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Ho Hum Outing Saved By Vicious Alvarez Right in 7th; Ex 175 Champ Finishes Seals on ESPN

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It was a ho hum affair, not a horrid outing, but not at all memorable, as Eleider Alvarez battled Michael Seals at Turning Stone Casino in Verona, NY, Saturday night.

The clash, on a card promoted by Top Rank, screened on ESPN, after undercard tangoes ran on ESPN+, the streaming platform.

“Clash,” not so much, as the first six rounds saw Alvarez doing a bit more, staying smart but more cautious than those paying to watch up close preferred. The assembled at the casino actually deserve credit for only booing a couple times, frankly; in some spots, a less respectful bunch would have let ’em have it more often.

Then, the ending, the pound of flesh climax which made watchers forgive a slow pace to the end point. At 3:00 in round seven, Alvarez detonated a stoppage, and became the new WBO Intercontinental and WBC Continental Americas light heavyweight champion.

Seals threw a left hook–he might have underthrown it on purpose, just to set up the next shot–and was following with a right, but Alvarez saw the opening and landed his right after the hook missed. The right hand landed on a squared up Seals, his torso opened up because he was trying to get leverage on his own right.

It landed flush, and Seals was discombobulated. He fell backwards and his head hit the bottom rope. Three, four, five, six, seven, no mas, the ref waved it off at that point, seeing that Seals wasn’t recollecting his senses. After, Seals barked at the ref, but the looks on the face of his corner crew said it all-they knew he was out of it.

That left hook-forearm finished was one of the better tosses from Seals. (Pictures by Mikey Williams for Top Rank.)

Mark Kriegel spoke to the victor in center ring after the W was announced. “During training camp, we practiced {the right hand} over and over. My trainer was mad at me at first because I wasn’t doing what he was asking. Finally, we got the knockout,” Alvarez said. “I was out of the ring for 11 months. I wanted to come back as the fighter that beat Kovalev, and this is what we practiced for.”

Alvarez will be matched with Long Islander Joe Smith, coming off a win over Jesse Hart just last week, in Philly, in a match of two dudes who possess a game changer right hand. Smith would be pressing Alvarez much, much more than Seals, that’s the only way he knows how to fight, so I’m pretty sure their clash would be better, style-wise.

“It was an ugly fight,” said analyst Tim Bradley…but the finisher made up for it.

The 35 year old Alvarez had tasted the nectar in August 2018 when he stopped WBO 175 champ Sergey Kovalev, but dropped it back to the Russian in the immediate rematch (Feb. 2019); he weighed 174 on Friday.

The Alabama born Georgia resident, Seals, age 37, not that far removed from driving for Uber, was 173 1/2.

Both men are not pups, so a loss, particularly in bad fashion, would be potentially extra hurtful, we pondered as we awaited round one to kick off. And yes–the way this went will likely be pretty ego piercing for Seals.

The Colombian born Alvarez had been on the pine, for a full year, so going in, Seals had to think he might be seeing a rusty opponent. Alvarez ripped an Achilles before the Kovalev rematch, he said, so maybe, the thinking went, he’d be better after having rested that body.

In the first, they started out respectful, low volume, both doing some scouting and getting the muscles and tendons loose.

In round two, they stayed in slow mode. In the last third, Alvarez got some work done. A lead right landed pretty clean, but Seals slipped enough to not get buzzed by it. Also, the Alvarez jab was starting to find the right range.

To the third–we heard boos from some of the watchers who had enough of the warmup-level pacing.

In the fourth, Seals started to get a bit more comfy taking the guns from the holsters. Alvarez’ jab was a solid weapon, it’s long and sharp. In the fifth, Alvarez landed a right, real clean, as Seals backed up with hands down. It came at the tail end of the round. Note: Analyst Tim Bradley saw Seals getting untracked, I saw Alvarez in control of the match, low key.

In round number six, Alvarez looked up at the clock with more than a minute left, so we wondered how his stamina would be moving forward. In the seventh, the crowd stayed polite and unmoved. Too much waiting, not enough pep in the step or the hands of either man. Then, a right clipped Seals, and he’d take his second stoppage loss as a professional. The ending came at the very tail end of the round and late activity from Alvarez something a future foe should be wary of.

In the TV opener, Felix Verdejo, seeking to re-energize his career, took on 18-3 Manuel Rey Rojas, and the Puerto Rican hitter got the nod, after ten rounds.

The scores: 99-91, 97-93, 98-98, for the once so promising prospect, now working with Cuban teacher Ismael Salas.

The action callers, Bernardo Osuna, and Tim Bradley, were more enthused about the effort from the Puerto Rican pugilist than I was.

Salas, working out of Vegas, has said that Felix has skills, but they need to be organized better. Also, brittle hands haven’t helped the kid.

Mark Kriegel spoke to the winner post-fight. Was he happy with the win? He gave himself a C, and said, in Spanish, that he wants to keep getting better. How far is he from becoming what we thought he’d be? “I know I’m near,” he said, and promised to keep working hard to get to the promised land place. Hey, he’s always been a class act, publicly. Props to the young man for giving himself that humble grade.

The lightweight Verdejo was matched a certain way, this one on paper was supposed to be a get back on track continuation. He is just 25, and came in owning a glittering–on paper–record of 26-1. But the numbers don’t tell the tale; Felix was mega hyped, supposed to take over on the Miguel Cotto track. But there were too many UDs, instead of KOs, and there was having too much fun, instead of knuckling down, and being married to the sport.

38-2 Antonio Lozado Torres was supposed to be a better on paper than in the ring foe when he met Verdejo in NYC (March 2018). But Felix underperformed, Torres rose to the occasion, and Felix tasted his first loss. That stung, but some of the zest and the zing in the relationship between him and boxing, and promoter Top Rank had already left the building. The switch from Ricky Marquez, to Salas, was welcomed by many who thought Felix had to change up the routine.

Early on at Turning Stone, Verdejo pumped a jab, but he often waited too long between tosses. At times, he lacked full on committment to his launches.

He’d 3/4-arm a punch, it would fall short, because he didn’t propel that back foot to punch through the foe.

In round four, we saw a mouse under the left eye of the Puerto Rican, something to keep an eye on, because you knew Rojas, a 25 year old Texan, would be.

In round five, Rojas tagged the PR man clean, with a right. Felix smiled, a “you got me” signal. At times, he’d make Rojas miss, but he wasn’t often enough making him pay.

You watched, and kept looking for it…was this a better Verdejo? Did you see tweaks to the games…a different, more fiery mindset? Better game planning, and staying attached to a blueprint? Felix still stood straight, tall, and maybe you think he’d do better crouching more. And the jab, he was busy with it at times, but looking to fire it through the face of the foe would help bust him up, sap his energy, work to help break him down, soften him up.

It is possible Verdejo gets critiqued harder, because expectations were so high when he debuted and rose the ranks. He’d rip a combo, low and then high with the left, in round eight, and you’d recall why he was salivated over.

The tenth and final round, activity from both was still decent. But this round like the others saw neither man kicking into another gear, and lifting this fight up to another level. You saw Rojas land a counter right as Verdejo tried to get out of range, but did so a tick slow, and wondered how a B plus or A level fighter would punish Felix for that violation.

Felix fought twice in 2018, once in 2019…and this was a decent outing. Perhaps more time with Ismael Salas will propel him backwards, to the place he was five years ago.

I don’t know–he seems stuck in place to me. Is it a confidence thing? Only he knows, I believe.

Editor/publisher Michael Woods became addicted to boxing in 1990, when Buster Douglas shocked the world with his demolition of the fearsome Mike Tyson. The Brooklyn-based journalist Woods has covered the sport since then, for ESPN The Magazine, ESPN.com, ESPN New York, RING, and he was editor of TheSweetScience.com from 2007-2015. Woods is also an accomplished blow by blow and color man, having done work for Top Rank, DiBella Entertainment, EPIX, and numerous other organizations.

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