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Articles of 2006

Gene Tunney: Boxing's Most Unique Champion

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I tell you that the day is coming when the champions of the roped arena will be intellectual as well as physical giants. They will have the bodies of a Jeffries and the minds of an Edison or a Maxim or a Lombroso.* They will be as proud of their bulging brows as of their chest measurements.”

— Former heavyweight champion James J. Corbett, January 27, 1913

Gene Tunney was 15 years old and just getting his feet wet in the ring when Gentleman Jim made that mind-boggling prediction, but certainly no other boxer has come closer to fulfilling it than the well-read, articulate and intelligent Tunney, who took the heavyweight title from Jack Dempsey in 1926 and successfully defended it twice before retiring to a life of ease and corporate success.

But rather than being revered for the qualities hymned by Corbett, Tunney was mocked as a highfaluting stuffed-shirt more at home in the ivory tower he constructed for himself than on the throne of Sullivan. Beating Dempsey, the emblem of the Roaring ‘20s, made it worse. When Tunney retired on July 31, 1928, sportswriter Ed Frayne probably spoke for most of the boxing cognoscenti when he bid a snide farewell to the man he called “pugilism’s strangest character.”

“The most unique heavyweight champion ever” is how Jack Cavanaugh prefers to put it. Cavanaugh is the author of Tunney: Boxing’s Brainiest Champ and His Upset of the Great Jack Dempsey (496 pages, $27.95), published earlier this month and simultaneously nominated for the Pulitzer Prize by Random House. The book has been garnering impressive reviews, and Cavanaugh recently took time out from grading the papers of students in the English classes he teaches at Fairfield University to talk about Tunney and what he learned about him in the three years he spent researching and writing the unauthorized biography of the champion he considers boxing’s “forgotten man.”

“Everybody remembers Dempsey, but not the guy who beat him,” he said.

Cavanaugh lives in Wilton, Connecticut. He was born and grew up in nearby Stamford, where he learned to box at the Boys’ Club. Cavanaugh read The Ring magazine, idolized Joe Louis, and says that on many nights the voice of Don Dunphy calling fights on the radio “would literally lull me to sleep.”

In the 1970s and ‘80s, Cavanaugh covered many major bouts, including Ali-Frazier I, for Reuters news agency and the New York Times. But he was just starting out on that road in the early ‘60s when, as he rode the commuter train to New York City from Stamford one morning, the well-dressed man sitting next to him suddenly turned and remarked on the unkempt condition of the railroad car they occupied.

“Oh my God,” realized Cavanaugh upon taking a gander at his seatmate. “This is Gene Tunney!”

“He was in his middle-to-late 60s, ruddy, with a tinge of gray in his hair. After a couple minutes discussing the bad condition of the car, I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to waste time on that.’” And, with some trepidation, Cavanaugh steered his conversation with the “mythical, mystical figure nobody ever saw” (Tunney lived on a 200-acre estate in North Stamford, and “was not the kind of guy you were going to run in to at the mall”) to the subject of the former champion’s boxing career.

“I’d heard about his bad relationship with the media,” Cavanaugh said. “They all thought he was a literary phony, always talking about reading books. Once, when he was fighting, Tunney held a press conference and he put a copy of Somerset Maugham’s novel, ‘On Human Bondage,’ on the table where everybody could see it.”

To his great surprise and delight, though, Tunney talked openly and candidly on the one-hour ride to Grand Central Station. Among other things, “He conceded that he could’ve handled it better with the media. ‘I shouldn’t have lashed out,’ he said. ‘I made it worse. I would’ve liked to have been more respected, but it was my own fault.’”

In fact, Cavanaugh says, Tunney was no intellectual poseur. The son of Irish immigrants who dropped out of high school, Tunney “wanted to be different,” in the ring and out of it. “He read voraciously, and was actually close friends with (authors) George Bernard Shaw, Thornton Wilder and Maugham. They came to visit him.”

In April, 1928, while Tunney was heavyweight champion, he was invited to Yale University to talk about William Shakespeare to an English lit class. He arrived expecting an audience of about 40 students, but the crowd was 10 times that. He spoke knowledgeably about Shakespeare for an hour, Cavanaugh said, and the next day the New York Times ran a 1000-word piece about the event on its front page.

By and by, says Cavanaugh, legendary sportswriters like Ring Lardner, Damon Runyan and Paul Gallico – who Tunney, with his penchant for using a $5 word when a $1 word would do, called his “derogators” – the kind of affectation that helped make them that –“realized they had it all wrong.”

Fight historians and fans who derogate “The Fighting Marine’s” boxing achievements are equally off-base, he says. Cavanaugh’s personal ranking of the top heavyweight champs puts his old hero Louis in the top spot, followed in order by Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali, Tunney and then Dempsey.

Tunney started boxing around the age of 10, when his father gave him a pair of gloves and told him to learn how to use them because bullies were always picking on the slim youngster whose habit even then of carrying books around made him an inviting target. At the CYO, Tunney started sparring with other kids and quickly realized that he had a natural talent for boxing. But even after he won the American Expeditionary Force light heavyweight title as a Marine in World War I, Tunney only turned to boxing for a living as a civilian because he couldn’t get back his old job with a New York steamship company.

(Before his military service, Tunney engaged in several pro fights strictly for the money, according to Cavanaugh. The record books say he won them all, but according to Ted Jamieson, who lost to Tunney in the AEF finals in France in 1918, Tunney later told him that “in his early days he met with several knockout defeats. Gene then was a fighter, but his visits to the resin for 10 seconds made him change his style and he took to scientific boxing.”)

After the war the wins piled up, but because he was “strictly a boxer in a milieu where you’re supposed to be able to punch,” Cavanaugh said, Tunney didn’t get much notice by the press, even in his hometown of New York City, then with 12 daily newspapers. When he went to his manager, Doc Bagley, to complain about the lack of media interest, Bagley informed him that the standard operating procedure was to pay sportswriters under the table for their professional attention. Promoter Tex Rickard did it, and so did other boxing managers. “Tunney very reluctantly went along with that,” Cavanaugh said.

Beating Battling Levinsky for the American light heavyweight title on January 13, 1922, earned Tunney respect, and then came Harry Greb. “He thought he could take Greb,” said Cavanaugh, “but you couldn’t be prepared for Greb because you didn’t know what he was going to do. He’d hit you leaping in the air.”

Greb won the 15-round decision, the badly punished Tunney fired Bagley for making the match, and a year later, with the well-connected Billy Gibson holding the managerial reins, he evened the score against Greb. They fought twice more, with Tunney the winner.

No other fighter ever studied his opponents as thoroughly and intensely as did Tunney, according to Cavanaugh. Nobody gave him a chance against Dempsey in their September 23, 1926 title fight, but Tunney had watched Dempsey in person and on film, and “early on he saw that Dempsey was vulnerable to a quick right to the jaw.” When the bell rang at Sesquicentennial Stadium, Tunney went right out and hit him with one. “Tunney was always convinced that that won the fight for him,” said Cavanaugh.

One year and a day later came the “Battle of the Long Count” in Chicago, when Dempsey floored Tunney in round seven. Tunney got up and won the decision, but the debate about how long Gene was on the deck has raged ever since. Till the day he died at age 81, Tunney maintained he would have made it up well before referee Dave Barry reached ‘10’ even if Barry had started counting before Dempsey headed for a neutral corner. Cavanaugh sees no reason to doubt that. “He was dazed at first, but Tunney was never lying flat out on the canvas. He had an arm draped over a rope, and seemed to know what was going on.”

Promoter Tex Rickard wanted a third fight, and Tunney was willing, according to Cavanaugh. “But Dempsey wanted no part of Tunney” in the ring again. “He had plenty of money, and he knew he couldn’t beat this guy.”

After stopping Tom Heeney, Tunney retired at the behest of his wife, heiress Polly Lauder. “She was terrified he’d get hurt,” said Cavanaugh, who calls their marriage “one of the great love stories of the ‘20s.” The former champion had little to do with boxing after that. “She had him hanging around with her kind of people,” Cavanaugh said. “That’s kind of what he aspired to. He didn’t like hanging around with the fight crowd, to say the least. He’d rather talk about the latest books, politics, and was fascinated with business. He’d always had an eye out for what to do after he retired. He met some wealthy businessmen, and they led him into the business world.”

Eventually, Tunney would sit on 12 boards of directors, and become CEO of two companies. Competitors who figured the former heavyweight champion for a lightweight in the boardroom ended up as stunned as Dempsey had in the ring. “They found him a very shrewd negotiator and businessman,” Cavanaugh says. “When he went into business, he read everything he felt he should know, and was as well-prepared as he had been for his fights.”

Cavanaugh was particularly touched learning about the friendship between Tunney and Dempsey that deepened as they entered middle and old age. “They saw each other more. Tunney would go to Dempsey’s restaurant with his wife. There was a very close bond between them.” When Tunney’s son, John, ran for Congress in California in 1964, “just like his dad against Dempsey, he was a very prohibitive underdog,” Cavanaugh said. That changed when Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney appeared together at Tunney campaign rallies, speaking and showing film footage of their fights.

“To this day, John Tunney thinks that may have won him election to Congress,” Cavanaugh said. (From 1970-76, Tunney represented California in the U.S. Senate.)

Tunney’s death in 1978 devastated his old foe, Cavanaugh says. “It was the loss of a very good friend.”

Not much of a boxing fan anymore thanks to the multitude of champions, junior champions, interim champions and in-between weight classes, Jack Cavanaugh says the sport today more than ever could use a Gene Tunney, bulging brow and all.

“He was reviled in his day, but with his good looks and intelligence he’d be on the cover of Time and Sports Illustrated. They’d love him.”

And it probably wouldn’t even require a bribe to make it happen.

* The references are to famous inventor Thomas Edison; Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim (not Joey), who invented the first machine gun and the mousetrap; and Cesare Lombroso, father of modern criminology. (For the record, I had to “Google” Maxim and Lombroso. Gene Tunney I am not.)

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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