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Issues and Answers

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“Life is short; we get old so fast. It doesn’t make sense to waste time on hating.” — Muhammad Ali (1995)

Everyone in boxing is part of the larger sporting community and society as a whole. Thus, it’s worth looking at an issue that has gathered significant attention in recent months.

Earlier this summer, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a law that allows the government to prosecute, imprison, and fine individuals if they engage in “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” that is likely to be heard or read by minors. In practice, the law bars the public advocacy of gay rights and gay relationships anywhere that those under the age of eighteen might hear or read about the discussion (for example; in schools, on the streets, or in the media).

One might ask what the reaction would be if a similar law barred the teaching of Judaism or tolerance of Judaism.

Or Christianity.

Homophobia is rampant and codified into law in many parts of the world today. Our own nation has confronted the issue of gay rights in recent decades. But unlike Russia, the United States has been moving toward a position of tolerance and understanding.

The 2014 Winter Olympics are scheduled to be held in Sochi on the coast of the Black Sea in Russia from February 7 through February 23.

Soon after the law in question was signed by Putin, Vitaly Mutko (Russia’s minister of sports) declared, “An athlete of non-traditional sexual orientation isn’t banned from coming to Sochi. But if he goes out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course he will be held accountable.”

Then Alexander Zhukov (head of the Russian National Olympic Committee) stated that gay athletes could participate in the Winter Olympics without fear of reprisal as long as they didn’t promote a gay lifestyle.

There are many ways that the United States can respond to Russia’s anti-gay legislation. Or it can choose not to respond at all.

One suggestion has been that the United States boycott the Sochi Olympics. Would that boycott be appropriate?

The United States boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan without significant result. China has a long history of ignoring human rights, but the United States Olympic team was in Beijing in full force in 2008.

And let’s be honest; there’s division within the United States on the issue of gay rights. Indeed, when the Summer Olympics (Atlanta, 1996) and Winter Olympics (Salt Lake City, 2002) were last held here, homosexual acts between consenting adults were crimes punishable by imprisonment in Georgia and Utah.

John Carlos won a bronze medal in the 200-meter dash at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. He and gold-medal winner Tommie Smith (a fellow U.S. Olympian) became indelibly etched in the civil rights movement when they silently raised black-gloved fists during the medal presentation ceremony.

Carlos opposes a boycott of the Sochi Olympics. Last month, he told writer Dave Zirin, “If you stay home, your message stays home with you. To be heard is to be greater than a boycott. Had we stayed home, we’d never have been heard from again.”

Carlos’s thoughts echo those of Arthur Ashe (the greatest African-American male tennis player ever). Twenty-four years ago, I spoke with Ashe about a similar decision that he’d faced.

“In 1967,” Ashe reminisced, “the Davis Cup draw came up. And lo and behold, the United States was supposed to meet South Africa in the third round. I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh, my God. Just three months ago, Muhammad Ali refused [induction into the United States Army]. And here I am, the only black player in tennis, the main member of the Davis Cup team.’ Fortunately, the president of the United States Tennis Association then was Robert Kelleher, a wonderful man. We talked about it, and he suggested that the most effective way to deal with the situation would be for us to give up the home-court advantage. We had what was known as choice of ground. Kelleher told me, ‘Let’s do something that has never been done in the history of Davis Cup competition. Let’s offer to play South Africa in South Africa and go down there and beat the crap out of them. Let South Africa see a black person win in their own backyard.’”

That moment never came. South Africa was ousted from the Davis Cup competition by West Germany in the second round. But Ashe’s point is well-taken.

It’s the same point that was made by Barack Obama on August 9 when he declared, “One of the things I’m really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze, which I think would go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we’re seeing there.”

So let me offer a suggestion. The United States Olympic team should compete in Sochi on two conditions.

First, the United States Olympic Committee should design the jackets worn by our athletes during the opening and closing ceremonies and also the uniforms worn in competition so that the clothing has a clearly visible symbol of respect for all people regardless of their race, color, religion, or sexual orientation. A rainbow would be nice.

And second, the flag-bearer who leads the United States delegation into the stadium at the opening ceremonies should be an openly gay athlete.

There’s a quotation in silver letters on a gray wall at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. It reads as follows:

First they came for the socialists.

And I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists.

And I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews.

And I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me.

And there was no one left to speak for me.

*     *     *

Alan Hopper announced on August 20 that he’s leaving his job as vice president for public relations at Don King Productions (which he has held since 2000) to pursue a career in the health-care sector.

Hopper has been on a remarkable roller-coaster ride over the past thirteen years. Don King is a publicist’s dream and also a publicist’s nightmare.

“Don’s reputation precedes him, the good and the bad,” Alan told me years ago. “Things being the way they are, he expects to get more than his fair share of criticism and blame. But Don’s worldwide fame is clearly a plus for what I do, and he’s a public relations genius. Whatever ‘it’ is, Don has it and Don gets it. He values the media, which makes my job much easier. And he has an absolutely amazing ability to create sound-bytes off the top of his head. Nobody in boxing since Muhammad Ali has come close.”

“Working for Don is crazy,” Alan added. “He keeps no schedule. Everything is subject to change. He does what he wants to do when he wants to do it. He might call up and say, ‘We’re having a press conference in China in two days.’ And he expects you to get it done. I never know what will happen when I go to work in the morning.”

Hopper did an extraordinary job. He was a tireless worker, who was always honest with the media while keeping the best interests of his employer in mind. Whenever someone asked for help, he tried to help. He was unfailingly friendly and polite to everyone and treated everyone with respect; not just the representatives of major media outlets.

Alan’s departure is another sign that the extraordinary career of Don King is nearing an end. Meanwhile, it should be noted that a handful of boxing media relations specialists have done their job as well as Alan Hopper. But no one has ever done it better or with a more generous spirit.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (Thomas Hauser on Sports: Remembering the Journey) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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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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