BoxingWriter.co.uk Fighter of the Month – January 2021

The year has begun, though fights have been sparse there has been sufficient highlights among them to rekindle the long since dormant BoxingWriter.co.uk Fighter of the Month. An award with a parade of the great and garrulous among its previous winners, none of whom were aware of their success nor received any prize of garland for the achievement. But don’t let that distract you.

In 2018, the award briefly reemerged in an amalgamated form with MyFightTickets.com, where a three-man panel decided on the winner. However, this latest reboot of the original 2008 concept will return to that simpler myopic format.

There were two performances that caught the eye in January 2021, though I was sad to read Cosme Rivera’s fight was postponed. The 44 year old was a strong contender for this prize regardless of the outcome, for I had a nostalgic yarn to weave about the veteran Welterweight.

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Bad publicity is still publicity. Bryan beats Stiverne in heavyweight hinterland

Championship [noun]

A contest for the position of champion in a sport or game

Any publicity is good publicity the proverb insists. Trevor Bryan’s win on Friday night, KO11 v Bermane Stiverne, secured him the most inauspicious of ‘world’ title belts, in a world awash with inauspicious belts, and tested the age-old notion to the fullest. As well as the credibility of all involved.

The days before the fight, usually the key period of promotional push on a PPV card, were spent navigating a labyrinth of nonsense conjured by the Panama based World Boxing Association (WBA). A largely faceless enterprise seemingly inspired by the imagination of Lewis Carroll and harnessed with a move or two from the Lucky Luciano playbook.

Venerable promoter Don King was the unusual Alice in their dystopian wonderland.

Only in America.

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Saunders secures his date with destiny. Canelo on Cinco de Mayo

British Super-Middleweight contender Billy Joe Saunders has landed a fight with boxing’s premier star, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, to coincide with Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican celebration of the nation’s victory over the invading French forces in 1862. It is a day now synonymous with boxing and, specifically, whoever is the nation’s biggest star in that calendar year, headlining a US based show.

Saunders’ challenge to Canelo will bring joy to those hipsters who revel in the possibility the Hatfield rascal will prove to be slippery Kryptonite to boxing’s newest and seemingly invincible Superman. For those to whom Saunders is merely a crass irritation, their joy will be found in the presumed evisceration of such a fanciful idea.

The fight offers the Mexican superstar an opportunity to substantiate his status as the division’s king. A crown he earned beating Callum Smith last year. Saunders holds the WBO belt. In truth, it is a decoration. Saunders won the vacated title by beating unheralded Shefat Isufi in May 2019. Two subsequent defences, both abject in their significance and the entertainment provided, added negligible kudos to his reign and the belt stubbornly remains little more than a curio.

Now is Saunders’ moment of truth.

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Oquendo, King and the Game of Thrones

I never got around to watching Game of Thrones. Breaking Bad. I’m resigned to my fate as a person daunted by ‘seasons’, not excited by them. A box set binger I am not. Maybe I’m an outlier. Just a nudge beyond the appropriate demographic.

The idea of playing catch up, of sitting down with 120 hours of plot sprawling out before me holds no attraction. Is that how I want to spend days of my dwindling future and aren’t all tales merely derivatives of just seven stories anyway? I’m 48 this year. I don’t have time.

Fres Oquendo is already 48. In the past six years, the period since he last boxed in a prizefight, the moon faced heavyweight may well have consumed every drama the various platforms had to offer. He may be a TV critic beneath a cryptic pseudonym. A pointed and acidic reviewer as adept at slinging zingers as he once was jabs and left hooks.

One thing is clear, he hasn’t been fighting. He argues he’s tried, but he has an unfortunate habit of choosing fighters who fail pee tests.

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Garcia dares where Spence and Crawford dither

No time like the present

Mrs Manley, Novelist, 1663-1724

On the 17th December Manny Pacquiao became 42. This week marked 26 years since his professional debut. In the period in between he has boxed 71 times. All of these numbers are remarkable. In the modern era, they are other worldly. A pandemic halted his latest run in the Welterweight division and Conor McGregor’s humbling last Saturday has likely cost the Filipino Senator his largest available pay day. Perverse though the idea of their meeting was.

There is now a strong suggestion Pacquiao will face Ryan Garcia, a fighter not born when the first of those 71 contests, a four rounder on 22nd January 1995, took place. It is hoped the match will be the genuine article, a Lightweight upstart venturing to Welterweight to unseat a legend, and not the exhibition tag subsequently tied to the proposition.

Sure, we’d prefer a lightweight round robin and Spence v Crawford, they’re the earnest, timeless match ups boxing craves. But complain about Pacquiao v Garcia? Come on.

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Conor, the boxing conman, departs. Garcia and Pacquiao to reassert boxing’s authority

As blood seeped from his nose, the veneer of alpha stripped from his name and with millions of dollars leaking from his future, Conor McGregor lay prone on the canvas. Pain flooding in beneath the Trojan horse of disorientation that smothered his senses. The Irishman appeared to pause. At first in shock but then with a sense of revelation, of the realisation that he was no longer what he was or what he thought himself to be.

Damage was smeared across his features. The malevolence of his persona hacked out by the fists of a capable opponent. Faces, familiar and new, bobbed into view. McGregor continued gazing toward the lights, perhaps beyond, like a husband outside a shop, staring to the heavens, contemplating whether he’d remembered everything on the list he’d left at home.

Dustin Poirier’s punches had pummelled McGregor’s to defeat. An upset victory that changes much in the world of MMA, and perhaps too, the boxing world McGregor was planning to return to.

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Can 2020 vision make 2021 boxing’s year of compromise?

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Isle of Beauty, Thomas Haynes Bayly, 1797-1839

Any pursuit elicits frustration and apathy in even its most ardent admirers from time to time. The pursuit and the follower are both a composition of variables that insist their relationship is one of ups and downs. Of sunshine and darkness. Boxing, in all her blood splattered chaos, is inherently inclined to frustrate more than most endeavours.

Among the excitement and wonder boxing engenders, the Cinderella stories and greatness it is crucible too, the ugly sisters of cynicism and sarcasm are the tones struck when otherwise monogamous devotees articulate their despair. A chorus of mismatches, marination and muddle cheats on the affection extended to it by its fans.

No other sport brings together its leading participants together as infrequently as boxing does. As January unfurls and the year’s early schedule is revealed, it is possible fans clamouring for the best to fight the best as well as those willing to moderate their own expectations and embrace the not so goods versus the not so goods, could finally be rewarded.

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Revisited: Quirino Garcia, the elephant and the castle.

We have no time to stand and stare. And stare as long as sheep or cows. No time to see, when woods we pass, Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

W.H. Davies, poet, ‘Leisure’

Parking had been difficult, as was finding the venue itself, and as a result, I was late for the show. It was long since dark and the city still intimidated me despite my tailored attempt to project self-assurance and belonging. I broke into a jog between the pools of street light on my way to the Elephant and Castle Leisure Centre, London. It was late March, 2002. A cool night, I missed the entrance. Twice. No fluorescent signs, no limousines. Just a door, in the shadows, almost turning away from the glare of potential passers by negotiating crossings, blurting horns and the choke of car fumes.

Boxing inhabited a different world twenty years ago. One of Leisure Centres and bootlegged world titles. Smaller. Seedier. And virtually unrecognisable from the gigantic events we now enjoy.

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Dennis Hobson signs Scottish trio, a reward for his innovation in the pandemic

Necessity is the mother of invention

Plato, Philosopher, 428-348BC

For the millionaires in boxing, the pandemic has been difficult, preventing as it does the furtherment of their wealth and for those who punch for pay, it has pried a year of their short career from their grasp. Those not blessed with the talent and opportunity to secure such affluence have been punished much harder by inactivity.

The numbers may be smaller but they represent a greater portion of the whole and they were disproportionally affected as they operate at the end of boxing spectrum where margins are at their tightest. Narrow margins mean less tolerance for absent fans. Ultimately, without television, shows became unsustainable despite the clamour to box by those who frequent these smaller bills.

Dennis Hobson opted to innovate to try and keep his fighters active and preserve their form and standing. This resourcefulness came to prominence twice, firstly in the inception of Drive in Boxing, or Straightener in the Car Park to give it its full title, a format which saw spectators remain in their cars to watch boxing. It was as bonkers as it was brilliant and though the sound of a symphony of car horns distracted more than enhanced, fighters fought, fighters got paid and their career’s ticked on.

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Ali v Frazier, March 8th 1971. The Fight of any Century.

I don’t think Clay will want one.

Joe Frazier answers the question of a rematch following his seminal victory over Ali in 1971.

I was born in the summer of 1973. Bawling my way in as a humbled United States left Vietnam, a few weeks before Nixon’s impeachment began and Great Britain joined the EEC it left last week. I arrived broadly equidistant between Muhammad Ali’s back to back encounters with Kenny Norton. I like to refer to Kenny as Kenny, I don’t really know why. Perhaps I hope it implies friendship. On that basis, Mr. Norton would probably be more appropriate, but I digress.

Kenny was of course the strapping enigma the Champ could never quite resolve, in those two fights or in their trilogy bout in ’76. By the time my interest in boxing was stirred, first by the emotive sight of Barry McGuigan walking through the mist and hot breath of Loftus Road to face Eusebio Pedroza in ’85 and then the amalgam of Tyson, Balboa and Herol, Muhammad Ali was no longer an active fighter.

There he remained. Rendered still and out of sight by retirement and remembered only by the words and pictures contained on my grandfather’s book case.

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Agony and ecstasy, Garcia sinks Campbell in 7

Like a pale martyr in his shirt of fire

A Life Drama (1853), Alexander Smith, Poet, 1830-1867

The pain etched across Luke Campbell’s face as he sank, first to one knee, and then to two, drew silence from those who have never experienced the agony his body was submerged in. Prizefighters and pugs watching on, winced. Phantom pangs, recreated by their memory, of an excruciating purgatory similar to that which Ryan Garcia’s whistling left hook had sentenced Campbell to.

A head shot is the more familiar path to a knockout, it draws a roar, an exultation from the gathered as the victim’s eyes roll, their legs fixed or shapeless at the moment of impact. Body shots are a seemingly clandestine conclusion, darker and a more gratuitous coup de grace the pain of which only boxing’s Templar can truly understand.

In landing the shot that inflicted this exclusive hell on the fallen Englishman, Ryan Garcia secured the statement victory his resume needed and substantiated much of the promise he is swathed in.

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Ryan Garcia, along with his doubters, will discover the truth tonight

The wait in the dressing room before a boxing match — that last hour — would be enough to strip a man that never boxed before of whatever pride, desire and heart he THOUGHT he had.”

‘Iceman’ John Scully, Boxer, 1967-

The period before a fight always strikes me as the most fascinating human experience. Not one I would wish to submit myself too. As someone averse to rollercoasters or any other pursuit in which there is no side door, no coward’s exit, the notion of spending the hours of fight day contemplating the impending confrontation strikes me as the most haunting examination of a man’s psyche.

And your preparation. The truth of whether you’re ready. Not the ready of the press conference answer, the ready that only you, the one who must climb the steps and perhaps the man beside you, really knows.

Tonight, 22 year old Ryan Garcia will make that walk, spend that day, as will Englishman Luke Campbell, both have doubters, both will surely have doubt whispering to them too.

Continue reading “Ryan Garcia, along with his doubters, will discover the truth tonight”

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