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This Title Shot is a Hart-to-Hart Production

Bernard Fernandez

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Tucson Convention

As much a political activist as a boxing promoter, Top Rank founder and chairman Bob Arum is providing 500 free tickets for Friday night’s ESPN-televised fight card at the Tucson Convention Center to so-called “Dreamers,” children of illegal immigrants, mostly from Mexico, whose status for remaining in the United States has been called into question by the Trump administration.

“They’re as American as my grandchildren,” says the Brooklyn-born Arum, who often finds ways to combine his business operation with his social-justice agenda.

In a manner of speaking, another dream may or not be fulfilled in the co-main event of the TV doubleheader, in which WBO super middleweight champion Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez (35-0, 24 KOs), of Mazatlan, Mexico, defends his title against Jesse “Hard Work” Hart (22-0, 18 KOs), the WBO’s No. 1 contender from Philadelphia. But the dream team in this instance is not so much comprised of the Ramirez family as by the Harts, whose long, thus-far-fruitless quest to claim a world championship now rests on the wide shoulders of the 28-year-old Jesse, who has been raised almost since birth to achieve something that his once-world-rated middleweight contender father and trainer, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, and other assorted relatives could not.

The other co-featured marquee bout pits WBO featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez (22-0, 19 KOs) against No. 4 contender Genesis Servania (29-0, 12 KOs), of Bacolod City, Philippines.

“My family, both sides of it, were brought up with boxing,” noted Jesse, who is co-promoted by Top Rank and Peltz Boxing. “My dad, obviously, but also on my dad’s side were my uncle (Alfred Lowery) and my dad’s uncle (Jimmy Hart) as well as a cousin on my mom’s side (Rick Williams).

“Now I have my own family (manager-wife Starletta and daughter Halo). To bring back that belt to my household would be something I almost can’t describe. It would mean everything.”

Perhaps, if Cyclone Hart had won a world title – or even been afforded the opportunity to fight for one – Jesse’s sense of purpose might not be so clear and defined. But who’s to say? Children born into the Wallenda family are raised from an early age to become high-wire walkers because … well, just because. Sometimes there is no escaping who we are meant to be in life.

“Mentally, I have been prepared for this (to fight for and win a world championship) since I was just a little kid,” Jesse said. “My whole life has been directed toward this moment. My dad showed me tapes of all the great Philadelphia fighters, fighters that became champions of the world or could have been, from as far back as I can remember.

“Now that I’m so close to doing what I have so long prepared for, I can honestly say I’m ready. Of course there’s going to be a little nervousness, but it’s not going to overwhelm me or anything like that. Nothing can or will stop me from performing at my highest level. I’m not going to freeze up. How could I, when I’ve been groomed for this since I was six years old?”

At 6-foot-3 and 168 pounds, Jesse is not a carbon-copy of his 5-11½ father, either physically or even stylistically. He considers himself a boxer-puncher, more capable of winning with a varied attack than was his dad, a legendarily devastating puncher who went into every fight looking to score a knockout, as early and as emphatically as possible. It was a strategy that either worked well or didn’t, as evidenced by Cyclone’s 30-9-1 record, which included 28 knockout victories (18 coming in the first three rounds) and eight defeats inside the distance.  Cyclone’s weapon of choice was that Philly favorite, the left hook.

“Jesse’s a good puncher, but he’s not in his father’s league when it comes to pure punching power,” said J Russell Peltz, who promoted Cyclone and now is involved with the son. “I’m just telling it like it is.”

One of a quartet of Philadelphia middleweights who were all world-rated at the same time in the early 1970s – the others being Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, Willie “The Worm” Monroe and the late Bennie Briscoe – Hart was being talked up as a possible  challenger to Argentine great Carlos Monzon when misfortune struck. During a fight with former junior middleweight titlist Denny Moyer on Sept. 21, 1971, at the Spectrum in Philly, both men tumbled through the ring ropes in the sixth round. Moyer suffered an injured ankle and Hart was knocked unconscious after striking his head on the floor, resulting in a no-contest.

Cyclone Hart did not fight again until Feb. 7 of 1972, a second-round knockout of Matt Donovan, but in his next bout after that he was stopped in eight rounds by Nate Collins and any hope of procuring a shot at Monzon vanished.

Might Cyclone have taken out the seemingly invincible Monzon had he landed that vaunted left hook just so? Possibly, although Peltz wonders if that proposed fight ever could have advanced beyond speculation.

“Teddy Brener (Madison Square Garden’s esteemed matchmaker) was trying to get him a title shot late in 1971, but Monzon was not controlled by the Garden, despite of how powerful Teddy was,” Peltz said. “I don’t believe Monzon actually was going to fight Cyclone, who just wasn’t a big enough name internationally. Anyway, that’s as close as he ever got.”

Ironically, the dream matchup that might have gone to Hart instead went to Moyer, who fell in five rounds to Monzon on March 4, 1972, in Rome.

Jesse was not around to witness his dad’s rise nor his fall; he was born on June 26, 1989, 10 days before Cyclone’s 38th birthday and nearly seven years after his final bout.  His not-inconsiderable power and some of his moves were passed along by his father, but some of his finer technical points came from another veteran Philadelphia cornerman, Fred Jenkins, the original trainer of 1996 Olympic gold medalist David Reid.

In addition to his dad, of course, Jesse lists Reid as a hero and role model. Jesse was not quite seven when he watched Reid, who was trailing on points, win the gold medal with a turn-out-the-lights overhand right in the final round against Cuba’s Alfredo Duvergel. That punch instilled in Jesse a dream of his own, in which he would go to the 2012 London Olympics and win a gold medal. He admits to feeling crushed when, as the favorite, he missed out on a chance to represent his country by the narrowest of margins, losing on a controversial second tiebreaker in the U.S. National Championships against Cleveland’s Terrell Gausha.

“That still haunts me,” Jesse said. I wanted so much to go to the Olympics and win a gold medal like David Reid.  I was bitter about how that all ended for me. But it probably helped me get this far in the pros, and this fast. And besides, my father’s dream for me wasn’t so much about going to the Olympics as it was for me to win a world championship as a pro.”

One thing Jesse apparently does better than his dad is talk. Peltz described him as “a marvelous self-promoter” who, should he get past Ramirez, a formidable southpaw, might stage his first title sometime in the first quarter of 2018 in Philadelphia. Asked for his thoughts on “Zurdo,” Hart gave him short shrift.

“All due respect, but when I look at him I see a boy, not a man,” Jesse said. “I don’t see somebody who thinks on his own. He’s always looking to his corner for instructions. His main weakness is his mind.  Everything he does, I’ll have an answer for.”

Ramirez has said Hart “must pay” for such remarks, and that his dream is to shut the challenger’s mouth. Then again, that’s the nature of dreams. Not everyone’s gets to come true.

RIP David Bey

Sometimes the boxing gods dispense or withhold their favors with no particular sense of rhyme or reason. Fringe heavyweight contender Chuck Wepner wangled a dream if ultimately doomed shot at the great Muhammad Ali, registered a knockdown (or maybe it was a trip), thus inspiring Sylvester Stallone to launch the Rocky film franchise, and just this year was portrayed by Liev Schrieber in a movie, Chuck, based on his improbable life. Another fringe heavyweight contender, Buster Douglas, was served up as a sacrificial offering to Mike Tyson in Tokyo, but shocked the world in scoring the biggest upset in boxing history and was rewarded with a $24 million payday in his first and only title defense. Still another fringe heavyweight contender, Randall “Tex” Cobb, became something of a celebrity after losing every minute of every round to champion Larry Holmes and rode that notoriety to some nice movie credits as a craggy-faced tough guy.

Then there’s David Bey, a Philadelphia native whose heavyweight ring career can be likened to, in one way or another, all of the aforementioned passers-by in boxing’s more exclusive neighborhoods. But Bey, who was 60 when he died on Sept. 13 in a construction accident in Camden, N.J., reaped few residual benefits from his brief flirtation with fame and fortune, other than his induction earlier this year into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame. Like Wepner, Douglas and Cobb, Bey was granted an opportunity to fight for the IBF heavyweight championship of the world, and he gave a credible account of himself in a 10th-round TKO loss to Larry Holmes on March 16, 1895. Unbeaten at 14-0 with 11 KOs the night he entered the ring against Holmes, Bey’s status as a fighter on the rise quickly flamed out as he lost five of his next six bouts, three inside the distance. There would be no calls from Hollywood, even though Bey had a face that leaned more to handsome than to hammered and he did briefly date Grammy Award-winning singer Natalie Cole, daughter of the legendary Nat “King” Cole.

Bey retired with an 18-11-1 (14) record after his final bout, an eighth-round stoppage of David Jaco on Sept. 17, 1994, in Macao, China, whereupon he returned to Philly and a blue-collar life. The guy who managed to get Holmes’ attention with a crisp left hook in the second round of their title fight was a member of Local Carpenters 179, operating a pile driver, when he was involved in the fatal accident.

Informed of Bey’s death, Holmes recalled him as “an awkward fighter” who “gave his all.”

“He could fight. He hit me pretty good” (with that second-round left hook),” Holmes continued.

As for those parallels between himself and other fighters who got a brief taste of heavyweight nectar, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Bey turned pro on Nov. 6, 1981, with a first-round TKO of, yes, Buster Douglas in Pittsburgh, thus making him a man who beat the man (Tyson), and his Philly roots gave him a kinship of sorts with Cobb, who relocated from his native Texas to Philly to advance his boxing career.

Rest in peace, David.

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Ralph `Tiger’ Jones, Conqueror of Sugar Ray Robinson, was the Ultimate Gatekeeper

Bernard Fernandez

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Ralph "Tiger" Jones

Being a gatekeeper, especially in boxing, can be a lonely and underappreciated function. And in the 1950s, a golden age for the sport, that might have been especially true for a highly competent but not-quite-elite middleweight named Ralph “Tiger” Jones, who fought so often on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports’ Friday Night Fights that he came to be known as “Mr. Television,” a sobriquet he shared with another frequent face of the relatively new medium, comedian Milton Berle.

Jones, who was 66 when he passed away on July 17, 1994, is not enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The Brooklyn-born, Yonkers, N.Y.-based scrapper has never even appeared on the IBHOF ballot. Then again, why should he have been? His career record of 52-32-5, with only 13 victories inside the distance, isn’t particularly impressive, unless you take a closer look at the who’s who list of guys with whom he shared the ring. He holds victories over, among others, IBHOF Hall of Famers Sugar Ray Robinson, Joey Giardello and Kid Gavilan (Giardello and Gavilan each defeated him twice), and he gave such capable and even world-class fighters as Gene Fullmer (twice), Laszlo Papp, Bobo Olson, Johnny Saxton (twice), Joey Giambra (twice), Rocky Castellani (twice), Paul Pender, Johnny Bratton, Rory Calhoun (twice), Joe DeNucci (thrice), Bobby Dykes, Chico Vejar, Charlie Humez (twice), Victor Salazar, Ernie Durando and Del Flanagan all they could handle.

Given the high level of competition he so routinely faced, it is remarkable that the Tiger was stopped only once, and even that was a bit of an outlier, a one-round TKO against someone named Henry Burroughs on Jan. 13, 1951. Burroughs, who went 3-4 in an abbreviated professional career, quickly vanished from the fight scene, but for Jones, who had come in 9-0, the shocking defeat might have had the effect of instantly downgrading him from hot prospect to “opponent” and, ultimately, gatekeeper of a loaded 160-pound weight class. Interestingly, Jones had virtually toyed with Burroughs in winning a four-round unanimous decision only two months earlier.

There are those who insist that Jones’ most shining moment inside the ropes came when he stopped Dykes (career record: 120-23-8, with 57 KOs) on March 8, 1954, in Brooklyn when, well behind on points, he rallied to register two emphatic, outcome-shifting knockdowns in the 10th and final round. But even that keepsake triumph pales in comparison to what took place in Chicago Stadium on Jan. 19, 1955, when he presumably was served up as a sacrificial offering to the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson. Sugar Ray, then 33, was in the early stages of a comeback after he failed to make it big as a tap dancer on a tour of Europe. Fighting for the first time in 2½ years, Robinson had stopped journeyman Joe Rindone in six rounds on Jan. 5, 1955, in Detroit, and the bout against Jones, an 8-1 underdog, was widely viewed as merely another step forward in the former welterweight and middleweight champion’s graduated path back to the superstar status he once held and almost everyone believed he would soon reclaim.

But the outcome that was anticipated by the in-house turnout of 7,282 and a national TV audience underwent a quick rewrite when Jones, who had lost his previous five bouts, was the aggressor in the opening stanza of the scheduled 10-rounder, which ended with the great Sugar Ray — who had come in with an incredible 132-3-2 record — bleeding from a cut to his nose. It was more of the same in round two, Jones adding to Robinson’s seepage when the living legend went back to his corner with another cut, to his right eyelid.

It should have been apparent to everyone, even then, that this was not going to be Sugar Ray’s night, and it wasn’t. Referee Frank Sikora submitted a scorecard favoring Jones by a 99-94 margin, with judges Ed Hintz and Howard Walsh seeing it as an even bigger rout for Jones, at 100-88 and 98-89. Years later, the punch-counters for CompuBox reviewed tape of the fight and determined that Tiger had connected on 322 of 407 (57 percent) to just 176 of 514 (34 percent) for Robinson.

But as is often the case when a legendary fighter is made to look something less than superhuman, the big story was not that Ralph “Tiger” Jones had won, but that a humbled Sugar Ray Robinson was now on his last legs, his nimble feet and fast hands left behind somewhere on nightclub stages in a far-away continent.

New York Journal American columnist Jimmy Cannon for all intents and purposes authored Sugar Ray’s boxing obituary in his paper’s Jan. 20 editions, opining that “There is no language spoken on the face of the earth in which you can be kind when you tell a man he is old and should stop pretending he is young … Old fighters, who go beyond the limits of their age, resent it when you tell them they’re through … what he had is gone. The pride isn’t. The gameness isn’t. The insolent faith in himself is still there … but the pride and the gameness and that insolent faith get in his way … He was marvelous, but he isn’t anymore.”

And this, from The Associated Press report of the fight: “The former welterweight and middleweight titleholder … who started his comeback after 30 months as a song-and-dance entertainer by kayoing Joe Rindone two weeks ago, was handed the worst beating of his career by Jones … Time and again Tiger drove Robinson into the ropes and mauled him pitifully.”

But as was the case with the false rumor in 1897 that novelist/humorist Samuel Clemens – better known by his pen name, Mark Twain — had passed away, any suggestion that Sugar Ray Robinson was finished as a top-tier fighter proved to be premature. The Sugar man held the middleweight championship five times in all, three of his title reigns coming after Cannon advised him in print that he was washed up.

“I never figure to win them all,” the battered Robinson said after taking his licking from Jones. “You’ve got to figure you’ll get beat somewhere along the line. I don’t want to quit. This was a test. Like my manager said, it was just too tough for a second fight on a comeback.”

And Jones?

He continued to get regular TV gigs because he was more skilled than many, doggedly determined to put on a good show and no day at the beach for any of the six world champions he fought on 10 different occasions. But he never got a shot at a world title, a cruel twist of fate for someone who not only had paid his membership dues in the school of hard knocks, but continued to pay them right up to the end, a 10-round, unanimous-decision loss to IBHOF Hall of Famer and three-time Olympic gold medalist Laszlo Papp of Hungary on March 21, 1962. Tiger was floored in three separate rounds, but true to his unyielding code of honor, he gutted it out to the final bell. His pride would not allow him to do otherwise.

As a child growing up in New Orleans and the son of police captain Jack Fernandez (career record: 4-1-1, 1 KO), a former welterweight of scant pro accomplishment whom I idolized as if he had been a world champion, it seemed to me that, if Tiger Jones didn’t appear every week on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports, he was in the featured bout at least every month or so. The best of the gatekeepers from that glorious era deserve at least some reflected glory for hanging in with their betters, and Jones holds a special place in my recollections along with, among others, Florentino Fernandez (I liked to pretend we were somehow related), Holly Mims and “Hammerin’” Henry Hank, the Detroit middleweight and light heavyweight who fought so often in New Orleans (18 times) that I chose to believe he was almost as local as Willie Pastrano, Ralph Dupas, Percy Pugh and Jerry Pellegrini. Hank, who was 62-30-4 with 40 KOs in a career that spanned from 1953 to ’72, was a virtual replica of the never-say-die Jones, never fighting for a widely recognized world title (he did drop a 15-round decision to Eddie Cotton for the Michigan version of the light heavyweight championship) and losing just once inside the distance, on a ninth-round stoppage by Bob Foster on Dec. 11, 1964, in Norfolk, Va.

Yeah, that would be the same Bob Foster who would go on to become one of the most accomplished 175-pound champions ever and was inducted into the IBHOF in 1990.

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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The Avila Perspective Chap. 30: A Day in L.A., Plant, Pacquiao, and More

David A. Avila

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L.A.

Every time it rains in L.A. I think about the Doors song “Riders in the Storm.”

On Sunday a brief window of dryness blanketed as I drove to downtown L.A. on freeways that were slightly emptier than normal with the L.A. Chargers playing the New England Patriots. I guess some people stayed home to watch it.

Freeway traffic plays a big part in any Californian’s life. But it’s rare that a boxing event is held on a Sunday. My destination that day was LA Live across the street from the Staples Center.

LA Live has a skating rink in the middle of the courtyard and people were milling around an hour before the boxing card was to begin at Microsoft Theater. The theater is a swanky building across the skating rink from the ESPN structure.

A guy resembling my nephew Giovanni is talking to a few people next to the Starbucks. As I walk closer the person is gone. Later, I would see that the same kid resembling my nephew is actually fighting on the large boxing card. About a dozen fights are listed on the boxing bout sheet.

The Microsoft Theater has gone through a name change since it was first opened in 2007. It used to be called the Nokia Theater. The large theater hosts the ESPYs, EMMYs, Grammys and American Music Awards. But it’s no stranger to boxing events. A few fight cards have been held in its confine.

Crowds gathered early for the Premier Boxing Champions boxing card and by 5 p.m. it filled up pretty good.

One of the earliest boxing champions to arrive as a viewer was Mikey Garcia with several other young boxers and their entourages. The four division world champ has a date with Errol Spence Jr. in a couple of months. Spence arrived to watch the LA fight card a little later.

Title Fight

The main event featured Caleb Plant challenging the dangerous IBF super middleweight titlist Jose Uzcategui.

Plant has always shown he had skills and athleticism inside the boxing ring. But you can have all the tools in the world and it doesn’t mean a thing. What it really comes down to is can you take a punch from a puncher? Uzcategui can punch.

The Tennessee native has a pretty hefty following and they were loud in support of the slick fighting Plant. During the first six rounds it was like watching a concert with girls standing and cheering. But when the tide turned and Uzcategui began finding the antidote for Plant’s slickness, the same crowd was deadly quiet.

Plant is an entertainer. He can’t help himself. But he’s a classy kind of guy and fans genuinely like him. He can also fight.

Despite an undefeated record Plant had never truly established he belonged on the A list. He has A list skills but had never beaten an elite fighter until Sunday. He beat a good one and fans were thoroughly engrossed.

After their entertaining bloody clash you would have thought the two warriors would be red hot with anger. But instead, the two were like old chums and gracious after their 12-round battle. It kind of reminded me of long ago when two late greats Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello battled twice in the early 1980s. Those two great warriors became great friends and propelled the sport of boxing to greater heights and awareness. Later, Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward did the same in the early 2000s. It’s the beauty of boxing.

In the locker room Plant told Uzcategui they ought to share some Modelos soon. That got a big laugh and hug from the Venezuelan fighter who trains in Mexico. There were no hard feelings, just a lot of bruises and cuts.

Super middleweights may be the new showcase division.

A few possible opponents were in the crowd including David Benavidez, the current WBC titlist. A match with Plant or even a rematch with Uzcategui would bring an even bigger crowd. The super middleweights are heating up. There’s a lot of talent now in the 168-pound division including James DeGale, Callum Smith and George Groves in the United Kingdom and Gilberto Ramirez of Mexico. Hey, it’s even possible to see Gennady “GGG” Golovkin in the super middleweight division if the money is right.

I can’t wait to see the next super middleweight world title matchup.

El Cholos

When the fight card was over we walked across Figueroa Avenue to the Mexican restaurant famous for its margaritas. El Cholos has been around since the 1920s and has expanded to almost a dozen eateries in Southern California. I wish they had one in Las Vegas which does not have a good sit down Mexican restaurant.

El Cholos has become a favorite destination for me following boxing cards in L.A. After the fights several boxing reporters joined me for dinner including Muhammad Mubarak, Anthony Saldana and his wife Cynthia Saldana, Nancy Rodriguez from Supreme Boxing and Daniel who works with them and others. Usually my good friends from the Japanese press join us and long-time photographer Al Applerose, but not on this occasion. Still, we spent a couple of hours there and even ran into an old friend, Liz Quevedo Parr. As an amateur fighter she dominated two divisions for Team USA and now owns a gym in Long Beach called Guv’Nors Boxing Club. She recently had a cover page write up in OC Weekly.

At El Cholos we talked about Plant, Spence, Garcia and Benavidez. We also talked about women’s boxing especially Maricela Cornejo who is managed by Nancy Rodriguez. Both have movie star looks. Cornejo will be fighting in about 12 days in Hollywood at the Avalon Theater. Another female we discussed is Kenia Enriquez who fights out of Tijuana, Mexico. She’s very good.

The Lakers were playing across the street and I expected a rush of fans following the game. But the Lakers lost that night so fans must have been disgruntled and left quickly to their respective homes. Rain was threatening too. We can’t drive in the rain.

Eating and drinking with other journalists is one of the joys of being a fight reporter. Who better to talk about boxing than people that actually know the sport? Only in L.A., New York or Philadelphia can you find plenty of fans that actually know boxing and its politics. Over the years I’ve met some truly knowledgeable fight fans throughout Southern California.

Pacman and Broner

We’re heading to Las Vegas on Thursday, first to see Layla McCarter headline a Mayweather Promotions card that night at the MGM Grand. Tickets are free and it’s a hefty boxing card featuring many fighters from Floyd Mayweather’s stable.

McCarter is the best female fighter in the world pound for pound. Nobody has beaten her in 11 years and she’s fought in numerous countries around the world. Do you know how hard that is to accomplish? Ask any fighter.

Friday is a weigh-in for the Showtime pay-per-view card and I’m curious to see how many fans show up.

It’s been a while since Manny Pacquiao last fought in Las Vegas. Back on November 2016 he battled Jessie Vargas at the Thomas & Mack Center. On Saturday, Pacquiao will face Adrien Broner for the WBA welterweight world title at the MGM Grand. Showtime will have it on pay-per-view.

Every time I see Pacquiao I remember first watching him at the Wild Card gym almost 20 years ago. Freddie Roach kept telling a few of us to watch out for the lefty Filipino kid. Right from the start he proved to be deadly accurate. Pacquiao, now 40, has exceeded all my expectations and out-lasted everyone from that era.

I remember years ago in 2003 talking outside on the parking lot of the Olympic Auditorium. It was still light outside on a summer night and Freddie saw me and a couple of reporters and walked up to talk about his first experience in the Philippines training Pacquiao. He was still overwhelmed by the experience. Later that night Pacquiao would obliterate Emmanuel Lucero in the third round with a vicious uppercut. Even though I knew Pacman was very good I would have never predicted his longevity in a sport that usually spits out good fighters in 10 years.

On Saturday we will see how much the Filipino super star still has left in his legs. Hopefully on the drive to Las Vegas it won’t rain or snow.

Photo credit: Luis Mejia / TCB Promotions

Fights to watch

Fri. 5 p.m. PT DAZN – Jorge Linares vs Pablo Cano; Amanda Serrano vs Eva Voraberger; Demetrius Andrade vs Artur Akavov.

Fri. 6:30 p.m. PT/9:30 PM ET ESPN* Bryant Jennings (24-2) vs Oscar Rivas (25-0).

Sat. 6 p.m. PT Showtime pay-per-view – Manny Pacquiao vs Adrien Broner; Badou Jack vs. Marcus Browne; Rau’shee Warren vs Nordine Oubaali; Jhack Tepora vs Hugo Ruiz.

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Terence Crawford vs. Amir Khan on April 20th…Let the Hype Begin

Arne K. Lang

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Crawford vs Khan

Co-promoters Bob Arum and Eddie Hearn staged a press conference today (Tuesday, Jan. 15) at London’s elegant Landmark Hotel to announce that Terence Crawford will defend his WBO welterweight title on April 20 against Amir Khan. The timing was rather odd as the venue is unsettled — Madison Square Garden and the MGM Grand are the frontrunners – but as Arum would likely tell you, it’s never too early to marinate the hype. The bout will mark ESPN’s initial foray into the world of solo event pay-per-view.

Amir Khan first came to the fore at the 2004 Beijing Olympics where at the tender age of 17 he advanced to the gold medal round in the lightweight division. In the finals he met Mario Kindelan, a 33-year-old Cuban who was described by the British coach Terry Edwards as “the best pound for pound fighter in the world, maybe amateur and professional.”

Khan was outpointed but that didn’t diminish his stature. “Britain has lost its tether over him,” wrote Mark Whicker in the Orange County Register who noted that the Khan-Kindelan match was shown on the big screen at Trafalgar Square under a sign that read Amir-zing.

Khan went on to defeat Kindelan twice in amateur bouts before turning pro amidst great fanfare in July of 2005. Two years later, almost to the day, he climbed off the deck to wrest the British Empire lightweight title from Scotland’s Willie Limond.

Needless to say, Khan, who is of Pakistani descent, has had his ups and downs since that moment. The first thud came in September of 2008 in Manchester when Columbia’s unheralded Breidis Prescott (who by the way has lost seven of his last eight) knocked him out in the first round. Khan was knocked down hard 30 seconds into the fight and it was all over in 54 seconds.

The fight, wrote Tom Cary in the London Telegraph, “confirmed the suspicion that the most hyped boxer in Britain since Prince Naseem Hamed cannot take a punch….This defeat was an accident waiting to happen.”

Khan rebounded nicely. He won the WBA 140-pound title with a 76-second blowout of Dmitriy Salita and defended it four times before losing the belt on a controversial decision to Lamont Peterson. But since the Peterson fight he has been stopped twice, first by Danny Garcia and then Canelo Alvarez.

The Kahn-Canelo fight, contested at the catchweight of 155 pounds, was the first boxing event at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena. And it played out as many expected with Khan having his moments before he was betrayed by a soft beard. Canelo, the bigger man although both came in at the same weight, lowered the boom in round six with a devastating right hand, a classic one-punch knockout that left Khan on the canvas for several minutes before he was removed to a hospital as a precaution.

Khan took 23 months off after this setback and during this hiatus he became even more famous in England. He hired a publicist who booked him on the TV show “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me out of Here,” a British version of the TV show “Survivor,” and fed the tabloids and gossip magazines a steady stream of folderol regarding Amir’s supposedly tempestuous relationship with his attractive Brooklyn-born wife, the former Faryal Makhdoom. Khan’s conservative Muslim parents were horrified by Faryal’s westernized ways and both accused the other of infidelity. They toned it down when Faryal became pregnant with their second child, a daughter born in April of last year.

That same month, Khan returned to the ring with a 33-second knockout of Toronto’s overmatched Phil Lo Greco. In September he took on another Toronto-based fighter, Samuel Vargas, against whom he won a wide 12-round decision. Those wins pumped up his record to 33-4 (20).

Unlike Amir Khan, it’s doubtful that Terence Crawford will ever transcend his sport, but you don’t have to sell Crawford (34-0, 25 KOs) to knowledgeable boxing fans who recognize that he is something special, arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport today.

This fight will be a nice payday for Khan who lives lavishly and we suspect it will be an interesting fight for as long as it lasts. Against Canelo Alvarez, Khan was ahead in the eyes of most ringsiders and in the eyes of one of the judges through the five completed rounds. But the operative phrase here is “as long as it lasts.”

Let the hype begin.

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