Fighting Words: Lara/Martirosyan, Charlo Brothers Showtime Boxing Preview

Showtime and HBO seem to continue to swing wildly back and forth in the boxing world. A couple of years ago, the pendulum seemed to be swinging Showtime’s way, as they signed Floyd Mayweather, Canelo Alvarez and even, albeit for just one fight, Manny Pacquiao.  They got into bed with Golden Boy Promotions, who at the time worked with shady boxing manager du jour Al Haymon and had a pretty great stable of fighters. Then, at this time last year, Al Haymon’s PBC had taken all of their bigger fights to network TV, and Showtime’s boxing offering was so bad that I unsubscribed from it and didn’t really miss much.

This year, the momentum seems to be going back to Showtime, as HBO’s rumored budget cuts have hurt the quality and quantity of their boxing programming. Whereas HBO has been featuring its ‘name’ fighters either in mismatches – Terence Crawford, Sergey Kovalev, Andre Ward all fighting little-to-no-hopers – or in Pay Per Views (Canelo and the just announced Crawford-Postol unification fight, which is a great fight but will sell very close to zero Pay Per Views), Showtime seems to be bouncing back. They feature the two brightest up and coming heavyweights (USA’s Deontay Wilder and a new deal with UK sensation Anthony Joshua), have held and promised significant/decent matchups (Jacobs/Quillin, Frampton/Santa Cruz).

This weekend’s Showtime card tilts to the ‘decent’ level – it has three relatively evenly matched bouts featuring six good fighters. It’s not going to be a huge ratings hit, but it will be watched with interest by hardcore boxing fans, may have some significant turning points for certain fighters’ careers and frankly, is better matched than any non-PPV bout HBO has put on so far this year.

Erislandy Lara vs. Vanes Martirosyan

This is a rematch of a November 2012 bout that was fought to a technical draw after a clash of heads in the 10th round opened a nasty cut over Martirosyan’s eye and he was unable to continue. The fight went to the scorecards – somewhat controversially, referee Jay Nady asked the judges to score the 10th even though only about 20 seconds of it had been fought – and the judges were completely split, with one judge having it for either fighter and one judge having it a draw. I had Lara up 88-85 at the time of the decision (scoring the first and 10th rounds even), but it was a difficult fight to score so a draw wasn’t the worst outcome here. Let’s look into the two fighters:

 

Lara

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Erislandy Lara is a Cuban tactitian, a slick, defensive-minded fighter who confuses opponents with his constant movement and bores fans to tears with his running around the ring. Lara is usually the more talented fighter in the ring, and his matchup with Vanes is no exception.

He’s a tricky southpaw whose entire gameplan is to potshot and not get hit and there are times where that strategy looks great – his fight against Alfredo Angulo was a cracker, as Angulo came straight at him winging punches and Lara was able to show his accuracy and skill in a thrilling matchup. But sometimes it just serves to turn fans off as we’re reminded on why he isn’t a bigger name or draw. His fight last year in Chicago against journeyman Delvin Rodriguez, in which Lara had every single physical advantage you could think of, saw him get booed out of the ring after he decided to just outpoint a clearly hurt, tired and overmatched opponent over 12 easy rounds instead of ever going for the stoppage.

Lara presents the toughest road for himself: he’s a good fighter who can probably beat anybody in his weight class at any given night, but his style turns fans off so much that he doesn’t bring in any kind of money or incentive for fighters to fight him, giving him the “avoided” label – though a lot of that is his own doing.

  • Record: 22-2-2 (13 KO)
  • Height: 5’9
  • Titles Held: WBA Super Welterweight Title (won Dec. 2014 vs Ishe Smith)
  • Best Wins:
    • Austin Trout (UD12) – In a crossroads fight in December 2013, Trout – who is also fighting on this card and will get into more details later – two guys with very similar, awkward styles matched up together and Lara came out the clear better man. It wasn’t a pretty fight, but it was a significant one, and likely Lara’s best win to date. It put his name on the map and ended up earning him his PPV matchup against Canelo.
    • Alfredo Angulo (TKO 10) – Just prior to fighting trout, Lara matched up with tough Mexican fighter Angulo, a brawler who made up for his lack of skill with a surplus of heart. Angulo was tailor-made for Lara’s style, but gave as good as he got for ten rounds until Lara’s crisp shots banged Angulo’s head around one too many times and the fight was stopped due to Lara inflicting a crazy amount of damage, Angulo suffering an enormous and disgusting hematoma that disfigured his face and being unable to continue. By far the most exciting performance of his career.
    • Ishe Smith (UD12) – The 2014 fight that got him his WBA super welterweight belt, Lara beat the unspectacular Smith convincingly, albeit in unspectacular fashion.
  • Losses
    • Canelo Alvarez (SD12) – In the biggest fight of his career, Lara stepped up to face the Mexican superstar in a PPV bout and proceeded to, in my opinion, totally shit the bed. His potshot-and-move gameplan wound up looking a bit too much like running away for my, and the judges’, liking. It seemed he had the skill advantage on the night as Canelo didn’t look great either, which makes this performance all the more disappointing.
    • Paul Williams (MD12) – Lara’s first career loss, this July 2011 decision was a total farce. Williams was a very good fighter, and Lara deserved this win.

Martirosyan

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Martirosyan, who is Armenian and looks like it, has had a pretty solid if unspectacular career. There was a time when he was coming up that there was some hype behind him – he was fighting a low level of competition pretty consistently and had more talent than most – but seems to have settled in as a fairly basic, though tough, fighter. He’s a likeable guy that just seems to be a level below the cream of the crop. He isn’t afraid to bring the fight, and though he hasn’t had a knockout in over three years, he seems to win fights based on grit and out-toughing his opponent.

Vanes just 4-2 in his last six fights, and Saturday represents a pretty significant moment in his career.

  • Record: 36-2-1 (21 KO)
  • Height: 5’11
  • Best Wins:
    • Willie Nelson (UD10) – In October 2014, a faltering Martirosyan was matched up with an undefeated up in comer in Willie Nelson, in a matchup where Vanes was clearly there in the gatekeeper role. Vanes kept his contender name alive as he deservedly took a decision (I scored the fight 97-93 in his favor) over Nelson and sent Nelson back down a level. A contender-level gatekeeper may be the spot for Vanes, but this night gave him the juice to continue his career at a high level.
    • Ishe Smith (MD10) – In his most recent fight, Vanes pulled out a tough decision over Smith in another closely matched contender-level bout – Martirosyan actually put Smith on the canvas twice, but even with the point deductions, he scraped out a majority decision here.
  • Losses:
    • Demetrius Andrade (SD12) – Andrade is a legit contender, a young guy with endless amounts of potential that has crushed his own career with inactivity and management issues. Still, Vanes gave the undefeated ‘Boo Boo’ Andrade all he could handle in this 2013 title fight, and gave a good showing of himself here.
    • Jermell Charlo (UD10) – Last March, in a step-up fight for the more finesse Charlo twin, Jermell took a unanimous decision win in a close fight in which, in my view, seven rounds could have gone either way. I had the fight scored 96-94 in Martirosyan’s favor, but I don’t think a Charlo decision was a robbery. Not much separated them here, but it being a step-up fight for Charlo, this may have cemented Vanes as a gatekeeper-level fighter.

 

The Verdict:  I will confess I usually don’t like watching Lara fight much, and this fight doesn’t really get my heart pounding. That said, I rate his talent and skill highly, and find Martirosyan to be ordinary. I thought Lara deserved the decision in their first matchup, and if Lara shows up to win, and not to run, I think he will take a unanimous decision over Vanes.

Jermall Charlo vs Austin Trout

 

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Jermall Charlo

Of the two Charlo twins, I rate Jermall much higher and have really enjoyed watching him. They look exactly the same, and their names are only one vowel apart, but someone pointed out once to me that Jermall ‘mauls’ opponents as a more physical man whereas Jermell is a little more “mellow” and more of a boxer, and that’s helped me differentiate them. Shout out to Bad Left Hook for the mneumonic.

This is a big fight for Jermall – he holds a belt, but he’s looked at still as a bit of a prospect-level. Let’s see what he’s really made of here – Trout is no easy out. This Charlo has shown a lot of potential, an aggressive style with true power in his hands – he has stoppages in 16 of his last 17 fights, and hasn’t seen a dip in effectiveness as he stepped up in power. I think he’s the real deal, but we’ll see what he’s made of Saturday night.

  • Record: 23-0 (18 KO)
  • Height: 6’0
  • Titles Held: IBF Super Welterweight Title (Won Sept. 2015 vs Cornelius Bundrage)
  • Best Win:
    • Cornelius Bundrage (TKO3) – In Charlo’s first title shot, and really the only real significant win on his record thus far, he dominated the admittedly old-as-shit (Budrage was 43 years old at the time of this fight) and overmatched champion over three rounds to swipe the belt in a fight that was never close. Charlo was probably the favorite going in, but ‘K-9 Bundrage’ was an experienced veteran, and Charlo crushed him emphatically. Just a great step-up performance for a young contender.

 

Austin Trout

 

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Trout is a tough fighter, another tricky southpaw in the mold of Erislandy Lara. He’s had some big wins and big matchups – he put his name on the map with a deserved upset over Puerto Rican superstar Miguel Cotto – and gave Canelo Alvarez all he could handle. He’s an awkward fighter to face, long and smart, though he isn’t known for his power.

However, his loss to Lara seemed to set his career back, as he’s taken a significant step back in competition since then as he works to build his career back up. He’s looked shaky in a couple of those fights, causing speculation that his setbacks maybe are causing him to be a little more disinterested in his career. Either way, he’s going to be the best fighter Jermall Charlo has ever been in the ring with professionally.

 

  • Record: 30-2 (17 KO)
  • Height: 5’9
  • Best Wins:
    • Miguel Cotto (UD12) – It certainly is not easy to go into Madison Square Garden and take down Cotto in front of thousands of adoring Puerto Ricans. Trout came into this December 2012 fight as the clear B-side, but proved to be too much for the smaller Cotto to reach. Trout used his smarts and reach to outbox Cotto thoroughly, and put his name on the map. A great win, but we’re coming up on four years since this went down.
    • Delvin Rodriguez (UD12) – The performance that likely earned Trout the Cotto shot, Trout thoroughly outboxed Rodriguez and proved himself to be above a journeyman level fighter.
  • Losses:
    • Erislandy Lara (UD12) – As written above, Trout found himself matched with a similar fighter and found himself a step slow. Trout’s career has been pretty muted since then, with this being his biggest step up since this loss in Brooklyn.
    • Canelo Alvarez (UD12) – In a somewhat controversial fight in spring 2013- the fight was fought under the bizarre open scoring rules, in Texas, and Canelo was given some questionable rounds early, which caused Trout, knowing he was down, to throw caution to the wind and fight outside his normal style to try for the comeback. Canelo did score a hard knockdown in the fight, so there wasn’t too much handwringing over it, but Trout made a good showing of himself in the loss. This loss continues to look better as Canelo’s star grows, but again – this was now three years ago.

The Verdict: I think Trout gives Charlo some trouble early, but Charlo’s power proves to be too much for Trout. I predict a late TKO win for Charlo, giving Trout the first stoppage loss of his career. I could also see Charlo winning on the cards, if Trout goes super defensive after feeling Jermall’s power.

Jermell Charlo vs John Jackson

 

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Jermell Charlo

This, the opener to Saturday night’s card, might be my favorite fight of the whole card. The vacant WBC super welterweight title (vacated by the retiring Mayweather) is on the line and two young guys are going for it.

Jermell Charlo brother, who some rate higher than his brother due to his better level of opposition, has never impressed me much – he is a good boxer, but seems content with outpointing slower, less talented fighters and has never really shown me next-level power or speed. Jackson is a very flawed young fighter who packs a ton of talent but has been been stopped before and may be chinny. If Jermell doesn’t have the power to slow down Jackson, this could get very interesting quickly.

  • Record: 27-0 (12 KO)
  • Height: 5’11
  • Best Wins:
    • Vanes Martirosyan (UD10) – As written above, this is a significant win for Charlo, and does put him on the map as a worthy contender. This is nothing to sneeze at, and proves Jermell to be a high-level contender. That said, this was a very close fight in which Charlo enjoyed the benefit of the doubt in the judging.
    • Gabriel Rosado (UD10) – Charlo’s first big step-up fight in January 2014 saw him totally outclass a tough contender in Rosado, showing that Charlo’s skill is the real deal. That said, though Rosado has given everybody a tough fight, he’s also frankly lost to every good fighter he’s faced, so this win doesn’t really set Charlo too much apart.

 

John Jackson

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Jackson, the son of former fighter Julian Jackson, is a fun fighter to watch, a skilled brawler who looks world class for a few rounds and then has a tendency to bite off more than he can chew. He’s starting to rebuild after a nasty knockout loss to middleweight contender Andy Lee in the summer of 2014, fighting twice since then and seeming to box more carefully, picking up a pair of decision wins and looking to change his style, for the good of his boxing career and probably his health.

  • Record: 20-2 (15 KO)
  • Height: 6’0
  • Best Wins:
    • Jackson doesn’t have any significant wins of note – his record is littered with solid journeyman-type opponents who more often then not come into their bouts with a solid handful of losses. Jackson has lost both time he has stepped up in competition, which may say something about him.
  • Losses:
    • Andy Lee (KO5) – On the undercard of the Miguel Cotto-Sergio Martinez fight in June 2014 at Madison Square Garden, Jackson took this step up fight against contender Andy Lee and spent the first four rounds looking incredible. He was winning by a mile on all scorecards, outfought the veteran and generally looked like he was arriving on the scene in a big way. Unfortunately for him, Lee landed a vicious short right hand right as Jackson was throwing one of his own, and it turned Jackson’s lights out immediately and sent him careening lifeless to the canvas. A tough, tough knockout to bounce back from for a young fighter.
    • Willie Nelson (UD 10) – In September 2012, Jackson took a step-up fight against the lesser-regarded Nelson and was promptly upset in a close but clear unanimous decision loss. Nelson, of course, has gone on to be a solid if unspectacular contender.

The Verdict: Look, the smart money here is on Charlo. He’s undefeated, skilled, has fought better competition and is the clear A-side in this fight. He’s supposed to win. Jackson hasn’t beaten anybody, has lost both times he’s stepped up in competition, and may not be very good. However, Jackson has fought at higher weights before – he got knocked out as a middleweight – and I can’t get past those four rounds that he looked great in against Lee, who is a very good fighter. I might regret this and look foolish, but I’ll go ahead and pick Jackson in the surprise upset in this one.

 

 

 

 

 

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Boxing is an Asshole

I love boxing, personally. It’s literally the personification of the primal human feeling that all other sports play tap into to ignite our passions: war.

It’s two people in a ring, nothing between them but a pair of gloves and one referee, fighting. No hoops, fields, sticks, balls, nothing. Just two people having it out. Whether you’ve grown up in NYC or in a remote backwoods country with nothing but Latin soap operas coming out of a black and white TV, you see a boxing match, and you understand what’s happening, at least on some level. It’s arguably the purest sport we have.

And it is a massive, massive dickhead. The people in charge – the promoters, the sanctioning bodies, the commissions – range from ‘borderline criminal’ to ‘actual criminal’, the sport is constructed in a way that the best fighters don’t ever have to fight each other, 99% of fighters make no money and wind up paying for their participation with years of their lives, and all in all, the whole thing is fucking gross. The only saving grace is that we’re seeing the pinnacle of what the human body can achieve in the most taxing, lonely, physically draining way possible.

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OK, maybe pinnacle of what the human body can achieve is a little dramatic

What keeps boxing heads  coming back is the fact that in the ring, there’s no one to save you. There’s no subs to come in when you’re tired, no teammates to pick up the slack when you’re having an off night. If you’re losing, it’s just you in there.

Unfortunately, sometimes boxing even fucks that up.

Last week, on a nationally broadcast NBC card, Al Haymon’s fledgling Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) series was back, showcasing an up and coming rock star Errol Spence Jr. officially announcing his presence on the scene with a five-round mauling of veteran Chris Algieri. However, my excitement at watching Spence was tempered, because in the undercard fight before it, the PBC, judges and referees involved committed an absolute atrocity and singlehandedly ripped away an earned chance to make a career from an unknown fighter, for the simple fact that he was unknown.

24 year old Radivoje Kalajdzic (21-1, 14 KO) of Serbia came into the undercard fight as a clear B-side to the undefeated Marcus Browne (17-0, 13 KO), a 25-year old former American Olympian and one of the PBC’s highly touted young prospects. With the PBC hemorrhaging money, a result of artificially inflated purses and a lack of a competitive matchmaking, they need their young talent like Browne to make good on their promise so they can cash in on them someday. And they sure did everything to make sure that that happened.

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A tatted up dude from an Eastern European country with an unpronounceable name is not a cash cow for the PBC. Thus, Kalajdzic was brought in to the Barclays Center last week to lose. Browne was there to get tested, get some rounds in and win. Long story short: he didn’t. Browne proved to be a total dud in the ring, unable to get any kind of offense going, excessively holding and frequently getting popped with hooks by the Serbian.

After trading off the first couple of rounds, Browne spent much of the second half of their 8-round affair looking completely out of ideas, not even pretending to fight in lieu of desperate grabs on his opponent, and even in the 6th round winding up straight on his ass with a dazed look on his face as the Serb scored a nasty knockdown. However, when the decision was read, Browne came out the winner – resulting in lusty boos from his own hometown crowd, which knew it was witnessing a crime. Let’s count the ways in which boxing failed Kalajdzic:

 

  • In the first round, Kalajdzic slipped during a non-contact motion as he pivoted away from Browne and fell to the canvas. Browne then jumped in and landed a light shot to the side of his head. In normal circumstances, this should probably have resulted in a stern warning to Browne, if not a point deduction. Instead, incredibly, referee Tony Chiarantano, who should probably be in jail, ruled it a knockdown for Browne (which, incidentally, made the difference on the scorecards).

 

  • Chiarantano, who again, should probably be in federal prison, allowed Browne to get away with an unheard-of amount of holding in the fight, never coming close to taking a point away or even telling him to stop it. One boxer was trying to fight in there – one was not.

 

  • Two judges scored the fight for Browne, while one gave the fight to Kalajdzic. I scored the fight 76-74 for Radivoje (even scoring the first round 10-8 according to the referee’s atrocious decision), and though that may seem like it was a close/toss-up fight, it really wasn’t. The decision was close on the card but clear as day.

 

As a result, Marcus Browne gets to go on being an undefeated prospect, and Kalajdzic goes…where, exactly? Again, he’s a foreign fighter with an unpronounceable name, he has zero name value for the bigger guns of the division, and he falls back into the scrap heap with the other dozens of nameless prospect/contenders fighting on the fringes of the sport. He didn’t look like a world-beater, either, but that’s not the point.

In theory, boxing, in a romantic sort of way, is the fairest sport. Just two men in there with nothing between them but their skills. With the amount of corruption involved, the sport rips away lives and livelihoods, even outside of the ring. Always has and probably always will. It takes everything from these guys inside the ring, and just outside of it stand the vultures ready to feast, before the fighters’ blood has even dried from their gloves.

Boxing is an asshole.

 

Fighting Words: Boxing Makes Network Return on NBC

This post is a little late going up by oh, five days or so, but this blog doesn’t really pay the bills so all three of you reading this will probably just have to deal.

Boxing made it’s return to network television this past Saturday, as NBC hosted the debut of the powerful Al Haymon’s new ‘Premier Boxing Champions’, a new venture in the sport of boxing and an effort to create a new power structure within the sport. For the past few years, the mysterious Haymon has been signing fighters in droves to his stable of clients, and has developed a reputation of getting his fighters high paydays and soft matchups. He first partnered with Golden Boy and Showtime as the avenue for his fighters after being blackballed by HBO, and has now appeared to have collected enough financial funding to effectively bring his huge stable of fighters to non-premium TV by buying airtime on networks like NBC, Spike TV, CBS and others.

It’s an interesting twist for the sport, which has been relegated to niche sport status with most of its major events taking place on PPV or the premium cable channels (HBO, Showtime). Can the sport survive on the terrestrial networks and basic cable channels? Is there enough appetite to make it more of a mainstream sport? It remains to be seen, but it’s an interesting development to say the least.

The debut of the PBC series had two solid-looking matchups on paper, and went off well, with reports saying it drew over 3 million viewers and led the networks in the coveted 18-to-49 demographic. It was an event die-hard boxing fans rallied behind as it signified a hope that the sport wasn’t dying, and NBC put their muscle behind it to make it seem like a major event. Al Michaels as the host of the show, and the iconic voice of Marv Albert and name of Sugar Ray Leonard (regardless of what you think of how they performed) lent the show an air of legitimacy, something that in this sport is a bit harder to come by. The production value was through the roof, and the show looked slick, professional and like a, well, real sport.

At the end of the day though, what’s going to determine the success or failure of this venture and of boxing as a whole is the fights themselves. How did they do? Well, there were mixed results. Here is our recap.

Fight Recap: Keith Thurman UD12 Robert Guerrero

Sometime the Wolf Score: Thurman 118 – 109 Guerrero

The main event featured young budding star Keith Thurman (25-0, 21 KO) face off against tough veteran Robert Guerrero (32-3-1, 18 KO) in a rough affair where neither guy walked out looking pretty but having gained the admiration of the fans. The fight started off rather slowly as the rhythm was established quickly: Thurman was the faster fighter who landed the stronger punches, and he used his precise movement to land sharp power shots that continually snapped the more plodding Guerrero’s head back.

Guerrero found some success in the third round, managing to get inside and land a few nice shots, but the most damage was done during an accidental headbutt (an accident that often happens in Robert Guerrero fights) that wound up giving Thurman a really gross looking hematoma that puffed out the left side of his forehead grotesquely. Perhaps not what the executives at NBC wanted to see at their first national show, but it did add some drama early on to a fight that lacked it, especially given Thurman re-establishing control from the fourth round on.

In the ninth round, Thurman floored Guerrero hard, no small task given how tough “The Ghost” has been throughout his career. Guerrero was wobbly back on his feet, but managed to last the round and survive a Thurman onslaught in an attempt to finish the fight after smelling blood.

The tenth round is where fans were made. Guerrero picked himself up out of his corner and came out in berzerker mode, muscling Thurman into the ropes and turning it into a rough and tumble, phone booth affair, locking foreheads with Thurman and firing short punches at each other with barely room between them to take a breath. Despite never feeling like he was doing serious damage, it created some compelling drama and showed incredible heart, which is what this show needed at the end of the day. While the announcers oversold it a bit live–this was far from a fight of the year contender–it still brought decent excitement to a card that needed it after a horrid opener (more on this in a bit).

Thurman got on his bicycle for the last few rounds out of what seemed like respect for Guerrero and his big chin, and took his deserved decision victory with raised arms as the bell rang to end the fight. Though he didn’t get the stoppage, it was a big win for Thurman on a major stage–Guerrero is someone who’s never been stopped before, is a top-level welterweight and a tough motherfucker. Thurman had him hurt badly during the fight, and while you’d like to see him close the show, he fought well and handled the adversity in the fight strongly.

For Thurman moving forward, I’d like to see them continue to build him and match him strong with other top-tier contenders, eventually angling him for some big fights. Though Shawn Porter’s stock is much lower than before, that’s a fight that’s still really interesting to me. The division is also stocked with other talent, from Marcos Maidana, to Timothy Bradley, even the loser of May’s Mayweather-Pacquiao bout. A lot of roads to go for ‘One Time’ from here.

For Guerrero, this fight cements his status as a solid high-level gatekeeper but ultimately an also-ran contender in the division. He’ll never be the top fighter in the division–the fact that he got a 2013 shot at Floyd Mayweather is a total joke–but he’s a good measuring stick for up and comers like Thurman, and he will always have his chin and his heart.

Fight Recap: Adrien Broner UD12 John Molina Jr.

Sometime the Wolf Score: Broner 119 – 110 Molina Jr.

The opener of this bout promised some action, as the ‘budding’ star, the always-controversial Adrien Broner (30-1, 22 KO), fought a clear B-side in John Molina Jr (27-6, 22 KO), a fighter who had lost two straight and five of his last eight but was expected to provide for some drama given his game-changing power. Last year, in a similar talent mismatch, Molina lost to power puncher Lucas Matthysse in a barnburner of a match that was named by some as the Fight of the Year.

This fight not only didn’t live up to any sort of meager hype it had, it also quite possibly risked setting boxing back 30 years. As the opener of boxing’s return to network TV, the fight was a complete turd, with Broner clearly outclassing Molina but content to just potshot and not be overly aggressive, and John Molina seemingly forgetting how to box, doing absolutely nothing each round except for occasionally winging desperate right hands that started below his hip and ended by swiping the air literally feet away from Broner’s mass.

The fight was so disastrous that I scored the last round 10-10, as neither man deserved the round. Molina had gotten blown out the entire fight yet never threw a punch in the final minute, and Broner literally chose to run around with his hands up like an idiot instead of engaging for the last 30 seconds. It was a joke, and both fighters deserved the angry boos the crowd rained down on them. Not the way I’m sure NBC would have wanted to start their boxing offerings, but so goes the sport–you really never know.

From here, hopefully Broner steps up his level of competition following three straight bounce-back level fights following his loss to Marcos Maidana, but I’m just not sold that he’s the superstar he was supposed to be. He is talking trash with Amir Khan on social media at the moment, and that fight is at least intriguing.

Molina looks like he’s done after that beating by Matthysse. Don’t think I need to see him in a high-level fight, ever again. Hopefully he enjoys that NBC money and finds another line of work.

Other TIdbits/Thoughts on the Show

  • AL Michaels is all class. He just brings it. Loved him as host and would love to see him as play-by-play
  • Marv Albert was very rust as the play-by-play man, but he has a legendary voice. Give us a good, back and forth fight, and get him some reps, and we can hope for some legendary calls
  • One limitation on network TV is that they’ll never be able to show us the corner men talking to their fighters–way too much foul language going on there. That is sorely missed and very noticed, but otherwise the fight production was good
  • Thumbs down to having fighters walk in by themselves with no entourage with Hans Zimmer music playing. Walkouts are a time-honored tradition and a good glance at a fighter’s personality. With this kind of thing, we miss things like Tyson Fury singing himself to the ring last weekend, or anything Prince Naseem did. The no in-ring announcer in favor of a disembodied voice was a miss too
  • Interested in seeing how this moves forward, and if the ratings continue to stay high. There weren’t a lot of advertisers during this first show–if they can’t draw sponsorship, this won’t last long. Here’s hoping it works, however you feel about Al Haymon and his growing empire.

Book Review: Rebecca

These are reviews/thoughts/musings of books read recently. All books rated on a scale of 1-5. Today’s review is on Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 freaking masterpiece ‘Rebecca’.  

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

I’ve written before about my experience with theater company Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More, an insane take on Macbeth’ where you don a mask and spend three hours wandering the dark halls of an abandoned ‘hotel’ in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood as crazy things happen around you. One day I’ll write a full article about my experiences there (I’ve been, embarrassingly, three times), but one of the charms of the show is that at any point, one of the actors is liable to take you by the hand and lead you to a one-on-one, insane experience for you and you alone.

The first two times I saw the show, I didn’t have this happen to me. But the most recent time I went, I got grabbed by a young nurse character, who took me to the hidden sixth floor and proceeded to blow my mind. I won’t spoil it here, but I will say there was a lot of whispering in my ear about Manderley, moonlight playing odd tricks upon the fancy and how we can never go back to Manderley again.

This experience had a profound effect on me–I knew the bar that serves as the starting point to the show was called The Manderley (and it’s one of the coolest bars in NYC–if you haven’t yet, GO), but I didn’t know that the show was built around a Gothic novel written in the 30s just as much as it is built on ‘Macbeth’. I immediately became fascinated by this and had to take the time to read the book in question and learn more about what I had just seen.

Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, the book in question, is dark, creepy, engaging and awesome. Besides the fact that the main character was a girl, I was surprised to find that it was considered by some a ‘chick book’–this allegation is sexist, unfair and untrue. The book is seriously creepy, a mysterious and hard-hitting thriller that whispers sweet nothings to you from the shadows as you find yourself lost in Manderley.

Rebecca, follows an unnamed narrator who just underwent a shotgun wedding to a brooding and mysterious man named Max de Winter and followed him to his British estate of Manderley, complete with servants, secrets and mystique. The estate itself serves as one of the central characters of the book, and is perhaps the reason why it has endured to the point where 80 years later it has its own Wikipedia page and it’s own lore.

Our narrator is de Winter’s second wife, as his first wife–Rebecca–has passed away less than a year ago under mysterious circumstances. The feeling of dread and foreboding du Maurier crafts throughout the novel never leaves you, as you always feel like something is hiding in the shadows of Manderley.

The incredible skill of du Maurier to make the deceased Rebecca a central character in the book without one single line of dialogue–I repeat, she is dead throughout the entire book–is a device that I haven’t really seen done in any other books, at least not this effectively. It is a stunning piece of craftsmanship and writing.

This is not a love story, or a romance novel. There is very little actual romance in the book–the fact that this book was marketed as such is an abject tragedy. This is a dark story, one of unhappiness, anger and deep-rooted pain. This is a story that’s going to stick in your mind, in your subconscious. I’m a jaded reader, and sometimes hard to please. This book had a profound effect on me.

When the actress at Sleep No More, who I now understand to be the unnamed narrator of Rebecca, whispered in my ear that “we can never go back to Manderley again”, she was right. After taking one journey through Manderley, it can never be the same.

Rating: *****

Fighting Words: Aging Bull

Bernard Hopkins is an absolute freak of a man. At 49 years old, Hopkins is a living boxing legend. As opposed to most 49 year olds, Hopkins woke up on November 8 holding two light heavyweight title belts with a legit argument as the best light heavyweight in the world today.

“It’s ridiculous for him to be able to take a punch at this age,” said Hopkins’ trainer Naazim Richardson on HBO’s 24/7 show. “You go hit the average man at 49 in the face with a punch, you see how they react to it. They’d probably carry that punch the rest of their life.”

That said, while Hopkins may have garnered enough respect by staying in world-class shape right up to AARP eligibility, Father Time has an undefeated record. So does Sergey  ‘Krusher’ Kovalev, a Russian destroyer who has burst onto the scene in the last couple of years as a knockout machine with wild power and a merciless disposition. Hopkins deserves credit for daring to step in the ring with Kovalev–something lineal light heavyweight champ Adonis Stevenson seems reluctant to do–and it’s a testament to BHop’s legacy that the fight on Saturday night began as a 50-50 pick ’em. Unfortunately for Hopkins, on Saturday night, time–as it is wont to do–caught up.

Fight Recap: Sergey Kovalev UD12 Bernard Hopkins

Sometime the Wolf score: Kovalev 119 – 108 Hopkins

Let’s make this clear: Bernard Hopkins (55-7-2, 32 KO) being 49 years old doesn’t take a single thing away from the performance Sergey Kovalev (26-0-1, 23 KO) put on today in Atlantic City. Kovalev had never been past eight rounds in a fight before, and early on it seemed Hopkins’ strategy was to let Kovalev wear himself out and take over late. It was pretty common thought in the boxing community that if Kovalev didn’t get an early knockout, Hopkins would find a way to win a decision. This was never the case, as Kovalev’s smart, measured attack, expertly cutting off the ring and legitimate power put Hopkins in a turtle shell he was never able to come out of, from the first round on.

Kovalev got Hopkins down on a flash knockdown in the first round, which didn’t seriously hurt Hopkins but put him in a two point hole to start the fight. After that, Kovalev stalked Hopkins around the ring, landing sharp jabs and the occasional overhand shot to the backpedaling veteran. Hopkins’ awkward, lunge-in-punch-and-grab wasn’t working, as every time Hopkins jumped inside there was Kovalev’s fist waiting to meet him. The fight, steadily one-sided as it was, was never boring, as you were always waiting for Hopkins to pull something out of his hat, and he did have his moments. A couple of sharp punches landed that seemed to annoy and affect Kovalev, but Hopkins was never able to put combinations together effectively. In the middle of the fight, Kovalev landed a bomb of a right hand that would have put most other boxers down and out, but though Hopkins’ knees touched as he almost went down hard, his granite chin and alien conditioning somehow kept him upright.

Hopkins somehow stayed on his feet here

Hopkins, unable to pull the trigger in the 12th round, showed his pride to end the fight and went out on his shield. After sticking his tongue out at his tormentor and smiling, Hopkins received an all-out assault from Kovalev, who went for the final round finish and began landing flush, painful looking shots that saw Hopkins resemble a blowup clown that bounces back from a child’s punches. If that assault had happened in any round previously, this fight would have been stopped–but the referee chose to let the fight play itself out and let Hopkins end his miraculous run standing on two feet.

Bernard Hopkins has nothing to be ashamed of. He’s an all time great that met a fearsome beast of a fighter in his prime and stayed upright for 12 rounds. Though I can’t say I’ll miss him–Hopkins has been in some ugly, atrocious fights throughout his career–I do not think we will see anything like him again. And Kovalev is a worthy champion. This was not an undeserved beating of a washed up shadow of a great fighter. This was a legit win, and Kovalev now has the name on his resume to put him safely amongst the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world, and certainly the most accomplished fighter in the light heavyweight division.

The king is dead. Long live the king.

                                   Sergey Kovalev

***

Fight Recap: Sadam Ali TKO9 Luis Carlos Abregu

On HBO’s undercard, Brooklyn’s Sadam Ali (21-0, 13 KO) registered an impressive win over the typically tough and hard-hitting Luis Carlos Abregu of Argentina (36-2, 29 KO), a fighter who only had one previous loss, and that was to Tim Bradley, one of the top fighters in the world. It was a statement victory for Ali, who looked slick, fast and accurate, with solid pop, as he continually caught Abregu coming in with right hands and legitimately hurt him in the 6th and 9th rounds, when he finally secured a somewhat surprising TKO stoppage win.

Look, I’m not going to mince words here: Abregu looked like shit. He looked slow the whole fight, unsure and sluggish, unable to land much of significance and frankly looked like he spent the whole fight guessing. The bout got off to a dreadful start–the first five rounds were getting deservedly booed by the Atlantaic City crowd–but once Ali caught Abregu and realized he could hurt him, the last few rounds picked. It will be really interesting to see where Ali goes from here, and whether Abregu looking bad was a product of Ali fighting well or of Abregu just not being as good as advertised. For now, Ali looks like a rising name in the division. Time will tell.

***

This was a solid, if ultimately unspectacular, night of boxing for HBO, but Hopkins-Kovalev was an important fight in a year where important fights haven’t really been delivered. I haven’t been writing much about boxing lately, and that’s in large part due to the dearth of interesting fights we’ve been offered. I’ve been watching them, because there is something clearly wrong with me, but I haven’t been inspired to write about them. We have a couple intriguing fights on the schedule to close out the year (though I am having trouble mustering much enthusiasm for Pacquiao-Algieri, I have to admit), but here’s hoping 2015 offers boxing fans a little more than 2014 did.

Book Review: All the Pretty Horses

These are reviews/thoughts/musings of books that I have read recently. All books rated on a scale of 1-5. Today’s review is on the first book in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, 1992’s ‘All the Pretty Horses’. 

Let’s get this out of the way right here: I am a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy’s work. I think his prose is poetry, Blood Meridian is my all-time favorite book and I named my blog after a line in that novel. I have made it a goal to read all of his works within the next few years  (check out my review of Child of God here). This will be a partisan review.

All the Pretty Horses, the first book in McCarthy’s 90s ‘Border Trilogy’, is lighter fare for Cormac, and more easily digested than his other, more starkly violent work. Before we go any further this needs to be said: All the Pretty Horses is a horrendous title. It sounds like it’ll be a romance novel, it is soft, really has nothing to do with the ensuing story, is not reflective of Cormac’s writing or style whatsoever and feels like an editor tacked it on to help book sales. Other than that though, pretty solid title.

All the Pretty Horses is a more traditional, linear story than Cormac is used to telling–we have a clear hero (a teenager named John Grady) leaving behind an empty existence in his small Texas town with his best friend Rawlins with nothing but some food and their horses to try out life in Mexico. John Grady is a traditional hero, who is moral to a fault, loyal to his friends and principles, a leader with an incredible skill — Rawlins calls him the ‘best he’s ever seen’ with horses and the reader grows to believe he is a horse whisperer of sorts even among the cowboys of the plain.  He is a man without a country and it is through his eyes that we experience this adventure.

Along the way, the boys meet a disturbed and interesting fellow traveler, live a nomadic lifestyle, and find work on a ranch. John Grady falls in love with the ranch owner’s daughter, gets thrown into prison. As per McCarthy, there is violence, loss and darkness throughout their road, but not quite as penetrating as his typical offerings. As a result, this turns into an enjoyable, if underwhelming, novel.

It’s like a great underground band releasing a pop song more palatable for the masses–maybe your mother could get through this one where she couldn’t Blood Meridian. As a McCarthy fan, you enjoy it and recognize it as good, but it doesn’t have the powerful effect and lasting impact on you that works like The Road or even Child of God have–it feels, somehow, safe.

That said–this is still Cormac McCarthy. There is his trademark minimal punctuation (no quotation marks) and it the Cormac syntax and style. There is a lot of Spanish being spoken in the novel–none of it translated for ease of the reader. You are expected to keep up on your own, and it is to Cormac’s credit that he stays true to himself here.

It also has moments of absolutely stunning prose, which is his ace in the hole and consistently impresses. You are reading a master of his craft. Sometimes, during long descriptive passages, I found myself reading out loud just to hear the gorgeous written language of Cormac spoken. Check out the writing in this section, after John Grady wakes up in a prison hospital bed after a violent encounter with another inmate:

“He slept and when he woke he’d dreamt of the dead standing about in their bones and the dark sockets of their eyes that were indeed without speculation bottomed in the void wherein lay a terrible intelligence common to all but of which none would speak. When he woke he knew that men had died in that room.”

I mean, goddamn! That darkness, and the sheer masculine poetry of Cormac’s words (God that sounds pretentious) are unrivaled by almost any other American writer and is the reason even a ‘safe’ Cormac book like this one is head and shoulders above most other books.

Rating: ****

Music: Lil Dicky and the Enigma of the Funny Rapper

After talking about the kick-ass blues and spitfire talent a few weeks ago of NYC trio People Vs Larsen, I’m feeling the need today to shine my tiny little insignificant spotlight on another criminally under appreciated musician, Philadelphia rapper Lil Dicky.

Lil Dicky is a white 20-something Jewish rapper with a corny head of hair who likes to rap about masturbating, the size of his mediocre penis and being a white Jewish rapper with corny hair (“chest hair poking out of my shirt looking like taco meat”). He is also the best new lyricist in the rap game and packs a sneaky amount of talent behind his comic rhymes.

He’s established a cult following via his YouTube videos–and it’s easy to watch his music videos for “Too High” and “Ex Boyfriend” and dismiss him as a Jon Lajoie-style flash in the pan rapper-comedian, but that really doesn’t do the man justice. His 2012 mixtape, So  Hard, doesn’t have a single miss among its seventeen tracks, and I highly doubt that you’ve ever heard a song where a man has a back-and-forth dialogue with his penis (“Attached at the Hip“). It’s like Stan, with Lil Dicky’s penis as Dido. It’s funny, it’s clever, but it’s also unquestionably a good song and written by a man with unquestionable talent for rhyming.

Last year, Lil Dicky started taking things a little more seriously to show his chops as a legit rapper, and one of the resulting tracks — “Russell Westbrook on a Farm“–is hot fire, a song about how he discovered his own talent for rapping and a song in which he uses a completely absurd metaphor with such skill and precision that I’m having a lot of trouble trying to think of a single other rapper that could have pulled it off. Just listen to it, come back and tell me this kid wasn’t born for this.

I can’t imagine how difficult it must be avoid being pigeonholed as a clown, and to deftly manage to blend comedic rapping and this porn-obsessed Lil Dicky persona with legitimate respect as a real artist. Lil Dicky should never abandon what put him on the scene–he is really, really funny–but it would be a shame to box him into the ‘comic rapper’ corner and leave him there.

His songs are usually about normal guy things that make him feel like a real person, whether he’s watching way too much porn or going out to clubs and having a terrible time: “Bout to quit but I’m bitter I paid that cover, have to stay in this stupid club a bit longer, and I’m sweating like a Jew in a multicultural sauna, they’ve been playing fucking dubstep for ten consecutive songs. Then I bumped into a guy, he was roughly 6 foot 5, pretty sure it was his fault but I apologized.”

The thing is, despite the hilarity, he’s not Weird Al. Can a rapper be both hilarious and well-respected? In a genre of music as ridiculously self-serious as hip hop–where Eminem is viewed as a ‘funny’ rapper–is there room for Lil Dicky to get the respect he deserves?

I think he will, as his cult following appears to be starting to pay off. Last week Lil Dicky released his first ‘official’ single, “Lemme Freak“. The song is really Dicky–it’s a great song, catchy in and of itself, and unquestionably hilarious (“Look,” an exasperated Dicky says midsong when denied sex from his girlfriend. “I just turned off The Departed for a movie about a bee. I’ve been cutting back on farting, Tweeting, arguing and weed. Yesterday I wore a cardigan.”). It’s his wordplay that again makes this song–the song itself is funnier than the music video, and that’s because, even while sophomoric, it’s so well written and performed that his true talent shines through.

I just copped some tickets to see him live when he’s in New York, and I’m curious as to what the experience will be–will it be like a standup act? A real concert? Will it be filled with fifteen year olds trying to smoke their first joint and failing to properly roll one in the crowd, or will there be real hip hop heads there with an appreciation for Dicky and what he’s trying to do?

Who knows, man. Regardless where he ends up, I’ll be there, beer in hand, seeing a great rapper ascend and rooting for the kid to make it. Guess you could call me a Dickhead.