‘Fighting Words’ — The Self-Destruction of Sergey Kovalev
As hard as it may now be to believe, there was a time when Sergey Kovalev was the hero of the light heavyweight division. He’s no hero anymore.
Not after all of his racist remarks and social media posts.
Not after he pleaded guilty to punching a woman and kicking her dog.
Not after he allegedly caused a disturbance on a plane and had to be removed before the flight took off.
Not after he was accused of driving under the influence of alcohol.
And not after the four losses in three years, three by way of knockout, took a fighter who had once been celebrated as one of the two best 175-pounders in the world and instead put him on the verge of being left behind.
It’s what happened inside the ring that has done Kovalev the most damage. But it’s what happens outside of the ring that may keep him from recovering.
Now, with the future of his career on the line, Kovalev has potentially sabotaged himself even further.
A fighter in Kovalev’s position needs an opportunity. That means he needs someone backing him — beyond his promoters, beyond his manager, beyond his trainers and team. He needs a network willing to pay to bring him back.
In one of the silliest ways possible, Kovalev has bitten the hand that feeds.
Kovalev is supposed to fight on DAZN about a month from now. He is scheduled to face Bektemir Melikuziev — an unbeaten prospect with a 6-0 record who won a silver medal in the 2016 olympics — on January 30 in Moscow.
The streaming service is willing to put money in Kovalev’s pockets. Kovalev, meanwhile, deprived DAZN of much-needed revenue.
It took place on Dec. 19, the night that DAZN aired its biggest show since the COVID-19 pandemic paused boxing, featuring Canelo Alvarez defeating Callum Smith to become the new king of the super middleweight division. DAZN has long sought to grow its subscriber base in the United States and bolster its bottom line.
Kovalev, in his infinite wisdom, decided it was a good idea to live-stream the fight on his Instagram account, according to a report by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic.
“At its peak, Kovalev’s Instagram Live stream attracted more than 2,500 viewers,” Coppinger reported. “That equals a potential loss for DAZN between $50,000 (monthly subscription) and $250,000 (annual). Of course, you can argue those watching Kovalev’s stream simply would have found another illegal way to watch or not viewed the bout at all.”
That’s not an argument that would sway the people who were about to put Kovalev back on the air.
“Executives at the streaming service, sources said, were alarmed and extremely frustrated by Kovalev’s brazen behavior,” Coppinger wrote.
Kovalev was fortunate to be able to get this comeback fight in the first place. When he signed to face Canelo in late 2019, Canelo’s then-promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, sweetened the deal by guaranteeing Kovalev a second payday. He was due to earn at least $2.5 million for the Melikuziev fight, according to the report.
Kovalev needs the win to stay relevant, for DAZN or another network to want to feature him again, for one of the other top names in the 175-pound division to be willing to face him, or for him to be anything other than a B-side opponent should that opportunity come calling.
He’s a long way removed from 2013, when he graduated from appearances on NBC Sports Network — shows run by his promoter, Main Events — to the increased publicity and increased paydays that came with being on HBO.
On that summer day seven years ago, Kovalev challenged Nathan Cleverly for a light heavyweight title in Cardiff, Wales, scoring two knockdowns in the third round and finishing the fight in the fourth. He also charmed boxing fans and observers by, well, feinting with a pelvic thrust before unleashing a three-punch combination.
HBO publicists in Atlantic City — there for a doubleheader later that day featuring Daniel Geale vs. Darren Barker and Jhonathan Romero vs. Kiko Martinez — shuffled a handful of boxing writers who’d arrived early into a room to watch Kovalev. The network remained just as eager to spotlight him over the next few years.
Kovalev made eight successful defenses on HBO, including a shutout victory over Bernard Hopkins that unified three world titles. He had power, making short work of second- and third-tier opponents, and picking up a pair of technical knockout victories over Jean Pascal. Kovalv wasn’t just blunt force either. He also had skill, boxing patiently and capably against Hopkins.
For much of this period, Kovalev was the hero. That’s largely because Adonis Stevenson had become the villain.
Stevenson was the lineal champion at 175. He’d beaten the man (Chad Dawson) who’d beaten the man (Bernard Hopkins) who’d beaten the man (Jean Pascal). Kovalev’s entry into the HBO fold came at a time when Stevenson was also featured on the network. But Stevenson signed with powerhouse boxing adviser Al Haymon in early 2014 and jumped to Showtime. When Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions launched in 2015, Stevenson appeared on PBC’s other affiliated channels as well, including CBS and Spike TV.
Boxing fans have conflicting interests. They want the best for fighters — for them to be compensated well and to eventually retire happy and healthy — but they also want the best fights. Many criticized Stevenson for avoiding Kovalev, for defending his championship against a series of lighter touches rather than make a deal to pit the two top light heavyweights against each other.
The rivalry lost its luster once Kovalev lost his mystique.
It wasn’t his first loss that did it — a hotly debated, closely contested unanimous decision defeat against Andre Ward in late 2016. It might not have even been the June 2017 rematch with Ward that caused it, an eighth-round TKO loss in which Kovalev was worn down by body shots, rocked badly by a right hand, and then stopped by a combination of blows that landed both above and below the belt.
It was Kovalev’s third loss, a surprising defeat to Eleider Alvarez in August 2018. Kovalev was ahead halfway through the fight but began to fade. Alvarez took advantage and sent Kovalev to the canvas three times in the seventh.
By that time, Stevenson had stepped up and fought Badou Jack to a draw. And then, by the end of the year, any ill feelings that fans had long held toward Stevenson quickly went away when he was knocked out by Oleksandr Gvozdyk and hospitalized with bleeding in his brain.
Boxing fans, after all, have conflicting interests. They want the best fights. But they also want the best for the fighters. It’s one thing to villainize a fighter within the context of sports. It’s another thing when a fighter is humanized, when the only important thing is hoping that he will survive, and then hoping that he will recover from the injuries that nearly killed him.
Kovalev began to rebuild in 2019. He started the year by outboxing Alvarez in a rematch, reclaiming a world title in the process. He defended it that August against Anthony Yarde, overcoming some difficult moments to stop his unbeaten but raw challenger. Then came Canelo, a quick turnaround just two months and a week after the Yarde outing. The temptation of a big fight and a big payday prevailed. So did Canelo, who wisely chopped away to Kovalev’s body and then felled him with a pair of huge head shots.
It was a loss to one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. That silver lining doesn’t cushion the blow too much when you’re 37 years old, and when you’re no longer one of the two or three main names in your division.
Although Kovalev is rated No. 3 by The Ring, that doesn’t necessarily portray his remaining relevancy. The 175-pound weight class is packed these days. There’s enough talent that Kovalev wouldn’t necessarily be the clear favorite, even against a few fighters who are currently lower on the list than him.
The two light heavyweights above him are Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol. Beterbiev became the new lineal champ and unified a pair of world titles by stopping Gvozdyk last year; Gvozdyk has since retired. DBivol has another of the title belts.
Below Kovalev is a batch of contenders and former titleholders. Pascal resuscitated his career after losses to Kovalev, Eleider Alvarez and Bivol, thanks to a pair of decisions over Marcus Browne and Badou Jack in 2019. Browne battered Jack about two years ago. Jack remains in the picture despite those defeats. Joe Smith seemed one-dimensional in a loss to Bivol last year but had a pair of notable triumphs in 2020, outpointing Jesse Hart and stopping Eleider Alvarez. Gilberto Ramirez has been spinning his wheels both while he held a title at 168 and since moving up to 175.
Almost every fighter loses eventually. Losses to other top fighters need not completely derail a career — look no further than a paragraph above to remember that Browne, Jack, Pascal and Smith still belong.
Two of Kovalev’s losses came against a Hall of Famer (Ward). Another was against a future Hall of Famer (Canelo). The other one was avenged (Eleider Alvarez). These defeats, however, can also be seen as a sign of decline, of struggles with discipline, of problems in camp, of both Kovalev the pugilist and Kovalev the person being in disarray.
After the Ward fights, Kovalev had a falling out with John David Jackson and parted ways with him. The trainer said Kovalev didn’t train the way he should have, while Kovalev said Jackson didn’t prepare him properly. He’s changed coaches twice since then and has been working with Buddy McGirt since before the Eleider Alvarez rematch.
In interviews, Kovalev has said many of the right things, admitting to mistakes he made with his diet, his hydration, his approach to training altogether.
“He learned how to make healthier eating choices, chew his food better and drink more water,” wrote Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated in late 2017, when Kovalev’s only losses had been to Andre Ward. “He says he bought in. He stopped drinking anything with sugar, cut out fried food, forsook alcohol and embraced a former enemy — vegetables.”
“I’m in the right way,” Kovalev told Thomas Gerbasi of BoxingScene.com in early 2018. “Already, all my mistakes have been deleted mentally from my head. Right now, I’ll just keep working and following my dream for my goal to make the big fights.”
It’s clear that he’s not as in control of his life — of the way he treats himself and others — as he’d otherwise indicated.
The arrest for allegedly driving while under the influence occurred this past February.
The incident on the plane was in July 2019: “A female passenger accused him of grabbing her hand and kissing her, throwing cash at her and making her feel unsafe,” according to a report at the time by Mike Coppinger. Kovalev also got into a shouting match with another man on the plane.
His criminal case, stemming from a June 2018 assault on a woman and her dog, only recently came to a close. Kovalev pleaded guilty two months ago and was sentenced to the time he’d already spent in jail, plus three years of probation. The allegations and aftermath were particularly disturbing. The victim accused Kovalev of getting angry after she turned down his advances, telling police that he kicked her dog and punched her in the face. She was left with lingering injuries that led to multiple surgeries.
Boxing is about the value you bring to the table. That’s like most other jobs, but with even fewer ethics. The sport is replete with fighters who’ve been worth the trouble — frightening criminal cases, positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs, and quotes and social media posts where fighters utter racist or otherwise alarming remarks.
Mike Tyson went from being in prison for rape to headlining pay-per-views and is even more beloved decades later. Tyson Fury’s interviews have included attacks that could easily be construed as homophobic, transphobic, and anti-Semitic. Floyd Mayweather Jr. served jail time for assaulting one woman and faced accusations from others.
These are just three of many whose careers continued when that wouldn’t be the case in most other workplaces. Even Hollywood and pro sports leagues have finally begun to crack down in a way that boxing’s power brokers refuse to.
Kovalev was problematic even before his legal issues. He’d used racist terms to describe 2013 opponent Ismail Sillakh. In 2015, Kovalev tweeted a photo of himself pointing to a T-shirt worn by a young boy. The shirt showed the body of a boxer but the head of a chimpanzee. “Adonis looks great!!!” read the tweet, which was quickly deleted. Kovalev soon issued an apology.
“I really did not know it was bad, “ the statement read. “In the last few days my friends at [promoter] Main Events teach me some history about the United States. It is very different to where I grew up in Chelyabinsk. I’m still learning here and I understand I have made a mistake. I hope I can be forgiven this mistake and I will not do such a thing again.”
Kovalev had another bad post in 2017, a video of a fake text message conversation in which he depicted Ward using a homophobic slur and a variation of the n-word.
Kovalev’s handlers often excused his actions — as him not knowing better, or of his phrasing getting lost in translation — and therefore enabled him.
“We still use today in Russia, for Black people, the word ‘Negro’” manager Egis Klimas said in early 2014, speaking to Lem Satterfield in an article for RingTV.com after Kovalev’s remarks about Sillakh. “So they are trying to make him out to be a racist because of that reference to Black people. In the interview, he used the word ‘Negro’ for Black persons. And then he tried to be polite and to explain it by saying ‘dark-skinned people.’ That’s what he meant. But some stupid reporters are trying to use that information to make Sergey look bad. He is not a racist. He is a nice person, and I hate to have to explain that every time that I talk to a member of the media.”
(Klimas and Kovalev have also pointed to the fighter working with Black trainers as proof that he is not racist.)
Beibut Shumenov, a light heavyweight from Kazakhstan, disagreed in an interview with Satterfield weeks later.
“I was shocked when I heard about his racist comments that [Kovalev] said in reference about African Americans,” Shumenov said. “There was no misinterpretation or lost in Russian-to-English translation of what he said.”
Allegations between fighters and trainers who’ve split should always be taken with a grain of salt, but Jackson chimed in with this about Kovalev in 2018: “Sergey is a borderline racist,” Jackson told The Ring’s Joe Santoliquito. “He shows it in certain ways.”
The kind of behavior that troubles fans — well, sadly, just some of them — apparently didn’t bother network executives, promoters or sponsors enough for them to punish Kovalev.
Boxers are expected to be, and often accepted as being, more than a little rough around the edges. Yet the lack of control, and the lack of consequences, led Kovalev down the path to this latest incident.
The irony is that this is the one incident that understandably bothers executives — but won’t trouble most boxing fans.
Kovalev has lost fights, but he’s never lost his job, lost his promoter, lost his television slots. It’s sad but true that executives might only be willing to finally take a stand now that he is approaching 38 and one more loss away from being consigned to the scrap heap.
Or they won’t. Kovalev will likely be back if he beats Melikuziev. He might even be back if he loses, with promoters capitalizing on his name, part of the heartless history of giving faded fighters a few more paydays at the expense of their long-term health.
Sergey Kovalev is certainly no hero anymore. There aren’t really any heroes in this story. Boxing has never had much of a moral compass. It should be no surprise, then, that no one ever steered Kovalev in the right direction.
The 10 Count
1 – Let’s hope there’s at least enough morality in boxing that no promoter will try to bring James Kirkland back, and that no athletic commission will allow him to fight again.
Kirkland’s loss to Juan Macias Montiel on Saturday night in Los Angeles showed us everything we needed to know, even if nothing was anything we ever wished to see. Kirkland was dropped with a left hook just 30 seconds into the fight, the first of three knockdowns he suffered in the first and only round. Montiel stopped Kirkland a mere 116 seconds into the fight.
ICYMI: During Saturday's fight night, it only took the 1st Round for Juan Macias Montiel (22-4-2) to win by KO over James Kirkland 👀🥊 pic.twitter.com/NHUBVEQmr3
— FOX Sports: PBC (@PBConFOX) December 28, 2020
According to CompuBox, Montiel landed 16 punches while Kirkland landed one.
Kirkland was never big on defense, but he had even less of it at 36 years old, after a hard life that included training sessions that were far more grueling than most boxers are typically subjected to, as well as punishing fights, several arrests and stints behind bars, and multiple long layoffs from the ring.
He had 29 months away between 2003 and 2006; 24 months away between 2009 and 2011; 20 months off between 2012 and 2013; 17 months off between 2013 and 2015; four years and three months off between 2015 and 2019; and then nearly 14 months off between 2019 and last weekend due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kirkland had no legs and little coordination. As sad as this is to say, he looked like a drunk at the bar who picked a fight against someone who had a modicum of boxing experience.
Montiel did have 21 knockouts in 21 wins entering this bout — along with four losses and two draws — but this wasn’t merely the result of what the 26-year-old from Los Mochis, Mexico, brought to the ring. It was mostly a reflection of what Kirkland lacked.
This was a bad ending for Kirkland. Boxing needs to keep there from being an even worse one.
2 – Kirkland had at last seemed to find some peace in a life that long lacked it, thanks in large part to the windfall of his 2015 knockout loss to Canelo Alvarez, but perhaps also because he finally realized he needed to change his ways.
That four-year layoff before his 2019 return to the ring?
“He wanted to get his life in order so he could better care for his family,” wrote Boxing Junkie’s Michael Rosenthal last week. “[Kirkland] used the money he earned in the Alvarez fight and those that preceded it to buy a house in San Antonio, away from bad habits in his hometown. He went into real estate and dabbled in other enterprises. And, in the end, he was satisfied that things were stable.”
Said Kirkland: “I just decided that the days of my life could be spent in a more positive way … I was happy. My kids were happy. I said to myself, ‘You know what? Let’s get back in there.’”
Let’s just hope all of that was true and remains true. After all, James Kirkland is a guy who needed boxing to keep him out of trouble, but often still couldn’t stay out of it anyway. I’m worried about him no matter what happens next.
3 – Vasiliy Lomachenko’s message has changed.
Here he was less than two weeks ago, speaking in a two-part video interview about the scorecards in his loss to Teofimo Lopez. His quotes were translated into subtitles. The video was posted on the Instagram brand page he shares with former cruiserweight champ Aleksandr Usyk:
“It’s not about bias. It’s about being bribed. There was nothing about honest judging. I don’t know whose game it was.”
But here was Lomachenko last week, speaking with The Ring’s Joseph Santoliquito, translated by his manager, Egis Klimas:
“I didn’t say that the judges were bribed. I said that they were not being objective and they were being biased, they were not being objective in my personal opinion. After I saw the scorecards, I knew the judges were against me … I never thought the judges were bribed. No, the judges were not bribed.”
Here’s the thing: Lots of fighters complain about the scores after losing a fight. It’s far more rare to hear outright allegations about illegal actions. That was bad enough. But what made it worse was that Lomachenko said this after doing next to nothing and giving away so many rounds in the first half of his fight with Lopez.
Two things can be true, meanwhile. Lomachenko can deserve all the criticism he’s received. But he can also be given a little, teeny-tiny bit of leeway for taking issue with Julie Lederman’s 119-109 scorecard. The fight seemed closer than that. But it still seemed like the right man had his hands raised at the end of the night.
4 – Some more thoughts about Vasiliy Lomachenko:
First: I believed his team when they said Lomachenko entered the fight with a shoulder injury. He’s since had surgery and is undergoing rehab.
His inactivity in the early going of the Lopez fight seemed to reflect a few things: the slow way Lomachenko typically starts a fight; the respect he had to have for Lopez’s size, speed and skill; and, in hindsight, a fighter preserving his body for later on but giving up too many rounds in the process.
“I had to be careful and not get injured within the first six rounds. Because if I got injured, I wouldn’t be able to fight,” Lomachenko said in the Instagram interview. “That’s why I was careful during the first part of the fight. And then I realized that I was losing in the first part, so I started coming out more aggressively. I started thinking about it after the fifth round. I started counting and I understood I needed to come out, that I couldn’t continue losing rounds. I was also trying my shoulder, if it hurt. It didn’t hurt during the first six rounds. I didn’t punch much though.”
Second: I’d still like to see a rematch between Lopez and Lomachenko.
Boxing writer Gabriel Montoya put it well in a recent tweet (slightly edited here for clarity):
I'd like to see Loma-Lopez II. A fighter of Loma's caliber deserves another go. It was interesting late. I'd like to see if Lopez can put an exclamation point on his win with a KD or KO. #boxing
— Gabriel Montoya™ (@Gabriel_Montoya) December 25, 2020
“A fighter of Lomachenko’s caliber deserves another go. It was interesting late. I’d like to see if Lopez can put an exclamation point on his win with a knockdown or knockout.”
Lopez has spoken of his options at 135 and 140, in large part because those options absolutely exist, but also because voicing them could provide some leverage in any negotiations for a Lomachenko rematch.
Lomachenko’s not the first fighter to give up rounds early, come on stronger later, and fall short on the scorecards. A pair of notable recent examples include Lamont Peterson vs. Danny Garcia and Badou Jack vs. Adonis Stevenson. Lomachenko’s late success suggested he could do better if he started earlier. But Lopez’s dominant 12th round sent a message that he had handled Lomachenko’s best moments and then was able to hurt him in return.
Let’s do it again.
5 – The Ring’s year-end awards have been chosen. The Boxing Writers Association of America’s nominees have been announced. The year isn’t over, however, until we get to enjoy the annual big fight card on New Year’s Eve in Japan.
This year’s headline bout in Tokyo will feature a title bout that could end up being one of the best fights of the year — and which involves one of the best fighters around today. Kosei Tanaka will challenge Kazuto Ioka for the WBO’s junior bantamweight world title.
Tanaka is 25 years old, 15-0 with 9 KOs, another prodigy out of Japan who won his first title quickly and has added more as he’s moved up in weight. He turned pro in late 2013 at the age of 18. A year and a half later, in just his fifth pro fight, Tanaka outpointed Julian Yedras to win a vacant belt at 105. By the end of 2016, Tanaka had stopped Fuentes to win another vacant title, this one at 108. His defenses included a win over previously unbeaten Angel Acosta.
Tanaka has spent the past few years as a flyweight, unseating Sho Kimura to become a three-division titleholder, defeating Ryoichi Taguchi and two other challengers. Ioka stands between Tanaka and a title in a fourth weight class.
The 31-year-old has had a similar path. He was 22 and in his seventh pro fight when he won a strawweight title. His third and final defense in the division was a win over Akira Yaegashi. Ioka then moved up to 108, picked up a vacant belt and started another reign. He’s since added titles at 112 and 115. Ioka’s record is 25-2 with 14 KOs; those defeats were both split decisions, one against the awkward Amnat Ruenroeng and the other against the very good Donnie Nietes.
This should be a good one.
6 – Boxing’s most notable siblings, recent vintage:
– 2003-2007: Juan Manuel and Rafael Marquez
– 2008-2012: Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko
– 2012-2015: Koki and Tomoki Kameda (sorry, Daiki!)
– 2015-2020: Jermell and Jermall Charlo
– 2021: Jake and Logan Paul????
One of these things is not like the others. Lord help us all…
7 – The WBC has issued its first-ever bridgerweight division rankings (a new weight class situated between cruiserweight and heavyweight, from 201 to 224 pounds, for those who’ve been living in a much better plane of existence than the rest of us).
A fight for the WBC bridgerweight silver title — because of course a new division needs secondary baubles — has been set.
And what may be the first-ever bridgerweight fight has already taken place in…
No, not “Bolivion.” That’s where Mike Tyson faded into after his loss to Lennox Lewis. Rather, the match was held on December 22 in the city of Trinidad, Bolivia, according to a photo and a complete fight video posted by Twitter user @TimBoxeo.
The first ever Bridgerweight King of Bolivia – and Bridgerweight Champion anywhere in the world – if you want that title you gotta come take it from the Champ 👑🔥🇧🇴💪🥊 pic.twitter.com/EJWZE1cOdj
— Tim – Boxeo 拳闘 Boxen бокс มวย Boks 拳击 Box (@TimBoxeo) December 28, 2020
Saul Farah defeated Rosendo Mercado to win the country’s new bridgerweight title. Trust me when I say you don’t need to watch the fight. No matter how much you might think there’s nothing else to watch on Netflix, you can skip this one.
But that shouldn’t keep you from following me down the intriguing rabbit hole that is Farah’s career and the Farah-Mercado rivalry.
Farah — also known as Saúl Becerra Gil — is a short, rotund 37-year-old cruiserweight, heavyweight and, well, bridgerweight who’s now fought 100 times in the past 16 years, going 72-25-3 with 62 wins by knockout (and 18 of his defeats by KO). He’s also listed as a promoter, matchmaker, and referee in Bolivia, according to BoxRec.com.
Much of that record was built up facing the same opponents again and again. A total of 66 of his fights came against just 23 opponents. In what must be a strange strain on impartiality, some of Farah’s victims eventually served as referees or judges for his bouts, and then wound up fighting him again at a later date.
One opponent, the aforementioned Mercado, is now 2-9 with 1 KO. Eight of those 11 pro fights came against Farah. Mercado went 0-8 in those bouts. The first six losses were by knockout. He finally made it to the final bell in 2018, only to lose by split decision. Farah won another decision last week.
Farah’s only lost three times in Bolivia, each occurring earlier in his career. It’s when he leaves home that he runs into trouble. In 23 fights in different countries, Farah is 1-22. The one win via first-round disqualification. All 18 of his KO losses came in these international matches. He’s fought a couple of familiar names (Johann Duhaupas, Christian Hammer) and traveled to Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Germany, Panama, the Philippines, Russia, and Trinidad and Tobago.
This man is a legend. You can keep your Saul Alvarez. I’m sticking with Saul Farah…
8 – Boxers Behaving Goodly: Anthony Joshua, the heavyweight titleholder who is currently the biggest boxing superstar in the United Kingdom, has committed to supporting the same amateur system that helped get him to where he is today, according to Sky Sports.
Joshua provided “substantial financial backing” to boxing clubs in England, Wales and Scotland at a crucial time, especially with so many boxing gyms struggling during the pandemic, the article reported.
“Boxing helped shape me, both physically and mentally. It is no secret that without boxing and the family created around my amateur gym, my life could have been very different,” Joshua said in a statement. “The sport has given me a lot and I want to help highlight the issues affecting grassroots clubs and do what I can to keep the lights on for those most in need.”
9 – Yes, the World Boxing Association once had a dead fighter in its rankings — Ali Raymi remained rated a week and a half after he was killed in 2015. (The WBO infamously had a similar problem in 2001, rating Darrin Morris at super middleweight for four months after his death.)
And yes, I’ve been unrelenting in my criticism of the WBA, in particular its glut of meaningless world titles.
But no, the WBA did not truly remove a female world champion and install a male fighter in her place.
It’s otherwise easy to believe that to be the case. The WBA’s website indeed still listed Ryoji Fukunaga as its women’s 130-pound titleholder as this article was submitted on December 28. The problem? Fukunaga, a 13-4 fighter from Japan, is both a 115-pound fighter and a man.
In this case, however, this seemingly is just a data entry mistake that was spotted by some eagle-eyed observers.
Per the WBA’s PDF ratings file for November 2020, its junior lightweight titleholder remains Hyun Mi Choi, last seen moving to 18-0-1 with a points win over Calista Silgado on the undercard of Gennadiy Golovkin-Kamil Szeremeta.
The information underneath Fukunaga’s mistaken listing on the WBA website still (mostly) belongs to Choi.
Choi, not Fukunaga, won her WBA belt on August 15, 2013. And Choi was the one who (prior to the Silgado fight) had last defended her title in June 2019, though the WBA website is 10 days off with the date of that bout.
10 – “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” Harvey Dent said in Batman movie “The Dark Knight.”
In boxing, you either die at your keyboard or you live long enough to see yourself defend the WBA…
Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.