Brownie Bake Off
Coming off the first skid of his career losing two straight fights via stoppage and his IBF Welterweight belt, Special K Kell Brook was in desperate need of a fresh start and clean slate.
Kell Brook got both, with a touch of redemption returning to the ring to take on serviceable Belarusian Siarhei Rabchanka, a 30 plus fight veteran with no wins of note but a largely unpadded record with a few minor titles on his resume.
Rabchenko posed a different kind of problem for Kell who was stepping up to Junior Middleweight for the first time, used to be the bigger man with the exception of his fights with GGG and Errol Spence, Kell could no longer count on that advantage in his new home at 154 pounds. That said it’s always been the intangibles that Kell has depended upon, chiefly - his boxing ability - Kell was and is a quality operator and that was apparent in this fight as well.
Kell did whatever he wanted - leading with a rear uppercut to left hook - he couldn’t miss with either hand. The best counter punchers know what punch they want their opponent to feed them because Rabchenko bit on the feints Kell had just the right shot waiting. During one sequence Kell sold Rabchenko on throwing the left hook to the body, the punch grazed his right hip and Kell’s own Right hook collided with Rabchenko’s jaw sending spit flying!
Rabchenko was floored in round two when he fell into another one of Kell’s traps, throwing a lazy right straight on the back foot allowing Kell to come inside with a slip landing his own counter right straight the moment Rabchenko planted his feet - I doubt he even saw the punch coming.
Rabchenko gamely struggled to his feet, however, veteran referee Steve Gray had seen enough and called a halt with more than a minute and a half left in the second round.
At stake was the WBC Silver title at 154 pounds and Rabchenko #5 ranking within the WBC, so one can assume Kell Brook has now leapfrogged into the top 5. So now Kell has options, campaigning for some kind of catchweight fight with Amir Khan who returns next month at Kell’s former weight class or even challenging the dangerous champion Jermell Charlo who has grown into a dominant champion.
It’s only March, one has to figure another fight for Kell Brook could be worked out in the 4th quarter of 2018, perhaps on the undercard of AJ’s presumed fight in the fall against mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin.
Brook could find Khan across the ring staring at him and Brook will have a fresh load of Chocolate Brownies at the ready.
From Russia with Glove
The theatre at the world famous Madison Square Garden played host to Dmitry Bivol, WBA Light Heavyweight Champion defending against perennial contender and veteran Sullivan Barrera as chief support to WBO Champion Sergey Kovalev defending against another Russian Igor Mikhalkin.
I can only assume the three Russians enjoyed the family discount at the Trump Hotel located minutes from MSG… but I digress.
Russia is such a massive country, that cannot be overstated. Kovalev who turns 35 next month was born in Kopeysk located more or less in the centre of Russia. Bivol was born in Kyrgyzstan, however, resides more than 2500 km to the east in St. Petersburg. Mikhalkin currently lives in Germany, though he was born near the border of Mongolia in Irkutsk Russia more than 5600 km from Bivol, and more than 2000 km from where Kovalev’s birthplace.
Pretty wild to consider that these three men came together in NYC for prizefighting.
Bivol was up first, as I mentioned he was in the co-featured spot taking on Sullivan Barrera, who had only suffered one loss, that being to Andre SOG Ward two years ago practically to the day. Ward won a unanimous decision and was unable to stop Barrera despite scoring a knockdown in round three.
There is a lot of hype around Bivol and Barrera was easily his toughest test, most tipped Bivol to win though I don’t believe anyone, myself included believed it would be quite so dominant a performance.
Bivol is stylistically comparable to many Eastern European fighters - that sort of straight up and down boxer-puncher similar to Viktor Postol and Sergey Kovalev for that matter. Bivol did show some nice upper body movement however and was able to slip Barrera's punches and counter effectively - very effectively - Bivol is alarmingly accurate and punches through his target better than almost any fighter pound for pound in the world.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, Bivol took some shots too and had a sizeable contusion above his left eye on his forehead. He boxes in a straight line - straight in - straight out, again similar to Sergey Kovalev. That said, Bivol was never out of control at any point in the fight. Barrera, by contrast, was beaten to a pulp, his face was a mask of swelling and pain - we may have seen the last time Barrera will challenge for a world title, though he will remain a solid gatekeeper to the top five of the 175 pound division.
As he had done all night long Bivol punched through the guard of a retreating Barrera and decked him with a simple 1-2 late in the 12th round to force the TKO. Bivol was ahead 109-100 on all three of the judge's cards prior to the end, the TKO put a point on an otherwise utterly dominant win.
Sergey Kovalev former undisputed Light Heavyweight champion was characteristically dominant as well. He put an absolute beating on Igor Mikhalkin from bell to bell. Kovalev made a quick return to the MSG Theater after stopping Vyacheslav Shabranskyy over the Thanksgiving holiday in November.
Seems clear that The Krusher wants to exercise the demons from his two back to back losses to Andre Ward. Now Ward having retired (maybe) leaving all the belts at 175 up for grabs allowed Bivol and Kovalev to step into the vacuum. Kovalev fought #12 ranked Mikhalkin and it was easy work.
Kovalev is comfortable at the middle distance, he likes to be first and likes to be last as well. Mikhalkin did not have an answer for the avalanche of offence that attends to Kovalev’s best performances and this was no different.
Kovalev demolished Mikhalkin over 7 rounds landing in combination uncorking his favourite right straight that left Mikhalkin as lumped up as Barrera had been. After scoring the heavy knockdown Steve Wills waved the bout off looking right at Mikhalkin and shouted what we were all thinking when he stated point blank You’re done marking Kovalev’s first successful defense of his WBO belt - a belt that must feel familiar to Kovalev and from who’s separation must feel like a bad dream that is now over.
Kovalev seems rejuvenated, the losses to Ward were a severe wake-up call that he evidently needed. His acrimonious split from former trainer John David Jackson is in the rearview mirror and he’s apparently found faith in new trainer Abror Tursunpulatov who was formerly the head of the Uzbek Olympic Boxing team. Bivol seems on the ascent though, with deceptive hand speed, improving ring craft and an eight-year advantage in age it’s hard to bet against the young man adding a second title and ostensibly ending Kovalev’s run for good at true elite status at 175 pounds.
It’s time we all had a come to Jesus moment about what a limited fighter WBC Heavyweight Champion Deontay Wilder is. He has a right hand from hell - and that’s about it.
Last night at his home away from home the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, NY Wilder hacked and slashed his way to a 10 round TKO win over Luis King Kong Ortiz - the boogeyman of the heavyweight division - the man that every man and his dog swore up and down would be the heavyweight champion of the world if only he were not so avoided. And like Guillermo Rigondeaux, Ortiz was exposed for what he is - a good - but far from great heavyweight prizefighter.
I always viewed the effusive praise levelled on Ortiz with scepticism, many though bought in. The mystique of the Cuban southpaw is on par with scary stories we grew up with as children and the characters in horror movies we snuck in the basement to watch on VHS tapes with our friends once we thought our parents were asleep. Like those characters and the one Ortiz has chosen as his sobriquet, they are fictional.
Wilder promised violence and dominance, the first was a promise largely kept, the second was much harder. For the majority of the fight, Ortiz controlled Wilder with a jab and simple footwork that took away Wilder’s most dangerous and only weapon - his clubbing right-hand punch.
Early on Ortiz gained Wilder’s respect by landing the hard jab and left straight when Wilder closed the distance too aggressively. So Wilder was left circling Ortiz from the outside pawing passively with his left glove at Ortiz’s right glove unable to affect the lumbering Cuban.
Ortiz claimed the centre of the ring advancing when he chose, taking the fight to the uncharacteristically acquiescent champion.
I gave the first four rounds to Ortiz. Wilder seemed uncomfortable throughout, the only hope was to catch Ortiz in a dogfight and he did in the fifth, nailing the Cuban with a right straight that sent the Cuban down for only the second time in his pro career, Ortiz seemed stunned, he was in total control up to that point.
The two became sloppily entangled in the next round, however, Ortiz regained control in the 7th round and landed a flurry that had the champ badly hurt late in the round off an of a right hook counter. Thirty more seconds and it’s likely that we would have had a new champion then and there despite Wilder’s claims in the post-fight interview that he was not hurt at all.
Ortiz stepped up his body attack in round eight and seemed in total control, Wilder’s legs seemed to be gone and he was ripe for the taking.
Ortiz was unable to end it and Wilder seemed to recover in round nine and even managed to land a couple hard right hands despite continuing to yield ground to the Cuban.
Wilder managed to land his right hand above the ear of Ortiz in the tenth round followed by a right uppercut that dropped the Cuban heavily and for good.
The narrative was already being spun by the Showtime commentary team as soon as the end came - Wilder had battled back from adversity exactly as Anthony Joshua had against Wladimir Klitschko in their instant classic last April before stopping the former undisputed heavyweight champion.
The problem is nothing could be further from the truth.
The only record more suspect than Wilder’s last night was Ortiz’s. An eight-year pro-Ortiz only has 30 pro fights on his record. He’s served two brief suspensions for banned substances and has held an alphabet soup of minor titles, but not a single world title. His best win was over Bryant Jennings nearly three years ago, granted he did KO Jennings who had just gone the distance with Klitschko, but Jennings has failed to crack the top 30 currently.
Then there is the age… Ortiz’s stated age is 38. Aside from the established norm that Cuban men routinely lie about their age, there is a strong indication that Ortiz has done this in the extreme. First, there is the anecdote that Ortiz claims he watched Ali vs Foreman - the famous Rumble In the Jungle live. That fight took place on 30 October 1974. Ortiz - allegedly turns 39 on the 29th of this month.
You do the math.
Second, there is Ortiz’s second failed drug test. The banned substance was Losartan, a diuretic that can be used as a masking agent for PEDs. It is also used to treat hypertension. Why on earth would a 38 - soon to be 39-year-old professional athlete have high blood pressure, unless that athlete is also a bit - no quite a bit older than they say they are.
Wilder did win though and in dramatic fashion! However, he was always going to win.
At the time of the stoppage, Wilder was ahead on all three judges cards by the identical scores of 85-84. Meaning that aside from the lion's share of rounds he was also awarded two of the first four rounds where little happened at all in general and Wilder himself was quite inactive.
Quite simply there is a Brinks truck full of money to be made when Anthony Joshua and Wilder eventually face off probably in the first or second quarter of 2019. The pair could even wind up facing each other in a rematch or trilogy. Any combination will easily be the richest fight in boxing’s modern age.
I don’t blame Wilder for any of this, he’s used the limited gifts he possesses to make a good living for himself and care for his daughter who was stricken with spina bifida. Boxing’s long history of shady backroom deals will muddy the waters of the sport forever and there are no two ways about that. It is also true that Wilder struggled with and was nearly stopped by a 40 plus possibly 50 something-year-old over-hyped boxer who has a history PED use to stay competitive and relevant.
And it is also true that boxing needs a super fight between Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder, however as the brilliant boxing writer Charles Farrell has written:
Boxing is Going to get Deontay Wilder-Anthony Joshua if it has to fix the entire Heavyweight division.