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OUT OF THE PAST

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The Italianate courtyard of the Boston Public Library is a secret place for scholars and students. It is modeled after Rome’s Palazzo della Cancelleria with its marble arches and stone corridors forming a square of sixteenth century masonry. There’s a vision rising out of the fountain in the center –a nude sculpture called Bacchante and Infant Faun. Condemned during the Victorian era, it depicts wanton revelry in honor of the god of wine.

On Thursday, I sat on one of the ornate chairs before an ornate table and gazed upon another vision –this one fully clothed and at study. Torrents of ash blonde hair kept spilling forward over her open book. She’d throw it over a shoulder. It fell again. She tucked it behind an ear. It untucked and launched itself back onto the page. The fifth time she threw it back, she bristled. I was tickled. When she packed her things and arose out of her chair like a bacchante in a blue dress, she glanced my way. To my dismay, she turned and went in the wrong direction. I watched her go and then watched her turn back toward (what I deemed) destiny’s direction. There were about six steps between us –which meant that I had about six seconds to find words that struck a balance between confident and cute. As it happened nothing happened. She breezed by my nonchalant pose and gave me a look as if my zipper was down. Unfortunately, it was.

Boston has many secret places that only the locals know, and a storied past at every corner –but you won’t find either if you ignore the proverbial warnings about driving in this city. You’d be better off on a horse. This city wasn’t planned on a grid like New York or Washington; it wasn’t planned at all. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that cows did the urban planning and he wasn’t wrong enough. “In Boston town of old renown,” an old postcard reads, “the gentle cows the pathways made, which grew to streets that keep strangers quite dismayed.”

It is best explored on foot.

After a wardrobe adjustment and few minutes repairing chipped pride, I left the Palazzo and strolled through the ritzy Back Bay. The Mechanics Building stood around the corner on Huntington Avenue and hosted hundreds of boxing matches. One of them involved Harry Greb and Kid Norfolk in 1924. It ended after the referee disqualified the wrong guy, at least according to the menacing crowd that almost tore the walls down. The match was trumpeted by the dailies as “the fastest and most curious contest ever in a Boston ring.” In 1959 the building was razed to make way for the Prudential Plaza …to make way for placid modernity:

The spot where Greb and Norfolk brawled like sailors is now a reflecting pool.

I walked down Boylston Street toward what was once the Combat Zone, past the site of the Gilded Cage, a strip club managed in the sixties by a former champion from the twenties named Johnny Wilson.

Born Giovanni Panica, Wilson was a Sicilian-American out of Charlestown and never out of connections –with friends like mob bosses Frank Costello and Al Capone why should he be? For three years he ducked Greb to stay connected to his tainted crown. When Greb finally cornered him, he hammered Wilson’s “overhanging nose” for fifteen rounds and took that crown. Another middleweight named Jock Malone was confident that he could do to Wilson what Greb did; so confident, in fact, that he promised the press that he would jump into Boston Harbor if he lost. Wilson knocked him out. The next day, a crowd of thousands gathered at the Charlestown Bridge to see if he’d keep his word. Malone was there on time. He climbed over the railing and posed for a moment fully dressed and wearing a straw hat. “I owe Wilson a splash!” he called out before plunging fifty feet into the brine. Boston cheered as he swam ashore and triumphantly hopped into a waiting car.

Wilson lost five of his next seven and hung up the gloves. He ran a speakeasy during Prohibition and got adjusted to cigars and sleeping til noon. By the time I arrived on the scene, he was pushing 80 and still had his hair parted down the middle, black and slicked back –Roaring Twenties style. In the evening he’d have a glass of burgundy, light up a cigar, and walk these same streets for hours on end, reminiscing.

I went left at Boylston Square, maneuvering my way through artsy types and Emerson students in flip-flops. The Paramount Theatre approached out of the past.

When it was built during the Hoover administration, the Paramount was a movie house –one of the first of its kind, all class. By the time Nixon got in, it was a dilapidated creep joint, all crass. The only white guys at this end of Washington Street wore raincoats; the rest didn’t even pretend to be part of civil society. Sharp ones with sharp eyes scanned for easy marks. The broken ones lay down in dark corners. By the eighties they were lying around on the sidewalks too. Young hoodlums like this one couldn’t even maintain a respectable swagger without stepping over them.

The Paramount reopened last year –all class once again. A seven thousand bulb marquee lights up Washington Street like a dream, like a great comeback.

As the evening sky turned orange and then dimmed, I was in the North End –the old Italian enclave a stone’s throw from Faneuil Hall. The Fisherman’s Feast, a tradition brought from Sicily to these shores a hundred years ago, was beginning. A crowd was carrying a statue of the Madonna down to Christopher Columbus Park to bless the fishing waters. Heralded by a marching band, the procession winded its way back to a chapel where the statue rested. Green, white, and red confetti littered byways lined with carts hawking salsicce, arancini, pizza, and –best of all– cannoli from Mike’s Pastry. A gypsy offered handwriting analysis. A master of ceremonies sat in a booth and heckled the yuppies who didn’t buy raffle tickets. “You wit tha green shirt, buy a raffle ticket… Where you goin’? Where you goin’?”

Local boxing legend Tony DeMarco was there –it was his night.

Unlike fellow Siciliano Johnny Wilson, DeMarco was born right here, on Fleet Street. Way back in ’55 he became one of the shortest welterweight champions in history with one of the longest nicknames –“Short, Dark, and Harmful.” He lost his title to a fiercer Italian in Carmen Basilio though he never lost his friends. They all came out this evening to see him honored by the Madonna del Soccorso di Sciacca Society as the “Italian-American of the Year.” He climbed the stairs onto a makeshift stage as if it was a ring and carried a water bottle in his hand. He’s pushing 80 now, and the busted beak and heavy scarring around the brows told me he got off easy. There were no signs of impairment, no sobering reminders of those twenty-four rounds with Basilio that would have killed lesser men.

When he took the microphone he offered no war stories. He spoke instead of love and friendship. His father was from the fisherman’s town of Sciacca in Sicily, his mother was too (“God bless her soul”), so this feast is close to his heart. “I know they see me now,” he said as tears welled up, “I am as proud to receive this award as I was when I became welterweight champion of the world.”

His arms spread wide as if to embrace the cheering crowd. Camera phones clicked where once flashbulbs exploded.…

It was getting late when I sat on an ornate chair before an ornate table in front of Caffe Vittoria. Hanover Street still bustled with tourists looking for secret places and hints of the North End’s storied past. I sipped espresso. Boston is a sentimental city, I mused. It’s a city that holds onto yesterday so tightly that even its new glories are often old glories restored, if only for a night.

With that, I walked back toward Boylston Square …and wished I had a cigar.

 

 

 

……Image via c21rooney on Flickr. Contemporary fight reports involving Greb can be found on Bill Paxton’s website: harrygreb.com; Details about Johnny Wilson in 1970 from Bud Collins’ “Portrait of an Ex-Champ” (Boston Globe 11/15/70); Jock Malone’s dive off the Charlestown Bridge reported by the Boston Daily Globe 8/1/24 (“Malone Leaps 50 Feet Into The Harbor, Big Crowd Watching”). DeMarco’s ascension to the title is also reported by the Globe, 4/2/1955 (“DeMarco Wins Welter Crown; TKO Victor Over Saxton In 14th”)…..

…Tony DeMarco’s autobiography, Nardo: Memoirs of a Boxing Champion (written with Ellen Zappala) has just been released. Order it soon and he’ll sign it….

 

Springs Toledo may be contacted at scalinatella@hotmail.com.

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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th

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It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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