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Dougie’s Monday mailbag

Fighters Network
03
Oct

BOXING DEATHS

Hi Dougie,

Mike Towell’s tragic death this weekend is a real shame. It was also a bit unusual in that it resulted from a relatively quick 5th-round KO. I notice many serious injuries and deaths result from sustained beatings leading to late stoppages, or even decision losses. But then I read a report about him having suffered from headaches prior to the fight, which leads me to ask:

  1. Do you think most incidents like this are the result of pre-existing injuries sustained during sparring or in previous fights? What other training practices might predispose fighters to getting seriously or fatally injured? I understand that your’e not an MD, but as a long-time boxing insider you might have some hunches.
  2. On an unrelated note, I’m amazed at the longevity of fighters today. For instance, GGG is in his mid-30s and still in top form, while boxers from a generation ago (Roy Jones and Ray Leonard both come to mind) seemed burned out at about the same age. We also see top-level performances from fighters nearing 40 (Floyd Mayweather) or even 50 (Hopkins). What training practices can account for this dramatic increase in career longevity?

Appreciate your thoughts on these topics, if I happen to make it to the Mailbag. – Ray



Thanks for sharing your thoughts and questions, Ray. I wish we didn’t have to talk about a ring fatality but it’s an issue that is sadly an inevitable part of professional boxing and one that needs to be addressed in terms of preventive methods/measures.

I don’t know if you were referring to Tom Gray’s commentary piece on Towell’s death, but if you haven’t read it, you should.

Do you think most incidents like this are the result of pre-existing injuries sustained during sparring or in previous fights? Yes, I do. Occasionally, it’s the result of dramatic/rapid weight loss, which can negatively impact the fighter’s ability to fight (and defend himself) and cause brain shrinkage that makes it more susceptible to bruising/concussions (because it’s bouncing around more in the skull). Veteran L.A.-area boxing folks have told me this was the case with Francisco “Kiko” Bejines, who died in a WBC bantamweight title bout against Alberto Davila in 1983. It was rumored that Jimmy Garcia, who died 13 days after being stopped in the 11th round of a WBC 130-pound title bout against Gabriel Ruelas, weighed around 160 pounds just two weeks before that fateful night in 1995. I believe Gerald McClellan lost a tremendous amount of weight prior to his near-fatal WBC super middleweight title challenge against Nigel Benn just two and a half months prior to Ruelas-Garcia.

However, my guess is that most ring fatalities are influenced by previous brain injuries. Decades ago, some old timers told me that Davey Moore, the defending featherweight champion who died after his head struck the bottom rope in the 10th round of his 1963 title defense against Sugar Ramos, had suffered a concussion at some point during his training camp and that was the reason he didn’t have his usual reflexes and footwork that March night at Dodger Stadium. These guys (former fighters and trainers that have since passed away) told me that he got into an argument with his wife, who hit him in the head with a frying pan (or something heavy). I can’t verify if any of that is true. But it should be noted that he was struggling to make the 126-pound weight limit (and, as was the case with Bejines, this was the era of same-day weigh-ins). One year before Moore-Ramos, Benny “Kid” Paret died a month after being knocked out by Emile Griffith in their welterweight title rubber match. Four months before that brutal stoppage, Paret received a lot of punishment during a 10-round KO to NBA middleweight champ Gene Fullmer. The Fullmer fight was Paret’s fourth bout of 1961. He had split two tough title fights with Griffith, losing one by 13th-round TKO, and suffered a 10-round loss to Gaspar Ortega. Sixth months after Paret was knocked into a fatal coma, light heavyweight/heavyweight prospect Alejandro Lavorante was carried out of the ring on a stretcher after being stopped by journeyman John Riggins. He lapsed into a coma and died 16 months later. Two months earlier was KO’d in five rounds by Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali. Four months prior to that knockout, he left the ring on a stretcher after being knocked out by Archie Moore in the 10th round.

sugar-ray-robinson-jimmy-doyle_ringLate, great boxing coach Don Familton told me how his father, who was a huge boxing fan in Cleveland, Ohio, would not take him to see Sugar Ray Robinson’s welterweight title defense against Jimmy Doyle in June 1947. His father had seen Doyle take a beating in a hard-fought 10 rounder against Ralph Zannelli in January and saw him get knocked out cold after his head struck a ring buckle in his ninth-round stoppage loss to hard-punching middleweight Artie Levine in March of ’46. He had a bad feeling about the Robinson bout. So did Robinson, who had a dream that he killed Doyle the night before the fight and wanted to withdraw from the title bout. The promoter of the card brought in a psychologist and a priest to talk Robinson into going through with the fight. Ray knocked Doyle out in Round 8 and the 22-year-old Los Angeles native never regained consciousness.

These days it’s harder to have a “bad feeling” about fighters who may have suffered head injuries prior to prize fights because the pre-existing concussions are happening during sparring sessions, not professional bouts that fans and media are witnesses to. It’s up to the fighters and their camps to do the right thing and postpone or withdraw from a scheduled fight if the fighter suffers a serious injury (particularly a concussion) during training camp. And if boxing commissions receive word or rumor about a fighter with an up-coming fight getting hurt in sparring (or even outside of training camp, such as a car accident or a bad fall that injures his head or neck) they need to check it out.

What other training practices might predispose fighters to getting seriously or fatally injured? Like I said earlier, dramatic weight loss is no good.

I understand that your’e not an MD, but as a long-time boxing insider you might have some hunches. I am definitely not a doctor, so please take everything I just wrote with a grain of salt. I encourage EVERYONE to disagree with or dispute anything I say.

  1. On an unrelated note, I’m amazed at the longevity of fighters today. Why? They don’t fight nearly as much as fighters from previous decades/eras.

For instance, GGG is in his mid-30s and still in top form, while boxers from a generation ago (Roy Jones and Ray Leonard both come to mind) seemed burned out at about the same age. We also see top-level performances from fighters nearing 40 (Floyd Mayweather) or even 50 (Hopkins). What training practices can account for this dramatic increase in career longevity? It’s a combination of things. In Golovkin’s case, you have to take two things into consideration: his advanced pro debut age (25) and his potent combination of power and technique. He’s usually the punisher, not the guy getting punished in his fights, and he’s won most of his fights by stoppage, so there isn’t a lot of wear and tear on his body. GGG also lives a very clean life, like “The Immortal B-Hop.” Hopkins is the most disciplined fighter I’ve ever been around. He learned how a real fighter should live – in terms of training, rest, recovery and diet – from his late coach Bouie Fisher (the last of the great Old School trainers along with Amilcar Brusa, George Benton, Bill Miller and Bill Slaton). He also developed a more technical style as he got older, which limited the punishment he took from opponents. Mayweather perfected a very conservative/defensive style, which limited the punches he took during his fights, and he had a risk-averse approach to match making (i.e., he generally stayed away from dangerous fighters when they were at their best). Leonard was also carefully managed but he faced the best fighters of his era when they were at their peaks. Some of those fights were grueling and likely took a toll on him, as I’m sure his lifestyle did during the 1980s (which was far from Spartan during his “retirement” periods).

Mayweather also spread his 49 bouts out over his near 20-year career. He only fought once or twice in 14 of his active years. (He fought just once in 2004, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.) By contrast, Jones had 50 fights under his belt when he faced Antonio Tarver in their rematch, which took place 15 years after his pro debut.

And let’s be real: Mayweather may have also benefitted from some, ahem, “hormonal assistance.” (And he’s certainly not alone, if that’s the case.)     

 

NATHAN CLEVERLY, GENUINE CHAMPS

Hi Dougie,

Long time reader but haven’t written in for about four years (in fact we discussed the just released Avengers movie). I was wondering if you saw the Cleverly-Braehmer fight on Saturday and if so your thoughts on it’s impact on the division.

Even as a proud Welshman I’m not going to get carried away by Cleverly’s victory. Let’s be honest; 20 or 30 years ago this would have been for the European title or maybe a world title eliminator. But with the WBA on a mission to unify their own titles (and how crazy does that sound?) a win for Braehmer may have been better for the sport. He would probably have been more marketable to American fans against the Kovalev-Ward winner. Considering the last fans your side of the pond saw of Cleverly was losing to Fonfara surely the winner of the November showdown will relinquish the WBA belt rather than be forced into a fight that most fans will view as a mismatch. If that happens and Nathan becomes the ‘full’ WBA champion where do you think he goes next? Given his willingness to travel is Adonis Stevenson likely to entice him to Canada for partial unification? Or does Eddie Hearn line up a string of defences nobody cares about? One thing is certain: a lack of power and willingness to brawl means that at the top level there are no easy fights for Cleverly.

A couple of mythical match-ups for you:

Virgil Hill vs Bernard Hopkins

Hector Camacho vs Ricky Hatton

Take care buddy. And don’t let the haters get you down. – Steve Done

I eat haters for breakfast and crap ‘em out (while reading comic books) before lunch.

I agree that there aren’t any easy fights for Cleverly at the top level, but that’s OK. His high-volume style and guts make for good fights.

I have no idea where Clev and Hearn go next. My hunch is that they will entertain a rematch with Braehmer if the German vet is willing to fight in the UK, or they take a tune-up bout or two before cashing out against Ward if the American wins his showdown with Kovalev.

If Kovalev beats Ward, I think Team Clev would vacate the WBA belt before engaging in a rematch with the Krusher. (At least I hope that’s what they would do. A return bout with Kovalev would be criminal in my view.) I think Cleverly would stand a better chance against Stevenson for the WBC and “lineal” titles.

I was wondering if you saw the Cleverly-Braehmer fight on Saturday and if so your thoughts on its impact on the division. I don’t think it made much of an impact. It basically just keeps Cleverly in the 175-pound mix and I’m happy for him. He seems like a good bloke. I enjoyed the six rounds the two light heavies gave us. Braehmer is a 38-year-old vet who looks 48, but the dude is pretty darn crafty. I was impressed with his inside-fighting technique. He blocked and countered well, gave Clev good angles with his shoulders and was generally economical and accurate with the punches. But Cleverly, to his credit, set a hard pace and was the aggressor throughout. He outworked the home-country fave until Braehmer’s injury ended the bout at the halfway point.

Let’s be honest; 20 or 30 years ago this would have been for the European title or maybe a world title eliminator. Agreed. THE RING does not recognize the “regular” WBA title. Kovalev is the only WBA 175-pound titleholder in our view.

But with the WBA on a mission to unify their own titles (and how crazy does that sound?) a win for Braehmer may have been better for the sport. If you say so.

He would probably have been more marketable to American fans against the Kovalev-Ward winner. Not really… but I think they would have been a little more tolerant of the German because he’s never fought in the States and they’ve already seen Clev get busted up by Krusher and outpointed by Fonfara.

Considering the last fans your side of the pond saw of Cleverly was losing to Fonfara surely the winner of the November showdown will relinquish the WBA belt rather than be forced into a fight that most fans will view as a mismatch. I doubt that. Kovalev is a cold mother f__ker. He would have no problem beating down Clev a second time. And if Ward wins in November I’m sure he’s have no problem fighting Clev as long as the Welshman was willing to travel to Oakland, California.

Your mythical match-ups:

Virgil Hill vs Bernard Hopkins – Hill by close, maybe controversial decision

Hector Camacho vs Ricky Hatton – Camacho by controversial split decision

 

LUIS CORIA

Hello Dougie,

I just want to take this moment to thank you very much for your awesome words toward my son Luis Coria.

Keep up the amazing job that Beto, Steve and yourself do on RingTV Live. Best regards. – Luis Coria Sr.

Thanks for the kind words, Luis Sr. Your son has A LOT of potential as a professional boxer and an attraction (as evidenced by the 500-plus tickets he sold to his pro debut at Fantasy Springs Casino this past Friday).

He’s got the obvious boxing talent, the fighter’s mentality and the look (he could be nicknamed the new “School Boy” or “Baby-Faced Assassin” due to his youth, only 18 years old, and his boyish face). 

For those of you who missed Coria’s pro debut, check it out here. He’s one to watch:

 

BOXERS VS. FIGHTERS

Hi Doug,

Like many others, I’m excited to hear that Lomachenko will fight Walters this year.

Two of the best technical boxers today – Ward and Lomachenko – are taking on the most dangerous opponents.

Today I’d like to know how fighters can beat faster/quicker boxers without huge size/age advantages and without being Kostya Tszyu.

Are there any theories to beat faster boxers? (both Kovalev and Walters are boxer-punchers rather than fighters, though).

It seems to me that recently many of “elite boxer vs elite fighter matchups” were won by boxers: most of the Mayweather fights, Rigondeaux-Donaire, Ward-Froch etc.

In some cases fighters overwhelmed boxers, but Salido was illegally bigger/heavier against Loma, Calderon was quite old when he lost to younger and bigger Giovanni Segura (Canelo beat Trout and Lara, but the fights could have gone either way).

And I know little about the boxing history, so I’d like to know about “elite boxer vs elite fighter matchups” of the past.

Is this superiority of boxers over fighters a recent trend? Or just an illusion? Cheers. – Taku from Japan

Maybe it’s a recent trend, but I don’t think “elite boxers always beat elite fighters.” We’ve had a lot of elite boxers dominate their divisions in recent decades, but they aren’t always beating “elite” fighters. Mayweather has beat his share of sluggers, such as Marcos Maidana (who gave him two tough fights in 2014), but how many were considered “elite”? Same deal with Kovalev, who many view as a slugger (but you rightfully categorize him as a boxer-puncher), who as beat numerous “boxers,” such as Cleverly, Gabriel Campillo, Ismayl Sillah, Isaac Chilemba, and of course, Hopkins. However, none of those boxers were considered “pound for pound” when he faced them. Ward is the first “elite” boxer Kovalev is facing, and Kovalev is the first “elite fighter” that Ward is facing, as Froch hadn’t earned pound-for-pound status when he fought the American in the Super Six finals in 2011.

I’m of the opinion that when an elite boxer meets an elite fighter, and both have comparable experience and both are in their athletic primes, we have an even fight.

But I want to note that boxers are not only tested by “fighters” or “sluggers/brawlers.” Other styles, including various boxing styles, can be just as challenging (if not more so).  

There isn’t just ONE style of boxing – there are aggressive boxers, defensive boxers, technicians, stick-and-move specialists, counterpunchers, boxer-punchers, southpaw versions of the aforementioned styles, etc. On any given day, one boxing style can trump another – such as when Lomachenko’s busy/aggressive/mobile style of boxing outclassed Gary Russell Jr.’s more stationary/stalking speed-technician style of boxing; or when Kell Brook’s polished orthodox boxing (or Keith Thurman’s stick-and-move power hitting boxing style) got the better of Shawn Porter’s aggressive, unorthodox/awkward boxing style.

But for some reason, fans don’t buzz as much about boxer-boxer matchups as they do, boxer-puncher or boxer-fighter matchups. I guess because they tend to take sides more with the contrasting styles. (And I should also point out that some “elite boxers” avoid facing fellow “elite boxers.”)

Two of the best technical boxers today – Ward and Lomachenko – are taking on the most dangerous opponents. Yup, and the technical boxers are the betting favorites in both matchups.

Today I’d like to know how fighters can beat faster/quicker boxers without huge size/age advantages and without being Kostya Tszyu. King Kostya, a world amateur champion, was a master of slipping punches and timing bombs from the outside against boxers – and for the record, I considered the Russian-Aussie to be an “elite boxer,” not a “fighter” – but most “fighters” beat faster boxers by dictating the pace and distance of the bout. Boxers need time to think and room to operate. Take that away from them with pressure and activity and you have a fighting chance of beating them.

Are there any theories to beat faster boxers? Timing, I’ve always been told by trainers, beats speed.

It seems to me that recently many of “elite boxer vs elite fighter matchups” were won by boxers: most of the Mayweather fights, Rigondeaux-Donaire, Ward-Froch etc. Yeah, but I consider Donaire to be an elite boxer (at least he was when he faced Rigo). The Cuban’s Mantis-like counterpunching was the kryptonite to his power-pot-shot boxing style (although he seemed to fight flat-footed against the southpaw).

In some cases fighters overwhelmed boxers, but Salido was illegally bigger/heavier against Loma, Calderon was quite old when he lost to younger and bigger Giovanni Segura (Canelo beat Trout and Lara, but the fights could have gone either way). Salido and Segura are classic pressure fighters, but Canelo is CLEARLY a boxer. Why do you categorize him as a “fighter?” Is it because he’s got heavy hands? Is it ‘cause he’s Mexican? Serious question. I’m not trying to put you on the spot. (And, by the way, if Calderon was considered “old” when he faced Segura, Salido should’ve been considered “old” when he fought Loma.)

And I know little about the boxing history, so I’d like to know about “elite boxer vs elite fighter matchups” of the past. The most famous is probably Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier. Ali was the classic stick-and-move boxer. Frazier was the quintessential pressure fighter/left-hook puncher. The boxer doesn’t always win and doesn’t always have an easy time when he’s facing a fighter as talented, experienced and determined as he is. However, while Frazier gave Ali physical hell with his pressure and volume punching, The Greatest probably had more stylistic problems with the awkwardly aggressive boxing of Ken Norton and the defensive stylings of Jimmy Young.

The greatest boxer-puncher of all time, Sugar Ray Robinson, had his ultra-talented hands full with aggressive (sometimes awkward) types, such as Jake LaMotta, Randy Turpin, Carmen Basilio and Gene Fullmer (among other lesser fighters of the 1940s/’50s). Willie Pep, the greatest defensive/mobile stylist of all time, went 1-3 against a great puncher in Sandy Saddler (who had been outboxed by guys that Pep had outpointed, such as Sal Bartolo and Phil Terranova).

Sugar Ray Leonard’s battles with Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler are celebrated as boxer-vs.-fighter showdowns, but in my view Leonard’s always been an underrated fighter, while the other three of the Boxing’s Fab Four never received enough credit for their boxing ability. At the end of the day, styles make fights, Taku.

Duran’s aggressive boxing handed Leonard his only loss during his prime years. But Duran couldn’t quite overcome the busy, technical grinding of Hagler and he was a sitting duck for Hearns, the ultimate power-boxer. Hearns almost outboxed Leonard, who needed his inner “fighter” to overcome the Hitman. Hagler stops Hearns, but is outpointed by Leonard.

Iran Barkley, an admitted slugger (who had underrated ability but definitely wasn’t “elite”), knockouts out Hearns in three rounds and later outpoints an older heavier version of the Hitman but somehow loses to the 37-year-old version of Duran, who Hearns blasted in TWO rounds!

Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked with history. I’ll leave you with this: Don’t get so caught up with keeping score of boxer-vs.-fighter matchups. Just enjoy the fights. We’re lucky to be witnessing more than a few “elite” technical boxers (such as Lomachenko, Ward and Crawford) and “elite” technical fighters (such as Roman Gonzalez, Golovkin and Kovalev). Try not to get hung up on labels. Ward might need to rely on his inner fighter to overcome Kovalev and the Russian might have to box the fight of the life to beat Ward. Lomachenko might prove to be more of a fighter than Walters. Crawford might be the best boxer AND fighter in the junior welterweight division. And Chocolatito and GGG might be the best boxers of their respective divisions.

 

LOMA-WALTERS, CARLOS ORTIZ

Hey Doug,

Wasn’t expecting Lomachenko-Walters to get made so soon. Happy to be wrong. Excellent matchup and while I think Lomachenko might take him to school you never know especially against a huge 130 pound guy who cracks like Walters and is well schooled himself. My feeling is Lomachenko is on another level. A once in a generation level of fighter. I mean if you took away certain parts of his game he’d still be as good as anyone. He’s that complete. It’s just going to be great seeing this one unfold.

I had a question on Carlos Ortiz. Why is it that whenever there’s historical discussions he’s always overlooked? Like when people debate Puerto Rico’s best it comes down to Trinidad & Gomez or this websites “Best living fighter” he wasn’t top 10? And that list had knowledgeable contributions. Where do you rate him in the lists of PR, Lightweight (roughly) and best living (roughly)?

MM’s

Toney-Hagler at 160

Lomachenko-Mayweather at 130

Roman-Chocolatito at 115

Zaragoza-Rafael Marquez at 122

Cheers. – Chris Smith, Norwalk, CA

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Lomachenko-Walters. I received a ton of emails about this fight as soon as it was announced (which I will continue to share in mailbag columns during the rather slow month of October). It is indeed a fascinating style matchup, but it’s also one of those rare fights where there is a clear favorite among the fans and media (Lomachenko) and yet still heavily anticipated.

I had a question on Carlos Ortiz. Why is it that whenever there’s historical discussions he’s always overlooked? I have no idea why this is. I suppose the obvious reason is that most fans (and, sadly, media) have only a passing interest in the rich history of the sport (if that).

Like when people debate Puerto Rico’s best it comes down to Trinidad & Gomez or this websites “Best living fighter” he wasn’t top 10? And that list had knowledgeable contributions. Yep, I was one of the contributors, and believe me, Ortiz made my top 10 (in fact, I had him at No. 4), but he wasn’t that high (or even on) the other lists. It is what it is. People have different criteria for “greatness.” Ortiz was a top fighter in a great era (late ‘50s/1960s) but he wasn’t a larger than life personality, wasn’t a super talent athletically speaking and he wasn’t in celebrated fights (although he was in his share of very good ones). I rate him because he faced seven fellow hall of famers, and beat the likes of Ismael Laguna, Flash Elorde, Sugar Ramos and Joe Brown (as well as several very good top-10 contenders of the time).

Where do you rate him in the lists of PR, Lightweight (roughly) and best living (roughly)? Ortiz is top five among Puerto Rico’s greatest of all time, arguably top three; and I think he’s top 10 among all-time great lightweights (lower top 10).

Your mythical matchups:

Toney-Hagler at 160 – Hagler by close but unanimous decision

Lomachenko-Mayweather at 130 – Mayweather by close but unanimous deicison

Roman-Chocolatito at 115 – Roman (I assume you mean Gilberto Roman) by close but unanimous decision

Zaragoza-Rafael Marquez at 122 – Marquez by close but unanimous decision

All four mythical matchups would make for good fights.

 

 

Email Fischer at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @dougiefischer

 

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