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Roach vs. Atlas: Saturday’s Fight Viewed through the Prism of their Famous Mentors

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It’s reasonable to presume that no one paid for tickets to see the New York Yankees in the 1920s so that they could watch future Hall of Famer Miller Huggins manage from the dugout. The big crowds came to see Babe Ruth swing for the fences. Sixty years later, no one paid for tickets to watch Phil Jackson, who would go on to coach his teams to a record 11 NBA championships, strategize on the sideline for the Chicago Bulls. Fans packed arenas to see gravity-defying Michael Jordan make magic on the court in much the same manner that the Bambino once did in the batter’s box.

All of which makes Saturday night’s third meeting of welterweights Manny Pacquiao (57-6-2, 38 KOs) and Timothy Bradley Jr. (33-1-1, 13 KOs) something of an anomaly. Oh, sure, there is some standard intrigue to the HBO Pay Per View clash at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand in that the fighters have split their two previous bouts, making this a “rubber match,” which always hints at some sense of competitive closure. But there is a widespread belief that Pacquiao deserved to get the nod in his first fight with Bradley, who came away with a hotly disputed split-decision victory, before Pacquiao bounced back to clearly win the rematch on points.

Check out The Boxing Channel video “Teddy Atlas Elaborates On His Relation With Timothy Bradley”.

Nor have Pacquiao and Bradley, polite and restrained by nature, gone into the gutter to conduct an inflammatory war of words, although Pacquiao did create a bit of a stir with his politically incorrect comments on same-sex marriage, which he has since said were taken out of context. Even Pacquiao’s pronouncement that he would definitely retire after this bout has become less of a story line as the 37-year-old Filipino superstar, the only man ever to win world titles in eight weight classes, now is dropping hints that he might decide to fight on.

It has been left to the respective trainers, Freddie Roach for Pacquiao and Teddy Atlas for Bradley, to rev up the hype machine by going public with a personal feud that seems genuine and, to some extent, has matched or even superseded public interest in the fighters they represent. To some degree, Pacquiao-Bradley III will serve as a referendum as to which of the two celebrity cornermen is the better now and, just maybe, for posterity.

“I know Teddy personally. I’ve had a couple of altercations with him,” said Roach, 56, winner of a record seven Eddie Futch Trainer of the Year Awards from the Boxing Writers Association of America. “I don’t like him, and he doesn’t like me. That’s just how it is.

“It’s the first time we’re facing each other, so it’s a little competitive. But that’s not why I want Manny to win the fight. It has nothing to do with Teddy Atlas, and I really don’t care what Teddy does. So, who is he? An announcer? I won’t give him credit until (Bradley) beats a legit fighter. Let’s face it, you look at the guy (Bradley) beat (Brandon Rios, in his first bout with Atlas) was fat and out of shape. He looked like he wanted to retire even before the fight.”

For his part, Atlas, 59, is just as dismissive of Roach, whose reputation, he said, is inflated by Pacquiao’s success, which Atlas believes could have been achieved with any number of equally qualified trainers.

“I don’t care what (Roach) thinks,” Atlas said on a video posted by HBO. “I’ve been in this business 40 years, longer than him. I’m more than a passenger (with Bradley), more than a guy going along with something that I shouldn’t go along with.”

For all their obvious differences – the unfailingly courteous Roach has been with Pacquiao for 15 years, the excitable, take-no-crap Atlas with Bradley for only the past six months or so – it is their similarities that make the friction between them such a jumble of contradictions. Each is regarded as a brilliant constructor of fight plans, capable of extracting maximum productivity, both physically and emotionally, from their charges. Each is brutally honest, sometimes to their detriment. And, make no mistake, each has a sufficiently large ego that does not allow for the merest possibility that someone else could be more knowledgeable about the intricacies of boxing.

Lastly, and perhaps more important, each is considered the most accomplished pupil of legendary mentors, both of whom have taken their earthly 10-count and are enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Roach – who also has been inducted into the IBHOF, in 2012 — learned his craft from the venerable Eddie Futch, who help mold the careers of 22 world champions, including Joe Frazier, Alexis Arguello, Larry Holmes, Michael Spinks, Marlon Starling and Riddick Bowe. For Atlas, that guiding hand was provided by Cus D’Amato, who helped take Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres to world titles, and undertook the process that led to Mike Tyson joining that list.

It might even be inferred that it is the ghosts of those two larger-than-life figures – Futch, who was 90 when he died on Oct. 10, 2001, and D’Amato, who was 77 when he passed away on Nov. 4, 1985 — that are competing for an added layer to their legacies as are Pacquiao and Bradley, or Roach and Atlas. Whoever wins Saturday night not only gives a measure of credence to the elevation of Roach over Atlas, or vice versa, but, in a residual manner, to any lingering vestiges of the Futch-vs.-Cus argument.

There are those who consider Futch, a onetime stablemate of Joe Louis, as the greatest of all trainers, on a pedestal above even those upon which the revered likes of Ray Arcel, Whitey Bimstein, Jack Blackburn, Angelo Dundee, Emanuel Steward, George Benton and Gil Clancy reside. Quiet, polite and dignified, Futch always spoke concise English, never raised his voice and had a fondness for 19th-century British poets. His disinclination to call attention to himself might explain his slow rise up through the ranks, which obliged him to find employment as a hotel waiter, road laborer, welder, sheet metal worker in an aircraft plant and a distribution clerk in the Los Angeles Post Office in addition to his duties as a trainer.

Roach, who at various times has also worked the corner of such notable fighters as James Toney, Miguel Cotto, Wladimir Klitschko and Bernard Hopkins, is as meticulous in his handling of fighters as was Futch, who also trained Roach.

“He’s absolutely brilliant at breaking things down,” said one of Roach’s former fighters, Irish featherweight Bernard Dunne. “He’ll make time to help you understand, no matter who you are or what your ability. He treats us all the same, whether we’re novices or world champions. You just don’t see that in boxing.”

D’Amato’s approach was markedly different from Futch’s, as is Atlas’ to Roach’s. When Bobby Stewart, who “discovered” a then-12-year-old Tyson at the Tryon Residential Center for Boys and brought him to D’Amato’s training facility in Catskill, N.Y., for further refinement, Cus made him the personal project of Atlas, whom D’Amato referred to as the “young master.”

Although Atlas also had been a troubled youth who came to regard D’Amato as something of a second father, the two eventually disagreed on how to handle Tyson, for whom a separate, far more lenient code of personal conduct was allowed by D’Amato. Atlas has said that the aging D’Amato, who saw Tyson as his last great hope for winning a world championship, made allowances for the teenage phenom’s insolent behavior that he would not have accepted from anyone else.

Flash point came when a 16-year-old Tyson “put his hands” on the 11-year-old niece of Atlas’ wife. A furious Atlas then confronted Tyson, putting a gun to his head and threatening to kill him if he ever again did such a thing. But instead of disciplining Tyson, D’Amato cut ties with Atlas, who had served as Tyson’s lead trainer for four years and was with D’Amato for seven.

“At that moment I hated Cus every bit as much as I hated Tyson,” Atlas said in his autobiography, Atlas. “I had trusted Cus. We were partners. I knew if I allowed this, the next time Tyson would take it further. He would rape her. Or someone else.”

All these years later, Atlas remains ambivalent about his relationship with D’Amato. But one thing has not changed; unlike Roach, the figurative iron fist in the velvet glove who followed Futch’s lead by getting his fighters to do as instructed with patience and reason, Atlas has held firm to a my-way-or-the-highway approach. He has walked away from lucrative training gigs with, among others, Donny Lalonde, Michael Moorer, Shannon Briggs and Alexander Povetkin because they resisted his dictums. While Atlas has retained a high profile in the sport through his 18 years as a color analyst for ESPN2 Friday Night Fights, for NBC for the last four Olympics and, most recently, for Premier Boxing Champions on ESPN, he has resisted any number of offers to train interested fighters – or at lead he did, until Bradley came calling.

“I spent several days thinking about it (accepting Bradley’s request for Atlas to train him),” Atlas said before their first fight together, the ninth-round stoppage of Brandon Rios last Nov. 7 in which Bradley either looked very sharp, Rios very dull, or perhaps some combination thereof. “I went back and forth, going over so many things. It wasn’t an easy decision. It would have been very easy to say no instead of yes. I was hesitant at first, but what I knew about the kid in terms of his character – not only in the ring, but in his personal life – was a factor.”

Trust in boxing, as in anything else, is or should be a two-way street. Pacquiao has been with Roach so long it almost seems as if they are joined at the hip. The relationship between Bradley and Atlas is still in its formative stages and, given Atlas’ history of walking away from fighters who come to chafe at his way of doing things, it is hardly certain that the current mutual lovefest will long endure. In any case, Roach believes that Bradley will lapse into the pre-Atlas version of himself once he finds himself in tough with Pacquaio.

“I don’t think there’s a new and improved Tim Bradley,” Roach said. “Fighters try to improve and change, but when they get hit, they revert to what they normally do best.”

What happens in the ring is always what it is. But figure on more time than usual focused between rounds on the instructions and exhortations given by the trainers to their fighters, more or less equal partners in a quest that will help to define the evolving status of all concerned, including those of a couple of dead men whose reverberations continue to be felt to this day.

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Check out The Boxing Channel video “Paulie Malignaggi Breaks Down Manny Pacquiao vs Timothy Bradley 3”.

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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.

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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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