The Weekend That Was

This edition of my semi-regular weekend recaps is late and is going to be a bit on the random side because your friendly scribe here tripped over a case of beer the other night and is still recovering. Actually it was a case of beer and a bottle of Ardbeg and if you know something about single malt scotch, you’re likely aware that particular brand of bottled joy is both awesome and a serious head-wrecker. Enjoy at your peril. Anyway, I saw some of the fights, read about others and I got a few things to say.

But first, a few words about Joe Louis, as yesterday was the anniversary of the birth of the one and only “Brown Bomber,” My editor, Michael Carbert, and myself and have had our share of spirited disagreements and debates and the topic of who more deserves to be regarded the greatest heavyweight of all-time, Muhammad Ali or Louis, has come up more than once. “Joltin’ Joe’s” amazing precision and power, 25 title defenses, and his awe-inspiring knockouts of Jack Sharkey, Max Baer, Billy Conn, and Max Schmeling, among others, puts him at the top for me.

Happy Birthday to the great Joe Louis.

Whatever one’s opinion on the Ali vs Louis question, the bottom line is few fighters in boxing history have had greater impact than Joe and he is, without a doubt, one of the greatest punchers in all of boxing, not just the heavyweights. Lee Wylie’s brilliant video on his ring technique is a must-watch, if you haven’t seen it already. Anyway, here’s to you, Joe; happy birthday. You are a true legend of pugilism and will never be forgotten.

Okay, on to the notable weekend events. First up, the guy the Nevada State Athletic Commission turned down as a substitute opponent for Gennady Golovkin, Jaime Munguia (29-0), showed how stupid that decision was as he demolished Sadam Ali (26-2), stopping him in round four after beating the crap out of him and dropping him four times, the final knockdown courtesy of a beautiful left hook. With the win at the Turning Stone Resort in Verona, New York, Munguia takes home the WBO junior middleweight strap and a brand new reputation as a force to be reckoned with.

Munguia was just too big and powerful for Sadam Ali.

The argument against Munguia subbing as a late replacement for Canelo Alvarez and taking on Golovkin was that the Tijuana native was not a legit middleweight, which is now highly ironic as the most notable takeaway for this fight was how much bigger Munguia was compared to Ali, the HBO crew and all kinds of people on social media moaning about how this wasn’t a fair fight. Indeed, the six foot tall Munguia looked at least one weight class larger than Ali and he battered his smaller foe with impunity. Both men made the 154 weight limit but who knows what Munguia weighed inside the ring. My guess would be somewhere around 175.

But this is what you get with the day-before weigh-in, fight fans and everyone by now should be quite aware of this. One of the things Carbert and I agree on is that a return to the same-day weigh-in is long overdue. Too many fighters are focusing on cutting weight and then hydrating to get an advantage and we’ve talked many times about it on this website, highlighting the egregious weight-bullying tactics of Canelo Alvarez, among others. Immediately after Munguia made quick and brutal work of Ali, long-time boxing scribe Nigel Collins raised the issue and tweeted out a link of an article he wrote back in 2014 which called for a return to the same-day weigh-in. There’s no doubt that if boxing really wanted to protect fighters and ensure fair competition, this would happen. But it won’t.

“Storm” Alvarez and “Krusher” Kovalev in NYC to announce their upcoming battle.

Okay, quick side note: this past weekend saw a New York City press conference to officially announce a terrific light heavyweight showdown going down on August 4th in Atlantic City. I’m old enough to remember when the erstwhile “Amercia’s Playground” rivaled Vegas as the city for major fights. Hasn’t been that way for a long time, but maybe Atlantic City is making a comeback. But the real point here is the fact that a stacked light heavyweight division, which should be giving us one great fight after another, just hasn’t delivered. A year or so back and it looked like we were going to get a series of excellent matches from the likes of Alvarez, Kovalev, Adonis Stevenson, Joe Smith Jr., Sullivan Barrera, Artur Beterbiev, Sullivan Barrera, Andre Ward and Dmitry Bivol all in the mix. Hasn’t turned out that way.

Can’t wait!

We are getting Adonis Stevenson vs Badou Jack in a few days, which should be a very interesting contest, but given the fact that Ward retired and Stevenson and Beterbiev have been very inactive, we have a kind of bottle-neck in the division. Thus, Kovalev vs Alvarez takes on huge significance here. The winner is going to have a strong case that they are in fact the top dog in the division, or at the very least second only to Stevenson should he knock out Badou Jack this Saturday. I applaud Kovalev and Alvarez for stepping up and taking on a seriously risky match. This is how it’s supposed to be: the best vs the best. Otherwise, what’s the point? Should be a great fight and right now I’m leaning Kovalev, because Alvarez hasn’t faced a guy with the kind of one-shot power the Russian carries, but a win for “Storm” wouldn’t shock me in the least.

On to Vasyl Lomachenko vs Jorge Linares. Great fight and impressive performances from both men. Linares showed he wasn’t at all intimidated, as our Sean Crose more or less predicted, as he became the first man in far too long to give “Hi-Tech” a serious challenge and actually win rounds against him. He reminded everyone that Lomachenko is human after all and that boxing is always about more than technical skill and talent; sheer courage and will-to-win are just as important. When Linares landed a big right hand that dumped “Loma” on his keister in round six, the fight was officially up for grabs, something no one could say when the bell rang for round six in Vasyl’s one-sided batterings of Nicholas Walters, Jason Sosa and Guillermo Rigondeaux. It was refreshing to see Lomachenko in a real fight.

Linares vs Loma was more competitive and exciting than expected.

But make no mistake, the Ukrainian is a legit ring genius and he showed it by gaining control, breaking Linares down and then winning with authority in round ten, courtesy of one beautiful left hand to the liver that rendered Linares helpless. Lomachenko is now, for me, the best lightweight in the world and the best boxer on the planet, pound-for-pound. Here’s hoping we see Lomachenko vs Mikey Garcia in the near future. That said, this was a great fight that raised the standings of both Loma and Linares.

Other results from Saturday worth noting include Rey Vargas (32-0) winning a close and hard-fought battle over tough Azat Hovhannisyan (14-3) on the undercard of Ali vs Munguia. This was a rough and tumble affair and Hovhannisyan’s game effort should merit him consideration for a rematch. Elsewhere, former cruiserweight champion Krzysztof Glowacki (30-1) scored a first round blow-out over former world title challenger Santander Silgado (28-5). Glowacki has now won four straight since losing to Oleksandr Usyk in September of 2016. And in Bolton, England, Hughie Fury (21-1) won the British heavyweight title with a fifth round knockout of Sam Sexton (24-4).

Hovhannisyan and Vargas rumble.

Last but not least, has there ever been a professional boxing career quite like that of Ryan Ford? He started out as an MMA fighter, winning multiple championships, before making the switch to boxing at the relatively late age of 28, and has since proven himself to be as game they come, willing to travel virtually anywhere in the world for a fight, at either super middleweight or light heavyweight. Once again he journeyed to his opponent’s turf and while Avni Yildirim is Turkish, his boxing career has been based in Germany and it was there that Ford challenged Yildirim for the WBC International title on Saturday.

Yildirim gets past Ford: Hoping for a rematch on “neutral ground.”

Here’s the thing: this was Ford’s third fight in a row in less than six months that was both fought on enemy territory and for some kind of world title. And, as it turned out, it was Ford’s third consecutive points defeat. However, the fact remains that Ford’s performances over the course of those three matches have only gotten better as “The Real Deal” continues to learn and hone his craft. He’s a strong, tough pressure fighter and against Yildirim he showed improving skills as he utilized a bobbing-and-weaving style, slipping shots and countering well, mixing head and body punches and making Yildirim pay for his mistakes. There’s also the fact that Ford has elite-level stamina as he finished his third consecutive 12 round match strongly, hurting Yildirim in the final round with a right hand.

This was a competitive fight, so of course it wasn’t a shock for any long-time observer of the fight game when the judges awarded it to the hometown guy, but the margins of four and five points for Yildirim shows he had it won before the opening bell even rang. If this had been a higher profile bout there would be no shortage of controversy here. Ford is calling for a rematch on “neutral ground,” and I for one agree that would be the right and fair outcome, but I’m not holding my breath.

Yildirim breathes a sigh of relief while Ford and coach Thompson look less-than-impressed.

But beyond the result, the key thing to take away here is that this was, without question, Ford’s career-best performance, one which should only bolster his standing in the super middleweight division. Which shows how staying active and taking on stiff competition is still a much better route to maximizing talent than competing only once or twice a year against no-hopers and journeymen which, sadly, is the chosen career path for too many young boxers. So, much respect to Ford for taking risks and staying active and improving with every fight. If more prospects and contenders, not to mention “champions,” took the same approach to their careers, we’d have a much healthier sport. That’s a wrap!           — Robert Portis 

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