Thursday, March 28, 2024

The Sporting Take Interview

I spoke with Darren Aylett of The Sporting Take this week and we covered a range of topics in boxing. We discussed the Ring Magazine Ratings Panel, Terence Crawford, Fury-Usyk, Dalton Smith and more. To watch the interview, click here. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a contributing writer for Ring Magazine, a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook 

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Rodney Berman: Promoter, Humanist

There's an adage in the business side of boxing: Never fall in love with a fighter. This mantra of emotional distance I'm sure made its way into the boxing vernacular because of the many things that can go wrong with the fighter/representation dynamic. Fighters will leave. They will get into trouble. They will underperform. Often fighters won't appreciate those who helped guide them once they make it towards the top. 

And yet here's Rodney Berman, the legendary South African promoter who has been in the game since 1977, and he's not one for creating barriers between his company, Golden Gloves, and the fighters he represents. Working in the Golden Gloves offices every day is former junior lightweight champion Brian Mitchell. Berman regards Mitchell as a son. They have been in business together for 40 years and it's a relationship that Berman cherishes. 

Rodney Berman
Courtesy of Golden Gloves

Or how about this: Berman no longer allows anyone to sign with Golden Gloves that doesn't enroll in their pension program. And yes, you read that correctly. They have a pension program that is invested in one of the leading South African financial services firms. 

"We really care about our fighters," said Berman. "Every time one of our guys fight, we take 10% of his purse and it goes into Old Mutual, a leading investment finance company in South Africa. We have a life insurance policy for our fighters without any expense. We have a funeral policy without any expense. 

"And regarding the retirement policy, we take out a five-year tax-free investment. There is one caveat to it. In the first five years of the plan, if a fighter wants to withdraw his money, he needs my permission...And I've shown them when you don't touch the policy for five years, the growth in that policy is unbelievable with compound interest. Many keep their money in for much longer. It's very gratifying to me that the fighters have taken to it. And a lot of these fighters have done very well from it."   

Berman takes great pride in how he looks after his fighters. He's not interested in his boxers becoming "opponents." He believes in matching them appropriately, knowing when to roll the dice and when to understand that a given opportunity isn't worth the cost/benefit analysis. 

And this takes us to Kevin Lerena (30-2, 14 KOs), Berman's heavyweight, who takes on undefeated Justis Huni (8-0, 4 KOs) on Friday's Joshua-Ngannou card. Lerena might best be known as the heavyweight who lost a controversial fight to Daniel Dubois. In a surprising development, Lerena knocked down Dubois three times in the first round. Dubois, who was seriously hurt and took a knee for two of the knockdowns, was allowed to continue and then wound up knocking Lerena out at the end of the third round from a punch that connected well after the bell rang. Berman appealed on his behalf, but a no-contest or even a rematch wasn't granted. 

Lerena rebounded since that defeat with two victories, including a win over former cruiserweight champion Ryad Merhy. Berman admits that he's rolling the dice with Lerena against Huni, who is one of the top young fighters from Australia and has a deep amateur background. But he likes the fact that Lerena has the greater professional experience in the matchup and that Huni isn't a huge puncher. 

And it's here that Berman's humanism shines through again. Berman wants Lerena to have a fulfilling life after boxing and believes in matching him compassionately. Berman's plan for Lerena involves his fighter, win or lose against Huni, aiming for the bridgerweight world title instead of going after the big boys at heavyweight. 

"In his everyday life, Lerena is a paramedic," said Berman. "He drives around saving people’s lives. He's a breath of fresh air...Kevin is one of the strongest-minded people that I've met. He's very philosophical. He takes things in stride...

"However, he's in the unfortunate position, that he has the heart of the lion, but it's inescapable with the giants in the ring today that size is against him. And even with Huni, size and weight are against Kevin. But it doesn't deter him.

"Kevin can be a fireball. He has very fast hand speed. It's going to be a very intriguing fight. I think it's going to be a distance fight, because I don't think either man will be able to stop the other. And I think Kevin's ability is being very underrated."

Berman has heard the criticism regarding bridgerweight, but he believes that for the right fighter it serves a purpose. And Berman admits that he's not too keen to match Lerena with any of the other huge hitters at heavyweight. Although Lerena has decent enough power, Berman is concerned about his relatively small body frame. Lerena had fought at cruiserweight until 2020. Lerena is already 31 and Berman wants him to have a fruitful life after boxing. 

Berman with Marvin Hagler (left) and Roberto Duran (right)
Photo courtesy of Golden Gloves

Berman has had dozens of world champions in his 45 years in the sport. One of his greatest accomplishments has been his role in helping to integrate South African boxing. When he started promoting during the height of Apartheid, it was illegal for a white promoter to represent a Black boxer. In the stands there were roped off sections for Black patrons. There were still South African Black champions and South African white champions.

"They were terrible times," said Berman. "It was shocking. When I think back to the Apartheid days, it was surreal...Welcome Ncita, for example, was training in a one-room schoolroom. The conditions were pathetic." 

Berman was one of the first promoters in South Africa to have an integrated promotional company and he worked with the IBF in particular to help promote Black South African fighters. His first world champion was Ncita, a Black fighter who won the 122-lb. title in 1990 and made six title defenses. Another early Black champion was Vuyani Bungu, who defeated Kennedy McKinney twice and made 13 junior featherweight title defenses. 

Boxing has taken Berman, 81, around the world and back. He relishes the South African underdog role in the world boxing scene and his fighters have sprung major upsets, including Sugar Boy Malinga over Nigel Benn and Corrie Sanders over Wladimir Klitschko. He was the lead promoter in Hasim Rahman's upset victory over Lennox Lewis in South Africa, where Berman had a memorable hour-length phone call with Nelson Mandela in the lead up to the fight.

Although Berman has lived a full boxing life, he still is heavily involved in the next generation of South African boxing talent. In particular, he's very high on junior middleweights Shervantaigh Koopman (13-0, 9 KOs) and Roarke Knapp (17-1-1, 12 KOs). And he's still trying to develop world-level fighters despite the weakness of the South African currency (which makes it tough to pay for opponents) and the distance of South Africa from the world's boxing hot spots. Throughout his time in the sport, Berman has had to navigate myriad constrictions and he takes pride in what he's been able to accomplish despite exceedingly challenging social, political, and economic headwinds.  

This week Berman will be in Saudi Arabia looking after Lerena's best interests. Berman is no stranger to going on the road. He'll be hoping that his fighter can pull off the upset, but most of all, he will want his fighter to make sure that he can fight for another day. 

The sorrow in Berman's voice is still there when he talks about Corey Sanders' untimely death from the hands of armed robbers. To Berman, Sanders was one of the sweetest people he has ever met in the sport. Berman understands how life can be precious, how a boxer's life in or out of the ring can change in the blink of an eye. He wants his fighters to accomplish great things in the ring, but also to have a fulfilling tomorrow.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a contributing writer for Ring Magazine, a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook 

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Opinions and Observations: Kholmatov-Ford

By the fifth round in Saturday's fight, Raymond Ford and his coach Anthony Rodriguez decided to scrap their initial game plan. Although Ford had climbed the ranks in his pro career as an outside fighter, flashing hand speed and athleticism from range, that wasn't working against Otabek Kholmatov. Kholmatov had the longer reach, but perhaps more importantly, he landed his best power shots when he extended his arms, especially a looping left hand. And for whatever reason, Ford had trouble defensing those long-range, odd-angled bombs. 

So, Ford and Rodriguez made the bold play to try to beat Kholmatov on the inside. And there were moments and rounds in the fight where Ford unloaded blistering combinations and body shots from up close, getting the better of the action. Ford was able to stem the tide of a runaway Kholmatov victory, but he didn't completely turn it. Many of the rounds were close. Even with Ford on the inside, Kholmatov won his share of rounds in the second half with volume and quick combinations to the body. Going into the final round of the fight, Ford was down by three points on two scorecards and up by one on the third.

Kholmatov (right) started the fight well from range
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Rodriguez provided Ford with perfect instructions throughout the fight. Combining motivational exhortations with specific technical and strategic points, Rodriguez helped Ford understand the task at hand and didn't sugarcoat his fighter's performance. He beseeched Ford to let his hands go more and not fight in spurts. Going into the last round, he implored Ford to win the round big. 

The first half of the 12th was strange in that neither fighter displayed the urgency needed to secure the victory. Kholmatov danced around the ring as if he had already had the fight locked up, which was an odd decision in that so many of the rounds were competitive. He fired off ineffectual combinations that had little steam on them. Although Ford was looking to land power shots, he mostly stalked and pressured without letting let his hands go with any type of abandon. 

However, in the final minute of the round, Ford connected with a blistering combination with Kholmatov against the ropes. The shots hurt Kholmatov who fell slightly forward. Ford gently pulled Kholmatov down to the canvas and referee Charlie Fitch determined that a knockdown shouldn't be awarded, that Ford's pull was the reason why Kholmatov went down. It was a coin-flip judgment: the kind that referees could call either way and be justified in their decision making. 

But once the action resumed, Kholmatov was still badly hurt. He went into full disengagement mode. As he tried to evade Ford along the perimeter of the ring, Ford shot a pulsating right hand that rattled him. Kholmatov stumbled along the ropes and banged into the corner post. He was completely turned around. Ford seized the opportunity and followed up with a blistering left hand with Kholmatov unable to defend himself. Fitch had seen enough and stopped the fight with seven seconds left. 


Kholmatov-Ford was unusual in that the fight was contested for a vacant title (in this case featherweight). So often vacant title fights pit a heavily favored fighter against an opponent far less deserving. This was one of the rare occasions where the boxers were evenly matched; they were both worthy of being a champion. Yes, Kholmatov certainly lost the bout, but the little-seen fighter from Uzbekistan (who entered the fight at just 12-0) showed that he had championship-level ability. Furthermore, although Ford was himself only 14-0-1 entering the fight, he demonstrated a multiplicity of dimensions that befit a world champ. 

And perhaps that's the biggest takeaway from Ford's performance. Not a pressure fighter by trade, he remained in the match by staying close to Kholmatov's chest, by being more coordinated on the inside. Not known for his power (just seven knockouts in his 15 prior fights), Ford put together the punches to get a needed stoppage. 

Kholmatov on the canvas seconds before the fight ends
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

It had not been a straight line to the top for Ford. He had very tough fights during his development against Edward Vazquez (who subsequently gave Joe Cordina a rough time in a title fight) and Aaron Perez. Ford didn't scream out as "future champ" in those fights, but to be fair to him and his trainer, they went back to the gym and put in the work to improve. 

The reason why Ford was able to win Saturday's fight was that he had enough in his toolkit to make adjustments. Although he had never been known as a pressure fighter, he clearly had worked with Rodriguez in the gym for such a circumstance. When it was time to make the change, Ford didn't look lost in this style. He knew how to pressure, stalk, and get off combinations in close while limiting damage. 

Furthermore, when Ford needed a decisive ending to the fight, he didn't let the big moment get to him. He wasn't a deer in the headlights. He didn't smother himself or fight crudely, trying to accomplish something that was beyond his capability. He was clear-minded. He landed authoritative shots and when the moment was finally there in the fight's dying seconds, he didn't freeze. He seized it and forced the stoppage. 

It's this well-roundedness that speaks to Ford's future potential. Yes, he didn't fight perfectly. His pressure was inconsistent. He didn't display the volume needed to win enough rounds. It's also worth noting how porous his defense was from the outside. But he adjusted. He found something that worked and was able to win a title far removed from his preferred style. That's championship mettle. 

All parties need to be congratulated for Kholmatov-Ford. I will hold my nose here and congratulate the WBA for ordering the fight and for having these two as its top contenders. That is probably the best vacant title fight we'll see for some time. I also want to congratulate the promoters. Top Rank decided to feature this fight as a headline attraction and not bury it deeper on an undercard. They certainly could have. They had just signed Kholmatov and had no promotional piece of Ford. It's not like they had sunk a lot of time or money into either guy, but they believed in the fight and it delivered. 

Ford's promoter, Eddie Hearn, deserves a lot of credit as well. Ford was matched tough on his way up and didn't always look convincing, but Hearn stuck with him when perhaps others would have made a different choice. Ford has now become Matchroom's first U.S. world champion developed from scratch. 

And finally, let's congratulate Ford and Kholmatov. On another night Kholmatov certainly could have and would have been victorious. He displayed a terrific work rate, creative and unusual punches, and a surprising amount of athleticism and hand speed. I'm sure that he will have another opportunity for a title in the near future. But the ultimate victor was Ford, who just had a little more in his locker and all the intangibles one would want in a champion. He would not be denied. His determination and resolve led to an unforgettable night of boxing. When the chips were down and he was on his way to losing, he dug down deep and said, not tonight. It was example of boxing at its finest.    

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a contributing writer for Ring Magazine, a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook