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THE HAUSER REPORT: Roc Nation Notes

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On Friday night, January 9, Roc Nation Sports made its long-awaited boxing debut in The Theater at Madison Square Garden.

The driving force behing Roc Nation is rap impressario Shawn Carter a/k/a Jay Z.

Jay Z’s entry into the world of boxing began inauspiciously last year when Roc Nation won the purse bid for Peter Quillin’s mandatory WBO title defense against Matt Korobov with a bid of $1,904,840 (more than twice market value). Roc Nation then advised the boxing community that the bout would be contested at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on November 1.

There were two problems with that. First, soon after the bid, New York State Athletic Commission executive director David Berlin advised Roc Nation COO for boxing Dave Itskowitch that the NYSAC would not license Korobov because of a congenital brain condition. Then, while alternative sites were being explored, Quillin gave up the title at the direction of his manager (the ubiquitous Al Haymon), rather than take the fight.

More recently, Roc Nation acquired of Gary Shaw Productions in the hope of benefitting from Shaw’s expertise and also his longtime relationship with HBO Sports president Ken Hershman. On fight day, it announced the signing of Andre Ward to a longterm promotional agreement. But Roc Nation’s fighter roster is pretty thin. And its other flagship fighter, Bryant Jennings, is expected to be eradicated by Wladimir Klitschko on April 25.

The thoughts of rap artist and vitamin-water mogul Curtis Jackson a/k/a 50 Cent are instructive. Last month, Fiddy observed, “When you come into the sport of boxing and have money, you’re steak. To a lot of people, you look like dinner.”

There’s only one chance to make a first impression, so January 9 was important to Roc Nation.

Two days before the event, Itskowitch told writer Tom Gerbasi, “We want to make the in-arena experience more appealing to fans. We want to really amp up the fan experience. I know the fights should do the talking. But there will be other bells and whistles that are going to make things even more enjoyable for fans and keep the fans engaged.”

When fight night arrived, radio personality Angie Martinez was the in-ring hostess. There were a lot of celebrities in attendance. Jay Z, Rihanna, Jake Gyllenhall, C.C. Sabathia, Victor Cruz, DJ Mustard, and Carmelo Anthony were there. Rap artist Fabulos performed for ten minutes before the main event.

The attendance was announced as 4,235, but the house was papered. And rather than give those freebies away as comps, Roc Nation took the unusual step of purchasing them before giving them away. That meant it had to pay an MSG facility fee as well as state and city taxes on each one.

As for the fights; they were essentially club fights.

The six undercard bouts were a mix of bad mismatches and competitive but boring contests. The most notable undercard moment came when light-heavyweight prospect Jerry Odom whacked Andrew Hernandez with two crushing blows. Unfortunately, those blows landed while Hernandez was on the canvas, having taken a knee to recover from a body shot. Odom was appropriately disqualified.

The co-featured fight of the evening pitted sloppy aggression (Tureano Johnson) against all-out retreat (Alex Theran). Sloppy aggression won when the ring doctor stopped the bout after the fifth round.

The main event pitted Arthur “Dusty” Hernandez-Harrison against Tommy Rainone. Harrison, a 20-year-old from Washington DC, is being groomed and protected. Rainone lacks power and came into the bout with 4 knockouts in 28 fights. Four months ago, Tommy fought to a draw against a boxer with a 1-and-2 record. His most recent loss was to an opponent whose record was 2-and-6. Harrison prevailed on the judges’ scorecards by a 100-90, 99-91, 99-91 margin.

Roc Nation lost a lot of money on the show. It costs six figures to open The Theater. Fighters have to be paid, and there were other heavy promotional expenses. Was it an effective loss leader?

The marriage of music and boxing hasn’t been successful in the past. Think HBO’s ill-fated KO Nation and promoter Cedric Kushner’s money-hemorrhaging Thunderbox. It’s not enough to have a ten-minute performance by a popular rap artist before the main event. The fights have to be entertaining too.

*     *     *

As is often the case on fight night, some of the most interesting happenings were outside the ring.

Freddie Roach worked Chris Van Heerden’s corner during a ten-round, split-decision triumph over Cecil McCalla. Later, Roach had kind things to say about Gennady Golovkin.

“I’ve watched his ring generalship,” Roach told me. “It’s f—–g great. Ring generalship is a lost art, but Golovkin has it. Ninety-five percent of the time, he’s in the right position. If you do that, you win fights. He’s heavy-handed. He’s a nice kid. I’m a big fan.”

Golovkin is the current WBA middleweight champion. Miguel Cotto (who Roach trains) has the WBC belt.

“Golovkin’s people want him to fight Cotto,” Roach noted. “But we want Canelo first.”

How realistic is the possibility that Cotto will fight Golovkin down the road?

“Well,” Roach said, taking a deep breath. “I like fighting fights that people want to see. It would be a huge challenge.”

A challenge that Cotto is unlikely to accept.

*     *     *

Andre Ward was also at ringside and spoke with reporters.

Ward characterized his contract with Roc Nation as “a blockbuster deal” for a lot of money. An educated guess is that it calls for two fights a year over a five-year period. Unless a television network like HBO bails Roc Nation out, the promoter could lose a lot of money on Andre.

Ward spoke eloquently in favor of elite fighters fighting in big fights and declared, “We can’t say ‘we’ll give the fans what they want,’ and then not compete against each other.”

Then, in the next sentence, Ward said that he’d like to have one or two tune-up fights before going in tough.

*     *     *

Steve Weisfeld was on hand for the festivities as a judge for the New York State Athletic Commission. That raised the issue of whether there was a conflict of interest between his role at The Theater and his work as a rules expert and unofficial ringside judge for HBO.

The answer is no.

Weisfeld’s contract with HBO expired after the December 6, 2014, telecast featuring David Lemieux vs. Gabriel Rosado and was not renewed.

*     *     *

And finally . . .

As noted earlier, Roc Nation is a spending a lot of money to break into boxing. One indication of that was the presence of Michael Buffer at ringside.

Buffer is expensive, but his presence makes an event bigger. Earlier in the day, I had lunch with Michael, and he reminisced about a time in his life when he saw Muhammad Ali fairly often.

“We’re talking about 1973, 1974,” Buffer said. “This was way before I got involved in boxing. There wasn’t a thought, an inkling, a clue that I‘d be a ring announcer some day. I was just a fan, living in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, working as a Volkwagen salesman.”

“Lansdale was a 90-minute drive from Deer Lake. One or twice a week when Ali was in training, I’d visit the camp. Deer Lake was open to everyone. The crowds got pretty big. But no matter how many people were there, Ali sat down and signed every autograph that every last person wanted after each sparring session.”

“Larry Holmes was one of Ali’s sparring partners back then,” Buffer continued. “He’d drive up from Easton in a 1965 black Lincoln Continental and was always late, so he was always getting speeding tickets. [Former lightweight champion] Ike Williams hung around. He was broke. Ali would ask him questions about boxing to make him feel important and slip him a few dollars. He gave money to a lot of people.”

“After a while, Ali got used to seeing me around,” Buffer recalled. “Usually, I drove a Volkswagen to the camp. Occasionally, I rode my motorcycle [a Suzuki 550]. One time when I was there, Ali hopped on the bike, rode off, and was gone for an hour. Angelo [trainer Angelo Dundee] was furious at me for giving Ali the motorcycle. He was gone so long, they thought he’d been injured in an accident.”

“And there’s another memory I have that’s special,” Buffer said. “Ali had a couple of magazine covers with his picture on them taped to the wall of the gym. He’d been so nice to me that I wanted to do something for him. So I took the covers off twenty-or-so boxing magazines that I had with his picture on them and brought them to Deer Lake. Ali and I put them up together on the wall. When I think back on that, it’s pretty cool. Me and Muhammad Ali taping magazine covers to the wall of the gym at Deer Lake. And now I’m in the Hall of Fame. Go figure.”

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (Thomas Hauser on Boxing: Another Year Inside the Sweet Science) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

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

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Michael Dutchover

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

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

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

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

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

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

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

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

Other bouts

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

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

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

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

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

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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Bob Arum Hails Terence Crawford (not Lomachenko) as Boxing’s Next Superstar

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Arum says Terence

Top Rank’s Bob Arum says Terence Crawford will become this generation’s Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao–elite boxers who became worldwide celebrity sensations. Arum, who promoted both Mayweather and Pacquiao on the way to their historic crossover statuses expects big things from the undefeated Crawford over the next few years.

“He’s the best fighter in the United States, and he’s so charismatic,” said Arum. “He comes from middle America, and In the next year or so, he will be huge.”

Arum’s assertion is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Arum is also the promoter for Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko is ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. More importantly, Lomachenko seems to have a groundswell of support behind him both in the media and among fight fans.

Lomachenko has also been heavily featured through Top Rank’s television partnership with ESPN. While Crawford has achieved more in his career than Lomachenko (at least in my eyes) and, as noted by Arum, is a homegrown American talent, Lomachenko seems to be considered the more marketable commodity to that network judging by the amount of promotional materials ESPN has pumped out about the fighter over the last year.

The other reason Arum’s claim about Crawford is interesting is the performance of Canelo Alvarez over the weekend in his majority decision rematch win over Gennady Golovkin. Besides Mayweather and Pacquiao, Alvarez is the clear PPV leader among all of boxing’s current commodities, and his status as boxing’s new money fighter should only grow stronger after the best win of his career.

Still, Crawford is one of the few very elite fighters in all of boxing. He’s ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

While Lomachenko and Alvarez are also candidates to become boxing’s next big thing, there’s no doubt Crawford is also one of the few boxers in the sport right now with the right things in place to become the next Mayweather or Pacquiao.

Omaha’s Crawford is in the midst of an historic run. When he stopped Jeff Horn in round 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in June, Crawford captured a world title in his third different weight class, welterweight. This after Crawford had already captured two lineal boxing championships, as well as multiple alphabet titles, in both the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions.

By any measure, Crawford is truly one of the best boxers in the sport. Not only does he look the part in the ring on fight night (something more and more writers seem to value most when voting for pound-for-pound lists), but the fighter has already accomplished so much in his career that it seems Arum is doing more than the fiduciary duty of promoting his fighter when he ascribes to Crawford such lofty praise.

Crawford, still just 30 years old, is already halfway to matching Mayweather and Pacquiao’s shared record of most lineal championships. Over the course of his career, Mayweather captured lineal championships at junior lightweight, lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Pacquiao won his as a flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight.

In order for Crawford to grab lineal championship No. 3, most believe he’ll have to go through welterweight phenom Errol Spence. While promotional entanglements might keep this superfight on the shelf for a while, Arum said he had no problem pitting Crawford against Spence in what would be one of the best matchups in recent memory.

“Absolutely,” said Arum when asked about working with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, who represents Spence, to make the fight. Could any response from him be more exciting? Crawford vs. Spence might be the next superfight in boxing. Both fighters are among the very elite, and unlike what ultimately happened with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, who fought each other well past their peak years, both would be in the prime of their careers.

Winning that fight would certainly go a long way to making Arum’s vision of Crawford’s future come true. And who knows? Maybe Crawford really is the next Mayweather or Pacquiao. Heck, for all we know, he could even be on his way to doing something more.

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