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A Night of Upsets on the Golden Boy Card in Hollywood

David A. Avila

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HOLLYWOOD-A night of upsets awaited those driving to Hollywood in the angry storm on Thursday night. No one survived unscathed in the film and music capital of the world.

Mercito Gesta (32-3-2) tasted defeat against Juan Antonio Rodriguez (30-7, 26 KOs) by technical knockout in their lightweight clash that was the main event at the Avalon Theater. The likeable Filipino southpaw was world ranked in the top position by one organization.

Few expected Rodriguez to battle Gesta on even terms, especially with his multiple losses, but those who had seen him perform before knew he could punch and knew he could take a punch.

It was a battle of chins and a battle between southpaws.

Rodriguez absorbed heavy blows from Gesta and at times seemed ready to surrender. But somehow he would return fire and the heavy blows continued to rain from both lefthanders.

Gesta had the speed advantage but was unable to use it effectively. For eight rounds the two blasted each other with impunity but never reckless.

Finally, in the ninth round, as Gesta decided to hit and move, Rodriguez timed one of the blows coming in and delivered an overhand left cross that staggered the former world title challenger. Rodriguez immediately sensed the moment was ripe and unloaded strategic blows on Gesta who was out-punched 20 to 2 in the last 15 seconds. Referee Zachary Young stopped the fight at 2:55 of the ninth round.

A shaky Gesta walked back to his corner.

“He was there all the time so I went to the body,” said Rodriguez. “He just stopped punching.”

The classy Gesta was generous even in defeat.

“It was a good fight,” said Gesta who is trained by Freddie Roach. “The guy was tough. He fought hard. No excuses from me…I’m a fighter, and I love challenges.”

Undefeated Welterweights

Las Vegas fighter Blair Cobb (10-0-1, 6 KOs) won the battle of undefeated welterweights by unanimous decision after eight bloody rounds with local hero Ferdinand Kerobyan (11-1, 6 KOs). The win gave Cobb (pictured) the Junior NABA title.

Kerobyan, a North Hollywood native, brought hundreds of fans to the historic Avalon Theater and cheers went up when he first arrived to the boxing ring.

Cobb, who fights out of Las Vegas but is originally from Philadelphia, arrived with his small contingent including former world champion Clarence “Bones” Adams in his corner and used his reach and speed to deliver some heavy blows early in the fight. During one of the exchanges in the first round a gash emerged above the right eye of Kerobyan. From that point on it was an uphill battle for the Armenian-American fighter. But he never quit.

After eight back and forth rounds the judges scored the fight 77-75 twice and 79-73 for Cobb.

“I give him a lot of credit for hanging in there. He was very tough, but I showed I was the superior fighter,” said Cobb. “He was a phenomenal fighter. I expected the fight to be easy.”

Featherweights

A featherweight clash between Manuel “Tito” Avila (23-1-1) and Mexico’s Jose Gonzalez (23-7-1) ended in a split draw after eight rounds of clinching. It was Northern California’s Avila’s second fight since losing to Jojo Diaz last year in Las Vegas. The bullish rushes by Gonzalez especially with his head seemed to bother Avila. After eight rounds all three judges saw it differently 77-75 for Avila, 77-75 for Gonzalez and 76-76 a split draw.

Other Bouts

You can never tell by someone’s physique who’s going to win. Muscular heavyweight James “The Beast” Wilson (7-0-1, 6 KOs) met blown up doughboy Miguel Cubos (13-20-1, 10 KOs) in what looked to be a mismatch. Even to Wilson it must have seem like easy pickings, but when he unloaded his barrage of heavy blows and could not land a damaging blow in the first round it became apparent the flabby Mexican foe from San Luis Potosi could apparently box. And he did it very well.

Wilson was determined to get the knockout especially after Cubos began taunting him with raised arms after landing his own blows. But it became apparent it was not going to happen and Wilson’s corner must have warned him not to blow his gas tank. From the third round on it was a strategic battle of wits and big blows that missed. And each time Cubos would raise his both arms a la Manny Pacquiao. The crowd cheered every time.

After six back and forth rounds of action from the two physically different heavyweights the judges scored it a majority draw with tallies of 58-56 for Wilson and two others 57-57 even.

Super lightweight David Mijares (7-0, 3 KOs) won by unanimous decision over Puerto Rico’s Antonio Sanchez (6-6-2, 3 KOs) after six rounds. Mijares was the more technically adept fighter and used his southpaw stance effectively against Sanchez. The Puerto Rican fighter had his moments especially with the right cross down the pipe. Neither fighter was ever hurt and Mijares won by scores 60-54 three times.

Oscar Acevedo (5-0) defeated tough Daniel Bastien (6-6-2) by decision after four rounds in a lightweight contest. Acevedo used his jabs and sharp combinations to keep the always aggressive Bastien from over running him. Both traded evenly especially in the last two rounds with Acevedo losing ground to Bastien. But not enough to convince the judges. The scores were 40-38, and 39-37 twice for Acevedo.

In a fight featuring a huge height disparity Chicago’s Chris Ousley (10-0, 9 KOs) took care of business against the much smaller Jorge Munguia(13-15, 5 KOs) in the first round by knockout in a super middleweight match. The first stiff jab by Ousley rocked Munguia who tried to hide behind a peek-a-boo defense to no avail. Ousley tore that defense apart with ease. A three-punch combination capped by a right uppercut sent the Honduran fighter to one knee. He beat the count but was battered by Ousley until referee Zachary Young ended it at 1:54 of the first round.

Photo credit: Alonzo Coston

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Damon Feldman, the `16 Minute Man,’ Aims to Bring His Wild Story to Silver Screen

Bernard Fernandez

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What do Jose Canseco, Tonya Harding, Rodney King, Danny Bonaduce, Joey Buttafuoco, Lindsay Lohan’s father, Vai Sikahema, El Wingador, Octomom, a semi-notorious Philadelphia TV meteorologist and an aging Philly sports writer attempting to channel his onetime inner tough guy have in common?

At first glance, most people outside of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, would conclude there couldn’t possibly be a link attaching such disparate individuals. But that assumption would be incorrect.

Meet Damon Feldman, the undefeated former super middleweight turned Celebrity Boxing huckster and unifier of all those seemingly mismatched parts. Once labeled “King of the D-List” in a Philadelphia magazine article that was something less than complimentary, the now-44-year-old Feldman is aiming for an alphabetical upgrade to another title of sorts, possibly “King of the B-Flicks.” Earlier this month he hosted a gathering at a Drexel Hill, Pa., restaurant that drew two media members (I constituted half of the press corps) and about 50 prospective donors for the movie he intends to make about his occasionally tragic, sometimes infuriating, relentlessly optimistic and thoroughly improbable life.

If enough well-heeled backers can be brought on board, 16 Minute Man, the same title as Feldman’s 2017 book that never made it onto the New York Times bestseller list, will reach silver screens nationwide sometime in 2020. He hopes to raise $50,000 in developmental money, a tiny acorn which, if all goes as planned, will transform into the mighty $5 million to $10 million oak he said it would take to make the film – if it actually advances beyond the theoretical — as much as a commercial and critical success as 2010’s The Fighter, the tale of scrappy “Irish” Micky Ward and his drug-addicted brother-trainer, Dicky Eklund, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won two.

“Jackie (Borock) and Scott (Weiner) were doing a documentary on me,” Feldman noted. “After watching Mark Wahlberg’s movie about Micky Ward, who no doubt was an accomplished fighter, I thought, `I really do have a story to tell, too.’ I wrote my book in jail (more about that later), Jackie jumped on board and, well, here we are.”

But, meanwhile, the show must go on. Feldman – that “16 Minute Man” moniker refers to the 15 minutes of fame avant garde artist Andy Warhol once predicted everyone in the future would have – figured quasi-celebrities whose time limit as public figures had expired might need some fast cash or an ego boost that would accompany a bit of renewed exposure. Those sufficiently desperate for either or both reasons thus were susceptible to the sales pitch thrown by a natural self-promoter whose thwarted dream had been to become a world champion fighter. But harsh reality has a way of sometimes morphing lofty ambition into something less grandiose. Feldman’s 68th Celebrity Boxing card will take place on June 8 at the Showboat Hotel in Atlantic City, with the main event pitting Natalie Didonato, most recently seen on the reality TV show Mob Wives, against female pro rassler Scarlett Bordaux. In the on-deck circle for June 29 in Los Angeles: Mark Wahlberg’s best friend Henry “Nacho” Laun, featured on still another reality TV series, The Wahlbergers, vs. Megan Markle’s half-brother, Thomas Markle Jr.

Just who would pay to see such low-rent matchups? Well, probably more than might be imagined. Rubber-neckers inevitably gather to see barroom brawlers or schoolyard kids go at it, and the stakes are hiked if the punch-throwers have retained even a thin vestige of fame or familiarity.

For Feldman, his legitimate goals sidetracked, the realization of the different course his life was about to take came after he was obliged to retire as an active boxer.

“I took odd jobs. I was down the (Jersey) Shore one weekend and saw these two guys fighting, a bar fight, and I thought, `We should do this in the ring,’” Feldman recalled in the Philadelphia magazine article authored by Don Steinberg which appeared in the December 2009 issue. His start was relatively modest, the staging of a Tough Guy tournament which drew eight participants of varying skill levels and 500 or so spectators for the one-night event. After expenses were paid and a winner announced, Feldman came away with a profit and the notion that what worked once would work again, and bigger, if presented as outrageously as possible and with a loquacious front man – himself –serving as carnival barker.

In retrospect, Feldman probably was destined to spend a large chunk of his life in some form of boxing.  Son of noted Philadelphia trainer Marty Feldman, his interest in the fight game and his inevitable place in it spiked when he was one of the “Faces in the Crowd” featured in the Aug. 15, 1983, issue of Sports Illustrated. There on page 69 was a photo of the then-13-year-old Damon and a caption that read: Damon Feldman, Broomall, Pa. Damon, 13, scored a second-round knockout of Joe Antepuna to win the Philadelphia Junior Olympic boxing title in the 13-and-under 112-pound class. He has been boxing since age five and has an 8-1 record with two KOs.

There was never any question that Damon, who was and still is billed as the “Jewish Rocky,” would continue to hone his craft and assume his rightful place in the family business as a pro. Maybe, if he could just catch a break, he could go even further than his dad, who fashioned a 20-3 record with 17 KOs as a hard-hitting middleweight before transitioning as a trainer, most notably as the chief second of world-rated brothers Frank “The Animal” Fletcher and Anthony “Two Guns” Fletcher, as well as IBF light heavyweight titlist “Prince” Charles Williams. Also bearing the Feldman imprimatur was Damon’s older brother David, five years his senior, who would go 4-1 with four KOs before hanging up his gloves.

Damon’s history – his mom, Dawn Feldman, who had divorced Marty, was brutally attacked by an unidentified assailant shortly after their divorce in 1974 and suffered a broken neck that left her a quadriplegic – and ethnicity made him a popular and sympathetic figure as he stitched together a 9-0 record that included four KOs. Only four years old at the time his mother was assaulted, Damon and his brother never lived with her again. It speaks well of the now-deceased Dawn that, despite her physical limitations, she became something of an artist and poet despite spending most of her remaining years in rehab facilities. Nor was she the only victim of a horrific crime that was never solved; for the next six years, until they moved in with Marty, who had been struggling to earn a living, Damon and David were human pinballs, bouncing around to three different foster homes.

Was Damon good enough to someday rise above undercard status at the Blue Horizon? He says yes, definitely. “All I ever wanted to be was a world champion,” he said. “It was my hope and dream to drive down to North Philadelphia every single day and train in the same gym as Bernard Hopkins, Robert Hines and all those guys. I wanted that belt more than anything.”

Feldman’s promoter, J Russell Peltz, said he tried to pair the likeable local kid with beatable opponents, but it would take a leap of faith to imagine him seeing his world-championship dream through to fruition. Nor is Peltz the biggest fan of Feldman as the face of low-grade Celebrity Boxing. “Damon has always been more about promoting himself than his events,” Peltz is quoted as saying in the Philadelphia magazine story. “He’s more about the sizzle than the steak.”

Whatever Feldman could have been as a fighter became a moot point when he slipped outside a grocery store in Broomall and took a nasty fall. “The curb broke as I walked off it and I just fell,” he recalled. “I hit my neck and my head, messed my disk up.” He never fought again, at least in a sanctioned bout, and, despondent and angry about his adjusted circumstances, entered into what might be described as the infuriating and reprehensible phase of a topsy-turvy existence.

Although he tried his hand at promoting legitimate fight cards, five of which came off, Feldman proved to be less than an exemplary businessman as well as something of a loose cannon. He began drinking more heavily until it became a problem, although he is adamant in refusing to state he is or ever was an alcoholic. His promoter’s license was revoked by the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission when, in 2005, an argument over tickets and money at a pre-fight meeting turned violent. The other promoter placed his hand upon an increasingly agitated Feldman, who scored a one-punch knockout with a left hook.

Even worse, in October 16, 2016, he struck a woman, with whom he had been involved romantically, several times with a closed fist and enough force that police, upon arriving at her home, found her bleeding from the nose, head and face.

Feldman served 13 months of a two-year jail sentence after pleading guilty to simple assault and recklessly endangering another person. He now says the incident that led to his incarceration was the “stupidest mistake of my life, but I learned from it and I came back. I’m not a quitter.”

So why is Feldman, who said this most recent redemptive chapter of his thick volume of ups and downs owes in large part to his parental devotion to his 12-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter, still as much or more of a celebrity as the D-Listers who populate his fight cards? It might be because, warts and all, he’s essentially an impassioned salesman of himself and his brand. He has been a guest on Howard Stern’s nationally broadcast radio program, at last count, 10 times and on Philadelphia drive-time sports station WIP, hosted by Stern’s Philly equivalent, Angelo Cataldi, perhaps 10 times that. Former Philadelphia Daily News gossip columnist Dan Gross regularly featured references to Feldman and any of his off-the-wall gimmicks because what else is a gossip column about?

Feldman’s first foray into Celebrity Boxing, in 1997, was limited in scope, the main event pitting Diego Ramos, a Philadelphia disc jockey, and John Bolaris, a weatherman for a Philly TV station. But Bolaris, a good-looking guy who got frequent mentions in Gross’ gossip column for his man-about-town squiring of a steady stream of beautiful and high-profile women, was the prototype of the type of participant Feldman knew could fill a 500- to 800-seat room. Bolaris would have been an even more surefire draw if his appearance had come 13 years later, when he was drugged by a couple of Russian bar girls working for an international crime syndicate in Miami’s South Beach. Seeking to confront the women, Bolaris met with them again, was slipped another roofie and awoke hours later with a pounding headache and $43,000 worth of charges on his American Express card. He contacted law enforcement officials, which led to 17 arrests, but instead of being hailed as a hero for the busting of so many nefarious types, as Bolaris had hoped, he was roundly derided for finding himself in such a humiliating situation and was fired by his station.

In other words, Bolaris at almost any stage of his television career was just the sort of “celebrity” that Feldman has sought out like a heat-seeking missile.

“I was a young guy, suffering and depressed,” Feldman said of his state of mind after his boxing career ended and his promoter’s license yanked. “Doing Celebrity Boxing shows became, like, my high. I just loved doing what I was doing. Anybody whose name was in the tabloids I tried to get in my ring. It’s like my nickname. I try to give all of them their 16th minute of fame.”

For appearance fees ranging from $1,500 to $5,000, Feldman has successfully enticed a string of down-on-their-luck notables to swing away at others of their ilk. Even when he failed to make sensationalistic bouts that were purposefully leaked to the media, he got the kind of publicity that promoters of “real” boxing would kill for. He attempted to pair Rodney King, the “Can’t we all just get along?” victim of a 1991 beatdown by Los Angeles cops, with one of the police officers involved in the incident, which drove the Rev. Al Sharpton to near-hysterics. The LA cop didn’t participate, but King mixed it up with an ex-cop from Chester, Pa., Simon Aouad, whom King defeated.

Another proposed fight that got lots of media attention but didn’t happen would have pitted Marvin Hagler Jr. against Ray Leonard Jr., the non-boxer sons of legendary fighting fathers. But it’s not just the near-misses with which Feldman has generated headlines; his most successful promotion to date was a matchup of Canseco, the steroid-fueled slugger of 462 major league home runs and the author of a tell-all book which outed Oakland teammate Mark McGwire as a fellow juicer, and a grown-up Bonaduce, the freckle-faced, red-haired kid everyone remembered from his time on TV sitcom The Partridge Family. Canseco seemingly got the better of Bonaduce, a friend of Feldman’s, over three rounds, but the fight ended in a controversial draw (even Celebrity Boxing outcomes apparently can be disputed), leading to accusations that the fix was in.

Canseco, maybe more than any Celebrity Boxing contestant, is associated with Feldman. The large and heavily muscled former baseball player, at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, unwisely consented to duke it out in 2008 with former Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles punt returner Vai Sikahema, who celebrated his touchdowns by whacking away at padded goal posts as if he were still the kid from Tonga who had been groomed by his father to become a champion boxer until he decided he liked football better. Sikahema, a two-time Pro Bowler who was then a sports director for a Philly TV station, tore into the much larger Canseco like a famished lion going after a stricken wildebeest. “I think I can safely say that 105,000 Tongans are well aware that I am fighting Jose Canseco,” Sikahema said before the bout. “I do not intend to disappoint them.”

Perhaps remembering the thrashing he took from Sikahema, Canseco, who was scheduled to appear in the main event of a 2011 Feldman-promoted event in Atlantic City, chose to stay home and sent identical twin brother Ozzie to fight in his stead. The ruse was immediately apparent when Ozzie stripped off his shirt and his upper-torso tattoos were different from Jose’s. The fight was called off and Feldman sued Jose for breach of contract.

Feldman also was instrumental in Celebrity Boxing making it all the way to network television in 2002, with Fox airing two hour-long episodes featuring celebs who were a cut above D-Listers, at least in terms of how famous they once had been. In the first installment, Bonaduce floored Greg Williams, of The Brady Bunch, five times before Williams’ corner threw in the towel in the second round. Tonya Harding, the disgraced figure skater who also fought for Feldman, had her way with a clearly frightened Paula Jones, alleged consort of former President Bill Clinton, who at one point attempted to hide behind the referee. Jones surrendered in the third and final round, allowing Harding to skate away with a TKO victory.

But it was a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not matchup in the second installment that had to qualify as the most memorable Celebrity Boxing bout ever. In one corner was ultra-skinny former NBA center Manute Bol, all 7-foot-7 of him, against 400-pound-plus former NFL defensive lineman William “The Refrigerator” Perry. The Fridge basically ran out of gas moments after leaving his corner for round one, but he somehow stayed on his feet to the final bell, eating a smorgasbord of jabs from Bol, whose 102-inch reach might have been more incredible than his height.

Although TV Guide ranked Celebrity Boxing on Fox No. 6 on its “50 Worst TV Shows of All Time” later in 2002, Feldman takes pride in having had a hand in it. “I worked out a deal with (Fox) because it was my concept,” he said. “They only did the two shows, but they did pretty good numbers. After that I just continued to do my own thing.”

Full disclosure: I did a Celebrity Boxing turn for Feldman in July 2002, for no compensation, with any money I would have received going to the Don Guanella School (now closed) for intellectually disabled children. My opponent was Philadelphia attorney George Bochetto, a former commissioner for the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission best known in boxing circles as the lawyer who represented former heavyweight contender Randall “Tex” Cobb in his libel lawsuit against Sports Illustrated, which resulted in a $10.7 million judgment for Cobb, later overturned on appeal. Bochetto – younger, leaner and a guy who regularly trained as a boxer three or four days a week – had everything going for him. But I was the son of a left-hooking former welterweight, and I wanted to see what, if anything, I had left. I did not inform my wife of my intentions until it was announced in my newspaper, which led her to ask, at a higher decibel level than I’d ever heard from her, “Are you nuts?”

George preferred to fight at a distance that suited him, and he was more accurate than I expected with the overhand right. But I bored in at every opportunity, trying to force him to the ropes and unloading left hooks and uppercuts with both hands. In effect, he was making Muhammad Ali moves and I was doing my best Joe Frazier impersonation. The split decision went to George, but the judge who had me ahead, the late, great Jack Obermayer, had been ringside for thousands of fights so I’m always going to think I really won.

Win or lose, though, my wife told me I was retired forever. Probably a wise decision on her part.

For those interested, more information on the movie project can be found at 16minutemanmovie.com.

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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GGG vs. Steve Rolls (Say Who?) is On; Lemieux vs. Ryder is Off

Arne K. Lang

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Yesterday (April 16) in a story submerged by a bigger story that broke later in the day — namely Jarrell Miller’s failed drug test — it was announced that Team Gennady Golovkin had selected Steve Rolls as GGG’s next opponent. GGG vs. Rolls is a go for June 8 at Madison Square Garden.

There was a collective groan when the pairing was announced. It was widely understood that GGG would go soft in advance of a likely third meeting with Canelo Alvarez in September, but choosing Rolls (pictured on the left against Demond Nicholson) was seen as tantamount to fighting an exhibition. The bookies will likely install GGG a 100/1 favorite, which in the old days was shorthand for a newspaper line, meaning a line crafted for conversation purposes only. Even today, with off-shore sports books jockeying for market share, no sensible bookie would take a straight wager on this fight save perhaps a peanut from a steady client as a courtesy to keep him in the fold.

Both Golovkin and Rolls had birthdays this month. GGG turned 37; Rolls 35.

Rolls, a Canadian, was reportedly 83-14 as an amateur. He’s undefeated as a pro (19-0, 10 KOs), but a casual fan wouldn’t recognize the name of any of his opponents with the possible exception of the aforementioned Nicholson. Rolls won an 8-round split decision over Nicholson (currently 23-3-1) in Verona, NY, in June of 2017. The verdict was controversial. The “ShoBox” broadcasting trio of Barry Tompkins, Steve Farhood, and Raul Marquez all had it 77-74 for the other guy, giving Nicholson the last six rounds.

Rolls is promoted by Lou DiBella who was in Full Damage Control mode when he addressed members of the press. “Steve Rolls is not some bum,” DiBella was quoted as saying. “Steve Rolls can fight. He doesn’t deserve this disrespect he’s getting on social media.”

That elicited this snarky retort (which I paraphrase) from a writer on an internet forum: “If Lou DiBella was in the business of selling bologna sandwiches, he would tell you it was ribeye.”

Golovkin vs. Rolls will reportedly be contested at the catchweight of 164 pounds. We would guess that when GGG-Canelo III finally transpires, it too will be contested at 164. Canelo weighed 167 ¼ for his last match against Rocky Fielding. Plus, the third meeting will be a mega-fight regardless of whether any title is at stake.

GGG vs. Rolls can be seen as the downside of the great flurry of professional boxing that has accompanied the live-streaming transmutation. Whenever an industry experiences rapid growth – when there is a sudden need for more manpower – there’s usually a lag before there are enough qualified applicants to fill all the slots.

That may be overstating it. The main reason that fight fans don’t get the fights they want to see is because of a lack of cooperation between the major promotional groups. Moreover, as for marquee fighters choosing soft opponents, that’s been going on forever. Joe Louis defended his title eight times in the 15 months leading up to his first encounter with Billy Conn. In the aggregate, his opponents were so hopelessly outclassed that sportswriters adopted the term “Bum of the Month.”

Lemieux-Ryder Goes Poof

It hasn’t been a good week for Eddie Hearn. Hearn promotes John Ryder who was slated to fight David Lemieux on May 4. The match between Lemieux (40-4, 34 KOs) and Ryder (27-4, 15 KOs) was penciled in as the chief undercard bout on the Canelo-Jacobs PPV card at the T-Mobile Arena. But Lemieux injured his hand in sparring and has been forced to pull out.

There was little sympathy for David Lemieux when he withdrew from his Dec. 15 bout with Taureano Johnson at the 11th hour because of severe dehydration. He should have managed his weight better. However, this is a bad break for him and it’s hard not to sympathize. A fan-friendly fighter, Lemieux would have been making his first start as a super middleweight and, barring a mishap, would have energized an already strong 168-pound division.

Golden Boy Promotions, which is orchestrating the May 4 event, has had some strong undercards over the years but not on their biggest shows. The undercard for Canelo-GGG II was very weak.

As it now stands, the new co-feature on May 4 pits Vergil Ortiz against Mauricio Herrera. That simply won’t cut it, a situation that isn’t lost on the Golden Boy matchmakers who are reportedly working overtime to find a new co-feature.  Let’s hope they find a good one.

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Michael Hunter Emerges as Anthony Joshua’s Most Likely Opponent

Arne K. Lang

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Joshua vs Hunter?

As you may have already heard, Anthony Joshua’s June 1 match with Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller at Madison Square Garden is in limbo. Late yesterday (Tuesday, April 16), it was learned that Miller had failed a random drug test administered by representatives of VADA. Big Baby tested positive for GW1516, also known as cardarine and endurobol.

Useful as a weight loss aid, GW1516, among other things, is an endurance enhancer. Users don’t get winded as quickly. It works, notes a report by Australia’s Sports Anti-Doping Agency, by forcing skeletal muscle to use fat rather than carbohydrates as an energy source. In the example sometimes given of a professional cyclist, he or she can become thinner, putting less stress on their conveyance, while maintaining or increasing the leg power required to climb mountains quickly.

Several countries banned GWI516 when it was discovered that it increased the incidence of cancer in laboratory rats. Nonetheless, it is widely available on the Internet.

Anthony Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn has reportedly stated that the June 1 date is locked in stone, no matter Joshua’s opponent. The thousands of people that would be inconvenienced by a cancellation include members of the Boxing Writers Association of America. The BWAA’s annual awards dinner is always held on the eve of a big fight. This year it’s set for May 31.

Hearn has been in this predicament before. Back in October of 2017, the fight between Joshua and Kubrat Pulev at Cardiff, Wales, evaporated when Pulev was forced to pull out with a torn biceps. By then, 70,000 tickets had been sold. But Hearn had the foresight to have a pinch-hitter in the dugout, so to speak, and the show went off without a hitch with Carlos Takam subbing for Pulev.

With Joshua vs. Miller a shade more than six weeks away, Hearn hadn’t yet formulated a back-up plan. This morning, the Internet was rife with speculation about Joshua’s next opponent, all based on the assumption that Joshua vs. Miller was dead in the water.

One web site reported that there were five potential opponents on Hearn’s short list: Luis Ortiz, Adam Kownacki, Manuel Charr, Kubrat Pulev, and Michael Hunter.

We doubt the veracity of this report. Ortiz and Kownacki are controlled by Al Hayman who hasn’t done business with Eddie Hearn. It’s widely assumed that Kownacki, who trains with Jarrell Miller in Brooklyn, is being groomed for a match with Deontay Wilder. June 1 is presumably too soon for Kubrat Pulev who emerged from his last fight with a bad cut that wouldn’t be fully healed by June 1. Manuel Charr, a 34-year-old German of Syrian and Lebanese descent, holds a second-tier WBA title but is presumably out of the running because of previous PED issues. In September of last year, Charr tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids, scuttling a match with Ossie Oquendo.

That leaves Michael Hunter who recently signed with Hearn’s company, Matchroom Boxing, making him, in our estimation, the overwhelming favorite to step in for Big Baby.

Now 30 years old, Hunter’s lone defeat in 17 pro starts came at the hands of Oleksandr Usyk and Hunter had several good moments in that fight before fading down the stretch. Since then he’s competed as a heavyweight, winning four straight, the last three by stoppage. In his last outing, he was impressive in scoring a ninth round TKO of Alexander Ustinov on an Eddie Hearn promoted show in Monte Carlo. He took that bout on three weeks notice. In his match before that, he upset the previously undefeated Scotch-Congolese prospect Martin Bakole Ilunga in London.

If he were selected to fight Anthony Joshua, Hunter would be at a severe weight disadvantage. However, that would be nothing new. He was outweighed by 43 pounds by Ilunga and by 66 pounds by Ustinov.

Hunter lacks name recognition, but has several “hooks” advantageous to the PR people. A former Olympian, he comes from a fighting family. His late father Mike “The Bounty” Hunter was a heavyweight contender, a noted spoiler with several good wins to his credit. Pop defeated Oliver McCall, among others, and McCall famously went to London and knocked out Lennox Lewis. Michael Hunter, who fights out of Las Vegas, is co-trained by Hasim Rahman who also scored a massive upset over Lennox Lewis.

Conspicuously absent from the dubious short list is Dillian Whyte. If the fans got to vote on Anthony Joshua’s next opponent, Whyte would likely come in third behind Wilder and Tyson Fury. Unlike those two, Whyte doesn’t have a fight scheduled in the near future.

Big Baby Miller is reportedly keeping to his training regimen and there remains a chance, however slim, that Joshua vs. Miller can be salvaged. Tickets for the fight, priced from $106 to $2,506 (plus applicable booking fees), went on sale on Feb. 15 at Ticketmaster and at the Garden Box Office four days later. Advance sales were reportedly so brisk that a sellout is virtually guaranteed.

Joshua, who will be making his U.S. debut, is the big draw, but Miller has a strong following in New York and if he is forced to pull out there will undoubtedly be a clamor for refunds. That may trigger Madison Square Garden lobbyists to put the squeeze on state legislators in Albany to find a solution to let the match go forward.

If that should happen, the lobbyists will be swimming against the tide. The New York State Athletic Commission has come under fire repeatedly for lax practices, most recently in a four-part series by frequent TSS contributor Thomas Hauser for The Ring. It’s doubtful the agency would want to risk more heat. Moreover, this apparently isn’t the first time that Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller has been exposed as a user of banned substances. It’s been reported that he tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids while competing as a kickboxer.

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