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A red tear trickled down Paulie Malignaggi’s cheek in the fourth round Saturday night. I saw it after the first knockdown when he got up to walk it off. The referee was calling out the standing eight, but Paulie ignored him; he was busy making sure his legs still worked.

The welterweight who clubbed him down walked backward to a neutral corner and never took his eyes of Paulie. I never took my eyes of him. He’s a juggernaut, short and wide like an image in a funhouse mirror, shoulders like boulders, no neck. He reminded me of someone I got to know recently, someone from the ferocious forties. They call him Shawn Porter but he was barreling in like a little tiger—like the Little Tiger, Aaron Wade. Left hooks and right hand blasts were ruffling old fight reports scattered around my living room floor.

Wade went barreling through three divisions between 1935 and 1947. He began his career as a welterweight then advanced to middleweight and light heavyweight. Porter has travelled the same path through the traditional weight classes, only in reverse. Their paradigms are also similar. After Wade faced Sugar Ray Robinson, he retired and eventually became a Christian minister. Porter held a prayer meeting in his corner after the slaughter was stopped and was overheard saying “We pray for Paulie’s health in Jesus’s name.”

Paulie was lying nearby bleeding under the ropes. I thought about Willie Pep. Great though he was, Pep too was laid out bleeding after Sandy Saddler got him good. It was October 29, 1948. “I started out feinting as usual to get a feeling for him and he ignored it completely and caught me cold,” Pep said. “I was completely surprised. He knocked me down twice before the fourth round and then he stopped me.”

Porter and Wade. Paulie and Pep. “The Sweet Science,” said A.J. Liebling, “is joined onto the past like a man’s arm to his shoulder.”

The science of the Sweet Science is also joined onto the past. We learned early that master boxers like Pep toy with plodding punchers, though swarmers and pressure fighters present real problems. They’re disruptive. The boxer uses pizazz punctuated by jabs to con his opponent into a pace and rhythm designed to sap his spirit. But disruptive fighters don’t buy what’s being sold. The swarmer closes in rapidly and the pressure fighter closes in ominously and if the boxer fails to keep the beast at bay, he suffers little panic attacks. You can see it in that wide-eyed “uh-oh” look.

Pep walked blindly into the worst knockout loss of his career. He had no excuse. “I had won seventy-three fights in a row and I didn’t think any kid named Sandy Saddler was going to beat me,” he said. “I wasn’t even a little worried.”

Paulie walked into his knockout loss with eyes wide open. He doesn’t need an excuse. He simply “bit off more than he could chew again,” said Jeffrey Freeman of KO Digest. In fighting a younger, stronger, stylistic nightmare, he did what few million-dollar fighters would dare to do and he didn’t blink. Even Sugar Ray Robinson blinked when it came to Murderers’ Row. He ran out on written contracts to meet two of them, ducked another one for years, and he did it during his breathtaking prime. Not Paulie. Paulie’s record is a profile in courage.

“You know who I was rewarded with in my first title fight?” he said last June, “Miguel Cotto.” And it hasn’t been much easier since. He’s been what Vegas calls an underdog with fleas. The odds were 12-5 against him when he faced Ricky Hatton, 4-1 when he faced Juan Diaz, and 5-1 when he faced Amir Khan. Vyacheslav Senchenko was undefeated and a 4.5-1 favorite when Paulie stopped him, but the handicappers scoffed and chalked him in as a 15-1 underdog when he face the untested Adrien Broner. Paulie scoffed right back. “This is how the creation of Adrien Broner happened,” he said before their bout. “They got everybody that’s wrong for boxing together in one room, did everything that’s wrong for boxing in that room, and gave birth to Adrien Broner.” The Sweet Science, he told the press, requires more than talent at the upper level. Then he proceeded to prove it over twelve rounds. So then what happens? He signs to meet a fading Zab Judah, is once again declared an underdog, and dominates the rounds with a jab.

In January, Paulie said he was willing to fight Porter, despite the fact that no one else was calling out that beast. “What do you see in Porter that you can capitalize on?” He was asked. “I’m not saying I see any weaknesses,” Paulie said. “You don’t necessarily have to see a weakness in them to want to fight them” [emphasis mine].

When the smoke cleared Saturday night, it looked as if the ceiling fell on him. He may have regretted wanting to fight Porter. Now he’s wondering what to do next. Retire? Face some plodding journeyman, look good, and retire a winner?

If he is not medically cleared to fight again by a responsible authority, then he has no choice but to retire. If he is cleared and there is no increased risk of injury in the aftermath of his knockout, then he has several choices.

The ghost of Willie Pep points at one of them: Fight Porter again.

Pep had two tune-ups after his knockout loss. Paulie can fight a second-rate swarmer close to home and fight him safely: vary the speed, placement, and force of the jab, avoid the inside where Porter’s strength sapped his, avoid mid-range where he is reduced to punchers’ meat, and practice staying just off the perimeter to draw him out and then counter and circle off. “Keep on the go,” was Pep’s recommendation. “Keep him off balance.” If Paulie and especially Paulie’s legs feel good after ten rounds, he can turn his attention toward Porter and lobby for a rematch.

To most citizens and a few tin-belt titlists more interested in celebrity than glory, it might seem crazy. Why would Paulie challenge his stylistic foil a second time? Anyone who has been paying attention knows the answer.

Pep, haunted by Saddler, knew the answer. “We had a rematch,” he said, “and you better believe I was ready for him. Most of the writers were picking Sandy but I was ready for him. I was dead set on beating him no matter what.”

So what happened? “You could look it up,” Pep used to say with a smirk.

If Paulie decides to hang up his gloves, he will go down in boxing history as a profile in courage. If he returns to full capacity and considers avenging the worst knockout loss of his career, he should fight Porter the way Pep fought and beat Saddler —then do better than Pep and retire.

 


Malignaggi’s statements about Porter recorded 1/31/14 by Tha’ Boxing Voice. Willie Pep’s quotes on Saddler I and II found inWillie Pep Remembers Friday’s Heroes, with Robert Sacchi (1973), p. 14 and Peter Heller’s interview of Pep in In This Corner: 42 World Champions Tell Their Stories (1973), p. 253.

Springs Toledo can be contacted at scalinatella@hotmail.com .

 

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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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