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MLK, Memphis



Muhammad-Ali-Martin-Luther-King-1-20-2014jpg 835c3

MEMPHIS, BEFORE AND AFTER – Martin Luther King Jr. was the most important kind of fighter.

This is a story about Memphis, Tennessee, United States of America, where King was murdered on April 4, 1968.

Memphis is much like many places, where both the good and the bad have refused to die. Much of the good was on display when Memphis hosted the Lennox Lewis versus Mike Tyson extravaganza in June of 2002. What would stand for years as the biggest pay per view event in history didn’t go off in glittery Hollywood, Vegas, or New York City. Memphis got the funk, and spread it around as part of the city’s extraordinary public relations achievement. Media members were given a card that pretty much got you into any of the city’s attractions.

The heaviest, most lasting impression of fight week had nothing to do with the bout itself, or Memphis culture, but like many things in this fascinating town, there was a twisting, tie –in along the Mississippi.

I have vivid memories of the scene inside The Pyramid, wincing in unwanted sympathy every time of the many times Lewis thudded in another right hand, until Tyson finally crumbled in bloody defeat. I can’t remember another time I heard Emanuel Steward shrieking in anywhere near as high a pitch, as Lewis fought like one of the best heavyweights in history.

We all know there are different types of history. Memphis history has guts, glory, and some fine, fine music, but sadness sits atop the ledgers of longevity.

Boxing images became inconsequential compared to standing on the balcony outside room 306 of the former Hotel Lorraine, now the National Civil Rights Museum, restored but unchanged from that horrible evening at 6:01pm, when King was martyred.

There was an excellent, extensive photo exhibition by Muhammad Ali’s longtime confidant Howard Bingham, highlighted by images from the Rumble in the Jungle, in conjunction with the Lewis-Tyson bout. The photographs were crisp and thought-provoking. Again, the entertainment-based gallery paled to the sad, stark realities of the museum, which chronicled the US civil rights struggle, horrors, and eventual progress. Except for two young black women, another white colleague and I were by ourselves. I felt a ton of guilt, by association alone. It was one of those times when you can hate one man for disgracing the rest. The women were sweethearts, saw our sadness, and made some small talk to provide a comfort level. I still felt communal shame. Hard to sit in a model of the Rosa Parks bus and avoid it.

King’s final public words show he knew what was coming. He said it was the glory of the Lord. “And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?…But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop.” King probably received death threats every day.

King also received the Nobel Peace Prize, among many other accolades. Prior to his assassination, which he understood was imminent, he stated that he’d rather his obituary omitted listing awards, to focus on his message. “I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody that day to say that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody,” said King as he spoke of his priorities, and lack of fear. “Other shallow things will not matter.”

Maybe if the day’s law enforcement leaders had spent a bit of time and money to protect King, he’d still be around. Instead, he was spied on and sabotaged. In Memphis, police had King under surveillance from a fire station adjacent to his hotel and witnessed his murder. An undercover officer who ran across the street initiated first aid. Even if you can dismiss the probability of governmental evil involved, it’s disgraceful at best that the supposed elite intelligence of our nation was basically sitting on top of a fugitive, who went about killing someone while under the officers’ noses. Monday, January 20 has been designated a federal holiday since Ronald Reagan signed the order in 1983, effective in ‘86. It took 14 more years until every holdout state had recognized the holiday. That says more about Arizona, New Hampshire and Utah than it does about Memphis.

It would be great to say we’ve all subsequently made it to the mountaintop, but that would be a lie. The sick white brothers are still out there, and they’ve got just as many sick siblings, wearing many different skins. Meanwhile, Memphis remains high on the list of US murder and violent crime locales. Maybe there is enough color blind love in people of all ethnicities to make Dr. King’s dream a possibility. As long as most of us keep trying, maybe the rest will either fall in line or fall in time.

Memphis has a decent boxing scene, as reflected by last Friday’s Showbox telecast, with consistent club cards along the riverside. I’m betting there are very few sick brothers in those gyms or at those arenas.

King was never particularly noted as a boxing fan but I think he’d approve of such gatherings and enjoy them. I’ve seen times when a fight crowd comes just about as close to achieving equal, multi-cultural utopian kinship as our flawed species gets. There was a color line against black challengers decades ago, but it seems boxing established certain civil rights ahead of many other public forums.

It’s heartbreaking that King did not get the chance to enjoy triumphant sunset years like Nelson Mandela, or witness the inauguration of Barack Obama. It’s sad he couldn’t live to be at least a healthy 83 years old, and experience the soulful celebration that was Beale Street during Lewis-Tyson. For a few magic moments, you could dance on the packed pavement amidst blaring blues. It almost seemed like the promised land.

As great as the game may be, like most of us, boxing is still a shallow thing.

Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others.

Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody.


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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th



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.



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



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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