by David P. Greisman
Look through any set of rankings and you’ll see a remarkable number of fighters with undefeated records. This isn’t wholly surprising. The best prospects and contenders tend to rise up through the ranks without losing. And they tend to stay away from their most competitive counterparts, being managed and moved wisely, avoiding defeat so as to be put in position for a shot at a world title.
But it’s rare for a boxer to remain undefeated long enough to retire that way. Nearly everyone eventually loses. That fact alone means we shouldn’t write off a fighter solely for the lack of a zero at the end of his record. While the loss isn’t meaningless, what comes afterward can be even more meaningful.
Gary Russell Jr. and Vanes Martirosyan came into their respective fights this past Saturday with a single loss on their ledgers. Russell’s first pro defeat came in June, when he dropped a majority decision to Vasyl Lomachenko. Martirosyan had come up short in November 2013, suffering defeat to Demetrius Andrade via split decision.
They had each bounced back since then with wins. Russell outpointed Christopher Martin this past December. Martirosyan’s 2014 brought a pair of decision victories over Mario Lozano and Willie Nelson. But it was their fights on this Showtime doubleheader that would give a truer indication. Russell was challenging featherweight titleholder Jhonny Gonzalez. Martirosyan was facing off with fellow junior middleweight contender Jermell Charlo.
A victory would serve as a breakthrough moment. A defeat would confirm shortcomings.
Russell had looked the goods from early on, which made it all the more maddening when his development felt too gradual. He displayed fantastic hand speed, which translated at times into discombobulating combinations. We wanted to see him step up against better 126-pounders, yet it took seemingly forever for him to do so. Some of that was due to injuries. But much of it was his team taking their sweet time.
He had turned pro at the beginning of 2009, entering the paid ranks after a disappointing 2008 Olympics. He never got to compete in Beijing. He passed out in his room, too dehydrated from attempting to make weight.
Russell fought six times in 2009, seven times in 2010 and six times in 2011, but then was limited to two appearances in 2012 due to injury. His activity level didn’t pick up at all in 2013, which brought another pair of fights. But after blowing away another designated fall guy in early 2014, Russell was somehow ranked in position to challenge for a world title. The management strategy had worked.
Unfortunately, the opponent was Vasyl Lomachenko, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who was quickly showing that he could compete as a pro as well. Lomachenko’s ring savvy and boxing skills often negated Russell’s advantages in hand speed. Russell had difficulty adjusting. Lomachenko won on two of the three judges’ scorecards while the third had it a draw. Russell acknowledged that he’d lost the bout.
Russell had looked like a boxer who’d gotten by on his natural talent and careful matchmaking for far too long. He wasn’t prepared for the kind of challenge Lomachenko would present. That didn’t make him a fraud, though it did suggest that he’d been protected to the point that it was detrimental to his development.
He took it in stride and made changes. While observers felt the Lomachenko loss said something about who Russell was, Russell believed that he wasn’t himself that night.
“In that particular fight with Lomachenko, we did a lot of things completely different in that fight that we normally wouldn't do. We brought other people in. We let other people take the reigns and be in control of our conditioning. We've seen the outcome of that and the side effects of it,” Russell said on a media conference call prior to his fight with Gonzalez.
“Even when it came to the way that we cut weight, it was different. Leading up to the fight, we were in a sauna for the past two, maybe three days leading all the way up into the fight. That's what my strength and conditioning coach wanted me to do,” he said. “Anyone that's seen that fight, whether it was Lomachenko or anyone else, they've seen the difference in my punching ability, my endurance, my speed, just me as a person. People knew that that wasn't the Gary Russell, Jr. that they'd seen the previous 24 fights. And that was some of the things that came up in the Lomachenko fight. I was completely tired and fatigued in the first round, you know?”
Russell ditched the coach. Meanwhile, Gonzalez presented a different type of style matchup. He wasn’t going to move or box the way Lomachenko did against Russell; his approach emphasizes offense and power.
That is how he’d regained a world title at featherweight in August 2013, shocking Abner Mares with a pair of knockdowns in the first round, forcing a stoppage. This was the fourth time he’d held a belt in two divisions.
Gonzalez had come up as a bantamweight, ultimately capturing a title in 2005 with a technical knockout of Ratanachai Sor Vorapin, then starting out 2006 well with wins over future Hall of Fame inductee Marc “Too Sharp” Johnson and multi-division beltholder Fernando Montiel. Those victories landed him a fight up at 122 pounds where he lost via stoppage to Israel Vazquez. Gonzalez returned to 118, winning once more before getting beaten on a body shot knockout by Gerry Penalosa.
That was 2007. In 2009, Gonzalez lost in three rounds to 122-pound titleholder Toshiaki Nishioka. He quickly moved up to featherweight, and in 2011 he stopped Hozumi Hasegawa to win a world title. He held it for another 17 months and four successful defenses before dropping a technical decision to Daniel Ponce De Leon.
Since beating Mares, Gonzalez had won a less than entertaining technical decision over Clive Atwell and had then taken out the badly faded Jorge Arce. While he had far more experience than Russell, that also meant he’d been around for a while. He was slowing down and wearing down.
He also was facing distractions. Gonzalez is married to a female pro wrestler who goes by the nickname of Sexy Star. That means he is friendly with other notable Mexican wrestlers. The industry recently suffered a high-profile tragedy when a famous wrestler, Perro Aguayo Jr., died following a match when a typically safe spot instead led to a freak injury. One of the wrestlers involved, the famous former WWE entertainer Rey Mysterio, was in Gonzalez’s corner on Saturday.
Gonzalez was also sued by Golden Boy Promotions the day before the bout, facing a claim that he still belonged under contract to the company and had sought to subvert it.
It’s likely that Gonzalez would’ve lost the same way anyway. Gonzalez said he’d been expecting Russell to run. Russell instead fought like a boxer who knew he’d have little trouble hitting Gonzalez cleanly. Russell scored a hard knockdown toward the end of the third, then finished Gonzalez off with a pair of floorings in the fourth.
Now Russell has a title and is showing the promise that people had seen in him long before. Instead of being cast off as another overhyped and overprotected boxer, he’s in position to face the winner of a potential bout between fellow Al Haymon stablemates Mares and Leo Santa Cruz.
He also wants a rematch with Lomachenko. But with both men under different promoters, and now that both men hold different world titles, it seems more difficult to put the two of them together. (Last year’s Lomachenko-Russell fight had been made thanks to a purse bid for a vacant world title.)
Russell was the main event on Saturday. Martirosyan, who was on the televised undercard, didn’t get a similar result. Charlo won a unanimous decision in what was otherwise a closely contested tactical fight.
Martirosyan is now 35-2-1 with 21 KOs. He’s been in fights with three good fighters — including a technical draw with Erislandy Lara in 2012 — but has yet to win the big one. He’s clearly skilled enough to hang in there with other contenders and titleholders, but hanging in there isn’t enough.
He’s only lost twice. And nearly everyone in this sport eventually loses. He isn’t being written off completely for the lack of a zero at the end of his record. He’s still young at nearly 29, which means he still has time.
But Martirosyan is also a 2004 Olympian who has been a pro for a decade now.
This latest loss could mean a longer road back into contention, with the opportunities going to others who are either more deserving or more capable. The rankings will fill up with other undefeated names, many of which will avoid Martirosyan so long as he presents too much risk for too little reward.
Getting so close will only get him so far.
The 10 Count
1. Ever since Sergio Martinez lost to Miguel Cotto, I’d held onto the unpopular belief that Martinez’s injured knee might’ve been fine and completely healed going into the bout with Cotto.
I’d thought, as Martinez’s camp claimed afterward — avoiding the ready-made excuse instead of latching onto it — that Sergio’s stiff legs in that bout were a result of Cotto concussing him in the first round.
I still think Cotto’s heavy hands had Martinez out of it from the outset. But a recent quote from Martinez now has me accepting the likelihood that he came into that bout still damaged.
“I am aware of my age. I have 40 years and my knees seem like someone of 90,” Martinez told Univision Deportes last week, via Google Translate. He said he would be seeing doctors in Spain and would use what he learned to decide on his future in the sport.
It’s a shame. Even at his advancing age, a mobile Martinez could’ve proven interesting against many top middleweights.
He should strongly consider retirement, if he hasn’t already. His accomplishments came late in his career, but he did well in his brief time at the top.
2. We’ll segue from Sergio Martinez to the current top middleweight, Gennady Golovkin, all as a manner of transitioning to talking about Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez.
The 112-pound champion — and former 105- and 108-pound titleholder — will appear on the HBO undercard to Golovkin’s bout against Willie Monroe on May 16 in California. Gonzalez will take on Edgar Sosa, a former titleholder at 108 and title challenger at 112.
I’ll readily acknowledge that having fighters forced down our throats can create the opposite effect — being told that someone is great can instead turn us off. But I hope that HBO’s announcers make a big deal out of Gonzalez, that they acquire and air a highlight package of his best wins, and that they present Gonzalez being on its broadcast as a coup, a presentation of one of the best things that most American boxing fans have been missing.
I also hope that the normal boxing fans turn out for the airing, that they don’t just tune in when Golovkin comes on. It’s unfortunate that it took so long for one of the best fighters in the world to get attention from one of the major English-language broadcasters in the U.S. A strong rating for his bout could help ensure that he remains on these airwaves.
3. Boxers Behaving Badly update, part one: We have to lead off with Scott Harrison. Because, you know, Scott Harrison.
Consequences of a case that dates back to 2007 linger for the long-troubled former featherweight titleholder. He had been found guilty of being part of a group that assaulted three men at a Spanish brothel all those years ago. Harrison was handed a four-year sentence in late 2012. By May 2013, his appeal was denied and newspaper reports said that Harrison had two weeks to report to authorities.
It’s now nearly April 2015, and authorities still want Harrison to do his time.
“Spanish prosecutors claim that they have summoned him to return his sentence on several occasions,” said an article by STV News. “They state that Harrison hasn't responded to their requests and that the Scottish authorities need to hand him over.”
A prosecutor in Scotland is seeking to cooperate. A court hearing earlier this month found that the Spanish warrant is valid, but the case is scheduled to continue on, with another hearing scheduled for April 8, the article said. He had been prison until 2011 for another case, spending two and a half years locked up for an incident in which he assaulted a police officer and another man and attempted to steal a car.
The 37-year-old had six and a half years off following his November 2005 win over Nedal Hussein. He returned in 2012 with a pair of victories, then lost a unanimous decision to Liam Walsh back in April 2013. That brought him to 27-3-2 with 15 KOs.
4. Boxers Behaving Badly update, part two: Former 122-pound titleholder Clarence “Bones” Adams was ordered to spend half a year behind bars after pleading guilty to being part of a group of people involved with drug trafficking, fraud and prostitution, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
That’s actually more time than prosecutors were seeking. They had asked the judge merely for probation and for Adams to remain under house arrest.
Adams, who was a driver for the limousine company accused of the criminal activity, “admitted to playing a small role in the prostitution and drug dealing portions of the scheme,” the report said. The drugs the company’s drivers were allegedly selling were cocaine, Ecstasy and methamphetamine.
Adams fought as a pro from 1990 through 2010, a career that included a brief title reign at junior featherweight, and two defeats in notable bouts with Paulie Ayala. His last match was a fourth-round technical knockout loss to Edel Ruiz, which brought Adams’ record to 44-7-4 with 20 knockouts and 1 no contest. He is now 40 years old.
5. Boxers Behaving Badly, part one: Former lightweight titleholder Omar Figueroa was arrested last week in on an open warrant from a 2012 case Hidalgo County, Texas, accusing him of driving while intoxicated, according to online court records. Figueroa, 25, was booked into police custody at 1:18 a.m. on March 26 and was released at 10:49 p.m. that day, out on $1,000 bond.
The arrest comes with about a month until Figueroa’s next scheduled fight.
This appears to stem from an old but still open case. Online court records for this arrest reference a case number that dates back to a DWI case from late July 2012 and has brought numerous pretrial hearings in 2013, 2014 and in January 2015. That latter hearing was scheduled for Jan. 28 — and a warrant for Figueroa’s arrest was granted that same day, a “NISI” warrant that typically indicates that a defendant has failed to appear in court. The warrant was signed Feb. 5, and a “capias” warrant commanding police officers to take Figueroa into custody was issued Feb. 6.
Another pretrial hearing was scheduled for Monday, March 30 — while a bond forfeiture hearing is scheduled for June 18.
Figueroa is scheduled to fight Ricky Burns in Texas on May 9, the first bout for Figueroa since he moved up from lightweight to junior welterweight. It remains to be seen whether that bout will be affected. Figueroa last fought in August 2014, knocking out Daniel Estrada and moving to 24-0-1 with 18 KOs.
6. Boxers Behaving Badly, part two: British heavyweight Chris Burton is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of kidnapping a drug dealer, according to the Hartlepool Mail.
Burton was found not guilty of false imprisonment, though three of Burton’s accomplices pleaded guilty to that charge. The victim apparently had been selling marijuana for one of Burton’s friends and wanted to quit.
Burton, 34, went 15-2 with 6 KOs between 2005 and 2012, with one of those losses coming to Sam Sexton in the finale of a “Prizefighter” tournament.
7. Boxers Behaving Badly, part three: Juan Suazo has been sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to being part of some heavy-duty marijuana dealing, according to Arizona’s Tucson News Now.
“Suazo supplied 300- to 350- pound loads of marijuana on several occasions to buyers for distribution in several states,” the report said. “He received more than three million dollars in return.”
The 34-year-old fought from 2001 to 2004, then once in 2009, three times in 2011 and twice in 2012, going 8-7-3 with 5 KOs and losing to notable names such as Karl Dargan, Jason Litzau and Josesito Lopez.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly, part four: Steve O’Meara’s role in drug dealing surpassed Souzo’s.
The former British junior middleweight was sentenced to 13 years in prison for his role in a drug ring that brought at least 40 kilograms of cocaine to the United Kingdom, an amount valued at £11 million, or more than $16.3 million, according to the Daily Mail.
O’Meara, 31, went 17-3 with 5 KOs between 2008 and 2013, with one of those defeats coming by decision in 2012 to Liam Smith, one of the family of boxing brothers.
9. What’s nostalgic and fun in pro wrestling often is just sad in boxing.
I enjoyed the heck out of seeing Sting (56 years old), Kevin Nash (55), Scott Hall (56), Triple H (45), Bill Gunn (51), Shawn Michaels (49), the Road Dogg (45), Hulk Hogan (61) and The Undertaker (50) during WrestleMania.
And yes, The Undertaker is two months and nine days younger than Bernard Hopkins.
But it’s still silly that this past weekend brought separate fights involving Razor Ruddock and Shannon Briggs.
Ruddock is now 51 years old and was fighting for the first time since 2001. He scored a fifth-round technical knockout of some dude named Raymond Olubowale.
Briggs is 43 and is still on his comeback tour, which began in April 2014, three and a half years after the drubbing he took from Vitali Klitschko in 2010. Briggs notched his seventh straight win — only one went the 12-round distance, while the rest have ended in the first round — with a 112-second knockout of Zoltan Petranyi.
Petranyi is 48 years old, mind you. He came into the bout with a record of 51-21 with a mere 16 KOs. And he was coming off a third-round loss last December to Zoltan Csala.
A quick look back at Petranyi’s record also shows wins over Zoltan Somosi in 2012 and Zoltan Peto in 2009. A number of his fights have been judged by Zoltan Enyedi.
That’s not too surprising, given that Zoltan is apparently a popular Hungarian name deriving from “Sultan.”
I’m not sure if there’s a Zoltan-for-Zoltan list anywhere, but if there were to be one, I think it should pay tribute to the Dire Straits and be called:
The Zoltans of Swing.
10. Speaking of old heavyweights, it was recently announced that Evander Holyfield would participate in a charity boxing match in May with former governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Sure, there are a lot of differences between the men, but there are some similarities as well:
Romney once famously, while speaking of gender equity in his hiring practices, that he had “binders full of women.”
Holyfield, meanwhile, has binders full of women whom he owes child support payments to…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]