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Carl “The Truth” Williams Was A Study in Contradictions

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-Carl Williams So little actual time elapsed. So many memorable quotes uttered.

Boxing can be funny that way. Sometimes, so many say so much about so little. Gary Cooper “strong, silent types” are a rare commodity in a sport where bragging about what you expect to do (beforehand) or what you might have done (after you fail to do it) is common. Now or then, everyone has a detailed explanation – or an excuse – for what we all saw with our own eyes. Some of what is said is even a little bit believable, if not the absolute truth.

The announcement of former heavyweight contender Carl “The Truth” Williams’ death at 53 on April 7, after a prolonged battle with esophageal cancer, reminded me of the taunt-filled prelude to, and defiant aftermath, of Williams’ first-round technical knockout by undisputed champion Mike Tyson on July 21, 1989, in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. It also is a reminder that what seemingly is apparent to all can really be nothing more than an illusion.

Controversy? Yeah, well, maybe some, particularly if you were of the opinion that the 6-foot-4 Williams, with an imposing 14-inch reach advantage, might have survived Iron Mike’s furious early onslaught, found his rhythm and employed that telephone-pole of a jab to overcome the 12-1 odds against him and pull off a monumental upset.

Williams, in fact, had already landed several stiff jabs before he threw one that missed. Tyson ducked underneath it and surged upward with a left hook that caught the challenger flush on the jaw. Williams went down in a heap, the back of his head bouncing off the bottom strand of the ropes.

Three hundred an ninety days earlier, in the very same arena, Michael Spinks had gone down with a thud after being tagged with another Tyson first-round missile. Some observers thought Spinks might have beaten the count that night, but elected not to try. After being run over by a truck, you don’t whistle for the driver to back up and do it again.

To his credit, Williams struggled to his feet at the count of seven. But referee Randy Neumann, not liking what he saw in Williams’ seemingly unfocused eyes, waved the fight off only 93 seconds after the opening bell.

Williams, whose previous claim to fame had come in giving then-champion Larry Holmes all he could handle in losing a close, 15-round unanimous decision on May 20, 1985, in Reno, Nev., claimed in the postfight press conference that he had been the victim of a premature stoppage.

“I’ve been down before, got up and rose to the occasion,” Williams said, noting that he had been floored a total of seven times in bouts with James “Quick” Tillis, Jesse Ferguson and Mike Weaver, but had managed to come away with victories over Tillis and Ferguson. “(Neumann) said to put up my hands. I put up my hands. He asked me if I was all right. I said, `Sure.’ What was there, a one-knockdown rule? This is a heavyweight championship fight. I should get the benefit of the doubt.”

Neumann, who had been a promising heavyweight prospect in his own right in the early 1970s, having mixed it up with Jerry Quarry, Jimmy Young, Duane Bobick and Chuck Wepner (three times), had a different take.

“I asked him, `Are you all right?’” Neumann said of his attempt to ascertain Williams’ fitness to continue. “The first time I asked him there was no response and his eyes looked rather blank. I asked him a second time. Again, no response. I stopped the fight. The man clearly was concussed. He couldn’t answer a very simple question verbally, and his eyes told me a story that he was not in good shape.”

Williams’ veteran trainer, Carmen Graziano, opined that Neumann had pulled the plug on his guy too quickly because the snarling guy standing in the neutral corner, ready to charge out and fire more haymakers, was a monster puncher everyone then considered to be what he claimed to be, namely the baddest man on the planet.

“When Mike Tyson knocks somebody down,” Graziano conceded, “some referees are more inclined to stop a fight just because he’s Mike Tyson.”

Whether or not Williams could have weathered that early storm seemed a moot point to the 11,112 spectators and a phalanx of media members who were totally buying into the notion that the 23-year-old Tyson was as close to unbeatable as it ever gets in boxing. And, I have to admit, I also was a passenger on that crowded bandwagon. My report in the Philadelphia Daily News suggested that what had happened to Spinks and Williams was going to happen over and over, possibly for a good many more years.

Considering that Tyson … continues to cut down contenders like a scythe in tall grass, his reign might last into the 21st century. Although there is no shortage of heavyweights who would volunteer – for a substantial fee, of course – to be beaten up by Tyson, the man who is capable of ending his reign might not even be a man yet. He might be in grade school somewhere, taking his classmates’ lunch money.

Williams’ complaints, as might be expected, merely served as backdrop to Tyson’s chest-thumping, which, in retrospect, would seem to have been eerily prophetic. Noting that Evander Holyfield had knocked out a world-rated Brazilian heavyweight, Adilson Rodrigues, in the second round just six day earlier in Lake Tahoe, Nev., Tyson dismissed Holyfield as another prospective victim whose fate would be no different than the one just suffered by Williams.

“Yeah, he can come get some,” Tyson said of Holyfield. “I’m sure he would find it very stimulating. I would love to fight Holyfield. Right now. Today. Tonight. In the ring, out of the ring.

“Let’s get it on. If he thinks he can beat me, we can go down in the cellar. The one who comes back with the key is the champion.”

The prevailing sentiment was that, in the ring or down in the cellar, Tyson held the key and wasn’t going to hand it over to anyone until he was damn good and ready. But Tyson also said something during his time at the podium that was even more telling.

“No man is invincible,” he said, in what many of us thought was a half-hearted and unconvincing attempt at humility. “One day I won’t be champion. One day somebody will beat me, or else I’ll retire. Then you guys (reporters) will have a lot to write. But you’re going to have to live with the way I am until that day happens.”

That day, as it turned out, was a lot closer than anyone could have anticipated. In Tyson’s very next bout, 311 days after he disassembled Williams, he himself was taken apart by an apparent no-chance challenger whose attributes were not unlike those of “The Truth.” And when a 42-1 longshot named Buster Douglas shocked the world on Feb. 11, 1990, in Tokyo, knocking out Tyson in 10 rounds, what had transpired in the Tyson-Williams fight took on a completely different perspective.

Had so many of us been wrong in our assessment of the Tyson that had been on display until his denouement in Japan? When Tyson finally did go down into that cellar with Holyfield, admittedly eight years after it probably should have happened, it was Holyfield who twice came up with the key.

Maybe the young Tyson was never as indestructible as his legion of backers had convinced themselves he was. Maybe he would have been all that and more, had not his consumptive lifestyle robbed him of much of what had made him so very special. And maybe, had Douglas fought him in Atlantic City on July 21, 1989, and Williams had been his opponent on Feb. 11, 1990, in Tokyo, Douglas would now be a footnote to history and Williams would be the celebrated first conqueror of Godzilla.

Randy Gordon, the former editor of The Ring and former chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission, fondly remembered Williams when asked to comment on his passing by boxing writer Lyle Fitzsimmons.

“To me he was a fighter who came along at the wrong time – right between Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson,” Gordon said. “I have no doubt that if Williams were fighting today he’d be the one guy capable of upsetting the Klitschko brothers and certainly capable of teaching the rest of the division how a heavyweight should use the jab.”

There probably is at least a scintilla of justification for Gordon’s praise of “The Truth,” who retired in October 1997 with a 30-10 record that included 21 wins inside the distance. It’s conceivable everything all have turned out differently for him in a different time or under different circumstances. But the record is what the record is, and speculation and conjecture can’t change it.

Williams does take to the grave those 15 heroic rounds against Holmes, and a minute or so against Tyson when he at least attempted to give as good as he got.

“I have great admiration for him,” Tyson said after his TKO victory. “That’s how you should fight when you fight for the heavyweight championship of the world. You should try to take it. Don’t run around the ring and pitty-pat for it.”

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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