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Joe Frazier and his trainer Yank Durham, a Great Combination

Many past heavyweight greats were closely aligned with their trainer. Joe Louis had Jack Blackburn, Rocky Marciano had Charlie Goldman, Muhammad Ali had Angelo Dundee and “Smokin” Joe Frazier had Yancey “Yank” Durham.

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Durham

Many past heavyweight greats were closely aligned with their trainer. Joe Louis had Jack Blackburn, Rocky Marciano had Charlie Goldman, Muhammad Ali had Angelo Dundee and “Smokin” Joe Frazier had Yancey “Yank” Durham. Yank remained with Frazier from 1961-73, encompassing his pro debut up to his 31st bout, and Frazier went 30-1 (25) with Yank in his ear.

Among his 30 victims were Eddie Machen, Oscar Bonavena twice, George Chuvalo, Buster Mathis, Jerry Quarry, Jimmy Ellis, Bob Foster, Joe Bugner and the biggest of all, Muhammad Ali, whom Joe defeated in the “Fight of The Century” in 1971. The lone loss was to George Foreman.

This July 2nd will mark 45 years since “Smokin” Joe last fought with Yank in his corner. His opponent was Joe Bugner 42-5-1 (26), the European heavyweight champion.

In his bout prior to meeting Frazier, the 23-year-old 6-4 225-pound Bugner had gone the 12-round distance with Muhammad Ali. Frazier was coming off his loss to Foreman, a bout in which he took a lot of murderous punches. Prior to facing Foreman, Durham tried in a subtle way to convince Joe that Foreman was all wrong for him, and fighting Clay (Durham always referred to Ali as Clay) again for nearly six times more money than he was getting for defending the title against Foreman was the wiser move. However, Frazier wasn’t about to give Muhammad purse parity again. No, not after defeating him in the biggest fight in boxing history.

Yank Durham was lauded for the way he brought Frazier along when he turned pro after winning a gold medal at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. When Yank first started working with Frazier, Joe used to dance around the ring, mimicking Ali. Durham reined that in, conveying to Frazier that he was too short to fight on the outside as Ali did, and that to be successful Joe had to get inside and make his 73-inch reach work for him. When Frazier turned pro in 1965, Ali was the undisputed champ. And it was Durham who profoundly told Frazier that if he ever wanted to be the champ he would have to beat Ali who would be the one standing in his path when he got there. Frazier absorbed everything Durham said, and then worked hard to develop his style so he could nullify Ali’s jab, then work his body as he was cutting the ring off in the process. Frazier became so proficient fighting as a swarmer that he was successful against every opponent he ever fought not named George Foreman.

Going into the Bugner fight, there was a school of thought that the Ali fight had pushed Joe to the edge of the cliff and then Foreman had pushed him off it. Nowadays, the logic would be to put Frazier in soft for his first comeback fight, and to put him in with a fighter he could knock out. Although Bugner wasn’t considered a big threat to beat Joe, he was physically bigger than Ali and Foreman and no one had knocked him out at that point (other than in his pro debut). At the time it seemed like a strange choice as a first opponent back, with the point being you generally give a fighter returning from a devastating loss, especially if it’s their first, a confidence-builder to get him back, and Bugner definitely wasn’t that, but Yank, who often spoke in the first person, had the final say and he seldom guessed wrong when calling the shots for Joe Frazier.

The Frazier-Bugner bout took place at the Earl’s Court Arena, Kensington, London, only the second time Frazier had fought outside the US to that point. Frazier weighed-in at 208, six pounds less than he was for Foreman. Bugner was 221, two pounds more than he was for Ali in his last fight five months earlier.

Frazier started fast against Bugner, pressing him from bell-to-bell while banging him to the body with left and right hooks. In typical Frazier fashion he didn’t allow Bugner the time or room to move or box. In the 10th round Frazier cornered Bugner and dropped him with a left hook to the chin for a nine-count. In the midst of trying to finish him off, Frazier left himself open and Bugner caught him with a chopping right to the chin, buckling Joe’s legs with 10 seconds left in the round. Frazier continued the assault during the 11th and 12th rounds, working Bugner over to the head and body, and the fight went the full route.

Referee Harry Gibbs, who was both judge and referee, raised Frazier’s hand in victory, having scored it in his favor 59.25 to 58.5. Bugner would go down as only the fourth fighter to go the distance with Frazier along with George Johnson, Oscar Bonavena and Muhammad Ali, but the bout dispelled the rumors that Joe was washed up. After the fight, a smiling Frazier said, “I could go with Foreman tomorrow and beat him.”

On August 30, 1973, less than two months after guiding Frazier to his comeback win over Bugner, Durham passed away from a stroke at Temple University Hospital at age 52.

– – –

Yancey “Yank” Durham was a welder for the Pennsylvania Railroad, later the Penn-Central, and began training boxers in Police Athletic League gyms. His fate changed one day in 1961 when a chubby 17-year-old walked into the P.A.L. gym and said he wanted to lose weight and be a fighter. The teenager’s name was Joe Frazier. Three years later, at age 20, Frazier was an Olympic gold medal winner and in 1970 he stopped Jimmy Ellis to win the world heavyweight title.

Yank taught Joe how to slip the jab using great head and upper body movement and to get low and inside on the mostly taller opponents he’d face, while cutting the ring off and working the body at the same time. Prior to his first meeting with Ali, Durham gloated and said, “We developed a style a long time ago to beat Clay, Joe has it down pat now.” Truer words were never spoken by a trainer as Frazier would go on to give Ali the most difficult rounds of his career, 41 rounds in all, encompassing three fights.

The Durham-Frazier team worked great together. In the gym, the biggest disagreements they had pertained to sparring. As conveyed to me by many of Frazier’s close associates, when a particular sparring partner tried to make a name for himself against Joe, he’d ask Yank whose money he paid him with, his or Yank’s? And if the answer was Joe’s, then he showed him no mercy.

When Durham died, Frazier turned to the capable Eddie Futch. Durham and Futch became close in 1966, early in Joe’s career, when Joe had a couple of fights in California where Futch was based. But let the record show that it was Yank Durham who mostly crafted and molded Frazier’s style with a few tweaks by Futch added later, mainly a more active right hand to the head and chin.

Looking back, Durham’s intuition was great when it came to making crucial decisions pertaining to Joe’s career. Consider that when Frazier was in California and sparred with Jerry Quarry, the Quarry faction wanted to match them right away, but Durham shot it down saying that in a few years they would fight for the title with more money on the line and Joe would be better. In June of 1969, Frazier stopped Quarry in seven rounds with Joe’s NYSA and world title on the line.

When Muhammad Ali was stripped of the heavyweight title for refusing military induction, the WBA set up an elimination tournament to determine his successor. Frazier was the top ranked contender at the time, but Durham wouldn’t allow Frazier to participate in the tournament saying, “Joe will just beat the winner.” On February 16, 1970, Frazier stopped Jimmy Ellis who had won the tournament. And it was Durham who tried as diplomatically as he could to persuade Frazier that fighting Foreman made no sense and there was nothing to gain by beating him. Only that time Joe overruled Yank.

Lastly, Yank probably gave the greatest motivational speech a trainer ever gave to a fighter for a big fight. Before his first training session for his 1971 bout against Ali, Durham said, “Joe, this is going to be the hardest thing you ever do in your life, but it’ll be worth it if you win. Remember, Clay doesn’t want to just beat you – he wants to humiliate and embarrass you, and make a complete mockery of you being called the champ. Beat this guy and no matter whatever else you do for the rest of your life the road will be paved!”

On Monday night, March 8th, 1971, Frazier won the most anticipated fight in boxing history, paving his way to the HOF and going down as one of the all-time great heavyweight champions.

Joe Frazier and Yank Durham formed one of the strongest and most successful pairings in boxing history.  When Yank passed, he was in the midst of trying to secure a rematch for Joe with Foreman, per Joe’s request.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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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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