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Hopkins Looking Ahead, Not at 20-Year Reunion of 1st World Championship

Bernard Fernandez

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HOPKINS LOOKING AHEAD, NOT THINKING ABOUT 20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF HIS FIRST WORLD TITLE

You might think that the 20th anniversary of the winning of his first world championship would be a cause of celebration for Bernard Hopkins, or at least a reason for fond remembrance.

Such an assumption would be incorrect. For all his accomplishments, Hopkins, 50, is more of a forward-thinker than a looking-past type. He might or might not have one more fight to squeeze out of his career as an active fighter, but in either case he’s prepared for the next phase of a most interesting life, which the reformed ex-con envisions as a color commentator for televised boxing, a celebrity endorser, a more fully involved executive with Golden Boy Promotions or, who knows, maybe the host of a network news/entertainment show.

“I’ve been knowing Michael Strahan for, like, five years,” Hopkins, when contacted for this story, said of his friendship with the two-time-Super Bowl-winning defensive end for the New York Giants who now co-hosts “Michael and Kelly” with Kelly Ripa weekday mornings on ABC-TV. “Michael said, `Bernard, you’re a charming guy. You have personality. We have two things in common: We both like to talk, and we got that gap between our teeth.”

During an hour-long discussion of what was, what is and what is yet to be, the oldest fighter ever to win a widely recognized world title made it clear that his final bout, whether it is against an undetermined opponent sometime this year or his unanimous-decision loss to Sergey Kovalev in their light heavyweight unification showdown last Nov. 8 in Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall, is not the end of Bernard Hopkins. It only marks a new beginning.

“I’m always going to have fighting in me,” Hopkins said. “Physically, this year is important to me. I’m 50. There’s a movement out there that I represent, and that’s the 50-and-up club. If I do take another fight, it has to be meaningful. But, really, how many good fighters would want to run the risk of getting beat up by a 50-year-old man? There aren’t a lot of Sergey Kovalevs out there. I give him a lot of respect for agreeing to fight me. Adonis Stevenson (the WBC light heavyweight champ), he ain’t kicking down no doors to get to me or to Sergey.”

And if no credible opponent signs up for B-Hop’s farewell to the ring wars, after 27 years in the pro ranks?

“Then that’ll be that,” he said. “I’m not going to embarrass myself by begging or pleading to fight anybody.”

For many champions, retirement means taking it easy, maybe eating some of the fattening food that they had to deny themselves to remain in fighting trim, and to become fixtures at card shows and other gatherings where nostalgic fans can gaze upon them and recall just how proficient they once were in the toughest, most demanding sport of all.

Hopkins doesn’t intend to settle into the comfortable if somewhat dissatisfying existence of an official relic. After being a guest presenter at the 90th annual Boxing Writers Association of America Awards Dinner in New York on April 24, and then taking in the Wladimir Klitschko-Bryant Jennings heavyweight title bout in Madison Square Garden the following night, he jetted to Las Vegas the next day to serve as an expert commentator for ESPN’s week-long coverage of the Mayweather-Pacquiao megafight, which comes on the heels of what he hopes was the first of many similar gigs with HBO Sports, having been a part of the broadcast team for the March 14 Kovalev-Jean Pascal fight in Montreal along with Jim Lampley and Max Kellerman. And while he is still learning a few tricks of that trade, like shortening his trademark 10-minute soliloquies, as entertaining as they might be, to more easily digestible 10-second sound bites.

“It takes some getting used to,” Hopkins, Philadelphia’s most notable fighter since the heyday of the late, great Smokin’ Joe Frazier, said of his introduction to vocal brevity. “I can’t dominate the conversation. I admit, I got a problem with that sometimes. But I’m learning you can use a few words to make a point instead of a lot of words. Jim Lampley has been working with me on that, like a mentor. He tells me to get in and get out. Just like in boxing.”

As an interviewee instead of as an interviewer, B-Hop can still go the distance, rattling off lengthy responses to questions about, well, just about anything. For the purposes of this story, the subject was his first world championship victory, in his third shot at a title, when he won the vacant IBF middleweight belt on a seventh-round stoppage of Ecuador’s Segundo Mercado on April 29, 1995, in Landover, Md. But, somewhat oddly, Hopkins’ recollections of that fateful, life-altering encounter were not on the tip of his always-wagging tongue.

“You know, I really haven’t thought about that fight in a long time,” he said. “Not even for one second.”

Perhaps, if you’re the veteran of 28 world title bouts, including 21 during his 10-year reign as a middleweight champion, it’s easy to tuck one such fight into the dustier recesses of memory. Or it just might be that Hopkins has sharper, more vivid recollections of his first two title scrums, which came up short. It nagged him that he had to wait 17 years to get a rematch with Roy Jones Jr., who won a unanimous decision for the vacant IBF middleweight crown on May 22, 1993. That festering wound was finally cleansed when Hopkins outpointed Jones on all the judges’ scorecards in a non-title, light heavyweight matchup on April 3, 2010.

And it is the first scrap with Mercado, a descendant of African slaves, that Hopkins is forever apt to recall, and none too fondly. Again fighting for the vacant IBF middleweight championship, Jones having moved up to super middleweight, Hopkins seemingly was being dealt from a stacked deck, although he was ranked No. 1 by the IBF to No. 2 for Mercado. Not only was he going up against an Ecuadorean in his home country, but the lead promoter for the fight was Don King, who had Mercado, a Quito resident who presumably was accustomed to that city’s thin air at an elevation of 9,252 feet. Hopkins, on the other hand, was brought in just two days before the bout (as he remembers it today) or four days before (the time line described by the Showtime broadcast crew). In either case, that was hardly enough time for Hopkins’ body to adjust to the stark change in altitude.

“Oh, man, that whole trip was something else,” Hopkins said. “There was a war or something going on between Ecuador and Peru. Everywhere you went, there were a lot of soldiers carrying submachine guns.

“After we arrived, I ran into (future WBA super middleweight champion) Frankie Liles and he said, `You just coming in?’ This was Thursday, two days before my fight with Mercado. I said yeah. He told me he and some of the other fighters from America had been there for, like, two weeks, to get adjusted to the altitude.

“I didn’t have nearly enough time to make that adjustment. Let me tell you, it does make a difference. The next day, I went out to run and got lightheaded. I could hardly breathe. Then I went to the gym that had been assigned for me and there was dog and chicken s— all over the place. I turned around and said, `Man, they want me to work out here? You have got to be kidding.’

“Butch Lewis (Hopkins’ promoter at the time) found some local guy, a tour guide or something, and gave him a few dollars to find us a better place. He sent us to a gym even further up the mountain! We’re being driven up there on these winding roads, with no guard rails. I’m looking out the window and you can see over the cliff. Make a bad turn, you drop all the way down and it’d have been all over. I got to the gym alive, shook out a few things, and that was it. I wasn’t about to go back up there again.”

So why did Hopkins arrive in Quito with so little time for get acclimated? He said he has “documentation” that Lewis, from whom he later split, had been given $100,000 by King to delay his departure for Ecuador and thus further enhance Mercado’s chances to become the first professional boxer from his country to win a world championship.

“I keep stuff,” Hopkins said. “They call me a hoarder, but you never know when you might need something.”

What a gasping Hopkins, who was floored in the fifth and seventh rounds, needed was a second wind. Somehow he found it, dominating the closing rounds as it was Mercado who appeared to tire more down the stretch. When it was all over, the IBF title remained vacant, Hopkins coming out ahead, 114-111, on Al DeVito’s card while Colombia’s Francisco Hernandez had Mercado winning by 116-114. That left matters up to the swing judge, Paul Gibbs, who submitted a scorecard all even at 113-113.

The IBF-mandated rematch took place just 133 days later, at sea level and on American soil. The atmospheric change and a supportive audience must have energized Hopkins, who brutalized Mercado from the opening bell until referee Rudy Battle stepped in to wave a halt to the one-sided proceedings with 1 minute, 10 seconds remaining in the seventh round.

“If he couldn’t beat me in Ecuador, he damn sure wasn’t about to beat me in the States,” Hopkins said. “I think Don King knew that. It was my fight to lose at that point, and I wasn’t about to let that happen.”

As for Mercado, the thrashing he received in Landover – Hopkins still was “The Executioner” then, 20 of his 27 victories coming inside the distance, including 12 in the first round – ruined him. He was 1-7-1 thereafter until his retirement in 2003, with six of the losses by knockout.

I asked Hopkins what might have happened had Mercado gotten the nod in their first fight, or if he had fought a Mexican for a WBC belt in Mexico or Las Vegas instead of an Ecuadorean for an IBF belt in Ecuador. Boxing politics being what they are, it is not unreasonable to presume that he would have had to wait longer, perhaps even a great deal longer, to get another shot at a world championship. Maybe he would never have gotten that opportunity to become what he became.

“That makes a lot of sense, based on history,” he said. “It’s happened before, plenty of times. It does give you something to think about. It probably would have put me on a different path. But there’s no sense in wondering about what might have happened. My thing is to look ahead more than to look back, whether I ever throw another punch or not.”

As champion, Hopkins reinvented himself. With an eye toward the longevity he was to achieve, he honed the hit-and-don’t-get-hit style that has enabled him to remain at or near the top longer than any elite fighter, and that includes Archie Moore and George Foreman. He makes no apologies for the makeover that some have labeled as exciting as watching paint dry.

“Yeah, I heard how I was boring, how I was a technician,” Hopkins said. “Some of it hurt. Fighters believe that the only way to be a superstar is to be `TV-friendly’ or `fan-friendly.’ If you’re hitting and not getting hit back much, you’re perceived as not being marketable. But I came to realize I had great defense and great reflexes. I could make a guy miss and make him pay. The thing is, you can do all that and still look pretty good doing it, and against real fighters.

“Why should you take punches to prove you can take a punch? That’s ridiculous. It’s worse than ridiculous. It’s stupid.”

So the onetime “Executioner,” more recently re-labeled as “The Alien,” is morphing into “The Elocutioner.” His diction might not be velvety smooth or his grammar always perfect, but he doesn’t slur his words or demonstrate any signs of a damaged brain. Those are the foremost prerequisites for someone who is eager to continue making a good living by talking. Hopkins’ late mother, Shirley, once thought her son’s chattiness might lead him to become a preacher or a politician, and B-Hop said his first dream was to become a disc jockey on the radio.

He found boxing instead.

“I’m in a good place,” Hopkins continued. “My money’s fine, my family’s fine. People say,`Why don’t you just rest? Take it easy?’ I can’t. I won’t. To me, everything is a competition. It shouldn’t be, but it is. That’s just the way I am.”

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Golden Boy Prospects and Contenders Stack DAZN Card in New York

David A. Avila

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Saul “Canelo” Alvarez leads a wild and rowdy contingent of Golden Boy Promotions prospects and contenders into Madison Square Garden.

They’re coming in with guns blazing.

Heavy-hitting youngsters Vergil Ortiz, Ryan Garcia and Lamont Roach are flanked by veteran contenders David Lemieux and Mauricio Herrera. There’s also another world title fight on the card.

They represent the best of Oscar De La Hoya’s shock troops.

Most fans in the east are familiar with the veterans; it’s the youngsters that have not established a reputation that travels beyond the Mississippi River.

Super lightweight prospect Vergil Ortiz has never heard the final bell in any of his previous 11 professional bouts. But the Dallas, Texan faces Mexican fighter Omar Tienda who has only been stopped once in 24 pro bouts and that was almost six years ago.

Still, Ortiz is no ordinary puncher. He’s one of those skinny Jack Palance-looking guys that if he touches someone it seems to send 10,000 volts through their body. Their eyes roll and the muscles become paralyzed.

He’s a nice guy, but maybe that’s how Mr. Death walks among us. It’s simply his job. When not sending opponents into comas, Ortiz also plays guitar pretty well.

Don’t expect a decision to be rendered in this fight either.

“My opponent (Omar Tienda) has a pretty good record. He’s 19-5 with 12 knockouts. He has more knockouts than I have fights. He’s only been stopped in one of the five losses. So, there’s a pretty good chance he can go the distance, but I’m going to do what I do best,” said Ortiz the knockout machine.

Next prospect, Ryan “The Flash” Garcia, hails out of Southern California and has that look of a star and the tools to match. Extremely quick and extremely confident, the super featherweight recently became part of Team Canelo and is training under the tutelage of Eddy Reynoso.

Defense has been the focus for Garcia and who better than Reynoso who prepared Canelo for his two clashes with knockout artist Gennady “Triple G” Golovkin?

The California speedster Garcia is matched against Dominican power hitter Braulio Rodriguez in a super featherweight contest set for 10 rounds.

“I went from fighting guys on a certain level you have to fight, where I was knocking everybody out. Then when you make another step in your career you need experience, you need somebody that’s been there before and will teach you the ropes on how to handle things and what better trainer then Eddy Reynoso,” said Garcia about his new trainer Reynoso. “He (Canelo) taught me a lot stuff about the business of the game and also stuff in the ring during sparring. I’m a very visual learner so it’s what I see when he was sparring and training hard. That’s my thing, that’s my world.”

The Contenders

Philly fighter Lamont Roach (17-0-1) returns to the east for this fight and defends a regional WBO title against Puerto Rico’s Alberto Mercado (15-1) in another super featherweight clash.

“Right now I have the WBO international championship. After I defend it hopefully they bump me up into one of those mandatory spots that put me in line for a title eliminator title or a title,” said Roach, 23, who fights out of Washington D.C. “ My ideal fight, any champion.”

Another who wants a title shot is veteran Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera who was denied the title in a horrible decision four years ago when he fought then super lightweight champion Danny Garcia. Herrera returns to the ring after a year of rest and fights former super welterweight world champion Sadam Ali.

“My last fight was with Jesus Soto Karass. I went the distance. With him, I felt pretty good. Then I took some time off, I had to recover a little bit. I needed to feel the hunger with boxing, and I got it back,” said Herrera who fights out of Riverside, Calif. “I got a chance with Sadam, so I’m here to prove something. I know I’m not old. I still feel good, I feel young. We’ll see Saturday night how I look. Sadam Ali is a good fighter. He’s slick. He’s a boxer. He has all the basic skills. I’m going in there with a tough guy.”

Ali, 30, is fighting at home against Herrera and returns to the ring for the first time since losing to Tijuana’s Jaime Munguia last May.

“I feel like every fight moving forward is going to be a must-win. If you want to be great in your career, you’re supposed to think like that. In life you know there’s ups and downs, you just have to keep fighting,” said Ali.

Canada’s David Lemieux lost his middleweight world title in Madison Square Garden to Gennady Golovkin in a brave effort three years ago. He wants another crack and Tureano Johnson stands in his way.

“I have to look spectacular this weekend no matter who’s in front of me, and Johnson is front of me,” said former IBF middleweight titlist Lemieux. “I’m going to take good care of him.”

World Title Fight

One other world champion, Tevin Farmer, performs on the card. He’s not part of Golden Boy’s troops but fights under the DiBella Entertainment umbrella. The IBF super featherweight titlist Farmer defends against Costa Rica’s talented Francisco Fonseca.

Farmer is very confident of a quick victory.

“My goal is to stop him inside four rounds – it has nothing to do with Gervonta Davis (who beat him in eight rounds). This is about me. James Tennyson said he could KO me and I knocked him out in five, so now I want to do it in four,” said Farmer who fights out of Philadelphia but likes to hit and run. “I am only competing against myself. The goal is to win the fight, but if I stop him in four rounds, then I’ve improved on the last fight. If I stop him quicker than Davis, oh well, I’ve knocked him out before him, it doesn’t matter.”

Fonseca, 24, lost to Gervonta Davis on August 2017 by stoppage due to several rabbit punches to the back of the neck. The referee did not call the fouls and Fonseca was declared the loser. The Costa Rican fighter’s team appealed the referee’s ruling but it was denied by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Since that loss Fonseca has run up three consecutive wins by knockout.

Another on the Canelo-Fielding fight card is Ireland’s Katie Taylor defending her lightweight world titles against Finland’s Eva Wahlstrom. For more on this fight go to www.ThePrizefighters.com

Golden Boy Prospects and Contenders Stack DAZN Card at the Garden

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez leads a wild and rowdy contingent of Golden Boy Promotions prospects and contenders into Madison Square Garden.

They’re coming in with guns blazing.

Heavy-hitting youngsters Vergil Ortiz, Ryan Garcia and Lamont Roach are flanked by veteran contenders David Lemieux and Mauricio Herrera. There’s also another world title fight on the card.

They represent the best of Oscar De La Hoya’s shock troops.

Most fans in the east are familiar with the veterans; it’s the youngsters that have not established a reputation the travels beyond the Mississippi River.

Super lightweight prospect Vergil Ortiz has never heard the final bell in any of his previous 11 professional bouts. But the Dallas, Texan faces Mexican fighter Omar Tienda who has only been stopped once in 24 pro bouts and that was almost six years ago.

Still, Ortiz is no ordinary puncher. He’s one of those skinny Jack Palance-looking guys that if he touches someone it seems to send 10,000 volts through their body. Their eyes roll and the muscles become paralyzed.

He’s a nice guy, but maybe that’s how Mr. Death walks among us. It’s simply his job. When not sending opponents into comas, Ortiz also plays guitar pretty well.

Don’t expect a decision to be rendered in this fight either.

“My opponent (Omar Tienda) has a pretty good record. He’s 19-5 with 12 knockouts. He has more knockouts than I have fights. He’s only been stopped in one of the five losses. So, there’s a pretty good chance he can go the distance, but I’m going to do what I do best,” said Ortiz the knockout machine.

Next prospect, Ryan “The Flash” Garcia, hails out of Southern California and has that look of a star and the tools to match. Extremely quick and extremely confident, the super featherweight recently became part of Team Canelo and is training under the tutelage of Eddy Reynoso.

Defense has been the focus for Garcia and who better than Reynoso who prepared Canelo for his two clashes with knockout artist Gennady “Triple G” Golovkin?

The California speedster Garcia is matched against Dominican power hitter Braulio Rodriguez in a super featherweight contest set for 10 rounds.

“I went from fighting guys on a certain level you have to fight, where I was knocking everybody out. Then when you make another step in your career you need experience, you need somebody that’s been there before and will teach you the ropes on how to handle things and what better trainer then Eddy Reynoso,” said Garcia about his new trainer Reynoso. “He (Canelo) taught me a lot stuff about the business of the game and also stuff in the ring during sparring. I’m a very visual learner so it’s what I see when he was sparring and training hard. That’s my thing, that’s my world.”

The Contenders

Philly fighter Lamont Roach (17-0-1) returns to the east for this fight and defends a regional WBO title against Puerto Rico’s Alberto Mercado (15-1) in another super featherweight clash.

“Right now I have the WBO international championship. After I defend it hopefully they bump me up into one of those mandatory spots that put me in line for a title eliminator title or a title,” said Roach, 23, who fights out of Washington D.C. “ My ideal fight, any champion.”

Another who wants a title shot is veteran Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera who was denied the title in a horrible decision four years ago when he fought then super lightweight champion Danny Garcia. Herrera returns to the ring after a year of rest and fights former super welterweight world champion Sadam Ali.

“My last fight was with Jesus Soto Karass. I went the distance. With him, I felt pretty good. Then I took some time off, I had to recover a little bit. I needed to feel the hunger with boxing, and I got it back,” said Herrera who fights out of Riverside, Calif. “I got a chance with Sadam, so I’m here to prove something. I know I’m not old. I still feel good, I feel young. We’ll see Saturday night how I look. Sadam Ali is a good fighter. He’s slick. He’s a boxer. He has all the basic skills. I’m going in there with a tough guy.”

Ali, 30, is fighting at home against Herrera and returns to the ring for the first time since losing to Tijuana’s Jaime Munguia last May.

“I feel like every fight moving forward is going to be a must-win. If you want to be great in your career, you’re supposed to think like that. In life you know there’s ups and downs, you just have to keep fighting,” said Ali.

Canada’s David Lemieux lost his middleweight world title in Madison Square Garden to Gennady Golovkin in a brave effort three years ago. He wants another crack and Tureano Johnson stands in his way.

“I have to look spectacular this weekend no matter who’s in front of me, and Johnson is front of me,” said former IBF middleweight titlist Lemieux. “I’m going to take good care of him.”

World Title Fight

One other world champion, Tevin Farmer, performs on the card. He’s not part of Golden Boy’s troops but fights under the DiBella Entertainment umbrella. The IBF super featherweight titlist Farmer defends against Costa Rica’s talented Francisco Fonseca.

Farmer is very confident of a quick victory.

“My goal is to stop him inside four rounds – it has nothing to do with Gervonta Davis (who beat him in eight rounds). This is about me. James Tennyson said he could KO me and I knocked him out in five, so now I want to do it in four,” said Farmer who fights out of Philadelphia but likes to hit and run. “I am only competing against myself. The goal is to win the fight, but if I stop him in four rounds, then I’ve improved on the last fight. If I stop him quicker than Davis, oh well, I’ve knocked him out before him, it doesn’t matter.”

Fonseca, 24, lost to Gervonta Davis on August 2017 by stoppage due to several rabbit punches to the back of the neck. The referee did not call the fouls and Fonseca was declared the loser. The Costa Rican fighter’s team appealed the referee’s ruling but it was denied by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Since that loss Fonseca has run up three consecutive wins by knockout.

Another on the Canelo-Fielding fight card is Ireland’s Katie Taylor defending her lightweight world titles against Finland’s Eva Wahlstrom. For more on this fight go to www.ThePrizefighters.com

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Canelo Finally Ready to Take Manhattan; More Bites of the Big Apple to Follow?

Bernard Fernandez

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Canelo Takes on Manhattan

You know the words to the song, written by Paul Anka and most memorably sung by Frank Sinatra. It’s a paean to America’s glitziest, grittiest, most self-absorbed metropolis, whose citizens have come to believe the city is and always will be the center of the known universe. Everywhere else is, well, Hicksville.

If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere

It’s up to you, New York, New York

Canelo Alvarez, the WBO/WBA/WBC middleweight champion, is only 28 years of age, but the proud son of Guadalajara, Mexico, has been fighting professionally since he was 15. Arguably the most popular and marketable fighter in the world, he has been a creature of habit, fighting almost exclusively in places where his worshiping fans are plentiful and his star power has been allowed to flourish almost unabated. Of his 54 ring appearances as a pro, boxing’s red-haired rock star has logged 34 fights in Mexico, 11 in Las Vegas, three in California and three in Texas. The furthest east Alvarez has come to ply his trade in the United States is a single bout in Miami, certain sections of which admittedly might seem like New York with palm trees.

But now Canelo says he is ready – eager, even – to finally make his mark in America’s toughest town, and specifically in the famous arena, Madison Square Garden, which fancies itself the “Mecca of boxing.” It is a not-undeserved sobriquet when you consider the roster of ring legends who have toiled at the Garden in any of its four incarnations.

Hey, if the historic building in midtown Manhattan, and the three preceding venues bearing its name, were good enough for Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong, Jake LaMotta, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson and Canelo’s promoter, Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya, then it’s good enough for someone who considers himself to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world today.

But Saturday night’s matchup of Alvarez (50-1-2, 34 KOs) — who will be moving up a weight class to challenge WBA super middleweight champion Rocky Fielding (27-1, 15 KOs) of England in a bout which will streamed internationally via DAZN — is not so much a one-off event as the first of many planned Garden parties in which Canelo will be the headliner.

“You know, Canelo’s always wanted to fight in New York,” said Eric Gomez, president of Golden Boy. “It seems like the last three years he’s been talking to Oscar and myself about fighting in New York and, obviously, at the Garden. He’s a big fan of Muhammad Ali and idolized Muhammad Ali.

“And to fight at the Mecca of boxing where all the greats have fought … Oscar fought there as well. It’s something (Alvarez) always wanted to do. So we’re extremely excited that we were able to squeeze in one more fight in December after having such a tough rematch in September with (Gennady) Golovkin.”

So what about that, Canelo?

“I would like it to be the first of many fights there,” Alvarez replied when asked about the hints he is dropping about possibly making MSG his new pugilistic home instead of Vegas. “To fight in New York is another landmark in my career and is another important story in my career. I want it to be the first of many more.”

All well and good, although Fielding, virtually anonymous on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, has no chance of playing the role of Frazier to Canelo’s Ali, or vice versa, even if he somehow captures lightning in a bottle. This also is the Briton’s first fight in New York, and who can blame him for daring to dream that pulling off the upset will make him a superstar in his own right?

“This is what I’m in boxing for,” Fielding, 31, said of the longshot opportunity he hopes to capitalize on. “This is what I’ve been doing in boxing since I was nine, for these nights. To fight at Madison Square Garden against the biggest name in boxing is unbelievable.”

Fielding isn’t quite the no-hoper Buster Douglas appeared to be on Feb. 11, 1990, when, as a 42-1 underdog, he pulled off boxing’s biggest and most memorable upset with a 10th-round knockout of the seemingly invincible Mike Tyson in Tokyo. But Fielding is an 8-1 outsider for those willing to place a wager on him, and Canelo backers would have to bet $160 to make a 10-buck profit.

Any chance Fielding has of shocking the world lies in the fact that he is noticeably larger than Canelo, at 6-foot-1 to the celebrated challenger’s 5-8, and with a 75-inch reach to Canelo’s 70½-inch reach. That, and the fact Alvarez is moving up to an unfamiliar weight class, is enough to fuel Team Rocky’s belief that they can spoil the star attraction’s New York debut.

“We’re going to ask (Alvarez) questions,” said Jamie Moore, Fielding’s trainer. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions regarding him moving up to super middleweight. The height and reach advantages that Rocky’s got is huge. How is he going to cope with those problems? When they come face to face in the middle of the ring, Rocky’s going to be huge, an absolutely huge specimen compared to Canelo.”

But there is another saying that seemingly applies here, and that is that it’s the size of the fight in the dog, not the size of the dog in the fight, that matters. And the talent gap between Canelo and this Rocky, who is not likely to ever be compared to Marciano, Graziano or Balboa, is of much more consequence that a couple of inches and pounds.

The incentives for Alvarez taking this fight are many. If – when – he wins and becomes a world champion at super middle, he joins fellow Mexican greats Julio Cesar Chavez, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera and Jorge Arce as three-division champions. OK, so Alvarez has already announced he will be moving back down to middleweight. That itch he wants to scratch as a three-division titlist, even if only temporarily, is satisfied, as is his desire to make more dough before the end of the year and to show New York what he’s all about. Who knows, maybe he’ll even find time get in a little Christmas shopping at some of Manhattan’s trendier boutiques.

If there is a drawback to Canelo’s Manhattan adventure, other than the almost-unthinkable possibility of a loss, it’s that New York fight fans, whose reputation as a tough lot is deserved, are not disposed to be warmly receptive to an uninspired performance as those who lavished so much love on him in the Nevada desert, Mexico and Texas. Canelo might be cherished elsewhere, but from the opening bell he is going to have to prove himself anew to a rowdy crowd that is as apt to boo as to cheer.

So it’s up to Canelo to make New York as much his as it was for Sinatra. He theorized about the unlikely possibility of a rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr. (“If that fight were to happen again, I would defeat him, no problem”) and the presumably more realistic chances of a third go at Golovkin (“If we made two, I’ll make a third one”). There are other attractive matchups that could bring him back to the Garden, if his fascination with the place is as genuine as he now claims and Golden Boy accedes to his wishes.

“We’re open to doing more fights in New York. No problem,” Gomez said. “Everything seems to be going smooth. Ticket sales are great. We’re expecting a sellout. If everything goes as planned, why not?”

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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How Oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro Became a Sidebar in the Buster Douglas Story

Arne K. Lang

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Buster Douglas, Vaccaro

When Jimmy Vaccaro, a close friend of long standing, set odds on the Tyson-Douglas fight, he never imagined that he would become a central figure in the story about the greatest upset in boxing, arguably the most famous upset in all of sports. At some point during the course of the betting, the odds favoring Tyson hit 42 to 1 and that became the title of the newest ESPN “30 for 30” documentary which premiered on Tuesday, Dec. 11.

A little background. Vaccaro grew up in blue-collar Trafford, Pennsylvania, a small town about 20 miles from Pittsburgh. An older brother, John Paul “Sonny” Vaccaro, went on to become the most powerful man in basketball by virtue of his relationships with players, coaches, and shoe companies. He is credited with hatching Nike’s “Air Jordan” empire. (Sonny was the subject of an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary in 2016.)

In 1975, Jimmy Vaccaro arrived in Las Vegas and found work as a 21-dealer at the Royal Inn, a small casino that sat just off the Strip. The pay for a break-in dealer was $16.50 a shift.

Nevada had recently passed legislation that allowed sports betting to co-exist under the same roof with other forms of gambling. During the previous 25 years, sports betting was quarantined in little mom-and-pop bookie joints. When the Royal Inn put in a sports book, Vaccaro moved over to that department.

In November of 1989, after stops at several other books, Steve Wynn hired Vaccaro to open a sportsbook inside his newest property, the Mirage. Situated in the center of the Las Vegas Strip, the Mirage, with its artificial volcano outside the front entrance, was instantly the most “must-see” attraction in town.

At the Mirage, Vaccaro was the only department head among those that interacted with hotel guests who wasn’t made to wear a suit and tie. Sometimes he showed up for work in jeans. He was a “suit” by virtue of being a department head (a derogatory term in Las Vegas, similar in some respects to bean counter), but by all accounts he didn’t own an actual suit. Concordantly, his style of bookmaking, unrestrained by Wynn, could be described as freewheeling.

In bookmaking, unlike pari-mutuel horse racing, odds are posted on an event and then adjusted, if necessary, to stimulate more betting on the side that is under-bet. A perfectly balanced book — where there is an identical amount of money on each side — is an ideal construct, an abstraction, but bookmakers strive to achieve this by adjusting the odds to where they get two-way action and thereby stand to make roughly the same profit regardless of the outcome.

At the Mirage, Vaccaro often didn’t wait for the money to show to adjust a betting line. If he had a “dead number” – for example, a pointspread on a football game that wasn’t attracting any good-sized wagers – he would adjust it in hopes of stimulating activity. He did this on slow days, or during slow periods of a day, simply as an antidote to boredom.

On one particularly slow day, basically just for the fun of it, Vaccaro decided to post a line on the Tyson-Douglas fight. Tyson would obviously be such a heavy favorite that the proposition would attract little betting, likely just a few peanuts from the suckers in the “bet a toothpick to win a lumberyard” crowd, but, what the heck, there was nothing wrong with a little window dressing. None of the other books in Nevada had it and most hadn’t even bothered to offer odds on how long the fight would last. The wise-guys figured that Tyson would blow Douglas away within the first three rounds.

Then something incredible happened. The seemingly invincible Iron Mike Tyson lost. Buster knocked him out in the 10th round. In short order, Vaccaro was summoned to appear on “Good Morning America.”

Window dressing at the Mirage wasn’t like window dressing at other properties. At other properties, a proposition designed as a conversation piece would be attached to a very low limit. The primary intent was free publicity. But the Mirage attracted a fair number of so-called whales, men (mostly from Asia) who would bet more in a short fling at baccarat than an average workingman would earn in an entire year. If inclined to bet on a sporting event, a whale could get down pretty much whatever he wanted. The sky was the limit.

Vaccaro has said that he took a $160,000 wager on Mike Tyson at 40/1 odds, a wager that would have won $4,000. That’s plausible given the clientele of the Mirage, but it’s a figure that I have always taken with a grain of salt. I say this because my friend Jimmy Vaccaro has tossed out different numbers over the years when asked about the betting.

According to various newspaper reports and what appears in certain books, the betting line opened at 27/1 (the consensus) or 35/1. It crested at 42/1 (the consensus) or 48/1.

Many years ago, Vaccaro told me for a book that I was writing that he accepted a $56,000 wager on Tyson at 28/1, a $64,000 wager at 32/1, and a $143,000 wager at 39/1. He would subsequently provide different figures (close, but different) to Las Vegas Review-Journal sportswriter Stephen Nover and others.

What is almost certainly true is that the odds hit 42/1 as they bounced around and that’s as good a number as any to illuminate the magnitude of Buster’s upset.

Nowadays, when so much betting is done online, one often sees fights where the odds are higher than 42/1. But usually these lines are just for show. Getting down a serious wager on the underdog is out of the question, although an exception would likely be made for a valued client who spreads his action around. In the old days, there were so-called newspaper lines, lines provided to newspapers for information purposes. If one wanted to bet into this line, he would likely be told, and gruffly, to go down to the newspaper office and talk to the sports editor. Good luck with that.

Odds play an important role in sports because they cut to the chase, knifing through the ballyhoo to inform us whether a match is likely to be competitive. And, as mentioned, they serve the purpose of quantifying the bigness of an upset. Before the Tyson-Douglas fight, the biggest upset in heavyweight boxing in recent times came when Leon Spinks upset Muhammad Ali in their first meeting. Ali was widely quoted as a 9/1 favorite.

Odds bedevil sportswriters, however, because they are not static and often vary from place to place. When a sportswriter weaves odds into his story, he is taking a snapshot of something that is fluid. It’s sort of like citing the distance from the shoreline to the lifeguard station at a beach. (As an aside, I would advise readers to be cautious of recycling odds that appear in old books. Most boxing historians have treated the odds very loosely and some have invented odds to imbue a storied fight with a higher shock quotient for dramatic effect.)

During my lifetime, there have been at least four instances where a baseball team available at 100/1 in April went on to win the World Series. The Leicester City soccer club overcame considerably higher odds to win the 2016 Premier League title. So, from a numbers standpoint, Buster Douglas’s upset was hardly the biggest upset in sports.

But there are upsets and then there are quantifiably lesser upsets that register much higher on the shock meter. I once met a person who told me that when he read in his Sunday morning newspaper that Mike Tyson had lost, the world stood still, as it did when JFK was assassinated and when OJ was acquitted. For some people, talk about the Tyson-Douglas fight brings back a flood of memories even if they never saw the fight.

By the way, Jimmy Vaccaro, who is prominently featured in “42 to 1,” is currently on the payroll at the South Point, a locals-oriented casino that is a good drive from the Strip, although it sits on the same boulevard. His main responsibility, so far as anyone can tell, is to hang around the sports book, one of the busiest in the city. His boss, South Point owner Michael Gaughan, once famously said, “I don’t know exactly what it is that Jimmy does around here.”

He’s still the most quotable sports betting personality in town, and as down-to-earth as ever, about what one would expect from a fellow whose father spent 42 years working in a Pennsylvania steel mill.

There are rumors that Vaccaro will be heading back to Pennsylvania before the Super Bowl and the odds of that happening, unfortunately, are a lot lower than 42/1. He’s the last of an era and the town would miss him.

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