Tuesday, December 06, 2022  |

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‘Fighting Words’ — Two opportunities dramatically squandered, one emphatically seized

Picture By Dave Thompson
17
Feb

He paced in place, consumed by a mix of anticipation and anxiety, listening as three sets of numbers were announced, waiting for the three words he hoped would follow:

“And the new…”

Those words came, and Joseph Diaz Jr. jumped and yelled in excitement. He was lifted into the air, his arms raised high, and when he was physically back on the canvas, he was otherwise still on cloud nine, embracing his team members in the ring.

“I’ve been dreaming about this opportunity and this moment for a long, long time,” Diaz said last year.



A year later, he gave up his world title without ever defending it.

* * * 

There was similar emotion and elation when Josh Warrington won his world title in 2018, spurred on by his hometown crowd against the favored titleholder.

Warrington dropped to his knees, his eyes closed and mouth wide, before leaning forward onto the mat, his head cradled in his hands.

“I could die a happy man,” he said a little later.

More big moments followed. Warrington made three title defenses and then made plans for the future, speaking of two fights he wanted to make.

Then he made two mistakes. Warrington looked past the opponent in front of him. He looked at Mauricio Lara as a stepping stone. And that stepping stone rocked him.

* * *

For as much as we malign the sanctioning bodies, and for as much as they deserve it, the world titles are still meaningful to the men and women who win them. They are valuable. They are validation.

For Diaz, that title win in early 2020 came seven years into a career that had seemingly hit its ceiling. He was once a promising prospect, then an up-and-coming featherweight contender, but his skills and style seemed a level below what would be necessary to compete against the best. Indeed, he put up a good battle in his first title fight but ultimately was outclassed by Gary Russell Jr. 

When Diaz at last defeated Tevin Farmer at junior lightweight last year — fighting through a terrible cut over his left eye for 11 rounds — this monumental moment that had once seemed out of reach was now firmly in his hands.

Warrington, meanwhile, long faced an uphill climb because he lacked significant punching power. Without that equalizer, without heavy hands that could end fights early, he had to work harder than his opponents, had to tough out extended battles, had to build up the stamina to move his hands and feet for the full 12 rounds.

When Warrington dethroned Lee Selby for a featherweight title three years ago, it established that he was more than a local attraction.

“I was doubted at English level,” he said. “I was doubted at British level. “I wasn’t meant to go any further than that.”

Now he wanted to be considered one of the best in the world at 126 pounds.

* * *

They had dreamed of these moments, fought for them, and were ready to reap their rewards. In the span of two days last week, those opportunities were dramatically squandered.

Diaz’s emotion after the Farmer fight didn’t merely reflect that single victory, but rather the journey that had culminated in this triumph. 

“In my previous opportunities, I needed to learn and deal with the adversity that I had been put through,” Diaz had said. “I wanted to be an influence and a person who shows everybody that as long as you believe in yourself, you can overcome everything, any adversity. Despite everything, I was disciplined and focused, and I got the win this time.”

That discipline had since lapsed into a series of distractions and incidents, as chronicled by Manouk Akopyan of BoxingScene.com.

He’d allegedly driven drunk and crashed into someone else’s car last summer. A change in his team’s management structure led to ongoing litigation. The Covid-19 pandemic sidelined him for more than a year. His son was born toward the end of 2020. And there were dueling obligations: a contractually mandated rematch with Farmer and a sanctioning body order to face mandatory challenger Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov.

Diaz’s first title defense would wind up being scheduled against Rakhimov last weekend, not Farmer, in the main event of a show on the DAZN streaming service in Indio, California. But as Diaz approached the scales on Friday, there was a look of resignation on his face. He stood in place, listening as the numbers were announced — 133.6, more than three and a half pounds over what he was supposed to be, closer to the lightweight limit than the junior lightweight one — and aware of the written words that would follow.

“And no longer…”

His world title was gone. Diaz paid $100,000 to Rakhimov and $50,000 to the commission, plus another $76,000 was deducted from his purse for a management fee, according to boxing reporter Dan Rafael. His official purse, listed at half a million dollars, had been cut nearly in half even before taxes were taken into consideration.

The fight was still on, at least. Diaz seemed to have advantages in size and power early on, benefitting from not having to drain his body all the way down to 130. Rakhimov battled back in a good fight that wasn’t completely devoid of stakes despite the circumstances. Diaz couldn’t retain his belt, but Rakhimov could obtain it. The fight went to the scorecards. One judge had Diaz ahead, 115-113. The other two had it 114-114, a majority draw.

Photo by Tom Hogan-Hoganphotos/Golden Boy

Rakhimov will get another chance, The International Boxing Federation has ordered a fight for the vacant belt between him and Kenichi Ogawa, a contender who defeated Farmer in 2017 but rightly had that victory overturned due to a positive test for a banned substance.

Diaz apologized in one breath for not making weight but was otherwise unapologetic for not getting closer to 130.

“I want to apologize to DAZN. I want to apologize to all my fans that have been rooting for me since day one and have been rocking with me,” he said in a post-fight interview. “It was a mistake on my half. It was a year layoff, man. No excuses, but I’ll get back into it.”

Beto Duran, the on-site interviewer, pressed Diaz about the fact that he gave up his own title and asked whether he was disappointed in himself.

“I’m not disappointed at all, man,” Diaz responded. “At the end of the day, I know who I am. I work hard. I’m a hard worker. I’m a hard, disciplined type of fighter. It just wasn’t my night, man. I couldn’t make the weight like I used to. There was no sauna here. This Covid stuff, they don’t have no gym here. They only have a treadmill here. They had me working out inside my room with the fucking heater on. It was just completely, completely different than how a professional road title type of fight should be. 

“I just had to try to adapt to it,” he said. “I worked out inside the room with my jump rope, but my body just felt weak and I just couldn’t do it. My health is more important. I still had to go out here and showcase to the world what I’m about and fight. And I’m not going to go and risk my life for trying to make the weight and really, really deplete myself and get hurt inside the ring. There’s no need to fucking please anybody. At the end of the day, I’m doing this for myself and I’m doing this for my family.”

On the one hand, Diaz’s rationale makes sense. Fighters who deplete themselves can end up a shell of themselves in the ring, can have less of a chance of winning and can be at greater risk for injury. He made a calculated decision to give up his title, take the fines and criticism, get through this fight and be in a better position than if he’d lost. Boxing writer Corey Erdman said Diaz had tried to make 130 but that his body just wouldn’t cooperate:

“He’d spent the bulk of Thursday wrapped in plastics, stuffed inside a sauna suit, running on a treadmill, shadowboxing and skipping in his hotel room,” Erdman wrote for BoxingScene.com on the Monday after the fight. “His body was starting to feel tingly, so devoid of hydration that his muscular energy was gone. He decided to nap, hoping a little rest would give him just enough adrenaline to be able to work out. His alarm went off at midnight, and his body wasn’t responding. After a few more hours, JoJo woke up, turned the heaters to the maximum in his room and ran a hot bath. The scale still read 134.”

But on the other hand, every single other fighter on Saturday’s show — 15 other boxers, including Diaz’s opponent — faced the same restrictions and still made weight. But as the A-side in the main event, Diaz knew he could get away with coming in so far above the limit that the California commission wouldn’t even let him try to drop those three-and-a-half pounds. Rakhimov would still want to fight. The show would go on.

The question remains of whether Diaz will try to stay at 130 or move up to lightweight. That’s what forced Diaz’s move up from the featherweight division in 2018, after he came in at 126.6 pounds for a match with Jesus Rojas.

If he stays at junior lightweight, he’ll need to convince his promoter and any potential opponents that he can make the weight. He’ll have to work his way back toward a title shot. And if he enters the 135-pound weight class, he’ll join a division with younger, talented fighters. Diaz may once again hit his ceiling, stalling out before he even had a chance to finish his victory lap.


* * *

Warrington’s mistakes didn’t dock his paycheck the way Diaz’s did, but they did take a toll in this fight and will cost him in the long run.

Like Diaz, Warrington parted ways with his IBF title ahead of time. This was by choice, though. Warrington had been delivered a mandate to face Kid Galahad, whom he’d bested in 2019. Warrington preferred a different route: facing Xu Can or Gary Russell Jr.

“I feel like I’ve done everything over here with Carl Frampton, Lee Selby and the Kid,” Warrington said last month in an interview with Ron Lewis of BoxingScene.com. “Now, Gary Russell’s there [in the United States]. Leo Santa Cruz is there. Can Xu is there. Emanuel Navarrete is there. I want to test myself against those guys.”

He just needed to shake off some rust first.

That’s how Warrington approached the Lara fight, even if he claimed he was focused solely on this opponent. This was his first fight since October 2019, and his first fight with no fans in attendance. 

Lara, who came in with a record of 21-2 with 15 KOs, could be seen as a step down from the likes of Selby and Frampton. The 22-year-old had lost in his pro debut when he was just 17 and suffered his second defeat via first-round knockout in 2018. Lara had won 10 straight since, none against anyone of note. He’d been growing. He just hadn’t put those improvements to the test.

Warrington underestimated Lara. He knew his opponent’s style coming in and thought that he could get away with fighting Lara’s fight.

“I’m yet to have one of those fights where I get off my stool and I’m barely able to stand up,” Warrington had told John Evans of Boxing News beforehand. “That’s what I crave.”


“I spoke to him in the dressing room before the fight and said, ‘The chance that this young man has in the fight is to trade up with you. We know he can punch. Hust be smart,’” said promoter Eddie Hearn, according to Sky Sports. “And he didn’t do that.”

Warrington had faster hands and feet. Lara had the know-how to make up for his own disadvantages. Timing and tenacity can defeat speed and skill. Carlos Baldomir shocked Zab Judah. Ricardo Mayorga stunned Vernon Forrest. Ruslan Provodnikov dragged Timothy Bradley through every circle of hell.

It also helps the slower fighter — and hinders the faster one — when the boxer willingly engages in a brawl.

Warrington stood in front of Lara in the opening minutes. He sent out a jab. Lara countered with a right hand. Warrington tried a one-two. Lara laced in a left hook and followed with a right uppercut. The first round wasn’t even halfway over, yet Lara already had Warrington backing up. Warrington kept throwing to try to keep Lara away. Lara eagerly exchanged and kept coming.

In the second round, Warrington incorporated more movement and stayed out of range more often in the first two minutes, though he also allowed Lara to throw first. The final minute saw both men go toe-to-toe. Lara did a better job of closing the distance in the third round. He landed more counter punches, certain that he could handle Warrington’s shots and return fire with more heat. Lara’s face would bruise. His eyes would swell. His chin would hold up. 

The same couldn’t be said for Warrington. Lara hurt him again with about a minute to go in Round 4. He came forward with three punches. Warrington tried to counter with a left hook, but Lara threw one of his own and landed it with more effect. Warrington stumbled slightly backward toward the ropes. Lara closed in and kept throwing, pummeling away, smashing a hook into Warrington’s chin that left him trying to hold on. Lara loaded up on another left hook and Warrington dropped to the mat, rising at the count of five on unsteady legs.

The onslaught continued. Warrington weakly tried to retaliate, his arms and legs flailing as if he were an inflatable man trying to attract passersby to a used-car lot. The referee should’ve stopped the fight — and likely would’ve stopped the bout had it been Lara who were in such dire condition.

In hindsight, Warrington’s corner shouldn’t have sent their fighter out for the fifth. Instead, they believed that the minute’s relief would help. Warrington’s brave stand in Round 5 may have convinced them that this was the right choice, as he landed a pair of left hooks flush on Lara’s chin at one point, a couple of right crosses at another. But if Warrington didn’t have enough power before being hurt, he had even less pop afterward. Lara ate the shots and continued his pursuit, ravenous but deliberate, rugged but destructive.

Warrington made it through the fifth. He had more strength in his legs in the sixth but little else available. The end seemed inevitable. Warrington hadn’t recovered enough to keep Lara from chopping away. Heavy blows continued to rain down. Warrington’s defense had become too leaky to stop the deluge. There was only so much more he could absorb.

Almost every blow seemed to land, and every landed blow seemed to thud, and every thud seemed to hurt. 

Warrington, the experienced titleholder who’d fought at a much higher level, was the one who resembled an overmatched opponent getting dealt a painful reality check. Lara, the younger boxer who’d never defeated a real contender, was the one who was confident and in command.

Yet Warrington’s corner kept sending him out for more. The beating didn’t stop until a minute into Round 9. The ending was just as painful. Lara threw a one-two, ducked his head down and turned the weight of his body into a haymaker of a left hook. Warrington took it on the chin and stumbled backward. Lara tried a right uppercut, a left hook, another right uppercut, three more left hooks, a right hand to the body, and one last hook that flattened Warrington. 

The referee didn’t need to count. He knew it was over. It had been over for some time.

In some ways, it had been over from the beginning. Warrington said later that he’d come out flat, that he knew he was in trouble as early as the first round. 

“Normally I punch and I get out straight away. I was coming out half-arsed, slow, there was no head movement whatsoever, no little dipping, slips,” Warrington told boxing writer Tris Dixon. “If he tagged me it was [going to be] alright, but it wasn’t okay. It wasn’t okay to be tagged like that. Normally I’m edgy and there are little dips, feints, everything’s [moving at once], but it just wasn’t there.”

Warrington has a rematch clause. He’ll need to heal first, and then he’ll need to come to terms with the fact that this was more than an off night, that he was hurt worse than he’s willing to admit. 

He needs to recognize the serious threat that Lara poses. He clearly didn’t realize that beforehand. This result didn’t just happen due to what Warrington didn’t do. Lara was better than expected. 

Warrington overlooked him and lost multiple fights at once — this one and the others he’d dreamed would be next. And it’s the shots you don’t see coming that do the most damage.

The 10 Count

1 – Josh Warrington and Joseph Diaz Jr. weren’t the only ones who lost out on opportunities this past weekend. But what happened to Joe Smith wasn’t his fault.

Smith was supposed to face Maxim Vlasov last Saturday night for a vacant world title at light heavyweight — the belt that Canelo Alvarez left behind when he moved back down to 168. But two days before the fight was scheduled to take place, Vlasov had to pull out due to a positive test for Covid-19.

It’s gutting for both fighters to go through an entire training camp and end up with nothing to show for it: no payday, no spotlight, no momentum from the win, no movement toward the next step in their careers.

It’s tough enough what fighters go through when there’s not a pandemic, particularly the time they spend away from their families. Even more has been asked of them given the requirements in place to keep the fighters and everyone else involved in these shows safe.

“I made a lot of sacrifices to be here,” Smith said last week in a video posted by his promoter, Star Boxing. “With Covid, I haven’t seen my family. I’ve been staying away from everybody. The holidays, Christmas, I’ve just been sitting at home. I go home, go to the gym, come back home and do it all over again every day for the last three months, pretty much. To come here and have no reward really sucks.”

Smith is coming off a good 2020 in which he outpointed Jesse Hart and then stopped Eleider Alvarez. He’d rebounded from the two decision losses he’d suffered against Sullivan Barrera in 2017 and Dmitry Bivol in 2019. While it may be easy for some to deride Smith as a one-dimensional brawler, he’s otherwise established himself as a contender.

This delay, as necessary as it is, will reverberate in other parts of his life.

“He’s absolutely devastated,” tweeted Crystina Poncher, who does broadcasting and on-site reporting for Top Rank. “His wedding is planned for next month and everything was set and revolved around this fight date. Family and friends currently flying into Vegas have no idea the fight is postponed.”

2 – Smith vs. Vlasov being postponed meant that the co-feature fight was upgraded to the main event on ESPN. Richard Commey made the most of that prime placement, dropping Jackson Marinez twice in the sixth round for a highlight-reel TKO win. Marinez went down in a dramatic and somewhat cartoonish manner, the rare knockdown that makes the Rocky movies look realistic.

There’s been so much talk about the “Four Princes” of the 135-pound weight class — Teofimo Lopez, Ryan Garcia, Devin Haney and Gervonta Davis — but it’s way too soon to exclude Commey from the conversation.

Yes, those four young fighters are all undefeated and all talented. In contrast, Commey has suffered three defeats, coming up on the short end of split decisions against Robert Easter and Denis Shafikov in 2016, then put away in two rounds by Lopez at the end of 2019.

Lopez went on to unseat Vasiliy Lomachenko last year to become the new king of the lightweight division. That means Commey’s loss came against the eventual true champ. Meanwhile, Garcia, Haney, and Davis have yet to face a 135-pounder on Commey’s level.

Garcia’s most notable win to date was over Luke Campbell. Haney’s most notable win to date was over Yuriorkis Gamboa. Davis’ most notable win at 135 was against Gamboa (a year before Haney fought the Cuban star). His very good victories at 130 (Jose Pedraza, Leo Santa Cruz) don’t factor into this conversation.

This is not to diminish their skills and capabilities. All of them are good fighters. They all might very well defeat Commey. But fights aren’t won on paper. They shouldn’t automatically leapfrog Commey. That still needs to be earned.

Barring that, there are other opponents who could make fun fights for Commey, which is all the reason I ever need to tune in. As Twitter user @RobbieRenaldi put it: “Lightweight is so fun right now, especially when you consider the second wave of guys.”

Renaldi listed Commey, Masayoshi Nakatani (who stopped Felix Verdejo in an entertaining battle in December), Verdejo, and Rolando Romero (who won a controversial decision over Marinez last summer).

You can include a couple of other names: Joseph Diaz Jr. (if he moves up to 135) and Jorge Linares. Both are with Golden Boy Promotions, while Commey is affiliated with Top Rank. The companies have been bitter rivals in the past. The relationship seems to be much more cordial now, opening the door to pitting their fighters against each other.

3 – Speaking of the rare instance of fighters “crossing the street,” this past Saturday’s show on DAZN featured a Premier Boxing Champions junior middleweight taking on a titleholder from the Golden Boy Promotions stable.

Don’t expect this to be a sign that boxers with PBC, Top Rank, and the promoters with DAZN deals (Matchroom Boxing and Golden Boy Promotions) are going to start appearing regularly on other platforms. These are still competitors, each with broadcast partners. This isn’t just about politics. This is also about business.

But there have been isolated cases over the years like Brian Castaño (PBC) meeting Patrick Teixeira (Golden Boy) on DAZN. It was smart management by Castaño’s team, a worthwhile gamble to allow the undefeated 154-pounder to fight on another platform.

Castaño was previously the WBA’s interim titleholder and then its “regular” titleholder — because, you know, the WBA. That was until the WBA did WBA things and stripped him. So Castaño’s team maneuvered him to challenge Teixeira for the WBO belt. Golden Boy won the purse bid for the right to stage the card.

Castaño then did his job, winning a clear unanimous decision on the undercard of Diaz-Rakhimov. Now he’s in an even better position than he was before. The other three major world titles at 154 are held by PBC star Jermell Charlo. A fight between Charlo and Castaño would be fun — and for the undisputed championship.

4 – The winner of Charlo vs. Castaño would be in the strange position of being the undisputed champion while still having plenty of work left to do to clean the division out.

There’s that much parity — and there’s been that much triangle theory — at 154.

I’d love to see Jarrett Hurd and Julian Williams in the mix again. Erickson Lubin has been working his way back toward a title shot ever since he suffered a stunning one-round knockout loss to Charlo in 2017. Erislandy Lara is often less fun to watch, but he had a close and entertaining loss to Hurd in 2018 and fought to a draw with Castaño in 2019.

All of those fighters are affiliated with PBC. These are all fights that can be made.

And when the dust settles, it might be time for Tim Tszyu to step up against world-class opposition, for a new class of contenders and prospects to throw their hats into the ring.

5 – There wasn’t much talk about Zelfa Barrett vs. Kiko Martinez going into last weekend’s fight on the undercard of Josh Warrington vs. Mauricio Lara. The scorecards for that fight — and what they represent — are something we shouldn’t stop talking about.

Barrett, a junior lightweight prospect, won a highly controversial decision over Martinez. Although Martinez is well past his best years when he held a world title at 122, he did more than enough for many observers to see the result as a robbery. Except two official judges had Barrett wide ahead, 118-111, giving Martinez just two rounds. (The third judge also scored the fight for Barrett, 116-113.)

The scores were so bad that Barrett’s promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, spoke out about them.

“That was a very close fight. I thought 118-111 is absolutely disgusting,” Hearn said afterward, according to Sky Sports. “Martinez was relentless, and if he lost, it was by one or two rounds.

“We have some fantastic officials, but 118-111 doesn’t do anyone any favours,” he said. “How are we going to bring foreign fighters to this country when they get zero credit for their performance?”

Bad scorecards — not just questionable, or debatable, but plain bad scores — are prevalent in the sport. It’s just that we often don’t hear much of a sustained outcry from fans except for when it’s a notable fight. We almost never hear from promoters unless it’s their guy who was wronged. And the sport being what it is, the news cycle often moves on until we start this process all over again.

Real accountability is rare.

I can only think of a couple of notable instances when a judge was punished for doing their job poorly. The judges who bungled Paul Williams vs. Erislandy Lara were suspended by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board. CJ Ross never judged a boxing match again — in Nevada or anywhere else — after somehow seeing Floyd Mayweather vs. Canelo Alvarez as a draw.

Judging is subjective. That doesn’t give them carte blanche. There are still criteria that each judge is supposed to use, standards that I imagine a commission sets for how to tell when someone has done a good job as a judge and when they have not.

And yet the commissions tend to fall back on the premise of subjectivity when a scorecard is clearly out of whack. We in the media need to do a better job of asking whether commission heads will review a fight to see if a scorecard is explainable, what their review found, and what their next steps will be.

As limited as my role is in the world of boxing journalism, I need to step up as well. Look for more on this subject in future columns.

6 – Here’s the newly matured Adrien Broner with sage advice for those who think his best days are past him:

“Eat a dick and put gravy on it.”

I’m far from a prude, but… that just seems like a waste of good gravy.

7 – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A contender signs up for an exhibition match multiple divisions above his best weight, taking on one of the best fighters in the world.

No, this isn’t another entry about Ryan Garcia vs. Manny Pacquiao.

Former flyweight beltholder Daigo Higa faced off against unified bantamweight titleholder Naoya Inoue in Japan last week, and seemingly no one who complained about Garcia-Pacquiao uttered a peep.

Of course, there are reasons why they didn’t.

Ryan Garcia knows how to work social media and the news media to grab attention. His desire for a match with Pacquiao — exhibition or real — garnered the buzz he was seeking. Those who complained about the possibility that Garcia-Pacquiao might be an exhibition were bothered because they prefer to see Garcia in meaningful fights against his fellow lightweights. (I went much more in-depth on that in this recent column.)

Higa, meanwhile, has been rebuilding since his sudden fall nearly three years ago, when he lost his title on the scales and then was stopped in nine rounds by Cristofer Rosales. He’s only fought three times since, all in 2020, all at or around the 118-pound weight class.

And this wasn’t a “money grab,” as some of the detractors called Garcia-Pacquiao. Rather, Inoue vs. Higa was part of a charity event to support the country’s medical professionals, according to the Japan Times. The show also included several other three-rounders featuring notable names:

– 108-pound champ Hiroto Kyoguchi against Akira Yaegashi, who won titles from 105 to 112 before retiring.

– Retired junior lightweight titleholder Takashi Uchiyama vs. domestic contender Kosuke Saka.

– Former flyweight titleholder Sho Kimura vs. kickboxer Yoshiki Takei.

– 140-pound prospect Jin Sasaki vs. Sewon Okazawa, an amateur who is slated to fight in this year’s Olympics.

Inoue vs. Higa was fun for what it was and is very much worth 10 minutes of your day. They wore headgear for the first two rounds but took it off for the third. They winged hard punches at each other and made it more engaging than a pedestrian sparring session, even if they weren’t trying to tear each others’ heads off.

8 – It’s still several years away — because of one fighter’s continued development and the other fighter’s continued punishment — but I’d love to see a fight between heavyweight prospect Jared “Big Baby” Anderson and heavyweight contender Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller.

Winner gets to keep the nickname.

Of course, Miller will first need to return from his suspension AND prove that he can pass a drug test. Which probably means we’ll never see the fight — unless another promoter decides to give him a third chance.

Top Rank took a chance on Miller given his previous positive tests for banned substances, which had led to him being pulled from a 2019 fight with Anthony Joshua (and led to late replacement Andy Ruiz scoring the huge upset).

Miller quickly burned that bridge when he tested positive barely five months later. 

“When we signed the fight, after he had tested positive before the fight with Anthony Joshua, he told me it was his people that did it, he would be very careful, he would have a special nutritionist,” Top Rank’s Bob Arum said last year in an interview with TalkSport. “And boom, the same thing happened and he tested dirty.

“If you’re asking me if I’d continue my contract with him, the answer is, ‘Not in your life,’” Arum added. “Jarrell Miller will never fight on a Top Rank card.”

As for Anderson, he’s barely 16 months into his pro career and is developing in front of our eyes. His most recent victory came Saturday night on the ESPN undercard of Commey-Marinez. Anderson scored a nice knockout, putting Kingsley Ibeh down hard in the sixth round and moving to 8-0 with 8 KOs.

9 – I don’t know if subliminal messaging works, but Joe Tessitore, Andre Ward and Timothy Bradley said “Ibeh” so many times on Saturday night that I felt a strange urge to bid on several online auctions for things I don’t need.

Anderson deserves good feedback for what he did on Ibeh. We’ll see what his promoter has to OfferUp next.

10 – In a week with so many highlights — plenty of knockouts, good fights and a huge upset — one of my favorite things took place on a small card in Orlando, Florida, promoted by former fighter Christy Martin and aired as an online pay-per-view.

An undersized, undefeated cruiserweight named Richard Rivera moved to 19-0 (14 KOs) with a first-round stoppage of Ulisses Jimenez. But it wasn’t the fight itself that stood out to me, but rather the fighter’s nickname — and the way he lives up to his gimmick.

Rivera goes by “Popeye the Sailor Man” and dresses the part, complete with navy hat, corncob pipe, and a woman dressed up as Olive Oyl. 

A quick search down the YouTube rabbit hole shows that he’s been wearing this costume for some time, which means that it must not weigh 40 pounds and take away his legs before the fight begins.

If ever there were a fighter who should use the famed “Anchor Punch” that Muhammad Ali knocked out Sonny Liston with, it’s “Popeye.”

All but one of his knockouts has taken place within the first four rounds, so we still don’t know if he’s strong to the finish.

If only the late, great Pernell Whitaker were still around, because Popeye and Olive Oyl were incomplete without Sweet Pea.

Alas, this is all fun and games until the day that Rivera tests positive for a banned substance and blames tainted spinach…

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

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