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Liberty Medal Latest Addition To Muhammad Ali Legend

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libertymedal mcdevittThe taped music that preceded the official festivities for Thursday night’s Liberty Medal ceremony in Philadelphia, in which boxing legend Muhammad Ali joined a list of previous honorees that included former presidents, Supreme Court justices, international dignitaries and other non-athlete advocates of the principles of freedom, was a mixed bag if ever there was one.

What, exactly, did Hail to the Victors, the University of Michigan fight song, have to do with Muhammad Ali? Or Old Man River? Those were two of the more curious selections that serenaded a crowd of approximately 2,000 spectators on the front lawn of the National Constitution Center, in addition to a couple of golden oldies by the Supremes and the Temptations. But those at least made a little sense; everyone loves Motown, right?

And so does, it would seem, an increasing majority of folks who have come to see Ali as not only possibly the greatest heavyweight champion of all time, but as an “ambassador for peace and justice worldwide,” a “tireless humanitarian and philanthropist” and a “symbol of hope and catalyst for constructive dialogue.” Those were just some of the glowing descriptions of “The Greatest” in the printed program for the 2012 Liberty Medal ceremony, which celebrated not only Ali but the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the United States Constitution.

No one, not even his harshest critics in another era, when Ali was perhaps the most polarizing figure in America with the possible exception of Jane Fonda, would dispute that, in the ring, Ali was a mesmerizing, magical fighter whose balletic movements and blurring hand speed transformed a brutal sport into an art form. To my way of thinking, and to more than a few others who remember what he was on what many believe to be the most dominant night of his career, Ali was to boxing what Michelangelo was to the painting of ceilings.

On Nov. 14, 1966, in Houston’s Astrodome, the sleek, 24-year-old Ali retained his WBA championship by disassembling the dangerous Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams, the knockout sequence a rapid-fire combination that had the challenger’s skull vibrating like a bobblehead doll.

Two fights later, a seventh-round stoppage of Zora Folley on March 22, 1967, in Madison Square Garden, Ali was again the picture of pugilistic perfection. And the scary thing is, he just might have become even better had his not career come to a screeching halt because of the suspension handed down for his refusal, on religious grounds, to be inducted into the Army during the Vietnam war. It would be 43 months until Ali, his boxing license restored as the result of a favorable Supreme Court ruling, fought again, a third-round stoppage of Jerry Quarry on Oct. 26, 1970, in Atlanta. But that Ali, although still a superb fighter, was different – a bit heavier, a smidgeon slower, more apt to absorb punishment and fight through it than to slip punches with almost casual ease.

Ali before the layoff was a better fighter than Ali after,” his late trainer, Angelo Dundee, said in 1995. “What a lot of people don’t realize, and it’s sad, is we never saw him at his peak.

“The Ali who fought Cleveland Williams and Zora Folley was the best he could be at that time, but he was getting bigger and stronger and more experienced in the ring. What was he, 25 years old when they made him stop? Those next three years would have been his peak. If he had continued getting better at the rate he was going, God only knows how great he would have been.”

But Ali’s antiwar stance – “No Vietcong ever called me nigger,” he pronounced – made him a role model to the growing counterculture movement, if something less than a hero to, say, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars who viewed him as something less than a role model. From the seeds of those opposing viewpoints did Ali morph into an international symbol of more than boxing excellence, and the foundation of his current renown beyond the ring was laid.

In November 2005, Ali — who by that time at undertaken missions to developing countries to deliver food and medical supplies, in addition to serving as a fundraiser for Special Olympics and the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Research Center in Phoenix – received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in Washington. Forgotten, or nearly so, was his cruel taunting of such opponents as Joe Frazier, whom he derided as “a gorilla,” an “Uncle Tom” and “ignorant,” and his denouncement of white people as “devils.”

Interestingly, the Liberty Medal awarded to Ali – who at 70 increasingly is showing the ravages of Parkinson’s disease, which he was diagnosed as having in 1984, three years after his retirement from boxing – is viewed through a softer, more forgiving prism in this, the 13th year of the 21st century. A parade of speakers – ranging from Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett, a conservative Republican, to Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter, a liberal Democrat – strode to the podium to praise Ali as everything that is fine and decent and praiseworthy.

“Like my father when you entered the sport of boxing, the world was in turmoil, much as it is today,” Joe Louis Barrow II, son of Joe Louis, said, nodding toward Ali, who was seated off to the side wearing dark glasses and a dark suit. “The two of you made opposite choices – my father choosing to volunteer in World War II and you, for religious convictions, refusing to serve in Vietnam. In different ways, you both defended the ideals of the Constitution. But time has shown you were both on the right side of history.”

Laila Ali, the daughter of Muhammad Ali and a renowned boxing champion in her own right, told of a softer side of her father that not many ever get to see.

“He’s such a strong and powerful man,” Laila said. “Courageous. But as a child I remember seeing him cry all the time. He’d be at home, watching the news, and he’d see a sad story, whether it was children in Africa who had nothing to eat, or if he’d see a homeless family on the street, he would cry. He taught me so much about compassion.”

Closing the one-hour ceremony was Lonnie Ali, Muhammad’s fourth wife who has become the voice of her frail and all-but-silenced husband, who arrived in a wheelchair and no longer can even stand without assistance.

“Muhammad often challenged laws, policies and social norms in this country, but it is this country’s founding principles that enabled him to stand up for his personal principles,” she said. “And for that, he is eternally grateful but aware that these freedoms should never be taken for granted.”

Joe Louis Barrow II’s take of how history ultimately will treat Ali remains to be seen; history is like an amoeba, constantly changing form to fit time and circumstance. It is a matter of conjecture how future historians regard Ali, at least that part of him outside of the ring, after another 20 years or so pass. The guess here is that the shinier image of him, for the most part, will stand up well into the future, and possibly forever.

But no member of the Joe Frazier family apparently attended the Liberty Medal ceremony, which, ironically, came one day after the announcement that the long-rumored statue of Philadelphia’s most celebrated fighter would finally be created and given a place of honor at XFinity Live!, close to the stadiums and arenas where the Eagles, Phillies, 76ers and Flyers play.

Some hard feelings, it would seem, can’t be completely erased by the passage of time.

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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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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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