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From Jack Johnson to Deontay Wilder, L.A. Has Heavyweight Ties

David A. Avila

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Wilder vs Fury

Once upon a time Los Angeles was the foraging ground for heavyweights including the emergence of the Black prizefighter on the fistic world.

Deontay Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs) looks to continue that lineage when he defends the WBC heavyweight world title against United Kingdom’s Tyson Fury (27-0, 19 KOs) on Saturday Dec. 1, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Showtime pay-per-view will televise.

On Wednesday, with several hundred members of the American and international media in attendance at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, the two gargantuan heavyweights stood next to each other like a pair of giant scarecrows long arms and all.

“What I care about is showing people what I’m all about it. I’m showing you each and every time and I’m giving you a knockout,” said Wilder, 33. “America has a mighty man in me. America has the baddest man on the planet.”

Fury, 30, trained entirely in Southern California for this momentous fight to recapture the titles he won by knockout over Wladimir Klitschko in 2015.

“I am the people’s champion and I am the man who gives the people hope. I’m not just fighting for myself. I’m fighting for the millions of people around the world who look to me for inspiration,” said Fury the lineal champion whose hold on the title can be traced back to the very first world champion John L. Sullivan.

Most fans today are familiar with Sullivan the “Boston Strong boy” whose victory and reign began the modern era and the rules we know today. After Sullivan won in 1885, four others would claim the title before a heavyweight title fight took place in Los Angeles 112 years ago.

Here is where the ties to heavyweight boxing in Los Angeles began.

Naud Junction and Hazard’s Pavilion

Tommy Burns won the heavyweight world title back in 1906 against champion Marvin Hart at the Naud Junction Pavilion in L.A. Today, that location on Alameda and Ord Street is where the Original Philippe’s restaurant now sits. Munch on that while you eat one of their famous French dip sandwiches.

Burns stood about 5’7” in height or about a foot shorter than either Wilder or Fury. He must have liked fighting at the old Naud Junction Pavilion as he performed there four times in his prime. The boxing arena was eventually torn down in 1913.

Jack Johnson was also fighting in Los Angeles in the same time frame.

It was Jack Johnson who defeated Burns thus becoming the first African American heavyweight to win the title and set the boxing world topsy-turvy.

Burns and Johnson both met in Los Angeles and it makes sense that they saw each other’s fights. The size of the town back in the early 1900s was a mere 102,000 people, not 3 million as it is today within the city limits. Johnson and Burns probably developed a rivalry watching each other’s fights in L.A. and eventually agreed to fight each other for the world title. But in those days it was difficult to match Blacks with Whites even in Los Angeles.

Johnson had been fighting frequently in Los Angeles in the 1900s. It’s where he won the Black heavyweight championship against Denver Ed Martin on February 1903 at Hazards Pavilion. The site of that arena is where the Biltmore Hotel now is located on Fifth Street and Olive Avenue in downtown.

Burns and Johnson probably debated openly about who was better. But back in the early 1900s it was difficult to match Blacks or Mexicans against Whites. Mexican fighters had to change their name to Solly Smith and Joe Rivers. Black fighters were basically forbidden from fighting against White fighters especially for the world title in 1908. So the two heavyweights moved their fight to Australia where Johnson defeated Burns by decision in the 14th round when police stopped the fight. Johnson became the first Black fighter to win the heavyweight world title.

Before winning the world championship Johnson fought a total of eight times at Hazards Pavilion in L.A. but after winning the world title he never fought in L.A. again. In the 1920s he often visited the old Main Street Gym. Newsboys would gather around the old champ whose devil-may-care attitude was considered outlandish for those days and times. One of those newsboys was my grandfather who staked out a corner on Second Street and Main to sell papers in the 1920s. It was right across the street from the Main Street Gym that was torn down in the mid-1980s.

Over the next 100 years only a handful of heavyweight world title fights have ever taken place in Los Angeles. It’s as rare as a total eclipse.

Here we are again 112 years after Burns became the first to defend the heavyweight world title in Los Angeles. It’s Wilder’s turn and in Fury he faces another undefeated fighter ready to showcase the heavyweight division.

“There’s no way I’m going to let a man come from another country and take what I’ve been building,” said Wilder.

Fury has the lineal title that can be traced back to Jack Johnson and Tommy Burns who both fought on Los Angeles boxing cards more than a century ago.

“I’m the lineal champion. If Deontay wins, he will be the best, but he’s not going to beat me. I’m the best heavyweight alive, and there’s only one way to get that title. You have to come take it from me. There’s never been a man who could better me in a fight,” said Fury.

One can’t help but feel similar words were exchanged more than 100 years ago when Jack Johnson and Tommy Burns both met in Los Angeles to discuss their heavyweight clash.

Some things don’t change.

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It’s a ‘Three-Peat’ for Eddie Hearn, the 2018 TSS Promoter of the Year

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One billion.

That was the glitzy number rolling off the lips of men and women in sharp business suits as they knocked back glasses of champagne atop a rooftop garden in midtown Manhattan back in early May. It was here, in the commercial capital of the world, that UK promoter Eddie Hearn announced an eight-year deal with subscription streaming platform, DAZN, in a play to dramatically alter how boxing is consumed and disseminated  — all, yes, to the tune of one billion walloping dollars. The fine print let you know, of course, that only two years were guaranteed, among other caveats. But who was counting? Certainly not Hearn (pictured with his father, Matchroom Sport founder Barry Hearn), whose enterprising ways once again, for the third year in a row, make him TSS 2018 Promoter of the Year.

Some readers will find the honor redundant, perhaps even dubious. But if Hearn’s work in 2016 and 2017 at Matchroom might be charitably described as “domestic-level,” his endeavors this past year were far more international and innovative in scope.

No one would have begrudged Hearn if he had decided to stay put in an Essex abode and oversee, twice a year, what is by now one of the great sporting spectacles today: an Anthony Joshua fight, which depending on whether it takes place at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff or at Wembley Stadium in London, typically draws upwards of 75,000 spectators. But the inexhaustible Hearn, smelling fame and fortune across the Atlantic, had other ambitions in mind other than counting “AJ” gate receipts and PPV revenue from the comfort of his chaise lounge.

“I am trying to do what no UK promoter has ever done,” said Hearn shortly after announcing the DAZN deal. “Everybody wants us to fail, just like they did when we came into the UK five or six years ago, but this deal gives me a chance. In six years’ time we want to be the No 1 promoter in America.”

That last statement might make a veteran US promoter like Bob Arum keel over on the floor in stitches. But the fact remains that Hearn arrives with more ammunition than any British outsider since the colonial days. By linking up with DAZN — a startup bankrolled by billionaire Len Blavatnik and helmed by ex-ESPN head John Skipper — Hearn boasts the infrastructure to grow his firm into an American and perhaps even global powerhouse. But it is his position at the forefront of the new technology that DAZN represents that makes Hearn the most noteworthy promoter of the past year. If streaming is the future (as seemingly everyone in the sports media aisle seems to think), Hearn wants to be sure that he has a seat at the table.

Through Hearn, DAZN, the self-styled “Netflix of Sports,” has bulldozed its way into the American boxing market at a time in which the industry has never looked more in flux and fragmented. The news that HBO would no longer showcase boxing sent shockwaves across the industry, but for purely sentimental reasons. In reality, the boxing business had long outgrown the diminishing offerings from HBO. How Hearn will steer his company in this new landscape as DAZN’s chief content provider will be a key story in the coming years.

Hearn launched the first DAZN boxing card in September with the Anthony Joshua-Alexander Povetkin fight in Cardiff. October was even busier. The first DAZN show in the US was held in Chicago and showcased the likes of Artur Beterbiev, Danny Roman, Katie Tayler, and Jarrell Miller, as well as the main event pairing Jessie Vargas against Thomas Dulorme. A few weeks later, Hearn promoted one of the last HBO shows at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden featuring the tightly-contested middleweight title match between his charge Daniel Jacobs and Sergiy Derevyanchenko. The following weekend, Hearn flew up to Boston to stage another middleweight showdown on DAZN headlined by new signee Demetrius Andrade. Tevin Farmer, another DAZN signee, fought on the undercard.

But what has truly earned Hearn goodwill with boxing’s finicky hardcore fanbase was his decision to put his weight behind the World Boxing Super Series, the much-lauded tournament series that lacked a significant and serious broadcast partner in its first iteration. An otherworldly talent like knockout artist Naoya Inoue, who is currently participating in the bantamweight tournament, deserves to seen by a US audience.

In a hint at his global designs, Hearn announced recently that Matchroom/DAZN would begin staging eight boxing cards a year in Italy, where DAZN currently has a significant presence in the soccer scene (Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is a global ambassador for DAZN).

But for all the initial fanfare, the past year for Hearn has not been without its learning curves. His bold promise (or was it brash gloating?) to lure marketable US fighters aligned with Al Haymon, including Gervonta Davis, Adrien Broner, and the Charlo twins, fell flat on its face when the PBC announced its output deal with Fox, in addition to renewing its commitment with Showtime. And while Beterbiev, Andrade, Farmer, and Miller are nothing to scoff at, they are hardly the kind of fighters entrusted to bring major credibility and recognition to a brand sorely in need of both. Indeed, the splash that DAZN was looking for would come later in the year and without Hearn’s involvement: the signing of Mexican superstar Saul “Canelo” Alvarez to an exclusive contract estimated to be worth $365 million.

Furthermore, though Hearn signing unified cruiserweight titleholder Oleksandr Uysk certainly deserves praise, his current roster of US fighters are not as impressive as he would have you believe. The November 17 show pitting a mismatch between Jarrell Miller and Bogdan Dinu and as well as a tawdry assortment of over-the-hill fighters, like Brandon Rios and Gabriel Rosado, in boxing backwater Kansas City was an obvious clunker.

Still, there has been no promoter in 2018 more joined to the efforts, for better or worse, to reinvent the sport. Who knows, maybe six years from now Hearn will find himself back safely ensconced in his London office happily hyping a homegrown contender from Yorkshire, and DAZN, blanched and faded from years of financial hemorrhaging, will have been auctioned off to some Silicon Valley unicorn at pennies to the dollar. Maybe.

In any case, should Hearn seek to add another TSS trophy to his Chippendale cabinet for a four-peat, he need only do one simple thing in 2019: cut the dillydallying and make the heavyweight matchup that everyone wants to see in Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder. Like many of the sport’s most colorful impresarios before him, Hearn has attracted both admiration and disgust at a fever pitch. He will have much more of the former when he truly decides to play ball with Wilder’s handlers and consummate the one fight that would benefit the sport as a whole.

But that is supposing he cares about such a thing. Most promoters, as they have shown time and time again, do not. We will find out soon if Hearn is any different.

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Tyson Fury is the 2018 TSS Comeback Fighter of the Year

Arne K. Lang

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Tyson Fury

When the TSS year-end award season rolls around, some choices are no-brainers and others are head-scratchers because there are so many worthy candidates. Selecting Tyson Fury as our 2018 Comeback Fighter of the Year was a no-brainer.

When Fury left the sport for what would ultimately be a 31-month layoff, it soon became evident that we might never see him again. It wasn’t just that his heart was no longer in the game. He fell to pieces, letting his weight balloon to almost 400 pounds.

We would learn that there was more to the story. Fury was abusing cocaine and alcohol and had mental health issues that he readily acknowledged. He told reporters that he was seeing a psychiatrist who had diagnosed him as bipolar and manic depressive.

But Fury pulled himself together and gradually worked his way back to where he was fit to fight again. He returned to the ring on June 9 in Manchester in a supporting bout to Terry Flanagan’s140-pound title defense against Maurice Hooker. In the opposite corner was Sefer Seferi, a 39-year-old puffed-up cruiserweight.

The fight was a travesty. Fury, 11 inches taller and 66 pounds heavier, hardly worked up a sweat and the same could be said of his Albanian opponent who quit after four rounds.

For his second comeback fight, Fury chose a man nearer his own size, former sparring partner Francesco Pianeta. They met on August 18 in Belfast on a show headlined by hometown hero Carl Frampton. Fury won the contest easily in the eyes of the referee who awarded him all 10 rounds, but he wasn’t impressive. Indeed, the fight had no indelible moments.

In the post-fight press conference following the Pianeta fight, Fury’s promoter Frank Warren announced that the self-styled Gypsy King would fight WBC champion Deontay Wilder next and that the fight would materialize in late November in Las Vegas. As it turned out, the match came to fruition in Los Angeles at the Staples Center on Dec. 1.

It was widely assumed that Warren was blowing smoke. Surely Fury needed more rounds to shake off all the rust after his long spell of inactivity and self-abuse. But to some it made perfect sense that Fury would take on such a daunting assignment at this juncture. The cynics holding this view said that Fury was a certified loon and the longer the wait before he was thrust into a big money fight, the greater the chance that he would do something stupid and it would all fall apart.

The oddsmakers made Wilder a 7/5 favorite. In Las Vegas, there was late money on Wilder. At one large property, the odds shot up to 11/5 on the day of the fight.

After 40 pro fights, Deontay Wilder was still rough around the edges. Fury, it was widely understood, was the better boxer. But Wilder could take a man out with one punch and it figured that he would clock the Gypsy King who figured to tire in the late rounds if he could last that long.

By now every serious boxing fan is familiar with the details of the Wilder-Fury fight. Suffice it to say that Wilder did clock him in the late rounds, not once but twice, the second compliments of a left hook that knocked a staggering Fury down hard in the final round. The punch, wrote London Guardian scribe Kevin Mitchell, would have anaesthetized a horse.

The punch pulled the fight out of the fire for Deontay Wilder. For five long seconds as he lay prone on the canvas, Tyson Fury looked dead as a mackerel.

But hold the phone.

By some miracle, Fury was able to beat the count – just barely – and, more astoundingly, he got the best of the milling during the remainder of the round.

When the decision was announced – it went into the books as a draw – Fury didn’t bellyache. He had a look of satisfaction on his face as referee Jack Reiss simultaneously raised his hand and the hand of his opponent. Afterwards, he would say that he was certain that he had won enough rounds to earn the decision, but that if he had ranted and raved it might have started a riot. Indeed, whenever there is an especially large delegation of British boxing fans there is a hooligan element. And the Wilder-Fury fight played out before a large delegation of Brits who left the premises justifiably disgruntled but orderly.

At the post-fight press conference, the Gypsy King did something charming. He burst into song, leading the media in a rendition of Don McLean’s “American Pie.” Yes, over the years, to his everlasting discredit, Fury has hurt people with words that were misogynistic, homophobic, and even anti-Semitic. But at moments like these the big galoot is so cuddly that it’s hard not to love him.

As comebacks go, Fury’s was strange. He wasn’t coming off a loss and he didn’t win. But he emerged from a very dark place and gave a performance that was not only redemptive but inspirational.

The 2018 TSS Comeback Fighter of the Year was a no-brainer.

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Eleider Alvarez Forged the 2018 TSS Upset of the Year

Jeffrey Freeman

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Alvarez

HBO World Championship Boxing called it quits in 2018 but not before airing the Sweet Science (TSS) Upset of the Year: Eleider “Storm” Alvarez’s jaw dropping seventh round knockout of Sergey Kovalev to win the WBO light heavyweight title at Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, formerly President Trump’s Taj Mahal.

The legendary cable network that broadcast the Douglas-Tyson shocker in February of 1990 retained its reputation as a theatre of the totally unexpected on that Saturday, August 4. It was supposed to be a return to elite form for the Russian Kovalev (now 32-3-1 with 28 knockouts) and a chance for promoters to make boardwalk boxing great again.

For the 34-year-old Colombian Alvarez, successfully transplanted to Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 2009 by Groupe Yvon Michel, it was the realization of a bold prediction that fell upon mostly deaf ears: “Kovalev will be a very difficult fight but I will be the new WBO champion of the world.”

Right on both counts.

Alvarez (booked as a +400 underdog) appeared to gain an early advantage with impressively aggressive boxing skills but Kovalev wasn’t going anywhere without a fight and he pummeled Alvarez in the fourth round with his long jab and solid power punches—outlanding him 3 to 1.

Alvarez returned to his corner down on the scorecards.

Max Kellerman may have been able to see what Alvarez was doing to win the first three rounds but ringside judges Carter, Pasquale and Ortiz did not. Regardless, Alvarez pumped his fist in celebration, well aware he’d just taken the best of ‘The Krusher’ without being too badly hurt by any of it. “I wanted to show him I have a good chin,” he said after the fight of the assault.

The fifth and sixth were fiercely competitive with both rounds being won legitimately by Kovalev who presently began showing signs of fatigue while Alvarez (24-0 with 12 knockouts) recovered from the fourth round drubbing he’d proudly endured; his left cheek bloodied. If Kovalev’s plan was to outbox Alvarez and win a decision, he lacked the stamina needed to go six more rounds.

Alvarez answered the bell for the seventh ready to make good on his stormy forecast calling for rain on Kovalev’s parade. With a minute and twenty seconds left in the frame, Alvarez feinted a left jab to the body; following up full-speed with a looping right hand to the side of Kovalev’s unprotected head. Kovalev wobbled backwards onto the seat of his pants, decked by a jabby boxer assumed to be a light hitter with a trio of surgically repaired right knuckles.

Up fast at the count of “four” from American referee David Fields, Kovalev was in the eye of the storm now. Alvarez went for the kill with poise and precision. A right uppercut rocked Kovalev’s head back. A left jab had a similar effect. A right cross strafed his face. With 40 seconds left in the round, Alvarez connected with a ferocious left-right combination and Kovalev fell again. And again—Kovalev got up quickly but this time in no condition to continue and he could no longer protect himself. Alvarez walked straight in and landed a clubbing right around Kovalev’s guard. Kovalev collapsed onto all fours and Fields immediately waved it off as Alvarez celebrated.

A new light heavyweight star was being born.

Asked if he wanted to face HBO undercard winner Dmitry Bivol in a WBO/WBA unification match-up, Alvarez indicated a willingness to face all comers. “I’ve been waiting five years to fight the best in the division. I’m now among the best at 175. Whatever comes, I’m ready.”

It won’t be a long overdue confrontation with promotional stablemate Adonis Stevenson. The 41 year-old “Superman” was beaten into a medically induced coma by new WBC champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk on December 1 in Quebec City. What’s coming instead is an immediate rematch with Kovalev, scheduled for February 2, 2019 in Frisco, Texas—streaming live on ESPN. Alvarez probably needs another KO to retain his new title. The three official judges in the first fight did him no favors and Texas is infamous for dodgy officiating and sketchy scoring.

Believing that he needs to be in better shape if he hopes to avenge his latest defeat, Kovalev is fielding yet another new trainer, new International Boxing Hall of Famer, James “Buddy” McGirt. Says Krusher of this ‘last chance’ sequel: “I’ll be ready [this time] and I will take back my title.”

Time will tell.

Despite taking an ambulance ride to the hospital after getting his ass officially kicked, Kovalev went on record claiming Alvarez was “lucky” to get the knockout victory. Kovalev’s loyal promoter Kathy Duva may have convinced her guy it was a fluke but a result like that is surely no accident. “Sergey was clearly winning when he just got caught,” she casually explains. “It happens.”

No Kathy, it happened. It happened. The Sweet Science 2018 Upset of the Year. My Alvarez-Kovalev II prediction: It happens again. Alvarez TKO in nine, Kovalev calls it quits.

Other Notable 2018 Upsets: Roberto “Rifle” Ramirez’s second round beat down of Dejan Zlaticanin in June, Francis Chua’s split decision over Kye McKenzie on the Horn-Mundine undercard Down Under, Emanuel Navarrete’s victory against Isaac Dogboe for the WBO 122 lb. title on the Lomachenko-Pedraza undercard at MSG, and as written about by TSS’s own Matt Andrzejewski, Hassan Mwakinyo’s shocking TKO of Sam Eggington in the United Kingdom.

UPSET PICK POSTSCRIPT

It’s funny how “boxing experts” often claim to have picked the surprise winner of a prize fight only after said fight is over. At a packed press conference in New York City to announce the summer title bout between Kovalev and Alvarez, I couldn’t find a single media member or industry insider willing to entertain the notion of an upset, much less an Alvarez knockout.

Face-to-face with Kovalev, Alvarez looked and sounded like a sure-fire winner to me. Where Alvarez appeared fit and ready to fight that day if need be, Kovalev struck me as a little too fat and happy for his own good. After Kovalev was knocked down and out on HBO, social media was full of ‘I told you so’ tweets from ex post facto smart alecks and keyboard warriors.

What I observed in the lead-up to the fight led me to conclude the 35 year-old Kovalev was not taking his relatively unknown opponent as seriously as he should have been. Kovalev’s middle finger morphed into a peace symbol. He actually said it wasn’t his goal to knock Alvarez out!

Ultimately, I was the only reporter out there who could read the writing on the wall, noting last May what a “high risk, low reward” fight this was for Kovalev; one with the potential to “go all wrong” for him. I couldn’t have been more right. While most (if not all) fans and media regarded the result as a foregone conclusion, I wrote that Kovalev would be UPSET by Eleider Alvarez.

He told me, I told you.

It happened.

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