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King Kong Versus Abner Mares In Showtime Bantamweight Finale…AVILA

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005IMG_9837NOTE: Agebko was over weight, at 118.2, and used an hour to make 118 on the dot. Mares was 117.5 on Friday.

LAS VEGAS-IBF titleholder Joseph “King Kong” Agbeko softly expressed at the final press conference in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino on Thursday that the world title is his and that it’s only step one of his goal. “It may be Mares' dream to become world champion but my dream is to become number one pound-for-pound in boxing. A loss on Saturday would not give me that chance, so my only option is to win,” Agbeko said. It’s the final confrontation of Showtime’s Bantamweight tournament and many expect a crackling ending as Agbeko (28-2, 22 KOs) faces Mares (21-0-1, 13 KOs) on Saturday Aug. 13, at the Hard Rock Hotel. Showtime will televise. The tournament began last December with four of the five best 118-pounders in the world. It should have ended this past spring but a back injury suffered by Ghana’s Agbeko forced a postponement and here we are now. “This is a fight that I’ve looked forward to. I want to be the best bantamweight,” says Agbeko who defeated Colombia’s Yonnhy Perez to reach the final. California-based Mares has fought under the radar for a number of years but boxing experts have long-realized that the former Mexican Olympian has world champion potential. Now is the time for the Golden Boy Promotions bantamweight to prove that talent. “I am totally ready for this. There's no way I can lose. The thought of defeat is not in my mind. I am ready for a war,” said Mares, who seeks to become Golden Boy’s first boxer to begin with the L.A.-based company and win a world title. “From day one, I knew Abner had the makings of a champion. Joseph Agbeko is one of the best in the world, but on Saturday we are going to see the coronation of boxing's newest superstar,” said Frank Espinoza, who manages Mares. Mares surprised many by advancing past feared slugger Vic “The Raging Bull” Darchinyan. “That was a tough fight but he got through it,” said Espinoza, who formerly managed bantamweight greats Israel Vazquez and Martin Castillo. “Abner has that ability to adapt.” It was his ability to change strategies in mid-fight that allowed him to defeat Darchinyan and it’s what Mares plans to utilize against Agbeko on Saturday. “I figure out the fighter there and then in the ring,” said Mares. “We’ve been sparring fast guys, slow guys, boxers and sluggers.” Both Agbeko and Mares are only focused on their confrontation and no one else. Not even the looming specter of Donaire can make them deviate. “This fight everybody is watching…it’s the best bantamweights in the world,” said Agbeko, who is promoted by Don King. “I want to be the best in my weight class and I want people to watch me.” Southern California flavor Several top notch prizefighters from the Southland are also on the Las Vegas fight card at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Santa Ana’s undefeated southpaw Luis Ramos (19-0, 8 KOs) was forced to cancel after being injured from a mugging on the streets of Santa Ana. He had a 10-round engagement with Oxnard’s David Rodela (15-4-3, 6 KOs) but was forced to cancel after suffering a head injury from his rumble with three thugs. In another lightweight fight Norwalk’s undefeated Carlos Molina (14-0, 7 KOs) will engage with last-minute opponent Juan Montiel (5-4-2) of Mexico City. He’s had to prepare for the unknown. “I don’t like studying opponents anyway,” says Molina, who is also managed by Espinoza. “I like figuring them out in the ring.” Heavyweights and more bantamweights Texas heavyweight Eric Molina returns to Las Vegas to show his skills to the boxing world once again. Molina fights Warren Browning in a scheduled eight round bout on the under card. “I love being here in this kind of big-fight atmosphere. When I started boxing, I could only dream of this kind of opportunity,” said Molina, who fights under Don King Productions. “I'm well-prepared and ready for a war.” Browning says he’s not a softie. “I'm not cocky, just confident. I am really looking forward to Saturday. Bring it on,” exhorted Browning. Former flyweight world champion Eric Morel is also on the fight card, but now does his trade as a bantamweight. “I'm extremely happy to be involved in this event. I want to fight the winner of Agbeko-Mares and win another world title,” said Morel. Tickets are still available for the event. Fights on television Fri. ESPN2, 6 p.m. Kermit Cintron (32-4-1) vs. Antwone Smith (20-2-1). Fri. Showtime, 8 p.m. MMA Jorge Gurgel (14-7) vs. Joe Duarte (9-2). Fri. Telefutura, 11:30 p.m., Antonio Diaz (46-6-1) vs. Ernesto Zepeda (39-14-4). Sat. Fox, 6 p.m., Teon Kennedy (17-0-1) vs. Alejandro Lopez (21-2). Sat. Showtime, 7 p.m., Joseph Agbeko (28-2) vs. Abner Mares (21-0-1).

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Boxing at the Paris Olympics: Looking Ahead and Looking Back

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One hundred years ago, Paris was the host city for the Summer Olympics. What goes around, comes around.

In the upcoming Paris Games, boxers will compete for medals in 13 categories. The number remains unchanged from Tokyo, but the ratio has been modified. In Tokyo, there were eight weight classes for men and five for women. The men have lost one and the women have gained one, so in 2024 it is seven and six.

Eight American boxers made it through the qualifying tournaments and will represent Uncle Sam in the City of Lights.

The U.S. boxing contingent in Paris

Men

Roscoe Hill, flyweight (51 kg), Spring TX

Jahmal Harvey, featherweight (57 kg), Oxon Hill, MD

Omari Jones, middleweight (71 kg), Orlando, FL

Joshua Edwards, super heavyweight, Houston, TX

Women

Jennifer Lozano, flyweight (50 kg), Laredo, Tx

Alyssa Mendoza, featherweight (57 kg), Caldwell, ID

Jajaira Gonzalez, lightweight (60 kg), Montclair, CA

Morelle McCane, welterweight (66 kg), Cleveland, OH

Paris, 1924

At the Paris Summer Games of 1924, boxers competed for medals in the eight standard weight classes. The competition was restricted to men. Female boxers were excluded until the 2012 Games in London where the women were sorted into three weight classes: flyweight, lightweight, and middleweight.

Twenty-seven nations sent one or more boxers to the 1924 Games. In total, there were 181 competitors. The United States and Great Britain had the largest squads. Each sent 16 men into the tournament, the maximum allowable as each nation was allowed two entrants in each of the weight classes.

The United States and Great Britain each walked away with two gold medals. The other gold medal winners represented Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and South Africa. But the U.S. team garnered the most medals, six overall including two silver and two bronze, two more than the runner-up, Great Britain.

What’s interesting is that three of the six U.S. medalists came out of the same gym, the Los Angeles Athletic Club. They were proteges of the club’s boxing instructor George Blake who would go on to become one of America’s top referees. The trio included both gold medalists, flyweight Fidel LaBarba and featherweight Jackie Fields, and silver medalist Joe Salas who had the misfortune of meeting Fields in the finals.

LaBarba and Fields were mature beyond their years. LaBarba was 18 years old and hadn’t yet completed high school when he secured a berth on the U.S. Olympic team. Fields, a high school dropout, was even younger. He was 16 years, five months, and 11 days old on the day that he won his gold medal. That remains the record for the youngest boxer of any nationality to win Olympic gold.

Fields and LaBarba both went on to win world titles at the professional level. Let’s take a look at their post-Paris careers. We will start with Fields and save the brilliant LaBarba for another day.

Jackie Fields  

Jackie Fields was born Jacob Finkelstein in the Maxwell Street ghetto of Chicago. His father, an immigrant from Russia and a butcher by trade, moved the family to Los Angeles when Jackie was 14 years old.

Jackie Fields

Jackie Fields

Fields turned pro in February of 1925. Despite his tender age, he was fast-tracked owing to his Olympic pedigree. But his manager Gig Rooney blundered when he put Jackie in against Jimmy McLarnin in only his seventh pro fight. A baby-faced assassin, born in Northern Ireland and raised in Canada, McLarnin, destined to be remembered as an all-time great, was more advanced than Jackie and blasted him out in the second round.

Fields rebounded to win his next 16 fights. His signature win during this run was a 12-round newspaper decision over Sammy Mandell, the Rockford Sheik. Mandell was the reigning world lightweight champion, but because this was officially a no-decision fight, a concession to Mandell, the title could not change hands unless Fields knocked him out.

Fields’ skein ended at New York’s Polo Grounds where he was out-pointed across 10 rounds by Louis “Kid” Kaplan, a 108-fight veteran and former world featherweight title-holder. But Fields built his way back into contention and claimed the world welterweight title in March of 1929 by winning a 10-round decision over Young Jack Thompson at the Chicago Coliseum. They fought for the title vacated by Joe Dundee who was stripped of the belt for failing to defend his title in a timely manner.

The jubilation that Fields felt in winning the title was tempered by an ugly incident in the eighth round when a race riot broke out in the balcony. One man died when he jumped or was pushed off the balcony and scores were injured; “more than thirty” according to one report. Many ringsiders, to avoid flying objects, took refuge inside the ropes but the contest continued after the disturbance was quelled and the ring was cleared.

Fields made the first defense of the title against Joe Dundee. They fought at the Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit before an estimated 25,000.

Fields had Dundee on the canvas twice before Dundee was disqualified in the second round for a low blow. The punch was clearly intentional. Fields, to his great distress, wasn’t wearing a protective cup. Heading in, Joe Dundee was still recognized as the champion in New York, so one could say that Jackie Fields unified the title.

After a series of non-title fights, Fields lost the belt to old rival Young Jack Thompson. At the conclusion of the 15-round contest, Young Jack was a bloody mess – he would need to go to a hospital to have his lacerations repaired –but Thompson, who also came up the ladder in California rings, was fairly deemed the winner. This would be the last collaboration between Fields and Gig Rooney. The wily Jack “Doc” Kearns, who had managed Jack Dempsey and was then involved with Mickey Walker, horned right in and became Jackie’s new manager.

Kearns maneuvered Fields into a match with Lou Brouillard who had wrested the title from Thompson four months earlier and Fields rose to the occasion, winning a unanimous 10-round decision in Chicago to become a two-time world welterweight champion. It was a furious battle, wrote the correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. “[Fields] hit Brouillard with everything but the water bucket.”

After another series of non-title fights, Fields risked his belt against Young Corbett III. They fought at the baseball park in San Francisco before an estimated 15,000 on the afternoon of Feb. 22, 1933.

Fields was damaged goods. He had suffered a detached retina in his right eye in a minor auto accident and there was no cure for it. Corbett III (Rafaele Giordano) was a southpaw which was all wrong for a boxer with blurred vision in his right eye. Jackie fought back valiantly after losing the first five rounds, but lost the decision. The referee’s card (6-3-1 for Corbett III) appeared a tad generous to the loser.

Fields retired after one more fight. A closer look at his final record (72-9-2, 31 KOs) shows that he had 19 fights with 10 men who held a world title at some point in their career, including six future Hall of Famers (Jimmy McLarnin, Louis “Kid” Kaplan, Sammy Mandell, “Gorilla” Jones, Lou Brouillard, and Young Corbett III), and was 12-6-1 in these encounters. He was stopped only once, that by the great McLarnin in Jackie’s seventh pro fight.

Jackie Fields Post-Boxing

Fields wasn’t in good shape financially when he left the sport. His various investments were shambled by the stock market crash of 1929. For a time, he lived in Pennsylvania, first in Pittsburgh and then in Philadelphia where he was a distributor for the Wurlitzer juke box company and a sales executive with a distillery.

In 1957, he purchased an interest in a gambling establishment, the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. (Note: In Nevada, prior to 1967, public corporations were prohibited from owning or operating a property that housed a casino. Anyone purchasing one or more shares, called points, had to submit to a background check which did little to stanch the influence of the mob.)

Fields eventually sold his shares, but remained with the Tropicana in a public relations capacity. During the 1970s, he served on the Nevada State Athletic Commission. He passed away in 1987 at age 79 at a nursing home in Las Vegas after being hospitalized for a heart ailment. In 2004, he was inducted posthumously into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

For all that he accomplished as a pro, Fields always insisted that his proudest moment came in Paris. “As I stood there, with the band playing the Star Spangled Banner, I cried like a baby, I was that thrilled.”

PHOTO: 2024 U.S. Olympian Roscoe Hill

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Arne’s Almanac: More Chaos for Ryan Garcia and a Note on Don King’s Impotent ‘Whip’

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Arne’s Almanac: More Chaos for Ryan Garcia and a Note on Don King’s Impotent ‘Whip’

The Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills Hotel is the flip side of a Motel 6. For the fun of it, we went to the hotel’s website and checked the rates for this coming weekend. For a party of two, the cheapest room has a base rate of $1248 per night. That’s before taxes. With taxes, the tab swells to $3,016 for a two-night stay on Friday and Saturday.

In a classy joint like this, one surmises that it would be fairly easy to rack up a $15,000 bill for incidentals if one got too frisky and broke a few things. Ryan Garcia would know.

On Saturday afternoon, June 8, Garcia was removed from the hotel in police handcuffs and subsequently charged with felony vandalism according to TMZ. By California law, any vandalism above $400 qualifies as a felony. Reports say Garcia trashed his room and a hallway to the tune of $15,000.

The boxer had been staying at the Waldorf Astoria since at least Wednesday when family members requested a welfare check, believing that he may be in some kind of distress. It isn’t known at this time if he shared the room with anyone. Reports say that he appeared to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs as he was being led away from the property wearing what appeared to be a motorcycle helmet.

Garcia had been acting erratically even before he upset previously undefeated Devin Haney on April 20 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. His wonderful performance was tarnished by the fact that he came in overweight and was thus ineligible to strip Haney of his WBC world super lightweight title belt, and his reputation was sullied to a far greater extent when it came out that he had tested positive for a banned PED.

Since that memorable night in Brooklyn, Garcia has come to learn that his mother has breast cancer. This has apparently caused him considerable worry. “Ryan has been open about his struggles with mental health over the years, and at this time he is dealing with an immense emotional burden,” said Garcia’s attorney Darin Chavez. “The support and understanding from fans and the public are crucial as he navigates these personal challenges.”

By all accounts, Ryan Garcia, who turns 26 in August, has the largest social media following of any boxer in the English-speaking world. He is said to have 12 million followers on Instagram. While he was at the hotel, Garcia used his platform to assert that he hadn’t been paid all the money that was owed to him from the Haney fight. “Me too,” chimed in Devin Haney, which prompted this formal statement from Garcia’s promoter Golden Boy, the lead promoter of the April 30 event: “As we have always done with all our fighters, Golden Boy paid Ryan and Devin exactly what they are owed under their contracts. As with all PPV events, revenue comes in over time and additional payments will be made when more money is received. If they aren’t aware of this fact, we would hope that their managers are. Or perhaps Ryan and Devin should pay more attention to their contracts than their social media feeds.”

“The Whip”

Back in the days when the foremost boxing arena in the world was in the basement of London’s posh National Sporting Club – we’re going all the way back to the 1890s – the man whose unofficial job title was that of a whip was a key component of the operation. It was the whip’s responsibility to see that the show went on without awkward delays in the action. He lorded over the dressing room, making certain that each boxer was ready to go the moment he was summoned to the ring. It was important for the satisfaction of the patrons to maintain a seamless pace.

Boxing promoters still depend on whips today, although the name is no longer used. But if Don King employed a whip for his last show, the fellow certainly didn’t curry much sway with the talent. There were interminable delays leading up to the main event between Blair Cobbs and Adrien Broner, long recesses filled with idle chatter between panelists Tre’Sean Wiggins and Albert Haynesworth. Wiggins is a welterweight boxer who presumably has some sort of personal services contract with Don King. He was initially slated to fight on this card and when that fight fell out, he was shifted over to the broadcasting department. Haynesworth is a former all-pro NFL defensive tackle. Don’t look for him to replace Michael Strahan on those NFL telecasts anytime soon.

These unscheduled intermissions were not entirely unexpected. Adrien Broner showed up late at the press conference two days earlier where he added some sauce to the most cringe-worthy boxing press conference ever, quite an achievement considering that the bar had been set so high. Broner turned pro with the firm expectation that he would eventually surpass Floyd Mayweather Jr. in career earnings. He emulates Floyd in one regard; he moves through the world on Mayweather Time.

The most bizarre moment in this five-fight Friday Night telecast (a $40 pay-pre-view) came when the ring announcer, at the behest of King, asked the crowd to stand in solemn remembrance of Jose Sulaiman while the timekeeper hit the gong 10 times. The 10-bell memorial is a nice tradition in boxing, but Sulaiman, the former president of the World Boxing Council, passed away on Jan.16, 2014. Egads, the man’s been dead for 10 years.

The 10-round welterweight contest between Cobbs and Broner was for the “People’s Championship.” For the record, Cobbs won a unanimous decision. Scoring at home, I gave Broner one round.

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Arne K. Lang is editor-in-chief of The Sweet Science. He is the author of five books including “Prizefighting: An American History” released by McFarland in 2008 and re-released in a paperback edition in 2020.

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Canastota Chronicles 2024

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I have been attending at least some part of Boxing Hall of Fame Weekend each year it has been held since 2014. Once again, I made my annual trip to Canastota for three days from Thursday until Saturday. As usual I came back home to Buffalo with memories that will last a lifetime.

Before I get started, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the big reasons I return to Canastota every year. From the folks who work at the Hall of Fame, to the volunteers, to the fans, I have made so many great friends over the years. The open and receptive nature of the Canastota people is something truly special. You feel welcome from the moment you set foot on the grounds until you leave. As always, this year I rekindled old friendships and made many new ones.

With that said, here is my personal experience from the three days I spent in Canastota this past weekend

Thursday

Kind of like a kid at Christmas I did not get much sleep Wednesday night and was up very early on Thursday. I left the house before 7:00 in the morning for the approximate  two-and-a-half-hour drive from Buffalo to Canastota. I was on the grounds before 10:00.

After saying hello to many people, I focused in on the ringside lectures which started around 1:00. This year I made it a goal to attend all of them and did just that.

Jackie Kallen kicked things off and talked about how she had to overcome many challenges in a male-dominated sport to get to where she needed to get in her career. She also spoke glowingly of Emanuel Steward who helped get her into the sport and guided her along the way.

Ivan Calderon was next and spoke that he was genuinely surprised to get inducted. He stated that because of his style in the ring along with having limited knockouts, he didn’t think he’d ever get the support needed to get in the Hall of Fame.

Several attendees then got on stage for the opening bell ceremony which was rung by Ricky Hatton.

Finally, the day closed out with Julian Jackson and Jesse James Leija. Both described overcoming challenges in the ring with Leija talking about how he overcame adversity to beat Francisco Bojado and Jackson describing how he found the energy to rally back against Herol Graham.

After the day’s festivities on the Hall of Fame Grounds, I headed over to Turning Stone Resort & Casino. Turning Stone hosts many events for the weekend and is a natural gathering place for those in attendance for Hall of Fame Weekend.

Since there are so many boxing people condensed in such a relatively small area there is a good chance of randomly bumping into someone in the sport. As was my luck, after I arrived at Turning Stone I took a seat in a small lounge that was unoccupied. A few moments later Ricky Hatton came walking into the same area and I got a dream chance to have a short private talk with one of my all-time favorite fighters.

Friday

Michael Moorer kicked things off Friday and though he didn’t go into a lot of details on various topics he did talk about his days at Kronk as well as his relationship with Emanuel Steward.

Jane Couch and Ana Maria Torres were next. Both discussed the challenges they faced breaking into the sport and getting any sort of recognition from the public. Couch was brought to tears while stating that she often fought without getting paid. When pressed as to why she wanted to continue her path in boxing, she responded that it was because she wanted to prove she could make it.

Butterbean was next up. He gave an inspirational talk about how he recently overcame not being able to walk for several years and rededicated his life to getting healthy again. Butterbean also spoke some about his contest with Larry Holmes and said that while he may not have liked Holmes during the build-up to the event, they have since become good friends.

The fist casting was next where the fighters have their fists molded to be housed for eternity at the Hall of Fame.

As the fist casting ended, I waited for my father-in-law to arrive to head on back to Turning Stone to attend the fights that evening. While waiting I started chatting with an individual who looked somewhat familiar to me. After talking for a little bit I got his name, Perry Ballard.

Perry was a professional boxer with a record of 27-2-1 with 20 KO’s and many fight fans may remember him for his fight with Hector Camacho that took place toward the tail end of Camacho’s career. Perry was accompanied by his son Chase to Canastota. Chase is also a professional boxer with a record of 4-1 with 4 KO’s and is currently campaigning as a featherweight. It’s these kind of conversations that I really enjoy during HOF weekend as Perry told me some great stories about his career and Chase talked to me about some of his pro fights. For a fan like me, interactions are priceless.

Saturday

It was back to the HOF Grounds bright and early on Saturday. There is a card/memorabilia show that takes place concurrent with the Ringside Lectures but I wanted to keep to my goal of attending to all the lectures.

Ray Mercer and Lamon Brewster started off the day. Mercer discussed how he recently quit alcohol and had gotten into much better shape.

Brewster spoke very eloquently about specific moments in his career. Of note he talked about his fight with Kali Meehan which was the first title defense for Brewster of the WBO heavyweight title he won from Wladimir Klitschko.  Brewster said Meehan was a former sparring partner and while they worked together Brewster had gotten to know Meehan’s family. According to Brewster when he arrived at the Mandalay Bay a few days before the fight Meehan’s family was there in the hotel lobby and Meehan’s kids all ran over to hug him. Brewster said that played on his mind when he got in the ring with Meehan and advised all boxers to never fight their former sparring partners.

Jim Lampley and Ricky Hatton were next on stage. This was certainly one of the best Ringside Lectures I have ever attended. Hatton talked about some of the partying and what made him such a popular figure in the UK. Lampley told a great story about his time at ABC working with Howard Cosell.

Hatton and Lampley

Hatton and Lampley

The referees took the stage after and this panel included Mark Nelson who answered questions regarding how he handled the recent Oleksandr Usyk-Tyson Fury heavyweight title unification fight. Erik Morales then followed and talked about various fights in his HOF career.

Finally, it was Sebastian and Gabriela Fundora’s turn to talk to the fans. While their talk was entertaining, even including Sebastian reminding everyone that he first called out Errol Spence Jr. two years ago here in Canastota during a similar talk, it was what happened afterward that stood out.

The Fundora Siblings

The Fundora Siblings

Usually after participants finish their time on stage, they head off to an area to sign autographs. As noted, the Fundoras’ were last and many people waited around to get their autograph/photo opportunity once their talk concluded. It was a pretty lengthy line and usually participants sign for a little time before heading off.

For well over an hour the Fundoras’ sat and honored every single fan request. And they did not leave the grounds until every fan that wanted to meet them did so. It was quite impressive to witness and they showed why they are such great ambassadors for the sport.

That was it for me. Another year down and already making my plans for 2025. I encourage any boxing fan who has yet to do so to make the trip to Canastota just once for Hall of Fame Weekend. I guarantee it will be an experience that will include so many memories that you will want to keep coming back to Canastota year in and year out.

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