HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney analyze all the action from Saturday night's tripleheader at The Forum, including Miguel Berchelt's decisive win over Takashi Miura, Jezreel Corrales' less decisive win over Robinson Castellanos, and Sullivan Barrera's off-the-deck domination of Joe Smith Jr.
Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
INGLEWOOD, Calif - Given recent history in the stacked 130 lb. division – Francisco Vargas’ come-from-behind knockout win over Takashi Miura; his draw with Orlando Salido; Miura’s gutty win over Miguel Roman; and Miguel Berchelt’s stoppage victory over Vargas – there was widespread anticipation that Saturday night’s battle at The Forum between Berchelt and Miura would produce another Fight of the Year candidate. It did not do so, because Berchelt produced a nuanced and skillful boxing performance, thwarting and frustrating his Japanese opponent for much of their 12-round contest and securing a unanimous decision victory.
Berchelt (32-1, 28 KOs) immediately came out on his toes, circling and moving as Miura stalked forward. The opening couple of minutes were uneventful, the crowd already expressing murmurings of disquiet at the lack of action, when a short right hand and left hook landed to Miura’s right temple and the Japanese fighter found himself on the canvas. The thought immediately occurred that perhaps Miura had been in too many wars and that this would be the night on which his bravery and fortitude came to an end, but he was able to not only beat the count but resist Berchelt’s follow-up assault and survive the round.
The second and third frames did little, however, to suggest that he might have much more in store. He walked forward in straight lines, but could get nowhere near Berchelt, who circled and circled, waiting for an opening to strike, which came whenever Miura reached with a punch and the Mexican stepped to his side, tagged his opponent with one punch and then launched several more before moving out of the way and resetting.
But Miura (31-4-2, 24 KOs) betrayed no emotion and no sense of defeat or submission, instead chugging forward steadily as he sought to land his patented southpaw to the body and slow his foe down. It was a task that was not made any easier by the fact that he seemed incapable of displaying any lateral movement or any ability to cut off the ring, and because as a result he was at no stage in position to throw more than one punch at a time.
Even when he appeared to be having a better round, it was generally not as good as the round Berchelt was having, as the Mexican would take a left hand to the head here, or a punch to the body there, but then maneuver himself into position to unload another combination that froze Miura in place.
A sequence in round 5 epitomized the flow of the fight: a series of straight right hands from Berchelt landed flush on Miura’s face, Miura responded with a shot to the body and missed with a sweeping left hand upstairs, which left him in the perfect position for Berchelt to crack him with a left hook and remove any hope of Miura building momentum.
Through six rounds, it was a masterclass of boxing from Berchelt, although bit by bit, as the Mexican tired almost imperceptibly from his efforts, Miura reeled in the distance ever so slightly, still losing the rounds but doing so by progressively smaller margins. Entering the ninth, Miura’s face was swollen and he had likely lost every round on all three official scorecards, but in that round he focused on one punch and one punch only, hurling left hands at Berchelt’s body that thudded home with growing frequency slowing down the Mexican and leaving him in range for still more body shots.
Still, Berchelt kept moving and boxing, and still he responded to Miura’s shots with flurries of his own, but the balance had shifted now. It was Miura who was winning the rounds and Berchelt who was seeking to remain competitive in them. Even so, there was no way that just winning rounds would be sufficient for Miura, as there were not enough remaining; the tension and uncertainty lay in whether he would land enough of his increasingly punishing body blows to bring Berchelt to a halt.
It was, ultimately, to no avail; Berchelt’s energy reserves were being sapped, but he had enough of them in the bank for one final burst in the twelfth, closing strong with combination after combination, Miura responding in kind as best he could, the two men exhausted but refusing to leave anything on the table as they threw punches at each other and the crowd at The Forum roared.
The scorecards – 116-111, 119-108, and 120-109 in favor of Berchelt – were a fair representation of the Mexican’s dominance. But they could not tell the full story of Miura’s dogged determination and Berchelt’s resilience in the face of a determined assault by a dangerous foe.
In a fight that was scrappy, sometimes sloppy, but entertaining throughout and full of drama and controversy, Panama’s Jezreel Corrales (22-1, 8 KOs) retained a 130 lb. title by majority decision over Robinson Castellanos after their scheduled 12 rounder was halted in the 10th following an accidental head butt that left the Mexican challenger bloodied and unable to see clearly through his right eye.
The opening three rounds were fast paced but uneventful, with Corrales firing off fast but inconsequential flurries of punches while Castellanos (22-12, 14 KOs) winged heavier but less accurate punches in the opposite direction. The most significant blow through three landed south of Corrales’ belt line and dropped him to his knees, but the fight exploded into action in the fourth. Corrales walked into a Castellanos counter left that dropped him to his knees; he recovered, returned to offense and began sitting down on his punches more than he had done previously as he sought to inflict damage in return; and then Castellanos landed hard again, this time dropping Corrales onto his haunches.
Corrales recovered strongly, however, fighting with purpose and finding a groove by the fifth, digging punches to body and head before gliding out of the way. He was at times in danger of relaxing too much, however, and shipped some strong Castellanos counters when he did so. A left hand dropped Castellanos to the canvas just before the bell to end round 7, and appeared to cement Corrales’ advantage, but the Mexican never stopped coming, and several rounds were difficult to score as the two men flung punches at each other with little attempt to set up their offenses with any kind of obvious strategy. Castellanos was already bleeding from his scalp as a result of a butt when Corrales fell into his cheek with his forehead 30 seconds into the 10th round. The clash opened up a bloody gash on Castellanos’ cheek, which immediately swelled up, causing the Mexican to blink and complain about his eyesight. The ringside physician advised referee Jerry Cantu that Castellanos could not continue, and because the bout was halted on an accidental foul, it went to the judges’ scorecards. Zach Young saw it a 94-94 draw, but Carla Caiz scored it 94-93 and Pat Russell a perhaps more representative 96-92 in favor of Corrales.
Fighting for the first time in front of the father he had to leave behind when he fled Cuba, Sullivan Barrera recovered from a first-round knock down to dominate Joe Smith Jr., scoring a unanimous decision win over ten rounds of light-heavyweight action. It was the third win in a row for Barrera (20-1, 14 KOs) after suffering his only career defeat as a professional to Andre Ward early last year, and a disappointing return for Smith to the venue where he blasted Bernard Hopkins out of the ring and into retirement in December.
It appeared as if the fight would end both much more swiftly and differently when, in the middle of an exchange in the opening frame, Smith (23-2, 19 KOs) landed a left hook high on Barrera’s head, sending the Cuban backward and sprawling on the canvas. Barrera beat the count comfortably enough and was able to repel Smith’s assault over the closing part of the round; and in the second, he hurled himself into the task at hand, deciding to treat fire with fire by launching fierce punches at the Long Islander. A right uppercut landed clean and would be just the first of what soon became one of the Cuban’s go-to punches; he would pair those uppercuts with booming overhand rights, and although one just missed at the end of the round, there would be more to come.
The speed and variety of Barrera’s punches soon had Smith looking confused, and as the American tried to figure out how to respond, Barrera kept throwing. A huge uppercut landed on Smith’s chin in the fourth, snapping back his head; Smith was hurt, and another uppercut didn’t aid his cause, but he landed a strong hook of his own to back his opponent off as the round came to a close. A series of right hands had Smith in trouble again in the fifth, followed by more booming rights and another uppercut in the sixth.
The pace slowed over the final few rounds – the total number of which was unexpectedly cut from 12 to 10 by the promoter at the last minute – but the story remained the same, with Smith seeking to find a way to deal with Barrera’s speed, skill and movement, and Barrera appearing to hurt him with every right hand he landed. When the end came surprisingly early, the result was in doubt, and the scores of 97-92 (twice) and 96-93 were as close as Smith might have hoped for.
Watch Miguel Berchelt and Takashi Miura weigh-in ahead of their super featherweight title bout, plus all of the undercard fighters.
Berchelt vs. Miura happens Saturday live on HBO at 9:50 p.m. ET/PT.
Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
INGLEWOOD, Calif - It is an odd and frequently disconcerting feature of boxing that those who are especially disposed toward inflicting the most violent of beatings in the ring are among the most placid, even joyful, individuals outside of it. It is not always the case, of course: Mike Tyson in his pomp appeared to be a muscular bundle of contempt and rage; more recently, Sergey Kovalev has been prone to dismissing opponents as "piece of shit" and being annoyed, post-fight, that they selfishly allowed themselves to be knocked unconscious by his fists instead of staying upright and taking more sustained punishment.
But how often have you seen Gennady Golovkin mad? Exactly. He's a lovely fella, seemingly brought to anger only by those who do not follow his gentlemanly code and cross the line from smack talk into offensiveness, a sin that he rewards with a thumping and an admonition to "respect box." Manny Pacquiao is a vision of serenity when he enters the arena but in his prime transformed into an anvil-fisted Tasmanian Devil once he stepped between the ropes.
The six boxers who will swap punches on Saturday's HBO Boxing After Dark (9:50 PM ET/PT) are largely cut from similar cloth. Their personalities, for sure, run the gamut: Takashi Miura is as impassive as his super featherweight opponent, Miguel Berchelt, is expansive; light-heavyweight Joe Smith is taciturn while his foe Sullivan Barrera is all smiles.
But Smith, the construction worker and boxing contender whose first appearance on HBO last December ended with him sending future Hall-of-Famer Bernard Hopkins out of the ring, allowed himself to loosen up after Thursday's press conference when he was welcomed by members of the Laborers' International Union of North America, representing the crews busily building the new Los Angeles Rams NFL stadium across the street from the Forum. During the presser itself, Barrera burst into an ear-to-ear grin at the thought of his father, whom he last saw when he fled Cuba six years ago, being granted permission to visit the United States so he can sit ringside and watch his son in action as a professional boxer for the first time. Jezreel Corrales, making his US ring debut, proudly showed off the 130 lb. world title belt that he wrenched from Takayashi Uchiyama; his challenger, Robinson Castellanos – who lost seven of his first 10 pro bouts and half of his first 20, before embarking on a run that culminated in a shock knockout win over Yuriorkis Gamboa in May – looked around with a grin as if scarcely able to comprehend that he had made it to this point.
At Friday's weigh-in, Corrales – simultaneously acknowledging his opponent's "Robin Hood" nickname and completely butchering multiple storylines – donned a Batman mask to signify that their contest was Batman vs. Robin, which fortunately both he and Castellanos found hilarious. Miura acknowledged a cheering section in the crowd and the support of stablemate Roman ‘Chocolatito' Gonzalez, while Berchelt, drinking electrolytes and sucking down pieces of fruit after making weight, discussed strategy with Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera. Smith patiently waited his turn with the TV cameras while Barrera completed his.
But if all has been a picture of civility to this point, that motif will change dramatically on Saturday evening. Smith's diffidence didn't stop him from ending Hopkins' career, Barrera's sunny disposition didn't get in the way of his annihilating previously undefeated Vyacheslav Shabransky, and Miura's unflappable disposition belies the fact that two of his last three contests have been vicious wars. Being agreeable before a fight may not generate as many social media clicks as throwing F bombs at your upcoming opponent; but at the end of the day, what matters is what happens when the bell rings and the punches start flying. There is too much at stake for all six of Saturday's combatants – none of whom know the meaning of a backward step – to do anything other than lay everything on the line. Pleasantries can resume on Sunday morning; but now, it is almost time for hostilities to begin. On Saturday evening, they will.
Weights from Inglewood:
Joe Smith Jr. 174.6 lbs. | Sullivan Barrera 173.4 lbs.
Jezreel Corrales 129.6 lbs. | Robinson Castellanos 129.4 lbs.
Takashi Miura 129.2 lbs. | Miguel Berchelt 129.2 lbs.
HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney goes one-on-one with Sullivan Barrera ahead of Saturday's fight against Joe Smith Jr. as a part of the Miguel Berchelt vs. Takashi Miura card.
Berchelt vs. Miura happens Saturday on HBO at 9:50 p.m. ET/PT.
HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney goes one-on-one with Joe Smith Jr. ahead of Saturday's fight against Sullivan Barrera as a part of the Miguel Berchelt vs. Takashi Miura card.
Berchelt vs. Miura happens Saturday on HBO at 9:50 p.m. ET/PT.
This past January 28, a double-header was staged with a rematch between then-WBC super featherweight titlist Francisco Vargas and ex-titlist Takashi Miura in mind. While Miura stopped Miguel Roman in 12, Vargas ran into a buzz-saw in Miguel Berchelt, who scored a blood-soaked 11th round stoppage to win Vargas' belt. Berchelt's performance was so action-packed that boxing may have come out ahead in terms of the matchup: A dynamic young titlist with two-fisted power looking to brighten his star against a proven former champ coming off his own pulsating KO win.
Mystery No More: Berchelt was largely unknown to the general boxing public, but Vargas drew out every bit of the youngster's talent in their scintillating war. Averaging 87.8 punches per round to Vargas' 95.7, Berchelt exploited Vargas' horrible defense by landing 45% overall, 30% jabs, 53% power and tender brows by opening cuts over both eyes with legal punches and a third over the left eye from a butt. His excellent jab (29.1 thrown/8.6 connects per round) further troubled Vargas, as did his surge over the final three rounds (139-58 overall, 27-16 jabs, 112-42 power). That soul-sapping finishing kick answered all questions about his stamina, queries prompted by the fact that Berchelt had not yet fought past the sixth entering the Vargas bout.
In all, they combined for 759 total connects (Berchelt led 429-330 overall), the fifth most ever recorded by CompuBox in a 130-pound fight, and 598 landed power shots (Berchelt prevailed 336-262), the fourth most at 130 in CompuBox history. A potential point of concern: Berchelt was hit by 44% of Vargas' power shots, and none of his six CompuBox-tracked opponents were southpaws like Miura. Also, Berchelt was largely a head-hunter against Vargas as only 44 of his 330 total connects and 43 of his 262 landed power shots hit the flanks. He'll need to be more versatile to beat Miura.
Back Into the Fire: Miura-Roman was billed as a potential Fight of the Year candidate and it more than lived up to the hype as Miura endured a strong start by Roman (132-101 overall and 119-86 power in round 1-6) before staging an inspired rally in round 10-12 (60-32 overall, 57-29 power) to score the stoppage. A telling stat: 432 of their combined 482 connects (90%) were power shots. (CompuBox avg.: 72%). But while Miura prevailed, there was reason to be concerned.
In the first six rounds, Miura averaged just 43.5 punches per round, which was similar to the 27 punches he threw in round one against common foe Vargas and the 46.7 he netted in the first three rounds of that fight. Additionally, though Miura's defense was better against Roman (31% overall, 35% power) than Vargas (38% overall, 27% jabs, 44% power) those numbers are still worrisome, especially against a sharp hitter like Berchelt, who averaged 39% overall, 26% jabs and 47% power in his six CompuBox-tracked fights and landed 43% overall, 30% jabs and 53% power against Vargas.
One potential saving grace could be Miura's body attack, which proved pivotal against Roman (86 of 228 total connects (38%) and was decent against Vargas (47 of 166 total connects- 28%). As stated above, Berchelt largely targets the head.
Inside the Numbers: Berchelt is not only busy, he's been accurate (32.6 landed per round- 38.6%) in his last 5 fights with a balanced attack. He landed 9.6 jabs per round (double weight class average) and landed 47.3% of his power shots (23 per round -- 10 more than weight class average) Opponents landed 34% of their power shots, a price to pay for his aggressiveness. Miura threw and landed around the weight class avg. for total punches in his last 6 fights. He's also accurate, landing 44.1% of his power shots. In fact, 16.9 of his 20.3 landed punches (83%) are power shots. CompuBox average: 72%. However, one important red flag: Miura’s opponents landed 37.4% of their power shots.
Prediction: Berchelt proved against Vargas that he can more than hold his own in a bomb-throwing war and Miura, though a battler, likely won't produce that level of heat. Versatility may be the key as Berchelt can box or slug well while Miura will have little choice but to engage and seek openings for his diamond-cutter left cross. Also, at 25, Berchelt is nearing his peak while the 33-year-old Miura may be past his thanks to several hard battles. Finally, despite the Vargas numbers, Berchelt is a good defender (he tasted just 19% overall, 10% jabs and 26% power in his five previous bouts) while Miura's defense is leaky.
Berchelt by TKO, probably in the later rounds.
HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney goes one-on-one with Takashi Miura ahead of Saturday's fight against Miguel Berchelt. Berchelt vs. Miura happens Saturday on HBO at 9:50 p.m. ET/PT.