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50 Years Ago Today: Ali and George Chuvalo And A Greenhorn Promoter Swimming Upstream

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On March 29, 1966, a Tuesday, Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, pounded out a unanimous 15 round decision over George Chuvalo at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. For the Johnny-come-lately promoters, shareholders in a newly formed company called Main Bout, the run-up to the event was an object lesson in Murphy’s Law – everything that could go wrong, did. The face of the company, 34-year-old tax attorney Bob Arum, was a smart cookie. He had graduated with honors from Harvard Law School. But college boys from nice middle class homes were historically devoured when attempting to navigate the shark-infested waters of professional boxing. After this holy mess, it was a fair guess that Arum would return to the legal profession, a safe haven from all the chaos.

The original plan called for Ali to fight Ernie Terrell. Ali was the heavyweight champion of the world in the eyes of the public, but Terrell was recognized as the champion by the World Boxing Association which had stripped Ali of his title when Ali bypassed their top contender in favor of a rematch with Sonny Liston.

Plans were laid to stage the Ali-Terrell battle in New York on March 29, but the New York Athletic Commission scuttled those plans when they refused to license Terrell on the grounds that his chief backer had business dealings with Mafia figures. The site then shifted to Chicago, Terrell’s hometown, where it received the blessing of the Illinois Boxing Commission.

On February 11, with the fight roughly six weeks away, Ali was re-classified 1-A by his local draft board after passing the Selective Service mental exam. As an unmarried man, 24 years of age, his chance of being drafted and shunted off to Vietnam was extremely high. But Ali made it known that he was opposed to the war and would not comply if he was called to serve.

On February 25, Muhammad Ali appeared before the Illinois Boxing Commission in Chicago. He was summoned there to apologize for his “unpatriotic remarks.” When he failed to apologize, the commissioners pulled the plug. Illinois Attorney General William G. Clark cited a provision in the Illinois state code that required a licensee to be a person “of good and stable moral character.”

There were other issues that made it easier for the commission to renege. Ernie Terrell was supposedly controlled by shady characters. Then there was the Black Muslim tie-in. The sect, which owned 50 percent of Main Bout, was reviled by much of white America as a KKK in blackface.

As it became increasingly clear that it would be hard to find a suitable venue in the United States, Arum and his partners looked to Canada. The authorities in Montreal said no and an attempt to place the fight in the Montreal suburb of Verdun also backfired. “Look! We’ll hold the **** thing on a raft floating down the St. Lawrence River,” said a frustrated Bob Arum in a quote that appeared in the March 4, 1966 issue of the Lethbridge Herald.

On March 8, the orphaned fight finally found a home in Toronto. But the very next day, the promoters were thrown another curveball when Ernie Terrell backed out.

There was a safety net. Toronto was home to George Chuvalo, a heavyweight with a good local following. But boxing had moved past the stage when the turnstile count was the key element in determining whether an important fight was financially successful and selling Chuvalo across a broad landscape was a challenge.

Chuvalo was rugged. He had never been knocked off his feet, a distinction he would maintain throughout his career. But he was coming off a loss to an obscure Argentine fighter named Hector Corletti and his record, 34-11-2, had the markings of a journeyman. Ali dubbed him a “washerwoman.”

The washerwoman saved the day, if only from an artistic standpoint. Ali outpointed him by a fairly wide margin, but Chuvalo was applauded for his gallant effort.

“Just when it seemed that Cassius Clay and his Black Muslims were going to spoil the richest championship in sports, along came a rough, tough Canadian by the name of George Chuvalo to save it,” said the UPI correspondent. “Chuvalo didn’t win the world’s heavyweight championship, but he did the next best thing. He kept it from being the fiasco everyone expected.” Ali also gave Chuvalo his props: “He’s tougher than all the other fighters I have met all together.”

Following the money trail in professional boxing often leads an investigative reporter into a maze that terminates in a blind alley. However, by all accounts, Arum and his partners took a bath. They anticipated 270 closed circuit outlets for the Ali-Terrell match. Pressure from veterans groups led most of the theater owners to bail out. The Associated Press gathered information from 32 theaters – 22 in the U.S. and 10 in Canada – and determined that only about one-third of the available seats were sold for Ali-Chuvalo. The radio broadcast was cancelled for lack of sponsorship.

There’s an old saying that a man is drawn to the boxing business by visions of great wealth and then stays in it to get even with those that exploited his naivety. Perhaps that even applies to a man as pragmatic as Bob Arum. Regardless, 50 years have elapsed since Ali first locked horns with George Chuvalo and Arum hasn’t lost a beat. Whether he’s been good or bad for boxing is matter of opinion, but even his harshest detractors marvel at his stamina; his indefatigable spirit.

Today, March 29, is Arum’s golden anniversary as a boxing promoter, or at least as good a date as any to acknowledge it. Happy anniversary, dude.

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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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