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Matthew Saad Muhammad: An Appreciation

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Imagine if there was a boxer around today who could box if he chose to, could take his opponents’ consciousness away with either hand, possessed the most remarkable recuperative powers you ever saw, owned a cast-iron chin and fought every top contender in the division one after another when it was stacked with hall of fame fighters – how huge of a star would that fighter be today in 2014? 

Well boxing fans, I present Matthew Saad Muhammad aka Matt Franklin.

For the last five or six years fans, have flocked to see Floyd Mayweather’s publicized sparring sessions that would be better suited airing on TMZ against opponents chosen for business reasons above all else. After Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao is the next biggest draw in boxing. Other than his 12th round stoppage of Miguel Cotto five years ago, the most exciting fight he’s been a participant of ended with him being counted out face first on the canvas versus his career rival.

When it comes to giving fans action-packed fights with sustained action, there hasn’t been a more fan-friendly fighter in the ring than Matthew Saad Muhammad in over half a century.

And if you took Saad circa 1976-1981 and dropped him into the light heavyweight division of today, it’s very plausible that he would be the biggest and brightest star in boxing. His back story of abandonment to world boxing champion would repeated on HBO and Showtime every time he fought. On top of that there isn’t one light heavyweight in the world today who would’ve gone the distance with him, let alone beat him. Yes, that includes Bernard Hopkins, Sergey Kovalov and Adonis Stevenson. Saad was a real Adonis physically and he was Evander Holyfield before Evander was even thinking about becoming a world champion while he was winning swimming meets in Atlanta. I mean no disrespect to Evander, but the comeback he made during the 10th round of his first fight with Riddick Bowe was routine for Saad two or three weekends a year during his title tenure 1979 through 1981.

Saad passed away this week at age 59 from Lou Gehring’s disease. If you were around and following boxing during the middle 1970’s through the early 1980’s you are very saddened by the news. The words “champion” and “warrior” are thrown around and passed on to fighters and athletes too often today. However, in the case of Matthew Saad Muhammad the words are fitting and probably under-used.

Saad participated in five of the most exciting fights anyone has ever seen, against Marvin Johnson (twice), Richie Kates and Yaqui Lopez (twice). He went 5-0 in those bouts and won them by stoppage.

Everyone talks about his title winning effort against Marvin Johnson in their second bout and what a great fight it was, but their first fight for the NABF title at the Spectrum in South Philly was even better and I was lucky to have attended it.

I remember as an amateur training at Joe Frazier’s gym in North Philly watching Marvin Johnson, who was undefeated at the time, train for his upcoming fight with Saad, who was Matt Franklin then, a week prior to the bout. Johnson looked really sharp and aggressive during his rounds of sparring, almost too aggressive for hall of fame trainer George Benton, who was observing Marvin while he sparred. On his last day of training Benton cornered Johnson as he came out of the ring and said in almost these exact words — “Johnson, don’t trade with this MF’er, he’s too F’n strong. He’s a sitting duck for your southpaw uppercut, just don’t try and knock him out or wake him up if you get him in trouble because that’s when he’s so dangerous. Box him and you’ll be okay, go to war with him and you’re asking for trouble.”

Johnson respectfully took in what Georgie said, but he was a fighter who only knew how to attack and as fate would have it, everything Benton spoke of played out three days later when they fought. Johnson repeatedly nailed Saad with uppercuts that should’ve sent his head up into the rafters of the Spectrum. He dazed Saad and hurt him but stood right there in front of him and was hurt in return with Saad’s counters. Saad also owned a terrific uppercut and left hook that was followed by a big right hand as a finishing shot. And Johnson was slowly worn down by those bombs as the bout progressed. Johnson’s heart and determination kept him pressing the fight but in the end it was Saad’s abundance of toughness and strength that were too much for Johnson. After 11 rounds the bout was up for grabs. Saad came out in the 12th round and unloaded on Johnson, hurting him beyond the point of return. Marvin tried to hold on to survive the round but he was too weak and tired to hold the charging Saad off. Finally, he collapsed against the ropes and was flat on his back and the fight was stopped with a little more than a minute remaining in the last round.   

When Saad fought Richie Kates seven months later, Richie was a year and a half removed from losing two close controversial title fights versus a beast of a champion named Victor Galindez. I was also lucky to be at the Spectrum that night. With seconds left in the fourth round, Kates hit Saad with a right hand that dropped him and he went down face first. Saad looked so out of it and gone that Kates and his cornermen started celebrating thinking that the fight was over. Somehow Saad beat the count but was on the shakiest legs you ever saw and barely made it back to his corner. Had there been thirty seconds left in the round and Kates could hit him once more clean, the fight would’ve been over.

Kates came out in the fifth round and took it to an exhausted Saad to the head and body. Towards the end of the round Saad began to shrug his shoulders and waved Kates to come and get him. With 10 seconds left in the round Saad dropped Kates face first with a beautiful right hand, and like Saad in the round before, Richie was saved by the bell.

In the sixth round Saad came out and unloaded on Kates with right hands and left hooks and the bout was stopped with Kates out on his feet.

After beating Kates, Saad defended his NABF title against perennial contender Yaqui Lopez, who lost three previous title shots to John Conteh and Victor Galindez twice, all three by decision.

Saad and Lopez put on a spectacular fight at the Spectrum and in the early going Lopez had the slightly better of it. And like Secretariat at the 1973 Kentucky Derby, Saad stormed back and stopped Lopez with one second remaining in the 11th round.

As fate would have it, Marvin Johnson got a title shot before Saad and won it when he stopped WBC light heavyweight champ Mate Parlov in the 10th round. To show you the kind of a man and fighter that  Marvin Johnson was, instead of making a few easy defenses of the title, he defended it against Saad in his first defense four months later. Saad and Johnson staged another instant classic in Johnson’s hometown of Indianapolis and Saad emerged with the title after a great give and take war that ended in the eighth round.

Saad made eight successful defenses of the title. winning all but one by knockout. During his tenure as champ he turned back the challenges of John Conteh, twice, Yaqui Lopez, Vonzell Johnson, Murray Sutherland and Jerry “The Bull” Martin. By the time he defended the title against another future hall of famer and monster Dwight Muhammad Qawi (aka Dwight Braxton) the tough fights and wars had taken their toll on Saad physically. Even before he won the title Saad fought tough guys and future champs like Billy “Dynamite” Douglas, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Mate Parlov and Marvin Camel (2xs).

I also trained with Dwight, who is a hall of famer, but in fairness, by the time he fought Saad, MSM’s better days were behind him and he was on the decline. Dwight stopped him in 10 rounds to win the title and then beat him again in six rounds when they met in a rematch eight months later.

After that it was pretty much over for Saad. Like many other past greats he hung on too long as the money evaporated and the loses to fighters he would’ve destroyed in his prime mounted. He finally retired with a career record of 49-16-3 (35).

However, if you want a true indication of who Matthew Saad Muhammad was as a fighter, just look at his first 38 fights.

Look at the names of the guys who he fought during that time who went on to become champs and enter the hall of fame. Saad was light heavyweight champ when the likes of Michael Spinks, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Marvin Johnson, Victor Galindez, Yaqui Lopez, Mike Rossman, John Conteh, Richie Kates, James Scott and Jerry “The Bull” Martin were out there.

Matthew Saad Muhammad was a true warrior in the ring. When he wanted to use it, he had a great jab and was an underrated boxer. However, after losing a disputed decision to Eddie Mustafa Muhammad early in his career, a fight in which he had Eddie down and everyone who was there and saw it thought he won, he decided to become more of a slugger and fighter. He had the two handed power to thrive in that style and the concrete chin and immense physical strength to be successful. With media access via cable TV, the Internet, Facebook and Twitter, Saad would be a huge star today because he never disappointed and always delivered against the best of the best the light heavyweight division had to offer.

In closing here’s two quick Saad stories:

It was July of 1978 at the Passyunk gym in South Philly. I was there training as an amateur and both Saad and Mike Rossman were also there training. Rossman, who was stopped by Yaqui Lopez in his last fight was starting to get ready for his upcoming title shot against WBA champ Victor Galindez, a fight Mike would go onto win. Saad was preparing to defend his NABF title against Lopez and hoping to meet the Galindez-Rossman winner. I’ll never forget after sparring two rounds with Saad, he pointed to Rossman shadow boxing on the floor and said to me, “He just got knocked out by Lopez who I’m going to knock out – and he’s getting a title shot before me…” then he shook his head and got ready to spar the next guy up. Years later, I ran into him in Atlantic City during a cable TV sports show that I was a guest on. He just found out that he was going to be inducted into the IBHOF and was saying how he hadn’t seen any of his fights in years. Being a fight collector I offered to make him a VHS tape of his bouts vs. Kates, Johnson and Lopez. A week later we met and I gave him the tape. He was happy to get it and when I ran into him after that he continued to thank me for the tape.You couldn’t meet a nicer or tougher man than Matthew Saad Muhammad. Everyone who came in contact with him liked him and his demeanor never changed. I’m glad I got to know Saad and train with him a little bit when he was the main man in the light heavyweight division. It’s a shame that because of all the great boxers around at that time like Muhammad Ali, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Alexis Arguello, Salvador Sanchez and others, Saad got a little lost in the crowd. But that doesn’t diminish what a thrilling and great fighter he was.

And to those of us who were around for his prime, we’ll never forget the great fights and memories that he gave us and we all respect him for the way he handled himself outside of the ring as well.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GloevedFist@Gmail.com

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In Dismantling Povetkin, Joshua Recaptured His Swag among the Heavyweights

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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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