Hey Harold!: Crawford vs. Postol

HBO Boxing unofficial scorer Harold Lederman discusses the jr. welterweight unification championship bout between Terence Crawford and Viktor Postol. Crawford vs. Postol happens Saturday, July 23 live on pay-per-view beginning at 9pm ET/6pm PT.

Terence Crawford: My Fight - Trailer

Get an exclusive first look at the HBO Sports special -- Terence Crawford: My Fight. This all-new special debuts Sat., July 9 at 12:15am. It all leads up to Crawford vs. Postol on Saturday, July 23 live on pay-per-view beginning at 9pm ET/6pm PT.

Episode 125 - 2016 Mid-Year Awards

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney make their picks for the mid-year HBO Boxing Podcast awards.

Comment

HBO

Episode 124 - Interview with Hall of Famer Harold Lederman

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney speak with recent Hall of Fame inductee Harold Lederman about the weekend in Canastota and memories from nearly 50 years in the sport.

Masterful Lomachenko Stakes a Claim as the Greatest of His Era

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

It has been almost 46 years since Bob Arum promoted his first show at Madison Square Garden: a December 7, 1970 boxing card headlined by Muhammad Ali’s victory over Oscar Bonavena in The Greatest’s second fight back from his enforced exile. He has showcased many boxers at the World’s Most Famous Arena since then, names such as Roberto Duran, Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini, Oscar De La Hoya and Miguel Cotto, but few if any of the 27 cards that he has now brought to the Garden can have been topped by a man with such sublime skill as Vasyl Lomachenko.

It is worth reminding ourselves that, in the aftermath of his dominant victory over Roman ‘Rocky’ Martinez on Saturday night, Lomachenko has now completed a grand total of seven bouts as a professional prizefighter. At that stage in their careers, Duran was still fighting six-rounders in his native Panama City, and even the highly precocious De La Hoya was a year away from his first title fight. Lomachenko now holds world titles in two weight classes, the junior lightweight belt he surgically removed from Martinez added to the featherweight crown he placed upon his head by dismantling Gary Russell, Jr. in just his third professional outing.

Lomachenko’s strength, in his own telling, is the extraordinary variety in his skill set. “I want to show fans in one fight you can do everything,” he has said. “You can throw punches, throw combinations, you can defend, you can move, feint your opponent, the tricks.” 

He certainly did everything against Martinez in a tour de force performance in which a three-time world titlist was second best throughout: too slow to hit Lomachenko with his punches or to avoid the blows that the Ukrainian whipped in toward him; increasingly flustered and lost in the face of a whirlwind of boxing perfection; and then flat on his back and unable to beat the count, wondering just from where the punch had come that had exploded on his jaw and left him cold and confused on the canvas. 

It took Lomachenko (6-1, 4 KOs) all of a minute to fully zero in on his target, who spent those opening 60 seconds or so acting as if he were in with a legitimate chance of being competitive or even emerging victorious, landing fully five punches until Lomachenko found his range and, bobbing, weaving and jabbing his way in, landed two straight southpaw lefts in succession that snapped back Martinez’s head and served notice of his intent.

A straight left in the second bounced off the defending champion’s head once more, and Lomachenko followed up with a pair of right hooks to the body and another shot upstairs. Martinez (29-3-2, 17 KOs) kept motoring forward but Lomachenko was unconcerned, cracking him with a left hand, spinning him around and then landing again.

Whatever approach Martinez tried met only with dismal failure. When Lomachenko came forward, he did so relentlessly, suffocating his foe, slipping easily under the Martinez jab and landing short, sharp combinations before stepping to one side and launching another fusillade from a different angle. When Martinez tried to meet fire with fire, to step forward and throw right hands toward Lomachenko’s head, the challenger allowed him to do so, stepping back just enough to create the perfect amount of space and then firing a counter right to the jaw and launching a straight left that staggered Martinez at the bell.

By the fourth, Martinez appeared completely lost. Lomachenko now was firing lead left hands that Martinez didn’t even see coming, each landed blow now seemingly giving the Puerto Rican whiplash and causing his knees to buckle that little bit more. Almost as soon as the bell rang to begin the fifth, Lomachenko stepped forward with added violence, aware now that he could finish his opponent whenever he wanted to and deciding that he wanted to do so without further delay.

The finish could not have been more picture perfect or appropriate: Martinez, on the retreat, fired a left hand that missed; Lomachenko effortlessly and imperiously slipped underneath it; and, as Martinez sought to regain his balance, Lomachenko, who at no stage during the contest lost his, fired a left uppercut and a right cross that detonated on the Martinez jaw.

Martinez crashed heavily to the canvas, arms stretched outward. Referee Danny Schiavone counted, but he could have continued well into the night and not seen any sign of movement in the fallen champion. The end came officially at 1:09 of the fifth round.

After recovering sufficiently to formulate words, Martinez summed up his evening, and the Lomachenko arsenal, succinctly and perfectly:

“I couldn’t see his hands.”

As for Lomachenko, as good a boxer as any of the 4,545 in attendance are ever likely to see, he insisted improbably that, “I need more fights to get better.” More credibly, he argued that, “I want more fights to make history” – a history that seems every bit at his fingertips.

One day after the sport’s biggest ever star was laid to rest in Louisville, Kentucky, Lomachenko gave a respectful nod to his predecessor by saying that, “I dedicate this fight to the greatest man who ever laced up the gloves, Muhammad Ali.”

While Ali was the greatest of all time, said Arum, “Lomachenko is the greatest of our time.” He would know, and few would argue.

***

While Lomachenko came to Madison Square Garden anticipating a coronation, Felix Verdejo entered the ring before him worried that “my career was on the line.” Regarded as a prospect of such potential that he was being talked of as potentially a new Sugar Ray Leonard, the Puerto Rican lightweight had seen his bandwagon empty somewhat on the back of a trilogy of uninspiring performances, all of which had seen him taken the distance. 

He had, he said after stopping Juan Jose Martinez in the fifth round of a contest that certainly halted the downward decline of the perception in which he was held, been struggling with the pressures that success had heaped on his young shoulders; as a result, “I lost my focus in those previous fights, and had to work harder in this camp.”

There is still a lot more work to be done if Verdejo (22-0, 15 KOs) is to meet his full potential: he could, for example, stand more in the pocket and throw combinations inside, rather than fire off several punches from mid-range and move away, as is presently his wont.  But those punches that he does throw are, when in full flow, a thing of beauty, streaking through the air in the form of uppercuts, left hooks and overhand rights that detonated on the Martinez skull with thudding regularity. It was when he settled down and started to box more conventionally, however, that Verdejo found the breakthrough he needed: body punches in the fourth softened Martinez up, and then jabs in the fifth set him up for the overhand right that sent the Mexican staggering drunkenly into the ropes where Verdejo found him with a follow-up barrage that prompted referee Mike Ortega to step in and halt the contest.

Lomachenko Adds the Next – And Possibly Final – Chapter in New York Boxing History on Saturday Night

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

History is in the air this week at Madison Square Garden. It always is, of course, at the World’s Most Famous Arena, the fourth iteration of which is closing in on its 50th birthday and which – notwithstanding the glorious nights enjoyed by the likes of Roberto Duran, Felix Trinidad, Bernard Hopkins, and Miguel Cotto, among many others – remains most celebrated by boxing fans for the Fight of the Century. Burt Lancaster was a co-commentator, and Frank Sinatra a ringside photographer, for that night on March 8, 1971, when Joe Frazier repelled the challenge of Muhammad Ali and retained the heavyweight championship that had been stripped from his rival almost four years earlier.

The weigh-in for Saturday’s Boxing After Dark card, headlined by a junior lightweight battle between Roman "Rocky" Martinez and Vasyl Lomachenko, was moved up an hour so that those in attendance could more easily watch Ali’s funeral, taking place in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, one week after his death at age 74.

Among those paying his respects in the Bluegrass State was the promoter of Saturday’s fight, Bob Arum; and on Thursday, before he caught a flight from New York, he was in an expansive mood, regaling reporters with tales of how his first fights as a promoter had been Ali’s last before being denied his license and sentenced to jail for refusing to be drafted into the Vietnam War.

Almost lost amid the reflections and celebrations, however, was a cautionary note for the future of boxing in the Big Apple. Arum claimed that “this will be the last fight I do in New York,” unless changes are made to a bill passed in March by the New York Assembly, and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in May, that imposed a requirement on promoters to post a $1 million bond for each fighter as insurance in the event of a combatant suffering traumatic brain injury.

“We’re a big company, a lot bigger than a lot of the local New York promoters,” Arum told the New York Post. “But I can’t afford to put up bonds like this.”

Of course, if Arum didn’t spout hyperbole, he wouldn’t say much at all, and the smart money has to be on some sort of agreement being made between now and September 1, during which time the New York State Athletic Commission has the authority to make any appropriate amendments. Still, the venerable promoter is far from the only one to have expressed concerns about the viability of boxing in one of the sport’s traditional hotbeds unless that language is changed; and Saturday’s fight – a relatively low-key affair, being held at the more intimate of the Garden’s two venues, The Theater – is exactly the kind of smaller-scale card that would have to move somewhere else if it isn’t.

It is also a card that reflects the ever-changing dynamics of the sport. At the time of Ali-Frazier, boxing was dominated by Americans, who comprised the vast majority of its champions; as years went by and world class athletes found alternative, safer and more lucrative opportunities in other sports, the demographics shifted so that by the early years of this century, Arum was focused almost exclusively on promoting Hispanic fighters.

Among those was Cotto, who for years made this date – the day before New York’s Puerto Rican Day Parade – his own: fighting in New York seven times, five of them at the Garden. With Cotto’s career winding down, there is enthusiasm for passing his island’s torch to Felix Verdejo, but the exceptionally talented young lightweight is still a work in progress, and so the charismatic prospect will be in the chief supporting bout on Saturday night.

Puerto Rico’s hopes in the main event rest on the shoulders of Martinez, a three-time world titlist who is nonetheless a huge underdog against Vasyl Lomachenko, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a representative of boxing’s latest wave: a conveyor belt of supremely talented fighters from the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Lomachenko’s fellow Ukrainians Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko were arguably the vanguard, and his compatriot Viktor Postol will be taking on Terence Crawford in Las Vegas on July 23. There are others: the "Siberian Rocky" Ruslan Provodnikov and, most notably, Russia’s Sergey Kovalev and Kazakhstan’s Gennady Golovkin, who are among the best, most popular and most avoided fighters in boxing today.

In terms of pure skill, however, Lomachenko may outshine them all. In just his seventh professional fight, he will be seeking to win a world title in his second weight class. It is no knock on Martinez that he will be heavily favored to do so. After plying his trade in Las Vegas, Carson, San Antonio and Macau, Lomachenko will be making his New York debut; he will of course be working to ensure that he becomes the latest in a long line of famed boxers to dazzle the Garden’s fans, and Arum isn’t alone in hoping that he won’t be the last.

Weights from Madison Square Garden:

Rocky Martinez: 129.8 lbs.

Vasyl Lomachenko: 129.6 lbs.

 

Felix Verdejo: 134.8 lbs.

Juan Jose Martinez: 133.8 lbs.

The Last Flight of the Comeback Kid

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

By Diego Morilla

We all wish for one miraculous, magic comeback in our lives.

For most of us, it is the return to a place or a time that we hold dear, a chance to relive a meaningful moment, or an opportunity to change destiny. And on the flip side of the semantic coin, many of us would give anything to fire a quick comeback to a hurtful remark by either a friend or a foe in our past.

In my modest case, it would represent a chance to embrace Lobo, the weary old dog I rescued from the fright and the cold of the streets when I was eight years old, one more time before leaving my hometown for good. Or a renewed opportunity to be the last member of my family to hold my mother’s hand while she was still alive, but only a few hours earlier than the moment I did so, when she was already in her deathbed and no longer able to hear the last words that I hardly managed to blurt out of my knotted throat.

For Muhammad Ali, the comeback was his art, his craft and his life’s mission. He mastered both versions of it: the unlikely return to previous glories, and the snappy, witty verbal retort that he dominated with such gracious belligerence.

A kid stole his bicycle in his early teens, and his comeback to that was his enrollment in the local boxing gym, which resulted in a stellar amateur career capped by an Olympic gold medal and a professional boxing career that had very few parallels in history. His government drafted him into the army to fight a war in a foreign land when he felt that the war for his own freedom was still unfinished, and his comeback launched a political, legal and ethical quandary that ended up in the Supreme Court and that still echoes today whenever someone questions the very nature of modern warfare. The world of boxing deemed him incapable of regaining his title after 10 years of his first and equally improbable title bout, and his comeback to that was one of the most memorable fights in history, a triumphant return to the land of his ancestors, and a victory that turned him into a superhero to his race – the human race.

Four years after that memorable African dawn in Kinshasa, Zaire, and a mere 24 years after having his bicycle stolen, a special issue of “Superman” had Ali fighting the red-caped superhero – and winning.

But his life, as it is customary for juggernauts, was not without controversy or contradiction. At times, he even became a victim of his own discourse.

He embraced Islam, a religion that claims to hold women as the most precious beings worthy of all the respect in the world, even though he remained a notorious womanizer.

His desire to avoid blows to the face made him develop a beautifully defensive style that kept foes from hitting him as much as possible, but in doing so he took much more punishment to the body in his later years, and this resulted, according to his own physician, to liver and kidney damages that worsened and accelerated his physical downfall. But he happily paid the price of his own vanity and his desire to emerge unblemished and unpunished from his fights against some of the hardest punchers in heavyweight history just to continue on his mission to be the defiant face of black triumphalism in a white man’s world, and an icon to his people.

He refused to give in to America’s imperialist and dictatorial wars abroad, but he later empowered foreign dictators and took their money in two of his most famous fights overseas in Zaire and Manila. 

But for all of his contradictions, it was his loyalty to his beliefs that kept earning him a second chance in the hearts and minds of both fans and detractors. From his earliest life, it was clear that young Cassius always had his sight on achievements that others would have considered impossible to achieve.

Just as his comeback to a simple act of petty larceny triggered an epic quest towards greatness, and his comeback to accusations of cowardice in the face of war was answered by his bravery to stand up to war itself, his comeback to racial integration was an increasing demand for much higher goals.

His grandfather’s slave master, after whom he was originally named, may have been a staunch abolitionist, but even so young Cassius considered his name a “slave name.” His first backers may have been a group of white businessmen who offered him a lucrative and advantageous deal in an era in which the mob still ruled boxing, but he still asked for more.

And more he got. He became a star beyond his realm, the most recognizable face on Earth, deemed capable of impossible deeds. Like clashing with Superman equipped only with his trademark white boxing trunks as a nameless superhero that could easily have ditched his known early monikers (“The Mouth of the South”, “The Louisville Lip”) in favor of a more appropriate “Comeback Kid,” a name worthy of a character with the power to turn back time and shoot back stingy rhymes.

But just as Superman had to be shipped out of his exploding planet by his dying parents to find his mission in life, Ali’s greatness was built on his ability to meet the challenges that his life placed on him, first as an angry teenager, and then as a boxing champion, a soldier of peace and a role model.  After all, a stolen bike didn’t provide enough rage to fill an entire career as a prizefighter, so Ali had to find new causes. New comebacks to add to his legendary ability to turn challengers and doubters away.

And he didn’t have to look too hard.  He came back from his banishment from boxing to regain his title against the most fearsome of foes in the form of George Foreman, in an African country that now exists only in the history books and is mentioned almost solely to honor his accomplishment, like the name of an ancient city now lying in rubble mentioned only when the name of his conqueror is recalled. And he defied the odds once again when he took on the much younger and inexperienced Leon Spinks in his quest to regain his belt a record third time. And somewhere in between, he came back from the brink of death from exhaustion to defeat his archenemy Joe Frazier in one of the most grueling battles in memory.

The comeback was his magic trick, and Ali’s claim of greatness was his comeback to everyone else’s claim of greatness. The measure of his success toppled every bragging right in boxing, both in and out of the ring – and to some extent, in life itself.

And his forced reclusion after the last two punishing bouts of his career left him progressively silent was our cue to generate our own comebacks, our own wars against war, our own struggles for our own lofty goals. And here we are, speechless, waiting for another illuminated sportsman to use his notoriety to stand up for the beliefs of his people with his same passion and eloquence that Ali stood for.

The wait, as it turns out, may take a long while. __________________________________________________________

Up until his very last breath, Ali kept dreaming about one last comeback.

“My father is one of those people who would have spent all of his life trying to come back,” said Hana Ali, one of his nine children, in a recent documentary. “He joked about it up until he was probably 65. ‘Wouldn’t it be something? We’ll shake up the world! I’ll come back and take that title back!’”

We never give up on our desire to see one last, miraculous, magic comeback in our lives.

In my book of wishes, the Comeback Kid takes to the skies once more, and flies one last mission to make a perfect version of my most cherished memories come to life once again before disappearing into the night of time.

A frightened paw scratches my front door, and it’s Lobo. An eight year-old me embraces him, and we’re neither afraid nor cold anymore. I hold my mom’s hand once again, and instead of the pale, unanimated limb that lingers in my most painful memory, I find the same vibrant, warm, loving hand that steered my childhood into manhood.

In the book of wishes of the people that he touched through his passage in this world, Muhammad Ali, terror of bicycle thieves worldwide, vanquisher of Superman, poet , loudmouth, soldier of peace and warrior of the ring, suddenly sheds the spell of his heinous malady to stop trembling, and he stands up upright and firmly once again on those two long and wide legs, with his voice un-slurring away from his illness and back into coherence, to explode in another fearless, brilliant, poetic rant that destroys and silences every warmongering politician, every hater, every boxing challenger and every doubter and naysayer in the world.

The last flight of the Comeback Kid will never take off. A long shot worthy of his destiny-defying prowess will remain unattainable. An unfinished rhyme will forever echo in the square circle that he turned into his preaching stand, his soap box, his dancing floor, his battleground and his springboard to immortality. His last challenge will remain unmet, open to all of us to pick up where he left off, should we ever dare.

“He has always defied impossible odds by doing the seemingly impossible”, said Hana, ”and proving to himself and to the world that he could accomplish it.”

We could try to summarize Ali’s mission on Earth more succinctly.

But in fact, not even Muhammad Ali could muster a comeback for that.

1 Comment

HBO