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WHAT IF TYSON HAD FOUGHT HOLYFIELD IN 1991?

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There are a lot of “What if?” situations in boxing, making for some interesting debates.

One of the more recent involved the May 2 matchup of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, a megafight many believe would have been much more compelling had it happened, say, five years earlier. When the aging superstars finally did square off, the 38-year-old Mayweather scored a rather easy unanimous decision over the 36-year-old Pacquiao, but what might have happened had they swapped punches in 2010, when the pairing would have taken place in the full bloom of their respective primes? Mayweather supporters insist that their guy would have won in much the same manner that he eventually did, but Pacquiao diehards will never be convinced that “PacMan” wouldn’t have fared far better had he not been kept waiting so long.

Which brings us to two equally and maybe even more intriguing dates in boxing history, separated by five years and one day, and a Grand Canyon’s worth of speculation. Nov. 8, 1991, was when WBA/IBF heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield and former champ Mike Tyson were to have clashed in one of the most eagerly anticipated bouts of all time. But Tyson sustained an injury to his left rib cage on Oct. 7, and the fight was postponed on Oct. 18. It was tentatively rescheduled for sometime in January 1992, in the hope it could be squeezed in before Tyson’s rape trial in Indianapolis, which was to begin on Jan. 27.

But Tyson’s sore ribs didn’t heal quickly enough and, well, we all know what happened. Tyson was convicted of rape, served three years of a six-year sentence in an Indiana prison and his confrontation with Holyfield didn’t happen until Nov. 9, 1996, when Holyfield – an opening-line 25-1 underdog (he went off as a more reasonable 10-1 longshot) shocked the world, or at least a large portion of it, by scoring an 11th-round technical knockout, dominating almost from the opening bell. The rematch, on June 28, 1997, was setting up to be more of the same when an enraged and frustrated Tyson chomped on Holyfield’s ears, resulting in his third-round disqualification.

Inquiring minds, of which I like to believe I have, were left to wonder what the outcome would have been had Holyfield and Tyson met on the originally scheduled date in 1991. Even though Tyson no longer was undefeated – he had lost his titles on that 10th-round knockout loss to Buster Douglas on Feb. 11, 1990, in Tokyo – he had strung together four victories, three inside the distance, and, at 41-1 with 36 KOs, was an opening-line 2-1 favorite over Holyfield (then 26-0, 21 KOs), who had dethroned Douglas on a third-round knockout on Oct. 25, 1990.

It was to have been a prime-on-prime confrontation with Holyfield having recently turned 29 and Tyson still a young, strong bull at 25. So why was Holyfield such a prohibitive underdog five years later? Well, he was just 4-3 in his preceding seven fights and was coming off a winning but unimpressive victory over Bobby Czyz on May 10, 1996, in Madison Square Garden. The widespread feeling then was that he was too used up to offer anything more than token resistance to the still-scary Tyson.

All of which points to one irrefutable fact: Boxing matches are won in the ring, not on paper. Styles count. Intangibles do, too. Maybe the Tyson of 1991 would have presented too steep of a hill for Holyfield to climb, and maybe the outcome of their later two meetings would have been the same. To help sort things out, I polled seven knowledgeable boxing people as to how Tyson-Holyfield, circa 1991, might have turned out had Tyson not injured his ribs or attended that beauty pageant in Indianapolis that led to his incarceration. The panelists include trainer Tommy Brooks, who at various times worked with both Tyson and Holyfield; former heavyweight champion George Foreman, who lost to Holyfield but never fought Tyson, although he wanted to; Nigel Collins, former editor of The Ring magazine; Steve Farhood, another former editor of The Ring, now a Showtime commentator; Larry Hazzard, then and now the head of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board; veteran boxing writer Michael Katz (a 2012 inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame), and Ron Borges, Boston Herald sports columnist and the only media member of 49 polled who picked Holyfield to beat Tyson in 1996.

Their consensus opinion, in retrospect, might or not come as a surprise.

TOMMY BROOKS: “If that fight had gone off as planned in 1991, it would have been the same outcome as the one five years later. Evander just had Tyson’s number. Sometimes that’s just the way it is. Now, to me, both are beautiful kids and tremendous athletes. I’m glad I had the opportunity to work with them each of them. But sometimes one guy has something that gives him an edge over another guy of similar ability. Evander had the right style to fight Mike, and he had that incredible mental strength as well. I hear the same kind of talk about Mayweather and Pacquiao, what might or might not have happened if they fought five years earlier. I’m pretty sure it would have gone down the same way. Floyd had Pacquiao’s number and always would have had it, like Evander had with Mike.”

GEORGE FOREMAN: “Not only in hindsight, but even as I saw it then Mike Tyson wasn’t the best fighter in the world against guys that were not that big. He had an advantage, and I guess he got that from Cus D’Amato, against real big guys. He would hit them as hard as he could to the body, come back and touch them a little bit and then come on top with a shot to the temple and knock them out. That works with big, tall guys. But he didn’t really have the mechanics to beat guys more his own size. Holyfield didn’t hit as hard as Tyson, but he was so quick with combinations. He would have beaten Tyson then or later. That’s all there is to it.”

NIGEL COLLINS: “I think at the very top level of boxing, there is very little difference between the elites as far as the talent level goes. The secret to winning at that level is having a strong mind. Evander Holyfield could have fought Mike Tyson at any time in their careers and would have won 99 times out of 100 because he had such a strong belief in himself. After their first fight (the one in 1996), I went to (trainer) Don Turner’s house to watch the tape. Don commented on what was happening, and I turned that into a story. At one point he told me, `I can tell most fighters how to beat the other guy, but some don’t have the balls to do it. Evander does.’ And that pretty much sums it up. Really, there were only four or five years when Tyson was a truly great heavyweight. Holyfield had a much longer career at the top. Personally, I’m very fond of Tyson and always enjoyed covering him. But Holyfield will go down in history as the superior fighter.”

STEVE FARHOOD: “When they had the press conference to announce the (1991) fight, they tried to pose Holyfield and Tyson for one of those nose-to-nose staredowns. Both guys couldn’t stop giggling, maybe because they knew each other from their amateur days. This was at a time when Tyson still had that aura and was scaring everybody half to death. I think that moment was very revealing. Evander was not afraid of Tyson. That much was obvious. Look, if they had fought then, I certainly think Tyson would have done better than he subsequently did. The 1996 version of Tyson was severely diminished. In 1991, Tyson would have been much closer to his prime and he would have had more energy and skill, as opposed to ’96. But that said, we’re talking about an all-time great in Holyfield. It would be really hard to pick Tyson to win, knowing what we subsequently learned. I would pick Holyfield by decision, but I think it would be a very competitive fight, certainly more competitive than the two fights they had years later.”

LARRY HAZZARD: Five years earlier, based on what we saw (in 1996 and ’97), I don’t think the outcome would have been any different. Evander Holyfield, in my opinion, was always an equal of Mike Tyson, and maybe more than that. I actually picked Holyfield to beat Tyson in 1996, although I wouldn’t have said it publicly because of my position with the (New Jersey) commission. Everybody I did tell, though, thought I was crazy. My friend Butch Lewis, Denzel Washington and a couple more of those Hollywood types were at Butch’s house were at Butch’s house to watch the fight. I called Butch up and said, `Hey, Butch, you tell all the guys that are sitting there with you that Holyfield is going to win.’ Butch said, `Larry, you must have lost your bleepin’ mind.’ They were all laughing at me. When the fight was over and Holyfield had stopped Tyson, you couldn’t convince those guys that I didn’t have some kind of inside information. But it was just a feeling I had. I never saw a fighter that had as much heart as Evander Holyfield.”

MICHAEL KATZ: “I think it would have gone down the same way it eventually went down. The day they announced the fight (in 1991) I was in Virginia Beach for, I assume, a Pernell Whitaker fight. Holyfield was there. I interviewed him in his room. He had absolutely no hesitation about fighting Tyson; he was as calm and as sure of winning as I’ve ever seen any athlete. I think he knew all along what would happen. It was like a big brother, little brother kind of thing, that he was the man and Tyson was the boy. He knew he could take Tyson’s best shots and Tyson couldn’t take his. Later that day, word came that Tyson was under arrest in Indianapolis for some kind of sex thing.”

RON BORGES: “Oh, sure, there are a lot of people who say know that they always knew Holyfield would beat Tyson. Back then (in 1996), nobody thought Holyfield had a chance. There was a lot of talk after his fight with Czyz that Holyfield was damaged good and shouldn’t even be allowed to fight Tyson. I had a little inside information because I was fairly close to Holyfield during those years. One of the things I knew, dating back to to when Holyfield and Tyson were amateurs, was the pool table incident. Vinny Pazienza was Tyson’s roommate at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado in 1984. One night they were all playing pool and it was one of those deals where if you lost, you gave up the table. Tyson lost and it was Holyfield’s turn to play. Tyson tried to bully him. Vinny was there and saw the whole thing. Holyfield walked up to Tyson, didn’t say a word and took the cue stick from him. Tyson left the room and nobody saw him for the rest of the night. I always had this image in the back of my mind that Tyson knew if there was one guy he couldn’t intimidate, it was Evander Holyfield.”

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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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