Saturday, May 7, 2011

Truax in Las Vegas, Presley in St. Paul offer predictions for Pacquiao - Mosley

Tonight will be very entertaining for boxing fans as Manny “Pac Man” Pacquiao defends his World Boxing Organization (WBO) Welterweight title against “Sugar” Shane Mosley at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas. While the odds makers have favored Pacquiao heavily and it’s hard to find anyone predicting a Mosley victory, the modern day Sugarman should be a bigger challenge than the “Pac Man” has seen in recent fights. Minnesota Middleweight Caleb Truax spoke briefly about the fight from Las Vegas, where he is training for his May 27 fight with Andy Kolle, and world class trainer Dennis Presley offered his own assessment Friday in St. Paul.

“I’d really like to see Mosley win,” said Truax, who’s admiration has grown for him since training a year ago at his Big Bear, California facility; “but I’d also like to see Pacquiao win to set up the showdown with Floyd Mayweather, Jr.” Also, Truax believes that ultimately, no matter how competitive the fight is, Pacquiao will win.

“Mosley is bigger and he’s a bigger puncher,” Truax says, “but Pacquiao’s just going to be too young for him.

Presley explains that yes, Mosley is a big puncher who poses a serious threat to Pacquiao, but that he is not a heavier puncher than Pacquiao and that his chances of going the distance are unlikely.

“Pacquiao’s previous opponents,” Presley explains, “are knockout punchers, but none of them have had that power combined with the great speed and overall finesse of Mosley.”

Out of 53 fights, Mosley’s record is 46 wins, 6 losses and one draw with 39 knockouts, and he’s never been knocked out. So he can obviously take a punch and he also can land a powerful one. After all, he did knock out Antonio Margarito. Pacquio stopped Margarito in his last fight, but he didn’t knock him out the way Mosley did. Pacquiao did hurt Margarito badly, though, and his punches always come with a relentless combination of speed and power. As Presley explains, Pacquio’s speed, power, and number of punches all tend to increase as the fight goes on. So Mosley’s only chance, he contends, is to knock Pacquiao out within the first four rounds.

“Pacquiao’s punching power is comparable to Mosley’s,” Presley says, “but he’s also a good combination puncher and counter puncher. And he’s one of the few lefties with footwork who is effective from a distance.”

That footwork will set up the relentless attack, Presley argues, allowing Pacquiao to control the second half of the fight and eventually end it.

“Mosley will throw shots in the first four rounds, but won’t be able to stay on top after four. After seven and eight it will be all Pacquiao, and he will win by around round 10.”

My original prediction was for a Pacquiao win by decision, but I believe Presley’s assessment makes a lot of sense, especially given the over/under odds I found on line. Odds makers set the fight lasting over 11 ½ rounds as a + 130 long shot, with the fight ending earlier a – 170 favorite. I think that’s selling Mosley a bit too short, and it doesn’t grant much margin of error for an over/under bet, because it basically means to bet over is to bet it goes the distance, and to bet under gives you almost the entire fight for a stoppage. I’d consider a small amount on the over, because it’s such a high payoff and I do believe Mosley can go the distance; but I wouldn’t recommend it either way because, even though I believe the fight will go past round ten, it’s not unlikely to end before twelve.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Sweet Dream" Kliewer Shines with win over Bonsante

Mark Connor
© copyright Mark Connor, 2010

Anthony Bonsante vs. Bobby kliewer

Kliewer started fast, moving and jabbing and landing probably ten good punches, dominating the first round. He was able to time and counter Bonsante’s wide combinations. Kliewer knocked Bonsante down with a quick combination early in the second as Bonsante already appeared out of shape and tired. A straight right hand dropped him suddenly again. Bonsante lost a 10-7 round and went back to the corner appearing desperate.

Bonsante came out swinging and missing with more wild punches that Kliewer made him pay for in the third. Bonsante straightened out his right hand midway through the round, landing a total of three of them by the time the bell rang, and taking control for the first time in the fight. Bonsante won the fourth round also, but Kliewer did land a good right hand that effected him near the end. What remained to be seen was whether kliewer was conditioned well enough to cope with Bonsante’s years of experience and skill. Bonsante knocked Kliewer down in the fifth round with a hook off the break, but in frustration during the next clinch he picked kliewer up and threw him down, losing a point. Then Kliewer knocked him down, making it a 10-9 round for Kliewer. Kliewer appeared to have the sixth round, landing more punches than Bonsante. In the seventh Kliewer landed a good left and a good right uppercut early. He’d been trying to land that right uppercut all night. He kept moving, catching Bonsante with punches as he came in. An accidental butt cut Kliewer under his left eye. Inside Kliewer continued rights to the body while attempting to land the right uppercut to the head. Kliewer clearly seemed to have the seventh round. Kliewer kept on the move and landed the majority of punches with combinations at the end of the tenth and final round.

The clear winner was Kliewer. One judge scored it inexplicably for Bonsante, so Kliewer scored a split decision victory. Boxers and Writers Magazine’s unofficial score was 78-72, Kliewer.

Wilshaun Boxley vs. John Jackson

Minneapolis’ Wilshaun Boxley brought a 6-7-0 record with 4 KOs into a lightweight fight against an experienced John Jackson, 15-1-0, 13 KOs, of Miami FL. This fight was probably the best display of skill all night. The fight started with Boxley taking good combinations from Jackson, but Boxley found his rhythm and drew Jackson into it with excellent footwork, then turned it on at the end of the first to apparently win the round. He was dominated in the second but still competitive, and he continued to maintain a slight edge in the third. It was close through the middle rounds. Boxley was visibly hurt in round 6, taking solid combinations to the body and head, but came on in the latter portion of the round. Boxers and Writers Magazine gave most of the rounds to Boxley, but each one was close enough for Jackson to make his case. Denny Nelson and John Mariano had it 57-57 and Dale Jackson had it 58-57 for Jackson, yielding a majority draw.

Antwun Robertson vs. Brad Patraw
(For Robertson’s Minnesota State Bantamweight Championship)

Patraw took control from beginning, attacking the body and catching him with hard hooks upstairs, opening up further against the ropes. Robertson landed a big right hand in the second, then a big jab he forced Patraw into with skillful footwork. He landed a good left hook, a couple of more damaging jabs and a right hand that were all power shots with effective movement, taking the round on the Boxers and Writers Magazine scorecard. In the third round Patraw came back with a body and head attack, Robertson still moving and covering a lot. Although Robertson landed a couple of good uppercuts and a good right hand, Patraw dominated the round and appeared to be taking a toll on him. Patraw won the fourth round with pure pressure. Robinson landed a good short left hook inside in the last minute, but did not follow through. Then he landed a strong overhand right on two occasions, the second one visibly slowing Patraw, but Patraw still applied enough pressure to win the round. Although Patraw visibly slowed while loading up with power shots, he still dominated the round and every time Robinson landed a decent shot Patraw had an answer. Robinson appeared slightly hurt and tired near the end of the round. Patraw continued control in the final round and finished strong in an easy victory and an admirable recovery from his knockout loss to Vicente Alfaro. Patraw now will look to advance his career as the new Minnesota State Bantamweight Champion.

Tony Lee vs. David Laque

This lightweight fight is only the second in Lee’s career after his professional debut in December last year. Lee began finding his right hand midway through the first round, landing many combinations. Laque took them well and did land a few shots, but the round was clearly Lee’s. In the second Lee opened up with the jab and continued landing effective combinations, but although he won the round Laque weathered it well and also landed a perfectly timed left hand that knocked Lee’s mouthpiece out. Lee continued with the same effort, but halfway through the round Laque proved he was there to fight. Lee tired a bit as his nose began bleeding, and although Lee won the round he took some serious left uppercuts and right hooks to the head. Laque stood toe to toe with Lee, backed him up ant made him fight in the fourth round. Lee was visibly tired, as was Laque, but Laque obviously got the better of the round Going into the decision the Boxers and Writers Magazine view was 39-37 for Lee, but the third round had been close enough to make one wonder. It’s a mystery how all three judges scored the fight 40-36 rather than 39-37 for Lee.

Donny Tierney vs. Bobby Butters, Jr.
After beginning his career last summer with a TKO loss in St. Paul, Minneapolis’ Bobby Butters, Jr. entered this junior middleweight fight determined to get his first win. But Tierney survived an early body onslaught in the first to take the round with superior combinations and movement. He opened the second round with a commanding jab and body and head combinations as Butters attacked the body and occasionally landed effective head shots, Tierney always finishing with a little more. Tierney continued controlling the fight in the third round with an effective jab, and although Butters threw numerous punches, too many of them were wide shots only landing on the arms. Tierney also always answered with damaging blows whenever Butters was successful. Although Tierney did the same for the first half of the fourth round, he got caught in a corner and went down from a Butters combination to the head. Butters unfortunately hit him twice when he was down, to which Tierney responded by jumping up to hit Butters with a right hand. The referee should have taken a point from Butters. After taking the 8 count Tierney covered a bit and fought back. Unfortunately the judges got it wrong. Nelson and Mariano had it 40-35 Butters, and Dale Jackson had it more accurately at 38-37 Butters. Boxers and Writers had it 38-37, Tierney.

In his third professional fight welterweight Jamal James of Minneapolis won by 1st round TKO over Ryan Gronvold. It was an obvious mismatch that did nothing for James’ development, given his amateur career of hundreds of matches with very few losses and a national ranking. Of his three opponents so far, the most noteworthy is southpaw Justin Danforth, 6-15 of Mahnomen, MN, whom James defeated by third round TKO in a professional debut last May.

In a clear case of overmatching, bantamweight Jonathon Perez of Minneapolis won his professional debut when he knocked Randy Ronchi of Superior, WI down three times.

Monday, December 13, 2010

As "The Fighter" premiers, Savage boxing coach John Rafuse Remembers his fight with "Irish" Micky Ward

Mark Connor
© Copyright 2010, Mark

On December 17 Paramount Pictures presentation of “The Fighter” based on the biography of professional boxer ‘Irish’ Micky Ward will premier in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. While St. Paul and Minneapolis area fight fans and movie enthusiasts enjoy the drama, few may know that a local boxing trainer gave Ward one of the toughest battles of his early career.

John Rafuse battled Ward to the end of an 8 round fight in a sold out Lowell Auditorium on August 29, 1986. A native of Malden Massachusetts, a Boston area town not far from Ward’s native Lowell, Rafuse (who on his mother’s side is just as Irish as Ward) began boxing at age 19 and fought a total of ten years, eight of them professionally. His professional career lasted from April 1983 to August 1991.

“I don’t think I lost the fight,” Rafuse remembers. “I ain’t gonna tell ya I beat him, but I don’t’ think I lost.”

In the book the film is based on, Rafuse is mentioned from pages 55 through 60, as well as on pages 97 and 98. The fight was broadcast on ESPN sports network, and it was an exciting event for fans in the area. Al Bernstein’s ringside commentary is quoted in “Irish Thunder” and it is very favorable to both fighters.

Later Rafuse sparred with Ward before fighting Harold Brazier for the North American Boxing Federation (NABF) Light Welterweight title in 1988. He lost a 12 round unanimous decision to Brazier on September 2 of that year, and Ward also lost a unanimous decision to Brazier on April 26, 1990 in a fight for the IBF Intercontinental title. As Ward went on to challenge some big name fighters, including a legendary three fight series with Light Welterweight Champion Arturo Gatti, Rafuse fought some big names himself and also trained with future hall of fame fighters.

In 1987 Rafuse flew to Houston, Texas to spar with Vinnie Pazienza, who was preparing for the first of his three fight rivalry for the World Lightweight Championship against Greg Haugen. On the undercard of that fight Rafuse won an 8 round split decision over Haugen’s sparring partner, Javier Suazo. While in Houston, Rafuse explains that he ended up sparring with a slew of fighters training under Lou Douva, including World Champions and Gold Medalists Meldrick Taylor, Pernel ‘Sweet Pea’ Whitaker, and Mark Breland. He also Sparred many times with John John Molina, and sparred with Frankie Warren and Johnny ‘Bump City’ Bumpus. While Bumpus never won a world title, he was one of the most successful U.S. amateur boxers of the late 1970s and an accomplished professional on the world class level. Rafuse acknowledges that, while he did not fight for a world championship title, there is satisfaction in having trained and sparred with such an elite group of fighters. Although he didn’t spar with him, Rafuse says legendary Olympian and Heavyweight Champion Evander Holyfield also trained at the Houston facility when he was there, and he was happy to be in the presence of such greatness.

Planning to attend a sneak preview on Wednesday, December 15 of ‘The Fighter,’ which is produced by and stars Mark Wahlberg as Micky Ward and co-stars Christian Bale as Ward’s brother, Dickie Eklund, Rafuse was unsure of whether his fight with Ward would be prominently mentioned. But he had good feelings to share about Ward anyway.

“I got all the respect in the world for the kid,” he said; “I really like Micky and he stuck around long enough to make some money, and God bless him.”

Rafuse, whose nickname was ‘Rapid’ because of his fast hands, became quite the accomplished professional boxer, particularly for a man who had little amateur experience. He didn’t start till age 19 and by the time he turned professional at 21 he remembers having less than 20 amateur fights. But besides his match with Ward he fought 12 rounds with World Champion Brazier, made it to the 4th round before losing by TKO to José Luis Ramirez (a World Champion whose final record is 99 wins, 6 losses), and lost a 10 round decision to eventual IBF Light Welterweight Champion Jake Rodriguez. He really learned boxing as a professional, being tough enough and strong enough to compete with the world class. He had been a wrestler through high school, and so it is no surprise that he was an excellent athlete or that the rough physical style of his life left him with a bum elbow that never healed properly after being broken in childhood. So he retired from boxing after winning a split decision over José Hiram Torres in a welterweight fight on August 23, 1991. Now a union carpenter in Minnesota, he continues teaching amateur boxing to teenagers in Savage, and teaching professional Mixed Martial Artists how to punch.

“I tell them, nine out of ten fights end up on the ground,” Rafuse explains, “but ten out of ten start on your feet.”

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mark Breland Talks With Boxers and Writers

Mark Connor
© Copyright 2010, Mark Connor

On Friday, July 23, Mark Breland spoke with Boxers and Writers Magazine via telephone from his home in Brooklyn, New York. He answered questions about his celebrated professional and amateur boxing careers, as well as his experience training fighters in recent years. He made sharp observations about the current state of United States amateur boxing and the degree of dedication found in today’s professional fighters, and he also shared news about his upcoming appearance in Lights Out, a new TV series on the FX channel. Breland trained the show’s lead man, Holt McCallany.

Breland is well known among serious boxing fans, having been considered the most successful amateur boxer in American history with a final record of 110 wins, 1 loss, and an Olympic Gold Medal in the Welterweight Division from the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, California. In his professional career he reigned two times as World Boxing Association (WBA) Welterweight Champion, from February 6 through August 22, 1987, and from February 4, 1989 through July 8, 1990. Upon his professional debut he was expected to be at least as big of a superstar as Sugar Ray Leonard, but he never reached that household name level of fame. He is happy, however, with his level of success in and out of the ring.

“Everything I set out to do I’ve done,” Breland says. “Not too many people can say that.”

Breland’s overwhelming amateur success and exceptional championship professional career—he ended with a record of 35-3-1, 25 KOs—positioned him well to train professional fighters and also share his skills outside the profession, as he’s done with McCallany. He currently trains 6’-7” Heavyweight Deontay Wilder, who won a Bronze Medal at the 2008 Olympics in China. Also, Breland previously trained Lightweight Jorge Teron, and successfully trained the late World Champion Vernon Forrest for his victory over former Welterweight Champion Ike Quartey.

Breland was happy with the results, a 10 round unanimous decision over Quartey on August 5, 2006. He’s also happy with the progress Wilder, now 11-0, 11 KOs, has made. He recognizes a high quality in Teron, whom he no longer trains, but still points to some weaknesses that made work with him more challenging.

“Every time he got hit he wanted to fight toe-to-toe,” Breland says, emphasizing that Teron, who at 6 feet always has a size advantage at the 135 pound Lightweight limit, only maintained his maximum effectiveness when he moved and utilized his reach. There is no need to stand and trade punches when a fighter is more effective and powerful with movement, but Teron, who held the North American Boxing Organization (NABO) title in 2008 and whose current record is 23-2-1, 15 KOs, habitually would abandon that strategy and stand his ground whenever he got caught with a hard punch. Such observations about Teron and other fighters are indicative of the difference between successfully fighting and becoming a trainer.

“The difference in the transition from fighter to trainer is, you know, it’s easier to fight than train people,” Breland explains. “Because you know what you’re doing, you know what to do; and half these guys have no clue what they’re doing. It’s easier for me to fight than to train [fighters].”

He also observes that he’s hard pressed to find many young boxers willing to dedicate themselves to training and fighting. Most kids would rather play video games, he says. Also, many will be trying to imitate their favorite professional fighter rather than boxing to their own physical stature, or else will begin to think they have it figured out for themselves once they win a fight or two.

“The main [concern] is getting the right fighter,” he says, “because you got guys who listen and you got a lot of them who don’t listen. You got a lot who think they know it all already. . . The first thing, they want to be Floyd Mayweather. They got their hands down in position, and I’m like, you know, ‘You’re starting off backwards.’ And when they’re good in sparring or might win a fight, they think they know it all then. You know, teach a guy to throw a jab; ‘Well, Floyd throws it this way.’ ‘You’re not Floyd.’” But aside from the obvious frustrations, he enjoys the process.

“It’s a lot of fun. It can get frustrating at times, but it’s a lot of fun just showing guys how to do different things and it’s rewarding when you get a guy who listens,” he says.

Breland is content to have gotten out of competition when he did, knowing he’d been on top and was able to retire with his faculties. He said that near the end of his career he ran into a boxer he’d known while growing up who was respected within the sport and very talented. When the man spoke Breland couldn’t understand him, and he knew it was because the man had brain damage. So Breland decided not to push his career into extra years, even though he recognizes some fighters are able to do so without the same damage less fortunate fighters endure.

“I think it really depends on how the fighter takes care of himself as a fighter. Is he a drinker or partier? Is a guy who trains hard, is always in shape? Or he’s one of these guys who gets in shape when he found out about a fight. Well then you’re beating the body up, really.”

The question is legitimate not just in contemporary times, but in exceptional cases over many years. Archie Moore was Light Heavyweight Champion when he was 48, George Foreman regained the Heavyweight title at 45, former Middleweight and Light Heavyweight Champion Bernard Hopkins still fights at 41, as does Middleweight, Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight Champion James Toney. Former Cruiserweight and Heavyweight Champion and Breland’s former Olympic teammate, Evander Holyfield continues fighting in his late forties.

“If you’re a guy who pretty much stays in shape all the time, never drank, smoked and all that stuff, you know you really don’t got too much wear and tear on you. Evander, he’s never been a drinker or smoker, but he had tough, tough, tough, tough, tough, tough, tough, tough fights coming up, even in the amateurs. So it takes its toll somewhere along the line. You know, here’s a guy who made millions and millions of dollars who I thought, ‘If I would’ve been you I would’ve been out.’ You know, I mean, you got to know when enough is enough.”

Breland, who co-starred with David Keith in the movie The Lords of Discipline before competing in the Olympics, plans to return to more frequent acting in the future. Having trained McCallany for the FX series Lights Out, he was able to land a small part as the trainer of a fighter squaring off against McCallany’s character, Patrick “Lights Out” Leary. That episode and the series, which deals with the effects experienced by a boxer pushing his career beyond its normal life span, should be an interesting and entertaining journey into the pugilistic world.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Making of Silk

Michael Olajide, Jr. found the smooth road after hard times and injuries ended a world class boxing career

Mark Connor
© Copyright 2010, Mark Connor

Michael “The Silk” Olajide, Jr. built a successful professional boxing career from December 17, 1981 through April 25, 1991, compiling a record of 27 wins, 5 losses, 0 draws and 18 knockouts. Debuting professionally as a Jr. Welterweight nine days after turning 18, he knocked out Johnny Gains, 0-1, in Vancouver, British Columbia. Olajide knocked out two more fighters who respectively had 0-1 records before fighting an 8 round battle with veteran Lightweight Al Ford, a 31-year-old with a record of 55-18-0 with 19 knockouts, who’d gone the distance in a 10 round loss to eventual Lightweight Champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. Olajide won a unanimous decision, and suddenly, after only six months and less than 13 total rounds of professional boxing, he was on the road to world class competition.

The high level of early competition and the tender age at which Olajide’s professional career began indicate the situation he and his father, a native of Nigeria, found themselves in as immigrants. Olajide had been born in Liverpool, England, but hard times prompted a family move to Vancouver, where his father worked in the shipyards. After his father coached him through roughly 18 amateur fights, Olajide turned professional immediately upon entering adulthood because of financial necessity. So there was no time to move slowly and no time to avoid challenges when larger purses were available against tougher opponents.

“Yeah, I fought some really tough guys when I started,” he said in February as we sat in the front lobby of his boxing fitness gym, Aerospace High Performance Center on West 13th Street in New York. Although he grew in physical size to fight at the 160 pound Middleweight and 168 pound Super Middleweight divisions, the fight against Ford would be considered risky and bold for most beginning professional boxers. Physically, Ford was made for Olajide because he was shorter—5’-5” to Olajide’s 6’-1”—and Olajide is smooth with a long jab and good movement, but a man with that much experience is able to relax and minimize a younger, stronger fighter’s physical prowess so as to go the distance or even win. Olajide’s ability to defeat him so early in his career came from a combination of his own talent and the strategic skill and motivational influence of his father.

“There’s the fighter, but then there’s the trainer,” Olajide says. “And I think one of the trainer’s responsibilities is to develop the skills of this individual so when he does come up against that guy who’s beaten everybody as you’re beating everybody, you’re gonna know what to do.”

Such high expectations backed up with an accentuation of his strengths and a concentration on his weaknesses in the gym prepared him for his fights and enabled him to continually progress to world title challenges. It was an intellectual approach that probably brought Michael Olajide, Jr. much further than if Michael Olajide, Sr. would have concentrated on just strengthening him up for brute force battles.

“I think too many trainers just take for granted . . . that boxing is just about punching someone in the mouth, and if you’re not hitting somebody then that’s because you didn’t train right, because you didn’t eat right or run right or something, when really it’s about, ‘what kind of skills have you given this individual?’. That’s what training’s about, because a fighter’s only gonna do in the ring what he did in the gym. You can’t do any better than that.”

It’s true. Even a fighter with tremendous athletic talent and natural boxing skill can’t sustain success at a high level without the guidance of a competent trainer. Michael Olajide, SR’s understanding of this along with Michael Olajide, JR’s athleticism and willingness to learn facilitated a decade of success. But in retrospect, says Olajide, Jr., it’s preferable to have more time to develop oneself as an amateur before tackling a professional endeavor.

“I would have loved to get more experience because what happens, especially when you fight on the international level, is you see so many different styles. But when you’re just in Vancouver you have that focused style. So most people fight the same way; they’re just coming in at you head first,” he explains. “So that would have been amazing [to have more amateur experience], because to have to figure out [a difficult style] in the middle of a 15 round fight is not cool. You know what I mean? When the title’s on the line it’s like, ‘Oh, man, how do I get by this one?’”

He had that experience on October 10, 1987, while fighting 1984 Junior Middleweight Olympic Gold Medalist Frank Tate for the vacant International Boxing Federation (IBF) Middleweight Championship of the World.

“His style to me was really awkward,” he says. “A lot of people thought he was very beatable. I thought, looking at him, he was beatable, but when you’re in the ring with someone—you know as a fighter—things change up . . .”

Olajide lost a unanimous decision to Tate, and although he was dominated in that fight he felt he had the skill to win and wished he could have been better prepared for it. He and his father were not getting along at that point as much as when he’d begun, and he had trouble adjusting to Tate’s strategy.

“I’m like, ‘Man, this guy’s punches are coming from weird angles,” Olajide says, describing the moves Tate made; “he’s dropping [bobbing downwards to the right] and then the right hand’s coming, and I’d never seen that before, it was so strange.”

It was a move Tate used regularly and one that is effective in different variations for a number of fighters. By rolling to the right and dropping down from a right hand punch at his face, Tate was able to draw his opponent closer to him because of the momentum generated by the punch; then he countered with a right hand of his own. It’s the kind of punch that catches a fighter coming in, capitalizing on the momentum generated both by the opponent’s punch and his body’s tendency to automatically follow the direction of the target that moved just at the presumed moment of impact. Olajide mentioned former Heavyweight Champion of the World, Tim Whitherspoon, and Junior Middleweight Buster Drayton as fighters who were good at that move. (I couldn’t find Olajide’s challenge of Tate on line, or any of Tate’s other professional fights for that matter, but I did find Tate’s Gold Medal performance against Canada’s Shawn O’Sullivan at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and he uses that move very effectively.)

“He would drop,” Olajide says, “and then the punch would come afterwards, and it was a delay, and I’d be like, ‘Wow, that’s weird.”

Olajide recounts the story respectfully, with a sense of awe and humor revealing a degree of gratitude that seems to outweigh any regrets.

“So there was a lot of figuring out and there are a lot of things that kept me hesitating, but that’s the game of boxing.”

Olajide followed that title fight with two wins, a 6th round TKO over Franklin Owens and a 10 round unanimous decision over Cecil Petigrew, before fighting Bronx native Iran Barkley in a World Boxing Council (WBC) Middleweight title elimination fight at the Felt Forum in Madison Square Garden. It was a classic New York event wherein two of its sons, the adopted transplant from Canada who’d established his credentials under his father’s guidance in Manhattan and a neighborhood kid from the Bronx chasing his own dreams, battling for the chance to become stars. It began just as intensely as it ended, with Barkley pressing the action and Olajide moving a lot but also standing and punching with him. While Olajide suffered a flash knockdown in the 2nd round he got up and survived, and in the 4th landed a left hook that dropped Barkley. Barkley was back on the offensive from the opening of the 5th, and when Olajide tried to match his aggression and brought his right hand back low after delivering an inside body shot, Barkley landed a left hook Olajide did not see, dropping him again. Olajide moved and fought back, but as he was pressed against the ropes for a sustained period referee Arthur Mercante, Jr. stepped in and stopped the fight against Olajide’s vehement protest. Olajide appeared to know where he was and was determinedly attempting to block and slip punches, but he wasn’t fully out of trouble yet and Arthur Mercante, Jr. apparently thought him shaky enough to stop the fight. (The fight is available on Youtube in three parts. Although the referee is the man in the ring with the clearest view of each fighter’s condition, Olajide looks well enough and is making a great enough effort to support his contention that the fight was stopped too early.)

“I think it’s very important for the referee to know the fighter,” Olajide says. “There’s never been a case in my life when I’ve fought that I’ve been hit and I’ve been dropped that I didn’t come back. And if you know that, that’s kind of like, ‘Okay, I know he’s not out on his feet.’ I mean I’ve seen guys get hit and they’re out on their feet and their eyes are just dazed and rolling in their head and they’re defenseless. Is that fighter showing the ability to defend himself? And in every case I was. Even when I was falling back into the ropes you can see me moving my head. I know what’s coming at me. I just needed that one second to gather it; you know what I mean?”
Olajide made the fight very competitive and obviously had the ability to win, but he mistakenly slugged with Barkley too much, trying to match him left hook for left hook. If he could have controlled the ring more with his superior movement and made Barkley move into his combinations, the fact that he’d put Barkley down earlier suggests he may have been able to win the fight.

If Olajide could have survived and won the fight he could have challenged Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns for the WBC Middleweight Championship. There’s no way to know what would have happened had he faced Hearns exactly three months later on June 6, 1988, but Barkley—who Olajide was able to drop—defeated Hearns with a 3rd round TKO. Hearns then moved up to the 168 pound Super Middleweight division, where Olajide would eventually face him.

Michael Olajide, Jr. won by a 7th round TKO victory over middleweight Troy Watson in September of that year, followed by a 4th round TKO over Jr. Middleweight Kenny Lopez in late June, 1989. Then, after a December 1, 1989 10 round split decision loss to Dennis Milton at Middleweight, he was granted a challenge against Hearns for the World Boxing Organization (WBO) Super Middleweight Championship of the World on April 28, 1990. He lost a 12 round split decision. But knowing now how diminished he was at this point of his career because of a debilitating eye injury, Olajide’s performance is beyond impressive.

After the Barkley fight Olajide’s father turned trainer responsibilities over to Barkley’s former trainer, Hector Rocha at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. For the Hearns fight Olajide and Rocha traveled together to Florida to train with Angelo Dundee, who added his motivational and strategic brilliance to the overall arsenal. But Olajide had already suffered some retinal problems in his right eye at that point of his career, having sustained an orbital fracture while sparring at Gleason’s in 1986, followed by an exacerbation of the injury when sparring with contender Merqui Sosa. He had gotten medical treatment but was not describing how serious his vision problems were to his doctors and trainers, and after already having a detached retina he suffered an orbital fracture against Hearns that caused severe swelling of his eyeball. His final fight was a 8th round TKO loss to Ray Moncrief in Mobile, Alabama on April 25, 1999.

At 28 Michael Olajide, Jr. was through with professional boxing. He wasn’t world champion and didn’t retire rich and famous, but he found a new form in which to practice the profession. For the last two decades he has used boxing to teach fitness along with self defense, and his Aerospace High Performance Center is thriving. He has been a personal trainer to some top actors and business professionals, and he also worked as a consultant on the film ‘Ali’. Our February interview included a discussion of that transition, as well as the differences in the trainers—his father, Hector Rocha, and Angelo Dundee—who guided his career. Furthermore, we discussed the ability of a fighter to come back from injury, the marketing of a career, and the financial challenges facing actively professional boxers and trainers. These subjects will be explored thoroughly in subsequent articles.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Middle Way for Manny, Corners for Cotto

Middle Way for Manny, Corners for Cotto
Mark Connor
© Copyright 2009, Mark Connor

The fight this Saturday, November 14, between World Boxing Organization (WBO) Welterweight Champion Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico and Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines is one of the most anticipated in recent years. Unlike Pacquiao’s last fight against overrated and mismatched Englishman Ricky Hatton, this challenge to become the only man to win world championships in seven different weight classes could prove for him a bridge too far. Victory’s not a given for either man, though, and both can cause extensive damage to the other in a fight pitting skill and power of equal quality in different forms on either side. In conversation with world class trainer Dennis Presley, I was enlightened by his technical analysis while reaffirmed in my own inclinations about who will emerge victorious, even though they are in disagreement with his expert opinion.

“In the short and the small of it,” Presley asserted, “it’s going to come down to the power of Cotto verses the hand speed of Manny Pacquiao.”
The easy arrival at this conclusion is not lost on either of us, nor should it be to the active observer who knows the basics of boxing. Pacquiao is coming up in weight for the challenge, and Cotto is a brilliant boxer who represented Puerto Rico in the 2000 Olympics and established himself this decade as one of Professional Boxing’s most powerful punchers. Pacquiao has proven he has one punch knockout power, but most observers will tell you that at 147 pounds (or 145 as the “catch weight” contractually agreed upon for this fight dictates) he doesn’t have as much as Cotto does. Pacquiao does have a major advantage in speed, though, and as long as he maintains his balance he can fire off shots repeatedly while making opponents miss. But not many can counter such styles, control the ring, manipulate an opponent’s movement, and pin him in a corner or on the ropes as well as Cotto can. So which one will successfully use his arsenal against the other, and how much will they trade control of the fight throughout the possible shifts in momentum? As Presley explained to me, and as I must readily agree, the technical answer comes down to the first basic of boxing, and that is the placement of the boxers’ feet.

“Now, the thing I would remind folks if you’re a Pacquiao fan,” Presley explained, “is that if he can get Cotto turning and keep him out of going into that left handed stance, then he’s gonna already in the fight be one up because Cotto is the kind of fighter who’s gonna want to get in front of ya and bang the body. And if he can move him around so after Manny throws combinations he can just walk away from him and make him walk to him, Cotto’s gonna find himself in a little bit of trouble because the hand speed is all on the side of Manny Pacquiao.”
This is true, as can be observed from the rapid movement displayed throughout Pacquiao’s career, including his eight rounds of domination over Oscar De La Hoya during which he closed the Golden Boy’s left eye and nearly dropped him before the iconic American from East LA was forced to quit on the stool. The only way to counter such speed, balance, and as Sugar Ray Leonard identified to me in conversation last May about the Hatton knockout, “the accuracy,” is to slow him down. And the way to do that is to land harder punches, particularly to the body, to cut him off when he tries to move around the ring, and to keep him on the ropes.
“The other side of it is,” Presley countered in relation to Pacuquiao’s superior qualities, “if Cotto can ring body punches and if he can switch to southpaw and hook with the right hand to the body, he creates a problem for Pacquiao. Because Pacquiao in just a couple of fights I’ve seen him in with other southpaws is not as effective early against guys who can reach him to the body with that right hook. And so it sets up the straight left hand down the middle, and the thing many people don’t really pay attention to is that Cotto changes in every fight. He switches his stance up and he will throw that left and the right hook.”

What Presley is talking about is to one degree the brute strength of Cotto and his ability to use it to set up power punches. But Cotto doesn’t do that like a Hatton, who is basically a slugger. He works his jab and sets his combinations up strategically. He will throw that right hook (or, more accurately, a variation of the right uppercut) to the body from the southpaw stance, and he will throw the left hand down the middle and the right hook up top. He’ll do the same thing with the lead left hand and the right down the middle from the right handed stance. My question, both as one who has not witnessed as many Cotto fights as I have Pacquiao fights and as one who knows through experience about a fighter’s vulnerability when squaring his body up against an opponent, is how susceptible Cotto will make himself to punches down the middle when he pulls the stance switch. Presley’s belief is that Cotto must make that switch when Pacquiao is on the ropes.
“He’s got to work Manny into the ropes so when he makes the switch Manny’s not in the position to spin out on him,” he said. “In the middle of the ring, squaring up with Manny is the real dangerous thing to do because of the kid’s hand speed and because of his balance. . . The only thing he can do in the middle of the ring is hope to catch him with the left hand if he’s gonna switch. If not, then he needs to stay in the right hand [stance] because he can throw the punches on balance better that way, because you’re absolutely right—when he makes the switch he flattens it out and he goes for power and that gives Manny a chance to land some serious business.”

Another point we discussed is the availability for either one of them to get hit over or inside the lead hand with the other man’s hook. After all, to beat a left hander the right hander has to be able to hit him with the hook, and to do that he has to hit him with the right hand, but once one punch can be landed so can the other one. The same is true with the opposite hands for the left hander against the right hander. Each man can be hit by that hook because when southpaws and right handers fight each other the one who sets himself in range from the correct angle can land the hook. So the observation that Pacquiao must keep turning Cotto, particularly stepping outside his lead foot to move him in that direction—to the right of the left foot when Cotto fights right handed and the left of the right foot when he fights left handed—forcing him to defend against punches coming at him that he might not see, will be key for Pacquiao.

In his final analysis, Presley told me he believes Pacquiao can’t knock Cotto out and that if he wins it will be by decision. He also accepts the obvious ability of Pacquiao to win the fight. But he insists that if the fight ends by stoppage it will be a Cotto victory, and he does believe that whatever happens Cotto will win. I find this prediction very interesting, and as I said in my last article, I am always nervous when I disagree with a Presley prediction. But I do disagree with it, and that puts me at odds with many others I’ve spoken with.

My original coach, the 89-year-old elder of Minnesota Boxing Emmett Yanez who taught me as a child at the Mexican American Boxing Club in St. Paul, told me he believes Cotto will win. He just doesn’t see Pacquiao defeating the bigger stronger man. IBA Americas Super Featherweight Champion Wilton Hilario of St. Louis Park, MN also told me Cotto will win. He too asserts Cotto is too strong and powerful for Pacquiao. Interestingly enough, one trait Hilario shares with Cotto is the habit of habitually switching up between right handed and southpaw stances. He does it in a much different manner, though. And finally, one of Hilario’s trainers, Jacques Davis, chooses Cotto for the same reasons. On the evening of November 12 the sports book odds in Las Vegas favored Pacquiao. I lean towards Pacquiao with a couple of caveats, and I’ll explain why.
First, I believe the movement and speed Pacquiao needs to employ against Cotto are well within his means. So long as he’s prepared, he will do it. The main reason is that even though Cotto’s punches will be hard, fast, and strong, Pacquiao’s will reach their target earlier. He’ll also be able to move his head and spin away, coming back with combinations Cotto will be moving into. He will keep the fight in the middle of the ring, as Presley said he has to, and like he did in accordance with trainer Freddie Roach’s instructions against De La Hoya, he’ll move to the center of the ring the moment he feels his back touch the ropes. Furthermore, the speculation that Cotto is too big is overkill. Pacquiao came in at 142 for De La Hoya and shot up to around 147 by fight time. Yes, De La Hoya sabotaged himself physically by coming in at 145 and then not putting on much weight in the 24 hours leading up to fight time. He was old in fight years and way past his spectacular prime. But Pacquiao proved in rounds 7 and 8 that at 147 pounds his punch is still powerful enough to score a knockout. No, he didn’t put De La Hoya down, but he almost did, and if De La Hoya answered the bell for the ninth round Pacquiao not only would have dropped him, he might have damaged him permanently. Also, from seeing film of Cotto hitting the heavy bag with his shirt off, he appears to be habitually way over the 147 pound limit in between fights. If anything, it seems to me that dropping the weight, and especially an extra two pounds when agreeing to a catch weight, signifies that we ought to be wondering as much about Cotto’s strength as we are of Pacqauiao’s. And finally, in listening to the comments of Freddie Roach, I’m reminded of the Sugar Ray Leonard challenge of Marvin Hagler in 1987 for the World Middleweight title. Angelo Dundee said his fighter would win because he was the better fighter. That’s essentially what Roach said. He explained that he’s been studying Cotto for a long time and he knows Pacquiao can beat him. It always comes down to strategy, and that’s what it is a matter of here. I believe they have the strategy down and I believe it’s similar to what Presley and I have agreed upon in assessing Pacquiao’s chances here. So long as he’s in condition and mentally ready, he will win. Now, I have to include the caveats.

What makes this fight so much more difficult to predict is that Pacquiao dragged Roach to training camp in the Philippines instead of Roach’s preference of Vancouver. The training was interrupted by horrible tropical storms, and Roach left back for the U.S. before Pacquiao did. I have no idea to what degree these distractions will affect Pacquiao. I don’t know enough details about how much deviation from training actually occurred, and I would not advise anyone to bet on the fight either way. However, until I know for a fact that Manny Pacquiao is not in his normally superb physical condition and that he is psychologically distracted to the point of self doubt, I have to choose him to win based on superior boxing ability, including his balance, speed, accuracy, conditioning and heart, and yes, even his pure punching power. I also believe that even the establishment of a 145 pound catch-weight works to his advantage, and I will make one final comment regarding that issue.
I don’t believe any fighter should ever agree to fight for a World Championship title at a catch weight. Pacquiao is a great fighter and he is a great Welterweight when he only weighs 142 pounds. In fact, at 140.1 he is a Welterweight, as anyone else is. The WBO or any other sanctioning body diminishes itself by allowing Manny Pacquiao or any other star to dictate special parameters for a title fight. So long as the title can still be defended by Cotto if he weighs in at the 147 pound limit regardless of the catch weight issue, there is no diminishment of legitimacy if he weighs in at 145 of his own accord. But the sanctioning body destroys the integrity of the weight classification if it allows contractual manipulation of the limit to determine whether someone actually is champion or not. For that reason, regardless of how much money is at stake, for the sake of the integrity of the sport, the maximum limit of a weight class must always remain the maximum limit of a weight class, no matter what. After all, I don’t recall the great Henry Armstrong manipulating weight limits, but even he in all his greatness never had a right to do so in a title fight.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Conversations with Presley Reveal Insights on Pacquiao, Expectations for Cotto

Mark Connor
© Copyright Mark Connor, 2009

Five days before Manny Pacquiao knocked out Ricky Hatton for the IBO Junior Welterweight championship of the world, I interviewed world class trainer Dennis Presley about the fight. The conversation’s contents reveal just how insightfully Presley assessed Pacquiao’s skill and technically described how he’d win. Such accurate observations prompt me to wonder how well he’ll predict Pacquiao’s fight for the Welterweight title against Miguel Cotto. I hadn’t written an article based on the interview before watching the actual fight in May, and until now, with the Cotto fight approaching in less than a month, I just found time to transcribe it. As you’ll see in the quotes, Presley predicted the moves Pacquiao made against Hatton the same as Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, described them after the fight and explained that in the HBO 24/7 series they visibly worked on them over and over again.

Originally Presley predicted the Pacquiao-Hatton contest would “be a real interesting fight for about six or seven rounds,” but added that “the young Brit has bit off a little more than he can chew. . .” He went on to describe the technical realities missed at the time by those who gave Hatton a chance against Pacquiao, saying, “The thing that the Brit’s fans are not paying attention to is, first of all, Manny Pacquiao is a southpaw. And so the right hook will come in the open space over the top of the left hand. He’s going to be able to do things and move the young man in such a way that he’ll put him in positions that he can hit him and he [Pacquiao] won’t be hit.” He added, “I just recently watched the evening’s ten o’clock show on HBO [24/7] and they showed some of the footwork and some of the style that Pacquiao will use to defeat his opponent, and I think that he’s got the game plan and the fight plan all in hand and he’s ready to go.”

What interests me in the observation is not just that it’s close to exactly what happened, but in looking over the hype surrounding the fight and the explanations for the results afterwards given by Roach, the specific details should have been more clear to the people—from the writers to the commentators to the boxers and trainers in gyms around the country—who were discussing what would happen. Presley was telling me that Pacquiao would land the right hook because Hatton would open himself up to it, and, like Mayweather, Pacquaio would be able to move Hatton into punches he would not see. The only difference in the delivery of the right hook that first dropped Hatton from Presley’s prediction was that Pacquiao landed it while ducking under his left hook instead of coming over the top of it. I also believed Pacquiao would take Hatton apart, based not only on how well he’d handled Oscar De La Hoya but also on the totality of his career, because he’d obviously proven himself a much better boxer to that point. In fact, I thought it disingenuous for the fight to be billed as a contest to decide the pound for pound best, because Hatton, while definitely a world class fighter, has never progressed to pound for pound talent. But another indicator emerging in the lead up to the fight that proved prophetic, although I never would have seen the connection until after the fact, was the cover of The Ring Magazine previewing the match. Hatton was drawn throwing his lead left hook, and Pacquiao was throwing the right hook, the same as he did for the first knockdown of the fight. I don’t know if the artist even consciously visualized the punch landing just that way, because the drawing obviously is of each fighter in action in separate respective fights, since they’d never been in the ring together before. But it’s exactly what happened and an examination of their respective styles should have been indicative of such a probability. Realizing this, however, the question now, after Floyd Mayweather, Jr. has come back to easily dominate Pacquiao’s old nemesis, Juan Manuel Marques over 12 rounds and awaits the winner of the November 14 Super Fight, how will Manny Pacquiao perform against Miguel Cotto?

Freddie Roach has said Cotto is no pushover and he will be a more difficult challenge for Pacquiao, but that Pacquiao will still defeat him. Cotto is a serious knockout artist, though. He’s a technically sound boxer and a fierce warrior. How will Pacquiao handle him?

If Pacquiao does handle him and achieve victory, he’ll have to do it much the same way as he did against Hatton. Not that he can put Cotto down or even hurt him nearly as easily as he did Hatton. Actually, the Puerto Rican Welterweight is obviously stronger, faster, and a harder puncher than Hatton, and he wouldn’t be where he is if he couldn’t take a punch. His weaknesses, though, are similar to Hatton’s. He boxes well enough that he’s less likely to get caught with unseen punches like the ones that first dropped and then knocked Hatton out cold, but he does have the tendency to square off from the right handed stance. He switches southpaw at times, and I don’t know if that will help him or hurt him in a fight against Pacquiao, but it indicates a tendency to slug it out and loop punches, because while squaring off it becomes natural to switch stances when one’s opponent moves back or in another direction that presents the right angle for it. This would seem to indicate an opportunity for Pacquiao to implement the type of movement he utilized against Hatton. The only variable increasing the problem exponentially for the Filipino Pac Man is the one that Presley has told me will likely be the reason Pacquiao loses, and that is Cotto’s power. “Cotto is a full fledged Welterweight,” Presley told me. “If he hits Pacquiao, he can hit him hard enough to knock him out.”

Presley and I have not heretofore had a formal conversation intended to arrive at predictions for this fight, but between now and November 14 I will officially interview him for further analysis. We watched the Mayweather-Marquez fight together, though, and after it Presley did express doubts to me about whether Pacquiao can beat either Cotto or Mayweather. He also said he thought Marquez had won both of the fights in which Pacquiao was awarded decisions over him. I have to counter his thoughts on Pacquaio’s chances against Cotto, though, with a repeat of what Sugar Ray Leonard said to me about Pacquiao when I spoke of his incredible accuracy, speed, and balance.

“You hit it on the head,” Leonard said; “the accuracy of his punches; [they] are so, just, they’re timed perfectly. And he’s always there, then he’s out of the way, and he’s in great shape.”

And what about the size difference, given that Cotto is, as Presley put it, “a full fledged Welterweight.”?

“No matter how much he weighs,” Leonard said in May of Pacquiao, “he’s a little guy; and he’s able to overcome the adversities of it. I thought that Oscar had a chance to beat him, but he proved everybody wrong.” I’ll have to examine every piece of information related to this fight until the time of the opening bell, and so I may change my position before it actually happens. But for now I’m saying Pacquiao will win the fight. Presley, for very good reason, has said Cotto will. I’m always nervous when for one reason or other I don’t agree with his prediction, because as I always say Presley has a unique ability to predict the outcome of fights. An earlier misjudgment of his doesn’t necessarily make me feel that much more confident about disagreeing with him, but I remind myself at this time that, based on size as well as boxing ability, Dennis Presley originally predicted Oscar De La Hoya would beat Manny Pacquiao.