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Jimmy Slattery: The Forgotten Light-Heavyweight

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Boxing is regarded as the cruelest sport for how often it turns a blind eye to the punishment a fighter endures inside the squared circle and how little it remunerates a fighter once he leaves the ring.

Veteran journalist based in New York City and author of two previous nonfiction books, Rich Blake, thankfully does not continue in the bloodletting tradition that the boxing game seems to prefer. Instead, he tells the tale of largely looked-over light-heavyweight, Jimmy Slattery.

In Slats: The Legend & Life of Jimmy Slattery (No Frills Buffalo, 2015), Mr. Blake chronicles the colorful life and boxing career of Jimmy Slattery, the favorite son of Buffalo’s Irish-American stronghold. Blake takes the reader along for the ride as the young, handsome, fun-loving Slattery charges through the boxing ranks, even through setbacks, only in the end to have to fight the biggest fight of his life: the one with himself.

On the opening page of the preface to his book, Mr. Blake quotes the father of modern boxing, “‘Gentleman Jim” Corbett, who described Slattery as “the most perfect fighting machine I ever saw. ’” From there on, Blake carries his narrative with lyrical storytelling, masterful pacing, and just the right balance of story and truth to prove Corbett wasn’t punchy.

Yet perhaps a truer account of the Buffalo lad came from Sammy “Newsboy” Brindis, who produced a slim biography of Slattery in his time. Brindis said Slattery was “the greatest fighter who ever lived, and the greatest liver who ever fought.” Blake’s bio bears this out. Slattery never quite rose to the heights achieved by fellow Irish-American and heavy-weight champ of the world, Jack Dempsey, who, not coincidentally, was a teetotaler.

And so Blake does not so much tell the sad story of how drink and profligate living took everything from Slats (it did), but the even sadder and maybe more poignant story of how a certain character flaw never really allowed Mr. Slattery to have something to lose.

From club fights to Yankee Stadium, from tap houses to training grounds, Blake has the reader enjoy all the glory of perhaps the most direct embodiment of the American dream: the young boxer on the rise. To his credit, the author lets our hope grow fat despite his knowing that all does not end well for the “Will-o’-the-Wisp,” a sobriquet given for Slats’s lightning fast ring movement.

Despite his epic battles of the 1920s and ’30 against Maxie Rosenbloom, Jim Braddock, Tom Loughran, and Paul Berlenbach, Slattery found himself in that precarious situation of a fighter past his ripeness and yet one ceaselessly drawn to the shores of further fighting. His destruction—inevitable.

As Blake puts it:

“His boxing career had flamed out. His marriage had dissolved. His dream home had been taken. His once golden reputation had been severely tarnished. He’d had everything he could ever ask for in the palm of his hand and he had, as they would say in South Buffalo, fucked it up.”

And so he did.

Yet in an interview Slattery did with the Buffalo Evening News when he was in the throes of alcoholism, he summons the Irish charm he had left to assess how things went for him. He said, “‘What is it they say? When you dance, you have to pay the fiddler…that old fiddler always had his hand out. And I guess I did plenty of dancing.’”

And thanks to Rich Blake’s new book, we now know no one danced like Slats.

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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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