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The Underappreciated Boxing Brilliance of Erislandy Lara

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Erislandy Lara is not universally praised as one of the best boxers on the planet, but he should be.

Oh sure, he holds an alphabet title belt and is recognized as the No. 2 junior middleweight fighter in the world by both the Transnational Rankings and Ring Magazine. But being recognized and accepted as a top fighter is not nearly the same thing as being praised for it. And Lara isn’t celebrated for his boxing brilliance by fans and media.

He’s scoffed at for it.

A Familiar Story

There’s always that one guy. Isn’t there? He’s the one who doesn’t have hoards of fans but still commands the respect among his peers because they know what he is capable of doing every single time the bell rings: winning.

Other fighters avoid facing him like The Plague. They know he has the goods. He’s just too damned skilled at what he does to be worth the risk no matter how big the associated payday might be. There’s always someone else to fight, someone less risky. And to hell with whatever the alphabet gang says about him, fighters know he’s the toughest fight in the division.

But he’s a hard sell. Maybe he’s so great defensively that his fights are labeled boring by anyone but boxing’s most astute observers. Or maybe his best weapons are his jab and footwork. Or maybe he hails from a tiny island off the coast of America, one that’s estranged from Uncle Sam’s capitalist culture and doesn’t offer a gigantic built-in fan base like some of boxing’s other social groups.

God forbid it’s all of them.

And because of it, ringside judges make him work extra hard to win fights. It’s not that they’re necessarily corrupt. It’s not that they’re not necessarily corrupt either. But it’s mainly because they’re human. They hear the crowd cheering for the other guy. They read the papers before the fight. They hear, too, the fans in the cheap seats, those whose interests typically match their pocketbooks, boo lustily as he slips and dodges punches rather than absorbing them with his face.

So our guy Lara has to win nine rounds or more every single fight just to get a “fair” shake from boxing judges. If he wins anything less, he can expect a draw on the cards or a decision loss. That’s just how it goes.

It’s not right, but Lara is used to it. He comes from tougher stuff.

The American Dream

Lara was born in one of the poorest areas of Cuba. He’s never met his father, and he told me that his mother, Marisol, was an alcoholic. His grandmother did the best she could to raise him, but she died when Lara was just 11 years old.

Like I said, tougher stuff.

Maybe Lara was born to fight. By 2005, he was captain of the Cuban national team and a three-time national champion for a country that produces exponentially more Olympic boxing medalists per capita than any other in the world. Lara was one of the favorites for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but he never made it there.

Teofilo Stevenson, winner of three Olympic gold medals and perhaps Cuba’s greatest boxer of all time, turned down $5 million dollars in the 1970s to leave his country and fight reigning heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali.

“I wouldn’t exchange my piece of Cuba for all the money they could give me,” Stevenson told Sports Illustrated. “I prefer the affection of eight million Cubans.”

But Lara was from a new generation of Cubans, one that experienced the results of Fidel Castro’s revolution in a vacuum. They weren’t part of the change. They were the result of it. Lara’s generation didn’t reflect as fondly on their county’s past. They looked even less favorably on its current condition.

Lara wanted more than his countrymen’s ardor, so he attempted to defect from Cuba during the 2007 Pan American Games in Brazil. After having a few drinks with teammate Guillermo Rigondeaux, the two made a break for Germany with boxing promoter Ahmet Oner, who had helped Yuriorkis Gamboa and Yan Barthelemy defect from Cuba a short time earlier so that they could start their professional careers. That’s what Lara and Rigondeaux wanted, too. The two men were hidden away by Oner so they could be smuggled safely out of the country when the time was right.

But it never happened.

The two languished for three weeks, fugitives in a strange land with no place to turn. Cuba worked diligently with Brazilian authorities to search for the missing boxers until Lara and Rigondeaux finally decided to turn themselves in. Upon their return to Cuba, the two were branded traitors and placed on indefinite suspension by the Cuban government. The men were then confined to their homes and not allowed to fight again.

“It was a pointless existence,” said Lara.

But it wasn’t pointless for Castro. It was important for him to make an example out of the two. “They have reached a point of no return as members of a Cuban boxing team,” wrote Castro in the state-run Granma. “An athlete who abandons his team is like a solider who abandons his fellow troops in the middle of combat.”

Four months later, Lara tried to leave Cuba again. He was smuggled by boat along with 20 other defectors. The six-hour trek to Mexico took 17 hours in the dead of night, and the smugglers demanded 10 times more for Lara’s passage once they learned he was a world champion boxer.

Lara made it to Mexico, and once there, he was transported by Oner to Germany. He fought twice overseas for Oner before leaving for the United States in 2008 to sign with a new manager, Luis DeCubas, Jr. In 2012, boxing powerbroker Al Haymon became Lara’s co-manager alongside DeCubas.

“It was a very difficult decision to leave Cuba, which is why it took me so long to leave, but I did it for the right reasons,” said Lara. “I did it to better my life and better my family’s life and that is what I’ve done. I came here to work hard and fight.”

Lara’s journey was fraught with danger. He wasn’t sure he’d make it.

“Being on the sea, not knowing whether you are going to live or die—whether I’d make it or not,” he said. “I’m grateful to God I was able to pass that stage of my life and now that is why I work so hard in this country to make the most out of my life. I believe that God put every human being on this planet for a reason.”

If one supposes there truly is a reason for every human being on earth to exist, a close study of Lara reveals one obvious conclusion: Lara was born to be a world-class boxer.

A Technical Appreciation

A quote attributed to Bruce Lee can rightly be applied to Lara’s boxing skills, too: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

Substitute “punch” for “kick” and Lee would probably have admitted a healthy amount of fear of Lara, particularly his straight left hand. Everything Lara does inside a boxing ring relies and depends on his left, and he does multiple things to set the punch up.


All of Lara’s favorite combinations include the straight left. He frequently employs a jab-cross, a jab-cross-jab and even a cross-jab that ends in a pivot.

While less used than the aforementioned, Lara also throws a mean half-hook, half-uppercut to the body after a stiff or blinding jab to the face.

Like most fighters, Lara has more than one jab. Unlike most, he’s great at more than one of them. The two most frequent jabs he uses are the classic, stiff jab (aka the first punch you learn in a boxing gym) and a flashy, blinding jab that’s primarily used as a setup for whatever is coming in behind it.

In the video below, Lara uses both jabs in succession. His blinding jab sets up the stiff one. Only the second of the two is meant to land.

Lara will at times use his power hand like a jab. Similar to Rigondeaux, Lara will sometimes paw with his left hand simply to have his opponent react to it or be blinded by it, after which he’ll throw a sharp jab or stinging hook behind it. Think of it as a Trojan Horse; the light-hitting left seems so amiable and sweet until one realizes the walloping right that seemingly comes from within it.

In the very same sequence, Lara uses his left hand to blind Alvarez before throwing a hard one-two.

Overall, Lara’s style is relatively simple but incredibly effective. He relies on just a few critical elements but has mastered them to the point of being almost unbeatable. His trainer, Ronnie Shields, believes the more one knows the intricacies of the sport, the more one appreciates the crafty style of Lara.

“If you really know boxing, then you will love Erislandy Lara,” said Shields. “If you don’t know anything about boxing, then you will not love him. Because the kid knows how to fight. He knows what to do inside of that ring. That’s all that’s important.”

Lara is the prototypical Cuban fighter. He’s a fast stylist who uses swift movement, educated timing and precise punching. He is a master of both distance and space who relies on his defense to set up his offense. He’d rather hit and not be hit. It’s not that he doesn’t believe in his ability to take a punch. It’s that he knows he doesn’t have to in order to land his own.

He accomplishes this by using superb footwork to create angles. Lara’s goal is create linear attack points from one direction, and linear escape points in another. He’s capable of stepping either toward or away from his opponent’s power hand in order to land the punches he wants. He often steps wide to the side when he fights, but still manages to follow through with his punches as if he were trying to hit someone two inches behind where the opponent is standing.

It’s called punching through the target, and Lara does it better than anyone in the sport.

The hallmark of Lara’s style is his overly wide stance. If you go into any local American boxing gym and try to mimic his fighting technique, you’ll likely be admonished. Traditionally, fighters rely on narrower stances than Lara’s because they feel it allows more freedom to move around the ring.

A good example of a traditional wide-but-not-Lara-wide stance would be the one employed by Juan Manuel Marquez, a brilliant mover who can punch from virtually anywhere on the floor. There’s nothing wrong with the approach. Marquez is one of the finest boxers ever.

Lara can punch from anywhere, too. And Lara’s overly wide stance gives him significant power in situations where other fighters typically wouldn’t have it, even if he’s moving backwards.

Moreover, Lara uses his stance to draw opponents toward him. While Lara is capable of leading, he prefers to be a counterpuncher. One unique way he tries to lure his opponents in is by bending his knees low while resting in his stance. It puts his torso very close to the mat, and at times his rear is virtually inches from the ground. From this position, Lara moves his head and shoulders as punches come toward him and is capable of making his opponents miss wildly, serving the dual function of tiring them out and setting them up for counters.

“The Cubans really know what the sweet science is,” said Shields. “Boxing is a hit-and-don’t-get-hit sport. The Cubans have perfected that. They are boxer-punchers. They know how to hurt you. But at the same time, they’re not getting beat up.”

Lara has fought 24 times as a professional. He’s never been beat up.

Fair Criticism

Lara is overly criticized for his fighting methods, but not all of it is unfair or unwarranted. While he’s clearly a superb pugilist, one gets the impression watching him fight that he’s not quite maximizing his full potential.

That was nowhere more apparent than during his hotly disputed split-decision loss to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in 2014, a fight Lara probably won but also deserved to lose.

Judge Levi Martinez scored the bout atrociously, 117-111 for Alvarez. The other two judges scored the bout 115-113: Jerry Roth for Lara and Dave Moretti for Alvarez.

Media scores were similarly close. According to a Boxing News poll, of 89 media members who scored the bout, 34 of them scored it for Alvarez, 30 for Lara and 25 called it a draw. Compubox numbers support the Lara crowd. Lara outlanded Alvarez 107-97 and landed a higher percentage of his punches.

But Lara appeared to be in control of the bout for most of the night, and while Alvarez was an aggressor in many of the rounds (i.e., he was moving forward), he was hardly effective. Lara’s footwork kept him out of sync, and while he hurled body punches at his Cuban foe over the course of the fight, much of them where blocked by Lara’s arms and elbows.

Having watched and rewatched the bout numerous times, it seems that the most likely outcome of the fight, had Alvarez not been a popular Mexican fighter with big-money backers, and a loud a boisterous crowd shouting praises at him from all over the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, would have been anywhere between a draw to a 116-112 win for Lara.

The idea that Alvarez won more than six rounds is a stretch at the very least and becomes even more elasticized as one moves up the ladder to seven, eight or nine rounds in his favor.

Judge Martinez gave Alvarez nine rounds in the fight, meaning he either somehow prefilled his scorecards for each round based solely on expectation before the bout started or simply got the fighter’s names mixed up when the bell rang.

But either way, Lara made curious choices leading up to the biggest bout of his professional career, enough to make one wonder how Roth and Moretti would have scored the bout had he done things just a little differently.

When Lara first defected from Cuba, he ended up in Miami. But Lara found the nightlife there distracting and decided to instead move to Katy, a suburb of Houston, Texas, so he could focus solely on the two things that mattered most to him: boxing and his family.

But heading into the biggest fight of his career, Lara moved his training camp away from home and to Las Vegas, a city known exactly for the things Lara left Miami for in the first place.

Lara trains with Shields in a boxing gym housed within Plex, an impressive fitness facility near Katy in Stafford, another Houston suburb. It’s a place where the owner, Danny Arnold, has made a good living training elite athletes from all over the world.

Other Shields fighters, such as Bryan Vera and the Charlo brothers, Jermell and Jermall, train with Arnold there year-round. The results are astounding. The Charlos are two of the fittest 154-pounders in boxing. Since working with Arnold, their appearance has visibly changed and both have shown marked increases in speed and punching power.

Vera attained similar results. His newfound athleticism helped what used to be a lead-footed brawler deserve (but not receive) the nod for outboxing Julio Cesar Chavez in 2013.

Moreover, as Vera has been more and more absent from training at Plex over the last year, so too have his skills seemingly eroded back to the fighter he was before.

Despite having access to a place where other Shields’ fighters, as well as NFL, NBA and MLB players, train with the latest technology to develop endurance, speed and power, Lara has maintained an old school boxing mentality.

Instead of taking advantage of where he is, Lara uses Edward Jackson, strength and conditioning coordinator who told me he didn’t really even need a gym to get his fighters ready to fight.

“I don’t need any of this stuff,” said Jackson as he pointed to the machines at gadgets around him a Plex. “We can get ready anywhere.”

Maybe that’s true. But as someone who has been with and around Shields’ fighters over the past couple of years, I can wholeheartedly attest to one thing: the fighters that train at Plex have changed significantly since they’ve taken the plunge. You don’t just think the fighters are getting faster and stronger. You can actually see it.

Here’s why that’s so crucial. Lara’s style is entirely dependent on his foot-speed and movement. It relies on him being quick and explosive and requires the maximum amount of endurance the human body can muster over 12 full rounds.

Against Alvarez, Lara appeared to tire in the middle rounds. He threw fewer punches, and allowed Alvarez to steal key moments in the bout by not keeping pace. Yes, Lara was in fine shape that night. But if there were ways for him to get into even better shape, it would have behooved him and his handlers to explore them.

Lara will never get the benefit of the doubt from judges. He should know that by now. He doesn’t just have to win rounds. He has to win them convincingly. In order to do that, he doesn’t just have to be in great shape. He has to be in exceptionally great shape.

And starting with Plex–exploring it and any other ideas or options that are available to a world-class fighter with big-money backers like Haymon and DeCubas–would be a wise move going forward.

The Road Ahead

Lara is 31 years old. His fan base largely consists of the small number of hardcore fight fans who enjoy the Cuban style of boxing and fighters who rely on ring generalship more than any other attribute. And even at that, he plays second fiddle to Rigondeaux, a fighter more talented, more accomplished and more ballyhooed with essentially the same fighting approach but more power and speed for his weight class.

Ranked No. 2 in the division by the Transnational Rankings behind lineal champion Floyd Mayweather and the No. 1 rated Alvarez, Lara appears to have no big fights on the horizon.

Lara is the WBA regular champion. Supposedly, this makes him first in line for the WBA’s super champion at 154, Mayweather. But there’s simply no world in which the aging Mayweather chooses Lara for a defense that isn’t forced upon him. And even if that were the case, Mayweather only fights above 147 pounds for blockbuster pay-per-views against legitimate superstars.

Lara does not fit the bill.

After Alvarez eked out his decision win over Lara, his promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, was upfront about what everyone knew would be the case at the time: there would be no rematch.

De La Hoya knew Alvarez had gambled greatly by fighting Lara, a tough bout that would have been easy for the young star to avoid. To his credit, Alvarez made the fight happen and did enough in the judges’ eyes to walk away the winner. Alvarez, age 24, is a brave, new generation of star who seems okay with taking fights he could possibly lose, an old school approach more young fighters could stand to mimic.

But Alvarez isn’t stupid. He made it out of the bout unscathed and can now focus on bigger names and less risk. Moreover, Alvarez seems to have outgrown the junior middleweight division. His last two fights were fought above 154 pounds, including the contest with Lara.

Other division titleholders include Demetrius Andrade and Cornelius Bundrage, fighters who likely wouldn’t jump at the prospect of a unification bout with Lara unless they could be guaranteed an amount of money for the fight a TV network isn’t likely to pay.

And the best up-and-comers in the division, the Charlo brothers, are stable mates of Lara who also train with Shields, making them highly unlikely as potential competition.

About the only good thing one can say about Lara’s future prospects is that, in boxing, fights just seem to materialize sometimes. Lara will get more fights, and some of them will be interesting and noteworthy.

Lara dominated former titleholder Austin Trout in 2013. The American has won two straight fights since and a rematch with Lara could make sense to his handlers if they’re looking to earn more title shots.

Lara suffered a technical draw to Vanes Martirosyan in 2012. The bout was halted in Round 9 due to a cut caused by an accidental head-butt over Martirosyan’s left eye. That fight might also warrant a redo.

Martirosyan lost a split-decision to Andrade in 2013 but has rebounded nicely since parting ways with former promoter Top Rank and hooking up with Goossen Promotions. He’s won two straight over fairly decent opposition, including a solid shellacking of Willie Nelson last year.

And then there’s Al Haymon.

The mysterious advisor, who just announced a multi-year deal to broadcast numerous fights on the NBC network, will need inventory for his grand television venture. Does Lara fit into those plans?

Lara is one of the fighters Haymon advises and could potentially be used to fill timeslots at NBC, or at the very least Lara could be someone who benefits from Haymon putting other fighters on NBC. With those men busy with dates on the slew of upcoming NBC, NBC Sports Network and Spike TV cards, and potentially less Haymon fighters left for traditional boxing powerhouse Showtime to choose from now, the superbly skilled Lara could suddenly become an alluring option to Showtime executives looking to fill dates with fighters that fans can recognize while Haymon focuses on his free TV experiment. Lara’s bout with Alvarez last year and his exciting knockout of Alfredo Angulo in 2013 at least made him into someone fight fans know and have seen fight.

Whatever Lara’s future is, though, one thing remains clear. He’ll box brilliantly once the bell rings. He’ll move, feint and counter better than most fighters in the world today. He’ll showcase the Cuban style of boxing that has dominated amateur competitions for decades now, and he’ll do it over 12 rounds in the world of professional prizefighting.

He’ll make people wonder how great a heavyweight bout between Ali and Stevenson might actually have been. He’ll do the same for those who pined for Mike Tyson against three-time gold medalist Felix Savon in the 1980s. He’ll help people understand exactly why it’s so hard for Rigondeaux to get the biggest names at junior featherweight to fight him, and whether professional boxing’s slow demise in the United States would have been less severe had more of his countrymen chose he and Rigondeaux’s path rather than Stevenson’s and Savon’s.

And Lara will probably remain underappreciated for all of it. Maybe it’s just his lot in life. Maybe it’s his choices. Maybe it’s something heretofore undefined.

Or maybe Lara is right. Maybe God really does put every single human being on the planet for a reason. And maybe—just maybe—he didn’t just put Lara here to be a boxer, but to be an underappreciated one.

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Johnny Bey and the Glory Days of Boxing at the Great Western Forum

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Veteran boxing publicist John Beyrooty was inducted into the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame last week. This particular hall of fame is the third boxing hall of fame devoted primarily to boxers and boxing personalities who energized the Los Angeles boxing scene. Its antecedents were the California Boxing Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame.

With this latest honor, John Beyrooty (Johnny Bey to his friends and co-workers) hit the trifecta. He’s been recognized by all three. For good measure, Beyrooty received the 2016 Good Guy Award by the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Beyrooty’s induction called to mind the days when the Great Western Forum (now back to being called the plain old Forum) was a beehive of boxing. Wealthy real estate investor Dr. Jerry Buss then owned the joint as well as the arena’s signature tenant, the Los Angeles Lakers. During the Buss years (1982-1999), there were 302 GWF shows, most of which were held on a Monday. They aired on Prime Ticket, a regional cable network in which Buss had an ownership stake.

Beginning in 1989, Johnny Bey was Jerry Buss’s PR guy for the fights.

JOHN BEYROOTY, NEWSPAPERMAN

A little background. For folks of a certain vintage, John Beyrooty will always be associated with the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. At one time the largest circulation afternoon paper in America, the paper, which could trace its roots to 1903, went belly-up 29 years ago. The last issue rolled off the press on Nov. 2, 1989.

The Herald-Examiner had a great sports section. The rival LA Times could boast of Jim Murray, a wonderful wordsmith, and several other notables, but no one bought the Times just for the sports section. Three Herald-Examiner sportswriters – columnists Allan Malamud and Melvin Durslag and Bob Mieszerski, the horse racing guy, were snatched away by the Times during the end days of the Herald-Examiner.

Beyrooty, who grew up in the LA suburb of Downey (Herald-Examiner sports editor Bud Furillo was a neighbor) joined the paper as a copy boy. After five years in this capacity he became a writer, assigned to the boxing beat. “They gave me boxing because no one else wanted it,” he recalled in a 2010 interview with former Herald-Examiner colleague Doug Krikorian.

The first boxing show Beyrooty covered, on March 15, 1979, at the fabled Olympic Auditorium, was also the first boxing show he ever saw. Alberto “Superfly” Sandoval opposed Eddie Logan in the main event.

During his days as a copy boy Beyrooty moonlighted as a parking lot attendant at the old LA Sports Arena, a job he kept for a time after becoming a boxing writer. One night he worked a double shift, so to speak. In the fashion of Superman changing his costume, he ripped off the colorful shirt that parking lot attendants were required to wear and dashed into the arena to take his assigned seat in the section reserved for the ringside press.

FORUM BOXING, SNAPSHOTS

Twelve fighters promoted by Forum Boxing have been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. For some, the Great Western Forum was their nursery. Juan Manuel Marquez had his first 33 fights here. Oscar De La Hoya made his pro debut at the Great Western Forum. John Beyrooty is credited with giving Oscar his nickname, “Golden Boy.”

At the Great Western Forum, good things came in small packages. The great flyweight Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson had most of his early fights in and around his native Washington DC, but came to the fore at the Great Western Forum where he made 14 appearances. Ask John Bayrooty and he would tell you that Mark Johnson in his prime was pound-for-pound the best boxer in the world. An even smaller man, Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez, made the GWF turnstiles hum. “Chiquita” was responsible for five of the 10 largest crowds.

In 1993 and again in 1995, Humberto Gonzalez was involved in the Fight of the Year. His opponents were Michael Carbajal and Saman Sorjaturong.

The first of these fights, co-promoted with Top Rank, was actually held in Las Vegas. Forum Boxing occasionally took its act on the road. This practice became more common when Forum Boxing president John Jackson took a second job as an assistant football coach at UNLV under his longtime friend and mentor John Robinson.

A bizarre moment in the shoddy history of UNLV football – engendering some outrage but mostly horse laughs — occurred on Nov. 2, 2002, when Coach Jackson disappeared with three minutes remaining in a game that was hanging in the balance. Marco Antonio Barrera, who was then the ace of the dwindling Forum Boxing stable, was fighting Johnny Tapia up the road at the MGM Grand. Jackson didn’t want to miss the fight. (UNLV prevailed without him, upending Wyoming 49-48 in overtime).

The Gonzalez-Sorjaturong fight was one of many great wars staged at the Great Western Forum during the Buss years. Among the others, two in particular stand out. The June 27, 1987, match between neighborhood rivals Frankie Duarte and Alberto Davila, won by Duarte (TKO 10), was a savage bloodbath. Two years later, in the first of their three meetings, Paul Banke and Daniel Zaragoza, went hammer and tongs for all 12 rounds. Zaragoza retained his WBA 122-pound title on a split decision.

The April 26, 1993, bout between defending WBA 130-pound champion Genero “Chicanito” Hernandez and Raul Perez warrants a citation as the most disappointing. The highly-anticipated match was over in 28 seconds. A wicked cut wrought by an accidental head butt forced the stoppage.

No arena is going to host that many fights without some rancid decisions. The worst of the worst was the May 20, 1991 match between Victor Rabanales and Greg Richardson. The crowd went berserk when the decision went to Richardson. All three judges were appointed by the WBC. Richardson was promoted by Don King. ‘Nuff said.

JOHN BEYROOTY, FIGHT PUBLICIST

Jerry Buss reportedly lost money with his boxing venture but he wasn’t the sort to pinch pennies. The program that Beyrooty assembled for each show – “Fight Night at the Forum” – was produced on thick, glossy paper stock at considerable cost. Inside the publication, at its core, Beyrooty analyzed the main event, breaking down the principals in terms of their fighting styles and other variables. In most issues, Beyrooty reprised his old Herald-Examiner weekly notes column, a wide-ranging potpourri of fight news and rumors. At his heart, John Beyrooty was still a newspaperman.

The programs – a complete set would be a cool collector’s item — were also chock full of eye candy. The late Dr. Buss had a fine eye for the ladies and that’s putting it mildly as he was in Hugh Hefner’s league as a playboy. The Great Western Forum was continually running tournaments for ring card girls (fans got to choose their favorite from each pod) and full pages were devoted to the lineup.

After the end of his run with Forum Boxing, Beyrooty joined Brener-Zwikel & Associates, a sports public relations firm. He did considerable traveling while handling the SHOWTIME BOXING account, including a trip to China for a fight that was cancelled at the 11th hour. Nowadays, Johnny Bey has been scarce around the office as he deals with a myriad of nagging little health issues. Hopefully this is only a hiccup and he will be back to full speed very soon.

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The Avila Perspective Chap. 18: Timekeepers, Pension and Coming Fights

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Mike North works in the underbelly of the boxing world in a state that sees more fight business in a month than other states see in an entire year.

If this was the military, he might be a radar technician or man the sonar in a nuclear-powered submarine.

But this is prizefighting, and in his role, North tirelessly works with a stopwatch as the official timekeeper. It’s a role that he’s performed for hundreds of fights through two decades in the state of California.

North will be inducted into the California Boxing Hall of Fame for his many years spent as an official timekeeper for the California State Athletic Commission. The ceremony takes place on Saturday Oct. 20, at the Sportsman’s Lodge in the Studio City area of Los Angeles.

Others being inducted are Michael Carbajal, Chango Carmona, Frankie Liles, Guty Espadas Sr. and Guty Espadas Jr., Jose Celaya and others.

As a youngster in Kansas City, Missouri who loved boxing, North began as an amateur boxer and frequented the nearby gym to learn the fistic art.

“The people training me said you’re not very good, why don’t you be a writer or photographer. So, I became one in 1990,” said North, adding that he moved to California and began working first as a photographer and then as a writer for various sports publications, including a magazine called Ring Sports.

Through his work as a journalist, he began meeting ring officials and was persuaded to apply for a position as a boxing official for the state of California.

“I got to meet a lot of officials, and Dick Young was a Missouri boy like me. He recommended to me to be an official in 1998,” said North who, because of an abundance of referees and judges, opted for the role as a timekeeper.

He’s been working the fights as a CSAC timekeeper ever since.

“One of my first shows on TV was for Julio Cesar Chavez at Staples Center. That was one of my first shows. I was happy to do that show. The boxing legend and his son made his pro debut but he (senior) got beat up and later retired. So, I got to time his second to last fight,” said North of the fight that took place in May 2005.

Along the way, North has worked many of the biggest prize fights in Southern California, including the Oscar De La Hoya and Steve Forbes fight at the StubHub Center in May 2008. That fight drew more than 30,000 fans into the stadium where the LA Galaxy and LA Chargers now play.

Another memorable moment for North occurred with one of his favorite fighters, Bernard Hopkins in 2016. That title contest turned out to be the Philadelphia fighter’s final prize fight.

“I was timekeeper when Bernard Hopkins got knocked out of the ring,” said North, who is married and works about 30 fight cards a year. “That night during a championship fight, he gets knocked out of the ring. He’s got 20 seconds to get back into the ring. I start counting. One or two of the inspectors helped him out. Once they touched Hopkins the fight was over and I finished counting.”

That fight emphasizes just one of the many duties of a timekeeper. Once any fight card begins, a timekeeper has to manage the clock, bell and whistle for the ring announcers, referees, and television when it’s involved.

It’s a tedious adventure and not meant for everyone.

“The difficulties come in doing it when I’m tired. Talk about the fundamentals, the hardest thing is having to stay focused during the entire fight from beginning to end. In a big 12 round fight, it’s 50 minutes just timekeeping and focusing, maintaining discipline of timing the rounds and rests and counting the knockdowns. Those are the biggest demands for a timekeeper,” said North, who works as an aerospace engineer during the day.

“It’s not as easy as people think. Especially if you are doing live TV like HBO, there are all kinds of distractions. Sometimes when you are on live TV it adds a little bit of pressure to you.”

Experiencing that pressure and dealing with it over the last two decades has prompted California State Athletic Commission executives to appoint North as an advisor for new recruits joining the ranks of timekeepers.

The first advice he gives is purchasing a reliable stopwatch, whistle, bell and black and white striped shirt.

“I recommend they buy a stopwatch that has a certificate of calibration from a manufacturer and costs over $25. You need to have two to four stopwatches in case one goes out,” says North, who has more than one of everything.

“Once, I had a whistle with a corked ball inside of it. I was doing a fight at the Playboy Mansion and the corked ball blew out the gap of the whistle. It didn’t impact the fight. But a malfunction can impact the fight if you are not prepared.”

North is always prepared.

“It is difficult to find people that want to do timekeeping, stay with it and like to do it,” said Andy Foster, Executive Director for CSAC. “We don’t have that many. It’s a real skill to picking up that count, to working with the referee and having the focus and instincts. There is a real skill to it.”

After 20 years of working along the boxing rings throughout Southern California, the veteran timekeeper realizes a need for more official clock watchers has arrived. But his time is not over as he works with new recruits.

“It has a lot of rewards that go with it. We have the best seats in the world for boxing events,” said North, who also keeps time for MMA bouts. “It’s very rewarding because you get to meet a lot of great people.”

Many of those people will be at the Sportsman’s Lodge when North receives his entry into the California Boxing Hall of Fame.

Time really does go fast when you are having fun.

 

California Pension for boxers

“A pension fund established for retired boxers has reached a total of more than $5 million dollars,” said Andy Foster, Executive Director for CSAC.

Any retired boxer over the age of 50 who fought more than 75 rounds with no more than a three-year break, or 10 rounds a year for at least four years without a three-year break is eligible for money due.

The pension fund was established in 1982 to help retired prizefighters in their older years.

A list will be provided soon and a future story on this will also be available.

Downtown L.A. and Indio on Thursday night

In the old business district of downtown Los Angeles, a boxing show takes place at the Exchange LA, located at 618 S. Spring Street, L.A. 90014. PR Sports is putting on the show that features Gloferson Ortizo, Adan Ochoa, and Damien Lopez among others. A couple of years ago it’s where current budding prospect Ryan “The Flash” Garcia made his first American debut as a professional.

It’s a solid fight card.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For more information call (310) 315-0525.

It can be seen on the CBS Sports website.

About 120 miles east another boxing card takes place.

Fantasy Springs Casino hosts a Golden Boy Promotions fight card showcasing Ireland’s Jason Quigley (14-0) against Mexico’s Freddy Hernandez (34-9) in a middleweight clash set for 10 rounds.

Quigley defends the NABF title he won in March 2017. During that fight against Glen Tapia he broke his hand and was out of action for a year. He returned this past March and won by knockout on a Massachusetts card.

Hernandez, 39, is a veteran originally from Mexico City who fights out of L.A. His best victory came against Alfredo Angulo two years ago. He’s crafty and doesn’t take chances.

ESPN2 will televise the Golden Boy card.

Friday in Ontario

Thompson Boxing Promotions rolls out another boxing card at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

For 18 years this Southern California promotion group has been uncovering hidden jewels. Its latest is WBA super bantamweight champion Danny Roman, who is expected to be present at the fight card this Friday, Oct. 19.

Roman will be introduced to the crowd. Last week, the Los Angeles-based prizefighter knocked out England’s Gavin McDonnell in the 10th round in Chicago. It was his third successful defense of the title he grabbed in Japan a year ago.

A primary reason I’ve covered these fight cards has been Thompson Boxing’s ability to discover talent like Roman and many others.

Saturday in Las Vegas

WBA middleweight titlists Ryoto Murata (14-1, 11 KOs) defends the title against Rob Brant (23-1, 16 KOs) in a 12 round clash on Saturday Oct. 20, at the Park Theater MGM in Las Vegas. The Top Rank card will be televised by ESPN.

Murata, 32, doesn’t have time to waste at his age. He needs to go after the big guns, whoever they are. As the holder of the minor version of the title, he’s got to keep his place in line. And like most Japanese fighters, he’s not shy about taking chances.

Brant, 28, will be fighting an upper tier opponent for the second time. His only loss was to former WBA and WBO world light heavyweight champion Juergen Braehmer in first round action in the World Boxing Super Series 168-pound tournament.

With Canelo now holding the WBC title and fighting for the WBA super middleweight title in December after defeating Gennady Golovkin by decision, the middleweight division is wide open.

In the semi-main event, a super lightweight match set for 10 rounds, Russia’s Maxim Dadashev (11-0,10 KOs) meets the ultimate gatekeeper in Mexico’s Antonio DeMarco (33-6-1, 24 KOs).

Dadashev, 28, has knocked out almost all of his opponents, so the brain trust at Top Rank wants to see if he can truly fight someone who does not go down easily.

DeMarco, 32, is a rangy former world titlist from Tijuana who has warred against the best punchers in the business, including wins over Jorge Linares, John Molina and Mickey Roman. He doesn’t quit. He didn’t quit against one of the best punchers of all time, Edwin Valero, in that fighter’s last pro fight.

It’s a perfect test for Dadashev. It’s also a good fight for DeMarco to prove that he deserves another world title shot.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

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Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Golden Boy Promotions Announce Fight Deal With DAZN at MSG

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At a press conference today at Madison Square Garden, professional boxing’s biggest star Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Golden Boy Promotions announced they signed a massive deal, reportedly a more than $365 million dollar contract, with the streaming company DAZN.

“I’ve always said when one door closes, another one opens,” said Alvarez in front of a crowd at the Garden and also to those watching it streamed live.

That door was blasted wide open with the announcement that Alvarez and Golden Boy Promotion fighters will be included on future DAZN streamed boxing cards in a five-year deal.

“Obviously for us it’s a major day. Live sports are undergoing a major change,” said Eric Gomez, president of Golden Boy. “We’ve made a deal with the sports leaders in the sport of boxing DAZN.”

Gomez added that Canelo will perform 11 fights with DAZN exclusively.

“He will now have the richest sports contract in sports history,” said Gomez, adding that 10 future DAZN events will feature other Golden Boy fighters too.

It’s been a topsy-turvy month, especially after HBO announced two weeks ago that they were moving out of the boxing business after 40 years. Boxing had brought that television network its success and now it is bailing out.

Streaming has become the new source for watching live boxing, but it still needed a major star to bring viewers. What bigger name than Canelo.

“Canelo was the answer,” said DAZN.

“Canelo has sold 3.6 million buys for three quarters of a billion dollars. His next 11 fights will be exclusively on DAZN,” said John Skipper, chairman of DAZN adding that Alvarez’s next fight will be free. “Today represents a major shift in providing the top major sports content.”

Super middleweight title fight

Alvarez, who recently defeated long reigning middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin to win the WBC and WBA middleweight titles, will now face WBA super middleweight titlist Rocky Fielding at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 15. It will be streamed free to entice fans to subscribe to DAZN which also streams MMA and other sports events.

Fielding, who fights out of Liverpool, England, looked like a basketball player standing next to the redhead Alvarez on the stage.

“I’ve worked all my life to get to the world stage. Now I’m fighting the biggest star in boxing. It’s every fighter’s dream to fight in Madison Square Garden,” said Fields. “I’ve watched him over the years. I’m going to give everything.”

Eddie Hearn, whose promotion company Matchroom Boxing represents Fielding and heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, is also a partner with DAZN.

“We had a mission to make sure that the DAZN platform worked and is a success. We launched that platform with Anthony Joshua and now with Golden Boy they bring Canelo Alvarez to the landscape,” said Hearn. “Now with Joshua and Canelo on DAZN the whole game is about to change. This is just the beginning for the DAZN platform believe me.”

No more pay-per-view

Golden Boy Promotions announced that the deal to showcase its other fighters begins in early 2019 and will feature 10 high caliber fight cards. No longer will its fight be on pay-per-view. Instead the low monthly cost of about $5 dollars a month will be the only charge for all of the fights on DAZN that will be streamed in not only the U.S., but also the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Canada and Japan.

Other sports promotions include Matchroom Boxing cards and MMA by Bellator and Combate Americas.

“It’s been many years that I wanted to fight here. I’m here and I want to give a great fight to the fans in New York,” said Alvarez at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. “The most important thing is the fans can enjoy this fight at a very low price.”

Golden Boy will also co-produce the televised events and social media presentations. The deal will also include 7,000 hours of Oscar De La Hoya’s library.

De La Hoya was elated by the new partnership.

“This is easily one of the best days in the growing history of Golden Boy Promotions,” said De La Hoya, the CEO and chairman of Golden Boy Promotions.

A new page is turned for the sport of boxing and a redhead named Canelo Alvarez is leading the way.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

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