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A Return To Hazzard-ous Duty in Atlantic City

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They say that what goes around, comes around. Sometimes it does, but very often it doesn’t. In the case of Larry Hazzard Sr., the once and now future head of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, his roundabout journey from summarily dismissed leader of one of America’s most influential boxing commissions to his former executive position was a circuitous journey that took nearly seven years.

Although there is some paperwork that must be completed before his re-appointment becomes official, the 69-year-old Hazzard – a 2010 inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame – is expected to be sworn in on Sept. 22, and he will be at ringside in his once-customary seat for the Nov. 8 light heavyweight unification matchup of IBF/WBA champion Bernard Hopkins (55-6-2, 32 KOs) and WBO titlist Sergey Kovalev (25-0-1, 23 KOs) in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. It will be a homecoming that is enthusiastically endorsed by Hopkins, who was among Hazzard’s staunchest defenders after the high-profile, hands-on commissioner got the boot from New Jersey’s then-attorney general, Anne Milgram, on Nov. 14, 2007. After attending the funeral of his 41-year-old nephew, Hazzard returned to his office in the state capital of Trenton where he was unexpectedly informed that his “services were no longer required.” He was obliged to hurriedly gather his personal effects and was escorted from the building by security personnel.

In an open letter Hopkins sent to various New Jersey governmental agencies and media outlets throughout the state, Hopkins wrote that he was “shocked and appalled” by the firing of Hazzard for no apparent cause and without due process. “We were doing just fine with Larry Hazzard as a leader in our sport,” B-Hop continued.

Jimmy Binns, the former executive counsel for the WBA and a onetime commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, served as Hazzard’s attorney in his subsequent lawsuit against Milgram, in which he sought reinstatement of his $115,000-a-year job, back pay and punitive damages for being exposed to “public disgrace.”

Although Hazzard declined comment on his return to the position he had held for nearly 22 years until he is sworn in by Gov. Chris Christie, Binns joined Hopkins in offering the opinion that a significant wrong has finally be righted.

“The whole thing was a disgrace,” Binns said not only of Hazzard’s dismissal, but the manner in which it was carried out. “It was bad when that little girl (an obvious reference to Milgram) did it. She didn’t know anything about boxing, that was clear, but I guess she felt she had to exercise her political muscle.”

And now?

“Karma is a strange thing,” noted Binns, who added that he found out about Hazzard’s impending re-appointment during a Wednesday night dinner with Hopkins. “I texted Larry and told him I was so elated for him. He texted me back and he said that Gov. Christie had offered him his old job and he wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

Hazzard replaces Aaron M. Davis, who will be reassigned to an undisclosed advisory role within New Jersey’s Department of Law and Public Safety, of which the Athletic Control Board is a division.

At a press conference last week to hype the upcoming Hopkins-Kovalev bout, Davis welcomed Hazzard’s return as “a good thing for boxing in New Jersey. We did some real good things during my tenure and Larry is coming back to continue that strong tradition. Larry has a lot of experience in both boxing and (mixed martial arts), and I’m glad he’s coming back. It’s good for New Jersey, and it’s good for boxing.”

It will be a very different environment that Hazzard will be returning to in his home state. In 1985, the year he was sworn in by then-Gov. Tom Kean, Atlantic City hosted an astounding 145 fight cards. Atlantic City billed itself as “the world capital of boxing” then, which might have been an overstatement, but the seashore resort town was duking it out with Las Vegas for the biggest fight cards in those heady days.

“It became very competitive between us and Vegas, maybe even a little contentious,” Hazzard recalled in June 2013. “But we had the edge because we had Tyson.”

Mike Tyson, in those days the biggest draw in the sport, fought 13 times in all in Atlantic City, including five title defenses after he won the heavyweight championship for the first of his two reigns. The most electric night ever for Atlantic City boxing, maybe the most electric night there ever for any reason, was June 27, 1988, when Tyson knocked out Michael Spinks in the first round of one of the most widely anticipated boxing matches of all time.

But a precipitous economic downturn in Atlantic City, spurred in large part by increased competition from casinos in neighboring states, has had a crippling effect on the local boxing scene. From the high-water mark of 145 fight cards in 1985, things bottomed out with just five shows in 2009. The situation has improved somewhat, but the recent shuttering of four of AC’s 12 casinos – and the likelihood that still another, the bankrupt Trump Taj Majal, could soon follow suit – has resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs and a bleak landscape going forward.

It is into this figurative winter of discontent that Hazzard makes his re-entry, and his task now is not to maintain or build upon the solid foundation that took years to put into place, but to start over, almost from scratch. It would be a daunting task for almost anyone, but Hazzard – an instantly recognizable figure in his colorfully tailored suits – looks forward to rolling up his sleeves and making boxing in AC as relevant as possible.

He certainly hasn’t been afraid to ruffle feathers, if he deems confrontation to be the proper course of action. When in August 2004 then-Gov. James J. McGreevey blocked Tyson, who had served time on a rape conviction, from fighting in New Jersey’s larger arenas, including Boardwalk Hall, Hazzard made no secret of his displeasure since he had personally approved Tyson’s application for re-licensure on the grounds he had paid his debt to society.

“There’s something about Mike Tyson that certain politicians in New Jersey find distasteful, and it is expedient for them to single him out,” Hazzard complained. “But you cannot have one standard for Mike Tyson and another for everyone else. I was insulted when the governor did what he did. I felt it was terribly unfair to Mike Tyson, and to me. I am the licensing agent for boxers in New Jersey and have been since 1985. My actions in the performance of my duties had never been questioned by any of the four previous governors to serve since my appointment.”

The relatively free hand that Hazzard, a former referee, previously had in exercising his authority was restricted even further when he took on another New Jersey governor, Jon Corzine, in the 2007 showdown that resulted in his dismissal. He sent a letter to Corzine outlining his concerns that his staff had been gutted of experienced personnel, creating a situation that was putting boxers at risk. One of the holdovers to whom Hazzard objected was Sylvester Cuyler, a deputy commissioner of the NJSACB. Corzine turned the matter over to Milgram, who, according to the post-firing lawsuit filed on Hazzard’s behalf by Binns, informed Hazzard “not to document the malfeasance and misfeasance” by other NJSACB members even though it “jeopardized the welfare of contestants.”

Flashpoint was certain to be reached at some point, and Milgram’s position in state government carried more heft. And so Hazzard was gone, left to fill his time at various junctures as head of officials for the IBF, principal of a charter school in Newark, a special boxing adviser in China, an unofficial ringside scorer for NBC’s “Fight Night” series and as overseer of COMBATT, a non-profit organization that provides counseling, academic and athletic support, including boxing training, for at-risk youth.

But the NJSACB always felt like home to Hazzard and so it shall be again, even if his old adversary, Cuyler, still is around. His close associates believe that Hazzard, although he hasn’t exactly mellowed, has learned to pick his spots to raise a ruckus on issues on which he believes himself to be in the right. It won’t always be a smooth ride, but maybe a pot-stirring firebrand is what boxing in the Garden State needs again.

Should be interesting.

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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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