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Eddie Goldman is the host and producer of the No Holds Barred international podcast and the publisher of the No Holds Barred blog.

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Sunday, July 01, 2018

2018 1/2 #Boxing 


2018 1/2 #Boxing
by Eddie Goldman

While 2018 is about half done, I do not wish to present a complete and rather boring recap of everything that has happened in boxing. Rather, a more conceptual analysis of what has been emerging from the great disorder and chaos in the world of boxing is more useful and illuminating. I will thus leave an examination of most of the numbers to others.

What we saw on the latest edition of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN series Saturday night, July 1, was a microcosm of why boxing, even as it celebrates somewhat of a revival, remains a niche sport, especially in the U.S.

The main event saw 27-year-old unbeaten WBO super middleweight champ Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez of Mexico face 34-year-old previously unbeaten and previously little-known Alexis Angulo of Colombia. This fight took place at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.

Ramirez is a darling of both Top Rank and ESPN, one they hope will become a major star. But as usual, they are trying to provide shortcuts, and thus detours, on that road to stardom.

Ramirez’s hand-picked opponent for this fight was actually ranked number eight by the WBO before this fight, despite his impressive sounding record, That record included no one of note in his eight years of professional boxing, which has taken him around the world, and no one who would qualify in any independent top ten ranking. Before the fight, even former fighter and now ESPN announcer Timothy Bradley said Angulo didn’t belong in the same ring as Ramirez.

Ramirez’s unbeaten record is also suspect. He has beaten some good fighters, including a faded Arthur Abraham in 2016, but again has beaten no one who would put him among the elite of his division. It is a wide open division, with many of the best in the world fighting in the World Boxing Super Series’ 168-pound tournament, but Top Rank shuns such direct competition in real life like vampires shun crosses in fiction. None of this, however, prevented Fan Rafael of Top Rank, er, I mean ESPN, from ranking Ramirez number one in the division.

Then the fight started, and mirabile dictu, it was not a mismatch. The older and slower Angulo was repeatedly able to land effective right hands on the taller southpaw Ramirez, although far from enough to capture enough rounds to win the fight. Ramirez was faster and more active, and after a while began to establish proper range to control the action. Still, as entertainment it was mostly a dull affair with few dramatic moments, and even fewer reasons to look forward to seeing the eminently hittable Ramirez fight again.

The results then came in, and even though Ramirez deserved to win, the scores were laughable, as two judges gave 11 of the 12 rounds to Ramirez and one gave him a shutout win. But what did we expect on a Top Rank card in Oklahoma, yesterday or today?

On top of that, when the decision was announced, ESPN, the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports, posted the wrong graphic, listing the winner as Alex Saucedo.

This card will mostly be remembered for that opening televised bout with local favorite Saucedo, which ended up being a bloody, Gatti-Ward-like brawl against Lenny Zappavigna in the 140-pound division. After multiple cuts to both guys’ bloodied faces, Saucedo recovered from being clobbered earlier to take control. The referee finally stopped the carnage in the 7th round. I think in Oklahoma they only stop fights when rigor mortis sets in.

It was actually the Saucedo-Zappavigna fight that was trending on Twitter in the U.S. during this fight, with only Angulo trending, lower and later, because he performed well above expectations.

And there there was even confusion on some fans’ parts of how to watch this fight in the U.S., since it was on the regular ESPN TV network, but NOT on their new paid app, pompously and inaccurately called ESPN+. ESPN+ subscribers are rudely finding out that it does not include many of the popular telecasts shown on ESPN TV on old-fashioned cable or satellite TV. Top Rank even went on Twitter to berate a fan who couldn’t find it on that app, and was essentially told to look on the other app. That’s why I call it ESPN-. Got it? Tweet me if you do.

ESPN, of course, was one of the many networks which refused to air the World Boxing Super Series in the U.S., preferring to weave its own legend about what is happening in that division with fights like these. It does little to aid Ramirez, since undoubtedly he would be competitive against top fighters like Callum Smith and George Groves, who fight in the World Boxing Super Series 168-pound finals, hopefully very soon.

This past week we started getting what was promised to be a steady series of major announcements from the World Boxing Super Series, although the date for the Groves-Smith final, delayed because of an injury to Groves, has yet to be revealed and maybe even decided.

While ESPN’s announcers gleefully dubbed the Saucedo-Zappavigna brawl the fight of the year, in this first half of the year, my top two candidates both came from the cruiserweight semifinals of the World Boxing Super Series, between Oleksandr Usyk and Mairis Briedis, and Murat Gassiev and Yunier Dorticos. And neither of these fights were picked up in the U.S. by the genius suits of ESPN, Showtime, or HBO.

We are also waiting on announcements of how people in the U.S. can legally watch the Usyk-Gassiev cruiserweight final on July 21, and then their season two tournaments in which they are slowly revealing the participants in their bantamweight and super lightweight tournaments, with more fighters and one more weight class yet to be announced. There have been all sorts of rumors and speculation that season two of the World Boxing Super Series will be on the new DAZN streaming service in the U.S., which debuts probably in September, and perhaps in other countries as well where DAZN has been in operation already.

With HBO’s boxing program seemingly on life support, ESPN being an outlet for the Bob Arum/Top Rank league, and Showtime an outlet for the Al Haymon/PBC league, boxing’s recent spurt upwards in popularity seems in jeopardy as fans demand the best face the best, which, as if you didn’t already know, happens in all real sports, to which boxing and other professional combat sports bear little resemblance.

That has opened the door for DAZN to excel rapidly in the still-lucrative American market, by making the world’s top fights easily accessible to U.S. fans.

Already their plans to show 16 top-level cards mainly from the U.K., which will be on Sky Sports there, including pay-per-views on Sky Sports Box Office, along with 16 cards mainly from the U.S., could quickly disrupt the balance of forces in the U.S. boxing business, and possibly vault DAZN into the number one spot, if they get the right fights and don’t screw up the streaming process, especially when they first launch.

At the top of their list seems to be getting unified heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua on DAZN. He now is a free agent with his Showtime contract having ended, although his promoter, Eddie Hearn, who also runs the boxing operations at DAZN, claims that he will throw open bids for Joshua’s next fight to ESPN, HBO, Showtime, and of course DAZN.

But with all the hoopla, Internet rumors, stories planted in the media to writers who act as promoters’ stenographers, and plain disinformation about a proposed unification fight between Joshua and Deontay Wilder, keep a number of things in mind.

It is Wilder who cannot sell out arenas or draw jaw-dropping numbers on TV, and is virtually unknown outside the U.S., who needs Joshua, the world’s most marketable athlete in any sport, and not vice versa. If this fight takes years to make or even never happens, few outside boxing’s extra-hardcore fans and boxing historians will give an Alabama rat’s ass.

Wilder’s only values to Joshua was that Joshua needs Wilder’s WBC belt to be considered the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, and perhaps one day to fight in America as part of a world tour which his team has stated hopes to include Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and beyond.

Joshua’s rise to prominence, and also the coming of DAZN to America, are part of a series of developments where Europe, and mostly the U.K., have become the leading centers of world boxing. The biggest crowds, the biggest TV audiences, and the most popularity for boxing is in Europe, while the American promoters and networks play their hare-brained and short-sighted games. At least in places like the U.K., where the same sort of rubbish takes place, they have given the fans a steady diet of good, top-level fights, more than we see in America.

This is why if there is a Joshua-Wilder fight, it will be in the U.K., where arenas of 80- and 90,000 fans are regularly filled up. Since many expect Joshua easily to dispatch Wilder and knock him out cold, something the aging Luis Ortiz almost did earlier this year but couldn’t accomplish, there may not be much call for a rematch if Wilder is exposed. And if there will be a rematch after a Joshua victory, it then can be in the U.S. after those Americans deluded by Wilder’s bluster and propaganda have their eyes opened. And if it is on DAZN here, it could also establish that service as the number one video source for live boxing in the U.S.

For this year however, there was never going to be any Joshua-Wilder fight anywhere. All this back and forth was pantomime to build up their fight next year. And most of the boxing “media” gleefully fell for it and regurgitated the propaganda.

Joshua does need first to satisfy the fee-hungry WBA by facing his mandatory, Alexander Povetkin of Russia. Being undisputed heavyweight champion of the world does have some meaning to people, and if Joshua can do that, he can then ignore the parade of undeserving mandatory challengers of these sanctioning bodies and then be stripped of some of their belts, at which point no one will care since he will have beaten everyone of note. Lennox Lewis did something similar after unifying all the major belts of his era, and remained respected as THE heavyweight champion of the world until he retired as a fighter.

But Povetkin, who turns 39 in September when this fight will likely take place, will not be an easy opponent for Joshua. Povetkin still has power, as his decimation of David Price in his last fight showed, although Price did rock him in the third round for a knockdown. When Povetkin was supposed to fight Wilder a few years ago, I favored Povetkin. That fight was cancelled after a positive PED test by Povetkin. Of course, Povetkin is older now, but unlike Wilder, Povetkin is a skilled and experienced boxer. However, expect Joshua to knock him out eventually.

Wilder will likely next face his WBC mandatory Dominic Breazeale, who was knocked out by Joshua two years ago, and escaped with a win over mid-40-ish Amir Mansour in his fight before that, where he was knocked down by Mansour, who then did not come out for the sixth round, apparently because of an injury.

In the meantime, a babbling Wilder has been complaining to anyone who will listen about the fight with Joshua not taking place this year. He even has denounced DAZN, a brilliant move since DAZN is offering yet another alternative for fighters to get a payday and is competing with the established U.S. TV networks. Yup, fewer choices is just what boxers need.

Wilder’s disgraceful behavior also includes WWE-style rants, aided by a former fighter for the almost-WWE company UFC, and aired by Showtime. Bringing in a UFC guy to talk about boxing is one more step in the decline of the boxing media, and Showtime’s general coverage has been going to shit since they sanctioned the despicable Mayweather-McGregor circus last year.

Wilder has further disgraced himself by going to the White House to appear with the disgraceful Trump when his pardon of Jack Johnson was announced. While other athletes of conscience have refused to meet with Trump, Wilder stands beside him for photo ops. This Jack Johnson pardon, by the way, may be another scam by Trump, as it was suggested by his buddy and supporter Sylvester Stallone, who a few days later by some miraculous coincidence said he is in the process of doing a film about Jack Johnson. We can expect that, unlike some other rumored video footage of Trump, this ceremony will make it into the film.

Making all this even worse, now Wilder is using his Showtime platform to make the ridiculous demand that a revenue split with Joshua be 50-50. Once again this shows that Wilder really isn’t serious about fighting Joshua now, and prefers his usual diet of Breazeale, Stiverne, and Malik Scott. It is a stupid negotiating ploy because it gives the Joshua camp an easy excuse to fight Povetkin, and then Tyson Fury, or even Dillian Whyte if he beats Joseph Parker on July 28, and make as much or more, while Wilder fights in front of a few thousand in Alabama or Brooklyn, and a relatively small audience on Showtime. There is also no guarantee that Wilder even beats Breazeale, or doesn’t get rocked or hurt by him.

All sorts of supposed experts have flooded the Internet with what think they know happened in the negotiations for Joshua-Wilder because they read what Hearn and Wilder’s manager, Shelly Finkel, publicly said. Unless you heard their conversations and actually saw their correspondence and proposals, you do not, period. Do you believe what happened between Trump and Kim Jong-un simply by reading their official statements and reports? I thought not. Then you won’t be surprised when the Trump Tower Pyongyang opens, or Joshua vs. Wilder is quickly signed for next year.

So get ready for several important top-level fights in the second half of this year. Get ready for the debut of DAZN boxing. And stay ready for more disorder and chaos in the boxing world. We no doubt will find out quickly if all of these are good things, or not.

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