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What’s in a Name? Maybe Plenty, If You’re a Boxer

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When he authored “Romeo and Juliet” (probably in either 1594 or 1595), William Shakespeare likely did not consider the ramifications of one of the play’s most oft-quoted lines as it might pertain to some distant generation of professional boxers, particularly those from the Republic of Congo, Thailand or Poland.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Shakespeare had Juliet proclaim, but perhaps her affection for Romeo would not be so deep if her beloved were a fighter from Bangkok, Kinshasa or Warsaw, where the filling out of birth certificates for newborn children no doubt induces terrible cases of writer’s cramp for their mothers. Then again, what seems so complex to the average American might not be for natives of those countries. College basketball enthusiasts eventually learned how to say and spell the last name of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, right?

My fascination with certain fighters’ names again was piqued when I read that Bangkok’s Eaktawan Krungthepthonburi had recently captured the vacant IBF Asia title by stopping Lionel Legada in five rounds. Other winners on that card were Patomsuk Pathompothong and female Petcharas Mor Krungthepthonburi, who outpointed Petchladda Sor Prauthong.

It also caught my attention that cruiserweight Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, of Los Angeles by way of his native Ukraine, would be taking on Paul Parker at the 2300 Arena in South Philadelphia on Tuesday, a scheduled 10-rounder televised by Fox Sports 1 and Fox Deportes. It proved a main event worth watching, and not only for the chance to hear harrowed announcers attempt to avoid mangling the featured attraction’s name. Shabranskyy overcame two first-round knockdowns to win on a third-round TKO.

But even Thais, Poles and Ukrainians have nothing on athletes from Congo. Former NBA center Dikembe Mutombo is one helluva long human being at 7-foot-2, but his full name – Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo, a whopping 49 letters in all – is even lengthier.

Mutombo, however, must take a backseat to Congolese middleweight Alex Bunema, who turns 40 on July 28 and hasn’t fought since 2013. The apparently retired Bunema was pretty good at one time, as evidenced by his 31-10-2 record, which includes 17 wins inside the distance, but perhaps his primary distinction is his full name: Katonji Alex Bunema Sylvester Goudha Le Grand Tshibuta Wa Ndintumba Wa Dinene. That’s 65 letters, if you’re counting.

“But you can call me Alex,” he told reporters after he scored a 10th-round TKO over former IBF junior middleweight champ Roman Karmazin on Jan. 19, 2008, on the undercard of a show headlined by Roy Jones Jr.’s 12-round, unanimous decision over Felix Trinidad at Madison Square Garden. As it turned out, that was “Tito’s” last fight.

Bunema’s drastic shortening of his name, for professional purposes, is the rule rather than the exception. Samoa-born, New Zealand-based former heavyweight contender David Tua’s actual birth name is To’aletai David Mafaufau Tua, which is a relative snap compared to some of those Congolese, Thai and Polish names, but was made even more manageable by excising some presumably extraneous letters. The same can be said of the “Foul Pole,” Andrew Golota, who changed his name from Andrezej Jan Golota after he emigrated from Warsaw to Chicago, even though Polish names aren’t particularly uncommon in the Windy City.

What’s really curious, at least to me, is the practice of Thai fighters – in Muay Thai as well as boxing — to campaign with adopted surnames that reflect the name of the gym in which they learned their craft, rather than those with which they were born. Can you imagine former junior welterweight and welterweight contender “Rockin’” Rodney Moore going into the ring as “Rockin’” Rodney Bluehorizon? And even if he did, he’d be one of maybe hundreds of Philadelphia fighters adopting similar monikers.

Researching what seemed to be to be an oddity, I learned that last names in Thailand weren’t required of citizens until 1913. Before then, most Thais used only a first or individual name, which generally conveyed positive attributes. Under Thai law, only one family can use a given surname, thus any two people of the same surname must be related.

Somewhere along the line, it became fairly standard practice for Thai fighters taking their gym name as a means of identification. Hence the proliferation of such tongue-twisting handles (at least to non-Thais) as Watcharachai Kaewsamrit, Rittijak Kaewsamrit, Keim Sitsongpeenong, Sittichai Sitsongpeenong and Anuwat Kaewsamrit.

It also is part of the fabric of boxing when “other” names become the “real” names (sometimes legally, sometimes not) of notable fighters. Would Sugar Ray Robinson be as venerated had he conducted his legendary career as Walker Smith Jr.? Or Willie Pep as Gugliemo Papaleo? Rocky Marciano as Rocco Francis Marchegiano? Kid Gavilan as Gerado Gonzalez? Jersey Joe Walcott as Arnold Cream?

But maybe my favorite adopted name is the one taken by one William Horatio Butler Jr., who was born in Bimini, the Bahamas, relocated to Miami Beach and went on to have a very successful career in the late 1950s and early ’60s as a middleweight contender named Yama Bahama. The colorfully monikered Yama, who was 76 when he died on June 29, 2009 (rest in peace, bro), was a TV staple back in the day, world-ranked for several years and good enough to have posted victories over Kid Gavilan and Joey Giambra, among others. But you have to wonder, would he have been nearly as popular as William Horatio Butler Jr.? I think not.

When I think of Yama Bahama (whose name was mentioned by HBO blow-by-blow icon Jim Lampley in his acceptance remarks when he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on June 14), I automatically feel cool tropical breezes, see the swaying fronds of palm trees and taste ice-cold pina coladas. And that’s more than I can say when I think of Kalonji Alex BunemaSylvester Gouda Le Grand Tshibuta Wa Ndintumba Wa Dinene or Eaktawan Krungthepthonburi.

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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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