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Boxing Obituaries 2018 PART ONE: (A-G)

Arne K. Lang

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boxing obituaries

An otherwise up year for boxing was unfortunately mottled by many somber notes as the “10 count” was tolled for an inordinately high number of notable boxing personalities. This year, our annual obits compilation is running in two parts with the decedents listed alphabetically.

Ramon Pina Acevedo – A prominent lawyer and political figure in the Dominican Republic, Pina was the first President of the World Boxing Organization (WBO). On Feb. 7 in Santo Domingo at age 96.

Steve Acunto – Honored by the BWAA in 1998 for “long and meritorious service,” Acunto dedicated his life to the betterment of boxing. A man who wore many hats – e.g. judge, commissioner, YMCA boxing coach – he campaigned successfully to get his friend Rocky Marciano on a U.S. postage stamp. On Feb. 1 at age 101 in Mount Vernon, NY, his home for 86 years.

Phil Alessi – The founding owner of a bakery/deli that is a local institution in Tampa, Alessi promoted or co-promoted more than 300 boxing shows, many of which aired on the USA Cable network. On May 6 at age 74 from complications of diabetes.

Dave Anderson – One of only three sportswriters to win the Pulitzer Prize (Red Smith and Jim Murray are the others), Anderson, a 2008 IBHOF inductee, spent more than three decades at the New York Times. He collaborated with Sugar Ray Robinson on his memoir and authored “In This Corner” (subtitled “Great Boxing Trainers Talk About Their Art”). In Cresskill, New Jersey, on Oct. 4 at age 89.

Vic Andreetti – A stablemate of Henry Cooper, Andreetti was 51-13-3 in a career that began in 1961. Late in his career he won the British 130-pound title from three-time rival Des Rea. In retirement he ran a pub in London’s East End and for a time was the trainer of Nigel Benn. In London on March 16 at age 76 of cancer.

Marijan Benes – He represented Yugoslavia in the 1976 Olympics and as a pro fought for the WBA 154-pound title, losing a 15-round decision to Ayub Kalule in Denmark. He was 32-6-1 when he had to quit boxing because of an eye injury. He was suffering from Alzheimer’s and wheelchair-bound when he died in Banja Luka, Bosnia, on Sept 4 at age 67.

Markus Beyer – A two-time Olympian and three-time WBC super middleweight world title holder, Beyer compiled a 35-3-1 record while defeating such notables as Richie Woodhall, Eric Lucas, and Danny Green (twice). In retirement he worked as a TV boxing analyst in his native Germany. In Berlin on Dec. 3 at age 47 of an undisclosed illness.

Bert Blewett – A man synonymous with boxing in his native South Africa, Blewett quit his job as an accountant in 1978 to focus exclusively on the sweet science which he served as a journalist, referee, judge, and magazine publisher. On Jan. 23 in Durban, S.A. at age 84.

Aureliano Bolognesi – Reportedly 140-1 as an amateur, Bolognesi won the gold medal as a lightweight at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. As a professional he was 17-2-2. In Genoa, Italy, on March 30 at age 87.

Monroe Brooks – Brooks (50-8-3, 34 KOs) fought extensively at the Olympic Auditorium where he made his pro debut and in Sacramento where he developed a loyal following. He fought Saensak Muangsurin in Thailand for the WBC 130-pound title and fought Roberto Duran in Madison Square Garden, but in LA is best remembered for his 1978 war with Bruce Curry at the Olympic. At age 65 in Los Angeles.

Charlie “White Lightning” Brown – Brown was barely 19 years old when he knocked Alfredo Escalera into retirement, outpointing the former long-reigning 130-pound champion at Madison Square Garden. With his boyish good looks the world was his oyster, but after opening his career 24-0 he faded fast. Brown lost the use of his legs two years ago when he was hit by a car. He was 53 years old and suffering from dementia when he died at age 53 on August 13 in an East Moline, Illinois nursing home.

Enzo Calzaghe – An Italian-born Welsh boxing trainer, Enzo steered his Hall of Fame son Joe Calzaghe into a world champion in two weight divisions. He also tutored future world title holders Enzo Maccarinelli, Gavin Rees, and Nathan Cleverly. On Sept. 17 at age 69 in Newcastle, Wales. No cause of death was listed.

Leopoldo Cantancio – He represented the Philippines as a lightweight in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. Cantancio never turned pro but stayed involved in the sport including a stint as the head coach of the Philippines national team. On April 20 at age 54 in a motorcycle crash while returning from a boxing tournament.

Franco Cavicchi – A small heavyweight by today’s standards, Cavicchi compiled a 71-14-4 record with 45 knockouts in an 11-year career that began in 1952. In 1956, he defeated Heinz Neuhaus to win the European heavyweight title but lost it in his first defense to Ingemar Johansson. In Bologna on Aug. 23 at age 90.

Al Certo – A tailor by trade who had 10 pro fights (winning nine) under his birth name Al Certisimo, Certo was a larger-than-life character who at various times was a manager, promoter, matchmaker, trainer, and booking agent. Under his management, 2019 IBHOF inductee James “Buddy” McGirt won world titles in two weight classes. On Dec. 26 in Secaucus, NJ, at age 90.

Don Chargin – A licensed boxing promoter in California for an incredible 69 years, Chargin is best remembered as the matchmaker at LA’s fabled Olympic Auditorium, a post he held for 21 years beginning in 1964. A great ambassador for boxing, he was inducted into the IBHOF in 2001 and lived to see his late wife Lorraine inducted this year. On Sept. 28 in San Luis Obispo, CA at age 90.

Chartchoi Chionoi – Active from 1959 to 1975, Thailand’s Chionoi, dubbed “Little Marciano,” was a two-time world flyweight champion. Parkinson’s disease hastened his death on Jan. 21 at age 75 in Bangkok.

Billy Collins – Active from 1958 to 1965, Collins quit the sport with a 38-17-1 record after losing a 12-round decision to future welterweight champion Curtis Cokes. On Jan. 9 at age 81 in his hometown of Memphis.

Christian Daghio – Born in Italy, Daghio operated a gym in Thailand devoted to Muay Thai and other combat sports. On Oct. 26, he was knocked out cold in the 12th round of a WBC sanctioned match in Rangsit, Thailand, and never regained consciousness. It was his 11th documented fight as a conventional boxer. He was 49 years old.

David Defiagbon – A native Nigerian who moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Defiagbon was Canada’s heavyweight representative in the 1996 Olympics, winning a silver medal. 21-2 as a pro, he died in Las Vegas on Nov. 24 at age 48 of heart complications.

Piero Del Papa – Active from 1960 to 1972, Del Papa compiled a 45-11-4 record and had two reigns as the European light heavyweight champion. In 1971 he challenged Vicente Rondon for the WBA 175-pound world title and was stopped in the opening round. On Oct. 27 in Pisa, Tuscany, his birthplace, at age 80.

Marty Denkin – He refereed hundreds and judged thousands of fights during his 40-plus years on the Southern California boxing scene. For a time he ran the LA office for the State Athletic Commission. Denkin played himself in several movies and owns the distinction of being the only man to count out Rocky Balboa. On Nov. 29 at his home in West Covina, California at age 84.

Leo DiFiore – Coming up the ladder, DiFiore, a junior lightweight, developed an avid following in his hometown of Portland, Maine, which in the 1960s and 1970s was one of America’s busiest boxing towns. He devolved into a journeyman, finishing with a record of 69-33-2. At age 69 in Portland after a decade-long battle with dementia.

Chris Edwards – He lost six of his first seven fights but went on to become a three-time British flyweight champion. A great spoiler, he won a Lonsdale belt outright before retiring in 2012. At age 41 in his hometown of Stoke-on-Trent of an apparent heart attack.

Royce Feour – A retired sportswriter, he spent 37 years at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, covering the boxing beat for 25 of those years. In 1996, the BWAA honored Feour with the Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism. He died on or about Dec. 23 in Las Vegas at age 79 after a lingering illness.

Jorge Fernandez – A welterweight, Fernandez was 117-10-3 with 84 knockouts in a career that began in 1953 and spanned three decades. He was stopped in the ninth round by three-time rival Emile Griffith in one of the first title fights held in Las Vegas and subsequently lost a narrow 12-round decision to Carlos Monzon in a bout billed for the Argentina middleweight title. In Buenos Aires at age 82.

Dean Francis – A Bristol man who last fought in 2014 and finished his career with a record of 34-5-1, Francis won European and British titles at 168 and then returned from a career-threatening shoulder injury to win domestic titles as a light heavyweight and cruiserweight. On May 25 at age 44 from cancer.

Joey Giambra – The “Buffalo Adonis,” Giambra, a middleweight, compiled a 65-10-2 record and was never stopped in a career that began in 1949. He won two of three against future Hall of Famer Joey Giardello and participated in the first recognized title fight in the 154-pound division, losing a 15-round decision to Denny Moyer in Portland, Oregon, Moyer’s hometown. On March 2 in Las Vegas at age 86.

Chuck Giampa – A Las Vegas insurance broker, Giampa judged more than 2,500 fights from 1985 to 2008. He was also a boxing consultant for Showtime and wrote a column for The Ring magazine. At age 75 in Las Vegas after a lengthy illness.

George “Bunny” Grant – From Kingston, Jamaica, Grant was 52-15-5 in a career that consumed 681 rounds. In his fourth year as a pro in 1962, he outpointed Dave Charnley to win the British Empire lightweight title and went on to fight Eddie Perkins for the WBA/WBC lightweight title, losing a 15-round decision. In Kingston on Nov. 1 at age 78 after a series of strokes.

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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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