Jabs and Hooks: Top Rank, ESPN ink seven-year deal

Michael Smyth

Raymundo Beltran, who won the lightweight title in Reno (above), defends his crown this month against Jose “Sniper” Pedraza.
Michael Smyth Tahoe Onstage

Top Rank and ESPN will continue their partnership and signed a deal for 54 boxing events per year for the next seven years. It’s another genius deal by legendary promoter Bob Arum, who would be 94 when this deal expires. Those in boxing expect him to still be around through this deal. Added with the continued success of the United Kingdom boxing scene — and the way fans are crashing the gates of boxing shows there — the sport is alive and well. Boxing will be on your television set well into the future.

Another exciting month of boxing is in the books. It was a month that truly reminded fans that you are really only judged by your last performance. New stars emerged, rising stars are getting a second opinion and an all-time great scored a victory while being able to avoid the big blow that is ignored.

We now head into August, which is the calm before the boxing storm that will be September. Big bouts start Sept. 8 in Brooklyn, when Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia face off for the welterweight belt vacated by the injured Keith Thurman. The following week brings the much anticipated rematch between Triple G (Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin) and Canelo Alvarez. It’s a bout that has revived excitement for most, but I’m still in the minority of the “have not forgotten” what caused the delay and killed some steam for this bout.

Looking back at July action

The first significant bout of the month hits July 14, when New Orleans-born and current Houston resident Regis Prograis returned to “The Big Easy” and defended his junior welterweight title with a convincing TKO victory over previously unbeaten Juan Jose Velasco. It was yet another rise up the elite ladder for Prograis, who’s showing that he has the goods to compete with anyone –and the  the charisma to charm any crowd.

On July 21 in Moscow, we saw cruiserweight Oleksandr Usyk unify the division titles and jump to instant pound-for-pound status. So many were of the opinion that he didn’t have what it takes to defeat Murat Gassiev. Since the unanimous decision victory, many now are considering Usyk as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters and are now even weighing his chances on going up and fighting for the heavyweight crown. He certainly has the size to compete at heavyweight.

Middleweight champion Jaime Munguia is getting a second opinion after his TKO victory in Las Vegas over Liam Smith. When Canelo was out in May against Triple G, Munguia was declined by the Athletic Commission as a replacement. After his title-winning effort over Sadam Ali, many questioned why he wasn’t approved. It appeared with his 6-foot, 2-inch frame and the way he dethroned the champion that Munguia certainly would have a great shot against Golovkin. After the less than stellar title defense against Smith, now the critics are rethinking, and the majority opinion is that he needs more seasoning before fighting the elite stars. How quickly opinions change in this sport.

Pac Man: Return of the legend

On July 15 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, legend Manny Pacquiao returned with a dominant TKO victory over former world champion Lucas Matthysse (who has since announced his retirement). Pacquiao, 39, earned the 60th victory in his Hall of Fame career and fought for the first time in more than 15 years without trainer Freddie Roach in his corner. Now, before you call me a hater, look at my track record. I was one of the few that gave Manny a chance against Mayweather when everyone else was overwhelmingly favoring Mayweather — and I’m a long time fan of “Pac Man.”

But I wouldn’t be doing justice if I didn’t touch on the subject of PEDs. For all of the “can’t you just be happy for the man and congratulate him on his victory” blog threads: Manny did show his skills and power in the Matthysse bout. But for all of the “he’s back” notions that his loyal fan base is excited about, we do have to point to a reluctant history of avoiding PED testing. He is an aged fighter who showed power that has seemingly been missing in recent fights and without the trainer that guided most of his championship era.

It should be pointed out that he fought in Malaysia, where they don’t require any testing for performance enhancing drugs. Manny is Hall of Fame bound and is a legend, but like many athletes of this era, he is performing at a high level when the physics tell us he should have a decline. When we see this in other sports, questions arise. Yet in boxing, where it is a head rather than a ball that is being hit, we dismiss and avoid that kind of talk.

Looking forward to August action

As  the boxing world awaits the September showdowns I mentioned earlier, there will be plenty of action in August. It starts with Saturday’s card of welterweights Andre Berto facing Devon Alexander in a battle of two former world champions. On the undercard, former middleweight champion “Kid Chocolate” Peter Quillin makes his long awaited return to the ring. Locally, Quillin is known as the fighter who retired Yerington’s Jesse Brinkley.

WBC Super Lightweight Champion Jose Ramirez was set last month to come home to Fresno and defend his WBC lightweight title. But the the bout was cancelled when a dehydrated Danny O’Connor collapsed in the sauna while trying to make weight in the hour before the official weigh-in. On that subject, it is part of the sport and while unhealthy to do so, if a title fight is offered, one will attempt whatever it takes to make the weight. This is a subject for another day, because I can fill a whole column with just the weight issue in boxing.

Nonetheless, Ramirez will be getting his chance later in the month to come home as he defends against Antonio Orozco. On Aug. 25 in Arizona, there will be another homecoming as Raymundo Beltran, who won the lightweight belt in Reno earlier this year, defends against the very dangerous Jose “Sniper” Pedraza. It should be the month’s most exciting bout, as both fighters hit and aren’t afraid to get hit. This tasty sandwich also has the added spice of a Mexico vs. Puerto Rico rivalry,  one of the richest in boxing.

— Simon Ruvalcaba

About Simon Ruvalcaba

Simon Ruvalcaba is a former professional boxer born and bred in South Lake Tahoe. Ruvalcaba was a member of the U.S. Army boxing team and had a 54-17 record as an amateur. He had an 18-fight pro career that was hampered by a shoulder injury he sustained in a 2003 bout at Caesars Tahoe. His final fight was in 2013. He is a sales associate living in Reno. He is editor of Punchline.live and also contributes to fighthype.com and pound4pound.com

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