HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney are live from Radio Row in Las Vegas for their final day of GGG-Canelo 2 prefight podcasting, welcoming trainer Abel Sanchez, HBO expert analyst Roy Jones, and boxing journalist Gordon Marino, and also covering the weigh-in and breaking down the betting odds.
By Gordon Marino
Among recent marquee fights, Gennady “GGG” Golovkin (38-0-1, 34 KOs) and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez’s (49-1-2, 34 KOs) much-anticipated pay-per-view rematch rivals that of 2015’s Mayweather-Pacquiao. Two power punching skilled boxers with cast iron chins and blood in the eye for one another is a sure recipe for what GGG famously refers to as a “big drama show.”
Make no mistake about it, Alvarez is boxing’s cash machine and that can carry some sway. When the Mexican super-star was schooled by Floyd Mayweather in 2013, one judge remarkably scored the fight a draw. In his first meeting with Golovkin, one judge came to the surreal verdict that Alvarez had won 10 of the 12 rounds.
Golovkin has notched 18 knockouts in 20 title tussles. Many boxing scribes believe that it would be a mistake for GGG to let the rematch go to the scorecards. This puts some added weight on the knockout artist with the swimmer’s physique. After all, an overeager puncher intent on putting his rival to sleep runs the risk of tensing up and telegraphing his shots; a case in point was Hagler’s loss in 1987 to Sugar Ray Leonard.
Alvarez, who has more experience on the big stage than GGG, will also carry some emotional baggage into the ring. There is the controversy about the verdict in the first fight. That stung, and to drive the barbs even deeper, Canelo was roundly criticized for running rather than fighting in their first encounter. Finally, Alvarez suffered the indignity of having to withdraw from their 2018 Cinco de Mayo rematch after testing positive for Clenbuterol, a banned substance. The Guadalajara phenom who started punching for dollars at the tender age of 15 must feel as though his gladiatorial reputation is at stake. This could lure him into the kind of shoot-out that would play into the heavy hands of Golovkin’s superior power. Indeed, Alvarez’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya said, “I have never seen Canelo train so angry.” According to Oscar, Alvarez is adamant that he is going to knock out Golovkin out, even though GGG has never been down in 353 amateur bouts and 39 pro fights.
Nevertheless, both the principals have high boxing IQ’s and are not likely to let their emotions grab the steering wheel of their ring strategy. But there is room for improvement in both corners. Here are three ways that Canelo and GGG could better their first performance.
Canelo is one of the premier counterpunchers in boxing and he boasts the best counter-right uppercut in the gloved game. In their 36 minutes together, he was able to repeatedly plant that punch on GGG, who when inside, tends to get low and lean forward. But Canelo sat back and took a picture rather than following up. On Saturday, GGG will be relentlessly stalking Canelo. It is the only way he fights. Percentage-wise, the Kazakhstan native lands his shots at a higher rate than any of his boxing brethren (40 %) but he does not move his head, often has his weight on his front foot, and is relatively easy to hit. When Canelo catches GGG, he has to finish with another combination, much as he did in the final frame of the first fight. He has to back Golovkin up; like most aggressive fighters with sleep-producing power, GGG does not know how to fight when his motor is in reverse.
Canelo has an unfortunate habit of going to the ropes to catch a breather. He is masterful at fighting off the strands but it is a losing strategy with GGG. Golovkin is terrific at keeping his distance and bludgeoning his foes when he has them pinned to the ropes. In their first match-up, when Canelo went to the perimeter, GGG punished him with thumping jabs and thunderous rights. While he does not have GGG’s concussive power, Canelo has faster hands and is arguably a superior boxer, so there is every reason to keep the battle in the center of the ring. Accomplishing this will require that Canelo be in the best condition of his career.
In rumble number one, GGG pummeled Canelo with his jab. According to CompuBox GGG pulled the trigger on 100 more jabs than Canelo and he landed almost twice as many, 108 to 55. Golovkin lacks Camacho-like hand speed, but his mega-ton power jab is straight; he keeps his elbow in and does not telegraph it. He uses it together with a short left uppercut to open up his opponent down the middle. In the sequel, whether it be slipping, parrying, or more right hand counters to make GGG think thrice about pumping his left, Canelo needs to do a better job of neutralizing GGG’s jab.
Golovkin is a virtuoso at cutting off the ring, but GGG’s friend Freddie Roach, who is predicting a Canelo victory, insists that GGG has to score a stoppage. As Roach sees it, that means getting Canelo against the ropes and keeping him there. Roach believes that at 36, GGG’s footspeed has taken a hit from father time and that was the reason Canelo was able to escape when Golovkin seemed to have Canelo trapped. Hall of Famer Ray Mancini told me that he thinks GGG had a tougher time than usual because the fighter, ranked as pound-for-pound best by Ring Magazine, was stale from overtraining. Mancini explained, “In order to cut off the ring, you need to be able to change speeds.” And while “Boom Boom” had GGG winning, he thought Gennady was too flat to change gears. Golovkin took two or three rounds to get his war machine humming but when GGG had his man pinned, Canelo would often slip out the side door to his left, compromising GGG’s ability to bring his crushing left hook behind his right.
A key to boxing greatness is punching when your opponent is punching. Golovkin has always demonstrated the grit and ability to stay in the pocket, firing away in the face of incoming. Example: In GGG’s third round knockout of Daniel Geale, Golovkin is tagged with a right but simultaneously delivers a “nighty night” right of his own to the Aussie. In 2017, especially in the early frames, when Canelo attacked or countered, GGG frequently pulled back and out of range. As a result, Gennady was often unable answer Canelo’s blows with his signature left-hook or straight right. Pressed on this point, Golovkin’s trainer, Abel Sanchez, succinctly stated, “We are working on correcting that.”
Canelo has a durable neural circuitry. Like Ali and Cesar Chavez Sr., he can see punches coming and he is adroit at whipping his head and turning with shots. When they met last year, Canelo rolled with GGG’s blows, vastly diminishing their power.
Golovkin is a renown body puncher. Consider his 2013 third round knockout of Matthew Macklin with a left hook to the body that broke two ribs.
If GGG is going to derail Canelo, it is not going to be with one bomb. He will have to break him down. GGG must invest in body work but that is not without its perils. As Larry Holmes once explained, going downstairs can leave a fighter vulnerable to headshots but if Golovkin wants a decisive victory, it’s a risk worth taking. Even if it adds a bit more drama to the show than he had in mind.
Light-heavyweight king Sergey Kovalev has a heavyweight mindset to go with
his heavyweight punching power. That said, the fact that the “Krusher” will never get a chance to reverse his losses to the now retired Andre Ward has to feel like a liver shot. Equally troubling, Kovalev has an ardent desire to unify the title and Adonis Stevenson, who owns one of the 175-pound title belts, and whom Kovalev refers to as “Chickenson,” has been avoiding the Russian destroyer for years.
On Saturday, Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) will defend his crown against another light-heavyweight whom Stevenson seems allergic in top contender Eleider “Storm” Alvarez.
Born in Columbia, Alvarez (23-0, 11 KOs) won a gold medal in the 2007 Pan American Games. Now residing in Montreal, “Storm” made his professional debut in 2009. Since then, he’s notched impressive victories over the likes of Jean Pascal, Lucian Bute, Isaac Chilemba, Ryno Liebenberg, and Edison Miranda. Despite his ledger against tough opposition, the 34-year-old Alvarez is the first to acknowledge that, “The man I am going to be fighting with. . . is the best in the category of 175 pounds.”
Ward aside, Kovalev has dominated his division to the point that he has had a difficult time landing competitive fights. However, he recognizes that this challenger is a real challenge. Assessing Alvarez, Kovalev said, “It’s a big test for me. He is very motivated. He’s hungry for this fight and for a victory. He’s undefeated. It’s not an easy fight... He’s dangerous. I cannot say whether I can knock him out or get a victory by points. It’s a good fight for the boxing fans.”
There are similarities in the styles of Kovalev and Alvarez. Both combatants boast five-star jabs. Alvarez says, "My jab is my best weapon so I am going to use it against Kovalev."
Though at six feet he is two inches shorter than the champ, Alvarez enjoys a reach advantage and has a quicker trigger. Still, Kovalev has a pulverizing lead left and has even registered knockdowns with his jab.
Both fighters specialize in explosive right hand counters over their opponent’s lead. In fact, it is with this return shot that Alvarez has set up most of his knockouts. There should be plenty of opportunities for Alvarez to answer a left with a zinging right on Saturday night. After all, Kovalev is always pumping his jab and often brings his left back just above the belt line. And yet, Alvarez had best be mindful that the low left might be one of the traps Kovalev sets to bait his prey into the danger zone.
In nearly every one of his tiffs, Kovalev’s first goal has been to cut off the ring on fighters trying to stay on the safe side of his juggernaut right. In this, the first boxing event at the Atlantic City Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Kovalev might not have to work so hard to find his man.
While Alvarez has excellent balance and respectable footwork, he almost stubbornly stays in the pocket and he does not move his head. Pressed on whether or not he fears Kovalev’s vaunted power, the Columbian native shot back, "If I was scared then I wouldn't be boxing.”
For psychological reasons, many fighters leave the film study to their trainers, but Alvarez has been scrutinizing the Ward fights and claims to have picked up some tricks from the S.O.G. One of Ward’s greatest virtues was his unpredictable movement and punch sequences. Alvarez is predictable. Still, from watching the Ward tussles, Alvarez may have noticed that when Kovalev jabs, he often drops his right hand. Ward took advantage of this mistake and pasted Kovalev with sharp left hooks that had to make the Russian a little hesitant about letting his Susie Q fly. And yet, while Alvarez has been able to pull the trigger on his left hook inside, he has not been particularly adept at letting it go from mid to long range.
No doubt, Alvarez also took note of Ward’s effective straight rights and left hooks to the midsection. Effective body work requires breaking the perimeter and bending at the knees on the inside. However, Alvarez tends to straighten up when he is chest-to-chest and that could negate his ability to douse Kovalev’s fiery attack.
Knockout artists often have underestimated boxing IQs. George Foreman is a case in point. Though a wrecking ball of a puncher, Big George was a sweet scientist. Likewise, don’t be misled by Kovalev’s knack for putting people to bed. He is patient and knows his craft as well as how to decipher his opponent’s style.
After a recent workout, Kovalev confided, “Some fights, I don’t like myself – I mean my fights. I didn’t like my last fight. I didn’t like my performance. Right now, I am trying to delete these mistakes and do better every fight. Every fight, something happens. I thought I knew a lot, but something always happens new. I get a new experience from each fight and each preparation.”
In other words, don’t look for the Krusher to wilt or get flustered if Alvarez manages to add some upgrades to his boxing hard drive.
By Gordon Marino
There is no need to pull punches: Gennady Golovkin (37-0-1, 33 knockouts) middleweight title defense against Vanes “the Nightmare” Martirosyan (36-3-1, 21 knockouts) is not likely to become a fight of the year candidate. Martirosyan's most notable victories are not exactly over a murderer’s row of boxers, e.g., Ishe Smith and Kassim Ouma.
As has been endlessly repeated, Martirosyan has not tussled in two years and when he did last fight, he dropped a unanimous decision to Erislandy Lara. To make matters more one-sided, for the first time the Armenian born boxer will be coming up from super-welterweight to the 160 pound division. Is there really a chance that “The Nightmare” could become GGG’s nightmare?
Stranger things have happened in the squared circle. Witness Buster Douglas’s 1990 epic knockout upset of Mike Tyson, or sticking to the middies, how about Randy Turpin’s 1951 toppling of the greatest boxer of all-time, Sugar Ray Robinson?
When jabbed about the long layoff, Vanes fires back, “Throughout the year, two camps started on and off. Every time we started, somebody pulled out. The last was the WBC mandatory against Sulecki on March 17. We were getting ready for that and that didn’t happen because Sulecki pulled out to fight Danny Jacobs. So then we took a week off and got back in the gym again. It’s been like that for the past year…”
Make no mistake about it, the gladiator from Glendale, California, is not without physical gifts or skills. Freddie Roach, who once trained Vanes, told me, “He is tall, athletic, and quick. Vanes has a decent power, a nice jab, and can box. And he is not going to be intimidated. This is the chance of a lifetime for him and he knows it.”
Roach continued, “At 36, GGG, is a little slower than he was a few years ago. It’s a good fight.”
While I believe Canelo won the lottery with the draw in his 2017 duel with Golovkin, the Mexican master of the counter-punch was able to plant his share of solid right hands and body blows. Vanes possesses a snaky quick right, though he sometimes reaches with it, which could make for nighty-night left hook counter from Gennady.
Asked how he reacted to the mega-fight being counted out, Golovkin commented, "We continued to work as if we were fighting an elite fighter on May 5th. We waited patiently for Tom Loeffler to tell us who it was, but we never stopped training hard and focused on a tough opponent." The truth, of course, is that GGG almost never stops training, perhaps even to the point of being over-trained.
Hall-of-Famer Ray Mancini said, “Look, the Canelo fight falling through is a huge letdown for GGG,” He emphasized. “Huge. And with that let down you wouldn’t want to take on King Kong but you would want to stay busy, and get in some work. Vanes can fight. I think he’s a good choice.”
Asked how the Youngstown icon would advise Vanes, if he were in his corner, Mancini said, “I’d tell him, ‘Use your jab. Frustrate GGG with a lot of movement and quick combinations. After you land, don’t stay inside—get out or tie up.’”
Ring Magazine hails GGG as the pound for pound best. But even the best can get better. I asked Gennady’s trainer, Abel Sanchez, to point out one aspect of his charge’s gloved game that could stand some tweaking.
Half-teasing, Sanchez replied, "His English, I would like for GGG to be able to express himself better, but really everything, we work on, all aspects of a fight, mental, physical and technical. We never stand still. We are always trying to improve and evolve." But the boxing guru ducked my request to be more specific.
So let me try. Maybe Gennady is tempting his foes to get closer, but great as he is, I think GGG could move his head a little more and be a mite more elusive. Yes, he has a steel girder for a chin, but GGG gets tagged with right hands. Also, against Canelo he seemed to take his foot off the pedal at the end of rounds, making it all the more easy for blind judges with short memories to rob him.
The Canelo fight hitting the canvas and the groaning among boxing pundits about his opponent could put a barbell on GGG’s shoulders. For whatever reason, he seemed like he was stale or pressing in the first frames of the Canelo contest. I doubt it, but the pressure that GGG might put on himself to score a knockout could conceivably disrupt his violent art on Saturday night.
Asked about the new opponent, Sanchez said that Martiorsyan is “different but the same. Fighters at the top are all skilled and well-schooled. Our job is to dominate, dictate and to make them adapt to what we want in front of us. Vanes is taller, longer, he is promising a war.” Sanchez finished saying, “so was Canelo until he was in the ring with GGG."
Effusing confidence is easy enough until your hands are getting taped on fight night, but Martirosyan seems psychologically prepared to seize the night. He said, “This is my time. Fate has reached out to me and I am ready to seize the moment. You can never plan for something like this, but you can be prepared, and that's why I never left the gym…I am excited to show everyone how good I can be. I feel so fresh and strong. Fans and Gennady will be amazed.”
Eric Raskin earned first place in the Boxing Investigative Reporting category for his story, "Unrealized: The Story of Ike Ibeabuchi, the Great Lost Heavyweight." The oral history is also available as a podcast.
Kieran Mulvaney was recognized in two categories. His article "The Last Boxing Days of Miguel Cotto," which went inside the legendary fighter's camp as he prepared for his farewell fight against Sadam Ali, won third place in the Boxing Feature (over 1,500 words). The fight story from the heavyweight championship at Wembley Arena in London, "Joshua Is the New King As Valiant Klitschko Goes Out On His Shield," also won third place, in the category of Boxing Event Coverage.
Gordon Marino received an Honorable Mention in the category of Event Coverage for his Inside HBO Boxing piece, The X’s and O’s of Canelo-GGG. Additionally, HBO Boxing Insider Springs Toledo received numerous awards for work that appeared in a variety of publications.
HBO Boxing photographer Ed Mulholland received an honorable mention for his entry in the BWAA's Action category of their photo contest, which appears at the top of this article.
Congratulations to all the honorees.
On Saturday evening, Madison Square Garden will host a light heavyweight championship sweepstakes (aired on HBO World Championship Boxing at 10:05 PM). In the main event, Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs) will defend his belt against fellow Russian, Igor Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs) and undefeated Dmitry Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs) will face the formidable and exciting Sullivan Barrera (21-1, 14 KOs).
In November 2016 the Krusher lost his titles in a hotly disputed decision to Andre Ward. Eight months later in a rematch, Ward worked Kovalev’s body to score a shocking eighth round TKO. But even the second tussle was not without its share of question marks about low blows and the ref possibly calling an early halt to the contest.
Make no mistake about it, Kovalev is a boxer with heavyweight ambitions of fistic greatness. Much to his chagrin, there will be no redemption from the embarrassing loss to Ward, since the S.O.G. announced his retirement a few months after their second fight. Far from being crushed, the Krusher, who is still ranked fifth on Ring’s pound-for pound list, seems to have learned something from that defeat.
This past November, Kovalev rebounded to reclaim his WBO belt with a spectacular second round stoppage of the Ukrainian power puncher, Vyacheslav Shabranskyy. On that night, Kovalev looked better than ever; his footwork was fluid and he mixed his punches up and jabbed to the body to set up his thermonuclear straight right.
Kovalev can crush ribs, to say nothing of a fighter’s confidence and alas, marketability. Egis Klimas, Kovalev’s manager noted, "It's still very difficult to find light heavyweights who want to fight Sergey.” He added, “Many thanks to Igor Mikhalkin, who is confident enough to take on The Krusher and get a big opportunity.”
A native of Russia now fighting out of Germany, Mikhalkin is ranked fifth by the WBO and is surfing a ten-fight win streak against less than stellar opposition. The most significant victory on his résumé is over Doudou Ngumbu, whom he has beaten not once but thrice. Mikhalkin is a southpaw. He has a snapping jab, good balance, and solid technique. He does not, however, pack a lot of pop. Worse yet, Mikhalken’s lack of head movement and his something less than flash-dance footwork does not make it difficult to find his inbox. The challenger has durable neural circuitry but it has never been tested by jolts from the likes of Kovalev, one of the hardest punching 175-pounders since Bob Foster.
Stranger things have happened in the world of the ring, but without elusiveness or the blows that could mire Kovalev’s relentless attack, Mikhalkin has an Everest to climb on Saturday night and he seems to know it: “This is most likely the most important fight in my career. This is the greatest opponent I've ever fought...I'm happy to make my debut in Madison Square Garden, and I'm making sure that I'm training really hard to keep this fight in my favor.”
In a bygone era, a boxer would not have dreamed of becoming a world champion in his twelfth bout, but that is precisely what Dmitry Bivol accomplished in November when he became the WBA light heavyweight champion with a first-round knockout of the unheralded Trent Broadhurst. The WBA has mandated that Bivol defend his title against number one contender Cuban-born Sullivan Barrera .
Both Bivol and Barrera boast long and celebrated amateur careers. Born in Kyrgyzstan but now residing in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Bivol began boxing at six and is a veteran of almost 300 amateur fights. Barrera, who defected to the US in 2009 and lives in Miami, was a world class amateur with a ledger of 285-27. He made his professional debut the same year he arrived in the U.S.
The thirty-five-year-old Barrera has faced far stiffer competition than Bivol. He went 12 rounds in a respectable but losing effort with Andre Ward in May 2016 but then went on to notch knockouts over Shabranskyy (17-0) Paul Parker (8-1), and decision wins over Joe Smith Jr.(23-1) and Felix Valera (15-1)
Understandably, many fighters today who are more concerned about cash than world titles, but Barrera craves a crown. He once turned down a big money meeting with Kovalev because there was no title on the line. Now, he says, “I have been waiting my whole life for the title fight, so that day is finally here. Very important fight for me, so I'm very happy for that.”
Like Kovalev, whom he much admires, Bivol packs a double barrel of a straight right, which he sets up nicely with a jab and then follows with a left uppercut or left hook. He has fast hands and is a focused finisher who will let fly gales of straight punches when he has his opponent hurt.
No doubt thanks to their extensive amateur experience, Bivol and Barrera are masters of the jab. Both brawl with science, making frequent use of a hard jab to the body. Bivol has a tendency to bring his left back low after he jabs, but the menace of his right hand might cause his opponent to hesitate to capitalize on that flaw.
The 27-year-old Russian champ is adept at cutting off the ring; however, that won’t be necessary with Barrera. Barrera attacked Ward and he will not be shy about exercising the same aggression against Bivol.
Though he has an orthodox style and is combination puncher who remains in the pocket, Barrera is also a gambler who will take his chances with wide left lead hooks. Sometimes his attempted surprise attack works. Sometimes not. Barrera moves his punches up and down but has been known to step back after a combo and drop his paws.
Ward had him down twice, and Barrera kissed the canvas in the first frames of his last two fights.
Bivol is a cool and collected combat artist who does not get intoxicated by the sleeping powder he possesses in his right hand. For all is talent, Bivol is not kidding himself. He knows that on Saturday in the mecca of mayhem, he will face the midterm exam of his blossoming career. The confident young champion acknowledges, “I am definitely aware that Barrera is probably one of the best fighters that I've ever faced, probably the best fighter. But to me, every fight is important…everything's on the line, so I need to go out and do my best and make sure that I show my best qualities and do my best fighting.”
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 select their favorite moments.
The fight between superstars Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez was the crowning achievement of HBO’s year. HBO’s ongoing coverage leading up to the fight was spectacular and captured the imagination of boxing fans around the world. The fight itself proved to be everything it promised to be. It was as well done of an event as there was in boxing, an elite moment.
The unusual tendency of HBO commentators to bring up fighters from the recent and distant past is a real thrill for historians and purists alike. Archie Moore, Ezzard Charles, and Henry Armstrong are among the long-gone greats from boxing's golden era that are routinely mentioned on air, most often by Max Kellerman. In May, Bernard Hopkins made an interesting comparison between Terence Crawford and Donald Curry during the Crawford-Diaz fight, and Rocky Marciano was mentioned during the Saunders-Lemieux undercard in December. A.J. Liebling said "the sweet science is as joined onto the past as a man's arm is to his shoulder," and so acknowledged a place where science and history converge and where no fight isn't attended by ghosts. Whenever those ghosts are recognized on a broadcast, we're reminded that boxing produces immortals then and now, and boxing is better for it.
Nobody watched the Cotto-Kamegai fight, because it was on the same night as Mayweather-McGregor. But Kamegai ate more horrific power shots in that fight than I have ever seen a man eat without being knocked out. It was remarkable and should be studied by scientists. And it still feels like a secret, since nobody was paying attention.
The entirety of Canelo vs. GGG.
Frank Della Femina
My favorite HBO Boxing Moment of the Year is always my favorite pick to make. While we can all be in the same ballpark in other categories, this is the one that varies wildly. Looking back on boxing as a whole in 2017, there were rising stars, shocking scorecards, circus-like events, and big-name retirements. But for me, the best moment of 2017 came in the form of Canelo-Golovkin. Not so much by way of the outcome, but more so in the lead up to the fight. Outside of Mayweather-Pacquiao, I don’t recall a more highly anticipated matchup over the past five years that had me eyeing up the clock throughout the day as we edged closer to the opening bell (maybe Ward-Kovalev I, but not to this degree). And while being there in-person may have been unreal in its own right, making new boxing friends in a crowded bar while killing a few plates of hot wings and standing on a soapbox while agonizing over the result was perfect in its own way.
I enjoyed seeing Luke Campbell run Jorge Linares close this year, in what was a good twelve months for British fighters on the network. Seeing Chocolatito is always a thrill, even if a diminished one now – but the first fight with Sor Rungvisai, as a last throw of the dice, was marvelous. Two excellent fighters in Andre Ward and Miguel Cotto went out in varied circumstances, though roughly on top. And both Canelo and GGG showed up this past September, giving the hype its substance. Hopefully they’ll do it all over again next year.
On a personal level, it’s been a particular professional treat to spend time in the training camps of several boxers: Gennady Golovkin, Canelo Alvarez, and of course Miguel Cotto, who was preparing for his final fight. And then, on the day before his farewell, Cotto’s fighter meeting with HBO talent was a truly special, emotional affair; his family was all there, as was his team from the Wild Card, and the whole experience felt like a fond goodbye to an old friend.
Canelo-GGG fight week was another reminder that there are few events that generate anything like the excitement of a truly significant boxing main event. The MGM Grand was packed with serious fight fans, straining for a glimpse of anyone on the card or indeed anybody in some way associated with it. The media room saw a steady parade of celebrities from within and beyond the boxing world, as evidenced by an HBO Boxing Podcast guest list that included Roy Jones, Jr, Stephen A. Smith, Adam Carolla, and J.B. Smoove. And, finally and importantly, the fight itself delivered; notwithstanding the scoring controversy, it was a tremendously hard-fought 12 round battle between two pugilists of the highest order.
Nothing, however, can top the fantastic April night in London when Anthony Joshua overcame Wladimir Klitschko. The heavyweight championship of the world, the fight of the year, an enthusiastic 90,000-strong crowd, and a legendary venue in the form of Wembley Stadium: if ever a night at the fights had everything, it was this one.
My favorite HBO moments involve two fighters whose struggles in life are mirrored by the struggles of the ring. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Mickey Roman both won the biggest fights of their careers after years of toiling both personally and professionally. Sor Rungvisai was ecstatic after poleaxing Roman Gonzalez, and Roman seemed on the verge of tears when he detailed his misfortunes in an interview following his KO win over Orlando Salido. Even in this brutal sport, often mean, low, and dispiriting, you can sometimes find something close to ennoblement.
First off, let’s establish the obvious choice for least favorite HBO Boxing moment: Stephen Smith’s ear nearly detaching from the side of his head. As for the favorites, I have two. On the emotional side, there was Miguel Cotto, on the eve of his retirement, crying on the couch next to Jim Lampley as he suggested that his late father was still sitting right next to him. And on the lighter side, there was my experience of interviewing JB Smoove and Roy Jones back to back while podcasting live from Radio Row at the Golovkin-Alvarez fight in September. They both brought the ruckus to one of my favorite HBO Boxing Podcast episodes of the year.
Here are some nuggets that stood out, for better or for worse:
- The 12th round of Canelo-GGG: We had reached the climax of the most anticipated match of the year and everything was still up for grabs. Both fighters were throwing haymakers. Everyone in the crowd was standing and screaming.
- Anthony Joshua standing over KO’d Wladimir Klitschko: An iconic image that visually communicated the passing of the heavyweight torch. The legendary veteran going out on his sword while the young phenom stakes his claim to the division throne.
- Stephen Smith’s ear following his bout with Francisco Vargas: Any doubts about boxing not being a tough sport? Here you go. (Note: Not for the faint of heart.)
- Quebec crowd booing Billy Joe Saunders’ son: 8-year-old Stevie Saunders, who made headlines earlier in the year for punching Willie Monroe Jr. in the undercarriage during a press conference, was not afraid to speak his mind to the pro-David Lemieux crowd at the Dec. 16 middleweight showdown at Place Bell outside Montreal. And when the younger Saunders was displayed on the big screen during fight night, the crowd roundly booed him.
After picking the Joshua-Klitschko bout for so many of these categories, it is safe to admit that this fight has earned a privileged place in my DVD collection already. It had it all: the environment, the young lion vs. veteran champ narrative, the magnificence of a roaring Wembley stadium brimming with screaming fans, the passing of the torch, and so much more. And in the midst of it, as the moment of truth approached, there was the local favorite going up against the unified champion standing by his initials as they were lit on fire, like two flaming wings turning the white-clad, almost angelic Anthony Joshua into an avenging demon, ready to exorcise the pains and sufferings of British heavyweight boxing forever, like a keeper of the flame in the most literal sense possible, ready to take flight on a mission to guard boxing’s return trip to its former glories from the skies. Sure, Joshua still has plenty of time disappoint us all and become just one more British heavyweight horror story, but for that fleeting moment he looked as if he could carry the weight of the entire boxing world upon his shoulders. And after 11 extraordinary rounds, he momentarily did.
The Canelo-Chavez fight may have proved to be a dud, but I can't think of a more exciting moment this year in boxing than when Canelo stood in the ring and named his next opponent. In a move out of the WWE playbook, Gennady Golovkin appeared in the wings as the unmistakable bass-line of "Seven Nation Army" blared over the soundsystem. That the actual fight lived up to the hype made it all the more memorable.
Some other highlights: Miguel Cotto's emotional farewell to Madison Square Garden; Ray Beltran winning a boxing match and with it his fight for citizenship; Yoshihiro Kamegai imitating an inflatable punching clown that keeps coming back for more; the way Paulie Malignaggi says the word "pizzeria" in this oral history podcast of Hamed-Kelley; as well as the story of Ike Ibeabuchi; and lastly, JB Smoove bringing the ruckus:
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
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
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
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.