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Articles of 2006

Sergei Artemiev: Something To Live For

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Prior to my visiting with former lightweight prospect Sergei Artemiev at his apartment in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, New York, in early April, I expected to write a grim, cautionary tale of hopelessness, desperation and despair.

I was ringside at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City on March 21, 1993, when the heavily favored 24-year-old Artemiev, who had emigrated from his native Russia just three years before, was stopped in the tenth round of a 12-round fight for the vacant USBA lightweight title.

Artemiev was 18-1-1 (12 KOs) going into the bout, while his opponent, the 23-year-old Carl Griffith of Lorain, Ohio, was 25-2-2 (11 KOs). Had Artemiev beaten Griffith, which most people thought he would do, he was expected to get a title fight against WBC champion Miguel Angel Gonzalez three months later.

That would have been a dream come true for Artemiev, a native of St. Petersburg, Russia, who began boxing at the age of ten. As a member of the Soviet national amateur team, he, along with heavyweight Yuri Vaulin and cruiserweight Sergei Kobozev, was brought to the United States in 1990 by promoter Lou Falcigno.

The best that the lauded Russian amateur program had to offer, all were considered shoo-ins to win professional championships. Tommy Gallagher, who trained Artemiev and Vaulin, believed in all of them but considered Artemiev the cream of the crop.

“He can definitely be champ and make a fortune,” Gallagher told me a few days before the Griffith bout. “He’s so bright and has so much character. He’s a real pleasure to work with. I love him.”

“Sergei is special, a phenomenal athlete,” he continued. “I can’t see Griffith lasting five rounds. After him we go after [Oscar] De La Hoya and [Jorge] Paez and the money guys.”

By that time Artemiev had grossed about $70,000 fighting throughout the United States, in such cities as Phoenix, Philadelphia, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Miami Beach, San Diego, Reno, Auburn Hills, Michigan, Madison, Wisconsin, Butte, Montana, and Biloxi, Mississippi.

He hoped to earn enough money to someday retire with his wife Lina and newborn son Peter, whom he affectionately called Peter the Great, to Phoenix. He had fallen in love with Phoenix the second his plane hit the runway.

“It is so beautiful there and the oranges grow on trees,” he said then.

Just days later, all of Artemiev’s grand plans were derailed when Griffith stopped him after landing several furious combinations. Bleeding from a deep cut under his right eye, he had arisen at the count of five. But with the crowd of about 2,000 screaming “Stop the fight, ref, what’s the matter with you?” referee James Condon did just that.

Condon later said that he was more influenced by the spacey look in Artemiev’s eyes than in the admonitions of the crowd. At the time of the stoppage, Artemiev was ahead on one scorecard and behind on the two others.

While Griffith later shouted instructions to his brother Mike, who lost a six round decision to undefeated Sal Lopez, Artemiev, who was paid $10,000 for the night’s work, was rushed to the Atlantic City Medical Center. He immediately underwent a four-and-a-half-hour operation for a blood clot on the surface of his brain.

He lay in a coma, teetering between life and death for ten days. His condition was so grave that Russian television announced his death on numerous occasions.

While visiting with Artemiev in his cramped but efficient apartment, he showed me, as well as TSS videographer Chris Cassidy, the tapes to prove it.

One Russian broadcaster, who was standing at what looked like an upscale boat dock, began his report with the chilling words, “The Sad Story of Sergei Artemiev,” before announcing his untimely death in an American prizefighting ring.

“Two doctors said I would die and another said that if I lived I would be paralyzed,” Artemiev explained in his thickly accented but very articulate English. “But I have life. When I come out of coma, the first thing I remember is opening my eyes and the room—all white.”

At some point a photo was taken of him in his hospital bed with his son Peter, who was born three months earlier. Although Artemiev was smiling and looked somewhat alert, he still has no memory of that shot being taken.

In the months that followed, Artemiev endured grueling physical and mental rehabilitation. Insured for only $20,000, his medical bills topped out near $100,000. Much of his expenses were paid for, without fanfare, by promoter Bob Arum.

Since that fateful night, the fighter’s life has been an emotional rollercoaster. At first glance, the now 37-year-old Artemiev, who resembles boxer Tony Zale and actor Heath Ledger, looks and sounds fairly normal.

He is not far off of his fighting weight and, with the exception of a somewhat splattered nose, most of his facial features are intact. His hair covers a jagged scar along his scalp, where staple marks make all too clear the surgery that he underwent. His slate blue eyes are clear and animated.

But as you spend more time with him you can’t help but notice that he always seems to be leaning towards his right. The reason, he says, is because he has no peripheral vision on that side. To prove his point, he extends his arm and points his finger at me. He moves his arm slowly to the right until he says it is out of his line of vision. If his arm was the hand on a clock, it would be at about the 12:02 mark.

When engaged in a conversation, Artemiev constantly interrupts the discourse until he is finished making his point. It has nothing to do with him being arrogant or wanting to hear himself talk.

You can tell by his subtle facial gesticulations that he is following his train of thought. Any interruption in that thought process will make it difficult for him to remember where he was in the conversation. Polite – almost to a fault – he apologizes incessantly for this practice.

On a daily basis Artemiev studies a Russian/English dictionary. He is not just interested in learning new words; he feels it is necessary to keep his mind active enough to help offset inevitable deterioration from the trauma incurred in the Griffith bout.

I pick up the dictionary, open it to a random page, and begin asking him the definitions of words with a check next to them. Every time he commits a new word to memory, he says he checks it off.

 There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such words checked off, and he quickly tells me the definition of all that I ask him about.

He also memorizes poems and keeps a daily ledger in a large calendar. Written neatly and tightly in the calendar are all of his activities from the past, as well reminders of those planned for the future. He says the calendar is like a lifeline for him, and he refers to it countless times during an ordinary day.

“This is very important for me to do,” he said. “Even if I’m tired, I force myself to keep my brain active.”

He also derives great joy from thinking about and talking about Peter the Great, whose mother, with whom Artemiev came to America from Russia, lives nearby with her second husband.

Peter is enrolled in a Texas military school, where he plays on the school’s football team and also has competed in Muay Thai, a particularly brutal form of martial arts. While Artemiev does not encourage his son to be a fighter, he does not strongly discourage it either.

“I would rather him play hockey,” he said. “I joke with him that he is too skinny to be a boxer, the same thing people say to me when I his age.”

He sees Peter several times a year, but says he is never far from his thoughts. “I speak to him in pictures and dreams,” said Artemiev. “He is always here with me.”

Because Artemiev feels as if he was reborn after emerging from the coma, he says that in his mind he is only 13 years old or three months younger than his son. “I had to learn everything again,” he said. “I was born left-handed, but fought right-handed. When I come out of hospital, I was left-handed again.”

It is obvious that son Peter adores his father, and views him more as a dad than as a friend. Three years ago, when Russian television did a story on Sergei, he was asked to show the Universal Boxing Title belt that Joe Frazier had bestowed upon him at a stirring  ceremony at the Taj Mahal.

His son, who came along on the interview, insisted the belt was his while his father kept reminding him that it was not.

“I hug him and kiss him for that,” said Artemiev. “The belt means a lot to me, so I’m glad it means so much to my son. It is the dream of any sportsman. A hockey player dreams of winning Stanley Cup. A boxer dreams of winning belt.”

Artemiev is a very emotional man who is secure enough in his manhood to wear those emotions on his sleeve. He says, for example, that he gets “shivers” whenever he thinks of a phone call that he received from Griffith.

“One time, in low voice, he call and say he sorry for what happened to me,” said Artemiev, who insists that in the days leading up to their fight he had a fever and was also experiencing insomnia. “He said the first three rounds he felt my strong punches. The fourth round, so-so, the fifth round my punches soft, and since seventh round he felt nothing. He said I hope you forgive me.”

Artemiev not only forgives Griffith, he wishes that he had become a world champion and saw his own dreams come true. In Griffith’s only world title bout – against WBO lightweight champion De La Hoya – he was stopped in three rounds in 1994.

It is obvious that Artemiev does not seek sanctuary by viewing himself as a victim. As easy as that might be for him, it is not in his nature. Moreover, he is more of a giver than a taker. That was clearly in evidence in the days after my interview with him, when called several times to make sure I mentioned all of the people who have treated him right.

He praised public relations guru Gina Andriolo as a “beautiful, kind human being” for establishing a fund to help offset his expenses, as well as slew of other people.

They include Gena and Easia, the owners of a Coney Island sauna and bathhouse; Sasha Tarelkin, who acted as his translator for many years; Mark Rachman and sisters Sofa and Fira, as well as Yuri Usbensky and Simon Maklin, all of whom run the National restaurant and International Foods, where he buys his groceries; and a big thanks to Rafail Gorodeski.

He also cannot express enough gratitude to Dr. Pheiffer and two other physicians who saved his life, as well as the nursing staff who were always there during his arduous recovery. He is also eternally grateful to Dr. Michael Gordeev, a dentist who implanted five false teeth for free.

He got especially emotional when he took out a large bag containing hundreds of cards and letters that he received from well-wishers the world over. They began coming in within days of his injury. All were from perfect strangers. He was most touched by the $5 that was sent by a 10-year-old boy.

As easy as it is to view Artemiev’s situation as tragic and heartbreaking, he steadfastly refuses to go that route himself. Moreover, there is no inkling that he is unaware or the least bit deluded by his situation. Artemiev clearly knows the capacities he once had, and can compare them to the ones he has now.

A fighter by nature, he refuses to do anything but make the best of a bad situation. He admits to sometimes getting depressed, but says that he is glad to be alive.

His former stable mate, Kobozev, who was trained by Teddy Atlas, won the USBA cruiserweight title but was murdered by Russian mobsters. And Vaulin was dismissed by Gallagher as “a quitter” after being stopped by Tommy Morrison in a fight he was clearly winning on the undercard of Evander Holyfield’s April 1991 title defense against George Foreman.

“I’m alive and I have a son,” said Artemiev. “I used to cry about my damage, and that I not fight again. Sometimes I get angry. I’m not rich. I don’t have a million in my account. But I’m alive, thinking and hoping, and I believe in God. As long as I have life, I have something to live for.”

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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