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RIP Joe Rein; “I Will Wink At Some Homely Girl”

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“If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.” – HL Mencken, The Smart Set

Joe Rein, who died last week, was more than a colleague and friend to the many people who have been paying tribute to him. He was also a fine writer, a conduit to the golden era of boxing, and a mentor to many.

Joe, who was seventy-seven, was a product of the old world who found his footing in the new one. Under the name ‘John Garfield’, he was a prodigious poster to the East Side Boxing and Check Hook Boxing forums. At the time of writing, there are threads on both with hundreds of comments on. Those posting agree on the same things – he was a gentleman, a scholar, and a paragon of decency. Rein did not argue with people on those boards, he spoke with them. When he disagreed, he did not insult. And when he spoke, we listened.

Joe and I were friends through email correspondence. It was a relationship that began in 2006 when a piece I wrote for The Sweet Science caught his eye. Joe emailed me and we stayed in regular contact over the years, sending each other stories, articles, and videos that we found interesting, whether they were related to boxing or not. When Joe wrote for Fight Beat, he took me with him and he sang my praises to the bosses there. He was a friend.

Joe had many stories that he let out incrementally. Everyone who heard his stories must have thought he had led the most interesting life. To Joe, though, it was just life. He loved to reminisce and posted thousands of times on forums, talking about all the fighters and fights he had been privy to. He was not boastful, though; he understood boxing and he understood silence. But when he wrote about his adventures, you wanted to hear more.

Through and through, Joe was a boxing guy. He trained at Stillman’s Gym in the forties and fifties. In 2008, he was asked about Sonny Liston. He gave this story: “I worked out in different gyms with Liston at various times, but can’t say I got to know him. He was a force-field of menace. We passed each other using various equipment but he never acknowledged me or anyone. So, one incident stays in my mind. While Sonny was shadow-boxing in ring one at Stillman’s, I was sparring in ring two with a big, promising pro welter, Tony DeCola, who was tryin’ to make a war of it to show off for the gym rats. I was much shorter, and little more than a lightweight. We were mixin’ it up, and he got careless, and I dropped him with a short right. After the session was over, I went to do my floor exercises and skip rope. Liston motioned to another boxer to give me room – even shared the space to skip rope to ‘Night Train’ —so outta character. It was a real rite of passage for me.”

Another time, he spoke fondly of his father. “When I was in high school, we had an awards dinner for the football team, and I asked my dad to come. Afterwards, the parents mingled. My dad never met a black person. We were from a tight-knit German-Irish-Ukrainian section. The father of a black player extended his hand to him in greeting, introducing himself. My dad said, ‘Joe Louis was a great fighter.’”

Joe, a born New Yorker, went on to The University of Miami. While there, he trained and fought out of Angelo Dundee’s 5th Street Gym. After army service, he went to work for The Miami Herald. It was not a great start to a career. “I covered a simple story: a man named John Smith was forced to flee his apartment in the middle of the night because of a fire. Except the address I listed was a house of prostitution and it was a different John Smith, who spelled his name ‘Jon Smyth.’” Having been fired from The Miami Herald, he went back to New York and ended up in advertising. That industry would form the core of his later career.

Mad Men is really special to me,” Joe once said. “It’s spot-on when I started in advertising in New York – the clothes, the sex, the smoking, the drinking, the whole nine yards. They watered Mad Men down. I lived every moment of it, and know all the characters they’re based on. The voluptuous office manager on the show was, in fact, an assistant producer for me.”

“Back in the sixties,” he said another time, “I had a big commercials shoot in Paris and I was stuck with a team I hated. So, I retreated into chocolate, (my drug of choice), and believe it or not, I went from 147lbs to 250lbs in six months, which is not all the becoming if you’re stretching to be 5’8″. They wouldn’t let me back through Customs because I didn’t look like my passport.”

How many people have anecdotes like that?

Joe had had some health problems in recent years and our correspondence, once regular, had faltered. We last spoke in August. I emailed him to see how things were and told him what was happening in my life. When I first came into contact with Joe in 2006, I was young, single, and living in Tokyo; now I am older, married, have a child, and live in Berlin. I went from writing for fanzines and websites to the front pages of USA Today and The Washington Times. Joe was privy to these changes. He offered his support in everything I did. He was there in the good times and the bad. I will miss him.

Last night, I tried to think of what piece of Joe’s work that would encapsulate him. He was a fine writer but the piece I’ve chosen is ‘Eloquent Boxing Fan’. It is a video Joe made back in 2008. It is of a guy hitting a speed-bag and just talking about boxing.

No, Joe did not write it.

No, he did not perform it.

It is not even what Joe did best.

But it is what he did: he found ordinary people and he showed them they could shine.

So on Friday night, I will go into the city to find a cheap and friendly bar somewhere that is dark and scuffed around the edges, where the drinks and conversations flow, and there I will take stock of Joe Rein, forgive a sinner, and wink at some homely girl.

Rest in peace, Joe.

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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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