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Three Coolest Things: Valdez-Wilson Feels, Prime’s Premier and Breaking Barriers in Boorishness


Boxing is a mess. Whether it’s warring promoters, Mad Max levels of oversight or Ponzi-by-numbers business models, the sport can’t stay out of its own stupid way. Yet every now and then, a thing of beauty is fished from the bog – a selfless act, a genius tactic or just a moment worth sharing. I hope to find and highlight these here weekly. (C’mon, boxing, three a week ain’t too much to ask!) Got an idea or tip of your own? Feel free to send it my way, and I’ll be sure to give you a nod if it’s used.

1. I’m not crying – we’re all crying

If you made it through Friday’s ESPN+ broadcast of the Oscar ValdezLiam Wilson junior lightweight interim title fight without at least developing a little lump in your throat, congratulations, you’re a vampire.

Forget the “title” chase or Mark Kriegel’s dad-baiting. There was drama enough in watching Valdez, a 33-year-old 130-pounder, come back from a legitimate career crisis – two bloody, wrenching losses in three fights – and overcome a sturdy opponent, mostly on brains, body punching and balls.

But the real warm-and-fuzzies – that pure, uncut stuff – came after the final bell. A tearful Valdez, who recalled also weeping after the Emanuel Navarette loss, admitted in Friday’s postfight ring interview that he privately feared for his boxing future at the time. He had previously called it the lowest he has ever been. “I want to be an example,” Valdez told Kriegel. “In boxing, you might lose. In life, you might lose. But it’s an obligation to come back strong. If I found the canvas, I’m gonna get up and continue on the path to my dream. And that means anybody can do it.”

A cycnic might dismiss that message as empty sports saccharin or post facto self-hype. But if you listened closely, when Valdez hurried over to Wilson to offer comfort before speaking publicly, you could overhear him actively channeling hope to his dejected opponent. I’ll be damned if it wasn’t heartfelt and honest.

“You almost got me,” Valdez told Wilson – which was objectively true.

“I lost,” Valdez said, then, almost pleadingly: “I lost, too. I came back. You can, too.”

Valdez wears his emotions on his sleeve, but boxing has a knack for digging them out of all of us – no matter where we stash them.

2. Grade-A Prime first impression

If the first fight on Amazon’s premier “PBC on Prime Video” broadcast is any indication of what’s in store for fight fans – and hopefully not only on Prime – then I, for one, welcome our new streaming overlords.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you’ve never seen a better opening bout than Curmel Moton’s unanimous decision over Anthony Cuba on the undercard opener of Saturday’s Tim TszyuSebastian Fundora Prime PPV show. The 80-72 scores from all three judges weren’t remotely indicative of the quality of matchup, fighter skill and overall action on display in the eight-rounder.

And to think: It almost didn’t happen. More aptly, fight fans wouldn’t have had the opportunity to watch Moton-Cuba on Prime’s airwaves (er, digital bandwidth?) if not for the poor fortune of Elijah Garcia, who fell ill Friday and thus fell out of his originally scheduled opening bout. Swing-bouters Moton and Cuba stepping in as the replacement proved to be the mother of all silver linings.

A few takeaways:

  • Moton, at 17, is already an exceptionally well-developed fighter. He is fast, athletic and powerful, but his technique, ring generalship and comportment also seem to belong to a fighter a decade older. The kid is already damn near fully baked.
  • I get the comparisons to Floyd Mayweather (Moton’s mentor) and Wilfredo Benitez (boxing’s youngest-ever world champion), but Prime analyst Abner Mares hit it on the nose: Gervonta Davis may be the best comp for Moton (3-0, 2 KOs), a compact cannonball blast full of nails, knives and anvils.
  • Cuba (7-1-2, 3 KOs) is a badass 21-year-old who deserves heaps of credit for making the fight so engagingly telegenic. He ate some killer shots from Moton, finished on his feet and even gave back whatever doses of punishment he could muster from his limited power. He’s a good fighter who has a future and, now, a bunch of new fans.
  • If PBC can consolidate enough talent over time, or at least work amicably across promotions, it will have the opportunity to put on more Prime shows featuring top-to-bottom quality. Does it have the will? Traditional pay-per-views have typically enriched only boxing’s 1 percent – which is a model that, if you take a hard look around the U.S. right now, has proven to be a shit deal for everyone else. But an ongoing approach similar to that for Saturday’s show – a combination of PPV, subscriber-only and free-to-all – just might be something sustainable (and dare I say equitable?) that breathes new life into boxing.

3. Let her play … the heel

Crusty oldsters pretend that boxing was once a safe harbor for respect, sportsmanship and good taste, claiming that social media or Muhammad Ali or some other great modern scourge has poisoned the purity of “the gentleman’s sport.” OK, Boomer. The truth is, we’re all animals, and boxers are – and always have been – some of the most feral among us. (Take a few minutes to tumble down the John L. Sullivan rabbit hole on Google. Not exactly an exemplar of moral fiber, eh?)

Welp, the crusty oldster has logged on: It’s gone too far. Confidence, cockiness, boastfulness, smack talk and even a particular brand of personal insults all have their place in boxing, I suppose – especially as part of a fight build-up. But, as the youths like to say, “There’s levels to this.” On a scale of Jim Corbett to “Vanderpump Rules,” boxing has achieved full Kardashian – basically the sports-as-absurdity equivalent of going plaid.

That was a long walk for me just to say this: Welcome, ladies, to the big top.

On Friday, Seniesa Estrada and Yokasta Valle did women’s boxing proud in the ring. In an undisputed minimumweight championship fight, they fought skillfully, courageously and entertainingly for 10 objectively exciting rounds. High drama. Big stakes. Great stuff. But for me, the moment was dampened a bit by Estrada’s personal reactions to promotional business; her sour-grapes grudge-holding against Valle’s trainer, Gloria Alvarado; and her railroading of a pre-fight faceoff interview (in which Estrada often talked over Valle, who speaks Spanish and required translation).

Still, that’s me. I won’t be convinced that crossing certain lines into race, family and whatever the hell this was aren’t bad for boxing. But some fans admittedly feed off the cringe and chaos. And although reasonable minds can disagree about whether, and how much, manufactured animosity helps sell a fight, I won’t lecture a fighter making an effort to put butts in seats.

In a weird way, it was even encouraging to see Estrada go villain against Valle, which can’t happen without the proper platform and runway. Call it progress: If equality means Estrada invoking her right to embrace her inner jackass without prejudice – let’s call it breaking the toxic ceiling – then I say fair play.

(Even so, I was lucky enough to find this as a palate cleanser – and on the cesspool that is Zombie Twitter, of all places! Sometimes, even dudes rock.)

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