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Articles of 2006

Tami Mauriello’s Heart of Gold

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I first saw the classic film “On the Waterfront” more than 30 years ago. To this day, it is my favorite movie of all time. Because I enjoyed it so much, I learned all I could about its production as well everyone who appeared in it.

That is when my interest was piqued in the career of former heavyweight title challenger Tami Mauriello of the Bronx, New York. He had a small but integral role as a union hood named Tullio in the film, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1954.

Also appearing in the film as Mauriello’s cohorts were Abe Simon and “Two Ton” Tony Galento. All three had fought Joe Louis for the heavyweight title.

Mauriello had long been considered Frank Sinatra’s favorite fighter. He also unsuccessfully challenged Gus Lesnevich for a version of the light heavyweight title when he was all of 17 years old, and he even floored Louis in the first round before more than 38,000 fans at Yankee Stadium before the Brown Bomber turned the tables and stopped him in the very same round.

Campaigning from 1939-49, Mauriello compiled an enviable record of 82-13-1 (60 KOs). Besides Louis and Lesnevich, the latter of whom he fought four times, he squared off against such notables as Jimmy Bivins and Lou Nova, each of whom he fought twice,  Steve Belloise, and Cesar Brion.

The only time I met Mauriello was at a boxing show in White Plains, New York, in 1992. While he had a steady and welcoming smile, he also had an unsteady gait. At first I thought he was drunk, but it soon became obvious that he was afflicted with dementia.

When he passed away on December 3, 1999, there was barely a mention in any of the local newspapers. To my surprise, I came across an In Memoriam notice, replete with a photo of him in fighting pose, in the New York Daily News on the day after the sixth anniversary of his death. It read (verbatim):

Mauriello, Tami (Stephen) 5/24/23-12/3/99. Miss you, Tami. So young, you were aged 13 Stephen when you started to fight professionally, then they had to call you Tami. You were pushed Dad, that was wrong, such a fragile age Stephen for mind and body, to be a pro gladiator. 1945 and again 1946, Tami, you were ranked number 1 heavy weight in the world, with Joe Louis Champion. September 18, 1946 you showed tremendous heart, courage, sensation, losing to Joe Louis for the championship of the world. I know Dad, any problems such as hangers on, compulsive gambling, anger problems, marital problems with beautiful Lucille, are due to the day Stephen became Tami. All is forgiven, Tami, also your sister, aunt Marie, loves you very much. Your son, Ronnie and Judy, grandchildren Carolyn and Rebecca, and great-grandchild Rachele.

I was blown away. Within minutes I was on the Internet, trying to obtain a phone number for Mauriello’s son. No such luck.

The next day I called the Daily News and had them reach out to Ronnie for me. They called back and told me that he wasn’t interested in talking to the press. I was disappointed, but not deterred.

Fate soon intervened. Several weeks later a friend named Art Perry, a retired NYPD detective who competed in the New York City Golden Gloves for several years in the early sixties, met Mauriello’s niece, Roseanne, at a doctor’s office where she was employed as a nurse.

When he noticed her name, he asked if she was related to the famous fighter. The connection was made. Within a day or two I was on the phone with her. She had nothing but fond memories of her uncle, but suggested that I speak with her aunt Marie to learn more about him. She was one of only two surviving siblings in a brood of nine children.

“My brother was a beautiful, beautiful man,” said Marie Internicola, a widow who still resides in the Bronx. “I took care of him when he divorced after 43 years of marriage. He came back to live in the Bronx.

“At first I thought he was just slowing down,” she continued. “I took him to a specialist who took care of the brain. He said he had pugilistica dementia. He said it wasn’t bad now, but it was gradually getting worse. The only thing he remembered was gambling. He loved horses and was always at the racetrack. Gambling ruined him.”

Before the dementia set in, Marie described her brother as being happy and go-lucky by nature. “He was loved by everyone,” she said. “He had a magnificent heart. Anyone who had a problem would go to him. He was there for everyone. He never turned his back. He avoided big shots and loved little people, common people.”

One person who Mauriello impressed long after his boxing career was over was noted boxing historian Mike Silver. Back in sixties, the youthful and naïve Silver wandered into a Queens night spot where Tito Puente was performing. Already a maniacal boxing fan, Silver was star-struck when he saw Mauriello working security inside.

“I got so excited and kept saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re Tami Mauriello,’” laughed Silver. “He was very gracious, very cordial. Finally he said, ‘Kid, I don’t think you want to hang out here. This isn’t the place for you.’ I think he realized that I was out of my element in this place, if you know what I mean.”

Asked how Mauriello would have fared in today’s moribund heavyweight division, Silver was unequivocal in his response. “Was Tami a great fighter?” he asked. “Of course not! But the fighter who nearly upended Joe Louis would have wreaked havoc among today’s alphabet belt soup holders. If he were fighting today, Tami would be a heavyweight champion.”

One place that Mauriello was never out of his element was in the ring. His father had died when he was very young, so he fell in with a neighborhood mentor named Lefty Rimini. Rimini realized what a gifted athlete Mauriello was and encouraged him to box.  To say that Mauriello was a quick study would be an understatement.

“Everything came so natural to him,” said Marie. “My mother didn’t like him boxing, but he did it anyway. Tami won a gold watch in his first tournament. He took the watch to my mother, who was in Fordham Hospital where she died of kidney trouble. After that Tami broke the watch into little pieces and threw it away.”

A few years later, Mauriello, whose birth name was Stephen, forever became known as Tami. “He went to fight in the Golden Gloves in Cuba,” said Marie. “He was only 14 years old, but had to be 17 to compete. He took my brother Tami’s (Thomas) birth certificate so he could fight. After that, it was like we renamed him Tami. Nobody ever called him Stephen again.”

With both parents dead, Marie put her life on hold to become a surrogate mother to her brothers and sisters. Although she wasn’t thrilled with Tami fighting, she couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement he generated, especially when he squared off at Madison Square Garden or at the scores of now defunct Bronx venues that included the New York Coliseum, Starlight Park, and the Bronx Arena.

“Every fight was a big event,” she said. “Wherever he fought in New York, it was big. Celebrities loved him. Everyone loved my brother. When he fought Joe Louis—the screaming—it was just unbelievable.”

When Mauriello knocked Louis down with his vaunted right hand, Marie thought she was in the midst of an earthquake. To this day Marie believes that the referee pushed her brother aside to give Louis more time to recuperate.

Although it is nothing but a hunch on her part, she thinks the referee might have had a bet on the champion.

“My brother wasn’t bitter,” she said. “After the fight he went to a restaurant he had called Tami’s Corner. He stayed late and broke down and cried.”

But, she adds, even if the referee was involved in any chicanery, she thinks he might have inadvertently did her brother a favor. “The end result might have been the same, but my brother would have taken a worse beating,” she said. “He might have been hurt worse.”

Even after the high-profile loss, Mauriello’s popularity didn’t wane. Marie says that Sinatra was in her apartment on many occasions, and he was even expected to show at her wedding. While Sinatra didn’t make it, Jimmy Durante, Rocky Graziano, and several other celebrities from the sporting and entertainment communities did.

Mauriello’s friendship with Graziano was so deep, the former middleweight champion didn’t forget his friend even when gripped by his own case of dementia.

“Rocky was having his own problems, but three months before he died he took a chauffeured limo to the Bronx to see Tami. He showed him the hat that Tami had given him many years before. Tami had that effect on people.”

If not for his gambling and the scores of residual problems associated with it, Mauriello might have had a wonderful life. He had a great wife and two beautiful children and after he stopped fighting he worked for many years at Grumman, the Long Island-based defense contractor.

Although he made good money, every dime was spent on gambling. “I pleaded with him to give up gambling,” said Marie. “We would fight all the time over it. I would ask him if he had his life to do over again would he avoid the gambling. He’d say he would do it again.”

In his final years, Mauriello had some questionable characters hanging around him. With his mind going quickly, he didn’t seem to realize their less than honorable intentions. But Marie did so she spoke to his mailman about not leaving her brother’s pension and Social Security checks in his box. She changed the locks on his apartment on more than one occasion.

When things worsened, Marie wanted to transform her dining room into a bedroom for her beloved brother. Her doctor warned her that because of his size, she would not be able to handle him. “You’ll die before him trying to care for him,” he insisted.

With no alternatives, she made the heart-wrenching decision to place him in a nursing home. By then his mind was all but gone. Still, after much prodding she accepted an invitation to bring him to the Ring 8, Veteran Boxers Association’s annual Christmas party a few years before he died.

“Tami didn’t realize anything,” she recalled tearfully. “Everyone was hugging and kissing him, but he didn’t recognize anyone. I told everyone that I was glad they all saw him.”

When Tony Mazzarella, the proprietor of the Waterfront Crab House in Long Island City – where the event was held – asked her to speak, she could not believe the words that flowed so freely from her mouth – and her heart.

“I warned all those fighters about what might happen to them,” she said. “I told them if you don’t put money away, you won’t have money in the end. I told them to look at my brother, and said that all came from boxing. I told them to take care of their families, take care of themselves, and put money away.”

Marie is not sure if she reached anyone, but she hopes that she did. In her mind, she said what had to be said. It’s been six long years since her brother’s passing. She thinks of him, as well as her other family members, often. But it is Tami who commands most of her attention.

For a man who gave so much, he got so little. She knows that he was his own worst enemy, but that doesn’t make her love him any less.

“My brother was a tall, handsome man,” she said. “He was always dressed so well and always so nice to everyone. When I think of him, I don’t think of a fighter and I don’t think of a gambler. I think of a wonderful brother who would do anything for anyone. He had a heart of gold. I miss him so much.”

Articles of 2006

Peter/Toney Ii: Peter Has The Brutal Punch

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Samuel Peter claims he has dynamites in my two hands?

Heavyweight contenders Samuel “The Nigerian Nightmare” Peter and James Lights Out? Toney get it on a second time this Saturday from the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Fla. (Showtime).

The hard-slugging Peter, unlike Toney, is one of those strong, silent types notorious for letting their fists to the talking one the opening bell sounds, but the Nigeria Nightmare is as confident as ever and determined to turn Lights Out’s lights out for good.

I have got dynamites in my two hands,? said Peter, according the Lagos, Nigeria Vanguard, and I will crush James Toney once and for all. The Toney camp made the mistake of their lives by protesting and seeking a rematch. I am ready to teach him a bitter lesson.?

Sam Peter walked away with the W for Peter/Toney I at the Staples Center in LA last September, but it was by disputed split decision a verdict so disputed, there was even a dispute about the dispute which forced the WBC’s hand into mandating Saturday’s rematch.

Samuel Peter is the biggest thing to hit African boxing since Ghanaian superstar Azumah Nelson rocked the feather and junior welterweight divisions. The President of the Nigeria Boxing Board of Control, Prince Olaide Adeboye, admitted, according to allAfrica.com, We are rooting for Samuel Peter, of course. He is one boy we believe in to bring back the country’s lost glory in professional boxing. I am personally making arrangement to be at the ringside to see him fight Toney again. I was at the first fight in Los Angeles in September.

Peter has the brutal punch, and to me he was the clear winner of the first fight. But the WBC Board of Governors, of which I am a member, voted 21-10 for a rematch. There was nothing those of us Africans on the board could do in the circumstances. But I believe Peter will confirm he is better than Toney and will then go ahead to meet the champion and claim the belt for Nigeria and Africa.?

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Articles of 2006

The Sweet Science P4P Rankings for Asia

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There are claims that boxing is dying. Hogwash. The heavyweight division isn’t the only division in boxing and 2007 promises to be a banner year in boxing; especially for boxers hailing from Asia.

While Asia isn’t Vegas or Atlantic City, it is a region packed of diamonds in the rough; undiscovered gems and potential superstars who wait for their moment in the sun.

The Sweet Science P4P Rankings – Asia

1) Manny Pacquiao – There’s no way to dispute Pacquiao is the best fighter in Asia, if not all of boxing. He’s exciting, he wins with Je Ne Sais Quois and is definitely “the man” in boxing.

2) Pongsaklek Wonjongkam – Although his competition leaves much to be desired, his longevity and skills are undeniable. He is currently Thailand’s only world champion and is undefeated in ten years. Need I say more?

3) Chris John – A victory over Juan Manuel Marquez, however controversial, shows he belongs at the top of the heap. He easily outpointed Renan Acosta to close out 2006 and should have no trouble defending against Jose Rojas in February. A fight with Pacquiao would not be a good move on his part but a rematch with Marquez would not hurt – especially if he defeats the Mexican again.

4) Hozumi Hasegawa – Hidden away in Japan, Hasegawa is a sharp punching southpaw who put former champion Veeraphol Sahaprom to sleep. He recently bested Genaro Garcia and his herky-jerky style will give fits to any one who steps in the ring with him.

5) Masomori Tokuyama – Tokuyama has never shied away from a good fight and although he only fought once in 2006 (UD12 Jose Navarro), he ledger shows wins over Katsushige Kawashima (twice), Gerry Penalosa (twice) and In Jin Chi (twice). A fight with Hozumi Hasegawa is a distinct possibility in 2007.

6) Nobuo Nashiro – With only seven fights under his belt he took on WBA champion Martin Castillo – and defeated him. Although he’s only fought a total of nine fights, nearly all have been against quality opposition. A victory in a rematch with Castillo would cement his claim as the king of the 115-pound division.

7) Yukata Niida – This light-hitting minimumweight defended his title twice in 2006, winning a technical decision against unbeaten Eriberto Gejon (Tech Win 10) and the other on points over Ronald Barrera (W 12). Scheduled to meet Katsunari Takayama early next year – the best has yet to come for this WBA belt holder.

8) In Jin Chi – Won back the title he lost to Takashi Koshimoto in January from Rudolfo Lopez. While there’s little uncertainty to his skills, at thirty-three, 2007 may provide some insight as to just how much he has left.

9) Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai –Sor Nonthachai is an exciting, top-shelf fighter with an iron chin. Has no trouble making mincemeat of mid-level opposition and deserves a title shot in 2007. Time is running out.

10) Rey Bautista – He’s young, relatively inexperienced in big-time boxing, but will continue to shine in 2007. One of the better prospects in boxing, he should snag a title in 2007.

Asian Fighters Ranked in Ring Magazine

Pound for Pound:

Manny Pacquiao (Philippines): #2

Jr. Lightweight

Manny Pacquiao (Philippines): #1
Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai: #9

Featherweight

Chris John (Indonesia) #1
In Jin Chi (Korea) #3
Takashi Koshimoto (Japan) #5
Hioyuki Enoki (Japan) #7

Jr. Featherweight

Somsak Sithchatchawal (Thailand) #4

Bantamweight

Hozumi Hasegawa (Japan) #2
Veeraphol Sahaprom (Japan) #3
Ratanachai Sor Vorapin (Thailand) #6
Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym (Thailand) #10

Jr. Bantamweight

Nobuo Nashiro (Japan) #1
Katsushige Kawashima (Japan) #7
Pramuansak Phosuwan (Thailand) #10

Flyweight

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (Thailand) #1
Takefumi Sakata (Japan) #7
Daisuke Naito (Japan) #10

Jr. Flyweight

Koki Kameda (Japan) #1

Minimumweight

Yukata Naiida (Japan) #2
Eagle Kyowa (Japan/Thai) #4
Katsunari Takayama (Japan) #5
Rodel Mayol (Philippines) #7

Boxing in Thailand

There’s no shortage of boxers in Thailand. With a huge pool of Muay Thai fighters to draw from and several talented amateur boxing prospects turning pro after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Thailand seems destined to remain a boxing powerhouse in Asia.

The country is known for having tough, determined and disciplined fighters who give their all whenever the step in to the ring. However, consistently losing while fighting abroad and padding their records with no-hopers has done nothing to enhance their reputation.

Whether because of a lack of marketability, a lack of funds or their unwillingness to travel abroad, the vast majority of boxers from Thailand remain a mystery to fans in the west. If anything though, the boxing scene involving Thai fighters will be active. In fact, it’s one of the most active in the world; since 2000, the number of fights has nearly doubled in the country.

The Sweet Science P4P Rankings – Thailand – August 2006

1) Pongsaklek Wonjongkam
2) Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym
3) Somsak Sithchatchawal
4) Wandee Singwancha
5) Sirimongkol Singwancha
6) Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai
7) Veeraphol Sahaprom
8) Pramuansak Phosuwan
9) Terdsak Jandaeng
10) Oleydong Sithamerchai

Current Sweet Science P4P Rankings – Thailand

1) Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (Flyweight) – Definitely the top dog in Thailand

2) Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai (Super Lightweight) – He’s a seasoned fighter who has proven himself in the big-time. He’s one Thai who can fight outside of Asia. He has an abundance of skills and one-punch power. His overall ability and ease in dispatching anyone other than championship caliber get him the runners-up spot.

3) Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym (Super Bantamweight) – After losing to Vladimir Sidorenko he’s bounced back. He’s young, he can punch, but the former interim champion needs to prove himself against a name fighter.

4) Somsak Sithchatchawal (Super Bantamweight) – Was his win over Monshipour a fluke or was Celestino Caballero just that good? Did Sithchatchawal catch Monshipour at the right time and can he rebound from the devastating loss? The jury is still out.

5) Wandee Singwancha (Flyweight) – He doesn’t have much of a punch which will be his downfall in the end. He can box, as was evidenced in his recent victory over Juanito Rubillar, but this won’t be enough. He can no longer make the Jr. Flyweight limit and with no punch he’ll have a hard time competing against the “big boys.” Although he’s now rated second by the WBC, he doesn’t deserve to be.

5) Sirimongkol Singwancha (Super Lightweight) – Get this guy a fight. He’s better than Jose Armando Santa Cruz and would have beat up Inada had the fight taken place. He’ll fight anyone but his biggest obstacle is staying motivated fighting tomato cans in Thailand. Like many Thais, he needs a fight against a name opponent.
6) Wandee Singwancha (Flyweight) – He doesn’t have much of a punch which will be his downfall in the end. He can box, as was evidenced in his recent victory over Juanito Rubillar, but this won’t be enough. He can no longer make the Jr. Flyweight limit and with no punch he’ll have a hard time competing against the “big boys.” Although he’s now rated second by the WBC, he doesn’t deserve to be.

7) Pramuansak Phosuwan (Super Flyweight) – A genuine tough guy. Always calm and focused no matter how heated the battle. But at thirty-eight, he’ll be in trouble should he fight one of the division’s elite.
8) Veeraphol Sahaprom (Bantamweight) – Will be lucky to get another crack at the title. Although he has a puncher’s chance of winning a belt, that’s about all he has left at this point. A third shot at Hasegawa is unlikely.

9) Oleydong Sithamerchai (Minimumweight) – He’s fought better than the usual opponents faced by Thais at his level and he moves up one spot with the departure of Terdsak Jandaeng. He lacks the punch and is in the wrong division to become a superstar. He’ll need to defeat a name opponent to convince me.

10) Saenghiran Lookbanyai / Napapol Kittisakchokchai (Super Bantamweight) – These two square-off in early March, supposedly to see who deserves a shot at Israel Vasquez. Kittisakchokchai has the edge in experience but some feel Lookbanyai has the edge in heart and is the favorite.

Neither has defeated a top twenty fighter and yet are ranked number one and two respectively in the WBC’s world.

In Kittisakchokchoi’s lone shot at the big-time, he was TKO’d in 10 by Oscar Larios. His dreadful performance against Larios and lack of quality opposition leads me to believe Saenghiran might have more of a shot at beating him than some suspect. Regardless, neither of them lasts longer than six rounds with Israel Vasquez.

Honorable Mention: Wethya Sakmuangklang, Denkaosan Kaovichit, Devid Lookmahanak, Nethra Sasiprapa, Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo, Pornsawan Kratingdaenggym

Thai Fighters Ranked in Ring Magazine

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam: #1 Flyweight
Pramuansak Phosuwan: #10 Jr. Bantamweight
Veeraphol Sahaprom: #3 Bantamweight
Ratanachai Sor Vorapin: #6 Bantamweight
Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym: #10 Bantamweight
Somsak Sithchatchawal: #3 Jr. Featherweight
Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai: #9 Lightweight

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Articles of 2006

Iceman Stops Tito Ortiz Win Streak

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LAS VEGAS—UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck “Iceman” Liddell’s fists proved too much for Huntington Beach’s Tito Ortiz who was stopped in the third round before a sold out crowd at the MGM Garden Arena on Saturday.

The punching machine Liddell (20-3, 13 KOs) repeated his victory in UFC 66 over the much-improved grappler Ortiz who has improved his punching and blocking. Ortiz was trying to avenge his loss of April 2004.

Despite all the new weapons displayed by Ortiz it wasn’t enough as Liddell pummeled the former champion and retained his title with a technical knockout at 3:59 of the third round. Referee Mario Yamasaki stopped the bout.

“This was the most satisfying victory of my career,” said Liddell, 36, of Santa Barbara. “Tito came back real tough.”

Ortiz (15-5, 8 KOs), a former wrestler, worked on his boxing technique knowing he would need it against the former boxer Liddell. But Liddell’s experience allowed him to find the right moment to pounce on Ortiz.

“I had him hurt, I just kept throwing punches,” said Liddell who also knocked down Ortiz in the first round with a left hook.

Ortiz was gracious in defeat.

“Chuck is the best fighter Pound for Pound in the (mixed martial arts) world,” said Ortiz, 31, who suffered a gash on the side of his left eye from a punch. “I’m disgusted by myself. I let my fans down.”

Other bouts

Underdog Keith Jardine (12-3-1) knocked out Forrest Griffin (13-4) at 4:41 of the first round in their light heavyweight showdown. A right uppercut followed by a left hook wobbled Griffin who was sent to the floor by a barrage of punches. On the ground Jardine landed right after right until referee John McCarthy stopped the fight for a technical knockout.

“I couldn’t believe he was hurt,” said Jardine about Griffin who is known for his resiliency. “I was so nervous coming into this fight, but now I know I belong here.”

Canada’s Jason McDonald (18-7) choked out Chris Leben (15-3) in a middleweight bout that was up for grabs. Though Leben seemed to control the fight with stunning left hands, once the fight went to the ground McDonald managed a chokehold at 4:03 of the second round. Referee Steve Mazagatti saw Leben was unconscious and stopped the fight.

Former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski (12-5) caught Brazil’s Mario Cruz (2-2) with a sneak right hand while both were tangled on the ground. Then the Belarusian pummeled Cruz until referee Herb Dean stopped the fight at 3:15 of the first round.

Third season winner of the Ultimate Fighter television reality season Michael Bisping (12-0) of Great Britain won by technical knockout over Eric Shafer (9-2-2) at 4:29 of the first round. A knee knocked Shafer groggy then Bisping knocked him to the ground and pounded him. Referee Mario Yamasaki stopped the bludgeoning.

Thiago Alves (16-4) caught Peru’s Tony De Souza (15-5) with a knee as he attempted to dive for his legs in a welterweight contest. After that it was pretty much over as Alves pummeled De Souza at 1:10 of the second round forcing referee John McCarthy to halt the bout.

Gabriel Gonzago (7-1) proved too strong for Carmelo Marrero (6-1) in a heavyweight bout. At 3:22 of the first round Gonzago of Massachusetts manipulated his way into arm bar forcing Pennsylvania’s Marrero to tap out.

Japan’s Yushin Okami (19-3) pounded Georgia’s Rory Singer (11-6) into submission at 4:03 of the third round of a middleweight bout. Okami seemed the more-rounded fighter with effective kicks to the head and more accurate punching.

Christian Wellisch (8-2) jumped to a quick start with an accurate left hook that rattled Australia’s Anthony Perosh (5-3) in a heavyweight bout. During the first round it seemed the Sacramento fighter might end the fight but the Aussie hung tough. Wellisch won by unanimous decision.

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