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The New York State Athletic Commission is Still Courting Disaster

Thomas Hauser

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Athletic

THE HAUSER REPORT — As the parties involved work to settle the various legal claims arising out of the horrific injuries suffered by Magomed Abdusalamov at Madison Square Garden on November 2, 2013, the New York State Athletic Commission is still playing Russian roulette with fighter safety.

Medical procedures and protocols have improved since the Abdusalamov tragedy. But there are still instances where the NYSAC is turning a blind eye toward the health and safety of fighters.

On April 14, 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office issued a press release heralding the return of mixed martial arts to New York. In part, the press release read, “Mixed martial arts contests will be supervised either directly by the New York State Athletic Commission or by a sanctioning entity approved by the Commission.”

On August 31, 2016, Jim Leary (counsel for the NYSAC at that time) elaborated on this third-party supervision of MMA, saying that it would apply only to certain amateur cards. In response, promoter Lou DiBella noted, “Right now, you have a situation where some small promoters are putting on MMA shows using unknown fighters, paying them under the table, and calling them amateur shows. That way, they can get around the state insurance regulations and a whole lot more.”

Is this situation cause for concern? Absolutely.

The case of Gabriella Gulfin is in point. Gulfin is listed by Tapology.com as having had five MMA fights dating back to March 14, 2015, when she was placed on indefinite medical suspension by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board after being knocked out by a punch on an amateur MMA card in Rahway. In mid-July, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission (which regulates both amateur and professional MMA bouts) refused to license Gulfin for an August 19 MMA card in Pennsylvania.

“I won’t touch her unless she gets off medical suspension in New Jersey,” Greg Sirb (executive director of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission) told this writer.

Here’s the problem. While on medical suspension, Gulfin has fought four times on unregulated “amateur” MMA cards in New York. These fights were contested last year on July 18 and July 30 in Astoria, September 24 in Corona, and December 16 in Westbury.

So much for the high priority that the New York State Athletic Commission places on the health and safety of fighters.

On July 5, 2017, it was announced that NYSAC acting executive director Tony Giardina (who had served in that role since August 31, 2016) was leaving the commission to become one of three commissioners on the New York State Tax Appeals Tribunal.

Giardina leaves a mixed legacy. To his credit, he worked to improve medical procedures and protocols at the NYSAC. But by his own admission, he knew little about combat sports. And he helped lock in a system where political considerations take priority over performance, and employees who perform in mediocre fashion are given as much responsibility (sometimes more) as employees who are competent. He had an opportunity to change the culture at the NYSAC for the better and failed to do so.

Too many commission employees seem more concerned with moving into position to get their faces on television on fight night than in doing their job.

MMA project coordinator Kim Sumbler has succeeded Giardina as interim executive director and is likely to be given the job on a fulltime basis. Sources say that, with Giardina’s departure, political directives are likely to be funneled to the NYSAC through Brendan Fitzgerald (first deputy secretary of state at the NYS Department of State).

Sumbler is entitled to a grace period to show what she can do in the job. Meanwhile, the best procedures and protocols in the world are of limited value if they’re not properly implemented.

On May 13, 2017, the NYSAC held a training seminar for inspectors that focused on handwraps and the taking of urine samples. There was a time when trainers like Emanuel Steward were brought in to lecture commission personnel on handwraps. This year, recently-appointed deputy commissioner Tony Carrecia did the job. Dr. Louis Rotkowitz gave the lecture on the collection of urine samples and was corrected by Dr. Angela Gagliardi when he confused a woman’s urethra with a woman’s vagina.

More recently, on July 29, Jorge Sebastian Heiland (pictured) fought Jarmall Charlo at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Heiland is a southpaw. That means he plants his left foot to throw punches. Shortly before the fight, a commission employee (possibly deputy commissioner Robert Orlando) noticed that Heiland’s left knee was heavily taped, which is a violation of NYSAC rules. The matter was brought to Kim Sumbler’s attention, and the Heiland camp was ordered to remove the tape.

In round one, Heiland’s footwork, to be polite, was “awkward.” Commentating for Showtime, Paulie Malignaggi observed, “It’s strange footwork. It’s like his legs are too straight.” In round two, Malignaggi added, “It’s almost like his knees aren’t bending at all.”

Midway through the second stanza, Heiland’s knee gave way and he slipped. As he was falling to the canvas, Charlo landed a solid right uppercut. The punch was legal since Heiland was not yet on the canvas. Referee Benjy Esteves, who had seen the slip but apparently not the uppercut, waved off the knockdown. Then, realizing that Heiland was hurt, he picked up the count at “five.”

Put the puzzle pieces together. The commission had reason to believe before the fight began that Heiland’s left knee was injured. He was obviously having trouble moving and planting his left foot to punch. He was being pounded around the ring like a one-legged punching bag. But Benjy Esteves, who also refereed the Magomed Abdusalamov fight in addition to having Arturo Gatti vs. Joey Gamache on his resume, let Heiland take a beating for two more rounds.

Things were worse in round three. Showtime blow-by-blow commentator Mauro Ranallo noted, “There appears to be something wrong with [Heiland’s] left leg, although the doctors are allowing him to continue.”

“It’s weird,” Malignaggi responded. “I don’t know if he came into the fight like this. It’s so strange. There’s something wrong with this guy’s leg.”

“There’s no question about that,” veteran Showtime analyst Al Bernstein said.

The fight ended in round four, when Heiland was knocked down again and his knee couldn’t support his weight anymore.

Where was the New York State Athletic Commission inspector assigned to Heiland’s dressing room when Sebastian’s knee was being illegally taped? What sort of pre-fight physicals did the NYSAC medical staff administer to Heiland at the weigh-in and in the dressing room prior to the fight? What did NYSAC commissioner Ndidi Massay, who was sitting in the first row at ringside during the fight, think she was watching?

Suppose Heiland had suffered a subdural hematoma as a consequence of the beating he endured against Charlo? The New York State Athletic Commission would be right back where it was with Magomed Abdusalamov.

Let’s repeat that point so no one misses it. Suppose Sebastian Heiland suffered a subdural hematoma after being pounded in the head again and again by Jarmall Charlo? The result could have been a tragedy on the order of Magomed Abdusalamov.

Meanwhile, the NYSAC is in turmoil at the commissioner level.

Legislation enacted in April 2016 increased the number of NYSAC commissioners from three to five. However, at present, there are only three commissioners: Ndidi Massay, John Signorile, and Edwin Torres. Massay’s term runs through January 1, 2019. Torres’s term expired on January 1, 2014. Signorile’s term expired on January 1, 2015. Both Signorile and Torres have been serving on a holdover basis.

It’s not often that more than one NYSAC commissioner attends a commission seminar or fight card in New York. Too often, there are none.

On June 30, 2017, Michelle Nicoli-Rosales (Andrew Cuomo’s deputy director of communications for economic development) confirmed that the governor had nominated three new NYSAC commissioners subject to approval by the State Senate. The nominees are (1) Dr. Philip Stieg, a New York City neurosurgeon; (2) Dr. James Vosswinkel, an East Setauket critical care surgeon; and (3) Donald Patterson, a Buffalo resident who has been involved with amateur boxing. None of the three has extensive experience in the world of professional combat sports. Moreover, the new commissioners can’t be confirmed until the state legislature returns to Albany, most likely after the first of the year.

So the New York State Athletic Commission keeps lurching along.

The commission’s July 11 open meeting was instructive. It began with a review of revised medical protocols formulated by the NYSAC’s Medical Advisory Board under the leadership of Dr. Nitin Sethi.

Sethi, who is widely respected within the boxing community, presented the revised protocols to the commissioners. But the protocols are in a lengthy document that hadn’t been sent to the commissioners until the previous night. It appeared as though none of the commissioners had read the revised protocols, let alone reflected on them.

The commissioners approved the revised protocols. But the discussion that preceded their vote did little to build confidence in the commission.

There was a discussion of whether fighters who are colorblind should be allowed to fight because, it was theorized, they might have trouble distinguishing between the red and blue corners. Sethi explained that colorblindness in and of itself should not disqualify a fighter from fighting.

In the past, fighters with breast implants have been barred from fighting in New York. But that policy was undermined when the NYSAC bowed to pressure and reinterpreted the rule, saying it applied only to boxing, not MMA. This allowed a fighter with breast implants to compete on a UFC card in Buffalo on April 8.

At the July 11 NYSAC meeting, it was announced that the Medical Advisory Board had determined that a ruptured breast implant is not life-threatening. Henceforth, breast implants will be allowed in all combat sports competitions in New York as long as the combatant signs a form acknowledging and accepting the risk of a rupture. In addition, there was discussion of the difference between saline and silicone breast implants (saline is safer) and how large an implant has to be in order to pose a health risk in the event of rupture.

The commissioners also agreed to consider a suggestion that the ring doctor be allowed to interrupt a fight in the middle of a round to determine if a fighter is concussed. As John McEnroe once raged, “You cannot be serious!!!”

Finally, John Signorile complained that the NYSAC had yet to ban flag poles from the ring and that this represents a safety hazard because, if there’s a confrontation between the fighters’ camps during the introductions, someone could use a flag pole as a weapon.

Commissioner Signorile also said that the conference room was too sterile and it would be a more inspiring setting within which to conduct business if there were New York State and American flags at the end of the room.

Author’s Note: Don’t put the flags in the NYSAC meeting room on poles. Someone might use them as weapons.

Photo credit: Tom Casino / SHOWTIME

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – A Hard World: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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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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