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Geale-Sturm: Irresistible Objects and a Finally Moveable Force

Phil Woolever

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Geale-SturmIf this was Felix Sturm's swan song, it was a doozy. Sturm-Geale was a rock-solid scrap.

OBERHAUSEN -Perhaps a draw was the most fitting verdict on an evening of cliches both apt and absurd, but Daniel Geale and Felix Sturm had fought far too hard for that, whatever it meant, with sanctions aside.

Rhineland boxing's gloved-up gourmet menu did not have any Deutschland “Hausmannskost” (home cooking) on the bill Saturday night as Geale earned a coin-flip split decision into another pay bracket, just a quick autobahn dash away from Sturm's home town.

Instead, patrons were treated to a big-bang buffet feast of fisticuffs, topped off with generous portions of grace, class, and personal insight for the duking dessert. It was exactly the type of stimulating fight scene, everywhere from the nearby train station to the makeshift smoking areas outside the bleacher areas, that ensures the sport's continued popularity in these parts.

Alongside emerging Gennady Golovkin's win over commendable Grzegorz Proksa, Arthur Abraham's surprising performance against Robert Stieglitz and the upcoming Andre Ward – Chad Dawson or Sergio Martinez – Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr fiestas, the 160 -168 pound rumbling range is currently the most prime territory in boxing, especially during the present 30 day stretch.

Were those the “boxing's dead” blabbermouths I saw sitting in a ditch with the “rock and roll” and “US world power” nitwit naysayers?

Considering the intense skill level exhibited by each title holder, Geale – Sturm was one of the better fights anywhere this year, and definitely a leader for Western Europe. Joan Pablo Hernandez – Steve Cunningham had wilder whaps, and David Haye – Derick Chisora in London was a bigger spectacle, but Oberhausen saw a near classic through the extended, exhausting best of each man brought out by the other.

Almost all ringside media in my informal postfight poll scored the contest for Sturm, never the case before in his most recent defenses. The trifecta of 116-112 scores by the official judges were too wide, whoever was favored.

Even allowing a discount for my personal bias I gave Sturm the last round, and the fight, 115-114. A one or two punch margin, folks.

“I knew it was very close, but I was never worried about the decision, I knew I had put in the work,(both) in training and tonight,” said Geale, gazing like it was all still sinking in as he came down the ring post steps.

The win was Geale's second title winning split decision over a German based fighter in Germany, as he added Sturm's WBA belt to the IBF version Geale took from Sebastian Sylvester.

“I give my congratulations to Daniel for a great fight,” said Sturm, “And for his great team. He fought superb and he was very tough. I am, of course, very sad about the decision. But I am glad it was as good a fight as we promised our fans and I wish him the best. Maybe we will have a rematch if he wants one.”

Two clinched cliches, “That's boxing” and “No losers”, were repeated in multiple languages by both competitors and almost everyone behind a microphone except the beautiful “Sat 1” TV babe who moderated the press conference sitting next to Sturm, her perfect blonde hair and makeup in sharp contrast to the dark bruises of Sturm's slumped profile.

Any boxing fan should want to see Geale – Sturm II. Plenty of carnage, plenty of class.

Almost all available Oberhausen seats were filled in the scaled-down Konig-Pilsner Arena with a somewhat glamorous, somewhat subdued swarm of approximately 7077. You could get a good sense of how the fight flowed back and forth through periods of studious silence or screaming in the Sturm stronghold.

For a usually polite German boxing audience to howl in protest after the debatable decision was announced showed both their passion and disappointment.

Geale came in to blaring power chords, fitting his fighting style.No one in the stands made a noise, but Geale was glad to keep them quiet.

Sturm's pyrotechnical entrance to a great intro by Swedish singing star Lykke Li had bizarre, almost scary irony as hundreds captured images with devices held straight up in an unconscious, very eerie one armed salute which hopefully illustrated of how far society has progressed in recent decades.

Sturm came out quick in round one, didn't land much but threw a lot. Geale looked a little stronger and little more aggressive behind good body shots. Sturm had a better second session as they started to alternate control. The fight was dead even at the halfway point, but Sturm looked much worse for wear. Geale landed bigger shots, Sturm landed more.

During the first half of the fight Sturm slipped most shots. Geale didn't but his aggressiveness proved effective.

It appeared strength would trump speed as Geale roared in rounds 7 through 9, but Sturm proved his championship heart and skill as he rallied back with stirring combinations down the stretch.

From second row center I had the bout dead even going into the final frame, the final minute, the final frenzied exchange.

Round 12 may well be the Round of the Year.

Geale's gritty, granite style and personable manner won him many fans, through a looming local melancholia as long time titlist Sturm was dislodged from the upper stratosphere.

Of more vital relevance for 31 year old Geale and the global boxing community, the result seemed to open the door a bit wider for a series of major middleweight matches. We may never see the “Four King” days of Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran and others like Wilfredo Benitez and John Mugabi, but there are solid heirs to the throne throwing shots these days, plenty of potential punching princes.

It was almost as if the confident Team Geale brought in new addition promoter Gary Shaw to field negotiations for Geale's next giant step. That could mean a match with Golovkin, or the winner of Martinez – Chavez Jr, but realistically not until some softer defenses to build everybody's USA market recognition and purse potential.

Sturm looked much more marked at post fight press conference. Geale was relatively unscathed, though he looked just as exhausted.

“Everything went the way I planned it. We knew I had to fight the fight of my life and I did it,” said Geale, now 28-1 (15). “I'd be glad to have a rematch because it was a great fight, but I can't really say what's next. I'm happy I get to some rest, then sit down and look at my options. I think I'll have at least a few more big fights now.”

All four members of Team Geale that spoke sounded sincerely impressed with how Sturm the promoter treated them. It looked painful for Sturm to raise his shoulders and force a slight smile.

“I've known Felix for a very very long time. He has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of,” offered Shaw during a personal display that spoke well for US diplomacy, and of which a dejected Sturm seemed to be taking to heart. “I've been on that side of the table before and I know he's very down right now, but I know he'll be back if he wants.”

If it was the venerable, still relatively young (at 33 years old) Sturm's last big stand, it was certainly an excellent end to quite a run.

It's hard to assess how much mauling mileage Sturm has left, but Geale took lots of it.

Sturm's level of achievement is good in global terms, not just European records, but Sturm will always be faulted around North America for remaining inside a perceived protective zone in his adopted German homeland. Sturm still won't have to travel far for work unless he wants, but Australia ain't the worst place for a paid holiday.

Maybe the most obvious move for Sturm, now 37-3-2 (16), would be the huge, German extravaganza that could come with a bout against newly crowned 168 pound rival Arthur Abraham. That could probably provide Sturm with a nice, grand finale payday to his career inside the strands should those welts look a bit too purple for the face of a guy who still models for Calvin Klein underwear.

At this point, both Sturm and Abraham still have enough leverage and options beyond each other to continue their long running, no-budge negotiation stance.

For his part, it looked like Sturm is still one of the top five middleweights in the world, belt or not.

With his hard earned new hardware, Geale may prove to be the very toughest middleweight of them all.

Waning illumination from the remains of a so called blue moon glowed down upon cheerful figures of shadow and light, that hustled noisily to the trains from the arena. Whatever the fans' scorecards read, there was a pervasive sense that somehow, the strands held no injustice.

There was pain, there was glory.

There were no losers.

That's boxing.

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Harper and Jonas Battle to a Draw in Episode 2 of ‘Matchroom Fight Camp’

Arne K. Lang

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The second edition of Eddie Hearn’s “Fight Camp” summer series unfolded today in the backyard of the mansion that serves as the Matchroom Sport headquarters in Brentwood, Essex, England. The main event was ostensibly the 12-round bout for the Commonwealth cruiserweight title between Chris Billam-Smith and Nathan Thorley, but most of the pre-event talk was about the women’s match between Terri Harper and Natasha Jonas which went last in the program. Harper was making the first defense of the WBC world super featherweight title that she took from long-reigning title-holder Ewa Wahlstrom in February.

Harper vs. Jonas, originally scheduled for April 24, was the first-ever female world title fight between two Brits and it proved to be a very entertaining scuffle, building on the momentum of the inaugural Fight Camp offering last Saturday when Ted Cheeseman and Sam Eggington put on a splendid show.

When the smoke cleared, Terri Harper retained her belt by virtue of earning a draw, but the question of which English boxer was superior remained unanswered.

At age 23, Harper was younger by 13 years, but Liverpool’s Jonas, a 2012 Olympian, had the stronger amateur pedigree. Jonas started fast but Harper had the edge plus youth on her side as the bout wended into the final furlongs. In round eight, however, Jonas rocked her with a left-right combination and she hurt her again in the next round.

Harper had to dig deep in the final round to arrest the momentum and she rose to the occasion, staving off defeat. The judges had it 96-94 for Harper, 96-95 for Jonas, and 95-95.

Harper remained undefeated at 11-0. It was the second loss for Jonas in 11 pro fights.

Terri Harper is a good human interest story. Before she was coaxed out of retirement in 2017, she was peeling potatoes in a fish and chips shop in her hometown of Denaby in County Yorkshire. As for her next fight, she now has three apparent options: a unification fight with Poland’s Ewa Brodnicka, the WBO belt-holder and a recent Matchroom signee, a match with Mikaela Mayer (Brodnicka’s “mandatory”), or a rematch with Natasha Jonas. Whatever develops, her next match will be eagerly anticipated.

Other Bouts

The fight between Chris Billam-Smith and Nathan Thorley, which actually went second in the bout order, was a soft defense for Billam-Smith. Trained by Shane McGuigan, Billam-Smith (11-1, 10 KOs) blasted out Thorley in the second round. He ended the one-sided scrap with a short right hand as Thorley was boring in, knocking him to his knees. Thorley beat the count, but his legs were unsteady and the referee properly stopped it.

A 27-year-old Welshman, Thorley came in undefeated (14-0), but he had been feasting on slop – his previous opponents were collectively 106-549 – and the result wasn’t unexpected. The official time was 2:05.

In a 10-round contest in the super-welterweight division, Liverpool’s Anthony Fowler, another Shane McGuigan protégé, improved to 13-1 (10) with a seventh-round stoppage of game but out-gunned Adam Harper (9-2). Fowler, a gold medal winner at the 2014 Commonwealth Games as a middleweight, had no fear of the light-punching Harper and was in full control from the get-go. His lone defeat came by split decision to rising contender Scott Fitzgerald.

In a featherweight contest, 20-year-old Leeds southpaw Ivan “Hopey” Price improved to 3-0 with a 6-round shutout over Jonny Phillips (5-5).

A fifth fight, a scheduled 8-round clash between lightweights Kane Baker and Aqib Fiaz, was canceled when Fiaz took ill.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 100: Global Impact of Prizefighting

David A. Avila

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Boxing is huge.

Unknown to many, professional prizefighting extends to almost every country on this planet. Only soccer exceeds it in appeal.

Prizefighting could very well be the very first professional sport ever established in history. Scholars of history concur.

This weekend you can get a taste of boxing’s reach to other parts of the world.

London, England will be boxing central on Friday Aug. 7.

DAZN will be streaming a Matchroom Boxing fight card that features cruiserweights Chris Billiam-Smith (10-1) and Nathan Thorley (14-0) battling for the Commonwealth cruiserweight title. It’s an eight-hour time difference between London and Los Angeles, California where the start time will be 11 a.m.

The main feature, however, pits WBC super featherweight titlist Terri Harper (10-0) against Olympian Natasha Jonas (9-1) in a 10-round bout. Both of these fights take place at Fight Camp, the home of promoter Eddie Hearn.

If the set up looks familiar, years ago America’s Hugh Hefner used to stage boxing cards at his home, the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills, California. The late magazine mogul loved the sport and invited many of his friends in the entertainment industry to watch prizefighting. People watching from their living rooms saw via television the rich enjoying their riches.

It’s the closest I will ever come to being rich.

One of the first events I ever saw at the Playboy Mansion showcased female fighters. Hefner was a true believer in female boxing and always included a female bout if possible. It was one of his stipulations.

Daytime Boxing

This Friday morning on the West Coast, boxing fans get an opportunity to re-visit an outdoor setting similar to the Playboy Mansion fights. DAZN will be streaming the card live from England.

If Americans think they are the only boxing fans in the world, well, they definitely are not.

When it comes to boxing, the Brits, Irish, Scots, Welsh and neighboring countries all love boxing more than Americans do. Even when you go further east into Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Russia and all the other countries that used to be part of the defunct Soviet Union, they all love boxing. Let me reiterate, they love boxing.

In America, we’re accustomed to acknowledging that Mexicans love boxing as well as the Cubans and Puerto Ricans. But when it comes down to it, all of Latin America loves boxing. It comes second to soccer but that’s it. Boxing is a staple in Latin America.

In the good ole U.S. of A. the majority of people – including newspaper editors – favor team sports. Individual sports like tennis, track and field, and prizefighting take a back seat on newspapers or television network sports news.

But when boxing or MMA comes on a television screen or is scheduled for an arena, the American fans of those sports come out rain or shine.

Pacific Ocean and Other Areas

Across the Pacific, in the Australia and Asian continents, boxing also has a firm grip. Smaller weight classes have been dominated by Japanese, Korean and Philippine fighters for years.

They love boxing too.

A dream of mine has always been to see a fight card at Tokyo’s Korakuen Hall. Japanese boxing fans are able to watch boxing almost every week at the legendary fight palace.

Asia has always produced great fighters in the lower weight classes.

Manny Pacquiao arrived more than 20 years ago barely a blip on the boxing radar. Who would have guessed he would be revered as one of the greatest fighters of his generation?

Can American fight fans imagine what the boxing world would be like without fighters from other countries?

Imagine boxing without Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, Gennady “GGG” Golovkin, Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua, Vasyl Lomachenko, Naoya Inoue or Roman Gonzalez. It’s easy to forget that all of these fighters mentioned are not from the USA. Each has fought many times in front of American audiences.

In America, we fail to realize we don’t have a monopoly on talent.

Last week, both DAZN and Showtime placed fight cards on the same day. DAZN started early and brought a thoroughly entertaining boxing card including a possible Fight of the Year between super welterweights that saw Ted Cheeseman win over Sam Eggington after 12 raucous rounds of action.

Later, on the same night, Showtime brought super bantamweights, and boxing fans got a look at new WBO super bantamweight title winner Angelo Leo win by decision over last-minute entry Tramaine Williams. The replacement fighter accepted the challenge after scheduled fighter Stephen Fulton tested positive for the coronavirus.

Saturday Expectations

On Saturday night, Showtime returns with super tall welterweight Jamal James (26-1, 12 KOs) meeting Thomas Dulorme (25-3-1, 16 KOs) at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles.

Both James and Dulorme suffered losses to Yordenis Ugas.

It’s a shame that the virus has shut down audiences throughout the world. Los Angeles would have been eager to watch this event, especially in the heart of downtown. Rumors spreading are that one or two major fight cards will be held in L.A. later in the year.

Fans can watch on television as Dulorme and James battle to see who can crack that top 10 tier of welterweights. Dulorme miraculously salvaged a draw against Jessie Vargas when they fought by scoring a knockdown late in their fight. James has beaten solid competition but no one convincingly. This is an opportunity for either fighter to prove his worth.

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Pete Hamill Was Much More Than a Boxing Writer

Arne K. Lang

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Pete Hamill was one of my heroes. It pains me to write that the legendary journalist died today, Aug. 5, at age 85.

Hamill grew up in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, the oldest of seven children of an immigrant from Belfast who lost a leg to an injury suffered in a semi-pro soccer game. Like much of gentrified Brooklyn, Park Slope is a trendy neighborhood, but that certainly wasn’t true during Hamill’s boyhood when the air was ripe with the scent of the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal.

In one of his early non-fiction books, Hamill recollected the time during his adolescence when he called an acquaintance a kike while the Hamill family was gathered around the dinner table. This angered his father who reached over and slapped him. “Benny Leonard was a kike,” snarled the elder Hamill, referencing the esteemed 1920s-era lightweight champion. Awkward language aside, the old man was teaching his son something about the importance of respecting people of all backgrounds – and indirectly something about the nobility of prizefighters.

Hamill would write that in his blue-collar Brooklyn neighborhood in the years after World War II, there were only two sports that mattered: baseball and boxing. The institutions in his community, he wrote, were the factory, the church, the police station, the saloon, and the boxing gym. “There were fights in old dance halls, in bankrupt skating rinks, in National Guard armories, all of them serving as farm clubs for the big arena: Madison Square Garden.”

In his teens, Hamill took to hanging around boxing gyms. He befriended Jose Torres (pictured with Hamill in their later years) before Torres turned pro. Once he became established as a journalist, Hamill encouraged Jose’s literary ambitions and Torres, who won the world light heavyweight title under the tutelage of Cus D’Amato, went on to become a writer of considerable repute, “Boxing’s Renaissance Man.”

In a 1996 piece for Esquire, Hamill wrote, “I came to believe that fighters themselves were among the best human beings I knew. They were mercifully free of the macho bull**** that stains so many professional athletes. They were gentle in a manly way.” But by then Hamill had become disillusioned with boxing, viewing it as the detritus of a less advanced age. The tipping point was a dinner he attended where everybody tried to avoid looking directly at the guest of honor, Muhammad Ali, whose tremors were so bad that he was unable to lift a piece of chicken to his mouth. But Hamill continued to turn up at some of the big fights.

A high school dropout, Hamill briefly occupied the top editor’s chair at New York’s two major dailies, the Post and the Daily News. His published works include ten novels, more than a hundred magazine stories, two memoirs (one of which, “Downtown: My Manhattan,” serves as an excellent travel guide for anyone visiting New York), and several teleplays including the boxing-themed “Flesh and Blood” which was adapted by CBS into a two-part, four-hour telecast with a young Denzell Washington in a supporting role.

I once had the privilege of having lunch with Pete Hamill. The invitation came from my friend Harvey Rothman, rest his soul. Harvey had been the entertainment director at Caesars Palace when the Miami mob ran the joint and was unceremoniously dumped and left to his own wiles when the mob was kicked out. Hamill was in town to research “The Neon Empire,” a crime drama about Las Vegas commissioned by Showtime. The three of us had lunch at Caesars Palace and, if memory serves, Pete and I covered the tab as Harvey’s comping privileges had been revoked.

At the time, I didn’t know much about Hamill. My only recollection of him was seeing him on the David Susskind Show, a TV talk show in New York that dealt with current affairs. I don’t remember much of what was said at our luncheon other than we reminisced about New Orleans where we had both hung our hat for a spell. He was disappointed to learn that Sidney’s News Stand on Decatur Street was gone and the property had morphed into a seedy liquor store.

I would later learn that we had much in common other than the fact we were both born in Brooklyn (I grew up on Long Island so I wasn’t an authentic Brooklynite). During our early teen years, we both discovered the world of books through the novels of James T. Farrell, the great Chicago writer (long out of vogue) whose masterwork was the “Studs Lonigan Trilogy.”

Pete and I met up again when I hosted a late-night sports talk radio show in the Sportsbook of the old Stardust Hotel. My guest that night was the fabled boxing press agent Harold Conrad (purportedly the inspiration for the Humphrey Bogart character in the movie “The Harder They Fall”), who was then working for Don King. To my great surprise, Conrad arrived with Pete Hamill. Harold was then in his seventies and his memory was starting to fail him. Hamill could foresee that there would be some pregnant moments during the show if I didn’t have someone else to bounce questions off.

When someone dies at a ripe old age, it’s normal to say that he led a full life. But it’s hard to imagine anyone leading a life as full as the life that Pete Hamill led.

He was there marching along and taking notes as Dr. Martin Luther King led a march from Memphis to Jackson. He was there in Belfast at the height of “the troubles.” He was there when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated and helped subdue the attacker. He was on assignment in lower Manhattan when terrorists took down the World Trade Center and then spent the next 11 days documenting the recovery efforts. He dated Shirley MacLaine and Jackie Onassis. And, of course, he was ringside for the Fight of the Century, the first meeting between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Writing for Harper’s Bazaar, he called it the most spectacular event in sports history and no one who was there that night would disagree.

Pete Hamill was Forrest Gump. At the moments that define the timeline of my generation, he was seemingly always there.

Pete Hamill is survived by his second wife, journalist Fukiko Aoki, two daughters and a grandson. His eldest daughter Deirdre, a travel photojournalist based in Arizona, worked for a brief time at the Las Vegas Sun where she honed her craft covering the club fights. Pete’s brother Denis Hamill, younger than Pete by 17 years, is also a noted journalist.

Hamill, who was suffering from diabetes and using a walker, died in his bed at New York Presbyterian / Brooklyn Methodist hospital where he had gone after breaking his hip in a fall. The hospital is located in Park Slope. The well-traveled Pete Hamill had come full circle.

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