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Friday Night Fights kicks off again

The boxing years kicks off with a busy weekend in the U.S., with no fewer than four televised shows, three on Friday and one on Saturday.  Our American armchair cousins are very lucky in having such a regular diet of televised boxing.  For fans in the U.K., only one of the shows will be available and, of course, it will be our staple diet of Friday Night Fights from ESPN (although televised on BT Sport in the U.K.).  The first show of the new series takes place at the Chumash Casino, Santa Ynez, California.

The event is promoted by Gary Shaw who, whilst he does not currently have any major stars in his stable, is still one of the most important promoters in the business, outside of the big two of Golden Boy and Top Rank.  He beats them both off the blocks this year with a very interesting main event, featuring his lightweight Darleys Perez defending something called the WBA Interim lightweight title.  I will not mention that spurious bauble again during this preview.  The Colombian’s opponent is a fellow South American, Jonathan Maicelo, from Peru.

Reverberations from the Excel – Billy Joe Saunders beats Chris Eubank Jr

After an all-day show at the Excel in London, which ridiculously finished at around 1.20 a.m. on Sunday morning, some thoughts and opinions were enhanced whilst others were refuted and yet more questions were raised than were answered.  This is always the way after a good show, and it was a good show despite a couple of major disappointments.  Here are some observations that I made following the marathon card.

I am even more convinced than ever that Billy Joe Saunders will never be an elite middleweight.  Neither will he ever beat an elite middleweight.  However, in our world of plenty (as far as alphabet belts are concerned), this will not preclude him from winning one of the same.  Even ordinary fighters are able to win these trinkets and call themselves world champion.  By the way, I am not describing Billy Joe as an ordinary fighter.  He showed tremendous skill, heart, will, and last but by no means least, chin, as he managed to stave off the desperate lunging attacks of Chris Eubank Jr. on Saturday night.

Saunders and Eubank Jr. set to steal the show

It has taken until the last week of November but we can safely say that the best domestic show of the year takes place on Saturday night, in London at the ExCel Arena in Dockland, London. The card, which is being billed as “Bad Blood”, features world ranked heavyweights Tyson Fury and Dereck Chisora in a rematch of their July 2011 clash, as the nominal main event. However, this fight has been usurped from its position by the real grudge match which is chief support, featuring undefeated middleweights Billy Joe Saunders and Chris Eubank Jr., which along with the Froch­Groves epic from earlier in the year, is the most anticipated trade fight of the year.

The heavyweight rematch has been marinating for some time now, originally scheduled to headline Frank Warren’s 26 July show, before Chisora suffered a broken hand just days before the fight, forcing a postponement. This must have been heartbreaking for Tyson Fury as he had spent the best part of 2013 waiting on David Haye and his fragile body. Of course, that particular blockbuster never happened, Haye firstly suffering a cut eye in sparring just one week prior to the initial date and then undergoing shoulder surgery prior to the revised scheduled date, bringing that proposed match to a dead­end.

Can Bernard Hopkins defy Father Time again?

Following the thrills and spills of 2013, which boxing sage Al Bernstein described as the best year in the sport for 25 years, 2014 has been nothing but a damp squib.  It has been a year characterised by in-fighting behind the scenes involving the major players in the sport, i.e., Oscar De La Hoya, Al Haymon, Richard Schaefer and the two big cable networks, HBO and Showtime.  For people who follow the sport closely, all that is fascinating, but what we really want to see is action and big fights inside the ring. 

At last this Saturday we have what is almost certainly the biggest and most intriguing fight of 2014, as WBO light-heavyweight champion and the number one in the division, Sergey Kovalev, takes on the challenge of Bernard Hopkins who, at nearly 50 years of age, is the crotchety old fogey of the sport.  Hopkins holds both the WBA and IBF belts and all three trinkets will be on the line on Saturday night.  The fight takes place at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City and is to be televised live on HBO in the U.S. and BoxNation in the U.K.  The only fight this year which comes even close to rivalling this one as far as impact and importance goes, was the rematch between Pacquiao and Bradley in April. 

This week’s highlights: Randy Caballero vs Stuart Hall

British armchair boxing fans got a mixed bag this weekend but the undoubted highlight was the outstanding fight in Monte Carlo, between Nicaraguan-American Randy Caballero and Darlington’s own Stuart Hall, for one of the main alphabet belts at bantamweight.  On paper beforehand, this always looked like the fight of the weekend, and so it proved.  Both boxers are ranked high in the bantamweight division and although Caballero was quite a hot favourite to win, it was felt that the experience and sheer size of Hall might be enough to counteract his opponent’s advantages in youth and skill. 

Unfortunately for Stuey, he came up short, with the second round knockdown he suffered putting him at a deficit on the cards which he could never claw back.  Both fought tooth and nail through to the final bell and it was a truly superb contest.  Not only that but two of the judges were absolutely spot on with their scores of 116-111 for Caballero.  This fight showed everything that is good about boxing and, in fact, the whole card was excellent with another major world title fight and also a crossroads match between two hot prospects at light-heavyweight featuring on what proved to be easily the best card of the weekend.  Credit to Rodney Berman and his Golden Gloves outfit for continually putting on these excellent shows. 

Kevin Satchell at the Echo

Frank Warren promotes again at Liverpool’s Echo Arena on Saturday and features a host of local fighters in a show which is televised in the UK on BoxNation.  On paper this looks a mixed card, with the highlight being a European flyweight title fight and a small gem placed some way down the card.  Warren has named the show “The Magnificent Seven” in light of the seven star performers participating on the show.  Unfortunately, the seven making up their opposition are more akin to the ones made famous by Snow White – the dwarves!

Admittedly that is a slight exaggeration because there are two opponents on the card who carry a very serious threat indeed to the favourites.  One of these takes part in the main fight of the evening where Kevin Satchell is the Brit aiming for European glory.  His opponent is Valery Yanchy of Belarus, 23-3-2 (7), the defending champion and one of three fighters who have been playing pass the parcel with this title for the past few years.  Yanchy won the blue belt against eternal rival Andrea Sarritzu, in the latter’s home country in April, having previously drawn with the same opponent last October for the same title.  Yanchy has also contested this title twice with Romanian Silvio Olteanu, drawing and losing a split decision to Olteanu about three years ago.  Both of these contests took place in Yanchy’s adopted hometown of La Coruna in Spain, so one would assume that he probably clearly lost both fights.

Al Haymon and NBC

The rise of Al Haymon in the boxing world continues apace with the news that he has signed a multi-million dollar deal to take over from Kathy Duva’s Main Events as the promoter on record for NBC Sports Network.  It is suggested that a certain number of the shows that Haymon will provide to NBC could actually be shown on their main network channel.  Haymon is gradually emerging from the shadows to take his place right at the pinnacle of the sport.  This development could make or break the future of the sport in the short term and also have major implications long term.

It has been obvious for some time that a move of this sort was about to take place.  Haymon has been signing contracts with new boxers on an almost weekly basis over the past year.  He now has a stable which could almost enable him to start his own organisation, maybe something along the lines of the UFC which has been so successful and grown so rapidly in a short space of time.  Perhaps that would not be such a bad idea.  The old adage about the grass always being greener on the other side of the fence often holds true.  In this case, our neighbour certainly does seem to be using superior fertiliser.  A study of the UFC model will show that they feature eight weight classes, have ONE champion per weight, have ratings which are genuinely accurate and, apparently, scrupulously fair and that all deserving challengers do, in time, get their shot at the champion. 

Another week, another controversy in boxing

ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER CONTROVERSY IN BOXING

Of course, the headline to this piece refers to the WBO super-middleweight title fight on Saturday, in which champion Arthur Abraham retained his title against Liverpool’s Paul Smith, with a unanimous decision.  The furore and outcry that followed the announcement of the decision has both amazed and disappointed this writer.  I genuinely believe that the vast majority of the negativity that surrounded the “bad” “hometown” decision emanates from the jingoistic, and quite frankly, insulting commentary provided yet again by Sky television’s team of Nick Halling and Jim Watt.  Insulting, that is, to genuine boxing devotees and true followers of the sport.

When looked at closely, who, even in the horribly biased Sky team, had Smith actually winning the fight?  In the studio, both Nathan Cleverly and Martin Murray had it a draw.  Halling, himself, said that Smith needed the last round to take the decision, and admitted that Abraham had taken that round.  Only Watt, who had Smith winning by two points, and Johnny Nelson, had Smith ahead at the end.  Even Smith’s trainer, Joe Gallagher, said afterwards that he had scored it a draw.  Where then has the outrage come from and the demand for a rematch for Smith?  Smith and his team would have known beforehand that he would have to win clearly to come away with a victory.  Did he do so?  Even on the evidence of the Sky team – no, he absolutely did not.

The Cruisers take centre stage tonight – Lebedev, Wlodarczyk vs Drozd

The biggest card of the weekend takes place in Moscow, Russia, on Saturday as the Euro-centric Cruiserweight division is showcased with two major championship fights on the same bill.  Of course, Russian boxers compete in both fights and the show provides us with another example of how professional boxing in the old communist state is thriving and improving at a rate of knots.

Can Smigga be mordred to King Arthur?

CAN SMIGGA BE MORDRED TO KING ARTHUR?

For those not up to speed with their English mythology, Mordred is known as the traitor who brought about the legendary king’s downfall at the battle of Camlann.  In modern day terms, it is Paul “Smigga” Smith who is desperate to bring to an end the reign of “King” Arthur Abraham, when he challenges him for his WBO super-middleweight title in Kiel, Germany, on Saturday evening.  The fight is televised live in the UK by Sky Sports.

Armenian-born but German naturalised Abraham, 40-4 (28), is making the second defence of his current tenure as WBO champion, the title he won in his rubber match with local rival Robert Stieglitz in March.  That fight had a make or break feel about it for Abraham, with Stieglitz having regained the same belt from Abraham with a shocking fourth round eye injury stoppage 12 months beforehand.  That defeat remains Abraham’s only loss inside the distance in his 44 fight career.  However, it was so brutal, with Abraham’s left eye closing almost immediately after being hit by a Stieglitz right-hander at the end of the second round.  Abraham tried to fight on, but Stieglitz was on a mission that night.  Arthur’s longstanding trainer, Ulli Wegner, rightly called the fight off prior to the start of the fourth round.  There is no way his man was going to be able to overcome that particular injury and prevail.

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