Saturday, May 20, saw a six-hour window with multiple fights on HBO and Showtime, five of which were notable for varying reasons.
First up, 22-year-old Gervonta Davis (17-0, 16 KOs) defended his IBF 130-pound belt against challenger Liam Walsh (21-0, 14 KOs) in London.
Davis, who’s promoted by Mayweather Promotions, is an exciting fighter and a good one. He has breakout potential, which he showed in a seven-round demolition of Jose Pedraza earlier this year.
Walsh was a typical sanctioning-body “mandatory” opponent. Before the fight Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe likened Davis-Walsh to Floyd’s 2005 beatdown of Arturo Gatti. Nothing on Liam’s resume suggested that Ellerbe was wrong.
Gervonta blew through Walsh en route to a third-round stoppage.
Who does Davis fight next? There will always be mandatory challengers and beltholders of limited ability he can ply his trade against. Most likely, that’s the course his team will follow in the near future. It would be nice if Gervonta were given an opportunity to prove his mettle against stiffer competition now.
Later in the evening at the MGM National Harbor in Maryland, local favorite Gary Russell Jr (27-1, 16 KOs) ran his record to 28-1 with a seventh-round knockout of Oscar Escandon (25-2, 17 KOs) in a WBC 126-pound title bout.
Russell was born in Washington DC and lives in Capitol Heights, Maryland. Davis was born and lives in Baltimore. That’s a natural geographic rivalry. Russell is older and more experienced. Davis is a shade bigger. Russell could move up four pounds to challenge Gervonta.
One of the reasons Premier Boxing Champions has disappointed to date is that it hasn’t promoted enough fights that matter in the larger scheme of things. Gervonta Davis vs. Gary Russell Jr would matter.
Also on Saturday night, WBC-WBO 140-pound champion Terence Crawford (30-0, 21 KOs), defended his titles on HBO against Felix Diaz (19-1, 9 KOs) in the big arena at Madison Square Garden.
The 29-year-old Crawford (pictured) is on the short list of the world’s best fighters.
Díaz age 33, won a gold medal representing the Dominican Republic in the 141-pound division at the 2008 Olympics. Lou DiBella (Diaz’s promoter) beat the drums loudly for his fighter to get the assignment against Crawford (who’s promoted by Top Rank).
Felix is a solid fighter. But his accomplishments in the professional ranks are on the thin side. His best showing to date was a 2015 loss to Lamont Peterson. Most observers felt the judges missed the mark on that one, having been influenced by too much hometown cooking. That said; Diaz has been less than scintillating as of late. In his most recent fights aside from the loss to Peterson, he (1) won seven of ten rounds against Gabriel Bracero (a faded Paulie Malignaggi won eight); (2) decisioned Sammy Vasquez (Luis Collazo knocked Vasquez out); (3) won a questionable majority decision over Adrian Granados; (4) eked out a split decision over Emmanuel Lartei Lartey; and (5) knocked out Levis Morales in the seventh round (Morales has lost 4 of his last 7 fights).
Crawford was a 15-to-1 betting favorite.
One might liken watching Crawford dismantle Diaz to listening to Luciano Pavarotti sing in an ordinary opera. Whatever the limits of the music, it’s still a performance by Pavarotti.
Crawford controlled round one with a probing jab that was stiff enough to keep Diaz from working his way inside. In round two, Felix was able to close the gap a bit but was clearly troubled by Crawford’s faster hands and better footwork. Then Terence started landing power shots.
Diaz is tough. He kept trying to grind it out, making Crawford work for everything that Terence got. But Felix was totally outclassed. By the middle rounds, Crawford was landing every punch in the book. Meanwhile, Diaz’s eyes were starting to close and his punches were getting wilder, which left him increasingly open to counters.
By round eight, Diaz’s enthusiasm for battle had waned to the point where he was no longer moving forward aggressively but simply trying to survive. Crawford could have coasted to a decision. Instead, he stepped up his assault.
Diaz had too much heart to quit. But the differential in skill was too great for him to defend against Crawford’s onslaught. After ten rounds, trainer Joel Diaz asked referee Steve Willis to stop the beating.
“I didn’t want him to take any more punishment,” Joel said afterward. “Enough was enough.”
The biggest problem facing Crawford now is, who does he fight next. If Mikey Garcia were willing to move up five pounds, that would be an interesting match. But Garcia is unlikely to opt for the challenge. Alternatively, Crawford could move to 147 pounds, where a half-dozen big names are fighting. But whether these names would be willing to fight Terence is an open issue. Manny Pacquiao won’t fight Crawford no matter what Bob Arum and Freddie Roach say. And PBC’s fighters might be off limits. At the moment, it looks as though Crawford’s next fight will be a unification bout against light-punching IBF 140-pound beltholder Julius Indongo.
Saturday night also saw two moments that highlighted the darker side of boxing.
In one of these bouts, Jonathan Maicelo (25-4, 12 KOs) squared off against Raymundo Beltran (33-7, 21 KOs) in a 135-pound “title elimination” contest.
Beltran was driven to the canvas by a blatant head butt in round one that referee David Fields mistakenly called a knockdown. The blow left Maicelo bleeding from his scalp and Beltran with a cut on his left eyelid.
In round two, Maicelo resumed his assault, landing 15 punches (14 of them “power punches”) to Beltran’s four. Then, one minute 20 seconds into the stanza . . . BOOM ! ! !
The best revenge for a blatant head butt that opens a cut on a fighter’s eyelid and results in an incorrectly-called knockdown is a lights-out, highlight-reel, left hook that lands flush on the jaw and renders the head-butter unconscious before the back of his head whacks against the canvas.
Maicelo was unconscious for a disturbingly long time and, after regaining consciousness, was carried from the ring on a gurney. After being taken to the hospital for tests and observation, he was reported to be all right.
The incident served as a reminder that boxing is a violent sport with sometimes deadly consequences.
The other incident was more troubling. In a 168-pound bout that preceded Russell-Escandon on Showtime, Andre Dirrell (25-2, 16 KOs) faced off against Jose Uzcategui (26-1, 22 KOs).
Uzcategui was ahead on the judges’ scorecards when, at the end of round eight, he scored with a three-punch combination, the last punch landing after the bell. Dirrell indicated that he was unable to continue, and referee Bill Clancy disqualified Uzcategui.
That gave Dirrell the dubious distinction of being a fighter whose two biggest wins have come via disqualification. In 2010, Arthur Abraham was appropriately disqualified for punching Dirrell when Andre was on the canvas. But in Dirrell-Uzcategui, disqualification seemed an unduly harsh penalty since Uzcategui’s transgression appeared to be inadvertent.
Going to the judges’ scorecards (which would have given the victory to Uzcategui) would have been a more equitable judgment. But Dirrell was the house fighter, and that’s how these things work in boxing.
What happened next was far worse.
Dirrell’s trainer and uncle, Leon Lawson, walked across the ring to the opposing corner as though he intended to talk with Uzcategui’s trainer. Then he suckerpunched Uzcategui with a vicious left hook that landed flush on the fighter’s jaw. Somehow, Uzcategui managed to stay on his feet. A wider in-ring altercation followed.
Lawson’s blow was reminiscent of the suckerpunch that James Butler unloaded on Richard Grant after losing to Grant in 2001. Going back further in time, it evoked memories of the assault that Riddick Bowe’s manager, Rock Newman, visited on Andrew Golota after Golota was disqualified for low blows in a 1996 bout at Madison Square Garden.
Butler was arrested on the spot. He later pled guilty to felony assault, served four months in prison, and was released on five year’s probation. In 2004, he bludgeoned Sam Kellerman (the brother of HBO commentator Max Kellerman) to death with a hammer.
Newman’s assault sparked a riot that overwhelmed the seventy Madison Square Garden security personnel and fifty ushers who were on site. One hundred fifty New York City police officers were called to MSG before order was restored. Fifteen spectators and nine cops were treated for injuries at local hospitals. There were sixteen arrests.
Following Lawson’s unprovoked attack, a charge of criminal assault was filed against him. As of this writing, a warrant for his arrest is outstanding. Incarceration followed by a multi-year suspension from boxing would appear to be in order.
Some observers criticize boxing as barbaric. When things of this nature happen, they’re right.
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Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book – A Hard World: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.