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Sports World Loses Another ‘Ambassador of Niceness’ in Dave Anderson

In 1965 singer Jackie DeShannon had one of her biggest hits with a song entitled “What the World Needs Now is Love.” Well, the world still needs

Bernard Fernandez

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Jackie DeShannon

In 1965 singer Jackie DeShannon had one of her biggest hits with a song entitled “What the World Needs Now is Love.” Well, the world still needs that, maybe more than ever. But while love remains in short supply, the cavernous void can be filled to some extent with another seemingly diminishing quality: niceness.

Just six days after boxing’s nicest and most widely beloved gentleman, Northern California promoter Don Chargin, took the eternal 10-count at 90, having grudgingly been outpointed by lung and brain cancer, the sports world was rocked by the news that another ambassador of niceness, Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times columnist Dave Anderson, had died on Thursday, Oct. 4, at an assisted-living facility in Cresskill, N.J. He was 89 and had been in failing health for several years.

But while those who knew them both, or at the very least admired them from afar, might acknowledge that they departed after long and well-spent lives, there remains a shroud of sadness that has descended on an American civilization that is becoming distressingly uncivil. Simply put, Chargin and Anderson cannot be replaced because they were throwbacks to another, almost-forgotten time when respect, courtesy and, yes, niceness humanized their ability to do their jobs with towering competence yet scarcely a trace of rancor.

Chargin, fight people know about, having been a licensed promoter in his home state for a record 69 years, during which he came to be nicknamed “War a Week” for the quality and quantity of bouts he staged on the Left Coast. But Anderson is probably more widely recognized, even in boxing circles, because of the huge platform afforded him by his Times column, elegant prose and the fact he was probably at ringside for nearly every truly major fight that took place anywhere on the planet for over five decades, until his retirement in 2007.

“I never heard anybody ever say anything bad about Dave, or him say anything bad about anybody, and we went just about everywhere,” Jerry Izenberg, 88, the columnist emeritus for the Newark Star-Ledger, said of his frequent traveling partner. “We went to the Philippines together (for Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier III). We went to Zaire together (for Ali-George Foreman).”

But another former Times sports columnist, Harvey Araton, recalled at least one occasion when Anderson’s doggedly determined reportorial skills caused some of his readers to grumble about something he’d written.

“My favorite Dave story will always be how he sidled up to me at halftime of Game 2, Knicks-Bulls, ’93 conference finals, and I said, `Guy behind me is screaming at Michael Jordan for being out late in Atlantic City the night before,’” recalled Araton, who was covering the game in Madison Square Garden along with Anderson. “I told Dave, who said he’d look into it.

“By the next afternoon Dave had the time Jordan checked in, checked out and how much he’d lost playing blackjack. His column was largely blamed by Knicks fans for infuriating and inspiring Jordan and the Knicks losing four straight after winning the first two.”

But while Anderson was comfortable and knowledgeable in virtually every sports setting, he had an undeniable affinity for boxing. Among the 21 books he authored were In the Corner: Great Boxing Trainers Talk About Their Art and perhaps the definitive biography of the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray. In 1981, when he became the second sports writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, his citation noted six columns he’d written in 1980, one of which was entitled Muhammad Ali: The Death of a Salesman, which dealt with “The Greatest’s” beatdown at the hands of Larry Holmes in Las Vegas. Writing on a tight deadline, Anderson’s story began thusly:

As early as the first round, his age began to show. Muhammad Ali moved away from a left jab, but when he tried to throw a right hand at Larry Holmes, he missed awkwardly. And he never used to miss. By the fourth round, he was bleeding slightly from the left nostril. And he never used to bleed. In the fifth round, a shrill female voice interrupted the saddened silence that hung in the black desert night at the temporary arena in the Caesars Palace parking lot.

“Come on, Ali, fight,” that lonely voice beseeched him. But last night Muhammad Ali could not fight. He could not dance. He could not even punch. For several months he had promised a miracle in what had been billed as “The Last Hurrah.” It should have been titled “Death of a Salesman.” When the fight finally ended after the 10th round with Muhammad Ali plopped on the blue stool in his corner, a hush fell over the sellout crowd of 24,000 in the bleacherlike arena. All around the arena, people stood still the way they do at the funeral of someone who had died unexpectedly.

Anderson ended his take on what had to be considered the end of Ali’s remarkable era this way:

Usually a fight crowd files out quickly. But not this time. Most of the people just stood there, as if in shock. Some wept. Some blubbered. But at least Muhammad Ali had not had to endure the shame of being helped up off the canvas, as Joe Louis had the night Marciano demolished him. At least Muhammad Ali was sitting on his stool. And at least he would walk out of the ring under his own power.

“They should have stopped it five rounds earlier,” a man said. “They shouldn’t,” a woman answered, “have let it start.”

Dave Anderson’s destiny was almost preordained from birth. Born on May 6, 1929, in Troy, N.Y., his father was the advertising director of the The Troy Times, which his grandfather published. At 16, he landed his first newspaper job as a messenger for The New York Sun, where his father then worked in advertising sales. Shortly after Anderson’s graduation from the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, he caught on with the Brooklyn Eagle, where he covered the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1953 to ’55, when the paper folded. He then moved to the New York Journal-American and was a sports staffer there when he won the E.P. Dutton Award for the best magazine sports story of 1965 for “The Longest Day of Sugar Ray,” which appeared in True magazine.

In 1966, Anderson went to the Times as a general assignment sports reporter until being promoted to columnist in 1971, a prestigious position he held until his retirement. In addition to his Pulitzer, he continued to add layers to his legacy of brilliant and prescient sports commentary, which included his induction into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 1990, the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) Red Smith Award for distinguished sports column writing in 1994, the Dick Schaap Award for Outstanding Journalism in 2005 and induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2006.

“The thing about Dave is that he was perfect for the Times,” Izenberg said of his friend and contemporary. “He wrote about controversial issues when he had to, but he was a guy who could really reach the Times readers. My voice is the voice of New Jersey, his was the voice of the Times. He understood for whom he wrote. And if you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be a columnist.”

Dave Anderson’s guy-next-door commonality– “People talked to him because he was self-assured and polite,” Araton said – was accentuated by his professional grace under pressure, qualities which are not mutually inclusive. He was particularly fond of the occasion he covered a New York Rangers game in Montreal for the Journal-American in 1956. Headed back to New York City on a train, he tossed game stories by the New York sports writers to a Western Union telegrapher standing by the tracks as the train slowed at the border at Rouse’s Point, N.Y.

“It’s in the middle of the night, it’s snowing and I’m standing between cars in the dark and toss the package of stories to him and hope somehow he teletypes the copy and it all gets in the newspapers,” Dave recalled in 2014.

In the morning, he picked up a copy of the Journal-American at Grand Central Terminal and “there was the story,” he said.  “It was exciting. Even now, when I’m writing (he continued to contribute occasional stories to the Times after his retirement), I wake up on a Sunday and still get excited if I’m in the paper.”

It was my privilege to call Dave Anderson my friend and a role model, much as was the case with other now-deceased giants of a profession that has become microwaveable, a journalistic drive through the fast-food lane in which Twitterized abbreviations have replaced attention to detail and an appreciation of the power and majesty of the written word. His passing has struck me as hard as did the deaths of fellow sports writing legends Peter Finney, Edwin Pope, and Stan Hochman, as well as that of one of my favorite interview subjects, the perpetually personable Don Chargin. The circle continues to be drawn tighter and tighter, with Jerry Izenberg maybe the last sentinel of an era that is beyond replication. I hope he lives forever.

“Young people going into sports writing now, virtually all of them want to wind up on television,” Jerry said. “You’ve got people on TV offering `expert’ commentary on events that took place before they were born, but they’ve got the right kind of hairspray.”

Dave Anderson, a longtime resident of Tenafly, N.J., whose wife of 60 years, Maureen, died in 2014, is survived by sons Stephen and Mark, daughters Jo and Jean-Marie Anderson; three grandchildren; and one great-grandson.

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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Chris Arreola is Back!

Ted Sares

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Chris Arreola

Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola is an emotional and very likable guy. Over the course of his career, there have been ups and downs providing the grist for a compelling story if one were inclined to write it. He’ll kiss a beaten opponent (Joey Abell) or cry if beaten (Vitali Klitschko) and his language during a post-fight interview is, well it’s special.

After his corner stopped the fight following the 10th round with Klitschko, and with tears streaming down his cheeks, he thanked the fans (as is his wont) and later, while being interviewed in the ring, said  “F–k that, I’m coming back.”

It was his first loss after 26 straight wins out of the professional gate. For that “terrible” indiscretion, he was punished by the selectively politically correct World Boxing Council. WBC president José Sulaimán proposed a six months ban for vulgar language and the ban was approved by the WBC Board of Governors.

Arreola, who rarely uses filters, was brutally candid again after his first round KO over Erik Molina in 2012. The Nightmare cut loose on Don King, Molina’s promoter, calling him a “f—ing a–hole and a racist,” causing Showtime’s Jim Gray to  terminate the post-fight interview forthwith. “Honestly Don King called me a wetback, and other Mexicans,” Arreola told Fightnews.com. “That’s a strong word. It’s like me dropping N bombs. You don’t say things like that.”

No ban this time.

Arreola’s weight varies but when he is fit and ready (and under 250), he is a very dangerous heavyweight, especially in the early rounds. Once he has his opponent hurt, there are few boxers who can close as well as this Southern California Mexican American tough guy who was an accomplished amateur fighter and knows his way around the ring.

His level of opposition has been stiff. In fact, his five losses have been to fighters who have held world titles at one time or another. Bermane Stiverne had Chris’s number and beat him twice—the second time by way of a nasty knockout. However, he has a number of solid wins over the likes of Malcom Tann, Chazz Witherspoon, Travis Walker, Jameel McCline, Brian Minto, Curtis Harper –yes, that Curtis Harper who gave Chris all he could handle — and many others who came in with fine records. His first round blowout of once promising Seth Mitchell was quintessential Arreola. Mitchell retired after the fight.

In July 2016, The Nightmare was stopped by Deontay Wilder in yet another title bid but he did not disgrace himself. He then took off for over two years to assess whether he wanted to continue. Boxing fans pretty much forgot about him. Few took notice when he came back to stop the very stoppable Maurenzo Smith on the Wilder-Fury undercard on Dec. 1 of last year.

Fast Forward

Last weekend, on the undercard of the huge Errol Spence Jr. vs. Mikey Garcia PPV fight in Dallas, “The Nightmare” was matched against unbeaten but unheralded Jean Pierre Augustin (17-0-1).

Chris, now 38, came in at a svelte 237 pounds and looked fit and ready to go. The weary look on Augustin’s face during the announcement said it all. True to form, Arreola was in blowout mode and stopped the Haitian who simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Arreola wobbled Augustin with a brutally hard jab that connected flush to his face in the third round. After more heavy shots, a bloodied Augustin went down and upon getting up, was battered until the referee halted matters. Chris closed things like he had done on so many other occasions and in front of millions of fans tuning in around the world.

With a female interviewer, the elated “Nightmare” was polite during the post-fight ceremonies and, holding his daughter, signaled that he is BACK! That’s good news for boxing fans because when Chris Arreola is fit and focused, he is entertaining and very competitive.

With a current record of 38-5-1 with 2 ND (the “no-contests” resulting from Chris‘s apparent affinity for non-medicinal marijuana), a fight with someone like Adam Kownacki would be a boxing fan’s dream.

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and Strongman competitors and plans to compete in at least three events 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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Nobody Wants to Fight Dillian Whyte

Kelsey McCarson

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Dillian Whyte

Dillian Whyte is one of the most dangerous fighters in the world. The 30-year-old is a former British heavyweight titleholder, a former kickboxing prodigy and an undefeated mixed martial artist. Overall, Whyte’s professional fighting record is a sterling 46-2. He’s 25-1 as a boxer, 20-1 as a K1 kickboxer and 1-0 as an MMA fighter.

So while the battle rages on between various television networks and streaming platforms over securing the top talent in the heavyweight division, one that includes Tyson Fury signing a multi-fight deal with ESPN and Deontay Wilder reportedly mulling over his future with PBC, perhaps something just as important right now is that the single most dangerous and deserved heavyweight contender in the world remains without a dance partner for his next fight.

Never mind Whyte being the No. 1 ranked contender by the World Boxing Council. That sanctioning body instead deemed Dominic Breazeale the mandatory challenger to Wilder’s WBC title after the potential rematch between Wilder and Fury fell by the wayside.

Here’s all that needs to be said about that grift. Breazeale only had to defeat Eric Molina to get his mandatory title shot while the WBC wanted Whyte to face Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz, one of the top heavyweights in the sport.

And nobody seems to care that Whyte gave unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua the toughest test of his career (this side of Wladimir Klitschko anyway), when the two squared off in 2015 for the British and Commonwealth titles. Despite the obvious talent gap between the two fighters, Whyte gave the young Joshua just about all the former Olympic champion could handle in a seven-round war.

To hear Whyte tell the story, promoter Eddie Hearn must have intentionally lowballed Whyte for the proposed 2019 rematch in order to ensure Joshua could invade America on June 1 against the likely less dangerous Jarrell Miller. That makes sense for Joshua from a monetary perspective, but it doesn’t do the same in terms of true competitiveness.

According to various reports, Whyte is currently considering a multi-fight deal to appear on ESPN, a move that would give the British battler a path to facing Fury who some consider the lineal heavyweight champion. Fury recently signed a multi-fight deal to be co-promoted by Bob Arum for appearances on the U.S.-based television network ESPN. It’s the move that shelved a potential Wilder rematch and also opened up a huge can of worms in regards to what kinds of fights Fury might actually be able to secure. Currently, the Top Rank-promoted stable of heavyweights is best characterized by fighters who don’t really move the needle in regards to title challenges, fighters like Oscar Rivas, Bryant Jennings and Kubrat Pulev.

Overall, though, the main problem about the heavyweight landscape is that there are three heavyweights who all have a claim to being heavyweight champion. IBF, WBA and WBO champion Joshua is promoted by Hearn and exclusive to DAZN. WBC champ Wilder is attached to the PBC whose television partnerships include Showtime and Fox. Fury is set to embark on his own ESPN crusade. Long story short, these guys probably aren’t fighting each other anytime soon.

Worse is that while all three men are in desperate need of viable opponents, none have seemed all that interested in tussling with Whyte.

It’s no wonder. As good as Whyte has been over the course of his 7-year professional boxing career, the scariest thing about the fighter is that he always seems to be getting better. In his last two fights, Whyte outfought talented former titleholder Joseph Parker and knocked out gritty UK heavyweight Dereck Chisora. In defeating Parker, Whyte was facing someone absolutely in need of a win to maintain his status among heavyweight contenders. In beating Chisora, Whyte was in tough against an opponent he had only defeated by split-decision two years prior. Both wins illustrate just how far Whyte has come as a professional prizefighter.

As it stands, Whyte is the clear top contender among all heavyweights, especially among those who have not yet been granted a shot at a world title. He’s ranked No. 4 behind Joshua, Fury and Wilder by The Ring magazine and the same by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

The only question that remains is which title claimant will prove the toughest holdout. Whyte’s ultimate choice, in whether to stick with promoter Hearn on DAZN, link up with Arum and ESPN or continue playing the WBC shell game, will probably end up being tied to which path gets him the title shot that he so desperately craves first.

And it absolutely should happen. It’s one thing to crave title opportunities and another to have earned them. Whyte’s done both now, and it’s time for boxing fans and the media to take notice. Better yet, it’s time for Joshua, Fury and Wilder to pit themselves against their most dangerous competition. Since they’re not facing each other, Whyte become the next logical choice for any or all of them.

Because Dillian Whyte is one of the best heavyweight boxers in the world, and he’s done enough by now to warrant the chance to prove it.

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The Hauser Report: St. Patrick’s Day at Madison Square Garden

Thomas Hauser

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Conlan

Boxing’s three “major leagues” showed their respective wares this past weekend. On Friday night, DAZN presented a nine-bout card in conjunction with Matchroom USA. On Saturday, Fox and Premier Boxing champions teamed up for the Errol Spence vs. Mikey Garcia pay-per-view event. Then, on Sunday, ESPN and Top Rank had their turn in the form of a St. Patrick’s Day card at Madison Square Garden headed by Belfast native and former Olympian Michael Conlan.

The star of the show was St. Patrick, the fifth-century saint widely credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. In his honor, there were three Irishmen on the card: Conlan, flyweight Paddy Barnes, and welterweight Lee Reeves. That said; there was a Hispanic flavor to the proceedings. The sixteen combatants included Eduardo Torres, Victor Rosas, Juan Tapia, Ricardo Maldonado, Adriano Ramirez, Oscar Mojica, Joseph Adorno, John Bauza, Luis Collazo, Ruben Garcia Hernandez, and two Vargases (Josue and Samuel).

Irish-Americans have a record of supporting Irish fighters, particularly on St. Patrick’s Day. This was no exception. The announced crowd of 3,712 arrived early. During the final pre-fight press conference, Top Rank president Todd duBoef had paid homage to the fans, although he did voice the view that, on St. Patrick’s Day, “Their cognitive behavior is manipulated by the beer.”

On fight night, the in-arena music was chosen accordingly. What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor? was played twice over the Hulu Theater sound system.

There was also green lighting.

Lee Reeves (2-0, 2 KOs) of Limerick, Ireland, opened the show with a four-round decision over Edward Torres.

In the third bout of the evening, Vladimir Nikitin (2-0, 0 KOs) won a majority decision over Juan Tapia. Nikitin defeated Conlan in the quarter-finals at the 2016 Olympics. Presumably, they’ll fight again at a time of maximum opportunity for Conlan.

Flyweight Paddy Barnes (5-1, 1 KO) of Belfast was a teammate of Conlan’s at the 2016 Olympics but lost in the first round to Spain’s Samuel Carmona. On St. Patrick’s Day, Barnes was matched against Oscar Mojica (11-5-1), who had one career knockout and had gone 3-5-1 in his previous nine outings.

Mojica broke Barnes’s nose in round one and knocked him down with a body shot in the second stanza (although to the mystification of those in the press section, referee Danny Schiavone waved off the knockdown). It was a spirited outing in which both men were too easy to hit for their own good. Barnes rallied nicely in the second half of the bout and arguably did enough to win the decision. But two of the three judges thought otherwise, leading to a 58-56, 58-56, 56-58 verdict in Mojica’s favor.

In the next-to-last fight of the evening, Luis Collazo (38-7, 20 KOs) took on Samuel Vargas (30-4-2, 14 KOs).

Collazo now 37 years old, reigned briefly as WBA welterweight champion twelve years ago. Since then, he had cobbled together twelve victories (an average of one per year) against six losses in eighteen fights. Vargas had one win in his previous three outings and has never been able to get the “W” against a name opponent.

It was a phone booth fight, which worked to Collazo’s advantage because Luis’s legs aren’t what they once were. The decision could have gone either way. Two judges scored the bout 96-94; one for Collazo and the other for Vargas. Frank Lombardi turned in a wide-of-the-mark 98-92 scorecard in Collazo’s favor.

Then it was time for the main event.

Conlan (10-0, 6 KOs) is best known to boxing fans for having given the finger (two middle fingers, actually) to the judges after coming out on the short end of a decision in the second round of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. His skill set is better suited to the amateur than professional ranks. But his Irish heritage is a significant marketing plus. And Top Rank specializes in both savvy matchmaking and building narratives.

This was the third consecutive year that Conlan, now a featherweight, celebrated St. Patrick’s Day weekend by fighting at Madison Square Garden. His ringwalk was marked by Irish-themed pageantry. And Ruben Garcia Hernandez, his opponent, was tailor-made for him.

Conlon controlled the fight with his jab. Nothing much else happened. “Mick” emerged victorious 100-90 on all three judges’ scorecards. And the fans went home happy because their man won.

*     *     *

The sad news that New York Mets pitching great Tom Seaver is suffering from dementia and will retire from public life is a reminder that all people from all walks of life are susceptible to the condition, not just fighters.

Seaver was on the list of A+ athletes who rose to prominence in the 1960s when advances in television were redefining the sports experience. Muhammad Ali was at the top of that list. Years ago, sportswriter Dick Schaap told me about an evening he spent with Ali and Seaver.

“In 1969, the year the Mets won their first World Series,”Schaap reminisced, “I spent the last few days of the regular season with the team in Chicago. Ali was living there at the time. I was writing a book with Tom Seaver, and the three of us went out to dinner together. We met at a restaurant called The Red Carpet. I made the introductions. And of course, this was the year that Tom Seaver was Mr. Baseball, maybe even Mr. America. Ali and Tom got along fine. They really hit it off together. And after about half an hour, Ali in all seriousness turned to Seaver and said, ‘You know, you’re a nice fellow. Which paper do you write for?’”

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Protect Yourself at All Times – 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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