By Michael Rosenthal
Gervonta Davis: Davis had a lot of competition for “biggest winner” this past weekend. Jermall Charlo ended his fight with Hugo Centeno inside two rounds. Carl Frampton schooled Nonito Donaire. And Amir Khan needed only 39 seconds to demonstrate that he’s back.
But Davis might’ve made the biggest impression.
The product of Baltimore became the youngest American titleholder when he stopped Jose Pedraza to win the IBF 130-pound belt in January of last year but soon lost his way. He KO’d Liam Walsh four months later but, on the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor card four months after that, he lost his title by coming in overweight against Francisco Fonseca and looked so-so even though he scored another knockout.
He seemed overly full of himself, unfocused and in danger of squandering his early success. And then, evidently aware of what he had to lose, he made some changes. He left trainer Calvin Ford and went to Florida to work with Kevin Cunningham, which allowed the 23-year-old to escape the inevitable distractions of his hometown.
The result? Davis (20-0, 19 knockouts) never looked better than he did in a junior lightweight fight against durable Jesus Cuellar (28-3, 21 KOs) on the Adrien Broner-Jessie Vargas card Saturday in Brooklyn.
Davis coldly, methodically dismantled the aggressive Cuellar, putting the Argentine veteran down three times before the fight was stopped at 2:45 of third round. No feeling out, no showboating, just utter destruction.
Now it’s important to point out that Cuellar has his limitations. Abner Mares demonstrated that in a split-decision victory over him that should’ve been unanimous in Cuellar’s previous fight. That said, Cuellar is solid enough to give us an idea where Davis is. And he is in a good place. This version of Davis is frightening.
It’s safe to say once again that Davis has the ability to climb into the pound-for-pound Top 10.
Davis wants the winner of an expected Tevin Farmer-Billy Dib IBF 130-pound title fight but the ultimate opponent for him would be Vasyl Lomachenko, who fights WBA lightweight titleholder Jorge Linares on May 12. I wouldn’t pick anyone near his weight to beat Lomachenko, whose talent is off the charts, but it’s difficult to find a weakness in Davis. He’s skillful, quick, athletic and unusually powerful.
If he can stay focused, even Lomachenko could have his hands full with him.
BIGGEST WINNER II
Jermall Charlo: Charlo (27-0, 21 KOs) doesn’t have a large sample size at 160 pounds, having fought only twice against limited opponents (Jorge Heiland and Centeno) as a full-fledged middleweight. But he has demonstrated enough at 154 and the higher weight to make an ominous claim: He is a threat to anyone.
That includes Gennady Golovkin, Canelo Alvarez, Daniel Jacobs, Billy Joe Saunders, Sergiy Derevyanchenko, et al.
Centeno, a good, tall middleweight, was boxing fairly well when a clash of heads, a right behind Centeno’s head and a vicious short left hook laid Centeno down and out 55 seconds into the second round. It was the kind of ending that leaves the viewers in awe and wanting more, which should be the objective of all prizefighters.
The victory makes Charlo the mandatory challenger for Golovkin’s WBC title, which prompted Charlo to call out Triple-G after the fight. And there are the other possibilities mentioned above.
Charlo can’t expect the better 160-pounders to fall as easily as Centeno did. Golovkin, Alvarez and Jacobs, in particular, are also strong, skillful boxers with the ability to hurt their opponents, as they have proved multiple times. A collision between Charlo and any of them would make a lot of noise.
Charlo is the hottest of the bunch, though. Golovkin was revealed to be human against Jacobs and then Alvarez. Plus, he’s 36. Most people think Alvarez lost to Triple-G, after which he spoiled the rematch by failing a drug test. Jacobs lost to Golovkin in his last big fight, although he faces unbeaten Pole Maciej Sulecki on April 28. Saunders isn’t as explosive as the rest. And Derevyanchenko is just emerging.
Meanwhile, Charlo, 27, has rolled over one opponent after the other with a ferocious, take-no-prisoners style and the punching power to make it work. He is sizzling hot.
Again, with only two fights under his belt, he has a lot to prove at 160 pounds. Time will tell how he does against the best opposition. But based on what we’ve seen from him, his chances of succeeding appear to be very good.
Adrien Broner-Jessie Vargas draw: There were no losers in the Broner-Vargas fight on Saturday in Brooklyn. If anything, both fighters probably enhanced their reputations in an entertaining fight.
The stakes were high. Broner desperately needed a strong performance after a disappointing 2017, during which he struggled to get past Adrian Granados and then lost decisively to Mikey Garcia. Vargas, two fights removed from his loss against Manny Pacquiao, was trying to remain a championship contender.
Vargas got off to strong start, clearly outworking Broner in the first half of the fight as Broner fell into his inexplicable pattern of throwing relatively few punches. That changed in the middle rounds, when Vargas’ output fell off and Broner picked up the pace.
Hence the draw. One judge scored it 115-113 Broner but she was overruled by her counterparts, each of whom scored it 114-114. I had it 115-113 for Vargas.
Both fighters should be kicking themselves. Vargas (28-2-1, 10 KOs) seemed to have the fight in hand but let it slip away; maybe he should’ve paced himself better in the early rounds. And all Broner (33-3-1, 24 KOs) had to do to win the fight was work harder in the first half. Kevin Cunningham implored him between rounds to let his hands go for a reason.
I’ll never understand Broner’s reluctance to throw punches, which has held him back in his career.
Of course, Broner acted like a jack ass immediately after the fight. He tried to grab the microphone from Showtime interviewer Jim Gray and repeatedly yelled in Vargas’ face, “I beat your ass!”
No he didn’t. No one beat anyone’s ass. It was a good, close fight in which both participants gave a good showing. Rematch?
BIGGEST WINNER III
Carl Frampton: Donaire was the perfect opponent for Frampton, who wanted to pump more life into his career and give hometown fans in Belfast reason to cheer after his majority-decision loss to Leo Santa Cruz in their rematch and harder-than-expected victory over Horacio Garcia last year.
Donaire has a big name but posed a minimal threat to the younger, more skillful and naturally bigger Frampton.
The Irishman offered little in the way of fireworks but he thoroughly outboxed a four-division titleholder, winning 117-111 (nine rounds to three) on all three cards and badly bruising Donaire’s face in the process.
I expected a little more from Frampton, who never seriously hurt his opponent. Of course, Donaire deserves some credit for that. He fought better than I thought he would, never backing down and stinging Frampton with hard punches on more than one occasion even though he couldn’t sustain is attack.
Frampton said afterward that he was hurt in the 11th round.
Bottom line: Frampton (25-1, 14 KOs) won the fight handily and looked good doing it. That should set up the next big fight of his career.
He is the mandatory challenger to WBO featherweight titleholder Oscar Valdez, although the Mexican might decide to move up in weight. Another possibility is the winner of the May 19 fight between IBF 126-pound titleholder Lee Selby and Josh Warrington.
A showdown between Frampton and Selby has been discussed for years. That would be a huge fight in the U.K., one that either fighter could win.
“I just want a world title and that’s it,” Frampton told BBC Sport.
I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t have the opportunity to fight for one by the end of the year.
Nonito Donaire: Few things in boxing are sadder than a once-excellent fighter trying, but failing to recapture past glory.
Donaire (38-5, 24 KOs) was in that position on Saturday, when he had a golden opportunity to remain relevant against Frampton. He fought with determination (no surprise there) and had his moments but, at 35, he couldn’t keep pace with a fighter as talented as Frampton.
The Filipino-American won titles in four divisions but the reality is that he wasn’t a force at 126 pounds, the weight at which he was knocked out by Nicholas Walters in 2014 and outclassed by Frampton on Saturday.
Donaire’s punching power and overall strength set him apart in the lower divisions and he couldn’t bring that up to featherweight.
That doesn’t diminish what he accomplished. Donaire’s passion and ability to end fights in an instant made him one of the most popular fighters in the world when he was at his best, between 2007 (yes, 11 years ago) and 2013.
His coming out was a stunning one-punch KO of Vic Darchinyan in 2007 and he peaked in 2012, when he was named Boxing Writers Association of America’s Fighter of the Year. He beat Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., Jeffrey Mathebula, Toshiaki Nishioka and Jorge Arce that year, which earned him the BWAA award and lifted him onto pound-for-pound lists.
An exciting fighter was on an exciting run. And then it ended abruptly. Guillermo Rigondeaux exposed Donaire’s limitations in 2013 and he was never the same after that. He was only 7-4 in his last 11 fights, a stretch in which he faded into the sport’s unenviable background.
I’ll remember the good years, though, the years in which he was as fun to watch as anyone. He was special for a time. That’s more than all but a few fighters can say.
Jack Johnson: President Trump is considering a full pardon of Jack Johnson after a call from Sylvester Stallone, who explained the injustice of his 1913 arrest and conviction. My question: Why has it taken this long?
Johnson, heavyweight champion from 1908 to 1915, was convicted of violating an obscure law for one reason: racism. I’ve written about this more than once. This is what I wrote for Yahoo! Sports in 2008, the last time politicians – including Arizona Sen. John McCain – pushed for a pardon:
“Johnson earned an army of enemies for simply being himself, a wonderful boxer and an independent man who happened to live in an intolerant time. The Galveston, Texas, native won the heavyweight championship in 1908 when he knocked out Tommy Burns in Australia, taking a title many believed was the rightful property of white men. Johnson further rankled racist whites by the way he carried himself, smiling as he beat up his opponents and living his life as he pleased. Most notably, he consorted publicly and unapologetically with white women. His victory over James J. Jefferies in what was billed as “The Fight of the Century” resulted in riots across the nation.”
That’s why federal authorities went after Johnson and finally got him in 1913 for transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes, for which he spent almost a year in jail. His crime? He wired a former lover money for train fare from Pittsburgh to Chicago and helping her establish a brothel.
Some acknowledged even then that the case was a sham.
“It was a silly piece of legislation aimed at commercialized vice,” historian and author Randy Roberts told me for Yahoo! story. “The (U.S.) attorney general even said this wasn’t what the law was meant to do, but it was the only thing they could get him on, so he said go ahead and do it. It was an absolute injustice that came down to racism.”
Thus, many want it overturned.
President Obama declined to pardon Johnson, evidently because pardons generally are not issued posthumously. Let’s hope President Trump sees things differently.
Trump’s tweet on the subject is reason for optimism: “Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. His trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial. Others have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am considering a Full Pardon!”
Amir Khan (32-4, 20 KOs) demonstrated how one makes a statement in his comeback fight against Phil Lo Greco (28-4, 15 KOs) on Saturday in Liverpool, England. Khan hadn’t fought since he was knocked out cold by Canelo Alvarez almost two years ago. He wanted to make a strong impression and he certainly did, stopping Lo Greco only 39 seconds. The victory doesn’t mean much because of Lo Greco’s limitations – he also lost badly to Shawn Porter and Errol Spence Jr. – but it was enough to put Khan back into the mix of marketable welterweights. He’ll always be chinny but he seems to have retained his speed and power, meaning he could be a threat to anyone if he can stay on his feet. … I’m excited for old friend Joe Goossen, Khan’s new trainer. Goossen is one of the best trainers in the world. He deserves to be this position. … Omar Narvaez (48-3-2, 25 KOs) has worn out his welcome at the highest level of boxing. The one-time flyweight and junior bantamweight standout stepped through the ropes to face WBO bantamweight titleholder Zolani Tete on the Frampton-Donaire card but he didn’t really show up. Instead, he was content to keep his guard up, survive 12 boring rounds and lose every round on all three cards. It reminded me of his fight against Donaire in 2011, when he did the exact same thing. It was also reminiscient of the Manny Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey fight, in which Clottey’s forearms were glued to head as he had no intention of actually fighting. The fans deserve better. Narvaez, 42, might end up in the International Boxing Hall of Fame because he was a major titleholder for 12 solid years but performances like the one he turned in Saturday tarnish his legacy. … Tete (27-3, 21 KOs) looked as good as he could under the circumstances – fast, skillful, always in control. The South African is supremely talented. He has earned some high-profile fights. I hope he gets them soon. … News item: The WBC has suspended former junior bantamweight titleholder Carlos Cuadras for refusing to take a doping test. Shame on Cuadras. The Mexican is good, exciting fighter. I hope he gets his act together.
Michael Rosenthal is the winner of the 2018 Boxing Writers Association of America’s Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism.