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.