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Victor Ortiz Has Emerged As A Compelling Figure…WOODS

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Floyd Mayweather is the most compelling character in boxing today. But his foe for his September 17 bout, Victor Ortiz, has emerged as quite a fascinating character in his own right.

I’m spellbound as I process Ortiz while he talks about his life, his prospects for upsetting Mayweather, and his disdain for the media, which he says consistently veers negative, because they–we–sit around and feel sorry for ourselves.

On a Wednesday conference call to hype the Sept. 17 clash with the 41-0 Mayweather, the 29-2-2 Ortiz came off as a complex figure, as he exhibited flashes of rebellion, anger, serenity, and gratitude in a span of 50 minutes. In that way, he’s not unlike Mayweather, who will jump from a  mood of boyish enthusiasm to braggy-rapper boasty in the span of a minute. Some might shake their head at the apparent inconsistency of it all, but I see the drama there; you don’t know what either man might say next, and that commands your attention.

I wrote a column (http://www.tss.ib.tv/news/articles/12869-an-apology-to-victor-ortizwoods) eight weeks ago in which I apologized to Ortiz for our tendency to harp on the negative. We do as a group go overboard in our critiques at times, and sometimes oversimplify things, or make erroneous deductions without possessing all or enough of the facts. In a column I posted yesterday (http://www.tss.ib.tv/news/articles-frontpage/13164-if-the-mayweathers-played-up-that-beef-for-the-cameras-give-em-an-oscarwoods), about the first installment of 24/7, I talked about how Ortiz is a winner, is someone to be celebrated merely for getting into the arena, after his mom and then his dad bolted, and left behind the Ortiz kids to fend for themselves. I hope I made clear that the fact that he didn’t succumb to self pity, to the lure of the streets, of easy methods of distraction and self-medication, as many of us do, is to be applauded.

I think Ortiz must’ve missed these items, because he seems intent on setting up a “me vs them” deal, pitting himself against the media, who he dismissed on the call as people who “don’t have a life.” Hey, a little turnabout is good medicine for us; we use that sword, sometimes we’re going to get sliced by it. But I will note here–on the call wasn’t the time or place to engage in that debate–that the media gets the word out on the sport, helps fans stay interested in the sweet science, and to smear us all as “get a lifers” doesn’t elevate Victor much at all.

Ortiz has so much to be proud of, he doesn’t need to stoop to throw a low blow at perceived nattering nabobs. “A guy like me wasn’t supposed to have beaten the odds like that, not according to the statistics,” he said. “That’s why I decided to make my own statistics.” Amen on that note.

Now, I can’t know–just as I can’t know what truly kicks around in Mayweather’s head, which is what makes him such an engrossing figure–how much Ortiz is using this “anti media” mindset to get himself fired up. But I suspect he is, and it’s not a bad tactic. He was indeed written off after his ‘no mas” against Marcos Maidana, and before his tussle with Andre Berto, so he has ample ammo to use to ignite himself to train that much harder to again shock the world, this time against the best boxer on the planet.

Some of that gratitude I mentioned before came through when he talked about getting together with his mother a few months back. She left him when he was seven, but they met a few months back, and Ortiz said the meeting went well. “She’s doing well,” he said. “I forgave her for everything. She asked me to forgive her. I decided I would before meeting her.”

Fair or not, because of his no mas moment, and his difficult upbringing, media will focus on Ortiz’ behavior, his mindset, check for signs of mental duress. He said on the call he was liking the hype for this fight, that it wasn’t distracting him. No, he said he hasn’t watched 24/7, but he is pals with the camera crew, and will watch the show after he upsets Mayweather.

Ortiz said he isn’t hoping that Floyd has gotten a bit long in the tooth, and isn’t crisp after a lengthy layoff. “I want the best Floyd Mayweather that is out there,” he said.  He did take a poke at Mayweather’s talent, saying he never looked at Floyd as a great, like he did Oscar, Mosley, Hopkins and a prime Zab Judah.

He took a shot at the media for playing up difficulties he had making 140 pounds; he said this was not so. Writer Robert Morales, getting points for making his point without being contentious,  pointed out that the media’s focus on that subject may have been as a result of Freddie Roach’s comments about how Ortiz stayed at 140 pounds too long. And then Ortiz switched gears, showing the quippy side of himself. When asked for a prediction, he said, “I’m not Muhammad Ali, come on now.”

As he did when he was in NYC for a press conference, Ortiz time and again used the phrase “I don’t know” or “I don’t really care.” You sense that he is working hard to make sense of it all, this fight, fame, family, love, minute by minute, and that answers aren’t easily deciphered.

Join the club, friend.

Ortiz’ promoter Oscar De la Hoya, fresh out of rehab for substance abuse, can likely identify. He’s knocking on the door of 40, and has had to re-calibrate his views on existence, after too many years of numbing himself with substances. On this call, Oscar said he looks up to Ortiz. “I didn’t live what Victor lived,” he said. “I can honestly say Victor is my hero.”

“I’ve learned how not to care about anything,” Ortiz said, in the context of analysts and critics opinions. Well, like it or not, Ortiz has made us keyboard tappers care. And even if he does like to think of us as get a lifers, some of us will still, I suspect, be rooting for this kid who should be a statistic, a jailbird, an OD victim, whatever, on September 17.

NOTE: I’m debuting a blog on ESPNNewYork.com next week. It’ll be mostly boxing, some MMA, focused on the NYC area. Fire me story ideas, pitches, things you’d like to see on there to FightBlogNYC@gmail.com.

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Sebastian Fundora is a Towering Inferno whose Money Punch Rises from the Furnace

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His anatomical measurements alone almost certainly would stamp Sebastian “The Towering Inferno” Fundora as the most unusual super welterweight ever, but there are other spatial matters that help to identify the 24-year-old southpaw from Coachella, Calif., as something even more unique, and more dangerous, than standard-sized 154-pounders.

When Fundora  (19-0-1, 13 KOs) defends his  WBC interim super welter title Saturday night against rugged Mexican Carlos Ocampo (34-1, 22 KOs), in the PBC on Showtime main event at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif., the matchup at first glance might suggest an NBA power forward posting up a point guard. Fundora is, depending on which listing you choose to believe, 6’5”, 6’5½” or 6’6”, but what’s a half-inch or so one way or the other when your opponent is 5’10½” and is giving away seven inches in reach to your condor-like wingspan of 80 inches?

Many fighters with physical advantages so seemingly apparent would opt to fight at a distance of their choosing, peppering the shorter man with boarding-house-reach jabs, the better to set up their own power shots while making it more difficult for the shorter guy to close the gap.

But Sebastian Fundora, who might be lean but hardly scrawny, does not fit anyone’s expectations other than his own and those of his Cuban-born father-trainer, Freddy Fundora. Jabs? The Fundoras know it’s necessary to have one as part of the overall package, but their preference is not to rely on it any more than is absolutely necessary. It is Sebastian’s signature shot, a ripping right uppercut thrown from tight quarters, that has elevated him to the position of mandatory WBC challenger to Jermell “Iron Man” Charlo (35-1-1, 19 KOs), the undisputed super welter champion. Fundora lives, breathes, eats and sleeps with that megafight in mind, but before it can happen, he has to take care of business against Ocampo, who comes in on a 12-bout winning streak and presumably confident he can find a way to get chin-to-chest with the Towering Inferno, if not nose-to-nose.

It was that uppercut, a very damaging blow from below, that has been the gift that keeps on giving to Sebastian Fundora. He delivered one to the chin of highly regarded Erickson Lubin in the third round of their April 9 bout in Las Vegas for the WBC interim super welter belt, sending Lubin to the canvas, and he closed round nine with a couple of more just before the bell, prompting Lubin’s corner to signal that their man had had enough and would not be coming out for the 10th.

But Lubin had his moments as well, most notably in the seventh when he landed several telling blows, causing a shaken Fundora to take a knee and give himself a few precious seconds to recover from the most precarious spot he’d been in as a pro to date.

“I had the composure to use my brain and take a knee during that fight,” Fundora said, apparently as pleased by his presence of mind at that moment as he is of his trademark uppercuts that eventually closed the show. “I got hit with a good punch and I was, like, `Let me take a little breather,’ instead of getting hit like that again. I used my intelligence.”

Ocampo, whose only loss came on a one-round knockout against IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. on June 16, 2018, thereafter moved up to super welter and launched his dozen-fight winning streak. He no doubt is envisioning doing unto Fundora what Lubin did, only more emphatically and ultimately victoriously. But there is a price to be paid for entering that toe-to-toe danger zone. When Fundora connects to maximum effect with his weapon of choice, and he usually does at some point in every fight, he feels the outcome is all but preordained.

“It goes up and their faces are usually right there,” he said of his lengthening list of victims. “It’s as easy as that. The uppercut is my lucky punch. It lands most of the time, with everybody. Southpaw. Right hand. It doesn’t matter. Once I (land) that, I feel like the job’s done.”

Sebastian Fundora is one of six siblings, all of whom have boxed at one time or another. His 20-year-old sister, Gabriela (8-0, 4 KOs), takes on Mexico’s Naomi Apellanos Reyes (9-1, 5 KOs) in the scheduled 10-round lead-in to her really big brother’s marquee bout. Gabriela is tall for a female flyweight (5’9”) and while not exactly towering, might reasonably be described as a high-rise inferno. She, too, has been tutored to make liberal use of the uppercut.

“We call it a `hot shot,’” Freddy Fundora said of the punch that could soon make Sebastian, if you’ll pardon the expression, the next big thing in boxing. “Most of the fighters he’ll be facing are going to be shorter than him, and they’ll be charging him. They pretty much fall into the uppercut all by themselves.”

Punch statistics furnished by CompuBox illustrate just how busy a bee Sebastian is, in a general sense, and how reliant he is on that uppercut. They also tell a tale of a jab that is so seldom employed that cobwebs could be growing on it, a juxtaposition of resources that, on the face of it, defies logic. The Towering Inferno averages 72.1 punches a round, second in his weight class only to Brian Castano (75.5), but he is first in punches landed per round (24.4), first in connect percentage (33.4%), first in power punches thrown per round (54.8) and first in power punches landed per round (22.4).

The pie chart also reveals that boxing’s version of a praying mantis throws only 18 jabs a round, lowest among all super welters, only two of which actually connect. For an especially tall fighter with an 80-inch reach, that paucity of use and effectiveness of the jab would seem to be anomalies.

Should Fundora get past Ocampo, the waiting period will commence for a Charlo-Fundora showdown, which could be the special event fight fans will be clamoring to see, much as they are now for the Spence-Terence Crawford full unification extravaganza that has been boxing’s most drawn-out tease since the five-year slow dance before Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao finally squared off. But it better happen sooner rather than later, because super welterweights as tall as Fundora are not guaranteed to remain in that weight class in the long term.

“Right now I’m comfortable at 154,”Fundora said. “But who knows? Maybe after this fight I’ll jump up to 168. We’ll see what happens in the next few years. I walk around at this weight. I don’t shoot up too heavy during my breaks. The heaviest I’ve been is, like, seven pounds over. Never anything crazy.”

Bernard Fernandez, named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category with the Class of 2020, was the recipient of numerous awards for writing excellence during his 28-year career as a sports writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. Fernandez’s first book, “Championship Rounds,” a compendium of previously published material, was released in May of last year. The sequel, “Championship Rounds, Round 2,” with a foreword by Jim Lampley, is currently out. The anthology can be ordered through Amazon.com and other book-selling websites and outlets.

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Rest In Peace Eder Jofre

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“I just thrill at that boy’s performance. He is a marvel of boxing perfection. There is nothing he cannot do.” – Barney Ross.

Between 1957 when he turned professional and 1965 when Fighting Harada caught up with him, Eder Jofre was 46-0-3. He reached heights that so few fighters have reached that you could probably name them without straining. He passed away this morning in Sau Paulo, Brazil, from pneumonia aged eighty-six. He had been hospitalised since March.

To say that his was a life well lived is an understatement.

Jofre was born in Sau Paulo in 1936, a decade that reflected this one in that it was a time of great political upheaval in his beloved Brazil, the thirties seeing the end of the Brazilian Republic, a communist uprising, a fascist uprising, and iterations of new constitutions peeled off like playing cards. It seemed to be sport, not politics that drove Jofre’s people though and his father had tried a fair hand at amateur boxing, later joining his brother to become a coach. The stars aligned and a fistic immortal rose from Brazil’s political ruins.

“At a young age,” wrote Chris Smith, author of the definitive Jofre biography Brazil’s First Boxing Champion, “[his father] put the gloves on Eder and started teaching him techniques and punching patterns…it wasn’t long before little Eder was jumping rope with the professionals.”

By the time he was seven years old, he was training like an amateur boxer and soberly asking his father’s permission to thrash school bullies. By the age of sixteen he was fighting as an amateur and in 1956 he was a part of the Brazilian Olympic team that travelled to Melbourne, Australia where he was eliminated before the medals by Chilean Claudio Barrientos – who would be stopped in eight rounds by Jofre when they met up again in the professional ranks.

Those professional ranks beckoned him a few months after his Olympic failure, the same time at which he decided to become a vegetarian, something he remained committed to until his death.  Early results were good. While Jofre was troubled by a tiny handful of South American draws, a local phenomenon that called for a wider separation of the fighters that was generally called for in the rest of the world, “O Galo De Ouro” as he would soon come to be known had set upon the road that would culminate in one of the finest runs in bantamweight and boxing history.

Another foible of the South American boxing landscape of the 1950s and 1960s was that in the unlikely event that you were able to free yourself from the massed banditry of the local toughs, you would often have to meet with ranked opposition before you were even allowed to contest for regional titles. Imagine the horror this notion would inflict upon the rather spoiled fighters of today, fighters who often achieve world championships without having to meet with the best.

For his part, Jofre ran up against the Filipino Leo Espinosa in June of 1959. Espinosa, a former flyweight, had extended the immortal Pascual Perez the full fifteen in 1956, even picking up a few rounds, before conquering a man who would soon be a fine champion in his own right, Pone Kingpetch, in 1957. He had a pedigree in excess of Jofre who had boxed just twenty-five contests.  Jofre admitted to his father before this fight that he was afraid, and his father suggested they cancel.

“No.  That’s the way it is.  Afraid or not, I am fighting.”

Such was his life.

It was not just Jofre’s career which was in its infancy but also the boxing in Brazil – Espinosa seems to have been only the second world-class fighter to visit the country and so as Eder went, so did boxing in Brazil. Jofre did not let his countrymen down. In the fifth he dropped the visiting Filipino with a gorgeous left hook – there is a famous photograph of Jofre bouncing, looking away from his fallen foe, his feet not touching the ground, frozen with both feet an inch above the canvas, floating. Espinosa got his disorganised legs under him and although he remained cool as Jofre’s battle-fever and inexperience showed, there was little likelihood of his winning after suffering such a blow. Jofre had graduated in a ten-round decision.

This set him loose on the trail of the South American Bantamweight title, a far more worthy, storied championship than it is today and held by the world-ranked Argentine Ernesto Miranda. For those who are not aware, Argentina-Brazil is as great a sporting rivalry as exists and his series with Miranda was the key rivalry of the first half of Jofre’s career. The two had met twice in 1957, registering a pair of draws before their respective careers diverged, and now they were to settle matters for the title. Their third fight, in February of 1960, was a strange affair in which Eder fought aggressively but was made to miss by Miranda, who never looked like winning but who boxed carefully enough to undermine Jofre’s offence.

This lack of aggression makes Miranda’s behaviour prior to their fourth encounter a few months later even stranger. Miranda behaved like a man fueled by hate, even stooping so low as to send insulting letters to Jofre’s wife and family. One must be wary of projecting on to great historical figures in unpicking their motives but here it seems to me is a key moment for Jofre. His bad intentions seem to me to have been unlocked by Miranda, not just in the fourth and final fight of their rivalry but for all time. Not even world-class opposition would be safe after this night.

It was not that Jofre was more aggressive than in their third fight, but rather he seems to have been more controlled. He missed less, countered more and made a backfoot fight impossible for Miranda.  They waged war with not a moment’s doubt as to the outcome. It was Jofre in three. After destroying his rival in the ring, Jofre the man found it within himself to forgive Miranda for some obscene pre-fight behaviour and even take him into his confidences.

It was inevitable now that Jofre would receive a shot at the title although for the privilege, Jofre had to travel to Los Angeles where he dominated and stopped the overmatched Eloy Sanchez in November of 1960. A brief and disturbing brush with the Italian Mafia aside, the championship fight went off without a hitch. Jofre cheerly named the bantamweight title a wedding gift for his wife-to-be.

In 1961 Jofre was matched with the world-class Italian Piero Rollo. Rollo had been beaten before, but never stopped by punches – so brutally did Jofre handle him that he was unable to answer the bell for the tenth. It was a sensational display of total dominance.

“I am never in a hurry,” Jofre explained, that control again.

“He is the best bantam in the world,” offered a barely recognisable Rollo.

I submit that Jofre was by this point already technically complete. When he met Johnny Caldwell the following year – Caldwell, too, made the awful mistake of making his contest with Jofre personal – he was as beautifully balanced as it is possible for a fighter to be, almost never out of punching position, delivering on boxing’s manual on shot after shot while also riffing on the classics. His uppercut, especially, was a thing of genuine beauty; Jofre could make space for that punch almost anywhere and throw it from unusual ranges and angles, making of it then a feint that certainly tied Caldwell in knots. An unbeaten Northern Irishman, it is hard to exaggerate just how tough this man was, but Jofre beat him so badly as to see him rescued by his distressed manager in the tenth.

The title picture, which had become confused by the retirement of Jose Becerra, was now clear – it was Jofre. Indisputably the world’s number one bantamweight, he would remain so for the first half of the 1960s, dismissing Herman Marquez, Kat Aoki, and, against the man most likely to rule if Jofre had never been born, he repeated his 1960 knockout of Jose Medel, this time in just six rounds. In 1964 he turned in his last great winning performance against Bernardo Caraballo, one of the most underrated bantamweights of all and the most underrated bantamweight of the era. Caraballo, out of Colombia, passed away himself earlier this year, and just as Jofre led the charge for boxing in Brazil, so did Caraballo in his country.

In the 1960s, in their primes, they duke it out ring-centre for control, both stylists, both big for the weight, both hungry for personal and national glory. This, I suspect, is not a fight any 118lb man could win against Jofre and soon enough Caraballo is moving away square, disorganised, harassed.  He succumbed in seven.

Jofre spans the eras. When he won his titles he was boxing for the old incarnations, the NYSAC, the NBA, by the time he lost them, he was defending the WBC and WBA championships, certainty ebbed even as his greatness flowed. The wonderful Fighting Harada was the man who came for him, by then tight at the weight and giving up a clear style advantage to his Japanese foe, Jofre was still able to make the rematch razor-thin after dropping a clear decision in the first fight. More glory awaited at featherweight in something of a second career, but Jofre’s best was behind him. He finally hung them up in 1976 during Muhammad Ali’s second reign; when he turned professional, Rocky Marciano had just retired.

This is a very short version of a very great ring-career. What is not posited here is his personal life. Eder’s was rich. He was happily married to Cidinha for more than fifty years; he had a close relationship with his children, who travelled with him, not least in his twilight years when Jofre revisited the site of his title-winning fight with Eloy Sanchez. He lived a life any one of us could be proud of after boxing, working in politics and Brazilian civil service, continuing to make friends right up until the very end.

I spoke to author Chris Smith about his enduring memory of Jofre, with whom he worked closely on their recently published book.

“A year ago, I had the pleasure of hosting him and his two kids and I asked him a few times “how are you feeling champ?” And he’d always respond “very, very happy.”  He told me he was the happiest person in the world.”

Beat that.

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Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame Returns plus Local Philly Fight News

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Still coming out of a global pandemic which suspended the 2020 ceremony and forced a limited version of the celebratory weekend last year, 2022 marks not only a return to normalcy for the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame (ACBHOF), but it gives a chance for fans to get the full interactive experience. This year, for the first time, all of the weekend’s festivities including the Induction Ceremony on Sunday, Oct. 9, will take place at one location, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

“This year we are really excited about the new things we have to offer fans, while we continue to deliver the type of access we’ve become known for,” states ACBHOF founder Ray McCline. “We want fans to understand that this weekend [second weekend of October] is going to be our home from now on. Working with Hard Rock has been special, and they’ve helped us with a lot of the logistics to really blend what they do [music entertainment] with the sports world and our event.” After listening to McCline passionately speaking about his goal to bring the sports legends and legendary fights back to life for the proud resort city that has a special role in boxing history, a sense of relief can be heard from McCline regarding the past obstacles the ACBHOF has dealt with.

“So far each of the past weekends have had their hiccups, those things happen when you’re hosting such a large event with so many moving pieces. This partnership allows for fans to come to one main site and stay immersed in all things boxing and music for the whole weekend,” says McCline. From the opening V.I.P. party on Friday night to the memorabilia show that will feature interactive displays with some of the sport’s legends teaching boxing basics, McCline wants the Hall of Fame Weekend to be known as the weekend when both fans and legendary boxers mingle in an up-close and personal way.

This year’s class includes Lennox Lewis, James Toney, Frank Fletcher, Kathy Duva (promoter), Kevin Rooney Sr. (trainer), and Pat Lynch (manager). Except for the V.I.P. party that starts the weekend and the Induction Ceremony that closes out the weekend, every other event is free and open to the public, notes McCline.

Some tickets remain for the kick-off party and ceremony. Fans interested in attending can visit ACBHOF for all the details.

____

Marshall Kauffman’s Kings Promotions is presenting a show tonight (Saturday, Oct. 1) at Philadelphia’s 2300 Arena featuring bantamweight standout Christian Carto (19-1, 13 KOs) taking on his toughest test since his return. He battles Argentina’s Hector Sosa (14-1, 8 KOs) the former South American super bantamweight champion. Carto is always in fan-friendly fights and with a victory over Sosa can reemerge as a potential world championship challenger soon.

Light heavyweight Atif Oberlton (6-0, 5 KOs) returns to action in the co-feature. Oberlton was an accomplished amateur and many local boxing observers are dubbing the Philadelphian a future world champion.

Next weekend, on Friday night October 7th, several staples in Philadelphia boxing return to the Xcite Event Center at Parx Casino in Bensalem. Joe Hand Promotions and Joey “Tank” Dawejko (22-10-4, 13 KOs) are teaming up with Hall of Fame promoter Russell Peltz for a night of action featuring some of the best local talent.

Dawejko, a long-time fringe heavyweight contender from the Tacony section of the city fought off any talk of retirement on Sept. 1 when he scored a fourth-round stoppage over Mike Marshall (6-3-1, 4 KOs). Dawejko was back in the ring for the first time in seven months after deciding to make one final push towards heavyweight glory.

Dawejko takes on veteran Terrell Jamal Woods (28-53-9, 20 KOs) of Forrest City, AR, in a scheduled eight-round bout. Prior to his victory over Marshall, Dawejko contemplated hanging up his gloves in favor of the roofing business that he established this year. However, after a lengthy conversation with promoter Russell Peltz, the two agreed to team up again for one last run in the sport. At just 32 years old, Dawejko has had a fruitful career and not just from a financial standpoint. He has competed all over the world and has never turned down an opportunity at a big fight, or to join top contenders and champions in their training camps.

Many of Dawejko’s major career opportunities were taken at the last minute. This last push by him is about finally reaching for the one thing missing from his professional career, a gold belt that he can display that signifies that he was at one point one of the best heavyweights on the planet. Against Marshall he displayed fast hands and pin-point accuracy and his fight against Woods on Oct. 7 should be no different in terms of action and his progression.

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