Southpaw Jack's

Un-Orthodox boxing blog

An unorthodox problem

Posted by Jack Sumner on March 4, 2015

Could Manny Pacquiao’s southpaw stance prove to be the difference for the Filipino against Floyd Mayweather?

On Saturday May 2nd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao will finally do battle in a clash between the two most elite fighters of their generation. It will be boxing’s biggest event for nigh on thirty years, a chance for both men to settle the much-debated score and in the process pocket a mountain of cash. With an estimated pot of $250 million, it will be the richest bout in the sport’s storied history.

maypac1So why has it taken over five years to make a fight that is so integral to the careers of both its protagonists? Well, that’s a question that has divided opinion as much as the outcome of the fight itself. But there’s one theory that has for the most part dominated the conversation throughout this lengthy game of cat and mouse. That Floyd Mayweather, at least until this point, has been reluctant to fight Manny Pacquiao.

“I promoted the guy for ten years and I know how difficult it was to get him in the ring with any southpaw,” Pacquiao’s promoter, Bob Arum opined in an interview with The Telegraph late last year. “When you talk about a southpaw who can move like Manny, that’s not the kind of opponent that Mayweather feels he would do well against. That’s the problem. If Manny agreed to fight right-handed, the fight would be agreed in five minutes.”

Arum clearly has a slanted outlook when it comes to Floyd Mayweather; the two parted company acrimoniously in 2006, a year before Floyd took part in what was then the richest bout in boxing history with Oscar De La Hoya, another former Arum charge. Mayweather has publicly aired his bitterness towards Arum at every opportunity since the split and the fact that the Top Rank chief has promoted Pacquiao throughout the saga that we’ve seen for the past five years has only exacerbated Mayweather-Arum relations.

To a certain degree, whatever Arum says has to be taken with a pinch of salt. He’s a promoter after all and one that many people within the game will testify as being dishonest and manipulative. There is no smoke without fire.

But the same applies to Mayweather, and the 83-year-old promoter of his arch-rival is not the only voice shouting Floyd’s affliction with southpaws from the rooftops.

“I think he’s a little worried about the style match-up and Manny’s southpaw stance,” is the opinion of Pacquiao’s Hall of Fame trainer, Freddie Roach. “I think that worries him a little bit. But I won’t say that he’s scared, because fighters aren’t scared, we don’t work that way.”

Arum however went further to suggest that Mayweather is scared of dealing with Pacquiao.
“His whole style is geared for a right-handed fighter,” he continued. “And to compound that if the southpaw is really fast and moves, that would give Mayweather and his style a lot of problems.”

With a record of 47-0, Floyd has fought eight southpaws during his professional career, with Pacquiao to become the ninth. It’s estimated that southpaws account for little more than 10% of fighters – a translation that makes sense seeing as roughly one in ten people are left-handed – so from that standpoint it’s hard to make a case that Floyd has avoided them. After facing Pacquiao, southpaws will make up 18.9% of his career opposition.

At the highest level of the sport however, southpaws appear to be in a far greater abundance due to the well-documented problems that they cause orthodox fighters. For that reason, you could perhaps argue that a fighter with Mayweather’s championship experience should actually have shared the ring with more.

Mayweather fought three southpaws in his first nine fights and all within the first twelve months of his professional career, Reggie Sanders, Bobby Giepart and Jesus Chavez. But after dispatching Chavez by fifth-round stoppage, it would be seven years before Mayweather squared off against another left-hander.

Former 140lb titleholder DeMarcus Corley had lost just two of his thirty-one fights heading into his clash with Mayweather in 2004 and each had come via split decision, one of which was in his previous outing in which he lost his WBO crown to fellow southpaw Zab Judah. Mayweather was making his debut in the division, after making several defences of his lightweight crown. ‘Chop Chop’ was a test, but Floyd was expected to win in style.

mayweather corley

In the end he did, dropping Corley twice en route to a wide unanimous decision by scores of 119-107, 119-108 and 118-108, but what most observers take away from the fight was what Corley was able to do to Mayweather.

A hard left hand stunned the Grand Rapids’ native in the third round and then Corley landed a huge right hand in the fourth, backing Mayweather into the ropes and presenting a mini-crisis for the Pretty Boy who for a few difficult seconds faced a barrage of punches from the Washington man. Ultimately it was nothing more than a gut check which Floyd came through, but it’s since been cited countless times as evidence of Floyd’s vulnerability to left handers. Mayweather’s next southpaw assignment at least would pour water on that theory.

That was Sharmba Mitchell, who was the opponent for Mayweather’s welterweight debut in 2005. Floyd won by a sixth-round TKO after a one-sided fight and then in his very next bout, faced what could perhaps be classed as his first elite southpaw opposition in Corley conqueror Judah. It was the Judah fight that confounded the opinion in many observers that Mayweather is indeed vulnerable against southpaw fighters.

Though he too would lose a runaway decision, Judah’s speed from the southpaw stance was a nightmare for Floyd for the first four rounds. Surprisingly, the Brooklyn native’s hands appeared to be quicker than Mayweather’s and he enjoyed continued success with his straight left throughout the opener, before a controversial exchange in the next round. Judah was also dominating the second stanza when he caught Mayweather with a right hook as he was lunging in to send Floyd reeling backwards, and the glove of the unbeaten fighter – who had never legitimately been knocked down – touched the canvas.

Referee Richard Steele waved it away but replays suggested it should have been called a knockdown, yet in the end, it was immaterial as Mayweather adjusted to run out a clear winner. From round five onwards he proved to be the superior fighter and comprehensively outboxed Judah, whose speed became less of a factor and he resorted to fouling in the later rounds as his frustration boiled over.

The phantom knockdown can be attributed to the fighting stance that Judah adopted; Mayweather reached in with a straight right to the body so flawlessly effective against fellow orthodox fighters but put himself right in the firing line for the short right hook from the southpaw stance. Corley is on record as saying that whilst he had the power to trouble Floyd and Judah had the speed, both attributes were needed to have a chance of beating Mayweather. Both attributes however that few could deny Pacquiao possesses.

Since the Judah fight Floyd has beaten two more southpaws in Victor Ortiz and Robert Guerrero, the latter of which was little more than a glorified sparring session in which Mayweather wasn’t troubled at all. It’s worthwhile noting that Guerrero isn’t exceptionally fast or a heavy hitter; Ortiz’s power was neutralised by Mayweather for the best part of four rounds, but the Californian was beginning to enjoy some success before that fight’s bizarre and premature ending.

When it’s all considered, despite some of the more troubling moments of his career Floyd is 8-0 versus southpaws with 4 knockouts. One of his greatest abilities in the ring is to adapt to whatever is thrown at him and on the competitive evidence we have that’s no different for the southpaw stance; it’s simply just another equation that his boxing intelligence solves once he’s warmed into the fight.

But what about the southpaws he didn’t fight? Paul Williams, often mooted as a potential Mayweather opponent in his prime and present for a number of years during Floyd’s reigns at welterweight and light middle, is often talked about as a fighter than Mayweather avoided. The significant height and reach advantages for Williams would have magnified any problems posed by his left-sided orientation. And what of his namesake, Paul Spadafora? A fighter whose problems outside of the ring blunted his potential, ‘Spaddy’ was a prominent lightweight of the late 90’s and early 00’s and although they never met for real, he shared the ring with Mayweather for a sparring session way back in 1999 that became the stuff of legend.

As seen in the above video, Spadafora clearly got the better of Mayweather in the infamous meeting, after which Mayweather drops to his knees exhausted in his corner, reportedly with a bloodied nose. Spadafora landed a considerable number of left crosses and his conditioning and hand-speed were major factors. To provide some context, the then unbeaten Spadafora was only a few days away from a fight whereas Mayweather wasn’t in camp and as anyone who knows boxing will tell you, sparring and fighting are completely different animals. But that doesn’t change the fundamentals of Spadafora’s boxing and what brought him success against Mayweather in that session.

Floyd’s patented shoulder roll has been a key cog in achieving his status as by far the greatest defensive fighter of his generation and a fantastic counter-puncher, but it’s particularly effective against a fellow right-hander because with his right hand he can block his opponent’s jab or parry and counter over the top with his fabled straight right. The left shoulder then protects his chin from his opponent’s power punches and allows him to deflect them, leaving the opponent open to being hit with Floyd’s right hand on the inside.

Against a southpaw, physics don’t allow either of these fighting permutations however and it’s the backhand of Floyd’s opponent that the right glove is forced to block, which ergonomically is a much more difficult prospect. When you’re talking about a southpaw that has the speed and movement to slip inside Mayweather’s guard, like Judah and Spadafora were at times able to and as you’d expect Pacquiao would, that’s a problem. Add some punching power to that left hand and it’s potentially a nightmare.


Which may well explain why it’s taken this long for the fight of this century to be made. Is Mayweather all of a sudden now accustomed to the southpaw stance? Or, as many feel, is it the case that with few plausible options remaining and with a wave of public pressure like never before, Floyd has been backed into taking the fight with Pacquiao?

As the sport’s biggest cash generator, Mayweather has been able to pick and choose his opponents for years and he has chosen to take on tough challenges, like the Canelo Alvarez fight. Though it’s not in the interest of the fans, few can blame a man in Mayweather’s position for not choosing to fight the man who stylistically could pose the biggest threat to his unbeaten record. Fans and members of the boxing media share some of the responsibility for allowing Mayweather, and other fighters today, to be in a position to choose their opponents.

It’s a business decision, not a fighting one and like Freddie Roach said, even if Mayweather does have concern about Pacquiao’s stance, it’s unlikely he’s actually afraid of the Filipino. He’s a fighter, to this date still an unbeaten one and has overcome all of the obstacles he has had to face before. Though an explosive southpaw could prove to be his kryptonite, there are some stylistic headaches that Mayweather poses for Pacquiao.

Fans of the self-proclaimed ‘best ever’ will cheerfully remind you of the counter right hand that knocked Pacquiao out cold and Juan Manuel Marquez’s combined success against Manny across four meetings. Mayweather and Marquez are very different breeds of fighter but what Marquez has revealed is that a clever counter-puncher can score freely against a Pacquiao with a penchant for charging in and leaving little regard for defence. Also, whereas Mayweather has proven to be highly adaptable in the ring, Pacquiao’s style – whilst brutally effective in most cases – is essentially always the same. Versatility is probably an underrated ingredient in the recipe needed to take Mayweather’s ‘0’.

In short, while there is weight in the argument that Pacquiao provides a stylistic nightmare for Floyd, the same argument can also be made in reverse. Both men possess the tools required to beat the other but for a fight being billed as the “Fight of the Century” you surely wouldn’t expect anything less?

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‘The Lion’ roars back: Interview with Sharif Bogere

Posted by Jack Sumner on February 18, 2015

Former world title challenger Sharif Bogere is targeting a breakout year and talks to BMM’s Jack Sumner about the hardships that make him the fighter he is today . . .

Nature’s greatest predators have often been used to symbolise exceptional courage and fortitude in sports. The ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and the ‘Heart of a Lion’ for example being notable appraisals you might hear thrown around a boxing ring. But one fighter personifies the big cat of the African plains more than any other. ‘The Lion’ himself, Sharif Bogere.

sharif bogereDonning a lion’s head on his way to the ring with the animal’s coat draped around his shoulders, Bogere is transported in a cage by four bodybuilders wearing only leopard-print loincloths. But the eccentricity of the ring walk is symbolic not only of the fighter’s light-hearted nature and flair for showmanship, but the harsh lessons that shaped his humble and hard-working character.

“Bro, I always tell people to be thankful for what they have in life. I grew up in a place where I couldn’t even find a cup of clean water after working out. No punching gloves, no wraps, not even a bag to hit or a ring to box in,” the charismatic 26-year-old lightweight recollects. “The streets were tough growing up.”

Those streets where Bogere made his start in life were in Kampala, Uganda, but these days the one-time world title challenger resides in the resplendent desert of Las Vegas, Nevada. His childhood in the capital city of his poverty-stricken home nation could not have been more of an antithesis. Fighting was a necessity, for a street child at the age of just seven trying to survive amongst his elders. There would be older boys who would make the younger kids fight. It was through this practice that Bogere first began to make a name for himself.

By all accounts, no matter which kid Bogere was matched with he would be the one having his hand raised and pretty soon his natural ability led him to a local gym. His mother disapproved, setting Sharif copious amounts of work at home to restrict the time he could spend boxing. It became a secret passion, but the secret didn’t last for long.

“I used to do everything real quick and then when she wasn’t there I’d go and run and work out. Then she saw me on the news! She was like ‘are you still boxing?’ But she could see I loved it and so she became softer.”

Bogere’s passion for the sport drove him to an exceptional amateur career, where he became captain of the Ugandan national team and a five-time African champion. Going on to compile a record of 68-4 in the unpaid ranks, he left the Uganda team after the 2007 World Amateur Boxing Championships in Chicago, to set his sights on a career as a professional.

Signing with Golden Boy Promotions, Bogere’s career really began to gain momentum and after racking up victories across the United States, Bogere faced his first real test in underrated stalwart Raymundo Beltran. It was a gut check for the African, who survived being staggered and cut to best the tough Mexican over ten thrilling rounds and win the WBO NABO lightweight crown.

Following twenty-three consecutive victories and finishing fifteen victims inside the distance, the exciting boxer-puncher received his first world title shot, against the awkward Cuban Richar Abril in March 2013. After a scrappy affair, which featured numerous accidental head clashes and ultimately proved to be a lacklustre spectacle, the closely contested battle was won by Abril, with the titleholder edging close cards from all three judges.

“He was given a gift,” says Bogere. “You know in life there are ups and downs and as for that loss, I take it as a learning experience, even though he didn’t do nothing to win. I’d love to fight him (again) someday. I hope he never gets scared, ‘cause he knows he never won that fight and he’s never been in that ring with someone like me.”

To compound suffering his first professional defeat, Bogere was sidelined for the rest of 2013 with a tear of his left Achilles tendon, an ailment that had hampered his preparation for the Abril fight. The bout had originally been scheduled for the previous November, but Sharif was forced to pull out at two weeks notice after the tendon was found to be ruptured following final sparring sessions. Not wanting to lose his title opportunity, Bogere gave his body little time to recover before resuming training for the rearranged clash.

It was a painful lesson to be learnt and one that led to thirteen months of inactivity, but gave the contender added motivation to return with a vengeance. Born from the blood-red soil of Africa, Bogere possessed the tenacity to get back in the title hunt.

“As far as the injury, it made me hungrier. Imagine staying out of commission for thirteen plus months. But I never lost hope, I always stayed positive and prayed for better health. I never stopped believing, I stayed active in the physical therapy, which helped to strengthen my Achilles. I would like to thank God The Most High who has blessed me with good health through 2014 up to date.”

Bogere returned to action in April last year. The lion was unleashed from its cage.

A domineering sixth-round stoppage of Arturo Urena at Los Angeles Stub Hub Center was followed by early knockouts of Miguel Zamudio and Fernando Garcia to cap off an impressive 2014. The Garcia win came a month after Bogere’s twenty-sixth birthday in October and now entering his physical prime as we move into 2015, the fighter expects to take the lightweight division by storm over the next twelve months.

“2014 was good and I’m thankful for everything I did and the victories. This year me and my team are working on a lot of different things to make me one of the best fighters in the world. There is more of Sharif Bogere to come. Keep your eyes open!”

“I would like to thank God the Most High, he gave me a chance to reach this age. I’m now experienced in boxing at twenty-six and I believe real soon the world gonna witness the new me.”

sharif bogere2

The lightweight division is rife with talent but with titleholders Omar Figueroa and Terence Crawford expected to vacate and move up a chain of progression will provide opportunities, particularly with the WBO who rank Bogere highest and whose title lies in Crawford’s possession. At the time of writing, Bogere doesn’t currently have a fight scheduled but is expecting something to come to fruition soon. When asked who he’d like to fight next, he provides a pretty bold answer.

“The question is “is there any champ/belt holder who would like to fight the lion?! I’ve called all these guys out. They better stay on the notice. The lion is coming for you! ROOARR!!!”

“As for now, my promoter has told me to stay ready, that my time is coming soon. From those words, they pump me up and I will be ready to take any of these guys. Right now I’m ready to take it to the next level and looking forward to winning a world tittle, in shaa Allah (god willing).”

In Bogere’s corner sits veteran trainer Kenny Adams, who helped coach the American team for the remarkably successful 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and was head coach for the 1988 Seoul games. Adams has trained numerous world champions in the pro ranks, including Rene Jacquot, Freddie Norwood and the late Diego Corrales. He may well have another one on his hands with Bogere.

“Ken is one of the best trainers in the business of boxing, he’s a former USA Olympic coach in days of Mike Tyson, Roy Jones, Meldrick Taylor, he’s a former USA army trainer. Kenny has been in the game for a long time. He knows how to teach a fighter the better way. And he has taught me a lot of different things in boxing.”

bogereWhile Adams’ has been nurturing technical improvements in Bogere, the unorthodox, somewhat erratic nature of the African’s fighting style has not been lost. His unpredictability, coupled with his athleticism, is a nightmare proposition for his opponents to face.

“I don’t only fight to please my own desires but I fight to please the fans and the people who watch. I wanna be able to throw a punch that’s gonna make people say ‘Ooooo Mama Mia!!’ Throwing punches that’s gonna make them move out their seats and start shadow boxing!”

And that penchant for pleasing the fans certainly lends itself to the ring walk?

“Yes sir, this ring walk is way different from any others you know. We want to bring excitement to the game. But this lion represents my African heritage and the warriors across the world.”

The story behind the notorious lion ensemble is that the skin was taken from a male that had killed several people in Africa before being captured and put down. Bogere’s manager Ralph Heredia saw the opportunity for his fighter’s unique ring entrance attire and with Sharif’s admiration for the entertainment factor provided by idols like Hector Camacho and Prince Naseem Hamed, a new ring walk was born. It made Bogere a hit back home and his success has elevated him to star status.

Though his fame has not yet transcended to fans in other parts of the world, Bogere potentially stands on the brink of a big year and providing he can secure the right fights, not only has the talent to win a world crown, but the charisma to become a fan favourite.

As a parting shot, Bogere had a message for BMM:

“Thanks to Boxing Mad Magazine and the readers. Stay updated about the lion. You can follow me on Twitter @sharifbogere . . . Instagram @bogeresharif . . . Facebook page Sharif “the lion” Bogere.”

“Stay blessed all.”

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The super middleweight merry go-round

Posted by Jack Sumner on February 18, 2015

It seems like no one is getting quite what they want at 168lbs, as politics once again triumphs in boxing. . .


Ever since a career-defining right hand sealed a record-breaking victory over George Groves at Wembley Stadium last May, Carl Froch has been singing the same song. He wants to fight one more fight, in Las Vegas, and then he’ll retire. If his night under the bright desert lights doesn’t materialise, then he’ll happily hang up the gloves without fighting again.

That much was apparent in the immediate aftermath of his eighth-round knockout win and not much has changed since; nine months on, the thirty-sixth bout of the Cobra’s career has still not been scheduled. It was looking promising; arduous negotiations with the camp of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr eventually progressed to terms being agreed for a March 28th fight, only for injury to then take Froch out of commission.

In the wake of Froch’s revelation that he has suffered an elbow injury to force him out of camp came the news that the 37-year-old will be vacating his IBF super-middleweight title. That decision paves the way for James DeGale – Froch’s mandatory since a fourth-round knockout of Brandon Gonzales on the undercard of the Groves rematch – to fight for the vacant strap this spring.

james-degale-brandon-gonz-012DeGale has been calling Froch out for the best part of a year and has always maintained that stylistically he has the Nottingham man’s number. Some will see Froch’s lack of interest in a DeGale bout as avoidance, but the motivational angle is one that carries weight. Carl’s last two fights were domestic blockbusters; a third with another British upstart would therefore likely be perceived as something of an anticlimax.

Add to the mix that he’s never fought in the ordained fight capital of the world and the fact that he likely has, at most, two fights left before he calls it a career, and you can understand why the prospect doesn’t exactly flip his pancake.

There’s no need to feel sorry for DeGale however. After all, the next time the Harlesden southpaw steps through the ropes a vacant world title will be on the line. And if he’s looking for a dance partner, then look no further than the aforementioned Groves. Ever since the Saint handed DeGale his solitary defeat, a rematch has been on the cards.

The chance to win a world title and avenge your only loss? DeGale must have thought that Christmas had come exceptionally early in 2015. But it wasn’t such an attractive proposition for Groves, who has rejected the bout in favour of waiting on his mandatory shot at the WBC crown.

Groves bounced back from his defeats to Froch with a win over Christopher Rebrasse to lift the European title in September, a victory that also made him the number one contender for WBC titleholder Anthony Dirrell. But the unbeaten American seems in no hurry to defend his title against the 26-year-old from Hammersmith and earlier this month the Mexican-based sanctioning body whose title he holds backed his request to delay a meeting.

The WBC have awarded Dirrell a four-month voluntary extension, in which he is free to make a defence of his own selection and thus delaying any potential fight with Groves until late summer at the earliest. It was at this point that the offer to fight DeGale for the IBF strap was back on the table for Groves, but it was swept aside. Part of the refusal to make a lucrative rematch with DeGale and have the opportunity to win a world title earlier than if he waited for Dirrell, is Groves’s unwillingness to do so on his enemy’s terms, particularly now that DeGale is aligned with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Sport.

What it could ultimately mean though, is that Groves might have to watch his bitterest rival win a world title while he sits on the sidelines.

Instead, DeGale’s opponent for his first world title tilt is expected to be Andre Dirrell, brother of Anthony and former Froch foe. The Michigan switch-hitter lost a controversial decision to Froch in Nottingham in 2009, as part of the Super Six tournament that crowned the currently inactive Andre Ward as the undisputed 168lb king.

dirrell froch

But the older Dirrell brother presents a much less appealing challenge for DeGale. Both men are natural left-handers that treat the canvas like a chessboard and the fact that the American garners little mainstream interest as well as the likelihood that the fight would be a cagey affair, lessens the stage on which DeGale’s opportunity to make history will come.

And make history DeGale might, as the first British Olympic gold medalist to win a world crown, but Dirrell brings Olympic pedigree of his own as a medalist at the 2004 Athens games. The 31-year-old is arguably a much higher risk for a slightly lesser reward. It’s a very difficult fight for DeGale and one that could seriously hurt his chances of ever gaining his revenge over Groves should he not emerge victorious.

At least Andre Dirrell is happy then right? Well no, not exactly. His ‘number one target’ is to get Froch back in the ring, something that in the midst of all recent developments now looks highly unlikely. After earning a lofty ranking with the IBF through recent wins over Nick Brinson and Derek Edwards, the man he set his sights on dethroning has removed his crown.

Who’d be a super middleweight?

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Jay-Z, and hip-hop’s history with boxing

Posted by Jack Sumner on January 21, 2015

It would be fair to say that Shawn Corey Carter, better known to you and I as multi-millionaire rap mogul Jay-Z, is a great example of one of life’s major success stories. From a childhood spent in a Brooklyn housing project to living a lavish lifestyle as one of the most financially successful hip-hop artists of all time, the ‘Jigga Man’ has also branched into the worlds of business, clothing and sports, with each venture ultimately pulling more green pieces of paper into the deep pockets of his baggy Rocawear jeans.

For good measure – if none of that made you jealous enough – the man with an estimated half-a-billion dollar fortune also gets to share a bed with Beyonce. From the outside looking in at least, it appears to be anything but a ‘Hard Knock Life’.

But now Mr Carter has really gone and gotten himself into deep water, by entering the sea of sharks that is the world of boxing promotion.


On January 9th at Madison Square Garden in New York, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation sports made it’s promotional debut with the first card of it’s ‘throne boxing’ series. On the same day, it also made its first marquee signing; the undisputed but inactive super middleweight king Andre Ward.

The images of Ward sitting with Jay-Z at ringside provided an ointment to boxing fans who have longed to see the 30-year-old talent back in the ring. Ward, thirty-one in February, has not been in action since his stellar showing against Edwin Rodriguez fourteen months ago, with a dispute between himself and former promoter Dan Goosen – who sadly died following complications from liver cancer in September – keeping the pound-for-pound rated star on the sidelines. Expectation now however is that as the jewel in the crown of Roc Nation’s pugilistic enterprise, 2015 will see the undefeated world champion get back on the road to realising his potential.

But, despite his track record in various disciplines, including his success in basketball establishing the Brooklyn Nets, is Jay-Z really the right man to take Ward’s career forward? The struggles of rap rival 50 Cent to make an impact on the fight game with SMS promotions serve as a warning, but nevertheless there is a long and storied history between hip-hop and boxing and the synonymy between the two can only be seen as an opportunity for Jay-Z and Roc Nation . . .

Jigga’s repeated lyrical references to Mike Tyson in some of his biggest selling records reveal his affinity for the sport and the likes of ‘N****s in Paris’ and ‘Holy Grail’ have been used as ring entrance music for high-profile fighters on both sides of the Atlantic. Whether that was because of the Tyson references or simply because there’s nothing like a hip-hop beat to fire you up before going into battle, hip-hop and boxing go together like salt and pepper. Or ‘Salt-N-Pepa’ if you like.

Taking it a step further, some fighters have even included live rap performances in their ring walks. When they were on better terms, Floyd Mayweather on a number of occasions had Fifty spitting into a microphone as he casually made his way into a Las Vegas arena. Since the pair’s falling out, Floyd now has to settle for the dulcet tones of Lil’ Wayne.

50mayFifty – real name Curtis Jackson – was of course a key member in the early days of Floyd’s ‘Money Team’ outfit, which led to his current venture with SMS promotions. Despite not being able to trade punches with the likes of Top Rank and Golden Boy just yet, since it’s inception in July 2013 SMS promotions has made some notable acquisitions; former WBA and IBF featherweight champion Yuriorkis Gamboa heads the roster, with fellow 126-pound titlist Billy Dib also under the banner and in late 2013, light-middleweight monster James Kirkland joined the team, but spent all of 2014 inactive following a dispute with Jackson over his pay.

And Jackson has a boxing background himself. He competed in the junior Olympics as a teenager having picked up the sport at a local gym at the age of eleven, though the prospect of punching for pay fall by the wayside after he quit the gym to sell drugs on New York’s mean streets. His assessment of his own career path highlights some of the parallels between the worlds of hip-hop and boxing:

“I was competitive in the ring and hip-hop is competitive too. In so many ways they’re similar. I think rappers condition themselves like boxers, so they all kind of feel like they’re the champ. And if you fall in the position where you’re actually the champ at the time, everyone else feels like you’re their target. That’s me now — I’m the heavyweight champ.”

Jackson is far from the only rapper who has tried his hand at boxing. There seemed to a hotbed of pugilistic ambition behind the microphone in the early nineties, which led to a ‘Celebrity Rapper’s Boxing Match’ in New York City in March 1992. A number of hip-hop’s biggest names of that era, including Freddie Foxx, Dope E and Kurtis Blow competed in an event that culminated with a clash between Willie D of the Geto Boys and Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five fame.

Like Jackson, Willie D had a teenage amateur boxing career but had enjoyed much more success, winning a Texas Golden Gloves championship in 1985. That would of course stand him in good stead when he met man-mountain Mel, who despite being the ‘King of the Rhyme’ was far from the king of the ring. Mel was knocked out early by an overhand right. “He still wants a rematch,” claims Willie.

That event was supposed to include LL Cool J, but even though “Mama Said Knock You Out” a performance from the Grammy award winning artist did not materialise. After realising that record however, you can perhaps give Ladies’ Love Cool James a pass for his contribution to the bond between hip-hop and boxing. Unfortunately, at least in the eyes of many, it seems as though boxers have been just as eager to return the contribution in the years have since passed.

That all began with Roy Jones Jr in the late nineties, when he had so much time on his hands as a dominant super middleweight and light heavyweight champion that he also played professional basketball and embarked on a rap career to find a challenge. In 2001 he released his debut album, ‘Round One: The Album’ and the debut single, ‘Y’all Must’ve Forgot’ which he performed during his ring entrance to his sixth-round stoppage of Clinton Woods. In the end however, it was speculated that hip-hop and Jones’ other distractions outside of the ring ultimately contributed towards his premature fall from grace as a fighter. Jones’ shocking second-round knockout defeat to Antonio Tarver in 2004 was documented in Fat Joe’s single ‘New York’, with the line “Even Roy Jones was forced to lean back.”

Today, we’re erm, fortunate to have likes of Adrien Broner carrying the flag for fighters who rap. Broner has recorded tracks with the likes of Soulja Boy and Rick Ross to little acclaim, has toured as a rap artist and over the past two years seems confused about whether he’d rather focus on his hip-hop lifestyle or his boxing career. It seems Broner has as many friends in the rap game as he does in the ring, as following his one-sided defeat to Marcos Maidana in December 2013, Brooklyn rapper Fabolous fired shots. “N____s looking washed up, it’s something in the soap/You looking like Adrien Broner in the ropes”, was the line from his song “The Hope”.

And if we’re talking about the epitome of the hip-hop lifestyle in boxing today, we’re of course talking about the consensus pound-for-pound number one fighter in the world Floyd Mayweather. As a fighter that Broner understandably looks up to, Floyd seems able to strike the right balance between flashing his bundles of cash, flaunting his collection of supercars and yet still performing in the ring. He’s advised Broner to “spend less time trying to be a hip-hop artist and focus more on his craft.”

But wait a minute . . .

Floyd isn’t beyond playing the rapstar himself, as the video for his iconic single ‘Yep’ demonstrates. After looking over the evidence, we can’t really blame the guy for sticking to what he’s good at from now on.

Yet in all fairness, ultimately you can’t really blame any fighter for wanting to live that hip-hop megastar lifestyle. As a demographic, a large of proportion of rappers and fighters tend to come from impoverished backgrounds and through dedication to their respective arts have made a success of themselves. It’s the rags-to-riches story where hip-hop and boxing really crossover.

People have their opinion on Floyd but you can’t deny he’s worked exceptionally hard to be where he is at today. If you found yourself in the possession of immense material wealth after such a tough upbringing, would you not flaunt it also? The same could be said of the generation’s most successful fighter as it’s most successful rap star. Jay-Z also came up the hard way and where he is today is also the result of a tremendous amount of hard work.

Which joking aside, in a long and roundabout way brings me to my point. Having proven to be a success in the world of hip-hop, Jay-Z perhaps possesses many of the attributes needed to be a success in the world of modern boxing. His recent alignment to the sport can hopefully breathe new life into the sweet science. Perhaps he has ‘The Blueprint’ to bring boxing back to the throne.



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Liam Walsh: “I wasn’t impressed with my victory over Sykes”

Posted by Jack Sumner on December 16, 2014

The newly crowned British and reigning Commonwealth super featherweight champion did not share the sentiment of others regarding his latest performance, as he warns his rivals that his best is yet to come.

Featuring on Frank Warren’s much anticipated ‘Bad Blood’ bill at the ExCel Arena on November 29th, Commonwealth super featherweight champion Liam Walsh challenged British titleholder Gary Sykes in a unification bout that on paper spelled the toughest challenge to his unbeaten record so far. What materialised however, was a much more one-sided affair than most had expected, with Walsh dropping Sykes in the opening round and going on to comfortably win by wide margins on the judge’s scorecards.

walshsykes2Walsh got the verdict by scores of 118-111, 118-109, and 119-108, with observers from ringside and television sets alike suitably impressed by the Cromer native’s relative ease in defeating his experienced and usually formidable rival. The fighter however was far more critical of his own performance, proving to be his own harshest critic with his assessment of the fight.

“Everyone around me was saying it was (my best performance to date), but I sat down and watched the fight back a few days later and I thought that was nowhere near the case,” Walsh told Boxing Mad Magazine’s Jack Sumner. “I thought I made a lot of mistakes and I wasn’t overly impressed, I wasn’t at the time to be honest, but when I stepped out of the ring my brothers and my trainer were making a big fuss!”

One of three fighting siblings, alongside twin brother Ryan and their elder brother Michael, Walsh has chartered a steady ascent of the British 130lb rankings since his 2008 professional debut. Once-beaten Ryan came to prominence when he gave featherweight standout Lee Selby all he could handle in a close points defeat last year and Michael built a promising 10-0 ledger with 10 knockouts, but chose to retire from the sport in early 2013 after the untimely passing of their father.

It’s Liam however who has thus far proven to be the most impressive of the trio. 2013 saw victories over former world champion Scott Harrison and the unbeaten Joe Murray, before injury and subsequent inactivity halted his progress. He returned in July of this year to dispatch Kevin Hooper in four rounds, a former lightweight who had never previously been stopped, and set up the battle with Sykes with a chance to make a statement on the undercard of the high-profile Chisora-Fury rematch.

Consensus opinion is that Walsh did just that, but the Norfolk man is a grounded individual and isn’t getting carried away. If people were impressed by that he says, then they should look forward to what will come.

“It was certainly nowhere near what I’m capable of producing. I know I need to be better as I move up in levels, but I know that I can be. He’s a very good fighter (Sykes) I’ve always thought that, he was as durable as you’d expect him to be and he showed balls; there was no quit in him after that first round.”

walshsykes“I think it was my fault to be honest that the fight wasn’t better than it was, I made him look bad and I didn’t think it was a great fight but that’s because I didn’t allow it to be. I switched southpaw and disrupted his rhythm, didn’t allow him to get two or three punches off at a time and did what I had to do to win. There was a lot at stake in this fight, but for my next fight I’m definitely going out there to entertain the fans more!”

Speaking to the amiable 28-year-old, you get a sense that he is eager to make up for lost time. As Walsh will tell you, he’s a young twenty-eight, but setbacks have denied him from being further advanced in his career than he is now. Drafted in as a surprise world title challenger for Ricky Burns’ WBO lightweight crown in December 2012, Walsh was injured in a car accident just a month ahead of the clash and forced to pull out.

Muscle injuries resulting from the accident led to more spells on the sidelines and have restricted Walsh to just four appearances in the last two years. But now as a unified domestic champion and with his all of his bad luck hopefully behind him as he moves into his prime, he can surely allow himself some rest and a mince pie or two over the coming festive period?

“Well I was back in the gym at 7.30 on the Sunday morning so there’s your answer! I really want to kick on now, I have had injuries and a lot of time out over the past couple of years. I’d like to back out again pretty soon in the New Year. I’d love to put four or five fights together in a bit of a run and this time next year hopefully be fringe world-level, not far off challenging for a world title.”

“We’ve heard nothing opponent wise yet, but I’ll fight whoever they put in front of me. Now I hold the British title, if there’s a chance to win a Lonsdale belt outright then that’s something I can target, of course everyone would like to have one of those for the mantelpiece at home! It depends if another opportunity comes my way though. They don’t come around too often in boxing and you have to grab them with both hands.”

And what if another opportunity came at lightweight? Noticeably big at super-feather, many expect Walsh to eventually make a permanent switch up a division.

“I think I’ll finish my career as a lightweight. I walk around at 10’7 or 10’8, I can still make super featherweight no problem and training in a warmer climate helps that.”

“There are people who have suggested I struggle to shift the weight! Every fighter feels terrible before the weight-in though and I can still go into the ring on fight night and feel full of energy and I have the mental strength to do it. As for a move up to lightweight, I spar lightweights anyway and good-sized welterweights. I’ve had great sparring out at Macklin’s Gym in Marbella and I’m improving, raising the bar.”

Walsh plans to head out to Tenerife in January – the base of his last few training camps – and supplement his visits to the Canary Isle with further excursions to the MGM. Exciting times lie around the corner for the British super featherweight and he’s in a good place as 2014 draws to a close. Whether a temporary move to lightweight comes via mince pies and turkey, remains to be seen.

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