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R.I.P. Stanley Ketchel, The Michigan Assassin (September 14th, 1886 – October 15th, 1910)

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It bears remembering that the great Stanley Ketchel was killed on this day, 105 years ago.

Ketchel was the Middleweight champion of the world, a title he claimed in September of 1907, when he knocked out Joe Thomas in the thirty second round of a forty five round fight. Thirty second round is not a typographical error. Ketchel goes down in history as one of boxing’s “bad boys”, and on the day of his death on October 15th, 1910, he was still the Middleweight Champion of the World.

Ketchel is most famous for his October 16th, 1909 bout with Heavyweight Champion Jack Johnson. That story in itself is rife with innuendo and contains a reminder to lost boxing history as we will probably never know all the facts. Stanley Ketchel was a wild man and already known as such in the newspapers of the day, and a fight with the Heavyweight Champion of the World, a man over 30 lbs heavier was right up his alley. That we do know.

Less than a year earlier, the globetrotting Johnson had wrested the Heavyweight crown from Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia. Johnson, as the first ever black Heavyweight world champion, was already a media sensation, and Johnson seemed to thrive in the attention and the controversy. Ketchel, who in his youth had fought countless times in the hobo towns and train stations of the mid-west honing his game, had already established his own media celebrity.

The Heavyweight Champion vs Middleweight Champion. With so much at stake and so little regulation and oversight, the details of what really happened on that day may are lost. The match was of such scope in its day that the nascent technology of the video camera was used to capture the fight and events leading up to the fight. Thankfully, the footage still exists and can be seen to this day, but the old time footage leaves a viewer wanting to know more. Unfortunately for Ketchel, it is also the only footage of him that has been found.

Johnson was a large man, known as the ‘Galveston Giant’ for his size, and the difference in physical stature with Ketchel in the fight is evident. The crowd, mostly white men, was packed into the arena which appeared to house thousands. There was talk prior to the fight that Johnson was going to take it easy on Ketchel to extend the fight for the motion picture, and the crowd was restless to see the fight actually go down.

Accounts of the fight tell of a lackluster opening 11 rounds, as the men went back and forth. That Ketchel was ‘game’ is apparent, but the physical difference is immense. The rest of one account follows:

“Ketchel saw an opening in the 12th round and went for the knockout, flooring Johnson with a right. When Johnson arose, Ketchel moved in for the kill and was knocked out by a massive right from Johnson. As Ketchel was counted out, Johnson brushed off a pair of Ketchel’s teeth that had embedded in his glove. Johnson allegedly said, “He crossed me and I made him pay for it.”

Boxing fans who have gotten a little deeper into the history of boxing recall his quartet of fights with Billy Papke, considered to be some of the most brutal fights of a time where the sport was different. The write-ups around the 2006 book “The Killings of Stanley Ketchel” describes him as a “daring rakehell, whose brief and meteoric life burned with violence and tragedy in and out of the ring”. Another book about Ketchel published in 2009 is simply called “Brutality”. Accounts of the first fight with Billy Papke describe the fight as the biggest sporting event in Milwaukee’s history up to that time, and there are accounts of Ketchel bludgeoning sparring partners to the point they had to use umpire chest protectors while in the ring. In the after-fight euphoria, Ketchel is said to have bathed himself in a bathtub full of champagne.

One day short of a year after he fought Jack Johnson, Stanley Ketchel was shot dead at the age of 24.

As one version of the story goes, Ketchel was shot by the “man whose wife was cooking him breakfast”. He died of a punctured lung, his pearl handled revolver not close enough to save him as he drowned in his own blood. He died in Springfield Hospital where he was taken by special train. Other reports, such as in the Illustrated Record dated October 22nd, 1910 give an account stating that Ketchel was killed over his refusal to put his hands up after insulting a woman. Whatever the case may be, Ketchel is said to have been in Missouri purchasing land and planning a more calm life away from the big cities. Walter Hurtz, aka Walter Dipley, the man who shot Ketchel, served 23 years for the shooting and went on to live an additional 22 years after being set free. Dipley’s claim of self defense was ignored by the court.

Nat Fleischer, the founder of The RING, considered Stanley Ketchel the greatest Middleweight of all-time, and former wrestling champion and boxing judge William Muldoon considered Ketchel to be the best he ever saw. There have been and remain many others that agree.

His historic record stands at 53 wins, 5 losses and 5 draws and 48 of his wins came by way of knock out. He was inducted into the Canastota, New York International Boxing Hall of Fame with the inaugural class of 1990. On October 2nd, 2015, a statue of Stanley Ketchel was unveiled in the downtown area of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Stanley Ketchel, “The Michigan Assassin”, gone but not forgotten.

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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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