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The Travelin’ Man goes to Charlo-Adams: Part One

NRG Arena, Houston, Texas
01
Jul

Friday, June 28: Following five extremely productive days within the “Home Office” – I finished research on nine upcoming fights that are set to take place in July – I readied myself for my next “Travelin’ Man” adventure. Today’s destination: Houston, from where Showtime will air a tripleheader topped by “full” WBC middleweight titlist Jermall Charlo versus Brandon Adams (champion of the latest installment of “The Contender”) and supported by a pair of 12-round title eliminators between junior middleweights Erickson Lubin and Zakaria Attou and featherweights Eduardo Ramirez and Claudio Marrero.

Up until yesterday, Charlo was the owner of the WBC’s “interim” middleweight title, a secondary belt to the one owned by then-“full” WBC middleweight titlist (and current Ring Magazine champion) Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. The winds of change began blowing several weeks before Alvarez defeated Daniel Jacobs to become a three-belt titleholder when WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman declared that his countryman would become the organization’s first “Franchise Champion.” This, at first, appeared to be an honorary designation with no real impact on its titular hierarchy. The reasons: First, Sulaiman also staked a “Mayan belt” for Alvarez-Jacobs with the expectation that he would be presenting it to Alvarez after the fight and, second, Sulaiman unveiled a special “Adolfo Lopez Mateos” WBC belt before Alvarez’s second fight against Gennady Golovkin with seemingly the same expectation in mind. After all, Jacobs is not of Mayan extraction and a fighter with the surname “Golovkin” wouldn’t exactly match up with an honor bearing a Latin name, right?

On Thursday, however, the meaning behind the Franchise Champion designation morphed from a ceremonial tribute to an official shift in the titular order when the WBC declared that Charlo would be “upgraded” to “full” WBC middleweight titlist. Charlo’s fight with Adams would be considered the first defense of his new belt and the winner of this fight would be responsible for fulfilling all duties of a WBC titlist – especially the one in which he must fight WBC-mandated challengers. Meanwhile Alvarez, the newly coronated Franchise Champion, would be freed from such responsibilities. According to the freshly created Rule 3.26, Alvarez (and other future Franchise Champions) “enjoy(s) special status with respect to his or her mandatory obligations, holding multiple titles and competing for titles of other organizations, as the WBC Board of Governors rules on a case-by-case basis.”

Translation: Before Thursday, Alvarez, as the full middleweight titlist, was obligated to fight Charlo, the interim beltholder, within a prescribed deadline that was quickly approaching (this is, in part, why the July 20 fight between WBA welterweight “super” titlist Keith Thurman and WBA “regular” welterweight titlist Manny Pacquiao is taking place). Had Alvarez not done so, the WBC would have been forced to strip Alvarez of its title and move Charlo up to full status.

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Thursday’s action proves that (1) the WBC did not want to strip Alvarez of anything under any circumstances; (2) the WBC did not want to demand that Alvarez fight a high-risk/low-reward mandatory against Charlo under a scenario it had executed in the past and (3) this was the WBC’s clever way of resolving the conflict in a manner that benefits all directly affected parties: Charlo becomes the new full titlist without the WBC having to strip Alvarez; Alvarez is freed from the shackles of the WBC’s rules when considering future fights; the WBC retains its ties to Alvarez (Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s successor as boxing’s financial epicenter) and, most importantly, the WBC will retain its ability to take its cut from Alvarez’s future purses. One could say that the WBC has willingly declared “Canelo,” its favored son, above the law – above the WBC’s laws, that is.

In any case, arranging Alvarez-Charlo would have been difficult, if not impossible, given today’s broadcast politics. Alvarez is exclusively tied to DAZN while Charlo, who is under the banner of Premier Boxing Champions, fights on Showtime and the family of FOX channels. Sure, if Alvarez-Charlo had been a financial blockbuster of Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson and Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao proportions, all parties would have moved Heaven and Earth to hammer out a compromise that would ensure the big money that could be made would be made. However because it isn’t, boxing – and boxing fans – are “rewarded” with yet another layer of titular sewage.

What the WBC has done is an outrage, not only to boxing as a whole but also to common sense. Instead of serving the fans who foot the bill by simplifying the sport and mandating that the best fight the best no matter the political hurdles, it has chosen to metastasize the cancer that is best epitomized by its historic rival, the WBA, whose title hierarchy consists of a “super” champion (considered the widely recognized champion by historians), a “world” or “regular” champion, an “interim” champion and a “gold” champion (whatever that means). Whatever the reasons behind the WBC’s move – reasons that are nakedly cynical and counter to the best interests of boxing on several levels – the result is that boxing is an even more confusing sport now than it was just 24 hours ago. What a shame.

When I became a fan in 1974, the boxing world consisted of two major sanctioning bodies – the WBA and WBC – and each sanctioning body had one champion in the 12 existing weight classes. Not ideal but it was easy for this youngster to memorize not only the names of every champion but also many of the top-10 fighters in each weight class. Since then, boxing has added five divisions – minimumweight, junior bantamweight, junior featherweight, super middleweight and cruiserweight – and two “major” sanctioning bodies (the IBF and WBO) with their own roster of champions and a score of subordinate titles whose sole purpose is to generate revenue for the sanctioning bodies (especially for those at the top of the food chain). But while executives are swimming in cash, we who love the sport are finding it much harder to justify to others why we love it – and to persuade them to love it with us. The proliferation of championships has made it impossible for even the hardest of hardcores to keep track of whom holds which belt and which of the champions is the “real” one. I gave up trying to memorize that information long ago and I wouldn’t dare try it now. What would be the point?

How ironic: The IBF and WBO – the two youngest major sanctioning bodies – have largely stayed away from this nonsense while the two elder organizations are, to paraphrase Howard Cosell, “constructing an advertisement for the abolition of the very sport that (they) are a part of.” By the way, Cosell uttered these words during what would be his final broadcast of a professional boxing match, the Larry Holmes-Randall “Tex” Cobb fight at Houston’s Astrodome, which is situated next door to the NRG Arena where Charlo-Adams will take place.

While addressing the Franchise Champion issue on Facebook, I received an excellent question from Kirk Lang – one of the attendees of the 2019 Sausage Sandwich Summit at the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend: “OK, (Canelo)’s the ‘Franchise Champion’ but if some random contender he fights beats him, does that 50-1 underdog win the Franchise Champion title?”

Here’s the answer: No. According to the WBC statement, “The WBC may award a Diamond Championship belt in those fights in which the ‘Franchise Champion’ engages. If the Franchise Champion loses, the winner will receive the Diamond Belt and may be considered as a mandatory contender of the division.” In other words, if a fighter scores a monster upset over Alvarez – who, at this point, is the WBC’s one and only Franchise Champion – his reward is not becoming the new Franchise Champion and gaining the honors, privileges and financial rewards that go with it (which should include a big-money rematch with Alvarez) but gaining a “Diamond Belt” and becoming the No. 1 challenger to the full WBC middleweight titleholder, which, as of this writing, is Charlo. However the key phrase in the WBC statement is “may be considered as a mandatory contender” because if that underdog is a particularly dangerous fighter to the full titlist, if he has the political clout of an Alvarez, might get away with passing him over. It sounds terrible but the WBC’s move on Thursday has now set the precedent that rules don’t apply to those deemed “special.”

Even if the fight between Canelo’s conqueror and the full beltholder comes to pass, it would be a major letdown for that conqueror. I can’t name any of the WBC’s Diamond Champions and the vast majority of you reading this article can’t either. It holds no significance beyond that invested by the owner of the belt and the WBC but it would, in theory, get him another title opportunity. Unless it doesn’t.

Another question prompted by the WBC’s move is this: Who would historians identify as the “real” middleweight champion of the world during this slice of time? To me, that man remains Alvarez because, at least according to the three judges on fight night, he defeated Golovkin, the previous “man,” last September. The only logical way that changes is if Alvarez permanently abandons the middleweight division or if he’s beaten in the ring during a fight in which both fighters officially scaled 160 or below. Then again, with boxing and logic virtual strangers, Alvarez might be declared champion for life – at least the portion of his life when he can make the WBC the most money.

Yet another negative consequence of the WBC’s move is that the organization, in a single stroke, devalued its own full middleweight title because Alvarez, the previous “man,” remains in the middleweight picture. Therefore just like Joe Frazier had to defeat the lineal champion Muhammad Ali to become the “real” heavyweight champion, Charlo must beat Alvarez – who is, in effect, a lineal champion by another name – to become the “real” middleweight champion. Unfortunately for Charlo, the WBC will never allow that to happen and boxing is a much lesser sport because of that.

 

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I couldn’t have asked for better conditions to begin this trip. At 6:50 a.m., the temperature was in the upper-60s and the sky was foggy at points but generally sunny. The mudslide between Sistersville and New Martinsville that forced me to take a side road last week had long been cleared away and I arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport within my goal time.

Unlike most trips as of late, I didn’t have to change planes to get to my destination. But to get that direct flight from Pittsburgh to Houston I had to fly on United, an airline with which I have little frequent flier clout. Still, upon checking in yesterday, I was able to move up from Row 20 to Row 12, my 11:42 a.m. departure ensured I didn’t have to arise much earlier than I would on most days and my 1:40 p.m. CDT arrival in Houston allowed me, in theory at least, to make my 4 p.m. call time with ease.

The flight to Houston seemed far shorter than the advertised three hours. That’s because I spent two-thirds of the flight chatting with my seatmate, an oil worker named Juan who had been in Pittsburgh on business but who also was a boxing fan with lots of questions. I answered them as best as I could while also telling him about the stories behind Saturday’s Showtime card, the world of CompuBox as well as “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers.” He promised to check out “Numbers” on Amazon and hopefully I was able to make another face-to-face sale.

After touching down in Houston at 1:19 – 21 minutes earlier than listed – I took a cab to the crew hotel, the Crowne Plaza located across the street from the NRG Arena where Charlo-Adams will take place. Thanks to heavy traffic, a trip that normally requires 30 minutes took 50 and, shortly after checking in and settling into my second-floor room, I decided to walk to the venue.

I asked the person at the front desk directions on how to get to the arena but her description, as I understood it, resulted in my reaching a gated dead end following a 15-minute walk toward the stadium. I back-tracked, found an alternate route and appeared well on my way when the sky suddenly darkened; thunder sounded and large dropls of rain began falling. Worse yet, once I reached the NRG Arena, the security guard said I had even more walking ahead of me because the production truck was located in another part of the sprawling complex. After nearly an hour – and a brief ride in a golf cart by a kind public relations person – I finally arrived at the production truck in order to do our customary day-before electronic tests, which were completed in less than five minutes. I then walked back to the hotel with two others, ordered dinner from one of the hotel’s restaurants and spent the remainder of the evening watching boxing on ESPN+ as well as on ESPN.

During the ESPN telecast, however, I was overcome with overwhelming fatigue. Before I knew it, the main event – Richard Commey vs. Raymundo Beltran – had come and gone and I came to just as the show was ending. With my eyes still heavy, I opted to turn out the lights then and there.

 

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Saturday, June 29: Unlike most nights on the road, I slept solidly until 5:30 a.m. and continued to snooze until 7. Following the morning routines, I spent the next five hours producing most of the words you’ve read so far. With a call time of 1:30, I texted CompuBox colleague Andy Kasprzak to see if he would prefer to walk to the arena or have me arrange for a cab and be driven.

“Don’t worry about it,” he replied. “I’ll see you there at 1:30. I’ll text if I have trouble getting inside.”

Fair enough. As for me, I heard there was a group of Showtime people with 12:30 p.m. call times who were going to order taxis and ride-shares to take them to the arena and, with the summer heat in full swing and with nothing pressing to do, I decided to catch a ride with them. While one group took a cab, I rode with the folks who ordered a ride-share. Our driver, a seasoned citizen of the female persuasion, said she was new and thus was still getting the hang of the job. Thankfully one of the back-seat occupants gave her turn-by-turn instructions that enabled us to arrive at the arena moments after the group that had taken the taxi, who probably ran some red lights in order to beat us.

Andy arrived at the arena at the appointed time and, in a few hours’ time, all appeared ready to go. One technical complication arose – the production truck’s usually rock-solid internet connection was lost, regained, lost and regained – but the CompuBox link to the production truck was retained and thus all graphics were on line. As for the Internet issue, I was able to use the arena’s Wi-Fi to send the stats to Showtime’s public relations team, who then forwarded them to the media.

The day’s card consisted of 13 fights, the first of which was a 72-second TKO scored by Weslaco, Texas, junior lightweight Cesar Cantu against North Carolina southpaw Chante Bowens, whose skill level suggested very limited ring experience and even more limited punch resistance. After throwing several flailing punches, Bowen fielded a hook that spun him 360 degrees, after which a flurry scored the first knockdown. A right cross-left hook by Cantu logged the second knockdown moments later while a right hand that was blocked by both forearms nevertheless registered the third and final knockdown. The victory lifted Cantu’s record to 2-0 (with 1 knockout) while eroding Bowens’ to 0-3, all losses by KO.

Next up was an eight-round middleweight match between undefeated Leon Lawson III of Flint, Michigan, against Chihuahua’s Even Alexis Torres, which, on paper, appeared to be a mismatch due to Lawson’s 10-0 (with 4 KOs) ledger and Torres’ modest 7-7 (with 5 KOs). The math also suggested it as the long, lean Lawson rode his jab and long-range punches to 80-72 scores across the board but Torres, despite the futility of his situation, put forth an honest effort.

I had a heightened interest in the next match because it involved a fellow West Virginian – Buckhannon lightweight Dakota Linger. Linger, placed in the unspoken “B-side” red corner because he was facing a Texas fighter, stood across the ring from McAllen’s Nelson Hampton. The records coming in were comparable – 5-2 (with 4 KOs) for Hampton and 11-1-2 (with 7 KOs) for Linger – but the expectation was for Linger to come out the loser.

While Linger lost on points, the decision was a majority one as one judge saw it a 57-57 draw while the other two jurists turned in 59-55 scores. However the fight itself was packed with action, and that’s because Linger never stopped coming forward and never stopped throwing punches. Hampton’s sharper blows swelled Linger’s right cheekbone and he was against the ropes often enough to have rope burn on his left shoulder but he took everything Hampton had to offer and kept fighting with 100 percent intensity. Hampton won but, in my eyes, Linger honored himself and our home state with his effort.

The next fight involved cruiserweight Marsellos Wilder, the younger brother of WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder. At 6-feet-3, he is four inches shorter than his sibling and he does not pack nearly the punch Deontay does. Then again, few fighters can boast of Deontay’s massive one-shot potency. That said, Wilder pitched a 40-36 shutout on all three scorecards against Tyler Vogel of Bozeman, Montana, whose record dropped to 3-3 (with 2 KOs) while Wilder’s elevated to 4-1 (with 2 KOs).

I missed the next fight on the show, which also happened to be one of the few upsets on the untelevised undercard as Corpus Christi super middleweight Mark Beuke scored a four-round majority decision against St. Petersburg, Florida’s Mychael Teal, whose record dropped to 3-1 (with 2 KOs) while Beuke’s increased to 3-2 (with 1 KO). I returned to ringside just in time to see welterweight Ryan Karl (of Milano, Texas) score a first-round TKO over Nicaragua’s David Morales. A heavy right to the ear dropped Morales (now 13-12, 13 KOs) with 50 seconds remaining in the round and though he managed to regain his feet, the third man deemed him unfit to continue. That action raised Karl’s ledger to 17-2 (with 11 KOs).

An even quicker KO occurred in the next contest as Brownsville welterweight Omar Juarez (now 4-0, 2 KOs) stopped Philadelphia’s Seifullah Seifullah Jihad Wise (now 3-7, 1 KO) in just 98 seconds due to the three-knockdown rule. Minutes later, San Antonio middleweight Raymond Guajardo turned the trick against Compton, California’s Jaime Meza thanks to a right hand that ended matters in round one, advancing Guajardo to 2-0 (with 2 KOs) and lowering Meza’s mark to 0-2.

Andy and I counted the final non-TV prelim, which pitted junior lightweights Miguel Flores, of Houston, and Luis May, of Cancun, Mexico, and which ended with Flores scoring a sixth round TKO to lift his record to 24-2 (with 12 KOs) and eroding May’s to 21-15-1 (with 8 KOs). The shorter, thickly-built May kept pace with Flores for the fight’s first two minutes but, from that point forward, Flores mashed down on the accelerator – especially with his body attack. He used it to methodically break down May’s foundation as well as set up his power shots over the top. May was stunned in rounds four and five and the end came in the sixth after a right to the ear caused May to stumble forward with his head parallel to the canvas, a sight that prompted May’s corner to wave the towel. That act closed the curtain on a fight in which Flores prevailed 178-85 overall, 162-67 power and 88-31 in landed body shots, including 64-14 in rounds three through six. It also raised the curtain on the next act of the evening – a trio of 12 rounders that carried implications on the world championship picture.

I could hardly wait to get started.

 

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Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, West Virginia. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 16 writing awards, including two first-place awards, since 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales from the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics” (available on Amazon) and the co-author of the newly released book “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers” (also available on Amazon). To contact Groves about a personalized autographed copy, use the email [email protected] or send him a message via Facebook.

 

 

 

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