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When Boxing Was THE New Year’s Day Event

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College football is the one and only sport that will be on people’s minds as we ring in the New Year. January 1st will feature six games starting with the Gator Bowl at noon and ending with the Fiesta Bowl at 8:30 pm. Only a fool would schedule a boxing card on New Year’s Day.

That wasn’t always the case though. The Rose Bowl is known as “The Granddaddy of Them All” because it is college football’s first bowl game. When it was first played in 1902, twelve fight cards were held in cities ranging from Boston to Rampart, Alaska. The year was not an anomaly either. For the first half of the 20th Century, boxing matches were held all over the United States on New Year’s Day.

Until the establishment of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) in 1998, a college bowl game pitting a No. 1-ranked team against a No. 2-ranked team was an exciting rarity. Boxing was no different. Numerous hall-of-famers, including Jack Dempsey, Harry Greb, Sam Langford, Tiger Flowers, Battling Levinsky, Gene Tunney and Dick Tiger, fought on New Year’s Day, but there were very few title bouts.

The most high-profile fights occurred in the first decade of the 1900s. On January 1, 1903, Joe Gans defended his lightweight title against Gus Gardner at a casino in New Britain, Connecticut. It was the second of three fights Gans had with the Philadelphia journeyman and the only championship bout between the two. As in the other two bouts, Gans had an easy time handling Gardner, who repeatedly clinched the “Old Master” at every opportunity. In the 11th round, Gardner went too far by grabbing Gans around the waist and throwing him to the canvas. Referee John Willis disqualified Gardner and ended the match.

Gans defended his title again on New Year’s Day in 1907. This time his opponent was the more formidable Kid Herman, a contender who had fought a 20-round draw with Abe Attell only six months earlier.

The lightweight’s funny telegram exchanges with mother in Baltimore had become a source of entertainment to fans. When he fought Battling Nelson in September of 1906, his mom coined a now-famous phrase when she told him by telegram to “bring home the bacon.” After winning by disqualification in the 42nd round, he wired back and said that he not only had the bacon, but the gravy as well. Before the Herman bout, Gans sent her a check for $6,000 and she responded with a telegram that said, “Thanks; keep stepping, Joe.”

The two fought in an outdoor arena in Tonopah, Nevada. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and about 3,000 spectators huddled together to watch Gans and Herman battle in the frigid cold. In the first round, Gans simply studied his opponent, but in the second began hitting him at will. Gans was battering his opponent so easily at the end of third round when he did not hear the bell and struck Herman on the neck after it rang. The crowd booed and Gans turned to apologize to the crowd. He then went to Herman’s corner and explained that it was an accident. The crowd quickly went from booing to cheering.

The fight continued to be a one-sided affair. In the eighth round, Gans finished it by putting Herman in the corner and then dropping him with a shot to the jaw.

Boxing’s grandest New Year’s Day bout came the next year, when Attell and Owen Moran fought for the featherweight title. Attell was the world champion, while Moran held the British title, making the fight a match for international dominance.

To say that neither fighter had the grace or class of Gans is an understatement. Attell, the future bagman in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, was the inventor of the corkscrew punch, a technique of slightly turning your glove when landing a punch. The result would be cuts that could potentially lead to a fight stoppage. Moran was also known for being exceptionally bullish in the ring.

“The rougher the better,” said Attell before the bout. “I will go any way Moran may choose. All styles look alike to me in the ring.”

When Moran showed up 2 ounces over the 120-pound weight limit, Attell was not as easygoing. He demanded that Moran forfeit $1,500. The two compromised with Moran agreeing to give $250 of his purse to Attell.

The 25-round fight was held in Coffroth’s Arena in Colma, California. Moran and Attell battered each other for all of them, but neither connected with a knockout blow. Former heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries, who was refereeing the bout and had final say on the decision, called the bout a draw. The majority of the 7,000 spectators in attendance applauded with approval. Moran and Attell fought again for the title nine months in a bout that also resulted in a draw.

By the 1940s, there were five college bowl games and the number of prizefights began to dwindle. By 1960, there were eight and New Year’s Day bouts in the United States virtually disappeared.

No sport controls one holiday like college football does New Year’s Day. Boxing is the only sport that has even come remotely close.

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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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