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Argentine Legend Carlos Monzon: Revered and Reviled

Sometimes the story you think you’re going to write takes a swift and decisive turn, as can be the case in boxing, where the outcome of a fight that

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Sometimes the story you think you’re going to write takes a swift and decisive turn, as can be the case in boxing, where the outcome of a fight that seemingly is all but decided can swing the other way with a single well-placed blow.

My original notion was to commemorate the career of Argentina’s greatest boxer, the late Carlos Monzon, who wrested the middleweight championship from Italy’s Nino Benvenuti on an emphatic, 12th-round knockout on Nov. 7, 1970, at the Palazzetto dello Sport in Rome. Toward that end I again watched the tape of Monzon’s performance that night against his fellow future Hall of Famer, for the purpose of assessing his rightful place on the list of the division’s all-time greats, a Who’s Who of the ring that includes the esteemed likes of Harry Greb, Stanley Ketchel, Sugar Ray Robinson, Charley Burley, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and, of more recent vintage, Bernard Hopkins and the still-active Gennady Golovkin. There are those who would place Monzon at the front of that exclusive line.

But while Monzon was undoubtedly an all-time great, proclaimed as such on the cover of the Aug. 8, 1977, issue of Sports Illustrated  by an action photo of his final bout, a 15-round unanimous decision over Colombia’s Rodrigo Valdez and a headline that read Monzon The Magnificent: Middleweight Champ Wins His 83rd in a Row, more current headlines of a different sort caused me to wonder if my planned celebration of the genius of his craft should dwell more with his many failings as a human being.

“Sexual harassment” and “domestic abuse” are more hot-button topics today than they were decades ago, before the rise of female empowerment brought those issues out of the shadows and into the glare of widespread public scrutiny. But there is a significant difference between the reprehensible but non-violent abuses large inflatable water slides of power attributed to movie executive Harvey Weinstein and those of Monzon, who literally battered his various wives and mistresses whenever he failed to exercise proper impulse control. That pattern of unchecked aggression was culminated when Monzon, a beloved national hero in Argentina, was convicted of murder in 1988 after he strangled his second wife, Uruguayan model Alicia Muniz, and threw her off the second-floor balcony of a resort hotel at which the couple was staying.

But millions of Monzon’s countrymen continue to revere their presumably disgraced idol, who died in a car crash, at age 52, along with passenger Geronimo Domingo Mottura, on Jan. 8, 1995, while on unsupervised “furlough” from prison.  Evidently the penalty for homicide is less severe in Argentina for those who have had statues erected in their honor.

That statue, located along the coast of Santa Fe, Argentina, depicts Monzon, his arms thrust upward in victorious exultation. Called the Costanera, it purportedly is “illuminated by the light of everlasting glory.” One Argentine writer, musing about the message the statue’s place of prominence continues to espouse, holds that “…nobody can judge (Monzon). His life, as well as his boxing role, has always been a work of art. Standing in front of his statue is enough to remember him while avoiding tears running down our faces.”

For those unwilling or unable to differentiate Monzon the champion from Monzon the killer and serial thumper of women, such rationalization is fairly commonplace. Hero worship does not allow for much introspection for those who refuse to acknowledge personality warts on their idols, nor is it confined to any particular country, culture or class. Boxing, and the sports world in general, is liberally dotted with the names of famous athletes who have disrespected women, and worse, because they felt they somehow were above the laws of civilized society that apply to everyone else. Football stars Aaron Hernandez and Lawrence Phillips, both now deceased, committed murders, and O.J. Simpson was accused but not convicted of a double murder. Tom Payne, the former University of Kentucky basketball star, is still incarcerated after being convicted of multiple rapes. Former NFL running back Ray Rice literally lost his career after a video surfaced of him scoring a one-punch knockout of his girlfriend (now wife) and dragging her out of a hotel elevator by the hair.

Jack Pemment, who holds a master’s degree in psychology, wrote a scholarly treatise on boxers and domestic violence that explains but does not condone such (usually) well-publicized incidents, while also holding that the discipline expected of a fighter also can mitigate the urge to yield to feelings of rage against his wife or significant other.

“Boxing is intimately linked with working class backgrounds and poverty,” Pemment wrote in Psychology Today. “The connection between poverty and boxing is a phenomenal case study in itself.” He cited three possible causes for individuals to become “irrationally reactionary,” one being a fear of a fighter returning to his impoverished roots, another being a successful fighter’s developing sense of entitlement and, lastly, stress and personality disorders that are connected to violent behavior.

But, Pemment concludes, “there is no formula for determining if (such disorders) can result in impulse control problems.” Furthermore, he states that “there have been numerous instances where joining a boxing gym has literally helped to keep kids off the street and out of gangs. This has the immediate effect of preventing children from being exposed to criminal violence. In the infinitely complex quagmire of human behavior, there will always be exceptions to these things (that lead to domestic violence), but this is why I think boxing has probably helped to reduce aggressive outcomes outside the ring, rather than encourage them.

“To be sure, there are people that have been beaten by boxers (Floyd Mayweather is the highest-profile example), and I do not want to undermine the plight of the victim. There is no excuse for domestic violence, and I still maintain that (ideally) boxers should have a greater sense of self-awareness of the damage they can cause, which is perhaps why they should be held to a higher standard. Domestic violence is an abhorrent endemic social problem that impacts far too many people on a daily basis. If boxing was somehow removed from the equation, the numbers would not drop.”

Which is a fancy way of saying that the fault does not necessarily lie in any individual’s profession or station, but to that person’s sense of morality. But just as Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby are too high-profile to evade close scrutiny forever, so, too, are such pugilistic strayers from accepted norms as Monzon, Mayweather, Mike Tyson, the late Jake LaMotta and a notable few others. Their fans might laud what they do inside the ropes, but that only comprises a portion of who they truly are as a whole. Perhaps the entirety of a person’s character should be taken into account before we relinquish our hearts like love-struck teenagers.

Monzon’s place on a boxing pedestal is forever ensured, and so is it for Mayweather, he of the 50-0 record and record-shattering gross revenues. “Money’s” place in boxing history is assured, but that should not fully absolve him of another kind of history, which includes seven separate incidents of domestic abuse against five different women dating back to 2001, one of which resulted in a 90-day prison sentence. Mayweather’s feeling of entitlement is such that he successfully sought to bar two female reporters, HBO and ESPN’s Michelle Beadle and CNN’s Rachel Nichols from being credentialed to cover his May 2, 2015, megafight with Manny Pacquiao because they brought up the less savory aspects of his life which he would prefer not to be raised.

Tyson, of course, served three years for the rape of a teenaged beauty pageant contestant, which he has denied committing. Interviewed by Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren, he denounced the victim on television as a “slimy bitch” and “lying reptilian,” and while reiterating that, while he was falsely convicted, he’d like to “do” her and her mother then as a form of pay-back. This is the same guy who once bragged that “the best punch I ever landed” was on Robin Givens, his first wife.

LaMotta, the “Bronx Bull” whose sometimes sordid life was chronicled in the 1980 Academy Award-winning film Raging Bull, was 95 when he passed on Sept. 19. Asked once by the second of his seven wives, Vikki, why he felt the need to beat her, LaMotta said it was because he “loved” her and he thought it would serve to frighten her into staying with him.

Everyone has faults, some more pronounced than others, and we all should take a good, hard look in the mirror before casting stones at anyone else’s glass house. It’s OK to admire a fighter for what he does inside the ropes while entertaining us. But it’s always a slippery slope upon which we venture when that admiration causes us to lose sight of the bigger picture, which is how each and every one of us places in the tapestry of human existence.

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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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Popo vs. “La Hiena”: Blast From the Past – Episode Two

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Freitas

When WBA/WBO super featherweight champion Acelino “Popo” Freitas met Jorge Rodrigo “Il Hiena” Barrios in Miami on August 8, 2003, there was more on the line than just the titles. This was a roughhousing 39-1-1 Argentinian fighting an equally tough 33-0 Brazilian. The crowd was divided between Brazilian fans and those from Argentina. To them this was a Mega-Fight; this was BIG.

When Acelino Freitas turned professional in 1995, he streaked from the gate with 29 straight KOs, one of the longest knockout win streaks in boxing history. He was fan-friendly and idolized in Brazil. Barrios turned professional in 1996 and went 14-0 before a DQ loss after which he went 25-0-1 with 1 no decision.

The Fight

The wild swinging “Hyena” literally turned into one as he attacked from the beginning and did not let up until the last second of the eleventh round. Barrios wanted to turn the fight into a street fight and was reasonably successful with that strategy. It became a case of brawler vs. boxer/puncher and when the brawler caught the more athletic Popo—who could slip and duck skillfully—and decked him with a straight left in the eighth, the title suddenly was up for grabs.

The Brazilian fans urged their hero on but to no avail as Barrios rendered a pure beat down on Popo during virtually the entirety of the 11th round—one of the most exciting in boxing history. Freitas went down early from a straight right. He was hurt, and at this point it looked like it might be over. Barrios was like a madman pounding Popo with a variety of wild shots, but with exactly one half of one second to go before the bell ending the round, Freitas caught La Hiena with a monster right hand that caused the Hyena to do the South American version of the chicken dance before he went down with his face horribly bloodied. When he got up, he had no idea where he was but his corner worked furiously to get him ready for the final round. All he had to do was hang in there and the title would change hands on points.

The anonymous architect of “In Boxing We Trust,” a web site that went dormant in 2010, wrote this description:

“Near the end of round 11, about a milli-second before the bell rang, Freitas landed a ROCK HARD right hand shot flush on Barrios’ chin. Barrios stood dazed for a moment, frozen in time, and then down he went, WOW WOW WOW!!!! Barrios got up at the count of 4, he didn’t know where he was as he looked around towards the crowd like a kid separated from his family at a theme park, but Barrios turned to the ref at the count of 8 and signaled that he was okay, SAVED BY THE BELL. It was panic time in the Barrios corner, as the blood continued to flow like lava, and he was bleeding from his ear (due to a ruptured ear drum). In the beginning of round 12, Freitas was able to score an early knockdown, and as Barrios stood up on wobbly legs and Freitas went straight at him and with a couple more shots, Barrios was clearly in bad shape and badly discombobulated and the fight was stopped. Freitas had won a TKO victory in round 12, amazing!!!!”

Later, Freitas tarnished his image with a “No Mas” against Diego Corrales, but he had gone down three times and knew there was no way out. He went on to claim the WBO world lightweight title with a split decision over Zahir Raheem, but that fight was a snoozefest and he lost the title in his first defense against Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz.

Freitas looked out of shape coming in to the Diaz fight and that proved to be the case as he was so gassed at the end of the eighth round that he quit on his stool. This was yet another shocker, but others (including Kostya Tszyu, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya and even Ali) had done so and the criticism this time seemed disproportionate.

Popo had grown old. It happens. Yet, against Barrios, he had proven without a doubt that he possessed the heart of a warrior.

The Brazilian boxing hero retired in 2007, but came back in 2012 and schooled and KOd the cocky Michael “The Brazilian Rocky” Oliveira. He won another fight in 2015 and though by now he was visibly paunchy, he still managed to go 10 rounds to beat Gabriel Martinez in 2017 with occasional flashes of his old explosive volleys. These later wins, though against lower level opposition, somewhat softened the memories of the Corrales and Diaz fights, both of which this writer attended at the Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Connecticut. They would be his only defeats in 43 pro bouts.

Like Manny Pacquiao, Freitas had a difficult childhood but was determined to make a better life for himself and his family. And, like Manny, he did and he also pursued a career in politics. Whether he makes it into the Hall will depend on how much a ‘No Mas’ can count against one, but he warrants serious consideration when he becomes eligible.

As for the Hyena, on April 8, 2005, he won the WBO junior lightweight title with a fourth round stoppage of undefeated but overweight Mike Anchondo. In January 2010 he was involved in a hit and run accident in which a 20-year-old pregnant woman was killed. On April 4, 2012 Barrios was declared guilty of culpable homicide and sentenced to four years in prison. He served 27 months and never fought again, retiring with a record of 50-4-1.

Ted Sares is one of the oldest active full power lifters in the world. A member of Ring 10, and Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he was recently cited by Hannibal Boxing as one of three “Must-Read” boxing writers.

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The Avila Perspective Chapter 6: Munguia, Cruiserweights and Pacman

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Adjoining states

Adjoining states in the west host a number of boxing cards including a world title contest that features a newcomer who, before knocking out a world champion, was erroneously categorized by a Nevada official as unworthy of a title challenge.

Welcome to the world of Mexico’s Jaime Munguia (29-0, 25 KOs) the WBO super welterweight world titlist who meets England’s Liam Smith (26-1-1, 14 KOs) at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Saturday, July 21. HBO will televise

Back in April when middleweight titan Gennady “GGG” Golovkin was seeking an opponent to replace Saul “Canelo” Alvarez who was facing suspension for performance enhancement drug use, it was the 21-year-old from Tijuana who volunteered his services for a May 5th date in Las Vegas.

Bob Bennett, the Executive Director for Nevada State Athletic Commission, denied allowing Munguia an opportunity to fight Golovkin for the middleweight titles. Bennett claimed that the slender Mexican fighter had not proven worthy of contesting for the championship though the tall Mexican wielded an undefeated record of 28 wins with 24 coming by knockout.

To be fair, Bennett has seen many fighters in the past with undefeated records who were not up to challenges, especially against the likes of Golovkin. But on the other hand, how can an official involved in prizefighting deny any fighter the right to make a million dollar payday if both parties are willing?

That is the bigger question.

Munguia stopped by Los Angeles to meet with the media last week and spoke about Bennett and his upcoming first world title defense. He admitted to being in the middle of a whirlwind that is spinning beyond his expectations. But he likes it.

“I’ve never won any kind of award before in my life,” said Munguia at the Westside Boxing Club in the western portion of Los Angeles. “I’ve always wanted to be a world champion since I was old enough to fight.”

When asked how he felt about Nevada’s denying him an attempt to fight Golovkin, a wide grin appeared on the Mexican youngster.

“I would like to thank him,” said Munguia about Bennett’s refusal to allow him to fight Golovkin. “Everything happens for a reason.”

That reason is clear now.

Two months ago Munguia put on a frightening display of raw power in knocking down then WBO super welterweight titlist Sadam Ali numerous times in front of New York fans. It reminded me of George Foreman’s obliteration of Joe Frazier back in the 1970s. World champions are not supposed get battered like that but when someone packs that kind of power those can be the terrifying results.

Still beaming over his newfound recognition, Munguia has grand plans for his future including challenging all of the other champions in his weight category and the next weight division.

“I want to be a great champion,” said Munguia. “I want to make history.”

The first step toward history begins on Saturday when he faces former world champion Smith who was dethroned by another Mexican named Canelo.

Cruiserweight championship

It’s not getting a large amount of attention in my neighborhood but this unification clash between WBA and IBF cruiserweight titlist Murat Gassiev (26-0, 19 KOs) and WBC and WBO cruiserweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs) has historic ramifications tagged all over it.

The first time I ever saw Russia’s 24-year-old Gassiev was three years ago when he made his American debut at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello. It’s a small venue near East L.A. and the fight was attended by numerous boxing celebrities such as James “Lights Out” Toney, Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin. One entire section was filled by Russian supporters and Gassiev did not disappoint in winning by stoppage that night. His opponent hung on for dear life.

Ukraine’s Usyk, 31, made his American debut in late 2016 on a Golden Boy Promotions card that staged boxing great Bernard Hopkins’ final prizefight. That night the cruiserweight southpaw Usyk bored audiences with his slap happy style until lowering the boom on South Africa’s Thabiso Mchunu in round nine at the Inglewood Forum. The sudden result stunned the audience.

Now it’s Gassiev versus Usyk and four world titles are at stake. The unification fight takes place in Moscow, Russia and will be streamed via Klowd TV at 12 p.m. PT/ 3 p.m. ET.

Seldom are cruiserweight matchups as enticing to watch as this one.

Another Look

A couple of significant fights took place last weekend, but Manny Pacquiao’s knockout win over Lucas Matthysse for the WBO welterweight world title heads the list.

Neither fighter looked good in their fight in Malaysia but when Pacquiao floored Matthysse several times during the fight, it raised some red flags.

The last time Pacquiao knocked out a welterweight was in 2009 against Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas. Since then he had not stopped an opponent. What changed?

In this age of PEDs there was no mention of testing for the Pacquiao/Matthysse fight. For the curiosity of the media and the fans, someone should come forward with proof of testing. Otherwise any future fights for the Philippine great will not be forthcoming.

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