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“Lee Samuels Is A Friend of Boxing”

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goodguysruizLee Samuels (center) receives BWAA Good Guy Award in 2007, with cohort Ricardo Jimenez (right), and poses with ex heavyweight champ John Ruiz. (BWAA)

It’s easy to lose oneself during the presidential election season. All too often, it seems to bring out the worst in us, and that’s no matter which side of the aisle you prefer. Instead of cooler (and let’s face it, more tolerant and even logical) heads prevailing, we often default to something as basely despicable as dehumanizing those with whom we don’t readily see eye-to-eye.

Luckily for most us, we only have to deal with it every four years. While it seems everyone becomes a political pundit during the presidential election process, most of us go back to our preferred pastimes after it is all said and done, and thank goodness for it.

Not so with boxing, because boxing’s political season is never over. Something big seems to happen every day, and it is quite easy to get riled up in the muck of it all. How many caricatures do we see daily of Bob Arum or Oscar De La Hoya? How about the latest Twitter scuff between Floyd Mayweather and 50 Cent?

In reality, though, people behind the scenes of anything we like to follow (boxing, politics, etc.) are just that — people. One of those people, Lee Samuels from Top Rank, was given a lifetime achievement award this week by the WBC and inducted into their Legends of Boxing Museum, along with his hardworking co-workers Ricardo Jimenez and Angie Jackson.

It’s easy to denigrate decisions of faceless entities like the WBC and promotional outfits like Top Rank, but when we get too wrapped up in wearing our omniscient judging hats, we far too often miss opportunities to recognize some really good people along the way. Let’s stop doing that.

Now, I’m no big shot in the boxing world. Heck, I’m not even a medium shot, but I’ve been fortunate enough to be around enough of those types (as well as my fellow little people) to know that Lee Samuels is by all accounts one of boxing’s good guys. Samuels has been with Top Rank for what amounts to be around two decades now, and I assure you anyone in a business like boxing for that long without ending up portrayed as a cartoon figure must know something or other about the basic dignity of the human being.

“Lee Samuels is a friend of boxing,” WBC Executive Director Mauricio Sulaiman told me. “He is always willing to resolve any matter at anytime, always with a smile and a will to make people happy. We have known Lee for many years, and he is a true gentleman and a great asset to the sport of boxing.”

Hall-of-Famer broadcaster Al Bernstein concurs.

“I’ll tell you what, in thirty-something years of being involved in the sport of boxing, there’s a short list of people that I can probably say I’ve never had one moment, not a moment, of distress with,” Bernstein said.“Lee is one of those people, and in a way that’s amazing, because someone who is doing PR for a company you have to deal with sometimes as a news reporter or a journalist, you would think that no matter how nice or how accommodating a person is, there might have been some moments that were difficult…I’ve never had one with him.”

Bernstein called it a “privilege” to have worked closely in the same business with Samuels over the years. He said it wasn’t just that Samuels was nice and accommodating, but that he was so while remaining exceptionally good at his job. So much so, he told me, that even Top Rank’s competitors come away from co-promotions with good impressions of him.

“He’s simply a delightful man,” Bernstein said. “I’m one of those people who’ve won that Good Guy Award [from the BWAA, this year]…believe me, the man that deserves it the most, the poster boy for the Good Guy Award, is Lee Samuels, who also won it [in 2006].”

Samuels has been involved in some form or fashion with many of the biggest fights in the last quarter century. His first big fight assignment was the 1985 Ray Leonard versus Marvin Hagler bout, and he’s been a key cog in helping Top Rank promote some of the biggest names in the sport ever since, including big money superstars like Oscar De La Hoya, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather.

Before working for Bob Arum, Samuels cut his teeth as a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Bulletin. It was his dream job, he says, and he enjoyed it until the early 1980s when a decline in circulation doomed the paper to closure.

Speaking to Thomas Hauser some years back, Samuels recalled his newfound plight.

“So my problem was, what do I do now? I knew Frank Gelb, who had promoted some fights with Bob Arum. Frank told me that Bob was looking for a publicist to help him with a new boxing series on a new sports network called ESPN. On Frank's recommendation, Bob hired me to do publicity for his east coast ESPN shows.”

It was then that Samuels began his career in boxing, the fruits of which have earned him his recent recognition by the WBC.

Renowned matchmaker Ron Katz, who also worked with Top Rank at the time, remembers Samuels’ early days with the company fondly, and he was especially excited to tell me a story involving Samuels, Gelb, Bob Arum, fake policemen and a top ranked team of pranksters.

“This happened around the late eighties/early nineties,” he told me over the phone this week. “We had a doubleheader in Atlantic City, as we did many times in those days, and it was one of our ESPN shows the night before one of our big network shows.”

Katz said he was the architect behind the ordeal, but that he let everyone in on the fun, except our guy Lee, who he alternated referring to as “Leroy” and “Baby Leroy” during our conversation in a way that only someone from the state of New York could pull off.

“So what we did…poor Leroy…Frank Gelb, who was like the Godfather of Atlantic City back then, he had hooked up with Arum and delivered resorts for lots of the ESPN shows, Frank was the guy, so I got together with Frank and said, listen, I want to pull this prank on Baby Leroy and this is what I want to do.”

Katz relayed the plan, and Gelb helped make it happen.

“So Frank got these two guys to dress up in policeman uniforms. The guy was so hooked up there that he could do almost anything he wanted. We made up these phony papers…something to do with the IRS and back taxes…we were some real pranksters back then.”

Katz told me the lynchpin to the deal was having Bob Arum in on it, and that staging it during the show was likely what sealed the deal.

“These guys bust in right in the middle of the show and go right up to Lee and serve him these phony papers. Poor Lee, he turned white as a ghost! We were all sitting there biting out tongues, cracking up…I mean everybody knew about it! Even our ESPN announcers back then… everyone was in on it!”

Katz says the crew of pranksters had Samuels sweat it out the entire length of the fight card.

“Listen guys,” Arum told the fake policemen when they tried to haul Samuels out the door. “Just let him work the rest of the show and then we’ll go in the back and we’ll see what this is about, and if you have to take him to jail, you take him.”

By this time, Katz said people could hardly contain themselves, but they managed to leave Samuels in the lurch until the very end.

“So finally at the end of the night, we went to the back and told him we were all just pulling a prank on him.”

Katz told me Samuels took all of it in good humor, and after hearing from so many people who have worked with him over the years, it honestly doesn’t surprise me.

“Lee was just that kind of guy, and he still is, where he just took it all in stride, you know? He’s a great guy and always has been. He’s just a nice, nice guy and he does a good job,” Katz said with genuine affection in voice.

“That’s Leroy.”

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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Bob Arum Hails Terence Crawford (not Lomachenko) as Boxing’s Next Superstar

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Arum says Terence

Top Rank’s Bob Arum says Terence Crawford will become this generation’s Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao–elite boxers who became worldwide celebrity sensations. Arum, who promoted both Mayweather and Pacquiao on the way to their historic crossover statuses expects big things from the undefeated Crawford over the next few years.

“He’s the best fighter in the United States, and he’s so charismatic,” said Arum. “He comes from middle America, and In the next year or so, he will be huge.”

Arum’s assertion is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Arum is also the promoter for Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko is ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. More importantly, Lomachenko seems to have a groundswell of support behind him both in the media and among fight fans.

Lomachenko has also been heavily featured through Top Rank’s television partnership with ESPN. While Crawford has achieved more in his career than Lomachenko (at least in my eyes) and, as noted by Arum, is a homegrown American talent, Lomachenko seems to be considered the more marketable commodity to that network judging by the amount of promotional materials ESPN has pumped out about the fighter over the last year.

The other reason Arum’s claim about Crawford is interesting is the performance of Canelo Alvarez over the weekend in his majority decision rematch win over Gennady Golovkin. Besides Mayweather and Pacquiao, Alvarez is the clear PPV leader among all of boxing’s current commodities, and his status as boxing’s new money fighter should only grow stronger after the best win of his career.

Still, Crawford is one of the few very elite fighters in all of boxing. He’s ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

While Lomachenko and Alvarez are also candidates to become boxing’s next big thing, there’s no doubt Crawford is also one of the few boxers in the sport right now with the right things in place to become the next Mayweather or Pacquiao.

Omaha’s Crawford is in the midst of an historic run. When he stopped Jeff Horn in round 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in June, Crawford captured a world title in his third different weight class, welterweight. This after Crawford had already captured two lineal boxing championships, as well as multiple alphabet titles, in both the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions.

By any measure, Crawford is truly one of the best boxers in the sport. Not only does he look the part in the ring on fight night (something more and more writers seem to value most when voting for pound-for-pound lists), but the fighter has already accomplished so much in his career that it seems Arum is doing more than the fiduciary duty of promoting his fighter when he ascribes to Crawford such lofty praise.

Crawford, still just 30 years old, is already halfway to matching Mayweather and Pacquiao’s shared record of most lineal championships. Over the course of his career, Mayweather captured lineal championships at junior lightweight, lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Pacquiao won his as a flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight.

In order for Crawford to grab lineal championship No. 3, most believe he’ll have to go through welterweight phenom Errol Spence. While promotional entanglements might keep this superfight on the shelf for a while, Arum said he had no problem pitting Crawford against Spence in what would be one of the best matchups in recent memory.

“Absolutely,” said Arum when asked about working with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, who represents Spence, to make the fight. Could any response from him be more exciting? Crawford vs. Spence might be the next superfight in boxing. Both fighters are among the very elite, and unlike what ultimately happened with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, who fought each other well past their peak years, both would be in the prime of their careers.

Winning that fight would certainly go a long way to making Arum’s vision of Crawford’s future come true. And who knows? Maybe Crawford really is the next Mayweather or Pacquiao. Heck, for all we know, he could even be on his way to doing something more.

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A Kaleidoscope of Boxers Guaranteed to Provide Action: Past and Present

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Marvelous Marvin

To set the tone for this article, one needs only to watch the way in which Thomas Hearns came out in the first round against Marvelous Marvin Hagler. He was ready to rock and roll as was his fearsome looking opponent. The ensuing unmitigated savagery was the quintessential illustration of full-tilt boogie.

For most boxing fans, the anticipation of an all-out action bout gets the chills running down spines faster than anything else. But not all, as some prefer a tactical or clinical fight that someone like Mikey Garcia can orchestrate and others –but not many—enjoy a defensive gem via a Willie Pep, Nicolino Locche, or Pernell Whitaker. A few love a genuine blood fest that a Gabe Rosado-type can provide, and who doesn’t like seeing something special as in Sugar Ray Leonard, Kostya Tszyu, Terence Crawford or Vasiliy Lomachenko?

Chill-or-be-chilled types like Bob Satterfield and Tommy Morrison were super exciting. In this connection—a certain cadre of warriors, past and present, would come out charging and stalking as soon as the bell rang. Many demonstrated a marked disdain for defense and used a non-stop, no let-up pressure that discouraged their opponents, especially in the late rounds. The anticipation from the crowd was palpable because it sensed some form of destruction was on its way. The cheering would start during the instructions and sometimes did not let up until the concussive end.

This cadre included Rocky Marciano, Tony Ayala, Vicious Victor Galindez, Jeff Fenech, Roberto Duran, and Julio Cesar Chavez (who sapped the spirit of his opponents by ripping away at their mid-section). Also, Carl “The Cat”  Thompson , chill-or-be-chilled Ricardo “Pajarito” Moreno (60-12-1 with 59 KOs),  Ron Lyle, the ultra-violent Edwin Valero, the appropriately nicknamed JulianMr KO” Letterlough, James “The Outlaw” Hughes and his mindboggling ability to snatch victory from certain defeat, Thai stalking monster Khaosai Galaxy (47-1),  the first version of George Foreman (pictured with the aforementioned Lyle), Ji-Hoon “Volcano” Kim, Ruslan  Provodnikov, Orlando “Siri” Salido, Marcos Maidana, Lenny Z, Alfredo “Perro” Angulo, Mike Alvarado, Brandon Rios, and Mickey Roman (the later four are still fighting but past their primes).

Others who presently incite the anticipation of something special include (but are not limited to) Naoya “Monster” Inoue (16-0), Errol “The Truth” Spence Jr (24-0), Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (46-4-1), Alex Saucedo (27-0), and, of course, Gennady “GGG” Golovkin (38-1-1) who now has become slightly more tactical like his nemesis, Canelo Alvarez (50-1-1).

These stand out as representative.

Past

A prime Mike Tyson—and the emphasis is on prime– was the epitome of a boxer who guaranteed action. One simply would not leave his or her seat when “Iron Mike” was doing his highlight reel thing, and his blowout of Michael Spinks punctuated his standing at the top of all-action type fighters, even if the action was usually non-mutual.

Joe Frazier came out smokin’ and would not let up until either he or his opponent were done. For the most part, decisions were not in Joe’s DNA and his left hook was as malicious as a hook can be. With Joe, you just sat back and enjoyed the action. Frazier, wrote boxing historian Tracy Callis,  “was a strong, ‘swarmer’ style boxer who applied great pressure on his opponent and dealt out tremendous punishment with a relentless attack of lefts and rights; His left hook was especially stiff and quick when delivered during his bob-and-weave perpetual attack; he fought three minutes per round and never seemed to tire.”

Carlos “Escopeta” (Shotgun) Monzon (87-3-9) was a powerful and rangy Argentinean killing machine, built like an iron rod. Some said he pushed his punches. Well if he did, he pushed 87 opponents to defeat. He also became only the second man to stop former three-time world champion Emile Griffith, turning the trick in the 14th round. Blessed with great and deceptive stamina and a solid chin, he seemingly was an irresistible force. He was unbeaten over the last 81 bouts of his career, a span of 13 years, and defended his title 14 times. “One would need to write a book in order to do justice to comparing a fighter of Carlos Monzon’s calibre to his fellow all-time greats,” wrote Mike Casey.

Arturo Gatti and Irish Micky Ward were the quintessential action fighters. One is gone amidst controversy, and hopefully the other will not pay a price for his many ring wars. With these two, just count up the Fights-of-the-Year and the rest is history. Suffice it to say that Gatti and Ward will be forever linked in boxing lore.

Until his fateful fight with Nigel Benn (another all-action fighter), Gerald McClellan was absolutely, positively, a stalking monster with dynamite in his gloves. It was ferocity and fury at its highest level and it was something to behold. Sadly, his fight with Benn left him permanently disabled; his story remains a dark stain on boxing. As Ian McNeilly notes, “one man’s finest hour was the end of another man’s life as he knew it.”

Michael “The Great” Katsidis’s all-action style made thrilling fights a lock. The Kat” was willing to take three to deliver one. It was blood and guts to the last drop. Whether he too exacted a heavy price for this style remains to be seen.

Lucia Rijker, AKA “The Dutch Destroyer,” lived up to her moniker and destroyed everyone in her path. Again, it wasn’t “if,” it was “when.”

Christy Martin (49-7-3) put female boxing on the map in the ‘90s and she did it by going undefeated in 36 straight encounters, running roughshod over her opponents as evidenced by her 25 wins by stoppage during this run. She also managed to steal the show from a Mike Tyson main event in 1996 during her memorable and bloody battle with Deirdre Gogarty.

Present

Deontay Wilder, aka “The Bronze Bomber,” has a record of 40-0.  With 39 wins coming by KO—many in spectacular fashion, The “Bomber” brings with him that same sense of anticipation that Tyson did. It’s not if; it’s when and “when” can occur at any time. But unlike Tyson, there is a vulnerability that Luis Ortiz exposed that makes the excitement index go even higher.

Dillian Whyte (24-1) has seldom been in a dull affair. His vulnerability combined with his mode of attack ensures thrilling action and the possibility of a stoppage at any time. Unlike Dereck “Del-Boy” Chisora, Whyte is consistently aggressive and dangerous.

Manny Pacquiao (60-7-2) has slowed down considerably but his recent stoppage win over Lucas Matthysse offers hope that he can still conjure up his exciting whirlwind style of fast in-an-out movements that allowed him to win multiple titles over several future Hall of Fame opponents between 2005 and 2011. A rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr., if rumors are true, would allow Pac Man an opportunity to accomplish a number of extraordinary things including avenging a prior defeat and ruining Mayweather’s undefeated record. Time will tell.

Though he appears to have shot his wad, a prime Antonio Margarito was the classic stalk, stun, and kill fighter. Heck, he belonged on the Discovery Channel. His two blowouts of Kermit Cintron showed the “Tijuana Tornado” at his most brutal. His come-from-behind demolition of Miguel Cotto stands out for its drama and bloodletting—and subsequent speculative controversy.

David Lemieux (39-4) always brings the heat. His fights seldom end as scheduled. With KO power in both hands and a propensity to rehydrate by 20 pounds, he is the essence of danger and attendant excitement. “With the sheer power he carries, Lemieux will always have a shot at beating any middleweight, and he is almost always involved in good action fights,” says James Slater.

Amanda Serrano (35-1-1) is the only women’s boxer to win world titles in six divisions. The “Real Deal” is unique in that she has a high KO percentage (74 percent) which is rare for female boxers. Amanda is 120 seconds of guaranteed action for each round.

                                                         **********

While Iron Mike Tyson is THE MAN, Matthew Saad Muhammad also warrants special billing as he embodied what this article is all about. Steve Farhood summed up the essence of Saad Muhammad with an observation that would be appropriate for his tombstone: “Eddie Gregory (Mustafa Muhammad) has a better jab, Marvin Johnson wields more power, James Scott does more sit ups. But, Muhammad’s heart is the size of a turnbuckle, and it anchors his title reign.”

Who did I leave out? Whose name or names would you add to this list?

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