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Articles of 2006

Joe Liebling’s Sweet Science

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One of the most famous observations written about this sport and the connection between its practitioners and their forefathers first appeared in 1956 in the introduction of a book of collected essays on then-modern day pugilism: “The sweet science is joined onto the past like a man’s arm is to his shoulder.” This observation, completely accurate, applies to boxing writers as well who, like the keenest genealogist, trace their inspirations and influences. The writer who influenced and still influences me most is Thomas Hauser whose Brutal Artistry I first read about four years ago. Since then, I’ve read, printed and kept every article of his that has appeared on the Seconds Out website. Indeed, it has been a source of pride to me that my first writing about boxing appeared on the same website as Mr Hauser. Brutal Artistry was not the first book about boxing I ever read, however, as that honor, dubious or otherwise, should be directed towards Geoffrey Beattie’s On the Ropes which I believe is the greatest book ever written about the world that boxing exists in and the gutter that it cannot crawl out of. But Hauser is not only a better writer of boxing than Beattie, he is more prolific, so it is from him that I received my education in the literature of the sport, having been led from him to Hugh McIlvanney and McIlvanney on Boxing, Donald McRae’s Dark Trade, Joyce Carol Oates’s On Boxing and David Remnick’s King of the World among others. The best modern boxing writing now is on the web and I am glad to now be part of that at www.thesweetscience.com.

And eventually in my education I came to Abbott Joseph ‘Joe’ Liebling and The Sweet Science, the introduction of which I have purloined for the opening of this piece. Liebling is the grandfather in the family tree of the twentieth-century boxing writer, the man who brought literary method to what was perceived as hack writing, a subject unworthy of serious merit. In short, he brought elegance to a brutal art and demonstrated that it was form, not subject that distinguished literature from mere copy.

A.J. Liebling was born in 1904 to an aspiring middle-class family in Manhattan. His parents were Jewish but any trace of Yiddish heritage or ancestry was phased quickly from the home. A European sensibility and outlook was quickly engendered in the young Liebling from the procession of German employees that would mark and influence the course of his progression from an obsessed child who sat on his father’s lap reading newspapers to a man, forty years later, critiquing the same.

Liebling’s family may have been Austrian-American but his family were firmly allied with the ethic of the latter. His father, a poor immigrant from Austria had made his money as a furrier and married into a well-off family. While the Lieblings lived the American Dream, they looked back to the old European world and European culture, creating a division in their scion that drew him toward the modern urban landscape of Jazz Age America, in particular New York, yet gave him a European (particularly French) predilection for fine writing, fine culture and, especially, fine food.

As a teenager, Liebling was no athlete; rather, he was the adolescent who while no good at sports could write better and more convincingly about them than anybody else.

In 1920, he went to Dartmouth College from which he was soon expelled from being absent for one religious service too many. That was the reason that became part of the Liebling legend, anyway; the truth of Liebling being booted may have been more mundane – possibly skipping the classes that he hated. Liebling was a great writer but never a wholly truthful one, illustrated by his later occasional quotations of words never spoken so it’s more than possibly, probably likely, that the chapel story was a fabrication. He transferred to the School of Journalism at the University of Columbia, hated it there was well and spent his time there studying the language of France and translating its erotica.

After Columbia, he worked briefly for the Evening World in Providence, Rhode Island in the paper’s sports department before being fired for naming “Ignoto” (Italian for “unknown”) as the referee in a series of basketball games. He was beginning work for another paper, The Journal, again in Providence, when his father stepped in with an offer of a year’s financed study at the Sorbonne in Paris.

Paris, which became a homecoming for the young man, was a city that meshed firmly with Liebling’s European outlook and sensibility although he remained a firm native of New York until his dying day. In the French capital, he began to indulge in his greatest passion – food, which was to both enrich his life, forming a lot of his writing, and ultimately shorten it. France, particularly Paris, was the centre of the world’s culture in the mid-1920s. The Lost Generation, headed haphazardly by Hemingway and Fitzgerald had recently made their home there following the Great War. The city, it seemed was an isle of forward thinking in a world that had recently flung itself into Hell; a place where the greatest literary innovators of the twentieth century both recoiled and recovered from the lunacy of 1914-8 while at the same time sought to understand the ills that had brought it about.

Liebling returned in 1927 and began writing for the same Journal he had left fifteen months earlier. He wanted to write for the Joseph Pulitzer’s World and began campaigning for a spot on the prestigious “writer’s” paper which culminated in the him hiring an unemployed sailor to parade outside the World offices with the words Hire Joe Liebling painted on a sandwich board. The concept, meant to impress the city editor James Barrett, did little to move its intended target towards offering employment with the paper; however another editor took note of some of the work Liebling had sent in and offered him the chance of becoming a freelance features writer.

Liebling stayed at the World for eight years, leaving in 1935 to join The New Yorker, where he stayed for the rest of his life, a period of twenty-eight years. He sparred professionally across the pages and in real life with Joseph Mitchell, his friend and close colleague from the World who had joined The New Yorker in 1938. They explored the world of New York together, poles apart in personality and craft but both firm dwellers of the Big Apple, forever approaching the city with European outlooks.

In 1939, he was sent back to Europe by his editor Harold Ross to cover the war. The New Yorker’s French correspondent had been unable to work because of a family crisis; Liebling stepped in, probably motivated by a desire to be present at the liberation of his favorite city after New York. During his brief time as a war correspondent, he accompanied the Allies to Paris, Algeria and Tunisia. As France was liberated, he rode through the streets of Paris, simultaneously rejoicing and taking notes. In hindsight, his writings of the time were predictably titled The Road Back to Paris when later collected in book form. Liebling had returned to Paris, and Paris had returned to itself. All was well, and even better later on when the French Government bestowed the Cross of the L?gion d’honneur on Liebling for his wartime reporting.

The Sweet Science was originally published in 1956, although Liebling had been writing about boxing since the early 1930s and the particular essays that make up this volume first began appearing in The New Yorker from 1951. Liebling didn’t invent the titular term – that honour goes to his hero, his own forebear, Pierce Egan of Boxiana fame – but he popularised it. For Liebling, boxing was exactly that – a science of feints and twists, bluffs and power, instinct and wisdom; a viewpoint that explains why he was drawn to Archie Moore, the then-light-heavyweight champion of the world and boxing’s old master. Moore is not the only fighter that Liebling chronicles: Marciano, Patterson and Robinson are also significant figures. The smaller fighters aren’t ignored either as Liebling chronicles their fights in pieces such as “Other Fronts.”

The writing is, for want of a better word, astounding; the literary equivalent of the feeling of being blanketed in warm silk. Liebling elevates the sport and its practitioners by not translating their lives as an overarching grand narrative, but by describing them as they go about the day-to-day business of big fights and the preparing for them. At the same time, he deftly makes accurate and concise observations about aspects of the sport.

The Sweet Science has its faults. Liebling was a man and writer of his time, and the language of his work reflects that. A lot of the language concerned with ethnic variation raises a judder in the shoulder when read fifty years on. But Liebling was not a racist – his politics were orientated to the left as he railed against HUAC and supported Alger Hiss. But the language used is the language of 1956, and the vocabulary in the book reflects that. What is more troubling however is Liebling’s denial of pugilistica dementia, the medical condition that’s known more generally known as “punch-drunk” syndrome. Bizarrely, Liebling attempts to disprove its existence by using Ernest Hemingway as an example of an intellect unaffected by blows to the head. But Hemingway was not a career boxer and apparently the likes of Billy Fox never entered Liebling’s orbit. Maybe he would have relented in this view later on if he had ever seen the results apparent in Jerry and Mike Quarry, Wilfred Benitez or Jack Dempsey. Even Joe Louis, the greatest of the greats, couldn’t escape the inevitable mental fog resultant of his profession.

Norman Mailer, an uncritical acolyte of Muhammad Ali, a writer described by Mark Kram in Ghosts of Manila as a ‘tough guy manqué,’ said of Liebling that “When it came to fighters, [he] did have a New Yorker attitude which was fatal,” and made him only able to see his subjects from the outside, unable to relate to them as people rather than characters. But, Mailer it seems is missing the point – The Sweet Science is not about boxers but about boxing. Liebling isn’t concerned with fighters as people, but rather as cogs of the machinery that makes the fight game. His writings on pugilism are the work of what Allen Barra called “… the greatest boxing writer for people who didn’t go to fights.”

The Sweet Science is unquestionably a product of and about its time. The period Liebling covers has, for better and worse, disappeared, changed almost beyond recognition. The business of boxing is no longer controlled solely by the grizzled and tough world-weary managers that populate the volume as the balance of power has now shifted and it is largely boxers, particularly the successful ones, and promoters who have the power in the fight game. And where the managers of 1956 ran a stable of fighters, now it is the fighters who include managers and trainers as part of their stable. The importance of the live gate in large events has also diminished, if not rendered entirely extinct, by the onset of pay-per-view and world championships are often claimed by four or more champions rather than one. Boxing, along with everything else, has changed since 1956.

But the writing remains, if not compelling, then exquisitely crafted. Hack journalists and people who call themselves “writers” can churn out copy, but not many stand the test of time like Liebling and The Sweet Science. It’s why a generation of journalists grew up worshipping Liebling, it’s why any serious writer expounding on boxing possesses and reads The Sweet Science and its sister volume A Neutral Corner and it’s why Sports Illustrated voted The Sweet Science the “Greatest Sports Book of All Time” in 2002.

As for Liebling, he spent his final years before his death in 1963 in relatively happy times. He married for a third time 1959 to the writer Jean Stafford after failed marriages to Anne McGinn, a schizophrenic, in 1936 and Lucille Spectorsky in 1949. In the same year, he began work on a series of columns which became The Earl of Louisiana, his political masterpiece that was published in book form in 1961, closely followed by Between Meals, another masterpiece, this time a memoir of food and France.

He died two years later at the age of fifty-nine, an early death brought on by a lifetime of gluttonous consumption. Heart and liver ailments plagued him, exacerbated by his obesity. He writing output, once prodigious, had begun to fade by this time. He died thinking of France.

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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