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The Fifty Greatest Light-Heavyweights of All Time Part Two – 40-31

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Welcome to Part Two of the Greatest Light-Heavyweights of All Time, something of a generational sweep for the last decade with no fewer than four of the ten entrants for Part Two active in the last two years. With no truly dominant figure emerging among Glen Johnson, Bernard Hopkins, Chad Dawson, and Tarver it was inevitable that they would all rank in the same clutch; still, I was surprised to see them ranked in this ten rather than the last ten, or even outside the top fifty all-together.

Having done the groundwork for a similar project at middleweight I can advise that 160lbs has roughly double the depth of 175lbs, but there are reasons for this. Firstly, middleweight is much older and the years upon which light-heavyweight missed out were as rich as any period in fistic history. Even when the division was established fighters and promoters were generally suspicious of it and a fighter weighing 165lbs was far more likely to call himself a contender to the middleweight title than the light-heavyweight title. There was an unhealthy suspicion of anything different in boxing as 1899 became 1900 and the emerging 175lb division was no different.

Having said all that, light-heavyweight produced fewer truly elite boxers than middleweight or welterweight even after it had become enshrined as one of the “original eight”, a mistruth that is told and re-told by modern historians for the sake of convenience. But I personally am glad of a certain lack of depth outside the top twenty-five, it has given me a chance to include champions and contenders who perhaps did not box a career at the weight but were nevertheless extraordinary and deserving of praise.

Beginning with a fighter who quite happily admitted that he was not the best but “just the guy who fought the best.”

#40 – GLEN JOHNSON (54-20-2)

Fifty-four, twenty, and two.

And this isn’t some monstrous battler lurching out of the stacked 1920s division with the scalps of a dozen world-class opponents hanging from his bloodied belt, some hideous fistic bogeyman that enjoyed a murderous prime before suffering some terrible drop off in form and talent as his body betrayed him to drunkenness and women. No, this is a modern day road-warrior who racked up numerous losses at middleweight, super-middleweight, and at light-heavyweight, where our interests lie.

But the career of Glengoffe Johnson, out of Jamaica and in to almost every major boxing nation on earth, is more complex than any set of raw statistics could ever capture.

He stepped up to light-heavyweight in the summer of 2001, stopping Thomas Ulrich in six before meeting Las Vegas regular Derrick Harmon in the Hard Rock. The judges saw it a clear ten round decision in favour of Harmon; the crowd voiced displeasure after what I saw as a narrow win for Johnson. Next up was an ugly loss to former Roy Jones victim Julio Cesar Gonzalez in a razor thin decision that one judge managed to score 98-92. I had it a draw.

Johnson managed an actual draw in his very next fight, with the prospect Daniel Judah; the problem was, Johnson dominated Judah almost bell to bell, clearly losing only one round, the eighth. I scored it, ironically, 98-92. In November of 2011, Johnson travelled to the UK and met ranked tough Clinton Woods and fought a draw in a fight I scored him winner. He lost a rematch in 2006 in a fight that again, looked like a narrow but certain Johnson win. Johnson was twice beaten by Chad Dawson as the decade trundled to an end, but again, I thought he was hard done by in their first fight, a clear win for Johnson and a signal for the crowd, once again, to boo a Glen Johnson loss.

This makes appraising him extremely difficult. Between his arriving in the division in 2001 and the end of 2009, I have him losing just twice, to divisional bosses Antonio Tarver and Chad Dawson – according to paid judges he lost six. The job here is to strike a balance between my sense that Johnson’s career is the most tragic in modern boxing, the inevitable realisation of perhaps the most badly run professional sport in world, a perfect storm of bad luck and bad officiating – and what the men paid to be ringside saw. Fortunately, Johnson props himself up with excellent wins that the officials did manage to see, or, as was the case in his famous detonation of huge favourite Roy Jones Jnr., fights he denied them the right to judge.

Johnson launched himself at Roy Jones and threw punches at parts of his anatomy that Jones wasn’t aware he had. At the end of a particularly aggressive fifth, Orlando Cuellar told a bemused Johnson in his corner that “this is what it will take to win this fight!” Johnson looked like a man who had been told riches beyond his wildest dreams were at his finger-tips if only he could swallow a bull. But Johnson stayed the course. He took the snapping punishment Jones crackled into him and maintained a more tempered version of this attack for the rounds that followed, bulldozing Jones into unconsciousness in the ninth. Jones had already been defeated by Antonio Tarver, setting up a showdown between him and Johnson, a showdown Johnson won making him the premier light-heavyweight in the world.

It is enough, along with victories over ranked men Clinton Woods and Eric Harding to place him under consideration for a top fifty spot; the injustice that served him throughout a career fought on the road sees him ranked here at the bottom end of the second ten. Some may not care for this elevated ranking given the losses he suffered, but it is my contention that Johnson is inarguably a better and more significant fighter than his paper record allows.

#39 – GUS LESNEVICH (60-14-5)

Depending upon your point of view, Gus Lesnevich either committed perhaps the most shameful duck in the history of the light-heavyweight title or was a fighter whose legacy was compromised by the outbreak of World War Two. After being thrashed by Jimmy Bivins in a non-title match in 1942, manager Lew Diamond told press that there would be no chance of a rematch between Bivins and Lesnevich. Lesnevich disappeared into the war-time coastguard – his title frozen for the duration, he remained true to his manager’s word. What this adds up to is a title reign of around seven years – but one which encompassed a total of only five successful defences against only three different fighters.

Nevertheless there is much to admire about Lesnevich, not least an outstanding persistence and hearty directness that earned him status as a fan favourite. Thrashed by Billy Conn in his first title shot in November of 1939, Lesnevich was so popular that he was handed a second title shot in the summer of the following year. Beaten again, he nevertheless was able to win more than the four rounds generally reported in the first fight, and it can have been of little surprise when Lesnevich received a third title shot a year later, this time beating out Anton Christoforidis. After making two successful defences against the unranked Tami Mauriello (the first of them desperately close) and the beating at the hands of Jimmy Bivins, the service got Lesnevich and when he re-emerged in 1946 it was thought that he, like peers Billy Conn and Joe Louis, would have left his best behind him. This seemed confirmed when he was smashed out by Bruce Woodcock up at heavyweight, the only time in his career that Lesnevich heard the ten. But Lesnevich came again, and in fact was the Ring fighter of the year in 1947. His brutal stoppage of British rival Freddie Mills, as savage a knockout as can be seen on film, was likely the highlight of this second career; but it was Mills who would take the title from him in 1948 over fifteen after a torrid first round that left Lesnevich cut and hurt.

Other fine wins over contenders like Alabama Kid, Ambrose Palmer and Billy Fox help nurse a ranking earned in the main with elbow grease and hard work.

#38 – AL GAINER (77-23)

Al Gainer’s record against the best he faced makes awkward reading. He went 1-1-1 with Tiger Jack Fox; 1-2 with Lou Brouillard; 2-2-1 with Bob Olin, 1-1 with Al McCoy and 1-1 with George Courtney. Splitting a series with Tiger Jack Fox speaks for, not against him, but the Brouillard series is troubling. The Canadian was a middleweight really, and one that had failed on three occasions to best Marcel Thil. Nevertheless, he twice dominated Gainer and for all that Gainer defeated him “easily” in their middle encounter, Brouillard clearly deserved the victory in their series. Aspects of his confrontation with Olin were more debatable but still, Gainer failed to prove his superiority over Olin just as he did Brouillard. Sometimes Gainer’s failure to equalise these fights with what was perhaps the best left hook of the era seems curious, although such matters are abandoned forever to the realm of speculation.

That left hook did, in part, bring him wins over Olin, McCoy, Brouillard and Courtney and that shouldn’t be forgotten for all that his overall record against them feels somewhat underwhelming. He also pounded out a one-sided victory over Joe Knight and several other solid contenders of this era, from Clyde Chastain to Lou Scozza and Dave Shade. Often his displays were dominant, but he, in turn, was dominated by Tony Shucco. They met four times and Gainer failed to return a single victory.

It is this last that in the end leads me to reject Herb Goldman’s ranking of Al Gainer at #25. Gainer was special and names among the most outstanding fighters never to have earned the crown but a place in the top thirty must be beyond him based upon his actual track record.

On the other hand, he was ranked for an entire decade, the 1930s, mostly in the lower reaches of the Ring top ten, but present none-the-less. This, in keeping with a consistently high level of competition smuggles him in to the top forty – but no more for the once sparkling Al Gainer.

#37 – BERNARD HOPKINS (55-7-2)

As ridiculous as it seems now, the twin defeats of Bernard Hopkins by Jermain Taylor in 2005 was seen as something of a terminal for the great middleweight. If not quite finished, he had perhaps boarded the great train to nowhere, even if there was to be a quick stop at light-heavyweight for a beating at the hands of three to one favourite Antonio Tarver. As is so often the case in boxing, the unexpected occurred: Hopkins kicked the shit out of Tarver.

Tarver had had his problems in training, dropping forty pounds he had gained for a performance in a movie while Hopkins, of course, was moving up. It is this writer’s opinion that no practice in boxing hurts a fighter so much as weight-making, and here was yet another beautiful demonstration of that fact. No longer shackled by the manacles of 160lbs, Hopkins weighed in at a liberating 174lbs and re-hydrated to a luscious 182lbs. It was like putting fuel in. He threw almost one-hundred more punches than he had managed in the first Taylor fight and found Tarver with the old unerring accuracy. Inside, he was clearly the stronger man despite being both smaller and older while on the outside he took by far the more steps but his engine remained greased. Aged forty-one years of age, Bernard’s astonishing assault on the light-heavyweight division had begun.

Truly, these past eight years have had their peaks and valleys, but despite a winding road, Hopkins never stepped off the path that led to and through ranked men, except when he was thrashing the undisputed middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, or losing a desperately close fight to pound-for-pounder Joe Calzaghe. It looks like that journey has finally come to an end with a dispiriting, damaging loss against the excellent Sergey Kovalev but I can’t imagine marching into a bookmaker and actually laying a bet against Hopkins scraping together a couple more wins against good opposition in this division in 2015 – and perhaps even gaining another spot on this list.

#36 – MICKEY WALKER (94-19-4; Newspaper Decisions 37-6-2)

The absurd Toy Bulldog, Mickey Walker, would have fought a truck piloted by a meth-fuelled werewolf if the money was right. He was crazy.

He slipped his way onto my top 100 at heavyweight, at #94 no less, and his heroics in that division are well documented. Less well respected are his achievements at light-heavyweight, which is a shame, because they are outstanding. Although he never held the title himself, he defeated not one, not two, but three legitimate light-heavyweight champions of the world. Mike McTigue went first in 1925, the reigning title-holder but willing to meet Walker only in a twelve-round no-decision bout, Walker in need of a knockout in order to lift the title. The Bulldog pounded out a twelve round newspaper decision but couldn’t put his man away; infuriatingly, Walker knocked McTigue, an underrated but carefully nursed champion, quite literally out to dry, hanging him over the second rope in a single round in 1927 – by which time he had been parted from the title.

After his overdue knockout of McTigue, Walker, absolutely no light-heavyweight at 5’7 and a great deal of history at welterweight and middleweight, bowled right into the wonderful Paul Berlenbach, who had lost his title to Jack Delaney just a year earlier. Barely over the middleweight limit, Walker gave away eleven pounds to Delaney who was a body-puncher and boxer of real repute – Walker won “every round” and gave his man “an unmerciful beating” according to The Montreal Gazette, even forcing the bigger man to the canvas with his indomitable left.

Last up was Maxie Rosenbloom. Rosenbloom, inevitably, won the championship match between the two but Walker dropped and bettered the champion in a non-title bout a few months later. It was the second time he had defeated a reigning light-heavyweight champion and he had done so an astonishing seven years apart.

Between, he had dropped a split-decision lost to the great Tommy Loughran and twice bested Leo Lomski. It wasn’t quite meant to be for Walker at light-heavyweight – but few fighters have bested more lineal champions than he.

#35 – CHAD DAWSON (32-4)

All but finished at thirty-two years of age Chad Dawson was obliterated in a single round by Adonis Stevenson in 2013, out-fought by Jean Pascal in 2010 and narrowly edged by Nathan Cleverly victim Tommy Karpency in ten rounds towards the end of 2014. The other hand is weighed heavily in his favour, however. Dawson holds two wins over Glen Johnson, two wins over Antonio Tarver and a win over Bernard Hopkins making him a proud holder of victories over every post-Jones pre-Kovalev light-heavyweight of genuine significance apart from Zsolt Erdei, whose history of avoiding name fighters is legendary. His supplementary wins, too, are superb. He handed 31-0 Tomasz Adamek his first loss; clambered off the canvas to defeat the era’s elite gatekeeper Eric Harding in a bloody, absorbing contest; and firmly outpointed the ranked Adrian Diaconu. I will be frank: I don’t personally care for Dawson as a fighter, in hype, style or fistic class, but leaving him out is impossible and given his thorough defeat of Bernard Hopkins and a resume that is likely superior to The Executioner’s, the disturbing nature of some of his losses can be ignored. He slips in here ahead of both Hopkins and Glen Johnson, despite my personal preference for both.

This, more than any other single factor probably indicates that Dawson has earned his ranking. The facts of the case outweigh my feelings.

#34 – JIMMY SLATTERY (111-13; Newspaper Decisions 3-0)

Welcome our first legitimate centurion, Jimmy Slattery, who stopped a total of forty-nine opponents and won sixty-two decisions.

A lot of this work was done at middleweight where Slattery served a long apprenticeship between 1921, when he turned professional, and 1925, when he began to probe the division above. These early advances bore surprisingly ripe fruit as Slattery netted wins over under-developed legends of the poundage, first Jack Delaney and then Maxie Rosenbloom both over the distance of six rounds – but Slattery’s domination of the blooming Rosenbloom continued into 1926 and 1927 by which time Rosenbloom was ranked at the top of the division. This domination ended, however, when Max came to the title. Always a better fighter with the legitimate championship at his waist, Rosenbloom consistently out-scrambled Slattery when it came to that prize.

Slattery held a strap but never a lineage. He inevitably lost to the wonderful Tommy Loughran, too, but was able to scrape past the superb Lou Scozza with the NYSAC title on the line.

He never really delivered on that astonishing early promise. Part of the problem was that he lived like boxed – on his toes but in search of trouble, a fighter that led the life of a rogue and so could never reach his potential as a boxer. Winning a series with Rosenbloom is impressive but it must be said that every top light-heavy of the era seems to have beaten Max at some point – my feeling is that despite an impressive haul of scalps at 175lbs, Slattery doesn’t quite belong up there with the very best.

#33 – JOEY MAXIM (82-29-4)

A grim persistence on the inside combined with a technical surety on the outside, an iron jaw and staid discipline saw Joey Maxim carve out one of boxing’s most underrated careers – but a huge and surprising amount of his best work was done at heavyweight. Maxim was tackling these bigger men as early as his first year and as we have seen, time spent above 180lbs or matching these bigger men at a lighter weight impacts the standing of light-heavyweights because they cease to box in light-heavyweight contests.

But Maxim was the champion of the world at light-heavyweight, coming to the title in 1951, ten long, hard years after he turned professional. He was never going to hold it long with Archie Moore lurking in the brutal shadows of the murderer’s row, but Maxim should be credited for tackling the universally ducked Moore in the first place – and for the work he did in the division before Moore reached him.

He took the title from Freddie Mills who reportedly lost three teeth and never boxed again as Maxim jabbed and hooked him into retirement. Not a puncher, his unerring consistency, accuracy and a persistence born of great durability and strength of character could nevertheless inflict severe suffering on all but the very best opponents. Certainly he had been too much for Gus Lesnevich, dominating him over fifteen rounds eight months earlier as he was for favourite Bob Murphy in his first title defence.

His third defence was far and away his most famous fight, Maxim defeating Sugar Ray Robinson in thirteen rounds as the middleweight champion of the world quit in appalling conditions, the heat in the ring said to be over one-hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Maxim never received credit for this win – Robinson weighed in as a middleweight, and the heat rather than Maxim was perceived as Robinson’s chief foe (Robinson himself naming the source of his defeat as God himself, perhaps demonstrating the kind of self-belief necessary to blaze a trail from lightweight all the way to light-heavyweight). This is perhaps a little unfair. As Maxim remarked, “did people think I had air conditioning in my corner?” It was a victory for durability and size but it was a victory none the less, for all that it is a difficult one to judge. I’ve treated it here as a successful defence against a dangerous but unranked opponent. Robinson was certainly that, taking the lion’s share of the rounds before he was pulled.

Then Moore came calling and Maxim’s time at the top was over. Maxim wasn’t so much out-classed by Moore as seemingly incapable of winning rounds, many of which were close but almost all of which seemed to be controlled by The Mongoose. Maxim fought Moore three times and at no time recorded a win.

Outside of those title fights, Maxim’s best wins at the weight were likely over Nate Bolden and the wonderful if inexperienced Floyd Patterson but Maxim spent so little time actually boxing against light-heavyweights at light-heavyweight that he must even so rank in the thirties, rather lower than I expected to see him. Any Maxim fans who are disappointed in this could do a lot worse than to track down my heavyweight list, where Maxim’s ranking is surprisingly high.

#32 – EDDIE MUSTAFA MUHAMMAD(50-8-1)

Eddie Mustafa Muhammad was dropped in the first round of his 1977 contest with Matthew Saad Muhammad but fought his way back to take a narrow, disputed decision on the scorecards. It was a battle of the greenhorns, and their friendship and shared religion would keep them from ever meeting in their respective primes, but both men carved out extraordinary careers independent of one-another. Eddie Mustafa would forever remain the poorer cousin in terms of legacy but he had his own great moments, not least in losing in his premature title shot against Victor Galindez later that same year. Eddie boxed with such patience, with such maturity that he belied his 22-2-1 record dropping a narrow decision against a wonderful world champion, first jabbing, then introducing the right hand, ending in a tactical stalk that fell just short of enough.

In the last round he showed a strange passivity however that was his greatest weakness. Against the colourful James Scott who forged a famous career from behind the bars of Rahway State Prison he boxed shamefully, holding and stalling his way to an inexplicable and wide decision loss. This postponed what had seemed an inevitable title shot for eighteen months, although when it came, against the deadly Marvin Johnson, he grabbed it with both hands, dominating and stopping the out-gunned champion. When he was on, Eddie was outstanding, but he could be placed under control both by counterpunchers and by maulers and when he was tempted, like so many light-heavyweight champions before and after him, by heavyweight riches, he perhaps gave way to his failings permanently. Beefing up to an absurd 200lbs, he followed a careful Renaldo Snipes around the ring for ten rounds dropping a decision over ten. When he had to drain his way back down to 175lbs to meet the brilliant Michael Spinks he left himself chanceless in what was his third title defence, fading down the stretch, a certain passivity beaten into his work by a Spinks who boxed rampantly in the second half of the fight.

“Not a natural fighter” is how old-timers probably would have diagnosed Eddie and although a little harsh, it might be about right. Certainly not fearful of absorbing punishment, he could be beaten or boxed into a kind of premature submission and that hurts his legacy and my appraisal of him head to head. But he had a superb body-attack is an under-appreciated counter-puncher and a good hitter. Even after the twin debacles versus Snipes and Spinks he remained a formidable fighter, his vicious, surreal knockout of the excellent Lottie Mwale probably the highlight. Certainly he belongs on this list, but a nagging sense that he failed to fulfil his potential remains.

#31 – ANTONIO TARVER (31-6)

Tarver’s elevated position here will be troubling to traditionalist readers but for those men (you never hear it from the fairer, more balanced sex) I have two words: Roy Jones.

Beating Roy Jones is like beating Archie Moore or Harold Johnson. Jones was incredible, a Phenom, a monster, a terrifying mix of power and speed who appeared, from middleweight to heavyweight, the complete superior of all he shared the ring with. The first man to lay him low was always going to establish himself in the annals of history and Tarver has done so.

The first fight was a close decision in favour of Jones, but Roy had been put through his paces, made to fight the fight of his career, Tarver allowing himself to be pushed gently form the box-seat in rounds three to five, Jones fighting to hold it in the eleventh and twelfth. A rematch was inevitable and it is one of the more famous nights in the modern history of the light-heavyweight division. Knocked brutally, unreservedly, spectacularly out by a Tarver left-hand, Roy sat glassy-eyed as Tarver celebrated so raucously that he appeared to inadvertently damage a camera and camera-man; that even Don King seemed reluctant to approach and ingratiate. Immediately, people set out to discredit Tarver – some even produced photographs that appeared to suggest that Tarver “had his eyes closed” when he threw the “lucky punch” that signalled time on one of the greatest ring careers fought entirely in colour, ignoring the beauty of the counter that Tarver unleashed while under fire. So Tarver beat Roy Jones again in a strange and distant fight in which Roy Jones hardly threw and Tarver quietly out-hustled him with economy, patience and an almost uncanny ability to rush the easily startled Jones with near perfect timing.

Tarver was a 6’2 defensively sound southpaw with good athletic ability, and a fine head for distance for all that he could sometimes throw himself off-balance with over-enthusiastic lurching punches, and probably is underestimated in terms of skillset and head-to-head appraisement. In addition to his domination of the series with Jones, Tarver’s most interesting performance may be his revenge TKO of Eric Harding. Harding and Tarver were both inexperienced when they first met in 2000 and went blow-for-blow up until the final third of the fight when Tarver, having suffered a broken jaw at the hands of his surprisingly aggressive opponent, went into survival mode. It was his bravest performance and in many ways I think it made him. By the time of their rematch in 2002 Tarver was a different kind of fighter, exhibiting all that patience and trickery he showed in his third contest with Jones; he took Harding out in five.

Excellent while dominating the veterans Reggie Johnson, Clinton Woods and Montell Griffin, superb in handing Glen Johnson what was arguably the first legitimate loss of Johnson’s light-heavyweight career, Tarver has built a good resume independent of Jones; but those are the wins that absolutely root him in the thirties. Is it possible he cashed in on the decline of Jones to earn his spot? Yes – but it’s always difficult to push a Ferrari off the cliff.

Click here for part One

Click here for part Three

Click here for part Four

Click here for part Five

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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 graduated from a preliminary boy to a headliner 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 Beyrooty 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 Genaro “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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