2015: A KO Year?

The present state of boxing with its bitter promotional rivalries and warring television networks means fans are often left wanting. Don’t get me wrong; there are promoters out there who want to make the most exciting fights happen and whose presence is positive for the sport. Take Britain’s Eddie Hearne for example. You may not like his smooth spun Essex charm but it’s hard to argue with the results he delivers. Captivating the nation with Froch-Groves fever and filling London’s Wembley football stadium with 80,000 screaming fans just one of them. Part I of making 2015 a year to remember is to end the on-off saga between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. If the recent meetings between the two fighters bear fruit then we should see the fight announced imminently. May 2nd isn’t that far off after all. And even though the fight is coming four years too late it still remains a bout that will set all-time records and have us all on the edge of our seats.

Deontay Wilder becoming heavyweight champion is another positive development for the sport. He’s big, he’s bad and he’s just the sort of character the division needs. However for the division to pose real allure there has to be several credible contenders to the throne. The Klitshko brothers have been excellent ambassadors for the sport and worthy champions also, but for the division to be truly alive once again it needs new names to make the headlines. Britain has its share of fighters who are all seeking heavyweight glory in 2015. Tyson Fury: 6-foot-9 and armed with an equally sized mouth. David Haye: a former world champion who has promised to make a return in 2015. And Anthony Joshua: a potential crossover star with power, athleticism and the makings of a fine champion.

But with several hall of fame fighters destined to retire in the next couple of years who are the upcoming fighters ready to take the torch? Talented and undefeated Amir Imam is one junior-welterweight I’m expecting big things from in the future. He came to my attention on the undercard of Wilder-Stiverne producing an exciting performance to extend his unbeaten record to 16-0. Also fighting that night was Leo Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz, whose form hasn’t been quite so scintillating as of late, expressed a desire during his post-fight interview to face either Britain’s Scott Quigg or Ireland’s Carl Frampton next. Though I’d rather see an eliminator between Quigg and Frampton first, either of those fights should they present themselves promise action. But there’s one fight that I have earmarked as a potential fight-of-the year candidate. On March 7th, Robert ‘The Ghost’ Guerrero will face off against Keith ‘One Time’ Thurman. Both fighters can box, both like to slug it out and both have the ability to end the fight with either fist. Will it be Thurman’s night, or will Guerrero prove too much of a test for him? I’m going with the Ghost. So the scene is set. 2015 has the makings of a great year; let’s just hope it delivers.

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Kovalev defeats Hopkins

box_r_hopkins-kovalev3_mb_300x300Last night Sergey Kovalev proved he is the man to beat in the light heavyweight division by dominating a defiant but overmatched Bernard Hopkins.

From the start Kovalev showed why he was the bookmaker’s favourite by flooring his older opponent with an overhand right. Kovalev looked the bully throughout, forcing his older opponent to constantly use his legs to avoid his heavy punches. We’ve seen Hopkins fight this way before, however Kovalev never presented openings for Hopkins to capitalise on. Hopkins seemed wary of throwing his trademark lead right hands, and the few times he did let his hands go he never really troubled his opponent.

Hopkins wasn’t able to outwit his opponent either. Kovalev’s offence remained controlled throughout; displaying his brains and brawn in front of a sold out Atlantic City crowd. When Hopkins did rally he had the crowd on their feet, but his success was short lived as Kovalev came back with his own more hurtful shots. Ultimately Hopkins was unable to assert himself at any point during the fight, coming up short against a bigger, stronger and better man on the night.

Kovalev’s dominant victory proved he’s the real article. How he advances from here is unclear; is anyone really going to want a piece of the 31 year-old following that performance? And what about Hopkins? Should Hopkins decide to draw the curtains on his fantastic career then he leaves with his pride fully in tact. Yes he was hurt, but in withstanding the onslaught of Kovalev and a climactic 12th round reinforced his legendary status. A new star has arrived in the light-heavyweight division.

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Hopkins-Kovalev Preview

090214-hopkins-kovalev-600 A blockbuster November kicks off tonight from Atlantic City, USA, when Bernard ‘The Alien’ Hopkins takes on the undefeated Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev.

Hopkins’s story is fascinating. He earned his tough-guy reputation on the mean streets of Philadelphia, but one too many brushes with the law was to land him in the state penitentiary facing a lengthy sentence. Inside jail Hopkins developed the discipline that has allowed him to dominate fighters in their mid-twenties. Few fighters eat, sleep and breathe the game like he does. He is in no doubt a different breed to most. Alien, perhaps not.

But longevity is just one of the remarkable things about Bernard Hopkins. His professional career spans 26 years and 65 fights and is sprinkled with victories over future hall of famers. De Le Hoya, Trinidad, Tarver; the list goes on. Hopkins’s experience, style and mental toughness make him elite in one of the world’s toughest professions. But the threat posed by Sergey Kovalev is deemed to be very real.

Kovalev brings to the table 26 victories (23 coming inside the distance). He’s operated under the radar for most of his career but the way he’s steamrolled through the division has made him one of the most avoided and feared fighters in the sport. The way he tore through undefeated Welshman Nathan Cleverly sent a clear message to everyone in the light-heavyweight division. Much is made of Kovalev’s power, but his boxing brain and timing are underrated. Come tonight, Hopkins will need all the ring smarts he knows to keep the relenting Kovalev at bay.

This is an intriguing matchup; one in which age doesn’t play a big factor. Hopkins has looked fired up and is utterly convinced in his ability to win this fight. Why else would he take it? He’s far too smart to take a fight he thought he couldn’t win. I don’t think it’s the money either; this is for his legacy. A victory over the younger, harder hitting Russian would put another layer of polish on an already staggering career. So what are Kovalev’s chances? He’s the bookies favourite, I also believe he has the tools to get the job done. Much is made of Kovalev’s power, but he’s not reckless either. What is unknown is how he will react if he can’t get to Hopkins. What happens when the older man makes him miss and stings him with counters?

Hopkins can take the life out of fights. I believe this fight will be one for the purists. I predict we see a smart, mobile and aggressive counter-punching Hopkins surprising Kovalev. Though Kovalev will have his moments, I can’t see him putting Hopkins into retirement. Hopkins to pull off a career defining victory and unify the divison.

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Mayweather vs Maidana 2


Most predicted that boxing’s best pound-for-pound fighter would have an easy night’s work against Argentinian welterweight champion Marcos Maidana. Few believed the hard-hitting Argentine would steal more than a few rounds in their showdown at the MGM Grand earlier this year. Fewer thought the two would be facing off in a rematch later that year. Maidana had a punchers chance, but ask any of Mayweather’s previous 45 opponents how easy it is to land clean on Floyd and you can perhaps understand why Maidana was a 12-1 underdog going into the fight. But Maidana had overcome the odds before and his career was also experiencing somewhat of a mini-revival under the tutelage of revered trainer Robert Garcia. Their partnership had heralded four back-to-back victories culminating in an impressive one-sided beating of undefeated American star, Adrien Broner. Maidana (again the underdog going into the fight) executed an impressive game plan to out hustle his brash and controversial opponent. Maidana’s display cemented his status as one of the welterweight division’s most dangerous stars and caught the eye of Floyd Mayweather.

But Mayweather is no Broner. Yes the two share some comparable characteristics inside the ring, but the more seasoned star is on an altogether different level. Apart from Jose Luis Castillo and arguably Oscar De Lo Hoya, no one has really come close to toppling Mayweather’s 17-year reign as world champion. And despite advancing into the twilight years of his career Mayweather remains unbeaten rising to the challenge of whoever they put in front of him.

But would the same tactics Maidana used to defeat Broner work against boxing’s ultimate technician? It was a showdown between an unorthodox and relenting pressure fighter vs possibly the sport’s best ever boxing brain. Maidana forced the attack early and this came as no surprise, but what I didn’t expect was for Maidana to be able to cut off the ring so effectively. Was this the product of a more crowd-pleasing Floyd Mayweather or are his legs (as Freddie Roach believes) not once what they once were? I believe the latter to be true. Floyd is not as fleet of foot as he once was; his style has evolved over the years but he still remains largely elusive. Maidana was able to catch Floyd, but Mayweather was able to stay calm in the heat of battle and make the necessary adjustments to regain control of the fight. Something I had him doing from round four onwards. We saw Floyd cut for the first time (the result of a head butt) and a rousing battle ensued that was deemed one of the toughest of Floyd’s career. Fortunately for Mayweather the noisy pro-Latino crowd wasn’t scoring the bout. From the rafters the more aggressive Maidana may have looked to be controlling the action, but it was the cleaner work of Mayweather that shone through as the fight advanced. After the final bell sounded the contest was scored by one judge, Michael Permick, as a 114-114 draw. However, Burt Clements had it 117-111 in favour of Mayweather, and Dave Moretti scored it 116-112 in favour of Mayweather as well.

In the rematch it is Maidana who has to do something different. The first fight proved Maidana is able to catch Floyd and outwork him. Yet despite the Argentine’s tricky style and unwavering will it still wasn’t enough to produce a victory. To be the first person to beat Floyd Mayweather Maidana has to either catch Floyd clean with one of his power shots or assert the pressure and success he showed in their first fight for the full 12 rounds. I am picking Mayweather to win the rematch- I think we will see more-or-less a repeat of their first fight. Both fighters will have learned something from their initial contest but I believe it is Mayweather who will adapt to produce another clear victory. The fight is in less than two weeks.

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The Hurt Business

Throughout the history of boxing there have been standout fighters who have managed to make this violent craft look like a thing of beauty. These boxers possessed an aptitude and skill level so dominant it sometimes masked the brutality of their profession. Mohammad Ali used to have it. So did Sugar Ray Robinson. And of our time Floyd Mayweather has it. But at its essence boxing is a brutal sport; they don’t call it the hurt business for nothing. 

A boxer can’t afford to cut corners in training. He or she can’t enter the ring anything other than fully prepared or they will be found out. And the consequences of being found out in this sport can be career ending. Or worse. ‘The ring can be a lonely place’ is a boxing cliché yet such a truism. There are only four corners to hide in and at some point the truth will find you.

Last night I was served a reminder of why you must take this sport seriously. In professional boxing, unlike other sports, you can’t just really dust yourself down at the end of the day and hope for a better performance next time. The consequences of a bad day in the office can be life threatening so you must always be on your game.

I’m not ashamed to say that my boxing career has been limited. Like many I started out in the sport in the pursuit of fitness. But  I soon got the bug and the taste for something more. Spurred on by the encouragement from my coaches and an inner desire to answer questions of myself I eventually stepped inside the ropes. With four fights to my name (two wins and two losses) my record may not look all that impressive. But being a part-time boxer (if there can be such a thing) I’m very satisfied. Even from those four fights I’ve learned so much. From having to pick myself off the floor in my second bout and coming back to lose a very closely contested decision to battle the nerves of fighting in front of a large crowd at London’s iconic Alexandra Palace- I am proud with what I’ve achieved.

I was last back in the ring in March, taking part in my first fight in the Queensbury Boxing League. The league was launched in 2010 and offers British based boxers a platform to compete on. The league has gone form strength to strength attracting a substantial following by offering fairly matched, competitive fights fought at high pace. My debut resulted in a second round T.K.O of my opponent, and with the bouts televised on Eurosport and a large crowd in attendance it made for a memorable experience.

But as a result of a long-standing hand injury I haven’t stepped foot in the ring since March. Until last night that was. The time out of the ring has been frustrating. I’m sure I’m not alone in seeing the boxing gym as a haven to get away from life’s problems. Somewhere where you can focus your attention and sweat out the frustration. And of course there’s the banter.

So with my hand healed I thought I’d throw myself in at the deep end by challenging top quality amateur boxer, Jordan Grannum, to three threes. Things started off okay, but as we approached the end of the second round all I could hear was my coach bellowing: ‘Get off the ropes! Move your feet! Keep your hands up!’ They were the right instructions to give; I just didn’t have the fitness to carry them out. As we entered the third round Grannum could see I was flagging. Every jab I threw was being countered, my hands were around my waist and my offence was being picked off and countered by the much sharper and fitter man sharing the ring with me.

Before long he saw an opening and pounced, rattling off some sharp combinations before dropping a straight right down the pipe that brought proceedings to a close. Those few minutes in the ring were enough to highlight what a dangerous place the ring is when you don’t take the sport seriously. Props to my sparring partner, Jordan Grannum, who is looking in fantastic shape for the new season. For me it’s another lesson learned.

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Brook crowned champion

The elation and emotion was clear as Kell Brook realised his childhood dream in defeating an extremely game Shawn Porter to become IBF welterweight champion. Brook dropped to his knees after winning a majority decision in a tough-fought twelve round battle, proving once and for all that he belongs at the top level. His victory opens the doors to big fights in the welterweight division, including a potential match up with domestic rival Amir Khan.

The former champion remained humble in defeat, expressing his desire for a rematch in a bout he thought he won. But with so many big names in the 147-pound division a rematch seems unlikely. At the end of the bout the judges scorecards read 114-114, 117-111 and 116-112. The American judges produced the wider scoring- preferring the more accurate and eye-catching work produced by the challenger over the higher volume (and at times messy) work of Porter.

The early rounds played out pretty much as I had anticipated with Porter making Brook work for every second of the round by constantly charging forward. Despite the pressure Brook managed to remain calm, establishing his jab but never really halting the relentless pressure from the champion. The busier Porter seemed to be upsetting Brook’s timing early on, however as the fight developed Brook’s concentration remained and he was able to see the increasingly crude attacks of Porter coming.

Brook remained focussed despite having to deal with a cut over his left eye- the result of a head butt in round two. As the fight progressed through the middle rounds the momentum looked to be swinging in Brook’s favour. Porter was showing the signs of battle with a hefty swelling under his right eye, yet he continued to show his champion’s resolve and come forward.

From round 8 onwards Porter’s work became extremely dogged whilst Brook’s accuracy and punching power was making its mark. Both corners saw the fight as a close run contest going into the 12th, sending their fighters off their stool into the last round with a sense of urgency. Porter only knew one way- to keep pressing the attack. Brook’s job was to keep his work sharp and clean and maintain the discipline he’d showed throughout the fight. Despite the swarming come-forward tactics employed by Porter, Brook was able to land a lovely one-two combination just before the final bell.

With home advantage and the busier work coming from Porter the decision may have proved a surprise; however, the more classy eye-catching work was undoubtedly the result of Brook’s fists. His victory proved a lot of things to a lot of people. He proved he belongs at the elite level and is capable of taking on the big names in the division. Brook now becomes a target, and with the likes of Keith Thurman and Manuel Marquez ringside you know his next fight can only be a big affair. Congratulations Kell – you’ve earned it.

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An expert opinion

Ahead of the Kell Brook vs. Shawn Porter clash I spoke to former British Welterweight champion, Ross “The Boss” Minter.

Ross retired from the sport at age 30 sporting an impressive record of 17 wins, 1 draw and just 4 defeats. The son of the highly acclaimed former world middleweight champion, Alan Minter, claimed Southern Area and English Welterweight titles and was once lined up as a potential opponent for Sheffield’s Kell Brook.

1OTR: “Ross, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. You’re very familiar with the welterweight division – just how special is Kell Brook?”

Ross: “Six years ago when coming to the end of my professional career, I was offered to box Kell Brook for the British title, but even then he was the young up and coming prospect to avoid so we stepped that one. Since then he has just kept on progressing.”

1OTR: “Why do the bookies have Porter as the firm favourite?”

Ross: “I think the bookies can’t overlook Brook’s power and accuracy, but I feel they may be assuming that with Brook boxing away from home and him trying to deal with Porter’s pace that the fight will be much more in Porter’s favour.”

1OTR: “How do you see the fight going on Saturday?”

Ross: “I have two views on this. If Brook gets too involved and Porter is allowed to open up on the inside (which I hope does not happen) then we could see a Porter stoppage within seven rounds. If Brook keeps it at range and boxes the correct fight, picking Porter off with his fantastic punch variety, we could see a Brook win edged on points. Though I will also say that Brook’s power cannot be overlooked. (Ross laughs) This is what you call sitting on the fence, I suppose. One thing I know is this will be a fantastic fight to watch.”

1OTR: “Ross, thank you for your take on this one and we look forward to speaking to you again soon.”

Ross: “No problem, Richard.”

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