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Art and Heroism in a Corrupted Sport

Springs Toledo

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Tyson Fury: Art and Heroism

Tyson Fury lay in the ring like the Pietà in still life. Deontay Wilder’s right hand put him there, one of a scant few he didn’t get underneath. It landed behind his ear and sent his head flopping into the path of a left hook that sent all six-feet-nine-inches of him down with a crash.

The faces in the crowd—glomming, mouths agape, eyes burning with mad glee—morphed into a Bellows painting.

“…Two,” said referee Jack Reiss.

Fury was the only figure in the house that wasn’t moving. He stared at the ceiling as if something fearful was there, and a strange sound came from his throat—a raspy exhale, the kind you’d expect to hear from a man in the midst of night terrors. Unlike the Pietà, no one was holding him.

“…Three…”

He’d been there before; in that lonely place, flat on his back, nowhere to look but up. The desert monks called it acedia and considered it a form of existential despair. They were familiar enough with it to name it—the “noonday devil” attacks when the sun is highest, when everything is at its most brilliant.

Fury encountered it in 2015, after defeating Wlad Klitschko to become heavyweight champion. He was at the top of the world; he could reach up with one finger and touch the sun, but something was very wrong. “I had everything that a man could possess . . . but it meant nothing,” he said. So he did what rock stars do. He filled his emptiness with bodily pleasures, with animal beatitudes. “I was on Tony Montana and beer. Twenty pints, four or five times a week.” At four hundred pounds (“and counting”), his career was lost. His family moved out of the house. Legions of fans deserted him when he reached up with the wrong finger and sparked outrage with off-the-cuff and likely off-his-head comments about Jews, women, and gays.

“It was one of the greatest collapses in modern sports history,” said Rolling Stone.

“I don’t want to live,” said Fury.

He was all but finished. Then he blinked and made a decision.

That’s how recovery always begins: with a decision, a private commitment. The great “I will.” At first it was a narrowing of glazed eyes; he’d come back to the ring, have a few fights, see what happens. He told his wife, who saw only his flushed face and whale blubber. “Don’t try,” she said.

But Fury was looking beyond mere sport.

A product of a gypsy culture that reveres the figure of “the fighting man” most of all, he instinctively understood that this battle was personal. It had to be brought into the desert. His objective was not to reclaim lost glory but to transition from darkness into light the only way he knew how, by giving himself a familiar purpose, by devoting himself to daily discipline—and one look at him on a StairMaster was enough to prove that his twelve-step program required far more than twelve steps. He made sobriety a habit, lost a hundred forty-four pounds, and surrounded himself with men who brought hope first, expertise second.

In June and August, he defeated two respectable opponents and then sought out the most ferocious puncher in the heavyweight division.

—And dominated him in almost every exchange, demonstrating defensive superiority and an agility no giant ought to possess. Wilder, a one-dimensional puncher unconcerned with strategy and impervious to the pleadings of his corner, threw bomb after bomb that sailed over Fury’s ducking, dipping, slipping head a hundred times. In the ninth round, one of them finally got in, bouncing off the back of Fury’s head and sending him down. He wasn’t hurt; he saluted something over his head and proceeded to win the tenth and eleventh rounds on all three scorecards.

Wilder’s singular intention to get Fury out of there had gone from a confident plan A-no-need-for-B to a desperate hope. When he dropped Fury hard in the twelfth round, he swaggered off to a neutral corner and made a throat-slashing gesture with his glove to disguise his relief. As he stood ticking off ten seconds in his head, his manager was running along ringside ready to celebrate.

“…Five…”

Fury was staring at the ceiling, as motionless as marble. Then he blinked.

“…Six…”

He blinked again like a man with the rising sun in his eyes, the kind who doesn’t hit snooze, who gets up and goes to work.

He did just that. In the last minute of the last round, he was back in inspiration-mode. He hit Wilder with a right hand and left hook, stunning him and forcing him to grab hold.

The bell rang and it was bedlam in the Bellows crowd. Everyone in the raucous Staples Center and in living rooms across two continents was asking the same question: “How’d he get up?!”

Wilder was mystified. “I don’t know how he got up. Everyone knows I got heavy hands and I hit hard. I literally seen his eyes rolling in the back of his head,” he said at the post-fight conference. “Only God know how he got back up.”

When Fury came out and sat at the microphone, reporters forgot to honor the current zeitgeist and take Christ out of Christmas. “Did Jesus Christ come down and wake you up?” asked one of them. “What happened?”

“I think so. I had the holy hands upon me tonight and I was brought back. Rose me to my feet at the brink of defeat.” Fury said it matter-of-factly, then wavered. “I can’t tell you because I don’t know. I don’t know what happened.”

It was a miraculous, career-best performance that should have seen him up on the cards by at least eight rounds to four and up by at least two points despite two knockdowns. But this is boxing and it’s a corrupted place. Fury got no better than a draw.

Judge Alejandro Rochin—who had the wrong fighter winning seven rounds to five—is the Laszlo Toth of this story. He took a hammer and vandalized a stirring experience. What was he thinking? At best, he confused Wilder with Fury for the first four rounds and scored accordingly. At worst, someone or somebody with a substantial financial interest in Fury not winning got to him. At the very least, bank deposit slips of such judges should be examined and they should be deported from the sport like Toth was from Italy.

Why Great Britain’s Phil Edwards scored the seventh round for Wilder and thus forced the draw is a mystery. It should require his appearance in a locked room to review that round with a competent judge and Teddy Atlas.

Art and heroism don’t flourish amid corruption. When they do, they’re magnified. Brilliance is blinding in the dark. That, and referees like Jack Reiss, are about all that keep us coming back to a sport that cannot differentiate between a champion and a contender any better than Rochin can fighters four feet in front of him. Even so, Fury’s soul-stirring round twelve against Wilder measures up against any great heavyweight round of the last thirty years. It’s as stirring as Evander Holyfield’s round ten against Riddick Bowe and almost as stirring as George Foreman’s round ten against Michael Moorer. It is added unto the rich folklore of the flagship division.

Holyfield fought for little guys routinely outgunned, Foreman for old-timers. Fury has an eighty-five-inch reach and stretched his arms further than both. It was while he was laying there all but finished, he said—especially then, that he was representing “everybody who suffers round the world.” And everybody, one supposes, includes not only those with mental illness but Jews, women, and gays.

The Pietà depicts the compassion of one who knows first-hand what suffering is, and how redemptive it can be. Michelangelo grasped the higher context of his work and sought to honor it. He was doing more than carving stone. Fury, neither hero nor artist, sought to do more than simply win a prizefight. “It’s no secret what I been through,” he said. “I had to show that you can continue and you can carry on, and anything is possible.”

Yeah. That’s good. Inspiring. But how’d he get up?

__________________

Springs Toledo is the author of The Gods of War (2014), In the Cheap Seats (2016), and Murderers’ Row (2017). Smokestack Lightning: Harry Greb, 1919 is scheduled for release on 1/1/2019 as an eBook.

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Allen (KO 3) and Chisora (UD 10) Victorious in Heavyweight Action in London

Arne K. Lang

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Heavyweights Allen & Chisora win

A pair of heavyweight battles topped the card at London’s 02 Arena. Both favorites won, but neither bout played out as expected.

Fan favorite David Allen, a 27-year-old Yorkshireman, continued his ascent from the lower depths of the boxing firmament with a one-punch knockout of Australia’s  heavily-tattooed Lucas Browne. Allen caved in Browne with a body punch in the third round that brought a sudden end to a bout that the Aussie appeared to be winning.

Browne, who turned 40 this month, made history when he became the first Australian to win a world heavyweight title (WBA version) when he scored a 10th round stoppage of Ruslan Chagaev in Russia. But, in hindsight, that win was a fluke. A gassed-out Chagaev was widely ahead on the cards when his roof fell in. Browne’s tenure was brief. He was stripped of the belt after testing positive for clenbuterol.

Allen, nicknamed the White Rhino, has now won four straight beginning with an upset of previously undefeated Nick Webb. His reputation is that of a common brawler, a fighter willing to take two punches to land one, but, regardless, he positioned himself for a nice payday or two going forward. Browne lost his second straight after opening his career 28-0.

The maddeningly inconsistent Dereck Chisora, who engaged in two barnburners with Dillian Whyte, snoozed his way to a 10-round unanimous decision over milquetoast Senad Gashi. The 35-year-old Chisora, a Zinbabwe-born Londoner, improved to 30-9 but did nothing to improve his stock. The well-traveled Gashi, born in Kosovo and now residing in Spain, declined to 17-3 while acquiring the patina of a trial horse.

Other Bouts

Welterweight Josh Kelly, a 2016 Olympian, won a lopsided 10-round decision over stubborn Przemysla Runowski. Kelly (9-0, 6 KOs) had Runowski on the canvas in rounds two, nine, and 10, but the previously undefeated Pole (now 17-1, 3 KOs) stayed the course. Kelly appeared to hurt his hand early in the fight. That may knock him off the Joshua-TBA card on June 1 at Madison Square Garden.

Joe Cordina, a Welshman, now holds the British and Commonwealth lightweight titles after scoring a 6th round stoppage of Yorkshireman Andy Townend (22-5). Cordina started slowly but gradually picked up the pace and scored three knockdowns before the referee waived it off. A 2016 Olympian, Cordina (9-0, 7 KOs) was a heavy favorite despite a dearth of pro experience.

Conor Benn the 22-year-old son of Nigel Benn, was extended the distance for the third time in his last four fights but had little difficulty advancing his record to 14-0 (9) at the expense of Josef Zahradnik (10-3) of the Czech Republic. The referee awarded Benn every round in this 8-round welterweight affair.

Middleweight Nikita Ababiy, a hot prospect with a big upside, was extended into the second round for the first time in his young pro career but eliminated Dmitri Faltin after only 26 seconds of round two. A 20-year-old Brooklynite of Russian extraction, nicknamed White Chocolate, Ababiy (4-0) excelled in all manner of combat sports as teenager. In the ring he doesn’t pussyfoot around. He won his pro debut in 28 seconds. Faltin, a 37-year-old Finn, fell to 2-4-1.

John Harding Jr., a 34-year-old middleweight, improved to 7-0-1 with a one-sided 6-round decision over Miroslav Juna (1-2). A protégé of Dillian Whyte, Harding started his pro career late after serving several stints in prison.

Cruiserweight Sam Hyde (14-1-1, 7 KOs) rebounded from his first defeat in fine fashion, blowing out Slovakia’s Josef Jurko (5-2) in the opening round.

Super bantamweight Sam Cox (4-0) won a 4-round decision over Bulgaria’s Georgi Georgiev.

In a woman’s fight, British bantamweight Shannon Courtenay (2-0) outpointed Bulgaria’s Roz Mari Silyanova (1-5-1). The ref gave Courtenay all four rounds.

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BWAA Writing Awards Announced: The Sweet Science Earns Multiple Citations

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BWAA Awards

The Boxing Writers Association of America has announced their annual Bernie Awards which recognize excellence in boxing journalism. Five stories that ran on this web site earned commendations.

TSS editor-in-chief Arne K. Lang copped first place in the category “Boxing Feature Under 1,500 Words.” Springs Toledo and Thomas Hauser earned third place ribbons, Toledo in the category “Best Column” and Hauser in “Boxing Investigative Reporting,” a category in which he has excelled. In addition, TSS New England correspondent Jeffrey Freeman and Sean Nam earned Honorable Mentions, Freeman in “Boxing Feature Under 1,500 Words” and Nam for an investigative reporting piece.

Four TSS correspondents – Toledo, Hauser, Kelsey McCarson, and Nam – were honored for stories that appeared on other web sites.

Springs Toledo, who has had the most abundant haul of BWAA writing awards since 2010 was omnipresent once again, earning five citations overall including a first place finish for “Boxing Feature Over 1,500 Words.” The multi-decorated Thomas Hauser also achieved a first place finish, this in the category “Boxing News Story.” Kelsey McCarson tied for first in “Boxing Column” and Sean Nam came in third in “Boxing Feature Under 1500 Words.”

What follows is the full press release authored by Awards Chairman BERNARD FERNANDEZ. A TSS mainstay, Fernandez is a former five-term president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

PRESS RELEASE: Toledo, Kriegel, Boxing News Top BWAA Writing Contest

Springs Toledo and Mark Kriegel scored highest among individual entrants, while Boxing News/BoxingNewsOnline.com topped the overall sweepstakes in the 18th annual Boxing Writers Association of America writing contest. Those who placed in the contest, which drew a record 147 submissions from a record 49 media representatives who cover the sport, will be recognized at the 94th annual BWAA Awards Ceremony, to be held May 31 at the Copacabana in New York City.

 Toledo, a Boston native and frequent honoree in the BWAA writing contest, led all entrants with 14 points on a scoring system of five points for a first place, three for second, two for third and one for an honorable mention. In the blind judging, in which all bylines and other identifying marks were removed beforehand before being forwarded to a distinguished panel of sports journalists and academics, Toledo took a first in Feature (Over 1,500 words), seconds in Investigative Reporting and a tie for Feature (Under 1,500 Words), a tie for third in Event Coverage and an honorable mention in Column. He spread the wealth around, too, with submissions for Boxing News, thesweetscience.com and City Journal.

 Kriegel, who took first places in both Feature categories in the 2017 contest, was again a major factor in multiple categories, totaling 12 points. He took first place in Investigative Reporting, seconds in Feature (Under 1,500 Words) and Feature (Over 1,500 Words) and an HM in Column, all for ESPN.com.

Other first places went to Arne K. Lang, editor of thesweetscience.com in Feature (Under 1,500 Words); Paul Wheeler of Boxing News in Event Coverage and Kelsey McCarson of NYFights.com (tie) in Column.

Boxing News and BoxingNewsOnline.com, based in the United Kingdom, stormed the BWAA contest like the Beatles coming to America in 1964, totaling 27 points on two firsts, three seconds, a third and five HMs. ESPN.com was next with 16 points, followed by thesweetscience.com and BoxingScene.com with 11 apiece.

 The entire list of placing entrants:

2018 BERNIE WINNERS

BOXING EVENT COVERAGE

First Place

PAUL WHEELER, “Win-Win for Usyk and Bellew,” Boxing News, November 11, 2018

Second Place

MATTHEW AGUILAR, “Vargas, Dulorme Draw is WBC Silver Welterweight,” The Associated Press, October 7, 2018

Third Place (Tie)

LANCE PUGMIRE, “Wilder – Fury Embodied the Greatness of Heavyweight Boxing of Yesteryear,” Los Angeles Times, December 2, 2018,

SPRINGS TOLEDO, “Art and Heroism in a Corrupted Sport,” thesweetscience.com, December 3, 2018

Honorable Mention: Tris Dixon, BoxingScene.com; Lee Groves,CompuBoxTV.com; Gordon Marino, TheDailyBeast.com; Kieran Mulvaney, InsideHBOBoxing.com; Cliff Rold, BoxingScene.com; Don Stradley, Ringside Seat; Chris Walker, BoxingNewsOnline.net.

BOXING COLUMN

First Place (Tie)

THOMAS GERBASI, “Beyond the Ring, The Next Fight,” BoxingScene.com, December 26, 2018

KELSEY McCARSON, “Tyson Fury, Mental Health and Vunerability,” NYFights.com, June 8, 2018

Second Place (Tie)

DON STRADLEY, “Goodbye to All That,” donstradley.blogspot.com, December 29, 2018

ELLIOT WORSELL, “Joe Fournier is the 11th Best Light-Heavyweight in the World – Apparently,” Boxing News, March 29, 2018

Third  Place

GREG BISHOP, “In Search of a Happy Ending to Boxing Career, Manny Pacquiao is Following a Familiar, Sad Trajectory Instead,” Sports Illustrated, January 12, 2018

Honorable Mention: Tris Dixon, Boxingscene.com; Mark Kriegel, ESPN.com; Kieran Mulvaney, Boxing News; Springs Toledo, Boxing News

BOXING NEWS STORY

First Place

THOMAS HAUSER, “Curtis Harper Goes Viral,” The Sporting News, August 29, 2018

Second Place

NORM FRAUENHEIM, “Bob Arum on the Passing of ‘The Boxing Senator’ John McCain: ‘He Was a Great American,’” RingTV.net, August 25, 2018

Third Place (Tie)

DON STRADLEY, “DeMarco is In!,” donstradley.blogspot.com; December 31, 2018

LEE GROVES, “Farewell to a Boxing Lifer, Don Chargin, the Last Gentleman Promoter,” CompuBoxTV.com, September 29, 2018

Honorable Mention: Lance Pugmire, Los Angeles Times; Dan Rafael, ESPN.com.

BOXING FEATURE (Under 1,500 words)

First Place

ARNE K. LANG, “Christmas Day in Germany with Sugar Ray Robinson,” thesweetscience.com, December 24, 2018

Second Place (Tie)

JOHN DENNEN, “Thank God I’m Not a World Champion,” Boxing News, September 16, 20128

MARK KRIEGEL, “The Old Man and the Kid: Alex Saucedo Fighting for a Title and His Mentor’s Legacy,” ESPN.com, November 13, 2018

CLIFF ROLD, “Golovkin, Hopkins, Monzon: The Record at Middleweight,” BoxingScene.com, May 2, 2018

SPRINGS TOLEDO, “The Quiet Man,” Boxing News, October 25, 2018

Third Place

SEAN NAM, “Eleider Alvarez Stuns Sergey Kovalev,” UCNLive.com, August 10, 2018

Honorable Mention: Ron Borges, Boxing Monthly; Thomas Gerbasi, The Ring; David Weinberg, Press of Atlantic City; Jeffrey Freeman, thesweetscience.com; Lance Pugmire, Los Angeles Times

BOXING FEATURE (Over 1,500 words)

First Place

SPRINGS TOLEDO, “The Historian: Mike Tyson and the Ghost of Boxing’s Past,” Boxing News, March 22, 2018

Second Place

MARK KRIEGEL, “The Education of Terence Crawford,” ESPN.com, June 9, 2018

Third Place

TRIS DIXON, “A Warrior’s Brain,” Boxing News, August 2, 2018

Honorable Mention: Matthew Aguilar, El Paso Times; Thomas Gerbasi, Boxing News; Lance Pugmire, Los Angeles Times; Dan Rafael, ESPN.com; Don Stradley, The Ring

BOXING INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING

First Place

MARK KRIEGEL, “A Unique Family Dynamic and the Shooting Nobody Wants to Talk About: The Jose Benavidez Jr. Story,” ESPN.com, October 13, 2018

Second Place

SPRINGS TOLEDO, “191 Edgecombe,” City Journal, Summer 2018

Third Place

THOMAS HAUSER, “1,501 Tests, One Reported Positive? What’s Going on with the USADA and Boxing?,” thesweetscience.com, September 7, 2018 and December 7, 2018

Honorable Mention: Ron Borges, Boxing Monthly; Matt Christie, Boxing News; Jack Hirsch, Boxing News; Sean Nam, thesweetscience.com; Adam Pollack,Boxinginsider.com; Lance Pugmire, Los Angeles Times; Joseph Santoliquito, PremierBoxingChampions.com

 News Outlets

  1. Boxing News/BoxingNewsOnline.net (27 points) 
  2. ESPN.com (16)
  3. THESWEETSCIENCE.COM(11); BoxingScene.com (11)
  4. NYFights.com (7)
  5. Los Angeles Times (6)
  6. The Ring/RingTV.com (5)
  7. The Sporting News (5)
  8. The Associated Press (3); CompuBox.com (3); City Journal (3); DonStradley.blogspot.com (3)
  9. Sports Illustrated (2); Boxing Monthly (2); UCNLLive.com (2)
  10. El Paso Times (1); PremierBoxingChampions.com (1); Ringside Seat (1); The Press of Atlantic City (1); Boxinginsider.com (1); The Daily Beast (1); InsideHBOBoxing.com (1); BoxingNews (1)

2018 BERNIES JUDGES:

MICHAEL HIRSLEY, Chicago Tribune (Retired)

FRANZ LIDZ, Sports Illustrated (Retired)

THOMAS MACDONALD, Novelist and Boston College Writing Instructor

JOHN SCHULIAN, Chicago Sun-Times (Retired)

JOHN WHISLER, San Antonio Express News (Retired)

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Erick Ituarte Wins Featherweight Battle in Ontario, CA

David A. Avila

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Ituarte

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

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

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

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

Other bouts

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

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

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

Photo credit: Alonzo Coston

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