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Jim Lampley Wistfully Recalls The Roy Jones That Was

Kryptonite could bring the Man of Steel to his knees. Greek mythology’s Achilles was unconquerable in battle, but he could be brought down

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Kryptonite

Even Superman was not wholly impervious to danger and the specter of defeat. Kryptonite could bring the Man of Steel to his knees. Greek mythology’s Achilles was unconquerable in battle, but he could be brought down if struck with a strategically placed blow to an unprotected heel.

The only two boxers that longtime HBO blow-by-blow announcer Jim Lampley has observed who were so preternaturally gifted that they superseded the normal bounds of human excellence were the younger, nearly-perfect versions of Muhammad Ali and Lampley’s current HBO broadcast partner, Roy Jones Jr. But each of those superheroes of the ring eventually encountered a relentless opponent that incrementally stripped away the insulating layers that had made them such very special fighters. It was not so much another living, breathing human being who served as the kryptonite that revealed their fallibility as the unseen thief that comes silently in the night, stealing tiny bits and pieces of their exquisite talent until only a shell of what had been remained.

On Feb. 8, in his hometown of Pensacola, Fla., the 49-year-old Jones (65-9, 49 KOs) presumably brings down the curtain on his 29-year professional boxing career when he takes on a carefully selected designated victim, Scott Sigmon (30-11-1, 16 KOs), in a scheduled 10-round cruiserweight bout. The plan is for Jones, a world champion in four weight classes and a surefire first-ballot International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee whenever he becomes eligible, to go out in a blaze of out-of-the-spotlight glory. But if boxing history tells us anything, it is that not everything goes according to plan even for those who have enjoyed the panoramic view from the summit of Mount Pugilism. Mike Tyson, 19 days from his 39th birthday, never fought again after he was stopped in six rounds by plodding Irishman Kevin McBride on June 11, 2005, and Bernard Hopkins, 29 days from his 52nd birthday, was finally obliged to acknowledge the natural laws of diminishing returns when he was knocked out in eight rounds by Joe Smith Jr. on Dec. 17, 2016.

“I have read reports that he is saying this will be his last fight and that’s very encouraging and gratifying to me,” Lampley said of his friend’s farewell appearance, which by any reasonable criteria is coming a good dozen years after what should have been his career’s optimal expiration date. “I don’t know of a single soul in our little universe of boxing who wants him to keep doing this. We all know realistically that it’s certainly of no value to his legacy as a fighter.

“I’d be lying if I said that I never once made a comment to him or tried to engage him in a conversation as to why he was still doing this. The last time I did so he made clear to me that, in his view, it wasn’t something he had to defend to me. He was going to do what he was going to do and that within our friendship it was important for me to accept that. I accepted it. Probably five or six years have gone by since the last time I had a discussion with him about it.”

The most revered gods of war are held to a higher standard than fighters of a lesser pedigree. It thus should come as no surprise that those members of boxing’s most exclusive club are sometimes resistant to step away from something that always has defined them more than anything they could ever do outside of a roped-off swatch of canvas.

“You always think of yourself as the best you ever were,” Sugar Ray Leonard, he of the four announced retirements that didn’t stick, once said. “Even if money is not an issue, and you have other options, you never lose that belief in yourself as a fighter, particularly if you’ve been to the very top of the mountain. (Being retired) eats at you. It’s hard to finds anything else that gives you that high.”

Ali lost three years of his prime to his banishment for refusing to be inducted into the Army during the Vietnam War, but, unlike the stop-and-start Leonard, Jones’ response to every warning sign that he was on the downward slope of that figurative mountain was to keep fighting on, all the while holding fast to the distinctive style he shared with Ali. It was those non-traditional mannerisms, which worked so spectacularly well when Ali and Jones were at their best, that sometimes produced disastrous results when their fundamental deficiencies were exposed.

“The direct comparison is Ali,” Lampley said of the closest thing to Jones he has known, both in good times and not so good. “I’ve said a thousand times that there were only two fighters in the history of the sport, certainly since I’ve been watching boxing, whose physical talents were so overwhelming that they could take apart the tool kit and put it back together in any way they wanted – lead with a hook, lead with a straight right hand, dispense with the jab, back away from punches rather than duck and slip. Ali could do that for a while. Roy could do that for a while. But nobody can do that forever.

“That is why the tool kit is what it is, for normally talented human beings. It’s your protection in the ring. For a long time Ali and Roy didn’t need that protection. Then, when their bodies lost something and they weren’t so overwhelmingly physically superior anymore, they didn’t have that tool kit to protect them.

“The perfect and most graphic example is if you watch the first Roy Jones-Bernard Hopkins fight (on May 22, 1993). It’s all Roy Jones. If you watch the second Jones-Hopkins fight (on April 3, 2010), that’s all Bernard Hopkins. The difference is that, during the passage of time, Roy felt he never needed to employ the tool kit. Bernard, of course, was passionate about learning and amplifying and exercising everything in the tool kit. The amazing thing to me is that Roy knows the tool kit. He knows it as well as anybody. He demonstrates that as an expert commentator. He sits there and talks about what normal fighters should do, using the normal craft of boxing. But he never felt compelled to use any of that throughout his own career.”

For some, the best of Roy Jones Jr. was on display the night he picked apart fellow future Hall of Famer James Toney to win a wide unanimous decision on Nov. 18, 1994. For others, it was his utter domination of Vinny Pazienza en route to scoring a sixth-round stoppage on June 24, 1995. The highlight of Jones’ deconstruction of Paz was a sequence in which, holding onto the top ring rope with his right glove, he fired eight consecutive left hooks in a machine-gun burst, all eight connecting with the target’s increasingly busted-up face. It was an expression of creativity akin to a musical genius who spontaneously reproduces the rhythm in his head only he can hear. Think Miles Davis at the Newport Jazz Festival, Ray Charles at the Apollo, Count Basie at Carnegie Hall.

Said Seth Abraham, then-president of HBO Sports: “George Foreman (who did color commentary for Jones-Pazienza) told me after that fight only Roy fights like a great jazzman plays. He improvises. He does riffs. I thought that was such an insightful way to describe Roy Jones.”

For a majority of fight fans, however, the most lasting memory of Roy Jones Jr. came on March 1, 2003, when the man who began his pro career as a middleweight and won a world championship in that division, later adding super middleweight and light heavyweight titles, boldly moved up to heavyweight to challenge the much-larger but less-skilled WBA champion, John Ruiz. There was a school of thought that Ruiz was too big and strong for Jones and another that Jones’ speed and mobility would surely carry the day because talent is usually a more precious commodity than size.

It was, of course, no contest as Jones – who went off as a 2-1 favorite — darted in and out, pounding on the bewildered Ruiz as if he were just another heavy bag in the challenger’s Pensacola gym. The margins of victory on the official scorecards – eight, six and four points – scarcely reflected the level of Jones’ dominance.

But, as is sometimes the case, the showcase conquest of Ruiz actually marked the beginning of the end of Jones as a larger-than-life source of wonderment. Curiously, at age 34 he elected to return to light heavyweight instead of a more sensible reduction to cruiserweight. While it had been a bit of a chore to bulk up the right way to 193 pounds for the weigh-in for Ruiz (he was 199 the morning of the fight), paring 20-plus pounds of muscle was infinitely more taxing. In retrospect, it now seems apparent that Jones was never the same after the happy glow of his rout of Ruiz had subsided.

“He took 31 pounds of muscle off (that figure might be a tad excessive) and that can’t be done without a residue of damage,” Lampley said. “It just can’t be done, and he suffered from that, maybe permanently. I don’t know what his thought process was, why he thought it was important to come all the way back down to light heavyweight. I certainly get it that he was never a natural heavyweight. For him to remain in the heavyweight division would have been an aberration. I guess he figured that, as a big-name fighter, for him to fight as a cruiserweight, which was not a prestigious weight class at the time, would be like saying, `I’m going to go over here in the back closet and fight where you won’t see me.’ Maybe that was an option that was not acceptable to him.”

In his first post-Ruiz bout, Jones retained his light heavyweight titles on a disputed majority decision over Antonio Tarver. He followed that with a two-round TKO loss to Tarver in the second of their three fights, but that could be dismissed as a bolt of lightning that occasionally can fell even elite fighters. But it was in his next outing, on Sept. 25, 2004, against Glen Johnson, that it became apparent to all that Roy Jones Jr. had descended from on high into the ranks of the merely mortal. Johnson, a fringe contender whose willingness to mix it up superseded his good but hardly remarkable talent, gave Jones a taste of his own butt-kicking medicine until he literally knocked him cold to win on a ninth-round knockout.

For Lampley, it was like a repeat of another fight from another time, when Jones’ magnificent stylistic predecessor suffered a similar head-on crash with boxing’s crueler realities.

“The night that Ali fought Larry Holmes (Oct. 2, 1980, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas) I heard – and I’ll never forget it – the greatest single line of boxing commentary ever, and it came from someone who wasn’t involved in boxing,” Lampley recalled. “I was in the executive suite at ABC in New York, watching the fight, which was one of the sport’s rites of passage. We all know the culture of boxing, the old giving way to the new. Ali vs. Holmes was just such a rite of passage. It had to happen the way it happened.

“In the late rounds, when Holmes was beating Ali to a pulp, I got a little jab to my rib cage. I looked to my right and it was Mick Jagger. Mick said to me, `Lamps, you know what we’re watching?’ And I said, `No, Mick, what are we watching?’ He said, `It’s the end of our youth.’ And it wasn’t just that for us, but for the whole audience.”

The night that Jones, who once had towered over boxing as if he were the Colossus of Rhodes, was pummeled by Johnson, reminded Lampley as no fight ever had of Ali-Holmes. Nothing would ever be quite the same again.

“How else could a relatively ordinary fighter, albeit one with a big heart and a big motor like Glen Johnson, knock the great Roy Jones into next week the way he did? That was not the Roy Jones we had seen before. It was a different person.”

But, as Sugar Ray Leonard noted, it is human nature to think of ourselves as the best we ever were. The Roy Jones Jr. who will answer the opening bell against Sigmon will have his hands low, leaning back from punches instead of stepping to the side, because that is who he was at his best. To do otherwise would be a concession to mortality, an acknowledgment that all glory is fleeting, and perhaps his last waltz around the ring will turn out better than it did for Tyson and for Hopkins. But whether it does or doesn’t, his enshrinement into the IBHOF in Canastota, N.Y., is assured.

“What I don’t understand is why, once the handwriting was on the wall – Glen Johnson, Danny Green, Denis Lebedev – why keep going after that?” Lampley said of Jones’ refusal to leave the arena when so many were urging him to do so. “That’s what I don’t understand, and never will. He’s never tried to explain it to me and I’m too respectful of him to have pressed the issue. I did at one point say to him, `I think you’re hurting your legacy and you’re not accomplishing anything here.’ He basically said to me, `That’s my business, not yours.’ So I said, `OK.’

“When it comes right down to it, I think there’s a part of Roy Jones who still thinks, and always will, that he’s still that Roy Jones, despite all evidence to the contrary. And he’s earned the right to think that way.”

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Peter Broudy Remembers… Don Chargin and The Olympic Auditorium

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Over the past fifteen years, TSS has had the good fortune of featuring the works of highly talented boxing authors and journalists. We have a loyal fan base and we also have a loyal following from within the industry itself.  We are going to be reaching out to those who answer the bell every day, those that add to the fabric of the sport, to pen something more personal and unique that may have escaped the eyes and ears of the boxing public. 

The first article up is a request made upon promoter Peter Broudy, regarding the recent passing of Don Chargin, a legendary boxing figure on the West Coast. Considering Chargin’s friendship and mentoring, Peter was the perfect guy for the task, not to mention their involvement with the historic Grand Olympic Auditorium, which is part of the sport’s rich history. What follows are some of Peter’s recollections of Don, the Olympic Auditorium, and a few other names you might recognize.

Peter Broudy Remembers… Don Chargin and The Olympic Auditorium

In the fifties and sixties, boxing was a prominent sport in the United States. I was a young boy and I could hardly wait for the weekly fights. That is when I first heard the name Chargin, as he was the promoter. The fights were held in the most famous boxing venue in the world, The Olympic Auditorium at 18th and Grand in Downtown Los Angeles. Built in 1924, The Olympic hosted the best fighters in the world from the 1920’s through the 1990’s.

The fights were broadcast on local TV, long before cable TV existed.  KTLA Channel 5 televised the weekly fights from the Olympic, with legendary TV and radio personality Jim Healy calling the action along with Dick Lane.  This is when I first heard the phrase “War-a-Week” Chargin.

Don became known as “War-a-Week” Chargin because of his great matchmaking ability. He managed to put together competitive fights each and every week, and even with free local TV, the Olympic was busting at the seams to hold over 10,000 jammed-in fans, with standing room only. And there was a wide spectrum of fans in attendance… from the most glamorous Hollywood movie stars arriving in chauffeur driven limousines, to fieldworkers from Tijuana, and everybody in between.

The fights brought the best in professional sports entertainment to Los Angeles. At that time, professional sports were limited to the Los Angeles Rams that had recently moved to LA from Cleveland, and the Dodgers that had relocated from Brooklyn in 1958.  Unlike today, boxing was front-page news every week.

Besides the great wealth of world class professional fighters, Chargin also featured amateur fights before the weekly pro card began, and those fights were also televised.  Many of the amateurs went on to very successful pro careers and some became world champions.  Many became household names such as Mando Ramos, Frankie Crawford and Joey Orbillo. The fans loved these young stars of the future, almost as much as Los Angeles’ “Golden Boy” Art Aragon, the most popular fighter to this day in Los Angeles.

The name Don Chargin will forever be linked to the nearly 100-year-old Olympic Auditorium.  Chargin will be remembered along with the great personalities of the Olympic.  Aileen Eaton (the female promoter), Luis Magaña (the legendary publicist), the original ring announcer, Jimmy Lennon (father of Jimmy Lennon, Jr.) the great fight doctor, Dr. Bernard Schwartz (always wearing the white doctor smock), managers like Jackie McCoy, Benny Georgino, and never to be forgotten, “El Ruso Loco” “Da Beegman” Harry Kabakoff with those wild, crazy Hawaiian shirts.

Chargin was every bit as significant as any of the great names that fought at the Olympic Auditorium on a regular basis, such as Mando Ramos, Frankie Crawford, Joey Orbillo, Ray “Windmill” White, Big Ernie “Red” Lopez, his younger brother and future world champion Danny “Little Red” Lopez, Hedgemon Lewis, Carlos Palomino, Jesus Pimentel, Ruben Navarro, and of course, the “Golden Boy” Art Aragon. All of these individuals became famous because of the platform to excel that was provided to them by “War-a-Week” Chargin.

Don’s name is synonymous with all things Olympic Auditorium, including 18th and Grand, Giant Felix Chevrolet on Figueroa, the beautiful marquis on the front of the Olympic, the “celebrity section”, the gamblers section, KTLA channel 5, Jim Healy & Dick Lane, the wannabes and the something specials, and who could forget the famous sign above the ring with the following: RI 9-5171 (The Olympic’s phone number RI-Richmond long before area codes were used). This is the building that Don was influential in shaping and helped make boxing must see entertainment in Los Angeles.

Don Chargin was both my friend and mentor for well over 30 years. I love him like family. I first met him when I attended a California State Athletic Commission monthly meeting in the early 1980s in Palm Springs, California.  I was lucky enough to meet both Don and his lifetime partner and love of his life, Lorraine. At the commission meeting, Don kindly introduced me to Aileen Eaton, the legendary promoter at the Olympic Auditorium. Though she was wheelchair bound, she was, even at her advanced age, a remarkable woman. Aileen, Lorraine and Don were all involved with the Olympic, and “War-a-Week” Chargin is known for the memorable bouts featured there from 1965-1984.

He was a licensed promoter for 69 years and became the most knowledgeable man in boxing. For over half a century, he taught many people about boxing and the art of promoting. From the day I first met him, he was always there for me to answer any questions I had. When I took over promotions at the Olympic Auditorium in the mid 1990’s, Don’s advice was invaluable.

The Needleman family were the owners of the Olympic Auditorium. While we were negotiating, I made a promise to them that I could fill the Olympic and bring it back as close as possible to the glory days of Eaton and the Chargins.  I reached out to Don and we discussed the formula required in order to bring instant success back to the grand old building that, since being renovated, had still not had much success in that first year under Bob Arum’s Top Rank. Chargin knew that I wanted to bring the spotlight back to the greatest venue in the world, rather than simply using the Olympic as a sound stage for ESPN shows.

At that time Don, along with Dan Duva, was managing the career of Ramon “Yory Boy” Campas. In a fight for the IBF welterweight title in September of 1994, Campas experienced his first loss to rising star, Puerto Rico’s Felix Trinidad. There were many fight fans who wrote “Yory Boy” off after the fourth round TKO, especially those from his home country of Mexico. We decided that Campas was the right guy for the Olympic.

The LA Times printed a story by Tim Kawakami on June 18th, 1995 entitled “From Glory Days to Yory Days. Campas has breathed new life into Grand Olympic Auditorium.” Chargin is quoted as saying, “I told Peter he’d be the guy to draw at the Olympic. Number 1, he’s a real Mexican. He’s from there. He’s had the majority of his fights in Mexico, he will take two punches to land one, and he’s a puncher, which they like.” The way the guy meets the people and shakes hands, he just typifies the fighter from below the border that they really like.  Don continues, “I will admit they needed each other,” Chargin said of the fighter and the old building. “His career after losing to Trinidad needed a boost, and the Olympic needed a boost.”

The rest is history, as “Yory Boy’” brought a huge turnout to the Olympic. And not just once, he came back a short time later and again delivered a full house and thrilling fight. The fans loved it. “Yory Boy” was back. At the end of Tim’s article about “Yory Boy” and the venue, Chargin emphasized that the key was to do what the old Olympic did, keep finding young fighters who can draw the real fight crowd. “Peter’s not afraid to work, so he’s probably going to be successful,” stated Chargin. Which is something Top Rank, for all its power and name fighters, could not do.  Chargin also said,“I heard that Arum told (Top Rank Matchmaker) Bruce Trampler ‘Your friend Chargin gave the new promoter “Yory Boy”. Why didn’t he give him to us?’” “Thing was,” Chargin said, “they never asked.”

Don Chargin must be credited for The Olympic Auditorium taking off again in the 90s.

Don and I talked every day and each conversation always evolved into a discussion of what fighters to bring to the Olympic.  Once again, Don helped me out and was able to get Hector “Macho” Camacho, who was one of my most favorite fighters.  We both were very confident that Hector was the type of fighter that could fill the Olympic Auditorium. Even though Hector was not a Mexican National, we both felt that the type of fans at the Olympic appreciated Hector’s immense talent.  And because he fought in weight divisions that Mexican fans follow closely, they had seen him fight many times on TV.  It is important to note that in boxing, not only was Hector not a Mexican, he was also the natural enemy, a Puerto Rican.  Best of all, Hector had never fought in Southern California, in fact, the only time Hector fought in California was many years before, when he fought for my man Don in Northern California. We both knew that the Los Angeles fans would appreciate being treated to this great showman.

The only thing was that I had some reservation in the back of my mind because of all the crazy stories that were out there about Hector. Don assured me that I would love working with Hector, to forget all the craziness that people saw on TV. Don told me that Hector was a real gentleman, very business-like, and was a promoter’s best friend because no one could hype a fight the way Hector could. Hector understood that promoters and fighters needed to work together so that the show would be highly anticipated and a truly memorable night for the fans.  Everything Don told me about Hector was true, and the Olympic Auditorium was rockin’ the night Hector fought.

Don shared a funny story about Hector.  Years before, when Hector fought for Don, after the fight was over, Hector asked Don to please hold his money and later, he would let Don know where to send it to.  I believe his purse was $80,000, so we are talking about a significant amount of money.  Don deposited Hector’s purse into a separate account.  Years went by, and Don told me Hector finally called him. To the best of my recollection, the conversation went almost exactly as follows: Hector introduced himself, “Mr. Chargin, this is Hector.”  After Don acknowledged him, Hector said, “Mr. Chargin, do you still have the $80,000?”  Don told me that although he had a big smile on his face, he said with a serious tone, “Hector, I don’t have the $80,000.” Don waited for Hector to say something, but there was just silence on the other end.  Don finally spoke up, saying “Hector, I don’t have the $80,000, but what I do have is your $80,000 plus whatever interest has accrued after all these years.”  Hector laughed and told Don how much he loved him and then gave him the address of where to send the money.

What’s ironic about this story is that after Hector fought for me at the Olympic, we had a similar situation.  After Hector’s fight, which the crowd loved, I went down to Hector’s dressing room.  I wanted to thank him for a great show and tell him what a pleasure it was working with him and his team.  Hector pulled me into an adjoining room, so that we were alone and could have a private conversation.  Things proceeded as follows: Hector said to me, “Peter, the whole experience of fighting at the Olympic was great. I enjoyed the public workouts every day at Brooklyn Gym and I was happy doing all the interviews.” (Hector went by limo every night to different radio and tv stations, hyping the fight.  He was even a guest on the Monday Night Football game telecast the week of the fight.  I never saw any fighter work that hard to help a promotion, he really understood the whole boxing business.) Hector continued the conversation and said, “Look Peter, I know you took a big risk putting me on a show with no television.  I know I am expensive, especially with all the plane flights I requested and that you housed us in a beautiful hotel for almost two weeks.  Even though I know it was a great show and a big crowd, I know you couldn’t have made any money, and you may have even lost money.  I know what you’re doing with the Olympic and I feel honored to have fought in a building with such history. Why don’t you hold my $25,000 and in a month or so, you can start sending me $5000 a month until the entire purse is paid.”

That was the Hector Camacho I knew, not the Hector “Macho” Camacho the public saw on their TVs.  Once again, it all happened because of Don Chargin and Hector’s manager Mice Acri.  I could never thank Hector, Mike and especially Don enough.

I wanted to share another side of Don Chargin with you.  He was co-promoting a world championship fight with Don King. They were all busy during the week leading up to the fight. One day Don was in his hotel room with some people involved with the show.  There was a loud knock on the door and Don answered it.  One of the individuals involved with the promotion was there, out of breath, and excitedly telling Don he had to get down to the lobby as fast as possible.  Don told the guy to calm down, catch his breath, and tell him what the problem was.  The guy told Don that his wife Lorraine was arguing jaw to jaw with Don King in the lobby and he needed to get down to the lobby asap to save Lorraine from King.  With a big smile on his face, he told the guy that Lorraine wasn’t the one who needed saving, it was King! Lorraine was as tough as anyone in boxing and that is one of the reasons why Don and Lorraine Chargin made such a great match as partners in promoting and partners in life.

Don has had a huge impact both on my life and on the sport of boxing. He was not only instrumental, but also essential to the success of the Grand Olympic Auditorium. Chargin was a remarkable matchmaker and promoter. Personally, I consider him to be the Godfather of professional prizefighting. The boxing world has lost a legend in Don Chargin, he will be greatly missed.

By Peter Broudy

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When Fighting in a Ballpark Really Meant Something

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Nowadays, in the technologically advanced age of satellite communications and pay-per-view, live attendance at a boxing match is not nearly as consequential to the bottom line as it once was. Remember when the guaranteed purses of $2.5 million apiece for Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, for the first of their three epic fights, on March 8, 1971, in Madison Square Garden, was as jaw-dropping as the action in the ring? There were fighters – superb, Hall of Fame fighters — who never came close to grossing that kind of money in their entire careers. The “Fight of the Century” was seen via closed-circuit in 50 countries by 300 million people, which largely contributed to total revenues of nearly $20 million, also numbers that were then record-shattering and considered astounding.

But the sellout, in-house crowd of 20,455, all of whom paid premium prices to be in attendance for Smokin’ Joe’s rousing, 15-round unanimous-decision victory, left the arena with the satisfaction of having experienced something that could not possibly be matched by those watching in a movie theater in, say, Shreveport, Louisiana.

From the giddy heights of Ali-Frazier I, let us flash forward to the most financially profitable boxing event of all time, the much-anticipated, long-delayed pairing of welterweight superstars Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao on May 2, 2015, at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas. Mayweather’s 12-round unanimous decision, a relative exercise in tedium compared to the mega-wattage generated by Ali and Frazier 44 years earlier, was of more interest to readers of Forbes than of The Ring, with 4.6 million pay-per-view buys, $600 million in gross revenues and a live gate of $72,198,500 on a paid attendance of 16,219, according to records furnished by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. For a night’s work, Mayweather came away with roughly $250 million before taxes and Pacquiao with somewhere between $160 million to $180 million.

Recent bouts in soccer stadiums involving WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua have served to remind the boxing world that, despite the convenience of someone being able to kick back in his living room to watch a fight on large-screen, high-definition television, there still is nothing quite like the sense of purpose that comes from sharing the moment with tens of thousands of fellow fans. And make no mistake, performing before massive crowds can be as much of an aphrodisiac to a fighter as it is to a rock musician, calling to mind the sad lament of Marlon Brandon’s ex-pug Terry Malloy character in the 1954 Academy Award-winning film, On the Waterfront.

“Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, `Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson,’” Malloy tells his mobbed-up brother Charley, played by Rod Steiger. “You remember that? This ain’t your night? My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors in a ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville!”

Outdoors in a ballpark.

That line calls to mind boxing’s glory days, before television and even to some extent afterward, when the most compelling fights almost necessarily had to be staged in baseball or football venues such as Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds, Soldier Field in Chicago and long-gone Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia. Spectators were like moths drawn to a flame because the mere fact of being there was important to them, even if it required binoculars for those in the cheap seats to see what was taking place down in the ring.

For a fight to be staged “outdoors in a ballpark” – or even indoors, after the advent of domed stadiums or those with retractable roofs – usually required the participation of two elite fighters, or just one, if he was prominent enough or popular enough to draw in the masses on his own. But sometimes there are other factors involved, as was apparently the case on Oct. 20, 1979, when white South African Gerrie Coetzee (then 22-0, 12 knockouts) squared off against black American “Big” John Tate (19-0, 15 KOs), a bronze medalist at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, for the vacant WBA title which had been relinquished by Muhammad Ali.

Apartheid was still the official national policy in South Africa then, which no doubt played as much a factor in a huge – and segregated – crowd of 86,000 packing Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa. Although each fighter was undefeated, Coetzee had never fought outside his home country, with the exception of a one-round stoppage of washed-up former champion Leon Spinks in Monte Carlo, which led to his being paired with Tate. It could be argued that neither man had established himself as a fully legitimate aspirant to a throne only recently vacated by the great Ali. Coetzee’s most significant wins had come against fellow white South Africans Pierre Fourie and Kallie Knoetze, as well as one against former world title challenger Ron Stander, who had been beaten to a pulp by Joe Frazier. Tate’s resume was similarly thin, buoyed somewhat with wins over Knoetze and the overrated Duane Bobick.

What happened throughout the remainder of their careers stamps their confrontation as an outlier in the otherwise significant history of major fights contested before exceptionally large stadium crowds. Although Tate won a 15-round unanimous decision over Coetzee, in his first title defense he was dethroned on a 15th-round knockout by Mike Weaver in a bout Tate was winning handily on points, and even as his promoter, Bob Arum, was negotiating at ringside for him to be matched with Ali in his next outing. It was a fight that never would happen; Tate basically unraveled in finishing with a career mark of 34-3 (23) and weighing a jiggly 281 pounds for his final bout, losing on points to Noel Quarless on March 30, 1988. Even before then, Tate had fallen victim to cocaine addiction and constant scrapes with the law. His boxing earnings gone, he panhandled on the streets of his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn., and reportedly ballooned to over 400 pounds. He was just 43 when he died on April 9, 1998, of a massive stroke.

Coetzee fared somewhat better. He wangled two more shots at a world title; a 13th-round knockout loss to Weaver in Sun City, South Africa, that preceded an upset, 10th round KO of WBA champ Michael Dokes on Sept. 23, 1983, in Richfield, Ohio. Alas, Coetzee would hold onto the title as briefly as Tate had, losing on an eighth-round knockout by Greg Page on Dec. 1, 1984, in Sun City. The “Boksburg Bomber” would retire with a 33-6-1 (21) record.

Clearly, Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs), the WBA/IBF/WBO champion and a super-heavyweight gold medalist for England at the 2012 London Olympics, is a significantly superior talent to Tate and Coetzee, and enough of a national hero in the United Kingdom to fight before 90,000 for his 11th-round stoppage of Wladimir Klitschko on April 29, 2017, in London’s Wembley Stadium. He since has posted victories over Carlos Takam (TKO10) and Joseph Parker (UD12) that each drew more than 78,000 in Wales’ Principality Stadium, and another 80,000 for his seventh-round stoppage of Alexander Povetkin on Sept. 22 in Wembley Stadium. If and when he takes on WBC champ Deontay Wilder, that unification extravaganza likely will take place in Wembley before another capacity-straining throng of 90,000-plus.

Almost single-handedly, Joshua has revived the tradition of fighting “outdoors in a ballpark” (although Principality Stadium has a roof), which largely owes, if not exclusively, to the generational allure of history’s finest heavyweights.

Although the largest live attendances for boxing matches involved non-heavyweights – middleweight champion Tony Zale knocked out Billy Pryor in nine rounds in a free, non-title bout staged by the Pabst Brewing Company before a crowd of 135,000 at Milwaukee’s Juneau Park on Aug. 16, 1941, and WBC super lightweight titlist Julio César Chávez stopped Greg Haugen in five rounds with 132,274 in the stands at Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium on Feb. 20, 1993 – the big boys otherwise rule supreme.

There were 120,757 on hand at Sesquicentennial Stadium on Sept. 23, 1926, to watch Gene Tunney lift the legendary Jack Dempsey’s heavyweight crown on a 10-round unanimous decision. A year less a day later, Tunney retained the title on another 10-round unanimous decision in the famous “Long Count” bout, before 104,943 at Soldier Field.

Dempsey, along with baseball’s Babe Ruth, football’s Red Grange, golf’s Bobby Jones and tennis’ Bill Tilden, was one of the seminal figures in sports’ “Roaring ’20s” golden age. Dempsey drew 91,613 for a fourth-round knockout of George Carpentier in Jersey City, N.J., on July 2, 1921, and 80,000-plus for bouts with Luis Angel Firpo (KO2) at the Polo Grounds on Sept. 14, 1923, and Jack Sharkey (KO7) in Yankee Stadium on July 21, 1927.

Former world champion Max Schmeling kayoed fellow German Walter Neusel in nine rounds before a crowd of 102,000 on Aug. 26, 1934, at Hamburg’s Sandbahn Loksgtedt, a European attendance record for boxing attendance that still stands and may be out of the range of even Anthony Joshua, unless a more spacious stadium than Wembley is constructed. Schmeling was on the wrong end of his one-round beatdown by Joe Louis in their much-anticipated rematch on June 23, 1938, in Yankee Stadium, which drew 70,043 and held the world’s attention to a degree that few if any fights before or since could approach.

Rocky Marciano’s largest live crowd was the 47,585 that showed up on Sept. 21, 1955, for the final fight of his career, a ninth-round knockout of Archie Moore in Yankee Stadium.

Ali, of course, was no stranger to fights that filled stadiums. The largest attendance for any of his ring appearances was the 63,350 that filed into the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans to see him become a three-time world champion when he avenged an earlier upset loss to Leon Spinks by scoring a 15-round unanimous decision on Sept. 15, 1978. However, of far greater significance to his legacy was his stunning, eighth-round knockout of seemingly invincible champion George Foreman in their “Rumble in the Jungle” fight on Oct. 30, 1974, in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). That fight was seen by “only” 60,000 spectators in Stade du 20 Mai, but in truth the entire world was watching by whatever means were available.

There are drawbacks, of course, to stadium fights, particularly those without a roof. Such fights have been staged in blistering heat, numbing cold, and sometimes pelting rain. It also stands to reason that the larger the crowd, the more difficult it is to later work your way free of the exiting masses in a reasonable amount of time. The trade-off is the sense of community when attending a sold-out event in a massive venue, which contributes to the electricity that one feels emanating from the event itself. That’s the way it is for Super Bowls, World Series and the World Cup, and it’s the way it should be, at least occasionally, in boxing.

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Three Punch Combo: Jacobs-Derevyanchenko on HBO, Baranchyk-Yigit and More

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This Saturday, Daniel Jacobs (34-2, 29 KO’s) takes on Sergiy Derevyanchenko (12-0, 10 KO’s) for the vacant IBF middleweight title. The fight, which headlines an HBO World Championship Boxing tripleheader, is highly anticipated in boxing circles as on paper it is an evenly matched contest with a wide range of potential outcomes. The fight also bears an eerie resemblance to another middleweight title fight from more than twenty years ago.

On March 16th, 1996, then IBF middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins (28-2-1, 21 KO’s) faced off against the IBF’s number one ranked contender in Joe Lipsey (25-0, 20 KO’s). Opinions were split as to who would come out as the victor. It was televised live in the United States on ABC in the afternoon and served as a precursor for that evening’s big pay-per-view event between Mike Tyson and Frank Bruno.

Hopkins, 31 at the time, had fought much better opposition and those who favored him thought his experience along with his better athleticism would lead him to victory. Lipsey, who was 29, had a burgeoning reputation in the fight game and was known for his relentless pressure style. In addition, he had displayed devastating one punch knockout power in both hands that had many thinking he had a bright future in the sport.

It was the experience and ring savviness of Hopkins versus the untapped raw potential of Lipsey.

As it played out, Hopkins’ skill proved too much for Lipsey. After effectively out-boxing and neutralizing the aggression of Lipsey for three rounds, Hopkins landed a perfectly placed counter right uppercut using Lipsey’s forward momentum against him that instantly ended matters. It was a statement making performance for Hopkins.

Jacobs, 31, is in a similar spot to that of Hopkins when he faced Lipsey. With two losses on his ledger, Jacobs is in need of a statement making victory. One of those losses was to Gennady Golovkin and, of course, Hopkins entered the Lipsey contest with one of his losses to all-time great Roy Jones Jr.

Jacobs holds a significant experience edge in the pro game compared to that of Derevyanchenko. Jacobs is also the more athletic fighter. Similar to that of Hopkins against Lipsey, Jacobs will look to play the role of the boxer-puncher and use his experience along with athleticism to dictate the tempo of the fight.

Derevyanchenko, 32, comes in highly touted. Similar to Joe Lipsey in 1996, he enters with an undefeated record along with a glossy knockout percentage and many in the sport see a fighter with raw untapped potential.

The similarities between Jacobs-Derevyanchenko and Hopkins-Lipsey are striking. Will history repeat itself or will Derevyanchenko be able to rise to the occasion?

Baranchyk-Yigit

The World Boxing Super Series 140-pound tournament resumes this week with a pair of fights in New Orleans. While the fans will be mostly showing up to watch the main event between hometown rising star Regis Prograis (22-0, 19 KO’s) and Terry Flanagan (33-1, 13 KO’s), it is the other WBSS fight, pitting Ivan Baranchyk against Anthony Yigit for the vacant IBF title that piques my interest.

Baranchyk (18-0, 11 KOs) is well known to US fight fans from his multiple appearances on the ShoBox series on Showtime on which he has scored some highlight reel knockouts. He is an aggressive pressure fighter with heavy handed power. He has been showing signs of improved boxing skills of late and is coming off a career best performance in knocking out former world title challenger Petr Petrov.

Yigit (21-0-1, 7 KOs) is a former decorated amateur who participated in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. A southpaw with quick feet and good hand speed, Yigit is an excellent counterpuncher who is adept at using feints to bait his opponents to throw to set up counter opportunities. He is also very slick and uses good head movement, making him not an easy target to hit.

This is a classic matchup of an aggressive pressure fighter against a skilled slick boxer. Baranchyk has the buzz and will be favored, but Yigit’s style and skill could present a major challenge for him. It’s a very compelling fight,.

The Journey of Yuandale Evans

On April 24th, 2010 I hit the road to attend a club show in a suburb of Cleveland. I wanted to get a firsthand look at a local fighter named Yuandale Evans who was headlining the 6-fight card. The venue was a small indoor soccer complex and tickets were only $20. There was no assigned seating and I had no problem finding a ringside seat for the evening’s festivities.

Evans did not disappoint. Fighting in front of the sparse audience, he dispatched an opponent named Reymundo Hernandez in the first round. I liked what I saw from Evans and thought he had a bright future in boxing.

A year later, Evans found himself on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fight Series in a step-up fight against veteran Emmanuel Lucero. This was a coming out party for Evans as he impressively took apart the former world title challenger. There was speed, athleticism and power in his game and many took notice.

Nine months later, Evans found himself in a significant fight. It was another date on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fight Series but this time against a fellow undefeated fighter in Javier Fortuna. Fortuna had been getting a lot of buzz and if Evans could defeat him then he’d find himself on the brink of a world title opportunity.

But the Fortuna fight did not go well for Evans. As a matter of fact, it was disastrous.  Fortuna scored a vicious, highlight reel first round knockout, the kind of knockout loss that many fighters never recover from.

It appeared for a while that Evans would not get back in the game. Out for three years, he finally returned in 2015 with two wins against less than stellar competition. These wins were needed confidence boosters.

After those bounce back wins, it took another 17 months for Evans to return to the ring. This time, in his first major test since the Fortuna loss, he faced Billel Dib. Brought in as the “B” side, Evans was supposed to be a name on the resume for Dib, but he flipped the script, scoring a clear ten round unanimous decision.

The win against Dib, which took place in the 130-pound division, put Evans back on the radar. But it was his next performance that put him into contention. Dropping down to featherweight and again coming in as the underdog, he scored a rousing split decision win against Louis Rosa in November of 2017 in a fiercely fought contest that received Fight of the Year consideration. Evans fought with passion and determination to secure the best win of his career.

Evans, now 20-1 with 14 KO’s, will challenge undefeated 130-pound world title holder Alberto Machado next week. Evans is once again an underdog. Not many are giving him much of a chance. But if Evans fights like he did against Rosa and can stay inside on Machado, applying constant pressure, we could be in for another surprise.

Evans has come a long way since I first saw him fight at a small indoor soccer venue in Ohio and I for one do not discount his chances to lift Machado’s world title belt.

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