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Boyd Melson: An Atypical Fighter

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People tend to stereotype fighters. Boyd Melson is not your average fighter. Then again, he’s not your average West Point graduate or your average Jewish kid from Westchester or your average anything.

Melson’s maternal grandparents were born in Poland and were Holocaust survivors. His grandfather escaped from a train that was en route to an extermination camp and joined the Russian Army in the war against Nazi Germany. His father, who spent 26 years in the United States military, is Louisiana Creole with African-American, French, Spanish, and Cherokee roots. Boyd’s sister is an officer in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate Group. His brother is in a public health doctoral program at New York Medical College.

Melson is thoughtful, affable, and a talker. “I was raised as a black male, and I’m Jewish,” he says. “But I’m open to different religions.” Then he elaborates, saying, “Religions are the same in a lot of ways. They’re just written differently. I believe that the highest power in the world is love. I believe that God exists in every one of us, but it’s not Him or Her or It that’s making things happen. It helps us to think that someone else is responsible for what goes on because it takes the burden off of us. But we’re all responsible for what we do and who we are. Bad things can happen for no good reason or because someone planned them to happen. You can ask, ‘Why do people get cancer?’ But you can also ask, ‘Why do people do bad things to each other?’ Good things are the same way. Some good things happen by accident and some good things happen by design. Loving human beings is my identity. I take that very seriously. Everything else in my life complements that.”

Those thoughts might sound incongruous coming from a professonal fighter, particularly one who graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point. After all, the sweet science and the United States Army aren’t the first things that come to mind when the average person thinks of “love.” But they’re part of the mosaic that’s Melson’s life.

West Point was a transformative experience for him.

“I’d heard stories about plebe year at West Point and thought getting yelled at would be funny,” Melson recalls. “That lasted about ten minutes. Then shock set in. I can’t really explain what the experience was like. But in the end, West Point teaches you to believe in yourself. You learn to sift through the crap to get to your objective. You learn that, no matter how bad something is, it will pass. You develop confidence that, no matter bad things are, you’ll find a way to get to where you want to be. You learn how to handle stress with everything – I mean everything – on the line.”

As part of the West Point curriculum, all plebes (first-year cadets) are required to take a boxing class that consists of twenty 45-minute lessons. The last four classes are graded bouts. Each plebe engages in four bouts with two one-minute rounds in each contest.

The purpose of the class isn’t to teach boxing skills as much as it’s to instill mental toughness; to teach young men to face their fears and prepare them for that moment down the road in military combat when they have only themselves to rely on.

“When you’re in combat,” Melson explains, “it’s not about American freedom at that particular moment in time. It’s about you and your buddies surviving. In boxing, you’re trying to hurt someone to win, and that person is trying to hurt you. You learn to think and make decisions under stress. You train your mind to not give up before your body does. Military combat is far more serious than boxing, but some of the demands are the same.”

Melson won all four of his plebe bouts and went from there into intramural boxing. Then he joined the intercollegiate boxing team.

“Eventually,” he recalls, “word began filtering through the ranks that this crazy plebe was knocking people out.”

Melson graduated from West Point in 2003. His first assignment after matriculation was to teach plebe boxing at West Point. Then, after four-and-a-half months of artillery school, he was assigned to the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, which trains Army personnel to compete at the national and international level with the ultimate goal of making the United States Olympic Team. He won numerous amateur honors and was a four-time United States Army champion.

Melson stopped boxing in November 2007 after failing to qualify for the United States Olympic Team. On May 31, 2008, he completed his five-year military commitment and took a job in corporate America, selling spinal implants for Medtronic (a leader in the development and manufacture of medical devices).

The new career fit nicely with a passion that Boyd had developed over time. On June 22, 2002, toward the end of his junior year at West Point, he’d met a woman named Christan Zaccagnino at a dance club. Christan had been wheelchair-bound since age ten after breaking her neck in a diving accident.

A relationship followed. And while Boyd and Christan haven’t been romantically involved since 2009, he still describes her as his “soulmate.”

Melson’s relationship with Christan led him to become a forceful advocate for stem-cell research.

“I’ve spent the past twelve years of my life trying to help Christan walk again,” Boyd says. “And that effort has turned into a quest to get all people who’ve suffered spinal cord injuries out of their chairs. I’ve spent a lot of time educating myself on paralysis and neurology and neuroscience and stem cells so I can understand the issues.”

“The hypocrisy and ignorance that surrounds the political debate over stem-cell research is incredibly frustrating to me,” Melson continues. “People are so ignorant on the issue. To give you one example; stem cells don’t just come from abortions. Stem cells can come from umbilical cords after a baby is born. One reason I wanted to make the U.S. Olympic Team was I’d heard that, if you won a gold medal, you’d get to shake hands with the President of the United States. I had a vision of winning a gold medal, meeting George Bush at the White House, and shaking hands with him so hard that it crushed the nerves in his hand and he needed stem-cell treatment to get the function back in his hand. Would I really have done it? Probably not. But I would have wanted to. And I have a very strong grip.”

Melson left Medtronic after two years and took a job as a medical device sales representative for Johnson & Johnson. “But over time,” he says, “a sadness came over me. I couldn’t figure it out. And then I realized it was because I was no longer trying to do something amazing and different from anyone else. I wanted to do something special. That meant I wanted to box again.”

Boyd resumed training in summer 2010 and turned pro with a four-round triumph over Andrew Jones on November 20 of that year. His professional record to date is 14 wins against 1 loss and a draw with 4 knockouts. The loss came by decision in an eight-round war against Delen Parsley. Melson was on the canvas once and Parsley twice.

Melson’s primary income now comes from teaching boxing and physical conditioning classes at Equinox (a national health club) and training a handful of private clients. He donates his fight purses to justadollarplease.org, a non-profit organization that raises funds for research at The Spinal Cord Injury Project at the W. M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience (affiliated with Rutgers University). In addition, Boyd and Christan have co-founded Team Fight to Walk, a 501(c)(3) corporation that raises money for Just A Dollar Please and will continue to support other research ventures after the clinical trials at Rutgers are complete.

“When Christopher Reeve died, we lost our celebrity,” Melson says. “I’m fighting to get attention, but not for myself. It’s for the cause.”

What sort of a future does Melson have in boxing?

He’s a 32-year-old southpaw without much power who gets hit too much.

“I don’t see him cracking the top ten in any legitimate rankings,” Showtime boxing analyst Steve Farhood says. “But he’s a great guy. And for his own sense of competitiveness, I hope he gets the chance to test himself at least once in the bigtime.”

Ron Katz, one of the savviest matchmakers in the business, is in accord and adds, “Very few people are blessed with the physical gifts you need to be a great fighter. Boyd doesn’t have those gifts. But he enjoys boxing. He does the best he can with what he has and gives it his all. There are far more talented fighters out there who don’t bring honor to the sport the way Boyd does.”

“I’m boxing because there’s so much that I love about it,” Melson says. “I love the the physical and the intellectual competition, the me versus you. It’s competition in its most basic form. You have to be willing to suffer in training to get to where you want to be. You have to be a masochist to do what you have to do. You have to be cruel to yourself to be a fighter. If you’re not pushing yourself to misery, you’re not preparing yourself properly.”

“For me, there’s always that moment in the dressing room before a fight when they bring the gloves in. I say to myself, ‘I must be crazy; I’m never doing this again.’ But at the same time, I want to get in the ring so I can make happen what I want to happen. Then I get in the ring. My adrenalin is flowing. I know I’m going to get hurt; it’s just a question of how much. I get hit in the face. And unless it’s on the nose or in the eye, it feels like pressure, that’s all. Getting hit on the back of the head hurts. Getting hit in the throat, sometimes I can’t breathe. All body shots hurt.”

And what goes through Melson’s mind when he hits someone?

“I hope I hurt him. In the military, very often, you’re trying to kill people. In boxing – let’s be honest about this – you’re trying to hurt people. Before the world was civilized, we were here to survive and procreate. Boxing brings you back to that. To survive, you conquer. But in both disciplines – military combat and boxing – you rely on brotherhood and you’re surrounded by love. You can only tap in to a certain level with anger, and then it runs dry. You can tap in deeper with love.”

Would Melson be boxing if he’d been deployed in the military and seen combat?

“I don’t know,” he answers. “I might have come back angry and had an even greater need to fight. Or I might have come back and said ‘that’s enough.’”

Melson is now slated to fight Glen Tapia on the undercard of Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Geale at Madison Square Garden on July 26. A lot of people who care about Boyd don’t like the fight.

Tapia is 24 years old with a 21-and 1 record and 13 knockouts. His one loss was a brutal beatdown at the hands of James Kirkland in Atlantic City last December. But before being stopped, Tapia had Kirkland in trouble.

Boyd is on the card because he sells tickets. For the first time in his pro career, he’ll be a heavy underdog.

“I know I’m the opponent going in,” Melson says. “But it’s a dream of mine to fight at Madison Square Garden. I’ve fought at Barclays Center twice and Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City twice. Those are great places but they’re not the Garden. I don’t know how far I’ll go in boxing, but this is an opportunity for me to get to the next level. I want to be on the card and I’m willing to be the B-side fighter. It’s an opportunity for me to test myself and build on what I accomplished in my last fight.”

That fight took place on February 12 at Roseland Ballroom in New York against a club fighter named Donald Ward. It was supposed to be an easy victory for Melson. But in round three, he injured his brachial plexus (a network of nerve fibers running from the spine through his neck into his right arm).

“The pain was excruciating,” Boyd recalls. “I couldn’t control my arm. I couldn’t feel my fingers in my glove. I thought I was having a stroke. My first thought was, ‘I don’t know what’s happening to my body. I’m scared. I have to quit.’ I started to turn to take a knee. Then I thought about my training at West Point. To survive in combat and in the ring, you slow time down around you when, in reality, real time is taking place. You gut it out and do whatever you have to do to survive. That’s what I try to do for every second of every fight. That’s what I did that night.”

From that point on, Melson was a wounded soldier. “I was barely able to move my right arm,” he recalls. “I landed only one good right hand all night after that – a right hook – and it almost threw me into shock.”

But he survived and won a majority decision.

“Of all my fights, that’s the one that’s the most meaningful to me,” Boyd says. “It confirmed what I’ve always believed about myself; that I can overcome the worst kind of adversity and do what I have to do to prevail. The idea of quitting kept trying to creep into my head. But I was able to block out worrying about my injury and stay in the moment when I couldn’t move my arm and didn’t know what had happened to me and suppress the fear and do what I had to do to win. It’s not just about how far I can go in boxing. It’s about testing myself and enjoying the journey.”

“I love boxing,” Melson says, summing up. “It’s the ultimate experience for testing physical ability and intelligence under threat of the greatest adverse consequences possible short of death. And I love being called upon to comport myself with dignity when I’m in the spotlght, competing in a sport that some people think is barbaric but I think is wonderful.”

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (Reflections: Conversations, Essays, and Other Writings) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

People tend to stereotype fighters. Boyd Melson is not your average fighter. Then again, he’s not your average West Point graduate or your average Jewish kid from Westchester or your average anything.

Melson’s maternal grandparents were born in Poland and were Holocaust survivors. His grandfather escaped from a train that was en route to an extermination camp and joined the Russian Army in the war against Nazi Germany. His father, who spent 26 years in the United States military, is Louisiana Creole with African-American, French, Spanish, and Cherokee roots. Boyd’s sister is an officer in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate Group. His brother is in a public health doctoral program at New York Medical College.

Melson is thoughtful, affable, and a talker. “I was raised as a black male, and I’m Jewish,” he says. “But I’m open to different religions.” Then he elaborates, saying, “Religions are the same in a lot of ways. They’re just written differently. I believe that the highest power in the world is love. I believe that God exists in every one of us, but it’s not Him or Her or It that’s making things happen. It helps us to think that someone else is responsible for what goes on because it takes the burden off of us. But we’re all responsible for what we do and who we are. Bad things can happen for no good reason or because someone planned them to happen. You can ask, ‘Why do people get cancer?’ But you can also ask, ‘Why do people do bad things to each other?’ Good things are the same way. Some good things happen by accident and some good things happen by design. Loving human beings is my identity. I take that very seriously. Everything else in my life complements that.”

Those thoughts might sound incongruous coming from a professonal fighter, particularly one who graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point. After all, the sweet science and the United States Army aren’t the first things that come to mind when the average person thinks of “love.” But they’re part of the mosaic that’s Melson’s life.

West Point was a transformative experience for him.

“I’d heard stories about plebe year at West Point and thought getting yelled at would be funny.” Melson recalls. “That lasted about ten minutes. Then shock set in. I can’t really explain what the experience was like. But in the end, West Point teaches you to believe in yourself. You learn to sift through the crap to get to your objective. You learn that, no matter how bad something is, it will pass. You develop confidence that, no matter bad things are, you’ll find a way to get to where you want to be. You learn how to handle stress with everything – I mean everything – on the line.”

As part of the West Point curriculum, all plebes (first-year cadets) are required to take a boxing class that consists of twenty 45-minute lessons. The last four classes are graded bouts. Each plebe engages in four bouts with two one-minute rounds in each contest.

The purpose of the class isn’t to teach boxing skills as much as it’s to instill mental toughness; to teach young men to face their fears and prepare them for that moment down the road in military combat when they have only themselves to rely on.

“When you’re in combat,” Melson explains, “it’s not about American freedom at that particular moment in time. It’s about you and your buddies surviving. In boxing, you’re trying to hurt someone to win, and that person is trying to hurt you. You learn to think and make decisions under stress. You train your mind to not give up before your body does. Military combat is far more serious than boxing, but some of the demands are the same.”

Melson won all four of his plebe bouts and went from there into intramural boxing. Then he joined the intercollegiate boxing team.

“Eventually,” he recalls, “word began filtering through the ranks that this crazy plebe was knocking people out.”

Melson graduated from West Point in 2003. His first assignment after matriculation was to teach plebe boxing at West Point. Then, after four-and-a-half months of artillery school, he was assigned to the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, which trains Army personnel to compete at the national and international level with the ultimate goal of making the United States Olympic Team. He won numerous amateur honors and was a four-time United States Army champion.

Melson stopped boxing in November 2007 after failing to qualify for the United States Olympic Team. On May 31, 2008, he completed his five-year military commitment and took a job in corporate America, selling spinal implants for Medtronic (a leader in the development and manufacture of medical devices).

The new career fit nicely with a passion that Boyd had developed over time. On June 22, 2002, toward the end of his junior year at West Point, he’d met a woman named Christan Zaccagnino at a dance club. Christan had been wheelchair-bound since age ten after breaking her neck in a diving accident.

A relationship followed. And while Boyd and Christan haven’t been romantically involved since 2009, he still describes her as his “soulmate.”

Melson’s relationship with Christan led him to become a forceful advocate for stem-cell research.

“I’ve spent the past twelve years of my life trying to help Christan walk again,” Boyd says. “And that effort has turned into a quest to get all people who’ve suffered spinal cord injuries out of their chairs. I’ve spent a lot of time educating myself on paralysis and neurology and neuroscience and stem cells so I can understand the issues.”

“The hypocrisy and ignorance that surrounds the political debate over stem-cell research is incredibly frustrating to me,” Melson continues. “People are so ignorant on the issue. To give you one example; stem cells don’t just come from abortions. Stem cells can come from umbilical cords after a baby is born. One reason I wanted to make the U.S. Olympic Team was I’d heard that, if you won a gold medal, you’d get to shake hands with the President of the United States. I had a vision of winning a gold medal, meeting George Bush at the White House, and shaking hands with him so hard that it crushed the nerves in his hand and he needed stem-cell treatment to get the function back in his hand. Would I really have done it? Probably not. But I would have wanted to. And I have a very strong grip.”

Melson left Medtronic after two years and took a job as a medical device sales representative for Johnson & Johnson. “But over time,” he says, “a sadness came over me. I couldn’t figure it out. And then I realized it was because I was no longer trying to do something amazing and different from anyone else. I wanted to do something special. That meant I wanted to box again.”

Boyd resumed training in summer 2010 and turned pro with a four-round triumph over Andrew Jones on November 20 of that year. His professional record to date is 14 wins against 1 loss and a draw with 4 knockouts. The loss came by decision in an eight-round war against Delen Parsley. Melson was on the canvas once and Parsley twice.

Melson’s primary income now comes from teaching boxing and physical conditioning classes at Equinox (a national health club) and training a handful of private clients. He donates his fight purses to justadollarplease.org, a non-profit organization that raises funds for research at The Spinal Cord Injury Project at the W. M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience (affiliated with Rutgers University). In addition, Boyd and Christan have co-founded Team Fight to Walk, a 501(c)(3) corporation that raises money for Just A Dollar Please and will continue to support other research ventures after the clinical trials at Rutgers are complete.

“When Christopher Reeve died, we lost our celebrity,” Melson says. “I’m fighting to get attention, but not for myself. It’s for the cause.”

What sort of a future does Melson have in boxing?

He’s a 32-year-old southpaw without much power who gets hit too much.

“I don’t see him cracking the top ten in any legitimate rankings,” Showtime boxing analyst Steve Farhood says. “But he’s a great guy. And for his own sense of competitiveness, I hope he gets the chance to test himself at least once in the bigtime.”

Ron Katz (one of the savviest matchmakers in the business) is in accord and adds, “Very few people are blessed with the physical gifts you need to be a great fighter. Boyd doesn’t have those gifts. But he enjoys boxing. He does the best he can with what he has and gives it his all. There are far more talented fighters out there who don’t bring honor to the sport the way Boyd does.”

“I’m boxing because there’s so much that I love about it,” Melson says. “I love the the physical and the intellectual competition, the me versus you. It’s competition in its most basic form. You have to be willing to suffer in training to get to where you want to be. You have to be a masochist to do what you have to do. You have to be cruel to yourself to be a fighter. If you’re not pushing yourself to misery, you’re not preparing yourself properly.”

“For me, there’s always that moment in the dressing room before a fight when they bring the gloves in. I say to myself, ‘I must be crazy; I’m never doing this again.’ But at the same time, I want to get in the ring so I can make happen what I want to happen. Then I get in the ring. My adrenalin is flowing. I know I’m going to get hurt; it’s just a question of how much. I get hit in the face. And unless it’s on the nose or in the eye, it feels like pressure, that’s all. Getting hit on the back of the head hurts. Getting hit in the throat, sometimes I can’t breathe. All body shots hurt.”

And what goes through Melson’s mind when he hits someone?

“I hope I hurt him. In the military, very often, you’re trying to kill people. In boxing – let’s be honest about this – you’re trying to hurt people. Before the world was civilized, we were here to survive and procreate. Boxing brings you back to that. To survive, you conquer. But in both disciplines – military combat and boxing – you rely on brotherhood and you’re surrounded by love. You can only tap in to a certain level with anger, and then it runs dry. You can tap in deeper with love.”

Would Melson be boxing if he’d been deployed in the military and seen combat?

“I don’t know,” he answers. “I might have come back angry and had an even greater need to fight. Or I might have come back and said ‘that’s enough.’”

Melson is now slated to fight Glen Tapia on the undercard of Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Geale at Madison Square Garden on July 26. A lot of people who care about Boyd don’t like the fight.

Tapia is 24 years old with a 21-and 1 record and 13 knockouts. His one loss was a brutal beatdown at the hands of James Kirkland in Atlantic City last December. But before being stopped, Tapia had Kirkland in trouble.

Boyd is on the card because he sells tickets. For the first time in his pro career, he’ll be a heavy underdog.

“I know I’m the opponent going in,” Melson says. “But it’s a dream of mine to fight at Madison Square Garden. I’ve fought at Barclays Center twice and Boardway Hall in Atlantic City twice. Those are great places but they’re not the Garden. I don’t know how far I’ll go in boxing, but this is an opportunity for me to get to the next level. I want to be on the card and I’m willing to be the B-side fighter. It’s an opportunity for me to test myself and build on what I accomplished in my last fight.”

That fight took place on February 12 at Roseland Ballroom in New York against a club fighter named Donald Ward. It was supposed to be an easy victory for Melson. But in round three, he injured his brachial plexus (a network of nerve fibers running from the spine through his neck into his right arm).

“The pain was excruciating,” Boyd recalls. “I couldn’t control my arm. I couldn’t feel my fingers in my glove. I thought I was having a stroke. My first thought was, ‘I don’t know what’s happening to my body. I’m scared. I have to quit.’ I started to turn to take a knee. Then I thought about my training at West Point. To survive in combat and in the ring, you slow time down around you when, in reality, real time is taking place. You gut it out and do whatever you have to do to survive. That’s what I try to do for every second of every fight. That’s what I did that night.”

From that point on, Melson was a wounded soldier. “I was barely able to move my right arm,” he recalls. “I landed only one good right hand all night after that – a right hook – and it almost threw me into shock.”

But he survived and won a majority decision.

“Of all my fights, that’s the one that’s the most meaningful to me,” Boyd says. “It confirmed what I’ve always believed about myself; that I can overcome the worst kind of adversity and do what I have to do to prevail. The idea of quitting kept trying to creep into my head. But I was able to block out worrying about my injury and stay in the moment when I couldn’t move my arm and didn’t know what had happened to me and suppress the fear and do what I had to do to win. It’s not just about how far I can go in boxing. It’s about testing myself and enjoying the journey.”

“I love boxing,” Melson says, summing up. “It’s the ultimate experience for testing physical ability and intelligence under threat of the greatest adverse consequences possible short of death. And I love being called upon to comport myself with dignity when I’m in the spotlght, competing in a sport that some people think is barbaric but I think is wonderful.”

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (Reflections: Conversations, Essays, and Other Writings) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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The Ali-Shavers Fight and the Ever-Present Open Scoring Debate

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Ali defended

Saturday, Sept. 29, marks the 41st anniversary of Muhammad Ali’s last successful title defense. The 35-year-old Ali defended his WBA and WBC belts against Earnie Shavers, a devastating puncher, but otherwise limited, in Madison Square Garden. Those tuning in to the Thursday night fight on NBC, an estimated 70 million, were able to track the round-by-round scoring. And therein lies an interesting tale.

A bit of background. Technically, the first instance of open scoring, at least as it pertained to television, was to have been implemented by Ted Nathanson, producer for NBC Sports, which televised the May 11, 1977, heavyweight bout pitting Ken Norton against Duane Bobick in Madison Square Garden. Although on-site spectators would not have been privy to round-by-round scoring, the TV audience would have had such access. The grand experiment proved dead on arrival, however, when Norton needed only 58 seconds of the first round to blast out Bobick.

Nathanson was nothing if not determined, however, and he successfully lobbied for the same format to be used for the Ali-Shavers fight. As was the case for Norton-Bobick, spectators in the arena would not have the same access to the round-by-round scoring as would NBC viewers. The New York State Athletic Commission, then headed by former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, signed off on the arrangement with NBC with some hesitation.

John F.X. Condon, vice president of Garden Boxing, said he originally had planned to show the round-by-round scoring on the huge overhead screen to the 14,613 on-site spectators, but he decided against it. “We didn’t think it was wise,” Condon concluded. “Personally, I think it also detracts from the pleasure of watching at home. Fight fans like to get involved. They like the uncertainty of waiting for the final decision.”

Even more adamant in his opposition to open scoring, in any form, was legendary Garden matchmaker Teddy Brenner, who said he would do everything in his power to ensure that the NBC experiment would be a one-and-done, at least if he had anything to say about it. “I am against it,” Brenner stressed. “We at the Garden plan to do something about it.”

Unlike Norton-Bobick, Ali-Shavers would go the 15-round distance, with scoring on a round basis instead of the 10-point-must system now in place. Ali won by 9-5-1 on the card submitted by referee Johnny LoBianco and by 9-6 on the cards turned in by judges Tony Castellano and Eva Shain, the latter of who made history as the first woman ever to work a big-time fight. It was Ali’s 19th victorious title defense.

Garden officials were embarrassed, however, when a question of fairness was raised. The NBC telecast was shown in Ali’s dressing room, and a runner was assigned to keep Ali trainer Angelo Dundee informed of the judges’ evolving scores. The Shavers dressing room did not have similar access, which led his manager, Frank Luca, to complain of preferential treatment being granted to Ali. He said the NYSAC even attempted to obligate the fighters to use 10-ounce gloves instead of eight-ouncers, a change which was not approved but would have been detrimental to the harder-hitting challenger.

When informed of a playing field seemingly tilted to favor Ali, Patterson said the NYSAC never again would consent to open scoring at any venue in the state, be it for on-site spectators or just TV. “That will be stopped,” Patterson said. “I understand Angelo Dundee had someone running back to get him information and the other corner didn’t. That’s not fair. It could influence a fight, affect gambling in the arena with cheaters. It was not a success and it will never happen again.”

Shavers, who went into the Ali fight with a 54-5-1 record that included 52 wins inside the distance, said he might have fought differently – yeah, right – had he been apprised of the round-by-round scoring. “My corner told me I was ahead,” he lamented. “I didn’t go for the knockout. I would have put more pressure on him, taken more chances.”

Promoter Don King pushed for open scoring on May 5, 1994, at a Las Vegas press conference to hype the pay-per-view card two nights later at the MGM Grand headlined by WBC super lightweight champion Frankie Randall’s rematch with Julio Cesar Chavez, whom he had controversially outpointed nearly four months earlier.

“Progress can’t be stopped,” King said with his trademark bluster and hyperventilation. “It’s time for a change. Bring boxing out of the dark and into the light. People who go to football and basketball games know what the score is at all times. Why should boxing be the only sport where judges pass little scraps of paper back and forth and nobody else knows who’s winning until the end?”

King said he had been “excoriated and vilified” for having promoted two bouts during the previous eight months that ended in questionable decisions, and that open scoring could eliminate or reduce the problem.

“If anything controversial happens, people will be calling for (WBC president) Jose Sulaiman and me to be ridden out of town on a rail,” King continued. “One little controversy and these four great (rematches, the others being Simon Brown vs. Terry Norris, Gerald McClellan vs. Julian Jackson and Azumah Nelson vs. Jesse James Leija) suddenly become secondary. I don’t want that to happen.”

His Hairness indisputably was on target in noting that the two referenced bouts, in which Pernell Whitaker retained his WBC welterweight title on a majority draw against Chavez on Sept. 10, 1993, and Randall nipped Chavez on a split decision in large part because JCC had been docked two penalty points by referee Richard Steele, were controversial. Most ringside observers had Whitaker winning eight to 10 of the 12 rounds in San Antonio, Texas, and were it not for the two penalty points Chavez would have won a split decision instead of losing by the same margin.

Although King advocated for open scoring to be instituted immediately, he had to know that the wheels of change do not move that swiftly in Nevada or any other jurisdiction. But Marc Ratner, the executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, while expressing his own doubts as to the usefulness of open scoring, said such a proposal at least merited further scrutiny.

“For this particular card, there will be no open scoring,” Ratner said. “But we’re not ostriches. We don’t have our heads in the sand. This is an issue that should be studied.”

Studied and almost certainly likely to be rejected, as it later was by the NSAC, for reasons that to Ratner were even more glaringly obvious than those offered by King for the other course of action.

“What if two fighters accidentally butt heads in the fourth round and one of them suffers a cut?” hypothesized Ratner. “If the bleeding fighter is ahead on the scorecards, his corner might be tempted not to close the cut, thereby prompting the bout’s premature conclusion and a decision victory.”

An even more compelling reason to forever squash the notion of full-blown open scoring holds that a fighter, if he knows he is sufficiently ahead entering the late rounds to be uncatchable on the scorecards, would get on his bicycle and pedal around the ring to eliminate or at least reduce the risk of being knocked out. Such a safety-first approach would drain whatever measure of hope still existed for the losing fighter banking on a puncher’s-chance turnaround.

We haven’t heard the last of the open scoring debate. The subject came up again in the aftermath of the Golovkin-Alvarez rematch, a tightly contested bout which Alvarez won by majority decision, much to the displeasure of Golovkin and his supporters. But for now, fight fans must continue to live with the occasional scorecard that defies credulity. And while too much controversy is never a good thing, some of it helps sell the sport and keeps interest high up to and even beyond the final bell. The alternative is the elimination of uncertainty, and with it the magic that sometimes is produced when two fighters believe success hinges on giving maximum effort to the very last punch.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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George Groves and Callum Smith Finally Meet in the WBSS Capstone

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The 168-pound tournament of the inaugural World Boxing Super Series, an 8-man invitational, kicked off on Sept. 16 of last year with a match between Callum Smith and Erik Skoglund at Liverpool, England. Tournaments of this nature in boxing almost never play out as planned and this tourney was no exception. But on Friday we will finally crown a winner when Smith meets George Groves at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, of all places. At stake will be the coveted Muhammad Ali Trophy and the bundle of cash that comes with it and Groves’ WBA “super” world super middleweight title.

Despite the odd location, this is a domestic affair. Groves, the top seed, and Smith, the #2 seed, are both Englishmen. And if the fight were on British soil, it would have certainly drawn well. In the UK, Groves is enormously popular. His second fight with Carl Froch attracted a crowd of 80,000 at Wembley Stadium, a British post-war record eventually broken by Joshua-Klitschko.

Groves (28-3, 20 KOs) suffered his lone defeats at the hands of Froch, who defeated him twice, and Badou Jack, and there’s no shame there. Carl Froch, in the minds of many, has a plaque waiting for him at the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Jack, a title-holder in two weight classes, is currently ranked #1 as a light heavyweight by the WBA and WBC.

Although both fights with Froch ended inside the distance, both were nip-and-tuck until Froch closed the curtain. Badou Jack defeated Groves by split decision in Las Vegas.

Groves has a high boxing IQ as he demonstrated on Feb 17 in Manchester where he scored a 12-round unanimous decision over Chris Eubank Jr. Groves, observed ringside reporter Gareth Davies, “was just a step too far, too strong and ultimately too technical and experienced in the championship rounds.” Eubank’s father and trainer Chris Eubank Sr. saluted Groves for fighting the perfect fight.

The victory was bittersweet as Groves dislocated his left shoulder in the final round. It required surgery, pushing back the finale until this Friday, a full two months after the conclusion of the other WBSS tourney, for cruiserweights, the finale of which was also pushed back from the originally scheduled date. For a time the promoters seriously considered bumping Eubank into the finals in place of the incapacitated Groves but eventually thought better of it. (Eubank will appear on the undercard in a stay-busy fight against Ireland’s J.J. McDonagh.)

Callum Smith (24-0, 18 KOs) is the youngest of four fighting brothers, each of whom captured one or more regional titles. In the family, the relationship between talent and birth order is inverse, which is to say that Paul Smith, the oldest of the foursome, wasn’t as good as his younger brother Stephen and Stephen wasn’t as good as younger brother Liam.

Liam “Beefy” Smith accomplished what his two older brothers could not, winning a world title. He won the WBO 154-pound diadem in his twenty-second fight and successfully defended the belt twice before it was sheared from him by Canelo Alvarez who knocked him out in the ninth round.

If Callum Smith wins on Friday, he will be recognized by hardcore fans as a more legitimate champion than was the case with his brother Liam. That’s because Callum, who stands six-foot-three (none of his brothers is taller than 5’11”), was touted from the very onset of his career as the most gifted of the fighting Smith brothers. He solidified that opinion in November of 2015 when he knocked out Liverpool rival Rocky Fielding in the opening round. Fielding went on to win the “regular” version of the WBA 168-pound title and that remains the only blemish on his record.

In recent bouts, however, Smith hasn’t looked that sharp. His last two opponents, the aforementioned Skoglund and Neiky Holzken, lasted the full 12 rounds. The obscure Holzken, a converted kickboxer from the Netherlands, was a late sub for Juergen Braehmer who was forced to bow out of the tournament with an illness.

George Groves was a slight underdog to Eubank. On Friday, the odds favor him, but only slightly. At last look it was 13/10 which portends a very close fight. Groves has the edge in experience and in ring savvy and has fought tougher opposition, but Smith will have a three-and-a-half inch height advantage and is judged to be the harder puncher.

Fight fans in the U.S. can access the fight on the new DAZN app. Keep in mind that Saudi Arabia is seven hours ahead of New York and other precincts in the Eastern Time Zone and adjust accordingly.

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Three Punch Combo: A Bouquet for “ShoBox” and More

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — We are embarking into a new age in boxing. There are new television contracts and digital platforms available that are making the sport more visible than ever before to the masses. But with all these new deals and platforms, it is important not to forget some of the consistent programming that has been around for some time. There is no better example of this than the ShoBox series on Showtime.

ShoBox, more formally ShoBox: The New Generation, began with a simple premise of matching young prospects in with tough opposition. To get their fighters on this series, promoters would have to find credible opponents who could potentially test and maybe even upset their prized prospect. This premise has led to consistently competitive and entertaining fights in the more than 200 broadcasts since the inception of the series in 2001.

This past Friday, we saw just how this premise works once again. There was a four fight card that featured competitive fights on paper in all the matches. However, in two of those matches there did seem to be clear favorites though each of the respective fighters was being matched with their toughest foe to date.

James Wilkins and Misael Lopez opened the telecast in a 130-pound contest. Wilkins was featured in a documentary that aired on Showtime just prior to the card and was expected to make a smashing television debut. He was a knockout artist and the thought was that he would put on a show to open the telecast. But instead, Wilkins got a boxing lesson from Lopez who was busier from the outside and managed to mostly avoid the power of Wilkins throughout the contest in winning an eight round unanimous decision.

The main event featured Jon Fernandez facing O’Shaquie Foster in another 130-pound contest. Fernandez had been getting a lot of buzz and many in the sport considered the Spaniard a future star. This was supposed to be a test for Fernandez as Foster (pictured on the right) represented a step up in class, but nonetheless many expected Fernandez to pass the test with flying colors. Instead, the power punching Fernandez was clearly out-boxed by Foster for ten rounds in an entertaining fight.

These two fights showed once again that when young fighters are matched tough we often get better than expected fights that can sometimes deliver surprises. This coming Friday, the series returns with highly touted lightweight prospect Devin Haney (19-0, 13 KO’s) in the main event taking on former world title challenger Juan Carlos Burgos (33-2-2, 21 KO’s). This is a fight in which Haney is favored but one in which he is facing the toughest challenge of his young career. At the very least, this should be a test for the highly touted 19-year-old Haney and I am certain we get a compelling fight.

ShoBox is boxing’s most consistent series and one that just continues to provide fight fans with high caliber, competitive fights.

10 Percent or 10 Pounds – How To Combat Fighters Who Blow Up In Weight

It is time to address the issue of fighters gaining an absurd amount of weight following the weigh-in. There is a reason why we have weight classes in boxing. If one fighter enters the ring weighing significantly more than his opponent, it gives the bigger fighter a big advantage. This can make for not only non-competitive fights but potentially dangerous situations. I have a simple solution that I think can combat this problem.

In past articles, I have touched on the issue of fighters who miss the contracted weight. My argument has always been to implement a system with stiff financial penalties. So in a similar aspect, I think stiff financial penalties can combat the continued problem of fighters blowing up in weight after the official weigh-in.

What I propose is second day weigh-ins where fighters would not be permitted to put on more than ten pounds or 10 percent (whichever is more) of the contracted weight limit. If they are over, the fight still goes on but the fighter who misses the second day weight limit pays a substantial fine. This simple adjunct can be easily administered by the various state commissions in the United States (or any other commissions worldwide).

Here is an example:  Let’s say we have a fight contracted at 130 pounds and each fighter weighs in at 129 pounds. The second day limit would be 10 percent of 130 pounds which was the contracted weight. So each fighter could come in at a maximum of 143 pounds. Now let’s say one fighter comes in at 146 pounds. The penalty I propose would be 20 percent of that fighter’s purse per pound over the weight. And this money goes directly to their opponent. Under this example, the fighter over weight would lose 60 percent of his purse.

Zero Shouldn’t Mean That Much

We are in an era, largely due to The Floyd Mayweather Jr. Factor, where fighters are often overly protected to keep that precious zero in the loss column. But to do so, they are frequently matched with soft opposition and learn little from dismantling their overmatched foes. There is little to no growth in their career during this period and though the record may get glossy, the development of the fighter may be stunted.

Setbacks can humble fighters and make them see what needs to be done so as not to experience that feeling again. They become better overall fighters and put themselves in a better long term position in their career.

This past weekend, we saw two once promising prospects bounce back with career defining wins after suffering an early unexpected defeat. They are both now in prime position to have their respective careers blossom which may not have otherwise been the case.

Earlier I mentioned O’Shaquie Foster’s upset win against Jon Fernandez. Three years ago, Foster was a highly touted prospect. He had a good amateur background and was blessed athletically with dynamic speed. After building up an 8-0 record against less than formidable opposition, he lost in a dreadful performance to Samuel Teah. Another loss would follow several months later to Rolando Chinea. But Foster clearly learned from his mistakes in these fights and bounced back, layering his natural athletic ability with much improved skills in frankly outclassing Fernandez. Foster’s losses made him take a step back and re-evaluate what needed to be done inside the ring. He is now in prime position to become a contender in the 130-pound weight division.

Luke Campbell was a 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist and considered a can’t-miss future star in boxing. But in his 13th pro fight, in a rather shocking development, he was put on the canvas and lost a split decision to veteran Yvan Mendy. Another loss followed two years later against Jorge Linares but Campbell performed well while losing a split decision and flashed signs of improvement from the Mendy setback.

The rematch with Mendy for Campbell took place this past weekend and Campbell did what many expected him to do in their first encounter. He boxed effectively from the outside and mixed in precision combination punching to easily avenge the defeat. It was a dynamic performance by Campbell and put him in line for a big fight at lightweight.

Luke Campbell is a vastly different fighter from the one who lost to Mendy three years earlier and appears primed to potentially live up to the once high expectations. He is in a better spot today in his career due to what he learned from that first loss to Mendy.

Photo credit: Dave Mandel / SHOWTIME

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