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Career-best Klitschko?

Posted by Jack Sumner on November 16, 2014

As a dangerous, unbeaten challenger made his way to the ring at Hamburg’s O2 Arena, spectators anticipated world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko’s toughest test in years. Bulgarian standout Kubrat Pulev was expected to either extend the Ukrainian giant in a game yet unsuccessful effort, or perhaps even score an upset over the ageing ring icon.

Wladimir-Klitschko-v-Kubrat-Pulev-IBF-Heavyweight-World-ChampionshipIt turned out that neither premonition was close, as Klitschko brutally demolished Pulev in five excitement-filled rounds to notch a 17th successive world title defence. In what was arguably a career-best performance, the 38-year-old behemoth floored his challenger four times – twice in the first, once in the third and once in the fifth – with the final knockdown rendering Pulev sprawled flat on his back on the canvas and the contest instantly waved off.

Despite his dominance of the heavyweight scene in recent years, Klitschko (63-3, 53 KO’s) has often been criticised for less than appealing safety-first style, but from the early exchanges in the opening round it was apparent that this fight was going to evolve very differently. With a strong Bulgarian contingent in attendance, there was a minor eruption when Pulev appeared to stun the champion with a solid shot that forced Klitshcko to grab hold and clinch, but that was dwarfed moments later when a left hook from Wladimir whipped the 16,000 capacity crowd into frenzy.

Detonating on the challenger’s chin, Pulev (20-1, 11 KO’s) was put on his back in the centre of the ring and although he rose quickly to referee Tony Weeks’ count he appeared to be on unsteady legs. Pulev attempted to disguise his lack of stability; balancing on one leg and sticking out his tongue with contempt, an unwise course of action if what materialised next was anything to go by.

Klitschko marched over to resume the action and scored with the left hook again, sending Pulev down for the second time in the round and prompting fears of a first-round blowout. But the challenger somehow managed to survive the remaining minute-and-a-half to the bell, happy to get tied up in clinches and repeatedly dig Klitschko behind the head, prompting a warning from Weeks.

The second round featured less action, with Pulev more reluctant to engage, though he did score a number of times with his highly-effective jab. Klitschko won the round however, landing the more telling blows and even scoring to Pulev’s body, much to the surprise of the boxing media who have seldom seen Klitschko throw body punches during his lengthy world title reign.

At the start of the night that reign was four consecutive successful defences short of the tally set by Larry Holmes, with the Easton Assassin’s 20 second only to the great Joe Louis’s mark of 25. But it was clear Klitschko would reduce Holmes’s lead when he landed a huge right hand that wobbled Pulev in round three, before dropping him for the third time in the fight with another left hook.

Again Pulev survived to the bell and somehow escaped the fourth round without another trip to the canvas. Those who have often slated Klitschko’s lack of a killer instinct must have been shaking their head as the fight could and perhaps should have already been over. But they would not have to wait much longer for the finish. Pulev landed a hard right hand, but during the same exchange was met with another Klitschko left hook and this one would certainly end matters.

Wladimir Klitschko v Kubrat Pulev - IBF IBO WBA WBO Heavyweight World Championship

Flat on his back with his gaze fixed to the ceiling Pulev could not beat the count and Klitschko let out an emphatic roar after capping off a dominant display with a sublime finish. As well as inching closer to tying Holmes as the division’s second longest reigning champion in terms of consecutive defences, Klitschko has held a heavyweight crown for eight-and-a-half years, second behind Louis’s reign of 11 years, 8 months and 8 days.

The fight was the first of a three-fight contract that Klitschko has signed with HBO, with the next bout expected to take lace across the Atlantic next spring. The opponent could well be the winner of the Dereck Chisora and Tyson Fury rematch, although the likes of Bermane Stiverne, Bryant Jennings and Deontay Wilder would appeal more to an American audience.

Over-the-hill former titleholder Shannon Briggs may even have thrust his name into the mix, with his continued public attack on Wladimir continuing in Hamburg at the post-fight press conference. On this evidence however, no opponent currently on the heavyweight horizon seems to pose a legitimate threat to Wladimir Klitschko, who continues to add to his legacy and looking better with age.

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End of the Mack?

Posted by Jack Sumner on November 16, 2014

It was supposed to be a victorious homecoming for Birmingham-born Irishman Matthew Macklin in Dublin on Saturday night; the three-time former middleweight title challenger topping the bill at the 3Arena hopeful that an impressive win over Jorge Sebastian Heiland would land world title shot number four. But all hope came crashing down in the tenth round and down came Macklin with it, as a perfectly placed right hand took away his legs along with his chances of realising his dream.

macklinHeiland knocked Macklin out with a sharp left-right combination that dropped the 32-year-old slugger in his own corner, and prompted referee Robert Verwijs to immediately dispense with his count as it was apparent that the fight was over. In truth however, all hope of a Macklin victory had disintegrated a couple of rounds earlier. Despite a good start that saw him bank some early sessions, Macklin gassed and was taking more punishment as the fight progressed with little snap on the laboured punches he could muster back.

It was a sad conclusion to a night that had been billed as the ‘Return of the Mack’ but only a decisive victory would have been enough for Macklin to seal a title shot in the New Year. With WBC middleweight titlist Miguel Cotto expected to forfeit his crown in favour of a lucrative bout with Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in May, there was an opportunity for the winner of this eliminator to secure their place as one half of the vacant title bout that would follow.

The consensus opinion at ringside was that without a title tilt now on the horizon, Macklin would surely now hang up the gloves. There would be little sense in him stepping down a level to act as a gatekeeper of the domestic scene for upcoming prospects of the future, though such is his popularity and exciting style, he would remain an attraction in the eyes of British and Irish fans.

It’s a shame that bouts with the now-retired Darren Barker – working ringside for Sky – and Martin Murray never materialised, with Murray set to challenge formidable Macklin conqueror Gennady Golovkin for his WBA strap in February. There could still be interest in an all-Irish dust-up with Andy Lee however, should the 30-year-old southpaw fail in his quest to win the WBO crown in next month’s clash with Matt Korobov.

Whatever Macklin decides to do he’ll be sure to have the unanimous support of the fight fraternity and he’s been a fantastic servant to the game and produced bags of excitement throughout his career. If he does chose to retire, he’ll be best remembered for his barnstorming battle with his now great friend and former trainer Jamie Moore, who cut a dejected-looking figure on Saturday watching from press row.

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The Axe Man arrives in America

Posted by Jack Sumner on October 29, 2014

In late summer every year, tropical storms threaten to wreak havoc on the West of the Atlantic, as devastating winds originating in the Caribbean sweep their way North to the United States. The damage is of course concentrated in the East, but this year, America’s West Coast felt the full force of a Category 5 hurricane. The eye of the storm hit the StubHub Center in Carson, California, on October 18th.

nonito-donaire-walters-3Jamaican featherweight sensation Nicholas Walters came of age with a sixth-round knockout of four-division champion Nonito Donaire, dropping the Filipino veteran in the third round and dominating en-route to the emphatic finish. That came with a gale-force overhand right that rendered Donaire semi-conscious and face-first on the canvas; he narrowly beat the count, but staggered into referee Raul Caiz Jr’s arms and the official wisely brought a halt to the contest.

Walters became the WBA “super” champion at 126lbs, having entered the bout as holder of the sanctioning body’s “regular” crown. But over-complicated boxing politics aside, there were more important reasons why the win was the most significant of the 28-year-old’s career so far. In his American television debut on HBO, the manner of Walters’ victory ushered in a new star in the talent-rich featherweight division.

Donaire had never been knocked down before, let alone stopped and certainly never physically dominated like he was by Walters. In the wake of the fight many observers pointed to the former champion’s age (thirty-two on November 16th) and his size disadvantage, but Donaire himself made no excuses when interviewed in the immediate aftermath. The former flyweight, who was arguably at his devastating best as a Fighter of the Year winner at super bantamweight, was incredibly gracious in defeat and full of honest praise for his conqueror.

“He knocked the f*****g sh** out of me!” Donaire told HBO’s Max Kellerman in his post-fight interview, “He’s an amazing fighter, amazing champion man, I take my hat off to him.”

“I thought that I’d be good in this weight class as I’m getting older, but I’m not going to take anything from Walters, I was at my best. I’ve never trained this hard, I’ve never, ever, ever trained this hard, I was away from my family because I knew the power he has and the type of person he is inside that ring. He overwhelmed me and knocked the sh** out of me.”

Walters is no doubt freakishly big at the weight, standing 5’7” and with a 73” reach that gave him a five-inch reach advantage over Donaire, which was evident from the continued dominance he enjoyed with the jab. The man from Montego Bay landed fourty-four jabs to Donaire’s four throughout the six rounds and used that leverage to set up his concussive power shots. In the final three rounds, Walters out-landed Donaire sixty-four to twenty in total punches. The writing was clearly on the wall after the first knockdown came towards the end of the third.

WaltersThat was scored with a short right uppercut that landed directly on the button and dropped Donaire to his knees, to register the first knockdown of the Filipino Flash’s fabled career. Donaire’s reliable chin withstood the onslaught that followed, at least for the best part of the next three rounds, but it was only a matter of time. With one second remaining in the sixth and with Donaire on the attack, Walters showed great reflexes to pull back and avoid his opponent’s vaunted left hook, before delivering the fight-ending right that landed behind the ear and literally chopped Donaire down.

It was an appropriate finish from a fighter who has become known as the ‘The Axe Man’, with a right hand that has been felling featherweights like Californian Redwoods. Now unbeaten in twenty-five fights, twenty-one of Walters’ victims have not survived the scheduled distance. Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, who co-promotes Walters with Leon Margules of Florida-based outfit Warriors Boxing, was understandably excited about the pop that his fighter possesses.

“I have never seen a featherweight with as much power as Walters,” Arum said. “I’ve seen featherweights with a lot of power but nothing with the concussive power this kid has. The one question I had was could he take a punch and he proved he could.”

Arum was referring to the one moment of vulnerability that Walters displayed in the fight, when at the end of the second round Donaire landed a left hook that momentarily staggered him. It was the kind of trademark shot that Donaire has frequently finished guys with, at least at lower weights, but by the time he returned to his stool Walters had already recovered and simply switched up a gear when the action resumed in the third.

“I got a little bit confident and he caught me with a good shot,” the Jamaican said. “Boom! I recuperated from the shot but it was a very good shot. He caught me clean. But I had a job to do and I got it done.”

Walters’ homeland has previous when it comes to producing fearsome punchers. Former three-weight world champion Mike ‘The Body Snatcher’ McCallum hails from the island and Jamaica was the birthplace of Canada’s Donovan ‘Razor’ Ruddock. For the past decade or more, Glen ‘The Road Warrior’ Johnson had largely carried the nation’s pugilistic hopes. That was at least until Walters arrived, and arrived now he has.

The featherweight division is stacked. A week before Walters cut down Donaire, Welshman Lee Selby scored an impressive stoppage of unbeaten Joel Brunker to become mandatory challenger with the IBF. Their champion, unbeaten Russian Evgeny Gradovich, defends his title against rising Puerto Rican Jayson Velez on November 29th, with the winner expected to defend against Selby in the new year. Formidable veteran Jhonny Gonzalez occupies the WBC crown in the midst of a career resurgence since icing the much-hyped Abner Mares inside a round, whilst Mares himself is now on the comeback trail and targeting a rematch. Then there’s the WBO titleholder, Vasyl Lomachenko.

Widely considered to be the greatest amateur boxer of all time, Lomachenko made waves in the sport last October when he turned professional and earlier this year challenged for a world title in only his second pro bout. He dropped a close decision to the teak tough veteran Orlando Salido, but the Mexican champion lost his title on the scales and Lomachenko would fight Gary Russell Jr for the vacant crown – dishing out a boxing lesson to the precocious American to become a titleholder in what was officially his third paid outing.

As the Ukrainian hotshot is also handled by Top Rank, Arum is plotting a collision course for Walters and Lomachenko now that he has the planet’s two most prominent featherweights within his stable. Fans have begun to salivate at the thought of the match-up, though if boxing fans know Arum, they know he’s likely to let it ‘marinate’ for a little while.

In the meantime however, there are plenty of appealing fights that can be made for Nicholas Walters. Argentinean Jesus Andres Cuellar – who likely sent Juan Manuel Lopez into retirement with a brutal second round knockout in September – could well be next as the WBA’s mandatory challenger, in what would pose to be exciting clash between two heavy hitters.

Walters

Whoever Walters is matched against, he’s a frightful prospect for any featherweight. His kind of power has not been seen at 126lbs since Prince Naseem Hamed in the nineties, he looks to have a reliable chin and possesses a solid defence backed up with great reflexes that lend to his ability to counter punch. For a relatively inexperienced fighter also, at least at the top level, he attacks very patiently and rarely falls victim to over-eagerness. To magnify all of that, his sheer size at the weight is perhaps his most frightening attribute.

Walters would have a massive eight-inch reach advantage over Lomachenko and has a significantly longer reach than any of his other top featherweight contemporaries. Ring Magazine’s Doug Fischer is on record as saying that Walters is the biggest featherweight he’s ever seen. The Jamaican is somehow able to boil a lightweight frame into a featherweight body and at the same time maximise his greatest assets.

Can Walters go on to rule at 126? Lomachenko would no doubt be the favourite, but Walters has laid a marker down as the most dangerous challenger to the Ukranian’s number one standing in the division. Whether the fight happens or whether the Jamaican star takes his heavy hands up through the weight classes, ‘The Axe Man’ has certainly arrived and has a bright future in the sport.

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Khan to headline triple-header against Alexander

Posted by Jack Sumner on October 21, 2014

Amir Khan will take on Devon Alexander in a showcase welterweight bout in December, as he looks to continue to earn a shot at pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather. Khan-Alexander will headline an exciting triple-header at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on December 13th, with the card also featuring the Demetrius Andrade Jermell Charlo title fight and Keith Thurman against Leonard Bundu in an IBF eliminator.

Khan alexanderThe main event is a fight that’s over a year in the making, with Khan and Alexander originally scheduled to meet in December 2013. That fight fell through when Khan pulled out of the bout to pursue a clash with Mayweather this spring, in hindsight an unwise decision as Floyd ultimately elected to fight Marcos Maidana instead.

Khan (29-3, 19 KO’s) kept busy with a twelve-round decision over Luis Collazo on the Mayweather-Maidana undercard and impressed in his welterweight debut, dropping the veteran southpaw several times in a dominant display. The 27-year-old Brit looked more than comfortable at a higher weight and fighting for the first time in thirteen months, crediting improved punch resistance and the training methods of Virgil Hunter as factors in the win.

Alexander (26-2, 14 KO’s) rebounded from losing his IBF title to Shawn Porter with a ten-round victory over Mexican gatekeeper Jesús Soto Karass in June and equally for the St. Louis native, victory over Khan would see his name thrown in the hat for big fights. The welterweight division is as talent-laden as ever, with options aplenty for it’s top stars particularly in the Golden Boy stable. Khan’s team had considered bouts with Robert Guerrero and Josesito Lopez, before settling on Alexander.

Kell Brook remains a lucrative carrot for Khan if he defeats Alexander but fails to land the Mayweather fight, but the man who took the IBF strap from Porter may have obligations of his own in the new year. Brook is currently sidelined after being stabbed in the leg whilst on holiday following his world title victory, but will surely have an eye on Khan’s undercard come December. The winner of Thurman and Bundu will become mandatory challenger for Brook’s 147lb title and the match-up pits tough, unbeaten fighters together at different stages of their careers.

The 25-year-old Thurman (23-0, 21 KO’s) is one of the most exciting rising stars in boxing, an explosive knockout artist with power in both hands who has been putting a solid resume of fringe world-class opposition to the sword in the past couple of years. In Bundu he’ll meet a 40-year-old veteran with almost ten years professional experience in the ring, who’s chartered a much steadier climb to the top through years on the European welterweight circuit.

European champion Bundu (31-0-2, 11 KO’s) upset previously unbeaten British hope Frankie Gavin in his last outing, dropping the former world amateur champion en route to a decisive points win and adding Gavin’s Commonwealth title in the process. Thurman was last in action in April with a three-round demolition of Julio Diaz, in what was arguably his most impressive performance to date.

Perhaps the most intriguing clash on the December 13th bill however is the WBO light middleweight title fight between Andrade and Charlo, in what poses to be a highly technical affair between two young unbeaten fighters. Champion Andrade (21-0, 14 KO’s) made the first defence of his title in June against Brian Rose and thoroughly outclassed the Brit who succumbed to a seventh-round stoppage after two knockdowns and a continued onslaught.

Charlo (24-0, 11 KO’s), the 24-year-old twin brother of fellow unbeaten contender Jermall, scored his most notable victory to date with a unanimous decision over Gabriel Rosado in January and followed up with a decision over Charlie Ohta in May.

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Rematch a long shot for Smith

Posted by Jack Sumner on October 20, 2014

There was a time when it would have seemed unlikely that Paul Smith would ever earn a world title shot. A stalwart of the British super middleweight ranks, the Liverpudlian veteran had come up short in his two biggest tests, suffering stoppage defeats to prodigious talents James DeGale and George Groves. But following a career resurgence with four straight wins heading into this summer – including his impressive dismantling of Tony Dodson in their rematch last year – and a promotional switch to link up with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom outfit, the ‘Real Gone Kid’ received a long-awaited and well-deserved chance at the big time, with an opportunity to challenge Arthur Abraham for his WBO strap in Germany.

SmithSmith snatched that opportunity with both hands and put in the hardest training camp of his life for the battle on September 27th, before storming out of the blocks against the heavily favoured champion, edging the first two rounds at Kiel’s Sparkassen Arena. Abraham then found his feet and would command the middle sessions, landing the more telling blows, but remained typically inactive and the challenger rallied to finish strong down the stretch.

At the final bell, the proverbial knights in King Arthur’s corner could not have been certain that the home fighter had retained his crown. A draw was a realistic outcome from what had indisputably been a close fight, with either man able to lay claim to deserving the decision by a round or two. But as has often been the case on German soil, the judge’s scorecards did not accurately reflect the action that had taken place a few feet from their tainted eyes. Abraham was announced the victor by awfully wide scores of 117-111 (twice) and 119-109.

WBO president Paco Valcarcel even publicly condemned the scoring, assuring fans he would review the fight and insisting that Fernando Laguna – who favoured Abraham by ten rounds – “screwed up”. But the sanctioning body then announced that they would not force an immediate rematch, with Valcarcel taking to Twitter on October 17th to insist that despite the wide scores, the right man won the fight:

“Resolution on #AbrahamSmith to be notified on Monday. Rematch petition is DENIED. What caused controversy was margin of scores, not result.” – Twitter @Paco Valcarcel

The news came as a bitter blow to Smith, who was understandably aggrieved in the wake of the controversial defeat, yet the 32-year-old remained positive about his chances of securing a return bout:

“Gutted that the WBO aren’t making a straight rematch. I do believe I’ll get the rematch voluntarily, though. I’ve proved I belong up here.”- Twitter @PaulSmithJnr

That sentiment was echoed by Abraham, who informed media that he would be open to fighting Smith again, although it would ultimately be down to the promoters to work out a deal.

And that is where the problem lies for Smith, despite Kalle Sauerland also insisting he was keen on the Smith return. Given the fallout from the fight it’s the politically correct thing to say, but with bigger money fights on the table for the declining Abraham – who turns thirty-five in February – a second bout with Smith is unlikely to be a priority for a fighter with limited miles left on the clock.

November 8th sees an all-German super middleweight affair between Robert Stieglitz and Felix Sturm in Stuttgart, with the winner a mouth-watering target for Abraham’s next title defence. As German boxing’s biggest stars, interest in a clash between Abraham and Sturm has been widespread for years, with the prospect now a realistic one given that the latter has finally moved up from 160lbs. Abraham and Stieglitz have clashed three times already and done big business in Germany, where the public would love to see them meet again.

Money talks in this game and the likelihood of Smith getting another shot at Abraham is therefore slim, but due to his gutsy performance he has at least retained a high ranking within the WBO. A noteworthy victory to kick-start 2015 could propel him towards a second title shot later next year. Unfortunately though, he’d likely have to battle German judging again.

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