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Hands of Stone, Marvelous Marv, and Billy D

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512x 6e2e1Long ago—November 10, 1983—you had to leave home if you wanted to see a big fight live. The only alternative to being ringside was watching a big-screen broadcast in arenas, theaters, or auditoriums, in what was known as closed-circuit television.

I caught the Amtrak from Stamford to Providence, where my brother Pete, one year older, was a freshman at Providence College. We would go to the Providence Civic Center to watch Roberto Duran, the Hands of Stone, take on Marvelous Marvin Hagler for the middleweight title in Las Vegas.

We had been Duran fans for years, captured by the ferocity of his fighting style and also, strangely, by his refusal to observe rudimentary standards of sportsmanship—a quality we never admired in anyone else. Had Duran come along when we were older and less in need of outlaw heroes, we might have disliked him. The past June, we had listened to radio updates on 1010 WINS, as Duran separated Davey Moore from his future in eight brutal rounds in Madison Square Garden and won a piece of the junior middleweight championship, his third world title in as many weight classes. We found an old dropcloth, spread it out on the floor of our garage, and wrote roberto duran rules in heavy black letters. We hung it up on the chain-link fence by the high school football field for the whole town to read in the morning.

The Moore win was Roberto’s redemption for the No Mas fight of November 1980, when he quit in the eighth round of his rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard. He’d won acclaim as an all-time great when he beat Leonard in their first fight for the welterweight title. Now the shame of No Mas—an event still debated today—sent Duran spiraling downward. He gained weight, lost his edge, and started losing fights, too. Most boxing people wrote him off. Now he was on top of the world again, fighting for a fourth world title and a $4 million payday against Hagler, who would earn about $8 million. It was Hagler’s first big-money fight. Leonard had retired the year before, and Hagler hoped to replace him as boxing’s superstar. Pete didn’t like Duran’s chances, and I wasn’t so sure myself. All I knew was that he had to box; he couldn’t go rushing in against Hagler the way he had against Leonard. Hagler was a natural 160-pounder; Roberto was coming up from 154, and before that, 147, and before that, 135. I thought he could frustrate Hagler, unless Hagler just blew him away. That’s what’d he’d been doing to everyone else—Alan Minter, Fulgencio Obelmejias, Tony Sibson, Mustafa Hamsho, William “Caveman” Lee, and Wilford Scypion.

I got a cab from the train station to the Providence College campus, where the door to Pete’s dorm room, in Stephens Hall, was open, with people coming in and out. Among them was one of the tallest people I’d ever seen: Ernie “Pop” Lewis, a freshman forward on PC’s basketball team. With him was a freshman guard named Billy Donovan, who reminded me of Richie Cunningham. Pop and Billy spent most of their time on the bench. Basketball at PC had fallen off a cliff; the golden days of the fifties and sixties, and the culminating glory, a 1973 Final Four appearance, belonged to some other time. College sports were an empire now, and the Friars were vassals in the powerhouse Big East Conference.

Everyone wanted to talk about the fight.

“Hagler will kill Duran!” one guy with a thick Massachusetts accent said.

“Two or three rounds at the most.” His loyalties were clear: Hagler was from Brockton, Rocky Marciano’s hometown, though he spent his childhood years in Newark, until the 1967 riots destroyed the tenement he lived in with his mother. Before the mayhem ended, 12-year-old Marvin and his mother crawled on the floor of their apartment to avoid getting sprayed with bullets through the windows.

“Duran has never been knocked out,” someone else said.

“Hagler hasn’t fought anybody.”

“Duran is a quitter,” another guy said. “I saw him against Sugar Ray. Who quits a fight?”

“He didn’t quit, that fight was fixed,” said still another. The boxing expertise in the room was used up quickly.

From what I saw of it, Providence was bleak, or “gritty” in the preferred euphemism. The city had endured a long economic decline and was rife with mob influence. Its mayor was soon to be convicted of assault and forced from office. Only the Capitol building’s impressive dome suggested a future. The decade-old Providence Civic Center looked like just another generic indoor arena (it is known today as the Dunkin Donuts Center, or the Dunk). But it was packed with fans, and their loyalties seemed curiously split. Hagler should have had a New England advantage; he had even fought in the Civic Center earlier in 1983, stopping Scypion in four rounds. But Duran fans were out in force, as always. They roared every time his face appeared on the giant screen.

                                                                             *******
It became clear right off that Roberto had a plan: to wait on Hagler and counterpunch. Hagler didn’t like being the guy who had to lead, and so he went after Duran only in mid-gear. Duran stood back, letting Hagler come to him, sneaking in right hands when he could. Some got through. Hagler did best with his jarring southpaw jab, but he didn’t seem quite himself. I told myself that Duran had won three of the first five rounds, though they were all close.

“He’s outboxing him,” I told Pete, who was unconvinced.

The sixth round changed the fight. Hagler’s cornermen, Goody and Pat Petronelli, offering gentle criticism—“You’re a little tight, Marv”—sent Hagler out to be more aggressive, and he pounded Duran at close quarters with uppercuts. Duran had long been an unheralded defensive fighter, blessed with reflexes and judgment that allowed him to move his head in anticipation of punches—sliding and slipping, mimicking the punch’s trajectory to lessen its impact. Now it seemed like Hagler couldn’t miss that head. The Civic Center sounded like a Hagler crowd now. It looked like Duran might go.

Duran was breathing with his mouth open, and he kept shaking his arms out like someone who had just lifted weights. For the first time, he’d been outmuscled—not undone by speed, the way Leonard had mastered him, but by brute force. A sustained assault might finish the job, but Hagler didn’t launch it. He won the rounds—7, 8, 9, 10—building a huge lead but keeping his pilot light on simmer. The fight’s outcome now seemed clear; it lacked only a conclusion.

Then in the 11th, Hagler danced away from Duran as the crowd booed. In the 12th and 13th, Duran saw opportunity in Hagler’s swelling left eye and nailed Marvin again and again with his best punch, the straight right. From where we stood, Duran was still well behind, but if he won the last two rounds, who could say?

Only now did Hagler grasp that Duran could not hurt him and that his title was at risk, and only now did he fight as if he remembered the bitterest night of his career: the 1979 draw in Las Vegas with then-middleweight champion Vito Antuofermo, in which Hagler didn’t do enough to hold off Vito’s late charge. Antuofermo kept his title on a draw. Here he was, at the scene of the crime, letting a much more formidable foe in through the out door. Some old remembered terror must have crept into his heart. It was time to fight.

Hagler spent the 14th and 15th rounds bludgeoning Duran, who could do little but hold and throw out the occasional right. Marvin’s jab and uppercuts dominated both rounds completely. Duran was so weary it was almost inspiring watching him stay upright. We knew he had lost and started walking out before the decision was announced, but the judges made it absurdly close: 144-143, 144-142, and 146-145 for Hagler. Duran led on two cards after the 13th round. Hagler hadn’t turned up the octane a moment too soon.

It surprised me that Marvin and the Petronellis were so ill-prepared for Duran’s tactics. They seemed caught off-balance again in 1987, when the unretired Leonard fought Hagler the way everyone knew he would—circling and moving. The Petronellis were rock-solid people, but as strategists they didn’t rate with the sages Duran, Leonard, and Thomas Hearns brought with them most of their careers: Ray Arcel and Freddy Brown, Angelo Dundee, and Emanuel Steward. And great as Marvin was, he was not an instinctive fighter like Duran or Leonard. He could not decode spontaneous messages. Marvin was a striver; he was always respected, often admired. Ray and Roberto were creators; they were loved or hated.

Back at Stephens Hall, I drank beer and listened to college talk, now shifting from sports to girls. The traffic in and out of the room continued. Pop Lewis and Billy Donovan came in to get the lowdown.

“Was it a fair decision?” Pop asked. We assured him that it was.

“Duran is tough, though,” Billy Donovan said, shaking his head. “15 rounds with Hagler. Tough guy!”

On this everyone agreed.     

                                                                             *******
The next summer, we tried to watch Duran fight Thomas Hearns at home, on a temporary cable channel. They called it pay per view. The video feed went out, but the audio came through, enough for us to hear something that sounded impossible: Duran getting knocked around the ring. Hearns vaporized him in the second round with a right hand. That seemed the end of the line, but Duran kept coming back, winning his second-greatest victory in 1989 against the powerful middleweight champion Iran Barkley. He was 38 when he finally got his rematch with Leonard, losing in a dreadful fight for which, curiously, he brought no fire. For 12 rounds he trailed after Leonard with the enthusiasm of a man forced to walk around the block for exercise. He kept fighting until age 50, quitting only after suffering serious injuries in a car accident.

Hagler blasted out Hearns in an epic battle in 1985, finally achieving the stardom he had sought. But Leonard beat Hagler in their still-disputed superfight, the capper of a decade of battles between what George Kimball called the Four Kings. Marvin moved to Italy to pursue an acting career, became fluent in Italian, and rarely came back home. He saved his money. No glamor, no shortcuts, no excuses: he lives the way he fought.

Pete and I were in our junior and senior years at PC in 1987, when the Friars became the most improbable Final Four team in NCAA history. They got there under the leadership of a 34-year-old coach named Rick Pitino, the heroics of point guard Billy Donovan—they called him Billy the Kid or Billy D—a smothering full-court press, and a band of ace three-point shooters, including Pop Lewis. The Friars played their home games at the Civic Center, but whenever I went there, I always thought about Duran and Hagler first.

Providence looks much better today than it did in 1983, though I’m not sure it’s much better off, given Rhode Island’s financial and economic woes. Billy D is the head coach at Florida, where he’s won two NCAA titles and become one of the highest-paid coaches in the country. He was always a striver, but somewhere along the way he became a creator. That happens about as often as fighters like Duran and Hagler come along.

As for me and Pete, we did some striving of our own, but we’re never more than a nod away from the two teenagers who scrawled a message on a banner in the middle of the night.

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Ralph `Tiger’ Jones, Conqueror of Sugar Ray Robinson, was the Ultimate Gatekeeper

Bernard Fernandez

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Ralph "Tiger" Jones

Being a gatekeeper, especially in boxing, can be a lonely and underappreciated function. And in the 1950s, a golden age for the sport, that might have been especially true for a highly competent but not-quite-elite middleweight named Ralph “Tiger” Jones, who fought so often on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports’ Friday Night Fights that he came to be known as “Mr. Television,” a sobriquet he shared with another frequent face of the relatively new medium, comedian Milton Berle.

Jones, who was 66 when he passed away on July 17, 1994, is not enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The Brooklyn-born, Yonkers, N.Y.-based scrapper has never even appeared on the IBHOF ballot. Then again, why should he have been? His career record of 52-32-5, with only 13 victories inside the distance, isn’t particularly impressive, unless you take a closer look at the who’s who list of guys with whom he shared the ring. He holds victories over, among others, IBHOF Hall of Famers Sugar Ray Robinson, Joey Giardello and Kid Gavilan (Giardello and Gavilan each defeated him twice), and he gave such capable and even world-class fighters as Gene Fullmer (twice), Laszlo Papp, Bobo Olson, Johnny Saxton (twice), Joey Giambra (twice), Rocky Castellani (twice), Paul Pender, Johnny Bratton, Rory Calhoun (twice), Joe DeNucci (thrice), Bobby Dykes, Chico Vejar, Charlie Humez (twice), Victor Salazar, Ernie Durando and Del Flanagan all they could handle.

Given the high level of competition he so routinely faced, it is remarkable that the Tiger was stopped only once, and even that was a bit of an outlier, a one-round TKO against someone named Henry Burroughs on Jan. 13, 1951. Burroughs, who went 3-4 in an abbreviated professional career, quickly vanished from the fight scene, but for Jones, who had come in 9-0, the shocking defeat might have had the effect of instantly downgrading him from hot prospect to “opponent” and, ultimately, gatekeeper of a loaded 160-pound weight class. Interestingly, Jones had virtually toyed with Burroughs in winning a four-round unanimous decision only two months earlier.

There are those who insist that Jones’ most shining moment inside the ropes came when he stopped Dykes (career record: 120-23-8, with 57 KOs) on March 8, 1954, in Brooklyn when, well behind on points, he rallied to register two emphatic, outcome-shifting knockdowns in the 10th and final round. But even that keepsake triumph pales in comparison to what took place in Chicago Stadium on Jan. 19, 1955, when he presumably was served up as a sacrificial offering to the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson. Sugar Ray, then 33, was in the early stages of a comeback after he failed to make it big as a tap dancer on a tour of Europe. Fighting for the first time in 2½ years, Robinson had stopped journeyman Joe Rindone in six rounds on Jan. 5, 1955, in Detroit, and the bout against Jones, an 8-1 underdog, was widely viewed as merely another step forward in the former welterweight and middleweight champion’s graduated path back to the superstar status he once held and almost everyone believed he would soon reclaim.

But the outcome that was anticipated by the in-house turnout of 7,282 and a national TV audience underwent a quick rewrite when Jones, who had lost his previous five bouts, was the aggressor in the opening stanza of the scheduled 10-rounder, which ended with the great Sugar Ray — who had come in with an incredible 132-3-2 record — bleeding from a cut to his nose. It was more of the same in round two, Jones adding to Robinson’s seepage when the living legend went back to his corner with another cut, to his right eyelid.

It should have been apparent to everyone, even then, that this was not going to be Sugar Ray’s night, and it wasn’t. Referee Frank Sikora submitted a scorecard favoring Jones by a 99-94 margin, with judges Ed Hintz and Howard Walsh seeing it as an even bigger rout for Jones, at 100-88 and 98-89. Years later, the punch-counters for CompuBox reviewed tape of the fight and determined that Tiger had connected on 322 of 407 (57 percent) to just 176 of 514 (34 percent) for Robinson.

But as is often the case when a legendary fighter is made to look something less than superhuman, the big story was not that Ralph “Tiger” Jones had won, but that a humbled Sugar Ray Robinson was now on his last legs, his nimble feet and fast hands left behind somewhere on nightclub stages in a far-away continent.

New York Journal American columnist Jimmy Cannon for all intents and purposes authored Sugar Ray’s boxing obituary in his paper’s Jan. 20 editions, opining that “There is no language spoken on the face of the earth in which you can be kind when you tell a man he is old and should stop pretending he is young … Old fighters, who go beyond the limits of their age, resent it when you tell them they’re through … what he had is gone. The pride isn’t. The gameness isn’t. The insolent faith in himself is still there … but the pride and the gameness and that insolent faith get in his way … He was marvelous, but he isn’t anymore.”

And this, from The Associated Press report of the fight: “The former welterweight and middleweight titleholder … who started his comeback after 30 months as a song-and-dance entertainer by kayoing Joe Rindone two weeks ago, was handed the worst beating of his career by Jones … Time and again Tiger drove Robinson into the ropes and mauled him pitifully.”

But as was the case with the false rumor in 1897 that novelist/humorist Samuel Clemens – better known by his pen name, Mark Twain — had passed away, any suggestion that Sugar Ray Robinson was finished as a top-tier fighter proved to be premature. The Sugar man held the middleweight championship five times in all, three of his title reigns coming after Cannon advised him in print that he was washed up.

“I never figure to win them all,” the battered Robinson said after taking his licking from Jones. “You’ve got to figure you’ll get beat somewhere along the line. I don’t want to quit. This was a test. Like my manager said, it was just too tough for a second fight on a comeback.”

And Jones?

He continued to get regular TV gigs because he was more skilled than many, doggedly determined to put on a good show and no day at the beach for any of the six world champions he fought on 10 different occasions. But he never got a shot at a world title, a cruel twist of fate for someone who not only had paid his membership dues in the school of hard knocks, but continued to pay them right up to the end, a 10-round, unanimous-decision loss to IBHOF Hall of Famer and three-time Olympic gold medalist Laszlo Papp of Hungary on March 21, 1962. Tiger was floored in three separate rounds, but true to his unyielding code of honor, he gutted it out to the final bell. His pride would not allow him to do otherwise.

As a child growing up in New Orleans and the son of police captain Jack Fernandez (career record: 4-1-1, 1 KO), a former welterweight of scant pro accomplishment whom I idolized as if he had been a world champion, it seemed to me that, if Tiger Jones didn’t appear every week on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, he was in the featured bout at least every month or so. The best of the gatekeepers from that glorious era deserve at least some reflected glory for hanging in with their betters, and Jones holds a special place in my recollections along with, among others, Florentino Fernandez (I liked to pretend we were somehow related), Holly Mims and “Hammerin’” Henry Hank, the Detroit middleweight and light heavyweight who fought so often in New Orleans (18 times) that I chose to believe he was almost as local as Willie Pastrano, Ralph Dupas, Percy Pugh and Jerry Pellegrini. Hank, who was 62-30-4 with 40 KOs in a career that spanned from 1953 to ’72, was a virtual replica of the never-say-die Jones, never fighting for a widely recognized world title (he did drop a 15-round decision to Eddie Cotton for the Michigan version of the light heavyweight championship) and losing just once inside the distance, on a ninth-round stoppage by Bob Foster on Dec. 11, 1964, in Norfolk, Va.

Yeah, that would be the same Bob Foster who would go on to become one of the most accomplished 175-pound champions ever and was inducted into the IBHOF in 1990.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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The Avila Perspective Chap. 30: A Day in L.A., Plant, Pacquiao, and More

David A. Avila

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L.A.

Every time it rains in L.A. I think about the Doors song “Riders in the Storm.”

On Sunday a brief window of dryness blanketed as I drove to downtown L.A. on freeways that were slightly emptier than normal with the L.A. Chargers playing the New England Patriots. I guess some people stayed home to watch it.

Freeway traffic plays a big part in any Californian’s life. But it’s rare that a boxing event is held on a Sunday. My destination that day was LA Live across the street from the Staples Center.

LA Live has a skating rink in the middle of the courtyard and people were milling around an hour before the boxing card was to begin at Microsoft Theater. The theater is a swanky building across the skating rink from the ESPN structure.

A guy resembling my nephew Giovanni is talking to a few people next to the Starbucks. As I walk closer the person is gone. Later, I would see that the same kid resembling my nephew is actually fighting on the large boxing card. About a dozen fights are listed on the boxing bout sheet.

The Microsoft Theater has gone through a name change since it was first opened in 2007. It used to be called the Nokia Theater. The large theater hosts the ESPYs, EMMYs, Grammys and American Music Awards. But it’s no stranger to boxing events. A few fight cards have been held in its confine.

Crowds gathered early for the Premier Boxing Champions boxing card and by 5 p.m. it filled up pretty good.

One of the earliest boxing champions to arrive as a viewer was Mikey Garcia with several other young boxers and their entourages. The four division world champ has a date with Errol Spence Jr. in a couple of months. Spence arrived to watch the LA fight card a little later.

Title Fight

The main event featured Caleb Plant challenging the dangerous IBF super middleweight titlist Jose Uzcategui.

Plant has always shown he had skills and athleticism inside the boxing ring. But you can have all the tools in the world and it doesn’t mean a thing. What it really comes down to is can you take a punch from a puncher? Uzcategui can punch.

The Tennessee native has a pretty hefty following and they were loud in support of the slick fighting Plant. During the first six rounds it was like watching a concert with girls standing and cheering. But when the tide turned and Uzcategui began finding the antidote for Plant’s slickness, the same crowd was deadly quiet.

Plant is an entertainer. He can’t help himself. But he’s a classy kind of guy and fans genuinely like him. He can also fight.

Despite an undefeated record Plant had never truly established he belonged on the A list. He has A list skills but had never beaten an elite fighter until Sunday. He beat a good one and fans were thoroughly engrossed.

After their entertaining bloody clash you would have thought the two warriors would be red hot with anger. But instead, the two were like old chums and gracious after their 12-round battle. It kind of reminded me of long ago when two late greats Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello battled twice in the early 1980s. Those two great warriors became great friends and propelled the sport of boxing to greater heights and awareness. Later, Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward did the same in the early 2000s. It’s the beauty of boxing.

In the locker room Plant told Uzcategui they ought to share some Modelos soon. That got a big laugh and hug from the Venezuelan fighter who trains in Mexico. There were no hard feelings, just a lot of bruises and cuts.

Super middleweights may be the new showcase division.

A few possible opponents were in the crowd including David Benavidez, the current WBC titlist. A match with Plant or even a rematch with Uzcategui would bring an even bigger crowd. The super middleweights are heating up. There’s a lot of talent now in the 168-pound division including James DeGale, Callum Smith and George Groves in the United Kingdom and Gilberto Ramirez of Mexico. Hey, it’s even possible to see Gennady “GGG” Golovkin in the super middleweight division if the money is right.

I can’t wait to see the next super middleweight world title matchup.

El Cholos

When the fight card was over we walked across Figueroa Avenue to the Mexican restaurant famous for its margaritas. El Cholos has been around since the 1920s and has expanded to almost a dozen eateries in Southern California. I wish they had one in Las Vegas which does not have a good sit down Mexican restaurant.

El Cholos has become a favorite destination for me following boxing cards in L.A. After the fights several boxing reporters joined me for dinner including Muhammad Mubarak, Anthony Saldana and his wife Cynthia Saldana, Nancy Rodriguez from Supreme Boxing and Daniel who works with them and others. Usually my good friends from the Japanese press join us and long-time photographer Al Applerose, but not on this occasion. Still, we spent a couple of hours there and even ran into an old friend, Liz Quevedo Parr. As an amateur fighter she dominated two divisions for Team USA and now owns a gym in Long Beach called Guv’Nors Boxing Club. She recently had a cover page write up in OC Weekly.

At El Cholos we talked about Plant, Spence, Garcia and Benavidez. We also talked about women’s boxing especially Maricela Cornejo who is managed by Nancy Rodriguez. Both have movie star looks. Cornejo will be fighting in about 12 days in Hollywood at the Avalon Theater. Another female we discussed is Kenia Enriquez who fights out of Tijuana, Mexico. She’s very good.

The Lakers were playing across the street and I expected a rush of fans following the game. But the Lakers lost that night so fans must have been disgruntled and left quickly to their respective homes. Rain was threatening too. We can’t drive in the rain.

Eating and drinking with other journalists is one of the joys of being a fight reporter. Who better to talk about boxing than people that actually know the sport? Only in L.A., New York or Philadelphia can you find plenty of fans that actually know boxing and its politics. Over the years I’ve met some truly knowledgeable fight fans throughout Southern California.

Pacman and Broner

We’re heading to Las Vegas on Thursday, first to see Layla McCarter headline a Mayweather Promotions card that night at the MGM Grand. Tickets are free and it’s a hefty boxing card featuring many fighters from Floyd Mayweather’s stable.

McCarter is the best female fighter in the world pound for pound. Nobody has beaten her in 11 years and she’s fought in numerous countries around the world. Do you know how hard that is to accomplish? Ask any fighter.

Friday is a weigh-in for the Showtime pay-per-view card and I’m curious to see how many fans show up.

It’s been a while since Manny Pacquiao last fought in Las Vegas. Back on November 2016 he battled Jessie Vargas at the Thomas & Mack Center. On Saturday, Pacquiao will face Adrien Broner for the WBA welterweight world title at the MGM Grand. Showtime will have it on pay-per-view.

Every time I see Pacquiao I remember first watching him at the Wild Card gym almost 20 years ago. Freddie Roach kept telling a few of us to watch out for the lefty Filipino kid. Right from the start he proved to be deadly accurate. Pacquiao, now 40, has exceeded all my expectations and out-lasted everyone from that era.

I remember years ago in 2003 talking outside on the parking lot of the Olympic Auditorium. It was still light outside on a summer night and Freddie saw me and a couple of reporters and walked up to talk about his first experience in the Philippines training Pacquiao. He was still overwhelmed by the experience. Later that night Pacquiao would obliterate Emmanuel Lucero in the third round with a vicious uppercut. Even though I knew Pacman was very good I would have never predicted his longevity in a sport that usually spits out good fighters in 10 years.

On Saturday we will see how much the Filipino super star still has left in his legs. Hopefully on the drive to Las Vegas it won’t rain or snow.

Photo credit: Luis Mejia / TCB Promotions

Fights to watch

Fri. 5 p.m. PT DAZN – Jorge Linares vs Pablo Cano; Amanda Serrano vs Eva Voraberger; Demetrius Andrade vs Artur Akavov.

Fri. 6:30 p.m. PT/9:30 PM ET ESPN* Bryant Jennings (24-2) vs Oscar Rivas (25-0).

Sat. 6 p.m. PT Showtime pay-per-view – Manny Pacquiao vs Adrien Broner; Badou Jack vs. Marcus Browne; Rau’shee Warren vs Nordine Oubaali; Jhack Tepora vs Hugo Ruiz.

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Terence Crawford vs. Amir Khan on April 20th…Let the Hype Begin

Arne K. Lang

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Crawford vs Khan

Co-promoters Bob Arum and Eddie Hearn staged a press conference today (Tuesday, Jan. 15) at London’s elegant Landmark Hotel to announce that Terence Crawford will defend his WBO welterweight title on April 20 against Amir Khan. The timing was rather odd as the venue is unsettled — Madison Square Garden and the MGM Grand are the frontrunners – but as Arum would likely tell you, it’s never too early to marinate the hype. The bout will mark ESPN’s initial foray into the world of solo event pay-per-view.

Amir Khan first came to the fore at the 2004 Beijing Olympics where at the tender age of 17 he advanced to the gold medal round in the lightweight division. In the finals he met Mario Kindelan, a 33-year-old Cuban who was described by the British coach Terry Edwards as “the best pound for pound fighter in the world, maybe amateur and professional.”

Khan was outpointed but that didn’t diminish his stature. “Britain has lost its tether over him,” wrote Mark Whicker in the Orange County Register who noted that the Khan-Kindelan match was shown on the big screen at Trafalgar Square under a sign that read Amir-zing.

Khan went on to defeat Kindelan twice in amateur bouts before turning pro amidst great fanfare in July of 2005. Two years later, almost to the day, he climbed off the deck to wrest the British Empire lightweight title from Scotland’s Willie Limond.

Needless to say, Khan, who is of Pakistani descent, has had his ups and downs since that moment. The first thud came in September of 2008 in Manchester when Columbia’s unheralded Breidis Prescott (who by the way has lost seven of his last eight) knocked him out in the first round. Khan was knocked down hard 30 seconds into the fight and it was all over in 54 seconds.

The fight, wrote Tom Cary in the London Telegraph, “confirmed the suspicion that the most hyped boxer in Britain since Prince Naseem Hamed cannot take a punch….This defeat was an accident waiting to happen.”

Khan rebounded nicely. He won the WBA 140-pound title with a 76-second blowout of Dmitriy Salita and defended it four times before losing the belt on a controversial decision to Lamont Peterson. But since the Peterson fight he has been stopped twice, first by Danny Garcia and then Canelo Alvarez.

The Kahn-Canelo fight, contested at the catchweight of 155 pounds, was the first boxing event at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena. And it played out as many expected with Khan having his moments before he was betrayed by a soft beard. Canelo, the bigger man although both came in at the same weight, lowered the boom in round six with a devastating right hand, a classic one-punch knockout that left Khan on the canvas for several minutes before he was removed to a hospital as a precaution.

Khan took 23 months off after this setback and during this hiatus he became even more famous in England. He hired a publicist who booked him on the TV show “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me out of Here,” a British version of the TV show “Survivor,” and fed the tabloids and gossip magazines a steady stream of folderol regarding Amir’s supposedly tempestuous relationship with his attractive Brooklyn-born wife, the former Faryal Makhdoom. Khan’s conservative Muslim parents were horrified by Faryal’s westernized ways and both accused the other of infidelity. They toned it down when Faryal became pregnant with their second child, a daughter born in April of last year.

That same month, Khan returned to the ring with a 33-second knockout of Toronto’s overmatched Phil Lo Greco. In September he took on another Toronto-based fighter, Samuel Vargas, against whom he won a wide 12-round decision. Those wins pumped up his record to 33-4 (20).

Unlike Amir Khan, it’s doubtful that Terence Crawford will ever transcend his sport, but you don’t have to sell Crawford (34-0, 25 KOs) to knowledgeable boxing fans who recognize that he is something special, arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport today.

This fight will be a nice payday for Khan who lives lavishly and we suspect it will be an interesting fight for as long as it lasts. Against Canelo Alvarez, Khan was ahead in the eyes of most ringsiders and in the eyes of one of the judges through the five completed rounds. But the operative phrase here is “as long as it lasts.”

Let the hype begin.

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