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Three Punch Combo: Two Recent Upsets Trigger Memories of Forgotten Fights

Matt Andrzejewski

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upsets win world titles

THREE PUNCH COMBO — There is just something magical about a longshot overcoming seemingly unsurmountable odds to accomplish a major feat in boxing such as winning a world title.

Earlier this month, undefeated 130-pound champion Alberto Machado defended his title against Andrew Cancio in Indio, CA. Cancio (pictured) was considered a solid pro, but he had been outclassed on the occasions when he stepped up his level of opposition and few expected him to remotely compete with Machado. But Cancio elevated his game and sprung an unthinkable upset, stopping Machado in the fourth round to become a world champion. Cancio’s incredible backstory has since been well documented by several media outlets.

In terms of shock value, Cancio’s upset was mindful of another recent upset, Caleb Traux’s monster upset of James DeGale in December of 2017. Truax traveled to the UK to challenge 168-pound title-holder DeGale.  He was given no shot to win; most doubted that he would be competitive. But Truax overcame the odds and shocked the boxing world winning a majority decision to become a world title-holder. Truax’s story of overcoming incredible odds to dethrone DeGale became the feel good boxing story of 2017.

The underdog stories of Truax and Cancio are still fresh in our minds. But often times, such stories become somewhat forgotten as time passes. In this week’s three punch combo, I will look at three other incredible underdog stories that all occurred in 1997. They were all equally as heartwarming as those of Truax and Cancio.

Keith Mullings vs. Terry Norris, 12/06/1997

In 1997, 154-pound champion Terry Norris left his promoter Don King to sign with Top Rank with the express purpose of securing a big money fight against Oscar De La Hoya. After winning two non-title fights under the Top Rank banner against low level opponents, Norris was placed on the same pay-per-view card as De La Hoya who would be defending his WBC world welterweight title against Wilfredo Rivera. Top Rank was planting the seeds for a De La Hoya-Norris showdown the following year. Not wanting to take any chances, they selected a seemingly safe opponent for Norris in Keith Mullings.

Mullings entered with a record of 14-4-1. He had one win in his last six fights. However, Mullings was coming off a controversial split decision loss to another 154-pound champion in Raul Marquez three months earlier in a fight many believed Mullings deserved to win. The performance against Marquez gave Mullings credibility but his limited skills did not leave many to believe that he could compete with an elite fighter like Norris.

For the first seven rounds, the script seemed to be going according to plan. Norris boxed effectively using his left jab to control range and landing combinations behind that punch. He was seemingly in total control of the fight.

In round eight, Norris’s movement slowed and Mullings began to land on a more stationary target. Although not known as a puncher, he dropped Norris with a hard right hand. Norris survived the round but Mullings came out aggressive to start round nine. After reigning punch after punch on Norris in the first minute of the round, referee Tony Perez stepped in to save Norris from more punishment.

Mullings would make one successful defense of his title three months later, stopping Davide Ciarlante in round five, but that would be the last win of his career. He would lose his title in his next outing to Javier Castillejo and then lose three more times before hanging up the gloves for good in 2001.

Mauricio Pastrana vs. Michael Carbajal, 01/18/1997

Entering 1997, 108-pound champion Michael Carbajal had only two losses on his resume in 46 professional fights. Both losses had come in 1994 to the great Humberto Gonzalez. One was by majority decision and one by split decision. Carbajal had won 12 fights in a row following the second defeat to Gonzalez and was still considered to be in the prime of his Hall of Fame career as he entered a title defense against unknown Mauricio Pastrana on January 18th, 1997.

Pastrana had an undefeated record of 15-0 with 13 of those wins coming by knockout. But he had fought nobody of note, feasting on inferior competition in his native Columbia. He was given literally no shot by most in boxing to even be competitive with the much more experienced and seemingly more skilled Carbajal. As a matter of fact, so little was thought of Pastrana that during the beginning of the fight a promo was run hyping Carbajal’s next scheduled title defense in March.

The first two rounds were largely feeling-out type rounds. In round three, Pastrana announced his presence, shaking Carbajal with a hard right hand. From there, Pastrana upped his output using an effective well-timed stinging left jab to set up his combinations. He outworked Carbajal and landed the cleaner punches as the fight progressed. Carbajal certainly had his moments in what became a surprisingly exciting fight but in the end the judges preferred the activity and cleaner punching of Pastrana who would win a split decision.

Pastrana made two successful defenses against overmatched foes before losing his belt on the scales before a scheduled title defense in August of 1998. In his next fight, he would capture an interim title belt in the flyweight division but that would be his last success in any major title fight. He never was able to replicate the performance he had against Carbajal. Along the way, Pastrana suffered defeats to some big names including Rafael Marquez, Celestino Caballero, Jhonny Gonzalez and Gary Russell Jr. Following a knockout loss to Mikey Garcia in 2012, Pastrana retired with a final professional record of 35-17-2.

Uriah Grant vs. Adolpho Washington, 06/21/1997

In his second pro fight, Uriah Grant was fed to debuting 1984 Olympic Heavyweight Gold Medalist Henry Tillman and was knocked out in the second round. Three fights later, Grant was selected as an opponent for prospect Ricky Womack and dropped a six round decision. It appeared that Grant’s career was ticketed to being that of a journeyman.

Grant’s career would bounce up and down following the Womack loss. With a lack of depth in the cruiserweight division, Grant did get opportunities at bigger fights and even world title bouts but continued to fall short when he stepped up in class. The journeyman tag seemed appropriate as he entered his 13th year as a pro in 1997 with a pedestrian record of 25-12.

In August of 1996, Adolpho Washington traveled to Spain and scored a unanimous decision victory over the previously undefeated Torsten May to win a cruiserweight title. The win moved Washington’s record to 26-3-2. After a bit of a layoff, Washington settled on a title defense against Grant to help shake off the rust.

Stuffed deep on a Don King promoted card in Florida, the fight was thought to be a mismatch with no US television interested and barely anyone in attendance. But in an absolute shocker, Grant defeated Washington by split decision. The unheralded cruiserweight went from journeyman to world champion overnight.

Unfortunately for Grant, his championship reign would be short. Five months later in his first title defense, he was out-boxed by Imamu Mayfield losing a unanimous decision.

Grant would not fight for a major title again, but in 2000 he would gain a little more notoriety when he defeated a faded Thomas Hearns. Four years after defeating Hearns and following a string of losses, Uriah Grant retired with a final record of 30-21.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Hogan Photos / Golden Boy Promotions

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Chris Arreola is Back!

Ted Sares

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Chris Arreola

Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola is an emotional and very likable guy. Over the course of his career, there have been ups and downs providing the grist for a compelling story if one were inclined to write it. He’ll kiss a beaten opponent (Joey Abell) or cry if beaten (Vitali Klitschko) and his language during a post-fight interview is, well it’s special.

After his corner stopped the fight following the 10th round with Klitschko, and with tears streaming down his cheeks, he thanked the fans (as is his wont) and later, while being interviewed in the ring, said  “F–k that, I’m coming back.”

It was his first loss after 26 straight wins out of the professional gate. For that “terrible” indiscretion, he was punished by the selectively politically correct World Boxing Council. WBC president José Sulaimán proposed a six months ban for vulgar language and the ban was approved by the WBC Board of Governors.

Arreola, who rarely uses filters, was brutally candid again after his first round KO over Erik Molina in 2012. The Nightmare cut loose on Don King, Molina’s promoter, calling him a “f—ing a–hole and a racist,” causing Showtime’s Jim Gray to  terminate the post-fight interview forthwith. “Honestly Don King called me a wetback, and other Mexicans,” Arreola told Fightnews.com. “That’s a strong word. It’s like me dropping N bombs. You don’t say things like that.”

No ban this time.

Arreola’s weight varies but when he is fit and ready (and under 250), he is a very dangerous heavyweight, especially in the early rounds. Once he has his opponent hurt, there are few boxers who can close as well as this Southern California Mexican American tough guy who was an accomplished amateur fighter and knows his way around the ring.

His level of opposition has been stiff. In fact, his five losses have been to fighters who have held world titles at one time or another. Bermane Stiverne had Chris’s number and beat him twice—the second time by way of a nasty knockout. However, he has a number of solid wins over the likes of Malcom Tann, Chazz Witherspoon, Travis Walker, Jameel McCline, Brian Minto, Curtis Harper –yes, that Curtis Harper who gave Chris all he could handle — and many others who came in with fine records. His first round blowout of once promising Seth Mitchell was quintessential Arreola. Mitchell retired after the fight.

In July 2016, The Nightmare was stopped by Deontay Wilder in yet another title bid but he did not disgrace himself. He then took off for over two years to assess whether he wanted to continue. Boxing fans pretty much forgot about him. Few took notice when he came back to stop the very stoppable Maurenzo Smith on the Wilder-Fury undercard on Dec. 1 of last year.

Fast Forward

Last weekend, on the undercard of the huge Errol Spence Jr. vs. Mikey Garcia PPV fight in Dallas, “The Nightmare” was matched against unbeaten but unheralded Jean Pierre Augustin (17-0-1).

Chris, now 38, came in at a svelte 237 pounds and looked fit and ready to go. The weary look on Augustin’s face during the announcement said it all. True to form, Arreola was in blowout mode and stopped the Haitian who simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Arreola wobbled Augustin with a brutally hard jab that connected flush to his face in the third round. After more heavy shots, a bloodied Augustin went down and upon getting up, was battered until the referee halted matters. Chris closed things like he had done on so many other occasions and in front of millions of fans tuning in around the world.

With a female interviewer, the elated “Nightmare” was polite during the post-fight ceremonies and, holding his daughter, signaled that he is BACK! That’s good news for boxing fans because when Chris Arreola is fit and focused, he is entertaining and very competitive.

With a current record of 38-5-1 with 2 ND (the “no-contests” resulting from Chris‘s apparent affinity for non-medicinal marijuana), a fight with someone like Adam Kownacki would be a boxing fan’s dream.

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and Strongman competitors and plans to compete in at least three events in 2019. 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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Nobody Wants to Fight Dillian Whyte

Kelsey McCarson

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Dillian Whyte

Dillian Whyte is one of the most dangerous fighters in the world. The 30-year-old is a former British heavyweight titleholder, a former kickboxing prodigy and an undefeated mixed martial artist. Overall, Whyte’s professional fighting record is a sterling 46-2. He’s 25-1 as a boxer, 20-1 as a K1 kickboxer and 1-0 as an MMA fighter.

So while the battle rages on between various television networks and streaming platforms over securing the top talent in the heavyweight division, one that includes Tyson Fury signing a multi-fight deal with ESPN and Deontay Wilder reportedly mulling over his future with PBC, perhaps something just as important right now is that the single most dangerous and deserved heavyweight contender in the world remains without a dance partner for his next fight.

Never mind Whyte being the No. 1 ranked contender by the World Boxing Council. That sanctioning body instead deemed Dominic Breazeale the mandatory challenger to Wilder’s WBC title after the potential rematch between Wilder and Fury fell by the wayside.

Here’s all that needs to be said about that grift. Breazeale only had to defeat Eric Molina to get his mandatory title shot while the WBC wanted Whyte to face Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz, one of the top heavyweights in the sport.

And nobody seems to care that Whyte gave unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua the toughest test of his career (this side of Wladimir Klitschko anyway), when the two squared off in 2015 for the British and Commonwealth titles. Despite the obvious talent gap between the two fighters, Whyte gave the young Joshua just about all the former Olympic champion could handle in a seven-round war.

To hear Whyte tell the story, promoter Eddie Hearn must have intentionally lowballed Whyte for the proposed 2019 rematch in order to ensure Joshua could invade America on June 1 against the likely less dangerous Jarrell Miller. That makes sense for Joshua from a monetary perspective, but it doesn’t do the same in terms of true competitiveness.

According to various reports, Whyte is currently considering a multi-fight deal to appear on ESPN, a move that would give the British battler a path to facing Fury who some consider the lineal heavyweight champion. Fury recently signed a multi-fight deal to be co-promoted by Bob Arum for appearances on the U.S.-based television network ESPN. It’s the move that shelved a potential Wilder rematch and also opened up a huge can of worms in regards to what kinds of fights Fury might actually be able to secure. Currently, the Top Rank-promoted stable of heavyweights is best characterized by fighters who don’t really move the needle in regards to title challenges, fighters like Oscar Rivas, Bryant Jennings and Kubrat Pulev.

Overall, though, the main problem about the heavyweight landscape is that there are three heavyweights who all have a claim to being heavyweight champion. IBF, WBA and WBO champion Joshua is promoted by Hearn and exclusive to DAZN. WBC champ Wilder is attached to the PBC whose television partnerships include Showtime and Fox. Fury is set to embark on his own ESPN crusade. Long story short, these guys probably aren’t fighting each other anytime soon.

Worse is that while all three men are in desperate need of viable opponents, none have seemed all that interested in tussling with Whyte.

It’s no wonder. As good as Whyte has been over the course of his 7-year professional boxing career, the scariest thing about the fighter is that he always seems to be getting better. In his last two fights, Whyte outfought talented former titleholder Joseph Parker and knocked out gritty UK heavyweight Dereck Chisora. In defeating Parker, Whyte was facing someone absolutely in need of a win to maintain his status among heavyweight contenders. In beating Chisora, Whyte was in tough against an opponent he had only defeated by split-decision two years prior. Both wins illustrate just how far Whyte has come as a professional prizefighter.

As it stands, Whyte is the clear top contender among all heavyweights, especially among those who have not yet been granted a shot at a world title. He’s ranked No. 4 behind Joshua, Fury and Wilder by The Ring magazine and the same by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

The only question that remains is which title claimant will prove the toughest holdout. Whyte’s ultimate choice, in whether to stick with promoter Hearn on DAZN, link up with Arum and ESPN or continue playing the WBC shell game, will probably end up being tied to which path gets him the title shot that he so desperately craves first.

And it absolutely should happen. It’s one thing to crave title opportunities and another to have earned them. Whyte’s done both now, and it’s time for boxing fans and the media to take notice. Better yet, it’s time for Joshua, Fury and Wilder to pit themselves against their most dangerous competition. Since they’re not facing each other, Whyte become the next logical choice for any or all of them.

Because Dillian Whyte is one of the best heavyweight boxers in the world, and he’s done enough by now to warrant the chance to prove it.

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The Hauser Report: St. Patrick’s Day at Madison Square Garden

Thomas Hauser

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Conlan

Boxing’s three “major leagues” showed their respective wares this past weekend. On Friday night, DAZN presented a nine-bout card in conjunction with Matchroom USA. On Saturday, Fox and Premier Boxing champions teamed up for the Errol Spence vs. Mikey Garcia pay-per-view event. Then, on Sunday, ESPN and Top Rank had their turn in the form of a St. Patrick’s Day card at Madison Square Garden headed by Belfast native and former Olympian Michael Conlan.

The star of the show was St. Patrick, the fifth-century saint widely credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. In his honor, there were three Irishmen on the card: Conlan, flyweight Paddy Barnes, and welterweight Lee Reeves. That said; there was a Hispanic flavor to the proceedings. The sixteen combatants included Eduardo Torres, Victor Rosas, Juan Tapia, Ricardo Maldonado, Adriano Ramirez, Oscar Mojica, Joseph Adorno, John Bauza, Luis Collazo, Ruben Garcia Hernandez, and two Vargases (Josue and Samuel).

Irish-Americans have a record of supporting Irish fighters, particularly on St. Patrick’s Day. This was no exception. The announced crowd of 3,712 arrived early. During the final pre-fight press conference, Top Rank president Todd duBoef had paid homage to the fans, although he did voice the view that, on St. Patrick’s Day, “Their cognitive behavior is manipulated by the beer.”

On fight night, the in-arena music was chosen accordingly. What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor? was played twice over the Hulu Theater sound system.

There was also green lighting.

Lee Reeves (2-0, 2 KOs) of Limerick, Ireland, opened the show with a four-round decision over Edward Torres.

In the third bout of the evening, Vladimir Nikitin (2-0, 0 KOs) won a majority decision over Juan Tapia. Nikitin defeated Conlan in the quarter-finals at the 2016 Olympics. Presumably, they’ll fight again at a time of maximum opportunity for Conlan.

Flyweight Paddy Barnes (5-1, 1 KO) of Belfast was a teammate of Conlan’s at the 2016 Olympics but lost in the first round to Spain’s Samuel Carmona. On St. Patrick’s Day, Barnes was matched against Oscar Mojica (11-5-1), who had one career knockout and had gone 3-5-1 in his previous nine outings.

Mojica broke Barnes’s nose in round one and knocked him down with a body shot in the second stanza (although to the mystification of those in the press section, referee Danny Schiavone waved off the knockdown). It was a spirited outing in which both men were too easy to hit for their own good. Barnes rallied nicely in the second half of the bout and arguably did enough to win the decision. But two of the three judges thought otherwise, leading to a 58-56, 58-56, 56-58 verdict in Mojica’s favor.

In the next-to-last fight of the evening, Luis Collazo (38-7, 20 KOs) took on Samuel Vargas (30-4-2, 14 KOs).

Collazo now 37 years old, reigned briefly as WBA welterweight champion twelve years ago. Since then, he had cobbled together twelve victories (an average of one per year) against six losses in eighteen fights. Vargas had one win in his previous three outings and has never been able to get the “W” against a name opponent.

It was a phone booth fight, which worked to Collazo’s advantage because Luis’s legs aren’t what they once were. The decision could have gone either way. Two judges scored the bout 96-94; one for Collazo and the other for Vargas. Frank Lombardi turned in a wide-of-the-mark 98-92 scorecard in Collazo’s favor.

Then it was time for the main event.

Conlan (10-0, 6 KOs) is best known to boxing fans for having given the finger (two middle fingers, actually) to the judges after coming out on the short end of a decision in the second round of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. His skill set is better suited to the amateur than professional ranks. But his Irish heritage is a significant marketing plus. And Top Rank specializes in both savvy matchmaking and building narratives.

This was the third consecutive year that Conlan, now a featherweight, celebrated St. Patrick’s Day weekend by fighting at Madison Square Garden. His ringwalk was marked by Irish-themed pageantry. And Ruben Garcia Hernandez, his opponent, was tailor-made for him.

Conlon controlled the fight with his jab. Nothing much else happened. “Mick” emerged victorious 100-90 on all three judges’ scorecards. And the fans went home happy because their man won.

*     *     *

The sad news that New York Mets pitching great Tom Seaver is suffering from dementia and will retire from public life is a reminder that all people from all walks of life are susceptible to the condition, not just fighters.

Seaver was on the list of A+ athletes who rose to prominence in the 1960s when advances in television were redefining the sports experience. Muhammad Ali was at the top of that list. Years ago, sportswriter Dick Schaap told me about an evening he spent with Ali and Seaver.

“In 1969, the year the Mets won their first World Series,”Schaap reminisced, “I spent the last few days of the regular season with the team in Chicago. Ali was living there at the time. I was writing a book with Tom Seaver, and the three of us went out to dinner together. We met at a restaurant called The Red Carpet. I made the introductions. And of course, this was the year that Tom Seaver was Mr. Baseball, maybe even Mr. America. Ali and Tom got along fine. They really hit it off together. And after about half an hour, Ali in all seriousness turned to Seaver and said, ‘You know, you’re a nice fellow. Which paper do you write for?’”

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Protect Yourself at All Times – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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