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Finally, the Ring A Country For Young Men

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KhanGarciaLAPC Blevins6Khan and Garcia both made weight, both scaling in at 139 pounds ahead of their Saturday clash.

It was 12:30 a.m., a time when under normal circumstances this retired sports writer should have been sound asleep. But maybe it was the percussion made by the pelting rain upon the rooftop of my sister-in-law’s New Orleans-area condo, where the wife and I are spending a few pleasant weeks in our old hometown visiting with family members and friends before our return to Philadelphia. If not that, possibly it was a mild case of indigestion from the generous portion of spicy Cajun fare I consumed at dinner some hours earlier. In any case, I was up and about, mostly awake and wishing I wasn’t. So, naturally, I did what many occasional insomniacs do: I turned on the television set in the otherwise unoccupied living room to watch whichever was the best of the late-late movies on one of the 75 or so available cable channels.

As luck, or maybe fate, would have it, the pick of the litter was a more recent classic, No Country For Old Men, which won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Picture and starred the always watchable Tommy Lee Jones as a folksy, back-country 1980s Texas sheriff trying to make sense of a series of murders committed by a sociopathic killer from another part of the world, whose weapon of choice was highly unusual.

Nearly a week has passed since that rainy night, and as I sit here pondering the approach I will take to the story I am about to write, it occurs to me that there might be an inspired reason why I awoke when I did, and elected to sit through the 2½ -hour entirety (including commercials) of a movie I already had watched probably seven or eight times.

Unlike most areas of our youth-obsessed culture, boxing is indeed a country for old men, which perhaps has contributed to the sport’s failure to attract as many new devotees as, say, mixed martial arts or the X-Games, where nut cases on skateboards and dirt bikes risk their health performing daredevil maneuvers without ever having to take a punch. In an era in which it is increasingly difficult to identify potential superstar fighters in their 20s, and some of the best-known practitioners of the pugilistic arts continue to be such fortysomethings as Bernard Hopkins, Roy Jones Jr., Evander Holyfield and James Toney, even our interminable wait for a pairing of 35-year-old Floyd Mayweather Jr. and 33-year-old Manny Pacquiao almost qualifies as a dream showdown of ascending talents.

All of which stamps Saturday night’s super lightweight matchup of WBC champion Danny “Swift” Garcia (23-0, 14 KOs) and former WBA and IBF 140-pound titlist Amir “King” Khan (26-2, 18 KOs), at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, as the boxing equivalent, or close to it, of Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James in the NBA Finals, or wunderkinds Bryce Harper vs. Mike Trout in some World Series in the not-so-distant future.

All right, so Garcia, 24, and Khan, 25, aren’t yet members of the highly exclusive and ever-shrinking fraternity of boxing superstars. Part of that is attributable to the fact their professional development hasn’t been as accessible to the public as were those of Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns, whose meteoric rises in their formative professional stages owed in no small part to receiving regular exposure on free, over-the-air network television. The best, most anticipated scraps now are almost always on premium-cable or pay-per-view, freezing out thrifty fans on a budget who don’t subscribe to HBO or Showtime, or, even if they did, would prefer not to receive PPV-inflated monthly cable bills the size of new-car installment notes.

When Hearns was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., on June 10, thousands of middle-aged idolators turned out to see him, Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler share the dais, serving as reminders of a golden age that has passed and isn’t that likely to come around again unless certain parameters of the game can be changed. Part of that process is the need for promoters to expose the lead ponies in their respective stables to the type of risky showdowns that tend to jeopardize unblemished records and alphabet titles, as fabricated as those distinctions might be. It seems hard to believe now, but Leonard was only 25 when he took his 30-1 record into the ring on Sept. 16, 1981, at Caesars Palace against Hearns, who was 32-0 and still a month shy of his 23rd birthday. Oh, sure, Leonard embellished his burgeoning legend with a come-from-behind 14th-round stoppage of the very game “Hit Man,” but Hearns performed well enough that that defeat did not erode his popularity, just as his damn-the-torpedoes loss to Hagler in their 1985 slugfest also served to elevate his status as an all-time great rather than to take it down a notch.

It didn’t hurt, of course, that Garcia, who captured the vacant WBC crown on March 24 with his unanimous decision over faded icon Erik Morales (who had relinquished the title a day earlier when he failed to make weight), and Khan both are promoted by Golden Boy, making the negotiations less confrontational than is frequently the case. Also facilitating matters is the fact that Khan, who had been preparing for a late-May rematch with the man who had wrested the WBA and IBF titles from him on a controversial split decision, Lamont Peterson, tested positive for steroids and was stripped of those belts.

Mostly, though, this appealing bout, which will be televised by HBO, was made because two young, hungry and confident fighters wanted to test themselves against someone who brought many of the same attributes to the table, and because each knows the only way to step up to the threshold of superstardom is to say what the hell and take a chance now, when it actually means something.

“I felt it was a big opportunity,” said Garcia. “Khan was supposed to fight Peterson again, but when that fell through, my manager (Al Haymon) reached out to me and said, `Do you want to fight the guy? I know you can beat him.’ I said, `Yeah, I know I can beat him, too, so let’s do it.’

“I’ve watched Khan for years. I never thought he was as good as people were making him out to be. Boxing is too political sometimes. Fighters get to be champions and all of a sudden they or their managers just want to play it safe so they can hold onto the title for a long time. Boxing needs to get exciting again, with more fights between two young, strong, fast guys in their primes.

“I didn’t have to take this fight. I could have gone another way. But I heard what was being said after I won the WBC championship. `Danny Garcia beat an old man.’ It was like I wasn’t getting the credit I believed I deserved. That’s why I said yes to a fight with Khan. I want to show the world that I’m the real deal, and I’m going to be on top for a long time.”

Those sentiments were more or less echoed by Khan, who is thrilled that at least one of his former 140-pound titles, the WBA version, also will be on the line on Saturday night, the WBA having tossed its hardware into the pot as a result of Peterson testing dirty.

“We spoke to Golden Boy (CEO Richard Schaefer) and he said, `What do you think of Danny Garcia (as a replacement opponent)? I jumped to the occasion. I remember watching the highlights when Garcia beat Erik Morales. He’s a good fighter and he has a name that I thought would be in my future because he’s young, he’s good and he’s strong. I thought, `I’m going to have to keep an eye on this guy.’

“I would have liked to settle the score properly (with Peterson), but Garcia and I have similar speed and similar movements. We’re both unorthodox. And having two world titles on the line makes the fight even bigger.”

As well thought of as Garcia was prior to his conquest of Morales (he was a 2005 Under-19 U.S. champion and a 2006 U.S. national champion as an amateur), he didn’t enter the pro ranks as heavily hyped as was Khan, a silver medalist for Great Britain at the tender age of 17 at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Boxing writers from the United Kingdom had been rhapsodizing about him to their American counterparts for years, touting Khan, who is of Pakistani descent, as the second coming of “Prince” Naseem Hamed. And when Khan took out the great Marco Antonio Barrera, or what remained of him, in five rounds on March 14, 2009, in Manchester, England, it served to largely erase the memory of his shocking, first-round knockout by Breidis Prescott two bouts earlier, also in Manchester.

Despite those two defeats on his resume, Khan is anywhere from a 3½ -1 to a 6-1 favorite, depending on which wagering establishment is setting the odds. The extent of Garcia’s longshot status does seem a bit wide, but that could be the result of all those vocal and free-spending Brits putting next month’s rent money on their hero, whereas Garcia still is trying to expand his base of support. A victory over Khan would do much to further his ambitions to be recognized as top-tier fighter and bankable attraction.

It remains to be seen whether either Garcia or Khan, or both, ever rise to the prominence of a Leonard or a Hearns, although the suspicion is that much work needs to be done for them to even enter that discussion. But they are young guns willing to back up their conviction in themselves where it counts, inside the ropes.

For that, fights fans of all ages should be grateful.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 274: Ryan Garcia and Devin Haney in Hollywood, Jake, Amanda and More

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HOLLYWOOD, Ca.- Adorned in a white suit, Ryan “King Ry” Garcia arrived on a big white horse followed by a handful of fair maidens dressed in various colors and some twirling hula hoops into the Avalon Theater on Vine Street on Thursday.

Inside the historic theater that once served as the Hollywood Canteen during World War 2, where actors like Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis and Rita Hayworth greeted soldiers, but this time it was the boxing media waiting.

Garcia (24-1, 20 KOs) will challenge undefeated Devin Haney (31-0, 15 KOs) for the WBC super lightweight world title on April 20 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. DAZN pay-per-view will stream the Golden Boy Promotions card.

It doesn’t get more Hollywood than this.

Inside the 97-year-old theater, once the two opposing factions arrived, the pageantry turned into a war of words, taunts and accusations.

This is boxing.

Aside from the taunts and words of derision tossed at each other, the Haney father and son combination admitted that Garcia was the one fighter willing to fight Devin.

“He (Garcia) raised his hand when no one else did,” said Bill Haney the father.

Devin Haney sat next to his father on the stage anxious as ever to prove his talent in the prize ring. After his victory over Regis Prograis that followed wins over Vasyl Lomachenko and George Kambosos, the former undisputed lightweight world champion is now dwelling in the super lightweight division and holds the WBC version.

“I was killing myself trying to make the weight,” said Haney about moving up to the 140-pound super lightweight division.

Haney has long been familiar with Ryan Garcia since their amateur days as they met in the boxing ring six times as youths.

“They fought six times in the amateurs with both of them winning three apiece. Now they meet with championship gold and the chance at being the face of American boxing on the line,” said Oscar De La Hoya, the promoter and head of Golden Boy Promotions. “In other words, this one counts!”

Garcia and Haney have taken similar paths.

Garcia fought professionally numerous times in Mexico where it is legal to fight under the age of 18. So did Haney. Both faced unknown opponents, sometimes last-minute changes forced them to fight foes that were not originally scheduled.

As pros, the two similarly and eagerly sought to face the best opponents possible despite their inexperience. Both proved more than capable.

Garcia quickly amassed a surprisingly large following of fans through social media and through his exploits of sudden knockouts from his uncanny speed.

“Everything I have today, I earned it,” said Garcia. “Nobody gave me a handout, I never had money, I’m really a small town boy.”

Haney proved able to defeat veteran world champions feared for their technical expertise with his own buttery-smooth fighting prowess.

“I am happy to be here. I worked hard to be here. I sacrificed a lot to be here, and at the end of the day, the world will see it on April 20,” said Devin Haney.

Next month in Brooklyn the two longtime foes will be performing. Will it be the biggest grossing pay-per-view of the year 2024?

Jake and Amanda

Jake Paul and Amanda Serrano are boxing’s best tag team.

Several years ago, Paul recognized that Serrano, a seven-division world champion Puerto Rican was capable of much more than fighting on the small stage.

Genius.

Paul signed Serrano to his Most Valuable Promotions company and together they have been able to draw a mixture of fans long ignored by other promoters.

Welcome to the age of the influencers.

For the past several years Paul has fought MMA stars, boxers and other social media influencers. And when he signed Serrano she fought Katie Taylor in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden where their fight drew more than a million pay-per-views.

Paul (8-1, 5 KOs) meets Ryan Bourland (17-2, 6 KOs) in an eight-round cruiserweight fight on Saturday March 2, at Coliseo Jose Miguel Agrelot in San Juan, Puerto Rico. DAZN will stream the card.

He will be co-piloting the fight card with the great Amanda Serrano (46-2-1, 30 KOs) who will be defending the undisputed featherweight world championship against Germany’s Nina “the Brave” Meinke (18-3, 4 KOs).

Once again Serrano and Paul will share a very good fight card that also features female super flyweights Krysti Rosario-Ortiz (2-0) and Gloria Munguilla (5-0).

Others on the card include Javon “Wanna” Walton, a featherweight out of Atlanta, Georgia. If he looks familiar there is a reason. He was featured in the Sylvester Stallone film Samaritan and also appeared in the HBO series Euphoria.

Walton has always boxed and now will be a part of the Paul and Serrano team.

Paul has that magic touch for attracting fans to boxing.

Just today Most Valuable Promotions signed Indian prizefighter Neeraj Goyat. The welterweight fighter was recently seen on social media approaching Paul in his training camp and daring the fighter to meet him in the boxing ring. The short video clip attracted more than 150 million views.

Paul, ever the think-out-of-the-box promoter, signed Goyat immediately.

“In just 2.5 years, MVP has organized some of the world’s most significant boxing events, and I’m excited to work with MVP to elevate the status of professional boxing in India and bring attention to boxers from India globally,” said an excited Goyat.

“His viral callouts of Jake Paul certainly got our attention,” said MVP co-founder Nakisa Bidarian.

Out-of-the box thinking.

Fights to Watch (all times Pacific Time)

Sat. DAZN 1:30 p.m. Amanda Serrano (46-2-1) vs Nina Meinke (18-3).

Sat. ESPN+ 2:10 pm Otabek Kholmatov 12-0, 11 KOs) vs. Raymod Ford (14-0-1, 7 KOs); Luis Alberto Lopez (29-2, 16 KOs) vs Reiya Abe (25-3-1, 10 KOs)

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Madueno Upsets Pauldo and Lopez Overcomes Escudero at Whitesands

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Madueno Upsets Pauldo and Lopez Overcomes Escudero at Whitesands

When it comes to professional boxing down in the Tampa Bay area, Canadian transplant Garry Jonas is a one-man band.

The architect of the Wednesday Night Fights series, Jonas doesn’t have to pay a site fee for the shows that he promotes because he owns the venue. The shows that he stages at his Whitesands Events Center in Plant City air on his live streaming platform ProBoxTV. His series currently has only one sponsor, a bookmaking operation called SportsBetting.Ag., and he owns that too. (A self-styled serial entrepreneur, Jonas continued his assault on the established order last week with his purchase of the respected Boxing Scene website, but that’s a story best saved for another day.)

Jonas promotes high-grade club fights. When he started this venture, he promised entertaining, well-matched fights and tonight he delivered. The “A” side fighters in the co-main events were matched tough.

In the featured bout, lightweight Justin Pauldo (17-2, 1 NC) was upset by Mexico’s Miguel Madueno. Managed by Jolene Mazzone, the former VP and matchmaker for Main Events and trained by Ronnie Shields, Pauldo, a resident or nearby Orlando, was unbeaten in his last 12 heading in.

In his previous start, Madueno turned in a lackluster performance against surging Canadian campaigner Steve Claggett. His showing (he was 30-1 with 28 KOs heading in) was inconsistent with his record. Tonight, he was more pugnacious, out-working the man in front of him, a 4/1 favorite. The decision was split; 97-92 and 95-94 for Madueno, 95-94 for Pauldo. There were no knockdowns, but the Mexican had a point deducted in round 5 for leading with his head.

Co-Feature

The co-main was an entertaining 10-round light heavyweight affair in which Edgar Berlanga stablemate Najee Lopez improved to 10-0 (8) with a hard-earned majority decision over Marcos Escudero (14-3). One of the judges had it a draw (95-95) but he was overruled by his cohorts who had it 97-93 and 99-91.

Lopez, who is of Puerto Rican descent but was born and raised in the Atlanta area, hadn’t previously gone beyond six rounds. He was the house fighter. Named the 2023 Prospect of the Year by the ProBox team of TV commentators, Lopez was making his eighth appearance at Whitesands. Escudero, a South Florida-based Argentine had won four straight heading in at club shows in Delray Beach, FL after back-to-back setbacks in competitive fights with Joseph George.

Escudero, who did most of the leading, had many good moments. The 99-91 tally against the Argentine was a head-scratcher. (Commentator Paulie Malignaggi said the offending  judge, Alvaro Rodriguez, should have his fee withheld and be forced to serve a one-year suspension.)

Also

In an 8-round lightweight contest, former two-time Olympian Tsendbaatar Erdenebat, a 27-year-old Mongolian southpaw who began his pro career in China and now resides in southern California, improved to 9-0 (4) with a unanimous decision over Guinea-born Mohamed Soumaoro (11-3) who was a willing mixer but was out-classed. The scores were 79-73 and 80-72 twice.

As one would expect from a two-time Olympian, Erdenebat is a good technician who puts his punches together well, but doesn’t have a lot of power. If his name rings a bell, he’s the fellow who purportedly sent Ryan Garcia to the hospital from the effects of a body punch during a sparring session.

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Two Featherweight Title Fights Top a Strong Bill at Turning Stone on Saturday

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When Top Rank announced in December that they would be returning to Turning Stone Resort & Casino for an ESPN+ show on March 2nd featuring two featherweight world title fights they promised a deep action-packed show. Usually such words fall by the wayside as the event ultimately comes together but in this instance the docket is loaded from top to bottom with name attractions, undefeated prospects, local grudge matches and two very well-matched co-headliners.

In the first of the co-headliners, Luis Alberto Lopez (29-2, 16 KOs) makes the third defense of his IBF featherweight belt against Japan’s Reiya Abe (25-3-1, 10 KOs). Lopez is a popular brawler whose aggressive style and lack of attention to defense usually makes for entertaining fights. Abe, a southpaw, is a slick boxer who is coming off a career best win against Kiko Martinez last April. Abe has a style similar to that of Ruben Villa who outboxed Lopez to a ten round unanimous decision win in 2019.

The co-headline finale is being contested for the vacant WBA featherweight title between Otabek Kholmatov (12-0, 11 KOs) and Raymond Ford (14-0-1, 7 KOs). Both fighters were highly touted heading into the pro ranks. Ford has the speed advantage but Kholmatov has a big edge in power. Social media seems split right down the middle on this fight and oddsmakers agree installing Kholmatov as a very slight favorite as of this writing.

Also on this show is the return of the ever popular Nico Ali Walsh (9-1, 5 KOs) who bounced back from his first career defeat on Dec. 16 at a show in Guinea where he defeated a Frenchman with a 9-2-1 record (mysteriously, that fight isn’t yet listed on boxrec). He will face off against Luke Iannuccilli (7-0, 3 KOs). Walsh, Muhammad Ali’s grandson, will make his debut at Turning Stone Resort Casino in the same exact arena where his aunt and Boxing Hall of Famer Laila Ali made her professional boxing debut in October of 1999 with her legendary father sitting ringside. This will mark the fourth time a member of Muhammad Ali’s family has fought at Turning Stone.

The card also includes several contests featuring up-and-coming undefeated fighters. One match in particular to keep an eye on is an eight-round welterweight bout between a pair of unbeaten fighters in Rohan Polanco (11-0, 7 KOs) and Tarik Zaina (13-0-1, 8 KOs). Zaina opened some eyes last November when he defeated Marcelino Lopez and Polanco is coming off three consecutive wins against opponents who had a cumulative record of 39-3.

Finally I would be remiss if I didn’t notate the local grudge match on the docket between Gerffred Ngayot (6-1, 5 KOs) of Buffalo and Bryce Mills (14-1, 5 KOs) of Syracuse. They are scheduled to face off in a six-round bout in the 140-pound division. They are on this show because each have solid local fan bases and matching them was a way to help fill the stands. Mills is a sharp accurate counterpuncher with all-around solid skills. Ngayot is an aggressive fighter who is not afraid to be first and fire away to the body. Stylistically this could turn into quite a barnburner and each have plenty of motivation to make a statement on what is a much bigger stage than they are accustomed to.

We are often quick to criticize those in the sport when cards come together that are seemingly either loaded with mismatches or bouts that just don’t pique much interest. This is an instance where those involved need to be applauded for putting together a card from top to bottom that will certainly give fans plenty of bang for their buck.

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Conor Benn Crosses the Pond to Defeat Peter Dobson in Las Vegas

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