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As Ali Turns 70, A Reflection On A First Encounter With The Greatest

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As Ali Turns 70, A Reflection On A First Encounter With The Greatest – On April 19, 1971, a little over five weeks after he lost a unanimous decision to “Smokin” Joe Frazier for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world, Muhammad Ali’s appeal of his conviction for refusing to be inducted into the US military during the Vietnam war was argued before the Supreme Court. On June 28, 1971 the court ruled in Ali’s favor 8-0 and reversed the conviction. Muhammad Ali won the biggest fight of his life outside the boxing ring.

During the quickly assembled press conference after the ruling, the first question Ali was asked was whether or not he was going to sue the government for wrongly stripping him of his heavyweight title. Ali immediately responded, “No.” And he went on to say that the fight was over and that he held no malice towards anyone. The government did what it believed in and thought was right just as he took a stand in doing what he believed in and thought was right.

Think about that for a moment. Ali wasn’t about trying to gain some sort of restitution or revenge from the entity that robbed him of his physical prime as a fighter and cost him millions in earnings. And in reality part of the reason why Ali’s health isn’t as good as it could be today is because he tried to make up the lost millions from his three and a half year exile on the back-end of his career. Thus he endured punishment as an older fighter in his late thirties. Yet he walked away from his fight and struggle with the government with a clear head and didn’t live the rest of his life as a bitter or damaged man.

We should’ve grasped it right then and there, and perhaps some of us did, how big a man Muhammad Ali is and has always been. Sure, like everyone else he has his warts and perhaps went overboard with his pre-fight antics before his title bouts with Floyd Patterson, Ernie Terrell and Joe Frazier. But that aside, Ali has always seen the big picture and has never been the least bit petty or small minded on serious issues that matter.

Muhammad Ali was born January 17, 1942. Today he turns 70 years old. What’s left to be said about him that hasn’t already been documented? Ali’s life in and out of the ring has been covered so much to the point that it’s been exhausted. Instead of trying to find something to say about his career or the influence he’s had world-wide as a humanitarian since he retired as a fighter that hasn’t already been said, I thought I’d share a true story about my first encounter with “The Greatest.”

It was late April of 1971, I was in 6th grade and lived in Haddonfield, New Jersey, (20 minutes outside of Philadelphia where heavyweight champ Joe Frazier resided), which is the neighboring town of Cherry Hill where Muhammad Ali moved to in 1970. He lived on Ann Drive off of Kresson Road about 8 miles from my house. I was warned by my father numerous times that I was forbidden to ride my bike that far out to Ali’s house hoping to meet him. Yeah, like that was gonna stop me!

On this Saturday afternoon in late April of 1971 I talked a friend of mine, Bob Arnold, into riding our bikes out to Ali’s house with the hopes of meeting him. Bob wasn’t much of a boxing fan but meeting Ali convinced him to take the excursion. On the way there Bob and I debated whether or not he was gonna be home. Once we arrived it was obvious that no one was there and the trip was for naught.

Just as we were starting to ride away I got a flat on the back tire of my Schwinn Apple Krate, which put me in a dilemma because I now had to call my father and ask him to come and pick me up. So I knocked at Ali’s next door neighbor’s door and asked if I could use the phone to call my father. They were very accommodating and said they were used to people driving by looking to get a glimpse of Ali. When I called my father, he asked me exactly where I was calling from. I hemmed and hawed. Finally, he asked if I had gone to Muhammad Ali’s house, and I said yes. He replied, “Instead of giving you a beating, walk your bike home or go asked Muhammad to give you a ride,” and then hung up. So I walked my bike home but didn’t get an ass whipping from my father when I got there.

Seven months later and two weeks after Ali fought Buster Mathis, I talked three friends, Joe Carbone, Jimmy Avery and Danny Till, into cutting school and going out to Ali’s house. This time it was worth the trip. When we approached Ali’s house he was outside raking. He caught us staring at him and motioned us to approach the gate by the entrance of his driveway. When we got there he opened the gate and told us to come in. Once we were on his property, he smiled at us and asked, “You guys skipped school to come out here, didn’t you”? “Yes,” we replied. He then said, “What school do you go to because I have to call your truant officer and tell him that you’re here.” And then he smiled and asked if we were thirsty and we said yes. He then took us down to a lower level of the house to which half the room was surrounded by a bar and fountain. Ali then said, “I have any kind of soda you want.”

After we told him what kind of soda we wanted his wife, Belinda, came down stairs and told him that the drapery man was there and they had to decide on what color they wanted. And by the way the conversation unfolded between them, it sounded as if there was a conflict between the colors red and purple. Ali excused himself from us for a second and said he had to straighten out his wife. He then joined her in a mildly heated debate which was hard to decipher what exactly was being said. After a couple minutes of banter, Belinda walked away from him saying, “That’s it Muhammad, I’m going with our first choice. If you don’t like it, tough. Don’t give me a hard time or I’ll go call Joe. He’s right across the bridge.” After hearing that Ali had the look on his face as if he were a little kid and had his hand caught in the cookie jar.

For the next 15 or so minutes Ali chatted with us and asked what we were studying in school and what our parents did as an occupation. Shortly after that he said he had to go and asked us to follow him to the gate so he could see us out. As we were leaving he said, “The next time we come around during a school day I’m going to report you to your school for playing hooky.” He then waved and went back towards the house.

Years later when I was with him at the 20th anniversary celebration of Frazier-Ali I in Center City Philadelphia, I told him the story and he asked if his old house in Cherry Hill was still there. I told him that it was but it was no longer the nicest house on the street. He laughed.

It’s inconceivable that you’d be able to do that with any elite athlete today, let alone hands down the most famous. And it’s strange, because Muhammad Ali pretty much set the stage for today’s self absorbed super stars, yet he never distanced himself from anyone. And I’m sure that, were his health good, he’d be exactly the way he was back then now when it came to access.

 Contact Lotierzo at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.

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Arne’s Almanac: Jake Paul and Women’s Boxing, a Curmudgeon’s Take

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Jake Paul can fight more than a little. The view from here is that he would make it interesting against any fringe contender in the cruiserweight division. However, Jake’s boxing acumen pales when paired against his skill as a flim-flam artist.

Jake brought a 9-1 record into last weekend’s bout with Mike Perry. As noted by boxing writer Paul Magno, Jake’s previous opponents consisted of “a You Tuber, a retired NBA star, five retired MMA stars, a part-time boxer/reality TV star, and two undersized and inactive fall-guy boxers.”

Mike Perry, a 32-year-old Floridian, was undefeated (6-0, 3 KOs) as a bare-knuckle boxer after forging a 14-8 record in UFC bouts. In pre-fight blurbs, Perry was billed as the baddest bare knuckle boxer of all time, but against Jake Paul he proved to have very unrefined skills as a conventional boxer which Team Paul undoubtedly knew all along. Perry lasted into the eighth round in a one-sided fight that could have been stopped a lot sooner.

Jake Paul is both a boxer and a promoter. As a promoter, he handles Amanda Serrano, one of the greatest female boxers in history. That makes him the person most responsible (because the buck stops with him) for the wretched mismatch in last Saturday’s co-feature, the bout between Serrano and Stevie Morgan.

Morgan, who took up boxing two years ago at age 33, brought a 14-1 record. Nicknamed the Sledgehammer, she had won 13 of her 14 wins by knockout, eight in the opening round. However, although she resides in Florida, all but one of those 13 knockouts happened in Colombia.

“We found that in Colombia there were just more opportunities for women’s boxing than in the United States,” she told a prominent boxing writer whose name we won’t mention.

The truth is that, for some folks, Colombia is the boxing equivalent of a feeder lot for livestock, a place where a boxer can go to fatten their record. The opportunities there were no greater than in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1995. It was there that Peter McNeeley prepped for his match with Mike Tyson with a 6-second knockout of professional punching bag Frankie Hines. (Six seconds? So it would be written although no one seems to have been there to witness it.)

Serrano vs Morgan was understood to be a stay-busy fight for Amanda whose rematch with Katie Taylor was postponed until November. Stevie Morgan, to her credit, answered the bell for the second round whereas others in her situation would have remained on the stool and invented an injury to rationalize it. Thirty-eight seconds later it was all over and Ms. Morgan was free to go home and use her sledgehammer to do some light dusting.

The Paul-Perry and Serrano-Morgan fights played out in a sold-out arena in Tampa before an estimated 17,000. Those without a DAZN subscription paid $64.95 for the livestream. Paul’s next promotion, where he will touch gloves with 58-year-old Mike Tyson (unless Iron Mike pulls a Joe Biden and pulls out; a capital idea) with Serrano-Taylor II the semi-main, will almost certainly rake in more money than any other boxing promotion this year.

Asked his opinion of so-called crossover boxing by a reporter for a college newspaper, the venerable boxing promoter Bob Arum said, “It’s not my bag but folks who don’t like it shouldn’t get too worked up over it because no one is stealing from anybody.” True enough, but for some of us, the phenomenon is distressing.

The next big women’s fight happens Saturday in Detroit where Claressa Shields seeks a world title in a third weight class against WBC heavyweight belt-holder Vanessa Lepage-Joanisse.

A two-time Olympic gold medalist, undefeated in 14 fights as a pro, Shields is very good, arguably the best female boxer of her generation which makes her, arguably, the best female boxer of all time. But turning away Lepage-Joanisse (7-1, 2 KOs) won’t elevate her stature in our eyes.

Purportedly 17-4 as an amateur, the Canadian won her title in her second crack at it. Back in August of 2017, she challenged Cancun’s Alejandra Jimenez in Cancun and was stopped in the third round. Entering the bout, Lepage-Joanisse was 3-0 as a pro and had never fought a match slated for more than four rounds.

Vanessa Lepage-Joanisse

Vanessa Lepage-Joanisse

True, on the women’s side, the heavyweight bracket is a very small pod. A sanctioning body has to make concessions to harness a sanctioning fee. Nonetheless, how absurd that a woman who had answered the bell for only 11 rounds would be deemed qualified to compete for a world title. (FYI: Alejandra Jimenez was purportedly born a man. She left the sport with a 12-0-1 record after her win over Franchon Crews Dazurn was changed to a no-contest when she tested positive for the banned steroid stanozolol.)

Following her defeat to Jimenez, Vanessa Lepage-Joanisse, now 29 years old, was out of action for six-and-a-half years. When she returned, she was still a heavyweight, but a much slender heavyweight. She carried 231 pounds for Jimenez. In her most recent bout where she captured the vacant WBC title with a split decision over Argentina’s Abril Argentina Vidal, she clocked in at 173 ¼. (On the distaff side, there’s no uniformity among the various sanctioning bodies as to what constitutes a heavyweight.)

Claressa Shields doesn’t need Vanessa Lepage-Joanisse to reinforce her credentials as a future Hall of famer. She made the cut a long time ago.

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Former World Bantamweight Champion Richie Sandoval Passes Away at Age 63

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Richie Sandoval, who won the WBA and lineal bantamweight title in one of the biggest upsets of the 1980s and then, not quite two years later, suffered near-fatal injuries in a title defense, has passed away at the age of 63.

News circulated fast in the Las Vegas boxing community on Monday, July 22, the grapevine actuated by a tweet from Hall of Fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler: “Boxing and the Top Rank family lost one of our own last night in the passing of former WBA bantamweight champion Richie Sandoval. It hurts personally and professionally to know that Richie is gone at age 63. RIP campeon.”

Details are vague but the cause of death was apparently a sudden heart attack that Sandoval experienced while visiting the Southern California home of his son of the same name.

Richie Sandoval put the LA County community of Pomona, California, on the boxing map before Shane Mosley came along and gave the town a more frequently-cited mention in the sports section of the papers. He came from a fighting family. An older brother, Albert “Superfly” Sandoval, became a big draw at LA’s fabled Olympic Auditorium while building a 35-2-1 record that included a failed bid to capture Lupe Pintor’s world bantamweight title.

Richie was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic boxing team that was stranded when U.S. President Jimmy Carter (and many other world leaders) boycotted the event as a protest against Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan.

As a pro, Sandoval’s signature win was a 15th-round stoppage of Jeff Chandler. They fought on April 7, 1984 in Atlantic City. Chandler was making the tenth defense of his world bantamweight title.

Despite being a heavy underdog, Sandoval dominated the fight, winning almost every round until the referee stepped in and waived it off. Chandler, who was 33-1-2 heading in and had avenged his lone defeat, never fought again.

Sandoval made two successful defenses before risking his title against Gabby Canizales on the undercard of Hagler-Mugabi in the outdoor stadium at Caesars Palace. In round seven, Sandoval, who had a hellish time making the weight, was knocked down three times and suffered a seizure as he collapsed from the third knockdown. Stretchered out of the ring, he was rushed to the hospital where doctors reduced the swelling in his brain and beat the odds to save his life. This would be Richie’s lone defeat. He finished his pro career with a record of 29-1 (17 KOs).

Bob Arum cushioned some of the pain by giving Richie a $25,000 bonus and offering him a lifetime job at Top Rank which Richie accepted. And let the record show that Arum was good to his word.

A more elaborate portrait of Richie Sandoval was published in these pages in 2017. You can check it out HERE. May he rest in peace.

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Amanda Serrano and Jake Paul Vanquish Overmatched Foes in Tampa

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Amanda “the Real Deal” Serrano mowed through knockout puncher Stevie Morgan in less than two rounds on Saturday and Jake Paul soundly defeated bare knuckle champion Mike Perry by knockout too.

Paul and Serrano move on to bigger things.

“It’s feels great, it feels amazing. My 50th fight, my 31st knockout, I’m super blessed,” said Serrano.

Despite jumping up three weight divisions Serrano (47-2-1, 31 KOs) showed more than 17,000 fans and Morgan (14-2, 13 KOs) at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, how she was able to win seven weight divisions.

Fans and perhaps Katie Taylor breathed a sigh of relief that Serrano is truly back. In Serrano’s last fight she was forced to withdraw back in March due to an accident to her eye moments before a fight. Now the Puerto Rican and Irish super stars will meet in Texas on November 15.

Fans can expect a rematch of one of the greatest fights of all time.

Tonight, before walking into the boxing ring, Morgan had commented that of all the top female fighters Serrano was low hanging fruit. The Puerto Rican legend merely shrugged her shoulders and replied that she lets her fists do the talking.

Both fighters hesitated touching gloves but did. After that, Serrano immediately went into assassin’s mode and moved forward while punching like a finely tuned hemi-engine. Morgan tried to keep up but discovered Serrano was not easy to hit.

Serrano moved forward smoothly while slipping and punching. A stiff looking Morgan, whose legs seemed unbent, tried to fend off the Puerto Rican champion’s blows but was smacked repeatedly in the first round with lefts and rights.

When the bell rang to end the first round, it was obvious that Morgan was overmatched.

As the second round commenced Serrano immediately slipped into attack gear behind her southpaw defensive guard. Once again, she fired combinations while moving quickly forward against the taller Morgan.

It was even worse than the first round as Serrano unloaded a dozen unanswered blows forcing the referee to stop the fight at 38 seconds of the second round.

“I think these girls were mistaking my kindness for weakness,” said Serrano. “If you’re not on my level that’s what happens.”

Morgan quickly learned she’s not on the championship level.

“Stevie Morgan just started a little while ago. I knew it would have been a little too much for her,” said Serrano. “My hat goes off to her. It’s not easy.”

Now it’s on to Katie Taylor.

Jake Paul KOs Mike Perry

In the co-main event Jake Paul (10-1, 7 KOs) floored Mike Perry (6-1) the Bare Knuckle Champion in the first and second round of the cruiserweight fight. And then battered the smaller fighter with a jolting jab to the body and head that opened up cuts on the former MMA fighter.

Paul continued to show improvement and proved once again that whether its MMA or Bare Knuckle fighting, his boxing skills are superior to their combat champions.

“Man, he’s tough as nails. I’m sorry it took so long. Respect man. He’s the king of violence,” said Paul about his fallen foe whose nickname is the “King of Violence.”

Paul attacked the body with a strong left jab while circling slowly left and right. Perry stood straight up with a low guard and his chin up. Paul hit that chin repeatedly and eventually cracked it in the fifth round.

Perry survived.

In the sixth round the bigger blonde fighter Paul bludgeoned Perry with another left jab and then opened with a barrage of blows that blasted the bare knuckle fighter to the canvas. Though he beat the count, he stumbled and the referee stopped the fight at 1:12 of the sixth round.

“I kind of expected that,” said Paul.

Perry was honest about the outcome.

“I tried man, but the kid hit me hard,” said Perry.

Now it’s on to Mike Tyson on November 15 in Arlington, Texas.

“Mike. I love you. But this is my sport now. I’m so honored but I’m going to take your throne.”

Other Bouts

A lightweight battle between undefeated fighters saw Canada’s Lucas Bahdi (17-0, 15 KOs) lose every round until he unloaded a three-punch combination that rendered Ashton Sylve (11-1, 9 KOs) unconscious before he hit the canvas.

Sylve utilized his speed and counters for five rounds and seemed to cruise for five years. But Bahdi showed a good chin especially against lightning uppercuts that sneaked through the guard.

“He’s very twitchy and very quick. I was trying to get to his body early on,” said Bahdi. “He’s very fast and has good counter punches.

In the sixth round Sylve was opening up a little more with his hands down and Bahdi saw the opening and quickly launched a right followed by a left hook that knocked out Sylve before he hit the floor at 2:27 of the sixth round.

“I knew his head’s there in the center all the time,” said Bahdi. “I think I stole the show tonight.”

Prelim Bouts

A rematch between lightweights saw Corey Marksman (10-0-1) win by majority decision against Tony Aguilar (12-1-1) in a back-and-forth battle. Marksman out-worked Aguilar with an especially effective counter-right that scored repeatedly. Their first encounter last February ended in a draw.

Shadasia Green (14-1, 11 KOs) stumbled a bit but got the win against Natasha Spence (8-5-2) to win by unanimous decision in a super middleweight. It was her first fight since losing to Franchon Crews-Dezurn for the world title.

Green was cruising for most of the fight behind a sharp jab and rights to the body but during an offensive out burst Spence caught her with a counter right and floored her in the seventh. It was half punch and half slip, but she was knocked down.

Though Green did not get a knockout she emerged with the win 78-73, 77-74 twice.

“I had fun in there tonight,” said Green. “I belong at the top with the best.”

Alexis Chaparro (2-0) knocked out Kevin Hill (1-2) with a five-punch combination at 2:01 of the second round in a middleweight fight.

Angel Barrientes (12-1) defeated Edwin Rodriguez (12-9-2) by majority decision after six rounds in a super bantamweight fight. The scores were 57-57, 60-54 twice for Barrientes who resides in Las Vegas.

Photo credit: Esther Lin / MVP Promotions

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