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The Brothers Spinks

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In a scene from Barbet Schroeder’s 1987 film, Barfly, based on the life and times of Charles Bukowski, the protagonist, Henry “Hank” Chinaski (Mickey Rourke) has just been assaulted by his girlfriend, Wanda (Faye Dunaway), leaving him bleeding heavily from the head and all over his shirt. Someone knocks at his door and Hank answers, looking primordial. The man outside pauses, taking in his appearance, and asks: “Are you Henry Chinaski?”

“No,” Hank replies, “I’m Leon Spinks!”

A quarter-century ago, that line had rich comic recognition. Every viewer knew Leon Spinks. Neon Leon, they called him. He cut a memorable figure in pop culture—the missing front teeth, the superhuman partying and serial car smash-ups, the endemic and tragicomic inability to make sensible choices, the road to ruin pipedwith the sound of laughter, to paraphrase the Johnny Cash song, ringing in his ears.

In 1987, Leon was nearly a decade past his one crowning glory—February 1978, when he beat 36-year-old Muhammad Ali to win the heavyweight title in one of boxing’s great upsets. But no one was laughing at his younger brother, Michael. In 1985, Michael defeated the 36-year-old Larry Holmes to become the first reigning light heavyweight king to win the heavyweight crown. Michael and Leon thus became the only brother act in heavyweight title history (before the Klitschkos).

In One Punch from the Promised Land: Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, and the Myth of the Heavyweight Title, John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro tell the story of these brothers who boxed differently, lived differently, and forged different fates (one lives in a mansion, the other doesn’t). The book is chock-full of fresh interviews and outrageous stories, and yes, most involve Leon. It also doesn’t skimp on frankness, whether acknowledging Leon’s mental deficiencies or Michael’s Marciano-like tightness with a buck.

The brotherly bond took form in 1950s and 1960s St. Louis, where Leon and Michael grew up in the nightmarish Pruitt-Igoe housing project. By the late sixties, criminal gangs ran the place, and police responding to crime calls wouldn’t enter without back up, which didn’t always come. Learning their trade at the nearby DeSoto Rec Center, the Spinks brothers fought their way onto the historic 1976 U.S. Olympic boxing team, which starred Sugar Ray Leonard and Howard Davis. Neither Leon nor Michael was expected to win gold medals, but both did. Leon turned pro. Michael went back to his regular job; he never loved boxing, but when Monsanto, for whom he worked cleaning offices, switched him to cleaning bathrooms, he thought he might like boxing well enough.

In the early going, the Spinks saga was all about Leon. In just his eighth pro fight, he was matched with an out-of-shape, unmotivated Ali, who by then barely did any fighting in the ring at all. He lay against the ropes, absorbing arm, shoulder, and kidney punches, looking to steal rounds, wear out opponents, and charm judges and fans with his clowning. The act had grown wearisome. Leon pounded Ali with abandon and held off a late-round charge to win the decision. The Greatest had been beaten by a novice pro. Moreover, he had been displaced as champion by a man as different from him as could be imagined.

Florio and Shapiro are insightful in describing how Spinks represented a new kind of heavyweight champion. Most of Leon’s predecessors came from poor or modest backgrounds, but none from such a deep-seated ghetto culture. He was “a kid from the projects who had little guidance, an eye for the ladies, and a sweet tooth for cocaine,” Florio and Shapiro write. “He had only two speeds—turbo and sleep.” Leon’s constant run-ins with the law for minor traffic infractions or drug possession—he was once busted for a quantity of cocaine valued at $1.50—made him a figure of ridicule within weeks of beating Ali. If it bothered him, he didn’t let on. To be certain, it bothered Michael, who put his own professional career on hold in a vain attempt to look after his older brother.

The authors describe how, shortly before it was time for him to enter the ring in New Orleans for his rematch with Ali, Leon disappeared, and neither his camp nor his bodyguard—Mr. T., the future Clubber Lang—could find him. He was finally located in a hotel room, drunk. Somehow Leon managed to fight on relatively even terms with Ali for five rounds before Ali took command. It wasn’t much of a fight. Ali danced for the first time in years, but he landed mostly one- and two-punch combinations while holding Leon ceaselessly over 15 rounds and winning a lopsided decision. Leon went back out partying and kept the party going for years, though his career quickly became a sideshow. He lost about as often as he won, drank up his paydays in single sittings, and generally lived the life of a wild, not terribly bright dude. Years later, training Leon for one last shot at remaking his career, Emanuel Steward went looking for the fighter and found him in the usual place—a hotel—and in the usual state—drunk, naked, and with a woman. “Coach, it ain’t like it look,” Leon said. Naturally, Leon wound up broke, and he shows signs of dementia today, but he is fortunate to have met and married a woman who is protective of him.

Where Leon was madcap, Michael was reserved and enigmatic, only slightly off-kilter and in none of the ways that make headlines. “Michael always seemed so logical compared to Leon,” promoter Bob Arum told the authors. “It seemed to me that Michael had some sense. Leon never had any sense.” Michael turned out to be a better fighter than his older brother, too, largely because of his personal stability and discipline. But in 1983, his life was upended when his common-law wife, the mother of his two-year old daughter, was killed in a car accident weeks before he was to fight Dwight Muhammad Qawi to unify the light heavyweight title. Just as he was preparing to enter the ring, someone brought the little girl into Michael’s dressing room. She promptly asked him where her mother was. Michael almost went to pieces, but he went out and beat Qawi, using his left jab to control the fight. Qawi derided him for “running.”

Michael had a curious ability to inspire disdain in his opponents, perhaps because of his unusual style, if it was a style. He’d start out orthodox, but in the heat of battle punches would start flying in from all angles. In 1985, when Michael beat Holmes—then 48-0 and one win away from equaling Rocky Marciano’s perfect record—Holmes complained about the decision, though Michael had won clearly. The following year, Holmes had a legitimate gripe about their rematch, which Michael also won by decision: most observers thought Holmes deserved the nod. Even in 1987, when Michael knocked out the much bigger Gerry Cooney, whom he feared, he couldn’t seem to convince his opponent. The usually gracious Cooney said that Michael didn’t belong in the same ring with him.

Where Leon endured a sustained descent, Michael’s downfall was mercifully brief: in June 1988, he faced off against Mike Tyson in the bout that would unify (for a few years at least) the heavyweight title. Tyson was at his peak, a terrifying force combining speed and power. Emanuel Steward told Florio and Shapiro that before the Tyson fight, Michael was afraid to leave his dressing room. He entered the Atlantic City ring, as the authors put it, wearing “the look of a rabbit that had just spotted a hunter’s rifle.” Michael’s trainer, Eddie Futch, wanted him to box Tyson, to stay away for four or five rounds—easier said than done in those days. “Take him out in deep water and then we can drown him,” he said. Tyson never gave them a chance, annihilating Spinks in 91 seconds. It was Michael’s only loss as a professional and his last fight. He lives on a generous spread outside Wilmington, Delaware, and mostly keeps a low profile. But he made news in 2011 when he sued the estate of the late Butch Lewis, his longtime manager and friend, for mismanaging the millions in boxing earnings that were to pay Michael’s living expenses.

“I don’t know what an average person goes through in a lifetime,” Michael once said, “but I’ve been through a lot up to now—and I have lived life as cautiously as I possibly can. My life hasn’t been a bowl of cherries.” Leaving aside the caution, Leon could say the same. Florio and Shapiro bring the Spinks brothers and their struggles to life and remind us that, different as they were, they were united by at least two deep forces: love and trouble. Consider a moment in September 1978 before the opening bell in New Orleans. As Ali stood in his corner calmly waiting for the fight to begin, Leon reached for his brother and held him in a tight, lingering embrace. He might have been voicing some version of the old spiritual’s lament: Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen. But Michael knew.

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In Dismantling Povetkin, Joshua Recaptured His Swag among the Heavyweights

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experienced opponent

He was in against a very crafty and experienced opponent in former WBA titlist Alexander Povetkin 34-2 (24). And although he was troubled by the dangerous Russian fighting small as he tried to inch his way in and time him, AJ adjusted well and started to take the initiative and dropped and stopped Povetkin in the seventh round, retaining his WBA, WBO, and IBF heavyweight titles and thus becoming the first fighter to ever stop Povetkin, something Wladimir Klitschko failed to do.

During the fight AJ was forced back. He had to adapt to Povetkin making him punch down and that caused him to be a little tentative, especially after being bloodied from a broken nose in the first round. And early on, AJ was a little confused and busy trying to keep Povetkin occupied from outside so he couldn’t get in on him. His most effective weapon in doing such was his left jab, delivered to the head or body, although the fight really turned when he began putting his one-two together. Then after a fairly evenly-paced bout, AJ slowed some with the hope it would lure Povetkin to close in a little harder, and he did.

As Povetkin, who came to fight, became more assertive, he became more vulnerable. AJ found the openings for his big right hand and left hook. With the first really solid right hand that bounced off his chin, Povetkin buckled and instinctively went back. Joshua pursued him and then, with near Joe Louis-like accuracy, put his right hands and hooks together, along with a beautiful right to the body in the middle of the assault and finished his game opponent.

Once again it was shown that trading with AJ is almost certain suicide. Povetkin was in great shape and would’ve been a handful for any other heavyweight in the world because he no doubt brought his A-game. Sometimes it takes AJ a little while to get going, and if you don’t do anything to bother him or wake him up, he doesn’t fight with the urgency of a “Smokin” Joe Frazier. However, when you wake him up and force him to cut loose, he’s so dangerous that he doesn’t need too many clean shots to end it. And making Joshua more lethal is that he has both short and inside power in both hands.

After months of hearing how Povetkin was the most serious threat to Joshua, that’s now finished business. Prior to the bout The Ring magazine rated the top six heavyweights in the world as follows…..Joshua, Wilder, Povetkin, Ortiz, Whyte and Parker, in that order. Now Joshua is 3-0 (2) versus Povetkin, Whyte and Parker which squashes the narrative that he has fought weaker opposition than WBC title holder Deontay Wilder 40-0 (39) who has only faced Ortiz among the top six.

Today, the most widely levied criticism of any elite fighter is that he didn’t fight the best man or men in his division. Fighters can’t control who their contemporaries are but they can control fighting the best of their era. Rocky Marciano’s era wasn’t stellar, but he fought every top fighter who was in line to challenge him. Floyd Mayweather fought in a stout era – the difference is an overwhelming majority of his bouts with big name opponents were strategically manipulated so that he faced them on the downside of their career – and that’s a fact, not a theory.

Forty years after his last victory in a title fight, Muhammad Ali is respected and revered as a fighter even by those who don’t claim to be a fan of his. Why? He wasn’t the most fundamental boxer in heavyweight history nor was he the biggest puncher, and not all of his fights were edge of your seat exciting. The thing that’s often cited as to why he was a marvel is that he fought the best of the best during one of the deepest eras in heavyweight history. There were a few times between 1975-77 that he held a win over every fighter ranked among The Ring magazine’s top-10. Sure he fought a few Brian London’s and Jean Pierre Coopman’s, but London was encompassed by Sonny Liston and Ernie Terrell during the 1960s and Coopman by Joe Frazier and Ken Norton during the 1970s.

Anthony Joshua hasn’t yet sniffed the greatness of Ali on many levels, but he is on the same trajectory in regards to meeting and defeating the best of his generation. By the end of this month, the WBC heavyweight title fight between Deontay Wilder and former champ Tyson Fury will likely become official with them meeting in early December. And regardless of who wins, Joshua, if he really wants to etch a great legacy, must pressure the winner to meet him in their next bout. In addition to that, he must tell his brain, aka Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn, to forget about winning the purse war if it is the only stumbling block. If the winner of Wilder-Fury is impressive, he will have earned a 50-50 split.

During the faux negotiations between the Joshua and Wilder camps this past summer the purse split was the focal point. And prior to the prospect of Wilder and Fury meeting, Joshua clearly held the better hand based on his resume and owning three titles to Wilder’s single title.  But the Wilder-Fury winner will have closed the gap and Joshua needs to be next while the fighters are at or near their prime. The fact is Joshua versus the Wilder/Fury winner will be the most widely anticipated fight in the heavyweight division since Lewis-Tyson and maybe even since Tyson-Holyfield I. The onus is on the fighters to make it happen and they both have the clout to make sure it does, especially Joshua.

Interviewed in the ring after dispatching Povetkin, AJ said it didn’t matter to him who he fought next as long as it’s Wilder or Fury, but it was obvious that he preferred Wilder. A lot depends on how Wilder fares with Fury, but until then, here’s what we know…..Alexander Povetkin and Luis Ortiz are about on the same level; having never faced each other, it’s a tossup as to who’d win. Both Joshua and Wilder scored impressive stoppages over Povetkin and Ortiz respectively…AJ needed seven rounds and Deontay needed ten rounds. During his bout with Ortiz, Wilder was knocked around the ring and had to endure a few big exchanges, some of which he came out second-best. Wilder was also nearly stopped in the seventh round but battled back, summoning great courage and reserve to win a fight he was losing. Against Povetkin, Joshua was more troubled than he was beaten up. And once he found his range and pace and began putting his punches together, the fight ultimately ended when AJ got off with his best stuff. In essence, Joshua was more impressive against Povetkin and had fewer close calls than did Wilder against Ortiz.

Between now and the time Wilder fights Tyson Fury, it’ll be debated as to who was more impressive – Joshua against Povetkin or Wilder against Ortiz; the answer is clearly Joshua for the reasons stated. Moreover, when analyzing a fight, A + B doesn’t equal C. Joshua will be favored over either Wilder or Fury, but probably along the line of 7-5 and nothing will change that.

The thing that emerged from Joshua dismantling Povetkin is that AJ recaptured some of the limelight and swag he ceded to Wilder this past March. AJ is again the fighter to beat in the heavyweight division and will probably get the bigger purse split regardless of whether he faces Wilder and Fury.

That said, he better not let the fight fall through over it!

Between 1977 and 1982, Frank Lotierzo had over 50 fights in the middleweight division. He trained at Joe Frazier’s gym in Philadelphia under the tutelage of the legendary George Benton. Before joining The Sweet Science his work appeared in several prominent newsstand and digital boxing magazines and he hosted “Toe-to-Toe” on ESPN Radio. Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@gmail.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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