December 27, 2021
Professional boxing is the proverbial zombie.
Called dead for years, the sport, like the mythical Phoenix, continues to rise from the ashes and fly, despite self-inflicted damage and despair.
Nothing sums up the oxymoronic flexibility of the sport better than the last two months of 2021. In November, popular and polarizing, three-belt super-middleweight champion, Canelo Alvarez, faced undefeated Caleb Plant, holder of the IBF title. Alvarez wanted all four belts. Many said the fight was a mismatch, especially after Alvarez drew first blood during an acrimonious press conference in September. Alvarez turned as red as his hair.
The fight intrigued me for various reasons. Plant was determined to win a world title for his late daughter Alia, who was born with a medical condition that caused seizures. She fought for 20 months before succumbing to a respiratory infection. Plant’s mother died soon after. He did win a world title for his little girl four months after her passing. When he heard his name as the winner and new champion, Plant collapsed to the canvas in tears. I saw determination, perhaps more than most. His confidence bordered on arrogance, which seemed to get under the skin of the usually soft-spoken Alvarez. Maybe someone should have reminded Plant to “let sleeping dogs lie.”
Alvarez, a loser once in 60 fights, is, without doubt, one of the best fighters in the world. He’s been fighting professionally for 16 years. He’s beat former champions Kermit Cintron, Shane Mosley, and edged Austin Trout. Decisions and Alvarez go hand in hand. See the Erislandy Lara fight. A few years ago, he fought Gennady Golovkin twice. I thought he lost the first fight (judged a draw) and won the second, barely. Many disagreed. Controversy swirled around Alvarez after he tested positive for Clenbuterol months before the rematch with Golovkin. Getting busted for steroids is something that Alvarez, at least for some, will never live down. Plant brought up steroids during the press conference
The fight was on.
And the fight was a good one. As expected, Plant used his athleticism to box Alvarez, who waited like a semi-silent assassin to attack. Going into round 11, Alvarez was leading on the cards. A big left hook, followed by an uppercut, felled Plant. Of course, he got up, only to crumble seconds later when Alvarez clubbed him with right hands. Plant might have been a loser for the first time as a professional fighter, but he’s a winner in life.
The following weekend, old-pro Kiki Martinez, fought IBF titleholder, Kid Galahad, in Sheffield, England. Martinez, 35, held a world title in 2014. He entered the fight with 10 losses. Number 11 seemed imminent as the much sharper Galahad whipped him for “almost” five rounds. But Martinez always had two things going for him. He’s a gamer and can punch – as Galahad soon found out. Near the end of round five, Martinez caught Galahad with a right hook. The soon-to-be-former champion went stiff and fell onto his back. He got up, stumbling to the ropes – looking to his corner. Seconds later, the bell rang. Galahad seemed to have been saved, but his stay was only temporary. Martinez met Galahad in the center ring and let fly with another right, this one straight down the pike. Galahad collapsed on the mat, his expression unchanged but his eyes blank. The referee took one look and waved the fight off. Martinez was a champion again, while Galahad asked for a rematch.
Next up was Terence Crawford against good friend Shawn Porter. Good guys both. No ridiculous trash-talking. Total professionals. This one was for respect. Porter, a two-time world champion, always seemed underrated as if he hadn’t lived up to the hype. Being a two-time champion and loser only three times is a pretty good career to me although not a widely-held opinion.
Promoter Bob Arum openly criticized Crawford last year.
“I could build a house in Beverly Hills on the money I’ve lost on him in the last three fights. A beautiful home.”
Cold man. I’m sure there’s some truth in what Arum said, but to criticize him in public?
All Crawford does is win, 38 times without a loss. He was 26 when he traveled to Glasgow and beat up defending lightweight champion Ricky Burns. Crawford defended his title twice, before moving up a division and stopping Thomas Dulorme to win his second world title. He unified the division a year later. In 2018, Crawford captured the WBO welterweight crown by beating Jeff Horn. Going into the fight, Crawford had defended his welterweight belt four times, the last being an emphatic knockout of former champion Kell Brook.
The fight was a see-saw battle of pride and respect. Porter started well, with Crawford pulling slightly ahead. Suddenly in round 10, Crawford, like a cobra, unleashed a quick uppercut that floored a surprised Porter. Porter got up but was down again seconds later, courtesy of a right hand. The fight was stopped soon after. Crawford had won. Porter announced his retirement. Did Crawford earn some respect? Perhaps, but more importantly, the man from Nebraska is now a free agent.
A week later in Las Vegas, super bantamweights Stephen Fulton and Brandon Figueroa, went to war. The fight had received barely any press. Why? Because Teofimo Lopez was making the first defense of the titles he had won from Vasiliy Lomachenko on the same night. Fulton and Figueroa were both undefeated. Their styles meshed. Fulton is the clever boxer AKA the matador. Figueroa, the relentless bull. The result was 12 rounds of intense action featuring skill and heart. Fulton got the nod by majority decision. Figueroa said he was robbed. He wasn’t. These two need to fight again.
On to Lopez and the supremely confident Kambosos. The fight had become something of a running gag due to a couple of postponements. Or was it three? The bout was hardly a laughing matter. Especially for defending champion Lopez who came into the fight a 13-1 favorite. Almost everyone who had filed into the iconic Madison Square Garden Arena came to support the hometown hero. Or so it seemed.
The fight turned deadly serious when Kambosos, who many said was delusional, tagged Lopez with an overhand right near the end of the first round. Down went Lopez. He got up and battled, and bled, and floored Kambosos in round 10, but didn’t have enough to finish him. Kambosos banked rounds 11 and 12, winning the fight in what is easily the upset of the year. The entire lightweight division is anxious to fight Kambosos. Is it because they’re thinking his victory over Lopez, who was dealing with personal and physical issues, is a fluke? I would advise them not to think that way.
Could Kambosos and Lopez fight again? Get the best odds here if they do.
Early December was a trifecta of activity. Heavy-handed lightweight champion Gervonta Davis (24 knockouts in 26 fights) showed off his boxing ability, slipping by a determined Isaac Cruz over 12 competitive rounds. Cruz never let Davis breathe, but the Maryland native had enough tools in his belt to escape with the victory. Davis moves on, while Cruz, with his performance, made himself a player in the division.
Talented WBC titleholder Devin Haney outboxed gritty Joseph Diaz. Haney showed speed and elusive talent. A fight with Davis looks to be natural, but Haney might venture to Australia to fight Kambosos next year. Diaz is one tough nut to crack. Another former champion, he’s got ability but has lost two fights to superior fighters.
Across the pond, light heavyweight Anthony Yarde’s revenge knockout over Lyndon Arthur was compelling and dramatic. Arthur won their first go around 12 months ago. He was expected to win again. Yarde, since being knocked out by Sergey Kovalev, didn’t look like the same guy. Looks can be deceiving. Yarde was a man on a mission from the opening bell. He cracked Arthur with right hands and heavy hooks. Arthur had a look on his face that seemed to be saying, “Who is this guy?” He knows now. Yarde ended matters emphatically in round four. The revenge was ultra-sweet.
A week later in merry Old England, Conor Benn knocked out former welterweight champion Chris Algieri in round four. Algieri said before the fight he had beat guys like Benn his entire career. Benn, ever-improving, was sharp and powerful. He beat up Algieri, and then ended the matter with a classic left-right. The right crashed off Algieri’s chin, rendering him unconscious as he crashed to the canvas. It was brutal, and thankfully, Algieri is ok.
Back in the Big Apple a few days later, Vasiliy Lomachenko reminded everyone how skillful he still is, dominating former champion Richard Commey. The fight was a master class of speed, angles, and talent. Losing to Lopez might have been the best thing that ever happened to Lomachenko, though he would doubtless disagree. He looks refreshed and recharged. Then there’s ageless and classy Nonito Donaire, who ended Reymart Gaballo’s dreams of a title with a thunderous body shot in round four. Donaire would like to fight Noaya Inoue again. Their first fight was a barnburner. I understand his competitive spirit, but Inoue is in his prime. Donaire is not, though you would hardly know that based on his most recent performances.
And lastly, this previous weekend. When Joseph Parker and Derek Chisora’s sequel was announced a few months ago, many mocked it as a waste of time. Their first fight had been controversial only in the decision. It wasn’t a great fight. But one would have to be blind to not feel the pride in the days before the rematch. Parker said his career was on the line. Chisora agreed. Parker said he’d perform better. Chisora talked about the war. Both said they’d win.
Both brought it on fight night.
Parker backed up his words. He knocked down Chisora three times, but couldn’t keep him there. Chisora hung in like grim death, battling to the end of the 12 rounder as his fans roared their approval. Not a classic in skill, but a testimony to guts and never-say-die.
And that, if anything, is boxing…