacher who’s giving him a big edge outside of the ring through the way he coaches. Now that Kovalev has that experience on the championship level, he’s going to take that and improve on all the aspects of his game.
“This is going to be a great light heavyweight battle, with two guys who are going to have to dig deep into their arsenals to come out victorious. Make sure you’re watching HBO on Saturday, March 14, for a great night of boxing and some special insight from yours truly commentating ringside. I look forward to returning to Canada and breaking it down for the fans watching at home. I know these guys are going to fight with everything they've got and I'm excited to see the outcome.”
The inaugural event of "Premier Boxing Champions" is officially in the books.
So, which was it? The future of boxing or a nationally televised disaster, ready to burn through a serious amount of Al Haymon & Co.'s money? Let's discuss on five things we learned.
1. Debuting this kind of project with an unstable Adrien Broner might have been a bad idea.
In hindsight, someone should have known Broner would track mud through PBC's new carpets. The 25-year-old sort of seems like he doesn't know who he wants to be or how he wants to fight. He was dominant, for sure, in a unanimous decision against John Molina Jr., but he wasn't particularly impressive -- or even interesting.
If PBC could have crafted the perfect postfight interview for its first televised bout, having Broner basically admit he fought a boring fight wouldn't have made the script. And having him then reference a race comment he made in the ring last year, which drew harsh criticism, definitely would not have made it in the script.
It's hard to distinguish what Broner is trying to be at this point. It's obvious he's been told to tone down his personality but not to shut it off completely. So, we're left with sort of a half-Broner, who will still rotate around his opponent midfight and make inappropriate gestures to the crowd, but only halfheartedly so.
In this particular event, with a first impression on the line, Broner didn't give people much reason to stay and -- even worse -- gave some reason to leave.
2. Headlining this kind of project with Keith Thurman versus Robert Guerrero -- that was a good idea.
It could not have worked out much better. You had Thurman, 26, a young buck who knew what this opportunity meant for his career and went out guns blazing, trying to make a statement. Across the ring you had Guerrero, 31, a veteran with a name who could take Thurman's best and fire back but never really threaten to upset the evening by winning.
This was matchmaking at it's finest.
Let's pause for a moment to reflect and laugh out loud at the unfortunate fact that Guerrero's dud of a fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in May 2013 cost a full pay-per-view price, while Saturday's barnburner cost nothing but air and about 48 minutes of your time. Brilliant.
3. Boxing is not dead.
Mayweather is 38 years old and has publicly contemplated retirement after the last two fights on his current contract are finished. Manny Pacquiao is 36. The two will engage in the biggest fight in boxing history on May 2. Soon after that, however, whenever both retire, someone will need to be there to accept the reins of boxing stardom.
Thurman was so hell-bent on scoring an early knockout on Saturday, he literally ran into a head-butt during the third round that caused a massive hematoma on his forehead.
There are others along with Thurman, waiting in the wings to take the throne. In recent years, boxing's consumption model arguably worked against it. It's early, but PBC's model could change that.
4. Boxing is not dead, revisited.
There are compelling figures in the sport and, certainly, compelling fights. Thurman-Guerrero was a strong but not spectacular fight for 8½ rounds. At one point, there even appeared to be a horrific possibility of it ending in a no contest, due to the hematoma on Thurman's face. Can you imagine that?
And then, midway through the ninth, Thurman dropped Guerrero with two right uppercuts. That set the stage for Guerrero to rally back with a strong showing in the 10th, his best round of the fight.
Substance was there, and Haymon & Co. know how to dress it up. This was a polished product in the arena on Saturday, and it will only improve as a television product with more practice. It would seem to carry appeal to a younger audience, which means a longer guaranteed lifespan. For an old sport, boxing had tints of infancy in certain aspects this weekend.
5. It's not all bad news for Broner.
We were hard on Broner at the start, so let's circle back and give him due credit at the finish.
Broner, entertaining or not, made his decision win look like easy work. As he stated at the postfight news conference -- wearing a shirt that looked like it was made from his grandmother's favorite tablecloth -- he was 'still pretty' at the end of 12 rounds against Molina.
And, away from the cameras that were transmitting his comments to a live audience, he explained his approach to the fight perfectly well.
"Last two days I thought, 'The last time I went into the ring and fought with my heart, I lost,'" said Broner, referring to the only loss of his career, to Marcos Maidana in 2013. "I am never going to let that happen again. So, I said I'm going to use my God-given talent and make this fight as easy as possible.
"The crowd might boo me, but at the end of the day, I'm going not going out there and fighting for them. That don't pay my bills."
As has always been the case with Broner, talent and personality are there. Self-sabotage is. If he can better define himself in and outside of the ring, the world can still be his oyster.
Harrison (19-0, 16 KOs), a rising junior middleweight prospect from Detroit, will face veteran Antwone Smith (23-5-1, 12) from Miami in a 10-round bout.
Smith is back following a 19-month absence from the ring after being knocked out in the second round of his last fight in August 2013 against Jermall Charlo. Smith says he's very excited about this opportunity and seems confident of victory.
As an amateur, Smith won the Golden Gloves of Florida when he just 17, and his achievements include victories over important opponents such as Jose Luis Castillo and Ronald Cruz.
Regardless, in the lead-up to this clash, all that pales in comparison to the crushing form of Harrison, who at 24 has impressed with his punching power. He has stopped 16 of 19 opponents, nine of which have been as early as the first round.
In addition to the brutal KO suffered against Charlo, which was the worst defeat in his career, Smith has been inactive and rusty, which could complicate his fighting. On the other hand, Harrison, who has never gone beyond the eighth round in any of his fights, has beaten three experienced opponents: Grady Brewer, Bronco McKart and Tyrone Brunson.
A native of Detroit, Harrison will step into the ring eager to put on a show and take one step closer to a possible world title shot.
Harrison's record backs him up, too, and Smith may be a perfect barometer to measure his ascent. Harrison is an aggressive fighter with a fearsome right, but he can also do damage with his left hook. Smith isn't a big puncher, but the Miami native is very technical, with good footwork and defense.
One of many fighters promoted by Al Haymon, Harrison knows that a convincing victory can take him to a new level in his career, and he's very confident he'll get an early knockout.
"Smith is desperate to save his career. All the pressure is on him, but my plan won't change because of that," Harrison said. "Ultimately, the fight will end like it always does."
On the undercard, the man to watch is undefeated Ukrainian Ievgen Khytrov (8-0, 8 KOs), who takes on Puerto Rico's Jorge Melendez (28-4-1, 26 KOs) in a 10-round middleweight fight.
With good technique and a powerful right hand, Khytrov is an aggressive fighter who has knocked out all his opponents. Melendez, an experienced fighter who has faced respectable opponents and who is coming off a split-decision loss to Argentine Javier Francisco Maciel, will serve as a test for any aspirations harbored by Khytrov, who is currently considered one of the most promising fighters in his weight class.
After nearly six years, the maddening soap opera between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao will culminate inside the ring on May 2 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Depending on your perspective, it will be the most important fight boxing has seen in 30 years (if not more) and clearly one of the biggest stories in all of sports.
Like a jaded lover protecting our heart from being hurt yet again, we’ve convinced ourselves at numerous times in recent years that we just don’t care anymore or that we’ve emotionally moved on.
But we are liars. All of us. You know it, I know it and so does the mixture of hard-core and casual fans expected to purchase more than 3 million pay-per-view buys come fight night.
And while on the subject of lies, allow me to expose one more. It has been exhaled with disgust each time our collective levels of optimism were piqued in recent weeks. It goes like this: Too bad the fight is about five years too late.
It’s a theory that appeared true at various points in recent years, including most of 2013, when Pacquiao was forced to rebuild his stock after suffering consecutive defeats the previous year (including one by a brutal, one-punch knockout). Yet there’s an element of destiny and fate associated with this fight that has allowed it to persevere through time, defeats, egos and the complications of boxing politics.
Would it have been epic, if not preferred, to have seen Mayweather and Pacquiao square off in early 2010, when they were at the peak of their respective primes? Without question.
But that doesn’t mean this fight is taking place too late. In fact, if you ask me, it’s right on time.
While we had an inkling of how good Mayweather and Pacquiao were from a historical standpoint by 2009, we didn’t yet know how great. And despite how excruciating the recent years have been (not to mention the negative impact it had on the sport), the absurdity of this fight taking so long to happen has only added to the anticipation.
This isn’t just a welterweight unification bout between the two biggest stars in boxing. It’s a matchup between the undisputed best fighters of their division, the sport -- and most important -- their era.
This fight represents the missing piece to the legacies of both boxers, and how we will remember this chapter of boxing history for years to come.
Simply put: This fight is bigger right now than it ever could have been, with the journey it took to get here serving as basically a five-year promotion.
Despite their combined age of 74 come fight night, this also isn’t exclusively a money grab between two aging fighters. Yes, we might be seeing this fight only in large part because both had run out of opponents capable of drawing anything close to this much revenue. But it’s still a legitimate pairing between the top two pound-for-pound best in the sport.
Boxing in general and the wallets of both fighters are lucky in that regard. And while it would be almost impossible for the actual fight to live up to the hype that will surround this event, I have a sneaky feeling it just might.
Mayweather and Pacquiao are as evenly matched right now as they ever have been. And sometimes throughout history, when you match a pair of aging legends who have slipped just a bit from their peak form, you get something truly special.
Even the unparalleled stubbornness of everyone involved couldn’t stop this fight from happening. And one could argue that boxing has never needed it more than it does right now.
Recognized as one of the most prestigious professional boxing tournaments in the U.S., Boxcino has opened the doorway to stardom for many of its participants since it was first held in 1997 and broadcast on ESPN's "Friday Night Fights."
The heavyweight semifinals will be held on April 10, which will consist of eight-round bouts. The 10-round finals are scheduled for May 22.
Here is a breakdown of Friday's four quarterfinal bouts:
Donovan Dennis (10-1, 8 KOs) vs. Steve Vukosa (10-0, 4 KOs)
This will be an attractive fight between two starkly different boxers because of their unique characteristics.
Vukosa is a 38-year-old veteran looking for a second chance following his return to the ring after a 12-year absence. After a knee injury and two surgeries, he was forced to quit boxing in 2002, right when his career was in full bloom and he was riding an eight-fight win streak.
His return in April 2014 came against former Olympic boxer and fellow Boxcino fighter Jason Estrada. Vukosa won by majority decision and won again in August against Salomon Maye.
Dennis is a 6-foot-4 southpaw with a good history as an amateur. As a professional, he was riding an impressive streak of nine victories and eight knockouts when he was knocked out last April in the closing seconds of the first round against Nate Heaven, another fighter at this year’s Boxcino. Dennis recovered for his next fight, in August when he beat Jamal Woods.
Both fighters are talented and move well on their feet. Dennis is more aggressive, which, coupled with his youth, makes him the favorite. Yet, Vukosa's better technique and Dennis' frequent defensive mistakes could tilt the balance in favor of the Boston veteran.
Razvan Cojanu (12-1, 7 KOs) vs. Ed Fountain (10-0, 4 KOs)
Twenty-seven-year-old Romanian and Las Vegas resident Cojanu is a favorite to win Boxcino 2015. And for good reason. He's on the rise.
After losing to Mexican Alvaro Morales in his 2011 debut, Cojanu has beaten all 12 opponents he has faced. In July in China, he defeated Argentine Manuel Pucheta, and in November he knocked out Darius Shorter in the first round.
His opponent will be the unbeaten Fountain, a resident of St. Louis who is a pupil of Mike Wood. He debuted on May 26, 2012, on ESPN, with a spectacular KO against Brandon McCrary.
Cojanu, who measures over 6-foot-5 and has a crushing right, is the clear favorite, although he can't be careless. Fountain, nicknamed "The Hawaiian Stallion," could make it tough on him with his quick combos and power punches.
Andrey Fedosov (25-3, 20 KOs) vs. Nate Heaven (9-1, 7 KOs)
A 28-year-old Saint Petersburg, Russia, native and Hollywood, California, resident, Fedosov is a quick fighter for the division. He defends himself very well and keeps his guard high.
Fedosov likes to exchange in close quarters, where he can let loose a lot of punches. His biggest problem is his height (6-foot-1), and his lack of activity since an injury in June 2013 forced him to abandon his fight against Bryant Jennings in the first round. Since then, he has fought only once.
His opponent, Heaven, suffered his first loss on July 19 when he was stopped in the first round against 44-year-old veteran Stacy Frazier, an opponent who was 15-15. Prior to that fight, Heaven, 29, a fighter with no prior amateur career who debuted at the age of 24, had won all of his fights, among them a spectacular KO against Dennis last April.
This is an event fight that remains hard to predict, although because of his height (6-foot-6) and longer reach, Heaven is a slight favorite to win.
Jason Estrada (20-5, 6 KOs) vs. Lenroy Thomas (18-3, 9 KOs)
Former U.S. Olympian Jason Estrada was called on at the last minute for this fight to replace Mario Heredia, who had to withdraw because of medical reasons. Hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, Estrada owns wins over James Northey, Lance Whitaker, Moultrie Witherspoon and Derek Bryant.
His opponent, Jamaican Lenroy "TNT" Thomas, is a 29-year-old southpaw who resides in St. Petersburg, Florida. A former top prospect prior to 2010, Thomas had amassed 16 consecutive victories.
He recently returned in 2013 and suffered two tough defeats by knockout against Dominic Breazeale and Arron Lyons. In 2014, he got back on the winning track. In March, he beat Travis Fulton, and in May, he knocked out Jason Pauley.
This will also be an even match and hard to predict. The only factor that could tilt the match Thomas' way is his longer reach.
Thursday is the 15th anniversary of Erik Morales’ decision win over Marco Antonio Barrera, the first matchup of their legendary trilogy, regarded as one of the best in boxing history.
ESPN Stats & Information takes a look at the fight.
Top Things To Know
1. Morales was 35-0 and defending his WBC junior featherweight title for the ninth time entering his 2000 title unification fight with Barrera. Morales won the title in September 1997 with an 11th-round knockout of Daniel Zaragoza.
2. Barrera was 49-2 with a no-decision and seeking the third defense of his WBO junior featherweight Title. Barrera won the title for the second time in October 1998 with a fourth-round TKO victory over Richie Wenton.
3. According to CompuBox, Morales outlanded Barrera 319-299 in the bout and 290-272 in power punches. Barrera scored the only knockdown of the fight in Round 12, and at the final bell both men were bloodied and bruised. Morales won a controversial split decision with scores of 115-112, 114-113 and 113-114.
4. Ring magazine named the bout fight of the year and Round 5 of the fight was named round of the year. Morales would vacate his titles to move up in weight, which would result in the WBO “re-awarding” its title to Barrera.
5. Morales and Barrera would meet twice more, in 2002 and 2004. In both bouts, Barrera would avenge the earlier loss by defeating Morales in a unanimous decision (2002) and majority decision (2004).
Morales was rolling through competitors in the junior featherweight division throughout the mid-1990s. He won the WBC title in 1997 with an 11th-round knockout of Zaragoza. From 1997 to 1999, Morales made eight title defenses. Barrera was also a top-notch competitor in the 122-pound division, winning the WBO title in 1995 with a unanimous decision win over Daniel Jimenez. Barrera made eight defenses of the title before losing back-to-back fights against American Junior Jones, whom Morales defeated in 1998. Barrera would regain the title in 1998 with a fourth-round TKO over Richie Wenton and defend twice before the bout with Morales was agreed upon for Feb. 19, 2000.
The personal animosity between the two was fueled by the claim that the winner would be the “Next Great Mexican superstar,” an unofficial title previously held by Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez. The fighters’ Mexican heritage and upbringing also played a major part in the buildup. Barrera was from Mexico City while Morales was from Tijuana, which already inspired geographical and class battles.
At the sports books, the undefeated Morales was a 3-1 favorite. At the weigh-in, both fighters were under the 122-pound limit; Barrera came in at 121.5, Morales at 121. The bout would take place at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and would be shown on HBO as part of its “After Dark” series.
Although Morales was favored, it was Barrera who was the early aggressor. From what the crowd and analysts saw, it appeared as if Barrera had jumped out to the early lead on the judges’ scorecards. But nothing in the fight would compare to what was witnessed in the fifth round. Both men spent the three minutes firing punches at one another, and according to CompuBox, Morales landed 51 of 95 punches while Barrera landed 24 of 50. Despite the lower output, many believed Barrera took the round when he was able to connect with Morales, sending “El Terrible” into the ropes.
The back-and-forth action would continue throughout the second half of the fight, with both fighters landing power shots and putting each on the ropes. But in true warrior fashion, both fighters took the punishment and fired back at his rival. In the final round, Barrera wobbled Morales with a couple of punches and seconds later, Morales’ knee touched the canvas. Morales said it was a slip, but referee Mitch Halpern ruled it a knockdown and in the eyes of most, it sealed Morales’ fate. Both fighters ended the way they started, throwing punches at a ferocious pace as the bell rang to signify the end of 12 brutal, bloody rounds of action.
When the judges’ scorecards were read, many did not expect to hear what came out from the microphone of Michael Buffer. “Duane Ford scores the bout 114-113 for Barrera . . . Carol Castellano scores the bout 114-113 for Morales . . . and Dalby Shirley scores the bout 115-112 for the unified champion by split decision . . . Erik “El Terrible” Morales!”
Morales became the new WBO junior featherweight champion and successfully defended his WBC junior featherweight title for the ninth and final time.
The immediate discussion of the fight was more about the verdict than the fight itself. The men would face off twice more in their careers. In the 2002 rematch, many believed Morales won the bout, but it was Barrera who won, according to the judges, by unanimous decision. The rubber match took place in 2004, and once again it was Barrera who was victorious by majority decision.
Morales would compete until 2012, when he lost back-to-back bouts to current light welterweight champion Danny Garcia. Morales finished his career with a record of 52-9 and world title reigns in four different weight classes.
Barrera competed until 2011, but lost important bouts against Juan Manuel Marquez, Manny Pacquiao and Amir Khan. He finished his career with a record of 67-7 with a no-decision and title reigns in three different weight classes.
Established as one of the most prestigious tournaments in professional boxing in the United States, Boxcino returns in 2015 with a pair of tournaments in the junior middleweight (beginning Friday) and heavyweight (beginning Feb. 20) divisions.
Boxcino is considered a true boxing star factory. The first edition, in 1997 -- which aired on ESPN -- was won by Brazilian Acelino "Popo" Freitas, who went on to win world titles in two divisions.
Last year's tournaments created new fighters to watch in middleweight Willie Monroe Jr. and lightweight Petr Petrov. Both have used their success in the Boxcino tournaments to climb the rankings, as have runners-up Brandon Adams and Fernando Carcamo.
Adams, who lost to Monroe in the finals of the 2014 Boxcino middleweight tournament, has moved down in weight to enter this year's junior middleweight draw. Friday's quarterfinal bouts will be six rounds, with the semifinals set for eight rounds (April 3) and the finals scheduled for 10 rounds (May 22).
Here is a breakdown of Friday's quarterfinal bouts in the junior middleweight bracket:
Ricardo Pinell (10-1-1, 6 KOs) vs. John Thompson (14-1, 5 KOs)
The 2015 Boxcino tournament was supposed to be a big opportunity for Cleotis Pendarvis, a native of Los Angeles, who was seeking for more than 10 years to direct his career toward the elite of professional boxing. But Pendarvis, despite moving up two weight classes, came in overweight on Friday and was ruled out of the tournament.
Pendarvis' last-minute replacement will be John Thompson, 25, a native of New Jersey, who will snap a 13-month layoff dating back to the first defeat of his career last January when he was knocked out by Frank Galarza.
Pinell, of California, is a southpaw and is looking to find his place in the competitive elite of professional boxing in the United States. Boxcino can be the door to that dream if he can defeat Thompson.
Pinell accumulated a run of five straight wins since his only loss, in 2013 against Eric Mendez. Pendarvis' experience and better technique should favor his victory; however, keep in mind that he has been inactive for the past 21 months and will be moving up two weight classes to face Pinell.
Stanyslav Skorokhod (8-0, 6 KOs) vs. Michael Moore (13-0, 6 KOs)
This will be an interesting battle between undefeated opponents with contrasting styles. The Ukrainian Skorokhod looks to apply pressure, has good power and moves intelligently in the ring. Moore, 28, of Cleveland, is a technically gifted southpaw with good movement, although he lacks power.
Expect Skorokhod to be aggressive off the start, looking to test Moore, who hasn't fought in 16 months. The Ukrainian will be making just his second appearance in the U.S., and will need to overcome a lack of experience to get the best of Moore.
Nevertheless, in his previous fight, Skorokhod knocked out lefty David Lopez in October in Hollywood, which would certainly be a performance he should look to emulate in his Boxcino debut.
Brandon Adams (15-1, 10 KOs) vs. Alex Perez (18-1, 10 KOs)
Adams, a native of Los Angeles, enters the tournament with the greatest amount of expectation following his performance in the middleweight draw last year. The 2014 middleweight runner-up has dropped to 154 pounds and is coming off a Jan. 16 knockout over Lekan Byfield on "Friday Night Fights."
Perez, 32, of Newark, New Jersey, is a southpaw with good power who moves well around the ring. But he'll be having an aggressive puncher like Adams, who has dynamite in his fists, coming at him.
Despite holding a height advantage, Perez (6-foot) will need to overcome the fact that he has not fought regularly in the past three years. Due to his aggressiveness and the power of his punch, Adams (5-9) is the favorite.
Vito Gasparyan (14-3-5, 8 KOs) vs. Simeon Hardy (13-0, 10 KOs)
This fight promises to set off sparks between two good opponents.
The Armenian Gasparyan enters the bout after losing a unanimous decision to current junior welterweight titlist Jessie Vargas. But that fight took place in December 2012 and Gasparyan, who is tough and able to withstand punishment, hasn't fought since.
Hardy, who was born in Guyana but resides in Brooklyn, has worked under the tutelage of mentor and trainer Colin Morgan in the Trinidad Boxing Gym. Hardy is a rising undefeated prospect, who has won his past three fights by knockout.
Boxcino will be Hardy's first big challenge, and Gasparyan is the most dangerous opponent he has ever faced.
After seeing his middleweight title shot against Jermain Taylor fall apart in recent weeks following the former undisputed champion's rib injury and subsequent arrest, Mora will face late replacement Abie Han at the Beaux Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. The 12-round bout will headline ESPN's "Friday Night Fights" (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET).
Taylor suffered a broken rib during training and was arrested days later on charges of aggravated assault after firing a gun in public and three counts of endangering the life of a child. He was also cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
Mora (27-3-2, 9 KOs), the champion of the first season of "The Contender" reality show, prepared six weeks to face Taylor, but he took the change of opponent calmly and had some words of solidarity for Taylor.
"Everything happens for a reason," Mora said. "But I think Taylor should pray and ask the man upstairs or someone for protection, because he's certainly going to need a lot of help."
Mora, 35, who is advised by Al Haymon, has won four straight fights since his last loss in 2012. He defeated Dashon Johnson in December by unanimous decision in his most recent bout.
Regarding his new opponent, Texan Abie Han (23-1, 14 KOs), Mora avoided any kind of triumphalism. On the contrary, he has great respect for him.
"My coach [Dean Campos] checked him out in recent days," Mora said. "[Han] reminds us a lot of another very tough opponent I faced in the past, Archak TerMeliksetian. Despite his height, Han is aggressive all the time and throws a lot of power punches. His style is difficult, and I will have to be very careful.
"Don't forget that his only loss was against an undefeated and rising prospect like Glen Tapia."
Mora spared no arguments to justify the need for precautions against his opponent on Friday.
"Today, opponent's records don't mean much to me. In my last fight, I fought a guy with 15 losses [Dashon Johnson] and went through hell before getting the victory," said Mora, who got off the canvas to win that fight.
Mora is right to take his opponent with caution. Han, a native of El Paso, has won four fights in a row since his only loss in July 2013.
"I'm always training, but it's just like the last fight, when I was called with less than three weeks in advance to prepare for the fight and I took it because I'm in no position to turn down an opportunity like this," Han said. "I'm thrilled to have another opportunity.
"I'm 30 and I've never starred in a big main event like the one this Friday, or against an opponent with the prestige of Sergio Mora. It will be a big challenge. He has a rare and different style from everything I've faced, but I feel confident that it will beat him."
Han, who trains in Las Cruces, New Mexico, with former world champion Austin Trout, comes from a family of fighters. His father is a martial arts master, and his three sisters and brother practice boxing and martial arts. In fact, his older sister, Jennifer, has been an amateur national champion and as a professional has fought for the International Female Boxing Association's world featherweight title.
For the fight this Friday, Han assures he will maintain his aggressive style, although he will take some precautions.
"I like to hit. I always go forward and set the pace from the middle of the ring," Han said. "If there's nothing happening, I'm always in charge of forcing the action, which can sometimes be my downfall. With my coach [Louie Burke], we've been working to correct that problem."
The battle between Mora and Han is interesting because of the contrasts that make up their styles. There's a slight advantage in height and reach for Han, and he'll seek to work from the inside with strong combinations. Mora will be the one to resort to jabbing to establish an appropriate pace; he will move sideways and seek to surprise from the corners or with a surprise right hand from any position.
It will be a difficult fight to forecast. Mora is the favorite due to his experience, but it is unknown whether the disappointment of not facing Taylor will affect his enthusiasm and hurt his performance. By contrast, Han will be excited about the opportunity to headline a show on national television, and that incentive might be the biggest obstacle to any favoritism for Mora.
In the co-main event, junior middleweight prospect Erickson Lubin (8-0, 6 KOs), 19, faces Michael Finney (12-1-1, 10 KOs) in an eight-round bout at a catch weight of 157.
Luis (18-2, 7 KOs), a native of Ontario, lost to unbeaten prospect Ivan Redkach in January 2014. Luis, 26, bounced back in his most recent bout, outpointing Wanzell Ellison in July.
As his name suggests, Luis is a quick, explosive fighter who comes forward behind a high guard defensively that is tough to penetrate. He looks to throw two- and three-punch combinations on the inside, but despite his irregular fighting rhythm, he sometimes leaves himself vulnerable to counterattacks.
Philadelphia's Dargan (17-0, 9 KOs) makes his return to Foxwoods, where he already displayed his virtues in September by getting up off the canvas to defeat Angino Perez by fifth-round TKO.
In order to get closer to a title shot, Dargan, 29, will have to use his quickness to overcome a complicated opponent in Luis. Dargan, trained by his cousin Naazim Richardson, utilizes good technique and fast combinations.
Dargan's jab is effective, and he uses bursts to surprise his opponents with right hands. While both of his hands are effective, Dargan's main weapon is his right hook. On defense, he dodges punches by moving his torso and always looks to stay quick on his feet in order to complicate his opponent's attack.
Luis, who turned professional in 2008 after a successful amateur career, is also a well-regarded social worker who became a drug and alcohol rehabilitation counselor at a boys' group home. He suffered his first professional defeat in January 2013 when he was stopped on FNF against Jose Hernandez.
But Luis says the loss was the best thing that could have happened at the time because it showed him that he wasn't invincible, something that many young fighters can start to believe after 15 straight victories.
Luis' father and trainer, Jorge, recognizes that his son's loss to Redkach, however, left a "bad taste" in his mouth that he still hasn't gotten over.
"It should have at least been a draw," Jorge Luis said.
Regardless, both father and son have taken it as another lesson, one that requires them to increase their sense of perseverance and endurance to achieve all their goals.
Friday’s fight promises to be an explosive, even match between two opponents with similar traits in terms of technique, defense and punching speed. However, the physical advantages (height and reach) widely favor Dargan, whose effective jab will likely allow him to control the distance and set the rhythm of the fight.
In this type of scenario, Luis will have to be more aggressive and risk more than normal to get at his opponent. By opening up, Luis will surely be vulnerable to Dargan's counterattack, which is why Dargan is slightly favored coming into the bout.
In the co-main event, Thomas Falowo (12-3, 8 KOs) of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, takes on Russell Lamour (11-0, 5 KOs) of Portland, Maine, in an eight-round middleweight bout.
He's stoic and wise, having seen it all throughout multiple decades in the sport training the likes of Bernard Hopkins, Shane Mosley and Steve Cunningham. But when you ask him about his latest pupil on the rise, unbeaten Karl "Dynamite" Dargan, a different emotion begins to bubble to the surface: joy.
After all, they are family.
Dargan (17-0, 9 KOs), a cousin of Richardson, headlines this week's "Friday Night Fights" (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) against Tony Luis in a 10-round lightweight bout from Foxwoods Casino and Resort in Mashantucket, Connecticut.
A native of Philadelphia, Dargan, 29, was the youngest of those close to him who grew up in the gym observing and learning from Richardson. There was his older brother Mike, along with Richardson's three sons -- the Allen boys -- Rock, Tiger and Bear. All were decorated amateurs and most turned pro, to varying degrees of success.
But Richardson knew from the very beginning that Dargan was different. His attention to detail was unique. His intellect was special.
"He knew everything. He was a know-it-all," Richardson said.
Every day, wherever Richardson went, Dargan was right behind him like a shadow.
"We would babysit him in the gym while we were training his older brother and he would remember everything," Richardson said. "He would say, 'You're not jumping rope right. You're not doing this right. He's not doing that right.'
"He was always like my little assistant. So I told him, 'How long have you been training fighters?' Finally I told him he better come out on the floor and everything he had watched, he could do."
Getting the green light from everyone in the family to enter the diminutive 7-year-old Dargan into the sport wasn't so easy for Richardson, who admitted, "They wanted to kill me. All of them." Dargan, himself, was equally reluctant at making the plunge.
But the slick boxer with the quick hands took quickly the sport. After a brief -- and admittedly ill-advised -- run trying to emulate Mike Tyson's fighting style as an amateur, Dargan began to develop his own style as a boxer. He studied tapes of Sugar Ray Robinson.
Soon enough, Richardson began to notice something unique about the way Dargan moved.
"I always told him that he fights how other people try to fight," Richardson said. "He fights with a natural pizazz and a natural flash where other people try to force and emulate and try to do a lot of things because they want to look charismatic. His is natural."
Dargan mixes that fluidity and athleticism in the ring with a strong boxing IQ, cultivated through years of soaking up wisdom not just from Richardson, but from being around the training camps of the ageless wonder Hopkins. Dargan has taken much of "The Alien's" teachings to heart, including the need for a fighter to protect himself at all times, whether in or out of the ring.
"I can't go against the stuff Bernard says," Dargan said. "As a pro, he said that once you start making money, this is a business and it needs to become a lifestyle. It isn't, 'OK, you've got a fight and have to get in shape for the fight.' You have to always be prepared."
Like Hopkins, Dargan extends that wisdom to the way he fights. He doesn't identify with the normal stereotype of a "Philadelphia fighter" or feel any pressure considering the platform of Friday's fight to go for the knockout or absorb any unnecessary punishment.
Dargan says it's no disrespect to the fans, but his main focus is to listen to his corner and get the job done.
"A lot of people from Philly like to fight for Philly and fight to impress the fans. I have to do what I have to do and what is best for me."
Richardson firmly believes that 2015 will be the last year that Dargan might appear in the ring without a world title belt around his waist. The next step in that journey will come against Luis (18-2, 7 KOs), a native of Canada, who is no stranger to making exciting fights.
"I like this kid, I like that he doesn't give it away," Richardson said of Luis. "You've got to work in everything you do to get something from him.
"Tony has faced some good competition and there's no quit in the kid. We just have to change his mind about feeling like he is able to have success."
For Dargan, who eventually sees himself moving up to the 140- and 147-pound divisions, his journey is all about chasing that dream of a world title that began years back inside the gym.
"At the end of the day, I love the game. I want the hardware," Dargan said. "Of course, the money comes with it. And I do want the money. But from the day I first started fighting, I wasn't thinking about that. I was focused on winning."
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.
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.