By Lyle Fitzsimmons
No one questions that Ed Levine is a successful guy.
After earning a Syracuse University law degree and spending a long professional career wrestling with the legalities of South Florida real estate, the native New Yorker settled down in Coral Gables to begin an only slightly less harrowing existence – as president of a fledgling boxing sanctioning body.
And while the jury remains out on the overall long-term traction to be gained by his pet project – the International Boxing Organization – one of the secondary talents he’s demonstrated in a decade-plus as its sun-tanned czar is a pretty fair ability to discover diamonds in the rough.
The latest indication of that acumen came Friday night in Sunrise, Fla., where unbeaten Russian Khabib Allakhverdiev made the first defense of his IBO title at 140 pounds via bruising decision over Joan Guzman, in a fight limited to seven-plus rounds after the previously unbeaten two-division belt-holder was rendered immobile with a left knee injury.
The conclusion – which saw Guzman writhing on the canvas in obvious discomfort – was at least a symbolic continuation of the previous 21 minutes of actual ring combat, most of which had seen the 36-year-old Dominican handed a systematic and bloody, if not completely one-sided, beating by a little-known 29-year-old making only his ninth stateside appearance in just his 18th pro fight.
“I’m ready to fight everybody. I was the unknown fighter and I came in and delivered with my boxing skills,” said the surprising winner and still champion, who won by nods of 76-75 on two official scorecards and lost by the same margin on the last. “It felt awesome that I came into enemy territory and delivered. I love to fight here in the United States.”
Much of the run-up to the fight centered on whether Guzman, a previous kingpin at 122 and 130 pounds, would be able to wake up the echoes of a career that had by most accounts stalled since he’d last defended a junior lightweight belt against highly-regarded Humberto Soto in 2007.
A late fee payment brought the IBO belt in play for the 34-fight veteran, but a lack of acknowledgement of the group’s existence was evident throughout the Pursuit TV broadcast, in which a dizzying cadre of announcers disregarded its legitimacy in favor of the continued silliness of the WBA – which offered its “world” championship bauble as a cheesy accessory to Danny Garcia authentic “super” crown.
And though neither the network nor the perpetually dubious Panamanians were interested when the sturdy Allakhverdiev blitzed veteran Kaizer Mabuza in Moscow five months earlier for the IBO’s vacant crown – he was ranked No. 11 by the WBA going in – it’s a fair bet they’ll try to co-opt him going forward in the aftermath of a performance Randy Gordon deemed on air as worthy of 2012’s “fight of the year.”
It’s another day in the life these days for the IBO, which has recently – and quite involuntarily – been cast into the role of farm team for the so-called “major” organizations while a handful of its champions reach the radar of a media/fan horde long trained to feed only at the establishment trough.
Middleweight Gennady Golovkin won the IBO middleweight title in 2011 and has defended it twice since while becoming one of the sport’s hottest young stars, but he only recently was deemed worthy of full mention by the WBA, and only after previously “super” champion Felix Sturm was dethroned by another former IBO middleweight kingpin, Australian Daniel Geale.
Geale, incidentally, was the IBO’s champion in 2007 before winning the IBF’s version in 2011.
A similar scenario could be unfolding at super middleweight, where unbeaten IBO champion Thomas Oosthuizen has made six quick defenses of a belt he captured in March 2011. He cracked the IBF’s ratings in the weight class in September of that year at No. 12 – after the title win and two defenses – and has since climbed to No. 5, while the equally Johnny-come-lately WBC has him sixth.
Oosthuizen was set to challenge Golovkin at Madison Square Garden in the New Year’s first big event on Jan. 19, but negotiations broke down before it was locked in and Golovkin will instead make his third defense against Philadelphia’s Gabriel Rosado, a 160-pound novice ranked eighth by the IBO at 154 pounds in its computerized rankings for December.
As it turns out, Levine’s past prowess is no less impressive when it comes to star-gazing.
Streaking Filipino Nonito Donaire was an IBO flyweight title-holder with three defenses between 2007 and 2009; while his countryman, pound-for-pound kingpin Manny Pacquiao, was recognized by the IBO alone as the world’s best 140-pounder after his two-round blowout of Ricky Hatton in 2009.
WBC middleweight claimant Sergio Martinez won and defended the IBO’s 154-pound championship in 2003-04, and consensus world No. 1 light heavyweight Chad Dawson was the organization’s standard-bearer between a defeat of Antonio Tarver in 2008 and a loss to Jean Pascal in 2010.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF lightweight title – Las Vegas, Nev.
Miguel Vazquez (champion) vs. Mercito Gesta (No. 5 contender)
Vazquez (32-3, 13 KO): Fifth title defense; Unbeaten since 2008 (11-0)
Gesta (26-0-1, 14 KO): First title fight; Fifth fight in Nevada (4-0)
Fitzbitz says: “Filipino challenger hasn’t fought nearly the same grade of competition, but I was impressed enough upon seeing him live that I’ll ride it through in first title try.” Gesta by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder -- no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week’s picks: None
Overall picks record: 367-118 (75.6 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.