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AFTERMATH: Dawson-Hopkins, Cleverly-Bellew, DeMarco-Linares, Garcia-Holt, Caballero-Barros

****

In outpointing rugged Tony Bellew over 12 bruising rounds at the Echo Arena in Liverpool on Saturday night, Nathan Cleverly took one step closer to the world stage.

In addition, Cleverly and Bellew underlined the superiority of British boxing when compared to the erratic American scene. Less than five months after causing a ruckus when he originally challenged Cleverly to a fight (a bout that was scrapped because of weight issues), Bellew was in the ring swapping punches with the man he promised to make his accountant. In America, a fight like this would take years to make, with promoters bickering, the fighters hesitant but Tweeting gibberish nonetheless, and the networks more interested in showcasing both athletes in squash matches first.

Both men immediately came out firing, exchanging hooks and vicious shots to the body in close. Bellew, a raw hard-case, seemed to be outclassed on paper, but heart and a well-timed jab kept him in the fight. Late in the second round, Bellew seemed to have Cleverly reeling, and he pursued the Welshman with both hands churning. Cleverly recovered quickly, however, and held the edge for most of the remaining rounds, though he traded shots more often than necessary.

Although Cleverly is a solid boxer from the perimeter, he showed surprising skill on the inside, where he landed thudding lefts to the body and threw hard uppercuts with either hand. By the sixth, Bellew, 16-1, looked like his legs were waterlogged, but he gamely fought back and even rallied again in the late rounds, scoring with a crack right in the 10th. His most effective weapons, however, were a whipping right uppercut to the body and a jab calculated to keep Cleverly from establishing a rhythm. Cleverly, however, clearly won the fight and can now look forward to some bigger names.

In the real world, Cleverly, 23-0, would have no problem luring Chad Dawson to the U.K., since Dawson has no fanbase whatsoever, no ratings appeal, and no pay-per-view pedigree. But Cleverly will have to play second fiddle to Jean Pascal, who can actually sell tickets in Quebec, and will likely get first dibs at Dawson.

****

Boxing passed through the interdimensional gateway again when Chad Dawson was rewarded with a second-round TKO over Bernard Hopkins at the Staples Arena on Saturday night. In the second round, Hopkins, 52-6-2-1, wound up clinging to Dawson like a man holding onto a piece of driftwood in the Pacific. Dawson, who seemed to take offense at someone else trying to be dreary in the ring for a change, sent Hopkins airborne with a neat bump of the shoulder. Hopkins suffered a separation of the acromioclavicular joint when he crashed to the mat, and just like that the fight was over.

Since referee Pat Russell did not believe the Dawson Bump to be a foul, Hopkins, after more than 20 years as a professional, notched his first loss inside the distance. According to Compubox, Dawson, 31-1, landed all of seven punches in less than six minutes of non-action. Hopkins scored with 11. Neither man seemed much interested in fighting until after the bout was over. Then Dawson abused Hopkins verbally, climbed the turnbuckle—to a crescendo of boos, naturally—as if he had just single-handedly vanquished the Axis of Evil and gave a defiant interview to Max Kellerman, where he made it clear that he did not care about the “critics.” He never has, actually, and, more to the point, he has never had to care about the critics, since they never buy tickets to his fights, do not tune into his fandangos on HBO, and will no doubt make his first foray into pay-per-view less than a stellar success.

Dawson, after over 30 fights and millions in purses, is a three-time light heavyweight champion, a Ring champion, and has been in the P-4-P penthouse for years. Dawson has plenty of talent, but his biggest wins have come against Tomasz Adamek and Glen Johnson. (Four months after losing to Dawson, Adamek returned to the ring—nearly 24 pounds heavier.) He has never beaten a younger fighter. More often than not he has been dull between the ropes. No wonder he is such a hot commodity in boxing. His ugly celebration—WWE style, which might fill some third-rate boxing reporters with glee—was rightly denounced, but the truth is there is very little cause and effect involved in the backrooms of boxing, where Dawson was concocted by network alchemists overwhelmed by toxic fumes rising from misshapen beakers. Dawson will be back on HBO sooner than later, and nothing will change. Who needs crowds, ratings, and pay-per-view sales, anyway?

****

Celestino Caballero outpointed Jonathan Barros in a sloppy affair at Luna Park in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Friday night. With the win, Caballero picked up a UNICEF featherweight trinket and reversed a dubious loss to Barros last July.

It was a fairly dull bout. Both fighters mixed it up in the fourth, but there were few clean exchanges over 12 mauling rounds. With decided advantages in height and reach, Caballero controlled the perimeter, landed several cuffing blows, and outworked Barros. For his part, Barros pressed behind his jab as often as possible, but Caballero was too awkward for him to hit cleanly, and the fighters often ended up clinching. Scores were 118-111, 116-112, and 116-111.

Caballero, who improves to 35-4, did not look very impressive. In fact, for a world-class fighter, “Pelechin” has some of the worst footwork imaginable. Not only does Caballero lift his back foot first when moving to the left, he also crosses it behind his lead foot. His balance is also woeful, and he throws many of his punches in a loopy, looping manner. Still, this victory might be enough to get Caballero–whose biggest wins have come against Daniel Ponce De Leon, Lorenzo Parra, and Steve Molitor–back on ubiquitous P-4-P lists, where Ratings Panels experts can pretend to be authoritative.

****

Showing no ill-effects from the beating he suffered last year against Edwin Valero, Antonio DeMarco overcame an unbridgeable points deficit to stop classy Jorge Linares in the 11th round of a spirited battle as the chief support to the Dawson-Hopkins debacle. Linares was a bloody mess at the time of the stoppage, having suffered two cuts that gushed like burst water pipes from the 8th round on.

Against DeMarco, Linares opened quickly and flashed every move in his vast repertoire to build a commanding lead until the sudden and dramatic ending. Maybe he flashed too many moves. For all his talent, Linares, now 31-2, lacks a certain resourcefulness and economy between the ropes and often makes moves without a purpose. While he played speed chess in the ring, DeMarco made his moves judiciously, without having a time clock to worry about. Still, Linares raked DeMarco with pinpoint combinations and maneuvered around his opponent with the grace of a cat burglar. But DeMarco, 26-2-1, kept the pressure on and landed his share of blows over the first half of the fight. Linares suffered a cut over the bridge of his nose in the sixth—a wound Joe Chavez could not control—and a cut over his right eye in the 8th.

Even after suffering these wounds and bleeding like a hemophiliac, however, Linares remained in control. But he was working far too hard to keep ahead of DeMarco, whose work rate left him fresh enough to capitalize when he stunned Linares in the 11th with a barrage of punches. Hindered by the wash of blood that must have obscured his vision, Linares chose to stand his ground, toe-to-toe, and paid dearly for it when DeMarco began to catch him flush during exchanges. A straight left jolted Linares, who by now resembled a Hannibal Lecter victim, and a few moments later Linares backpedaled to the ropes, dazed. DeMarco swarmed and forced referee Raul Caiz, Sr. to intervene with under a minute remaining in the 11th.

Although Linares lost, he can only benefit from having showed incredible heart, courage, and skill in a grueling fight. For De Marco, who fought with brio, the lightweight division offers some natural action fights to choose from: Brandon Rios, John Molina, Vicente Escobedo, and, of course, a possible rematch with Linares. Too bad “boxing” and “natural” are rarely in the same room together.

****

Young Danny Garcia passed his first real test when he pounded out a clear decision over Kendall Holt over 12 tense rounds at the Staples Center. Early on, it looked like Garcia was in trouble as Holt laid back and popped him with hard counters whenever Garcia opened up.

As is often the case in a Holt fight, however, the turning point came suddenly. When Garcia rattled Holt with a combination in the third, he gained confidence and put Holt on the defensive. Holt, 27-5, is that rare—and frustrating—boxing anomaly: the reluctant KO puncher. With power in both hands, Holt could make things a lot easier for himself by taking the lead more often and working for openings. Too often, however, he waits for his opponent to make a mistake and then he unleashes wrecking ball counterpunches. This kind of waiting game is a gamble, especially for a fighter who loses focus as often as Holt does.

Although Garcia, now 22-0, reaches too much, he took big some shots well, advanced behind a steady body attack, and showed the kind of poise that the veteran Holt lacked. Garcia might not have the defense and footspeed needed to succeed at the highest levels, but he showed some ring smarts against Holt and has now proven himself to have two qualities it takes years for most prospects to demonstrate: stamina and a quality chin.

****

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Tags: Antonio DeMarco BERNARD HOPKINS Celestino Caballero CHAD DAWSON Jean Pascal Jorge Linares Nathan Cleverly Tony Bellew

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