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Boxing would be well served to have a policy in place to deal with damage suffered in the gym, in sparring. (Hogan)

The Greek dramatist Aeschylus (525-456 BC) wrote, “The first casualty of war is truth.”

Boxing is war. And while the essence of ring combat is truth, a lot of what goes on behind the scenes is neither honorable nor honest. With that in mind, there’s an issue relating to the September 8th fight in Oakland between Andre Ward and Chad Dawson that should be explored.

Ward entered the fight with an unblemished 25-and-0 record. By virtue of his “super six” tournament conquests, he was widely recognized as super-middleweight champion of the world. Dawson sported a 30-and-1 ledger and was the #1 light-heavyweight in boxing.

Prior to the bout, rumors circulated that Dawson had been knocked down and badly hurt by Edison Miranda in a sparring session. Team Dawson denied the rumors. Walter Kane (Chad’s attorney) says that, to his knowledge, no one from the California State Athletic Commission asked anyone in the Dawson camp about them. Dawson underwent the usual pro forma pre-fight medical examination, but that’s all.

In the fight itself, Chad looked tentative and weak. He’d been knocked down twice before in his career; by Eric Harding in 2006 and Tomasz Adamek a year later. Each time, he’d gotten up and won a unanimous decision by a comfortable margin.

Ward knocked Dawson down in the third, fourth, and tenth rounds en route to a tenth-round stoppage. Andre is a superb fighter, but he’s not a knockout puncher. In Ward’s previous eight outings, the only opponent he’d KO’d was Shelby Pudwell (who was knocked out by John Duddy in one round). In the entire “Super Six” tournament, Andre didn’t knock an opponent down.

After Ward-Dawson, the rumors multiplied. Miguel Diaz told BoxingScene.com that, in the ninth round of a ten-round sparring session, “Miranda executed something that I’d been telling him to do the whole workout – left, right hand, left hook – and he knocked him [Dawson] down. It was devastating for me because I don’t want to see something like that, but it happened. He was hurt. He tried to get up. He went down again and got up. I screamed to Rafael Garcia [Dawson’s assistant trainer], ‘Come and help him.'”

On September 14th, Diaz told this writer that Dawson was knocked down by Miranda, fell on his face, tried to get up, and pitched face-first into the ring ropes.

On September 19th, John Scully (Dawson’s trainer) added fuel to the fire when he sent out a mass email that read, “Just a note for future reference: If before a big fight – or ANY fight, really – it doesn’t matter if my boxer has gotten hit by a tractor trailer three days ago, been dropped seven times in sparring, lost 42 pounds in the steam room over the course of one week, and just GOT dropped to his knees in the gym five minutes before you ask . . . I’m still telling you he feels great. What else can a fighter or his trainer be expected to say?”

So what really happened?

This past week, I spoke with Kane, Scully, and Dawson. They all told me the same thing.

“I got knocked down,” Chad acknowledged. “But it was a flash knockdown. I wasn’t hurt. I got back up right away and finished the rest of the sparring session. Stuff like that happens all the time in boxing. The only reason we didn’t talk about it was, I knew people would make a big deal out of it and it wasn’t a big deal.”

Scully elaborated on that theme, saying, “Chad was sparring ten rounds that day. He got hit with a left hook in the ninth round. He went down. He got up. He was fine. He finished the round and then he finished the next round, so he sparred all ten rounds, which was what we planned for the day.”

“There’s some self-serving talk in what Miguel Diaz is saying,” Scully added. “That might be why he’s exaggerating the way he is. If you read what Miguel said, it was Miranda hit Chad with a combination that Miguel was telling him to throw. Do you really think that we would have allowed Chad to finish the round and then spar another round after that if he’d been hurt like Miguel says?”

“I wasn’t in the gym,” Kane told me. “But I heard the rumors and I asked about them. I believe what Chad and Scully are saying.”

I believe Chad and Scully too.

But that raises another issue. Suppose Dawson had been dazed or, worse, concussed? What would have been the proper course of action to follow?

The issue might be defused insofar as Chad is concerned. But it’s still out there for incidents involving other fighters in the future.

We live in the real world. Boxing is about making money. The bigger the fight, the more money will be lost if a fight is cancelled because a fighter has suffered a debilitating blow to the head in training.

Here, the thoughts of Dr. Margaret Goodman (former chief ringside physician and chairperson of the medical advisory board for the Nevada State Athletic Commission) are instructive.

“You don’t have to be knocked unconscious to suffer a concussion,” Dr. Goodman says. “That’s one reason a ring doctor evaluates each fighter immediately after every fight. There’s only one thing to do if a fighter is dazed in the gym. You take him to an emergency room or a comparable facility with similarly skilled doctors to be evaluated immediately. And you keep him there for a while after he has been examined so he can be observed by trained professionals.”

“There are no studies that I’m aware of on this point,” Dr. Goodman continues. “But my educated guess is that, more often than not when a fighter dies in a fight, it comes after he was hurt in the gym. If someone suffers a concussion, even a minor concussion, and is hit in the head again a week or two afterward, the damage can be additive, permanent, and even life-threatening. If a fighter is knocked out in a fight, he isn’t allowed to take punishment to the head for at least forty-five days. You can’t have a different safety standard for a fighter who suffers head trauma in the gym. And you certainly can’t have a bunch of lay people in the fighter’s camp saying, ‘It’s okay; he can still fight.’ That’s a recipe for disaster.”

For those who think that Dr. Goodman is overly cautious and overly protective of fighters, the thoughts of Freddie Roach are equally instructive. Asked what he’d do if one of his fighters suffered a debilitating blow to the head while preparing for a megafight, Roach answered, “The trainer’s job is to protect his fighter. You report something like that to the proper authorities. If you don’t, that’s how fighters get killed.”

All of this leads to one last issue: If Dawson wasn’t thrown off his game by head trauma suffered in sparring, why was he so outclassed by Ward? Is Andre that good?

John Scully thinks he knows the answer.

“After the fight, Chad was a gracious loser,” Scully says. “He told everyone that Ward is a great champion and the better man won. I respect Chad for that, but I want to tell you something. And this isn’t an excuse, because when someone tells the truth, it isn’t an excuse.”

“Chad is a light-heavyweight,” Scully continues. “Chad has fought for years at 175 pounds. And to get this fight, he had to go down to 168. Chad had trouble making weight, a lot of trouble. The weight didn’t come off like he thought it would. Making weight weakened him badly. He had to lose something like nine pounds the last two days. That’s why he looked the way he did in the fight. It wasn’t about being hurt in the gym because that didn’t happen. When a fighter goes down to a weight division lower than the one he’s been fighting in for years, he’s not the same fighter. Look at Chris Byrd against Shaun George. Byrd went from heavyweight to 175 pounds for that fight, and Shaun knocked him all over the place before he knocked Byrd out. Byrd beat Vitali Klitschko, David Tua, and Evander Holyfield. None of those guys even knocked him down. And no disrespect to Shaun George; are you telling me that he hits harder than those guys hit? Andre Ward is good. But it was the weight, man. It was the weight.”

As for Dawson, he won’t talk about the weight other than to say, “I don’t expect to fight at 168 pounds again. I’ll be back at 175 and I expect to be successful.”

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (And the New: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) was published recently by the University of Arkansas Press.

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The Fight of the Century: A Golden Anniversary Celebration

Arne K. Lang

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In professional boxing, fights can be rank-ordered as generic fights, big fights, bigger fights, mega-fights, and spectacles. The first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier wasn’t merely a spectacle, but the grandest spectacle of them all. This coming Monday, March 8, is the 50th anniversary of that iconic event.

Ali-Frazier I was staged at three-year-old Madison Square Garden, the fourth arena in New York to take that name. It drew a capacity crowd: 20,455 (19,500 paid). An estimated 60 percent of all the tickets sold fell into the hands of scalpers.

The fight was closed-circuited to more than 350 locations in the United States and Canada. At some of the larger venues, it established a new record for gate receipts, and this for an attraction that wasn’t produced in-house. In Los Angeles, 15,333 saw the fight at the Forum and 11,575 at the nearby Sports Arena.

Bill Ballenger, the sports editor of the Charlotte (NC) News, saw the fight at the Charlotte Coliseum. He reported that the audio – Don Dunphy did the blow-by-blow with Burt Lancaster and Archie Moore serving as color commentators – was loud enough to be heard outside the arena and that many folks, either unable or unwilling to purchase a ticket, loitered outside and followed the action in 30 degrees weather.

An estimated three hundred million people saw the fight worldwide. In England, by some estimates, half the population tuned in, watching either at home on BBC1 or at a theater where one could watch the fight unfold on a movie screen. Now keep in mind that in England the fight didn’t commence until 6:40 in the morning on a Tuesday!

Inside Madison Square Garden, the large flock of celebrities included many folks one wouldn’t expect to find at a prizefight. Marcello Mastroianni, Italy’s most famous movie star, made a special trip from Rome. Salvador Dali was there and Barbra Streisand and Ethel Kennedy, widow of Bobby Kennedy, seated next to her escort, crooner Andy Williams. Frank Sinatra was there working as a photographer for Life magazine. Lore has it that Sinatra wangled the assignment after failing to boat one of the coveted ringside seats.

The scene was made brighter by human “peacocks,” the label applied to Harlemites with an outrageous sense of fashion, and the electricity was palpable. When Ali appeared at the back of the arena, making his way from his dressing room to the ring, everyone had goosebumps.

The late, great New York sportswriter Dick Young once wrote that there is no greater drama than in the moments preceding a big heavyweight title fight and that was never more true than on March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden.

Ali (31-0, 25 KOs) and Frazier (26-0, 23 KOs) were both undefeated. Both had a claim to the heavyweight title, Ali because the belt had been controversially stripped away from him for his political beliefs. Opinions as to who would win were pretty evenly divided. In Las Vegas, Joe Frazier was the favorite at odds of 6 to 5. Across the pond in England, bookies were quoting odds of 11 to 8 on Ali.

Those that favored Ali were of the opinion that ‘Smokin’ Joe was too one-dimensional. That much was true. Joe was as subtle as a steam locomotive on a downhill grade. He ate Ali’s hardest punches, said Boston Globe reporter Bud Collins, as if they were movie house popcorn and he eventually wore Ali down. There was little doubt as to how the judges would see it after Joe knocked Ali down in the 15th round with a frightful left hook. When Ali arose, it appeared that he had been afflicted with a sudden case of the mumps. The decision was unanimous: 11-4, 9-6, 8-6-1.

This wasn’t the greatest fight of all time, but it was a fight that more than lived up to the hype. And, as several people have noted, the event took on a life of its own without the benefit of modern technology to push it along. The buzz was fueled in a large part by newspapers, the “antiquated” sort of newspapers that a fellow fished from his driveway or purchased at a newsstand on the way to or from work. If twitter and facebook had been around during Muhammad Ali’s prime, Ali would have blown the doors off the internet.

A cultural touchstone is an event that remains sealed in our memory. As we slide into old age, if we are lucky enough to live that long, we may not remember what we had for breakfast in the morning, but some long-ago events are as vivid as if they had happened just yesterday.

Boxing historian Frank Lotierzo has written poignantly about how overjoyed he was when he was surprised with the news that his father would be taking him to the fight. “To this day it remains the biggest thrill of my life!” wrote Lotierzo, who was then in the seventh grade. “And it’s not even close!”

I didn’t see the fight, but I can recall the faces of people that I overheard talking about it, people whose interest in the fight struck me as odd as I knew they had little interest in the world of sports. So, when the fight is replayed in its entirety on Sunday – it airs on ABC at 2 p.m ET and again at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN – I will be watching it for the first time. And it will be bittersweet as I will be reminded that I am in the twilight of my life and my thoughts will inevitably drift to my friends and loved ones that have left this mortal world in the years since that grand night in 1971 when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier locked horns in the Fight of the Century.

I get misty-eyed just thinking about it.

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Yoka TKO 12 Djeko in France: Claressa Pitches a Shutout on Ladies Day in Flint

Arne K. Lang

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Yoka TKO 12 Djeko in France: Claressa Pitches a Shutout on Ladies Day in Flint

March 8 is International Women’s Day which is actually a formal holiday in many parts of the globe. It was somehow fitting that female boxers were on display on the Friday feeding into it, a weekend without a must-see attraction on the men’s side.

Today’s activity began in the French port city of Nantes where 2016 Olympic gold medal winners Tony Yoka and Estelle Mossely, husband and wife, kept their undefeated records intact, both advancing to 10-0, against European opponents. Yoka (10-0, 8 KOs) was matched against Joel “Big Joe” Djeko (17-3-1), a 31-year-old Brussels native of Congolese and Cuban extraction who had fought most of his career as a cruiserweight. Mossely, a lightweight who now goes by Yoka-Mossely, drew Germany’s Verena Kaiser (14-2).

At the Rio Olympiad, Yoka got by Filip Hrgovic in the semis and Joe Joyce in the finals to win the gold, winning both bouts by split decision. Both would be favored over the Frenchman in a rematch fought under professional rules.

Against the six-foot-six Djeko, Yoka controlled the fight with his jab, repeatedly backing his foe against the ropes. Very few of Djeko’s punches got through Yoka’s high guard. Had the fight gone to the scorecards, it would have been a rout for Yoka, but it didn’t quite get there as Djeko turned his back on the proceedings midway through the 12th round after absorbing a sharp jab and it went into the books as a TKO for Yoka. At stake was some kind of European title or a derivation thereof.

Mossely’s fight with Kaiser, slated for 10 two-minute rounds, followed a somewhat similar tack, save that it went the full distance. With only one knockout to her credit at the pro level, Mosseley, typical of female boxers, lacks a knockout punch. But she’s a good technician and had too much class for the German.

Flint

A Covid-19 limited crowd of perhaps 300 was on hand to watch hometown heroine Claressa Shields oppose IBF 154-pound title-holder Marie Eve Dicaire at a 4,400-seat arena in Flint. There were five bouts on the undercard, three of which were women’s bouts.

Claressa

Claressa Shields

Shields, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was seeking to become a four-belt title-holder in a second weight class, having previously turned the trick at 160. Dicaire, a 34-year-old southpaw, brought a 17-0 record but she had never won a fight inside the distance and all of her previous bouts took place in French-speaking Canada.

The self-proclaimed GWOAT, Shields has no peer between 154 and 168 pounds. Heading into this contest, she had hardly lost a round since meeting Hanna Gabriels and tonight was another total whitewash, her fourth overall in 10-round fights.

Claressa Shields, now 11-0 (2) may be too good for her own good. Her fights are so one-sided that they are monotonous. Her TV ratings have actually been falling. Today’s show was a $29.99 pay-per-view on FITE when the established networks refused to meet her purse demands. It will be interesting to see how many tuned in.

In another fight of note, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza, in her first fight as a bantamweight, dominated Toronto’s Shelly Barnett en route to winning a 6-round unanimous decision. There were no knockdowns, but the scorecards (60-54, 60-53 twice) were indicative of Esparza’s dominance.

Esparza, who pushed her record to 9-1 (1), came in ranked #1 by the WBC in the flyweight class. Her lone defeat came at the hands of rugged Seniesa Estrada. Barnett declined to 4-4-3.

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Brandon Adams Bursts Bohachuk’s Bubble in Puerto Rico

Arne K. Lang

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Brandon Adams Bursts Bohachuk’s Bubble in Puerto Rico

Ring City USA, a new promotional entity, debuted on Nov. 19, 2020 with a show staged in the parking lot of Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, CA. Ring City stayed outdoors for their first offering of 2021, but the company was a long ways from California. Tonight’s card was staged on a roundabout near a municipal gym in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

The headline attraction was an attractive match between junior middleweights Serhii Bohachuk and Brandon Adams. The bout was originally set for Dec. 3, but had to be pushed back when Bohachuk tested positive for the coronavirus.

Bohachuk, a 25-year-old California-based Ukrainian, had stopped all 18 of his previous opponents. He had never gone past six rounds. Brandon Adams, a former world title challenger, represented a step up in class.

Bohachuk was well on his way to winning a unanimous decision when the tide turned dramatically in round eight. Fighting on a slick canvas, Adams suddenly found a new gear, unloading a series of punches climaxed by a thunderous left hook as Bohachuk retreated. The Ukrainian beat the count, but was teetering on unsteady legs and the referee properly called a halt.

Adams was without his regular trainer, 80-year-old Dub Huntley, who remained back in LA as a health precaution. In winning, he elevated his records to 23-3 (15). It was his best performance since defeating Shane Mosley Jr in the finals of Season 5 of the “Contender” series.

In the co-feature, an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rico’s Bryan Chevalier improved to 15-1-1 (12) with a third-round stoppage of Peru’s Carlos Zambrano (26-2). Chevalier scored two knockdowns, the first a sweeping left hook that appeared to land behind Zambrano’s head, and the second a punch to the liver that left Zambrano in severe distress. The referee waived the fight off in mid-count.

The official time was 2:21. Chevalier, a tall featherweight (5’11”) made a very impressive showing; he bears watching. This was Zambrano’s first fight since April of 2017 when he was knocked out in the opening round by Claudio Marrero in a bout for the WBA interim featherweight title.

The TV opener was an entertaining fight between contrasting styles that produced a weird conclusion when Danielito Zorrilla was awarded a technical decision over Ruslan Madiyev. The bout was stopped at the 1:16 mark of round eight after Zorrilla sank to his knees after absorbing a punch to the back of the head. The ringside physician examined him for evidence of a concussion, but ultimately it was Zorrilla’s choice as to whether the bout would continue. He declined and was reportedly taken to a hospital for observation.

Madiyev, a California-based Kazahk, was the aggressor. He fought the fight in Zorilla’s grill, often bullying him against the ropes. In round five, he had a point deducted for hitting behind the head, squandering what was arguably his best round.

The fight went to the scorecards with Zorrilla winning a split decision (77-74, 77-75, 73-76), thereby remaining undefeated: 15-0 (12). Ironically, Madiyev (13-2, 5 KOs), suffered his previous loss in a similar fashion.

Madiyev’s new trainer Joel Diaz reportedly discouraged his charge from taking this fight for fear that he wouldn’t get a fair shake in Puerto Rico. Diaz’s apprehensions were well-founded.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Ring City USA

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