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Articles of 2010

CHASING JACK CHASE, Part 3: Unredeemed

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On Christmas Eve 1936, a 6’0 Olympic bronze medalist arrived in Denver to test the mettle of “Young Joe Louis and his puffed-up record. His name was Eddie Peirce and he was announced as the middleweight and light heavyweight champion of South Africa.

The fight would be Louis’s third in ten days and he wanted no rest. He was training almost obsessively -chopping wood to increase power and running seven or eight miles every morning on trails winding through the oak-lined hills and valleys of the Spanish Peaks. He seemed to be trying to counterbalance the secrets he kept by sheer commitment. If he kept winning, his lack of professional experience wouldn’t matter and his troubled past might be forgiven. His commitment was paying off. He won a few state and regional titles and defeated several top fighters around the old buffalo plains in a dazzling first year.

Spectators filtered through the doors of the Windsor Gym to watch his opponent train. They were impressed. Sure, Louis’s power caused George Black to stiffen up, in Reddy Gallagher’s words, “like a wooden Indian but he had such an easy time thus far in his career that questions still floated around him. Local fight fans couldn’t decide if he was the next big thing or a flash in the pan. The Denver Post asked and then answered the question “can Louis take it? Yes, he could, Gallagher predicted. All the same, he favored the white man to win their match.

If Gallagher was a betting man, he’d have done all right.

Louis had been told that New York had emissaries in the City Auditorium with lucrative offers waiting on the wings. He also knew that this Peirce was bigger, more experienced, and as worldly as he himself was a hick. Looking out from the ring at the biggest crowd he ever saw, Louis’s mouth must have gone dry. His skinny legs must have trembled just a little.

A contingent of his fans from Walsenburg was there. They told Gallagher that Louis covered up for the first couple of rounds and allowed Peirce to take over. Unlike any previous opponent, Peirce “wasn’t bothered at all by Young Joe’s unorthodox style. He simply stepped inside and countered while the younger fighter “fanned the breeze with missed shots. Louis lost the fight at close quarters, said Gallagher, and Peirce opened him up with body shots. In the third, he crashed three rights onto Louis’s chin –and Louis blinked, stood his ground, and kept right on punching. Louis tried to adapt by dancing around the ring behind a stabbing jab. It was not enough. He couldn’t keep him off. Peirce took eight of the ten rounds and handed the undefeated Coloradan his first defeat.

In the dressing room after the fight, Peirce rubbed his aching arms and shoulders and acknowledged that Louis was “a very good puncher. The question posed the day before was answered emphatically: Young Joe Louis could take it. Manager Mathews was neither surprised about his courage nor concerned about the loss. “He had to lose sometime, he remarked, “and I think it will do him a lot of good.

It didn’t. It was a disillusioned and less confident fighter that continued on. By the end of 1937, he had at least fifteen more fights in five states that included two decision losses and one by knockout.

And then it all went to hell.

Since his release from prison in December 1935, Isaiah Chase had formed new attachments but failed to disconnect old ones. On Friday night, January 7th 1938, he and a friend were in Colorado Springs breaking into the Alpine Dairy on South Nevada Avenue and stealing $5 in sales tax money. Next they hit the Kelsay Lumber Company and took a pinch bar, metal shears, and $1.21 in pennies. The pair was arrested the following night and charged with “burglary with force. The Colorado boxing commission announced that if convicted, Young Joe Louis would face the loss of his titles and permanent suspension.

Four days later he was convicted. The sentence was six-to-eight years and it came with a promise printed in the Colorado Springs Gazette. The judge perused his lengthy prior record and warned Chase that if he ever appeared in court again on a felony charge, he would not see freedom again until arthritis set it.

Once again the iron doors of prison slammed shut behind him.

Only now did Chase state his occupation as “Pro Boxer though he also said that he was 22 years old. He was actually 23.

After processing, he was escorted to an eight-by-nine cell. The walls never changed. Neither did the sounds –the clinking shackles and clanging doors; humming chatter between the narrow glance. The smell didn’t change either. His eyes would have scanned the scene for a familiar face and he soon found one in a diminutive bootblack-turned-thief by the name of Paul Bowers. Bowers was right there with him from crime to conviction. He was also part of the ring of thieves convicted of the boxcar burglaries five years earlier.

Chase had years ahead of him to stare at cinderblock. He’d lay on his cot and those pangs of regret he carried around all day would float up to the ceiling. During sleepless nights he’d keep time by the guard’s footsteps in the corridor and reflect on who he was, where he wanted to go, and where he could go. Stripped of his state titles, he’d be lucky if he wasn’t stripped of his boxing license as well. Then what?

Sometime during the week of January 16th, a solemn face over a uniform appeared at his cell door. Chase sat up and peered through bars. The voice he heard was subdued: “I’m sorry to inform you that your mother has passed away. The words fell on him. His concerns about titles and licenses turned to glass and shattered at his feet.

He was truly alone now.

Gone was the defiant, cold expression of the 19-year old in 1933. A mug shot taken towards the end of this sentence shows a man ill-at-ease, his eyes almost pleading for another chance. On May 27th 1941, he was released on parole with a state-issued five dollar bill in his pocket, a suit of clothes on his back, and a railroad ticket. He stepped outside those walls and breathed in that mountain air. Spring was in bloom. He would try again to find a glimmer of hope.

It was the Colorado Boxing Commission that gave him his first break. It turned out that they did not permanently suspend him because his boxing career soon resumed. Still campaigning as Young Joe Louis, Chase wasted no time. On June 30th, he was scheduled to face a white fellow Coloradan named Roy Gillespie at Denver. Like Chase, he lost his father early. Gillespie’s father died when he was a boy, and before he turned eighteen he took out a boxing license. He had a reputed 77 bouts under his belt.

Five men were knocked out in the preliminaries that Monday night in Mammoth Gardens. The Louis-Gillespie bout was upgraded to main event status due to a cancellation and it proved to be more brutal than anyone was prepared for. The balding twenty-five year old middleweight, who had bummed a ride to see his mother the day before, was knocked down in the first round. He went him down twice more in the second round for two counts of nine. Chase heard the crowd yelling “stop the fight! after he knocked Gillespie down the second time. Gillespie might have heard it too, because for the next three rounds he fought back hard and on even terms against the faster, lighter man. What happened next was examined and re-examined by the police. “Staggered by hard blows to the chin, the Post reported, Gillespie “collapsed on the ropes. The referee noticed his glazed eyes and stopped the action at about one minute into the sixth round. Chase helped the stricken fighter to his corner, where Gillespie lost consciousness and fell onto his stool. Two doctors examined him and called for an ambulance.

Sports editor Jack Carberry talked to Chase the next morning. “I, over many, many years in which a reporter’s job has carried me to countless scenes of tragedy, he wrote, “never met a boy whose sincere sorrow over what occurred, touched me more.

Gillespie spent Tuesday hovering near death in the Denver General Hospital. An operation was performed to remove a blood clot on his brain and his temperature climbed to 109 degrees. The winner of the match had since returned home to Walsenburg. Local police soon showed up at his door to take him into custody at the order of the investigating detective in Denver. Paroled only a month earlier, Chase was back behind bars.

The next afternoon at 12:10, only hours before Joe DiMaggio safely hit for his forty-fifth consecutive game and broke a sports record, Roy Gillespie died in a hospital bed.

Both events made front page news.

Chase was ordered transported from the Huerfano county jail back to Denver to stand before a coroner’s jury. “Young Joe Louis, wrote Carberry, “-and life’s breaks have been pretty much against him as of late –was in there doing his best to make a comeback –to earn a few dollars. A very few dollars I might add.

The day before the bout, Gillespie told his mother that he was promised $40 for the fight; that is, forty dollars less the manager’s cut of 40%, less the licensing fee of $5, and less $2 per second. That left his corpse with less than $20, which his mother hadn’t received as of Wednesday. Chase’s purse was about the same. He too had yet to receive it.

The city pathologist testified that the dead boxer had suffered a brain hemorrhage on some previous occasion, most likely in a boxing match. The victim, he said, probably suffered a temporary loss of vision and the loss of control of his arms or legs at that time but didn’t grasp the danger. No one else did either and he was cleared to fight.

Chase was exonerated and set free.

Undoubtedly, he was shaken by what he had done to Roy Gillespie. This experience changed him. When he reached his peak two years later, Chase was asked whether he liked to fight. His answer? “No.

After the tragedy, he may have started pulling his punches. He went on to win a decision and then dropped one to a man he had already beaten -a man who should never have beaten him. Did he have another identity crisis? He seemed ambivalent about using the Young Joe Louis moniker again and alternated between that and a variation of his given name. As 1941, a year of tragedies, closed, Isaiah Chase bid it good riddance. By the end of January he left Colorado for the Pacific Coast and began calling himself a name that he would use for the rest of his life -Jack Chase.

California was breeding and attracting some of the most dangerous fighters in the country during the early 1940s. Chase, who the now-deceased Reddy Gallagher quipped entered “a lion’s den when he fought Eddie Peirce, was headed into a war zone.

He went armed -not only with his fists, but with the determination of a man who had nothing else.

…..
Photograph courtesy of Colorado State Archives.

Springs Toledo can be contacted at scalinatella@hotmail.com.

Articles of 2010

Judah To Fight Mbuza March 5 In NJ

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Totowa, NJ – Kathy Duva, Main Events CEO, announced their promotional firm won the purse bid held at IBF headquarters in East Orange, NJ, Thursday. The bid was for the right to hold the IBF's junior welterweight title fight between Zab Judah of Brooklyn, NY and Las Vegas, and South Africa's Kaizer Mabuza.

IBF Championships Chairman, Lindsay Tucker explained, “It is a 50-50 split of the earnings between the two fighters. Kaizer is ranked No. 1 by the IBF, and Judah is No. 2. Where the fight will be held is up to the winning bidder.”

Judah (39-6, 26 KOs) is promoted by Main Events and his own firm Super Judah Promotions, and Branco Milenkovic, of South Africa, promotes Mabuza (23-6-3, 14 KOs).

Kathy Duva confirmed the fight will take place at Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, late February or early March this year as part of Main Events' Brick City Boxing Series.  (Saturday Update: the fight is March 5th, in NJ at the Pru Center. The bout will be part of a PPV card.)

“We are very happy that Zab has the opportunity to fight for the IBF Junior Welterweight title right here in New Jersey.  Winning this fight will put Zab right in the mix with the winner of Bradley-Alexander and Amir Khan.” Duva elaborated, ” Zab will work very hard to win this fight so that he will be one step closer to his ultimate goal of unifying all of the Junior Welterweight titles by the end of 2011!”

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Articles of 2010

UFC 125 Preview: Frankie Edgar Vs. Gray Maynard

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Few predicted Frankie Edgar would grab the UFC lightweight championship last year but he did. Most felt he would eventually win it but Edgar not only took the title, he beat one of the best mixed martial artists in history to do it.

Edgar (13-1) has emerged from the milieu of nondescript MMA fighters to become one of the more brilliant performers for Ultimate Fighting Championship. Next comes a rematch with Gray “The Bully” Maynard (11-0) tomorrow at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas. UFC 125 will be televised on pay-per-view.

All it took was not one, but two victories over BJ Penn.

If you’re not familiar with Penn, he’s one of the most versatile fighters in MMA history and had been nearly unbeatable in the 155-pound lightweight division. That is until he clashed with Edgar. Until he met New Jersey’s Edgar, the Hawaiian fighter chopped down lightweight opponents with ease. It was only the heavier welterweights he had problems against. Namely: Canada’s Georges St. Pierre.

Edgar showed poise, speed and grit in defeating Penn in back-to-back fights. The world took notice.

“You know, if I keep winning fights, the respect will come eventually,” said Edgar during a conference call.

Now Edgar will find out if he can avenge the only loss on his record.

“I just think I grew as a fighter. You know, mentally, you know, physically I, you know, possess differently skills, increased – you know, I think I boxed and got better, my Jiu-Jitsu got better and, you know, just have much more experience now,” Edgar says.

Maynard seeks to find out if Edgar has added any more fighting tools to his repertoire. Back in April 2008, the artillery shelled out was not enough to beat the Las Vegas fighter.

“It’s a perfect time. He had the chance and, you know, he took it and the time is now for me and I’m prepared,” said Maynard (11-0). “Any time you’re going up against the top in the world, you evolve and change and so I’m prepared for a new fight, so it will be good. I’m pumped for it.”

Though Maynard’s record indicates he is unbeaten that’s not entirely true. He did suffer a defeat to Nate Diaz during The Ultimate Fighter series and subsequently avenged that loss last January.

The UFC lightweight title is in Maynard’s bull’s eye.

“Looking to take the belt for sure,” said Maynard. “We’ll see on January 1.”

Edgar versus Maynard should be a good one.

Other bouts:

Nate Diaz (13-5) faces Dong Hyun Kim (13-0-1) in another welterweight tussle. Diaz is the only fighter with a win over Maynard. Anyone watching TUF remembers Maynard tapping out from a Diaz guillotine choke. The Modesto fighter has a tough fight against South Korea’s Kim.

Chris Leben (21-6) fights Brian Stann (9-3) in a middleweight fight. Leben is a veteran of MMA and if an opponent is not ready for a rough and tumble fight, well, that fighter is not going to win. Stann dropped down from light heavyweight and we’ll see if the cut in weight benefits the Marine.

Brandon Vera (11-5) meets Thiago Silva (14-2) in a light heavyweight match up. Vera is trying to rally back to the promising fighter he was tabbed several years back. Silva is a very tough customer and eager to crash the elite. A victory by either fighter could mean a ticket to the big time.

Clay Guida (27-8) versus Takanori Gomi (32-6) in a lightweight bout. Guida has become one of the most feared fighters without a title. No one has an easy time with the long-haired fighter. Gomi lost to Kenny Florian but knocked out Tyson Griffin. Can he survive Guida?

Marcus “The Irish Hand Grenade” Davis (22-8) clashes with Jeremy Stephens (18-6) in another lightweight fight. Davis is a go-for-broke kind of fighter and is looking to get back in the win column after a tumultuous battle with Nate Diaz last August. Stephens needs a win too. In his last bout he lost to Melvin Guillard.

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Articles of 2010

Borges Looks Back, And Forward With Hope

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As the end of another year approaches, there’s no need to invoke Charles Dickens to describe what went on in boxing. It was neither the best of times nor the worst of times. It was just too much time spent on The Fight That Never Took Place.

For the second straight year the sport could not deliver The Fight, the only one fans universally wanted and even casual fans craved – the mix between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao.  No one has to be singled out for blame for that failure because this time there’s plenty to go around on both sides. The larger issue is what does it say about a sport when it cannot deliver its top event?

What would the NFL be without the Super Bowl? Where would major league baseball be without the World Series? Golf without the Masters? College basketball without March Madness?

They would all be less than they could be and so it was with boxing this year. Having said that, the sport was not without its signature moments. It was not bereft of nights that left those of us with an abiding (and often unrequited) love for prize fighting with good reason to hope for the future.

Three times promoter Bob Arum took the sport into massive stadium venues just like the good (very) old days and each time boxing drew a far larger crowd than its many critics expected. Twice those fights involved the sport’s leading ambassador, Pacquiao, who brought in crowds of 40,000 to 50,000 fans into Cowboys Stadium against inferior opponents Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito. Imagine what he might have done had Mayweather been in the opposite corner?

While both fights were, as expected, lopsided affairs, they showcased the one boxer who has transcended his sport’s confining walls to become a cultural icon and world celebrity. Pacquiao alone put boxing (or at least one boxer) on the cover of TIME and into the pages of such varied publications as Esquire, GQ, The Wall Street Journal, the American Airlines in-flight magazine and even Atlantic Monthly.

As history has proven time and again, that is what happens when boxing has a compelling personality to sell it and Pacquiao is that. Mayweather is such a person as well,  but for different reasons.

The one night he appeared in a boxing ring, he set the year’s pay-per-view standard against Shane Mosley while also leaving a first hint of dark mystery when he was staggered by two stinging right hands in the second round.

Mayweather was momentarily in trouble for the first time in his career but the moment passed quickly and Mosley never had another. By the end he had been made to look old and futile, a faded athlete who’d had his chance and was unable to do anything with it. So it goes in this harsh sport when the sands are running out of the hour glass.

As always there were some surprising upsets, most notably Jason Litzau’s domination of an uninterested and out of shape Celestino Caballero and Sergio Martinez’s one-punch demolishment of Paul Williams. The latter was not so much an upset as it was a stunning reminder that when someone makes a mistake against a highly skilled opponent in this sport they don’t end up embarrassed. They end up unconscious.

SHOWTIME did all it could to further the future of the sport, offering up a continuation of its interminably long but still bold Super Six super middleweight tournament as well as the launching of a short form bantamweight tournament which already gave fans to two stirring and surprising finishes with Joseph Agbeko decisioning Jhonny Perez and Abner Mares upsetting Victor Darchinyan in a battle of contusions.

While the Super Six has had its problems – including several of the original six pulling out – it also lifted the profile of former Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward from nearly unknown to the cusp of universal recognized as the best super middleweight in the world this side of Lucian Bute. If Ward continues winning he’ll get to Bute soon enough because that’s why SHOWTIME signed a TV deal with the Canadian and America may get its next boxing star if Ward proves to be what I think he is – which is still underrated and underappreciated.

HBO and HBO pay-per-view put on 23 shows, few of them compelling and many of them paying big money to the wrong people while doing little or nothing to grow the sport that has helped make their network rich. But they did have the knockout of the year – Martinez’s second round destruction of Williams – and some fights in the lower weight classes that were left you wanting more.

Two new names popped up who are causing the kind of fan reaction that also gives us hope for 2011 – American Brandon Rios and Mexican Saul Alvarez. They are two of the sport’s brightest young prospects because each comes to the arena the old-fashioned way – carrying nothing but bad intentions.
Aggression and knockouts still sell boxing faster than anything else and each exhibited plenty of both this year and left fans wanting to see more. Alvarez is already a star in Mexico without having yet won a world title and Rios is the definition of “promise.’’ Whether the star will continue to shine and promise will be fulfilled may be answered next year and so we wait anxiously to find out.

Backed by Golden Boy Promotions, there is no reason 2011 shouldn’t be Alvarez’s year and if it is people will notice and remember him because he has a crowd-pleasing style that is all about what sells most.

That is what boxing needs more of – fresh faces and new stars… so as fans we should root for guys like Alvarez, Ward, Rios and young Brit Amir Khan, who is a star in England but still a question mark with a questionable chin but a fighter’s heart here in the U.S.

Those guys and others not yet as well known are the future of boxing, a sport that for too long has been recycling the likes of Mosley (as it will again in May for one last beating against Pacquiao in a fight that's a joke), Bernard Hopkins (who can still fight although it is unclear why he bothers or where it’s all headed), Roy Jones and, sadly, even 48-year-old Evander Holyfield, who continues to delude himself but not many other people into believing he will soon unify the heavyweight title again.
If fighters like Ward, Alvarez, Rios, Khan, WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto and middleweight king Sergio Martinez continue their rise they could be the antidote for the art of the retread that Arum and Golden Boy have been forcing fans to buy the past few years at the expense of what boxing needs most – fresh faces.

The heavyweight division, which many believe determines the relevancy of boxing to the larger world, remains a vast desert of disinterest here in the US. The Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, hold 75 per cent of the title belts but few peoples’ imaginations in the US, although to be fair they are European superstars and don’t really need U.S. cable TV money to thrive economically.

Each defended their titles twice this year, Vitali against lame competition (Albert Sosnowski and Shannon Briggs) and Wladimir against better fighters (Sam Peter and Eddie Chambers) but not competitive ones. Sadly, there is no American on the horizon to challenge them, a comment on the division and on our country, where the athletes who used to be Joe Louis or Muhammad Ali now opt for the easier and frankly safer road of the NFL or the NBA. Who can blame them considering all the nonsense a fighter has to go through to just make a living these days?

The one heavyweight match that would be compelling and might lift the sport up for at least a night would be either of the Klitschkos facing lippy WBA champion David Haye. The fast-talking Brit claims to not be ducking them but he’s had more maladies befall him after shouting from the rooftops how much he wants to challenge them that you have to wonder if Haye is simply a case of big hat no cattle syndrome.

For the sake of the sport, we should all be lighting candles each night in hopes our prayers will be answered and Haye will finally agree to meet one of them. It may not prove to be much of a fight but at least it will give us something to talk about for a few months.

Whatever Haye and the Klitschkos decide the fighter with the most upside at the moment however seems to be Sergio Martinez.  He has matinee idol looks, a big enough punch to put Paul Williams to sleep with one shot and a work ethic second to none. The Argentine fighter had a year for himself, starting with a drubbing of Kelly Pavlik followed by his demolishment of Williams. Those kinds of victories, coupled with his Oscar De La Hoya-like looks, are the type of things that if HBO or SHOWTIME would get behind him could allow Martinez to capture the attention of both fight fans and more casual ones.

In general, Hispanics fighters continued to dominate much of the sport’s front pages with Juan Manuel Marquez’s two victories in lightweight title fights leading that storyline. His war with Michael Katsidis is a strong candidate for Fight of the Year and his technical skill and calm demeanor make him the uncrowned challenger to Pacquiao. The two have unfinished business that should be settled this year if Arum stops standing in the way.

Two other fighters who gave us moments to remember in 2010 were Juan Manuel Lopez, who knocked out three solid opponents including highly respected Mexican warrior Rafael Marquez, and Giovani Segura, who won four times (that’s three years work for Mayweather) in 2010, all by knockout. Along the way, Segura defeated one of the great minimum weight fighters in history, slick Ivan Calderon, to win the belt on Aug. 28.

Lastly, boxing gave us another magical cinematic moment as well with the release of “The Fighter,’’ a film based on the life and hard times of junior welterweight scrapper Micky Ward. The film has won rave reviews and many awards and seems likely to have several of its actors nominated for Academy Awards, most notable Christian Bale for his sadly humorous portrayal of Ward’s troubled half brother, former fighter Dickie Ecklund.

Boxing has a long history of providing the framework for memorable movies and it did it again with “The Fighter,’’ a film that did more for boxing than any promoter did all year.

All in all, it wasn’t the best of years for boxing but it was a good year that picked up speed in the final months and, like that great golf shot you finally hit out of the rough on the 18th, left us with reasons to hope for a better year in 2011. If somehow it gives us Mayweather-Pacquiao, the emergence of Alvarez and Rios, the ascension of Martinez and Haye vs. the best available Klitschko in addition to the kind of solid performances that always come along, it could be a year to remember.

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