Saturday, August 31, 2019

Saturday night is step one for Lara to regain his position at 154

By Luis A. Cortes III

Heading into this Saturday night's fight with Ramon Alvarez (27-7-3)(16 KO’s) (1 NC), Erislandy Lara (27-3-1)(11 KO’s) will set out to prove that he is still one of the top fighters in the talent rich super welterweight division (Fox 8 p.m. ET).  For the 36-year-old former Cuban amateur champion and former WBA champion, a victory in this fight could easily put him back in place to challenge for one of the major championships.  It wasn’t long ago that Lara was the man viewed as the best fighter and champion at 154-pounds prior to his loss to former champion Jarett Hurd in April of last year.  It was a loss that some felt was controversial after what turned out to be twelve grueling and entertaining rounds of action.   

With father time not on his side, along with Hurd all but set to have a rematch with Julian Williams (current WBA/IBF champion) in December of this year, it seems that a victory for Lara on Saturday means future major pay days and the chance to reclaim the number one spot.  It also helps that the WBC portion of the title is held by Tony Harrison, who should be facing the man he beat for that, title Jermell Charlo, in a rematch.  These fighters mentioned compete under the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) banner, which means that making a championship fight for Lara, if he were to be victorious, much easier.

While this fight for Lara is an important moment in his already successful career and may dictate just where the rest of his career goes, one boxing promoter who has dealt with the PBC shed some light as to why so many fighters remain loyal to the PBC and its lead advisor, the always elusive Al Haymon. “Al is a genius at getting fighters paid on a constant basis.  He is great at recycling fighters and putting them back into competitive fights,” stated the promoter.  “Just look at what he did for Chris Arreola.  Most of the other promoters would have felt that his career was over.  That his best days were behind him.  They may have even just used him as a stepping stone for younger prospects in their stable.  He (Al Haymon) allowed Arreola to earn more money with more fights and Arreola proved that he is far from a shot fighter.”

Haymon is technically just an advisor and none of the fighters are under promotional contract with the PBC.  Over the years, many of the PBC fighters have been offered lucrative contracts with large lump sums of money to jump ship and join the other major promotional outfits.  However, most of the fighters remain faithful to the PBC and Haymon due to what the promoter stated above.  In the case of Lara, due to his advanced age and being on the cusp of yet another title shot, and despite the sense of security in knowing that a loss doesn’t necessarily mean that his time in the lime light is over, Lara won’t be taking any chances against Alvarez and doesn’t want to find out what awaits his career should he lose. 

“I came (to the United States) and I achieved almost everything that I have asked of myself,” stated Lara.  “I was world champion for many years and the most important thing is that now I feel very happy because they gave me another chance for the world title and to be crowned again.” 

One can’t really blame Lara for having the mindset that he carries in that he is an undefeated fighter.  All three of his losses have been close decisions.  They include a majority decision loss to former two division champion Paul Williams in 2011 and a split decision loss to the sports current biggest box office draw Saul "Canelo" Alvarez in 2014.  While most felt that Alvarez did enough to win the fight, it was a fight that saw Lara confuse the younger Alvarez at times with his boxing skill.  Aside from Alvarez’s loss to Mayweather and two recent fights with Gennady Golovkin, his fight with Lara was the toughest of his career. 

This adds a bit of intrigue to this fight on Saturday night.  Ramon Alvarez is the older brother of Canelo Alvarez, and is himself trying to capitalize on this opportunity to take his own career to the next level.  For all the praise that his younger brother has received as one of the best fighters and the sports biggest star, Ramon has yet to have a truly career defining victory of his own.  “I will work to make things very clear to Lara that I am not my brother and that this fight will not be the same,” stated Alvarez.  “This is everything for me.  To make my own legacy.  My own path and show I got here with nobody’s help.”

After his fight with Hurd last year, a fight that many felt was the fight of the year, Lara returned to the ring and fought the always dangerous Brian Castano of Argentina.  It was yet another fight that Lara thought he won, but it ended in a draw, which again adds more meaning to this fight with Alvarez.  Despite those constant opportunities to make money that are given to fighters that make them stay loyal to PBC, those types of opportunities and paydays will eventually run their course if a fighter can no longer produce positive results. 

With the added pressure of what a victory would mean for both careers and the underlining story of a type of revenge for Lara against another Alvarez, Saturday nights fight between these two veterans could easily turn into an exciting battle and should have fans tune in to this night of action.   


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Thursday, August 29, 2019

After Saturday the Lightweight picture gets clearer

By Luis A. Cortes III

Heading into this Saturday afternoon’s (ESPN+ 4 p.m. ET) lightweight unification fight, there are many sub plots that accompany this major fight.  WBA/WBO unified champion and top ranked pound for pound fighter in the world, Vasyl Lomachenko (13-1)(10 KO’s) defends his two portions of the lightweight crown against fellow 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist, and England native Luke Campbell (20-2)(16 KO’s).  One of these sub plots is the fact that not only will the winner of this fight stake their claim as the best lightweight in the world with the two previously mentioned titles, the vacant WBC world lightweight title is also up for grabs.  This means that Lomachenko can add a third title to his ever-growing collection of championships.  While for Campbell, with one huge upset victory, he can go from top contender to owner of three of the four major titles in the division. 

While we will take a closer look at the type of fight that Lomachenko-Campbell could shape up to be once the first bell rings out from the O2 Arena in London, what is intriguing is just what this fight means to the lightweight division once the dust settles and a winner is announced.  Earlier this summer the lightweight division and the path towards crowning an undisputed champion was covered prior to the title defense of IBF champion, Richard Commey ("The Road to Undisputed Lightweight King Begins"). 

With Commey successfully defending his version of the title against Beltran, and Teofimo Lopez winning his fight to secure the spot as the IBF number one contender, all signs point to the two men meeting in a championship fight in December at Madison Square Garden.  The victor of this Saturday’s fight in London will be waiting with bated breath for the outcome of the proposed Commey-Lopez fight.  For Top Rank Promotions, the ideal situation would be for Lomachenko to continue to impress the world by proving with a victory over Campbell that he is the best fighter in the world.  It also would make a potential fight next year with the winner of Commey-Lopez much easier to make since both of those fighters also ply their trade under the Top Rank banner. 

As mentioned in the article earlier this summer.  Luke Campbell has attached himself to this scenario as the absolute wild card.  Campbell, unlike the other three fighters mentioned, is not signed to Top Rank and is promoted by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing.  However, something tells me that if he can accomplish the upset by beating Lomachenko, which not many boxing observers or fans on social media seem to give him a valid chance in doing, Team Campbell may in fact be demanding that they as well look no further then December’s fight for their next opponent. 

All of this means that Saturday will go a long way into making the path and picture of crowning an undisputed lightweight champion much clearer.  As for the fight itself, this event does say a lot about the reigning champion.  With the fight taking place in London, it’s not often that in today’s day and age of champions demanding to be considered the “A” side of a promotion that the hometown fighter is the challenger.  Lomachenko is proving that he is anything but a regular champion.  He sees this as an opportunity to display his skills on a large scale in front of an audience that hasn’t seen him compete live since his days in the World Boxing Series prior to turning professional, or since the 2012 Olympic Games (held in London).  One thing is for certain, while Campbell will most likely have most of his native land’s support, with over 18,000 tickets sold and a sellout expected, Lomachenko has been attending fight week events that have been packed with his supporters. 

Already an international star, an impressive victory over Campbell would just add the rest of England to Lomachenko’s growing list of supporters.  Although its rare to see the champion or pound for pound best willing to travel to the native land of the challenger, to his credit Lomachenko had this to say about the task at hand on Saturday.  “Maybe it will be a harder fight, but I can’t answer that until after the fight.  Luke Campbell is not an easy fighter.  He’s a top fighter.  He’s a smart fighter.  He’s a technical fighter, so it will be an interesting and technical fight.” 

What Lomachenko is referring, to aside from showing respect to his challenger and fellow Olympic champion, is the only thing that boxing observers have pointed to that favors Campbell going into this fight, his size and reach advantage over the smaller champion.  Campbell is a very tall lightweight with solid fundamentals and a tough southpaw style.  He also has good professional experience, only losing twice by split decision, one of those fights being a 2017 loss to then WBA champion Jorge Linares.  Although most people thought Linares was the rightful winner of the fight, Campbell showed grit and determination after being dropped in the second round by rising to his feet and adjusting in order to make the fight a close one.  Linares was also the fighter that wound up dropping Lomachenko during their heated fight last year when Lomachenko moved up in weight to capture the WBA title. ("Top Rank Boxing Presents Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Jorge Linares Recap")

“I’ve been through a lot having the experience of the London Olympics, the crowds, the pressure of going out there, getting a medal and winning.  My professional career, coming to America to fight Linares for a world title.  I’ve learned from my experiences, and boy, do I love a challenge.  I’ve said for years being in boxing, to be the best, you have to beat the best,” stated Campbell. 

So, while his amateur pedigree and his professional experiences, coupled with his physical traits have many feeling that Campbell will make this a competitive fight, mostly everyone winds up saying that in the end Lomachenko will find a way to figure out the right plan of attack during the fight and make the adjustments needed to chop down his worthy challenger.  What will be interesting to see is if Campbell will also be able to adjust to the champion’s adjustments in order to try and take control of the fight as the challenger, and clearly come out as the winner of the fight. 

A couple things are for sure, whichever way this fight winds up playing out, fight fans will continue to reap the benefits of cross promotion as the best fight the best.  Also, one fighter will walk out of the ring with three of the four major belts, thus taking us closer to an undisputed champion.  Lastly, even if the fight does wind up turning into a technical fight between the two fighters as they jockey for advantages, it will be an intriguing high tense chess match.  If this is the case, pay close attention to the subtle boxing moves done with both the fighter’s hands and feet as they probe for the right plan of attack to be successful.  Enjoy, and let the lightweight picture get that much clearer! 

Image result for lomachenko vs. campbell poster

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Sunday, August 11, 2019

Summerslam Recap

By Steve Ward

The 32nd installment of WWE’s biggest party of the summer, Summerslam, emanated from the home of the NBA World Champion Toronto Raptors, the Scotiabank Arena. With less than two weeks before AEW presents ALL OUT, their last major pay per view before they premier on TNT in October, and with the upcoming premier of Smackdown on FOX, one was left to wonder if WWE would take this opportunity to push the envelope further with what they’ve labeled as a move to “edgier” programming. The card certainly had no shortage of star power as it featured Brock Lesnar, as well as, ring legends Trish Stratus and Goldberg - both in competition. The nine match card also treated fans to four title bouts headlined by Brock Lesnar pitted against Seth Rollins for the Universal Championship.

RAW Women’s Championship Submission Match
Becky Lynch (c) vs. Natalya
Winner: Becky Lynch via submission

Canada’s own Natalya Neidhart challenged “The Man” for her Women’s Championship as the two proficient submission experts squared off in a submission match to kick off the main card. After a very evenly contested bout, it appeared Natalya would finally earn championship gold again as she cinched in a picture perfect Sharpshooter, however, The Man was able to avert disaster and turned the tables as she locked in The Disarmer for the submission victory.

Goldberg vs. Dolph Ziggler
Winner: Goldberg via pinfall

For several weeks Dolph Ziggler had belittled several WWE legends, most notably Shawn Michaels. At the contract signing this past Monday, Ziggler under the belief that he was signing up to fight The Miz, neglected to read the fine print and found himself obligated to face the legendary Goldberg much to the chagrin of the WWE Universe. It appeared for a brief moment that Dolph would pull off an unbelievable upset as he hit the super kick immediately after the opening bell. With Goldberg laid out, Dolph stood poised to land another super kick, however, Goldberg returned to his feet and intercepted Ziggler with a body-breaking spear. Goldberg immediately followed up with the Jackhammer as he made quick work of Ziggler.

United States Championship Match
A.J. Styles (c) w/ The OC vs. Ricochet
Winner: A.J. Styles via pinfall

Now reunited with his old Bullet Club cohorts, Gallows and Anderson, A.J. Styles defended his United States title this evening-one which he captured from Ricochet last month. Ricochet earned this opportunity after he prevailed in a gauntlet match recently on RAW. In the final moments of the contest, Ricochet vaulted off of the top rope only to be caught by the Phenomenal One who put him away with the Styles Clash for the victory.

Smackdown Women’s Championship
Ember Moon vs. Bayley (c)
Winner: Bayley via pinfall

Ember Moon controlled the tempo of this entire match with her striking ability, however, Bayley picked her shot as she intercepted Ember Moon on the top rope and executed the Bayley to Belly to put the final stamp on her title defense.

Kevin Owens vs. Shane McMahon
Winner: Kevin Owens

KO seemingly had the victory sealed as he executed a senton and frog splash back to back only to have the special guest enforcer Elias disrupt the referee’s 3-count. After Elias was disposed of, KO proceeded to kick Shane-o-mac between the uprights and finished him off with a stunner for the victory and to ensure he kept his job.

Trish Stratus vs. Charlotte Flair
Winner: Charlotte Flair via submission

Stratus entered this match looking as phenomenal as ever and immediately took the fight to Charlotte. This didn’t last long as the Queen quickly assumed control and controlled the tempo for a majority of the match as she mocked the WWE Hall of Famer at every opportunity. Trish attempted a late rally as she landed the Stratusfaction and the Chick Kick but they were not enough to put Flair away. In the end, Charlotte trapped Trish in the Figure Eight for the submission victory. Needless to say, this match did not leave this writer stratusfied.

WWE Championship
Randy Orton vs. Kofi Kingston (c) 
Winner: No contest

This bout was ten years in the making as Kofi accused Randy Orton of holding him back with his backstage influence back in 2009 - apparently this was the best buildup that the writing team  could come up with for a Summerslam championship match. One of the most entertaining aspects of this match didn’t come from one of the performers but rather the crowd as they repeatedly engaged in the chant, “Kofi’s stupid, Randy sucks!” In the closing moments of the match, the most spectacular moment of the contest was spoiled as Kofi leapt off the top rope and got caught with an RKO Outta Nowhere only to roll out of the ring and avoid a potential pinfall. Orton proceeded to follow Kofi out of the ring where he laid in front of his family at ringside. As Orton attempted to embarrass Kofi, the two men were counted out, however, this was not the end as Kofi proceeded to lay waste to the Viper with a kendo stick as he took exception to his actions.

Finn Balor vs. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt
Winner: The Fiend via pinfall

This evening marked the in-ring debut of Bray Wyatt’s new persona The Fiend. With the exception of some brief offense displayed by Finn late in the contest, this was the definition of a squash match. Finn was finally put out of his misery as Bray shoved his fingers down his throat with a Mandible Claw pinning Balor’s shoulders in the process for the victory.

Universal Championship Match
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Seth Rollins
Winner: Seth Rollins

This was by far the longest, most competitive match these two men have ever had. The action was fast and furious as each continued to execute their signature moves throughout the match to no avail. The closing moments saw Rollins drop Lesnar to the canvas with a super kick which he immediately followed with a curb stomp as a new Universal Champion was crowned in what may have been Lesnar‘s shortest title reign to date.

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Saturday, August 10, 2019

Sosa Impressive; Adan Gonzales Spoils Cuban Prospect Ramirez's Debut

By Matt Ward, Ringside

Top Rank professional boxing on ESPN+ returned to the Liacouras Center on the campus of Temple University in North Philadelphia on Saturday night. The main event of this action-packed card pitted super featherweights Jason Sosa (23-3-4, 16 KOs) and Lydell Rhodes (27-4-1, 13 KOs) against one another in a ten round contest. Sosa, a former WBA Super Featherweight World Champion, made a big step on the trail to reclaim a world title by stopping tough veteran Rhodes at the 1:08 mark of the seventh round.

The two gladiators fought a close fight through the opening two frames. In the third round, Sosa opened up on Rhodes with a barrage of effective punches to the head and body. This offensive onslaught was highlighted by hard upper cuts that made Rhodes cringe under the pressure. Sosa again went on the attack in the fourth round when he connected with a left hand to the face of Rhodes. Rhodes rallied at the end of the round, landing a multi-punch combo that let Sosa know he was still in the fight.

In the fifth round, Sosa sent Rhodes crashing to the canvas with a left hook to the head. Rhodes managed to pull himself up from the mat, and fight on until the final 30 seconds of the round when Rhodes was punished with a series of Sosa punches to the head that again sent him down to the canvas. An accidental headbutt in the sixth round opened up a cut near Sosa's left eye. Fortunately, the location of this wound had little impact on the Camden native's fight plan and momentum going forward.

The third and final knockdown came in the seventh round when a well-placed Sosa right hand to Rhodes' head sent him crashing to the canvas. Rhodes recovered from the knockdown, but his corner had seen enough of the beat down, and threw in the towel. Referee Benjy Esteves honored the request by waiving off the fight. 

Gonzales Spoils Olympian's Debut

Denver's Adan Gonzales (5-2-2, 2 KOs) spoiled the long anticipated professional debut of Cuban Olympian Robeisy Ramirez (0-1) in a four round featherweight bout. Gonzales, fighting like a man looking for the upset, introduced Ramirez to a pro boxing canvas in the first round with a hard right hand to the head. Ramirez appeared to struggle with Gonzales in the second round, as he continued to apply pressure to the highly successful former amateur fighter. Ramirez, hoping to salvage his night, unloaded on Gonzales at the end of the third round, having to be pulled off of Gonzales after the bell rang. Ramirez fought hard in the fourth and final round, but it was not enough to salvage a win or draw. The judges scored the bout 39-36 for Gonzales, 38-37 for Ramirez, and 40-35 for the winner by split decision, Adan Gonzales. 

Berlanga Extends Kayo Streak to 12

"Knockout Artist" Edgar Berlanga (12-0, 12 KOs) won his twelfth straight fight by way of knockout over Gregory Trenel (11-5-2, 3 KOs) in the first round of a middleweight contest scheduled for eight. Berlanga answered the bell by landing crushing shots on his French opponent. Trenel hit the canvas after Berlanga, a native of New York, connected with a left hook to the head. Trenel hesitantly pulled himself up from the canvas only to be beaten into submission seconds later. Berlanga landed numerous left hands, at will, on the defenseless Trenel. Referee Benjy Esteves saw enough of the massacre at the 2:24 mark of the opening frame.

Philadelphia's Kroll Wins by UD 

Undefeated welterweights Paul Kroll (5-0, 4 KOs) and Shinard Bunch (2-1, 2 KOs) battled through a six round bout. The two men put on a display of speed throughout the opening frame of the contest in front of a crowd that roared with approval. As the first round ended, the referee had to pull Kroll away from the dogfight that was highlighted by great exchanges of multi-punch combos. In the second round, the two men slowed down the pace of the bout.

Bunch unloaded a three punch combo on Kroll in the third. The fourth round kicked off with a exchange of big shots near the center of the ring. Later in this round, Kroll put the pedal to the metal as he aggressively nailed Bunch with a series of multi-punch combos to the head and body, shots that made Bunch slump into the ropes. At this point of the fight, the advantage was seized by Kroll who landed big shots that were responded to by Bunch clinches and wrap-ups. This was especially the case in the fifth round when Kroll connected with a right hook to Bunch's head. Seconds later, Kroll tee'd off on Bunch with a series of shots, but Bunch managed to dance out of the trap on shaky legs. 

In the sixth round, Kroll went into knockout mode chasing Bunch around the ring and swinging wildly at his opponent, missing more than connecting. To the crowd's dismay, Bunch, clearly beat up from rounds of taking damage, managed to stay on his feet. Referee Gary Rosato had to pull Kroll off of Bunch as the bell marking the end of the round rang. The judges scored the bout 58-56 twice and 59-55 for Kroll. 

Conto Sweeps "Game" Del Rio 

Philadelphia's Sonny Conto (4-0, 3 KOs) defeated a tough opponent in Mexico's Guillermo Del Rio (2-3-1, 2 KOs) to the hometown crowd's delight on Saturday night. Conto went on the attack early in the first of this four rounder as he punished Del Rio with straight left and right hands to the head and body. Del Rio was rocked with a big overhand right to the head in the final 30 seconds of the first round, but showed his grit by staying on his feet and surviving the opening the frame. Conto had to deal with Del Rio's clinching and wrapping throughout the second round. As the round neared its end, this strategy turned into wild swinging at Conto that failed to hit its mark. A Conto left hook made Del Rio drop into the ropes, but the Mexican heavyweight again made it to the end of the round.

Sonny landed shots at will on Del Rio in the third which appeared to have a damaging effect on him. Again, to the frustration of Conto and the audience, Del Rio's body did not hit the canvas. The crowd roared "Sonny! Sonny!" in the final round as the Philly heavyweight clubbed Del Rio. Del Rio deaf to the chants of the Liacouras Center, valiantly fought on. As the round neared its end, Conto finally sent Del Rio crashing to the canvas with a left hand to the head. Del Rio, on wobbly legs, pulled himself up for the unanimous decision defeat. All three judges scored the bout 40-35 for the heavyweight prospect Conto.

Smith Dominates Abdullah in Six 

Philly's Donald Smith (10-0, 6 KOs) won his tenth fight as a professional over Colorado's Raheem Abdullah (3-3). Smith controlled the momentum of the featherweight contest throughout the bout, and answered all of Abdullah's attacks with effective multi-punch combos of his own. Smith closed out his dominant performance by hammering Abdullah with right hands to the body as the fight came to a conclusion. The judges scored the fight 59-53 twice and 60-52 for Smith.

Adorno Wins by Kayo

Jeremy Adorno (2-0, 1 KO) defeated Fernando Robles (2-2) by knockout victory in a super bantamweight bout that was scheduled for four rounds. The knockout shot came at the 2:01 mark of the third round when Adorno dropped Robles with a right hook to the body.

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