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The Avila Perspective Chap. 19: Regis Prograis, Middleweights and More

David A. Avila

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Unique best describes the city of New Orleans.

No other place in the USA resembles the city influenced by French, Spanish and Southern culture blanketed by Catholicism and its Mardi Gras ways.

Out of this exotic old world mixture comes Regis Prograis (pictured), a prizefighter much like his native city has been influenced by the surroundings and episodic moments in life that could be the subject of a motion picture.

Maybe that’s why a group based in Hollywood backs the New Orleans prizefighter.

Prograis (22-0, 19 KOs) steps back into the prize ring and faces England’s Terry Flanagan (33-1, 13 KOs) in the first stage of the World Boxing Super Series tournament in the super lightweight division on Saturday Oct. 27, at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans.  It will be streamed via www.Dazn.com.

Fighting out of Manchester, England, former lightweight world champion Flanagan moves up one weight division to test the pride of “N’awlins” as the natives pronounce it, according to my wife whose family still live in the “Big Easy.” If you follow boxing you know the Brits love boxing more than anything but soccer.

Flanagan, 29, lost his title to Maurice Hooker by split decision in Manchester last June. It left a bitter taste that not even the best gumbo could erase. He’s out to prove it was fluky and not an example of his talent. He has wins over B+ fighters and has never been stopped. Can his chin withstand the hurricane forces incoming from Prograis?

Speaking of hurricanes, Prograis remembers well his experience with Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. It was because of that horrific storm that he found himself transplanted to Houston, Texas where he learned the art of boxing.

But first there was football and if you know anything about Texas or Louisiana, then you also comprehend how important football is in the south. Prograis loves football because of the physical impact.

“I love to hit people,” says Prograis with this sincere gleam in his eye. “That’s one of my favorite things in football.”

Boxing was an exercise used by one of his former football squads and it’s where he was told that he packed a punch like a mini-Howitzer.

“All the football players would put on the gloves and we would fight,” said Prograis of his first excursion into boxing. “The coach said you should box. You hit hard.”

Soon he ventured into boxing and has found that his fists fit perfectly into the sport like one of those tailor-made boxing gloves he wears. The instinct to hit pads against pads soon transitioned into hitting another person’s face with his fists.

“I just like to fight. When I fight someone and get hit, I’m like, you can’t hurt me and I’m going to hit you back too and harder,” said Prograis while in Las Vegas recently.

Managed by film director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg, the New Orleans-born prizefighter gets slightly revved up whenever discussing the Mississippi River city known for the Essence Festival, jazz and the Super Dome.

“I’ve been saying for a long time to people in boxing to take boxing to New Orleans,” said Prograis almost breathless.

The interim WBC super lightweight titlist has his eyes on the actual WBC title now held by Northern California’s Jose Carlos Ramirez. But winning the WBSS could lead to the inevitable encounter foreseen by many.

“Jose (Carlos Ramirez) beat (Antonio) Orozco which was a hell of a fight,” said Prograis who watches fights religiously. “If I beat Terry Flanagan I’ll be looked upon more favorably.”

Talking about the pending WBSS tournament raises the pitch in his voice as if slipping a race car into a higher gear.

“My whole goal is to be the legitimate champ at 140 pounds,” Prograis says imagining the moment in his head. “Right now boxing is going up. There are a lot of peaks and valleys, but right now it’s going up and I’m in a perfect division.”

New Orleans has a new champion and Regis Prograis is his name.

Tokyo Drift to Las Vegas

A large number of fans from Japan flew over to Las Vegas to see Ryota Murata defend the WBA middleweight title against barely known Rob Brant last Saturday. It was supposed to be a coming out party for a proposed super match between Murata and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin.

Golovkin’s promoter Tom Loeffler was present at the MGM Park Theater where more than 2,700 fans packed the arena expecting to see their hero in all his splendor. Instead a plucky middleweight who trains in Las Vegas darted in and out firing quick combinations with sporadic power shots to steal the night away.

Every round went by with fans expecting the knockout blow that never came. Though the heavier power shots were landed by Murata the seemingly smaller Brant did land a boat load of punches throughout the 12 round title fight.

When the decision was announced a large collective gasp went through the crowd. Immediately after, the crowd slipped out quicker than Dodger fans hoping to avoid the crush of traffic.

In the dressing room Murata gave no excuses.

Instead of Murata versus Golovkin, it looks like Brant gets the invitation to a gunfight.

HBO: The Last Detail

New York City plays host to one of the final shows of the HBO Boxing era when Daniel Jacobs (34-2, 29 KOs) meets Sergiy Derevyanchenko (12-0, 10 KOs) for the vacant IBF middleweight title at Madison Square Garden. HBO will televise this Saturday.

It’s the “Miracle Man” versus “the Technician” in a middleweight scrap that is co-promoted by DiBella Entertainment who also promotes Prograis who is competing on the same day in New Orleans 1,100 miles away.

DiBella once worked for HBO.

“I have six fighters fighting in world title fights,” said DiBella adding that aside from Prograis and Derevyanchenko he also promotes Yuandale Evans who is fighting for the WBA super featherweight title against champion Alberto Machado, Ivan Baranchyk competing too, along with Heather Hardy and Shelly Vincent fighting for the vacant WBO featherweight world title.

DiBella hopes to attend the press conference in New Orleans before returning to the New York City card.

“Four world champions in one night,” DiBella said.

He expects Prograis-Flanagan in New Orleans to be high octane.

“It will be a terrific fight as long as it lasts. Regis has a terrific offense. I expect a real entertaining fight as long as it goes,” said DiBella. “Flanagan’s only loss was to Maurice Hooker. I think it will be an exciting fight but I believe Regis will prevail.”

Two other fights taking place in Manhattan are anyone’s guess on who wins.

The female clash between Hardy and Vincent is a rematch of their classic of two years ago. This time it will be on HBO. It’s only the second time a female boxing match is televised on HBO and the last.

“I think if Heather and Shelly fought 10 times they would have a war 10 times,” said DiBella.

In the main event, Jacobs and Derevyanchenko is equally a toss-up encounter.

“They probably sparred 100 rounds with each other,” said DiBella of the two middleweights competing for the vacant world title. “It’s a true 50/50 fight. And I love Jacobs, you saw how close he fought Gennady Golovkin. That can be a very tough fight for Danny Jacobs. No one wants to fight Derevyanchenko.”

It looks to be another middleweight classic.

prograis

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Oleksandr Usyk TSS’ 2018 Fighter of Year

Bernard Fernandez

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Usyk

The best advertisement for a newly released movie – any product, actually – is not television commercials or print ads in newspapers and magazines. It is favorable word of mouth. People see or use something, they like it, and they tell their friends and neighbors they should give it a try as well. There is no better endorsement of a restaurant’s quality than to peek inside and see a full dining room.

And so it is for undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk, The Sweet Science’s 2018 Fighter of the Year. The 31-year-old Ukrainian southpaw’s publicists and handlers don’t have to try very hard to sell his worthiness as a fighter whose time is now and maybe well into the future; his vanquished opponents are doing a fine job of that as it is. Who better to spread by word of mouth of any fighter’s star quality than laudatory comments uttered by the men he has beaten up?

After Usyk (now 16-0, 12 KOs) fully unified the cruiserweight title with a wide unanimous decision over Russia’s formidable Murat Gassiev on July 21 of this year in Moscow, adding Gassiev’s WBA and IBF 200-pound belts to the WBC and WBO ones Usyk already possessed, the losing fighter was so complimentary toward the man who had just given him a boxing lesson that he felt compelled to pass out more compliments than the punches he had thrown but was unable to land.

“He’s the best opponent in my professional career,” gushed Gassiev, who lost for the first time as a professional after winning his first 26 fights, including 19 inside the distance. “How on earth do you beat this guy?”

How, indeed? Despite performing before a hostile, pro-Gassiev crowd that might have influenced the judges had the match been even reasonably close, Usyk won by yawning margins of 120-108 and 119-109 (twice). For those of you keeping track at home, Usyk won 34 of 36 rounds on the official scorecards. That’s a level of domination seldom seen at such a high level of competition.

Nor is Gassiev the only vanquished opponent who is flinging verbal rose petals at the feet of Oleksandr the Great. In his third and final ring appearance of the year, Usyk traveled to Manchester, England – unfriendly turf once more – to defend his four titles against popular Briton Tony Bellew, a two-time former cruiserweight champ who, at 35, had announced his retirement beforehand, thus making the 35-year-old even more of a sentimental favorite than he otherwise would have been. Bellew fought courageously and even led by a point on two of the three official cards, with the third even after seven rounds.  However, he was nailed with a jolting left hand, went down, and ultimately was stopped in the eighth in the Nov. 10 bout that has helped fuel Usyk’s continued rise toward superstardom and in the pound-for-pound ratings.

“He is an exceptional champ,” Bellew, as gracious in defeat as Gassiev had been, said in complimenting Usyk. “He is everything I have feared. He is the best I ever fought. He is probably the best cruiserweight that ever lived.”

On a more ominous note to the biggest boppers in the heavyweight division, which Usyk now appears ready to enter, Bellew, who holds two victories over former WBA heavyweight champion David Haye, issued a warning that they had better not sleep on Usyk, who is 6-foot-3 and, according to Usyk’s manager, Egis Klimas, is already a genuine heavyweight at 215 pounds, which is 2½ pounds more than WBC titlist Deontay Wilder came in at for his controversial split draw with lineal champ Tyson Fury on Dec. 1.

“I don’t think there’s anybody else for him to fight in the cruiserweight division,” said Klimas. “Well, maybe there would be if (former super middleweight and light heavyweight ruler) Andre Ward comes out of retirement and moves up, which is something I’ve been hearing. But if he doesn’t, we probably will go to heavyweight.”

If it really is a done deal that Usyk is through with the cruisers, acknowledgment should be rendered to his incredible body of work in 2018. It might be a matter of opinion as to whether Usyk is the finest cruiserweight ever, a designation that arguably could go to the late 1980s version of future four-division heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, but there is no disputing that the polished Ukrainian’s three-victory run through the year that is about to end surpasses anything ever seen in the division over a 365-day period. Although he entered the cruiserweight portion of the eight-participant World Boxing Super Series as the nominal favorite and reigning WBO champion, the way Usyk separated himself from the pack of highly regarded 200-pounders was something to behold. He began the tournament on Sept. 9, 2017, with an impressive 10th-round stoppage of Germany’s Marco Huck before kicking it into overdrive in 2018, beginning with his majority-decision unification victory over previously undefeated WBC champion Mairis Breidis in Breidis’ hometown of Riga, Latvia, on Jan. 27. After adding Gassiev’s two titles in the WBSS finale, his TKO of Bellew made it three up, three down in 2018 against opponents who were a collective 79-2-1 with 57 knockouts at the time they faced him.

It is one thing to win a Fighter of the Year award, and quite another to possibly be recognized as 2018’s best among all athletes. Usyk is one of four finalists for the BBC World Sport Star of 2018 Award, where his competition will come from U.S. gymnast Simone Biles, winter sports athlete Esther Ledecka of the Czech Republic and Italian golfer Francesco Molinari.

However that vote goes, it is interesting to note that Usyk is TSS’ Fighter of the Year the year after the same honor went to fellow Ukrainian Vasiliy Lomachenko, who, like Usyk, was a gold medalist at the 2012 London Olympics and, like Usyk, is trained by Loma’s father, Anatoly Lomachenko. It has been said that Usyk is, for all intents and purposes, a virtual replication of Lomachenko, only larger. That is high praise indeed, what with Vasiliy Lomachenko widely considered to be the world’s finest pound-for-pound practitioner of the pugilistic arts.

Not everyone agrees with that assessment, however. Before the launch of the WBSS tourney in September 2017, one writer, Gleb Kuzin, opined that “the reality is Usyk is not and never will be a producer of highlights like Vasyl Lomachenko. Usyk is a blue-collar technician. His work is subtle. The comparisons to Lomachenko or any other fighter are ill-informed. Usyk isn’t a highlight-reel machine. He’s out to make his opponents feel hopeless.”

Some would say that making quality opponents feel hopeless is by definition highlight-reel stuff. But either as his own man or a stylistic match for his buddy Vasiliy Lomachenko, 2018 was the year of years in the boxing journey of Oleksandr Usyk. Until, of course, he possibly tops it as a heavyweight.

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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Anatoly Lomachenko, a Genuine Innovator, is TSS’ Trainer of the Year

Bernard Fernandez

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Anatoly Lomachenko

The most daring ideas of genuine innovators are almost never met with early and widespread acceptance. People might still be traveling by horse-drawn conveyances were it not for Frank Duryea, a 24-year-old inventor who along with his brother Charles in 1869 developed the prototype for something they called the Duryea Motor Wagon, one of the first gasoline-powered vehicles in the United States. The Duryeas’ vision of the future met with much skepticism, but 24 years later it was Frank who drove a semi-operational car 600 yards down the street in Springfield, Mass. Two years after that, on Thanksgiving Day in 1895, Frank won this country’s first automobile race, from Chicago to Evanston, Ill., and back, traveling 50 miles – in a snowstorm! – in a little over 10 hours.

The name of Frank Duryea has mostly been lost in the haze of history, eclipsed by Henry Ford and his mass-produced Model-T that irreversibly changed America’s travel habits in 1908. It remains to be determined whether the foresight of a visionary named Anatoly Lomachenko, now 53, someday will be a footnote in the annals of boxing or a continuing subject of intense scrutiny and fawning imitation. But in the here and now, one thing seems certain: Anatoly Lomachenko, trainer of two of the four or five best pound-for-pound fighters in the world — his son Vasiliy, the WBO and WBA lightweight champion, and undisputed cruiserweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk – is increasingly recognized as a superb coach and true original. The Sweet Science’s 2018 Trainer of the Year, “Papachenko,” as he is known to the few members of his star pupils’ tight inner circle, has imagined into reality a number of unconventional training exercises which Vasiliy and Usyk cite as instrumental to their rise to the top of their profession.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of great trainers in this business, but I happen to think Anatoly is one of the few that are,” said Teddy Atlas, a noted trainer of champions in his own right who on Dec. 8 was the chief second for Oleksandr Gvozdyk as he wrested the WBC light heavyweight title from Adonis Stevenson in an 11th-round knockout in Quebec City. As was the case with Vasiliy Lomachenko and Usyk, who took gold medals, Gvozdyk, a bronze medalist, was a member of Ukraine’s highly successful boxing team at the 2012 London Olympics which was coached by, natch, the elder Lomachenko.

“I have nothing but respect for that man as a person and as a teacher,” Atlas continued. “He is an example of the proper way that you should conduct yourself professionally and personally. Anatoly is one of the few individuals that I know who is a credit not only to the business of boxing, but any business.”

Anatoly is only slightly more visible and vocal than, say, Al Haymon, the boss man of Premier Boxing Champions who is seldom seen and almost never heard. But Papachenko, who rarely grants interviews and even then does so reluctantly, did not suddenly come by his seemingly radical notions as how to best construct the perfect fighting machine. He placed tiny boxing gloves on the hands of Vasiliy when the infant was only three days old, a clear indication of what was to become his life’s mission. But this would not be another case of a father trying to live his athletic dreams through his son, which often puts too much pressure on the child and eventually results in burnout. That cautionary tale was played out by dad Marv Marinovich and son Todd, who was raised from birth to become a flawless quarterback. Although Todd Marinovich was drafted by the then-Los Angeles Raiders out of the University of Southern California in the first round in 1991, he shriveled under the pressure of attempting to justify the hype and was out of the NFL after two underwhelming seasons.

Although Vasiliy, 30, widely hailed as perhaps the top pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, is pushed to the limit and sometimes beyond by Anatoly’s severe and unorthodox training regimen, he and Usyk, 31, are happily dedicated to the program, in no small part because they can see the benefits that accrue from strict adherence.

“For Vasiliy, his father is like a god,” said Egis Klimas, the Oxnard, Calif.-based fellow Ukrainian who manages the younger Lomachenko and Usyk. “He respects him a lot. He loves him a lot. They have a great relationship.”

How unique are Anatoly’s deviations from standard boxing training? Well, years ago he plotted to have Vasiliy improve his endurance by regularly holding his breath underwater for as long as possible. It is an occupational tool mostly useful to pearl divers, but Vasiliy’s personal record is now up to 4½ minutes and it does appear that he never tires in the later rounds of bouts, no matter how frenetic his punch rate. Vasiliy also intersperses street skating, juggling, handstands and tennis, which Loma often plays solo, sprinting around the net to return his own lobs, into the equation. Vasiliy’s impressive footwork is partly the result of his training in Ukrainian folk dance, and in a nod to modern science, every punch he throws in camp is recorded and calibrated through the computer chips in his hand wraps.

The Papachenko blueprint is somewhat reminiscent of that employed by four-time former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, a persistent tinkerer who was determined to explore a wide variety of seemingly odd methods to help him maximize his abilities. At various times Holyfield worked with a ballet instructor, conditioning specialist, weight trainer and computer analysts, sometimes to the befuddlement of his by-the-book traditionalist of a lead trainer, George Benton.

“You don’t want no damn robot in there,” said Benton, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame as a trainer in 2001 and was 78 when he passed away in 2011. “A big part of being a good trainer is the ability to listen. The fighter can bring something to the drawing board just as easily as I can. The smart man can learn something new every day. I’m trying to be as smart as I can.”

Klimas said Anatoly’s influence is already being seen elsewhere, with other trainers attempting to incorporate aspects of the program followed by his son and Usyk into the workout schedules of their fighters.

“It is obvious,” Klimas said of the imitators hoping to develop their own strain of that Team Loma magic. “But to copycat a trainer is like copycatting a fighter. Take Muhammad Ali. There was only one. Others tried to be like him, but it could never be the same for them.  It is the same with trainers. There is only one Teddy Atlas, one Freddie Roach. And there is only one Anatoly Lomachenko.”

Atlas wholeheartedly agrees with Klimas’ assessment.  “It’s not going to work,” he said of those who already are trying to steal pages from the Papachenko playbook and others who are sure to follow suit. “You can look at something and think you’re copying it, but the originals understand why it means what it does. The copycats don’t understand the essentials, and never will.”

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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A Boxing Aficionado’s Christmas Wish List

Ted Sares

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aficionado

It’s cold outside and there’s a deep cover of white snow on the ground. This aficionado is mulling over what he would want boxing-wise in 2019, while partaking in a warm eggnog mixed with Jameson and lighting up a Tenth Anniversary Perdomo. The background music includes Mile Davis’s’ legendary tribute to Jack Johnson. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8TdZFVj6tA  It’s time to type in the list as follows:

A speedy and full recovery for Adonis “Superman” Stevenson.

For Roc Nation Sports to help Daniel Franco with his medical bills.

For Jermain Taylor to receive the help he so badly needs.

A third match between GGG and Canelo to settle the issue once and for all.

A second match between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, but this time in London at Wembley. Winner fights Anthony Joshua.

Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller vs. Luis “The Real King Kong” Ortiz with the winner facing the winner of Dereck Chisora vs. Dillian Whyte.

A match between Vasily Lomachenko and Gervonta Davis sooner rather than later, but not until Davis grows up.

Loma’s opponents coming down in weight rather than Loma going up.

Terence Crawford vs. Errol Spence Jr.

Gary Russell Jr. vs. Leo Santa Cruz.

Naoya Inoue vs. Luis Nery.

A continuing successful comeback by Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez.

For Andre Ward to come out of retirement and face a title holder.

For Joe Smith Jr.to avoid having his jaw broken and getting back into the mix by fighting Sean Monaghan for Irish and Long Island honors.

More exposure for Claressa Shields so that she is not lost in the shuffle of too many other female fights that lack her fan-friendly style

More televised action for Regis Prograis, Maurice Hooker, Teofimo Lopez, and Jaime Munguia.

For Mason Menard to retire. Too many bad stoppage losses.

Letting Manny Pacquiao retire in dignity by keeping him away from young lions like Crawford, Spence, etc.

The total and complete disappearance of Conor McGregor, Stephen A. Smith, and Shannon Briggs.

Now let’s get it on!

P.S. — What about your wishes for 2019? Please let us know.

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and Strongman competitors. 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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