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Jesse Hart: The Spawn of a Cyclone is Brewing up a Storm in Philly

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By BERNARD FERNANDEZ

In this pivotal year in American politics, a power struggle of sorts with presidential-primary-type overtones is brewing in Philadelphia boxing. It involves two fighting men of the city, one a beloved older citizen and the other his firebrand son, each of whom has his own vision of how the immediate future will soon play out.

So who gets the final say?

“I do,” insists 26-year-old Jesse Hart (19-0, 16 KOs) who wants to fight for the WBO super middleweight championship before the end of 2016 and likely would be afforded that opportunity should he win his Friday night fight against journeyman Dashon Johnson (19-18-3, 6 KOs), of Escondido, Calif., at the 2300 Arena in South Philly.

“Me,” Jesse’s father-trainer, 1970s middleweight contender Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, 64, said when asked the same question. But Cyclone is of a mind that his son going for a world title this year – or maybe even in the next couple of years – would be a rush to judgment with potentially disappointing consequences.

“I wouldn’t want him fighting for no championship now,” Cylone said when asked if Jesse’s likely elevation to a No. 1 rating from the WBO and mandatory-challenger status for the winner of the April 9 title fight between champion Arthur Abraham (44-4, 29 KOs) and Gilberto Ramirez (33-0, 24 KOs), should result in a showdown for a bejeweled belt. “Jesse is saying now, right now. Me, I would prefer him to wait until he gets about seven more fights and is more comfortable in the ring. A lot of people want him to (be in a title fight soon). Why? I told Bob (Arum, founder of Top Rank, Jesse’s promotional company) I thought he needed six or seven more fights, and then he’d be ready for anybody. Jesse got the tools to get (a world title) now, but he needs to get the tools to hold onto it after he gets it.”

So, if push comes to shove, which Hart gets to make the final decision?

“The son,” said J Russell Peltz, the longtime Philadelphia promoter who co-promotes Jesse’s career.

Or it might be Arum, whom Cyclone said will have a voice in the matter.

“Bob is smart,” Cyclone mused. “Bob will know when Jesse is ready, just like I’ll know.”

Time is always a factor in boxing. How long should a big fight be allowed to simmer until it’s ready to be served at its flavorful best? Or should some matchups be microwaved and hurried to the table?

Jesse Hart’s impatience to fight for a world title is understandable. Another seven bouts worth of seasoning would take him to age 28, possibly 29, and would possibly abbreviate his championship reign, should he be fortunate enough to have one. He believes he is ready to go for the big prize now, so why wait?

But Arum also might not want to delay the process of developing the next Top Rank superstar any longer than necessary. Manny Pacquiao (57-6-2, 38 KOs), Arum’s prime attraction for what seems like forever, has announced his April 9 rubber match against Timothy Bradley Jr. (33-1-1, 13 KOs) at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand, will be his farewell to boxing, so Arum, 84, can be excused for wanting to quickly determine a marquee replacement for “Pac-Man.” That might be Hart, or Ramirez, or possibly WBO super lightweight champion Terence Crawford (28-0, 20 KOs), most recently observed scoring a fifth-round stoppage over Philadelphia’s Hank Lundy (26-6-1, 13 KOs) on Feb. 27 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.

It is a promoter’s duty to stroke the egos of all of his fighters, to make them feel as if each is his top priority, and Arum has taken care to ensure that Jesse Hart is showered with the requisite compliments.

“There’s boxing stars and there’s superstars,” Jesse said before a recent workout at the Joe Hand Boxing Gym in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia. “You got to know how to talk when you get up in front of that camera. You got to have a great smile. There’s different characteristics that go into it, and Bob said I got ’em all. He said I got the total package, the `it’ factor, to be a superstar.”

It is not anything Jesse hasn’t heard before. Not long after he joined Top Rank’s deep stable, Arum told the then-24-year-old about what could happen when talent meets charisma and the fighter in question is given the benefit of Arum’s special touch.

“When we first sat down, (Arum) said, `I want you. You’re going to be a superstar. You have what (Oscar) De La Hoya had, what Floyd Mayweather has,’” Jesse said in January 2014. “I was, like, wow. Then he asked me, `Who’s the first Mexican-(American) fighter that was on a Wheaties box?’ I said, `I don’t know, who was it?’ He said, `Oscar De La Hoya. That’s how big I want you to be. You have all the qualities to be a megastar in the sport of boxing. I’m going to let you reach those heights.’”

Jesse certainly has the genes to be something special. His dad, Cyclone, began his career with 19 straight victories inside the distance and has been described by Peltz as “the best one-punch knockout artist I ever saw in person.”

Hart had the good fortune – or misfortune, depending on which way one chooses to look at it – of being one of four Philly middleweights who were all world-ranked in the top 10 in the 1970s, the others being Bennie Briscoe, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts and Willie “The Worm” Monroe. But elite opponents ducked the Philly Four as if they were lepers and, although Watts and Monroe did score decision victories over a young Marvin Hagler at the since-demolished Spectrum, only Briscoe ever was afforded the opportunity to fight for a world championship. He was 0-3 in such bouts, losing twice to Rodrigo Valdez and once to Carlos Monzon.

“We held down the city for, like, 20 years,” Cyclone said of that golden era of middleweights in Philly, when he and the other local kings of the ring were stars as celebrated as much as any member of the Eagles, Phillies, 76ers or Flyers. “Couldn’t nobody come in here and do nothin’ with us. The only way we could make money was to fight each other.”

Thus was the legend embellished of Philly’s down-and-dirty gym wars, where the best of the best took turns cannibalizing one another for neighborhood pride and then did so again in well-attended main events at the Spectrum. It was an era perhaps beyond replication, but Jesse Hart, who has heard all the stories of that magical time from his dad, is eager to do his part to restore at least some of that lost tradition.

Jesse had been scheduled to appear on the non-televised portion of the Crawford-Lundy undercard, but he went directly to Arum and requested that he headline his own show in his hometown. It is high time, Jesse declared, that Philadelphia fighters, the most accomplished of whom have been obliged to take their act on the road, return to America’s best fight town and remind everyone of what once was, and could be again.

“I wish I was back in that (1970s) era,” he sighed. “The mission for me has always to become one of the greatest Philadelphia fighters. I kept hearing about how great my dad was, how great Georgie Benton was, how great Bennie Briscoe was. Gypsy Joe Harris. My dad came up in that era and that’s the mindset I have. In my mind, I’m a 15-round fighter. I’m not a modern-day dude, man.”

Cyclone remembers taking Jesse to the gym for the first time when he was around 10. He has tutored him well, but no trainer can confer the gift of power on a fighter who lacks the natural capability to deliver a shot with the force of a runaway locomotive. Cyclone had that gift, and he said Jesse does, too.

“I realized he had the same qualities I had as a fighter,” Cyclone said. “He can punch with either hand, he can take you out with either hand. Once he gets a little more comfortable, ain’t nobody going to beat Jesse Hart.”

Jesse said he is pretty damn comfortable now, and he has little inclination for taking the long view espoused by Cyclone. He has a wife and child to support, and why shouldn’t he strike when the iron is hot? If he’s a superstar-in-waiting, as Arum had so often told him, why delay the inevitable?

“All I know is I get the winner of the Ramirez-Abraham fight,” Jesse said. “I don’t care who it is. That’s why I’m pushing for a win (against Johnson) in spectacular fashion. This fight is going to prove to the world that I’m one of the best super middleweights in the world, if not the best.

“This is what sets me apart. Nobody else is fighting here. I wanted to bring it home to the Philly fight fans. I’m not knocking nobody else, but what other top Philadelphia fighter is bringing it back here? Bernard Hopkins isn’t. Danny Garcia isn’t.

“That’s why we’re calling this promotion `Hart of the City.’ All our pro teams stink, nobody’s doing nothin’. But you got Jesse Hart standing up for Philly.

“Oh, and make sure to tell everybody that Philly still has the best boxers in the world.”

 

 

 

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

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

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

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

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

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

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

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

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

Other bouts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Manuel Charr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Arum says Terence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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