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SoCal Gym Hopping: Arreola, Wills & St. John



Up in the hillside boxing gym Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola was locked in combat with an old foe now turned stable-mate Damian “Bolo” Wills.

Once the bell rings they rip through each other mercilessly.

After numerous rounds the sparring war ends with both pretty much physically spent. Both are trained by Henry Ramirez. Both are premier heavyweights.

Arreola (35-2, 30 Kos) loves the sparring with Wills, it’s great preparation for his upcoming fight against Bermane Stiverne (22-1-1, 20 Kos) on Saturday April 27. The heavyweight title elimination bout will take place at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif. HBO will televise.

The Mexican-American heavyweight from Riverside looks physically fit and lean. He’s sporting one of those $200 looking haircuts and doesn’t waste time once he gets to the gym. Arreola immediately begins wrapping his hands after shaking hands with everyone inside the airy gym.

On this Wednesday afternoon, one of the guests is Bill O’Neil, a long-time boxing writer who’s been covering the sport since the early 1960s. Ever since Arreola burst into the fight scene the senior sportswriter has followed his advancement through the heavyweight ranks.

“I’m a believer,” said O’Neil, who covered Jerry Quarry, Ken Norton, Muhammad Ali and others from the California heavyweight scene. “I believe he’s going to be a heavyweight champion.”

A few others sat in the gym including Arreola’s younger brother and a friend. Wills arrived with his manager Warren Wilkinson, who also manages Cleotis “Mookie” Pendarvis.

Wills was one of the most dangerous opponents in Arreola’s career to date. When both met each other in November 2006, each was a highly touted undefeated heavyweight. The two Southern Californians put on a spectacular show for as long as it lasted.

“That was the first time I ever lost a fight…anywhere,” said Wills to Arreola after their sparring session.

Currently, Wills (30-3-1, 23 Kos) still has a sterling record. It’s one of the reasons that many consider him one of the most over-looked heavyweights today.

Arreola does not overlook Wills.

“He’s good,” said Arreola during an earlier sparring session a month ago. “He has that nasty uppercut.”

St. John

Later in the day, after trekking 100 miles north, I drove into Ventura to the famous KnuckleHeadz Boxing gym to watch Mia St. John. I got there one hour early so I picked up a magazine and read until people began filing into the gym.

Around 6:10 p.m. I walked into the gym and discovered that boxing was no longer welcome in that facility. It now housed young gymnasts, all adolescents jumping and twirling around. No one inside knew where the boxing gym was transplanted.

A few calls were made and finally my old pal and fellow boxing writer Francisco Salazar gave me a street name but couldn’t remember the address. That was good enough. After driving around for 30 minutes I finally located the boxing gym. I spotted a dozen people jumping rope outside and figured they had to be fighters of some sort.

Walking toward the back of the warehouse one of the fighters called out to me. His name is Joe and he recognized me. The MMA fighter pointed me toward the boxing section and when I stepped inside the gym the caretaker Big Hoss walked over to welcome me. On the other side of the boxing ring was St. John, putting on the wraps and getting ready to spar.

Big Hoss’s real name is Joseph Janik, but few know that fact. If you have ever seen Vicious Victor Ortiz’s corner during a fight than you definitely saw Hoss.

St. John sparred a young featherweight named Brenda Hernandez for several rounds as about a dozen people watched. Hernandez has that youthful energy and seems very anxious to attack. St. John uses all of her knowledge to keep her young opponent off-balance and unable to tee off with the bombs. Every so often Hernandez lands one and takes one. St. John does her work and keeps working hard.

St. John (47-12-2, 18 Kos) will be traveling to Denmark in two weeks to fight Cecilia Braekhus (21-0, 5 Kos) for the WBA, WBO and WBC welterweight world titles on April 13.

After the session ends Hoss gives me the 411 on who else has been working out and who has some fights coming up. Sergio Martinez had been training there but has moved his base to Spain for one fight. Victor Ortiz is participating on Dancing With the Stars, Maureen Shea is defending her title soon, Crystal Morales has a fight coming up with Rhonda Luna, David Rodela recently lost to Jorge Linares in Mexico, and Victor Barragan has a match coming up in the Midwest.

Knuckleheadz Gym has a lot going on.

Post Night notes

On my long drive home from Ventura to Riverside, I spoke to St. John, who plans to watch Brandon Rios vs. Mike Alvarado II. She’ll be ringside supporting her good friend Rios in the main event at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Saturday March 30.

Goossen-Tutor Promotions is planning a press conference on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay for Arreola and Stiverne. It’s tentatively scheduled for 11 a.m.


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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.



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



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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Bob Arum Hails Terence Crawford (not Lomachenko) as Boxing’s Next Superstar



Arum says Terence

Top Rank’s Bob Arum says Terence Crawford will become this generation’s Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao–elite boxers who became worldwide celebrity sensations. Arum, who promoted both Mayweather and Pacquiao on the way to their historic crossover statuses expects big things from the undefeated Crawford over the next few years.

“He’s the best fighter in the United States, and he’s so charismatic,” said Arum. “He comes from middle America, and In the next year or so, he will be huge.”

Arum’s assertion is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Arum is also the promoter for Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko is ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. More importantly, Lomachenko seems to have a groundswell of support behind him both in the media and among fight fans.

Lomachenko has also been heavily featured through Top Rank’s television partnership with ESPN. While Crawford has achieved more in his career than Lomachenko (at least in my eyes) and, as noted by Arum, is a homegrown American talent, Lomachenko seems to be considered the more marketable commodity to that network judging by the amount of promotional materials ESPN has pumped out about the fighter over the last year.

The other reason Arum’s claim about Crawford is interesting is the performance of Canelo Alvarez over the weekend in his majority decision rematch win over Gennady Golovkin. Besides Mayweather and Pacquiao, Alvarez is the clear PPV leader among all of boxing’s current commodities, and his status as boxing’s new money fighter should only grow stronger after the best win of his career.

Still, Crawford is one of the few very elite fighters in all of boxing. He’s ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

While Lomachenko and Alvarez are also candidates to become boxing’s next big thing, there’s no doubt Crawford is also one of the few boxers in the sport right now with the right things in place to become the next Mayweather or Pacquiao.

Omaha’s Crawford is in the midst of an historic run. When he stopped Jeff Horn in round 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in June, Crawford captured a world title in his third different weight class, welterweight. This after Crawford had already captured two lineal boxing championships, as well as multiple alphabet titles, in both the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions.

By any measure, Crawford is truly one of the best boxers in the sport. Not only does he look the part in the ring on fight night (something more and more writers seem to value most when voting for pound-for-pound lists), but the fighter has already accomplished so much in his career that it seems Arum is doing more than the fiduciary duty of promoting his fighter when he ascribes to Crawford such lofty praise.

Crawford, still just 30 years old, is already halfway to matching Mayweather and Pacquiao’s shared record of most lineal championships. Over the course of his career, Mayweather captured lineal championships at junior lightweight, lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Pacquiao won his as a flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight.

In order for Crawford to grab lineal championship No. 3, most believe he’ll have to go through welterweight phenom Errol Spence. While promotional entanglements might keep this superfight on the shelf for a while, Arum said he had no problem pitting Crawford against Spence in what would be one of the best matchups in recent memory.

“Absolutely,” said Arum when asked about working with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, who represents Spence, to make the fight. Could any response from him be more exciting? Crawford vs. Spence might be the next superfight in boxing. Both fighters are among the very elite, and unlike what ultimately happened with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, who fought each other well past their peak years, both would be in the prime of their careers.

Winning that fight would certainly go a long way to making Arum’s vision of Crawford’s future come true. And who knows? Maybe Crawford really is the next Mayweather or Pacquiao. Heck, for all we know, he could even be on his way to doing something more.

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