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STEPHEN KING LETS DOWN BOXING FANS: The Faux Fight of 11/22/63

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Few books of the past decade please all audiences the way Stephen King’s “11/22/63” does. The 2011 winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Best Mystery/Thriller appeases King’s legion of fans, fiction readers and President Kennedy assassination buffs. The only group that the novel may let down is boxing fans.

The book, which is being adapted into a Hulu miniseries, tells the story of Maine high school teacher Jake Epping, who is introduced by his friend, diner owner Al Templeton, to a portal for time travel. Al has developed terminal lung cancer and has asked Jake to continue his mission to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The portal transports Jake back to September 9, 1958, at 11:58 AM. To stay financially afloat over the next five years, Al has given Jake a list of the outcomes of major sporting events so he can place bets with bookies. The first big bet is the 1958 World Series. The last is journeyman Texan Tom “The Hammer” Case’s shocking upset of Dick Tiger at Madison Square Garden in August of 1963. Without giving any major spoilers away, Epping watches the fight on closed circuit at the Dallas Civic Auditorium.

You may not remember that bout… probably because it did not happen. Case was not even a real boxer. It is the one historical inaccuracy in a story that King thoroughly researched through what he described as a six-foot high stack of books.

King declined to be interviewed for this article due to scheduling demands and there are no interviews or quotes with him explaining his reasoning. However, a look at boxing in 1963 will allow you to cut him a little slack on why he created this fictitious bout.

The heavyweight division was led by Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson and Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali and even a casual sports fan would have remembered a shocking upset of one of these fighters. The light heavyweight champions at the time were Willie Pastrano and Harold Johnson, hall-of-famers, but not the types of names that would fill a closed circuit event.

Eddie Perkins and Roberto Cruz, names only known by the most hardcore boxing fans, led the light welterweight division. In the welterweight division, Emile Griffith and Luis Manuel Rodriguez fought each other for the title in two epic 15-round bouts in 1963. Lightweight champ Carlos Ortiz, featherweight champion Sugar Ramos and bantamweight titleholder Eder Jofre were such unknowns in the U.S. that they fought an overwhelming majority of their fights outside of it in 1963.

This brings us to the middleweight division and Tiger. The era of Sugar Ray Robinson, Carmen Basilio and Gene Fullmer had wound down, as Tiger had won the middleweight belt from Fullmer in 1962 and successfully defended it against Fullmer in 1963. After losing many of his early bouts, including his first four, Tiger went on to become a two-time middleweight champion and light heavyweight champion in the 1960s. Tiger passed away from liver cancer in 1971, sadly becoming the first of his champion contemporaries to die.

For King, the challenge was finding a fight that would have been a closed circuit event in Dallas and created windfall betting odds. There was no such boxing match in August of 1963 so King had to create one. If he had chosen two fictitious fighters, it would have been a major inconsistency in a sweeping tour of history. The same principle applies if he had chosen two real boxers. So King compromised, creating the fictitious Case, and having him face the late Tiger, the best choice since casual sports fans remember his name but little else about him. The only “disservice” King does to Tiger is strip away his title and turn him back into a prospect, but alas, a faux title fight would have raised eyebrows too.

J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions is developing the adaptation of the book for Hulu, but is too early in the process to indicate whether the fight will be included. My hope is that the fight will be a part of the story because no film or television production has ever captured the excitement of closed-circuit events of the 1960s and 70s. Plus, visual effects, like King, can take liberty with history if the story demands it.

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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