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LOTIERZO'S LOWDOWN Sonny Liston: The Most Underrated Heavyweight Champ In History

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0212 largeFor a couple years before he fought Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, former heavyweight champion Sonny Liston was thought of by some boxing insiders as being if not greater than Joe Louis, at the worst, the greatest heavyweight since Louis. Sonny destroyed everything across the ring from him on his way to his title shot against Floyd Patterson in September of 1962. And once Liston had Patterson in the ring he only needed two minutes to relieve him of his title. Then in July of 1963 he repeated the feat needing only four more seconds to dispatch a better strategically prepared Patterson. And in reality, Liston was probably three years past his prime by the time he challenged Floyd for the title.

Then Cassius Clay came along and as a 7-1 underdog and upset Sonny and the rest became history. Today, fifty years after Liston took the title from Patterson, his legacy is all but forgotten and Clay, who became Muhammad Ali after beating Liston, is regarded as the greatest heavyweight champion in history. And yes, a lot of that is based on him beating the invincible and unbeatable Liston.

As most fans know, there's a lot of speculation that Liston dumped both fights against Ali. I'm not going to go into that. Personally, despite being told different by those who were around Liston at that time, I believe an ill trained and eroded Liston lost to Clay legitimately the first time, and went into the tank for the rematch against Ali 15 months later. Also, based on their styles and physicality, Liston, who may have demolished Ali foe “Smokin” Joe Frazier and also handled the human wrecking machine George Foreman, didn't match up with Ali. Muhammad had the style, size, speed, strength, chin and mental constitution to beat Liston if both were at their best.

So in essence it's the two fights with Ali that tarnished Liston's perception and reputation. And that's wrong. For the record, Liston is one of the top five greatest heavyweight champs in history, regardless of whether you use his record and resume or you concentrate on what he brought to the ring as a professional fighter.

As a fighter, Liston could box, cut off the ring, slip the jab, parry the right and hit with both hands. He was strong as a bull, punched effortlessly and had a cast iron chin. No doubt Sonny was a born fighter. He never got wild or spaghetti armed, and he kept the pressure on. Fighters who tried to box him either lost every round or didn't survive to hear the final bell. And those who tried to take it to him, like Cleveland Williams, Nino Valdez and Mike DeJohn, were taken apart and knocked out.

Liston was also a tremendous boxer who was fundamentally sound and hard to hit. Sonny had a great left jab that he used both offensively and defensively. Everything he did started with his jab. He pressured his opponents from behind it and forced them to deal with his 84 inch reach. His jab came out straight and even when he missed, which was seldom, his usually retreating opponent was out of position to launch a counter attack. Sonny's high guard and partially extended left hand covered his center beautifully and therefore his opponents were forced to punch around his left hand when they felt the gumption to go on the attack, which made it easy for Sonny to redirect their jab and punch inside of it. And unlike every other big puncher and aggressive heavyweight, Liston had no problem moving backward when he need to.

Another Liston tactic was to hook off the jab, which usually forced his opponents into his right hand. He was also able to get close and work his iron-fisted uppercuts from both sides on the inside. And because he held his guard tight and his elbows close to his body, he was hard to hold and move around, simply because there wasn't any body part to grab. And if you opened your arms and tried to wrap him up, he could take your head off coming up the middle.

Think about all the great heavyweight champs from John L. Sullivan up to the Klitschko brothers. How many can it be said about that they were both a great boxer and puncher? I would say after Joe Louis, is Liston, and a tier below them are Lennox Lewis along with Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko. And in all fairness, Lennox Lewis was a good boxer, but he could be forced to fight with his back to the ropes and then be held or he'd look for the referee to break the action. As for the Klitschkos, they're more than adequate boxers, but they rely more on their size and length to stymie their opponents, and offensively, they aren't very imaginative. What they do, they do well, but it's more driven by not making any mistakes and taking what's being given to them.

The only thing unimaginative about Sonny Liston was his pace. Sonny was aggressive, but he was measured in the way he pressed. He applied just enough pressure to where he forced his opponents to react, but not too fast to where he couldn't see every escape route they had.

Liston 50-4 (39), who stood a shade under 6'1″ and weighed between 215-218 in his prime, is one of the top five greatest heavyweight champs in history. He would've mutilated swarmers who brought the fight to him, like Dempsey, Marciano, Frazier and Tyson. He was too polished and refined for punchers/sluggers the likes of Max Baer, James Jeffries and maybe even George Foreman. As for boxer-punchers like Lennox Lewis and Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, I could see him beating them using whatever style they chose to fight him. If they tried to box him, he'd force them to fight – and if they went at him, he'd force them back to trying to box him or they'd get beaten up or stopped in the process. In reality, only Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes present Liston with a match-up problem.

And, finally, there's the issue of intimidation. Foreman and Tyson got a lot of mileage out of it, but Sonny was its undisputed champion. He didn’t try to be intimidating: he was intimidating. Even a genuine tough guy like Chuck Wepner was candid about being undone by Sonny before their fight (and this was the ancient version of the former champion). When he felt the first punch, matters only got worse.

Because I think that Liston dumped the second Ali fight, it’s worth taking a moment to look at the three fights that I believe Sonny lost legitimately. The first was against Marty Marshall, who got him to laugh, then broke his jaw. Sonny lost a split decision, then beat Marshall twice decisively. As an old man, he ran out of gas against the talented Leotis Martin, after beating Martin up for most of the fight. He got knocked out with a great shot. That leaves the first Ali fight. History has distorted some facts about the fight. Lost in the myth about it is the fact that, at the time of the stoppage, the fight was even on the scorecards. So think about it this way: an older than advertised, badly trained, and too confident Liston lost to a prime version of the greatest (and certainly the fastest) champion the division has ever had. It’s hard to speculate on what might have happened if a younger, more motivated Sonny had had a chance against the same Ali. I won’t say Liston would have won. But I won’t say it's a given he would have lost either.

Other than that, Liston went through everyone he ever fought. And he fought everyone willing to fight him. He destroyed all the contenders who Floyd Patterson avoided; his ascension to a title shot came from there being literally no one he hadn’t beaten. But Liston came up at the wrong time. There was simply no place for him. In today’s market of bad guy notoriety, he’d be a superstar—the most emulated fighter on earth. Boxing could desperately use a Sonny Liston today. But there’ll never be another heavyweight anywhere close.

Frank Lotierzo can be reached at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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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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