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COMMISSIONER’S CORNER: A Tale of Two Divisions

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There is a lot more separating the heavyweight division from the middleweight division than some 40 pounds. It’s called talent.

On paper, Saturday night’s bash at Madison Square Garden should have been one of the sport’s biggest nights of the year. On paper, the heavyweight matchup between undefeated heavyweights Bryant Jennings (18-0) and Mike Perez (20-0-1), looked to be a phenomenal one. On paper, the matchup in a middleweight title fight between WBO champ Gennady Golovkin and former IBF champ Daniel Geale also looked to be a splendid matchup. Only the middleweight fight turned out to be a thriller, albeit a short one.

Going into Saturday night and on paper, both of the above fights looked like “Can’t miss” events. But fights take place in the ring, not on paper.

The Jennings-Perez match was supposed to be part of the rejuvenation of the heavyweight division. That same day, 3,300 miles away, in England, another heavyweight match was supposed to begin the rejuvenation: Tyson Fury vs Dereck Chisora II.

Then came last Monday. Chisora allegedly broke a hand during his last sparring session. We say “allegedly” because we were never shown an x-ray with his name on the film of the break. Bad break for Chisora. Bad break for the heavyweight division.

Some news of salvation of sorts for the heavyweight division followed. Alexander Ustinov–all 6′ 8½” and 305 pounds of him, along with his 29-1 (21 KO’s) record, would step in to replace Chisora.

All looked good until a day before the fight, when Tyson Fury’s uncle and former trainer–Hughie–was rushed to the hospital in serious condition. With that on his mind, Tyson pulled out of the fight.

While the heavyweight division still had lost a Tyson Fury fight, it was still getting the Jennings-Perez bout. It was a scheduled 12-rounder and billed as a title eliminator. The loser would go home, lick his wounds and regroup. The winner would go home and party. His next fight would be a promised title shot. Against who? Wladimir Klitschko? Bermane Stiverne? Klitschko, the IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO Heavyweight Champion is in heavy training for a September 6 defense against Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev. Stiverne is closing in on announcing a late Fall date for a defense against 31-0 (31) Deontay Wilder.

Mike Perez is the same Mike Perez who faced Magomed Abdusalamov last November 2 in New York’s Madison Square Garden. This was Perez’ second outing since that tragic night, a night which has left Abdusalamov with brain damage and in a Westchester, New York, rehab center. A few months after the fight, Perez fought to a draw against Carlos Takam. He looked listless in the fight. It often happens to fighters coming off tragic endings in their prior bout. Sometimes, the fire never rekindles in their fighting spirit. It was wondered if it would rekindle in Perez. It doesn’t look that way. He was 20 pounds above his prime fighting weight and wore the weight around his middle.

Still, fans anticipated a slugfest between the two unbeaten, Jennings and Perez. The only problem is, neither heavyweight came to act like a heavyweight. Neither man was willing to throw punches with, as Mike Tyson used to say, “Bad Intentions.” Jennings and Perez were more desirous to hold, maul, head butt, move and pose than they were to fight like heavyweights, the biggest, strongest, hardest-hitting men in our sport. Jennings-Perez was this years’ “Wladimir Klitschko-Alexander Povetkin fight…12 rounds of little action. Klitschko-Povetkin made Mike Tyson-Bonecrusher Smith–another clinch-filled heavyweight 12-rounder–look like a slugfest. During the course of the bout, the crowd—an announced 8,572—was so quiet and still that they looked like a watercolor painting. A cheer went up when ring announcer Michael Buffer’s voice boomed over the MSG P.A. system, “THIS is the 12th and final round.”

In that final round, referee Harvey Dock took a point away from Perez for continuing to punch after his command of “Stop!” The one-point loss was crucial to the outcome of the fight. Judge Tom Schreck had it 114-113 for Perez. Judge Joe Pasquale had it 115-112 for Jennings. Judge Glenn Feldman had it 114-113 for Jennings, but it would have been 114-114 on his card without the point deduction, making the fight a draw instead of a split decision win for Jennings.

Don’t blame Dock for taking a point from Perez as the reason for Perez losing, however. Perez lost because his fire is gone, perhaps and probably extinguished forever.

Following the forgettable heavyweight match came the middleweight title fight and a view of the rapidly-growing-to-legendary-status Gennady “GGG” Golovkin.

I had no doubt GGG would win, but not this fast, not this easily, not this impressively. I thought he’d be tested–even a little bit–by Geale, a world class fighter.

GGG is in a league by himself. With every outing, against every world-class talent he is put in with, you will see it more and more.

On Friday, I spoke to our esteemed Editor, Michael Woods, following the official weigh-in. He noted that, for the first time, GGG was not his usual, jovial self. There was no joking with reporters. There was no posing for the cameras. There was no warm handshake for Geale–just a look of a stone-faced killer.

“Could Golovkin be feeling some nervousness?” I asked Woodsy.

“You never know what’s going through a man’s mind,” said our Editor. “But I will say this–I have never seen this side of him before. Maybe because, as a pro, Triple G is facing one of his toughest opponents.”

Once the bell rang, you would have never known it.

GGG toyed with Geale. He measured him from the start, felt his power and felt his strength. HE sized up his speed and timing. It didn’t take long.

The fight was over 10 minutes and 47 seconds after the opening bell (and that includes the rest periods after the first and second rounds). The undefeated GGG had notched his 30th victory, his 27th knockout, his 17th consecutive knockout and his 11th defense of his WBA Middleweight Championship. In a sport where championships are handed out like hors’ doeuvres at a wedding, GGG’s title is one which truly means something.

The power-packed 3rd round TKO–which left Geale standing like a drunk outside Madison Square Garden at 3:00 a.m.–also sent the 8,572 fans in attendance out of The Garden talking glowingly about the performance they had just seen.

“This Triple GGG is for (expletive) real,” said a fan who had spent $400 for a ringside seat. “I had to be close. I wanted to feel the power, which I’ve been told you can, if you’re close enough,” said the fan. “So I got close enough.”

So, did he feel the power?

“I absolutely did!” he said. “I absolutely did! The guy is incredible!”

Another fan felt the same way about Golovkin.

“He is the best champion in boxing, bar none!” said the fan as he departed The Garden with a few friends. “Bar none!”

The fans just may be right.

On September 1, 2012, we–the North American boxing fans–got our first look at Golovkin. I had known about him and had seen some videos on him, so was somewhat prepared for what to expect. My friend Charlie Fitch was selected to be the referee for Golovkin’s U.S. debut on HBO. His opponent was rugged Gregorz Proksa, from Poland, who brought a 29-1 record into the fight and a reputation as an iron-jawed slugger who had never been dropped. Charlie and I spoke about the fight, which was held at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York. He said he knew about the toughness of Proksa and the high skill level of GGG. He said he was ready for anything. He was. He handled GGG’s five-round, one-sided shellacking and breakdown of Proksa magnificently, finally waving things off in the fifth round.

Afterwards, Fitch told me, “Maybe it’s too early to say this, but I have a feeling I just reffed a guy who is going to go down in history as a great fighter.”

It wasn’t too early, Charlie. GGG is indeed a great fighter. The best from him is still yet to come…and it will. Golovkin, who has said he will fight from super welterweight (154 lbs.) to super middleweight (168 lbs.), now has some of boxing’s mega-fights to talk about. How about GGG against Carl Froch? Julio Cesar Chavez? Peter Quillin? Then, of course, are fights bigger than any boxing has seen in years: GGG v Andre Ward…against Miguel Cotto…and against Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Against Mayweather or Cotto, let’s just select Yankee Stadium as the venue. The place will be sold out. Configured for boxing, the capacity would be around 60,000.

So, it was GGG on Saturday night who sent ’em home happy and talking of greatness and of how GGG owned the middleweight division.

Maybe GGG can become a heavyweight. Heaven knows that division could use some lifting up–especially after Saturday.

So, instead of getting two great heavyweight fights on Saturday, we got none. Instead of getting three great fights on the same night–two in New York and one in England–we got one great performance in New York and none in England.

That great performance came from a great fighter–a middleweight named Gennady. He has left us with so many possibilities that it’s mind-boggling.

The heavyweight division left us with nothing.

There may be 40 pounds between the middleweight and heavyweight divisions, but it seems like they are 40 years away.

Forty light years!

                                                                                ***

As I mentioned, don’t blame referee Harvey Dock for causing Mike Perez to lose to Bryant Jennings. What you guys don’t see is the elaborate pre-fight instructions given to each fighter in his dressing room by the referee. The ref goes over EVERYTHING. At the start of the fight, all you hear, when the fighters are brought to mid-ring, is the ref say, “Gentlemen, we went over the rules in the dressing. I expect you to obey them.” He may add a little something here or there, have the fighters touch gloves (which they do not have to do), send them back to their respective corners, get into the center of the ring, look at one fighter, turn and look at the other fighter, then look at the timekeeper and give the signal to ring the bell. He does NOT have to drop warning upon warning on them in order to take a point away. I hate to see a point taken away in the last round, but I felt the deduction was warranted. Both men knew the rules. Both men understood the rules. Then, why did Perez fall into that 12th round clinch, drive the top of his head into Jenning’s face, and punch witth his southpaw left as ref Dock repeatedly was yelling “STOP!”

I know. You’re gonna’ tell me Perez didn’t hear the command. Let me say that I heard it at ringside…and because I have spent much of my career wearing headsets, I don’t have the sharpest hearing in the world. If I heard it, Perez heard it. Then why did he head-butt Jennings? Why did he punch with the left after the command–which Dock said a few times–jarring Jenning’s mouthpiece loose? Perez didn’t lose the fight there. He lost it by his right jab-left cross-head butt and hold tactics throughout the fight. Harvey Dock is a damn good ref. He did a good job in a rough, physical fight. Perez didn’t need anybody’s help in losing the fight. He did that by himself. We can only hope he rests, searches his soul for some answers, perhaps talks to a guy like Ray Mancini, who lived through his own boxing nightmare, then either continues his boxing career with passion or moves onto another line of work with much success.

***

Lots of celebs were on hand at MSG on Saturday. Included were actors Tony Danza, Andy Karl and Margo Seibert. Karl and Seibert play the roles of Rocky Balboa and Adrian in the Broadway hit, “Rocky the Musical”…Promoter Lou DiBella has been filming a role in an upcoming movie…Prayers to former cruiserweight champion & now heavyweight contender Steve Cunningham and his wife, Livvy, as they await word–which can come at any moment–on a heart transplant operation for their daughter, Kennedy, who is 9. Kennedy was born with a condition called HLHS, which basically is a malfunctioning left ventricle. She has already undergone two heart surgery operations and now awaits a transplant. When the call comes from the hospital in Pittsburgh that a heart has been found, the Cunninghams have four hours to get Kennedy to the hospital and into surgery. They must then live in Pittsburgh for at least six months, the expected time Kennedy will be in the hospital and in follow-up care. Anyone wishing to make a donation–nothing is too big or too small–can do so by going on the internet to HeartbyFaith.com. Please help young Kennedy in any way you can.

***

BOOK NOOK: I just got “Friday Night Fighter,” the biography of Gaspar “Indio” Ortega, whose son, Mike, is currently one of the world’s top referees. Written Troy Rondinone, the book follows post-WWII boxing on TV, the “Gillette Friday Night Fights” and Ortega, who made so many appearances on those cards that his name was on the lips of every American who watched the show. Published by University of Illinois Press, you can find it in bookstores and at amazon.com. It’s a great read and tells us a lot about a great action fighter and a great family man–Gaspar Ortega.

***

Got a surprise call the other day from one of the most colorful characters in the history of boxing—Bruce The Mouse Strauss. Strauss served as an opponent for many promoters. His willingness to fight virtually anybody on a moment’s notice saved a show. His record was 77-53-6, but you can probably add on 20 more fights under assumed names. He fought in main events and undercards, against world-class fighters, future champions and local heros. He was as close to a WWE character as boxing has ever had. One time, he was stopped in Alabama. Three nights later, he was in a ring in Indiana. A reporter, who had been at the Alabama card, was also at the card in Indiana.

“Hey, weren’t you in Alabama the other night?” asked the reporter.

“No!” said Strauss. “I’m the Mouse. You saw my twin brother, Moose.”

The reporter bought it.

Mouse is doing great in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, and wants everyone to know he’s proud of localite Terence Crawford.

                                                                                 ***

Good luck to Sonya Lamonakis, the friendly voice on the phone at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, New York, as she’ll be fighting Carlette Ewell in the Caribbean this Saturday for the vacant IBO Female Heavyweight Title. The two fought to a draw two years ago in New York…Ring 8 had its yearly Summer BBQ in Glen Cove, L.I., The food was terrific and so was the turnout. Ring 8 is the largest Veteran Boxer’s Association in the world….David Berlin looks to be doing a great job in his new position as Executive Director of the New York State Athletic Commission. But have smiles been replaced by frowns. From press row, one of the writers turned and said to me, “Hey, Commish, look at that row of New York State Athletic Commission staffers. They don’t look too happy.” One glance at them showed him to be correct. Some looked almost sad. Some looked angry. Some looked indifferent. None looked happy. Smile, guys! It’s a fun job! Been there, done that!

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Tanaka vs. Kimora: A Monday Morning Treat For Serious Fight Fans

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Kosei Tanaka was just 4-0 the first time he was appraised on The Sweet Science back in 2015; the question then was, is Tanaka the world’s brightest boxing prospect? The question now is whether or not Tanaka is about to add a strap at a third weight to an already glittering career that has seen him annex belts at 105 and 108lbs in just his first eight fights.

Now 11-0 with seven knockouts he prepares, this coming Monday, to duel Sho Kimura in Nagoya, Japan and with a lot more than just the WBO trinket on the line.

Hearts and minds, as always, translate into dollars and yen. The winner of this all-Japanese contest will find himself buoyed in fame, glory and gold in his home country, which also happens to be one of the few places on the planet where a boxer can collect a small fortune without ever leaving his native shores. Should the winner dare to dream a wider dream, then that too can be facilitated by the win.  Even fistic denizens of boxing strongholds in Japan and Britain feel a shiver run down their spines when the words “Las Vegas headliner” are whispered into their ear.

The favored man among the hardcore in the west is Tanaka. He is still very young at just twenty-three years old and is slick and quick, what the west expects of a Japanese force. Interestingly enough, however, the Japanese seem to be leaning towards Kimura: older, at twenty-nine, armed with a superb work-rate, good power, limited technique but the conqueror of Chinese superstar Shiming Zou who he stopped in the summer of 2017. Zou may have had his bubble burst by the Thai brawler Amnat Ruenroeng in 2015, but it was Kimura who sent him stumbling into retirement and at a time when the talk was of China stealing Japan’s thunder as boxing’s home in the east.

Kimura was indeed impressive that night in Shanghai. He maintained pressure with wonderful variety, eschewing the jab, perhaps, for spells, but filling those gaps with an assortment of wonderful punches, most of all his body attack, which was persistent, withering, and apparently went unscored by two of the three judges who somehow had the Chinese ahead at the time of the eleventh round stoppage. Zou had shown a skill for flurrying while fleeing and Kimura had shown him how to fight.

Now a strapholder at 112lbs, Kimura staged two defenses in the following twelve months. The first was against Toshiyuki Igarashi, the man who beat Sonny Boy Jaro, the man who had beaten the superb champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam before a softer fight against Froilan Saludar. He won both by stoppage.

Kimura, then, rather came from nowhere but made the most of his arrival. What he displayed in all three of these fights was a determination to offer pressure and footwork educated enough to do it while taking many fewer steps than his harried opponent. A tad overrated as a puncher, I suspect, he places himself in hitting position often enough that his default fight plan – chase, harass, throw – makes him capable of hurting his opponents by way of persistence and pressure.

He left Zou, Igarashi and Saludar, broken in his wake.

In short, he is the type of opponent Kosei Tanaka has been waiting for.

There have been calls for Tanaka to be considered a pound-for-pound talent should he overcome Kimura this Monday. I understand the impulse. Tanaka, were he to triumph, would become a three-weight world champion and he hails from a boxing territory which has little direct control over the meaningful pound-for-pound lists, if such a statement is not a contradiction in terms.

In short, it is felt he would be undervalued.

Tempering these calls is the fact that he has never beaten a divisional number one and that Kimura would be, by far, the best opponent he would have bested, and the most proven. Some Tanaka opponents have come good after he defeated them, some were ranked in the lower reaches of their respective divisional top tens when he matched them, but none are scalps as impressive as those dangled by the likes of Errol Spence or Anthony Joshua, who populate the nine, ten and eleven spots in reputable lists.

But this is neither here nor there; the key is not what Kimura does not represent, it is what he does represent. He is the best that Tanaka has met and, I would argue, the first truly elite fighter that Tanaka has met. He is the litmus test and he is one with a stylistic advantage.

Tanaka can punch. Here we will find out whether or not he punches hard enough to keep Kimura off him. Personally, I doubt it and that means that Kimura is going to hand him a serious gut check.

Interestingly, it will not be Tanaka’s first. The first time I wrote about him I stressed that his chin was essentially untested. That is no longer true. Tanaka, who is reasonably sound defensively, can be lazy in minding himself and foolish in pursuing the attack.

Thai puncher Rangsan Chayanram checked him in 2017, delivering a serious eye injury among other ignominies before succumbing in nine; puncher Angel Acosta, a ranked fighter if not a great one, hit and hurt Tanaka repeatedly late in their 2017 contest. If Tanaka has been learning these lessons, expectations concerning his potential may be realized. If he is not, he will fall short. Kimura is the man to test him.

Kimura’s experience and seemingly limitless twelve-round stamina are to be pitted against Tanaka’s skill, proven heart and taut footwork. It sees a superior technician – Tanaka – who has shown a propensity for being drawn into a cruder fighter’s wheelhouse matching an aggressive stalker – Kimura – who specializes in drawing technically superior foes into knockdown-drag-out scraps.

It is framed both as a fight that is likely to finish a future pound-for-pounder’s education and a fight where a young pretender is found out by a grizzled veteran.

Best of all, it is a fight that fight fans can watch for free, simply by clicking here.  The Asian Boxing website has secured exclusive international rights to the fight and will broadcasting it, free of charge, to anyone with an internet connection. As can be seen here, the fight is due to start at 4pm Japanese time.

All the reader has to do is find out what that means for timing in their own corner of the globe and a potential fight of the year will unfold before his or her eyes free of charge.

World class boxing being broadcast for free and including two of the best below 115lbs; a stylistic crossroads contest that opens up the on-ramp to pound-for-pound recognition for at least one of the combatants – on a Monday.  All facts worth keeping in mind the next time that someone tells you boxing’s prime was any number of decades ago.

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

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UK sporting

It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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