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The Tale of Gatti-Ward Has An Untold Rest of the Story

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Paul Harvey, the iconic radio announcer who was 90 when he passed away in February 2009, wasn’t into merely repeating to his listeners what they already knew, or thought they knew. Harvey understood there was always something in every breaking-news bulletin that wasn’t so much at the forefront of the discussion as on the back burner. It was there, behind that curtain, where he felt it was his duty to take those listeners.

“You know what the news is,” he would say in that familiar chirpy voice, rife with his signature dramatic pauses. “In a minute you’re going to hear … the rest of the story.”

HBO Sports, which hauled in a load of awards with its 12-episode boxing documentary series, Legendary Nights, in 2002, is heading back into its comfort zone on Oct. 19 with the premiere of the first of several new Legendary Nights, “The Tale of Gatti-Ward,” which chronicles the epic trilogy that pitted blood-and-guts brawlers Arturo Gatti and “Irish” Micky Ward from April 18, 2002, to June 7, 2003. The first of several play dates comes at the witching hour of midnight, following the live telecast of the Mike Alvarado-Ruslan Provodnikov junior welterweight clash from Denver, Colo., which begins at 9:45 p.m.

The nine George Foster Peabody Awards and 33 Sports Emmys for documentaries racked up by HBO Sports, a number of which were won for work done on the 2003 Legendary Nights, are an indication that the pay-cable giant is back to doing something it has always done exceptionally well. And there is an undeniable sense that, in many ways, things are picking up right where they left off a decade ago, when “The Tale of Lewis-Tyson” ended the series run. The production again is high-level, the highlight clips exciting, the remembrances of those involved (Gatti died, far too soon, at 37 on July 11, 2009) compelling. Executive producer Rick Bernstein, an integral part of not only prior Legendary Nights but other award-winning HBO Sports documentaries, is back to helm “The Tale of Gatti-Ward,” providing the common thread that connects what was, what is and what will be.

But former HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg, the master of the sports documentary and driving force behind the 2002 Legendary Nights, is now performing similar duties at HBO’s increasingly bitter rival, Showtime. The narrator for “The Tale of Gatti-Ward” is Mark Wahlberg, who was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role as Ward in 2010’s The Fighter, which didn’t deal with Ward’s career-defining bouts with Gatti but with his contentious relationship with his half-brother/trainer, the drug-addicted former boxer Dicky Ecklund. Wahlberg takes over for HBO Sports’ longtime narrator, Liev Schreiber, because Wahlberg is so obviously identified with Ward. But look for Schreiber, who has the title role in Showtime’s new drama series, Ray Donovan, to still be the voice of HBO Sports’ various reality series and other projects.

It’s impossible to fit a gallon of material into a quart bottle, and so it would have been difficult to wrap all those curious, behind-the-scenes developments around a three-act passion play that has been elevated to a special place in boxing history even though Gatti and Ward were fighters with as many flaws as strengths, Gatti’s June 9 induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame notwithstanding. It is perhaps because their ring traits were so alike that Gatti and Ward were repeatedly able to make magic, even if neither attained greatness in the same talent-drenched manner as such past Legendary Nights subjects as Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Aaron Pryor, Alexis Arguello, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Julio Cesar Chavez, Meldrick Taylor, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, George Foreman and Riddick Bowe. What Gatti and Ward might have lacked in natural ability they made up for with almost bottomless wells of want-to.

“In the last few rounds, Arturo and Micky looked like they had nothing left, but they kept digging deeper and deeper and found what it took to keep going,” HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant said after their first slugfest, which the underdog Ward won on a 10-round split decision at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., a quote I fetched from my voluminous personal files and not from “The Tale of Gatti-Ward” preview DVD. “Whether it’s on the highest level of Arguello and Pryor, or Bowe and Holyfield, I can’t say. But I don’t know how anything could be more exciting.”

Round 9 of that fight is time-capsule-preservable quality, with Gatti going down from a crushing hook to the body, seemingly in deep trouble after beating the count, then rallying with a flurry of his own before Ward roared back to again regain the upper hand.

Blow-by-blow announcer Jim Lampley summed up that back-and-forth round thusly: “Every once in a while, someone will ask me, `What’s the greatest fight you’ve ever called?,’ or `What’s the greatest round you’ve ever called?,’ or `What’s the greatest thing you’ve ever seen in boxing?’” Lampley said, still amazed by what he witnessed 11-plus years earlier. “And the answer is, `Gatti-Ward I, Round 9.’ I think that will always be the answer.”

So we got it then, and we get it now. Something out of the ordinary unfolded in and out of the ring between Ward, the red-haired journeyman from Lowell, Mass., and Gatti, the Italian-born, Montreal-raised, Jersey City-based basher who used to be leading-man handsome until too many smacks to the face on too many fight nights had him resembling Quasimodo after some of his more punishing adventures in pugilism. And Ward willingly accepted as many lumps, abrasions and stitches from his future best friend as he dished out in those three wars of attrition.

“I didn’t mind taking the pain, taking the punches,” Ward said of a career that featured enough trips in ambulances that he conceivably could have qualified for frequent-rider status. “I didn’t mind the stitches, I didn’t mind getting cut.”

Said Gatti’s longtime manager, Pat Lynch: “Arturo always said, `My toughest fight is when I fight someone just like me.’ After that (first Ward) fight he said to me, `Guess what? I just fought someone just like me.’”

It could very well be that “The Tale of Gatti-Ward” represents the high-water mark for this updated round of Legendary Nights. HBO got into boxing business way back on Jan. 22, 1973,with its telecast of a young George Foreman wresting the heavyweight championship on a second-round technical knockout of Joe Frazier in Kingston, Jamaica, so Greenburg, Bernstein and Schreiber had a wealth of material from which to draw when the 2002 slate of Legendary Nights went into production. In the 11 years since … well, maybe the number of fight nights that could justifiably could be described as “legendary” are fewer and farther between, which is what happens when the really good, really interesting matchups are now more evenly parsed between HBO and Showtime, with each entity taking strict care to ignore the other when they aren’t publicly bickering like, say, the Kardashians and their husbands/boyfriends du jour. In other words, don’t expect “The Tale of Corrales-Castillo” or “The Tale of Mayweather-Alvarez” to turn up any time soon on HBO. To the suits at HBO headquarters in midtown Manhattan, it’s like those Showtime bouts never happened.

It’s here where Paul Harvey would jump in with “the rest of the story,” telling tales out of school about the cross-pollination that have those trying to keep up with the respective networks’ management affairs unable to tell the players without scorecards.

Not only do you have Greenburg, who was HBO Sports president from 2000 to 2011, now consulting for Showtime’s “All Access” advance peeks at Mayweather’s bouts with Robert Guerrero and Canelo Alvarez, and Schreiber carrying the load with Ray Donovan, but HBO replaced Greenburg with Ken Hershman, who had been executive vice president and general manager of Sports and Event Programming at Showtime. It’s like the Hatfields and McCoys of premium cable, replete with occasional cross-breeding. The feud figures to get even hotter moving forward; Showtime barely had half the number of HBO subscribers in 2005, but now, thanks in no small part to its increased involvement in big-time boxing, the gap has narrowed significantly, with HBO sitting at approximately 27.5 million subscribers to Showtime’s 22 million. At least Showtime didn’t poach its top sports executive from HBO, instead installing Stephen Espinoza, who had been a partner in Ziffren Brittenham LLP, as well as lead counsel for Golden Boy Promotions, in Hershman’s old role.

Game on … and on, and on.

It would be one thing if HBO and Showtime followed the advice of King (Rodney, not Don) and found a way to, you know, just get along. Then maybe some of the bouts fight fans would like to see, legendary nights in theory, would become reality instead of unfulfilled wishes upon excluded stars. But HBO won’t open its arms to Golden Boy fighters, and Showtime is deprived of the usage of members of Bob Arum’s Top Rank stable, so the Cold War continues with no thaw in sight.

There are always winners and losers in boxing, and not just on the scorecards or with a referee tolling to the count of 10 over a fighter who’s been knocked to the canvas. Early in “The Tale of Gatti-Ward,” there is a snippet of footage of a bleeding Gatti getting popped in the chops by a fighter Wahlberg doesn’t identify. That fighter is Ivan Robinson.

There are those who would say that Gatti’s two fights with Robinson in 1998 – both razor-thin decision losses – were every bit as action-packed as his three more heralded clashes with Ward. But while the 2002 Legendary Nights series included multiple episodes involving Leonard, Hagler, Hearns and Tyson, don’t expect “The Tale of Gatti-Robinson” any time soon.

“Those (Gatti-Robinson) fights were technically better, I thought, than Gatti’s fights with Ward,” said Joseph Pasquale, the New Jersey-based judge who worked both Gatti-Ward II and Gatti-Robinson II. “Of course, that’s just my opinion. But you know what they say. The winners are the ones who write the version of history that sticks.”

Robinson, with two wins in as many tries with Gatti, wonders if that’s really true. He said he might have been better off if referee Benjy Esteves Jr. hadn’t docked Gatti a penalty point for low blows in the eighth round of their rematch. Had that not been the case, the two scorecards on which he won by a single point would have evened out, resulting in a majority draw and a possible third meeting for big bucks and greater glory. Had that scenario played out, a Gatti-Robinson trilogy might now be held in the same lofty esteem as Gatti-Ward.

“After my second fight with Arturo, I was, like, `I beat him twice, I don’t need to fight him again,’” Robinson said. “I thought, maybe foolishly, that’s I’d get more credit than I did. Instead, everybody talks more about Arturo and Micky Ward, and that’s fine. Those were really good fights. I loved Arturo and I like Micky a lot, even though me and Micky never fought for whatever reason. I wanted that fight and so did he, but it didn’t happen.

“But who knows? If I had lost that second fight with Arturo, I don’t think they would have ever given me a third fight with him. I really believe that.”

Meanwhile, fight fans never got to see a first fight between Tyson and Bowe, or Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. So legendary nights, whenever and wherever they occur, should be cherished for the mere fact of their existence. Because wonderful stuff doesn’t happen as nearly as often as it should, a situation that could become even more acute if the real rivalries continue to be played out in mahogany-paneled boardrooms.

As Mr. Harvey might say, that’s the rest of the story.

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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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