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Rigondeaux: The Vastly Experienced Neophyte

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All right, fight fans, it’s pop quiz time. Your question for today:

Guillermo “El Chacal” Rigondeaux is … well, what,exactly?

A: A relative boxing neophyte, still a bit wet behind the ears and learning as he goes along.

B: So wise in the ways of the ring he should he should be sitting in a temple atop some snow-capped mountain, dispensing knowledge to visiting acolytes who seek to learn from the master.

C: Both of the above.

Determining the right answer is a conundrum, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

Because there is no way of really knowing which one of the possible choices is the more accurate, at least until the night of April 13, when Rigondeaux (11-0, 8 KOs), the WBA super bantamweight champion, and Nonito Donaire (31-1, 20 KOs), the WBO junior featherweight titlist and 2012 Fighter of the Year, square off in a 122-pound unification showdown.

The much-anticipated matchup will be televised by HBO Championship Boxing from Radio City Music Hall in New York.

“Rigondeaux is a great fighter, but I believe that he still needs experience,” Donaire, noting the Cuban defector’s relatively skimpy professional resume, said at the press conference to announce the bout. A supremely confident Donaire – and why shouldn’t he be, having been named Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America, ESPN, Yahoo!Sports, Sports Illustrated and several boxing web sites, including (along with co-winner Robert Guerrero) Thesweetscience.com – added that, “I don’t really make predictions, but if I can take the fight early, I’ll take the fight early.”

If that isn’t a prediction of a knockout, then ostriches soar high in the sky with eagles.

The 32-year-old Rigondeaux (seen above in Chris Farina-Top Rank photo, with Donaire, on the left) hears the whispered and not-so-whispered doubts about his legitimacy as a top-tier pro and he shrugs them off with a laugh or a bellow of outrage, depending on his mood at any given moment. How can anyone call a two-time Olympic gold medalist (2000 and 2004), a fighter with a reputed amateur record of 400-12 record, remain something of a question mark simply because he now does his punching for pay instead of for trophies? Is the pro version of the pugilistic arts really that different from the amateur brand?

“At the end of the day, he’ll find out,” Rigondeaux said in response to Donaire’s suggestion that he is too lacking in pro experience to spoil the Filipino-born Donaire’s 2013 debut. “I’ll show him what I’m all about. Let Donaire keep thinking that. I’m going to give him an ass-whipping he won’t forget.”

There are, of course, quite a few highly accomplished amateur boxers who sparkled just as brightly as pros. There also are Olympic legends that flopped once the headgear came off, the computers were stowed away and the number of scheduled rounds increased. Even Rigondeaux acknowledges that comparing professional boxing to amateur boxing can be a tricky proposition.

“There is always a transition,” Rigondeaux said. “But based on my personal experience and my career, it’s a little different for me because I’m a seasoned veteran. I’ve been able to change a few things here and there. I haven’t had a problem making necessary adjustments. I think I’ve shown that.

“Look, all fights are different. All fighters are different. I’ve gotten better each step of the way since I turned pro. You just have to know who you’re fighting, (formulate) the proper strategy and to execute that strategy to the best of your ability. But you also have to be flexible enough to tweak your strategy when the occasion calls for it.”

Rigondeaux’s strategy in most fights has been to work at a controlled pace, to probe for weaknesses in his opponent’s defense and to counterpunch. It isn’t particularly frenetic or crowd-pleasing at all times, but when he does connect solidly, it often is with concussive force. He can methodically outbox the other guy from the get-go, seemingly headed to a points victory, when a properly placed shot ends matters with the suddenness of a striking viper.

Freddie Roach, who was then training Rigondeaux (his current trainer is Pedro Diaz), had this to say about “El Chacal’s” first-round stoppage of Adolfo Landeras on Feb. 5, 2010. “I went to sit down,” Roach laughed, “and the fight was over.”

But whether he concludes his night’s business quickly and brutally, or over time with precision craftsmanship, Rigondeaux usually makes a favorable impression on those who know and appreciate what they’re seeing. In defending his WBA super bantam title on a fifth-round technical knockout of Teon Kennedy last June 9 – a rout in which Rigondeaux floored the Philadelphian five times – the winner scored big with the HBO broadcast crew.

“This is gym work for Rigondeaux,” Max Kellerman said.

“I think (Rigondeaux) would be considered with the great Teofilo Stevenson as one of the greatest amateur boxers in history,” opined Emanuel Steward, who, sadly, has passed away since that telecast.

Stevenson, of course, is the benchmark against which almost all amateur boxers are assessed. The heavyweight wrecking machine is one of only three amateurs to have won three Olympic gold medals (in 1972, ’76 and ’80), a feat matched only by fellow Cuban Felix Savon and Hungary’s Laszlo Papp. Rigondeaux might have joined that highly exclusive club, but he was prohibited from participating in the 2008 Beijing Olympics by Cuban president Fidel Castro for having attempted to defect during the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“The Cuban athlete who deserts his delegation is like a soldier who deserts his unit in the midst of combat,” Castro said of Rigondeaux’s bid to slip away from his government’s control, also made by his teammate, Erislandy Lara.

Publicly chastened in their homeland but undeterred in their goal to find freedom, Lara escaped to Germany, then the United States, in 2008, Rigondeaux in 2009. Rigondeaux, who now resides in Miami, left behind a wife and a son.

“I’m surprised on one level because he left home at the end of January saying he was going to Santiago,” Rigondeaux’s wife, Farah Colina, told OTB Sports, referring to the eastern city that is Cuba’s second-largest. “But on another level, I think he was obligated to do this.”

Rigondeaux said his defection was spurred by a desire to provide better financial support for his relatives because, in Cuba, even celebrated Olympic champions live a virtual hand-to-mouth existence. “My family can and has benefitted from the money I am earning as a pro,” he said.

Part of the transition – making money, and potentially loads of it – can be the most difficult shift in lifestyles for Cubans who make it to this country and are allowed to remain in keeping with the “wet feet, dry land” policy instituted during the Clinton administration and which remains in effect today. Summed up, that policy dictates that political refugees who make it onto American soil are granted sanctuary; those picked up by the Coast Guard while still at sea can be returned to their countries of origin.

“When you come to America from Cuba, basically you coming from having nothing to having something,” Rigondeaux said. “It’s definitely a life-changer, and it can happen almost overnight. But you can’t let that alter the hard work, dedication and sacrifice you always have put into becoming the very best that you can be.

“I keep myself humble. I’m grateful for what I have now. Yes, people can change if they attain fame and money. It can raise issues. It can raise issues if you go from being rich to being poor, too. But whatever life gives you, you have to deal with it. And that is especially so for someone in my position. Being a champion means not going wild outside the ring. Being a champion means always retaining your focus.”

Come April 13, it will matter not how well Rigondeaux stacks up against Stevenson – who never attempted to defect – but only how he stacks up against Donaire, 30, who was a young boy when he and his family left their native Philippines to settle in San Leandro, Calif., in 1994. Should he upset the favored Donaire, he could fast-track himself to the sort of professional acclaim that previously has gone to such esteemed Cuban fighters as Kid Gavilan, Kid Chocolate, Benny Paret, Luis Rodriguez, Sugar Ramos, Jose Napoles and Florentino Fernandez. Heck, he might already have matched one or two of those names, and the prevailing sentiment is that he is the best of the current Cuban pros, a group that includes Lara, Yuriokis Gamboa, Odlanier Solis, Alexei Collado and Joel Casamayor.

“One thing is for sure,” Rigondeaux said of the mission he is about to undertake. “I will be 100 percent ready when I enter the ring. I am preparing for this fight with all my effort, all my dedication, with the idea of giving the best performance of my career. Donaire had better be ready to do the same thing.

“But whether he is or isn’t, I will win. April 13 is going to be a big night for me. It will be a night of celebration. Everyone is going to be talking about that night for years to come because they are going to see something truly special.”

So what is the most likely answer to the question posed at the beginning of this story? Depends on whether you consider his late start and limited number of pro bouts – Rigondeaux won an “interim” world title in just his seventh outing, and a “regular” one in his ninth — to be a significant hindrance. History is all over the charts with those who took more or less the same path he has.

*Evander Holyfield won his first pro world title in just his 12th pro fight, a split decision over Dwight Muhammad Qawi for the WBA cruiserweight championship in 1986. He went on to capture at least a version of the heavyweight crown a division-record four times.

*Pete Rademacher, a 1956 Olympic gold medalist, fought for the heavyweight title in his pro debut and was stopped in six rounds by champion Floyd Patterson. He finished 15-7-1, with six losses inside the distance.

*Davey Moore fought for the WBA junior middleweight title in just his ninth pro fight, winning it at age 22 on a sixth-round stoppage of Tadashi Mihara in 1982. Two bouts later, Moore’s relative inexperience was exposed when he lost on a savage, eight-round beatdown by Roberto Duran.

*Leon Spinks was 6-0-1 when, at 24, he shocked the world by outpointing Muhammad Ali for the WBA heavyweight championship in 1978. He was dethroned in a rematch seven months later and retired with a 26-17-3 record, nine of his defeats by knockout.

*Kazakhstan’s Beibut Shumenov, the reigning WBA light heavyweight titlist, earned his strap in his 10th pro outing, on a split decision over the only man to have beaten him to date, Gabriel Campillo.

 

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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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