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Fighting Words – Demetrius Andrade is Still Only Halfway to Reality

Demetrius Andrade celebrates winning the WBO middleweight title after outpointing Walter Kautondokwa. Photo by Matt Heasley/Matchroom Boxing USA
12
Jan

For years, Demetrius Andrade has called for the big fights and complained when they didn’t come.

They didn’t happen at junior middleweight, where he held a world title, on and off for more than three years. They haven’t happened yet at middleweight, where he picked up another title belt two years ago. They didn’t come while he was featured on HBO, with its deep pockets and deep stable of talent. They’ve yet to come on DAZN either.

He says he’s being avoided, that no one is willing to face him. He’s still yet to fully face the truth. For all of his considerable talent in the ring, for all of his great interviews and good quotes in the media, the two areas he’s most struggled with are managing his career and making himself more marketable.

So it was refreshing, a breath of fresh air after so much hot air, to hear Andrade say something different — that he’d be willing to take less money to make a big fight happen, a short-term sacrifice that could pay long-term dividends.

“This is what I’m willing to do: I’m willing to take less money — the same amount of money to fight [mandatory challenger] Liam Williams — I would take that money to fight [168-pound titleholder] Billy Joe Saunders,” Andrade told Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated and DAZN on a recent podcast episode.

“I’m willing to put myself at risk because a lot of fighters want to fight the easy guy or the mandatory that’s not that big of a name and make that money. I’m willing to make that same money [for a mandatory challenger] to fight Billy Joe and move on to bigger and better in the future.”

It was a different perspective from what he’d voiced for ages, dating back to conversations with me nearly six years ago. There are two things about Demetrius Andrade that are otherwise admirable but have become obstacles — he cares about his wealth and his health. He’s not willing to fight if he feels like he’s not being given enough time to prepare and enough compensation. And he’s not going to put himself at risk in the ring for the sake of pleasing others.

Andrade had a strong amateur career, one that culminated in a spot in the 2008 Olympics. He made it to the quarterfinals and soon entered the pro ranks. It didn’t take long for Andrade to make it onto ESPN2’s boxing programming. By 2011, he was sharing the ring with Grady Brewer. It was Andrade’s biggest test yet. Brewer, despite his middling record, had recently upset undefeated prospect Fernando Guerrero. In a pre-fight interview, Andrade promised that he’d jab a lot. He was good to his word and not so good to watch, a strategic misfire given the spotlight.

But by the end of 2013, Andrade was in place for a world title shot, defeating Vanes Martirosyan for a vacant junior middleweight belt. Andrade went on to trounce Brian Rose in his first title defense in 2014.

And then he spent the next 16 months out of the ring.

Andrade had tried to leave his promoters — he was with Star Boxing and Banner Promotions before leaving for Matchroom Boxing in 2018 — for rapper Jay-Z’s then-fledgling, since-defunct company, Roc Nation.

He pulled out of a bout with Jermell Charlo that would’ve been part of a Showtime broadcast in late 2014. He turned down a multi-fight contract with Showtime. His world title was taken away from him, further depriving Andrade of any leverage he might’ve otherwise enjoyed in the 154-pound division.

“I definitely don’t regret it,” Andrade told me in early 2015, a few months after that fight fell apart. “That fight was originally supposed to be for the next year [in 2015]. They pushed it for me to fight in December [2014], and I got the notice in November. Me being a fighter, I want things to be done according to plan. I need enough time to prepare for a 12-round fight. And as a businessman, I’m like, ‘What’s the money and is it worth the risk and the rewards?’ It wasn’t.”

I asked him about taking less money in order to take advantage of the opportunity. Zab Judah, for example, agreed to get just $100,000 for his rematch with Cory Spinks, less than 10 percent of Spinks’ purse. But Judah knocked Spinks out and became the new lineal welterweight champion.

“I did that already when I fought Vanes Martirosyan,” Andrade responded. “I was supposed to fight, the champ before him was some guy from Russia, whatever his name is [Zaurbek Baysangurov], he pulled out of the fight. I spent over $20,000-plus on camp for a fight that didn’t come through. Now I got the opportunity to fight Vanes, so I spend another 20-plus. And then I fought Vanes for like 75, so what did that really come out with after all the expenses and stuff like that?

“So I had my ‘bite the bullet,’” he said. “I fought Brian Rose. I’m not afraid to tell my numbers. 200 [thousand] I made. I should see more every time I step into the ring now.”

That approach didn’t quite work for him. You don’t earn any money if you don’t fight. And all the while, Andrade’s co-promoters tried to repair relationships both with their fighter as well as with the sport’s powerbrokers.

“His boxing skills certainly remain the same. He’s an unbelievably talented fighter. But we’ve got to get him in the ring. That’s the key,” said Joe DeGuardia of Star Boxing, speaking to me at the end of 2015. “The bridge he needs to rebuild is to get back in the ring, to show the networks that his desire is to be in the ring. That’s an important thing. Not taking the fights that he didn’t take was a big mistake.”

Whether they were mending fences or rebuilding bridges, Andrade was on Showtime by June 2016, looking good while stopping Willie Nelson in 12 rounds. There were snafus while trying to make a fight with Jack Culcay, but Andrade ultimately traveled to Germany in March 2017, having an off-night but having enough to beat Culcay by split decision for the secondary “regular” WBA world title.

Demetrius Andrade (right) boxes Alantez Fox en route to a 12-round unanimous decision on October 21, 2017. Photo courtesy of HBO Boxing.

Andrade then moved up to middleweight for a fight against Alantez Fox, part of a multi-fight deal with HBO. Andrade won by a wide unanimous decision. Executives weren’t happy, though. The action was “so bad the network declined its option for his next fight,” according to boxing writer Dan Rafael.

That has been a feature, not a bug, of Andrade’s run the past few years. He will dominate his opponents early with good action, eye-appealing combinations, standout speed and power. And then, instead of ending things early, Andrade will take his foot off the gas and will be content with coasting along.

That’s what happened when Andrade returned from nearly a yearlong layoff after the Fox fight, taking on Walter Kautondokwa in late 2018. Andrade scored four knockdowns in the first four rounds. The fight went the distance.

Andrade mostly utilized his jab for his next fight, against Artur Akavov in early 2019, only scoring the stoppage in the 12th round when the referee bizarrely decided that he’d seen enough.

Five months later, in June 2019, Andrade battered Maciej Sulecki in the first round, knocking him down within 50 seconds and landing a total of 21 of 39 power shots in the first three minutes. But then his father, also his trainer, told him: “Don’t make this a war. Make this a boxing match.” Andrade toyed tediously with Sulecki for the remaining 11 rounds.

Andrade clocks Luke Keeler. Photo by Melina Pizano/Matchroom Boxing USA

And a year ago, Andrade put Luke Keeler down twice in two rounds, but somehow still let Keeler last until the ninth.

Those are the uneven performances Andrade put forth while calling out the likes of Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin and Jermall Charlo. He’s also been calling for Billy Joe Saunders and has signalled that he’s willing to move up to 168 to vie for Saunders’ world title.

And he’s said he’ll fight differently against Saunders than he did against those lesser foes.

“I’m going to put everything out there. I’m not going to sit there and try and just win the fight,” Andrade told Mannix. “I’m going to put it all out there to win it in a convincing way — so therefore now the demand is higher for Demetrius to get in there with GGG, Canelo, Charlo or whoever.

“I’m going to put it all out there because I know what’s at stake. [When] I’m fighting somebody else, I’m gonna do what I need to do to secure the win and be safe, because of cuts and head butts and all that type of stuff that happens in a fight. At this point, when I know I’m in there with an elite guy, everything’s on the line. I’m going to go balls to the wall.”

Andrade’s logic didn’t quite make sense. He recognized the importance of looking great against the likes of Billy Joe Saunders in order to help make a case for other big fights. But he could’ve done that to begin with — making statements to make him more marketable.

If people enjoy watching you, then they’ll look forward to seeing you. They’ll buy tickets. They’ll tune in to your shows. That will make you more of a star. And being more of a star, in turn, will make it easier to get those other stars to face you. There will finally be more of a reward to compensate for the risk Andrade poses.

Mannix rightly pressed Andrade on this.

“First of all, I look great every time I step into the ring. I come out of the ring great, looking good, tall, black and handsome, of course,” Andrade retorted. “I put on a show and I display skills and talent. The sweet science is skills and talent. I’m not going out there and Rock ’Em, Sock ’Em Robots. That’s just not the type of sport that I was taught to do. It was to box and do what I needed to do. And I do what I need to do.”

There’s a difference between doing what you need to do to win a fight, and doing what you need to do to win fans over.

There have been plenty of skilled boxers who have been marketable despite doing their best to avoid battles. But there have also been plenty of skilled boxers who get labeled as boring to watch — fairly or unfairly — and then struggle to overcome that perception.

Boxing fans can be circumstantially impatient. It’s compelling to watch a boxer put on a clinic against a talented, powerful opponent. It’s hard to watch a boxer-puncher play with his food against someone so overmatched, phoning it in for rounds at a time.

Boxers in Andrade’s position like to point to the sport being called “the sweet science,” to the axiom of hitting without getting hit. It’s not just about making your opponents’ miss, however. It’s about making them pay.

That’s why the other part of this health-wealth equation is so important. If Andrade is ready to earn less than he’d otherwise ask to face Saunders, then perhaps we can move past these wasted years and finally see Andrade’s talent put to the test.

Billy Joe and Demetrius were set to battle in October 2018. Photo by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA

This was actually supposed to happen in 2018. For once, the fact that it didn’t happen wasn’t Andrade’s fault. He was supposed to face Saunders instead of Kautondokwa on that October night in Boston. Saunders tested positive for a banned substance and was subsequently pulled from the fight.

In some respects, Andrade’s otherwise had a fortunate couple of years. He’s being paid decently to win easy fights. Beyond the businessman in him, there’s still the competitor side. Despite how much he sabotages himself, Andrade truly does want those big fights.

“I’m gonna fight whoever I have to fight because I love what I do, but alright guys, how long are we gonna keep doing this for until I get a big fight?” Andrade told Dan Rafael a few months ago. “It gets boring for the people. It gets boring for me.”

He’s right. But first and foremost, Andrade has to do his part, to do a better job of taking better fights and then making them into better fights.

And it has to begin with Andrade finishing what he starts. It’s one thing if boxers can’t hit him. It’s another thing if boxing fans can’t miss him.

The 10 Count

1 – This past week brought a pair of headlines about a couple of mandatory challengers who potentially stand in the way of other, more important fights:

On Friday, the International Boxing Federation said that lightweight champ Teofimo Lopez Jr. must defend his belt — one of several major titles he holds, alongside The Ring’s championship — against George Kambosos Jr. And on Sunday, promoter Eddie Hearn spoke about his intent to make Anthony Joshua vs. Tyson Fury next, even though former cruiserweight champ Aleksandr Usyk is the mandatory challenger for the World Boxing Organization belt, one of the three titles Joshua has.

It’s easy to curse the sanctioning bodies for standing in the way of fights that are both hugely important and often hugely lucrative.

Kambosos Jr. (right) opens up on Selby.
Photo by Dave Thompson

After all, there’s much more of an appetite to see Lopez take on the likes of Gervonta Davis, Ryan Garcia or Devin Haney, rather than face Kambosos. Especially because all that Kambosos did to earn this shot was beat the likes of former 135-pound titleholder Mickey Bey and former 126-pound titleholder Lee Selby. (This is still much more than some mandatory challengers have done.)

The most important heavyweight fights involve any combination of Joshua, Fury and Deontay Wilder. As great as Usyk was in the 200-pound division, his heavyweight campaign has only consisted of stopping Chazz Witherspoon and battling through some tough moments against Dereck Chisora en route to a points victory. Usyk became the WBO mandatory because he’d held the organization’s title one division below.

2 – In another time, these obstacles wouldn’t be so significant because fighters would fight more often.

You’re probably not going to see Anthony Joshua take an interim bout before facing Fury, at least not one that would pose any danger of derailing one of the United Kingdom’s biggest heavyweight fights ever. As much trouble as Usyk had with Chisora early on, he still has the ability to play spoiler. (Yes, the rematch between Erik Morales and Manny Pacquiao took place even after Morales lost his interim fight to Zzzzzzzzzzahir Raheem, but that doesn’t mean Joshua and his team would want to take that chance with Usyk.)

Lopez is open to traveling to Australia to face Kambosos, he said in an interview with BoxingScene’s Jake “Jazz Hands of Stone” Donovan. Unlike with the heavyweight scenario, the lightweight division hasn’t yet made significant progress toward pairing its big names against each other — not beyond Davis and Garcia agreeing to face each other via Mike Tyson’s podcast.

Lopez last fought in October, when he dethroned Vasiliy Lomachenko. It’s about time for him to look at his next outing. It’s refreshing when fighters choose to stay busy and act as the modern version of a fighting champion.

As for the heavyweights, money is both the root of all evil and the means to an end. If Usyk requests an acceptable amount to step aside, then that makes Joshua-Fury easier to make. Then again, the WBO could also just recognize that Joshua-Fury is more significant and will bring in greater sanctioning fee revenue — not just more than Joshua vs. Usyk, but more than it would make if Joshua vacates the belt and leaves Usyk to fight for it against someone else.

3 – And then there was this related headline: “WBC Prez: Mandatories For Unified Champs Are Problematic, We Need To Find Solution.”

Which reminds me of this famous meme: “‘I never thought leopards would eat MY face,’ sobs woman who voted for the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party.”

In our sport, there only ever seems to be one solution. Boxing has a fever, and the only prescription is more title belts.

4 – Boxers Behaving Goodly: Claressa Shields took part in a coat drive in Flint, Michigan, that resulted in approximately 400-500 coats being donated to people in need, according to local TV station WNEM.

Shields has been involved in other charitable efforts before in her hometown. In 2018, she pledged to donate part of her purse for her middleweight title fight against Hanna Gabriels to those affected by the city’s water crisis.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist has won world titles at 154 and 168 — and was the undisputed champion at 160. She also recently signed with the Professional Fighters League with the intent of having her first mixed martial arts bout later in 2021.

5 – It was otherwise a slow news week. No matter how hard I try, I can’t put together thousands of words about Cornflake LaManna defeating Juan de Jesus Angulo Gonzalez.

So let’s talk about Keith Thurman cutting his hair instead.

The former welterweight titleholder posted a photo last week of his newly buzzed dome. “A new year, a new look, a new philosophy,” he wrote, though his rapidly expanding hairline may have played a role.

I endorse this decision. I’d say this even if I hadn’t started shaving my head in my early 20s. (And no, it wasn’t my initiation into the ranks of approximately 5,000 bald boxing writers.) But as a boxing fan, I do worry that this might be a Samson and Delilah situation, and that perhaps shearing away Thurman’s luxurious locks will deprive him of his power.

Then again, the fighter who called himself “One Time” — because that’s all he needed to hit you with in order to hurt you — hasn’t scored a KO since 2015.

6 – The Craziest Thing About Don King’s Supposedly Upcoming Event, Part 1: 

We move from Keith “One Time” Thurman to Christopher “One Shot” Lovejoy.

Lovejoy, an unbeaten heavyweight who we’ll dig into later, is one of six fighters slated to fight on Jan. 29 in Hollywood, Florida, at a show promoted by Don King. I know we talk a lot about the difference between fights on paper vs. what happens once the fighters are in the ring. But in this case, it’s seeming more and more that this show may only exist in print form.

The fights — to steal from HBO’s old “24/7” scripts — are less than three weeks away. But Manuel Charr has yet to receive his travel visa to fly in from Europe to face Trevor Bryan. The venue has nothing listed; Boxing Vibe was told by casino staff that nothing was scheduled for that day. Lovejoy says he hasn’t received a contract to face Bermane Stiverne or a deposit, money he needs to help cover the costs of training camp and travel.

(And let’s not gloss over the lack of precautions that otherwise should be in place to protect the fighters, and everyone else involved in the show, from a pandemic that’s ravaged the state of Florida.)

King is 89 years old and a long way away from his years as one of the sport’s leading promoters. His last event as the main promoter was in August 2015. He’s had little over the years beyond small shows and the occasional notable name (Bermane Stiverne, Amir Imam) whom a network wanted to feature. His company had been largely inactive. There was a significant stretch of time when it no longer even had a working website.

7 – The Craziest Thing About Don King’s Supposedly Upcoming Event, Part 2:

King’s continued role in boxing, as minimized as it’s become, is thanks to an ability to somehow convince some fighters to sign with him. And then they become ensnared, unable to escape from the reality that they should’ve seen coming.

It’s not easy to figure out exactly who is left in King’s stable. His website doesn’t have any obvious links to a list of fighters. Cruiserweight beltholder Ilunga Makabu signed with King in late 2019 and promptly had King nearly block a title defense from happening. Vanes Martirosyan signed with King in 2017 despite King’s reputation, thought that maybe King would finally treat one fighter better than all the rest, and ultimately learned otherwise. Lovejoy says he hasn’t gotten the fights he was promised and told Forbes.com that his contract should’ve been invalidated. After King prevented Lovejoy from appearing on a Matchroom Boxing show, the fighter tried to buy out his contract.

“I came up with $8,000 cash, so I booked my flight to see this man face to face and see if it would work. It didn’t,” Lovejoy tweeted last month. “Don King wanted $15,000, so I was $7,000 short and now I can’t fight until May 5, 2021, when the contract expires. […] Only in America!”

King’s fighters tend to sit on the shelf like they’re canned food in an apocalypse bunker.

8 – The Craziest Thing About Don King’s Supposedly Upcoming Event, Part 3: 

Inactivity is a theme with nearly everyone on the bout sheet for January 29, even for those not signed with King.

The show, according to BoxRec, will feature four live fights. An ad on King’s website says the pay-per-view — which apparently needs more than those fights to carry it — will also include re-airings of Larry Holmes vs. Gerry Cooney, the Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield rematch, and the first fight between Julio Cesar Chavez and Frankie Randall.

As for those live fights:

– Manuel Charr is supposed to face Trevor Bryan in a heavyweight bout. Charr hasn’t fought since November 2017. Somehow he’s still the WBA’s “regular” titleholder. Bryan hasn’t fought since August 2018. He’s the WBA’s “interim” titleholder.

Remember him?

– Beibut Shumenov is supposed to face Raphael Murphy in a cruiserweight bout. Shumenov hasn’t fought since July 2018. He’s somehow the WBA’s “regular” titleholder. Murphy is an unheralded fighter who at least fought in August 2019. Only three of his 14 victories have come against opponents with winning records. Those three foes’ combined records? 10-2-2.

– Bermane Stiverne is supposed to face Lovejoy in a heavyweight bout. Stiverne has fought just once since his 2017 drubbing in a rematch with Deontay Wilder, getting stopped in six rounds by prospect Joe Joyce nearly two years ago. Lovejoy has at least been more active, appearing a year ago, though you’d be right to otherwise question his record (more on that still to come).

– Those are the three fights that BoxRec lists as approved. Another one, marked as “pending approval,” is Ronald Johnson vs. TBA. Johnson — who lists himself as the “current GBO heavyweight boxing champion,” whatever that is, a belt that Lovejoy has also somehow simultaneously claimed — last fought in October 2019.

Poor TBA always has several fights on the horizon, only to be replaced by someone else before he gets to step in the ring.

9 – The Craziest Thing About Don King’s Supposedly Upcoming Event, Part 4:

Christopher Lovejoy is somehow a thing.

If you’ve seen him in action beyond the brief training videos and one pro bout posted online, then you know more than almost everyone else.

He is 19-0 with 19 KOs. Every fight has taken place in Tijuana. The only footage I could find was from his 12th bout. Those 19 wins came against 15 opponents. Only one of them had a winning record. Six of them didn’t have any wins before facing Lovejoy and still have yet to win a single fight.

And some of fighters either used fake names or had their records conflated — unless some dude named Martin Rodriguez truly was 123 pounds in December 2007 and then had gained 119 pounds in eight and a half months before facing Lovejoy. I love my ice cream, but even I couldn’t do that without keeling over, dying from a combination of happiness and heart failure.

Lovejoy had three fights with Edgar Montejo, whose record sits at 1-7-1 with 1 KO.

He had two fights with Omar Nunez Valderrama (the opponent in the above video), who is now listed at 0-14-1.

And he’s had two fights with Aron Alexis Franco, who is now 0-4. They first fought in 2016 when both made their professional debuts. Lovejoy stopped him in 78 seconds. Two years later, Lovejoy was 16-0 when he apparently needed to step up his competition and have a rematch with Franco, then 0-3.

Somehow the WBA still briefly felt that Lovejoy belonged in its Top 15 rankings, peaking at No. 10 for a few months in 2019.  I’d love to know how that decision was made.

10 – And I’m shocked that the WBA somehow hasn’t found a way to give Lovejoy a belt.

Please forgive me if I just spoke it into existence…

 

 

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.

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