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Catching Up With IBHOF Class of 2016 Inductee Hilario Zapata

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Inductee Hilario Zapata

Inductee Hilario Zapata – Panama’s Hilario Zapata is remembered as one of the fighters with the most championship rounds ever fought, and his accomplishments in the rings may exceed that already extraordinary achievement. But he has always kept his true goal close to his heart.

“The thing I wanted to do the most, the first thing I told to every writer who ever interviewed me was: ‘I have to become greater than Roberto Duran, because he was always winning, and I was winning my fights too, and (Eusebio) Pedroza was winning and we all had a competition going,” said Zapata, a former two-division champion who will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY, this coming Sunday. “That was my motivation in boxing. And now that I have entered the Hall of Fame, I finally matched his accomplishment. Roberto is there, I am there now, and for me it is a source of pride to be next to him.”

Not only will the legendary Duran, arguably the most popular and best Latin American fighter ever, be next to Zapata in the growing list of legends inducted into the Hall of Fame, but Duran will also be literally at his side on Sunday to be the first one to congratulate him. Their healthy neighborhood rivalry for street bragging rights and title belts is long behind them now, and they have found a common ground as compatriots, as former fighters, and now as legends.

Zapata, who was named “The Sparkplug” in his heyday due to his lightning speed and jerky, sudden movements in the ring, was born in El Chorrillo, the same Panamanian slum in which Duran woke up every day determined to leave the place behind. And they both did. But first, the mean streets of the old barrio taught them lessons that they never forgot, and made them who they are today.

“I was a street brawler,” reminisces Zapata, talking about his rough childhood. “I was always fighting in school and in the streets. Not a day went by at school in which I didn’t fight. I used to defend other people, and find any excuse to fight. Until it came to a point where I said ‘I am not defending anyone else, if they want me to fight for them I have to get paid’,” said Zapata who rapidly figured out how to set up a reasonable fee structure that every one of his friends in distress could afford when it came to request a whooping to one of their foes.

“If someone wanted me to beat a guy who wasn’t much bigger than me, that was 25 cents. That’s what I charged. If the guy was bigger, it was 50 cents. That was a lot of money back then. And then I started as an amateur and had a great run”, he said, claiming about 175 amateur fights to his credit with only three losses. “And when I became a professional I had one goal in mind, which was to become a world champion, and I got it.”

And he did it with a victory in Japan against Shigeo Nakajima in what was only his 12th professional bout, and his third one abroad. An accomplishment worthy of consideration, indeed, if only because it became merely the start of a legendary run in which he held the light flyweight title twice and the flyweight title as well, becoming second on the list of the most championship rounds ever fought with 304, right behind Emile Griffith’s 310. And he did it with a highly technical boxing style that allowed him to jump in and out of danger while connecting continuously with both hands from his awkward southpaw stance, always staying unpredictable and dangerous.

None of those goals, however, were there at the beginning of his career, when his one obsession had a name that he still mentions with a mix of reverence and veiled envy.

“When Duran lost his first fight and it became a competition between Pedroza and me, I thought ‘I have to keep up anyway, because Cholo will come back and he’ll be breathing on my neck again’. And of course, Cholo got back in the game and became champion again, and then I lost my title, but I worked hard to regain my title and I did, and said ‘I have to go on, because I must one-up Duran’, that was my wish. I wanted to be great, like Cholo, and even better. For me, this was an incentive to achieve everything I achieved, because everything I did in my career I did it to try to beat Roberto Duran.”

With Duran already in his fold as a friend and ally, the only remaining goal in Zapata’s career became to catch up with his two former enemies by earning the one honor that had been denied to him so far: the induction into the Boxing Hall of Fame.

That frustration ended with a call from WBA president Gilberto Mendoza.

“’Hilario, are you ready for the news?,’” recalls Zapata, when asked about how Mendoza told him about his induction. “He said ‘you got into the Hall of Fame’ and I started laughing with joy, so much so that even my hair was messed up, I looked like a cat. I said ‘no way, you’re lying’, but it was true, and my heart was beating fast and I was so excited. I was nominated on 17 occasions for the Hall of Fame, and I didn’t expect to enter this time.  It wasn’t just the time I expected to be elected; it was the moment in which God wanted me to be inducted. It was now, and I thank God for this privilege.”

After giving the deities their due, it was time to call the IBHOF and express his gratitude

“I told him how excited I was to be in the same place of honor with Roberto Duran, with Panama Al Brown, that great boxer we had, Ismael Laguna, Eusebio Pedroza, and other glories,” recalls Zapata about his brief phone conversation with IBHOF director Ed Brophy. “And now it is my turn, I am the fifth Panamanian to be inducted”.

He is also a part of a group of three 2016 inductees that share the common trait of being proud Latino fighters representing different Central American countries.

“This is a great situation, because all three of us are very deserving of this honor”, said Zapata, about his fellow inductees. “Lupe Pintor is an excellent boxer and former champion, a warrior like all Mexicans. And what can we say about Macho Camacho? A man who acted crazy, but in all his craziness he had great fights. I am happy for him, even though he won’t be with us to celebrate that, but I feel happy to be honored alongside those two great fighters that are Lupe and Macho.”

Today, Zapata lives in Panama City and works at the headquarters of the Banco Hipotecario, a mortgage banking institution, as a messenger and mailroom attendant, living a quiet life with his wife and surrounded by friends. But his transit to a non-boxing life was marred by the usual problems that prizefighters have endured when making this adjustment.

“After my fight with (Amado Ursua), I made a mistake that no one should make. I got into drugs, but I finally made it out of that world. My career went down and up, and up and down again. At one point I felt that my work of so many years was going to be lost, and I had to decide between drugs and boxing, and unfortunately took the wrong path.”

Later, in more desperate times, he sought refuge in the word of the Lord, and he found the solace he craved for and a new chance to get his life back on track.

“I asked God for forgiveness, and I made a pact with God that remains unbroken up to this day. He has blessed me with His guidance,” said Zapata, who claims to be 16 years sober.

Aside from his job and his family life, Zapata runs a boxing program called “No to drugs, yes to sports,” in which youngsters compete for a special title created by Zapata and with the support of the Panamanian government, his fellow boxers and others who have gone through his same situation.

“I do this with the notion that the fighters have to understand the problem of drugs, because they are invited to listen to former addicts and alcoholics as part of the event, and they give testimony about how my life was and how I was able to overcome this situation,” said Zapata.

Editor’s note: Diego Morilla writes from Argentina. Tomorrow he catches up with fellow IBHOF inductee Lupe Pintor. Check The Boxing Channel for our continued coverage of Hall of Fame Weekend direct from Canastota.

Inductee Hilario Zapata

 

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U.K. Boxing Update: Gorman, Bowen, Edwards, Quigley, and More

Arne K. Lang

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For the second time in the last three months, Great Britain’s top promoters Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren went head-to-head with dueling fight cards in England. When this last happened, back on Dec. 22, Warren had the stronger card from top to bottom, but Hearn’s show had the more compelling main event, namely the rematch between Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora. Today the roles were somewhat reversed. Hearn’s show had the stronger undercard, but the fighter attracting the most eyeballs, undefeated heavyweight Nathan Gorman, is promoted by Warren.

Leicester / Queensberry (Frank Warren) Promotion

In a predictably desultory affair, Nathan Gorman (16-0, 11 KOs) outpointed Kevin Johnson (34-13-1). This being a 10-rounder, the referee was the sole arbiter and he gave every round to Gorman, a distant cousin of Tyson Fury.

Kevin Johnson, a pro since 2003, took Vitali Klitschko the distance in 2009 and Tyson Fury the distance in 2012 and more recently went the full route with Daniel Dubois and Filip Hrogivic, but he won scarcely a round in those fights and in recent years has degenerated from a journeyman into a trial horse. He came into the fight 20 pounds heavier than in his last start 13 weeks ago and fought to survive, allowing Gorman to initiate what action there was.

Frank Warren can’t be blamed for promoting this snoozer. Johnson was a late replacement for Fabio Maldonado, a Brazilian who, although something of a mystery, was expected to provide Gorman with a sterner test. But Maldonado reneged after getting a better offer and will now fight Oleksandr Teslenko in Toronto next week.

The 22-year-old Gorman, who carried 253 pounds on his six-foot-three frame, is very light on his feet and some expect him to out-box his harder punching countryman Daniel Dubois when they eventually meet.

In the featured bout, Sam Bowen, a Leicestershire man, retained his British 130-pound title with a ninth round stoppage of Scotland’s Jordan McCorry. Bowen improved to 15-0 with his 10th stoppage.

London / Copper Box / Matchroom (Eddie Hearn) Promotion

In the main event of Hearn’s card, baby-faced Charlie Edwards (pictured on the left) put on a clinic in the first defense of the WBC world flyweight title he won with an upset of Cristofer Rosales. Edwards (15-1, 6 KOs) won every round over determined but outclassed Angel Moreno (19-3-2), a 35-year-old Spaniard and former sparring partner. Edwards scored a flash knockdown with a counter right hand in round six. All three judges had it 120-107.

Irish middleweight Jason Quigley, who signed with Golden Boy coming out of the amateur ranks and had fought exclusively in the United States, improved to 16-0 (12) with a second round stoppage of Mathias Eklund (10-2-2). Eklund was on his feet, but the ref thought it wise to keep the overmatched Finn from taking more punishment after Quigley blistered him with a series of unanswered punches. Quigley’s dream fight would be a match in Ireland with stablemate Canelo Alvarez.

Joshua Buatsi, an emerging star in the light heavyweight division, chopped down Liam Conroy to win the vacant BBBofC 175-pound title. Buatsi had taken out his last three opponents in the opening round but Conroy, who came into the match riding a nine-fight winning streak, lasted into the third. Buatsi, a Londoner born in Ghana and a bronze medalist at the Rio Olympics, improved to 10-0 (8). Conroy, who was on the deck twice, fell to 16-4-1.

Conroy’s promoter Eddie Hearn confirms that Buatsi’s next fight is likely to take place at Madison Square Garden on June 1 underneath Joshua-Miller.

In a cruiserweight fight with British and Commonwealth titles at stake, Lawrence Okolie improved to 12-0 (9) with a fourth round stoppage of Wadi Camacho (21-8). Okolie knocked Camacho to his knees with a hard combination and finished him off with a big right hand.

The most inexperienced British boxer to ever compete in the Olympics, the rangy six-foot-five Okolie has sparred with Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury and will almost assuredly compete as a heavyweight when he grows into his body.

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Meet Tom Schwarz, Tyson Fury’s Next Opponent

Arne K. Lang

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Fury vs Schwarz

Someone can’t keep a secret.

Top Rank honcho Bob Arum said he would not reveal Tyson Fury’s next opponent until tomorrow (Saturday, March 23) when he would “unseal the envelope” during the ESPN telecast of his show from the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, CA. But, as the saying goes, the cat is out of the bag. Multiple sources, including ESPN’s Dan Rafael, are reporting that Fury will fight Tom Schwarz in Las Vegas on June 15, likely at the MGM Grand although other Las Vegas venues are in the running.

The reaction has been overwhelmingly negative. By choosing Schwarz over a rematch with Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury’s reputation in the court of public opinion has taken a big tumble. “Tyson Fury fight with bum Tom Schwarz makes mockery of Gypsy King’s big claims and is bad news for fans,” reads the headline in the online edition of the infamous (but widely read) London Sun. “It’s yet another blow for boxing fans; the paying public is being shortchanged due to a current TV bidding war,” reads the article by the un-bylined author.

Bob Arum and his comrades at ESPN are facing a lot of damage control. We’ll give them a booster shot by saying that Tom Schwarz, a 24-year-old German who customarily carries 240 pounds on a six-foot-five-and-a-half frame, isn’t too shabby.

Here’s the negatives; let’s get them out of the way.

Although undefeated in 24 fights with 16 knockouts, Schwarz has defeated no one of note. The folks at BoxRec are so unimpressed with his strength of schedule that they rate him 41st among heavyweights which, for reference purposes, is 35 slots below Anthony Joshua’s next opponent Jarrell Miller and 31 places below Deontay Wilder’s next opponent, Dominic Breazeale.

Schwarz has had the home field advantage in most of his fights. He’s fought only twice outside Germany and he didn’t venture very far. Six of his fights, including his match with Kristijan Krstacic earlier this month, were in Magdeburg, his hometown.

But there are some plusses that a PR man can seize upon. Although records in professional boxing are notoriously deceiving, it seems relevant that Schwarz’s last six opponents are a combined 84-5-1. He hasn’t fought a real tomato can since October of 2014 when he met Tomas Mrazek, a fellow whose current record shows only 10 wins in 86 fights.

Schwarz’s fight with Krstacic can be found on YouTube. One can’t learn much from it as Krystacic, a 38-year-old Croatian, was outweighed by 31 pounds, but one could see that Schwarz has good fundamentals. He landed some good body shots in the opening round and then clubbed his man into submission in the next stanza, scoring three knockdowns.

German heavyweights, in the main, have performed poorly on American soil although it’s worth noting that many ringsiders thought Axel Schulz deserved the nod when he fought George Foreman at the MGM Grand in April of 1995. Foreman won a majority decision and then relinquished his IBF belt rather than give Schulz a rematch.

If Tom Schwarz is looking for inspiration, he should summon the 1936 ghost of Max Schmeling who was a big underdog when he knocked out the seemingly indestructible Joe Louis. That was a non-title fight, by the way, as will be true of Schwarz’s fight with Tyson Fury unless one of the four major sanctioning bodies creates a hole for it by declaring their title vacant. And as for that possibility, don’t bet against it.

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A Night of Upsets on the Golden Boy Card in Hollywood

David A. Avila

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upsets

HOLLYWOOD-A night of upsets awaited those driving to Hollywood in the angry storm on Thursday night. No one survived unscathed in the film and music capital of the world.

Mercito Gesta (32-3-2) tasted defeat against Juan Antonio Rodriguez (30-7, 26 KOs) by technical knockout in their lightweight clash that was the main event at the Avalon Theater. The likeable Filipino southpaw was world ranked in the top position by one organization.

Few expected Rodriguez to battle Gesta on even terms, especially with his multiple losses, but those who had seen him perform before knew he could punch and knew he could take a punch.

It was a battle of chins and a battle between southpaws.

Rodriguez absorbed heavy blows from Gesta and at times seemed ready to surrender. But somehow he would return fire and the heavy blows continued to rain from both lefthanders.

Gesta had the speed advantage but was unable to use it effectively. For eight rounds the two blasted each other with impunity but never reckless.

Finally, in the ninth round, as Gesta decided to hit and move, Rodriguez timed one of the blows coming in and delivered an overhand left cross that staggered the former world title challenger. Rodriguez immediately sensed the moment was ripe and unloaded strategic blows on Gesta who was out-punched 20 to 2 in the last 15 seconds. Referee Zachary Young stopped the fight at 2:55 of the ninth round.

A shaky Gesta walked back to his corner.

“He was there all the time so I went to the body,” said Rodriguez. “He just stopped punching.”

The classy Gesta was generous even in defeat.

“It was a good fight,” said Gesta who is trained by Freddie Roach. “The guy was tough. He fought hard. No excuses from me…I’m a fighter, and I love challenges.”

Undefeated Welterweights

Las Vegas fighter Blair Cobb (10-0-1, 6 KOs) won the battle of undefeated welterweights by unanimous decision after eight bloody rounds with local hero Ferdinand Kerobyan (11-1, 6 KOs). The win gave Cobb (pictured) the Junior NABA title.

Kerobyan, a North Hollywood native, brought hundreds of fans to the historic Avalon Theater and cheers went up when he first arrived to the boxing ring.

Cobb, who fights out of Las Vegas but is originally from Philadelphia, arrived with his small contingent including former world champion Clarence “Bones” Adams in his corner and used his reach and speed to deliver some heavy blows early in the fight. During one of the exchanges in the first round a gash emerged above the right eye of Kerobyan. From that point on it was an uphill battle for the Armenian-American fighter. But he never quit.

After eight back and forth rounds the judges scored the fight 77-75 twice and 79-73 for Cobb.

“I give him a lot of credit for hanging in there. He was very tough, but I showed I was the superior fighter,” said Cobb. “He was a phenomenal fighter. I expected the fight to be easy.”

Featherweights

A featherweight clash between Manuel “Tito” Avila (23-1-1) and Mexico’s Jose Gonzalez (23-7-1) ended in a split draw after eight rounds of clinching. It was Northern California’s Avila’s second fight since losing to Jojo Diaz last year in Las Vegas. The bullish rushes by Gonzalez especially with his head seemed to bother Avila. After eight rounds all three judges saw it differently 77-75 for Avila, 77-75 for Gonzalez and 76-76 a split draw.

Other Bouts

You can never tell by someone’s physique who’s going to win. Muscular heavyweight James “The Beast” Wilson (7-0-1, 6 KOs) met blown up doughboy Miguel Cubos (13-20-1, 10 KOs) in what looked to be a mismatch. Even to Wilson it must have seem like easy pickings, but when he unloaded his barrage of heavy blows and could not land a damaging blow in the first round it became apparent the flabby Mexican foe from San Luis Potosi could apparently box. And he did it very well.

Wilson was determined to get the knockout especially after Cubos began taunting him with raised arms after landing his own blows. But it became apparent it was not going to happen and Wilson’s corner must have warned him not to blow his gas tank. From the third round on it was a strategic battle of wits and big blows that missed. And each time Cubos would raise his both arms a la Manny Pacquiao. The crowd cheered every time.

After six back and forth rounds of action from the two physically different heavyweights the judges scored it a majority draw with tallies of 58-56 for Wilson and two others 57-57 even.

Super lightweight David Mijares (7-0, 3 KOs) won by unanimous decision over Puerto Rico’s Antonio Sanchez (6-6-2, 3 KOs) after six rounds. Mijares was the more technically adept fighter and used his southpaw stance effectively against Sanchez. The Puerto Rican fighter had his moments especially with the right cross down the pipe. Neither fighter was ever hurt and Mijares won by scores 60-54 three times.

Oscar Acevedo (5-0) defeated tough Daniel Bastien (6-6-2) by decision after four rounds in a lightweight contest. Acevedo used his jabs and sharp combinations to keep the always aggressive Bastien from over running him. Both traded evenly especially in the last two rounds with Acevedo losing ground to Bastien. But not enough to convince the judges. The scores were 40-38, and 39-37 twice for Acevedo.

In a fight featuring a huge height disparity Chicago’s Chris Ousley (10-0, 9 KOs) took care of business against the much smaller Jorge Munguia(13-15, 5 KOs) in the first round by knockout in a super middleweight match. The first stiff jab by Ousley rocked Munguia who tried to hide behind a peek-a-boo defense to no avail. Ousley tore that defense apart with ease. A three-punch combination capped by a right uppercut sent the Honduran fighter to one knee. He beat the count but was battered by Ousley until referee Zachary Young ended it at 1:54 of the first round.

Photo credit: Alonzo Coston

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