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Three Punch Combo: The Story Behind Lomachenko-Marriaga and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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Marriaga

THREE PUNCH COMBO — On Saturday, Vasyl Lomachenko (8-1, 6 KO’s) makes the third defense of his 130-pound title when he faces Miguel Marriaga (25-2, 21 KO’s) in an ESPN televised main event. Many boxing insiders see Marriaga as an unworthy challenger and expect the fight to be a cakewalk for the ultra-skilled Lomachenko. So why are we seeing such a fight on a big platform like ESPN? It’s the business of the sport that produced the bout.

Top Rank, Lomachenko’s promoter, clearly wanted Orlando Salido as the opponent for Lomachenko for this date. With limited options at 130 for Lomachenko, facing the only fighter he lost to as a pro in what was an entertaining fight made a lot of sense. However, Salido is well aware that there are not a lot of options at 130 for Lomachenko and that he is by far the most marketable name available. Salido set a high price for his services. It was not met and Salido will continue to hold out, believing that one day his price will be met.

So with Salido out, where else could Top Rank turn? They needed to keep Lomachenko busy and wanted him on the ESPN platform but did not have many options. The other top 130 pounders either already had fights scheduled or had previously turned down overtures to face Lomachenko. The list was thin and Top Rank ultimately, in a very calculated decision, settled on Marriaga.

Why Marriaga? He is coming off a loss to Oscar Valdez and his other loss was a one-sided defeat against Nicholas Walters. Lomachenko, of course, dominated the same Walters last November, so the selection of Marriaga as Lomachenko’s opponent wasn’t going to go over well in the boxing community.

The way Top Rank looked at this was that no matter who they picked, the opponent would not go over well after they could not entice Salido to take the bait. Marriaga is a name boxing fans are familiar with and, more importantly, his style is what Top Rank was seeking. In his bouts against Walters and Valdez, Marriaga showed at times an almost reckless abandon. He was willing to be aggressive and let his hands go, hoping to land something big to change the course of those bouts. By being so aggressive, he did land but also got hit a lot.

Why is this important? If Marriaga brings this same style to the ring when facing Lomachenko, we may see something in a Lomachenko fight that we have not seen happen to him since he faced Salido. I would venture to say we are going to see Lomachenko get hit. Marriaga is going to let his hands fly like he did against Walters and Valdez and inevitably land some punches. Lomachenko will counter and pick Marriaga apart but it’s the get hit part that is important.

Top Rank needed an opponent that Lomachenko could handle but also look a little vulnerable against. They need him to get hit. Lomachenko has been so dominant that he is scaring off many potential foes. Why get in the ring with someone who is just going to pick you apart while you are swinging at air? The risk is not worth it. So Top Rank needed an opponent who would be willing to let his hands fly and go for broke in the hopes that Lomachenko gets touched a bit. They need him to look somewhat human and not just a machine that dissects his opposition to bits. If Lomachenko gets cracked a few times, maybe other potential opponents think they can do something and the risk now becomes worth their while. That is how the business of the sport brought us Lomachenko-Marriaga on Saturday.

What Is Next For Mikey Garcia and Adrien Broner?

Mikey Garcia (37-0, 30 KO’s) scored a dominant unanimous decision win against Adrien Broner (33-3, 24 KO’s) in a bout contested in the 140-pound division. Now Garcia and Broner will head in drastically different paths with Garcia on the road to some more substantial fights while Broner must pick up the pieces.

In all probability, Garcia will return to the lightweight division his next time out where he still holds a belt. At age 29 and entering the prime of his career, he is clearly seeking big fights. The most likely opponent for Garcia would seem to be another belt holder at lightweight in Robert Easter Jr. Easter is undefeated with some solid wins under his belt and in need himself of a big fight. Easter is also aligned with Al Haymon and with Garcia having fought under the PBC banner his last three times out, the fight would seemingly be easy to make.

Garcia is a smart individual surrounded by very intelligent people. They realize the importance of marketability in this sport. It’s a big reason why Garcia and his team took the Broner fight. Broner has a name and Garcia needed the name on his resume. Easter may not have the name that Broner has, but Easter does have a belt and a win over him would make Garcia a unified champion and drive his price up. Keep in mind there is a huge name fighting one division below lightweight in the aforementioned Lomachenko who has made overtures about moving up if a big fight presents itself. Well, if Garcia is a unified champion, he would not only make for a natural opponent for Lomachenko in a super fight but also have serious bargaining power when negotiating such a fight.

As for Broner, as I wrote last week, his legacy takes a serious hit with the loss to Garcia. Broner needs to go back to the drawing board to resurrect his career. He is only 28 and has time to get back in the picture. Expect him to take a similar path that he took following his first career loss to Marcos Maidana. Broner will fight the classic “B” level type opponents and get a few wins in fights where he is heavily favored. One such opponent could be Ricky Burns. A Broner-Burns fight has been discussed on and off for a few years and the time may finally be right in the careers of both men to make it happen.

Under The Radar Fights

We have another big weekend of televised action this week. As is often the case of such weekends, a few fights tend to fly under the radar. A pair of fights on ESPN are not getting much attention right now but should not be missed.

On Saturday, Raymundo Beltran (33-7-1, 21 KO’s) returns to face Bryan Vasquez (35-2, 19 KO’s) in a lightweight fight that could turn into a war. The bout will serve as a co-feature to Vasyl Lomachenko’s 130-pound title defense. This is the third time I have featured Beltran in the under the radar segment and for good reason. He has a crowd pleasing style that just makes for good entertaining fights. He constantly presses forward looking to make the fight and draw opponents into exchanges. Vasquez is a solid fighter who has a very similar style to that of Beltran. See why I love this fight? We have two fighters who like to be aggressive and press the action. And two fighters who like to get their opponents into exchanges. Mark my words, this will be a good scrap and be the talk of the boxing community on Sunday.

Another fight that could turn into a war is the Golden Boy on ESPN headliner on Friday night between Mauricio Herrera (23-7, 7 KO’s) and Jesus Soto Karass (28-11-4, 18 KO’s). First off, both have seen their better days., but that’s why matching them together makes a lot of sense. The winner goes forward with one last opportunity and the loser really needs to strongly consider hanging the gloves up for good.

In his prime, Herrera was a technically sound boxer who used his legs and a precise jab to throw off the rhythm of his opponents. He was a master at setting up just the right angles to land sharp punches. But his legs are not what they used to be just a few years ago. This has led to Herrera being more in the pocket and getting hit a lot more. As for Soto Karass, he knows only one way to fight and that is going forward chucking leather. He has never been concerned about defense. Herrera, with his legs not what they once were, will be in front of Soto Karass most of the night. Herrera will find Soto Karass an easy target but also be in position to allow Soto Karass to do what he likes to do and that is throw punches. This could be a lot of fun.

As I so often preach, good matchmaking leads to good fights. The above two fights that are flying under the radar this week are examples of good matchmaking. Don’t miss them as they should be a lot of fun to watch.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Springs Toledo’s eBook Excerpt: “The Uncanny” (Chapter 3)

Springs Toledo

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Greb

It ain’t business. It’s personal. 

Roy McHugh was a sports editor and columnist-at-large for the Pittsburgh Press until he retired in 1983. He’s a hundred and three now; still living in the Smoky City with a treasure trove of memories. He told me he shook one of the dukes of the St. Paul Phantom himself in 1924, only five years after those dukes were flying at the head of Harry Greb.

McHugh spent his childhood in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He was nine and in his pediatrician’s waiting room when he picked up a copy of the Boxing Blade “and got hooked.” His pediatrician was a friend of Mike Gibbons, who had a gym in St. Paul and was managing fighters at the time. When the once-great middleweight came to town, the good doctor introduced McHugh and his brother to him. A week later a set of boxing gloves arrived at the boys’ address. A note was attached:

    Put on these gloves and do your stuff,

    Prepare for the days when roads are rough;

    You’ll get a little groggy, but just give bad luck an uppercut.

Greb-Gibbons II was scheduled for June 23, 1919. Ringside seats sold for $10, $7.50 and $5. Grandstand seats were $3 and $2 plus war tax. Requests for reserved seats were coming in from towns and cities across Ohio, Indiana, and West Virginia, particularly those Greb had invaded. A contingent hanging around the training camps of heavyweight champion Jess Willard and challenger Jack Dempsey arrived in from Toledo.

 

Seven thousand streamed into Forbes Field to see what a master boxer could do against an avowed anarchist the second time around. Gibbons had gotten the better of him back in 1917 and figured he’d do it again. Greb, favored to win and with bravado on display, knew Gibbons was the goods. George A. Barton, sports editor of the Minneapolis Tribune did too. “A toss of the head, a slight twist of the body, and an intended kayo punch will finish in a foolish wave to the fans in the gallery,” he said. Gibbons spent a novitiate sparring with luminaries like Joe Gans and knew all the tricks that leave a “frustrated battler steaming about in fury.”

That was exactly Greb’s plan—steaming about in fury.

Jim Jab liked Mike. “Fistic class puzzles many mortals,” he wrote in the first line of the next morning’s Pittsburgh Press. “They fail to understand its fine points, its timing, feinting, and foiling. Among the hundreds of Pittsburgh fans…scores belonged to this clan.” In his estimation, which was a lonely one, anarchy won no more than two of the ten rounds. The Daily Post and the AP gave Greb six to Gibbons’ three with one even. The Gazette Times had Greb up six to two with two even.

Greb, avenged, took home $5,514.50 and continued on with the big get-even. In July, he caught up with Joe Chip in Youngstown, Ohio. Chip was and remains the only fighter to ever lay him out for the count. “It was funny how it all happened,” said Greb about the 1913 match. “Everything was going along smoothly until Chip started a long swing… instead of ducking the swing, I ran flush into it.” For days afterward, Greb said there were “sweetly caroling birds” in his head.

But he was a novice then. This time, he won all but one round. He toyed with Chip and laughed when his friends tried to spur him on. Hissed by the crowd and warned by the referee for using his head in close and for hitting in the clinches, he dropped his defense to let Chip do what he could in the last round. It wasn’t much. Chip, under siege in the final seconds, was forced into a corner and turned his back.

Avenged again, Greb headed home and cooled his jets for a week. Mildred accompanied him to Conneaut Lake in the northern part of Pennsylvania. “Great guns!” blared a headline. “Greb Loafs for a While!” To Greb it was “a summer’s rest.” A friend wondered at that.

“Rest? Why you haven’t rested at all!”

“Any time I’m not fighting three times a week,” said Greb, “it’s a vacation for me.”

 

Columnists tended to present Greb as a clean-living young man who never bragged and always credited his opponents. That image was a half-truth at best. Greb was as much a tangle of contradictions as anyone else, more so even, though his personality traits—the virtues and the vices—stirred up something that is off by itself in boxing history.

Those who knew him said he needed to fight often, that he thrived on “his marathon plan of meeting them all, one after the other.” He typically asked for two things—“fair terms” and “the hardest guy” and as a result, negotiations were rarely much more than an offer on one side and a shrug and a signature on the other.

Throughout his thirteen-year career, he was lionized for his “gameness” more than anything else. Exceptional even during an era overrun with folk heroes and iron men, he glowers across a century at celebrity boxers who dilly-dally until a rival ages or breaks down and then swoop in like scavengers, picking at the remains and claiming it as something it is not.

But Greb was too willing.

He went so far as to issue a public challenge to Jess Willard and said he’d donate his purse to the Red Cross. When Fred Fulton fought at Madison Square Garden, Greb was moving with every punch and murmuring that he’d pay $5,000 to fight Fulton that night. He opened negotiations with Luis Firpo, and said he’d fight Harry Wills in an arena or a gym just to prove that the best African-American heavyweight in the world wasn’t much. All of them towered over him and outweighed him by at least fifty pounds, which suggests that Greb either had screws loose or was a misanthrope raging against all men, including himself.

He was moody, surprisingly vain, and quick to take offense. If he lost a fight, he was known to call it a frame-up and at times announced his suspicions as facts. If he failed to dominate an opponent, he’d insist on another match and sometimes another and another to make sure his supremacy was understood.

When a bulletin was posted outside the Pittsburgh Press announcing Jim Jab’s opinion that he’d lost a fight the night before, Greb happened by and saw it. He ripped it off the board and threw it on the street. Then he went looking for Jim Jab.

In March 1919, he read about Ed Tremblay’s contention that he made Greb quit in the King’s Tournament and added Greb’s name to his record with a “KO 2 rounds” beside it. Greb promised “the beating of his young life for his presumption.” Tremblay wouldn’t fight him.

After one of his bouts in New York City he went to an all-night joint in Greenwich Village. The morning paper came in and he flipped to the sports section. Westbrook Pegler was there with Red Mason, watching him. “Harry read the stories, moving his lips, then pushed the papers away and sat with his face in his hands.” Mason leaned over to Pegler. “His wife’s sick,” he said. “He’s all busted up about it.”

“Hey,” Greb looked up. “Them bums say I blew a coupla rounds to that guy tonight. What do them bums know?”

In October 1919, the old “White Hope” heavyweight Frank Moran said Greb got a boxing lesson in a recent match, and Greb headed for the telephone. “Now listen,” he told the Daily Post. “You put a piece in the paper telling Frank Moran that if he really wants to fight, he’s looked far enough. I’m his man. What I mean is that he’s mine. Size doesn’t impress me.” Greb posted a grand for a forfeit and his manager was ready to bet that Moran would not only lose big, he would “break ground” when Greb engaged him toe-to-toe. Moran went quiet.

At times he seemed to target siblings—the Chips, the Gibbons—as if on a blood campaign. In the summer of 1912, we can place him in Wheeling, West Virginia for what looks like a spur-of-the-moment professional debut against Young Stoney Ritz. What happened in that fight is a mystery, but he returned to Wheeling twelve years later to fight Stoney’s younger brother. In the second round, Greb hit Frankie Ritz with a triple right hand combination that landed Ritz on his back with his feet “tangled grotesquely” up in the ropes. Ritz had to be carried to his corner; Greb walked off “without having disturbed his slicked and glossy hair.”

He rarely went down, but if he did, you were in for it. Soldier Buck claimed he knocked Greb down with a right hand and didn’t think he’d get up. “But he did—at the count of four. He then proceeded to beat me to death,” he recalled. “For two days after the fight, friends had to lead me around. Both of my eyes were closed.” There are reports of crowds howling at the referee to stop the carnage when Greb was in one of his sadistic moods, when he sought to prolong punishment out of “pure meanness.”

He was just as mean during sparring sessions. While Greb was training for a bout in a New York gym, Mason invited Jack Sharkey to spar with him. Sharkey, who went on to become the world heavyweight champion in 1932, sent a light heavyweight over instead. Greb felt slighted, got mad, knocked the light heavyweight out, and started taunting Sharkey—“Come on over!”

Roy McHugh described his fighting style as “an uprising of nature.” Clouds of rosin dust were kicked up as he tore after any and all, blitzing them to the body and the head, mauling, head-butting, yanking them off balance, ramming them through the ropes, and grinning the whole time. One of his favorite moves was to curl his left glove around the back of a neck and whale away with his right. And he’d laugh off criticism.

In the summer of 1919, he faced a parade of fighters who had no affinity for him, nor he for them. He relentlessly mocked Big Bill Brennan. Battling Levinsky couldn’t bring himself to tip his hat to Greb after yet another decisive loss. Knockout Brown and he were “enemies of long standing.” There was “bad blood” between him and Mike Gibbons and “the feeling is real,” said the Press. “Harry and Mike detest each other.” Jeff Smith shared a ring with him seven times, which exponentially increased their mutual antipathy. “They hate each other,” said the Daily Post.

Kid Norfolk can speak for all of them. “That Greb was mean,” he said in 1938, and opening his shirt, pointed near his sternum. “See that lump, big as an egg? Greb gave me that with his head. Still sore.”

What was driving him? There is evidence of disturbance in the historical record, in the little deaths a fat, crooked-eyed, grammar-school dropout they called “Icky” could be expected to suffer daily; in the choice of a confirmation name that promised violence, in the “wild rage” his father recalled—wild rage that thousands would buy tickets to witness.

Greb became famous for forcing his adversaries—those who would hurt him—backward and on their heels to put himself, the former victim, in control. In other words, his fighting style reflected his psyche. So did his nom de guerre. The name “Harry” was adopted at the onset of his career and is assumed to be a loving tribute to a dead brother, but it’s more than that. Icky Greb was a frog who imagined himself into a king, and the king had a name. “Harry Greb” was his reconstructed self, the man he aspired to become—fearless, ferocious, and covered in glory.

Memories of his ferocity wouldn’t fade for decades. Red Smith couldn’t bring up Gene Tunney’s name without shuddering at what was done to him by the “bloodthirsty Harry Greb,” he said in 1968; by the “carnivorous Harry Greb,” he said in 1973.

And yet Greb was always genial toward those who meant no harm. His neighbors on Gross Street liked him for “his sunny disposition.” He’d greet civilians with a smile and a warm handshake, and often shared stories filled with Jazz-era slang and devoid of proper grammar. He doled out tickets and whatever else he had in his pockets to the Pittsburgh newsboys who followed him around like his own personal cheering section. When he learned that one of their counterparts in Omaha scaled the wall of an auditorium to watch him fight and fell to his death, Greb sent his parents a check.

He counted many priests among his friends. Father Cox never had to ask twice if he needed him to volunteer at the Lyceum. The late-night knock on the rectory door at Immaculate Conception never startled Father Bonaventure; he knew it was Greb, back from out of town and stopping by with a donation. On Sundays, Greb went to Mass and limited his training to a long walk. He prayed novenas. Before a fight, he would seek out a priest for a blessing on his efforts. “He made quiet little visits to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, asking for aid,” said Father Cox, who believed those prayers were answered—“He fought with the courage of a David. He never knew fear and was never tired.”

If he lost his temper or wronged someone who didn’t deserve it, he would apologize immediately and mean it. He didn’t always beat up on opponents. At times he would take it easy on substitutes who couldn’t hang with him, and when faced with a situation that would give him an unfair advantage, he’d behave as if a nun from St. Joseph’s was watching.

His loyalty is a favorite theme of half-forgotten folk tales. One of them begins with a frantic phone call from Youngstown where a friend had stopped for a drink and was being treated roughly. “Stay right there,” Greb said, then sped seventy-four miles north and barged into the saloon. He was still tossing the brute around when the bartender appealed to his friend to make him lay off. “I can’t afford to replace this whole joint,” he said.

In November 1919, young Jack Henry showed up at Greb’s training camp in Beaver Falls and was stopped at the entrance. The boy’s accent was familiar to Greb. “Are you a Limey, kid?”

“Yes,” Jack replied. “And in England they say you’re the greatest fighter in the world.”

“Let the kid in.”

A few nights later, Greb was beating up on Zulu Kid at the Nonpareil A.C. and there’s Jack in his corner, in charge of the bucket and sponge.

 

By the time Greb took Mildred and his contradictions to Conneaut Lake in July 1919 he was at the very least the greatest boxer in his division. But the only thing atop his head was a straw boater hat. He wanted a crown, and Mildred couldn’t buy one at The Rosenbaum Company at Sixth, Liberty, and Penn. It wasn’t like today—if you were a name-fighter back then the Five Points Gang didn’t dangle a belt and a random opponent in front of you for a percentage. And if they did, that era’s sports writers would have spotted the sham and shamed it into extinction. Greb had to find a way to get an official shot at the middleweight champion, and that was Mike O’Dowd.

Greb had already defeated two of O’Dowd’s predecessors in unofficial bouts, and in 1918 came damn close to defeating O’Dowd himself in what the Minneapolis Journal called “one of the most sensational bouts ever fought in the twin cities.”

Mason had a master plan for 1919. “Now what I intend to do is have Greb fight every man anywhere near his weight,” he said, “and really show who is the best fighter in the middleweight class.” He would force O’Dowd to the table.

Things were finally beginning to simmer in July when O’Dowd told the Gazette Times he’d be “tickled to death to get a crack at Harry Greb in a bout in Pittsburgh.” Other cities were also vying to match them. The Tulsa World mentioned that O’Dowd’s manager agreed to give Greb a shot at the title and O’Dowd “gave his word.” A week after that, a promoter in Tulsa said he signed O’Dowd to defend his title against Greb. At the end of July, an athletic association in Toledo said O’Dowd and Greb were set to meet on Labor Day. The New York Daily News was among those carrying the story. The problem was no one told Mason, who by then was wringing his hands over O’Dowd’s refusal to meet Greb.

On August 5, a matchmaker with the Keystone Club in Pittsburgh was trying to make the fight and flew to New York to meet with the champion and talk him down from the $7500 guarantee he was insisting on. On the 18th there was still talk of Toledo until O’Dowd put the nix on it—“positively refusing” to meet Greb before late in the fall.  On the 27th, Greb stepped off the train in New York to meet man-to-man with O’Dowd, who said that he would accept Greb’s challenge for September 29 in Pittsburgh if his take was $5,000 with a better than 25% of the gate. It fell through. A promoter in Cincinnati signed Greb to “meet the best opponent he could get on the night of the opening game of the World Series” (later remembered as the Black Sox Scandal of 1919) and tried for O’Dowd. He figured he could do better than the flat fee of $5,000 Pittsburgh offered, but he couldn’t, and it fell through.

And so it went. From July through September 1919, promoters in Tulsa, Toledo, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati all tried and failed to sign O’Dowd to face Greb.

The middleweight king had his defenders though, even in Pittsburgh. Sergeant O’Dowd, after all, was said to be knee-deep in grime in the forest of Argonne during the war while Greb was stationed on a training battleship with a dummy smokestack and wooden guns in Union Square.

“Mr. O’Dowd is quite a man—to be explicit—all man,” said the Evening Tribune. But Greb made him nervous.

Ed Smith, a Chicago fight critic who refereed Greb-Gibbons II may be the reason why. A story was making the rounds that said Smith spoke with the champion in Toledo just before Jess Willard fought Jack Dempsey, and “solemnly warned Mike that ‘if he cared anything for his title, stay away from this fellow Greb.’” In November, O’Dowd faced Mike Gibbons five months after Gibbons lost to Greb. In December, he planned on touring Europe.

Had O’Dowd risked his crown against Greb in 1919, it is very likely Greb would have taken it a year earlier than his wife’s deadline, and, given his easy defeat of then-champion Al McCoy, about two years later than he could have. As it happened, Greb’s middleweight reign would not begin until 1923—after O’Dowd’s successor Johnny Wilson continued the tradition of eluding him for three years plus.

 

Greb was the bête noire of the light heavyweights and his ambitions were unsurprisingly blocked there as well. Gene Tunney, among the greatest boxers the division ever produced, learned early on that there was something of an abyss behind Greb’s dark and deadpan eyes. “He is not a normal fighter,” he was told. “He will kill you.”

In March 1919, Mason was arguing that Greb was the rightful middleweight and light heavyweight champion of the world. He justified it by pointing out victories over Jack “The Giant Killer” Dillon and his successor Battling Levinsky. At the end of the month, Greb boosted the argument further by beating Billy Miske, another star in the division. The claim was only hype, but many considered the title lapsed as Levinsky rarely defended it.

In September 1919, Greb demanded a chance and nearly got it.

The Miami A.C. in Dayton, Ohio had signatures from Levinsky and Greb to fight to a decision on the 8th. Greb wired them and insisted that Levinsky make a hundred seventy-five pounds ringside to make sure the crown was up for grabs. The date was switched to the 12th, the 8th, and then back to the 12th before it was postponed until the 15th because Greb was reportedly in a Pittsburgh hospital with boils on the back of his neck. Levinsky, in Dayton on the 12th, headed back to New York. The bout was called off altogether when the promoters couldn’t get in touch with him. Did he go on the lam? He never went near Greb again.

Levinsky was, of course, ready to accept a lesser challenge for more money. In October 1920, he defended against “Gorgeous” Georges Carpentier at Jersey City for 20% of the gate minus state taxes. The gate was $350,000 which means Levinsky’s take was $65,000. Carpentier had his way with him, knocked him out in the fourth round, and did his part to look like something promoter Tex Rickard could market as a credible opponent for heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey. In July 1921, Dempsey did his part and knocked Carpentier out in the fourth round, also at Jersey City. It was boxing’s first million-dollar gate. Carpentier earned a $300,000 purse—over four million today.

Greb could only hang his head.

He’d been trying for a fight with Carpentier since he went overseas during the war. In June 1919 there was talk of a $15,000 purse to meet him in France and in December 1919 Mason was still campaigning for a match in London or Paris.

Greb turned up at Carpentier’s training camp in Manhasset, Long Island before the Dempsey fight. Columnist Robert Edgren asked Greb if he’d like to take him on. “Any time,” Greb said, “on a day’s notice.” Later that day the two were introduced and Carpentier, who stood near six feet tall, laughed when he saw Greb, who stood no more than five eight. He’d heard all about this berserker running riot in three weight classes and said he expected a much bigger man. Greb muttered that he was “big enough” and asked him for a match.

Carpentier was friendly, but he wasn’t eager. He’d heard too much.

About a week before Dempsey-Carpentier, Greb was rolling his eyes at the French champion’s depiction by the press as “a man of destiny” and the so-called secret punch he was supposedly working on at his conveniently closed camp.

He was rolling his eyes again in Billy Lahiff’s tavern in New York City when the sports writers’ talk turned to Carpentier’s chances. Greb broke in. He asked them if they would like to know how good Carpentier was and then invited them to go with him to crash his training camp the next day. “If they let me box him I’ll prove to you he doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance,” he told them. “He can’t beat me, much less Dempsey.” A huge delegation went with him. Carpentier’s manager had a conniption fit. “No! No! No!” he said.

When Greb made Tunney look like a murder scene and took the second-rate American light heavyweight title in May 1922 at Madison Square Garden, Rickard strolled toward the ring as Tunney, “a bloody ruin,” was assisted out of it. Rickard told press row that he would offer Carpentier $150,000 to fight Greb for the light heavyweight championship of the world in July. Carpentier’s answer? Mieux vaut prévenir que guérir.

In June 1922, the AP reported the Frenchman’s “unexplained annoyance when the Pittsburgh fighter’s name was mentioned.” It can be explained now. He saw Greb around every corner, under the bed, in the closet; he saw his shadow on the terrace sipping noisette.

In September 1922, promoter Jack Curley was said to be in Paris securing Carpentier’s signature to defend his crown against Greb. That was just days before Carpentier met Battling Siki. Fate knocked Greb out of the frame when Siki knocked Carpentier out of his shoes.

Greb could do nothing about fate, though he could do something about Siki. “I will meet Siki anywhere in the world,” he said. “Anytime, anywhere.” Three offers came in. Greb was revving up when Siki inexplicably agreed to defend against Mike McTigue in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day of all days.

Siki was robbed, McTigue was handed the crown, and Greb was sidetracked again. McTigue, he knew, would keep that crown in a locked box. He had faced McTigue twice already, and McTigue was lucky if he’d won one round in twenty. The first time they met, McTigue’s manager was hollering “Hold him, Mike!” from the first through the tenth rounds. “I think McTigue hit Greb once,” said the matchmaker. “‘Hold him’ Mike McTigue is in a class by himself when it comes to holding.”

McTigue was tentatively scheduled for a no-decision bout against Greb in June 1923 as a tune-up before facing Carpentier in July. McTigue was set to collect $100,000 to let him try to reclaim the crown and everyone was smiling until Carpentier hurt his hand and the date was postponed. McTigue’s manager by then was Joe Jacobs, who surprised him by elevating the Greb no-decision match to a championship match. McTigue made a noble statement about how willing he was to give anyone a shot and then priced himself out of reach.

McTigue lost the crown to Paul Berlenbach in 1925. Greb, middleweight king since 1923, told the Pittsburgh Courier that he preferred to face the plodding Berlenbach and become a double champion but was obligated to accept a greater challenge in Tiger Flowers instead.

Two years before Jack Delaney won the light heavyweight crown from Berlenbach, Greb signed to face him and was training hard when Delaney came down with appendicitis and cancelled.

Three years before Jimmy Slattery won the light heavyweight crown from Delaney, Greb beat him in his hometown.

Between 1922 and 1924, Greb went 4-1-1 against Tommy Loughran, Slattery’s successor.

In 1925, five years before Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom beat Slattery to become Loughran’s successor, Greb did as he pleased with him and then reportedly returned to the night club where his unfinished highball waited on a table.

 

Had Battling Levinsky risked his light heavyweight crown against Greb in 1919, Greb almost certainly would have taken it. As it was, he proved himself a master of the division—barreling out of Pittsburgh to face six of the ten light heavyweight champions who reigned from 1914 through 1934. As the smoke cleared, his record against them stood at 16-1-1. Those he didn’t face, he chased.

The smoke is still clearing. What comes into view is startling: the greatest light heavyweight who ever lived may have been a middleweight.

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Smokestack Lightning: Harry Greb, 1919 is available now for only $7.99 at Amazon. PleaseCLICK HERE

 

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Manny Pacquiao Led the Charge of Fortysomethings into the Weekend

Bernard Fernandez

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Pacquiao

George Foreman was 14-0, all of his victories by knockout, 22½ months into the comeback he had launched to much derision after a 10-year retirement, when he uttered the words that since have become a beacon of hope to all boxers who dare to believe they can still compete and win beyond an arbitrary age when most members of their brutal profession either are retired or ought to be.

“Forty isn’t a death sentence,” Big George reasoned upon reaching birthday No. 4-oh on Jan. 10, 1989, to continued skepticism from those media holdouts who correctly pointed out that the former heavyweight champ’s career revival had thus far been built on whacking out a succession of has-beens and never-weres. But Foreman kept on keeping on and, well, you know the rest. That one-punch flattening of WBA/IBF heavyweight champion Michael Moorer in the 10th round of their Nov. 5, 1994, title bout demonstrated that advancing age is not necessarily a hindrance to certain fighters capable of at least temporarily extending the boundaries of their pugilistic skills.

“When I turned 40, boxing experts thought it was time for me to hang up the gloves,” Foreman is quoted as saying in God in My Corner, the inspirational book he authored with the assistance of writer Ken Abraham. “The great trainer Gil Clancy said, `Boxing has too many retreads. What is George Foreman doing out there boxing? He shouldn’t be fighting.’

“As the calendar pages turned, I wasn’t getting any younger and the skeptics weren’t getting any kinder. What was an old man like me doing in the boxing ring, fighting guys half my age and in much better physical condition? In spite of what the critics said, I was winning every match. They said I was too old at 41. Really old at 42. Should be on a respirator at 43. Age 44? Nearly in the grave. Age 45, heavyweight champion of the world!”

At the 146 pounds he officially weighed in for Saturday night’s Showtime Pay Per View-televised defense of his secondary WBA welterweight title against 29-year-old Adrien Broner, Manny Pacquiao was 104 pounds lighter than Foreman had been the night he instantly turned the lights out on the surprised Moorer, who was too far ahead on the scorecards to have been beaten on points. But although the parallels between the Pacquiao of now, who celebrated his 40th birthday on Dec. 17, and the Foreman of late 1994 are limited, the impact made by each at this presumably twilight stage of their respective Hall of Fame careers is eerily similar. Who knows? Maybe “Pac-Man” soon will be pitching his signature line of grills on television.

“At the age of 40 I can still give my best,” Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KOs) said after pitching a near-shutout at the outclassed and delusional Broner (33-4-1, 24 KOs), who loudly and ridiculously proclaimed that it was he who should have been awarded the victory despite what a sellout crowd of 13,025 in Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden and the Showtime PPV audience had just witnessed. As it was, judges Dave Moretti, Tim Cheatham and Glenn Feldman seemingly were overly generous to Broner, favoring Pacquiao by respective margins of 117-111 and 116-112 (twice) when a case could be made for the once and maybe still Fab Filipino winning all 12 rounds, and no less than 10 by any reasonable assessment. Punch statistics compiled by CompuBox further verified “Pac-Man’s” level of domination as he connected on 112 of 568, on several occasions clearly hurting and wobbling Broner, who landed just 50 of 295.

Maybe the 40-year-old (and counting) Pacquiao no longer can still give his very best – that would be the version who brutalized and stopped such elite opponents as Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto – but those watershed triumphs occurred nearly a decade ago. The elder statesman on display against Broner, fighting for the first time on U.S. soil in 26 months and for the first time under the banner of Premier Boxing Champions, nonetheless is popular enough and good enough to remain a factor in a welterweight division loaded with such young, dangerous champions as Errol Spence Jr., Terence Crawford and Keith Thurman, all of whom presumably would be favored were they to be paired with the living legend who might not be as far gone as previously had been imagined.

Interestingly, Pacquiao’s Saturday night dismissal of Broner began what might be termed the Weekend of the Fortysomethings, which a day later featured two long-in-the-tooth NFL quarterbacks who were attempting to embellish their legacies as all-time greats by punching their tickets to Super Bowl LIII Feb. 3 in Atlanta. Tom Brady, 41 and still going strong, engineered another clutch, game-winning drive in leading the New England Patriots to a 37-31 overtime victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game in frigid KC, and the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees, who turned 40 on Jan. 15, was shafted out of a marquee matchup with Brady on possibly the worst non-call in NFL history, a missed pass interference call in the red zone that opened the door for the Los Angeles Rams to pull out a gift 26-23 overtime victory in the NFC Conference title contest in N’Awlins.

In retrospect, George Foreman was correct. Forty need not be a death sentence in the athletic arena, not with improved health and training regimens that have turned 40 into the new 30, or at least the new 35. It should be noted that Floyd Mayweather Jr., who turns 42 on Feb. 24, was sitting ringside for Pacquiao-Broner, fueling speculation that he and Pacquiao, whom he outpointed in their May 2, 2015, megafight that even then was criticized as having been staged five years later than it should have been, might share the ring again for pride and profit. Looking as fit as ever, Mayweather journeyed to Japan where, on Dec. 31, he destroyed 20-year-old kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa in less than three minutes. A do-over between the two old guys, which not so long ago would have scoffed at, almost certainly would be another must-see attraction were it to happen.

Other Big Names at Welterweight

The mix ’n’ match possibilities at 147 are enough to make any true fight fan salivate. Promotional and TV alliances of course will prove problematic, as they always are, but what’s not to like in a division that includes current or former world champs Spence, Crawford, Thurman, Shawn Porter, Danny Garcia, Amir Khan, Jeff Horn, Jessie Vargas, Luis Collazo, Devon Alexander and an apparently revitalized Pacquiao? But upon further inspection, those are not the only big names at welter. In fact, there are much bigger names in the ratings of the four most widely recognized sanctioning bodies.

Literally bigger, that is.

Thanks to the steady stream of Eastern Europeans and Central Asians making their mark in several weight classes, among the ranked welterweights are Egidijus Kavaliauskas (21-0, 17 KOs) of Lithuania, Karen Chukhadzhyan (13-1, 7 KOs) of Ukraine, Bakhtiyar Eyubov (13-0, 11 KOs) of Kazakhstan and Radzhad Butaev (9-0, 7 KOs) of Russia.

Another fighter who should be on that list of difficult-to spell tongue-twisters is the Man With Two Names, an Uzbekistani who is listed as Qudratillo Abduqaxorov by the IBF, which has him as its No. 4-rated welterweight, and Kudratillo Abdukakhorov, who is rated No. 5 by the WBC. By either name the 25-year-old has the same 15-0 record with nine knockouts, same age and same country of birth. To avoid confusion, I’ll go with Kudratillo Abdukakhorov because that’s how he’s listed by BoxRec.com.

All of these guys figure to cause nightmares for most U.S. sports writers and broadcasters, who I’m guessing will struggle with the correct spelling and pronunciation of their names if they begin to get regular fights on these shores. They can only hope that the ring announcer assigned to work their bouts in America or anywhere is Jimmy Lennon Jr., who learned from his Hall of Fame father, the late Jimmy Lennon Sr., that getting it right is and always should be a paramount consideration. I mean, who would ever think that the proper pronunciation of the last name of famed Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski is Sha-shef-skee?

“To have an affinity for languages is important,” Jimmy the younger told me in advance of his own induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2013. “That was instilled in me by my father. I take the time to talk to the fighters if I don’t know them and find out the pronunciation of their name, their nicknames, what hometown they’re from – everything that’s important to them. There’s nothing more sweet to a man’s ear than to hear his name pronounced properly.”

Really, though, the ring announcer’s job is so much easier when the guy being introduced is, say, Joe Smith Jr., the light heavyweight who spoiled Bernard Hopkins’ farewell fight and will challenge WBA 175-pound titlist Dmitry Bivol on March 9 in Verona, N.Y. It’s pretty hard to mess up a name like Joe Smith.

Photo credit: Marcelino Castillo

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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Heroes and Boxers

Ted Sares

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Heroes put others first. Heroes sacrifice—sometimes with their lives.

NFL player Pat Tillman was not a boxer but he was a legitimate hero having been killed in Afghanistan under especially tragic circumstances. Notre Dame’s Rocky Bleier, having been drafted, survived the Vietnam War but was badly wounded twice on a mission to extract wounded and dead. He went on to a successful football career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The highly decorated Don Steinbrenner and Bob Kasul, the only professional football players to have been killed in action in Vietnam, were not so fortunate.

Stephen Williford, a 55-year-old plumber, chased down and caused the demise of a mass shooter in 2017 who had just slaughtered 26 people in a Sutherland Springs, Texas church. Stephen Williford was a hero.

When Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Menachem Begin reached for each other to negotiate a peace treaty, they both became instant heroes not to mention Nobel Peace Prize winners. Both put others first. Sadat would pay with his life.

Martin Luther King Jr. lived his life in an heroic manner and so did Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko as they fought Jim Crow and apartheid, respectively. Dr. King and Steve Biko paid dearly. JFK also paid, suggesting that heroes seldom live a full life.

Some names are automatically associated with heroism such as Jesse Owens who won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics. However, when a boxer is referred to as a hero, far more often than not this label is being misused.

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When Joe Louis destroyed Max Schmeling in their rematch in Yankee Stadium on June 22, 1938, the fight carried with it major international implications. It was more than just a fight and Joe became America’s hero. Poor Max really wasn’t the enemy at that time but he was perceived as such and perception is often a big part of reality.

Prominent boxing writer Nigel Collins summed it up nicely:

“The fight also fanned the flame of hope that was lit for millions of black Americans when Louis first became champion. There was no instant paradigm shift in race relations, but the second Schmeling fight and Louis’ lengthy and highly successful reign nudged more and more people into reconsidering their view of their black brothers and sisters. If nothing else, Louis gave people a reason and an opportunity to change.”

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“After World War II, everything in life is a cakewalk.”- Danny Nardico

There are many perceived heroes in boxing, but relatively few real ones. The spectacle of muscular Danny Nardico and Charlie Norkus engaging in one of the greatest Pier Six brawls in history belied the fact that each was a veteran and one, Nardico, was highly decorated. Here were two ex-Marines, both possessing paralyzing power, meeting in Miami Beach in 1954 and there was palpable anticipation of a great fight. What the fans got went well beyond that.

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Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be drafted under arguments that were later affirmed by the Supreme Court gave him hero stature to many—but not all. Later, however, and as he moved to a centrist position in his beliefs, the heroism of what he did began to cast itself in history.

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To be honest, a few months before I started training for the marathon, I could hardly walk across my bedroom without falling over.”-Michael Watson

Michael Watson boxed in a fast and furious lane, along with Nigel Benn, Carl Thompson, and Chris Eubank, but Watson, known as the “Force,” stood out, not just for his boxing achievements, which were considerable, but for something else. In an incredible back-and-forth classic with Eubank in 1991 (it was Britain’s version of Hagler-Hearns) Watson, ahead on points, was nailed with a paralyzing uppercut and hit the back of his head against the second strand of ropes.

Fast forward.

The “Force” spent over a month in a coma, had six brain operations, and then spent over a year in intensive care and rehabilitation and six more grueling years in a wheelchair while he ever-so-gradually recovered some movements and regained the ability to speak and write.

No one really expected him to live, much less talk or write, yet against all odds he finished the London Marathon on April 19, 2003, capturing the hearts and emotions of an entire nation. As people wept in joy and urged him on, he walked six days. He reached his goal after twelve long years, too many operations and hospitals, and years in a wheelchair. But he trained for months and completed his goal of 26 miles and 385 yards.

If heroism is measured by an incredible fighting heart and the inspiration it spawned, then Michael Watson (pictured in 2013 with Anthony Joshua) is indeed a hero.

“Getting angry won’t correct the past.” – Watson

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Cornelius Johannes “Corrie” Sanders, best known for beating Wladimir Klitschko in 2003 for the WBO heavyweight title, died in September 2012, the victim of a a shooting during an armed robbery at a restaurant in South Africa where he was celebrating his nephew’s 21st birthday. The former champion heroically used his body to protect his daughter from the flying bullets. He was 46. Ironically, the S.A. headlines read ”Ring hero Sanders killed.” They might well have read “South African Ring great Sanders died a hero.”

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Curiously, three-time world champion Bobby Czyz, now 56, carried the nickname “Matinee Idol,” but Bobby has now hit some rough times. If someone in boxing would step up and help him, that someone just might be a real life hero. This holds true for many other ex-fighters who have stumbled along the way. Heroes are in short supply when it comes to helping ex-boxers, but there are some organizations that provide support. Iceman John Scully quickly comes to mind as someone out there helping ex-boxers find their way.

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The late Vernon Forrest embraced the value of giving back. A great boxer, he was also known for his humanitarian work for the non-profit and still thriving organization Destiny’s Child. Vernon possessed great core values.

Former U.S. Olympic boxing team head coach Al Mitchell once said, “I really believe he’s not going to be known for his boxing skills…I think he’ll be known for the way he gave outside his sport. He was just an unbelievable person.”

“He almost went broke,” continued Mitchell. “He borrowed money to make it work. He never looked for a profit out of it. It was just something he did. Vernon’s willingness to give back went beyond his former schools. He gave money to different gyms and boxing-related programs.”

Vernon Forrest was special in many ways, He inspired people. There are few heroes out there but Vernon was one.

“The people I work with have been abused and neglected…These are people that society turned their back on. Everybody needs help and everybody needs love.” Vernon Forrest

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Manny Pacquiao’s rise from abject poverty and street urchin to Senator and idolized boxer in the Philippines is not heroic in itself but his giving back to his people makes him one of the few boxers who earned that stature. Yes, he went through a period of “wicked ways,” but he has redeemed himself in those respects and has become the quintessential shooting star.

“One hundred million people now drop everything to watch him fight.”

Can you think of other boxers– past or present– who meet your definition of a hero?

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and Strongman competitors and may compete in the Ukraine in 2019. He is a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA).

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