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33 Boxing Notables Name Their Top ‘Must-See-TV’ Fighters: A New TSS Survey

Ted Sares

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must-see tv fighters

Welcome to the first Quarterly TSS Survey of 2019. The following questions were asked: In the past, what ONE fighter did you most look forward to watching on week-end TV? How about today? Who is that ONE fighter that makes work go by faster on Friday in anticipation? As always, the respondents are listed alphabetically.

JIM AMATO — author, writer, historian and collector: Whenever Roberto Duran was on TV I would try to find time to watch him. Even in the 90s when he was fighting on the USA Network. He was such a clever technician. A true master of fisticuffs. Today I enjoy watching Mikey Garcia. He’s a real throwback to yesterday’s boxers. I respect the fact that he is willing to meet the talented and bigger Errol Spence Jr. A supreme challenge. Like Duran, Arguello, Basilio, Olivares, etc…Mikey is ready to take on the very best.

RUSS ANBER — trainer, elite cornerman, and owner of Rival Boxing Equipment: The one name that popped into my head above all others was Danny “Little Red” Lopez. I believe I watched every fight he had on mainstream television, and was thrilled every time. I also remember how heartbroken I was when he lost to the great Salvador Sanchez. I loved Little Red!

MATT ANDRZEJEWSKI — TSS boxing writer: In the past it was Arturo Gatti. What can I say about Gatti that has not already been said? His fights were almost always fan friendly, high contact affairs with plenty of drama. Even his tune-up fights, like the one against Calvin Grove in 1997, turned out to be wars. Today, it is Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. He sure is exciting to watch. Just comes forward, abandoning defense, and only thinking about landing his own shots. Like Gatti, even Sor Rungvisai’s tune-up fights turn out to be exciting.

DAVID AVILATSS West Coast Bureau Chief: In the past Muhammad Ali was that fighter I would plan ahead to make time to watch. Even when he was suspended I read about anything he had to say. When he returned to boxing against Jerry Quarry, I celebrated. Today, I would say Canelo Alvarez. I saw his first fight in America and I’m amazed at his career.

BOB BENOIT — former pro fighter and current referee: Archie Moore was my favorite to look forward to in the past.  Presently, I don’t have one.

JOE BRUNO — former New York City sportswriter; prolific author: I would wait in anticipation to see any Joe Frazier fight. He gave it his all and never cheated the public. Same with Arturo Gatti. As for today, nobody comes to mind. Most of the potential great fighters are now fighting MMA which, to me, is unwatchable.

STEVE CANTONauthor and President of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame: I don’t think that I can say that there was just one fighter I looked forward to seeing on week-end TV. Growing up, I always looked forward to the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports Friday Night Fights with Don Dunphy. The fighters who appeared regularly were always a treat to watch, like Emile Griffith, Gaspar Ortega, Chico Vejar, Vince Martinez, Luis Rodriguez, Dick Tiger, Carlos Ortiz, Joe Brown, etc. etc. etc.

CHARLIE DWYERformer professional referee and member of U.S. Marine Corps Boxing Hall of Fame: Micky Ward. Win, lose or draw it was going to be a good one to watch. Today, Gennady Golovkin, a disciplined, consistent, no-nonsense fighter.

STEVE FARHOOD — Showtime announcer, former editor of The Ring magazine and 2017 IBHOF inductee: In the days of weekend network TV, the fighter I most looked forward to seeing in action was Matthew Saad Muhammad. Fortunately, he fought often in Atlantic City, so I was usually able to attend his fights. I was never surprised by the twists and turns in Saad’s fights; after half a dozen times, I came to expect them. He was thrilling–and at a very high level. And I’d put Marvin Johnson up there, too, largely because he twice fought Saad. Today, that fighter would be John Molina. While Molina is, of course, defensively weak, and hasn’t proven to be championship caliber, his fights have been as consistently entertaining–and as consistently unpredictable–as those of any fighter you can name. He may not lead the league in home runs, but nobody has hit more eight-run homers than Molina.

BERNARD FERNANDEZ — TSS mainstay and lifetime Member of the BWAA:  As a grade-school kid, I put Carmen Basilio right up there with my other sports heroes, Billy Cannon (LSU’s only Heisman Trophy winner), Bob Pettit (the NBA great and also an LSU product) and Stan Musial, who had nothing at all to do with LSU. The “Upstate Onion Farmer” was my dad’s favorite fighter, so he became mine, but I probably would have liked him anyway because he was in The Ring’s Fight of the Year five years running, from 1955-59. Later on, I was drawn to Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard, who were so alike in some ways and so different in others.

Now? I admit to having a natural affinity for Regis Prograis, partly because he is a native New Orleanian, as I am, but also because he’s an action fighter with a big punch. Other southpaws whose bouts I never want to miss are Errol Spence Jr. and, of course, Vasiliy Lomachenko, who does stuff like nobody else can.

JEFFREY FREEMAN (aka KO Digest) — TSS boxing writer: Mike Tyson was my weekend warrior back in the good old days of cable television. I’d plan my busy work schedule around Tyson’s fights, always requesting those Saturday nights off. These days, I’m most excited about Anthony Joshua’s world heavyweight title bouts. With the DAZN app loaded onto my iPhone, I never have to miss any AJ action even if I’m at a wedding in Provincetown, Massachusetts like I was when he knocked out Alexander Povetkin. Joshua’s fights are global events and I will go out of my way not to miss the flagship fighter of boxing’s resurgent flagship division.

RANDY GORDON — writer, editor, radio show host and former head of the New York State Athletic Commission: When I was in college, Joe Frazier was the man! Today, I can’t get enough of Vasiliy Lomachenko, Regis Prograis and Deontay Wilder (I just can’t pick one!).

LEE GROVES – author, writer and Wizard of CompuBox: When I first began watching boxing, the fighter I looked most forward to seeing was Danny “Little Red” Lopez because he was an incredibly exciting fighter who often had to overcome adversity before securing victory. I also admired his humility and sportsmanship, assets that stood in contrast to the destruction he had just completed inside the ring. I soon learned that was the case for many big hitters, but he was among the first I saw that demonstrated that dynamic. As for today, I can only speak as a punch-counter, so, in that vein, I look forward to counting Leo Santa Cruz because he throws a lot of punches and those punches are easy for me to see and discern. Also, because he maintains his rhythm, it makes it easier for me to maintain my rhythm.

HENRY HASCUP – historian; President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame:  That’s a tough one. I know most people would say Tyson or Pacquiao and I would agree with them, but I also liked Matthew Saad Muhammad and Arturo Gatti. They didn’t win all the time but they sure gave us our money’s worth. Regarding today, I have several but none gives me the excitement of the ones I listed above!  I love watching guys like Crawford, Spence, Alvarez,  Lomachenko, Triple G, and the Garcias, but I just can’t pick just one!

JACK HIRSCH– former President and now lifetime member of the BWAA: There is no one particular fighter I can name. If absolutely forced to, I would say Ali and Frazier for the great drama they gave to the heavyweight division in the 60’s and 70’s.

BRUCE KIELTY — boxing matchmaker, manager, and historian: Whether you liked him or hated him, Mike Tyson had the type of menacing charisma that compelled you to watch. Apparently many people felt the same way because it was once reported that Mike was responsible for 30% of HBO subscribers. Today, Errol Spence captures my attention. He has consistent excellence and poise beyond his years. More importantly, he carries himself with class, unlike so many of boxing’s ignorant buffoons.

STUART KIRSCHENBAUM – boxing commissioner emeritus, State of Michigan: Thomas Hearns fighting on national TV would have me and all of Motown watching. Without so many networks having boxing you do not have the same fan base until they reach Pay Per View, so I haven’t felt that same anticipation in years. Even a Floyd Mayweather fight you would have to mortgage your house to watch…then it would be like eating Chinese food. One hour after the fight you would feel hungry again for some action.

 JIM LAMPLEY– linchpin of the HBO announcing team; 2015 IBHOF inductee: In my youth, long before I could have envisioned working in boxing media, it was of course Muhammad Ali. Once I arrived in the sport, 1986, it was of course Mike Tyson. And regardless of recent results, among the current crop of great fighters, there are a flock of them but if you force me to choose one it is Triple G. “Big Drama Show” still applies. But as I hope my work demonstrated, for the most part I loved and appreciated them all. Collectively, they taught me about life. Their instruction in that regard is irreplaceable for me.

ARNE LANG — TSS editor-in-chief, author, historian: I really can’t think of any fighters who were “must-see TV” for me other than those I knew personally. But I became smitten with the stumpy Avtandil Khurtsidze while watching him dismantle Antoine Douglas and was very much looking forward to seeing Khurtsidze fight Billy Joe Saunders. That would have been a great style matchup. Unfortunately, Khurtsidze got swept up by U.S. federal prosecutors in a sweep of the Russian Mafia and it’s likely we will never see him again.

RON LIPTON — former fighter, retired police officer, pro referee: Back in the early 60’s after seeing Rubin Carter knock out Florentino Fernandez and Emile Griffith in one round each, he was the one I looked forward to seeing in his next fight on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports the most. Then it became Ali and Mike Tyson that generated the most anticipation for me. As to today, I have to pass on that one as an active referee.

ADEYINKA MAKINDEUK barrister, author, and contributor to the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Boxing: I always looked forward to watching Hogan Jimoh, a lightweight, and Eddie Ndukwu, a featherweight, on Nigerian TV in the late 1970’s. They were the best that Nigeria could offer in the post-Dick Tiger era and attracted sizeable crowds to the National Stadium. As for today, I can’t pick one fighter as it invariably depends on the quality of opposition they are facing. So it could be the exceedingly skillful Terence Crawford one week or the very resourceful Oleksandr Usyk on the other.

JOE PASQUALE — elite boxing judge:  I can only respond to the question as it pertains to retired boxers to avoid any conflict of interest perceptions on fighters I may be judging in the future. That said, Sugar Ray Leonard in his prime probably stands out as the one fighter I looked forward to watching on TV. His boxing IQ combined with his explosive abilities, heart and charisma always made Leonard a fighter full of intrigue for me. I am still thrilled when I watch the videos of his bouts.

J. RUSSELL PELTZ — venerable Philadelphia boxing promoter and 2004 IBHOF inductee: As a kid, Dick Tiger because there always was a chance for a knockout.  Also Sonny Liston but when I began watching late in 1959 I only saw him once with Eddie Machen. Henry Hank also was a pleasure due to his style. Emile Griffith because of his great back and shoulders. Also, Bennie Briscoe. Today, no one gets my juices going. Wilder is interesting because he can crack you at any moment in the fight.

CLIFF ROLD — boxing writer; founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board: Mike Tyson in the past, today Naoya Inoue.

FRED ROMANO — author and former ESPN researcher:  There were so many great weekend warriors from the late seventies into the 90s. I particularly looked forward to the Mancini fights, such as those against Arguello, Frias and Espana. You were always guaranteed to get a good action fight. Today, I enjoy watching Lomachenko for his unique style and excellent technique and skill. If Tuesdays were included, my throwback choice would be Foreman and his comeback fights on the USA Network.

LEE SAMUELS — Top Rank publicist and 2019 IBHOF Inductee: Years ago seeing Muhammad Ali in action was awesome – a tremendous all-action bigger-than -life champion. As a writer with the Philadelphia Bulletin we covered two of Ali’s fights – his first fight with Leon Spinks, then in his finale against Trevor Berbick. Ali was a dynamic athlete, full of life and mischief in media rooms and always had something unique to say about his opponents. As far as today’s champions, Bob Arum said it best when he noted “Vasiliy  Lomachenko reminds me of Muhammad  Ali.” Loma, the greatest amateur of our time, is an unpredictable force who attacks from a variety of angles and is unquestionably the most exciting athlete in the ring today. Which brings us to Terence Crawford who amazingly takes time, rhythm and space to figure out his challenger and – while facing hard punching – finds a route to where he can take out his opponent in spectacular fashion. He is a must-see champion in the game of boxing right now.”

 ICEMAN JOHN SCULLY — former boxer; manager, trainer, TV commentator, writer, historian: When I was coming up as a kid watching weekend TV fights I never missed an Aaron Pryor fight. I remember him getting knocked down once and before the referee could even start an eight count he had done sort of a somersault while on the canvas and lifted himself off the canvas and started punching at his opponent before the guy could even get his hands back up. Never missed his fights after that.

Today I’m not as drawn to as many guys because they aren’t as visible as they were back when the three major networks along with USA and ESPN were showing fights on a weekly basis but I’d say in terms of action and watching someone who you know is going to produce or at least try as hard as he can to produce some fireworks every time he steps in there, Id’ say that Deontay Wilder is a must-watch type of guy.

 TED SARES — TSS writer: In the past it was Bobby Chacon. I watched him fight Olivares, Little Red, then two with Boza Edwards and three with Limon. It was scotch and cigar time each time. Today, it’s a tie between Loma simply because he does things I have never seen before, and Wilder because the concussive end can come at any time in the fight.

PETER SILKOV — boxing writer: In the past, (80s/90s) there was a whole host of fighters who would make me look forward to Friday and Saturdays, unfortunately, that isn’t the case now. If I had to pick one fighter from recent years who I have followed avidly it would be Roman Gonzalez, closely followed by GGG and Kovalev. Unfortunately, all three now seem to be at the end of their careers. If I had to pick a fighter for right now it would be Usyk, followed by Tyson Fury.

ALAN SWYER — filmmaker, writer, and producer of the acclaimed El Boxeo: As a very young kid, I couldn’t wait to see Sugar Ray Robinson, especially when he was scheduled to fight Basilio. Today, the guy I most look forward to seeing is Terence Crawford. For an in-depth interview with Alan Swyer about “El Boxeo” please CLICK HERE

GARY “DIGITAL” WILLIAMS –the voice of “Boxing on the Beltway”:  For me in the 80’s, it was Hector “Macho” Camacho. It was a lot of fun watching him during that time. He seemed to be a very cool character and someone fresh for that time.

BEAU WILLIFORD – former trainer and manager and Mr. Boxing in Louisiana’s Cajun Country: When I was a very young boy, my father took me to Lee Field House at Fort Bragg to see Rocky Marciano vs. Archie Moore. I became a huge fan of both. My favorite weekend boxer was Gaspar Ortega. Today I get excited when “Canelo” Alvarez is boxing.

 PETER WOOD — former boxer and author of several books including The Boy Who Hit Back — There was once a wild heavyweight–a large human-shaped piece of muscle. He was dripping in id and marinated in pure ego. He was the only fighter who bested Muhammad Ali in a pre-fight press conference, calling Ali a “chicken…cheep! cheep! cheep!” and “a black kangaroo”. He was the only fighter who was ever able to knock Joe Frazier down twice in one round. He was the only fighter to be disqualified in the Pan-American Games for biting Lee Carr’s shoulder, and the only fighter to be shot dead at the Mustang whorehouse in Nevada–Oscar Bonavena. RIP … Today? Tyson Fury is an interesting character. He is cut out of the same maniacal cloth–id and ego.

Observations:

A very wide range of answers with Ali, Frazier, and Tyson being mentioned the most. As for today, Lomachenko, Spence, Crawford and Wilder get the nod but not by much.

Peter Wood’s contribution was especially enjoyable because it reflected his special way of writing. And Jim Lampley’s was as poignant as they get.

Many thanks to all the contributors.

P.S. How about you? Is there one particular fighter — past or present – who has you waiting for Saturday with bated breath?

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and Strongman competitors. He is a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA).

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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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