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Ortiz’s Upset Ended a Long Night in Philly, and Much Longer Wait for the Met

Bernard Fernandez

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Met

As the featured attractions of the evening were preparing to enter the ring and make history of sorts,  ring announcer Mark Fratto enthusiastically reminded the sellout crowd of 3,400-plus that what was about to happen was “the first main event here in 65 years!”

Put in that perspective, what had already been a long day’s journey into night, or more accurately a long night’s journey toward very early the next morning, didn’t seem that long at all. True, the first bout of a very full pugilistic dance card – 10 fights in all, with another canceled because of an unspecified “medical condition” involving one of the would-be participants – began right on time at 7 p.m., but over 4½ hours had elapsed when the scorecards for lightweight Steven Ortiz’s unanimous, eight-round decision over fellow Philadelphian Jeremy Cuevas were read by Fratto. Figure on a show that would have lasted five hours had that 11th fight taken place, or if three fights that did happen not ended in the first round, with two more only making it to round two.

But here’s the thing: boxing at the exquisitely refurbished The Met Philadelphia, which had not been the site of a boxing event since 1954, was back in the fight game, and back with a high enough entertainment quotient that few if any spectators left early because of fatigue, boredom or short attention spans.

“We’re just blessed,” Manny Rivera, president of Hard Hitting Promotions, said of the first of what he plans to be six fight cards at The Met in 2019, the next scheduled for April 26. “We had a turnout of about 3,350, maybe 3,400 (capacity for boxing had been pegged at be 3,200). I knew it could happen, but it is humbling to know that we have the support that we have. The people got their money’s worth that was more important to me than anything. We said we’re here to put on good, competitive fights, and we delivered.”

But Rivera – who snagged the coveted boxing tie-in with Live Nation Philadelphia, the concert promotional company that controls other usage dates at The Met, the erstwhile Metropolitan Opera House which over the past 18 months underwent a $56 million transformation to the historic building’s former opulence – didn’t have the total level of the satisfaction he might have had, the large audience notwithstanding. Two of Hard Hitting’s more important assets, Cuevas and super lightweight Samuel Teah, each lost his bout for a vacant Pennsylvania State championship. Then again, Rivera can justifiably note that he didn’t shortchange the paying customers by feeding a couple of his headliners no-hope opponents, as so often is the case with cards more geared toward padding the records of the favored few.

Cuevas, now 11-1 with eight victories inside the distance, might have preferred a softer touch than he got in Ortiz (10-0, 3 KOs), who floored him in the second and seventh rounds of the scheduled eight-rounder en route to a surprisingly wide margin of victory on the scorecards submitted by James Kenney (79-71) and Dewey LaRosa and Ron McNair (each 78-72).

Although Cuevas declined to be interviewed, his disappointment at being tagged with his first professional defeat elicited a familiar reaction from previously undefeated fighters whose initial reaction is that their dreams have come crashing down, never to be resurrected. “He was, like, `It’s all over, it’s all over,’” said his mom. Cuevas’ cornermen were a bit more pragmatic, vowing that their guy’s somewhat surprising comeuppance from Ortiz would simply serve as a learning experience, a useful building block on the way back to bigger and better things.

An exuberant Ortiz, on the other hand, thought he had just laid such a building block. He had helped prepare for Cuevas, a highly mobile southpaw with decent pop, in part through sparring sessions with Luis Collazo, the 37-year-old former welterweight champion and still a pretty slick lefthander at this advanced stage of his career.

“I’m excited. I’m glad I made history,” Ortiz, from North Philly, said of the distinction of being the first winning main-event fighter in the long-delayed return of boxing to The Met. “I got a win over a great fighter, and the crowd was a sellout. This is amazing, man. I’m impressed with myself.”

Ortiz’s 33.3 percent knockout rate coming in suggested a lack of punching power, but he didn’t just floor Cuevas with a left hook in the closing seconds of round two, he shook him, badly. That shot either had the effect of taking some of the spring out of Cuevas’ legs, or convincing him that he needed to stand and trade more to make up for lost ground. Either way, it didn’t work as he again went to the canvas after getting nailed by an overhand right in round seven.

“The power was there,” Ortiz said. “We’re definitely going to start getting more guys out of there. It comes with experience, with discipline, with staying focused. We’re going to keep getting better, we’re going to keep getting stronger, we’re going to keep getting smarter.”

The Ortiz-Cuevas fight was good stuff, and it had to be, given that the preceding bout – an eight-round unanimous decision for Baltimore welterweight Malik Hawkins (14-0, 9 KOs) over Gledwin Ortiz (6-3, 5 KOs) – was main-event worthy. No knockdowns were registered, but Hawkins’ heavier hands made the difference the active and very game Ortiz (no relation to Steven Ortiz), whose bleached blond hairstyle would make him the winner of a Jarrett Hurd (he’s the IBF/WBA super welterweight champion) lookalike contest, if there were such a thing. Scores were 79-73, 79-74 and 77-75, all for Hawkins.

Teah (15-3-1, 7 KOs), from Northeast Philly by way of his native Liberia, couldn’t come close to solving the southpaw stylings of Tre’Sean Wiggins (11-4-1, 6 KOs) in an eight-rounder for the vacant Pennsylvania State super lightweight title. That almost was to be expected, Teach having lost an eight-round majority decision to another lefthander, Montana Love, on Feb. 2, 2018.

“Typically Sammy has problems with southpaws,” said Rivera, who thus might not have done Teah any favors by making this particular bout. “But Sammy has fights he needs to take, and win. Tonight he couldn’t pull it off, but he’ll be back.”

Some found it curious that Wiggins, who was introduced as being from Newburgh, N.Y., was fighting for a Pennsylvania state championship. Rivera, however, said it was a legit pairing, that Wiggins was only born in Newburgh and that he now resides in Johnstown, Pa.

The most emphatic ending of the night was registered by super lightweight Brandon Pizarro (14-1, 7 KOs), a 19-year-old up-and-comer who put Zack Ramsey (8-6, 4 KOs), of Springfield, Mass., down twice in the opening round, the first time on a left hook to the body, the second, for the full count, on a left uppercut.

Super featherweight Gadwin Rosa (10-0, 8 KOs), of Ocala, Fla., remained undefeated with a second-round stoppage of Jorge Luis Santos (5-3-1, 2 KOs), of Mexico.  Also extending an unblemished record was another super featherweight, Puerto Rico’s Christian Tapia (8-0, 7 KOs), who also required just two rounds to put away David Veras Pena (0-2-1) on a second-round TKO.

In other bouts, bantamweight Emanuel Rodriguez (4-0), of Newark, N.J., took a four-round unanimous decision over Jose Lopez (0-1-1), Bronx, N.Y.; light heavyweight Benjamin Sinakin (3-0, 2 KOs), South Philly, bombed out fellow Philly guy Ronald Lawrence (0-4) in one round; Josue Rosa (1-0, 1 KO), Philly, turned pro with what goes into the books as a first-round stoppage when Willie Anderson (0-2), Paulsboro, N.J., did not come out for the second round, citing injury, and bantamweights Tamar Israeli (2-0-1, 2 KOs) and Karen Dullin (3-16-1, 1 KOs), North Kingstown, R.I., fought to a four-round majority draw in a women’s matchup.

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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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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