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Likely No Landslides in IBHOF Class of 2019, But Honorees Happy to Make the Cut

Bernard Fernandez

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Halls of Fame ostensibly exist to honor exceptionally high achievers, but some would say their secondary purpose is to at least occasionally generate debate. And the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., is no different.

Given the IBHOF’s requirement that three new inductees be enshrined every year, there is no guarantee that there are three annual slam-dunks in the most prestigious Modern category for fighters. Sometimes the field of candidates in a given year appears to offer no sure things. When someone who has been on the ballot for several years finally makes the cut, and even if a certain candidate’s election – the voting pool consists of full members of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an international panel of boxing historians — comes in his first year of eligibility (fighters must not have fought for five years to be considered for induction), there is apt to be some grumbling from naysayers who say a hall of fame should be the exclusive preserve of the indisputably great, not merely the very good. Among the Hall of Famers whose election met with some resistance are Ingemar Johansson, Arturo Gatti and Ray Mancini.

But as is the case with politics and, really, boxing matches that go to the scorecards as well, it really doesn’t matter if a winner is swept into office by landslide or the thinnest of margins. The difference with halls of fame is that once you’re in, you’re in forever; you can’t ever be voted out of office. How close, or not, the latest tabulations were in a crowded field of 32 Modern candidates was not revealed as the IBHOF, as is its policy, does not announce vote totals.

So all hail to the Class of 2019, the headliners, announced on Dec. 5, being Donald Curry, Julian Jackson and James “Buddy” McGirt. All of the former world champions had been bypassed in previous elections, snubs that didn’t seem to matter to any of them once they received word of their call to the hall from the IBHOF’s executive director, Ed Brophy. Sometimes all good things really do come to those who wait.

In addition to the Big Three, other members of the nine-member induction class include Old-Timer Tony DeMarco, Non-Participants Don Elbaum, Lee Samuels and Guy Jutras, and Observers Teddy Atlas and the late Mario Rivera Martino.

The 57-year-old Curry (34-6, 25 KOs), a native of Fort Worth, Texas, known as “The Lone Star Cobra,” arguably is the most talented of the Modern inductees. At his peak, he was a classic boxer-puncher who did not so much defeat his opponents as to overwhelm them with a compendium of ring skills that seemingly preordained him for all-time great status. The puzzle pieces fit perfectly for Curry on Dec. 6, 1985, in a welterweight unification showdown with Milton McCrory at the Las Vegas Hilton. Before Curry, who went in as the WBA and IBF champion, snatched McCrory’s WBC title in two one-sided rounds, HBO analyst Larry Merchant foresaw the outcome. “McCrory is regarded as a good fighter,” Merchant opined. “Curry is regarded as possibly a great fighter.”

Curry was then 24, and there were those who were ready to proclaim him as the finest pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. He was 26-0-1 with 21 KOs at the time, and while he did not know it then, his prime would soon be shortened by the kind of arrogance that comes when a fighter – really, any inordinately gifted athlete – begins to believe in the myth of his own invincibility and thus takes shortcuts. The first crack in that glittering veneer appeared on Sept. 27, 1986, when the heavily favored Curry did not come out for the seventh round for his title defense against England’s Lloyd Honeyghan.

“All I know is that he was named Honey something,” Curry – who was so dismissive of the challenger that he had to lose 11 pounds in three days just to make weight — told me for a TSS story that appeared in February of this year. “I didn’t really know who he was. I wasn’t mentally prepared that night. If I had been, beating that Honey guy would have been no problem.”

Although Curry regrouped enough to take the WBC super welterweight belt from Italy’s Gianfranco Rosi, he relinquished that title on an even bigger upset than had come against Honeyghan when he traveled to France and dropped a listless unanimous decision to Rene Jacquot.

But memories of the Curry that once had been compared to the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Aaron Pryor apparently were enough to convince enough IBHOF voters to finally reward him for his abbreviated prime, which was clearly Hall of Fame-worthy if lacking the sort of longevity that would have made him a no-brainer.

“All right! Now we’re talking!” an ecstatic Curry said upon getting the call he had begun to think he might never receive from Brophy. “What an honor. This is the greatest day of my life. I’m overwhelmed to get the call from the Hall of Fame. It’s a dream come true.”

Jackson (55-6, 49 KOs) was known as “The Hawk,” and the former junior middleweight and middleweight champion from the U.S. Virgin Islands, now 58, was certainly a bird of prey inside the ropes. He was a consummate knockout artist, capable of getting his man out of there with a single shot. In 2003 The Ring magazine had him at No. 25 on its list of the “100 Greatest Punchers of All time,” but that formidable power came with a caveat. He was nearly as susceptible of being the starchee as the starcher, as evidenced by the fact that all six of his losses also came inside the distance.

“He’s got to be one of the top 10 punchers ever, at least in his weight class,” said former IBF super welterweight champ Buster Drayton, who didn’t make it out of the second round against Jackson in their July 30, 1988, title bout in Atlantic City, adding that Jackson’s fragile chin was no secret to those bold enough to stand in there and trade haymakers with him. “I knew (he could be knocked out). He knew it, too.”

“I tell you, I’m speechless,” Jackson said upon being informed of that he would enshrined by the IBHOF. “This is a tremendous honor. Thank God for His grace and mercy. Wow! It’s amazing! I really don’t have words for this, but eventually they will come.”

McGirt (73-6-1, 48), from Brentwood, N.Y., is the youngster of the group at 54, a former junior welterweight and welterweight titlist who fashioned a long and distinguished career despite being hampered by chronic shoulder injuries. After stepping away from the ring as an active fighter in 1997, he fashioned an exemplary second career as a trainer, and was the winner of the 2002 Eddie Futch Trainer of the Year Award from the Boxing Writers Association of America, primarily for his work in transforming Arturo Gatti from a one-dimensional brawler into a somewhat more well-rounded version of his former self. He also worked the corner for, among others, Vernon Forrest, Antonio Tarver and Laila Ali, and has recently taken on the assignment of preparing two-time former light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev for his rematch against Eleider Alvarez.

“To be honest, I can’t even talk right now,” McGirt said when informed of his selection by the IBHOF electorate. “This shows you’re appreciated by the boxing world and that all the hard work and dedication pay off.”

DeMarco (58-12-1, 33 KOs) is 86 and the former welterweight champ, a Boston resident, can be excused for believing that call from the hall would never come. Maybe that’s because DeMarco, for all his successes, is best known for his two classic but losing wars with Carmen Basilio, the second of which, a 12th-round knockout in 1955, was named Fight of the Year by The Ring.

With no mortal locks slated to make first appearances on the IBHOF ballot for the Class of 2020, several holdovers whose credentials for ring immortality, or what passes for it, were vying for the three available slots that were just filled by Curry, Jackson and McGirt. Presumably at or near that magic threshold are Michael Moorer, Nigel Benn, Ivan Calderon, Vinny Pazienza, Ricky Hatton, Meldrick Taylor, Fernando Vargas, Darius Michalczewski, Sven Ottke and the late Genaro Hernandez, among others. Taylor, another special fighter who did not enjoy the benefit of longevity, might be move up in the pecking order in light of the consideration given to Curry for being truly exceptional for even a relatively short period.

But whoever does not get the nod in 2020 will face even stiffer competition in succeeding years, with gimmes like Bernard Hopkins (2021), Wladimir Klitschko, Shane Mosley, James Toney, Miguel Cotto and Juan Manuel Marquez (2022) and Roy Jones Jr., Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Andre Ward (2023) all edging closer to their first appearances on the ballot.

While the Moderns always command the most attention during the four-day induction festivities, other honorees will be celebrated for their long and meritorious service to the sport. It immensely pleases me to be a friend of three of them.

Atlas, 62, will be inducted in the Observer category, a nod toward his long tenure as an analyst for ESPN and for NBC, for whom he worked four Olympiads . But Atlas, whose distinctive Staten Island inflections are as familiar to viewers as the late Howard Cosell’s nasal pomposity, always thought he would be recognized for his work as a trainer, which he considers his first calling. He added another world champion to the list of upper-tier fighters he has worked with when, on Dec. 1 in Quebec City, he was the chief second for Ukraine’s Oleksandr Gvozdyk, who dethroned WBC titlist Adonis Stevenson on an 11th-round knockout.

“I thought I’d go in as a trainer, to be honest,” Atlas said. “But that wasn’t my decision. I’m grateful and appreciative to be considered either way by the Hall of Fame. It’s definitely a privilege.”

As a trainer, Atlas has always been a my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy and he has walked away from more than a few successful fighters who did not hew to his dictums. One was Michael Moorer, whom an exasperated Atlas did not feel was giving his all in what proved to be his majority-decision victory over WBA/IBF heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield on April 22, 1994, in Las Vegas. After the eighth round, Atlas told Moorer, “If you don’t want to do what it takes to become champion, let me go out there. We could trade places.” I made him answer me. I said, `Do you want to do that?’ And he said, `No, I don’t.’

“The thing that bothered me is that there were times when it seemed like he was letting Evander back into the fight. That’s why I stayed on him and I didn’t want him to be satisfied that he was doing well.” A reinvigorated Moorer won the 12th round to become the first southpaw to win a heavyweight title; had he lost that round he would have also lost a split decision.

Of Gvozdyk, with whom he was working for the first time, Atlas said, “It feels good to have another world champion. You feel like you’re still able to accomplish your goals and to help somebody get to the next level. I feel like I lived up to his trust and took care of my responsibility.”

Elbaum, whose age is a carefully guarded secret, is affectionately known as “The Bum” to those who know and like him. He jokes that he was the matchmaker for Cain vs. Abel, which might be a slight exaggeration. He also notes that he is the person who introduced another Don, last name King, to the fight game, something for which he is uncertain whether he should take credit or blame.

But Elbaum, who has worked the sport’s trenches in nearly every capacity, including as a fill-in fighter a couple of times in his younger days, takes only credit for being involved in a fight card he promoted that took place on Oct. 1, 1965, in Johnstown, Pa., and featured aging all-time greats Sugar Ray Robinson and Willie Pep in separate bouts.

“Ray Robinson was my idol,” Elbaum said. “He was the greatest fighter that ever lived, in my opinion. And he fought his last three fights for me, which is something no one can ever take away from me. I was operating out of Pittsburgh when Ray called me to come to New York. He asked me, `Don, who can you get me who you think I can beat to get another crack at a world title?’ I immediately said, `Joey Archer.’ He asked me if I could make that fight. I said, `Absolutely.’

I made the fight for Pittsburgh. I told him I really wanted to build it up by first putting him in Johnstown, two months before the fight in Pittsburgh and then in Steubenville, Ohio, one month before. I was promoting the Johnstown fight as the biggest event in that town since the flood, and I was getting great press. About 10 days before the fight I got a call from Willie Pep. Willie said, `Don, I need a fight. I need money desperately.’ I said, `Willie, why?’ And – this is one of the great lines of all time – Willie said, `Don I got five ex-wives.’

“So now I got Ray Robinson (then 45) and Willie Pep (42), two of the greatest fighters ever, on the same card. That always stuck with me.”

Alas, the grand scheme hatched by Elbaum came a cropper when Robinson lost a 10-round unanimous decision to Archer on Nov. 10, 1965, and immediately retired.

Samuels, 71, came to boxing first as a sports writer, covering a couple of Muhammad Ali fights for the now-defunct Philadelphia Bulletin, which shut down in 1983. It was a relatively easy transition into the next phase of his journey, as a publicist for Bob Arum’s Top Rank, a three-decade association that is ongoing. Samuels is known for his unflappability and inexhaustible patience under pressurized conditions that would drive many sane individuals bonkers. He insists that he has never met anyone in the sport he hasn’t liked, which for most people would be a stretch but fits the personable nature of someone widely considered to be the nicest person not only in boxing, but maybe anywhere.

“It’s great to be reunited with Irving Rudd,” Samuels said of his becoming a Hall of Famer alongside his legendary mentor at Top Rank, who was 82 when he passed away on June 2, 2000. And it was Rudd, Samuels said, who taught him the value of getting writers what they need, which is a little one-on-one face time with fighters whenever possible instead of group scrums where  harried reporters shout questions in the hope of getting a usable quote or two.

“When you work for a newspaper, you have to get a story that day,” Samuels said. “I remember getting off a plane (when he was at The Bulletin) and telling Irving, “I have to speak to Ali. I’m on deadline.’ He said, `He wants to speak to you, too. He knows you’re here. Oh, and Angelo (Dundee) is with him.’”

Jutras is a Canadian judge and referee who has been involved in boxing for 30 years, and the late Rivera Martino, a Puerto Rican journalist who covered boxing for a number of publications, including The Ring, for nearly 60 years, beginning in the 1940s.

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

Bernard Fernandez

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Ralph "Tiger" Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Jones?

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

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

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

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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

David A. Avila

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L.A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Title Fight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super middleweights may be the new showcase division.

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

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

El Cholos

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

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

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

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

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

Pacman and Broner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Luis Mejia / TCB Promotions

Fights to watch

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

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

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

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

Arne K. Lang

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Crawford vs Khan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the hype begin.

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