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Gary Shaw’s Version of Conor McGregor Was Kimbo Slice

Bernard Fernandez

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original idea

It has been suggested that, at this 21st century stage of human development, there is no such thing as a truly original idea, only gussied-up versions of previous attempts at creating something unique. Perhaps more so than anyone else, Gary Shaw understands the rationale for pairing boxing great Floyd Mayweather Jr. and mixed martial arts sensation Conor McGregor. It’s basically the same notion that Roman emperors and their minions had when they would pit captured beasts from faraway lands, say a lion and a tiger, in the Colosseum.  The Roman satirical poet Juvenal (circa 100 A.D.) coined the phrase “bread and circuses” to describe the practice of staging elaborate and costly games – chariot races, anyone? — in order for those in power to maintain control by periodically distracting their increasingly bored and restless subjects.

Boxing has not been around forever, although it sometimes seems like it, so Mayweather vs. McGregor, to be contested under boxing rules, has been relentlessly hyped as a fresh twist on a familiar format. Can the preening Mayweather, staunch upholder of his sport’s status quo, preserve order by putting away McGregor, a crass party-crasher from another combat-sport discipline? The lion again is doing battle with the tiger for entertainment purposes, and all indications are that pay-per-view and gross-revenue records will fall like tall wheat before the scythe.

But there is nothing really new or innovative about Mayweather vs. McGregor, except for the fact that each man’s reputation in his own realm is such that they come into Saturday night’s megafight at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena (to be televised via Showtime Pay Per View) with large, established fan bases that will be augmented by untold millions of the curious lured by what they’ve been promised is an event unlike anything they’ve ever witnessed. And maybe what will be delivered will prove at least somewhat worthy of the stiff tariff ponied up by on-site attendees and PPV subscribers, although Shaw has grave reservations.

“I don’t see any MMA fighter beating a boxer under boxing rules, especially one of Floyd’s class,” said Shaw, who has been on both sides of the philosophical chasm as president of his own boxing promotional company, Gary Shaw Productions and president of now-defunct EliteXC Live Events, a failed MMA challenger to the supremacy of UFC. “The footwork is different.  Going from four-ounce gloves to eight-ounce gloves is an immense difference. Plus, a boxer is used to seeing where his opponent is, in terms of technique and distance. It’s not the same in MMA, where there’s standup but also kicking and ground-and-pound.

“Unless I’m very wrong, this is a fight that isn’t a real fight at all. I can’t imagine there’s any way that Mayweather can possibly lose. Now, if the fight was under MMA rules, McGregor would be just as much of a sure thing. He’d take Mayweather down quickly because Floyd doesn’t have those skills, and you can’t pick them up in an eight-week training camp. You just can’t.”

Now that he’s sold his boxing promotional company to Roc Nation Sports, with which he briefly was affiliated (“I lasted there about three weeks,” he said of an operation that appears to still be seeking its footing) and EliteXC has long since gone belly-up, Shaw, now 72, doesn’t have a reason to root for either of the expletive-spewing principals or their sport of origin. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an interest as to what happens as, a decade or so ago, he had his own dream of creating a crossover superstar who could straddle the worlds of boxing and MMA like the Colossus of Rhodes. The vehicle through which Shaw would achieve such sweeping success was, much like McGregor, bearded, lefthanded, possessed of crushing punching power and a menacing scowl that could melt lead.

Shaw’s candidate for the kind of superstardom that many seek but few attain came into this world on Feb. 8, 1974, in Nassau, the Bahamas, as Kevin Ferguson. Most came to know him by his nom de guerre, Kimbo Slice. His legend withered before it had much chance to take root, but there can be no denying that Kimbo, who was just 42 when he died on June 6, 2016, was for a time considered to be larger than life, a comet streaking across the sky. Just as McGregor arrives at this juncture with liberal splashes of charisma and a compelling back story (see Wright Thompson’s enthralling profile in the Aug. 21 issue of ESPN the Magazine), Kimbo had an undefinable something that drew people to him like moths to an open flame. Shaw’s ambitious plan was to take Kimbo, who came to widespread attention through YouTube videos of unsanctioned, bare-knuckle brawls that saw him destroy opponents with Tysonesque brutality, and make him into the heavyweight champion of the world.

“Kimbo is one of those people that comes along every once in ages who has what I call the it factor,” Shaw said in the late spring of 2009. “I have a lot of fighters who come to me and are great talents but don’t have the it factor. Manny Pacquiao has the it factor. He’s a star. He reeks of stardom. People gravitate toward him.

“Kimbo is that way. When he walks into a room, he lights up that room. People yell `Kimbo! Kimbo!’ It doesn’t have anything to do with how he did in his last fight. It has to do with the it factor. When Tyson walks into an arena, everyone stands up. He’s Mike Tyson, of course, but he’s got that it factor.”

The phenom known as Kimbo Slice was first brought to my attention by my son Randy, who asked me to check out a YouTube video of the thickly muscled former linebacker’s backyard demolition of some large, hairy guy whose name now escapes me. It was a cruder, more violent and much-abbreviated version of Sonny Liston disassembling Floyd Patterson. But being unofficial ruler of Miami’s street-fighting scene to king of the ring is a quantum leap, so I paid no heed to rumors that already were circulating that this baddest of badass dudes might soon be trying his hand at, you know, actual boxing.

Depending upon which version of the story one chooses to believe, the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Kimbo Slice was either 0-0 in sanctioned boxing matches (according to BoxRec.com) or 7-0, with six knockouts (Wikipedia). Shaw said  those seven bouts were indeed legit, and who cares if the list of Kimbo’s victims – James Wade, Tay Bledsoe, Charles Hackmann, Brian Green, Jesse Porter, Howard Jones and Shane Tilyard – is hardly a who’s who of professional pugilism. Pulverizing power might be the rawest and most primal of a fighter’s resources, but it can camouflage a lot of technical shortcomings. But before he could put himself into a position (if ever that was a possibility) to challenge either or both of the Klitschko brothers, Kimbo gave up his boxing dream to sign with UFC, whose president, Dana White, no doubt had taken note of the high ratings Kimbo’s MMA appearances on CBS had garnered for EliteXC.

Could Kimbo ever have approached anything even remotely close to the boxing potential as envisioned for him by Shaw?

“He wasn’t really young enough (37 when he ostensibly made his pro debut with first-round, 17-second knockout of Wade on Aug. 13, 2011) to be trying to make the transition, but he might have done well had he stuck with it,” Shaw said. “He was just so immensely strong that if he caught anybody on the chin, the fight was over. But he didn’t really train to put it all together in the boxing ring.”

Nor did Kimbo justify his initial burst of popularity in MMA (a 5-2 record with three knockouts in sanctioned matches, 1-1 in exhibitions). It factor or not, the onetime University of Miami football player and father of six with the made-for-Hollywood past (he had worked as a bouncer in a Miami strip club and later as a limousine driver and bodyguard for a pornography production company) had exploitable weaknesses both inside the ring and the octagon. He had dubious stamina, which virtually obliged him to end matters within mere minutes of a fight’s beginning, and, at best, negligible skills in MMA other than a big punch. What’s worse, his reputation was sullied when Sam Petruzelli, a last-minute fill-in for the injured Ken Shamrock in the main event of a CBS-televised card on Oct. 4, 2008, claimed he was pressured to stand up and trade shots with Kimbo, instead of taking the fight to the ground where his ju-jitsu skills might give him an edge. Whether the accusation was true or not, it spawned enough of a scandal that CBS pulled out of its deal with EliteXC and the organization eventually folded.

It is Kimbo’s brief encounter with “Merciless” Ray Mercer, an Olympic heavyweight gold medalist and former WBO heavyweight champion, however, that adds an element of intrigue to Mayweather-McGregor. An accomplished boxer, even if he was then 46, Mercer lasted only 72 seconds against Kimbo in their June 23, 2007, exhibition match in Atlantic City, tapping out after Kimbo got him in a guillotine choke hold. But in an actual sanctioned MMA bout, Mercer knocked out a highly decorated MMA veteran, Tim Sylvia, in nine seconds on June 13, 2009, putting him down and out with the first punch he threw.

If there is anything that can be taken from the strange journey of Kimbo Slice, who died of heart failure shortly after a mass on his liver was diagnosed, it is this: lions should remain lions and tigers should remain tigers. Without question Conor McGregor is a better mixed martial artist, and probably boxer, than Kimbo ever was, but then Floyd McGregor Jr. is no James Wade. You can, ahem, slice it any way you want and it still projects to be a mismatch.

“Mayweather is the dean of spatial relationships,” Shaw said. “He knows how close he can go to another fighter without that fighter connecting on Floyd’s chin. He is an absolute master of spacing, which is the key to hitting and not getting hit back. He’s been doing this for many, many years. He’s become, like, a professor of boxing.”

And what of Mayweather dropping hints that he will go for the gusto and take the kind of risks he has rarely taken in the past against a boxing neophyte like McGregor?

“He’s not going to change his style against McGregor,” Shaw predicted. “Why should he? What he’s been doing has worked for him all this time. He’s a highly skilled fighter, maybe one of the all-time greats in any era. I know some of the stuff he does outside the ring turns people off so they just don’t like him, but a lot of those people are going to pay to see him in the hope of seeing him get a come-uppance.

“It was the same thing with Mayweather-Pacquiao. I didn’t believe that would be a real fight, a competitive fight, and I don’t believe this one will be, either. The only bad thing is if it’s a repeat of Mayweather-Pacquiao, with Floyd so dominant that it’s seen as boring, it’ll have a negative effect on all the pay-per-views to follow. It’ll leave a sour taste.”

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Erick Ituarte Wins Featherweight Battle in Ontario, Calif.

David A. Avila

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ONTARIO, CALIF.-Looking to make waves as a featherweight, Santa Ana’s Erick Ituarte battled Tijuana’s Jose Estrella evenly before pulling away in the last third of the fight to win by decision on Friday.

Ituarte (21-1-1, 3 KOs) lacks the big punch but has the long arms that enabled him to keep distance and out-point the shorter Estrella (20-16-1, 14 KOs) in their 10-round bout at the Doubletree Hotel. Thompson Boxing Promotions staged the fight card that saw about 500 fans at the event.

Estrella used his guts and guile to keep the fight close in the first four rounds of the fight. Back and forth they went trading momentum, Ituarte was effective attacking the body and Estrella was good at connecting with big blows to the head.

It wasn’t until the seventh round that Ituarte began utilizing his reach and mobility to make Estrella chase and run into pot shots. From that moment on Ituarte was in control of the fight. No knockdowns were scored with one judge scoring it 98-92 and two others 100-89 for Ituarte. Each round was very competitive.

Other bouts

Corona’s Luis Lopez (5-0, 3 KOs) powered his way to victory by unanimous decision over Mexico’s Daniel Perales (10-17-2, 5 KOs) after four rounds in a welterweight match. Though Lopez won every round with sharper punches he was never able to hurt the super tough Mexican fighter from Monterrey. He recognized that early and used crisp combinations to win each round though Perales had his moments too. All three judges scored it 40-36 for Lopez.

A heavyweight fight saw local fighter Oscar Torres (5-0, 2 KOs) run his record to five wins with a fourth round stoppage over Houston’s Thomas Hawkins (4-4) after a barrage of punches. The fight was stopped twice in the fourth round and a final barrage of blows prompted referee Tony Crebs to halt the fight at 1:20 of the round. Torres fights out of Rialto, California and is trained by Henry Ramirez.

Lightweights Davonte McCowen (0-0-1) and Chris Crowley (0-0-1) fought to a majority draw after four torrid rounds. Both were making their pro debuts. McCowen started faster and slowed in the last two rounds that allowed Britain’s Crowley to mount a rally in the last two rounds. It was a spirited fight between the two newcomers.

Photo credit: Alonzo Coston

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Introducing Australia’s Bilal Akkawy who steps in for David Lemieux on May 4

Arne K. Lang

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Akkawy

“Big Announcement Coming – Stay Tuned” wrote Bilal Akkawy late yesterday (April 18) on his twitter page. And then the Nevada Athletic Commission went and stole his thunder.

Later that day, the commission released its agenda for its forthcoming meeting on April 24. Among the items on the docket will be the selection of officials for Akkawy’s fight with England’s John Ryder. The 12-round contest for a “Vacant WBA Interim Super Middleweight Title” is penciled in as the chief undercard bout on the big May 4 show at the T-Mobile Arena topped by the match between Canelo Alvarez and Daniel Jacobs.

John Ryder’s original opponent, David Lemieux, was forced to pull out when he suffered a hand injury in training.

Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, the undefeated Akkawy (20-0-1, 16 KOs) has been Canelo Alvarez’s chief sparring partner. Canelo’s trainer, Eddy Reynoso, hired Akkawy based on a video that Akkary sent him as he was preparing to set up Canelo’s camp for the 2018 Cinco de Mayo rematch with Gennady Golovkin.

Two days before Canelo-Golovkin II, which was pushed back until September, Akkawy made his U.S. debut at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, scoring an 8-round decision over Christian Olivas. He appeared on the Canelo-Fielding card this past December in New York, scoring a 7th round stoppage over Victor Fonseca, and has had one fight since then, a stay-busy fight buried on a small show in Tamazula, Mexico, in which he didn’t stay very busy, dismissing his hopelessly overmatched opponent in the opening round.

Akkawy comes from a fighting family. His father Mahmoud “Mick” Akkawy and two of Mick’s brothers were good amateurs. Mick Akkawy was 2-0 as a pro when his career was cut short by a serious car accident. Mick and his brother Ahmad “Al” Akkawy now run a boxing club.

The elder Akkawy, whose roots are in Tripoli, was tutored by Johnny Lewis. To this day, Lewis, now 75 years old, insists that Mick Akkawy was the hardest puncher that he ever coached. Bilal Akkawy, says Lewis, inherited his old man’s genes. Lewis rates Bilal the hardest puncher, pound-for-pound, in Australia today.

That’s high praise. Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017, Johnny Lewis has worked with six world title-holders, most notably Jeff Fenech and Kostya Tsyzu.

Bilal Akkawy’s power was on display on Oct. 30, 2016 when he stopped fellow Aussie Kerry Hope in the seventh round. Akkawy shattered Hope’s jaw – two operations were necessary – and dislodged four of his teeth. His best win since then was a wide 10-round decision over Italian veteran Giovanni De Carolis who had briefly held the WBA world super middleweight title.

Not all of Akkawy’s performances were glowing, however. The draw on his ledger is an ugly smudge, notwithstanding the fact that it came in a 4-round bout. His opponent was Joe Rea, a British slug who is currently 11-37-5 after losing 24 of his last 25 fights. Moreover, although he won every round in his U.S. debut vs. Christian Olivas, we were unimpressed. Akkawy had Olivas down in the second frame but was unable to apply the finisher.

Although Akkawy is a second-generation prizefighter, his father discouraged him from pursuing a career in the ring and he entered the pro ranks without the benefit of a single amateur bout. By contrast, John Ryder had 35 amateur fights before turning pro in September of 2010.

Ryder (27-5-1, 15 KOs) is no slouch. A southpaw, the Londoner has won three straight inside the distance since losing a split decision to Rocky Fielding. At age 30, he’s five years older than Akkawy and has far more experience, answering the bell as a pro for 187 rounds compared to only 84 for the Aussie.

Akkawy vs. Ryder won’t get the juices flowing in the United States where both are obscure. However, it’s an intriguing match. It will be interesting to see how the bookmakers price it.

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The Avila Perspective, Chap. 43: Welterweight Wars Coast to Coast and More

David A. Avila

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Granados

In a twisted development a couple of East Coast guys are headed to Los Angeles to battle while another pair of West Coast guys are headed to New York City.

Makes sense I guess.

Former two-division world champion Danny “Swift” Garcia of Philadelphia faces Adrian Granados of Chicago at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California on Saturday April 20. The PBC card will be televised by FOX.

Dignity Health is the new name attached to the complex formerly known as the StubHub Center and before that it was the Home Depot Center. Ironically, Dignity Health owns most of the cemeteries in Southern California.

Is that an omen?

Garcia (34-2, 20 KOs) is a counter-punching Puerto Rican who needs someone to fight that’s always on attack mode in order for him to shine. When he’s matched with another counter-puncher the crowd goes to sleep.

That’s where Chicago Mexican Granados (20-6-2, 14 KOs) fits in.

Granados (pictured) has never fought in a snoozer in his life. He probably kicked his way out when he was born. In fights against slow developers like Adrien Broner and Felix Diaz he made them fight for their lives. If this were ancient Roman times he would be fighting in the main event armed with a tooth pick against a lion. Blindfolded.

But he’s weary of being labeled as merely an entertaining fighter.

“I’m tired of it,” Granados, 29, said. “I want the title or I’m out of here.”

World titles are something Garcia knows about. He’s held the WBC and WBA super lightweight titles and the WBC welterweight title. In unification clash with Shawn Porter last September he lost by a razor close decision. He feels naked without a strap around his waist.

“I’m going to make a statement,” said Garcia about his pending battle with Granados. “I definitely want a rematch with Shawn Porter or Keith Thurman.”

Granados eyes Garcia with slight envy whenever they’re in the same room.

“I’m trying to cash in baby,” said Granados. “I just got to go in there and do my thing.”

Another interesting bout on the PBC card includes undefeated Brandon Figueroa (18-0, 13 KOs) a southpaw super bantamweight fighting Venezuela’s Yonfrez Parejo (22-3-1) for the interim WBA title. The actual titleholder is Los Angeles fighter Danny Roman who fights next week at the Inglewood Forum.

Other fighters of interest are Andy Ruiz, Alfredo Angulo, Omar Juarez and Carlos Balderas. It’s an extremely long card and begins at 3 p.m.

Friday is Thompson Boxing

Headlining a boxing card at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario, California is featherweight Erick Ituarte (20-1-1) versus Jose Estrella (20-15-1) in a 10-round main event. Ituarte is the stablemate of WBA champion Danny Roman. Estrella hails from Tijuana and has fought some tough customers like Miguel Marriaga and Christopher Diaz.

The Thompson Boxing Promotions event also features a solid looking welterweight Richard Brewart (4-0) against Vincent Morales (2-2-2) in a four round bout. Another interesting fight showcases Uzbekistan’s Murodjon Akhmadaliev (5-0) a southpaw slugger trained by Joel and Antonio Diaz in Indio. The lefty faces former world title contender Carlos Carlson (23-5) in a super bantamweight clash.

Thompson Boxing always delivers solid boxing cards and you never know which new boxing jewel will be discovered by them. They have a 20 year history of finding outstanding talent. You can also watch it streamed on Thompson Boxing’s page on Facebook.com.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For more information call (714) 935-0900.

New York Card

If you plan on staying home on Saturday night a solid fight card at Madison Square Garden features a welterweight world title fight between WBO titlist Terence Crawford and former two-division champion Amir Khan. It will be shown on ESPN pay-per-view at $59.95.

It’s a loaded card with Top Rank unfurling its best. Of course the best is Crawford who in my opinion is the top fighter pound for pound. And I was a late convert.

Nebraska’s Crawford (34-0, 25 KOs) is based in the Midwest and heads east to fight England’s Khan (33-4, 20 KOs) who trains in California. They’re fighting for the WBO title and it should be a very good fight.

Khan has always been a favorite of mine. He’s blessed with speed and agility and also has a lot of guts. Not just because he fought Saul “Canelo” Alvarez at middleweight, but because he’s a true prizefighter looking for the biggest fights in the world. He’s been criticized by his own countrymen for not fighting some of his fellow Brits, but Khan looks at everything globally, not nationally. He especially wants fights that Americans want to see. They want to see this fight.

“I wanted this fight because I wanted to fight the best. Terence Crawford presented the greatest challenge to me at this point in my career. Listen, the Kell Brook fight was there, but fighting Terence gives me the opportunity to show I am a pound-for-pound fighter,” said Khan.

Of course thousands of Brits will be flying across the Atlantic Ocean for a glimpse of this showdown. First because it’s New York, second because it’s boxing and Brits love boxing. Gotta love them Brits.

Crawford, like Khan, is blessed with speed and agility too. And he also has several ways to attack. He’s not a one-dimensional fighter. He’s like a jazz musician; he can take it wherever it needs to go. Whether its hip hop or improvisational he can easily slip into another tempo. That’s his magic.

“Amir Khan is undefeated as a welterweight and can’t be underestimated. He has great hand speed, movement, and some power as well,” said Crawford. “I want to showcase all of my talents in this fight.”

Keep your eyes open in this fight.

Other bouts on this high quality fight card:

Top Rank has a couple of their prospects jumping up to face contenders. First you have Shakur Stevenson (10-0) meeting former world title challenger Christopher Diaz (24-1) of Puerto Rico in a 10-round featherweight clash. If it were any other prospect I might say the kid is moving too fast. But Shakur has eye-popping talent.

Another prospect going against a contender is Brooklyn’s Teofimo Lopez (12-0) meeting Finland’s Edis Tatli (31-2, 10 KOs) in a lightweight match. Lopez, 21, already has fought in three 10-round fights and has the NABF and USBA lightweight belts. Tatli has the EBU lightweight belt. Whose belt means more in this fight?

Puerto Rico’s highly touted Felix Verdejo (24-1,16 KOs) lost a year ago to Mexico’s Ines Lozada Torres by knockout. Then he returned to win by knockout last November. Now he’s back against a tough customer in Bryan Vasquez. It’s not an easy fight for either fighter.

Verdejo was Top Rank’s golden child a couple of years ago and ran into some personal problems before running into Lozada’s fists. Now he has Vasquez, a slick fighting Costa Rican who arguably could have won a world title had he been given the decision after fighting Raymundo Beltran two years ago. Beltran won by majority decision that night in August 2017, then proceeded to win the WBO lightweight title against Paulus Moses. That could have been Vasquez’s title.

It’s a strong boxing card.

Lights Out

Next Thursday on April 25, former middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight, cruiserweight and heavyweight world champion James “Lights Out” Toney will be the honored guest at the Golden Boy Promotions boxing card at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif.

Toney spent the last 25 years in Southern California where he first trained at the Wild Card Boxing gym in Hollywood. Over the years he became one of the most popular prizefighters by fans who loved his aggressive style and off-the-charts boxing skills. The Michigan native had more than 90 fights as a professional against some of the best to ever put on gloves.

Many boxing writers, including myself, consider Toney one of the best, if not the best prizefighter in the last 60 years. He’s beaten some of the best in the business and performed at a high level for decades in classic fights. Among the gems were his knockout wins against Michael Nunn, Tim Littles, Vassiliy Jirov, and Evander Holyfield.

Toney, 50, will be available to sign autographs and take photos with fans. Be sure to be there and meet the great multi-division champion.

One of the featured fights is Oscar Negrete (18-1-1) in a rematch against Joshua Franco (14-1-1) who fought to a draw last October. It was one of the best fights of the year. The NABF bantamweight title is the prize.

For tickets or information call (800) 827-2946.

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