Opening Bell: 10 knockdowns!
There were no high-profile fights this past weekend. The various boxing platforms took a breather, probably to avoid competing with one of the biggest events in American sports, the Final Four, on Saturday night. The boxing schedule now kicks into high gear, with notable fights every single weekend until at least June (with more to be scheduled).
It begins on Friday night with the return of pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko, who defends his unified lightweight title against former titlist Anthony Crolla. On Saturday, there's the undisputed women's middleweight title fight between Claressa Shields and Christina Hammer.
The run of fights continues April 20, with welterweight titlist Terence Crawford defending against Amir Khan, and it doesn't let up. We'll see the return of Danny Garcia, the Srisaket Sor Rungvisai-Juan Francisco Estrada rematch, the World Boxing Super Series semifinals finally get going, the biggest fight of the year so far in Canelo Alvarez-Daniel Jacobs, heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder defending against Dominic Breazeale, unified heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua against Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller, lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury's return as well as the return of Gennady Golovkin.
But even though this past weekend was light on significant matches, there was one unexpected gem that stood out as a bona fide fight of the year contender, despite it being between two journeyman fighters of whom most folks have never heard. Until now.
Polish middleweights Robert Talarek (24-13-2, 16 KOs), 35, and Patryk Szymanski (19-2, 10 KOs), 25, threw down in an incredible slugfest that was in the middle of an undercard in Katowice, Poland, on Saturday. Thank goodness for the internet, where chatter about this barnburner was all over my social media pages. Links to the video are readily available, and what you will see is nothing short of spectacular.
They combined for 10 -- count 'em, 10 -- knockdowns in a rock-'em, sock-'em brawl before Talarek won by upset fifth-round knockout in a slugfest filled with clean power punches.
For those keeping score, Talarek got knocked down four times and Szymanski six times in less than five full rounds. The only fight I can think of from recent years that came close to that many knockdowns was the epic 2014 fight of the year contender between lightweight Tommy Coyle and Daniel Brizuela, who combined for eight knockdowns in Coyle's 12th-round knockout win in Hull, England.
Talarek won his fourth fight in a row and Szymanski, who lost his second fight in a row by knockout, announced his retirement after the fight, which had been scheduled for eight rounds.
"No money in the world will make me fight again," Szymanski told Polsat after the fight in comments translated by my pal and fellow boxing writer Przemek Garczarczyk.
Neither fighter displayed a shred of defense as they wobbled each other constantly and kept dropping each other. Szymanski looked like he was on his way to a quick win when he scored two knockdowns in the first round, both courtesy of right hands.
There were three knockdowns in the second round, with Szymanski getting floored by a right hand but answering with two knockdowns of Talarek.
Szymanski hit the deck twice more in the fourth round, the most exciting of the fight. They were both absolutely exhausted by the time the round ended.
Talarek scored two more knockdowns in the fourth round and another in the fifth. When a spent Szymanski got to his feet, with blood streaming down his face from a cut in the corner of his left eye, referee Robert Gortat waved it off at 1 minute, 45 seconds.
Talarek was up 35-34 on two scorecards, and the third judge had it 34-34 before the final knockdown.
Talarek was not pleased with his performance but was happy to get through the fight and win.
"There was a moment when I started to doubt myself. It was not the beginning I wanted," he told Polsat. "I knew that Szymanski has great technical skills and it will be a hard start for me. I anticipated that. Reality in the ring confirmed it. I was really surprised how fast he was. I was expecting a slower fighter.
"I was not happy with this fight. I was down couple of times, so no point of sugarcoating what has happened in the ring. It's OK that I could show my character, but the rest of the fight, my skills -- not happy about it. My job made me who I am today, made me strong. I have a warrior mentality."
Fights you might have missed
Saturday at Guatemala City, Guatemala
Light heavyweight Lester Martinez (1-0, 1 KO) TKO2 Ricardo Mayorga (32-12-1, 26 KOs).
Mayorga, 46, of Nicaragua, just won't go away, as he took yet another beating, this one from Martinez, 23, an amateur star from Guatemala making his pro debut.
At one time, Mayorga was a quality fighter. He was the unified welterweight world champion (2003), held a junior middleweight world title (2005) and faced many of boxing's biggest names (Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, Fernando Vargas, Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley twice). But now he's an old, utterly shot fighter boxing way above his best weight.
He got destroyed yet again, as he lost his third in a row by knockout (and it came one day shy of a year since his last fight). Martinez had his way, battering Mayorga with many clean punches and eventually hammering him with an onslaught of shots along the ropes before the referee stepped in just as the bell to end the second round sounded. It was sad to see.
Saturday at Hermosillo, Mexico
Junior middleweight Ramon Alvarez (28-7-3, 16 KOs) W10 Jose Carlos Paz (23-9-1, 13 KOs), scores: 96-94 (twice) Alvarez, 96-94 Paz.
In November, Alvarez, 32, of Mexico, suffered a ninth-round knockout loss to Brandon Rios. But Alvarez returned this past weekend for a hard-fought split-decision win over Paz, 28, of Argentina, who dropped his second fight in a row.
Alvarez went after Paz's body relentlessly, and Paz looked to counter punch in the competitive battle.
Saturday at Clackamas, Oregon
Middleweight Steve Forbes (36-14, 11 KOs) W7 Tavorus Teague (6-26-4, 3 KOs), scores: 69-64, 68-65, 67-66.
Former junior lightweight world titlist Steve Forbes, 42, who held a belt from 2000-2002, had not boxed since October 2014. But after 4 ½ years in retirement, he returned to headline a card outside of his hometown of Portland, Oregon, that his company, 2Pound Sports, promoted. Forbes was not matched tough against Teague, 31, of Paramount, California, and won the decision to end a six-fight losing streak. Teague lost his fifth fight in a row.
Friday at Las Vegas
Junior featherweight Angelo Leo (17-0, 8 KOs) W10 Neil John Tabanao (17-5, 11 KOs), scores: 100-89, 100-90 (twice).
Leo, 24, of Las Vegas, a Mayweather Promotions prospect, made his television debut as he headlined the "ShoBox: The New Generation" card on Showtime and cruised to a shutout decision over Tabanao, 25, of the Philippines, whose four-fight winning streak ended.
Leo threw a lot of nice combinations, worked the body very well and went past the eighth round for the first time in an excellent performance. It was a tough night for Tabanao, who had dedicated the fight to his mother, who was 48 when she died from kidney disease in December.
Junior lightweight Xavier Martinez (14-0, 10 KOs) TKO3 John Moralde (21-3, 11 KOs).
Martinez, 21, of Sacramento, California, put on a sterling performance in his wipeout of Moralde, 24, a southpaw from the Philippines. Martinez dominated the first two rounds, dropping Moralde with a clean left hook to the chin in the second round. Moralde got up quickly but was in rough shape. Martinez went right after him and landed a few more shots, prompting referee Tony Weeks to step in to wave off the fight at 1:11. This was the kind of performance that should make fans want to see Martinez again.
Junior lightweight Andres Cortes (11-0, 6 KOs) W8 Jahmal Dyer (9-2, 5 KOs), scores: 79-73, 78-73, 78-74.
Cortes, 21, of Las Vegas, got knocked to the seat of his pants by a nice right hand with about 40 seconds remaining in the fourth round, but he was not badly hurt and got up quickly. Other than that hiccup, Cortes, who has sparred with junior lightweight world titlist Gervonta Davis, controlled the fight in the clear decision victory over Dyer, 27, of Baltimore, whose five-fight winning streak came to an end.
Friday at Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Junior featherweight Shakhobidin Zoirov (1-0, 1 KO) KO1 Anthony Holt (5-5-1, 3 KOs).
Uzbekistan's Zoirov, 26, who won the flyweight gold medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, made his professional debut a quick one on the MTK Global card that streamed live on ESPN+ in the United States. Zoirov needed only 18 seconds to erase Holt, 25, of Indonesia, in a scheduled six-round fight. Zoirov connected with a straight left hand that knocked Holt back, then threw another straight left that did not catch him clean but caught him enough to knock him flat on his back, where referee Almar Kelly Odiong counted him out.