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Shadow Boxing at the Golden Gate, Part 2

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“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

Henry David Thoreau

“Redcap” Eddie’s blitz began under a shadow of concern, particularly Eddie Muller’s. The writer openly wondered about his “long layoff” and thus underlined the difference between fighters then and fighters now: the lag time since Booker’s last bout was only seven months.

“Booker isn’t picking a soft one,” wrote Muller. Harry “Kid” Matthews had not been stopped in forty-three bouts and had a left hook that was turning all kinds of heads. It looked like a classic boxer versus puncher match-up with Booker as the boxer. Muller, who understood that a fighter with compromised vision had to make adjustments, saw things differently. He wrote that Booker will “do more punching than boxing” and will “make Matthews hustle at close quarters” and that is precisely what happened. Booker tore into his young opponent and smothered anything he tried to do while winging punches to the flank. When two short rights landed to his chin in the second round, Booker just “shook ‘em off” and soon landed a right uppercut that saw Matthews’ knees sag. The match was stopped in the fifth round.

After that beating, Matthews sought less violent settings and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He resumed his career in 1946 and won his next fifty-two fights.

Booker first met Holman Williams at Madison Square Garden in 1939 on the Joe Louis-John Henry Lewis undercard.The first of what would be three studies in skill and violence ended in a draw. Williams, a 2008 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee and Eddie Futch’s pick as “the greatest pure boxer” he had ever worked with, was matched skill-for-skill and punch-for-punch.

The second time they met was four years later. Thanks to Muller, we know what happened. Williams was on wheels, a “hit-and-run artist” operating behind an educated jab while Booker practiced the dark arts of body-snatching. Booker was storming in while William’s jab and superior speed neutralized his attack. In the eighth and ninth, he was even making him miss wildly and outslugging him at close quarters. In the tenth, Booker shoveled in a right uppercut, hurt him and pinned him on the ropes. The fight was even. In the last round, both answered the bell with war-hats though Williams’ light artillery—the jab—reasserted itself to earn the judges’ nod.

Booker privately blamed the loss on sweating weight off shortly before the bout. Within two months he stepped into the ring at a comfortable 170 lbs against a heavyweight. Booker floored him twice before the referee spared his ribs by stopping the fight.

The Mongoose was next in line. The day after they fought to a draw in 1941, Archie Moore was raking leaves in his front yard when he suddenly felt like a “red-hot iron” had been thrust into his stomach. As he was lying there on the grass blaming Booker’s body shots, his aunt called an ambulance. “I was sure that I was dying,” he recalled. Doctors told him that he had suffered a perforated ulcer and emergency surgery was required to save his life. After eleven months he recovered, returned to the ring, and signed to face his nemesis again. With a license plate stuck inside the waistband of his no-foul protector, Archie barreled after Booker in the rematch, put him down—and barely got by with another draw.

After two contests, neither could claim superiority over the other. Booker later said that he knew how tough Moore was and informed his manager that he was in no hurry to meet him a third time. Moore wasn’t eager either, though back then reluctance wasn’t so synonymous with avoidance. Their third and final battle was scheduled for January 21st 1944.

Muller’s favorite fighter prepared himself by sparring with Pat Valentino, a San Francisco heavyweight. Muller was in the gym. Neither “held anything back,” he wrote, “and as a result, Booker was able to whip himself into tip top shape.”

The first four rounds of Booker-Moore III saw both men fighting on even terms as they sketched their strategic outlines with short punches inside. The crowd, art lovers none, was booing. Then Booker hit Moore with his easel. He landed a left hook in the fifth and down went Moore like a drop cover, barely beating the count when the round ended. The sixth and seventh rounds saw the Mongoose saved by the bell twice more. In the eighth, another left hook sent him down with plenty of time left in the round. Seconds later, Moore was sinking in slow motion when the referee thrust Booker’s hand in the air.

It was among the most decisive defeats of Moore’s long career; the first time he was stopped in over sixty bouts, and he was in his self-declared prime.

The victory prompted an Oakland promoter to try to sign Booker and Charley Burley for February 22nd or 23rd. It fell through. Booker may have welcomed a chance to avenge himself against Jack Chase, but the prognosis on his eye was getting steadily worse and there was unfinished business with Holman Williams.

The result of Booker-Williams III would either even up the score or see Williams win the series. Besides defeating Booker, Williams had also dominated Booker’s conqueror in Chase twice the previous month. The Chicagoan was installed as a 2-1 favorite, but Muller knew that Booker’s time was running out and smelled an upset. He knew the fury born of desperation.

As the fighters met in the middle of the ring at the Civic Auditorium, Williams immediately tried to re-establish that “snake like jab,” only this time, Booker was slipping it and ripping shots to the body. For the next three rounds Muller saw his man “charging in and banging away with lefts and rights” to the midsection; and in the third the crowd jumped to its feet when he smashed Williams with two rights to the jaw. Williams was forced to exchange and although he was outlanding the relentless body-snatcher and outsmarting him in close and at range, it was Booker’s guns that carried more force. The tenth could have been a candidate for “Round of the Year” as both “slugged it out for three full minutes without let-up.”

Muller’s penchant for suggesting strategy and then seeing his suggestions confirmed in the performance were on display. He insisted before the bout that Booker’s extra poundage will help if he “puts it to good use” and gets rough inside without getting careless. “Eddie must give his all,” Muller predicted, “he can’t afford to loaf at any time.” Eddie paid attention.

As his hand was raised at the final bell, the applause shook the rafters.

The war that was Booker-Williams III was talked about for days afterward around the Bay Area. Muller gave it a considerable amount of press and believed that the victory would place Booker in a position to demand a shot against Jake LaMotta if he came to San Francisco. The fight took in $11,972.15, which was good enough for a non-white main event to encourage the promoter to consider a fourth bout for early April.

April turned out to be a busy month for Murderers’ Row. LaMotta never did come west—so the Row went looking for him: On April 21st, hard-punching Lloyd Marshall, whom Booker had beaten so impressively, took a unanimous decision over the Bronx Bull in Cleveland. On the same day, Burley humiliated Moore almost as badly as Booker did in Hollywood. Chase lost to Burley on April 6th and three weeks later went the last seven rounds against Williams with a dislocated jaw and lost better.  

Booker, twenty-seven and almost half-blind, was the odd man out. An ophthalmoscope saw that his gloves were hung on a hook.

Rated by The Ring in the welterweight, middleweight, and light heavyweight divisions from April 1939 through June 1944, he ascended to a career-high number two in the world after his last bout and finished with a record of 66-5-8. Fighters campaigning up and down the West Coast breathed easier when he retired. Burley, with five bouts at the auditorium under his belt, narrowly missed a collision with him and was lucky for it. He told a mutual sparring partner that Booker would have been his “hardest fight.”

He was right. Booker’s fateful decision to resume his career despite the risks unveiled a level of craft and character rarely seen. The golden blitz—those last frenzied fights over a seven-month stretch—were finishing touches to a monument that stood in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge.

It stands there still, under the dust of seven decades.

It stands despite the silence of seven decades.

Like travelers at the railroad station who barely noticed the redcap carrying their bags, who never saw the danger in those gnarled knuckles or the glint in that dying eye, the sport of boxing has failed to recognize Eddie Booker. Not long after his retirement, A.J. Liebling mentioned him as an opponent of Archie Moore who “left no footprints on the sands of time.” The Baltimore African American thought he was white.

Booker shrugged his shoulders and moved on, though not very far. He took time to train local amateurs who followed him through Golden Gloves tournaments and became a licensed corner man in the Bay Area. For twenty years he was the polite and unassuming clerk at Post Hardware on Sutter Street. The store was on the same street as his home and only a short walk from the Civic Auditorium.

Eddie Muller, our invaluable eyewitness for so many of his bouts, stayed close too. The San Francisco Examiner was located at the intersection of 3rd, Kearney, and Market, just a few blocks south of Sutter. Known as “Mr. Boxing,” Muller covered nothing but the Sweet Science in his column “Shadow Boxing.” It ran for forty-four years. He bore black and white witness to the quiet man’s wars, aged with him, and remembered him at the end.

Thirty years after his last great victory over a third Hall of Famer, Booker’s heart stopped and Muller—still there for him and for us—wrote his obituary.

It was fitting.

__________________

It is the strong opinion of this writer that both Eddie Booker and Eddie Muller are overdue for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Details about Booker found among the papers of Hank Kaplan. Hank Kaplan’s Boxing Archive is located at the Brooklyn College Library. Special thanks to Harry Otty, Jahongir Usmanov of the Brooklyn College Archives, and Eddie Muller II, the illustrious son of “Mr. Boxing” and the author of two widely-acclaimed noir novels in The Distance and Shadow Boxer —both of which conjure the spirit and the times of Muller and Booker.

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

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Tanaka vs. Kimora: A Monday Morning Treat For Serious Fight Fans

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Kosei Tanaka was just 4-0 the first time he was appraised on The Sweet Science back in 2015; the question then was, is Tanaka the world’s brightest boxing prospect? The question now is whether or not Tanaka is about to add a strap at a third weight to an already glittering career that has seen him annex belts at 105 and 108lbs in just his first eight fights.

Now 11-0 with seven knockouts he prepares, this coming Monday, to duel Sho Kimura in Nagoya, Japan and with a lot more than just the WBO trinket on the line.

Hearts and minds, as always, translate into dollars and yen. The winner of this all-Japanese contest will find himself buoyed in fame, glory and gold in his home country, which also happens to be one of the few places on the planet where a boxer can collect a small fortune without ever leaving his native shores. Should the winner dare to dream a wider dream, then that too can be facilitated by the win.  Even fistic denizens of boxing strongholds in Japan and Britain feel a shiver run down their spines when the words “Las Vegas headliner” are whispered into their ear.

The favored man among the hardcore in the west is Tanaka. He is still very young at just twenty-three years old and is slick and quick, what the west expects of a Japanese force. Interestingly enough, however, the Japanese seem to be leaning towards Kimura: older, at twenty-nine, armed with a superb work-rate, good power, limited technique but the conqueror of Chinese superstar Shiming Zou who he stopped in the summer of 2017. Zou may have had his bubble burst by the Thai brawler Amnat Ruenroeng in 2015, but it was Kimura who sent him stumbling into retirement and at a time when the talk was of China stealing Japan’s thunder as boxing’s home in the east.

Kimura was indeed impressive that night in Shanghai. He maintained pressure with wonderful variety, eschewing the jab, perhaps, for spells, but filling those gaps with an assortment of wonderful punches, most of all his body attack, which was persistent, withering, and apparently went unscored by two of the three judges who somehow had the Chinese ahead at the time of the eleventh round stoppage. Zou had shown a skill for flurrying while fleeing and Kimura had shown him how to fight.

Now a strapholder at 112lbs, Kimura staged two defenses in the following twelve months. The first was against Toshiyuki Igarashi, the man who beat Sonny Boy Jaro, the man who had beaten the superb champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam before a softer fight against Froilan Saludar. He won both by stoppage.

Kimura, then, rather came from nowhere but made the most of his arrival. What he displayed in all three of these fights was a determination to offer pressure and footwork educated enough to do it while taking many fewer steps than his harried opponent. A tad overrated as a puncher, I suspect, he places himself in hitting position often enough that his default fight plan – chase, harass, throw – makes him capable of hurting his opponents by way of persistence and pressure.

He left Zou, Igarashi and Saludar, broken in his wake.

In short, he is the type of opponent Kosei Tanaka has been waiting for.

There have been calls for Tanaka to be considered a pound-for-pound talent should he overcome Kimura this Monday. I understand the impulse. Tanaka, were he to triumph, would become a three-weight world champion and he hails from a boxing territory which has little direct control over the meaningful pound-for-pound lists, if such a statement is not a contradiction in terms.

In short, it is felt he would be undervalued.

Tempering these calls is the fact that he has never beaten a divisional number one and that Kimura would be, by far, the best opponent he would have bested, and the most proven. Some Tanaka opponents have come good after he defeated them, some were ranked in the lower reaches of their respective divisional top tens when he matched them, but none are scalps as impressive as those dangled by the likes of Errol Spence or Anthony Joshua, who populate the nine, ten and eleven spots in reputable lists.

But this is neither here nor there; the key is not what Kimura does not represent, it is what he does represent. He is the best that Tanaka has met and, I would argue, the first truly elite fighter that Tanaka has met. He is the litmus test and he is one with a stylistic advantage.

Tanaka can punch. Here we will find out whether or not he punches hard enough to keep Kimura off him. Personally, I doubt it and that means that Kimura is going to hand him a serious gut check.

Interestingly, it will not be Tanaka’s first. The first time I wrote about him I stressed that his chin was essentially untested. That is no longer true. Tanaka, who is reasonably sound defensively, can be lazy in minding himself and foolish in pursuing the attack.

Thai puncher Rangsan Chayanram checked him in 2017, delivering a serious eye injury among other ignominies before succumbing in nine; puncher Angel Acosta, a ranked fighter if not a great one, hit and hurt Tanaka repeatedly late in their 2017 contest. If Tanaka has been learning these lessons, expectations concerning his potential may be realized. If he is not, he will fall short. Kimura is the man to test him.

Kimura’s experience and seemingly limitless twelve-round stamina are to be pitted against Tanaka’s skill, proven heart and taut footwork. It sees a superior technician – Tanaka – who has shown a propensity for being drawn into a cruder fighter’s wheelhouse matching an aggressive stalker – Kimura – who specializes in drawing technically superior foes into knockdown-drag-out scraps.

It is framed both as a fight that is likely to finish a future pound-for-pounder’s education and a fight where a young pretender is found out by a grizzled veteran.

Best of all, it is a fight that fight fans can watch for free, simply by clicking here.  The Asian Boxing website has secured exclusive international rights to the fight and will broadcasting it, free of charge, to anyone with an internet connection. As can be seen here, the fight is due to start at 4pm Japanese time.

All the reader has to do is find out what that means for timing in their own corner of the globe and a potential fight of the year will unfold before his or her eyes free of charge.

World class boxing being broadcast for free and including two of the best below 115lbs; a stylistic crossroads contest that opens up the on-ramp to pound-for-pound recognition for at least one of the combatants – on a Monday.  All facts worth keeping in mind the next time that someone tells you boxing’s prime was any number of decades ago.

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

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UK sporting

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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