Canelo Make His Dallas Debut

Photos: Will Hart

Fans showed up in full support to cheer on Canelo Wednesday afternoon during his arrival in Dallas.

Canelo-Smith happens Saturday at 9 PM ET, 6 PM PT on HBO PPV. 

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

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weights from Madison Square Garden:

Rocky Martinez: 129.8 lbs.

Vasyl Lomachenko: 129.6 lbs.

 

Felix Verdejo: 134.8 lbs.

Juan Jose Martinez: 133.8 lbs.

Canelo-Khan Grand Arrivals

Photos: Will Hart

Canelo Alvarez and Amir Khan greeted fans Tuesday afternoon during their grand arrivals at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Canelo-Khan happens Saturday, May 7, at 9 PM ET, 6 PM PT on HBO PPV. 

Golovkin and Gonzalez Set to Provide a Special Spectacle

Photos: Will Hart

By Kieran Mulvaney

Between them, the four fighters who will be appearing on HBO’s World Championship Boxing on Saturday night boast an incredible record of 114-2. Both of those losses appear on the ledger of McWilliams Arroyo, who is making a bid for the flyweight title of Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez, and one of those was on points in just his fourth pro bout while the second was a highly disputed, and arguably hometown, decision against Thai flyweight titlist Amnat Ruenroeng.

It is, in other words, at least on paper an immensely accomplished field, and one that might reasonably be expected to produce fireworks. Yet the considerable bulk of those wins are in the 78-0 combined record of Gonzalez and headliner Gennady Golovkin, many of them achieved against foes of greater distinction than Arroyo or Golovkin’s middleweight challenger Dominic Wade have faced. While it is possible that by the end of Saturday’s broadcast from The Forum in Inglewood, California, either Golovkin or Gonzalez – or both – will have suffered his first loss, it is not the most likely outcome.

This is not because either Arroyo or Wade are undeserving of their place in their spotlight. Arroyo, in particular, had an accomplished amateur career and is a more than capable contender; at this point in their respective careers, he might arguably be favored against Chocolatito’s most recent victim, the highly creditable Brian Viloria. Of Wade, a more recent arrival, there is less footage on which to base a judgment, but he did recently defeat an experienced and legendarily awkward former champ in Sam Soliman, and he is the mandatory challenger for one of Golovkin’s alphabet belts, however much that is worth.

Arroyo and Wade, in other words, would be perfectly acceptable title challengers – for other champions. Wade would probably lose to the likes of William Joppy and Keith Holmes - previous middleweight beltholders who, like him, hail from the nation’s capital – but he’d almost certainly give them a good fight. Arroyo, as mentioned, might beat Viloria and arguably already did defeat Ruenroeng.

But Golovkin and Gonzalez are made of special stuff. They are not mere beltholders; they are head and shoulders above others in their weight class (although Canelo Alvarez might have something to say about that in Golovkin’s case). Gonzalez is almost universally regarded, with the ostensible retirements of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, as the number one fighter in the world, pound-for-pound, right now, and such is his skill set he might well have seized that crown for himself by now even if they remained active. Golovkin is, by many counts, right behind him at number two; and as much as there are obvious differences between men whose fighting weights are 48 pounds apart, there are also commonalities among the reasons why both are so dominant, not least the fact that they both possess exquisite footwork that ensures they are frequently in the perfect position to torque devastating punches while preventing their wounded foe from escaping to a safer part of the ring.

Before a remarkable night in Tokyo in 1990 (and even for many years thereafter), boxing fans tuned into Mike Tyson fights, not in anticipation that he would lose, but with the expectation that he would not – that he would in fact win in devastating fashion. Much the same is now starting to happen with Golovkin – and, as his fame and reputation grows after two fights on HBO, Gonzalez. That is unlikely to be anything but enhanced by the time the two men have finished business on Saturday night. No matter how competitive, their outings are certain to be compelling.

Weights from Inglewood:

Gennady Golovkin: 159 lbs.

Dominic Wade: 159.6 lbs. 

“Chocolatito” Gonzalez: 111.4 lbs.

McWilliams Arroyo: 111.6 lbs.

Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley Arrive in Las Vegas

Photos: Casey McPerry

Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley arrived at the MGM Grand Tuesday afternoon to kick off fight week in Las Vegas.

Pacquiao-Bradley III happens Saturday at 9 PM ET, 6 PM PT on HBO PPV. 

Sunshine Ahead for Ward after Years of Dark Skies?

Photos: Will Hart

By Kieran Mulvaney

Drought still grips much of California, but here in the more northerly segment of the state, El Nino-induced rainfall has brought life back to what had for years been brown and battered grass and plant life. As the Sun shone down brightly at Wednesday’s press conference and Friday’s weigh-in, both of which were held outdoors amid the sweet aroma of some of the Golden State’s more popular herbs, it was possible to see the widespread regrowth as a good omen for Oakland’s own Andre Ward, who on Saturday attempts to resuscitate a career that of late has appeared ready to shrivel up and die.

It has been repeated time after time, possibly to Ward’s great annoyance, but in the four and a half years since defeating Carl Froch to win the Super Six tournament and establish himself as the world’s best super middleweight, he has fought just threetimes. One outing, in 2012, was an impressively dominant victory over then-light-heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, although Dawson’s subsequent crushing loss to Adonis Stevenson and embarrassing defeat to Tommy Karpency have taken the shine off that win somewhat.

Ward’s only other appearances since then have been routine victories over uninspiring opponents; Edwin Rodriguez and Paul Smith are perfectly fine prizefighters, but they are not the kind of names to set the pulse racing, nor are they foes of a level to challenge a man who, at the time of his win over Chad Dawson, was widely considered the second-best boxer in the world.

Ward’s absence from the ring has been largely self-inflicted, and it has allowed others – Sergey Kovalev, Gennady Golovkin, Roman Gonzalez, Terence Crawford – to close in on or surpass him in the public perception as the most likely to top the pound-for-pound list.  Of those names, one in particular must rankle. Kovalev will be ringside for Ward’s battle with Sullivan Barrera at the Oracle Arena in Saturday night, and while Barrera is the immediate foe, Kovalev is the ultimate goal. Kovalev is the reason Ward has moved from super-middleweight to light-heavyweight, and a showdown with the Russian looms for late fall.

But Ward is fully aware that he has business to take care of before that can happen.

“I’m focused on winning this fight,” he said after the weigh-in on Friday. “There’s no Kovalev fight if I don’t win this fight.” But then, he added later, “if I don’t defeat Sullivan Barrera, I don’t deserve a title shot.”

That’s probably harsh. Barrera – an undefeated volume puncher with knockout power – is no pushover. Unlike Ward, he’s been plying his trade at light-heavyweight for years, and looked the bigger, more solid man – despite weighing in four-tenths of a pound lighter – than the former 168 lb. champ. But, win or lose, the story entering and leaving Saturday’s fight will be about the hometown hero: whether a once-promising career has withered on the vine through lack of attention and care, or whether it is finally about to erupt into bloom the way it had for so long promised to do.

Weights from Oakland

Andre Ward 174.8 lbs

Sullivan Barrera 174.4 lbs

 

Joseph Diaz Jr: 125.8 lbs.

Jayson Velez: 125.6 lbs.

Crawford and Lundy Weigh In Separately After Tense Week

Photos: Will Hart

By Kieran Mulvaney

He’s a quiet guy, Terence Crawford. Doesn’t bluster, doesn’t boast, doesn’t shout, just says his piece in an understated Midwestern monotone and moves on. Hank Lundy – well, Hank Lundy is a little different. Grill firmly in place on his teeth, he has no hesitation in expounding his views, not least when those views are how his opponent’s record doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. And Lundy is not a stupid man; he knows what his odds are in Saturday night’s title tilt against Crawford at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. His one big hope is to talk enough smack about Crawford to get in the Nebraskan’s head, to push the undefeated rising star into throwing caution to the winds and bringing anger into the ring. Failing that: well, if he’s going to go down in flames, he may as well do so noisily.

The irony is that, after several weeks of barking in Crawford’s general direction, Lundy was relatively subdued at Thursday’s final pre-fight press conference, with not an insult to be heard. The fuse, however, had long been lit, and when the two men stood nose to nose for the traditional post-presser face off, Lundy jawed at Crawford, Crawford looked away and smiled a sinister smile, turned back to stare at his foe’s face, and promptly executed a perfect, two-handed shove to the sternum that sent the unsuspecting Pennsylvanian backward across the stage – where, and here we must give praise where it is due, veteran PR man Ed Keenan caught him with a seemingly effortless two-armed grab.

The crowd gasped, Crawford’s always voluble mother and sisters yelled, and Lundy smiled in the way that Senator Palpatine did with every step Anakin Skywalker took toward submitting to anger and embracing the Dark Side.

It is questionable, however, how much Lundy has truly burrowed inside Crawford’s psyche, as opposed to simply offending his sense of propriety. As Crawford told Tony Booth of his hometown Omaha World-Herald, “That’s his main objective — to get in my head. But he doesn’t understand that just makes me fight harder, makes me be better, makes me be sharper. I’m not just going to go in there and try to just knock him out. I’m going to go in there and do what I do. That’s what he doesn’t understand.”

It is a similar response to the one he had when Dierry Jean called him out and belittled him prior to their meeting last October; Crawford kept his counsel, clobbered Jean comprehensively, and then taunted him while they were still in the ring:

“Did you get what you was looking for?”

One gets the sense that Crawford – polite, generally unexcitable, appropriately respectful to his opponents – expects the same in return. If everybody gets along and plays nice, then he’ll dish out his customary whupping and everyone can go home richer. But if a demonstrably inferior opponent dares to talk down to him, then that whupping will be all the harsher. It brings to mind Mike Tyson’s incredulous lament: “How dare they challenge me with their primitive skills?”

There would be no repeat of the shenanigans at Friday’s weigh-in – the two principals weighed in separately, and organizers eschewed the face-off this time around – and that was probably just as well, given the extent to which the Crawford entourage had swelled over the previous 24 hours. But the truth of the matter is that Thursday’s contretemps isn’t bad for business: it gives an edge to what might otherwise be considered a one-sided affair, and it shows that Crawford has another side to his personality, a mean streak beneath the veneer of Nebraska nice.

Weights from New York:

Terence Crawford 139.2 lbs.

Hank Lundy 138.2 lbs.

Felix Verdejo 135 lbs.

William Silva 134.4 lbs.

Behind the Scenes of the Cotto-Canelo Weigh-In with HBO Boxing Photographer Ed Mulholland

HBO Boxing photographer Ed Mulholland gives a behind-the-scenes look at events leading up to Friday's Miguel Cotto vs. Canelo Alvarez weigh-in.

Cotto-Canelo happens Saturday at 9pm ET/6pm PT on HBO PPV.