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Eamonn Magee: Dignity in Troubled Times

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An hour before the biggest fight of his career, Eamonn Magee stood outside the MEN Arena in Manchester, England, smoking a cigarette. Inside, more than 20,000 fans were preparing to vent their animosity toward the Belfast man ahead of his bout with hometown hero Ricky Hatton. Always one to show defiance, Magee later exacerbated the hostile crowd’s ire by wearing an outfit in the Irish tricolor with sunglasses of the same design.

As he was called to approach the ring for that 2002 fight, Magee (above, in Rich Wade photo, see more on RichWade.com) willingly stood in the aisle for what seemed like an interminably long time. Through a hardened visage defined by a misshapen nose, protruding cheekbones and a lack of front teeth, Magee smiled, absorbing the jeers and baiting the crowd for more. The louder the boos, the more energized Magee became.

Almost 13 years to the day later, Magee again found himself confronted with adversity while standing before a crowd. But this time there was silence. His tricolor attire was absent, replaced by a black suit and red tie. Through puffy eyes Magee stared vacantly into the distance. A tear ran down his cheek.

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Fighting in the ring has been the easiest part of Magee’s life, with an unwillingness to conform leading to turbulence throughout his 43 years. That appetite for dissent can be traced back to Magee’s upbringing in the epicenter of Northern Ireland’s sectarian violence.

Born in the Ardoyne, a Catholic enclave surrounded by Protestant strongholds, Magee’s family focused on boxing as an escape from the city’s conflict. Indeed, Magee’s mother told her three sons that boxing was as important as school.

“Growing up in the Ardoyne, you become used to the violence,” Magee said in 2004. “It was a normal part of life. You’re young and, in a funny way, you enjoyed it.”

It appeared that his mother’s guidance was justified as Magee’s talent for boxing was quickly evident, and in 1992 he seemed ready to represent Ireland at the Olympic Games. He won the Irish title that year, which traditionally guaranteed an Olympic berth. But in an unusual move, the Irish selectors decided not to automatically choose Magee and instead asked him to prove himself worthy by fighting an opponent he had already beaten. Unhappy with the new arrangement, Magee refused to partake in the fight, told the selectors to “stick it up their arses,” and promptly quit boxing altogether.

Magee’s stubborn nature also seemed to generate hostility from outside the boxing community. A couple of years prior, he was lucky to survive a street fight in which his neck was slashed by a broken glass bottle. Later in 1992 he was abducted by the IRA paramilitary group in what was known as a “punishment attack.” Magee’s assailants beat him, pinned him to the ground and shot him in the thigh. Occurrences such as this were typically carried out for a reason, and while Magee refused to reveal how he fell afoul of the IRA, he admitted that he “was up to no good.”

After several years of idleness on the streets of Belfast, Magee finally returned to boxing and entered the pro ranks at 24. Some early success seemed to convince him that committing to prizefighting was worthwhile, and under the tutelage of John Breen he gained recognition as one of the better 140-pound fighters in Europe. Despite his headstrong demeanor outside the ring, Magee was a thoughtful boxer who used patience and smooth defensive skills to wait for an opening before unleashing hurtful barrages on his opponents.

There were some stumbling blocks early in Magee’s career when he lost two bouts by points, decisions that could have gone his way. The defeats took the gloss off his record and dented his progress, resulting in some meager paydays.

“Boxing is the f—— hardest game in the world, and the one with the lowest wages,” recalled Magee. “It controls your life, and the lives of your wife and kids, too. They all have to look after you, mood swings and all.”

Despite the setbacks, Magee recorded victories over some of the top fighters in Britain and was eventually rewarded with a lucrative 2002 bout against rising superstar Ricky Hatton. In that fight Magee knocked the unbeaten Hatton down in the first round, silencing the shocked crowd.

The bout ultimately went the distance, with the judges declaring Hatton the victor. Yet Magee had defied the odds in rattling Hatton, and the unexpectedly strong showing was all the more impressive given that Magee’s preparation was not ideal. “He had been on the booze up until two weeks before the fight,” Magee’s trainer John Breen said in 2007.

Magee’s performance in the high-profile event boosted his name recognition and in 2004 he was in negotiations for a bout with world titlist Sharmba Mitchell. But his ambitions were abruptly halted by a series of incidents triggered by the seemingly innocuous presence of a snowman.

A dispute between Magee’s children and those of his neighbors’ over the destruction of a snowman attracted the attention of the fathers. Words were exchanged and the dispute quickly escalated, resulted in the neighbors dragging Magee from his car and severely beating the boxer with a baseball bat. The attack left Magee with a broken left leg, fractured left knee and punctured lung.

Magee underwent surgery to have muscle grafted on his shattered leg, and doctors told him to forget about his boxing career; even walking would be a daunting challenge. Yet if there’s one thing that Magee doesn’t like, it’s being told what to do. Remarkably, Magee was back in the ring one year later, recording his 26th professional victory.

Even so, age and restricted mobility caught up with him, and after another win and two defeats, he retired from boxing in 2007 with a 27-6 pro record. Training up-and-coming boxers at Breen’s gym seemed like an ideal vehicle for Magee to transition into retirement, but it proved insufficient to rein in his fiery temperament.

The subsequent years saw Magee’s wealth dwindle, with gambling a major drain. “Everyone thinks I’ve made a mint from boxing and I’m rolling in it, but I’ve lost an awful lot,” he said in 2009. In addition, there have been convictions for assault, while his lawyer noted in 2013 that there are days when Magee is paralyzed by anxiety, forcing the ex-fighter to lock himself away from society.

Yet in Magee’s seemingly dark world, a shining light began to brighten his outlook last year. His son, Eamonn Jr., became a professional boxer, vowing to repeat Senior’s in-ring success. Magee showed a keen interest in his offspring’s new career, which indicated early signs of promise via two convincing victories.

Moreover, Eamonn Jr. also showed ambition beyond the ropes as he enrolled in university last September to study for a degree in housing management. During media interviews Eamonn Jr. cited his father as an inspiration, but Magee Sr. seemed just as energized by his son’s exploits, and in recent months he was regularly seen in Breen’s gym training young boxers with a spring in his step.

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In early June,  Magee stood in front of a crowd on the outskirts of Belfast. Instead of fans, he was now surrounded by mourners. Walking alongside his son’s mother, Mary, Magee was once again thrust into the public eye. Undoubtedly, leading such a procession was a far more daunting task than anything he had previously experienced.

Several nights prior he received a phone call at three in the morning. The voice on the line asked Magee if he could travel across the city to identify a body. A 22-year old male had been stabbed to death in West Belfast. Eamonn Magee Jr.’s promising life had been cruelly extinguished.

Stepping out of a friend’s house to receive a pizza delivery at 2:30 a.m., Magee Jr. was savagely attacked by a 32-year-old man, Orhan Koca, who was lying in wait. Stabbed several times, Magee Jr. died soon after arriving in the hospital. The suspect’s petty motive made the crime all the more horrifying; he was reportedly jealous of Magee Jr. striking up a relationship with a former girlfriend of his.

The news stunned the Belfast community, with hundreds attending Magee Jr.’s funeral service. In addition, a large crowd supported Magee Sr. as he attended the court hearing that formally charged Koca with murder. Anger against Koca was also evidenced by an attack on him in jail and vandalism at businesses where he previously worked.

Yet throughout the tumult, Magee Sr. maintained a solemn dignity. Not always keen on doing media interviews, Magee summoned the strength to speak with reporters in the days after the tragedy, despite the emotional strain on his face. Magee’s words of grief focused on paying tribute to the young life lost, rather than the events surrounding the crime.

“(Eamonn Jr.) was always full of laughter, always full of fun, he went everywhere with me,” said Magee. “When he grew up he done everything for his mother, would have done anything for anybody.

“I don’t know how to get my heard around it. What a journey that is, from your house over to the hospital to identify your son. It’s a journey that I wouldn’t wish on any parent.”

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In late July, six weeks after his son’s death, Magee was back on the Belfast streets. This time he wore a wide smile. He gave a salutary wave to a crowd of several hundred that had turned out for a charity run organized in the memory of his son. The community cheered as Magee walked arm-in-arm with Mary. Dozens of well-wishers rushed over to offer a hug.

Despite the rawness of the tragedy, Magee kept a sanguine demeanor throughout the day, matching the uncharacteristically sunny weather.

“This event has been fantastic and it’s given me an opportunity to thank everybody in the whole community for what they’ve done for my son,” said Magee, with the emotion of the occasion creeping into his voice.

Magee may have been a divisive figure in the past, and known for being a hard man due to an inclination for combat. But under the harshest of circumstances that any parent could encounter, Magee showed true toughness in maintaining decorum, and unified a community behind him.

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

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UK sporting

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

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

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

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

Other Bouts

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

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

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

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

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

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

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Michael Dutchover

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

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

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

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

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

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

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

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

Other bouts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Manuel Charr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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