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Luis Rodriguez was one of the Greatest of the Greats

Comparing fighters from different eras ignites one of the most intensely contested debates among boxing fans and observers. Sooner or later, the discussion evolves

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Comparing

Comparing fighters from different eras ignites one of the most intensely contested debates among boxing fans and observers. Sooner or later, the discussion evolves into who would’ve beaten whom? Aside from heavyweights, who are much bigger now than they were 50 years ago, not much has changed from light heavyweights on down, other than starting in the 1980s when the elite fighters and title-holders began to fight less often. The trend of fighters becoming less active started in the late 1970s when boxers started to make more money.

July 8th marks the 22nd anniversary of the death of Luis Rodriguez who had 120 bouts in a career lasting from 1956 to 1972, going 107-13 (49). Rodriguez didn’t fight for a title until his 53rd bout at age 25 when he unseated welterweight champion Emile Griffith, an all-time great, losing it back to him three months later via a split decision. As he entered his thirties he fought as a middleweight but never scaled 160 until 1970.

It’s interesting to compare Rodriguez (pictured on the right; Griffith on the left) with more recent fighters who were also elite welterweight title-holders.

Thomas Hearns, who won his first title as a welterweight, went on to become one of the greatest and most accomplished boxers of the 80s – and yet he fought a total of 67 times……Oscar De La Hoya (39-6) had a total of 45 bouts and won his first title in his 12th fight in 1994 at age 21. He never looked close to special again post-2003 after his 39th bout….Felix Trinidad (42-3) fought 45 times. He won the welterweight title in his 20th bout in 1993 at age 20, and was considered finished as a fighter by 2005 at age 32 when he lost to Winky Wright….Shane Mosley (49-10-1) fought 60 times. He won his first title in 1997 at age 26 and a strong case can be made that he never looked outstanding again after his 41st bout in 2003 at age 32….And Manny Pacquiao (59-7-2), considered a throwback today by some insiders, hasn’t looked great since 2009 after his 55th bout at age 31.

Luis Manuel Rodriguez was born on March 17, 1937 in Camaguey, Cuba. He was often referred to as “El Feo,” a Spanish word meaning something or someone nasty or foul. But nothing was nasty about Rodriguez. His style was so smooth that the fighter then known as Cassius Clay admired him and tried to emulate him; both were trained by Angelo Dundee. Rodriguez was a boxer-puncher with speed and balance along with a 74-inch reach. Emile Griffith said, “he was more boxer than puncher but he had plenty of power.” His first instinct was to box but when pressured he could open up and be a slashing puncher. Rodriguez was only stopped three times in 120 fights and only knocked out once, that coming when he was 32 in his 104th bout.

Rodriguez made his professional debut in June of 1956 winning by third round KO over Lazaro Hernandez Kessell. His last fight in Cuba took place in May of 1959 when he knocked out Cecil Shorts in the ninth round. After Fidel Castro came to power and banned pro boxing, he was forced to move to Miami, Florida. He won his first fight there against an outstanding fighter in Virgil Akins via a 10-round unanimous decision.

Rodriguez started his career 35-0. His first setback was to future rival and nemesis Emile Griffith by split decision, with the only outstanding moment of the fight coming in the third round when Griffith buckled Rodriguez’s knees with a left hook. Rodriguez won his next four fights and then stumbled to another future undisputed welterweight champ in Curtis Cokes, dropping a split decision in Cokes’ hometown of Dallas, Texas. Four months later they fought on Rodriguez’s home turf in Miami and Luis won by posting a near shutout. After beating Cokes he won eight in a row, beating notables Luis Federico Thompson and middleweight Joey Giambra.

After beating Giambra he said “I want Emile Griffith now. He’s got to fight me, here, Las Vegas, anywhere. He can’t run from me anymore.” Instead of running, Griffith had no reservation and fought Rodriguez on March 21st, 1963, and in an upset Rodriguez won the welterweight title, scoring a 15-round unanimous decision. Griffith was outraged by the decision and they fought again on June 8th with Emile being a 6-5 favorite. Griffith won a controversial split decision to reclaim the title with most of the press seeing it for Rodriguez.

Luis bounced back by knocking out the scrappy Denny Moyer, once again exhibiting his power, along with beating Wilbert McClure twice and Holly Mims, thus earning a title bout rubber-match with Griffith on June 12th, 1964. And like the prior two title bouts between them it was close including Rodriguez having a point deducted in the third round (for hitting low and on the break) which proved to be the difference. Once again, the writers were divided but the judges saw it for Griffith by split decision.

Rodriguez then took on hard hitting middleweight Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in February of 1965 and boxed circles around him, winning a unanimous decision. They fought a rematch in August and although he was shook a few times during the fight Rodriguez won another unanimous decision. In 1966 he stopped defensive wizard George Benton on cuts and then went back down to welterweight and lost to Curtis Cokes in a title eliminator. Rodriguez dropped Cokes in the sixth round but the referee said the punch was low and deducted a point from Rodriguez. Cokes opened a cut beneath Rodriguez’s eye in the 10th. When blood began flowing from Luis’ mouth in the 15th, his trainer Angelo Dundee threw in the towel. Afterward Dundee stated “My boy likes to bang downstairs. The ref takes the round away and in doing so, took the fight from my guy. Cokes was wearing his trunks damn near his chin.” Rodriguez then went back up to middleweight and scored one of his signature victories in March of 1967 by out-boxing hard hitting Bennie Briscoe in front of Briscoe’s hometown fans in Philadelphia. They fought again in December and despite getting cut in the third round, Rodriguez ran away with the fight.

After starting 1968 3-0, Rodriguez lost a unanimous decision to future light heavyweight titlist Vincente Rondon in San Juan, Puerto Rico – but a month later beat him by UD in a rematch. In his third bout of 1969, Rodriguez stopped Rafael Gutierrez of Mexico in the sixth round in a middleweight title eliminator. Later that year, on November 22, Rodriguez went to Rome, Italy and met middleweight champ Nino Benvenuti.

Rodriguez was beating Benvenuti at every turn from rounds one through 10 but before the 11th he told Dundee he wanted to knock Nino out, something Angelo had warned against with Benvenuti being a known puncher. In the 11th Dundee looked like a prophet as Rodriguez was knocked out for the only time in his career by a picture perfect left hook. It would be the last time Rodriguez ever fought for a world title.

Rodriguez continued on and went 7-1 before beating Bobby Cassidy by decision and then in his next fight he KO’d Australia’s Tony Mundine at 52 seconds of the first round in Melbourne. (Mundine would go on to challenge Carlos Monzon for the world middleweight title.) After beating Mundine he went 2-4 in his last six bouts and then retired in 1972 at age 35. His last win came against Dave Hilton, the patriarch of a legendary Canadian fighting family.

In 2009, The Ring magazine ranked Rodriguez the third greatest Cuban boxer ever, behind Kid Gavilan and Kid Chocolate. Angelo Dundee called him the best technical boxer he ever trained. Rodriguez was inducted into the IBHOF in 1997.

Today Rodriguez doesn’t get his due and a lot of that is because of his losing record against Griffith. However, Rodriguez went stride for stride with Griffith in all four fights and his resume is every bit as deep. Jose Napoles is another welterweight great who overshadows Rodriguez, but if you compare their records regarding who they fought and actually defeated, it’s not even remotely close in favor of Rodriguez.

In the December 95 issue of The Ring Rodriguez was pitted against Jose Napoles in a Battle of the Legends. The three experts asked to evaluate them were Emile Griffith who fought both, Angelo Dundee, who trained Rodriguez, and Hank Kaplan who was considered by many to be boxing’s greatest historian. And all three picked Rodriguez to win handily with Kaplan opining that Rodriguez was probably the most underrated lighter weight fighter of the past half century!

I hate to bang on modern fighters because there are plenty of greats and near greats active today. But if De La Hoya was trending down after his 39th bout, Trinidad shortly after his 40th, Mosley his 41st and Pacquiao his 55th…….what would their won-loss records look like if they fought as often as Rodriguez versus the same caliber of opposition that he faced? Even Napoles who fought 88 times during nearly the same era had 32 fewer bouts than Rodriguez.

In looking back, it’s so much easier to envision Rodriguez excelling versus the fighters that De La Hoya, Trinidad and Mosley fought (and they’re known for fighting the best of their era), than it is picturing them being as successful as Rodriguez had they fought the fighters he did circa 1958-72

Luis Rodriguez was an all-time great welterweight and clearly among the top seven or eight to hold the 147-pound crown. And as is the case with Ezzard Charles as a light heavyweight, the more you examine Rodriguez’s record and length of time he remained a major factor between 147-160, the pristine records of Floyd Mayweather, Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez don’t look as glowing by comparison.

Luis Rodriguez died on July 8, 1996 at age 59 at the South Shore Hospital in Miami Beach, Florida. He was on kidney dialysis during the last two years of his life.

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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