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Battle Hymn – Part 7: Sugar On The Sidewalk

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Chuck Burroughs’ sixty years in the Peoria, Illinois boxing scene began in the crowded backseat of Jack Beaty’s reo. A Golden Gloves champion who later became a referee, ring announcer, corner man, journalist, author, and local historian, Burroughs kept tabs on his old teammates long after their fighting days ended. When he died, several of his scrapbooks were donated to the Peoria Public Library. I tracked them down, hoping to unearth more about the Little Tiger. Burroughs didn’t disappoint.

He had chronicled Peoria’s Golden Gloves history and devoted a long paragraph to “Peoria’s first Negro Golden Glove Champ” Aaron Wade. There is a curious scrap of information midway through it that says Wade was “chief sparring partner for Sugar Ray when he was welterweight champ.” Robinson, of course, was a Harlemite. I knew Wade had been living in New York since 1945. After the embarrassing loss to Wylie Burns in 1947, Wade had no income and one marketable skill; Burroughs’ detail shines a light on where he wandered off to after that loss.

Robinson was scheduled to face Steve Belloise on December 9, 1948. His workouts were held at the Uptown Gymnasium at 252 W. 116th Street and Wade was a sparring partner. On the morning of the fight, national newspapers announced that the bout was cancelled “due to an injury Robinson is reported to have suffered in training.” The write-ups were heavy on details, but neither the Belloise camp nor the boxing beat was buying it.

Already lauded as perhaps “the greatest boxer in history,” Robinson was also despised by many insiders for what they saw as imperiousness. He had a history of mistreating sparring partners. He ran out on contracts. He postponed bouts. The Belloise bout had already been postponed from its original date and ticket sales were lagging when Robinson’s injury was announced. The event, said the New York Herald-Tribune, cost $40,000 though “less than $15,000 was in the till.” It was suspicious enough to force a public explanation from the champion: “It happened in the last minute of my three-round workout with Tiger Wade here on Monday,” Robinson said. “Wade’s a 170-pounder. He hit me with a right uppercut down here. I felt like he stabbed me with a knife.”

Doctors were marched out to reassure a doubting press that Robinson had indeed suffered a separation between the sixth and seventh ribs. Reporters were invited to feel the egg-sized lump under his heart for further proof. Many did, and the fact of his injury had to be accepted. Given the fact that the sparring partner who did it was a once-feared puncher, Robinson’s explanation of how he was injured was likewise accepted.

But Robinson was lying.

Two years ago, boxing historian J.J. Johnston told me about a rumor he had heard. The rumor said that the Little Tiger had once knocked down Robinson outside of a Boston gym. I spent weeks sifting for more leads only to find that the past had pulled the shade. I filed the rumor away. About a month ago I was flipping through pages of Burroughs’ Peoria scrapbook and my eyes darted to a glittering sentence: “Whipped Sugar Ray in a street fight over some money Sugar owed him.” Now that’s independent corroboration, which makes a rumor more than a rumor. However, it still wasn’t enough to justify publishing it—Robinson’s name is like thunder in the boxing world, even today. I needed confirmation, and found it on microfilm at the Boston Public Library.

The Boston Post folded in 1956. Its circulation was in a free-fall in the forties, though it still had at least one shoe-leather reporter in Gerry Hern. As news of Robinson’s so-called sparring injury and the fight cancellation hit the stands, Hern was turning up primary sources. One of them was unnamed but was almost certainly Little Tiger Wade, and Wade had a tale to tell.

“There was nothing accidental about Robinson’s rib separation,” Hern revealed in an article published Friday, December 10,1948. “It was the result of trying to shave the overhead a little bit, his own personal overhead, for the fight.” Here’s what happened: Robinson and Wade sparred the previous Tuesday at the Uptown Gymnasium. Robinson, feeling the pinch of the lagging ticket sales for his fight Thursday, told Wade that he would have to accept less money than promised. Wade objected at first, then relented. “What can I do about it,” he said. “You’re the boss. I’ve got to take it.”

Wade left the gym, but changed his mind and waited for the champion on the sidewalk. When Robinson came out, Wade confronted him. “I want all the dough or none,” he said. “I’m just a punk in this business but I want my money.” Robinson, said Hern, starting telling “his broken-down sparring partner that he would be lucky to get anything—but he didn’t finish. Wade fired his Sunday punch that knocked Robinson to the sidewalk and then gave him a brisk going-over.”

The spectacle of a member of Murderers’ Row finally closing the distance on Robinson and punishing him is startling. Is it poetic justice? Robinson later wrote an article for Ebony magazine defending his business acumen. “A broke fighter is a pitiful sight,” he said. “I’ve seen too many of them not to have learned a lesson or two. Great boxing skill is no sure guarantee that a fighter won’t end up hungry and raggedy. Most fighters end up broke.” Then he offered a little advice. “A fighter these days must express himself, must speak up when he thinks he’s being shoved around.”

It could be said that Wade ‘expressed himself’ on behalf of many; on behalf of many on Murderers’ Row.

The pair would have another ill-fated encounter in February 1950. Robinson was scheduled for a main event in Savannah, Georgia, when his scheduled opponent got shot in New Orleans. The local promoter, Buster White, was desperate to find a substitute; a black substitute, to be precise, because southern law prohibited fair fights between the races. Robinson’s manager remembered that Aaron Wade always needed a buck. For all intents and purposes, Wade had been retired for 793 days; he needed a few bucks.

The doors to the Municipal Auditorium opened at 8:30pm on February 15. “Ladies and gentleman, tonight you will see one of the greatest champions of all time,” the program said. “Robinson could easily become a triple champion if given the opportunity to fight for the middleweight and light-heavyweight titles.” Two thousand black and white citizens streamed in by separate entrances. The blacks were seated in the balcony, the whites around the ring. During the main event, they were booing together.

“Ray battered his stocky, keg-like foe savagely,” said the Savannah Morning News. “Mostly he put on a beautiful combination of foot-work and body weaving which left the Tiger shadow boxing.” Robinson’s “favorite stunt” was to grab the rope with his right glove and leave his left free to “tantalize and punish Wade by smearing that hand all over the Tiger’s face and body.” It was an artistic display. It seemed a little too artistic. Wade fell five times in the second round. The first time seemed more like a slip. The second time saw him “dumped on his rear end through the ropes.” The third time Wade went down, “it looked for certain that the glove missed Wade’s face altogether and caught him in the shoulder instead. At any rate, he went down again.”

The crowd was wild between the second and third round, more “at Wade’s taste for canvas than in appreciation for Ray’s aptitude.” Before the bell, Robinson stood up and gestured that he would bring the fiasco to a conclusion. When the third round began, he set out to do so and, reads the article, “Wade seemed willing to cooperate.”

The Savannah Evening Press was also suspicious. “The Tiger—let’s call him Aaron—,” it said, “began hitting the canvas for apparently no reason at all. As Robinson moved within firing range the husky Wade repeatedly fell to the canvas.” Waldo Spence, sports editor for the Press, got right to the point: “Robinson never during the evening hit Wade with a solid punch.”

Years later, Wade privately confirmed what many thought they saw that night. He told his son he had taken a dive. When Alan told me, a shadow crossed my mind. I had to ask “—did Robinson know?” It turns out that he had asked his father that very question. His father shook his head. “Robinson had nothing to do with it.”

“Who approached your father?” I asked Alan. “It was the promoters,” he said. “They told him to go down in three rounds for a few hundred dollars.”

Alan had one other detail he could recall. Wade, he said, had asked the promoters if he could go “five or six rounds.” It was, I suppose, an attempt to salvage whatever scrap of pride he had left. But they turned him down. “Three,” they said.

I found it a little sad.

 

 

 

 

 


“WhyI’m the Bad Boy of Boxing,” by Sugar Ray Robinson (Ebony, November 1950); Savannah Morning News 2/22, 23/50; New York Times 2/23/50; Savannah Evening Press, 2/23/1950; Behind the Moss Curtain by Murray Silver (2002), pp. 238-239.

Special thanks to J.J. Johnston.

Springs Toledo can be contacted at scalinatella@hotmail.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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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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