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Back to Back Boxing Jewels in Southern California This Weekend

David A. Avila

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Southern

Once again summer means the Southern California landscape will be sizzling with fight cards from Montebello to Inglewood.

Perhaps the most curious of the cluster of fights takes place at the Forum in Inglewood on Saturday July 15. HBO will televise but only a few. It would be better to watch in person with two world title fights and an elimination light heavyweight clash in place.

But first let’s look at Friday night.

It’s been several years now since Golden Boy Promotions began staging regular fight cards at Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles. It’s been the jewel of all fight cards in Southern California.

Not since the glory days of the Olympic Auditorium from the 1930s to the 1980s has a regular boxing series taken hold like the Belasco series.

During the glory days the Olympic had a weekly series of boxing cards that brought everyone from Henry Armstrong to Danny “Li’l Red” Lopez headlining the old boxing palace.

The late Bennie Georgino, who managed Lopez and Alberto Davila, used to lament the loss of the weekly boxing series at the Olympic. Back in the 50s and 60s Georgino had a sandwich shop located right across the street from the now defunct Herald-Examiner newspaper. Ironically, the old newspaper building is across the street from the Belasco Theater.

During boxing’s heyday when newspapers actually had beat reporters covering the sport and competing for headlines, there were more than five daily newspapers battling in Los Angeles. It was in the 1960s that the Times and Mirror merged along with the Herald and Examiner merging too.

“Boxing will never return to Los Angeles,” Georgino would tell me often. But it has returned.

On Friday, another roster of talented youngsters are showcased at the old downtown theater.

Belasco

A co-main event features Edgar Valerio (10-0, 6 KOs) a tall featherweight from Los Angeles meeting Torreon, Mexico’s Jairo Ochoa (18-11, 9 KOs) in an eight round bout.

Valerio, 22, is managed by Joel De La Hoya and at first was fighting at bantamweight but now at 126 pounds and has gained power with the extra weight. He’s fearless and has lofty goals.

“I’ve never seen anyone work harder,” said De La Hoya of Valerio. “I know you need that kind of work ethic to go far. I watched my brother (Oscar De La Hoya) during his entire career and that’s what it takes to go to the top. Nobody worked harder.”

Another to watch on the card is Joshua Franco (11-0, 6 Kos) who began at bantamweight but has lately fought as a super flyweight and faces Antonio Rodriguez (11-16-1).

Franco, 21, a San Antonio, Texas native, trains in Riverside under the guidance of Robert Garcia. Every time he enters the boxing ring he seems to get better and better. He kind of reminds me of a smaller version of Mikey Garcia with his ability to set up punches and opponents. I’m sure being around Mikey Garcia has influenced more than a few of Franco’s moves.

Forum

On Saturday a fight card co-promoted by various major promoters opens up the Forum for a heavy duty-affair.

Back in the 70s when it was called the Fabulous Forum, some of the best boxing cards took place including my own favorite Mexican versus Mexican clash, Carlos Zarate (45-0, 44 KOs) versus Alfonso Zamora (29-0, 29 KOs). It was called the Battle of the ZZZ Boys. The two Mexican bantamweight champions were undefeated and had a combined  73 knockouts in 74 pro fights. It was a ridiculous percentage of knockouts. That day on April 23, 1977, Zarate put Zamora to sleep in the fourth round. Riots erupted, cherry bombs were lit, a wrestler entered the ring to challenge anyone and both trainers of Zarate and Zamora ended up throwing blows with each other.

Hopefully we don’t repeat the riot but see the knockouts. Expect several knockouts on Saturday.

One surefire firecracker of a fight will be WBC super featherweight titlist Miguel Berchelt (31-1, 28 KOs) defending against the former titleholder Japan’s Takashi Miura (31-3-2, 24 KOs) in the main event.

If you follow boxing than you must know about the intense rivalry Japan and Mexico have had in the boxing ring for decades. The first boxing match I ever attended at the Olympic was a Japan vs Mexico rivalry when Sho Saijo defeated Jose Pimentel on March 21, 1968. They fought each other three times with Saijo winning the world title on their third encounter.

Once again we have a Japanese warrior in Miura. This guy has been involved in two all-time classics. The first was in August 2013 when he and Sergio “Yeyo” Thompson met in 100 degree heat inside a bull ring in Cancun. It was stifling in that arena and both Miura and Thompson fought to near death. Each floored the other and the fight changed momentum several times. Finally, Miura emerged the winner by unanimous decision after an incredible 12 rounds. In November 2015, Mexico’s Francisco Vargas challenged Miura and both clashed like two pit bulls. Miura nearly knocked out Vargas in the fourth round and then was near a knockout win when Vargas surprised him and stopped the Japanese champion in the ninth round. In his last fight, Miura dazed another  Mexican warrior, Miguel Roman, with a paralyzing body shot and then mercilessly bombed him with blows for a knockout.

Miura is one hard man.

“This will be my third fight in the United States, and I feel comfortable in getting myself acclimated to the time difference. I am looking forward to being on HBO again and putting on an exciting fight for the boxing fans,” said Miura. “If I am able to get the belt back Saturday, and the opportunity is there, I would want to unify the belts in the super featherweight division.”

Now we have Berchelt whose fight against Francisco Vargas last January could be the Fight of the Year for 2017. Both exchanged blows that left the audience dumbfounded by the sheer violence. It’s one of the reasons that Golden Boy matchmaker Robert Diaz recently won an award for his talented pairings. The Berchelt-Miura fight just might bump off the January affair. It’s a fight you have to see in person to appreciate.

“This by no means will be an easy fight – Miura has gone to war many times in his career and I am expecting nothing less in this fight,” said Mexico’s Berchelt. “I want to prove that winning this belt was no fluke, and defending it against a warrior like Miura is the perfect opportunity to do that.”

Heavy Construction

Regular Joe Smith (23-1, 19 KOs) the construction worker comes to town once again and this time he faces Cuban dandy Sullivan Barrera (19-1, 14 KOs) in defense of the WBC International light heavyweight title. It’s sort of an elimination contest. Usually when you win the WBC International title you get to the front of the line to face the champion which is Adonis Stevenson. But so far it hasn’t happened for Mr. Smith.

“We were looking for a title fight. Looking to get Stevenson but that didn’t work out,” said Smith a dues paying member of Local 66 as a construction worker.

Now “regular” Joe by day and “Killer” Joe by night is poised to face another ranked light heavyweight in Barrera.

Smith says L.A. has been good to him so far. The last time he stepped in the ring he knocked Bernard Hopkins out of the ring. No one ever had stopped the great Hopkins in a fight in his entire career until last December at the same Forum.

“That fight got my name out there,” said Smith. “Everybody knows who Hopkins is.”

Despite knocking out Andrzei Fonfara, who had previously knocked out Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the New York construction worker was stuck in limbo. Now he’s stuck on the “must avoid list” and meets Barrera whose win over Ukraine’s Vlacheslav Shabranskyy earned him a place on this card.

Barrera’s attempt to gain recognition came against Andre Ward last year. The Cuban native was unable to defeat Ward but then no one else has either. No shame in losing to Oakland’s Ward.

“Smith beat a legend in Bernard Hopkins, but [Hopkins] had been out of the ring for a long time before their fight,” said Barrera.

Killer Joe Smith has his hands full with Barrera and vice versa. It appears to be a firecracker of a fight looming on Saturday.

KingRy

In one year the 18-year-old Ryan “KingRy” Garcia has blazed through nine opponents with a semblance of speed, power and guile not seen since 1992. He doesn’t turn 19 until the first week of August but one would swear they’ve seen him for years.

Garcia fights out of the desert community of Victorville, Calif. and you may think because of its small town locale the lanky lightweight is a secret waiting to happen. But the boxing world already knows Garcia, especially with 15 US National titles as an amateur hanging on his walls.

Now the pro world is witnessing what many have predicted for the kid with the best left hook since Oscar De La Hoya. Best right too. He has all of the tools and is still getting his professional style polished to perfection.

In his last fight that left hook was like an apparition. You think you might have seen it but the suddenness and finality of its impact left his opponent that night at T-Mobile immobile and helpless.

Garcia is a gym rat and is known to travel to various gyms in search of polishing up his growing skills. At this point his quick reflexes are his primary defense. There are a few openings and cracks on his defensive shield but no one has been able to pierce the barrier. This is a chance for fans to see for themselves another Southern California jewel in the tradition of De La Hoya, Shane Mosley and Fernando Vargas. They don’t come that often. Take advantage of it. His fight will not be televised so the best advice would be to purchase a ticket to take a look at this young phenom.

Garcia (9-0, 8 KOs) faces Mexico’s Mario Antonio Macias (28-21, 14 KOs) in a lightweight clash set for four rounds. Macias has fought nothing but contenders in his last three fights including Gervonta Davis the current IBF super featherweight titlist. It’s a matchup meant to test the abilities of Garcia. He is on a fast track.

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Did Jennings’ Loss Mark Arum’s Last Hope to Again Taste Heavyweight Glory?

Bernard Fernandez

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For someone who promotes two fighters who are widely considered to be the world’s pound-for-pound best, what took place Friday night at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, N.Y., had to be a somewhat bitter pill for Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum to swallow.

The good news for the 87-year-old Arum is that his fast-rising featherweight prospect Shakur Stevenson (10-0, 6 KOs), a silver medalist at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, took another long stride toward possible superstardom with an impressive fourth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jessie Cris Rosales (22-2-1, 10 KOs) in the co-featured bout televised via ESPN+.

But while Stevenson could become a world champion in the 126-pound weight class as early as 2020, the reality is that the highly skilled little lefthander is not and never will be a heavyweight. Neither will lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko or welterweight champion Terence Crawford, the current headliners of the Top Rank stable who already have outgrown a couple of lower-weight divisions but can never be heavyweights except in terms of their prodigious talent. Many knowledgable observers consider Lomachenko and Crawford, in whichever order, to be first and second among all fighters regardless of poundage, and certainly no worse than somewhere in the top three or four.

All of which means that the 12th-round technical knockout of Bryant “By-By” Jennings (24-3, 14 KOs) by underdog Oscar Rivas (26-0, 18 KOs) in the main event could eliminate any chance, however slim it might have been, of Arum having another heavyweight champion before he retires. Jennings, a relatively recent addition (in the summer of 2017) to the Top Rank stable who went in ranked No. 2 by the WBO, No. 7 by the WBA and No. 8 by the IBF, likely will fall out of the top 10 of all three sanctioning bodies. That might have been the case even had Jennings not fallen victim to Rivas’ final-round surge. Although it appeared to the ESPN+ broadcast crew that the Philadelphian should have been comfortably ahead on points, he was on the wrong end of two of the three judges’ scorecards and would have lost anyway if he somehow made it to the final bell.

Although Jennings  gave a credible account of himself in his only shot at a world title, losing a unanimous decision to IBF/WBA/WBO champion Wladimir Klitschko on April 25, 2015, his age is only one factor working against him now. There are simply too many hungry contenders standing between him and another shot at boxing’s biggest prize.

Prior to Jennings’ most recent bout before his meeting with Rivas, a ninth-round TKO of Russia’s Alexander Dimitrenko last Aug. 18 in Atlantic City, N.J., his trainer, John David Jackson, offered his opinion as to why the Top Rank honcho would ride the “By-By” train as far as it would go before it derailed.

“I think Bob wants one more heavyweight champion,” Jackson offered. “Yeah, he has a lot of great fighters, but if you have the heavyweight king, you rule boxing. It’s still the most prestigious and marketable division in the sport. That’s just how it works. And Bryant represents the last, best opportunity for Bob to get there before he retires.”

Arum, a former member of U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy’s Justice Department in the early 1960s, has been promoting boxing matches – more than 2,000, and counting — for 52 years, and while some of his greatest successes have come with fighters from featherweight to middleweight, his promotional debut involved a heavyweight who was the biggest of them all. Introduced to Muhammad Ali by football great Jim Brown, Arum started at the very top, staging Ali’s winning title defense against rugged Canadian George Chuvalo on March 29, 1966, at Toronto’s Maple Leafs Garden. He would go on to promote 26 Ali fights, his most with any heavyweight.

“I didn’t know boxing,” Arum once said of his almost-accidental introduction to what would become his life’s work. “I didn’t even really know about divisions other than heavyweight. I only knew there were heavyweights. Then people started contacting me about promoting fighters in other divisions and believe me, it was a good four or five years after I started with Ali.”

After Arum’s long and fruitful association with Ali ended, he continued to build his company by showcasing such celebrated non-heavyweights as Carlos Monzon, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Julio Cesar Chavez, James Toney, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Miguel Cotto and, of course, Lomachenko and Crawford. But Arum pined for another thrill ride with a heavyweight attraction as compelling as had been his heyday with Ali, or as close an approximation to that as possible.

He found it in the unlikely person of George Foreman, who had been retired for 10 years. Arum took a flier on the old and plump Foreman as his improbable comeback gathered momentum, although initially doubting that he and the presumably cheerier version of Big George would click.

“I was not enthusiastic, realizing what a horrid person he had been,” Arum said of his expectation that Foreman’s personality makeover was false and contrived. “After spending an hour with him I said, `This is the greatest con man in history,’ because he was so different from what he had been before. But it wasn’t a con. He had really changed.”

It was one of Arum’s, and Top Rank’s, grandest moments when the 45-year-old Foreman, far behind on points, regained the heavyweight title he had relinquished to Ali so many years earlier with a one-punch, bolt-from-the-blue 10th-round knockout of Michael Moorer on Nov. 11, 1994. But Foreman took a pounding in getting a gift nod over Axel Schulz in his next outing, and he retired again after losing a controversial majority decision to Shannon Briggs on Nov. 22, 1997. Arum’s dips into the heavyweight pool since then have been infrequent and generally less than satisfying. He has tried his hand to generate some of that old big-man magic with former champs Hasim Rahman and Ray Mercer, to no avail.

Top Rank’s relatively low-risk co-promotional signings of Jennings and then-WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker, who promptly lost his unification matchup with Anthony Joshua, again have failed to produce the desired results. Last month Arum worked out a co-promotional deal with the management of Bulgarian veteran Kubrat Pulev. More recently he inked a new heavyweight hope in Sonny Conto, a 22-year-old from South Philadelphia who was the silver medalist at the 2018 National Golden Gloves. The 6-foot-4 Conto, who turns pro against the ever-popular opponent to be named on Feb. 8, is being called “a superstar in the making” by his manager, David McWater, and maybe he might turn out to be just that. But it takes time for a newly minted pro to work his way up to champion or even contender status, and by the time Conto gets there – if he gets there at all – it is hardly a given that an already octogenarian Arum will be around to savor the moment.

Until then, we’ll all have to imagine what it might be like if there was a machine that could enlarge Lomachenko and Crawford by six or seven inches in height and a hundred pounds of heft.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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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Ringside at Turning Stone: Rivas TKOs Jennings; Stevenson Wins Impressively

Matt Andrzejewski

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Rivas

VERONA, NY — In the main event at Turning Stone Resort & Casino, Oscar Rivas (26-0, 18 KO’s) scored a mild upset in stopping Bryant Jennings (24-3, 14 KO’s) in the twelfth and final round of their heavyweight bout.

The fight was largely a tactical contest. Rivas was the aggressor pressing forward with Jennings circling and fighting off his back foot. Neither was throwing a high volume of punches.

In the first five rounds, Rivas’ aggression seemed to be getting to Jennings. Rivas landed some solid eye catching combinations retreating Jennings, while Jennings was largely holding back on his own offense.

But in round six, Jennings started moving his hands more and began to seize control of the contest. He seemed to control the next few rounds by simply moving his hands, landing the left jab at will and following that up with combinations.

Rivas stemmed Jennings momentum in the eleventh by upping his aggression and letting go with more combinations. He seemed to realize the fight could be close and something dramatic could be needed on his end.

And that something dramatic came in round twelve. Rivas came out throwing and landed a thudding left hook on Jennings’ chin that sent Jennings reeling backwards. Rivas quickly followed up on his advantage and after landing several power shots put Jennings down on the canvas. Jennings made it to his feet but was met quickly with a fusillade of punches from Rivas. With Jennings unable to protect himself, referee Gary Rosato waived the fight off.

Interestingly, Rivas was ahead on two cards by scores of 105-104 and 106-103 entering the twelfth round. The other card was in favor of Jennings by a margin of 106-103.

In the co-feature, featherweight prospect Shakur Stevenson (10-0, 6 KO’s) displayed all the skills that make him one of boxing’s best prospects in dispatching of Jessie Cris Rosales (22-2-1, 10 KO’s) in round four of their scheduled ten round fight.

Rosales was considered to be a significant step up in class for Stevenson, but from the opening bell it was apparent that Rosales had no answer for Stevenson’s speed. Stevenson, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist, came out pumping an effective sharp right jab from his southpaw stance. He then worked some blistering combinations behind that jab.

As the fight progressed into round three, Stevenson mixed in some flashy short quick uppercuts on the inside along with some thudding body shots that seemed to be wearing down the tough Rosales.

Early in round four, Rosales connected with a looping right that made Stevenson flash a quick grin. Shortly after, Stevenson let his hands go, landing some eye-popping combination that put Rosales in trouble along the ropes. A quick short left hand then planted Rosales on the canvas and though he beat the count referee Charlie Fitch wisely waived a halt to the contest.

Afterwards, Stevenson called out IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington.

2016 Olympic gold medalist Robson Conceicao (11-0, 5 KO’s) coasted to an easy unanimous eight round decision win against Hector Ambriz (12-9-2, 6 KO’s) in a 130-pound contest. This marked the third straight eight round decision win for Conceicao.

Veteran 130-pound contender Jason Sosa (22-3-4, 15 KO’s) survived a second round knockdown and scored a ten round unanimous decision win against Moises Delgadillo (17-19-2, 9 KO’s). After some early struggles, Sosa rallied to control the second half of the fight including scoring a knockdown of his own in round seven to secure the hard fought victory.

Two-time Olympian Vikas Krishan (1-0, 1 KO) made a successful debut stopping Steven Andrade in the second round (3-4, 2 KO’s) of their 154-pound contest. Krishan, from India, scored a knockdown with a left to the body in round two and then battered Andrade forcing referee Benjy Esteves to stop the bout.

Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (7-0, 4 KO’s), a 2016 Olympic gold medalist, scored a TKO win against Ricardo Garcia (14-5-1, 9 KO’s) when Garcia failed to answer the bell to start round five. Gaibnazarov, who competes in the 140-pound division, dominated the bout from the opening bell including scoring a knockdown in round three before the contest was called to an end.

In the opening bout of the night, Carlos Adames (16-0, 13 KO’s) stopped Juan Ruiz (21-4, 13 KO’S) with a right hook to the body in the third round of their junior middleweight contest.

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Fast Results From New York City: Andrade TKOs Akavov; Cano Shocks Linares

Arne K. Lang

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DAZN

Eddie Hearn, the head of the boxing division of the U.K. sports conglomerate founded by his father, continued his invasion of the United States tonight with a nine-bout show in the Hulu Theater of Madison Square Garden. The featured bouts were live-streamed across the globe on DAZN and shown on SKY Sports Arena in the United Kingdom. Topping the bill was the WBO world middleweight title match between Demetrius Andrade and challenger Artur Akavov.

Andrade-Akavov

Andrade, a 2008 Olympian from Providence, R.I., successfully defended his title and advanced his record to 27-0 (17) with a 12th round stoppage of his game but outclassed Russian opponent. Akavov  (19-3) was on his feet when the referee ordered a halt with 24 seconds remaining in the bout. Akavov, who ate a steady helping of jabs, wasn’t badly hurt but was hopelessly behind on the cards.

Cano-Linares

The co-feature, a junior welterweight attraction, produced a shocking upset when Mexico’s Pablo Cesar Cano (38-7-1) walked right through former three-division title-holder Jorge Linares (45-5), taking the globetrotting Venezuelan out in the very first round. Linares, who was considered a borderline Hall of Famer going in, was knocked to the canvas 20 seconds into the fight and was on the deck three times before the referee called a halt at the 2:45 mark.

Doheny

In the first defense of his IBF world 122-pound title, TJ Doheny was fed a softie in Yokohama schoolteacher Ryohei Takahashi. A massive favorite, Doheny (20-0, 15 KOs) was comfortably ahead on points when the referee intervened in round 11 to keep the Japanese import (16-4-1) from taking a worse beating. Doheny’s next match, according to Eddie Hearn, will be a unification fight against WBA counterpart Danny Roman.

Other Bouts

In a 10-round match contested at 140 pounds, Chris Algieri, briefly a title-holder in this weight division, scored his second win on the comeback trail with a unanimous decision over former sparring partner Daniel Gonzalez. The scores were 98-92, 97-93, and 96-94. Algieri (24-3) faded late and left the ring to a chorus of boos. Gonzalez slipped to 17-2-1.

Amanda Serrano made short work of her Austrian opponent, Eva Voraberger, taking her out in the opening round to gather in the vacant WBO world female super flyweight title. Serrano improved her ledger to 36-1-1 with her 27th knockout. She came in at 114 ½ pounds, having previously weighed as high as 130, and was seeking to become a title-holder in a seventh weight class.

Serrano knocked Voraberger (24-6) to her knees with a right-left combo and Voraberger, who was in severe pain, made no attempt rise. Forget those seven title belts; this young Brooklyn-based Puerto Rican can really fight.

In a welterweight match slated for six rounds, Julian Sosa, who has a large fan base in Brooklyn’s Mexican-American community, stopped Congolese import Deiumerci Nzau who retired on his stool after three frames. Sosa improves to 13-0-1 (5), Nzau falls to 11-7.

Heavyweight Nkosi Solomon evened his record at 1-1 and rebounded from a dismal performance in his pro debut with a 4-round unanimous decision over Rodriguez Cade (2-4). Solomon dropped his puffy opponent in the third round and won by scores of 40-35 on all three cards.

Staten Island’s Reshat Mati (3-0) needed only 66 seconds to turn back Ghana’s Benjamin Borteye (4-4). Mati came out smoking and scored a fast knockdown. Borteye beat the count but was on unsteady legs when the referee intervened. You will be hearing a lot more of the 20-year-old Mati, nicknamed the Albanian Bear, who was a teenage prodigy in multiple combat sports.

In the opening bout of the evening, a welterweight affair, Cornell Hines improved to 4-0 with a 4-round unanimous decision over Salt Lake City’s Farhad Fatulla (1-3).

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