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The State [March 2020]: The Black Swan

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Time flies, even when you take the train.

About 5 years ago, right about now, I decided I’d take an Amtrak on a cross country trek from New York to Las Vegas to witness the long awaited showdown between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. So much pageantry accompanied a very glitzy presser in Los Angeles back then, preceded by the most intensive and prolonged period of writing on any one fight I’d ever done. Sort of an ode to myself for being part of a fight that would finally supplant Ali Vs Frazier (such were my ‘thoughts and feelings’, anyway). Never would melancholy come to mind when evoking The Best Ever Vs His Worst Nightmare. As we choo-choo’d across the plains my expectations remained the same supernatural high; never did I consider the promotion could be anticlimactic until it was. Along the way, you see many things about an America of hidden nature often veiled by the science of our reality. Constant illusions of fistic grandeur overshadowed all that a changing landscape of reality was showing me, which was an inability to appreciate that which is real due to imaginings with a selfishness unknown. And then, there it was. Too gorgeously ugly to be a mere crow. 

A “Black Swan” is a tragic event you cannot foresee.

In the 3 or 4 days of travel that would ensue, I’d met quite a few fight fans disguised as people on this journey to Sin City with me, eager to wage peace of mind against bodies of war. Everyone pushed their mental chips “All-In”, for minds were too emotionally invested in the May 2015 dreams of 2010. Expressions like: “It’s too expensive to be anything more than priceless..”, or “How could it not be timeless?”, never took form. Then it hit me. Hollywood and Las Vegas are adult playgrounds where people hang themselves after raising their own stakes, only for them to later blame the promoters. Talk is cheap when it’s meant to be, for minds are bought before they are sold.

“Fear is intrinsic to everything you do as a creative person. 

You’re constantly putting yourself up there to be judged and trashed.”  

–Nina Sayers, Black Swan  

Greatness will always risk losing such a distinction without fear. About a year ago, I was making my way to Dallas on a United Flight #1447 from Newark International Airport that wasn’t, to see Errol “The Truth” Spence Jr Vs Mikey Garcia at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX. There were whispers and fears that our plane was compromised; a lot of terrible imaginings made real. I recall “When Doves Cry” blaring from my headphones as we finally boarded the plane some 24 hours later in dirty discomfort, while thinking it had nothing to do with being afraid to fly. We land, I visited Dealey Plaza…

..and JFK and formed the basis for “The Truth Hurts” (the best article I’ve ever written) to round out coverage of that fight. It always does, for it has to before it heals. Ask Mikey Garcia about this then and Jessie Vargas about that now. Entwined with authenticity, the truth always has a way of selling itself with no strings attached. What you see is what you get, unlike the box of chocolates Forest Gump still so poignantly describes with an adult naivety. In 2020, boxing has come too far to be anything but Godiva and beyond with expectation. More than any other sport it’s never afraid to face its fear. We still love it, don’t we? If these three fights won’t reignite your flame, this would qualify as unexpected tragedy indeed. 

 

PACQUIAO VS MARQUEZ V

“If Mikey Garcia wants to fight me, no problem,” said Manny Pacquiao, after watching this generation’s “Dynamita” snuff and gradually beat up Jessie Vargas over 12 tough rounds. It just better not be in Saudi Arabia. Garcia, for this Centrum infused version of Pacquiao, represents a very offensive and non-counterpunching Juan Manuel Marquez in his prime with a rocket launcher of a straight right hand — the Achilles Heel of any southpaw. I’ve just left the First Filipino Seventh Day Adventist Church in my hometown of Plainfield, NJ and can’t help but think of Congressman turned Senator Manny Pacquiao, widely rumored to be in position to succeed Rodrigo Duterte as President of The Philippines. If ever there was a time to flex political muscle and bring about something that has never taken place in what has been a truly majestic career, that time would be now. For all that the Wapakman of ring arts has accomplished for over two decades there’s been one glaring omission — he’s never had a fight of significance in The Philippines. For a guy whose young boxing journey included his dog being eaten and the stuffing of coins in his pocket just to qualify for the chance to be beaten up by grown men, this has become somewhat of a legendary injustice.

Pacquiao Vs Garcia would constitute a “Superfight”, while serving as a different iteration of a redemptive Marquez V that never was. To stage such an event in his native homeland would present a ‘Thrilla in Manila’ for real, along with the type of ‘sportswashing’ indigenous culture and minorities across all spectrums could feel. How does the sport’s only eight-division world champion in history and the reigning and defending WBA welterweight champion not end a bloody fairy tale with a swan song delectable in its dark brilliance? With Pacquiao north of forty and Garcia now a very hittable gunslinging and undersized 147 lb fighter just like a now ripe Pac-Man, this fight is a guaranteed summer blockbuster that would exceed Pacquiao Vs Thurman in drama. Mind you, that fight was a bonafide CLASSIC. I sold the brass at PBC on Pac/Thurman, before writing a 7-part preview edition for this column on the fight. Consider running back the concept of this redux, as there’s not a better fight that can be made in 2020. Pacquiao Vs Garcia in the Philippines is almost Roberto Duran Vs Aaron Pryor in Panama. 

           

THE BLACK SEE

They are as different as Eastern Europe and Central America. As different as the raw nature of Brooklyn and the intricate science of Kyiv. I can see 22 year-old IBF lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez (15-0, 12KOs) sauntering his way to the ring with Jay-Z’s menacing “Where I’m From” blaring in the backdrop inside of a frenzied Madison Square Garden in New York City on May 30. Just don’t forget to understand he’s from Honduras all day. He’ll await the greatest amateur fighter of all-time and the #1 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet in WBC/WBA/WBO lightweight world champion Vasily Lomachenko (14-1, 10KOs) from Akkerman, Ukraine and “not” Odessa — just so you understand. 

The 32 year-old wunderkind is a 2-time Olympic gold medalist and a 3-division world champion who sneers with whimsical disbelief at the thought of losing to Lopez, a younger fighter he despises [almost as much] as he does Gervonta “Tank” Davis. A regal presence of refined ferocity, I don’t know that Loma cares very much for Hip-Hop. But if he were to enter the ring in quintessential NYC style with his opponent in mind — just to spite him, we’d probably hear “Kick in the door” from Notorious B.I.G, which in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day on the horizon, begins by talking about a reign ‘shorter than Leprechauns’. They… can’t stand each other. 

I watched Teofimo erase Richard Commey in the 2nd round from ringside inside of MSG, courtesy of a short lightning bolt of a right hand that doomed the Ghanaian on impact. I sat next to longtime matchmaker Charles Farrell and predicted that Teo would make short work out of Commey in about 2 rounds (we all have our moments); the speed advantage coupled with Commey’s square and straight forward singular dimension being my reasoning. So I wasn’t overly blown away by the performance, but very impressed nevertheless, given the result of his most recent performances. Watching with a fixed insouciance was Lomachenko, who could hardly contain a lack of excitement. 

“In the two rounds I saw, I got the feeling that Lopez has flaws and problems in his defense. In the first round he managed to take so many of Commey’s punches and many of those didn’t need to be taken. He could not get collected and manage the distance he had to maintain. In the end, by some miracle, in the second round he hit Commey and finished the fight. I think if it hadn’t been for that lucky punch — and I call it “A Lucky Punch,” we would’ve seen plenty of interesting things in the course of the fight.”               

                                                              ——Loma, on Teo’s 2nd round KO of Richard Commey

Sure, they posed for a very memorable picture in the ring shortly thereafter and presented a portrait of total sportsmen.

But underneath the veneer lied very real contempt between the two camps going back a few years now, mainly, as a result of trash talk that originated from Team Lopez. Teo’s father, Teofimo Sr., would give Angel Garcia a serious run for his money in terms of urban invective with bravado and machismo. Teo famously remarked some time ago with Max Kellerman that there were “4 or 5 ways to beat Lomachenko,” so one would figure by now he’s come up with 6 or 7. Not that we’re counting.

“I’m gonna knock the son of a bitch out,” Lopez said to NYF’s Editor-in-Chief Michael Woods on a recent edition of Talkbox. 

Marriage has seemed to mature and season Teofimo from this perspective — he generally won’t hurl vitriol with the same abandon he would in the past, and noted general affection for Commey. But the disdain for “The Matrix” is real, in the very same way Agent Smith just wanted to spray electricity into the face of Neo to blind his eyes and fry his face. “Don’t bet against me, you’ll lose!” warned Lopez. I don’t know about that.

“Boxing lovers tend to forget about a thing called anthropometry and weight class,” offered Loma in a recent interview. He has a point. I read a few boxing articles from several writers I respect and drew upon the same theme from them: they don’t seem to understand Lomachenko qualifies as a knockout artist. 

Of his 14 wins, 13 could be of the he got “KTFO” variety. He would’ve brutally stopped a never before KO’d Rigondeaux in December 2017 had the Cuban great not quit and broke his hand while breaking a 51-1 Suriya Tatakhun way back in November 2014 on the undercard of Pacquiao Vs Algieri in China. Gary Russell Jr is at least Wilfred Benitez to Loma’s Sugar Ray Leonard of sorts over 12 rounds; but in the cases of a seasoned world champion in Jose Pedraza and a former Olympic gold medalist in Luke Campbell in his backyard in London, both were substantially bigger than Lomachenko and were beaten the hell out of late to narrowly avoid being stopped. None of this really bodes well for Teofimo from this perspective, in terms of competitive degree of difficulty. 

There are also those who will tell you that Teo didn’t fare well when pitted against the likes of the aforementioned Tank Davis and a Devin Haney in sparring sessions — in a way more mental than physical. Last year, at Everybody Fights in NYC, I noticed how dismissive rising star Shakur Stevenson was of Teofimo in his presence —  in a way he did not try to hide. This is the same Stevenson that Loma demanded to work with almost exclusively in the run-up to his Superfight with Rigondeaux in late 2017. What am I saying here? Pedigree matters, that’s why I likened this fight to a different version of Alexis Arguello Vs Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini with national pride on the line. None of this could be of significance in 2020, as Teofimo could very well reveal a much more finely tooled rendition of himself by May, enough to leave a Lomachenko possibly feeling the rigors of attrition undone. It’s just unlikely. But I’ll be damned if it isn’t a fight for the ages.

LADIES THIRST

When word broke that Eddie Hearn had announced Katie Taylor Vs Amanda Serrano — almost out of nowhere — as the co-feature to Dillian Whyte Vs Alexander Povetkin in Manchester on May 2, I got to thinking it’s a fight Susan B. Anthony herself would probably make the trip to London for while seated next to Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex. It’s the best fight in the history of Women’s Boxing, which means it should not be anything close to resembling a co-feature behind even say Tyson Fury Vs Anthony Joshua.

I’m dead ass.

This fight is just as much part of history in as much as it’s about allowing them — finally — to have her say, so to speak; in a testosterone rich sport of wealthy executives that has treated women poorly and purposely. If it’s not the greatest boxing match involving women – ever, then it’s easily its best kept secret. The subplots alone are worthy of elements that would overwhelm the very best Ronda Rousey fight in UFC at the height of her MMA popularity. Here’s just a sample sized portion why:

In October 2018, former Olympic gold medalist and reigning WBA lightweight champion Katie Taylor (15-0, 6KOs) beats up Cindy Serrano, Amanda’s much less accomplished older sis,  over 10 one-sided rounds at the TD Garden in Boston, to make the sixth defense of her title.

After the fight, she and her team are attacked by a real maniac in the moment in Jordan Maldonado, Cindy’s husband, at the time deranged.

“You got the easy sister tonight, next you get Amanda and she will kick your ass!” screamed Jordan at Katie and her coach Ross Enamait, for all in media to see and hear at the time, proving that I’m not making up he was deranged. 

Who says that about his own beaten up wife right in front of her with all the class of Tony Soprano on crack? What’s more is I’d watched Amanda beat Yamila Esther Reynoso over 10 hard rounds at Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the WBO super lightweight title, meaning she was bigger than Katie, and that fight would’ve made perfect sense for both of them right then and there — Jordan’s mouth notwithstanding. 

What Amanda then does instead, after a “perfect” promotional set-up by Jordan (no matter how foul) and having signed a 3-fight deal with DAZN, is go all the way down to Super Flyweight to eviscerate a hapless Eva Voraberger in January 2019. Then, she decides to come up to featherweight and outlasts a courageous Heather Hardy in September 2019. That fight was really memorable, because it took place on what was a birthday weekend that involved the black swan event in Saudi Arabia and the drone strike on their oil fields. I couldn’t believe either Amanda’s braintrust or DAZN was still blowing up the most obvious Superfight in Women’s Boxing history by stalling and not announcing this fight on its own merit. To hell with a co-feature involving men. When you’re a 7-division world champion and arguably the most accomplished female fighter of all-time set to square off with a woman in Katie Taylor who is arguably even more decorated, what the fuck are we waiting for?               

I always thought Amanda was really jealous of Katie, who was beating women either Amanda or her team looked to [seemingly] avoid altogether. While Amanda was playing never before seen gymnastics with divisional weight freefalls while still attached to the unfortunate legacy of her sister and brother-in-law’s criminal pasts for drug dealing, as characterized by law enforcement’s crackdown on the operation, Katie was dealing the goods to badasses Rose Volante and Delfine Persoon. For good measure and a little bit of one-upmanship, she then picked apart a super tough Christina Linardatou for super lightweight glory in November 2019. 

Katie is one of only seven boxers in history, female or male, to hold all four major world titles in boxing—WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO—simultaneously, along with Bernard Hopkins, Jermain Taylor, Cecilia Brækhus, Terence Crawford, Oleksandr Usyk, and Claressa Shields. Think about that. 

Despite her record-setting success as arguably the greatest Puerto Rican fighter of all-time regardless of gender, if Amanda Serrano can defeat Katie Taylor, she’ll silence all critics (including myself) and deserve universal acclaim as the very greatest female fighters of all-time and one of the best ever, period. Still, cheers 🍻 to DAZN for making this much needed “Superfight”, and inching one step closer to perhaps finally putting Women’s Boxing on equal footing with Women’s MMA. Even though I didn’t see this fight coming, it’s still a bit tragic that its not a stand alone main event isn’t it? 

About John Gatling

John Gatling

Senior correspondent for NY Fights and author of upcoming book, "The Fist Club." Conscious indie recording artist "T@z" and humanist advocate for the Green Party.

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