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Occupy the Ring

Springs Toledo

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dc“We won’t get involved in the editorial side of rankings,” promised CEO Richard Schaefer when Golden Boy Enterprises purchased The Ring in 2007. Few believed him. I raised an eyebrow.

At the same time that Schaefer made one promise, Oscar De La Hoya made another. He said that Nigel Collins would stay in his position as editor-in-chief of the magazine. Last summer, Collins cleaned out his desk while De La Hoya cleaned house and moved The Ring from Blue Bell, Pennsylvania to his bathroom in Los Angeles.

One month later a newly-appointed editorial board pledged allegiance to the boss. After Bernard Hopkins lost his title by TKO to Chad Dawson, The Ring broke its own rules, fell in line with Schaefer, and declared that Hopkins was still the champion despite the referee’s call. The referee’s call was faulty and would later be overturned, but that isn’t the point. The point is that The Ring rushed to support a Golden Boy fighter when it would have been perfectly reasonable to wait for the official decision by the California State Athletic Commission.

I raised another eyebrow.

In January, the editorial board decided to remove number one-ranked Marco Huck from the cruiserweight rankings because of what turned out to be a single venture into the heavyweight realm. The next two ranked contenders were moved forward and fought for The Ring championship. This hasty move soon had the editors backpedaling faster than Joey Archer. This spring, Floyd Mayweather stepped up a weight class to challenge Miguel Cotto and was not removed from the welterweight ratings. Why? Editor-in-chief Michael Rosenthal stated the difference as one of “intentions.” In other words, had Huck won his heavyweight bout, he may have intended to leave the cruiserweight division “because he can make more money as a heavyweight.” But he didn’t and so returned to the cruiserweight division, which he also may have intended to do. The Ring “decided against dropping Mayweather because it is clear that he is a welterweight who took the fight with Cotto only because of economics.” In other words, “economics” was the magic bullet behind removing Huck and retaining Mayweather. Or was it simply that Mayweather, like Hopkins, is a Golden Boy fighter?

I don’t claim to know, but with no more eyebrows to raise it was time to take action.

Some weeks ago, I contacted a member of The Ring Ratings Panel for reassurance. I got that and an invitation to join the panel and see for myself. So I did.

Nineteen days later I resigned.

The reason I did is that the editorial board, unbeknownst to the ratings panel, reworked The Ring’s championship policy and effectively destroyed its purpose and credibility. [See below]

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NEW CHAMPIONSHIP POLICY

Championship vacancies can be filled in the following two ways:

1. THE RING’s Nos. 1 and 2 contenders fight one another.

2. If the Nos. 1 and 2 contenders choose not to fight one another and either of them fights No. 3, No. 4 or No. 5, the winner may be awarded THE RING belt.

CHAMPIONSHIP RETENTION

THE RING also wants to encourage its champions to face worthy opponents. With that in mind, here are the six situations in which a champion may lose his belt:

1. The Champion loses a fight in the weight class in which he is champion.

2. The Champion moves to another weight class.

3. The Champion does not schedule a fight in any weight class for 18 months.

4. The Champion does not schedule a fight at his championship weight for 18 months (even if he fights at another weight).

5. The Champion does not schedule a fight with a Top-5 contender from any weight class for two years.

6. The Champion retires.

___________________________________________

The crux of the problem is highlighted in red. The disaster it invites need not be highlighted beyond a glance back at trampled history:

In 1922, the magazine began awarding its tri-colored championship belt to deserving fighters. This continued for nearly 70 years. In 2002, it inaugurated a strict championship policy that offered clarity in the era of alphabet titlists.

On May 3rd, a full ninety years after Nat Fleischer handed The Ring’s belt to Jack Dempsey; his revered magazine was taken for a joy ride over a cliff. It landed in the hot mess of alphabet soup. The new championship policy is absurd enough to allow second-ranked Floyd Mayweather to face fifth-ranked Kell Brook in the fall and thus become The Ring’s welterweight champion. This doesn’t just enable avoidance-prone fighters like Floyd (who is at least half the reason why the most anticipated match-up of the last 25 years isn’t happening); it adds to the confusion.

In decrying what they claim as too many vacant championships, the editorial board defends the change with what sounds like a text between network executives and Jose Sulaiman: “We decided to update our Championship Policy,” Rosenthal wrote, “to encourage top fighters to face one another and create more championship fights.” More championship fights? How about real championship fights?

There were actually more vacancies when Nigel Collins instituted the original policy; though he considered it the lesser evil. “While having 13 of 17 world championships vacant is hardly an ideal situation,” he asserted, “it is far better than having a collection of counterfeit claimants muddling the championship picture.” He was right.

The Ring also announced its intention to strip its champions under certain conditions. This is another stunning about-face. “It is extremely important to keep in mind,” Collins warned in 2002, “that the bedrock of The Ring’s philosophy is that titles can only be won or lost in the ring.” So much for that.

Members of The Ring Ratings Panel are resigning. Respected boxing writers are withdrawing recognition of its ratings. Fans are cancelling their subscriptions in protest. After 90 years, the final bell seems to be ringing for The Ring …soon to be known as the WRING.

Many fans saw this coming. The truest among them stand in a fighter’s stance —with one foot behind, ready for whatever. Boxing history has been battered by golden era racketeers who hid behind front men and continues to reel under new ones hiding behind acronyms; but what happened last week isn’t just another shiner. It’s compromising our vision.

A CLARION CALL                                                                                                         

Disorganization and the greed that thrives on that disorganization have reduced the oldest and greatest sport to niche status. The fact that it is still capable of filling arenas and commanding record-breaking pay-per-view numbers is a minor miracle. It testifies to how well boxing captures the human spirit and how much we yearn for demonstrations of that spirit. In the aftermath of dramatic fights, we bask in vicarious glory and forget that we deserve more of them.

We are boxing’s 99%. We are also its financiers. Reforming boxing begins with understanding both the power of that fact and the economics of that fact. It requires action. The sport is simple in its form. Its reform can be just as simple:

1. The true champion of every weight division must be identifiable. Before that can happen an objective rankings panel must be instituted that is internationally represented, knowledgeable, and independent —free and clear from any involvement with promoters and the so-called sanctioning bodies.

2. Disempowering those responsible for creating the confusion in which they alone thrive is a duty for everyone who loves the Sweet Science. It begins with language: Boxing writers support racketeers every time a three-letter acronym appears in their articles. Boxing commentators support racketeers every time a three-letter acronym appears on air. Both should stop mentioning even the status of a fighter as “belt-holder,” “titlist,” etc. Uncrowned boxers are contenders; their status will be determined in the rank accorded them by the international rankings panel. If we want to make boxing great again, we need to stop lying. We need to insist that a “world championship match” is exactly what it professes to be. Eventually, the fighters will realize the worthlessness of those belts and aspire to the only title worthy of our collective attention. The networks will fall in line.

3. Reform requires vigilance. Fans have real power at their fingertips; why not aim it at media figures who make a habit of acknowledging acronyms or for that matter, anyone harming the integrity of pure combat for profit or personal motive? Boxing needs watchdogs. Sign up.

If boxing’s 99% —the media and fans— support the idea of one clean system that ranks contenders and identifies the true champions, the scales will tip away from the pimps and toward the public. New initiatives can be instituted to sweep out the refuse and safeguard the majesty of the ring. These initiatives may include the following:

a. First-ranked contenders must fight second-ranked contenders to fill vacant world championships. Contenders further down the ladder do not constitute the best, and with battles royal on the ash heap of history, why include them? In the event that the first two ranked contenders are unwilling to fight for whatever reason, the rankings panel can conduct an investigation in an effort to uncover which one is 51% or more at fault. That contender risks demotion in the rankings due to his “questionable fighting spirit.” No longer will allowances for third, fourth, and fifth-ranked contenders be warranted once avoidance is unmasked and penalized.

b. Any card on any network that makes a false claim to be a championship bout invites a boycott. Tweet that.

c. True champions will be strongly encouraged to demonstrate their authenticity by publically rejecting make-pretend titles once and for all.

If we’ve learned nothing else in the past few years, we’ve learned first-hand the perils of allowing self-interest to run amok in the market place. There is something bigger than currency at stake here. The alphabet boys will never understand it and The Ring forgot which side it’s on, but there are others in the red light district of sports —in press row, in the cheap seats— who have it wrapped up in fists. Their power is yet unrealized.

Today, boxing writers, bloggers, commentators, and fans mime a ten count over a magazine that landed a left hook on itself. We’re good at that.

We need to do more.

____________________________

Graphic: Boyle's Thirty Acres, Jersey City, NJ: Dempsey and Georges Carpentier in arena before fight. Copyright, 1921, FC Quimby. Courtesy, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

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

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Serhii Bohachuk Gets 20th KO Win Plus Undercard Results from Montebello

David A. Avila

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Serhii Bohachuk Gets 20th KO Win Plus Undercard Results from Montebello

Montebello, CA.-Two contenders looking to rebound found their mark on Thursday.

Super welterweight Serhii Bohachuk (20-1, 20 KOs) needed a round to figure out the southpaw style of Raphael Igbokwe (16-3, 7 KOs) and then increased the pressure round by round until the pipes broke. More than 1,000 fans at the Quiet Cannon Event center were pleased.

Bohachuk likes to wheel and deal like a whirling dervish, but seemed to find a better lane for his lethal right when he slowed down a bit. Right after right connected on Igbokwe but the Texas fighter was pretty strong at first.

Though Igbokwe took a pounding early on, he seemed strong enough to absorb the head shots. But when the Ukrainian fighter began targeting the body that seemed to open up all the firing lanes. Bohachuk was like a hunter at a turkey shoot.

For the next three rounds Bohachuk pounded away at Igbokwe’s body and head. It didn’t seem possible for the lefty to absorb too much. He tried to fight back but nothing seemed to be able to slow down Bohachuk.

Referee Jack Reiss kept looking at Igbokwe and finally around the sixth round he signaled outside the ring to a ringside physician that assistance might be needed to make an evaluation. As the round ended Igbokwe’s corner signaled with a towel to stop the fight. Reiss called the fight over at the end of the sixth round.

Bohachuk was back and the fans were pleased.

Akhmedov

In the co-main event, Ali Akhmedov (17-1, 12 KOs) was bigger, stronger and seemingly faster than Texan David Zegarra (34-6-1, 21 KOs) and quickly took over the super middleweight fight. It lasted only four rounds.

Zegarra was unable to keep Akhmedov from charging in. Though he never went down he took a pounding in every round from the Kazakhstan fighter. Just as Akhmedov began to gain momentum, the fight was halted at the end of the fourth round.

Akhmedov was the winner by technical knockout.

Female War

Think Hagler-Hearns and that’s what you got with Chelsea Anderson (4-0) and Elvina White (5-1) clashing in a four-round lightweight explosion.

Anderson the taller fighter and White the slightly more experienced, ring-wise, let loose with a flurry of blows from the opening bell with each connecting early. Anderson used her reach to connect under and over especially with the rights. White seemed more successful with the left hook. A left and right shot through White’s guard and down she went. She beat the count and nodded her head as if signifying it was a good shot.

In the second round White knew that Anderson packed power but proceeded to attack anyway. Once again Anderson connected with that lethal right cross and down went White again. This time seemingly a little more stunned and the round ended.

The referee seemed concerned about White and signaled the ringside physician to take a look. He seemed satisfied by her response and allowed the fight to resume. White attacked with even more fury and though Anderson always seemed fully loaded with the right, the shorter White was able to avoid it.

It was hard to believe that the two lightweights were able to continue the high volume battle. Anderson seemed even more fresh than in the third round, and White seemed to be able to avoid that monster right from Anderson. But the taller fighter from Yorba Linda kept the pressure and used her reach to keep White at the end of her blows. Though White did connect it wasn’t enough to hurt Anderson who seemingly walked through them at times. The crowd stood on its feet for the final 30 seconds as both unloaded.

“I was ready for her movement,” said Anderson who lives and trains in Orange County. “I’ve been working on that over and under move for weeks.”

Two judges scored it 39-35 twice and a third 40-34 all for Anderson.

Other Bouts

In a battle of undefeated super featherweights Adrian Corona (8-0, 2 KOs) of Rialto, Calif. knocked out Oxnard’s Daniel Robles (7-1-1, 5 KOs) in the first round. It was supposed to be the boxer versus the puncher but it turned out that the Rialto’s Corona can punch too.

Corona moved in early at the opening bell and fired a crisp one-two through Robles guard and delivered him to the floor for a count. Robles beat the count and tried to rally. Corona moved in and floored him with a right cross and that was it. The referee stopped the fight at 2:45 of the first round.

Light heavyweights Rafayel Simonyan (9-1-1, 8 KOs) and Adrian Taylor (11-1-1, 4 KOs) went to war on the inside for eight rounds. It ended in a split draw.

Eric Mondragon (4-0-1) dominated all four rounds against Braulio Avila (3-11) to win by unanimous decision after four rounds in a lightweight bout.

An amateur featherweight fight saw Glendale, California’s Chantel Navarro win by unanimous decision over Riverside’s Daniela Rojas in a three-round fight that was far closer than might seem.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Serhii Bohachuk in Montebello and More News and Notes

David A. Avila

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Serhii Bohachuk leads an impressive lineup put together by 360 Promotions and returns to Southern California ready to resume an assault on the super welterweight division.

Asked how he intends to proceed?

“I don’t talk, talk, talk,” said Bohachuk. “I just show with action.”

Bohachuk (19-1, 19 KOs) meets southpaw Raphael Igbokwe (16-2, 7 KOs) in the main event on Thursday Sept. 16, at Quiet Cannon Events Center in Montebello, Calif. UFC Fight Pass will stream the boxing card that begins at 5:30 p.m. PST.

Early in the year Bohachuk, nicknamed “El Flaco,” was winning a showdown against Brandon Adams staged in Puerto Rico, when he was caught with a sneaky left hook. The fight was eventually stopped and the amiable Ukrainian fighter suffered his first loss.

But he’s back.

He scored a knockout win in July and now seems poised to make a run at the top, starting with Houston’s Igbokwe. For Bohachuk, 26, losing a fight actually could make world champions more inclined to accept a match with him. Who wanted to face a fighter with every win coming via knockout? Bohachuk just needs to continue winning.

Another contender looking to rebound is Ali Akhmedov (16-1, 12 KOs) who lost a bid for the IBO super middleweight world title to Carlos Gongora last December. No shame losing to the world champion from Ecuador.

Kazakhstan’s Akhmedov sits in the same situation as Bohachuk in that a loss actually makes him more alluring for a world champion to accept. Losing a fight did not hurt contenders like Sullivan Barrera or Sergey Kovalev.

Akhmedov, 26, meets Peru’s David Zegarra (34-5, 21 KOs) in an eight-round bout in the semi-main event. It should be interesting.

Rounding out the rest of the heavy duty card will be undefeated Adrian Corona (7-0) fighting undefeated Danny Robles (7-0-1) in a super featherweight six round bout. Also, undefeated female lightweights Elvina White (5-0) and Chelsey Anderson (3-0) clash in a four-round bout.

A special amateur feature pits national champion Chantel Navarro against Daniela Rojas for a special title to open the show that encompasses a total of eight pro bouts. Doors open at 4:30 p.m.

Previously 360 Promotions staged its boxing cards at the Avalon Theater in Hollywood, but they outgrew that venue. The Quiet Cannon venue in Montebello had been used for a couple of decades for boxing quite successfully. Now, 360 Promotions has picked up the gauntlet to provide boxing to that area in one of the best venues in Southern California.

For tickets and information go to: https://hollywoodfightnights.festivalsetup.com/ or to @360 Promotions on Instagram.

Coming Soon

Aside from Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder meeting on Oct. 9, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, several other shows are coming down the pike.

Oct. 15, at the Pechanga Arena in San Diego, Calif. a Top Rank show brings WBO featherweight titlist Emanuel Navarrete (34-1, 29 KOs) of Mexico defending against Southern California’s Joet Gonzalez (24-1, 14 KOs). Also on the same card, San Diego’s Giovani Santillan meets Angel Ruiz

Las Vegas

Two weeks apart, two of the top Pound for Pound fighters in the world invade Las Vegas for their piece of the boxing pie.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (56-1-2, 38 KOs) shoves in all his multiple world titles against Caleb Plant (21-0, 12 KOs) and his IBF super middleweight belt in an attempt to claim the undisputed super middleweight world championship on Saturday Nov. 6, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Canelo has three of the four belts not including those he took at light heavyweight. It doesn’t seem like a fair trade but the Mexican redhead doesn’t care. Plant is a right-handed version of Billy Joe Saunders and will use the exact same method of attack.

Terence Crawford (37-0, 28 KOs) defends the WBO welterweight title against Shawn Porter (31-3-1, 17 KOs) on Nov. 20, at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The Nebraska welterweight finally gets an opportunity to prove he’s at the top of the welterweight rung when he meets Porter. It’s a very good chance to compare how Crawford stands against Errol Spence Jr. who barely defeated Porter a couple of years ago in Los Angeles.

Fights to Watch

Thurs. UFC Fight Pass 7 p.m. Serhii Bohachuk (19-1) vs Raphael Igbokwe (16-2).

Sat. Fox S1 4 p.m. Jose Valenzuela (9-0) vs Denier Berrio (22-3-1), Rajon Chance (5-0) vs Elon De Jesus (3-0).

Pictured left to right: trainer Manny Robles, Serhii Bohachuk, assistant trainer Ben Lira, Ali Akhmedov, promoter Tom Loeffler. Photo credit: Al Applerose

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40 Years Ago This Week: Sugar Ray Leonard TKOs Thomas Hearns in an Instant Classic

Bernard Fernandez

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Whoever coined the phrase that “you can’t please ’em all” might have been referring to someone like Doug Blackburn, one of the rare dissenters in assessing what he had seen during the classic welterweight unification showdown of Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns on Sept. 16, 1981, in the outdoor stadium at Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace.

Writing for the Town Talk in that noted boxing hotbed of Alexandria, La., Blackburn, who saw the fight at a closed-circuit venue, wrote a column in which he offered his opinion that the matchup of two great champions in their prime “like many heavily-hyped, much anticipated meetings, failed to live up to prefight expectations. Despite Sugar Ray’s dramatic rally, neither man can be too satisfied with the way he fought.”

Yeah, well, there are still people here and there who insist that the Earth is flat and the sun revolves around the moon. But for most fight fans fortunate enough to have witnessed Leonard-Hearns I – there would be a too-long-delayed rematch, on June 12, 1989, which ended in a desultory split draw that many thought should have gone Hearns’ way – the classic original, in which Leonard, trailing on all three scorecards, staged a dramatic rally to win on a 14th-round stoppage, is a gold standard for what such megafights are supposed to be, but frequently aren’t.

Think not? In the 40 years since Leonard and Hearns made ring magic, similarly stratospheric hopes were tied to the Sept. 18, 1999, unification bout between undefeated welterweight titlists Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad, which was not exactly a thrillfest when measured against Leonard-Hearns I. The outcome was tinged in controversy, true, but only because De La Hoya, mistakenly thinking he was too far ahead on points to lose on the scorecards, coasted the last three rounds and was stunned when Tito was awarded a majority-decision victory. There would be no rematch.

In a financial sense, the May 2, 2015, pairing of celebrated welterweight champs Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao obliterated all revenue records with an overall take of $600 million, far outdistancing the then-high-water mark of $50 million-plus nearly 34 years earlier for Leonard-Hearns I, when the technology for milking every available dollar from fights of that scope was still comparatively primitive. But Mayweather, an indisputably great fighter whose strengths are pinpoint counterpunching and impenetrable defense, was content to craft another workmanlike performance in handily outpointing “PacMan,” who claimed he was hindered by a shoulder injury. Both fighters greatly enriched themselves, but the fight, which was generally conceded to be four to five years past its optimal date, did little to satisfy most fans’ craving for the kind of two-way action that was promised but not delivered.

Leonard-Hearns I, on the other hand, had more than its share of exclamation-point moments, for each fighter, the most obvious being the finishing flurry in which Leonard, his left eye badly swollen and increasingly aware that the victory he had presumed would be his was becoming less and less likely, seized command in the 14th round with, depending on whose count you choose to believe, 23, 25 or 28 unanswered blows. It was left to referee Davey Pearl to rescue the dazed and defenseless Hearns after an elapsed time of 1 minute, 45 seconds.

At the post-fight press conference, Leonard, his ugly, purplish left eye and puffy cheekbone hidden behind oversized dark glasses, explained why and how he had been able to mine a vein of toughness many had presumed the 1976 Olympic gold medalist lacked.

“I was afraid of the right hand of his until the very end,” Leonard admitted of Hearns’ vaunted power. “He dropped some real bombs on me, and I knew he had another one left.

“I pulled this one out by reaching down into my guts, into my heart. I knew I was behind. I knew I had to keep the pressure up. There wasn’t anything I could do but find out what was inside me.”

Sometimes, the beauty of boxing is most illustrated by the unsightly. Leonard, whose inner iron had been glimpsed most notably in his close, unanimous-decision loss to Roberto Duran on June 20, 1980, in Montreal, demonstrated to any remaining doubters that he was so much more than the possessor of a dazzling smile, matinee-idol looks and a glib way in expressing himself.

John Schulian, the outstanding sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, described Leonard’s come-from-behind surge thusly:

After all those miles and all those smiles, Sugar Ray Leonard wasn’t pretty any more. He was a one-eyed man in an ugly fight that had nothing to do with the glitz and glamor that have been his calling card. There had been a time when he could have avoided this grim marathon, a time in the sixth and seventh rounds when he could have added Thomas Hearns to his list of victims. But the moment had passed and Hearns had escaped, and now Leonard, his handsome face a scowling bruise, was struggling for survival.

And this, from the New York Daily News’ Mike Lupica:

Away from the ring he fools you with the con man’s smile and the smooth patter and the slick attitudes about his own high finance …This is Ray Charles Leonard, child of hype, maker of millions, the 25-year-old man who will soon be the richest fighter in the history of the game. And that is why he fools you when he steps out of Dun and Bradstreet and into a pair of boxing trunks and becomes Sugar Ray Leonard. Boxing will never seem hard enough, dirty enough, bloody enough for Sugar Ray Leonard. Only in special moments will we see the man’s steel, and heart, and extraordinary ability to bang and grapple when a fight is on the line. Only when someone tries to take his title away from him will we realize there is a hoodlum inside the tuxedo.

To the winner go the spoils, or at least that is what usually happens. While Leonard added another layer to his burgeoning reputation as a special fighter, a historically significant fighter, the vanquished Hearns – not known as a fount of nifty sound bites and attention-grabbing quotes – might have gained nearly as much in defeat as had the triumphant Leonard. It had been generally conceded going in that, were the fight to end in the early rounds, it would be Hearns who would have his hand raised. If enough rounds tolled by, perhaps all the way to the conclusion of the scheduled 15, the momentum would necessarily shift to Leonard (30-1 with 21 KOs entering the bout), widely seen as a less devastating puncher than Hearns (32-0, 30 KOs) but also as a more polished stylist and executor of strategical options. That scenario was repeated so often during the run-up to the bout that it almost came to be accepted as incontrovertible fact.

Team Leonard, for the most part, rolled with the notion that Hearns was a human robot whose Plan A was to land that pulverizing overhand right, as early as possible and as often as necessary. His Plan B would be … well, there really wasn’t one, if Leonard and his crafty trainer, Angelo Dundee, were to be believed.

“This is the first time in my career I’ve had visions of a fight,” Leonard said a few days before he would get the opportunity to implement his imagination. “I see thousands and thousands of people. I see Hearns missing and being aggravated and frustrated. I see me raising my hands. I’ve had this dream, this vision, for over two months. It just has to come true.

“I’ve said Hearns fights one way and can’t fight no other way. I heard he might try to box me. I wish he would try. Hearns is a puncher. With that reach of his, well, he’s a freak, really. He comes straight at you. He doesn’t need to think.”

And if the “Motor City Cobra” did find that he might need to think?

“He’ll blow a fuse.”

Added Dundee: “Hearns might be 6-foot-2, (actually 6’1”) but he spreads his legs and that will bring him eyeball-to-eyeball with Leonard. He tries to sucker you by carrying the left real low like Bobby Foster used to do, and then he rears back and nails you with the right. But Leonard isn’t going to fall for any of those traps. It will be interesting to see what happens to Hearns if he sees he can’t take Leonard out in a few rounds. Will he panic and punch himself out like Foreman did against Ali?”

Like Ali, Leonard was a master of mind games meant to mentally discombobulate an opponent if possible. But Hearns’ manager-trainer, Emanuel Steward, had worked with Hearns since he was 12, and he insisted that Leonard’s taunts and posturing would have no effect on his guy.

“Both (Wilfredo) Benitez and Duran took a lot out of Leonard, physically and mentally,” Steward suggested. “I know that after the Benitez fight Leonard was mentally exhausted. Besides, now that he has made all those millions from all those fights, he no longer has that burning ambition. The fire is gone out of him.”

Perhaps the most prescient prefight comment came from Ferdie Pacheco, Muhammad Ali’s longtime personal physician, who insisted that Hearns was hardly the one-trick pony described by Leonard. Pacheco predicted that Hearns’ 78-inch reach, unusually long for a welterweight, would help Hearns control the flow of the fight until the proper moment presented itself for him to deliver a put-away right.

“Leonard will have to pay an awful toll to travel down that 78-inch speedway,” Pacheco said. “Thomas will control him with his long, hard jab, and somewhere along the way Leonard will move into a right hand he won’t see. It will be like a fuse going off in his brain. All the lights will go out.”

Truth be told, Steward’s fight plan did indeed call for heavy usage of Hearns’ jab, the presumed key which would serve to open the door to Leonard’s chin for that concussive right. And even if a terminating detonation of the right never occurred, what exactly would be wrong if Hearns confounded all the prefight conjecture by outboxing Leonard over the long haul? He’d still come away as the unified 147-pound champion, adding Leonard’s WBC and The Ring magazine straps to his own WBA strap. It was the same conservative mindset De La Hoya had in putting as much distance between himself and the dangerous Trinidad in those final three rounds 18 years later, with one difference – De La Hoya’s lead was not as wide as Hearns’. Leonard had won only four of the 13 completed rounds on two judges’ cards at the time Pearl waved the fight off, and five of 13 on the third judge’s tally.

But in the 14th round Hearns – who had overcome shaky rounds in the sixth and seventh to again gain the upper hand — chose to engage Leonard in another in-tight exchange, and got popped with a hard left hook that instantly shifted momentum. Leonard tore into Hearns with a renewed sense of purpose, and it wasn’t long before Pearl stepped in.

“It was kind of silly,” Duke Durden of the Nevada State Athletic Commission said. “All Hearns had to do was either stay away, or grab and hold Leonard – spit in his eye, or anything – the rest of the way, and the fight was his.”

Although he never could hope to match Leonard as a media darling, in losing his first bout as a professional Hearns demonstrated that he had ample charisma of his own, and a willingness to go for broke where it counted, inside the ropes, stamping his future fights moving as must-see events. Now 62, he is as fondly remembered for losing his epic, throw-caution-to-the-wind three-round war with Marvelous Marvin Hagler on April 15, 1985, as for his spectacular, second-round stoppage of Roberto Duran on June 15, 1984.

Given all that they had shared, and the place each holds in the other’s legacy, it should not come as a surprise that Leonard was Hearns’ presenter when his former arch-rival was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in Las Vegas in Aug. 2017.

“We’re friends now,” Leonard said in introducing Hearns. “Tommy had the whole package. He was a freak of nature with his height, with his reach, with his power, with his speed.”

FACTS ABOUT LEONARD-HEARNS I

*Main Events president Dan Duva served as lead promoter, another building block in the march toward big-time status for the New Jersey-based company, which was founded in 1979 as a mom-and-pop operation. Main Events took another major leap forward following the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics when it signed U.S. Olympians Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor, Mark Breland and Tyrell Biggs.

*Leonard opened as a 2-to-1 favorite, but by fight time enough money had come in on Hearns that he went off as a 13-10 wagering choice.

*At a Leonard workout in Vegas, Muhammad Ali was asked who he liked in the fight. “I pick Leonard ’cause he’s just like me, fast and pretty. He’ll dance circles around Hearns,” Ali replied. Then, at a Hearns workout an hour later, Ali said the Detroit scrapper “is awesome, man. Tommy Hearns is sooo big to be a welterweight. He should knock out Sugar Ray.”

*Celebrity quote of fight week came from Charo: “I think the beeg one – Hearns – will cuchi-cuchi Sugar to sleep.”

*The live attendance at Caesars Palace was 24,083, with 1,100 credentialed media members.

*Hearns’ best quote during fight week: “Everybody talks about how great a boxer Ray Leonard is, especially Ray Leonard.”

*Because of the television lights, the temperature in the ring at the time the main event started was right at 100 degrees.

*According to Emanuel Steward, preliminary negotiations for a rematch began on Sept. 21, five days after the fight. Hearns-Leonard II, however, did not take place until June 12, 1989, nearly eight years later.

Editor’s Note: 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 sportswriter 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, Vol. 2,” with a foreword by Jim Lampley, arrives this fall. The book can be ordered through Amazon.com, in hard or soft cover, and other book-selling websites and outlets.

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