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SAVE THE TIGER

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MV5BMTU1NTI2NjMwOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjQ1MTYxNA. V1. SY317 CR00214317 Letter to the Smithsonian Institute: find an old boxing gym being shuttered and put it in the museum. No more genuine slice of Americana, or more endangered. But do it soon. The hardcore gyms are vanishing fast.

They’re shrines. Living archives of boxing — yellowing posters – layer upon layer — plastered on the walls, fight cards, faded pictures of fighters mugging for the camera, biceps flexed, fists clenched; noir slogans: “Your opponent is training harder than you”, “The more you sweat, the less you bleed.” “Train till it hurts;” victors draped with championship belts; bare-knuckled gents in tights and lacquered hair, with names like “Battling” this or “Sailor” that; and anonymous Golden Age brawlers, some standing straight as a spear, others crouching as if to pounce on the camera…And always the icons: Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano and Ali exultant over a spread-eagled Sonny Liston.

A chronicle of American scrappers: Blacks, Mexicans, Irish, Italians…whoever was clawing-up the economic ladder.

For docents, I’d recommend gym rats – ex-fighters, some of them— the gray-hairs and no-hairs with busted beaks and eaves of scar tissue over drooping eyes — road warriors; guys with “the” in the middle of their names: Harry “the Hammer,” Kurt “the Crusher”; the club fighters, tomato cans who’d fight anyone anywhere for a hundred bucks: The guys who fought the guys who fought the greats.

And then there are the trainers. The scholars of the game; the Don Quixotes in quest of the Holy Grail: a world champion. Surrogate fathers with towels over their shoulders; elders whose tough love takes feral youth off the streets and off the needle.

Before the last boxing gym goes the way of the Saber-tooth Tiger, take one apart brick by brick and rebuild it where people can see it. Get all the equipment, too: The wobbly ring with saggy ropes, the heavy bag held together with duct tape, the speed bag yanking loose from the ceiling, the soggy wraps, the blackened mitts and the spit and sweat-smudged mirrors.

Put it all in the Smithsonian. Let folks get a good look at where kids who rankled under lock step reflected a broader society of rugged individualists who created the industrial revolution.

Part of America neglected in history books.

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Omar Figueroa, Adrien Broner Examples of Why Mental Health is a Serious Issue

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COVID-19, the global pandemic that never seems to go away entirely, doggedly living on as various strains have emerged, has emphasized the need to prioritize mental health during a time when school children and working adults alike have increasingly been traumatized by imposed restrictions that have inexorably altered their daily lives.

As someone who has twice been dealt grievous blows by the effects of such utter despair – an uncle and a cousin so felt that walls were closing in on them that they took their own lives – I cannot make light of the circumstances that have led to Saturday night’s PBC on SHOWTIME revised 12-round main event, in which junior welterweight Omar Figueroa Jr. (28-2-1, 19 KOs) takes on late replacement Sergey Lipinets (16-2-1, 12 KOs) at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla. Figueroa, a former WBC lightweight champion, has been quite open about the “dark place” from which he has been trying to emerge after making the difficult decision to seek counseling and therapy for a wide range of mental issues including ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder), Bipolar disorder, clinical depression, anxiety, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and a more severe form of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) known as “complex” PTSD.

Lipinets, 33, was already scheduled to appear on Saturday night’s card, in an eight-rounder against Carlos Portillo (22-4, 17 KOs), but the former IBF junior welterweight titlist moved up to the marquee bout when Figueroa’s originally scheduled opponent, four-division ex-champion Adrien “The Problem” Broner (34-4-1, 24 KOs) withdrew Monday because of – and this is not really a shock, given his history of erratic behavior — mental health concerns.

Asked when he realized that his brain was not conjuring only happy images of sunshine and lollipops, the now-32-year-old Figueroa said, “I think, for me, it was when I was 17 or 18 years old. That’s when I got really, really bad. Obviously, this past year I feel like I had a psychotic break because of everything that was going on, then getting hit with news that I really did have all this stuff going on. It’s been a roller-coaster, man. It’s been interesting to say the least.”

It is incredible, given all that he has had to deal with out of the ring, that Figueroa was able to perform at such a high level until the whirling dervishes inhabiting his mind became more of a threat to his career and general well-being than gloved opponents seeking to batter him into submission. His most recent victory, a 10-round unanimous decision over John Molina Jr., was 42 long months ago. He has fought only twice since then, a points loss to Yordenis Ugas on July 20, 2019, and an ineffectual, sixth-round stoppage at the hands of Abel Ramos on May 1, 2021, that made it abundantly clear that something was terribly wrong and needed to be fixed if he was to salvage the one aspect of himself that ever had made him feel special.

“I don’t know,” Figueroa said when asked why the wheels came off the way they did against Ramos. “I wish I knew what the heck happened in that fight. My legs just weren’t there. That’s the most frustrating thing that can happen because we went through a whole camp and whenever I’m in camp I’m 100% and I dedicate myself. I did everything I had to do to be perfect for that fight. In the first round I knew I hurt him and I know I could have finished him, but when I tried to put in that little extra effort to finish him, my legs just weren’t there. I don’t know what happened to my body at that point, but that’s also what started me on my introspective journey. I started looking into mental health and I realized how important that was.”

Once he was certain he had restored enough mental tranquility to return to the travails of his trade, Figueroa felt confident enough to skip any minimally challenging warmup bouts and go directly to Broner, whom he was originally scheduled to face in 2018 until that bout fell through. So assured was Figueroa, a Texan by birth and Mexican by heritage, that he would emerge victorious that he was moved to say “I think we’re both at a point in our careers, especially with our age (Broner is 33) and our trajectories, I wanted to make a challenge to Broner and say, `Whoever loses this fight should retire.’”

In stepping aside on Monday, Broner, who had said earlier that he was “ready for whatever (Figueroa) brings,” might have stamped himself as irreparably damaged goods. He issued his reason for withdrawing via social media, offering that “Man I’m going thru a lot at this moment in my life, but I ain’t (gonna) give up. I set more goals and I ain’t stopping until I finish what I started but sorry to say this but I’m not fighting (Saturday night).”

Broner

Broner

It will be interesting to see if Broner commits himself as fully as did Figueroa to repairing his jumbled thought processes. His talent inside the ropes is such — or was — that some observers once dared to list him as a possible addition to the list of legendary Cincinnati boxers headed by Ezzard Charles and Aaron Pryor, but mark me as unconvinced until further notice. In a story I did for The Sweet Science that was posted on Feb. 16, 2017, I wrote that “his decision-making out of the ring has been baffling, his conduct outrageous, his irresponsibility legendary.” Noted trainer and longtime ESPN boxing analyst Teddy Atlas said of the best of Broner that did not always manifest itself once the bell rang that “from a physical standpoint he is extremely skilled. Whoever he gets in with, he just looks faster, smarter and better than all of them.”

In that 2017 story, however, Broner did say that “It’s not about me anymore. It’s about my children and that’s what I’ve based my career on as of now. I’m doing everything for them. I just want to do better and be in better situations. That’s all. When you try to do it your way and it don’t work, then you got to make the right choices and start following the right steps.”

Given that many mental health issues are hereditary, Broner’s once-expressed concern for his children does provide a glimmer of hope that just maybe he is a leopard that can finally change its spots, as Figueroa is in attempting to not only transform himself as a fighter, but as a proper dad and role model for his kids.

All of which stamps Figueroa vs. Lipinets as a far more interesting case study of human behavior borne of the intricacies of the mind than of the standard plot of one fighter having to change course to a different opponent on short notice.

“What are we going to do?” Figueroa asked, rhetorically. “It’s fight week. It’s not like I have time to change stuff in sparring, or training, or anything. I just have to trust myself and the work that we’ve done and move forward as best we can.”

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

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Robert Garcia is the Wild Card in the Usyk-Joshua Rematch

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Robert Garcia is the Wild Card in the Usyk-Joshua Rematch

Anthony Joshua was assailed for fighting a stupid fight after losing his alphabet trove of heavyweight titles to Oleksandr Usyk in September of last year. Joshua himself came to share this opinion and responded by cutting ties with trainer Rob McCracken who had guided him to an Olympic gold medal and was the chief voice in his corner for his last nine pro fights.

Joshua’s search for a replacement took him to the United States where he had conversations with Ronnie Shields, Virgil Hunter, Eddy Reynoso and Robert Garcia. He chose Garcia.

Garcia, 47, learned the ABCs of boxing at the knee of his father Eduardo Garcia, a Mexican immigrant agricultural worker who taught boxing in the evenings at a boys’ club in the LA county community of Oxnard and would eventually open his own gym. Eduardo taught him well. Robert won the IBF world super featherweight title and made two successful defenses before leaving the sport with a 34-3 record.

In retirement, Robert Garcia worked alongside his father training boxers. Their prize pupil was Robert’s younger brother Mikey Garcia who won titles in four weight classes. During his prime fighting years, said the noted boxing authority Frank Lotierzo, Mikey was the most fundamentally sound fighter in the sport.

Robert Garcia has trained or co-trained 17 fighters who went on to win world titles. The most recent is precocious 22-year-old WBC super flyweight champion Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez who is such a smooth operator that he has already drawn comparisons to Vasyl Lomachenko.

Garcia was yet a curious choice. He has worked primarily with Mexican and Mexican-American boxers and has never coached a title-holder in a weight class higher than middleweight. Moreover, Anthony Joshua doesn’t need someone to teach him to be more of a textbook fighter. He needs someone to teach him to be a bully.

Since his first fight with Andy Ruiz, said Barry McGuigan in London’s Daily Mirror,  “{Joshua} has tried to become something that he is not, a technical, thinking fighter. This was the root of his problems against Usyk.” He was the bigger specimen and theoretically could have roughed up Usyk and worn him down, but he failed to use his size to his advantage.

“It sounds crazy,” Joshua was quoted as saying in a story in the Daily Mail, “but I’m not going to lie: My objective was never to hurt him, to land damaging punches; my aim was to go the full 12 rounds and prove I could box as well as he does, to land scoring punches.”

Looking at the tape of that fight, Robert Garcia noted that AJ merely smiled each time that Usyk nailed him with a hard punch in the final round. Garcia doesn’t want to see any more smiling from Joshua. He wants his charge to get mad and show it.

Can Anthony Joshua change his mentality and get meaner? If so, will it make any difference against a fighter as fundamentally sound as Oleksandr Usyk? We will find out on Saturday when AJ and Usyk renew acquaintances in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The fight will be live-streamed in the United States on DAZN. It’s a mid-afternoon show for those residing in the Pacific Time Zone with the preliminaries expected to start about noon and the first bell for the main event slated to go at approximately 2:45 (5:45 pm ET).

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Commonwealth Games Champ Delicious Orie and More

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Commonwealth Games Champ Delicious Orie and More

The Commonwealth Games wrapped up this past Monday, Aug. 8, in Birmingham, England. The boxing competition drew 231 entrants (172 male) from 55 member-states. There were 10 weight classes for men and six for the ladies.

This was the twenty-second edition of the Commonwealth Games, a quadrennial event. Many of the competitors will turn up again in Paris in 2024 for the Olympic Summer Games. Over the years, many athletes have used the Commonwealth Games as a steppingstone to Olympic glory.

The boxer that attracted the most ink in this year’s competition was Delicious Orie, the gold medal winner in the super heavyweight class. Writers noticed a lot of parallels between the six-foot-six Orie and the six-foot-six Anthony Joshua, both of whom came to the sport relatively late and have a Nigerian branch in their family tree.

Orie was born in Moscow, the son of a Nigerian father and a Russian mother. At the age of seven, he moved with his parents to England, settling first in London and eventually Wolverhampton, a suburb of Birmingham. As for the derivation of his bizarre first name, it’s something of a mystery. His parents have “normal” names: Justin and Natalie.

Unlike many boxers, Orie says that he never got into a street fight as a kid. To the contrary, he says he was something of a teachers’ pet. He holds a degree from Birmingham’s Aston University where he majored in economics and graduated with honors in 2020.

In the gold medal match, Orie, 25, lost the opening frame to his Indian opponent but stormed back to win a unanimous decision. He is pointing toward the 2024 Olympics and says he has no interest in turning pro before that event. He has several more hurdles to pass before earning a ticket to Paris.

Northern Ireland, which has won more medals in boxing than in any other sport, sent a 12-man squad to Birmingham, the second-largest contingent, surpassed only by England (14). Five members of the NI team (3 men; 2 women) won gold medals including 29-year-old featherweight Michaela Walsh and her younger brother Aidan Walsh, a 25-year-old light middleweight. Michaela and Aidan were Olympians last year, the first brother-sister combo in Olympic boxing history, but failed to medal.

The third time was the charm for Michaela, a silver medalist at the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games.

The finals in the middleweight division pit Scotland’s Ken Hickey against Australia’s Callum Peters. In a good action fight, the gold medal went to the Scotsman who prevailed on a split decision.

The Australian press denounced the decision as a robbery. We likely haven’t seen the last of Callum Peters. At age 19, the hard-luck Aussie was one of the youngest boxers in the tournament

Hall of Fame referee Steve Smoger turns 71 tomorrow (Monday, Aug. 15). According to a missive from the desk of the International Boxing Research Organization, Smoger is currently bedridden with pneumonia, a residue of Covid, which he contracted in April.

A former New Jersey municipal court judge, Smoger has refereed more than a thousand boxing matches in a career spanning five decades. Named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2015, he has purportedly refereed more boxing matches in more jurisdictions around the globe than any referee in the history of the sport.

For anyone wishing to send Smoger a birthday greeting or a Get Well card, his address is:

Steve Smoger

8 Cambridge Ave.

Ventnor, NJ 08406

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