Fight Scribe Bullets: Bernard Hopkins and incompetent referees edition

Bernard

(This piece appeared in InterAKTV on October 27, 2011.)

by Mark Lorenzana

— When was the last time we actually enjoyed watching a Bernard Hopkins fight? I just wanted to ask because lately, in Bernard’s last few fights, his whittled-down boxing repertoire has just been too tiresome and too agonizing to watch.In a nutshell, here’s what happened in the last few Hopkins fights: (1) Hopkins throws a punch or two, the opponent tries to retaliate, Hopkins clinches; (2) The referee breaks the two fighters, and then the fight resumes; (3) Repeat for twelve rounds and wait for the judges’ decision. I’m not even exaggerating here.Hopkins hasn’t figured in an exciting bout for the longest time. Hopkins last scored a stoppage win way back in 2004 when he floored Oscar De La Hoya with a wicked body punch, and De La Hoya couldn’t (or didn’t want to) get up.

And that’s it. Since then, Hopkins has won six of his last eleven fights the past six years (his record in that span is 6 wins, 4 losses, and 1 draw) thanks in large part to his fighting style, a style that has frustrated both his opponents and boxing fans alike.

I even know of some fight fans that have mixed feelings about the outcome of the Hopkins-Dawson fight: they told me that although they thought that the referee definitely erred in his decision, they felt a tinge of satisfaction in seeing Hopkins lose his title.

— While Hopkins is not one of my favorite fighters, I didn’t want to see him lose his belt under dubious circumstances. We have to draw the line when it comes to bad boxing officiating because it casts a bad light on a sport that has been in need of an image boost for the longest time. When Hopkins was unable to continue after jamming his shoulder on the canvas, referee Pat Russell asked Hopkins if he could still continue. Hopkins said yes, but he would have to fight with one arm. The most logical decision that the referee should have made was to rule the fight a no contest. But bizarrely, Russell awarded the TKO victory to Dawson. The unified rules of boxing states the following: “If a boxer sustains an injury from a fair blow and the injury is severe enough to terminate the bout, the injured boxer shall lose by TKO.” Being wrestled—however inadvertently—to the ground (and dislocating a shoulder as a result) is “a fair blow”?

And this is boxing?

— Pat Russell joins the growing list of infamous referees who have figured in controversial fights in the past few months.Just a couple of months ago, when Joseph “King Kong” Agbeko fought Abner Mares, referee Russell Mora watched idly as Mares repeatedly made a speed bag out of Agbeko’s family jewels. Amazingly, Mora even had the, well, family jewels to rule a legitimate knockdown against Agbeko after he was hit in the cup by a hellaciously low left hook in the eleventh round and was writhing in pain in the canvas. Agbeko ended up losing that fight (and his titles, the IBF bantamweight world title and WBC Silver bantamweight title) to Mares via majority decision.Incidentally, this is the same Mora who officiated the Nonito Donaire-Fernando Montiel fight earlier this year, the same Mora who didn’t see Montiel having a mini-seizure after absorbing a wicked left hook from Donaire, and the same Mora who administered the ten-count to a staggering, glassy-eyed, and evidently concussed Montiel and allowed the Mexican boxer to continue fighting even though he couldn’t even respond to the referee’s orders to walk toward him or to raise his hands.Of course, who could forget the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Victor Ortiz fight? A big part of the blame should fall on referee Joe “I’m fair but I’m firm” Cortez for what happened. It can be argued that if he gave a more convincing gesture for the fight to continue and if he focused 100 percent on the fight thereafter instead of talking to some guy at ringside, perhaps Floyd wouldn’t resort to his underhanded tactic. Needless to say, now Cortez goes by the moniker “unfair and infirm” in boxing forums and blogs around the Internet.

The problem is that these incompetent referees never really get a stiff sanction whenever they screw up. To set a precedent, perhaps one of these blatantly erring referees needs to be fined, suspended, or even fired in the future whenever they screw up. The third man in the ring plays a crucial role in boxing, which is an extremely dangerous sport—there should be little room for error. What’s troubling is that these guys are even coddled as in the case of Pat Russell, who was even backed by the California State Athletic Commission.

Yup, this is boxing.

Fight Scribe Bullets: Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather edition

(This piece appeared in InterAKTV on October 14, 2011.)

by Mark Lorenzana

— Just for the heck of it, today I searched for “Manny Pacquiao training distractions,” and got the following headlines in the first page alone:”Manny Pacquiao Dismisses Distraction Talk Leading Into Cotto Training Camp”
“Distractions Continue to Hound Manny Pacquiao”
“Despite distractions during camp, Pacquiao ready for Margarito”
“Pacquiao says distractions at home won’t derail title quest”
“Roach: Distractions part of lucky charm”

Next, I went to to BoxRec.com and checked out Pacquiao’s last fifteen fights, dating back to his first fight with Erik Morales six years ago, until his last fight against Shane Mosley this year. The results are as follows: 14 wins, 1 loss, 8 wins by knockout. Not bad for a guy who supposedly can’t focus on training, huh?

This just goes to show that Pacquiao is really a cut above the rest: he can take it easy and goof off early in training, pick up the pace a few weeks before the fight, and still destroy his opponent come fight night. Can you imagine any other boxer today slacking off in training and then ending up knocking out his opponent?

Curiously, though, recent reports coming out of Pacquiao’s training camp for his upcoming fight with Juan Manuel Marquez next month seem to project the opposite: everything has been smooth sailing so far. Even the recent Baguio camp, which had been a wellspring of headaches for Freddie Roach in the past, seemed to yield positive results. Pacquiao, by the way, is already in the United States and even broke his tradition of taking it easy on his first day in L.A. by immediately jumping into the ring for sparring. He went eight rounds against sparmates Jorge Linares and Ray Beltran. With exactly a month to go before the fight, I’m pretty sure that Pacquiao fans are happy to hear that this training camp has been perfect so far.

— Still on Pacquiao, some sources say that his next opponent, should he beat Marquez, could possibly be Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley. This is not a knock on the guy, but Bradley is a small and relatively light-punching light welterweight who’s half an inch shorter than Pacquiao. There’s no arguing that Bradley is a talented boxer — he’s undefeated, he’s the reigning WBO light welterweight champion, and he is rated seventh in Ring Magazine’s pound-for-pound list.But I don’t really see him giving Pacquiao a good fight. I mean, the guy ducked Amir Khan because he was obviously scared of the Brit, and now he’s going to fight Pacquiao who’s stronger, faster, and punches harder?Another possible opponent for Pacquiao is middleweight Sergio Martinez, but anyone can see that he’s too big for Pacquiao. He can dehydrate himself until he’s as dry as a raisin (or Kenny Florian) just to make the 147-pound limit, but what would that accomplish? If he beats Pacquiao, people will say that the size advantage was just too great; if Pacquiao beats him, people will claim that the weight cut was just too drastic and severely affected Martinez, leading to his loss. Really, it’s a no-win situation for either fighter. Which is why everyone is just wondering, why couldn’t Pacquiao’s most logical opponent at this point just sign on the dotted line and make the fight happen? Which brings us to…

— Floyd Mayweather Jr. won’t fight Manny Pacquiao. Ever. Well, unless Mayweather sees a significant decline in Pacquiao’s speed, that is, then maybe he’ll consider. Just maybe.If we’ve learned anything from Mayweather’s last fight against Victor Ortiz (aside from the fact that Floyd can’t play fair even if his life depended on it and the fact that Ortiz actually has had a man crush on Mayweather for the longest time), it’s that Mayweather isn’t the same fighter he once was. Although he was winning the fight against Ortiz up until the unfortunate ending, it was apparent that he had lost a step or two.Sure, one can attribute it to Mayweather’s inactivity; that perhaps he was just a bit rusty after a long layoff, but I really think he’s not as quick as he once was. Make no mistake: Pacquiao is fast, but Mayweather is no slouch in the speed department either. Floyd makes his living at being perhaps the most elusive fighter today (with the exception of a younger version of Ivan Calderon). Obviously the mark of an excellent defensive fighter is the ability to time his opponent’s punches, but speed also plays a big factor. Pacquiao is a monster on offense because he’s fast; Mayweather is a wizard on defense because, well, he’s also fast. And with Mayweather’s speed and quickness not what it was a couple of years ago, he’s going to have a huge problem against Pacquiao.

So even if promoters guarantee Mayweather the biggest payday of his life to fight Pacquiao right now, and even if Floyd badly needs the money for whatever reason, he won’t take the fight. It’s actually funny (and strange) to see a guy who attaches “Money” to his name walk away from a guaranteed $50-million payday. Contrary to what people think, for Floyd, it’s not actually all about the money. Believe it or not, he’s also thinking about his legacy.

The sad thing is, he honestly thinks that his undefeated record will place him atop the all-time greats. When in fact, it’s fighting the best that will do that for him. And right now, one of the best is Pacquiao. If Floyd can just forget about the zero record, he’ll see that by fighting Pacquiao, he can have his cake and eat it too.

Fight Scribe Bullets: The Nonito Donaire edition

nonito-donaire-omar-narvaez(This piece appeared in InterAKTV on October 27, 2011.)

by Mark Lorenzana

Styles make fights. Every fight fan worth his or her salt has surely heard this old boxing cliche lots of times, and for good reason—the outcome of a bout usually depends on the fighting styles dished out by the fighters atop the squared ring.

In past years, different (and similar) fighting styles have given us the following: the dramatic carnage of the Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward trilogy; the fascinatingly violent ebb and flow of Rafael Marquez and Israel Vasquez’s four fights; the one-sided but legendary bout between Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns; the amazing comeback by the late Diego Corrales against Jose Luis Castillo in their first fight; and the shocking upset that was the Rumble in the Jungle, where an older Muhammad Ali’s speed, technical skills, and superb ring IQ proved too much to handle for a younger and supposedly stronger George Foreman.

Of course, these differences and similarities in fighting styles don’t always result in exciting and unforgettable fights, those fights that get nominated for Fight of the Year by The Ring magazine. More often than not, they result in forgettable snooze-fests like Manny Pacquiao-Joshua “the Turtle” Clottey, the second Pacquiao-Marco Antonio Barrera fight (where Barrera changed his style to that of a marathoner), Devon Alexander-Timothy Bradley, Floyd Mayweather-Carlos Baldomir, the last twelve Bernard Hopkins fights, and the recent Nonito Donaire-Omar Narvaez fight.

Speaking of the latter, on to the bullets:

  • A lot of people I know are still furious about the outcome of the Donaire-Narvaez fight. Why? Because those guys wagered beer money that Narvaez wouldn’t last the distance against Donaire, and, well, we all know what happened: Narvaez refused to fight and was more concerned about lasting the distance against Nonito. Can’t blame the guy, though. Donaire has knocked out eight of his last ten opponents, and Narvaez can at least brag that he finished the fight on his feet. Problem is, he didn’t even win a round on the judges’ scorecards; all the judges scored the fight 120–108 for Donaire. “Neither of us wanted to make a mistake because in this kind of fight, it can be fatal. You cannot neglect an opponent like Nonito at any time,” Narvaez said after the fight. While I agree with Narvaez when he said that making a mistake in boxing is fatal, I disagree with his statement that neither of he nor Donaire wanted to make a mistake. Donaire did his job by actually fighting, which means Nonito actually took risks. Narvaez, on the other hand, plastered his gloves to his mug all night and hopped on his bicycle instead of going toe-to-toe with Donaire. While I was a bit disappointed with the fight (I began channel surfing at the start of the sixth round), a win is a win for Donaire, and he can at least look forward to more exciting and lucrative fights in the future.
  • A quick glance at the CompuBox numbers of the fight will show just how outgunned Narvaez was: Donaire threw a total of 666 punches, landing 99. Eighty-five of those punches that landed for Donaire were power shots.In contrast, Narvaez only threw a total of 299 punches, landing 41, 33 of which were power punches. When I said at the beginning of this post that styles make fights, I meant the natural fighting style of a boxer—without the fear factor thrown in. Consider this: the average super flyweight throws around fifty-seven punches a round, and when Narvaez was still campaigning at 115, four of the five CompuBox-tracked fights that Narvaez figured in showed that the Argentinian boxer exceeded the super flyweight average of punches per round: he threw 68.7 punches in a win against Everth Briceno, 83.7 against Victor Zaleta, 70.3 against William Urina, and a staggering 126.2 against Santiago Acosta. Narvaez fought those four aforementioned fights in the past year, so that was a thirty-five-year-old boxer throwing a hellacious amount of punches per round, way above the so-called average of a fighter in his weight class.
  • Obviously, Narvaez became gun-shy against Donaire because he felt that the Filipino was more than capable of knocking him out. That’s why he overcompensated on his defense, his offense (and any chance of winning) be damned. Narvaez added: “I think I have the doors open to fight again in America, but next time it’ll be in the super flyweight category.” Really? With that kind of showing in his debut fight in the United States? I don’t think so. Narvaez should remember that Joshua Clottey put on a similar performance against Manny Pacquiao, and although Clottey finished the fight on his feet, he was immediately dropped by HBO for his lackluster performance. Said a visibly disgusted Freddie Roach after the fight, “He [Clottey] was satisfied with going the distance with Manny Pacquiao, and he did. But HBO will never use him again.” Narvaez seemed to be satisfied with going the distance against Donaire, but it remains to be seen whether he will be fighting on US soil again.
  • So what’s next for Nonito Donaire? Apparently, Top Rank’s Bob Arum has his sights on a couple of options for Donaire: WBO super bantamweight champion Jorge Arce and WBC super bantamweight titlist Toshiaki Nishioka. El Travieso is fresh off a successful defense of his title after stopping South African Simphiwe Nongqayi in four rounds last month. Arce picked up his belt in emphatic fashion after beating Wilfredo Vasquez Jr. in the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley fight last May. On the other hand, Nishioka successfully defended his title against future hall of famer Rafael Marquez early this month.Again, styles make fights: after his disappointing fight against Narvaez, I’m looking forward to Donaire fighting Arce first. Arce is never in a boring fight, and with his all-action style against Donaire, expect fireworks. I’m not saying that a Donaire-Nishioka fight will be boring, but because Nishioka is more of a stylistic boxer compared to Arce, who is more of a brawler, a Donaire and Nishioka fight will be more of a chess match. And heck, we want our boxing.Against Arce, Nonito Donaire will be his old explosive self again. I hope Bob Arum can make it happen soon. After Narvaez, he owes us that fight. Badly.

The best way to get a closer look at (and a firsthand account of) the sport of jiu-jitsu? Get yourself choked by a brown belt

(This piece appeared in my now defunct fight blog, Pinoy Fight Scribe, in 2013.)

by Mark Lorenzana

My friend Jasmine earned her degree in Accountancy, cum laude, at the University of San Carlos in 2006 and her degree in Law at the University of the Philippines–Diliman in 2010. As a certified public accountant and an attorney, she currently works as a Junior Associate specializing in litigation, tax and corporate advisory, and corporate housekeeping at a high-profile law firm in Makati. But when she’s not being a CPA lawyer, you can find Jasmine in a gi, on the mats, trying to choke people out. Jasmine, who has a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, took up the sport a few years ago when she decided that she needed to lose some weight. Now, aside from successfully shedding off the extra pounds, she’s also quite adept at—to put it mildly—making her opponents tap out on a regular basis.

“I used to run, but I noticed that I wasn’t losing as much weight as I wanted to,” Jasmine tells me one warm Sunday night at the Cebu branch of the jiu-jitsu gym she trains at, in between training sessions. “My first day doing jiu-jitsu, I was lying in a pool of my own sweat. That’s how intense the training was.”

I see what she means. I look around and about ten pairs of trainees, their gis all soaked in sweat, are getting busy on the mats, changing their positions and holds as Norman, the head instructor, belts out instructions.

“Kimura!” Norman yells in a booming voice. “Choke! Arm bar!”

Norman, who has earned his brown belt early last year, is all business. And as he keeps on belting out instructions to his students, he sounds like a man on a mission. “Pick up the pace, execute right away!” Norman shouts. “Let’s go, a little bit faster. Move faster!”

The arm bar may very well be the most frequently used joint-lock submission in mixed martial arts (MMA) today. This particular submission is commonly performed by placing your legs across your opponent’s chest, with one of his or her arms positioned between your thighs and with the elbow joint against your hips. From this position, you will grab your opponent’s arm and position his or her forearm against your chest. When you lean back and arch your hips, you create intense pressure in the elbow joint, which forces your opponent to tap out. If the tap doesn’t come soon enough, the results can be nasty: torn ligaments and torn tendons in the elbow joint. In fact, it is not rare in some cases for the arm bar to result in a broken bone if there is sufficient leverage, power, and angle.

On the other hand, the kimura—which is named after its inventor, Masahiko Kimura, widely considered as the greatest judoka of all time—is a submission that essentially involves cranking your opponent’s arm away from him or her, which puts intense pressure on the shoulder and elbow joint, resulting in the tap. Of course this is the most simplified description of the submission as it can be—like most submissions in jiu-jitsu—executed from almost any position and angle.

In the case of chokes, Jasmine explains that there are actually two different types: a blood choke and an air choke.

Blood chokes work by compressing the carotid arteries, therefore cutting off the supply of oxygen to the brain. A properly executed blood choke can render a person unconscious in as little as three minutes. Air chokes, in contrast, cut off air flow down the trachea. As such, an air choke generally relies on strength rather than technique to be effective. Air chokes are typically inefficient or ineffective for use in martial arts. And besides, air chokes are extremely dangerous and can cause major damage to an opponent—they can actually fracture a person’s larynx.

There are quite a few blood chokes employed in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and MMA, but the most common is the rear-naked choke. Out of curiosity, I ask Jasmine how to do a properly executed rear-naked choke.

“Why don’t you show him so he knows what it feels like?” Norman, who has overheard our conversation, says.

* * *

“When you choke someone,” Norman tells me while I’m seated on the mat, with him behind me, “you’re basically cutting off blood supply to the brain. That’s why you pass out.”

He adds, “A rear-naked choke works like this. What I’m doing right now, what I’m doing is that I’m wrapping my arm around your neck like so, and then I put my other arm over the other arm like this and behind your head to try to cut off the blood supply. What you feel right now is that I’m not actually choking you yet. If you do feel a bit of sensation where it feels like you are losing a bit of light in your vision, that’s basically you panicking. At this point. Don’t worry about it, don’t tap just yet. Just relax. Now I’m just tightening it just a bit slowly. Feel that?”

“Yes,” I say.

“I don’t even need to tighten it suddenly,” Norman says. “I just have to count from one to ten and each count it’s going to be tighter. So why don’t we do this? Why don’t we count to five, don’t tap, and let’s just see if we can reach five before you fall asleep. Okay? Okay.”

“One.”

Before I could protest, I start to feel Norman’s arms tighten around my neck, a predator squeezing the life out of its helpless prey. Instinctively, I move my hand next to the forearm that’s cutting off blood circulation to my brain, ready to tap.

“Two.”

I could feel the blood draining from my face, my vision blurring, everything starting to turn black. The telltale signs someone feels before passing out.

“Three.”

I tap Norman’s forearm furiously, my hand slapping as hard as I can before I completely lose consciousness, which—in my estimation—won’t be too long from now.

“Four.”

Surprisingly, by this time, the urge to keep on tapping is replaced by a feeling of utter surrender, of complete helplessness. I feel my arms go limp. Then my entire body. By now the room is almost completely enveloped in darkness. At once falling asleep doesn’t seem like a bad idea after all. And at this point, believe it or not, it’s as if you welcome it. Sleep beckons. You give in to the inevitable.

Norman lets go.

“Five.”

Suddenly the floodgates to my oxygen-starved brain are opened, blood is pumped back, and the darkening gym is slowly bathed in light. I slowly regain strength in my limbs, in my entire body. I try to sit up.

“A little bit of zooming out, it’s just how that feels,” Norman says. “Now that’s a rear-naked choke. That’s how a choke feels.”

No kidding.

“Not quite but almost,” I manage to croak out, referring to the fact that I hadn’t totally passed out. And because I’m still conscious, I feel pretty good about myself. But not much—my throat feels like it’s been crushed in a vise.

“Yes, I know,” Norman says, smiling. “I let go before we reached five.”

Jasmine says she passed out once before, from a choke. “I was competing with this Korean guy, he was very physical, and he had me in a choke,” she tells me. “And he was talking so he didn’t notice I was already tapping out. Maybe I was tapping lightly so he didn’t notice. So I passed out. When you wake up, it’s like you wake up in the morning after a long sleep.”

She smiles, and adds, “It feels so refreshing.”

No kidding.

* * *

I’ve known Jasmine since our college days at USC, and needless to say, this is the slimmest I’ve seen her, ever. She also looks incredibly strong (she regularly does fireman’s carries on guys weighing 130 to 150 pounds at the gym). Jasmine loves to compete and has won bronze, silver, and gold medals in various local and international Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournaments, which include the Rollapalooza Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Tournament, the Abu Dhabi World Jiu-Jitsu Championship Trials, and the Pan-Asian Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Competition, among others.

Jasmine trains four days a week after work, Monday to Thursday, and also teaches an all-girls jiu-jitsu class on Saturday mornings. She tells me that if given the chance, she also plans to do cross-training in striking and eventually progress to full MMA.

Jasmine may be on to something. In November of last year, Ronda Rousey signed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship and successfully defended her UFC women’s bantamweight title against Liz Carmouche in an action-packed bout that saw Rousey survive an early standing face crank attempt by the game Carmouche, only to submit the challenger in the final seconds of the first round via arm bar.

And just a couple of months ago, at the Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale, two women also figured in a thrilling fight as Cat Zingano beat former Strikeforce champion Meisha Tate via brutal TKO in the third round in what was perhaps the most exciting bout on the twelve-fight card. It wasn’t surprising that Zingano and Tate bagged Fight of the Night honors for their efforts and pocketed fifty thousand dollars in cash.

It seems that the UFC has discovered an untapped resource for pulling in more fans—women’s MMA, which could potentially create new stars for the organization. And as the first couple of fights in the UFC involving women have shown, the ladies are more than capable of putting on a great show for the fans.

When I visited Jasmine during her training session, she had rolled and sparred on the mats with guys bigger and heavier than her. She had given those guys a hard time. At the risk of sounding clichéd, Jasmine’s current skill level on the mats is very impressive. Factoring in the numerous medals she’s won in tournaments throughout the years, everything Jasmine has accomplished as a jiu-jitsu practitioner is a testament to her hard work, dedication, and drive. Undoubtedly the same hard work, dedication, and drive that have taken professional fighters like Rousey, Carmouche, Zingano, and Tate to where they are now.

And looking at Jasmine as she practices her different submissions and holds during a break in my interview with her, and as the sport of MMA pulls in more interested viewers and practitioners, I can’t help but imagine a jiu-jitsu or MMA gym here in the Philippines dominated by hardworking and talented women in the near future.

No kidding.

“Arm bar! Choke! Kimura!” Norman screams.

* * *

“What’s an arm bar?” Norman asks me. “An arm bar,” he says, “a lot of people think that it’s dislocating the shoulder. It’s not. It might look very fancy, but you’re actually dislocating the elbow. So this is how it’s going to look like.”

Norman sits beside me while I lie down on the mat, him stretching my arm out and slowly twisting my elbow outward, a few inches away from the breaking point. He says, “I’m putting pressure. This is very simple, this is very basic, this is a very crude idea of an arm bar. I’m putting pressure on the elbow, I’m putting pressure against where it’s normally not supposed to be stretched. That’s how it is.”

Norman lets go of my arm, and he sits on my chest. “Now when I get to the mount, I grab your right arm in my right hand, I push your face away with my left hand, I go to your side, move your face to the side so I can put my foot over, just like this.”

By now Norman’s upper legs are both wrapped around my left arm as he grabs on to my forearm, making sure my thumb is pointed up and away from him. One of his calves rests on my neck, the other rests on my chest. He sticks my wrist against his chest and slowly lies down on the mat, stretching my elbow outward.

“Now this is nothing yet,” Norman says. “There’s already tension, but it’s not gonna break anything. When I bump my hips upward like so—”

I feel a sharp pain. My elbow feels like it’s about to pop.

He taps my elbow lightly with his free hand and says, “This is where it’s going to break. I’m using all my body’s leverage to break this part of your body.”

And I can feel it. It’s is a very efficient way to twist the elbow upward and dislocate or break it while, at the same time, immobilizing your opponent on the ground. With his calves pinning my neck and chest, pushing my back against the mat, all Norman needs to do is arch his back and move his hips a bit further upward, just a few more inches, so he can snap my elbow like a twig. By now I could feel an intense pressure against my elbow. I brace myself.

Norman lets go.

“And that,” he says, “is how you do a properly executed arm bar.”

No kidding.

Meeting “Marvelous” Marvin Sonsona

(This piece appeared in my now defunct fight blog, Pinoy Fight Scribe, in 2012.)

by Mark Lorenzana

MOST OF THE FIGHT FANS SPILLING OUT of the Hoops Dome and into the humid Lapu-Lapu City night are wearing huge smiles on their faces. Some are trading high-fives; others are already eagerly making a beeline toward the stalls across the street to eat dinner or to buy some extra-strong beer, no doubt, for a celebration of sorts.

And why not? Marvin Sonsona, who fought in the main event just a few moments earlier, had abruptly put an end to the bout after sending his opponent, Carlos Fulgencio of the Dominican Republic, crashing down to the canvas with a vicious uppercut to the jaw in round five.

Sonsona actually started the fight strong in the first round by going to the body early, connecting with crisp straight lefts to Fulgencio’s midsection. In the second and third rounds, Sonsona continued to box smartly—and with a certain swagger—as he deftly avoided his opponents’ blows and repeatedly landed sharp jabs and powerful straights of his own to Fulgencio’s head and body.

The powerful uppercut, which Sonsona unleashed almost effortlessly, lands squarely on Fulgencio’s jaw just one minute and forty-one seconds into the fifth round.  Suddenly, Fulgencio—who enjoys a height and reach advantage, and who, just a round earlier, had begun finding his range and started landing his own shots on Sonsona—finds himself struggling to get to his feet. The referee, Tony Pesons, promptly administers the ten-count on the downed fighter.

Fulgencio, down but not out, gamely gets to his feet and appears to have beaten the count. But Pesons waves him off.

Fight over. The crowd erupts in cheers and applause.

Sonsona, who looks a bit soft in the midsection, is sporting a pair of silver trunks, knee-high socks, and white high-cut boxing shoes. His hair had been dyed a deep bronze. He raises his gloved fists in victory, and there are cheers from the appreciative crowd. The ring announcer barks out the victor’s name in a booming voice, the referee ceremoniously raises Sonsona’s arm, and Fulgencio slinks off into the muggy night—but not before going over to Sonsona to congratulate him—to lick his wounds and fight another day.

The victor climbs down from the ring and faces a small crowd of journalists, who are mostly from Manila. They immediately pepper Sonsona with questions, which the kid gamely and confidently answers.

“Congratulations, Marvin. Kamusta ang kondisyon mo?

Ayos lang, pero nasa 70 percent pa.”

Mas kumportable ka ba sa timbang na ’to?

Oo, mas mabilis ako ngayon. Mas malakas. Mas maganda ang kondisyon ko ngayon kesa nung kalabanin ko si Jacobo.

Kelan ang susunod na laban?”

Sa May 13, sa undercard ni Johnriel Casimero.”

Sinong kalaban?”

Di ko pa alam pero malamang Argentinian.”

“So ensayo ka na agad?

Pahinga lang ako ng ilang araw tapos training na ulit.”

Congrats, Marvin.”

Salamat.”

I CROSS THE STREET AND WALK TOWARD the hawkers’ stalls. In a sweeping glance, I survey the wares spread before me: fried street food, pusô or Cebuano hanging rice, chips, cold drinks, hard candy, chewing gum, cigarettes. I decide on a stick of Marlboro gold; unlike Marvin Sonsona, I am, after all, not a boxer and can indulge in a few potentially deadly vices once in a while.

I’m drenched in sweat, happily puffing on my cigarette, when I notice a lanky guy in bronze-dyed hair seated at a nearby table, wolfing down some siomai, fried meatballs, and pusô and washing his dinner down with a bottle of Cobra energy drink. The silver trunks have been replaced with denim shorts, the high-cut shoes with rubber flip-flops.  I approach him, he takes notice, and he offers me a seat and some of his food. I politely decline the food but graciously take a seat next to him. I order my own food and stub out my cigarette. I extend my hand and introduce myself, and Marvin Sonsona extends his own hand, this time ungloved, and we shake. He smiles. The young boxer, all of twenty-one, asks which newspaper I write for. I tell him none. I was covering the fight for AKTV’s sports website, I say.

We converse in Cebuano. I congratulate Marvin on his big win, and he thanks me. The hawker serves me my food, and I immediately dig in, never realizing until that very moment that I was starving. In between mouthfuls of meatballs and pusô, I ask Marvin if he had any difficulty dealing with Fulgencio before the knockout happened.

O, lisud kay mas taas man gud siya.” (“Yes, because he is taller than me.”)

I ask him where he will train for his next fight.

Sa Lahug, sa IPI gym.”

I ask him how often he will train.

“Monday to Saturday.”

I ask him if I could pay him a visit while he trains; after all, I add, the place where I work, Cebu IT Park, is just a short walk away from the gym. He says yes, and I ask him for his cell phone number so I could call or text him to let him know when I’d be visiting.

O sige ha, text nalang. Or tawagi ko,” Marvin says. He stands up, pays for his food, and bids me good-bye. I thank him for his time.

As Marvin is about to cross the street, a group of guys nearby, who are having a drinking session, call out to him; he goes over to them. They offer him a tagay of extra-strong beer. Naturally, he politely declines—after all, Marvin Sonsona is a boxer, and unlike the rest of us, he isn’t really allowed to indulge in few potentially deadly habits even once in a while—but stays for a few minutes to chat with his fans before going back to the stadium to watch the rest of the fights.

AFTER A POST-MEAL CIGARETTE, I MAKE MY WAY back into the stadium. Half of the crowd had already left. I walk over to press row, and I can see that I am the only sportswriter around. I take a seat and decide to watch the remaining untelevised fights.

The two fighters trading leather inside the ring appear even younger than Sonsona; they look like they are barely into their teens. The losing fighter goes down after absorbing a flurry of punches, and a guy from the audience—I recognize him, a former boxer—shouts good-naturedly at the losing boxer’s corner man, imploring him to thrown in the towel to save his ward from further punishment and embarrassment. The crowd—or what’s left of it, anyway—roars in laughter.

Two rows directly behind me is a group of people, all of them wearing the same matching black shirts printed with a portrait of a boxer and his name, “Dan Nazareno.” Nazareno had fought in the supporting main event and was actually winning the fight early on before he got staggered by a flurry of punches in the sixth round. Nazareno started to fade in the seventh round, and his opponent, Adones Cabalquinto, smelled blood and stepped up his attack. The tide quickly turned, and Nazareno was getting bloodied, apart from being staggered; his mother, who was with the group of supporters, left abruptly, and I couldn’t blame her—who would want to see her son being pummeled? As Cabalquinto kept landing hard shots, Nazareno’s wife stood up, left her seat, and walked over to the ring. She stood behind her husband’s corner and began shouting words of encouragement as soon as he was seated on his stool after the round had ended. Nazareno still lost via close unanimous decision.

Nazareno, his wife, and his mother are not with their black-shirted supporters. They are probably in their hotel room by now, still nursing defeat. What’s left of the group, mostly young women, are in a somber mood and are talking among themselves; they are not paying attention to the action in the ring.

Suddenly, one of the girls shrieks as Marvin Sonsona walks by. “Marvin!” she calls out excitedly and waves him over tentatively. Sonsona smiles and walks over to the group. They gush over him, and one girl asks a member of the group, a guy, to take pictures. Marvin gamely poses with them. After the impromptu photo op, he settles in one of the plastic chairs and has a pleasant chat with the girls. They giggle. The kid is as confident inside the ring as he is outside it—he is comfortable around people and knows how to deal with them, especially the fans. Sonsona sees me, flashes me a huge grin, and gives me a nod of acknowledgment. I nod in return.

The crowd erupts. I turn to the ring and see the losing fighter slumped on the canvas. His corner man finally heeds the heckler in the crowd, the former boxer, and throws in the towel. I stand up, scoop up my cell phone, notebook, pen, water bottle, and a copy of the night’s program from the table, and turn to leave. Marvin, who is still busy talking to the group, calls out to me and asks if I will be there for his next fight. He says he will be fighting at the Waterfront Hotel, which is just a stone’s throw away from where I work at my day job.

I tell him I’ll try my best and add that I’m looking forward to seeing him train in person one of these days. I wish “Marvelous” Marvin Sonsona all the luck on his next fight, he thanks me, and I walk out into the humid Lapu-Lapu City night to file my news story, leaving the talented—and extremely confident—former WBO super flyweight champion in the company of his adoring fans.

The Pacquiao-Marquez IV Aftermath: Redefining Legacies

(This piece appeared in my now defunct fight blog, Pinoy Fight Scribe, in 2012.)

by Mark Lorenzana

No, Manny Pacquiao doesn’t owe anyone anything.

In his meteoric rise, from up-and-coming fighter who started his career in the now-defunct Blow by Blow boxing program to becoming one of the pound-for-pound greats while annihilating supposedly bigger and stronger opponents en route to becoming the first and only eight-division world champion so far, the Pacman hasn’t owed anyone anything.

Not to us, his proud and awe-inspired countrymen, who have never failed to tune in to any of his fights. Certainly not to the self-serving politicians—who plucked him away from the dangerous squared ring and introduced him to the even-more dangerous political arena—who only have their own and their family’s self-interests in mind. Not to the shameless leeches and hangers-on in his grossly overblown entourage who cling to him for dear life in fear of losing their one and only meal ticket. No, not even to his “god”—whoever he or she or it is right now, in whatever reincarnation or shape or form, rosaries or signs of the cross or other pre- or post-fight rituals notwithstanding—whom he had never failed to give praise to or thanks to in the course of his brilliant and illustrious career whether in a win, in a loss, or in a draw.

No, Manny Pacquiao doesn’t owe his success inside the ring and outside of it to anyone—or anything—in particular.

One can argue that perhaps the Pacman owes a lot of his success to his long-time trainer, Freddie Roach, who has helped shape Pacquiao from a gangly, left-hand-happy, whirling dervish of a dynamo that struck fear into the hearts of lower-weight fighters into a more calculated, two-fisted offensive machine with improved defense, a fighting machine that effectively chopped down bigger opponents campaigning in the higher weight divisions.

One can also argue that perhaps the Pacman owes a lot of his success to his once-unparalleled work ethic, which has had Roach beaming with pride not so long ago and which has had the five-time BWAA Trainer of the Year pull his prized pupil back at times during training lest his ward—champing at the bit—invest all his energy in the gym, punishing the punch mitts and the heavy bags and the speed bags and his sparring partners instead of unleashing all his bottled-up energy inside the squared ring in front of his opponent.

One can, perhaps, also argue that the Pacman owes a lot of his success to his pure love of the fight game. A love that has, until recent years, prompted Pacquiao to focus squarely on the task at hand and leave all the other non-boxing distractions out the door of the Wild Card gym and just buckle down to work. And by work we might actually mean real boxing-related training: genuine training that doesn’t include basketball with the gang and badminton and volleyball with the missus and dancing the Gangnam Style at the daughter’s birthday party. By work we might actually mean setting up camp early in Los Angeles and not shuttling to and fro from Baguio to Manila to the Wild Card or from Sarangani to General Santos to the Wild Card or wherever. By work we might actually mean taking care of the body by resting right and sleeping early during a training camp and not staying up all night in cockfights and drinking sessions and, more importantly, Bible studies because, really, isn’t it the body and not the “soul” that a boxer is putting to the test inside the squared ring against an opponent who has an equal love of the game and who has also put in the same amount of hard work, or even more so, for several months in a vow to take your damn head off?

One can argue that perhaps the Pacman owes a lot of his success to all three: a great trainer who has always had his ward’s welfare in mind, an excellent work ethic, and an unadulterated passion for boxing.  The trainer, of course, who will tell him when the time is right to hang up his gloves for good, which might not be very long from now. The work ethic that has since branched out from the gym and ring and enthusiastically parlayed into politics, TV, the movies, advertisements, and other pursuits. And the passion for boxing that burned and smoldered within him like a raging fire in his early years but has somewhat died down as of late, threatening to flicker into a dying flame.

Still, some would argue that, no, Manny Pacquiao doesn’t owe anyone anything.

One thing should be painfully apparent, however, after all the smoke has cleared: Manny Pacquiao owes it to himself at least to finally figure out who or what he really wants to be from now on—a full-time boxer or a full-time politician.  It’s about time, really. Because, as we all saw the other day when Juan Manuel Marquez—older, slower, less-physically gifted but a full-time boxer since 1993 until this very day—knocked Pacquiao out with a vicious and perfectly-timed counter right straight packed with dynamite, it never pays to be a part-time player in an extremely dangerous sport such as boxing (also known as the hurt business) where one fatal mistake could lead to potential life-threatening consequences.

Especially against an opponent, an Aztec warrior, who owed it to himself and to his countrymen to finally get that elusive win by dint of hard work and by doing what he really loved to do and, more importantly, by being just what he was until the time comes when he can’t be that person anymore—a fighter who respected the game enough to focus 100 percent on the task at hand.

No, the devastating knockout he suffered at the hands of Marquez will not erase Manny Pacquiao’s legacy as one of the greatest fighters of his era. Not at all, far from it. But it will, no doubt, redefine the legacy of one “Dinamita” Juan Manuel Marquez, one of the best counterpunchers the boxing world has ever seen and one of the most intelligent fighters the Pacman has ever faced.

I Know I Already Said I Won’t Blog About This Again, But What the Hell . . .

(This piece appeared in my now defunct fight blog, Pinoy Fight Scribe, in 2012.)

by Mark Lorenzana

WBO welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao and WBC welterweight titlist Floyd Mayweather Jr. are, undoubtedly, the two biggest attractions in the sport of boxing today. Both fighters possess speed, power, ring smarts, and tough chins—attributes that have catapulted them to superstardom. Both boxers also possess varying fighting styles that, needless to say, promises an intriguing and mouthwatering matchup: Pacquiao’s relentless, unorthodox, and blitzkrieg offensive attack against Mayweather’s outstanding defensive skills and counterpunching prowess. This matchup is a boxing fan’s dream come true: one of the game’s best boxer-punchers in Pacquiao fighting one of the game’s best counterpunching stylists in Mayweather.

The problem, though, is that they aren’t fighting each other anytime soon.

It’s official: Pacquiao has signed to fight undefeated Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley on June 9. The report comes on the heels of the recent announcement by Mayweather that he will be facing Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto for the latter’s WBA super welterweight strap on Cinco de Mayo.

The news announcing both Pacquiao and Mayweather officially signing to fight different opponents signals the end of the much-heralded fight of the century for the time being and is, certainly, bad news. But on the flipside, this also signals the start of a moving-on phase that can only be good for boxing and for countless boxing fans who have been reduced to helpless pawns amid all the taunting and posturing by both camps the past several months.

That said, both boxers’ choice of opponents deserves a cursory glance, if only to make sense of the madness of it all.

Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley

– After Pacquiao struggled against Juan Manuel Marquez in their third fight, a close fight that Pacquiao won by majority decision and a fight that not a few boxing pundits believed should have been awarded to Marquez, the consensus—both spoken and unspoken—around Boxlandia was that Mayweather was next for Pacquiao. But when feeble attempts at negotiations to make the dream fight fizzled out, several prospective opponents for Pacquiao cropped up overnight: Marquez, Cotto, Bradley, and even Lamont Peterson.

– Marquez was out of the running as a potential opponent for Pacquiao soon after he voiced out several demands before a fourth fight could happen, demands that Top Rank head honcho Bob Arum deemed too unreasonable, even crazy: a venue other than Las Vegas, neutral judges, and a bigger purse. (But Marquez was probably out of the running as a potential opponent for Pacquiao as early as the end of the third fight when everyone realized that the Mexican was the perfect foil for Pacquiao.) Marquez will, most probably, fight another rumored Pacquiao opponent, Lamont Peterson in mid July.

– Cotto was the initial pick by Pacquiao, but the Puerto Rican made it clear that he wouldn’t fight below 150 pounds. Cotto has been campaigning at 154 for his past three fights already, and Pacquiao wanted the fight at a catchweight of 145. It seems that the weight played a huge factor in Cotto’s decision to choose Mayweather, especially since the latter agreed to move up in weight to challenge Cotto.

– Timothy Bradley is young, undefeated, a good boxer with decent-enough skills, someone who has defeated quality opponents. But Bradley is not exactly a power puncher and is going up in weight to fight Pacquiao, a fighter who has been campaigning as a full-fledged welterweight for a total of five fights now. Pacquiao has dominated naturally bigger guys like Oscar De La Hoya, Cotto, Margarito, Joshua Clottey, and Shane Mosley and has only shown difficulties against defensive counterpunchers like Marquez. Bradley is not a defensive counterpuncher, is smaller, and will take the fight to Pacquiao. Problem is, Pacquiao tends to make mincemeat out of offensive-minded fighters who take the fight to him, especially someone smaller and who has no power punch.

Floyd Mayweather vs. Miguel Cotto

A curious thing about this fight is that Mayweather has been avoiding Cotto for the longest time. This was when Cotto was still in his prime, when he was still undefeated, before he was beaten to a bloody pulp by Antonio Margarito and Pacquiao. Just recently, Mayweather dismissed Cotto as a potential opponent, saying he wouldn’t fight any of “Pacquiao’s leftovers.” Until now, that is.

– Cotto may be the naturally bigger man, but he is not the same fighter many years ago that Mayweather had been ducking. Mayweather, being the shrewd, cagey boxer/businessman that he is, won’t risk his undefeated record. He took the fight because he knows that he can—and will—beat this version of Cotto.

So here’s the sad part: there is still no guarantee that Pacquiao and Mayweather will immediately fight each other after they beat each of their respective opponents. Who knows? Maybe they will eventually come to their senses many, many years from now, when they are both too old and too infirm and too shot. But will boxing fans still care?