Weigh-In Recap and Slideshow | “Hopefully, We’ll See Some Blood”: Braekhus and Shields Prepare to Take Their Places on Historic Stage

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

CARSON, CA. – Seven months ago, Cecilia Braekhus made history.

When her hand was raised in victory at the end of a hard-fought decision over Kali Reis at the StubHub Center in May, on the undercard of Gennady Golovkin’s demolition of Vanes Martirosyan, she became the first female boxer ever to win a fight on HBO.

A little more than half a year later, she will make history again. Her clash this Saturday night (10:20 PM ET/PT) with Aleksandra Magdziak-Lopes will be the HBO main event – which for female fighters is unprecedented, and will also be forever unmatched, as theirs will be the last fight of any kind to be aired on the network.

Braekhus, while acknowledging the significance of the event, chooses not to dwell on it, at least not yet. “You know what? When I’m old and retired, I can look back and I can really, really say that I made history.” For now, she is fixing her attention on Magdziak-Lopes, fully aware that her foe is made of stern stuff.

“I have to be focused on my fight,” she said after the final pre-fight press conference this week. “I have a tough competitor, and I need to be 100 percent focused on her, and I cannot allow myself right now to take in the historical event that this is for boxing. The most important thing is that I have to produce my best performance ever.”

That said, on the three previous occasions that Magdziak-Lopes has challenged for a world title belt, she has fallen just short. Braekhus can expect another tough night but will anticipate it ending with her in position to move on to one of the higher-profile challenges that await.

Perhaps that challenge will be in the form of MMA star Cris Cyborg, who has long coveted a bout with the Norwegian, who was ringside when Braekhus fought Reis, and who will be present again on Saturday – and who will in fact be walking to the ring with another possible future Braekhus opponent, Claressa Shields, who opens the HBO broadcast against Femke Hermans.

Shields’ presence on the card – and indeed, her fame and status as the only American Olympian to win back-to-back boxing golds (in 2012 and 2016) – is testament to a rise in the attention being given to women’s boxing in the United States. Such increased attention is exemplified by the fact that, by the end of the broadcast on Saturday, the number of women’s bouts on HBO will have risen from zero in 45 years to four in seven months. (Heather Hardy defeated Shelly Vincent at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in October, in the second female bout on the network.)

“I think what’s happening now in the States is extremely beautiful to watch,” said Braekhus, who has fought most of her career in Germany, where women’s boxing has long had a higher profile – to the extent that she has headlined pay-per-views. “I just hope that this will continue.”

(It is not just women’s boxing that has long battled for the spotlight. Lower-weight male fighters have also traditionally been given short shrift, but the flyweight and super-flyweight divisions have received a shot in the arm over the last couple of years, a consequence of a remarkable concentration of talent in their upper reaches. Roman Gonzalez and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai may be the cream of that particular crop, but Juan Francisco Estrada, who has lost close decisions to both men, is right behind them, and has perhaps been the biggest beneficiary of his division’s moment in the sun. The only fighter to appear on all three iterations of the “Superfly” franchise, he steps in for an injured Gonzalez and takes on Victor Mendez in the middle bout of Saturday’s triple-header.)

For Shields – who is facing Hermans just three weeks after defeating Hannah Rankin to run her professional record to 7-0 – Saturday night is an unexpected opportunity to realize a lifelong dream.

“Growing up in the amateurs, I watched HBO, and I told myself, ‘I want to fight on HBO.’ And then I thought my chance was gone, but boom! Here we are. I’m just so happy that HBO thought of me and gave me the chance.”

At the end of the day, however, boxing is boxing, whoever is filming or calling the action, and what matters most is what happens when the combatants enter the ring. Asked to predict how events will unfold on Saturday night, Shields underlined that when that happens, issues of history, weight class and gender are largely irrelevant, and the attractions that keep people tuning in to watch boxing are fundamental and simple to articulate.

“I’m going to break down her body. I’m going to punch her in the face. And hopefully we’ll see some blood.”

Sor Rungvisai Knocks Out Chocolatito, Becomes Super Super Fly

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

CARSON, Calif -- This time, there was no doubt. Six months after leaving Madison Square Garden with a world title via a disputed decision win over previously unbeaten Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai underlined that he is the real deal by defeating Gonzalez again, this time with a decisive and dramatic knockout that surely brought down the curtain on the Chocolatito era. 

The fight did not last long, the end coming at 1:18 of the fourth round, but the StubHub crowd loved every moment of it, and with good reason. The duration may have been brief, but the action was intense from the opening bell, each man tearing into the other with singular viciousness and a fusillade of punches. There was little nuance, little setting up, just two skilled and ferocious fighters standing in each other’s wheelhouse and opening fire. Gonzalez, noticeably the smaller man, found perhaps his greater success at the closest of ranges, while Sor Rungvisai (44-4-1, 40 KOs) had the most impact when able to gain just that little bit more distance in order to benefit his longer arms and torqued punches. 

A notoriously slow starter, Gonzalez (46-2, 38 KOs) was greatly outworked in the first round, throwing just 31 punches to the 71 of his opponent, granting early credence to the notion that, after almost 50 frequently hard-fought bouts, he was entering a late-career decline. But he stayed on his feet, unlike in the opening frame of their first contest in March, which could also be seen as progress of sorts. And indeed, in the second and third rounds, he matched Sor Rungvisai in both punches thrown and landed. He was giving as good as he got – almost. Whereas Chocolatito’s punches landed in fast combinations to Sor Rungvisai’s body and head, the Thai fighter’s punches physically moved Gonzalez backward and sideways. And the beating Sor Rungvisai laid on Gonzalez’s body in the third augured poorly for the Nicaraguan’s prospects in the later rounds.

Those later rounds would not come. In the fourth, Sor Rungvisai knocked Gonzalez sideways twice with big right hands, backed him off with punches to the body, and then stepped forward and uncorked a short right. Gonzalez did likewise, but Sor Rungvisai’s landed first, and Gonzalez toppled downward, crashing to the canvas on his side. He nodded to referee Tom Taylor that he was OK, and after rising he returned to the fray. But Sor Rungvisai was a man on a deadly mission, and another right and a left sent Gonzalez to his back, where Taylor waved off the contest without a count.

It is testament to the nature of the contest that, of a combined 138 punches landed by both men, just four were jabs – none of them landed by Sor Rungvisai. 

Gonzalez was on the canvas for several minutes, and when he sat up, it was with the saddened recognition of a man who realized his time at the top had come crashing to an end in the cruelest of ways, as so often happens in this cruelest of sports.

For Sor Rungvisai, however, the future is bright.

“I trained really hard for four months,” he declared. “I knew I would knock him out.” Asked who he wanted to fight next, he declared, “I am afraid of no one.” 

With a performance like Saturday’s, nor should he be.

***

Naoya Inoue’s US debut was a dominant one, the unbeaten and highly-touted Japanese softening up, beating up, dropping and stopping overmatched Antonio Nieves after six one-sided rounds. Inoue (14-0, 12 KOs), stalked Nieves from the first bell, backing him up repeatedly with a stiff jab and following that up with thudding right hands. To his credit, Nieves was able to absorb many of the blows on the gloves that he kept pinned to his face behind a high guard; but slowly and surely, Inoue walked him down and dismantled him. It was clear, even from ringside, that despite being 115 pounds, Inoue carries thumping power, as evidenced by the fact that at one point he was able to keep Nieves pinned to the ropes with his jab alone.

After a few rounds of tenderizing Nieves (17-2-2, 9 KOs), Inoue moved up a gear in the fifth, targeting the American’s body and dropping him to one knee with a left hook below the rib cage. For the rest of the round, and in the decisive sixth, he brutalized his opponent’s torso, pounding the fight out of his perpetually retreating foe, until Nieves’ corner pulled their man from the contest between rounds.

***

In the opening bout, Juan Francisco Estrada scored a tenth round knockdown and used his serious punching power and technique to secure a close but unanimous decision win over a game and determined Carlos Cuadras. Cuadras (36-2-1, 27 KOs) started brightly, scoring with a stiff jab and left hooks, and firing off combinations to body and head while utilizing deft footwork to leave Estrada chugging ineffectually after him. 

Estrada began to steer Cuadras into some straight counterpunches in the second, but his activity level was too low for him to win many, or perhaps even any, of the opening rounds; every time it appeared that Estrada (36-2, 26 KOs) was on the verge of reeling Cuadras in and asserting control, his opponent unleashed another torrent of activity to seize the initiative back. 

Cuadras’ punches were looping and wide, however, and as his energy level dipped slightly, Estrada was increasingly able to close the distance, until suddenly in the sixth he exploded into action, sending a sequence of right hands thudding into Cuadras’ head. He did the same in the seventh, now stalking Cuadras, who continued to fire off combinations but to progressively less effect. An Estrada right hand dropped Cuadras onto his rear in the tenth, but still Cuadras battled back. His punches were relatively ineffectual, however, whereas Estrada appeared to shake him to the core each time he landed cleanly; even so, Cuadras was firing furious combinations in a desperate attempt to pull out the win as the bell rang to end the fight.

It appeared clear that, despite falling behind early, Estrada had done enough to win, and there were furious boos throughout the StubHub Center when the decision was initially announced in favor of Cuadras. That was swiftly corrected, however, with all three judges scoring 114-113 for Estrada.

Weigh-In Recap + Slideshow: Superfly Promises Big Action on Saturday Night

By Kieran Mulvaney

CARSON, Calif. -- If it were possible to somehow meld Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Roman Gonzalez, Carlos Cuadras and Juan Francisco Estrada into one giant blob, that four-person mashup would still weigh less than the combined poundage of Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko when the two behemoths clashed at Wembley Stadium in late April. (You’d need to add a little more than one-quarter of Naoya Inoue or Antonio Nieves to tip the scale in favor of the blob monster.)

Joshua and Klitschko put on what remains the clear frontrunner for Fight of the Year honors, and there’s no guarantee that any two – or four, or more – of the participants in Saturday’s “Superfly” card (HBO Boxing After Dark, 10:15 PM ET/PT) will combine to produce anything that might match or exceed that contest. But it would be a brave man indeed who bet against any of them doing so. The super-flyweight (or, if you prefer, junior bantamweight) division is stacked with talent, and the StubHub Center will be showcasing the cream of the crop on Saturday.

No matter how good a boxer, he can ultimately only be judged against the quality of the foes he faces, and it is a peculiar phenomenon of boxing that, at various times, the stars align in such a way that various divisions take their turns at being the relative center of gravity. Most famously, the 1980s saw a succession of great fights between Wilfred Benitez, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler; but some of that quintet squared off first at welterweight (Duran began his professional career at lightweight) and then junior middleweight before Duran, Hearns and Leonard moved up to 160 lbs., where Hagler was waiting for them.

Rungvisai believes that something similar has happened – on a literally smaller scale – to create the concentration of talent at super flyweight.

“The best want to fight the best, so everyone moved up from 108, 112 to 115 so they can fight the best,” he explained to HBO Boxing earlier this week.

And the fact that they have done so is something that has fight fans excited at least partly, added Gonzalez, because “we fight to please the crowd. We do what is expected of us, and we win the crowd over.”

“We have it all at 115,” declared Nieves. “We have speed, we have power, we have ring generalship. We have it all.”

The six fighters on Saturday’s card boast a remarkable combined record of 190-9-4, and of those nine losses, three came very early in the career of Rungvisai (who started out 1-3-1 before subsequently going 42-1) and four came at the hands of each other (Rungvisai lost to Cuadras, Gonzalez to Rungvisai, Cuadras and Estrada to Gonzalez).

In addition to talent, the card boasts storylines: Gonzalez, formerly considered the number one fighter in the sport, pound-for-pound, is looking to avenge a controversial March loss to Rungvisai in a brutal fight; Cuadras and Estrada – who, before Rungvisai defeated Gonzalez, were the two opponents who came closest to doing so – squaring off for the right to face the Gonzalez/Rungvisai winner; and Naoya Inoue, who has risen rapidly to prominence and become something of a darling among those who scour YouTube for fights on distant shores, making his US and HBO debut against a determined Nieves.

None of the six boxers is close to being the biggest or tallest to enter the ring on HBO this year, but top to bottom the entire card is almost certainly the deepest. Gonzalez’s battles with Rungvisai, Cuadras and Estrada were all sensational brawls; it would be a shock if Saturday night doesn’t produce at least one fight that proves equally electrifying.


Weights from Carson:

Srisaket Sor Rungvisai: 115.0 lbs.

Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez: 114.8 lbs.

Naoya Inoue: 115.0 lbs.

Antonio Nieves: 113.8 lbs.

Carlos Cuadras: 114.6 lbs.

Juan Francisco Estrada: 114.8 lbs.

Zou Shiming Puts On a Show, Stays Unbeaten

by Nat Gottlieb

Brandon Rios, Zou Shiming - Photo: Chris Farina

If you took away all the hype, glitz, and glamour of the fabulously over-the-top Macau casino, and the 300 million people watching on free Chinese TV and HBO, what you would have left in Saturday night’s headline fight was a rare phenomenon in boxing: a 112-pound flyweight who could demand extraordinary attention.

The object of all this affection was a two-time Olympic gold medalist from China, Zou Shiming, who turned pro just this past April at the ripe old age of 32. But turning pro and fighting like one are two different things.

In his four-round debut in April against a veritable body-to-be-named-later, Shiming readily admits he was so daunted by the raucous 15,000 fans watching in the Cotai Arena at the Venetian Resort, that he sought refuge in an old, comfortable friend: his amateur boxing style.

The result was a lackluster, unanimous victory that disappointed the fans and did nothing to bolster promoter Bob Arum’s grand vision of turning China into his own personal gold mine. “Yes, I reverted to the old Olympic style,” Shiming said recently, “but believe me, I will be better for my second bout. I wasn't used to the environment. I think I was overawed by it all, fighting in front of 15,000 passionate fans.”

Saturday night, he was back in the Cotai. There were just as many rabid fans, the environment was equally as daunting, but this time, Shiming didn’t disappoint the crowd. Although he wasn’t able to knock out his opponent, 19-year-old Jesus Ortega (3-3), in their scheduled six-rounder, the Chinese medalist did thrill his fans by abandoning his stick-and-move amateur style and going toe-to-toe in what proved to be a pleasing, exciting fight. All three judges scored it 59-54 in favor of Shiming.

Right from the start, Shiming showed the signs of being trained by Hall of Famer, Freddie Roach. He actually looked more like a Mexican fighter than a Chinese one. Not only did he stand toe-to-toe, but he was firing hard body shots, working upstairs and downstairs, and using a picture-perfect uppercut, certainly a new wrinkle to his arsenal. His punches, unlike in his debut, were short, compact, and crisp. He was also showing the ability to throw counter punches. Not surprisingly, every punch the Chinese Olympian landed with any authority drew roars from the highly-partisan crowd.

The cost Shiming paid for standing in the pocket was that he was taking more shots to the head and body than he probably ever had as an amateur. But Shiming didn’t seem fazed by the young Mexican’s shots. He kept coming and firing combos with the high-hand speed that made him a great Olympian. That being said, not a single blow by the Chinese fighter appeared to have much effect on the Mexican, either. One had to wonder whether Shiming’s chin could have withstood the shots he was taking from an experienced and harder-hitting pro, but it is far too early to assess the Chinese fighter’s whiskers.

In the fourth round, Shiming landed a huge right hand, and although the Mexican didn’t seem fazed by it, the crowd raised the roar several decibels, encouraging the Chinese fighter to go all-out for the knockout. But after a ferocious assault for nearly 30 seconds, Shiming wisely realized he wasn’t going to get the knockout, and toned down his attack.

In the fifth round, Shiming began to show the effects of throwing far more punches at a faster pace than he had ever thrown in his countless amateur fights. The Olympian began to tire, and looked a bit ragged. For much of the round, he fought with his hands down, a sign not only that was tired, but also an indication he wasn’t particulary worried about the Mexican’s punches hurting him.

By the sixth and final round, Shiming was fighting flat-footed and holding at times to rest. It appeared questionable that he could have fought four or six more rounds at this pace, but Roach, who undoubtedly was not too thrilled with his fighter standing toe-to-toe in a hyper-aggressive fashion, will surely tone down his boxer’s aggression and pace a notch or two in future bouts.

While Shiming (2-0) remains a work in progress, after this fight it can be said that he’s now officially a pro boxer. His next fight will be back in Macau on Nov. 23 on the undercard of a Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios slugfest on pay-per-view TV.

In the co-feature, flyweight champion, Juan Francisco Estrada (26-2, 18 KOs), made the first defense of the title he won in an upset of Brian Viloria in April, by scoring a unanimous 12-round decision by a wide margin over previously unbeaten Filipino, Milan Melindo (29-1, 12 KOs). Melindo managed to keep the early rounds competitive, but the Mexican gradually began to dominate the later rounds, punctuated by his knockdown of the Filipino in the 11th.   Although Melindo was competitive throughout the fight, the scorecards didn’t seem to reflect this, 117-109 and 118-109 twice.

The opening event on the HBO card featured undefeated lightweight champion, Evgeny Gradovich (17-0, 8 KOs), fighting against an outclassed Argentinean, Mauricio Munoz (24-4, 12 KOs). Gradovich is a stablemate of Rios and is also trained by Robert Garcia, last year’s Trainer of the Year. The super-aggressive Russian Gradovich pounded Munoz at will throughout most of the fight, but was unable to finish him off. The scorecards reflected the one-sided beating, 120-108 and 119-109 twice. Although Gradovich is certainly exciting to watch, with just eight knockouts in 17 fights he’ll have to gain more punching power before will be considered the kind of star who can draw crowds.

 

Shiming's Sophomore Outing Heads Return Ticket to China

by Kieran Mulvaney

Three and a half months after opening his professional career with a unanimous points win over Eleazar Valenzuela, flyweight Zou Shiming, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and Chinese boxing royalty, headlines his second card in Macau this Saturday. As with his debut effort, the three-fight televised card will be broadcast on HBO2.

Shiming is not exactly being matched up with a beast of an opponent in his sophomore outing, which is understandable for a fighter taking only his second step on a fast track to a title. But supporting his showcase is a pair of what promise to be competitive title bouts. Here's a quick rundown of the three TV fights:

 

Zou Shiming vs Jesus Ortega

This one is all about the A side, and how good Shiming looks in his second outing with the legendary Freddie Roach in his corner. Ortega has fought four times as a professional, winning on three occasions; his only loss came against the only opponent who had a win to his name. That opponent, Clemente Grijalva, sported a 1-0 record when he beat Ortega; that's the record Shiming will bring into the ring, and if he doesn't hand Ortega his second loss, it will be a major upset.

All fighters take on similarly inexperienced opposition in the early stages of their professional careers, but because of his age (he's 31) and extensive amateur experience, Shiming is likely to be mixing it with the big boys sooner rather than later. His second pro bout will be his first scheduled six-rounder; should he win as expected, his third contest will be slated for eight rounds. Expect him to climb the ladder swiftly and earn a title shot in short order.

 

Juan Estrada vs Milan Melindo

The co-main event looks to be one of those evenly-matched, closely-fought, can't-help-but-be-exciting highlight reels. Mexico's Estrada stole the show on the last Macau card, when he overhauled veteran Brian Viloria to win a flyweight belt; he earned that shot by dint of how impressive he looked even in a losing effort against the outstanding Roman 'Chocolatito' Gonzalez. Melindo, an undefeated Flipino, wowed the fans in attendance for the untelevised portion of April's Macau card, knocking down Tommy Seran with a left hook in the opening seconds and then knocking him out with another in the fourth round.

Both men are stand-in-the-pocket action fighters. Neither is likely to yield an inch. Expect plenty of punches and few lulls in this one.

 

Evgeny Gradovich vs Mauricio Munoz

Gradovich was born in Siberia, trains in California with Robert Garcia, and has been dubbed "the Mexican Russian" for his body-punching fighting style – a style he used to great effect in his last outing, defeating Billy Dib to take a featherweight belt.

His first defense of that belt comes against Munoz, who is making his second attempt to win a world title; his first, against then-super bantamweight champion Toshiaki Nishioka, ended in a ninth round stoppage defeat. That was only the second occasion Munoz fought outside his native Argentina, and the first and only time he faced truly world-class opposition; accordingly, he'll be the big underdog against Gradovich. But while not the most sophisticated boxer, he's tough as teak and ready to dish out and receive punishment. He'll find a willing trading partner in the exciting Gradovich.

Shiming Wins His Pro Debut

by Nat Gottlieb

When Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain in 1492, he was looking for a shorter way to China and India in a quest to bring back spices and gold for the King and Queen of Spain. Some 521 years later, another explorer of sorts has also set his sights on China, but this time in quest of a different kind of gold. Gold in the form of a diminutive boxer from China, Zu Shiming, the country’s only Olympic boxing gold medalist and a certified national rock star.

Octogenarian promoter, Bob Arum, still one of the great innovators in the boxing world, trotted out his glittering treasure Saturday in Macau. Shiming, all 112 pounds of him, won a unanimous decision as expected, but failed to generate a lot of excitement for the nearly sold-out crowd in the 15,000-seat Cotai Arena, not to mention a staggering audience of reportedly close to 300 million in China that was watching their legendary fighter on free television. Only in the crazy world of boxing could all this pizzazz have been generated by a 31-year-old flyweight making his four-round professional debut!

Read the Complete Shiming vs. Valenzuela Fight Recap on HBO.com.

Four Questions From Macau

by Kieran Mulvaney

Almost by definition, HBO Boxing is constantly on the road, broadcasting one week from Las Vegas, the following weekend from Dallas, the Saturday after that from Atlantic City. Over the next several weeks, though, it is visiting locations rarely if ever touched on before.

On April 27, HBO World Championship Boxing comes from Buenos Aires, Argentina when Sergio Martinez defends his middleweight title against Martin Murray. Two weeks before that, Jim Lampley and colleagues will be calling the action when Nonito Donaire clashes with Guillermo Rigondeaux in New York City: in itself, hardly a novel location, but the venue, Radio City Music Hall, has only once before hosted a professional prizefight, when Roy Jones Jr. walked to the ring with the Rockettes before dominating David Telesco in 2000.

Before all that happens, though, a true precedent will be set – and one with potential ramifications for the future – when HBO2 airs a Saturday afternoon card from Macau, China. The card, which is headlined by the professional debut of China’s own Olympic boxing sensation Zou Shiming, raises plenty of questions, both inside and outside the ring:

 

Will Shiming Be Shining?

Junior flyweight Shiming is something of an amateur superstar, having medaled at three consecutive Olympics, including gold medals in Beijing in 2008 and London last year. He’s clearly accomplished, but at age 31, can the junior flyweight make a successful transition to the professional ranks? There is some precedent in the form of Rigondeaux, who was just shy of 29 when he turned pro but, because of his wealth of in-ring experience, was challenging for a title belt in just his seventh outing.

However good Shiming may or may not be, it’s unlikely we’ll learn much from his pro debut against Eleazar Valenzuela, who enters the ring with a record of 2-1-2. But, according to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com, that doesn’t matter one bit.

“Any time you have a fighter making a pro debut, the goal is to make him look good,” says Rafael. “The idea is he’s going to put on a show for his people. Potentially, it could have an audience of millions over there.” 

Read the Complete Zou Shiming vs. Eleazar Valenzuela Fight Overview on HBO.com