Super thoughts and observations
You may not know this but just about every single Sunday of mine is spent working on this column (which comes out on Monday mornings) at my office, except for Super Bowl Sunday, on which I type this out on the night before. Hey, “Super Sunday” is THE national holiday as far as I’m concerned and I celebrate accordingly, regardless of whom is in the game.
So this column – which is being penned while I sip on Guinness Draught – is a collection of random thoughts on some recent goings-on in the sport of boxing. So here goes…
- What in the world is going on with lightweight prospect Felix Verdejo? Yeah, he upped his record to 23-0 (15) by beating Oliver Flores over 10 rounds on Friday night at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico but he was, once again, decidedly unimpressive. Again, sometimes, it’s not if you win; it’s how you do so. And it’s been long time since Verdejo’s actually performed in such a fashion that makes you say to yourself, “Yeah, this kid’s got it.”
There is nobody better at developing prospects and making them look good than Top Rank Promotions but they are even now at their wit’s end. Looking how he fights now, in which he sometimes throws punches in almost desperation in hopes of landing the big shot but, at the same time, not fully committing to them, it reminds me of a quarterback who throws off his back foot in the face of pressure in the pocket.
Or, to use another metaphor (and, yeah, the Guinness is getting to me early), he’s that young baseball prospect who murdered fastballs in the rookie league and Single-A ball but is now getting flummoxed by breaking stuff in Triple-A and is showing he isn’t quite ready for “The Big Show.” Even the decision makers at Top Rank Promotions – who have invested in him becoming one of their pillars – believe his progress has stalled.
Not that long ago, Verdejo was being lauded by pundits (and I admit I drove the bandwagon – cue the Asian driver jokes) as the next in line of great Puerto Rican stars, following the recent lineage of Felix “Tito” Trinidad and Miguel Cotto. But, right now, that baton has been dropped.
Where have you gone, Juan Manuel Lopez?
There is growing concern that his current situation with trainer Ricky Marquez, who is a father figure in his life, will limit his overall development. The question I have is is Verdejo getting the kind of tough work during sparring sessions that all young fighters need during their incubation period? At his gym, Verdejo is the big man on campus and perhaps he has his way a bit too often during sparring. But if you look at the environments fostered by Freddie Roach, Abel Sanchez, Manuel Robles and Robert Garcia, you’ll see that their deep stables provide a certain type of competition on a daily basis.
It’s not that Verdejo has gone full JaMarcus Russell. You can’t label him a bust but, as he gets closer to a title shot (the WBO has mandated that he must face the winner of the April 8 bout between its titlist Terry Flanagan and Petr Petrov), one wonders if he’s ready for such an assignment. Quick, do you think he beats either Flanagan or Petrov, if either is indeed his next opponent?
Verdejo is one of the game’s most important, young fighters. Simply put, the game and business of boxing is better when a Puerto Rican star can carry the island. And, in Verdejo, they have someone who looks like he comes straight out of central casting. He could pass as Tito’s nephew, has a much more personable demeanor than Cotto (well, who doesn’t?) and currently the island is going through a boxing recession
But to hear the natives actually boo and hiss Verdejo on Friday night during his fight was eye-opening. Too whom much is given, much is expected. 2017 was supposed to be a new year for Verdejo but unfortunately it looked a lot like 2016 for him.
- Speaking of Cotto, his Feb. 25 date versus the mercurial James Kirkland was kiboshed as Kirkland reportedly suffered a fractured nose in sparring last week. But is anyone really surprised that this fight went from Frisco, Texas to “Bolivian”? Word is Kirkland, who hasn’t fought since May 9, 2015, ditched an HBO photo shoot.
It would have been a bigger surprise if Kirkland actually made it to this dance.
So now Cotto needs a fight to fulfill his annuity with Roc Nation Sports, who actually caught a break with this event being canceled. Recently Cotto has been campaigning for a rematch with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, who out-pointed him in November of 2015, and has even placed deadlines on it before his retirement…as if he has any leverage on Canelo and Golden Boy Promotions.
And Mr. Wild Card Boxing Club, Freddie Roach, has even gotten in on the act, saying his man was robbed that night at the Mandalay Bay.
Yeah, this is boxing’s version of #AlternateFacts.
But it’s clear that Cotto and Roc Nation Sports – which signed him to an exorbitant deal that makes the Angels’ deal with Albert Pujols look prudent – need a big fight to justify it. But hey, that’s not our problem. Why make everyone else suffer? The bottom line is their first fight was OK. It was solid but it wasn’t the kind of compelling fight that had everyone begging for another chapter. Cotto did just enough to keep rounds close and stay out of harm’s way and then, of course, get out of the ring as quickly as possible to not explain his performance and then complain about the decision. Here’s the truth: The large majority of the public that witnessed that fight believe Alvarez was the clear victor.
And the young Mexican star kept advancing his career, while Cotto stood on the sidelines for all of 2016. Now he’s putting ultimatums on a rematch? Sorry, but I think we’d rather watch another “Sharknado” sequel.
- Chris Eubank Jr. stopped Renold Quinlan in 10 rounds on Saturday in London for the IBO super middleweight title. Watching this fight – and others of Eubank’s – it strikes me that, like many other modern-day boxers, he’s one who looks better in training, doing flashy, long combinations on the pads than he does in actual fights. I see Eubank’s Twitter posts, in which he’s a whirling dervish of punches that come out in rapid-fire fashion – yeah, it’s quite the spectacle.
The only problem is – if you actually watch his fights – none of this occurs.
It’s not that Eubank doesn’t have skills; he does possess some craft and can be slick in there. However, at times, there is more sizzle than steak with him.
But, back to my earlier point, remember Mike Mamula? Well, many American football fans will remember him as the guy from Boston College who gamed the system by training specifically for the NFL Combine and tested so well that his draft stock shot up and he became a high, first round choice of the Philadelphia Eagles. Well, it turned out he was better in shorts and a t-shirt running through cones than he was actually playing real football at the NFL level.
That’s what many boxers remind me of, as they look spectacular in the gym on the mitts and pool noodles but haven’t really mastered the most fundamental aspects of boxing and are better at working out than actually fighting.
- It was announced on Friday that the May 6 encounter between Canelo and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. will take place from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, to the chagrin of many boxing fans. And I can understand their frustration. While Vegas is Vegas, the reality is, in many events of this nature, in casino settings, the general public really doesn’t have a fair opportunity to purchase the tickets of their choosing, at face value, with the rather limited seating and the fact that casinos get a bulk of the tickets for their big players.
But when Las Vegas wants a fight, it will get that fight. Bottom line is, while Jerry Jones has deep pockets, and a stadium that can hold over 100,000 patrons, he doesn’t have slot machines and gaming tables. Last September, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas hosted Alvarez’s bout versus Liam Smith in front of over 51,000 fans. They could’ve done well over 80,000 for this one and it would’ve been a great look for the business.
One must wonder: Does the business of boxing leave money on the table in the long run by continuing to shut out large portions of the fan-base by always relying on casino subsidies?
- Super flyweight Joshua Franco continues to improve. On Friday night from the Belasco Theater, in Los Angeles, he scored a quick stoppage of Victor Pasillas. Franco is part of the Robert Garcia stable in Riverside and you can tell he’s getting good work in the gym on a consistent basis. Yeah, iron does sharpen iron.
Beto Duran and I called this fight for RingTV.com (and yes, we thought it was a premature stoppage).
And finally, this is nothing boxing-related but, when I drink beer instead of my preferred vodka, Guinness is my choice and is there a better, sexier-looking can than theirs?
The most recent edition of “Real Sports” on HBO is why I still keep my subscription. That said, can we add a few fight cards to the network schedule? The segment on Kevin Turner should win awards…Congrats to Terrell Davis on his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His career was cut short but he absolutely deserved a gold jacket…Seriously, Terrell Owens needs to get that call too. Yeah, he wasn’t the greatest teammate but it’s hard to ignore those numbers he put up. He’s one of the greatest ever at his position and was an impact player…Does the hiring of Magic Johnson actually help the Lakers franchise? And this wont keep him from Tweeting, right?…I can be reached at email@example.com and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.