Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Houston Boxing Awards

What a bizarre two years it has been for Houston boxing. On Jan. 1, 2015, the fourth largest city in the United States was devoid of any professional world titleholders. But by Dec. 31, 2016, there were three; all were compressed in the same division and two had identical DNA.

Houston professional boxers went 4-1 in world title fights in 2016, three of which involved the same above-mentioned genetic makeup. Right beneath the world championship stage, there was a hive of activity with a multitude of Bayou City prospects and contenders clamoring to get to or remain there. Some were more successful than others but all made dramatic marks in either reaching or falling short of their goals.

Many of this year's awards came so compellingly close to the wire that some ended in a tie and a runner-up had to be declared in each category. Two new awards, Trainer of the Year and Event of the Year, were also included in 2016.

And the awards go to:

Fighter of the Year
Jermall Charlo

Last year's winner outdid himself and the other contenders in 2016 to walk away with the award for the second year running. In May, Jermall Charlo, Jermell Charlo and Erislandy Lara became early frontrunners for this award when they all overcame tough challenges in world title fights on the same card. But Jermall ended the year with a stroke of pugilistic genius that propelled him past the rest of the competition.

Impressive enough as Charlo's victory was against Austin Trout, it paled in comparison to his next title defense seven months later against Julian Williams. Charlo (25-0, 19 KOs) dropped Williams (22-1-1, 14 KOs) in the second round with a perfectly-timed jab but Williams held his own, rocking and socking Charlo with clean punches throughout.

But as both fighters were fighting on even terms, Charlo upped his game in the fifth and executed a catch-and-counter that dropped Williams face first to the canvass. It was a maneuver virtually unprecedented on the world stage given the level of difficulty coupled with its split-second delivery. Charlo picked off an incoming right cross with his right glove and in a blink of an eye, returned fire with a right uppercut, which is one of the hardest punches to land let alone deploy as a fight-ending counter.

Charlo's body of work at this early juncture of his career speaks volumes about his potential as a future great. He has dropped and stopped opponents with every punch in the sweet science - left jab, left hook, left uppercut, right cross and right uppercut. In addition, he has scored knockdowns in three of his four title fights with a mere jab. Charlo, 26, has been almost exclusively a head hunter, though, so it'd be interesting to see if he can be equally devastating with body punches.

Runner-up: Jermell Charlo

Given his superior ring generalship and experience, Jermell Charlo (27-0, 13 KOs) was favored to beat John Jackson (20-3, 15 KOs) for a vacant world title. But the usually aggressive and brutish Jackson ventured off script to morph effectively into a stick-and-move stylist and throw Charlo off his game plan. Going into the eighth round with a five-point deficit on all three judges' cards, Charlo was forced to improvise and he did just that, stringing together a concoction of long and short punches that violently put an end to Jackson's bait-and-switch.

Honorable Mention:
Erislandy Lara
Regis Prograis
Miguel Flores

2015 winner: Jermall Charlo

Fight of the Year
Craig Baker KO8 Steve Lovett

Competition for Fight of the Year was so intense this year it could easily have been a four-way tie. But Baker KO8 Lovett topped the list on account of its level of suspense, brutal end and both fighters hailing from the Houston area.

Baker (17-1, 13 KOs) and Lovett (15-1,12 KOs) were a dead-even matchup on the tale of the tape and it pretty much played out that way in the ring. Both were similar in style, size and experience but ultimately, it was Baker's superior poise and discipline that sealed his victory.

For three rounds both fighters were equally impressive in landing stiff jabs and identical combinations. But towards the end of the fourth, a huge counter left hook dumped Baker heavily to the canvass. Lovett seized the momentum and continued to rock Baker in the fifth with solid left hooks and straight rights.

In the sixth, though, Baker began making subtle adjustments, tightening up on his defense and firing compact and calculated punches in combination. Lovett, on the other hand, kept trying to duplicate the single one-punch success he had in the fourth.

By the seventh, Lovett was beginning to unravel as Baker dominated the exchanges with cleaner, crisper shots. An accumulation of direct hits from Baker, particularly with the right uppercut, had Lovett reeling and out on his feet before Baker sent him crashing to the canvass and unable to beat the count with two seconds remaining in the eighth round.

Runner-up: Miguel Flores W10 Ryan Kielzweski

Flores vs. Kielzweski was basically a showdown between two undefeated featherweight contenders since Kielzweski's only prior defeat was daylight robbery. Kielzweski was deemed to be the superior boxer and Flores (21-0, 9 KOs) the more dangerous puncher, particularly with left hook downstairs. But for 10 action-packed rounds Kielzweski (26-2, 8 KOs) held his own in the trenches and Flores did some nifty combination punching from long range. Flores' higher punch output ultimately tipped the balance on the scorecards, earning him a hard-fought 10-round unanimous decision.

Honorable mention:
Jermell Charlo TKO8 John Jackson
Jermall Charlo KO5 Julian Williams
Erislandy Lara W12 Vanes Matiryosan

2015 winner: Edwin Rodriguez KO3 Michael Seals

Knockout of the Year
Jermall Charlo KO5 Julian Williams
Deontay Wilder KO9 Artur Szplika

The two knockouts that tied for this award, both with world titles at stake, could not be more diametrically polar. One was the result of an educated split-second reflex maneuver and the other a raw, neanderthal club-swinging exchange. While the Houston fighter emerged victorious in the first encounter, it was the Bayou City boxer who was stopped in the co-winner.

Charlo KO5 Williams

Charlo dropped Williams with a crunching left jab in the second round, but the fight was suspenseful and evenly contested throughout until its scintillating end. Midway through the fifth round, Charlo deflected an incoming right cross with his own right and instinctively returned fire with an uppercut from the same fist that dropped Williams face first to the canvass. It was a meticulously executed catch-and-counter maneuver for the ages. Williams struggled to beat the count but the fight was essentially over at that point; Charlo's follow-up flurry that put Williams down for good was basically a formality, like an inconsequential garnish to an immaculately-broiled filet mignon.

Wilder KO9 Szpilka

For eight rounds, Wilder and Szpilka were both measured and disciplined in executing their respective game plans. Wilder got the better of the exchanges on account of his superior reach and technical proficiency, but Szpilka defiantly held his own with tenacity. In the ninth round, though, both fighters inexplicably opted to hurl haymakers with reckless abandon at the exact same moment, Wilder with is right and Szpilka with his southpaw left. Spzilka's Hail-Mary missed while Wilder's landed rendering Szpilka unconscious on the canvass for several minutes.

Runner-up: Craig Baker KO8 Steve Lovett

When a fighter drops and seriously hurts the other in an even fight, it typically marks a turning point in favor the one who didn't hit the canvass. Instead, the knockdown (the first in his career) that Baker survived in the fourth round ignited a mix of composure and sense of urgency that enabled him to elevate his game to the next level. Baker didn't make the same mistakes again and foiled Lovett's follow-up assaults to stop him in the eighth in cerebral yet violent fashion.

Honorable mention:
Jermell Charlo KO8 John Jackson
Thomas Williams TKO2 Edwin Rodriguez
Eugene Hill KO2 Nick Guivas
Mason Menard TKO9 Bahodir Mamadjonov
Pablo Cruz TKO4 Lavale Wilson

2015 winner: Saul Alvarez KO3 James Kirkland

Prospect of the Year
Miguel Flores

Miguel Flores surpassed Craig Baker for Prospect of the Year as narrowly as Baker-Lovett surpassed Flores-Kielzweski for Fight of the Year. It was Flores' busier fight schedule and higher level of competition that won him the award at the finish line.

Flores (21-0, 9 KOs) went 3-0 in 2016. He was expected to defeat his first two opponents of the year, but when matched against Ryan Kielzweski (26-2, 8 KOs) in August, it was a virtual tossup. The feisty and talented Kielzweski proved to be a solid mettle detector that forced out a skill set, level of poise and adaptability that Flores never had to pull from his sleeve before.

Runner-up: Craig Baker
In his impressive come-from-behind KO of previously undefeated Steve Lovett, Baker revealed dexterity to overcome adversity, recuperative prowess and a formidable arsenal from long range and up close and personal. Baker might be the most underrated, overlooked prospect in the red-hot light heavyweight division of 2017.

Honorable mention:
Ryan Karl (13-0, 9 KOs)
David Perez (8-0, 4 KOs)

2015 winner: Regis Prograis

Round of the Year
Jermell Charlo vs. John Jackson (Round 8)
Thomas Williams vs. Edwin Rodriguez (Round 2)

Round of the Year ended in a tie between a Houston fighter who dramatically turned the tide in a fight in which he was badly losing on the scorecards, and one who was gunning for an early knockout but had the tide abruptly turned against him.

Jermell Charlo vs. Jackson (Round 8)

Jermell Charlo (28-0, 13 KOs) was thrown a curve ball when Jackson (20-3, 15 KOs), usually a seek-and-destroy fighter, unexpectedly reinvented himself as a slick boxer-counter puncher in this bout for a vacant world title. Utilizing a circle-and-ambush strategy, Jackson forced Charlo to assume the role of aggressor. Like a roadrunner against a rattlesnake, Jackson patiently picked, pecked and pitty-punched his way to a comfortable 69-64 lead after seven rounds on all three scorecards.

But Charlo took the judges out of the equation in the eighth round. At center ring, Charlo struck with a pinpoint one-two that froze Jackson in his tracks. Seizing the moment, Charlo followed up with two left hooks that sent Jackson reeling discombobulated into a corner, prompting the referee to call a halt and save Jackson from further punishment.

Williams vs. Rodriguez (Round 2)

Rodriguez, a player in the 2015 Round of the Year, was also part of this year's award. But while he came up on top of the fight in question last year, he ended up on the losing end in 2016.

Last year, Rodriguez answered the opening bell swinging with reckless abandon and dropped Michael Seals in the first round only to taste the canvass twice himself when Seals returned fire with equal ferocity. Surviving the round by the skin of his teeth, Rodriguez somehow found the guile to stop Seals in the third round.

In 2016, Rodriguez hurt southpaw Thomas Williams in the second round, and again, he went for broke in trying to knock Williams out. Williams, though, did his homework and knew Rodriguez was a sitting duck when throwing caution to the wind. He carefully covered up, reset and blasted Rodriguez to the canvass with a right hook-overhand left. 

Runner-up: Miguel Flores vs. Ryan Kielzweski (Round 10)

After nine competitive fast-paced and action-packed rounds, Flores and Kielzweski had enough left in their tanks to save the best for last. The fight was close enough that both boxers knew they had to finish strong to steal the verdict and they let their fists fly. The result was a microcosm and sped-up version of many of the previous rounds in which Flores landed the more picturesque combinations while Kielzweski connected with cleaner, harder single shots.

Honorable mention:
Jermall Charlo vs. Julian Williams (Round 5)
Deontay Wilder vs. Artur Szpilka (Round 9)
Craig Baker vs. Steve Lovett (Round 8)

2015 winner: Edwin Rodriguez vs. Michael Seals (Round 1)

Upset of the Year
Thomas Williams TKO2 Edwin Rodriguez

Rodriguez (28-2, 19 KOs) was riding an impressive four-fight winning streak since his 2014 loss to Andre Ward, while Williams (20-2, 14 KOs) was still in damage control mode following his embarrassing TKO loss to a faded Gabriel Campillo, also in 2014.

Rodriguez came out swinging wildly in the opening round, looking to decapitate with every shot, while Williams calmly covered up and stood his ground. The writing was on the wall. Rodriguez hurt Williams in the second round and daringly moved in for the kill abandoning any semblance of defense. Rodriguez was begging to be countered and Williams gladly obliged with a southpaw right hook followed by a monster haymaker left that sent Rodriguez crashing violently to the canvass.

Rodriguez beat the count on spaghetti legs as the bell sounded to end the round but the referee nevertheless opted to wave the fight over, denying him the opportunity to recover and repeat the brink-of-disaster comeback he pulled off in the 2015 Fight of the Year.

Runner-up: Justin DeLoach W8 Junior Castillo

Southpaw Castillo (12-1, 10 KOs), a 2012 Olympian from the Dominican Republic, was favored to defeat DeLoach (16-1, 8 KOs) on account of his Olympic pedigree. But the speedy and savvy DeLoach dropped Castillo twice en route to a unanimous eight-round decision.

Honorable mention:
Anna Alimardanova (Azerbaijan) W4 Virginia Fuchs at Women's World Boxing Championships
Ingrit Valencia (Colombia) W4 Virginia Fuchs at Americas Olympic Qualifier

2015 winner: Virginia Fuchs W3 (twice) Marlen Esparza at the US Olympic Trials

Comeback of the Year
Craig Baker

Baker was coming off a one-year layoff following his first career loss, a third-round TKO to Edwin Rodriguez which was widely viewed as a premature stoppage. He was pit against undefeated Steve Lovett, who by contrast, had kept himself busy by fighting five times in 2015.

Baker hit the canvass hard in the fourth round courtesy of a Lovett left hook and looked to be in trouble again in the fifth. But he braved the storm, caught his second wind and tweaked his game plan to seize control of the fight in the seventh and systematically blast Lovett away in the eighth.

Runner-up: Juan Diaz
Diaz lost to Baker in this category because, he won two fights in 2016 he was expected to win, while Baker upped his game to defeat an undefeated prospect in a 50-50 fight. Nevertheless, Diaz looked impressive in his two TKO wins in 2016 after an 18-month layoff due to a rotator cuff injury.

Honorable mention:
Junior Castillo
Medzhid Bektemirov
Radmir Akhmediyev

2015 winner: Cornelius White

Trainer of the Year:
Ronnie Shields

Ronnie Shields was 3-1 in world title fights in 2016. He started the year on a losing note when Artur Szpilka was brutally KOed by Deontay Wilder for a heavyweight title in January. But Shields rebounded strongly in May when two of his charges, Jermall Charlo and Erislandy Lara successfully defended their titles on the same card. Shields' ended the year with fireworks when Charlo scored a spectacular highlight-reel knockout against Julian Williams.

Honorable mention:
Aaron Navarro
Bobby Benton
Juan Lopez
Derwin Richards

Event of the Year:
Charlo twins make history

While twins have held world titles at the same time before, Jermall and Jermell Charlo became the first siblings born minutes apart to claim titles concurrently in the same division in the history of the sport. On the same May 21 card in Las Vegas, Jermall successfully defended his world title against Austin Trout and Jermell knocked out John Jackson to win a different version of the 154-pound crown.

Runner-up: Tie
Marlen Esparza signs with Golden Boy Promotions
Professional boxing returns to Downtown Houston

Esparza turns pro
After losing her third consecutive bout to crosstown rival Virginia Fuchs, twice in last year's Olympic Trials and in the finals of the 2016 USA Boxing nationals, Marlen Esparza, a 2012 Olympic bronze medalist has opted to go pro. She is the first female boxer to sign with Golden Boy Promotions.

Boxing back in downtown
Promoter Lou Savarese brought boxing back to downtown after a four-year hiatus when he staged a card at the Ballroom at Bayou Place on Dec.1.

See 2015 Houston Boxing Awards at:

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Charlo-Williams afterthoughts

Jermall Charlo's Catch-and-Counter KO of Julian Williams is one for the ages

Jermall Charlo's momentary lapse of sportsmanship should not detract from the masterful maneuver he executed to win the fight. The level of difficulty of the catch-and-counter Charlo used to separate Williams from his senses cannot be overstated.

It is hard enough to pull off the catch-and-counter with the same fist, let alone score a knockout with it. And the uppercut is probably the hardest punch to set up, let alone deploy as a split-second reaction counter. But it seemed almost second nature to Charlo when he blocked an incoming right cross with his right glove and instantaneously returned fire using the same hand with pinpoint accuracy to seal his victory.

The maneuver was not just brilliant, it might well be unprecedented in the history of championship-level boxing. If there are any readers out there who know of a similar catch-and-counter sequence that led to a stoppage in a major fight, please post a comment and tell us about it.

Charlo's latest victory also unveiled some other interesting qualities about the fighter:

-- When a fighter drops his opponents with a mere jab in three out of four title fights, make no mistake about it; it is the real deal. Not since Mark Breland has a fighter been able to not just stun, but seriously hurt other men of equal size with the most basic punch in boxing. Pound for pound, Charlo might have the best jab in the sport today.

-- With his latest win, Charlo has scored knockdowns and knockouts with every punch in the book - left jab, left hook, left uppercut, right cross and right uppercut. The only weapon that has yet to emerge from his arsenal is body punching.

-- He has a pretty decent set of whiskers. Charlo's punch resistance was a question mark before the Williams fight but he absorbed everything Williams landed with aplomb, unflinchingly returning fire with composure each time he was nailed by a clean shot.

-- In the process of passing the chin test, the fact that Williams was able to connect with flush punches throughout the encounter exposed the holes in Charlo's defense. Slicker, more experienced fighters the likes of Canelo, Triple G and Danny Jacobs might be able to exploit the chinks in Charlo's armor more effectively than Williams.

-- Charlo appears overly concerned about his public persona and what his opponents, the media and fans say about him. Against Williams, he was able to contain his frustrations until after the fight was over but as his stardom grows, he might find it harder to keep his emotions in check.

Originally published in: and

Monday, October 17, 2016

Long-reigning lefties

The legacies of recent long-reigning lefties

Although only 8-15 percent of the adult population is left handed, four of the last five US presidents were southpaws, a piece of political trivia lost amidst the pre-election mudslinging. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama signed legislation, declarations of war, and congressional vetoes from a starboard-centric position; George W. Bush was the only president since 1980 to commandeer the nation favoring his port side. Regardless of who wins the presidential election on November 8, the United States will take a turn to the right again since neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump are lefties.

Of the four above-mentioned left handed presidents, three of them - Reagan, Bill Clinton and Obama - were two-term Oval Office holders. 

The sport of boxing has also seen lefties conquer and rule for extended stretches. Some were more charismatic than controversial while vice versa was the case for others. Some ruled with ruthless heavy handedness, some with slick maneuvering and others with a combination of both. But all blazed notable trails of their own in the sport, although some were more conspicuous than others.

Here are some recent long-reigning lefties and the legacies they left behind in the sport:

Pugilist and politico

Manny Pacquiao’s world title reign has already spanned the terms of three US presidents. He won his first world title as a flyweight in 1998 while Bill Clinton was still in office and held titles at various divisions during the Bush and Obama administrations. Having dethroned Jessie Vargas for the WBO welterweight belt three days before the general election, Pacquiao's streak will most likely extend into the term of the next US president.

Pacquiao’s full body of work has yet to be written since he is still competing at the highest level of the sport. But he will undoubtedly stand out not just for conquering multiple weight divisions per se, but the almost superhuman way in which he did it.

While a boxer’s physical attributes typically diminish or, at best,  remain the same as he bulks up in weight to fight naturally bigger men, the Filipino phenom is an exceptional anomaly to the rule. Pacquiao (58-6-2, 38 KOs), not only carried but enhanced his power, speed and punch resistance as he moved up, dropping and stopping top-notch opponents who had never or rarely been stopped. His punching power and chin seemed to hit the ceiling at 140 pounds, but nevertheless, his ability to deliver and absorb punishment against much larger-framed foes is remarkable and virtually unprecedented, considering he began his career as a puny, malnourished 106-pounder.

Pacquiao’s rags-to-riches narrative also transcends the pugilistic arena into the political sphere. He was able to parlay his immense popularity as a boxer to get elected as a congressman and senator in the Philippines. Given the Filipino electorate's preference of celebrity over substance in choosing its leaders, it might not be that inconceivable that President Pacquiao will be negotiating treaties from Malacanang Palace (the Philippines’ equivalent of the White House) with Clinton, Trump or their successors in the near or distant future.

Torpedo-proof chin

Marvin Hagler‘s reign as undisputed middleweight champion was uninterrupted and confined to a single weight division. An uncompromisingly ferocious boxer-puncher, Hagler (62-3-2, 52 KOs) unified and ruled the division from 1980 to 1987. He defended the championship 12 times, taking on a star-studded list of challengers including fellow legends Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard, who eventually dethroned him. Like Pacquiao, Hagler was naturally right-handed but fought from a southpaw stance.

Three decades after his retirement, Hagler’s jawbone remains the gold standard for the proverbial cast iron chin. During his reign, Hagler almost unflinchingly withstood direct nuclear-powered hits delivered with full torque and leverage from bona fide knockout artists the likes of Hearns and John Mugabi.   

Torpedo-proof chin aside, Hagler's legacy also stems from being amongst a tiny minority of champions to know when it was time to walk away from the sport, move on and never look back to second guess what he had accomplished. His nemeses Leonard, Hearns, Duran and Mugabi all lingered on way past their primes only to suffer physically debilitating and sometimes humiliating defeats against younger, stronger opponents while attempting to defy father time and reclaim past glory. Hagler didn't make that same mistake. (Michael Spinks also comes to mind).

Defensive Genius

Pernell Whitaker held world titles from 130-154 pounds between 1989 and 1997. His longevity was due largely in part to his legendary defensive wizardry. It was like fighting a ghost; Whitaker (40-4-1, 17 KOs) could move half an inch to make his opponents miss by half a mile while remaining tantalizingly and tauntingly within the pocket. With cat-like reflexes, he would deftly dip, duck, turn and spin away from incoming blows, never having to maneuver out of punching range.

In the history of the sport, only a handful of other fighters had that almost supernatural prowess to read body language and know their opponents’ next move before they did. Willy Pep, Wilfred Benitez and Floyd Mayweather Jr. also had that ability but among this very exclusive club of defensive geniuses, Whitaker was the only southpaw.

Whitaker’s longevity and success is also exceptional for a negative reason. While drink and drugs have long been the demise of many a potentially great fighter, Whitaker reached his full potential and then some in spite of his well-documented appetite for both. (Johnny Tapia also comes to mind) The argument could be made that Whitaker might have been an even greater fighter had he led a cleaner lifestyle but his superb Hall-of-Fame credentials would be hard to top by any measure or any one.

Greatest underachiever

Hector Camacho held world titles at 130, 135 and 140 pounds between 1983 and 1991. Above 140, he also did battle against legends the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar De La Hoya, Roberto Duran and Felix Trinidad.

That said, Camacho (79-6-3, 38 KOs) might go down as the most underachieving fighter in the history of the sport. Given his immense natural talent, his career should have been much more spectacular than what it was.

Camacho was blessed with brilliant ring IQ, blazing hand and foot speed, a granite chin and, although his under-50 percent knockout rate doesn’t reflect it, when he elected to sit down on his punches, he could rock your world. Outside the ropes, Camacho was outlandish, charismatic, controversial and downright entertaining. A promoter’s dream, he sold himself without even trying.

But as his arrest record suggests, Camacho wore his heart on his sleeve and lived his life on the edge. His run-ins with the law typically involved drugs and reckless, impulsive acts committed in the heat of the moment, a tell-tale sign that his mind was not always on his next fight and his body not always at the gym. He underperformed against less skilled opponents, doing enough to win, but when matched against elite fighters, he struggled and was usually dominated.

The cruel irony is, while Camacho failed to live up to his full potential in life, having to settle for a supporting role in the biggest fights of his career, he also played second fiddle in the circumstances leading to his death. A womanizer, gambler and thrill seeker that craved the center of attention, he was one of those love-him-or-hate-him figures who, at any given moment of his adult life was always at risk of being whacked by any number of jealous husbands, bookies, gang bangers or average Joes he had beaten up outside a titty bar. But when Camacho was gunned down in 2012, evidence suggests he was an inconsequential, unintended victim. The drug dealer (who was also killed) he was hanging out with appeared to be the principal target. The “Macho Man” was merely collateral damage.

Hard punch but soft chin

Humberto 'Chiquita' Gonzalez (43-3, 30 KOs) won, lost, regained and partially unified the junior flyweight title between 1989 and 1995. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of fame in 2006. Like Hagler, Gonzalez often switched to orthodox mid-fight but fought predominantly as a southpaw.

Like Hearns and Tommy Morrison, Gonzalez was one of those guys whose punch resistance was inversely proportional to his punching power. In other words, he hit hard but his chin was soft, a combination that often made for suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat fights. Gonzalez's stoppage losses to Michael Carbajal and Saman Sorjaturong won the Ring Magazine's Fight of the Year honors in 1993 and 1995 respectively.

Gonzalez and Carbajal became the first 108-pounders to garner million-dollar purses in their explosive first encounter in 1993, paving the way for other little men to earn big paydays in the sport.
Fighting behind enemy lines

Mark Johnson (44-5, 28 KOs) reigned as a flyweight world titlist from 1996 to 1998 and held versions of the super flyweight title on two separate occasions from 1999 to 2004. Johnson’s legacy stems not only from becoming the first black fighter to win a flyweight title but more significantly, how he got there.

As a diminutive African-American boxer, Johnson faced an uphill battle from the outset in gaining recognition in the 112-pound division where fighters and their fans are overwhelmingly Latino. But he defied the odds and gained notoriety by fighting behind enemy lines at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles, the city with the third largest population of Mexican nationals behind Mexico City and Guadalajara. A skillfully slick southpaw, Johnson went 12-0 at The Forum in front of an audience that favored brute machismo over brilliant mechanics. Ethnocentric fans bought tickets to his fights at The Forum hoping to see him lose, but he never did.

The Thai Tyson

Khaosai Galaxy (47-1, 41 KOs) reigned as a 115-pound world titlist from 1984-1991, making 19 defenses of his belt. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1999 and was ranked the 19th in Ring Magazine’s Top 100 Punchers of All Time issue published in 2003.

Nicknamed the 'Thai Tyson' because of his concussive power, Galaxy was one of very few fighters to have never lost his title in the ring and retire as champion. (Floyd Mayweather Jr. was the most recent boxer to do so) Khaosai, alongside his brother Khaokor, also became the first twins to hold world titles concurrently, a distinction that was only recently matched by Jermall and Jermell Charlo.

Despite his lofty accomplishments Galaxy remains largely unknown outside his native Thailand and die-hard circles of boxing aficionados. Imagine how much greater his legacy would've been had he fought in the post-globalization era of multi-media marketing/management that Pacquiao enjoyed.

Like Hagler, Galaxy, without much fanfare, reinvented himself from an A-plus fighter to a B-minus movie star in his retirement, never acting upon any urge to make a comeback.

The anti-Camacho

Winky Wright (51-6-1, 25 KOs) won and unified various versions of the junior middleweight title between 2001 and 2005.

The antithesis of Hector Camacho, Wright might go down in history as one of the most under-recognized and underappreciated exponents of the sport. Gifted with superb ring generalship, he took on some of the best boxers of his era. He defeated Shane Moseley (twice) and Trinidad, fought Jermaine Taylor to a draw and pretty much held his own in a loss to Bernard Hopkins. But Wright never came close to attaining the superstardom or earning power of his higher-profile adversaries.

Despite his immaculate skills, Wright didn't pack much punching power and his style was drearily academic and fan-unfriendly. Outside the ropes, his on-camera persona was rather pedestrian to say the least.

The latecomer and late bloomer

Sergio Martinez (51-3-2, 28 KOs) ruled as middleweight champion between 2010 and 2014 toppling the best and biggest names of the division.

His reign stands out because he defied improbable odds on two fronts; he conquered and ruled a division 7-13 pounds above his natural fighting weight, and more importantly, he was a latecomer and late bloomer who crafted his skills on the job to attain top-10 pound-for-pound status. Lacing on gloves for the first time at the overripe old age of 20, Martinez somehow managed to turn a start in bicycling and soccer into a borderline Hall-of-Fame boxing career.

Ironically, Martinez was eventually dethroned by Miguel Cotto, a fellow bulked-up welterweight, not one of the bigger full-fledged middleweights he was reputed to overcome in his prime.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Craig Baker vs. Steve Lovett

Crosstown Texas rivals collide in Florida
By Peter Lim

In an intriguing east-versus-west matchup between two Houston area light heavyweights, Craig Baker (16-1, 12 KOs) takes on Steve Lovett (15-0, 12 KOs) on June 12 at the Lakeland Events Center in Florida. Scheduled for 10 rounds, the fight will be aired on Bounce TV.

Baker hails from Baytown, about 30 miles east of Houston, and Lovett from Stafford, a suburb just southwest of Houston. The cross town fight is as dead-even a match-up in actuality as it is on paper. The winner propels himself from prospect to contender while the loser takes a U-turn back to the proverbial square one. Kudos to both fighters for taking such a risky fight at this early juncture in their careers.

Being from the same area, they have sparred before so they will not be too much of a mystery to each other. Having similar styles, both boxers favor utilizing thumping jabs to set up potentially fight-ending rights. Standing at six-foot-two, Lovett has a slight height advantage over Baker.

While Baker, 31, represents Lovett's sternest test to date, Baker has faced tougher opposition. In his last fight Baker took on top-10 contender Edwin Rodriguez, Lovett's sparring partner and stablemate, and lost by third-round TKO in what was widely viewed as a premature stoppage. He is trained by Juan Lopez at the Lopez Boxing Club.

“I’m excited about this opportunity to take on a fighter like Steve Lovett,” Baker said. “He’s highly regarded but I know that I have the skills and experience to beat him. I’m leaving it all in the ring. A win here puts me in position to get big fights so I plan on being impressive.”

Lovett, 31, sold his every worldly possession in Canberra, Australia to move to the United States to train under Ronnie Shields at the Plex Gym in 2014. Since then he has gone 8-0, 7 KOs with one no contest due to a cut. His only non-KO win came in his last fight when his opponent disgracefully and intentionally got himself disqualified by repeatedly hitting below the belt.

"I helped Edwin Rodriguez prepare for his fight against Baker so I know him well," Lovett said. "I am at the stage to step up to the next level.”

See prediction at: 

It's baffling how Lovett was so flawless for the first five rounds but unraveled so thoroughly like a ball of yarn in the second half of the fight. Kudos to Baker for hanging tough and making the right adjustments. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Artur Szpilka and Rocky Baboa: Life imitates art

By Peter Lim

If life mimics art, Artur Szpilka's world heavyweight title shot this Saturday sure bears some uncanny parallels to the 1977 academy award winning flick Rocky. And since Sylvester Stallone penned the screenplay loosely based on former fringe contender Chuck Wepner's valiant attempt at wresting the heavyweight championship from Mohammad Ali in 1975, this is actually a case of life imitating art imitating life.

Szpilka (20-1, 15 KOs) takes on WBC heavyweight titleholder Deontay Wilder (35-0, 34 KOs) in a Showtime-televised bout at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, NY, on Saturday. A native of Warsaw, Poland, Szpilka, 26, moved to Houston last year to train at the Plex Gym under Ronnie Shields.

In the movie Stallone’s character Rocky Balboa found himself plucked from obscurity and thrust into the spotlight for a chance at the most coveted prize in boxing when heavyweight champion Apollo Creed’s challenger pulled out at the last minute. The same scenario led to Szpilka being offered the WBC title shot when Wilder’s original opponent withdrew seven weeks prior to the fight. Despite the relative short notice, Szpilka did not hesitate to accept the challenge.

“When I was young I dreamed of this,” Szplilka said. “I know I can win. I’m hungry.”

Szpilka enters the ring a heavy underdog, as Balboa did in the movie against the physically bigger knockout artist that was Creed. While Creed had stopped every opponent he had faced, Wilder, 30, comes pretty darn close, sporting a 97 percent knockout rate. At six-foot-seven, Wilder towers over Szpilka who stands six-foot-three.

“He’s tall but he’s not big,” Szpilka said. “I don’t care (if) everybody thinks he has strong punch and everybody is scared of him. I love fighting tall guys.”

In the movie, Creed’s handlers cautioned him about venturing into unfamiliar southpaw turf. Guess what? Wilder’s pro experience against southpaws is limited to the one minute and 10 seconds it took him to dispatch badly faded former Olympic gold medalist Audley Harrison in 2013.

“He’s never fought with southpaw like me,” Szpilka said.

Shields, though, played down Szpilka’s left handedness as merely something incidental.

“It’s not the southpaw style that’s going to get him; Artur Szpilka is going to get him,” Shields said. “It’s not because of his style that he’s going to win the fight; he’s going to win the fight because he’s a better fighter.”

Mickey, Balboa’s grizzled trainer, conditioned him to rip the body with murderous intentions, a tactic Balboa successfully deployed that almost won him the fight in the final round against Creed.

Here’s what Shields had to say about his game plan: “We will get inside (Wilder’s reach) and we’re going to do something that a lot of people haven’t done and that is go to his body. Go look at all of his fights and see how many times he’s been hit to the body – not a whole lot.”

Rocky will not be the movie it is without Balboa’s love interest Adrienne, played by Talia Shire. Szpilka would not be the man he is without his girlfriend of four years Camila, whom he says keeps him grounded. And just like Adrienne gifted Balboa a dog named Butkus from her pet shop, Szpilka’s pooch Cycu came over from Poland along with Camila.

A pivotal moment in the movie occurs when Balboa comes to the realization that he is in over his head about dethroning the champion and strives instead for the lesser milestone of becoming the first man to last the distance against Creed. This is where the real life script diverges way off course from the fictional one. Artur Szpilka vows he is in it to win it, and not just go the distance.

"He talks shit every time, but he will have trouble," Szpilka said. "I have confidence and I will be champ.

“I will fight hard and after the fight you will hear, ‘the new heavyweight champion of the world.’”