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The Beast of Stillman's Gym, Part 4…TOLEDO

Springs Toledo

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Robinson nervously laughs, LaMotta looks over his shoulder. Is Bert Lytell in the house?

 

PART 4: SHADOWS AND SUGAR RAY

Promoter “Rip” Valenti, a product of Boston’s North End, finagled an agreement with uncrowned welterweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson to fight Bert Lytell in 1945. In May, that agreement had become “very definite plans” and Valenti assured reporters that Robinson and Lytell would meet during the outdoor season at Fenway Park.

Robinson had bigger things on his mind. The National Boxing Association would soon announce that the world titles were being unfrozen as World War II winded down and the champions came out of the armed services. Welterweight king Freddie Cochrane promised his navy pals that he would be an active champion and was making overtures to Robinson. Robinson pondered his options. With Cochrane making moves in his direction and that golden crown getting a little closer, why risk blowing it by taking on a high-risk challenge like Lytell? He wasn’t crazy like Jake LaMotta, so that summer saw him face a white fighter with a record of 7-11 instead of Bert.

At the end of 1948, Boston tried again. Promoter Sam Silverman offered Robinson a $15,000 guarantee to face Bert in early 1949 for the “Negro Middleweight Championship.” They told him that he could name the date. By this time Robinson was campaigning hard to face middleweight king Marcel Cerdan. Defeating the number-one contender who was touted as “the most-feared fighter in the country” would have made that campaign as politically persuasive as a gun to the head. But he passed again.

Meanwhile, Bert went right on facing hazardous fighters for fun.

For journalists who expected their boxers to be fearless, Robinson’s business acumen looked bad. One of his critics counted over 30 times that Robinson reneged or “ran out” on agreements to fight. Host cities left hanging dotted the national landscape between Boston, where Valenti shook his fist, and Houston, where an agreement to fight Cocoa Kid was left bleaching in the sun.

Robinson shrugged it off until he overheard Manhattan restaurateur Toots Shor grumbling within earshot. “There goes Robinson,” said Shor, “–-they ought to ban him from boxing.” That did it. Robinson penned a retort in the November 1950 issue of Ebony: “My critics would have the public believe that I’m a bad boy who hates all promoters and breaks contract with impunity. They seek to prove that I have caused bitterness, bad feeling, and confusion in boxing… this time I’ll have my say.” The media was biased, he charged; why else did typewriters rattle every time a promoter wailed about an alleged run-out but went strangely quiet when it came to his side of the story? Those “run-outs” weren’t run-outs at all, he said, they were misunderstandings motivated by wishful thinking. Fly-by-night promoters had a habit of mistaking his willingness to consider a fight with a signed contract, and if they chose to kick off expensive publicity campaigns based on that, it wasn’t his problem.

In his righteous indignation, Robinson’s pen did to him what most of our mouths do to us –-it spun off without him: “I fight all comers,” he wrote, “provided they can put up a good scrap and draw a decent gate.”

This, of course, wasn’t true. Bert Lytell was already drawing decent gates and after fighting on even terms with the best middleweight in the world in LaMotta, everyone knew he could put up a good scrap with anybody. Robinson knew it better than most -–Artie Towne was one of his stablemates as was Van McNutt, whom Bert cut to pieces in January 1945. “I want it known,” Robinson wrote, “that Ray Robinson never runs out on a bona-fide match contract.” He should have made an exception. What Rip Valenti called “very definite plans” in May 1945 to stage a Robinson-Lytell fight became “a signed contract” and still never came off. On August 1st Sammy Aaronson was complaining to the Baltimore Sun that “Lytell had a contract to fight Ray Robinson July 23rd at the Boston ball park but Robinson ran out.”

LaMotta himself may have had a hand in Robinson’s reluctance to fight the beast of Stillman’s Gym. His split decision win at the Boston Garden may be just a bland statistic now, but for a number of years afterward it was remembered as a scandal.

The Aaronson office never stopped trying to get a rematch with LaMotta and let the whole world know it. Boxing weeklies as far away as San Francisco ran front-page challenges: “BERT LYTELL challenges the World’s Leading Middleweights –-wants Marcel Cerdan or Jake La Motta” declared the May 3rd 1947 issue of Referee and Redhead; “Recently Lytell boxed a whale of a close one with Jake LaMotta, in Boston. And since that memorable encounter, promoters throughout the Nation have tried in vain to make the rematch. But it seems that LaMotta (that guy who claims no one wants to fight him) wants no part of Lytell.” Over in New York City, insiders like Willie Schulkin were also calling out LaMotta. “Jake LaMotta has been licking light heavies and claims that middleweights don’t want any part of him. Does he forget Bert Lytell?” Schulkin wrote, “Lytell stands ready to go with LaMotta at a moment’s notice. Are ya listenin’ Jake?”

Jake wasn’t listenin’. Neither was Sugar Ray. One week after the summer of Bert’s discontent, they fought each other for the fifth time instead of him.

By the end of 1945, Bert hadn’t fought for three months and fell out the rankings. He was back in January, fighting as a substitute in a preliminary bout in Holyoke, MA and then crossed the border into Connecticut to score his second clean knockout inside of two weeks.

Two weeks after that he was in Rhode Island for a rematch against Walter “Popeye” Woods.

Woods was a balding thirty-two-year-old who owned a close decision win over Bert. He was known as a clown, even if it was usually the other guy acting silly after his right hand landed. He was ranked eighth among light heavyweights by the time he faced Bert again.

The fight was “an out-and-out stinker” according to the Providence Journal. Bert seemed to miss on purpose and Woods’s punches were no more serious than a squirting flower. The fans jeered and the referee repeatedly warned both fighters of disqualification. The Journal stated in no uncertain terms that “the pair of them” should have been tossed out of the building “as early as the fourth round and possibly sooner.” Woods took the decision, probably because Bert lost two rounds on low blows, though the whole thing looked like a collusion where one fighter agreed to lose a decision and the other agreed not to hurt him along the way.

If it was, it meant an agreement was made between managers, which likely involved gambling interests –-which likely meant that somewhere down the line stood Mr. Gray, alias Paolo Giovanni Carbo, alias Frankie Carbo.

Frankie Carbo made his bones not with La Cosa Nostra as would be expected, but with Jewish gangsters. He was a product of the lower East Side, an area of New York City overrun with Russian Jewish immigrants and their rebellious, American-born children. It was a breeding ground for crime and violence and produced enough Jewish fighters and gangsters to challenge the Irish and the Italians. One of Carbo’s neighbors was Meyer Lansky, a major force in the underworld for much of the twentieth century. Although the Jews and the Italians ran separate organizations and collaborated often, it was the Italians who emerged as the controlling partner, and they used Lansky’s guys as fronts. “They know better than to try to f*ck us,” said one with all due respect.

Carbo was managing fighters by the mid-thirties and was arrested on suspicion of murder five times. After an acquittal for one of them in 1942, he let his gats cool and stepped up operations in boxing. He was given the go-ahead to make millions by treating the boxing ring as if it were a prostitution ring with him as pimp. If Carbo didn’t manage a fighter through a front man, he owned a piece of him. If he didn’t own a piece of him, he probably owned his manager outright. If he owned neither, there were plenty of strings he could pull –-not to mention his well-documented persuasive skills of the “or/else” variety. In return for fealty, fighters got opportunities at Madison Square Garden and a $2500 payday which their managers usually fleeced.

His power was an open secret from the 1940s until the early 1960s. Few in or around the ring were not secretly owned or tapped now and then by boxing’s corrupt king. And he was particularly interested in middleweights.

Did he tap Lytell and Woods? Hints are found when you look for subsequent rewards. Bert got what he’d been after, a third match against Holman Williams who had ascended to the number two spot in the rankings despite the fact that he himself was no longer rated. Woods went to Los Angeles for the first time in his career; and faced Watson Jones at Olympic Stadium for the last win of his career.

Jones was managed on-the-sneak by a matchmaker shaped like a witch’s brew called Babe McCoy. McCoy would have the dubious honor of getting himself banned for life from boxing in 1956 for fixing fights, managing fighters while functioning as matchmaker at the Olympic, and associating with known criminals. Among the witnesses against him was none other than Watson Jones. McCoy, said Jones, instructed him to take a dive on three occasions and routinely short-changed him. “He’d say let the crowd see me get hit on the chin so that it would look good,” Jones testified. “I never cheated Mr. McCoy. I brought him all the money. I brought him every nickel,” he went on, “I was McCoy’s little colored boy.” At the end of his testimony he broke down and cried.

How could McCoy, who operated on the west coast, have any connection to New York’s Frankie Carbo? First of all, McCoy wasn’t the real McCoy. He wasn’t even Irish. He was a New York Jew born Harry Rudolph who admitted under oath that he knew Carbo. He also admitted that the gangster had been to his hotel suite for private meetings and then came down with a sudden case of amnesia when asked about the purpose of those meetings. As far back as 1941, he was the manager of record for a fighter controlled by Carbo. The two were in bed together and everyone knew who was on top.

That isn’t all.

Carbo, it was whispered, owned a piece of Popeye Woods. And by the time Woods met McCoy’s fighter in 1946, Carbo was already making trips to Los Angeles and pulling strings behind the considerable girth of his old pal.

It was during one of those trips that he took time away from boxing to see another old friend, or so the story goes. Turncoat Jimmy “The Weasel” Frattiano” said that Carbo was given the contract to kill fellow East-sider and Vegas mogul Bugsy Siegel, and did so with an army carbine outside the window of the house Siegel was staying at in Beverly Hills.

“The fight racket, since its rotten beginnings,” spat Jimmy Cannon, “has been the red light district of sports.”

Those roses you smell are coming from Sugar Ray Robinson. Considering what he was up against in the 1940s and 50s, his obsessive self-interest and hardnosed negotiations take on a different light. They almost look noble. “I’m not really as bad as some make me out to be,” he tells us really, his modern critics, “I don’t intend to be exploited by any individual or syndicate in this business, where shrewdness counts and sentiment is just about worthless. I am an individualist, both in terms of my style in the ring and my business methods. I shall continue to be independent of boxing combines…”

Bert Lytell couldn’t afford to be an individualist.

While Robinson honored contracts with less dangerous fighters, most of whom sported a more marketable skin tone, Bert would never again face a nationally-known white fighter after LaMotta.

He would descend into the madhouse that was Murderers’ Row, swapping blows with other condemned fighters who were just as rough as he was. Years would be spent crisscrossing the United States by bus and train, flopping in fleabag motels, taking meals at YMCAs, and enduring separate entrances and segregated dressing rooms in the South. His dignity would be trampled when hick promoters handed him smaller purses than white fighters though the pain was the same. Inexplicable losses against hometown darlings would see him whip his robe across the ring and punch walls on the way to the dressing room, but soon that bell would ring again and he’d be back at it, fighting in a frenzy; fighting as if something was spurring him on, something like joy or desperate hope.

It wouldn’t matter to him who or when or for how much he fought; it wouldn’t matter whether big lights put a sheen on his shoulders or plaster fell from the ceiling –-because for that precious half-hour, his fate was in his hands.

And that felt good.

____________________________

The madhouse that was Murderers’ Row was nothing nice. Bert Lytell is gonna bleed in PART 5 OF “THE BEAST OF STILLMAN’S GYM.”

Boston tries to sign Robinson-Lytell in Boston Evening American 1/13, 2/5, and 3/2/45. Holyoke Daily Transcript and Telegram 5/31/45, Baltimore Sun 8/2/45. McNutt fight in Holyoke Daily Transcript and Telegram 5/25/45. “Why I’m The Bad Boy Of Boxing,” by Ray Robinson in Ebony, November 1950; Williams-Lytell in The Times-Picayune 8/15, 16, 17, 18/45. LaMotta on how to beat a southpaw in “The Great Middleweights Talk About The Fight” by Peter Heller, Boxing Scene Collector’s Edition “Duran Vs. Hagler: The Fight of the Century.” Williams II in The Times-Picayune 8/31/45. Wade in The Sun 10/2, 3 /45; see also Holyoke Daily Transcript and Telegram 1/8/46, Hartford Courant 1/22/46. Woods-Lytell II in Providence Journal 2/3, 5/46; Watson Jones’ testimony in International 3/30/1956, Honolulu Record 11/15/56, and Sports Illustrated, 11/19/56. Babe McCoy’s problems in Los Angeles Times, and New York Times 3/30/1956 and Chicago Daily Tribune, 3/31/1956. Carbo’s career recounted in Life 5/26/1952, The Last Mafioso: Jimmy “The Weasel” Fratianno by Ovid DeMaris, pp. 54-56, Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires by Selwyn Raab, pp. 104-5.

Springs Toledo can be contacted at scalinatella@hotmail.com.

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The Top Ten Lightweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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The lightweight decade 2010-2019 was a disaster. Far and away the weakest list I have compiled so far; it was also far and away the most difficult to compile. Two excellent fighters, fit to grace any list, open at nine and ten but they made the tiniest handful of appearances at the poundage in the decade. Eight to four are populated by interchangeable lightweights whose ordering is confused by a 2012 robbery that has seen the “loser” of that contest edge in front of the “winner” adding to an already confused picture. The result is our seeing fighters who engender a sense of “what’s he doing there?” as high as number four.

Towering over this hot mess are the top two for the decadal division, two giants of the sport about whom it is a pleasure to write, and a clear number three.

Despite the foibles of lightweight there were also some excellent fights to run the ruler across on the way to ordering them. So, without further apologies here are the top ten lightweights for the last decade.

Ratings are by Ring between 2010 and 2012 and TBRB from 2013 to 2019.

10 – Juan Manuel Marquez

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 6-2 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

I am arguably reaching in placing Juan Manuel Marquez at ten given the limited contribution he made to the lightweight decade, but it must be borne in mind that Marquez was the decade’s first legitimate, lineal lightweight champion. Lightweight gave us but three champions in the decade and certainly room can be made for all of them here.

Marquez had previously stopped the younger, fresher, purportedly stronger Juan Diaz in nine rounds in 2009 in what I rate his career’s best performance until that time but nominated to re-match him in July of 2010, probably unnecessarily. Marquez was once more brilliant, his jab never better, Diaz clearly wary of the uppercut that had hurt him so in their first fight.

Marquez mopped up his lightweight title run against Michael Katsidis in November of that same year. Marquez didn’t just beat the younger, stronger Katsidis, he became just the second man to stop the Australian, the quickest ever to do so.

This fight was also noteworthy as being veteran broadcaster Jim Lampley’s finest moment and we will give him the final word on Marquez at lightweight, and as we won’t be seeing him again in this series, Marquez generally (my italics):

“If it comes down to the question of whether you can courageously apply your technique…bet on Juan Manuel Marquez. He knows how to do that better than anyone in boxing.”

09 – Mikey Garcia

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 22-1 Ranked For: 27% of the decade

Mikey Garcia is a splendid fighter but one who seems to have spread himself a little thin divisionally speaking. He swept into lightweight, established himself as the number one contender, remained divisionally ranked until the end of 2019 but fought hardly a contest within 135lbs.

The work he did do there though, was significant, two fights enough to establish him as one of the pre-eminent lightweights of the timeframe.

Most impressive was his January 2017 knockout victory over Dejan Zlaticanin. Zlaticanin, himself coming off impressive back-to-back stoppages of Franklin Mamani and Ivan Redkach, was an undefeated strapholder; Mikey established his world class jab within seconds and lost not a minute of the eight they completed. The uppercut and hook combination for the knockout made for the best stoppage of the lightweight decade.

Robert Easter, himself a contender for the number ten spot, was a second undefeated fighter who was ranked in the top five laid low by Garcia. Easter though, offered stiffer resistance, doing well with his own jab and even winning a few rounds on the way to a lop-sided decision loss. Garcia fought an aggressive, disciplined fight against a much taller and longer opponent leaving no doubt as to the winner, dropping Easter with a gorgeous, penetrating right hand in the third.

Lightweight certainly would have benefited from more Garcia but what he gave was good enough to see him creep in at nine.

08 – Ricky Burns

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 16-6-1 Ranked For: 32% of the decade

Ricky Burns traded on heart and durability but the thrashing that the great Terence Crawford handed him in March 2014 is not one he recovered from. Dejan Zlaticanin sent him scurrying from the division in his very next fight.

In the months before his brave decision to match Crawford, however, Burns turned in one of the more impressive runs of the lightweight decade between 2011 and the summer of 2013. It began with Michael Katsidis, the former lightweight titleholder who had been laid low by Juan Manuel Marquez one year earlier. Katsidis never recovered from the beating Marquez laid upon him, but descriptions of him as shot proved as wide of the mark as those who installed Katsidis as a favourite.  Katsidis turned in a fine pressure performance and Burns needed the combination of jab and body attack he deployed to win a much, much closer fight than the judges saw. Ricky’s remains one of the most underrated jabs of the decade at lightweight or elsewhere.

Ranked contender Moses Paulus went next and here Burns turned in perhaps his best defensive performance. A victim of the fashionable “earmuffs” approach to defence, Burns showed himself here capable of parrying and blocking as well as shutting the shop and waiting. He arguably put these two strata of his skillset – the careful offence, the dynamic defence – together just once in his career, against Kevin Mitchell, then still ranked among the world’s ten best lightweights.  Burns countered well that night and although far from difficult to hit he made himself hard to hit clean. It was probably the difference-maker as he drew Mitchell into a war he could not hope to win, dusting him off in four exciting rounds.

Finally, he stopped Jose Gonzalez in nine before going off a cliff in a fashion more familiar in speedsters than technically adept workhorses.

07 – Antonio DeMarco

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 10-7 Ranked For: 28% of the decade

Antonio DeMarco fights on and in fact has two fights planned this year. This has been to the great detriment of his paper record.

In the early part of the decade, the part which he fought at lightweight, he lost just twice, once to the doomed figure of Edwin Valero and once to Adrien Broner, both of whom beat him clean but DeMarco is in possession of a pair of wins that make Broner’s ranking above him questionable still.  Key among them is his 2011 stoppage of Jorge Linares.

On the surface, this is the type of win to rappel into the farthest reaches of this list. Linares would become one of the finest lightweights of the decade and his name carries meaning whatever the context; but it is the context of this fight that prevents DeMarco climbing much farther.

Linares had never boxed twelve rounds when he met DeMarco and despite dominating early, he was cut up badly by DeMarco’s clean punching born of consistent pressure. Suffering the attentions of a faster, more talented fighter, DeMarco did the only thing he could, stepping in the fire zone and pressing; eventually Linares began to give ground. When a lacerating straight broke his nose in the sixth, the whole fight changed and when DeMarco cut him over the right eye in the seventh, his night became desperate. Suffused with blood, Linares was compromised in the eleventh from footwork to defence to his beautiful, gliding offence; the referee, perhaps prompted in part by the blood pouring from the face of Linares, stopped the fight.

It needs to be remembered who Linares was at this point of his career. He had been stopped in a round in 2009 and would be stopped in two with facial damage in his very next fight. This was the Linares that DeMarco broke down, not the storied veteran that Vasily Lomachenko would face years later. It is an impressive win, but DeMarco needs more for the spot.

Fortunately, he has it. After taking out gatekeeper Miguel Roman in five, DeMarco was matched with John Molina in a fight billed as an exciting shootout between evenly matched and exciting fighters. DeMarco blasted him out in a round. His power-punches were booming equalisers that laid more talented fighters low.

06 – Adrien Broner

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 20-4 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

It is unpleasant to see Adrien Broner, a serial failure at the highest level and seemingly a horror of a human being ranked above the likes of Garcia and Marquez, but assessing legacy must be blind.  Broner is well into double figures for contests at lightweight and picked up the same number of ranked contenders as the two part-time decadal lightweights ranked at nine and ten – so he belongs, there is no debate to be had about that.

And, to be fair to him, his biggest win is a beauty, being his 2012 victory over Antonio DeMarco.  DeMarco may have been on the slide but marginally. He remained a cagey, balanced, firmly planted southpaw, difficult to fight and harder to beat. Broner out-waited DeMarco and countered him, took a narrow lead in the early rounds before throwing more heavy punches the later the fight went. It became a beatdown, DeMarco failing to find the timing that would counter his opponent’s speed earlier in his career.

Three months later, Broner was nearly as impressive blasting out number eight contender Gavin Rees in just five rounds. In the aftermath Rees called him the best fighter he had ever met and predicted he would go all the way to the top. That hasn’t happened – for reasons too many to cogitate here – but he did enough to rank among the ten most accomplished lightweights of the decade.

05 – Brandon Rios

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 12-5 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

Things have been messy and difficult up until this point – now that get very messy and very difficult.  Brandon Rios was awarded an official decision over Richar Abril in 2012 but he did not beat him; this was an outright robbery. Rios is not credited for that win here.

That fight is dealt with in detail in the entry below; for the moment, take my word for it and we will look at why it is reasonable for Rios to rank top five despite the Abril fight being treated here as a loss.

First and foremost is his defeat of the excellent Miguel Costa, world’s number one contender in February of 2011, lain low by a career’s best performance from Rios. Costa bossed Rios early, moving off him and tattooing him with power punches; Rios followed stoically but lost every one of the first five rounds. Focused and prepared, Rios seemed merely inconvenienced by the powerful punches of a world class competitor and there was something inevitable about what remains a dramatic collapse from Costa in the mid-rounds; in the tenth, battered and unresponsive, he was rescued by the referee as Rios clubbed him into submission with meathook shots.

Either side, Rios turned in impressive stoppage victories over ranked men Anthony Peterson and John Murray. Best-for-best, this adds up to near parity between Rios and Broner, but Rios claimed more quality names at the poundage; it edges Rios in front of his fellow American despite the Abril fight.

04 – Richar Abril

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 8-2-1 Ranked For: 44% of the decade

If you scour the internet, you might be able to find the single ringside scorecard that had Richar Abril’s 2012 fight with Brandon Rios a draw; every other scorecard by ringsiders had the fight for Abril, some of them by margins as wide as 120-108.

Every ringsider, that is, outside of two of the officials paid to score the fights.

What we can only hope was the abject stupidity of Glenn Trowbridge and the infamous Adalaide Byrd (both still judging fights today folks) cost Abril the win that night but here, I am taking the rare step of ignoring the official decision, something I have only done on one other occasion in the course of this series. Almost all ringsiders agree, and the film demonstrably shows, this was an Abril win.

It was not an exciting fight, partly due to its one-sidedness. Abril shelled up in close and Rios, who failed to make weight, threw cuffing shots apparently incapable of penetrating. In the second half of the fight, Abril closed with great awareness, carefully to consistently outland Rios in every round, defensively sound, offensively alive to opportunity.

Either side of his defeat of Rios, Abril defeated the same man who defined Brandon’s lightweight run, Miguel Acosta, and contender Sharif Bogere in a filthy, badly refereed contest. In essence, his legacy at the weight echoes that of Rios almost exactly, with one exception: he beat Rios.

Abril is not an inspiring figure. He boxed in a dry, careful fashion that did not endear him to fans but he excelled at controlling his opponents and there is no way to rank him below Rios given how dominant he was over him in their fight. That puts him in the top four.

03 – Jorge Linares

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 20-4 Ranked For: 35% of the decade

Jorge Linares was “one for the most fantastic boxers I have ever saw in my life” according to the great Emanuel Steward and you can see what he means. Linares is as beautifully balanced, as well co-ordinated as any lightweight seen this decade, outside of the top two. Lithe, quick-handed, and a fine selector of punches, he began the decade anointed by the then pre-eminent Freddie Roach, spending his spare time sparring with the legendary Manny Pacquiao.

Then it went wildly wrong. Linares had his faced ripped apart by the punches of Antonio DeMarco in 2011 and then Sergio Thompson in 2012. It was a long way from these losses back to the top but Linares made it, in the main by travelling to the UK and battering her best lightweights. His winning streak ran to thirteen fights.

Key among them was his 2015 victory over Kevin Mitchell. Mitchell, who had restored himself from both personal and professional strife with a quite remarkable performance against Daniel Estrada, was once again ranked among the world’s top ten. Linares has struggled when hurt throughout his career, but when dropped by Mitchell in the fifth, Linares, who had been struggling a little in the third and fourth, remained concentrated. He didn’t enjoy the rest of that fifth round, but he escaped it and instead of crumbling he crumbled Mitchell, cutting him up and stepping in to take over in the eighth then patiently closing the blinds in the tenth.

It was a fine turning of the corner by a fighter who would go on to deliver on some of his seemingly limitless potential, firstly against an inspired Anthony Crolla, once more in the UK, who he beat close then, re-matched and dropped on the way to a wide decision victory. Finally, Linares, a road-warrior if ever there was one, invited Luke Campbell over to the USA and squeaked past him in a brilliant strategic joust.

Linares was a real enigma. Skin so thin it might as well be used to pack the meat that constitutes his face, he has literally fallen apart in the ring; soft of chin, he has been blown out. The fighter that Manny Steward saw all those years before probably never emerged, but he still appears special enough to edge out Abril.

Take note though, he is not a “natural” divisional decadal number three and there is real distance between Linares and the fighter that ranks number two.

02 – Terence Crawford

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 26-0 Ranked For: 15% of the decade

Terence Crawford is a genius in the ring, and we watched the emergence of that genius at lightweight. 2014 was the year and almost all the meaningful damage that the Nebraskan did to the 135lb division was done in that year.

I was glued to his March dissection of Scotsman Ricky Burns and it was painful to watch my countryman dismantled so completely, Burns complaining about Crawford’s control of distance and angles in a gracious post-fight interview. In truth, Burns had boxed beautifully to make so many of the rounds in what was a clear, wide victory for Crawford so close, but we did not know then what we know now: Crawford is one of the best fighters in the world.

At the end of 2014 when he welcomed number two contender Ray Beltran to his native Omaha, this was clear. Beltran had outfought and arguably been robbed of a victory over Ricky Burns when he visited Scotland for what was a hotly disputed draw but there were multiple classes between he and Crawford when they met that November. Crawford did mostly what he liked, and what he liked, from round two, was to box as a southpaw, jabbing with impunity, bringing Beltran forwards onto punches and in doing so shutting his opponent’s offence down almost completely. In the final round Beltran, who had not won a single round on my scorecard, threw around twenty punches, even though his only route to victory was by knockout.

In between his wide defeats of Burns and Beltran, he dispatched Yuriokis Gamboa in the ninth.  These were three technical mis-matches in one year against quality opposition after which he departed for 140lbs.

This is enough to make him a clear number two, but in all honesty were his numbers and opposition not enough to get him over that line, it would still be difficult to see him lower. Crawford was imperious.

01 – Vasily Lomachenko

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 14-1 Ranked For: 15% of the decade

Ranked for almost an identical number of weeks throughout the 2010s, Vasily Lomachenko was also given, like Terrence Crawford, to taking a close look at his opposition in the opening round.

Another thing these two have in common is that their visitations to 135lbs were relatively brief. We will meet no other divisional decadal number one with so few fights at the poundage – having only met legitimately ranked men at the poundage however, Lomachenko has done enough to clearly seal up the number one spot. He has but one peer and has clearly edged that peer out.

Gatecrashing the division meeting none other than Jorge Linares helped. This had the appearance of rash, even careless matchmaking, a duel, essentially, to determine the finest lightweight of the decade. It appeared careless matchmaking, certainly, when Lomachenko was dropped in the sixth walking carelessly onto a straight punch that clearly hurt him.

But Lomachenko isn’t like other fighters. He had learned over the course of a monumental amateur career that he had the innate toughness to support his genius; Lomachenko re-took his feet and blasted Linares out in the tenth.

He certainly hasn’t looked back. Jose Pedraza, the world’s number three lightweight at that time, made it through a nightmarish eleventh to take Lomachenko the distance in 2018 but it was a wide, hurtful loss for the brave, world class Puerto Rican. Anthony Crolla went next and was stopped in just four rounds, his first stoppage loss since 2012. Luke Campbell, ranked number seven just as Crolla had been, seemed to be having a better evening but he won just two rounds and was on the receiving end of some savage combinations in making it to the final bell.

Lomachenko learns his man’s range then abuses it, hovering just within or just outside it, using his quick reflexes and beautiful, consistent slipping to keep him safe while he deploys what has become one of the best body-attacks in the sport. Predicting him is impossible, which forces fighters to try to take the play away from him, which leaves them open for the widest variety of counters in boxing this century.

It is mildly frustrating then that he and Crawford never met in the ring. Had it happened, that ring would have contained as much skill as any since Roberto Duran defeated Ray Leonard.

The other lists:

Heavyweight

Cruiserweight

Light-Heavyweight

Super-Middleweight

Middleweight

Light-Middleweight

Welterweight

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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