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BORGES: Kizer and Boxing Have A Chance To Clean Up Their Mess

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AgbekoMares_Hogan_54Joseph Agbeko has been all class throughout this debacle. Let us hope he is rewarded, and that moving forward, boxing powers do the right thing. Our collective breath will not be held. (Hogan)

Keith Kizer may be a decent clerk but he’s a clerk all the same, a fact he most recently made clear this week when comparing a boxing referee to an umpire. This may come as news to Mr. Kizer but an umpire calls balls and strikes. A referee makes calls that can change a man’s life. Or end it.

To say referee Russell Mora “is a very good referee who did a subpar job last Saturday’’ when he allowed at least a dozen low blows to be struck by Abner Mares on his way to a sullied majority decision over IBF bantamweight champion Joseph Agbeko is like saying “it was a little stormier than we expected’’ after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

That, frankly, is what Mares was allowed to do by Mora’s incompetence. He was allowed to devastate Agbeko with repeated shots not only to the groin but also to where the leg joins the body, an old trick that quickly takes away the legs of another man.

Although it took a few days, even Golden Boy Promotions president Richard Schaefer finally admitted his fighter had been given an unfair advantage and a rematch was warranted. Unfortunately, he didn’t leave it at that. He went on to do what they always do in boxing in this kind of situation, which is one of the many reasons the sport has fallen from its once predominate perch among general sports fans. He tried to justify a bad call by claiming not so long ago another Golden Boy fighter had also been victimized.

Let’s accept for a minute that the other guy had been a victim of a bad decision or incompetent refereeing. So what? How does that in any way excuse what went on under Mora’s watch or make it remotely acceptable?
Fortunately, once again boxing has a chance to do the right thing, something the men who run the sport often seem to find difficult to accomplish. The IBF has ordered an immediate rematch, as it should have.

Mares can either accept it or relinquish the title and thus make a mockery of SHOWTIME’s efforts to crown one bantamweight champion with its four-man tournament. Schaefer said he was already in discussions with Ken Hershman, who runs boxing for SHOWTIME, and they would see if something could be worked out.

“Could’’ should not be the operative word here. “Will’’ should be the operative word. The only word, frankly. Make the immediate rematch, put it on television and keep Russell Mora out of it.

Kizer, who spent time criticizing the media for harshly criticizing a man who could have gotten Fernando Montiel killed seven months ago when he allowed him to take more punishment from Nonito Donaire after he’d been knocked to the floor with his legs literally quivering and then allowed Mares to beat Agbeko below the belt rather than above it, also has an opportunity to match his deeds with his words.

The Nevada State Athletic Commission’s executive director said people saying Mora should not referee again should “look at themselves. Saying stuff like that is a lot worse than this…’’

Saying an incompetent referee who allowed a man to be hit below the belt more than a dozen times, called a resulting knockdown from one of those blows, and insisted that what appeared to be a slip was also a knockdown should not again officiate a high-profile match is worse than Mora costing Agbeko his title and more than a few chromosomes? If Keith Kizer believes that he’s more incompetent than the referee he appointed to officiate the match despite the protest of Dana Jamison, who runs much of the day-to-day operation for promoter Don King.

Eight days before the fight Jamison told Kizer she and King considered Mora “a Golden Boy referee,’’ meaning they felt he would unfairly favor Mares, who is promoted by Golden Boy, over Agbeko. Guess what? He did. Perhaps not consciously but he did.

Why Kizer didn’t simply appoint a referee acceptable to both sides only he knows but to say it doesn’t look good to be told one side believes a referee will play favorites, ignore it and then watch the guy do just that should make Kizer look at himself.

Time will tell if he does. Time will also tell if Russell Mora is, as Kizer suggested, going to have to go back to working preliminary bouts to earn another shot at a main event in Nevada. If that occurs over a lengthy period of time then fair enough. But if it’s the usual boxing sleight of hand and he’s soon back working the big fights again we’ll know what really went down in Las Vegas last weekend.

The IBF has mandated a rematch within 120 days (Dec. 14) and said that neither fighter can take an interim fight. A deal is supposed to be consummated for the fight by Sept. 15 or a purse bid will be held. What is more important than a pursue bid is that the fight itself be held.

The best disinfectant, they say, is sunlight and what went on both Saturday night and in the days leading up to the fight could use it because, frankly, everything about the way Mora and Kizer handled this situation stunk from the refusal to come up with a mutually acceptable referee to the man’s one sided performance to Kizer’s comments after the debacle ended.

Now both Kizer and boxing have a chance to clean up their mess.

Just don’t count on it happening.

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Boxing’s Great Rivalries: Another TSS Trivia Quiz

Arne K. Lang

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Test your knowledge of boxing history in this 15-question multiple-choice trivia quiz. Get 12 or more right and go to the head of the class.

To find the correct answers you will need to visit the TSS Fight Forum (CLICK HERE). There this quiz will repeat and you will find the answers sitting below the final question.

  1. What was the outcome of the second fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier?

(a) Muhammad Ali won a 12-round decision.

(b) Joe Frazier won a 12-round decision

(c) Muhammad Ali won a 15-round decision

(d) Joe Frazier won a 15-round decision

 

2. Sugar Ray Robinson was 1-2-1 vs. this rival including a loss at the Las Vegas Convention Center in their final meeting.

(a) Carmen Basilio

(b) Gene Fullmer

(c) Paul Pender

(d) Carl “Bobo” Olson

 

3. From Union City, New Jersey, he had six fights with Jack Johnson in 1905 and 1906 and likely many more with “Papa Jack” that haven’t yet found their way into the record book.

(a) Klondike Haynes

(b) Joe Jeannette

(c) Sam Langford

(d) Denver Ed Martin

 

4. The first fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran was held in the city where Sugar Ray Leonard won his Olympic gold medal. What city?

(a) Tokyo

(b) Montreal

(c) Los Angeles

(d) Mexico City

 

5. Manny Pacquiao had a memorable four-fight series with Juan Manuel Marquez. What title was at stake in their first encounter?

(a) Bantamweight

(b) Featherweight

(c) Lightweight

(d) Welterweight

 

6. Carmen Basilio lost, won, and drew, in that order, with this cagey welterweight, best remembered for losing a hotly disputed decision to Kid Gavilan.

(a) Johnny Saxton

(b) Johnny Bratton

(c) Billy Graham

(d) Hedgemon Lewis

 

7. This great middleweight was 1-4 in five bouts with Gene Tunney. In most record books, his victory in their first encounter is considered the only blemish on Tunney’s record.

(a) Stanley Ketchel

(b) Harry Greb

(c) Mickey Walker

(d) Billy Miske

 

8. He participated in four world championship fights, the last three with archrival Barney Ross.

(a) Fritzie Zivic

(b) Sammy Mandell

(c) Jimmy McLarnin

(d) Tony Canzoneri

 

9. Sandy Saddler and Willie Pep met four times with the featherweight title on the line. How many of these fights went the full scheduled distance?

(a) none

(b) one

(c) two

(d) three

 

10. Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta fought six times, Robinson winning five. How many of these fights were world title fights?

(a) one

(b) two

(c) three

(d) four

 

11. Charley Burley won two of three fights with intra-city rival Fritzie Zivic. What city?

(a) Brooklyn

(b) Boston

(c) Philadelphia

(d) Pittsburgh

 

12. He was 1-2 in three nationally televised fights with Vinny Pazienza.

(a) Greg Haugen

(b) Hector Camacho

(c) Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini

(d) Roger Mayweather

 

13. He defeated Mike Tyson twice as an amateur, knocking Tyson out of the 1984 Olympic Games, but Tyson had his number when they met as a pro, knocking him out in the opening round.

(a) Marvis Frazier

(b) Tyrell Biggs

(c) Henry Tillman

(d) Mitch “Blood” Green

 

14. Future Hall of Famers Jack Britton and Ted “Kid” Lewis met an astounding 19 times between 1915 and 1921 with all but two of those engagements packaged as welterweight title fights. Britton was born William J. Breslin. What was the birth name of Ted “Kid” Lewis?

(a) Alfonso Brown

(b) Harry Besterman

(c) Guiseppe Berardinelli

(d) Gershon Mendelhoff

 

These great Mexican warriors met four times with their second and third encounters named The Ring magazine Fight of the Year.

(a) Ruben OIivares and Jesus “Chucho” Castillo

(b) Carlos Zarate and Daniel Zaragoza

(c) Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales

(d) Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez

Want more? Check out our previous boxing trivia tests.

Heavyweight Champions

Middleweight Champions

The Boxing Hall of Fame

People and Places

 

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Book Review

“Sparring with Smokin’ Joe” is a Great Look into a Great, Complicated Man

Phil Woolever

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BOOK REVIEW – Some rare moments arrive, as either a blessing or a curse, to cast definitive impressions of how someone might be remembered. As anyone reading this should well know, such a moment occurred 50 years ago today (March 8, 1971) at Madison Square Garden for Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali.

For Frazier, a punishing 15-round victory became the foundation to his legacy. That leads us to Sparring with Smokin’ Joe by Glenn Lewis, the latest biographical volume to focus on Frazier, with a timely release date close to the “Fight of the Century” anniversary that should provide plenty of solid promotional material for the book.

As a piece of literature the book, published by Rowman & Littlefield, stands up quite well on its own, and as a piece of boxing literature it stands out, through previously unpublished situational information on Frazier.

I found it to be a must-read for Frazier fans and a solid plus for most boxing libraries.

Author Lewis is a graduate school professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) and director of journalism at the affiliated York College with decades of expertise on his resume. This project is expertly constructed and reads very smoothly throughout. Beside the many insightful instances regarding Frazier himself, a very thoughtful portrait of his son Marvis Frazier runs through the narrative, which also conjures a vivid depiction of Frazier’s Broad Street Gym in North Philadelphia.

The book’s unique highlight is the ongoing tale of traveling with Frazier and his all-white band (with multiple Berklee school members) during a tour of southern states.

The first 140 pages or so (out of a listed 256), make up a fascinating memoir of getting to know Frazier and his circle during 1980, around four years after his second crushing defeat to George Foreman. At that point in his life, Frazier was trying to settle into retirement, guide Marvis’s culminating amateur career, and transition from boxing superstar to fledgling vocal attraction.

I devoured the opening sections of the book with reader’s glee, far more than enough to highly recommend Lewis’ book, but toward the end it seemed maybe he should have quit while and where he was ahead.

The last third gets substantially less engaging. The author grew distanced from his subject’s proximity and it shows, as the tale becomes far more familiar in relating already well-documented fight data.

There is still some fine perspective from Lewis like Joe’s hugely destructive obsession with rushing Marvis into disaster versus Larry Holmes, but for many of the closing segments you could cut and paste the same period of Frazier’s career out of Mark Kram Jr’s recent book Smokin’ Joe (2019) and gain a bit more personal touch.

That’s not at all to imply that the boxing writing is weak. Lewis makes an excellent case that Frazier won the rematch with Ali, not only the first fight; which leads to justified speculation on what could have occurred had Frazier gotten the second nod. Back then I shared Lewis’ opinion on the scoring, and his detailed analysis inspires taking another look at the replay.

Some minor gym characters or business associates become animated as if they’re standing in front of you, but I was disappointed in how a charming, complicated guy like Jimmy Young was overlooked and how larger-than-life characters like Gil Clancy and especially George Benton (a living example of where playwright August Wilson drew inspiration) came across rather subdued compared to the boisterous conversationalists I spoke with many times not long after the year Lewis’s story begins.

There are also a couple of minor omissions that, though based on very brief listings, still stick out when considering Lewis’s scholarly, journalistic credentials.

James Shuler is mentioned, but there’s nothing about his tragic death in a motorcycle accident a week after losing to Tommy Hearns in a minor title fight, nor the touching story about Hearns at the funeral, offering to put the belt in Shuler’s coffin. Frazier’s restaurant, Smokin’ Joe’s Corner, is also listed a couple times but there is no mention of the horrible murders that took place there during an inside job robbery and how that tragedy probably put the final nail into Frazier’s aspirations in the food industry.

I also hoped for some tidbits from Frazier’s thoughtful and wise older brother Tommy who provided me with some rare insights (and had an offbeat sense of humor about his name), a stoic trickster who seemed to lovingly enjoy putting his famous sibling on the spot.

Still, the overall impression I got was fantastic. A memoir should share time, location, emotion, and reflection. Lewis achieves all those things many times over.

Which leads to my primary, personal takeaway of this very worthwhile book. Based on a few of the lengthy encounters I was lucky enough to share with Joe Frazier (boxing and non-boxing related), it’s difficult for me to imagine that a canny observer like Lewis didn’t emerge from the amazing and enviable access he got with more wild tales, especially from nights on the road.

So, I’d have to guess, and bet, that Lewis let some of the more sensational situations or quotes remain aloft in the mist of the past, which to me is admirable, even more so in these social media dominated days.

Here’s a non-controversial quote that is included, which provides a sample of the many fine nuggets to be found:

“I don’t think you’re less of a man for crying,” said Joe, taking me by surprise. “It’s healthy for you. I cry if something goes wrong- I’ll cry right out. But if I cry out of anger, look out! Somebody’s in trouble. Crying shows a man has heart and helps him out of his pressures. Just don’t cry for nothing.”

I could almost hear Frazier’s voice when I read that, and descriptions of places I’ve been like Frazier’s gym read true enough to give the entire book an aura of accuracy.

A dozen excellent photographs serve as a first-class coda.

Fifty years after his biggest triumph, Joe Frazier remains a compelling topic in the discourse of sociological significance. This well written tribute does him plenty of justice.

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The Fight of the Century: A Golden Anniversary Celebration

Arne K. Lang

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In professional boxing, fights can be rank-ordered as generic fights, big fights, bigger fights, mega-fights, and spectacles. The first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier wasn’t merely a spectacle, but the grandest spectacle of them all. This coming Monday, March 8, is the 50th anniversary of that iconic event.

Ali-Frazier I was staged at three-year-old Madison Square Garden, the fourth arena in New York to take that name. It drew a capacity crowd: 20,455 (19,500 paid). An estimated 60 percent of all the tickets sold fell into the hands of scalpers.

The fight was closed-circuited to more than 350 locations in the United States and Canada. At some of the larger venues, it established a new record for gate receipts, and this for an attraction that wasn’t produced in-house. In Los Angeles, 15,333 saw the fight at the Forum and 11,575 at the nearby Sports Arena.

Bill Ballenger, the sports editor of the Charlotte (NC) News, saw the fight at the Charlotte Coliseum. He reported that the audio – Don Dunphy did the blow-by-blow with Burt Lancaster and Archie Moore serving as color commentators – was loud enough to be heard outside the arena and that many folks, either unable or unwilling to purchase a ticket, loitered outside and followed the action in 30 degrees weather.

An estimated three hundred million people saw the fight worldwide. In England, by some estimates, half the population tuned in, watching either at home on BBC1 or at a theater where one could watch the fight unfold on a movie screen. Now keep in mind that in England the fight didn’t commence until 6:40 in the morning on a Tuesday!

Inside Madison Square Garden, the large flock of celebrities included many folks one wouldn’t expect to find at a prizefight. Marcello Mastroianni, Italy’s most famous movie star, made a special trip from Rome. Salvador Dali was there and Barbra Streisand and Ethel Kennedy, widow of Bobby Kennedy, seated next to her escort, crooner Andy Williams. Frank Sinatra was there working as a photographer for Life magazine. Lore has it that Sinatra wangled the assignment after failing to boat one of the coveted ringside seats.

The scene was made brighter by human “peacocks,” the label applied to Harlemites with an outrageous sense of fashion, and the electricity was palpable. When Ali appeared at the back of the arena, making his way from his dressing room to the ring, everyone had goosebumps.

The late, great New York sportswriter Dick Young once wrote that there is no greater drama than in the moments preceding a big heavyweight title fight and that was never more true than on March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden.

Ali (31-0, 25 KOs) and Frazier (26-0, 23 KOs) were both undefeated. Both had a claim to the heavyweight title, Ali because the belt had been controversially stripped away from him for his political beliefs. Opinions as to who would win were pretty evenly divided. In Las Vegas, Joe Frazier was the favorite at odds of 6 to 5. Across the pond in England, bookies were quoting odds of 11 to 8 on Ali.

Those that favored Ali were of the opinion that ‘Smokin’ Joe was too one-dimensional. That much was true. Joe was as subtle as a steam locomotive on a downhill grade. He ate Ali’s hardest punches, said Boston Globe reporter Bud Collins, as if they were movie house popcorn and he eventually wore Ali down. There was little doubt as to how the judges would see it after Joe knocked Ali down in the 15th round with a frightful left hook. When Ali arose, it appeared that he had been afflicted with a sudden case of the mumps. The decision was unanimous: 11-4, 9-6, 8-6-1.

This wasn’t the greatest fight of all time, but it was a fight that more than lived up to the hype. And, as several people have noted, the event took on a life of its own without the benefit of modern technology to push it along. The buzz was fueled in a large part by newspapers, the “antiquated” sort of newspapers that a fellow fished from his driveway or purchased at a newsstand on the way to or from work. If twitter and facebook had been around during Muhammad Ali’s prime, Ali would have blown the doors off the internet.

A cultural touchstone is an event that remains sealed in our memory. As we slide into old age, if we are lucky enough to live that long, we may not remember what we had for breakfast in the morning, but some long-ago events are as vivid as if they had happened just yesterday.

Boxing historian Frank Lotierzo has written poignantly about how overjoyed he was when he was surprised with the news that his father would be taking him to the fight. “To this day it remains the biggest thrill of my life!” wrote Lotierzo, who was then in the seventh grade. “And it’s not even close!”

I didn’t see the fight, but I can recall the faces of people that I overheard talking about it, people whose interest in the fight struck me as odd as I knew they had little interest in the world of sports. So, when the fight is replayed in its entirety on Sunday – it airs on ABC at 2 p.m ET and again at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN – I will be watching it for the first time. And it will be bittersweet as I will be reminded that I am in the twilight of my life and my thoughts will inevitably drift to my friends and loved ones that have left this mortal world in the years since that grand night in 1971 when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier locked horns in the Fight of the Century.

I get misty-eyed just thinking about it.

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