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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Superfly 2 Should Get Over 


by Eddie Goldman

So far it has been a pretty crappy year for the boxing that has been televised on American TV.

The highest rated show in this young year was headlined by the Devon Alexander-Victor Ortiz PBC (Premier Boxing Champions) fight on February 17 and shown in the U.S. on Fox. It averaged, according to the Nielsen ratings, 1.36 million viewers, but ended in a majority draw according to the Texas judges, when almost everyone else had Alexander clearly winning. It was the kind of robbery that used to get people strung up in that state. It also was a lead-in to the PBC on Showtime card featuring Danny Garcia against Brandon Rios, which quite predictably ended with a Garcia stoppage victory. So now PBC is putting its hors d'oeuvres on free broadcast television and saving the bigger names for the premium network Showtime, perhaps signaling it is almost ready to throw in the towel on its business model of time buys in hopes of getting a big TV rights deal from a broadcast network. And the Alexander-Ortiz verdict reminded a broad audience that boxing was and is run by thieves, fools, and scoundrels.

Supposedly coming to boxing's rescue caused by the various failed strategy of keeping the best boxing on pay-per-view and premium networks, was Top Rank, who last year signed a multi-year deal with ESPN to put its shows on that basic cable network. It got off to a big splash, with impressive audiences watching Manny Pacquiao be upset by Jeff Horn, and Vasyl Lomachenko dominate the much smaller Guillermo Rigondeaux. But it didn't take long for the bait-and-switch, as it was back to purposeful mismatches (to borrow John Perretti's phrase) like the February 3 Gilberto Ramirez-Habib Ahmed fight, or meaningless second-tier fights like the February 16 Ray Beltran-Paulus Moses card.

Ramirez-Ahmed averaged 741,000 viewers and Beltran-Moses 703,000, numbers that are akin to the old, cancelled Friday Night Fight series on ESPN2.

But wait, we are told, there's more! Top Rank is planning a lot of top-level fights, such as Terence Crawford reportedly getting ready for a title shot after moving up to welterweight, against WBO champ Jeff Horn. And this card may also see the return of Pacquiao.

However, after the Top Rank suits breathlessly sermonized last year that they no longer were drinking the "Kool-Aid" of pay-per-view and premium cable, guess what the plan is for Crawford-Horn? ESPN pay-per-view, instead of HBO. Looks like they merely changed the flavor of their Kool-Aid.

But wait, there's more! A key part of the ESPN-Top Rank deal is for fights to be shown on ESPN's new standalone streaming service, ESPN Plus, that is supposed to launch soon this year. That will reportedly cost users $4.99 per month, on top of everything else like cable, pay-per-views, etc. So again, we are back to much of their best boxing being on a premium service, this time the difference being it is streaming-only. I wonder what flavor of Kool-Aid that one is.

On top of this, the dotards, dinosaurs, and oligarchs running American boxing and the networks which show it passed on making available, in any format, the competitive and compelling fights of the World Boxing Super Series. The cruiserweight semifinals, which were both title unification bouts involving unbeaten fighters, between Oleksandr Usyk and Mairis Briedis on January 27 and Murat Gassiev and Yunier Dorticos on February 3, are the two leading candidates for 2018 Fight of the Year thus far. But in the U.S., you had to hunt for a working stream on the World Boxing Super Series YouTube or Facebook pages to see these battles. And what was left on American TV was much closer to Kool-Aid.

Before the two major heavyweight fights in March, between Deontay Wilder and Luis "King Kong" Ortiz, and Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker, there just might be one show to look forward to savoring this year. And that will take place on, of all places, that sick and sinking network for boxing, HBO: Superfly 2, at The Forum in Inglewood, California, on February 24.

HBO has been running what amounts to an informal tournament in the talent-rich 115-pound super flyweight division. Last March 8, on the Golovkin-Jacobs pay-per-view, they featured Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez, then sitting atop most pound-for-pound lists, against the lesser-known Srisaket Sor Rungvisai AKA Wisaksil Wangek. Chocolatito went into that fight with a record of 46-0 and was a heavy favorite. Rungvisai had won his last 15 fights since losing a 2014 title fight to Carlos Cuadras, but against mostly overmatched opposition, including three fighters making their pro debuts in his fights immediately before facing Chocolatito.

As many recall, Rungvisai dropped Chocolatito in the first round (as the announcers were yapping away about something else), en route to a close, majority decision victory, to claim the WBC super flyweight belt. Both because this decision was somewhat controversial and very unexpected, a rematch was set, which took place on the first HBO Superfly card, on September 9, 2017. This time there was no doubt, as Rungvisai dominated Chocolatito and scored a fourth-round knockout.

Once again, instead of celebrating the unheralded Rungvisai as a fighter of the year candidate and a new star, HBO's talking heads presented this like they were reporting on a funeral, since the fighter they had hoped would win, Chocolatito, had been vanquished so thoroughly.

That first Superfly card also featured two other important super flyweight fights. Juan Francisco Estrada won a close, methodical unanimous decision over Carlos Cuadras, and perhaps the best fighter in that division, the unbeaten Naoya Inoue, stopped Antonio Nieves in six to retain his WBO super flyweight belt. Of course, HBO's gringo announcers again almost ruined everything by talking of "Carlos Estrada". But the show did fairly well in the ratings, by today's standards anyway, and especially for a card featuring fighters in the lighter weights, with the main event averaging 796,000 viewers.

Although Inoue is not on this card, two of the winners from the first Superfly show will face off in the Superfly 2 main event, when the 31-year-old Srisaket Sor Rungvisai tries to defend his WBC belt against the 27-year-old Juan Francisco Estrada.

Besides their most recent fights, there is an interesting backstory to this match. Rungvisai has a record of 44-4-1 with 40 KOs, but three of those four defeats, and the one draw, came in his first five pro fights. As he explained on this week's media conference call and elsewhere, he had been a Muay Thai fighter in his home of Thailand, but had to work as a sanitation worker and a security guard at the same time to stay afloat financially. In Muay Thai, you can punch like in boxing, but you can also use kicks and knees, and clinch to some degree, all of which of course is not allowed in boxing. In 2009, he was given a chance to box professionally, but with virtually no training in the techniques, footwork, and movement of boxing. Since he badly needed the income, he took the bouts, and promptly was knocked out in his first two tries.

Since then, he has won everything, except that 2014 fight with Cuadras, which ended in a technical decision loss for Rungvisai after a head butt to Cuadras made him unable to continue. Cuadras, who was leading on all scorecards at the time of the stoppage, thus won the WBC belt from Rungvisai. Cuadras held that belt until losing a decision to Chocolatito in September 2016, who dropped it back to Rungvisai in their first fight. So on this end, Rungvisai has landed in the top tier of the division. Cuadras will also be on this card, facing the 16-3 McWilliams Arroyo, who has lost two of this last three fights.

For Estrada, who lives in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, this is his chance to show that, with perhaps the exception of Inoue, he is the best in the division. His key loss was a unanimous decision to Chocolatito in November 2012. For that fight, the then-22-year-old Estrada, who had been fighting mostly at super flyweight, dropped down to light flyweight for the chance to defeat Chocolatito, then 33-0. It didn't work out, but since then Estrada has beaten a roster of top opponents, including Cuadras, Giovani Segura, and Brian Viloria.

This should be a genuinely competitive fight, with both boxers confident of victory. They were each on a media conference call this week, and discussed what they believe to be their advantages in this fight.

Rungvisai said, through a translator, that his surprise victory over Chocolatito was the result of "nothing super special." After he lost his title against Cuadras, he had to "wait three years to earn the title shot again" and made sure he did everything to prepare completely when the opportunity came against Chocolatito. He vowed not to let the title slip from him and "capitalized on that opportunity" to get where he is now.

Since that fight with Cuadras, Rungvisai said he was now faster, stronger, and more experienced. He said he now overall has became a better fighter and "learned from the past." As for advantages in this fight, he said he is very confident that his punching power "is better than Estrada."

In his remarks, Estrada, keeping to the respectful and professional tone of the build-up to this fight, did not think it was that important that Rungvisai was not well-known before facing Chocolatito.

"Srisaket maybe wasn't very known before he fought Chocolatito, but if you look at his record, he has a lot of fights. He's definitely been establishing a long record. Maybe he was unknown because he hadn't fought a lot of big names, and so when he fought Chocolatito Gonzalez and was able to destroy him the way he was, maybe it made him look like a monster because he knocked out Chocolatito.

"But if you look at my record, I've fought everybody," Estrada said, also through a translator. "So I also have the experience. Maybe people are very impressed because of the way he dispatched Chocolatito, but then we also got to take into account that Chocolatito was coming all the way up from light flyweight, flyweight, super flyweight. So maybe one of the factors was also that Chocolatito wasn't 100 percent anymore at that weight."

Asked about his advantages, Estrada gave a thoughtful answer:

"The one thing I see as an advantage, maybe not only in this fight but I think my fights in general, I think my style could be complicated for my opponents to adapt to it, to the timing, to the movement. Maybe it can be considered a traditional style because my technique is very traditional. But maybe it's also a technique that they don't find on a regular basis, and when they fight me, they have a hard time adapting to it. So I think I'm going to use the same type of fight plan and skills that I always do, which I think can be an advantage in the fight."

As to a prediction for this fight, "You never really know what's going to happen, and I don't like to make predictions," he said. "But if I had to, I think I see myself winning a decision, or maybe even being able to stop him in the last round."

This fight could come down to the punching power of Rungvisai vs. the classical Mexican boxer-puncher style of Estrada. And that might just make Superfly 2 a super show.

It seems unlikely, however, that Superfly 2 will be a ratings blockbuster. Not only does it suffer from the prejudices of big American fans against small fighters, but these days new methods are needed to create buzz for boxing in an overcrowded sports environment. That means loosening up boxing's almost paranoid penchant for controlling and sanitizing all flows of information, which we expect to happen around the same time that Trump is named King of Wakanda.

But watch it you should, and pay close attention as you observe. These are some of the best boxers on the planet, with the victor hopefully facing Naoya Inoue before too long. And the winner of that will surely be the man of the hour who has an air of great power.


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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

No Holds Barred: Deontay Wilder-Luis Ortiz Hot Conference Call  



On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman presents the complete and unedited audio from Tuesday's wild media conference call between unbeaten heavyweights Deontay Wilder and Luis "King Kong" Ortiz. The WBC champ Wilder, 39-0 with 38 KOs, and the challenger Ortiz, 28-0 with 24 KOs, will fight March 3 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, in a fight which will be televised live in the U.S. on Showtime and in the U.K. on Sky Sports.

As it progressed, or maybe regressed, the conference call got quite heated when Wilder started interrupting Ortiz's manager, Jay Jimenez, who was translating for Ortiz. We will have more analysis of this fight to come, but for now, here are these opening verbal shots in this fight.

(Photo of Wilder and Ortiz by Douglas DeFelice, Premier Boxing Champions.)

You can play or download No Holds Barred here and here. If one link does not work, please try another.

No Holds Barred is available at Google Play Music.

Also, No Holds Barred is available through iTunes.

You can also listen to No Holds Barred via Stitcher through iOS or Android devices or on the web here.

The PodOmatic Podcast Player app is available for free, both for Android at Google Play, and for iOS on the App Store.

The No Holds Barred theme song is called "The Heist", which is also available on iTunes by composer Ian Snow.

No Holds Barred is sponsored by:

The Catch Wrestling Alliance, resurrecting and promoting the sport of authentic catch-as-catch-can wrestling. The Catch Wrestling Alliance provides tournaments, seminars, and training as well as education about catch wrestling. Join the movement and keep real wrestling alive. For more information, go to CatchWrestlingAlliance.com.

Skullz Double-End Bags, the perfect bag for your combat sports training. Skullz Double-End Bags provide a realistic striking target, and help improve timing, distance, and hand and eye coordination. Hang it and hit it right out of the box! No pump required. For more information, go to SkullzDeBags.com.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

No Holds Barred: Qin Yunquan on the Necessity of Self-Defense for Women 


On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman once again spoke with martial artist and catch wrestler Qin Yunquan, who is the CEO, co-founder, and chief instructor for women's and children's self-defense at the Kapap Academy Singapore.

We spoke with her by Skype Wednesday.

While providing training in martial arts and combat sports, including catch wrestling, she has gotten both national and international recognition for her work teaching self-defense classes to women and girls.

"Self-defense has always been my pet project, and I always love talking about it, just simply to increase the level of awareness, and to address some of the misconceptions that people have in relating to self-defense," she said.

"And I really just hope that, given how the world is going and it seems to be trouble brewing on the site, I think it's really important that people don't see self-defense as a recreation activity, as something that they want.

"I really think they need to see it as a necessity.

"And I'm doing my best to help people see that. But really, I think each person has to be responsible for their own personal safety, and you learn something or two.

"Hopefully we never have to use it, but I think we'll be pretty glad that we know these skills when we have to."

We discussed how her work, in particular her instruction in self-defense for women, helped earn her a spot as a finalist for the 2017 Singaporean of the Year Award; how she plans to expand her work regionally and internationally; how self-defense differs from martial arts in that you must first try not to engage the other person, use psychology, and just get out; how the majority of her students are brand-new to any self-defense or martial arts training; how the #MeToo movement has influenced people in Singapore, although it is not as strong as it is in the U.S.; the importance of the case of convicted serial sexual predator Larry Nassar, former doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University; why she plans to bring this self-defense instruction to India; the potential for catch wrestling in India; the growth of the grappling community in Singapore; why she is taking a break from competition now; and much, much more.

You can play or download No Holds Barred here and here. If one link does not work, please try another.

No Holds Barred is available at Google Play Music.

Also, No Holds Barred is available through iTunes.

You can also listen to No Holds Barred via Stitcher through iOS or Android devices or on the web here.

The PodOmatic Podcast Player app is available for free, both for Android at Google Play, and for iOS on the App Store.

The No Holds Barred theme song is called "The Heist", which is also available on iTunes by composer Ian Snow.

No Holds Barred is sponsored by:

The Catch Wrestling Alliance, resurrecting and promoting the sport of authentic catch-as-catch-can wrestling. The Catch Wrestling Alliance provides tournaments, seminars, and training as well as education about catch wrestling. Join the movement and keep real wrestling alive. For more information, go to CatchWrestlingAlliance.com.

Skullz Double-End Bags, the perfect bag for your combat sports training. Skullz Double-End Bags provide a realistic striking target, and help improve timing, distance, and hand and eye coordination. Hang it and hit it right out of the box! No pump required. For more information, go to SkullzDeBags.com.

Trans Boxing, organizing boxing training for transgender and gender non-conforming people, for fitness and self-defense. For more information, go to TransBoxing.org.

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Saturday, February 03, 2018

No Holds Barred: Malaak Shabazz on Malcolm X, Black History, and Martial Arts 


On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman once again spoke with human right activist Malaak Shabazz, who is the youngest daughter of Malcolm X.

With February being designated Black History Month, she has been traveling to many events which have provided information and analysis on the life and times of her father.

She has just returned home to New York from Washington, D.C., from the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, where there was a screening of the new documentary "The Lost Tapes: Malcolm X".

This documentary will begin airing on TV February 26 on the Smithsonian Channel.

Next up is Los Angeles for the Pan African Film Festival, where on February 9 there will be the first of three screenings of the documentary film "Malcolm X: An Overwhelming Influence on the Black Power Movement".

This highly acclaimed film, directed by Thomas Muhammad, had its public debut in December at the the African Diaspora International Film Festival in New York. It features original interviews with veterans of the civil rights and Black liberation movements of the 1960s who discuss Malcolm X's influence and participation in these struggles in the South at that time.

Then it is back to D.C. for two performances on February 22 of A. Peter Bailey's play "Malcolm, Martin, Medgar".

She is the narrator of this imaginary and contemporary encounter between Malcolm X and civil rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers. A. Peter Bailey was one of the closest associates of Malcolm X at the time of Malcolm's passing in 1965.

We spoke with her by phone Friday.

"Most people," she said of her father, "just think he was just here in New York or Brooklyn, when he was all over the United States, as well as London, France, Africa.

"So, I was raised as a global child. He was an advocate for the African diaspora on a global level.

"And I think these two films, and many others that are going to be coming out, will show that he was an advocate for the African diaspora."

Documenting and disseminating accurate information on this history is especially essential in today's era of Trumpism with its open promotion of racism and white supremacy.

One area of that history, however, that has not yet been particularly thoroughly well-documented is Malcolm X's role and influence in the martial arts. His autobiography goes into detail about the importance he attached to training in the martial arts. After his passing, his widow, Dr. Betty Shabazz, made sure that all of their six daughters had some training in different forms of martial arts. We thus discussed the need for some type of media project documenting Malcolm X's influence in the martial arts in depth.

We also discussed Malcolm X's emphasis on reading and education, the key contributions of Dr. Betty Shabazz, the setting up of the Shabazz Center in New York on the site of the old Audubon Ballroom, how there will also be more events for Black History Month in which Malaak Shabazz will participate which will be announced shortly, and much, much more.

(Photo of Malaak Shabazz, Thomas Muhammad, Qubilah Shabazz, and A. Peter Bailey at African Diaspora International Film Festival in New York, by Eddie Goldman.)

You can play or download No Holds Barred here and here. If one link does not work, please try another.

No Holds Barred is available at Google Play Music.

Also, No Holds Barred is available through iTunes.

You can also listen to No Holds Barred via Stitcher through iOS or Android devices or on the web here.

The PodOmatic Podcast Player app is available for free, both for Android at Google Play, and for iOS on the App Store.

The No Holds Barred theme song is called "The Heist", which is also available on iTunes by composer Ian Snow.

No Holds Barred is sponsored by:

The Catch Wrestling Alliance, resurrecting and promoting the sport of authentic catch-as-catch-can wrestling. The Catch Wrestling Alliance provides tournaments, seminars, and training as well as education about catch wrestling. Join the movement and keep real wrestling alive. For more information, go to CatchWrestlingAlliance.com.

Skullz Double-End Bags, the perfect bag for your combat sports training. Skullz Double-End Bags provide a realistic striking target, and help improve timing, distance, and hand and eye coordination. Hang it and hit it right out of the box! No pump required. For more information, go to SkullzDeBags.com.

Trans Boxing, organizing boxing training for transgender and gender non-conforming people, for fitness and self-defense. For more information, go to TransBoxing.org.

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