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Weighty Issues: Boxing's Latest Epidemic

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125481399 extra largeIt used to be that a pre-fight weigh-in was merely a formality. Sure, it did have official implications by ensuring that the fighters were on weight, but that was once a given. It served mainly as one last means of publicizing a fight, a chance for fans and analysts to size up the combatants at a glance, and maybe even one final round of filibustering and psychological gamesmanship between rivals. All this was a prelude to the competitive suspense that would soon take place in the ring.

However, weigh-ins have lately taken on their own brand of suspense, as was demonstrated by the weigh-in for this past weekend's matchup between Erik Morales and Danny Garcia. The question now is whether a fighter will even bother to make the contracted weight. In Morales' case, the answer was a unequivocal “no,” as Morales weighed in a full two pounds over the agreed-upon weight of 140 pounds and declined any further attempts to make the contracted limit.In regards to his failure to make weight, Morales is quoted as saying “If I tried to make the weight by taking off those two pounds it would have really affected me in the fight.”

As disappointing as it was to see a respected warrior like Morales cavalierly handle such a grievous breach of boxing ethics, it is even more disturbing to see that it is a trend which is occurring with alarming frequency. Over the past few years, some of boxing's A-list stars have demonstrated a propensity for failing to make weight prior to major fights.The list of offenders is a long, but an abbreviated list includes Jose Luis Castillo, Joan Guzman, Floyd Mayweather, Nate Campbell, Brandon Rios, and the aforementioned Erik Morales.In almost every case involving these fighters, the penalty instituted was monetary and the fights were allowed to go on after being given the OK from the opponent. In reality, surrendering a portion of one's purse is of little consequence when considering the potentially huge competitive edge of not having to sweat off the last few pounds. It seems that this trade-off is an appealing one to many fighters, which is why it seems to be happening with increasing regularity.

The fact that the stars of the sport appear to be getting away with this with relatively little punishment has sent the message to younger fighters that making weight is of little importance, as was grossly illustrated recently by former U.S. Olympian Shawn Estrada, who weighed a completely absurd 22 pounds over the contracted 174-pound weight limit for his fight against Terrance Woods.

This recent epidemic of overweight fighters should have fans and officials up in arms. In modern sports, attempts to gain unfair competitive advantages have been met with outcries for reform. The most common example is performance enhancing drugs. Any athlete in any sport who becomes linked to PEDs becomes branded with a scarlet letter. Fans recognize that there is an honesty in athletic competition which cannot be compromised. Obtaining an unfair edge over one's opponent soils the beauty of the human drama inherent in sports. The increased attention in the past decade to preserving the purity of competition via stricter testing and regulation is a testament to the importance of keeping a level playing field for competitors in all walks of athletic competition.

In boxing, fighters who do not (or, worst case scenario, refuse to) make weight can gain a similar edge over their opponent as one who takes an illegal performance enhancing substance; the offending fighter is benefited by having physical advantages that their opponent can neither anticipate nor prepare for and, worse yet, can put the opponent's health and safety in jeopardy. There are certainly assumed risks that come with combat sports such as boxing, but these risks need not be exacerbated by fighters who demonstrate recklessly negligent behavior by weighing in above an agreed-upon limit.

A modern parable which illustrates this point is the 2005 rematch between Jose Luis Castillo and the late Diego Corrales. The first Corrales-Castillo matchup was one of the great all-time wars in the history of boxing, with both fighters giving and taking punishment in equal measure. The highly-anticipated rematch promised more competitive fireworks. Then, things got interesting. Castillo failed to make weight on three separate attempts, with his lowest weight being 138 ½ pounds, well over the 135-pound lightweight limit. At that point, ball was in Corrales' court. He could fight Castillo despite the fact that Castillo didn't make weight, or he could walk away, leaving untold numbers of disappointed fans and a career-high payday in his wake. After Castillo agreed to surrender 10% of his $1.2 million purse, Corrales chose to fight on, and ended up paying for it. The same two fighters who waged a hellacious battle the first time around failed to create the same level of drama in the rematch. The bigger and stronger Castillo dominated Corrales en route to a fourth round knockout victory. The only fighter who fulfilled his professional obligations prior to the fight was Corrales, and he was rewarded with a concussive loss. Something about that seems more than a little unjust. Apparently, though, Corrales learned from the experience as he walked away from a rubber match months later when Castillo again failed to make weight. Castillo, though, seemed to learn very little from those experiences, as he came in overweight for a scheduled fight against Jose Cotto on the Morales-Garcia undercard this past weekend.

Much is made of the unprofessional aspect of a fighter's failure to make a stipulated weight, and, yes, it is poor form when a fighter throws the entire promotion in jeopardy as a result of failing to live up to contractual obligations. Greater still are the ethical implications of the offense.

A fighter who fails to make weight is giving the ultimate middle finger to his opponent, the fans, and the sport. The offending boxer is, in essence, saying to his opponent “I don't give a damn that you had to pay the price to make weight. I don't respect you enough to do the same.” It forces the opponent to make a decision that no fighter should have to face: whether they should compromise their safety or a (usually very needed) paycheck. Weeks of physical and mental preparation hinge on a catch-22 scenario. It is simply wrong to put a fighter in that situation, and mutual respect between combatants should prevent it from ever occurring. Whether a fighter stands to make a million dollars or a hundred is irrelevant. Failing to make weight is an insult to a boxer's opponent and to the long tradition of fighters who have sacrificed of themselves for the love of the sport.

Something clearly needs to be done to stop the spread of this latest epidemic in boxing. It is quite evident that the current system of fines and purse forfeiture is doing little to buck the trend of fighters coming in overweight. Higher percentages of earnings need to be forfeited and suspensions need to be levied in order to serve as a deterrent for fighters who view making weight as optional. A strong message needs to be sent that contractual weights are taken seriously and that failure to honor those obligations will be considered a severe offense. This is an issue that is relatively easy to enforce but, like so many other problems in boxing, is drawing little attention in the way of serious reform. The way things are currently run, it is only a matter of time before a ring tragedy results from this issue. Regrettably, tragic circumstances are almost a prerequisite in boxing before actions are taken to right a lingering wrong.

Boxing has never been an honest sport. As long as there have been fighters, corruption has been following them like a specter in the background. There are few things that a fighter can be assured of in this game. Betrayals, scandals, and improprieties in boxing play out more like the plotline of a telenovela than a regulated and sanctioned sport. Heck, a fighter can't even be guaranteed that the officials appointed to a bout are going to treat them fairly, so it's fairly obvious that little in the sport can be taken for granted.One of the few variables that can be regulated fairly, however, is weight. It's simple. It's standardized. It involves no subjectivity. There is no guesswork involved. On top of that, fighters used to carry themselves like fighters. A deal was a deal, and a real sportsman honored the arranged terms of competition.

Sadly, this is no longer the case. A fighter cannot trust that his opponent will adhere to the code of honor once so reverently held. The me-first selfishness that has overtaken athletics is revealing itself at the scale in the Sweet Science. The fact is that there are selfish punks parading as prizefighters who don't feel that the rules apply to them. Honor is becoming an archaic notion, and the fighter's ethos is slowly becoming obsolete. This is yet another sad reminder that the sport of boxing as we once knew it is gradually slipping away. Only this time, the blame cannot be placed on governing bodies, promotional kingpins, inept officials, or other external factors so commonly cited for their toxic impact on the fight game. This time, the wound is being inflicted from within.

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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