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Oscar and Julio and Some Thoughts on Saturday’s Lead-In Bouts

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exchanged blows

Almost 20 years have passed since Oscar “The Golden Boy” De La Hoya and Julio Cesar Chavez last exchanged blows in the boxing ring. I was there for both encounters.

Yesterday, photos of the arrivals at the MGM Grand were sent all over the web including one of both Chavez Sr. and De La Hoya joking around and smiling.

Time flies.

It was June 7, 1996. The temperature in Las Vegas hit 107 degrees and was probably even hotter in the outdoor venue at Caesars Palace. With the asphalt absorbing the heat it was nearly unbearable on the bleachers where I was sitting.

Tickets for the De La Hoya and Chavez fight cost about $600 each so I was going to get my money’s worth and sat under the scorching sun with a large coke in my hand and a hat to cover my head. The bleachers were empty because of the heat.

I did not want to waste the money spent for the ticket so I watched a young Erik Morales, Butterbean, Diego Corrales and Johnny Tapia trade blows with others. It was the first time I saw most of them perform. Corrales and Tapia are no longer with us bless their souls.

In 1993 I had begun covering boxing for the L.A. Times and for its sister paper Nuestro Tiempo. But in 1995 the company lost ad revenue and was forced to cut more than 100 employees from its fold. I was one of those released.

De La Hoya and Chavez was a dream match at the time. Mexico’s “El Gran Campeon Mexicano” was almost mythical in his accomplishments. But here was a kid from East L.A. where I grew up and considered the heir apparent. I couldn’t miss this fight.

A UCLA buddy of mine decided to buy tickets and he found a pair for sale in the newspaper. Off we went for Las Vegas.

During the fight card, a few of my UCLA buddies came along and while I sat in the bleachers watching the fights under the blistering sun, they drank beer in the shade. Finally, the sun went down and by that time, here came the main event.

De La Hoya walked in with a fire red robe that covered his entire face. It was a very cool entrance and when he took off the cover he was all serious. The crowd cheered. Chavez marched in and the crowd cheered once again. At the time the kid from East L.A. was 20 and Chavez was around 33 and had already fought professionally 98 bouts.

As they were being announced people began filling the empty seats. One large man began shouting at me and waving his hand for me to go to him. I ignored the request. He kept shouting for me to “come here” and I looked at him and waved him off. Finally, he showed a police badge and I looked at him with a look of disdain and got up to see what he wanted. He told me I was under arrest.

As we walked down the bleachers De La Hoya and Chavez began trading punches. I was put in handcuffs and walked by the crowd of thousands who wondered what I had done. My buddies saw me walking in handcuffs and the buddy who had bought the tickets asked what happened?

The Las Vegas Police Officer in regular clothing asked to see his ticket. He showed it and was promptly arrested too. We both were taken to a small shack set up on the back of Caesars Palace. We both sat inside as the crowds cheered the action between the two prizefighters.

After interrogating us both separately and searching our wallets for stolen credit cards, we were released. But not until the fights were over. Apparently we had bought tickets from someone who purchased them with a stolen credit card. So we were set free but we missed the entire fight. The cops could have allowed us to see the fight but they purposely kept us until it was over. Nice guys.

Later, we tracked down the guy who sold us the tickets. We told him what had happened and he was apologetic and gave us tickets to the next De La Hoya fight against another Mexican champion Miguel Angel Gonzalez. The East L.A. fighter was knocking off Mexican champions one by one.

For the Gonzalez vs. De La Hoya fight we sat next to actor Mario Lopez. We had about nine of us sitting in the row. It made up for the lost sports moment of seeing Chavez and De La Hoya exchange blows.

In 1998, both would fight again. Las Vegas was filled to capacity with mostly die hard Mexican fight fans. There were literally thousands of fans with red bands wrapped around their heads when Chavez and De La Hoya fought again at the Thomas and Mack Center.

Now here they are again. De La Hoya is the owner of Golden Boy Promotions and Chavez a television commentator and father of one of the star participants. Both fought ferociously for 12 bloody rounds in these same Las Vegas streets. Both smiling and embracing like old friends. To see them embrace like that was kind of heartwarming. Warriors before and friends after.

Analyzing the Fight Cards

Jojo and Tino

As most project the fight between undefeated featherweights Jojo Diaz and Manuel “Tino” Avila looks to be the best on paper.

For the past several years Golden Boy has been amassing some of the best super bantamweights and featherweights in the Southwest. They have a stockpile of them and former Olympian Diaz heads the list.

A few years ago I remember visiting South El Monte Boxing Gym to see sparring take place. Every talented bantamweight and featherweight was lacing up gloves including Diaz, Oscar Valdez, Saul Rodriguez, Evgeny Gradovich and others. Even middleweight titan Gennady “Triple G” Golovkin was there with one of the featherweights.

Diaz held his own with all of the featherweights during sparring but it was clear who were the killers and who were the pretenders.

That’s the way I see this fight between Diaz and Avila.

The taller fighter is Avila a slick boxer-puncher from Northern California. He was slicing through featherweights for the past three years until last November in downtown L.A. He fought Jose Ramirez a rough and tumble guy who was bent on making it a mugging. The fight was filled with a lot of holding and not much punching. In the end Avila won but showed far too much patience.

You can’t be patient against speedy southpaw Diaz who can reel off combinations and scoot out of trouble faster than you can say likety-split.

Whoever wins there are many more on the Golden Boy stable waiting to take the loser’s place.

Ryan Garcia

Tall and rangy Ryan Garcia (8-0, 7 KOs) is one of the prospects that Golden Boy sees as worthy of being on the main card. Lightning quick, with power in either hand, Garcia has blazed his way to the forefront.

Facing Garcia is Tyrone Luckey (8-6-3, 6 KOs) who has made a habit of knocking prospects off the ladder. He fought to a draw against Luis Lebron in his last bout and knocked out another undefeated fighter a couple of years ago.

“It’s not an easy fight,” said Eric Gomez, president of Golden Boy.

Garcia, 18, still has some holes to fill as a professional but his athleticism overcomes them. Reminds me of De La Hoya as a youth with all of those physical tools. Like De La Hoya, he will gather more skills and knowledge to load more bullets into his chamber in due time.

Olympian Medalist

Marlen Esparza makes her second appearance as a Golden Boy fighter and this time has a live body in front of her in Samantha Salazar. It should be a much more competitive fight than her pro debut.

Esparza, a former London Olympics bronze medalist, has speed aplenty and knowledge accrued over the years as an amateur. Now as a pro the head gear is off and the gloves are much smaller.

Hopefully she gets someone to braid her hair or place it so she doesn’t get it in her eyes like last time.

Esparza’s fight will be televised on the free portion of the HBO pay-per-view that precedes the 6 p.m. telecast. Both Esparza and Ryan Garcia’s fight will be shown free on the free portion.

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The BWAA Shames Veteran Referee Laurence Cole and Two Nebraska Judges

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In an unprecedented development, the Boxing Writers Association of America has started a “watch list” to lift the curtain on ring officials who have “screwed up.” Veteran Texas referee Laurence Cole and Nebraska judges Mike Contreras and Jeff Sinnett have the unwelcome distinction of being the first “honorees.”

“Boxing is a sport where judges and referees are rarely held accountable for poor performances that unfairly change the course of a fighter’s career and, in some instances, endanger lives,” says the BWAA in a preamble to the new feature. Hence the watch list, which is designed to “call attention to ‘egregious’ errors in scoring by judges and unacceptable conduct by referees.”

Contreras and Sinnett, residents of Omaha, were singled out for their scorecards in the match between lightweights Thomas Mattice and Zhora Hamazaryan, an eight round contest staged at the WinnaVegas Casino in Sloan, Iowa on July 20. They both scored the fight 76-75 for Mattice, enabling the Ohio fighter to keep his undefeated record intact via a split decision.

Although Mattice vs. Hamazaryan was a supporting bout, it aired live on ShoBox. Analyst Steve Farhood, who was been with ShoBox since the inception of the series in 2001, called it one of the worst decisions he had ever seen. Lead announcer Barry Tompkins went further, calling it the worst decision he has seen in his 40 years of covering the sport.

Laurence Cole (pictured alongside his father) was singled out for his behavior as the third man in the ring for the fight between Regis Prograis and Juan Jose Velasco at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans on July 14. The bout was televised live on ESPN.

In his rationale for calling out Cole, BWAA prexy Joseph Santoliquito leaned heavily on Thomas Hauser’s critique of Cole’s performance in The Sweet Science. “Velasco fought courageously and as well as he could,” noted Hauser. “But at the end of round seven he was a thoroughly beaten fighter.”

His chief second bullied him into coming out for another round. Forty-five seconds into round eight, after being knocked down for a third time, Velasco spit out his mouthpiece and indicated to Cole that he was finished. But Cole insisted that the match continue and then, after another knockdown that he ruled a slip, let it continue for another 35 seconds before Velasco’s corner mercifully threw in the towel.

Controversy has dogged Laurence Cole for well over a decade.

Cole was the third man in the ring for the Nov. 25, 2006 bout in Hildalgo, Texas, between Juan Manuel Marquez and Jimrex Jaca. In the fifth round, Marquez sustained a cut on his forehead from an accidental head butt. In round eight, another accidental head butt widened and deepened the gash. As Marquez was being examined by the ring doctor, Cole informed Marquez that he was ahead on the scorecards, volunteering this information while holding his hand over his HBO wireless mike. The inference was that Marquez was free to quit right then without tarnishing his record. (Marquez elected to continue and stopped Jaca in the next round.)

This was improper. For this indiscretion, Cole was prohibited from working a significant fight in Texas for the next six months.

More recently, Cole worked the 2014 fight between Vasyl Lomachenko and Orlando Salido at the San Antonio Alamodome. During the fight, Salido made a mockery of the Queensberry rules for which he received no point deductions and only one warning. Cole’s performance, said Matt McGrain, was “astonishingly bad,” an opinion echoed by many other boxing writers. And one could site numerous other incidents where Cole’s performance came under scrutiny.

Laurence Cole is the son of Richard “Dickie” Cole. The elder Cole, now 87 years old, served 21 years as head of the Texas Department of Combat Sports Regulation before stepping down on April 30, 2014. At various times during his tenure, Dickie Cole held high executive posts with the World Boxing Council and North American Boxing Federation. He was the first and only inductee into the inaugural class of the Texas Boxing Hall of Fame, an organization founded by El Paso promoter Lester Bedford in 2015.

From an administrative standpoint, boxing in Texas during the reign of Dickie Cole was frequently described in terms befitting a banana republic. Whenever there was a big fight in the Lone Star State, his son was the favorite to draw the coveted refereeing assignment.

Boxing is a sideline for Laurence Cole who runs an independent insurance agency in Dallas. By law in Texas (and in most other states), a boxing promoter must purchase insurance to cover medical costs in the event that one or more of the fighters on his show is seriously injured. Cole’s agency is purportedly in the top two nationally in writing these policies. Make of that what you will.

Complaints of ineptitude, says the WBAA, will be evaluated by a “rotating committee of select BWAA members and respected boxing experts.” In subsequent years, says the press release, the watch list will be published quarterly in the months of April, August, and December (must be the new math).

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Popo vs. “La Hiena”: Blast From the Past – Episode Two

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Freitas

When WBA/WBO super featherweight champion Acelino “Popo” Freitas met Jorge Rodrigo “Il Hiena” Barrios in Miami on August 8, 2003, there was more on the line than just the titles. This was a roughhousing 39-1-1 Argentinian fighting an equally tough 33-0 Brazilian. The crowd was divided between Brazilian fans and those from Argentina. To them this was a Mega-Fight; this was BIG.

When Acelino Freitas turned professional in 1995, he streaked from the gate with 29 straight KOs, one of the longest knockout win streaks in boxing history. He was fan-friendly and idolized in Brazil. Barrios turned professional in 1996 and went 14-0 before a DQ loss after which he went 25-0-1 with 1 no decision.

The Fight

The wild swinging “Hyena” literally turned into one as he attacked from the beginning and did not let up until the last second of the eleventh round. Barrios wanted to turn the fight into a street fight and was reasonably successful with that strategy. It became a case of brawler vs. boxer/puncher and when the brawler caught the more athletic Popo—who could slip and duck skillfully—and decked him with a straight left in the eighth, the title suddenly was up for grabs.

The Brazilian fans urged their hero on but to no avail as Barrios rendered a pure beat down on Popo during virtually the entirety of the 11th round—one of the most exciting in boxing history. Freitas went down early from a straight right. He was hurt, and at this point it looked like it might be over. Barrios was like a madman pounding Popo with a variety of wild shots, but with exactly one half of one second to go before the bell ending the round, Freitas caught La Hiena with a monster right hand that caused the Hyena to do the South American version of the chicken dance before he went down with his face horribly bloodied. When he got up, he had no idea where he was but his corner worked furiously to get him ready for the final round. All he had to do was hang in there and the title would change hands on points.

The anonymous architect of “In Boxing We Trust,” a web site that went dormant in 2010, wrote this description:

“Near the end of round 11, about a milli-second before the bell rang, Freitas landed a ROCK HARD right hand shot flush on Barrios’ chin. Barrios stood dazed for a moment, frozen in time, and then down he went, WOW WOW WOW!!!! Barrios got up at the count of 4, he didn’t know where he was as he looked around towards the crowd like a kid separated from his family at a theme park, but Barrios turned to the ref at the count of 8 and signaled that he was okay, SAVED BY THE BELL. It was panic time in the Barrios corner, as the blood continued to flow like lava, and he was bleeding from his ear (due to a ruptured ear drum). In the beginning of round 12, Freitas was able to score an early knockdown, and as Barrios stood up on wobbly legs and Freitas went straight at him and with a couple more shots, Barrios was clearly in bad shape and badly discombobulated and the fight was stopped. Freitas had won a TKO victory in round 12, amazing!!!!”

Later, Freitas tarnished his image with a “No Mas” against Diego Corrales, but he had gone down three times and knew there was no way out. He went on to claim the WBO world lightweight title with a split decision over Zahir Raheem, but that fight was a snoozefest and he lost the title in his first defense against Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz.

Freitas looked out of shape coming in to the Diaz fight and that proved to be the case as he was so gassed at the end of the eighth round that he quit on his stool. This was yet another shocker, but others (including Kostya Tszyu, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya and even Ali) had done so and the criticism this time seemed disproportionate.

Popo had grown old. It happens. Yet, against Barrios, he had proven without a doubt that he possessed the heart of a warrior.

The Brazilian boxing hero retired in 2007, but came back in 2012 and schooled and KOd the cocky Michael “The Brazilian Rocky” Oliveira. He won another fight in 2015 and though by now he was visibly paunchy, he still managed to go 10 rounds to beat Gabriel Martinez in 2017 with occasional flashes of his old explosive volleys. These later wins, though against lower level opposition, somewhat softened the memories of the Corrales and Diaz fights, both of which this writer attended at the Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Connecticut. They would be his only defeats in 43 pro bouts.

Like Manny Pacquiao, Freitas had a difficult childhood but was determined to make a better life for himself and his family. And, like Manny, he did and he also pursued a career in politics. Whether he makes it into the Hall will depend on how much a ‘No Mas’ can count against one, but he warrants serious consideration when he becomes eligible.

As for the Hyena, on April 8, 2005, he won the WBO junior lightweight title with a fourth round stoppage of undefeated but overweight Mike Anchondo. In January 2010 he was involved in a hit and run accident in which a 20-year-old pregnant woman was killed. On April 4, 2012 Barrios was declared guilty of culpable homicide and sentenced to four years in prison. He served 27 months and never fought again, retiring with a record of 50-4-1.

Ted Sares is one of the oldest active full power lifters in the world. A member of Ring 10, and Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he was recently cited by Hannibal Boxing as one of three “Must-Read” boxing writers.

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The Avila Perspective Chapter 6: Munguia, Cruiserweights and Pacman

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Adjoining states

Adjoining states in the west host a number of boxing cards including a world title contest that features a newcomer who, before knocking out a world champion, was erroneously categorized by a Nevada official as unworthy of a title challenge.

Welcome to the world of Mexico’s Jaime Munguia (29-0, 25 KOs) the WBO super welterweight world titlist who meets England’s Liam Smith (26-1-1, 14 KOs) at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Saturday, July 21. HBO will televise

Back in April when middleweight titan Gennady “GGG” Golovkin was seeking an opponent to replace Saul “Canelo” Alvarez who was facing suspension for performance enhancement drug use, it was the 21-year-old from Tijuana who volunteered his services for a May 5th date in Las Vegas.

Bob Bennett, the Executive Director for Nevada State Athletic Commission, denied allowing Munguia an opportunity to fight Golovkin for the middleweight titles. Bennett claimed that the slender Mexican fighter had not proven worthy of contesting for the championship though the tall Mexican wielded an undefeated record of 28 wins with 24 coming by knockout.

To be fair, Bennett has seen many fighters in the past with undefeated records who were not up to challenges, especially against the likes of Golovkin. But on the other hand, how can an official involved in prizefighting deny any fighter the right to make a million dollar payday if both parties are willing?

That is the bigger question.

Munguia stopped by Los Angeles to meet with the media last week and spoke about Bennett and his upcoming first world title defense. He admitted to being in the middle of a whirlwind that is spinning beyond his expectations. But he likes it.

“I’ve never won any kind of award before in my life,” said Munguia at the Westside Boxing Club in the western portion of Los Angeles. “I’ve always wanted to be a world champion since I was old enough to fight.”

When asked how he felt about Nevada’s denying him an attempt to fight Golovkin, a wide grin appeared on the Mexican youngster.

“I would like to thank him,” said Munguia about Bennett’s refusal to allow him to fight Golovkin. “Everything happens for a reason.”

That reason is clear now.

Two months ago Munguia put on a frightening display of raw power in knocking down then WBO super welterweight titlist Sadam Ali numerous times in front of New York fans. It reminded me of George Foreman’s obliteration of Joe Frazier back in the 1970s. World champions are not supposed get battered like that but when someone packs that kind of power those can be the terrifying results.

Still beaming over his newfound recognition, Munguia has grand plans for his future including challenging all of the other champions in his weight category and the next weight division.

“I want to be a great champion,” said Munguia. “I want to make history.”

The first step toward history begins on Saturday when he faces former world champion Smith who was dethroned by another Mexican named Canelo.

Cruiserweight championship

It’s not getting a large amount of attention in my neighborhood but this unification clash between WBA and IBF cruiserweight titlist Murat Gassiev (26-0, 19 KOs) and WBC and WBO cruiserweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs) has historic ramifications tagged all over it.

The first time I ever saw Russia’s 24-year-old Gassiev was three years ago when he made his American debut at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello. It’s a small venue near East L.A. and the fight was attended by numerous boxing celebrities such as James “Lights Out” Toney, Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin. One entire section was filled by Russian supporters and Gassiev did not disappoint in winning by stoppage that night. His opponent hung on for dear life.

Ukraine’s Usyk, 31, made his American debut in late 2016 on a Golden Boy Promotions card that staged boxing great Bernard Hopkins’ final prizefight. That night the cruiserweight southpaw Usyk bored audiences with his slap happy style until lowering the boom on South Africa’s Thabiso Mchunu in round nine at the Inglewood Forum. The sudden result stunned the audience.

Now it’s Gassiev versus Usyk and four world titles are at stake. The unification fight takes place in Moscow, Russia and will be streamed via Klowd TV at 12 p.m. PT/ 3 p.m. ET.

Seldom are cruiserweight matchups as enticing to watch as this one.

Another Look

A couple of significant fights took place last weekend, but Manny Pacquiao’s knockout win over Lucas Matthysse for the WBO welterweight world title heads the list.

Neither fighter looked good in their fight in Malaysia but when Pacquiao floored Matthysse several times during the fight, it raised some red flags.

The last time Pacquiao knocked out a welterweight was in 2009 against Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas. Since then he had not stopped an opponent. What changed?

In this age of PEDs there was no mention of testing for the Pacquiao/Matthysse fight. For the curiosity of the media and the fans, someone should come forward with proof of testing. Otherwise any future fights for the Philippine great will not be forthcoming.

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