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On The Road With Sonny Liston; a Flashback With Lem Banker

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Sonny Liston

In late June of 1970, Sonny Liston ventured to New Jersey where he dismantled Chuck Wepner in nine gory rounds. For this assignment, the former heavyweight champion was paid in cash. But when Liston returned to Las Vegas, every cent of it was gone. Lem Banker knows the story. Banker was in Liston’s traveling party.

Banker was one of three people who accompanied Liston on this excursion. The others were Davey Pearl and Johnny Tocco. Only Banker (pictured at his home in 2009) is still living. He turned 90 on May 4.

Davey Pearl, who died at age 88 in 2006, was Liston’s manager of the moment. A hotel bellman during his early years in Las Vegas, Pearl was short of stature but very nimble; he was a former handball champion. In time he would become, however briefly, Nevada’s most prominent boxing referee. His signature fight was the 1981 classic between Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns.

Johnny Tocco was Liston’s trainer. A boxing lifer who was a spit bucket carrier while still a growing boy, Tocco came to Las Vegas from St. Louis in 1953 and opened the Ringside Gym, perhaps the last of the great old boxing gyms still standing. Tocco died in 1997, but subsequent owners have kept his spirit alive (which is to say that the bare-bones gym, which ought to be on the National Register of Historic Places, is as grungy, as dark and as poorly ventilated as it ever was).

Lem Banker was pals with all three. A South Jersey native, he went along for the ride.

Liston vs. Wepner was staged in an armory in Jersey City on June 29, a Monday. Liston was then banned from fighting in New York because of his alleged ties to underworld characters, so taking it across the river to Madison Square Garden was out. Tickets were priced at $5, $10, and $15.

The Liston party stayed in a hotel in nearby North Bergen. Mickey Duff, the great British boxing promoter, was there too. Duff was then managing the affairs of rising heavyweight contender Joe Bugner who had signed on as one of Chuck Wepner’s sparring partners and would be Wepner’s next opponent after he had been butchered by Liston in what would prove to be Liston’s final fight.

“The first thing that Duff told us was ‘don’t drink the water,’” recalls Banker. It wasn’t because it didn’t taste good; the intimation was that someone, if accorded the chance, would tamper with it. That dictated a run to the supermarket for bottled water, a commodity fairly uncommon in 1970.

A shade more than five years had elapsed since Liston’s infamous rematch with Muhammad Ali, the bout where he was felled by a phantom punch. He was 14-1 since that fateful day in Maine, a stretch that began with four fights in Sweden. But the “L” had come in his most recent fight where he was flattened by former sparring partner Leotis Martin and it was widely assumed that he was older than 38, the age indicated by his driver’s license.

Notwithstanding these factors, Liston was favored to beat Wepner whose regular job was that of a traveling salesman for a liquor distributor. Wepner had a decent record (23-5-2 said the papers, a fair approximation) and would have the crowd in his corner, but he was regarded as little more than a journeyman.

Chuck Wepner had already acquired his cognomen: The Bayonne Bleeder. Sonny Liston embellished it. The claret started flowing in round two when Wepner’s nose began leaking.

During the fight, the ring doctor attempted to visit Wepner’s corner after the third round and again after the sixth. Both times he was turned back by Abe J. Greene, who wore two hats as the head of the New Jersey Athletic Commission and the head of the World Boxing Association. Finally, after the ninth round, the doctor was given the green light to give Wepner a good look-over.

Wepner was controlled by Al Braverman, a jack-of-all-trades who was equally comfortable as a promoter, manager, booking agent, trainer or cut man. Twelve years earlier, the Runyonesque Braverman had his Massachusetts boxing promoter’s license revoked for knowingly allowing boxers to borrow the names of fighters who were overseas in the Armed Forces. He would go on to become Don King’s right hand man.

When the ring doctor entered Wepner’s corner after the ninth round, Braverman protested. “Jeez, don’t stop it now,” he said, “We only have one round to go. Can’t you see that all these cuts are superficial?”

The doctor was un-persuaded. Those “superficial” cuts eventually required 72 stitches.

For the record, Liston was ahead 6-2-1 on the scorecard of referee Barney Felix through the nine completed rounds. Felix was the sole arbiter. In the Garden State, judges were only used for world title fights, a rarity before gambling casinos arrived in Atlantic City.

Liston’s purse was $13,000 (roughly $80,000 in today’s dollars). Promoter Willie Gilzenburg, says Banker, handed the money to Liston in a brown paper bag. The money was parceled out on the flight home, leaving Sonny with nothing. Banker got $10,000, payment for a debt. Pearl and Tocco split what was left.

Twelve days before Liston fought Wepner, Jerry Quarry opposed Mac Foster at Madison Square Garden. A 27-year-old ex-Marine, Foster was supposedly the next big thing. He had knocked out all 24 of his opponents. Liston was smitten with him; Sonny didn’t see how Foster could possibly lose. But Foster was too green for the battle-tested Quarry who knocked him out in the sixth round.

“Sonny asked me to bet $10,000 for him on Foster,” recollects Banker. This was out of character for Liston, a frugal man. He was occasionally seen hunched over a craps table, but betting on sports — boxing or team sports — wasn’t his bag. But he was obsessed with getting down a big bet on Mac Foster and beseeched Banker to handle it. Who better than Lem Banker to serve as his proxy? Lem had contacts all over the country. He could ferret out the best price.

LEM BANKER

Lem Banker inherited his love of boxing from his father who was a great admirer of Sam Langford, the legendary Boston Tar Baby. During his high school days in Union City, Lem frequently hung around the boxing gym run by Joe Jeannette, another of the great “chitlin’ circuit” fighters from Sam Langford’s era. Jeannette showed Banker his scrapbooks and encouraged young Banker, a good athlete, to keep scrapbooks of his own.

Banker’s dad, the son of Russian immigrants, owned what folks back east called a candy store. There was candy for sale, none of it made in-house, and comic books and whatnot and a lunch counter where folks ordering from the limited menu were partial to ice cream sodas. It was also a place where a man could surreptitiously get down a bet, which in those days invariably meant a bet on a horse race.

Coming out of high school, Lem fielded offers to play basketball from national powers St. John’s and Long Island University, but Uncle Sam had other ideas and Lem spent two years in the Army. He had several matches against other servicemen while stationed in Yokohama. A Xeroxed sheet in one of his scrapbooks informs us that he knocked out one Kadia Massey from Durbin, North Carolina, in the first round.

“I had another fight when I was stationed over there where it was me that got knocked out in the first round. I didn’t save that sheet,” he says sheepishly.

Banker eventually enrolled at the University of Miami, but left school after getting into a beef with the basketball coach. He returned to the New York metroplex where his acumen as a sports handicapper made him a certified wiseguy. (In sports gambling lingo, a “wiseguy” is a fellow with a sharp opinion and deep pockets.)

In 1957, Lem moved to Las Vegas. His girlfriend Delores “Debbie” Vicario soon joined him. They were married in 1959 and had one child, a daughter, Blaine.

Debbie was a former beauty pageant winner and showgirl. She was working in a floor show at the Riviera in Havana when Fidel Castro’s rebels came down from the hills and captured the city. “The show’s producer,” recalls Banker, “ordered up three blondes, three brunettes, and three redheads.” Debbie was a natural redhead.

In 1967, Lem and Debbie purchased a hacienda-style ranch house in a tony neighborhood that became a gated community, a neighborhood that exudes old money. Lem still lives there.

Las Vegas was a lot smaller in those days and Lem was a big man on campus. His legend grew when he was featured in “The National Football Lottery,” the first book to take an in-depth look at the Las Vegas sports betting subculture. Released in 1973, the book was written by former Philadelphia Daily News sports editor Larry Merchant (yes, that Larry Merchant). Ten years later, Lem was featured in a layout in People magazine which identified him as the only football bettor in the country who lives entirely off his winnings.

For a time Lem wrote a sports handicapping column for Nevada’s largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal. One of his best pieces addressed the forthcoming fight between Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes. “If I can throw money away betting on teams like the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants,” wrote Banker, “then why not put my money on a world’s heavyweight champ who has never lost a fight, and is going against a 38-year-old who has seen better days, and doesn’t have the tools any more….In my mind, Larry Holmes is the best investment of the decade.” When Banker wrote these words, the odds favoring Holmes had declined to 7/5 and were still trending downward.

In demand as a keynote speaker at sports betting seminars, Lem’s folksy orations were confections of humorous anecdotes, corny jokes, and pithy sayings. With Lem you didn’t get a tutorial; you got a lounge show.

Two of those sayings effectively became Lem Banker trademarks. “They Play the National Anthem Every Day” was Lem’s way of saying that a bettor should never over-extend himself or put all of his eggs in one basket. “What You Save is What You Earn” emphasized the importance of shopping for the best odds.

A vigorous workout was part of Lem’s daily routine. He had a steam room in his house and a treadmill and he swam laps in his backyard pool where the water was never heated. But he also included boxing drills in his regimen, hitting a heavy bag and a speed bag and working his shoulders and abs with a medicine ball. In this regard, he was ahead of his time. Nowadays, boxing-styled workouts are in vogue at many of the leading health club chains.

WEPNER AND LISTON POST-FIGHT

Chuck Wepner lost three of his next five fights. He was stopped on cuts by Joe Bugner and Jerry Judge and was out-pointed by Randy Neumann in a bout billed for the New Jersey State Heavyweight Title. But then his career got a second wind, as it were. In the process of manufacturing an eight-fight winning streak, he twice avenged the loss to Neumann and outpointed former heavyweight champion Ernie Terrell, an outrageous decision but a victory nevertheless. That led to a bout with Muhammad Ali.

Wepner was accorded no prayer of beating Ali, but the fight got a good amount of ink because Ali was Ali and the “Bayonne Bleeder,” who had developed a cult following, could hold his own with The Greatest as a magnet for whimsical news stories. After he collects his purse, said the wags, Wepner will laugh all the way to the blood bank.

Against an uninspired Ali, Wepner came within 19 seconds of lasting the full 15-round distance. When it was over, said ringside scribe John Hall, he was carried to his stool like a slaughtered steer. But the writers were generally kind to him, applauding his gallant effort. He plodded on for three more years, winning five of his last 10 fights.

Fight posters for the Ali-Wepner fight were tagged “The Chance of a Lifetime.” Chuck Wepner was Rocky before there was Rocky. Indeed, aspiring screenwriter Sylvester Stallone watched the Ali-Wepner fight on a closed-circuit feed and would make no bones about the fact that Wepner was his inspiration for Rocky Balboa, America’s most iconic celluloid underdog.

Stallone’s candor eventually cost him. In 2005, Wepner won a judgment against him for using his name “to promote the Rocky movies and related products for commercial purposes without consent and without compensation.” The suit was settled out of court. Wepner won an undisclosed settlement.

Earlier this year, Chuck Wepner had another 15 minutes of fame when the movie “Chuck” hit the big screen. Titled “The Bleeder” when it made the rounds of the film festivals, the movie faded quickly despite a critically acclaimed performance by Liev Schreiber in the title role.

Chuck Wepner, who still has all his faculties, turned 78 in February. Sonny Liston has been dead going on 47 years.

On Jan. 5, 1971, Sonny’s wife Geraldine discovered his body after returning from St. Louis where she and their adopted son were visiting her sick father. Lem Banker was among the first to get the shocking news. “The woman who cleaned his house once a week, Vernita Cox, called me and said ‘Lem, Sonny is dead and rigor mortis has already set in.’” The Bankers were also clients of Ms. Cox.

The coroner estimated that Liston may have been dead for as long as eight days. His death, said the coroner in his report, resulted from lung congestion, which in turn was caused by a defective pulmonary artery. But he found needle tracks on Sonny’s arm and the police had found a balloon containing a small amount of heroin in his home. Hence, it was widely assumed that his death resulted from a drug overdose.

No one close to Liston, including Banker, bought into this assumption. They knew that Sonny was deathly afraid of needles. In death, as in life, Charles “Sonny” Liston was an enigma.

LEM BANKER AT 90

Lem’s sunset years haven’t been very sunny. He lost Debbie, his wife of 50 years, in 2009. A quadruple bypass, a back injury that required surgery, and the ravages of time have left him unable to perform many of the little chores that healthy people take for granted. He rarely leaves the house now, save for an occasional dinner with old friends. He employs two attendants, Orlando Flores and Sammy Lorenzo, who provide companionship and care for his needs.

This is a pale imitation of the real Lem Banker. In his palmy days, getting out and pressing the flesh was part of his DNA. On his afternoon runs, he would invariably pop in at the Stardust and more than likely the Castaways and before his sojourn was over he would hit the two little bookie joints that sat in a little strip mall across from Dunes.

In those days, Lem was as much a part of the cultural fabric as the town’s long-serving two-fisted Mormon sheriff Ralph Lamb whose escapades inspired a short-lived TV series. Lem worked on Lamb’s re-election campaigns, in a fashion, harvesting donations from casino owners. “I was the sheriff’s bagman,” he says matter-of-factly.

Of course, even if Banker were able to amble about as he once did, his routine wouldn’t be the same. Most of his old haunts disappeared as the city matured and the Strip became more vertical. At certain times of the day, traffic along the boulevard is more gridlocked than Times Square. When Lem pulled up to a hotel/casino in his sporty Mercedes, it was his habit to park right in front, shoot the valet parking guy a few bucks, and when he emerged he would likely find his car right where he had left it. Nowadays, it costs $15-$20 to valet park at any of the big six MGM Grand properties and the parking attendant gets none of it. When the MGM did away with free parking at all their various garages last year, it had an inevitable domino effect and for many long-time residents, who were feeling less and less welcome at the major Strip properties, this was the final indignity.

When it comes to betting, Lem has been reduced to betting modest sums but his routine hasn’t changed. After each set of games he adjusts his numbers, filling a notebook with hieroglyphics that only he can understand. But here too, things are not as they were.

When Lem was going strong, he was exploiting regional variations in betting lines. In the Internet Age, where there are no secrets, there’s less variation. That makes it tougher to grind out a profit. Baseball commands Lem’s attention at the moment and it hasn’t been going well.

Then why keep at it? That’s a rhetorical question. “If you’re swimming in the ocean,” says Banker, “you had better keep your arms moving.”

When he isn’t analyzing the match-ups or checking the lines or watching the scores roll in, Banker is comforted by the memories of a life well lived. He reiterates a well-known fact about Sonny Liston, that he was good around young children. In their presence, the man that Clay/Ali called the “Big Ugly Bear” was about as intimidating as a teddy bear.

In Liston’s day, sparring partners were treated like crap, especially if they happened to be black. “That’s another thing,” says Banker. “Sonny was rough on his sparring partners inside the ropes, but he treated them with respect. If there was a boxing related function like a press luncheon, he made certain that his sparring partners were invited and could eat the same food as everyone else.”

Sonny Liston sheared the heavyweight title from Floyd Patterson, blowing him away in the opening round. Their first encounter (the sequel was a carbon) was one of the great morality plays in the history of boxing.

A man with a long rap sheet, stained with a sullen disposition, Liston was portrayed as a brute, the opposite of Patterson who came across like a choir boy. Even a few civil rights leaders opined that it would be bad for America if an illiterate ex-con like Liston seized what was then regarded as the most prestigious diadem in sports.

The promoters had a natural hook in this dichotomy, but the classy Patterson wouldn’t play along with it. “I hope you fellows give Sonny a chance,” he said to a group of reporters. “There’s good in all men, and I think if you look closely, you will find that there’s lots of good in Sonny Liston.” To which Lem Banker would have appended a hearty amen.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.

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The BWAA Shames Veteran Referee Laurence Cole and Two Nebraska Judges

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In an unprecedented development, the Boxing Writers Association of America has started a “watch list” to lift the curtain on ring officials who have “screwed up.” Veteran Texas referee Laurence Cole and Nebraska judges Mike Contreras and Jeff Sinnett have the unwelcome distinction of being the first “honorees.”

“Boxing is a sport where judges and referees are rarely held accountable for poor performances that unfairly change the course of a fighter’s career and, in some instances, endanger lives,” says the BWAA in a preamble to the new feature. Hence the watch list, which is designed to “call attention to ‘egregious’ errors in scoring by judges and unacceptable conduct by referees.”

Contreras and Sinnett, residents of Omaha, were singled out for their scorecards in the match between lightweights Thomas Mattice and Zhora Hamazaryan, an eight round contest staged at the WinnaVegas Casino in Sloan, Iowa on July 20. They both scored the fight 76-75 for Mattice, enabling the Ohio fighter to keep his undefeated record intact via a split decision.

Although Mattice vs. Hamazaryan was a supporting bout, it aired live on ShoBox. Analyst Steve Farhood, who was been with ShoBox since the inception of the series in 2001, called it one of the worst decisions he had ever seen. Lead announcer Barry Tompkins went further, calling it the worst decision he has seen in his 40 years of covering the sport.

Laurence Cole (pictured alongside his father) was singled out for his behavior as the third man in the ring for the fight between Regis Prograis and Juan Jose Velasco at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans on July 14. The bout was televised live on ESPN.

In his rationale for calling out Cole, BWAA prexy Joseph Santoliquito leaned heavily on Thomas Hauser’s critique of Cole’s performance in The Sweet Science. “Velasco fought courageously and as well as he could,” noted Hauser. “But at the end of round seven he was a thoroughly beaten fighter.”

His chief second bullied him into coming out for another round. Forty-five seconds into round eight, after being knocked down for a third time, Velasco spit out his mouthpiece and indicated to Cole that he was finished. But Cole insisted that the match continue and then, after another knockdown that he ruled a slip, let it continue for another 35 seconds before Velasco’s corner mercifully threw in the towel.

Controversy has dogged Laurence Cole for well over a decade.

Cole was the third man in the ring for the Nov. 25, 2006 bout in Hildalgo, Texas, between Juan Manuel Marquez and Jimrex Jaca. In the fifth round, Marquez sustained a cut on his forehead from an accidental head butt. In round eight, another accidental head butt widened and deepened the gash. As Marquez was being examined by the ring doctor, Cole informed Marquez that he was ahead on the scorecards, volunteering this information while holding his hand over his HBO wireless mike. The inference was that Marquez was free to quit right then without tarnishing his record. (Marquez elected to continue and stopped Jaca in the next round.)

This was improper. For this indiscretion, Cole was prohibited from working a significant fight in Texas for the next six months.

More recently, Cole worked the 2014 fight between Vasyl Lomachenko and Orlando Salido at the San Antonio Alamodome. During the fight, Salido made a mockery of the Queensberry rules for which he received no point deductions and only one warning. Cole’s performance, said Matt McGrain, was “astonishingly bad,” an opinion echoed by many other boxing writers. And one could site numerous other incidents where Cole’s performance came under scrutiny.

Laurence Cole is the son of Richard “Dickie” Cole. The elder Cole, now 87 years old, served 21 years as head of the Texas Department of Combat Sports Regulation before stepping down on April 30, 2014. At various times during his tenure, Dickie Cole held high executive posts with the World Boxing Council and North American Boxing Federation. He was the first and only inductee into the inaugural class of the Texas Boxing Hall of Fame, an organization founded by El Paso promoter Lester Bedford in 2015.

From an administrative standpoint, boxing in Texas during the reign of Dickie Cole was frequently described in terms befitting a banana republic. Whenever there was a big fight in the Lone Star State, his son was the favorite to draw the coveted refereeing assignment.

Boxing is a sideline for Laurence Cole who runs an independent insurance agency in Dallas. By law in Texas (and in most other states), a boxing promoter must purchase insurance to cover medical costs in the event that one or more of the fighters on his show is seriously injured. Cole’s agency is purportedly in the top two nationally in writing these policies. Make of that what you will.

Complaints of ineptitude, says the WBAA, will be evaluated by a “rotating committee of select BWAA members and respected boxing experts.” In subsequent years, says the press release, the watch list will be published quarterly in the months of April, August, and December (must be the new math).

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The Avila Perspective, Chapter 8: Competing Cards in N.Y. and L.A.

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Rival boxing shows compete this Saturday as light heavyweight world titlists are featured in New Jersey while former world champion welterweights and middleweights tangle in New York.

A mere 150 miles separate the two fight cards staged in Uniondale, N.Y. and Atlantic City.

But there’s no mercy inside the boxing ring and certainly no mercy between boxing promotions. While Main Events stages WBO light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev and WBA light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol in separate bouts, DiBella Entertainment stacks former champs Andre Berto against Devon Alexander in a welterweight clash.

Take your pick.

Russia’s Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) has lost some luster and hopes to reboot his popularity with a win against Canada’s Eleider Alvarez (23-0, 11 KOs). But he will be directly competing against WBA champ Bivol (13-0, 11 KOs), also of Russia, who defends against Isaac Chilemba (25-5-2) of South Africa.

HBO will televise both light heavyweight title fights.

Bivol, 27, has slowly, almost glacier-like slow, picked up fans along the way by training in Southern California. The quiet unassuming fighter with a conservative style and cobra-like quickness appeals to the fans.

“I do not think that now I am the best light heavyweight, but I am now one of the best. One of four guys,” said Bivol during a press conference call. “But I hope in not the far future, we will know who is the best.”

That, of course, would mean a date with Kovalev should both fighters win on Saturday. Nothing is certain.

Kovalev, now 35, has lost some of that fear factor aura since losing back-to-back fights to now retired Andre Ward. Though he’s cracked two opponents in succession by knockout, many are pointing to the potential showdown with Bivol as the moment of truth.

“Most likely this fight is gonna happen since both Sergey and I are HBO boxers and as long as that’s what the people want, most likely the fight will happen,” said Bivol. “Me and Sergey will make sure to give this fight to the people.”

It’s time for the build-up and it starts on Saturday Aug. 4, on HBO.

“That’s certainly a goal of Sergey’s and he’s made it very clear to me that that’s what he wants to do,” said promoter Kathy Duva, CEO of Main Events. “He wants to do unification fights if he is successful with Eleider Alvarez. That’s what he wants to do next; he’s been very clear about that.”

DiBella

Five former world champions stack the fight card at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.

Former welterweight world champs Andre Berto (31-5, 24 KOs) and Devon Alexander (27-4-1, 14 KOs) lead the charge in a 12-round clash. FOX will televise the main event and others at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET.

Berto, 34, has been fighting once a year so it’s difficult to determine if age has crept into his reflexes. When he knocked out Victor Ortiz in a rematch two years ago Berto looked sharp and dangerous. But against Shawn Porter a year ago, the crispness seemed gone and he quickly lost by knockout.

Alexander, 31, has the advantage of being a southpaw. But he always seems to do the minimum when he fights. Last February he slowed down and allowed Victor Ortiz to steal the fight. All the commotion by the announcers was for naught. Defense does not win fights, it allows you to win fights. The lack of offense in the latter rounds cost Alexander a win in a match that entered the books as a majority draw.

It’s a curious matchup of former world champions.

Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin (33-1-1, 23 KOs) the former WBO middleweight titlist meets J’Leon Love (24-1-1, 13 KOs) in a super middleweight bout set for 10 rounds. It’s another intriguing fight especially between two fighters with great personalities.

Quillin, 35, was ambushed by Daniel Jacobs in the first round a year ago in losing the title. Was it bad luck, age or both? As a fighter the Brooklyn-based prizefighter has a ton of followers who like him as a person. Few are as classy as Quillin.

Love, 30, has long been a mainstay in Las Vegas and since his amateur days his abilities have been touted. Throughout the years Love has shown that charm and friendliness can go a long ways, even in the bitter wars of prizefighting. But the time has come to see if he belongs in the prizefighting world. Quillin will present an immense challenge for Love.

A number of other interesting fights are slated to take place among former world champions including Sergey Lipinets who lost the super lightweight title to Mikey Garcia this past winter. There’s also Luis Collazo in a welterweight match.

One world title fight does take place on the card.

Female WBA super middleweight titlist Alicia Napoleon (9-1) makes the first defense of her title against Scotland’s Hannah Rankin (5-1). It’s a 10 round bout and the first time Napoleon defends the title since winning it last March against Germany’s Femke Hermans. Ironically, Hermans now has the WBO super middleweight title after defeating former champ Nikki Adler by decision this past May.

L.A. Congestion

Next week the city of Angels will be packed with three fight cards in four days.

First, on Wednesday Aug. 8, 360 Promotions stages Abraham Lopez (9-1-1, 3 KOs) versus Gloferson Ortizo (12-0-1, 6 KOs) in the main event at the Avalon Theater in Hollywood, Calif. This is Filipino fighter Ortizo’s ninth fight this year. You read that correctly.

All of Ortizo’s fights have taken place across the border in Tijuana. The 32-year-old now returns to California against another Californian in Lopez. He’ll be looking for his fourth consecutive knockout, but Lopez, 22, has not lost a fight since his pro debut. Inactivity might come into play for Lopez who hasn’t stepped in the boxing ring in over a year.

New York’s Brian Ceballo (3-0) returns in a six round welterweight bout against local fighter Tavorus Teague (5-20-4). Ceballo, who is promoted by 360 Promotions, looked good in his last appearance. The amateurish punches seen in his first two bouts were gone by his third pro fight. His opponent Teague has ability and can give problems if Ceballo takes his foot off the pedal.

One of Gennady “GGG” Golovkin’s training partners Ali Akhmedov (11-0, 8 KOs) makes his California debut when he meets Jorge Escalante (9-1-1, 6 KOs) in a light heavyweight match.

Female super lightweight Elvina White (2-0) is also slated to compete. The entire fight card will be streamed at www.360promotions.us and on the 360 Promotions page on Facebook. First bell rings at 6:15 p.m.

Belasco Theater in downtown L.A. is the site of Golden Boy Promotions fight card on Friday Aug. 10. A pair of young prospects will be severely tested.

San Diego’s Genaro Gamez (8-0, 5 KOs) meets Filipino fighter Recky Dulay (10-3, 7 KOs) for the vacant NABF super featherweight title. For Dulay it’s always kill or be killed. Five of his last fights have ended in knockout wins or losses.

Gamez, 23, seems to thrive under pressure and broke down two veterans in back-to-back fights at Fantasy Springs Casino. Now he returns to the Belasco, a venue where he has struggled in the past. But this time he’s the main event.

Another being severely tested will be Emilio Sanchez (15-1, 10 KOs) facing veteran Christopher Martin (30-10-3, 10 KOs) who is capable of beating anyone.

Sanchez, 24, lost by knockout in his last fight this past March. He’s talented and fearless and one mistake cost him his first loss as a pro. He’s not getting a break against Martin, a cagey fighter who has upset many young rising prospects in the past. Martin also has experience against world champions. It’s an extremely tough matchup for Sanchez.

The fight card will be televised by Estrella TV beginning at 6 p.m.

World Title Fight

On Saturday, boxing returns to the Avalon Theater in Hollywood.

The main event is a good one as Puerto Rico’s Jesus Rojas (26-1-2, 19 KOs) defends the WBA featherweight world title against Southern California’s Jojo Diaz (26-1) in a 12 round clash. It’s power versus speed.

Rojas, 31, is one tough customer. When he took the interim title against Claudia Marrero last year he chased down the speedy southpaw Dominican and blasted him out in the seventh round. Several months earlier he obliterated another Golden Boy prospect, Abraham Lopez (not the same Abraham Lopez that is fighting on the 360 Promotions card), in eight rounds. Now he has the title and defends against the speedy southpaw Diaz.

Diaz, 25, just recently lost a bid for the WBC featherweight title against Gary Russell Jr. Though he lost by decision three months ago, that fight might be easy in comparison to this challenge against Rojas.

The former Olympian won’t be able to take a breath against the Puerto Rican slugger who is about as rough as they come.

Two more undefeated Golden Boy prospects get a chance to eliminate each other when Philadelphia’s Damon Allen (15-0-1) meets East L.A.’s Jonathan Navarro (14-0, 7 KOs) in a super lightweight fight set for 10 rounds.

Phillie versus East LA is like fire versus fire in the boxing ring. Boxers originating from those two hard-bitten areas usually have go-for-broke styles that result in pure action. Allen versus Navarro should not disappoint.

Allen, 25, is not a hard puncher but he’s aggressive and like most Philadelphia fighters, he’s not afraid to mix it up.

Navarro, 21, lives in East L.A. but trains in Riverside under Robert Garcia. He’s slowly finding his timing and will be facing the fastest fighter since his pro debut in 2015.

Others featured on the card will be Hector Tanajara, Aaron McKenna and Ferdinand Kerobyan.

The card will be streamed on the Golden Boy Fight Night page on Facebook beginning at 6 p.m.

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What’s Next for Manny Pacquiao?

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Manny Pacquiao isn’t quite ready to retire, and more big-money fights against high-level competition seem to be on the 39-year-old’s way.

“I feel like I’m a 27-year-old,” Pacquiao told GMAnetwork.com’s Jamil Santos last week. “Expect more fights to come.”

Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39 KOs) looked exceptionally sharp in his seventh-round knockout win over former junior welterweight titleholder Lucas Matthysse on July 15 at Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was Pacquiao’s best performance in at least four years, netting Pacquiao a secondary world title at welterweight along with a slew of renewed public interest in the boxing superstar’s career.

But what comes next for the only fighter in the history of boxing to capture world titles in eight different weight classes? TSS takes a detailed look at the potential opponents for one of the sport’s most celebrated stars.

Cream of the Crop

Pacquiao looked good enough against Matthysse to suggest he’d make a viable candidate to face either Terence Crawford or Vasyl Lomachenko next. Crawford is ranked No. 2 on the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board’s pound-for-pound list while Lomachenko slots at No. 1.

While Pacquiao is no longer under contract with longtime promoter Bob Arum at Top Rank, most industry insiders expect he will continue working with Arum’s team in some capacity so long as his career keeps moving forward. Pacquiao started his own promotional venture, MP Promotions, to co-promote the Matthysse bout with Oscar De La Hoya, but Top Rank was still involved in the fight which is why the bout ended up streaming on ESPN+.

Top Rank’s two hottest commodities at the present are Ring Magazine and WBA lightweight champ Lomachenko and welterweight titlist Crawford. Both are highly-regarded, multi-division world titleholders in the primes of their careers who are universally considered the top fighters in boxing.

Lomachenko and Crawford would each present a unique set of problems for Pacquiao stylistically. Of the two, Pacquiao probably matches up best with Lomachenko at this point in his career. Crawford (33-0, 24 KOs) is much larger and heavier than both Pacquiao and Lomachenko, and unless Pacquiao just really wants to test himself against someone incredibly dangerous, it’d probably be best for Team Pacquiao to avoid fighting Crawford at all costs. Crawford would be a heavy favorite against Pacquiao and most boxing insiders don’t believe this version of Pacquiao could compete with Crawford.

Lomachenko (11-1, 9 KOs) is naturally smaller than Pacquiao and has never fought above 135 pounds. If Pacquiao could lure Lomachenko to 140 pounds or above, he’d find himself in a winnable fight against a top-notch opponent. Lomachenko would probably be the slight favorite based on age alone but Pacquiao’s power and athleticism would give him a realistic chance to pull the upset.

Other Notable Possibilities

Former junior welterweight titleholder Amir Khan has long been angling for a bout against Pacquiao. Khan faces Samuel Vargas on Sept. 8 in another comeback bout against lower level competition. Khan (32-4, 20 KOs) bravely moved up to middleweight to fight Canelo Alvarez in 2016 but was knocked out in the sixth round. He left the sport for a spell but returned to boxing in February as a welterweight with a sensational first round knockout win over Phil Lo Greco. A win over Vargas puts Khan in good position to secure a bout with Pacquiao, and the fight is a reasonable move by both camps. Pacquiao would probably be the heavy favorite, but Khan’s speed and long reach give him a decent chance to pull the upset.

Former welterweight titleholder Jeff Horn won a controversial decision over Pacquiao last year in Australia. The bout grabbed huge ratings for ESPN and there have been many debates since it happened as to which fighter truly deserved the nod from the judges. Horn (18-1-1, 12 KOs) doesn’t possess elite level talent, but he’s huge compared to Pacquiao and fights with such ferocity that the two can’t help but make an aesthetically pleasing fight together. Pacquiao would be the heavy favorite to defeat Horn if the two fight again.

Pacquiao vs. PBC fighters?

Boxing’s current political climate and the ongoing battle of promoters and television networks for the hearts and minds of boxing fans usually leaves many compelling fights between top level stars off the table. Fighters promoted by Top Rank and Golden Boy are almost never able to secure bouts with fighters signed to Al Haymon to appear under the Premier Boxing Champions banner and vice versa. But Pacquiao’s free agent status opens up new and interesting possibilities for the fighter to pursue noteworthy PBC fighters.

There had been lots of chatter about Pacquiao facing Mikey Garcia next. Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs) has been decimating competition at both lightweight and junior welterweight. Garcia is considered by most experts to be one of the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. He’s the TBRB junior welterweight champion and a unified lightweight titleholder (WBC, IBF). While Garcia is hoping to land a big money bout against IBF welterweight titleholder Errol Spence, most boxing experts believe the jump up to 147 pounds would be too much for the diminutive Garcia who began his career at featherweight. A better welterweight target for Garcia would be Pacquiao who also began his career in a much lower weight class.

Spence (24-0, 21 KOs) is probably the best of the PBC welterweights. He’s considered by many to be on par with Crawford at 147 so it would be an incredibly dangerous bout for Pacquiao to go after at this point in his career. But Spence is aggressive and fights in a style that Pacquiao traditionally matches up very well against. Spence would be the favorite based on size, age and skill.

Slightly less dangerous to Pacquiao would be facing the winner of the Sept. 8 battle between Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter. Garcia (34-1, 20 KOs) and Porter (28-2-1, 17 KOs) are fighting for the vacant WBC welterweight title and the possibility of capturing another world title in his career could sway Pacquiao to seek out the winner. Pacquiao could find himself a slight favorite or underdog depending on which of the two fighters he would face, but both would be winnable fights.

The WBA welterweight champion is Keith Thurman. Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs) is a good boxer with tremendous power but Pacquiao’s speed and athleticism would probably give him the leg up in that potential matchup. Thurman hasn’t fought in over 16 months though and recent pictures suggest he’s not in fighting shape at the moment, so the likelihood of a Pacquiao vs. Thurman fight is pretty much nil.

Some fans want Pacquiao to face Adrien Broner. Broner (33-3-1, 24 KOs) is a solid contender at 147 but probably doesn’t have the skill to seriously compete with Pacquiao. Pacquiao would be a significant favorite and would likely stop Broner if the two were able to meet in a boxing ring.

Mayweather-Pacquiao 2?

Pacquiao lost a unanimous decision to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2015, but the circumstances surrounding the fight, and the fact it was the biggest box office bash in the history of the sport, have led many to suspect the two fighters would meet again in a rematch.

Yes, Mayweather (50-0, 27 KOs) is retired, but he’s unretired several times in his career for big money fights including last year’s crossover megafight with UFC star Conor McGregor. While it seems unlikely to happen, Mayweather-Pacquiao 2 would still be a huge worldwide event worth millions of dollars to both fighters so those following the sport can never say never to the idea of it happening again.

While Mayweather is 41, he’d still get the nod as the betting favorite should he fight Pacquiao again based on what happened in the first fight as well as his stylistic advantage over Pacquiao.

Pacquiao vs. McGregor?

McGregor’s bout against Mayweather last year was such a financial success and the MMA star made so much more money in the boxing ring than he did as a UFC fighter that the idea of him returning to the sport to face Pacquiao isn’t as far-fetched as one might think.

Pacquiao vs. McGregor would be an easy sell to the general public. According to CompuBox, McGregor landed more punches against Mayweather than did Pacquiao, and the general consensus is that Mayweather-McGregor was more fun to watch than Mayweather-Pacquiao.

The size difference between the two would lead to an easy promotion. McGregor is a junior middleweight and Pacquiao has only competed at the weight once back in 2010. Despite all that, Pacquiao would be a significant favorite to defeat McGregor and rightly so. He’s too fast and too good a boxer, and his aggressive style would likely lead to a stoppage win.

Pacquiao’s Top Targets

Pacquiao’s top targets should be Mayweather, McGregor and Lomachenko. Pacquiao would stand to make the most money facing either Mayweather or McGregor. Pacquiao’s reportedly injured shoulder heading into 2015 bout left many wondering how the fight might be different had the Filipino gone into things at his best, and Mayweather’s age might play more of a factor in the second fight than it did in the first. A Pacquiao-McGregor fight would be a worldwide spectacle, one Pacquiao would be heavily favored to win. Besides, it’d be interesting to see if Pacquiao could stop McGregor sooner than historical rival Mayweather. Finally, Lomachenko might be trying to climb up weight classes too fast, and Pacquiao would certainly be fit to test the validity of that theory. It’d be one of the biggest fights in boxing and a win for Pacquiao would be another huge feather in the cap of one of boxing’s true historically great champions.

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