PODCAST: Ep 230 - January Mailbag

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney open up the mailbag, answering fan questions about how to keep boxing's momentum going, top up-and-coming UK fighters, divisions worthy of a "Superfly"-style fight card, and much more.

HBO Boxing Insiders' 2017 Year-End Picks: Breakthrough Fighter

miguel berchelt.jpg

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders take a look back at the fights that aired on HBO and HBO PPV in 2017. Here, they make their selections for Round of the Year

More: Fight of the Year |  Fighter of the Year | Best Round | KO of the Year | Best Blow | Best Corner | Favorite Moments

Nat Gottlieb: Miguel Berchelt

Most boxing fans had probably never heard of the hard-punching super featherweight Miguel Berchelt. With no big names on his resume, Berchelt was flying under the radar. That all changed when he stepped into the ring with then undefeated champion Francisco Vargas last January. It looked like a war for the first six rounds, but Berchelt’s heavy blows eventually wore down the champion and the fight changed into a beat down, culminating with an 11th round KO. Following up that eye-opening fight, Berchelt took on former super featherweight champion, Takashi Miura, in July. This time Berchelt dominated his opponent over 12 rounds to win a unanimous decision by a wide margin. Although a fractured right thumb on his right hand put Berchelt on ice for the remainder of the year, boxing fans will be eager to see the budding star in 2018.

Springs Toledo: Miguel Berchelt

In January, Miguel "Alacrán" Berchelt wasn't ranked in the Transnational Jr. Lightweight Rankings when he stopped Francisco Vargas, who was. In July, Berchelt followed up his defeat of the #3-ranked contender by knocking down and taking a unanimous decision over Takashi Miura, who was ranked #4. Miura retired after the loss. Incredibly, Berchelt was set to face then #4-ranked Orlando Salido but was forced to back out due to an injured right hand. Berchelt isn't a household name yet and he is unlikely to ever command the numbers of fellow Mexican fighter Canelo Alvarez. Perhaps that is part of the reason why he so aptly reflects the ideal mentality of the fighter. The hope here is that he defines himself and his career by facing the best available. He stands in a perilous position even now: currently ranked #2, just behind last year's HBOs "Fighter of the Year" Vasyl Lomachenko.

Hamilton Nolan: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai

Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Viciously deposing the world class bully in the division--when you are a fighter that few American boxing fans ever followed-- is as breakthrough as it gets.  

Gordon Marino: Miguel Roman

Frank Della Femina: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai

I’m giving this nod to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. How breakthrough is he exactly? Well, I had to once again, for the hundredth time this year, consult Google to ensure I was spelling his name correctly. While he may not have the fun-loving name like "Chocolatito," he sure as hell has the ability to take over the division like his predecessor once did. Had he only taken down Gonzalez once back in March and subsequently lost the rematch, I still would have considered him a pick for Breakthrough Fighter. However, he not only did it once (admittedly on questionable scorecards), but then turned around and showed the boxing world it wasn’t just a fluke with a huge KO win over the man no one thought could lose once, let alone twice, during their September rematch.

Oliver Goldstein: Sadam Ali

Sor Rungvisai is surely the real breakthrough fighter of the year, but for the sake of novelty (as well as acknowledgement of a fantastic surprise win), Sadam Ali gets my pick. Ali was chosen as likely fodder for a retiring great in Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden. But he was deeply competitive through the first half before Cotto suffered a bad bicep injury. Then, he mostly carried the action on the way to a superb breakout victory. Ali now has a title belt and a whole load more currency to gamble with in future.

Kieran Mulvaney: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai

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There are a couple of other contenders, for sure: Alberto Machado, of whom few had heard before he dropped and stopped Jezreel Corrales. Micky Roman, who went 1-1 on the year but on both occasions was in absolutely sensational fights. Miguel Berchelt, who upended Takashi Miura and Francisco Vargas in his twin outings. I’m tempted to say Billy Joe Saunders, so dominant and impressive was his display against David Lemieux to close the year, but he’s already established on the other side of the pond and quite a few picked him to do exactly what he did. So the honor surely has to go to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. When he first prepared to face off against Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez in March, he was largely considered to be the likely latest victim of the man then widely regarded as the best boxer in the world, pound-for-pound. Then, he came out and sent Gonzalez to the canvas in the very first round. Chocolatito came back into the contest and, despite gushing blood from accidental head butts, seemed to many ringside observers to have done enough. But it was Srisaket who got the win; and six months later, he left no doubt, brutalizing and flattening the former pound-for-pound king in four dominant rounds.

Carlos Acevedo: Miguel Berchelt

From seemingly out of nowhere, Miguel Berchelt materialized to score a pair of significant super featherweight wins over crowd favorite Francisco Vargas (via TKO) and Japanese warhorse Takashi Miura (via decision). Although Vargas and Miura were good style matchups for him, Berchelt still had to work hard to overcome their tenacity in stirring fights. Unfortunately, Berchelt was forced to withdraw from a scheduled title defense against battle-weary Orlando Salido scheduled for December. A win over Salido, who went on to lose to late substitute Mickey Roman, would have made Berchelt a possible candidate for HBO Fighter of the Year. Instead, the neat standup boxer with a pinpoint right cross settles in as the Breakthrough Fighter of the Year.

Eric Raskin: Miguel Berchelt

With apologies to Mickey Roman, Dmitry Bivol, and Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Berchelt was the guy who most impressively ascended from anonymity to the top of his division in 2017. At the outset of the year, the best names on Berchelt’s record were faded versions of Cristobal Cruz and Antonio Escalante, and he had a first-round KO loss to Luis Florez sitting there to make you wonder if he could possibly amount to anything. But using an eye-catching blend of boxing and slugging, Berchelt handed Francisco Vargas his first loss, then beat Takashi Miura into retirement. At just 26 years of age, Berchelt has the look of a mainstay in the junior lightweight division and on the televised boxing landscape well into the next decade.

Diego Morilla: Billy Joe Saunders

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The middleweight division did not need him, and certainly weren’t counting on adding another factor in an equation that includes potentially very attractive bouts between top guns like Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin against each other, with contenders such as Daniel Jacobs and Demetrius Andrade also vying for a shot. But if there was a perfect character to be added to enhance the interest, the marketability and the excitement that this division already has, that had to be a loudmouth, awkward, fearless British southpaw with a teaspoon of Irish wit and grit.

Michael Gluckstadt: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai

No one is wondering how to say his name anymore. Sor Rungvisai went from "opponent"-level to the head of the pack in a loaded division with two impressive victories over the man many considered to be the best in the sport. Whether he can continue that dominance against the rest of the super-flyweights is one of the most anticipated boxing storylines in 2018.

HBO Boxing Insiders' 2017 Year-End Picks: Best Corner

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, HBO Boxing Insiders take a look back at the fights that aired on HBO and HBO PPV in 2017. Here, they make their selections for Best Corner – not just for the boxer’s trainer and cutman, but the promoters, managers and entire teams that put their man in the best position to do what they do best. 

More: Fight of the Year |  Fighter of the YearBest Round | KO of the Year | Best Blow | Breakthrough Fighter | Favorite Moments

Nat Gottlieb: Abel Sanchez and Tom Loeffler

The team of trainer Abel Sanchez and promoter Tom Loeffler of K2 Promotions combined for two of the most thrilling fights of the year. Sanchez and Loeffler got their undefeated boxer Gennady Golovkin ready for two supreme tests in 2017. In March, Golovkin and Daniel Jacobs put on a sensational show before a packed house at Madison Square Garden in which GGG won a close but unanimous decision. The same team matched up Golovkin and Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez in Las Vegas in September. It was one of the most anticipated bouts in years, and although it ended in a controversial draw, it didn’t disappoint for excitement. Loeffler also promoted two more great fights in 2017. In April, he put on the heavyweight battle between longtime former reigning champion, Wladimir Klitschko and rising star Anthony Joshua at London’s Wembley Stadium. It was a fantastic fight with a spectacular finish, as the American slugger knocked down Klitschko twice in the 11th round to earn a TKO victory. Loffler capped his year in September when he promoted the eagerly-awaited rematch of Roman Gonzalez and Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. It too proved to a terrific fight, with the Thai boxer knocking out the former best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

Springs Toledo: Dominic Ingle

What Billy Joe Saunders didn't understand and what Dominic Ingle did was that boxing is a character sport first. Although skills are critical and count more than athleticism, it's character that is the foundation of the sport -- roadwork before sunrise, tedious workout sessions, grueling sparring sessions in the ring, self-denial out of it. Saunders walked into the Wincobank Gym in Sheffield in June, reported to Ingle and set up quarters in a house next door. Ingle is the lead in a team that includes nutritionist Greg Marriott and loft-mate Kid Galahad and is built on the age-old boxing principles. "He's got too many distractions," Ingle told Boxing News in June. In September, Saunders defeated Willie Monroe Jr. In October, David Lemieux was formally announced as his opponent. His cloistered devotion to conditioning and craft paid off and he not only won, but astounded everyone. He has no illusions about what and who he needs. If it wasn't for Dominic Ingle, he said in the post-fight interview, "my boxing career would be finished and over."

Hamilton Nolan: Andre Rozier

Andre Rozier. Sadam Ali beat Cotto, and Danny Jacobs did better than anyone had ever done against Golovkin. That's enough for a decade.

Gordon Marino: Virgil Hunter

Frank Della Femina: Andre Rozier

For the past two years we’ve been spoiled by erratic Teddy Atlas-isms to the point where nothing can even come close to matching it. But while this year’s fights missed stoic statements about “water in the basement” or shifting boxing careers to that of “firemen”, I’m going to give this title to Sadam Ali’s corner in his fight against Miguel Cotto. Although it is public knowledge at this point that Cotto was injured in Round 7, Ali’s corner was overly animated, encouraging, and motivating for a guy who was simply written off by everyone watching that fight. Say what you will about him beating a one-handed fighter, but if you’re in the ring with a legend like Cotto, fighting to stay alive and stake a claim in another HBO Boxing main event, you need inspiration, confidence, and direction. Ali executed well, but his corner helped him get there.

Oliver Goldstein: Andre Rozier

Few backed Danny Jacobs against Gennady Golovkin in March. And while Jacobs didn’t emerge with the nod, he took Golovkin into far deeper waters than anyone had managed previously. Jacobs had GGG looking bemused through three, though the Kazakh seemed to waken from slumber when he had him on the canvas in the fourth. No problem – Jacobs returned to his feet and had Golovkin looking defanged all over again. Key to this was a strategy that had GGG frequently off balance as he looked to let go of the combination punches he’s become known for. This was a loss, but Jacobs left the ring a bigger fighter than he entered it. 2018 should be a big year for the New Yorker.

Kieran Mulvaney: Freddie Roach

There are plenty of good candidates for this, numerous occasions on which a corner team has coaxed the best out of its fighter in those difficult moments when all seemed to be going against him. Chepo and Eddie Reynoso, for example, made sure that Canelo Alvarez knew he needed the three best rounds of his life if he had to have any hope of preventing Gennady Golovkin from winning their middleweight battle. But nobody turned around a fight the way Alberto Machado did. In his October bout with Jezreel Corrales, Machado was being hit from every conceivable angle by just about every kind of punch. He was dropped. He was being battered. Through it all, trainer Freddie Roach calmly told him to stick to the fundamentals, work his jab and wait for the openings. And because of the way Corrales flung himself into his unorthodox attack, Roach assured him, those openings would come. In the event, Corrales needed just one, uncorking a left hook that landed on the jaw of his onrushing opponent and dropped him. Corrales juuuuust failed to beat the count, and Machado had the win.

Carlos Acevedo: Rob McCracken

Working with the talented but unseasoned Anthony Joshua—who had never gone into the eighth round before facing his biggest test in Wladimir Klitschko—Rob McCracken provided a calming voice in the corner between rounds. This was particularly evident when an exhausted Joshua, after suffering the first knockdown of his career, plopped onto his stool at the end of the sixth. Joshua struggled for the next few rounds, but with the guidance of McCracken, once a middleweight contender himself, Joshua pulled through for the biggest win of his career.

Eric Raskin: Andre Rozier

I’m picking Ali in part because I want to give recognition to Andre Rozier, who coached Ali to an upset win over Miguel Cotto and guided Daniel Jacobs to what many saw as an upset win over Gennady Golovkin. For my money, Rozier is the clear Trainer of the Year. But Ali was also guided expertly from a managerial perspective. He had his confidence restored with three comeback wins that followed his 2016 knockout loss to Jessie Vargas, and when he was offered a fight with Cotto that many viewed as a mismatch, his team had the confidence to sign for the fight. In and out of the ring, you can’t steer a young fighter any more perfectly than Ali was steered this year.

Diego Morilla: Thainchai “Bank” Pisitwuttinan

Abel Sanchez with Gennady Golovkin

Abel Sanchez with Gennady Golovkin

There were fighters and managers from all corners of the world at the usually boring and pedestrian pre-fight presser in Carson back in September, all of them taking turns to repeat their own self-praise about their great training camps and their gratitude to God and their promoters. But one of them had a story to tell, for a change. His fighter, he said, walked into his gym a few years prior with a dismal 2-3-1 record, and perhaps a dozen more losses in illegal bouts across the country. He was working as a trash collector, and oftentimes he found his meals in those bags as well. He was allowed to sleep on the floor of the gym as he trained, and before he knew it, he said, his fighter had gone from scavenging for food in Bangkok’s garbage bins to building a 25-win streak topped by a title bout that he lost, only to embark on another, 17-fight winning streak topped by back-to-back wins against the best fighter in the world. Wisaksil Wangek, A.K.A. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, said the man they call “Bank” for a reason, had cashed in on the hopes that he had deposited in him less than seven years ago to turn his life around and beat the best fighter in the world – twice. And just as another kid from the slums of an overcrowded Southeast Asian city (Manny something or other), he said, Wisaksil was here to stay. There may not be enough reasons to take his word to an actual bank just yet, but I can see myself betting my rent money on his assessment. I’ve lost more than that on lesser causes.

Michael Gluckstadt: Eddie and Chepo Reynoso

While I thought Gennady Golovkin did enough to secure a close win against Canelo Alvarez, what I thought going into the fight was that GGG would have his way. The Reynosos prepared their man to dismantle Golovkin's considerable arsenal, and Canelo had an answer for all of the questions previous opponents couldn't solve.

PODCAST: Ep. 226 - Lemieux vs. Sanders Postfight

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney break down all of Saturday night's action from Montreal, including Billy Joe Saunders' magnificent boxing display against David Lemieux, Spike O'Sullivan's knockout of Antoine Douglas, and Yves Ulysse Jr.'s dominant performance against Cletus Seldin.

Matador Saunders Tames Lemieux

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

LAVAL, Quebec - All week, Billy Joe Saunders had displayed the confident swagger of a man who knew he not only belonged at the top table but owned it. He would show everyone, he promised, that David Lemieux simply was not in his class. In fact, he proclaimed at the final pre-fight press conference, dispensing with Lemieux was not even in doubt; the only question was whether he could prove – to himself, it seemed, as much as to others – that he could go head-to-head with the likes of Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. As HBO’s Max Kellerman observed in the aftermath of Saunders’ dominant, star-making unanimous decision win: As far as that latter goal was concerned, it was very much mission accomplished.

It became evident early on that Lemieux (38-4, 33 KOs) might be in for a tough night, as Saunders moved effortlessly around the ring in the first round while Lemieux gave chase. The Saunders southpaw jab was soon firing effectively, and in the second he used it to set up a beautiful combination, punctuated by a left hand that landed with Lemieux pinned in the corner.

In the third round, Lemieux came out behind a rapidly-firing jab, and for a brief moment looked as if he might be able to close the distance to his adversary. A left/right/left combination landed with only glancing power, but it was enough to send the partisan crowd, already scrabbling for reasons to cheer, into a frenzy. But in the fifth, Saunders was the one who moved up in gear, adding extra weight to his jab and steering Lemieux into strong power punches. At one stage, after knocking an off-balance Lemieux sideways with a counter, Saunders turned and saluted the crowd, which did not respond in kind.

Saunders (26-0, 12 KOs) was spearing Lemieux almost at will now, keeping him at range with the jab and following it up with straight lefts. Lemieux’s response was to rush forward more aggressively, which served only to play into Saunders’ plan and power punches. By the tenth, it appeared as if Saunders might even be looking to finish off his opponent, responding to a Lemieux hook with a stiff straight left, and then another, and an uppercut that knocked back Lemieux’s head and sent him walking backward into a corner.

But in the event, Saunders eased up over the final two frames, content to torment Lemieux with his effortless movement, metaphorically waving his red cape with a casual arrogance as the hometown crowd booed relentlessly.

After the scores of 117-111, 118-110 and 120-108 were read out in Saunders’ favor, Lemieux vacillated between cursory congratulations and barely disguised contempt. “My hat’s off to Billy Joe,” he said before noting that his left hand had been hurt early in the contest. “If that’s the way you want to win – hey, congratulations.”

“I know the sort of fighter David Lemieux is, I know the sort of trainer he has,” said Saunders. “I knew what he was going to do.” Having earlier in the week stated that he was once again in love with boxing after having felt somewhat lost of late, he praised his new trainer Dominic Ingle for turning him around. “If it wasn’t for Dominic Ingle, my boxing career would be over,” he said. In fact, far from being over, it is now poised to leap up to a whole new level.

***

Ireland’s Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan relentlessly stalked, battered and ultimately stopped Antoine Douglas in the seventh of a scheduled ten middleweight rounds. There is nothing especially fancy about O’Sullivan – who says family rumor has it that he is distantly related to Victorian heavyweight champ John L. Sullivan, and whose bald head and petit handlebar mustache gives the impression he has just stepped out of a December 1897 edition of the Illustrated London News. But he is efficient with his offense, and he walked Douglas down as he fired a stiff jab and a sharp, straight right hand behind a high guard. Early on, Douglas was scoring with greater effectiveness, deploying his superior hand speed to fend off O’Sullivan with tw-and-three punch combinations. But there was no evident plan to what he was doing, no effort to set up his offense or to steer O’Sullivan into places he might not wish to be. Douglas was purely reactive, whereas O’Sullivan knew exactly what he wanted to do and steadily set about doing it.

Even as Douglas (22-2-1, 16 KOs) likely won the first three rounds, O’Sullivan progressively closed the gap, and landed with ever greater authority. By the fourth, Douglas, who had been using lateral movement to evade O’Sullivan, was now retreating in straight lines that took him into the corners and against the ropes, which was just where O’Sullivan wanted him. Each time he had his opponent hemmed in, O’Sullivan (27-2, 19 KOs) uncorked short, sharp, straight combinations, and with each one that landed, Douglas’ resistance seemed to ebb a little more. By the sixth, O’Sullivan’s punches were snapping back Douglas’ head, and it felt as if the dam might break at any moment.

It did so in the seventh. O’Sullivan backed Douglas to the ropes and uncorked a left hook that clearly hurt him, followed by a right hand that crashed into the side of his head. O’Sullivan followed with right hand after right hand, and then a left/right combination that had Douglas wilting, sagging against the ropes, and then crashing to the canvas along the ropes. He was able to beat the count, but was clearly in no state to continue, and referee Steve St. Germain waved it off with 1:03 elapsed in the round.

***

In the opener, junior welterweight Yves Ulysse, Jr. had too much ring generalship, too much hand speed, too much footwork, too much everything for overmatched Cletus “The Hebrew Hammer” Seldin. Going in, this was a bout that at least held out the prospect of being an interesting clash of styles: Could Seldin, who likes to work in close and swarm his opponents, do so against Ulysse, who works best when able to win space to operate? The answer was a definitive no, and once that answer became apparent a short way into the first round, the contest became a painful procession. Ulysse (15-1, 9 KOs) walked around the ring, keeping a frustrated Seldin – who frequently swung wildly at air in pursuit – at bay, and erupted in brief flurries whenever the American was perfectly within range.

One such flurry dropped Seldin (21-1, 17 KOs) in the first round, a straight right hand did the same in the second, and another flurry completed the troika in the third. There would be no more knockdowns, not much of anything really, as a comfortably and vastly superior Ulysse toyed with his foe. The Quebec boxer did step up his pace in the tenth and final round, strafing Seldin with lead right hands in apparent search of a stoppage; but when it didn’t come, he eased off for the final 30 seconds, content to await the scorecards, which all saw the bout as a suitably lopsided 99-88 in his favor.

 

Watch: Saunders vs. Lemieux Press Conference Recap

Watch a recap of the Billy Joe Saunders vs. David Lemieux press conference ahead of their bout on Dec. 16. The fight happens Saturday at 9:40 PM ET/PT on HBO World Championship Boxing.

 

Watch: One-on-One: David Lemieux

HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney goes one-on-one with David Lemieux ahead of his middleweight title fight with Billy Joe Saunders on Dec. 16. The fight happens Saturday at 9:40 PM ET/PT on HBO World Championship Boxing.

Watch: Saunders vs. Lemieux Weigh-In Recap

Watch a recap of the Billy Joe Saunders vs. David Lemieux weigh-in beore their bout on Dec. 16. The fight happens Saturday at 9:40 PM ET/PT on HBO World Championship Boxing.