They put the ‘world’ in ‘world champion’
Last month provided insight on advantages which favor world champions possessing the proverbial hometown advantage. Three weeks ago, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (yes, he is Mexican but had the crowd support and was the “money” fighter in Las Vegas) won a disputed decision over former WBA/WBC middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin but a majority of ringside press and many fans saw “GGG” as more deserving of victory. Two weeks ago IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua rode out some difficult opening rounds with the backing of 80,000 fans before roaring back to knock out Alexander Povetkin. Finally last week in Japan, newly-crowned WBO flyweight beltholder Kosei Tanaka won a hard-fought majority decision over countryman Sho Kimura, which saw the young phenom win a world title in a third weight class in only his 12th pro fight!
Those were fantastic feats aided by adoring fan bases but I am here to celebrate the champions who hit the road to hit people. True world champions who travel the world in search of worthy contenders and bigger paydays. I have zero problems with boxers talented and charismatic enough to forge great hometown or country advantage, such as Anthony Joshua or WBC junior welterweight titliust Jose Ramirez. In fact, I defend Joshua and believe he earned the right to call the shots and demand someone like WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder (who possesses a significantly smaller fan base) come to his den. I just appreciate a guy who is willing to travel a bit more.
So here is a list of current champions I would like to credit for their openness to travel and experience other cultures. As an aside, great boxers like Gennady Golovkin, Jorge Linares and Donnie Nietes, who would have made the list, are not included because they do not currently hold titles. I excluded a multitude of Mexican boxers who feel so welcome in America because of cultural enclaves to where they can visit or move, so as to call them their second homes, as well as IBF light heavyweight titlist Artur Beterbiev and WBO counterpart Eleider Alvarez, who have made Canada their second home and never fought in their native countries. Maybe next week I will celebrate those who worked hard to build a local audience, so as not to necessitate travel.
Oleksandr Usyk – The bravest world champion at this time; Usyk consistently travels to the challengers or other titleholders’ backyards to pummel them and silence hometown fans. The undisputed cruiserweight champion does this in one of the toughest, deepest and most talent-laden divisions in boxing. The Ukrainian hitman is not slowing his foreign roll, agreeing to move up to heavyweight and fight Tony Bellew (who twice stopped David Haye) in England. If Usyk wins that fight, there should be little debate of his winning “Boxer of the Year” awards worldwide. Usyk won his first world title in Poland out-boxing formidable Pole Krzysztof Glowacki, then beat American Michael Hunter in the U.S.A. before traveling to Germany and stopping former champ Marco Huck. Next up was a tricky title unification win against Mairis Briedis in the latter’s home nation of Latvia. Then Usyk faced down what was supposed his toughest challenge with Murat Gassiev in a dominant victory in Russia. In terms of foreign land mass conquered, Usyk is the Genghis Khan of boxing.
Isaac Dogboe – A 24-year-old star still in the formative stage of his creation but Dogboe can already lay claim to victories in America, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and his native Ghana. The boxer-slugger enters the ring with no pretense other than to enforce his will on the opponent, no matter if he enjoys a home advantage or not. I was late to the Dogboe bandwagon, dismissing a win over tough Mexican Cesar Juarez in Accra as a style-makes-fights situation. However the way Dogboe dismantled Jessie Magdaleno, to win the WBO junior featherweight crown, was simply spectacular. You could see Dogboe demoralize a very talented Magdaleno, as the rounds wore on, and a force of nature like Dogboe will translate in any language or country. Top Rank wants to make him an American-based star but I hope Dogboe makes a title defense in Ghana before taking his belt on a tour of the United Kingdom.
Zolani Tete – South African stylist continues to fight overseas, despite tasting heartache on his travels. A southpaw speedster with solid pop, Tete was not given the benefit of the doubt in his first title bid, losing a disputed majority decision in Mexico to Juan Rosas. Tete was also deducted a point in the final round, adding to his frustration. A year later Tete was on the disappointing end of an achingly close split decision, losing to Roberto Sosa in his native Argentina with every card reading 115-114, one way or the other. Again, neutrals thought Tete did enough to win. Tete came good on his third trip abroad, leaving no doubt, knocking out Juan Sanchez in Mexico to win his IBF world junior bantamweight title. Not showing aversion to travel, Tete made his first title defense in Japan and followed it with a second defense in England. Both victories were against quality undefeated challengers. Next week Tete defends his WBO bantamweight title in Russia against two-time Olympic medalist Mikhail Aloyan. That is part of the World Boxing Super Series tourney, which may culminate with a mouthwatering clash against WBA counterpart Naoya Inoue!
Cristofer Rosales – Another boxer who ultimately became better after suffering losses on foreign shores. The lanky flyweight was undistinguished before taking a fight against future junior bantamweight champion Khalid Yafai in England. Rosales lost that fight but showed maturity, lasting the distance in his first trip outside Nicaragua. Rosales gave such a good impression that he was invited back to England to face Olympian Andrew Selby, Rosales did lose but showed the same mettle, lasting the 12-round distance. Those setbacks steeled Rosales. He traveled to Italy a year later, beating undefeated prospect Mohammed Obbadi, then picked up his WBC world flyweight title by blasting out highly-regarded phenom Daigo Higa in Japan, over nine rounds. Not one to believe in jinxs, Rosales returned to the U.K. to destroy Paddy Barnes and elevate himself to elite status.
Moruti Mthalane – Seemingly ageless South African flyweight notched his first world title eliminator, besting Australian Hussein Hussein. The win earned Mthalane a trip to America, where he was unlucky to run into a prime Nonito Donaire, getting stopped on a cut eye in the sixth round of a close fight. Rebounded well, decisioning Julio Cesar Miranda for his first title, then knocking out Zolani Tete for his second world title belt, proving that was no fluke by traveling to Italy and stopping slippery Andrea Sarritzu. Took his show on the road again, stopping Panamanian hometown hero Ricardo Nunez in eight rounds, recovering from a third round knockdown to do so. Never lost his title in the ring, giving it up instead of traveling to Thailand for a paltry purse. Mthalane regained his IBF title last July, traveling to Malaysia and defeating highly-touted Muhammad Waseem.
Jerwin Ancajas – Flashy Filipino received a big media push by Top Rank but has frankly been burdened with unnecessary comparisons to Manny Pacquiao. The southpaw is in his prime but comes off a disappointing draw with unheralded Alejandro Barrios in his third straight title defense in America. Early in his career, Ancajas won fights in China and Macau, then outboxed McJoe Arroyo in the Philippines to win his IBF strap. Immediately hit the road defending the title in Macau, Australia, Ireland and America. Just as impressively, all four title defenses ended via knockout. In his last two American fights, the hype machine has gotten into Ancajas’ head as he struggled to impress, going the distance both times. Still, at 26, look for Ancajas to regain his knockout form and carve a legacy not dependent on Pacquiao parallels.
Hekkie Budler – The “Hexecutioner” has befuddled foes on four continents with his mix of speed, aggression, movement and unwillingness to disengage, once he gets near an opponent’s rib cage. Early in his career, scored pedestrian wins in America and Canada, which did not hint at Budler winning world titles in two divisions. Won the WBA strawweight belt in his native South Africa but cashed in those chips, traveling to casino-rich Monte Carlo, defending his title three times. It was a shock when Byron Rojas unseated Budler, by two points on every scorecard, which Budler put down to the strain of making weight and moved up a division. That did not do the trick initially, as Budler traveled to the Philippines, losing a questionable split decision to Milan Melindo for the IBF junior flyweight title. Budler came good on his second attempt, winning both the IBF and WBA junior flyweight belts in a seesaw affair against Ryoichi Taguchi in Japan. It was a unanimous decision for Budler with every scorecard reading 114-113. The cards reflected the quality and drama of the contest, in which Budler survived a 12th round knockdown.
Daniel Roman- It is difficult to find American world champions who show off their wares in foreign countries, given our economy and plethora of television networks. When you do, they are usually in the lower weight classes, which is the case with this WBA junior featherweight champion. The L.A. native traveled to Japan twice to compete in world title competitions. Roman scored a somewhat surprising win over Shun Kubo in Japan to win his title and, instead of resting on his laurels, agreed to venture back to the “Land of the Rising Sun.” He beat the odds a second time, comprehensively out-boxing Ryo Matsumoto for his first defense. In his prime, at 28, Roman may yet log some more frequent-flyer miles.
TJ Doheny – Not only does this plucky southpaw fight overseas, Doheny emigrated from the small island nation of Ireland to the large island continent of Australia. After Doheny was barely beaten out of a Olympic team spot, he decided to take time off and travel in Australia. The Irishman then found a home and turned pro in the town of Hurstville. The junior featherweight won 16 times in Australia before taking an opportunity to fight in Ireland’s American home of Boston. Doheny won three fights in America, the most significant over onetime prospect Mike Oliver. He became the IBF mandatory challenger by traveling to Thailand, winning a split decision over tough-but-limited Pipat Chaiporn. Doheny capped off his Asian travels last August, surprising IBF titleholder Ryosuke Iwasa with his doggedness and ability to cut off the ring. Doheny won a wide unanimous decision and, at 31, probably has a few title defenses in him…having earned the right to defend in either his home of Australia or Ireland.