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Melinda Cooper, Layla McCarter, Kaliesha West are some of the best and brightest in the game today. (Al Applerose)

Seldom are women boxers televised so here’s a list of the very best female prizefighters in the world. If they’re ever near your vicinity or on television be sure to take a look. Here they are:

1.) Layla McCarter (35-13-5, 8 KOs) – The “Amazing” McCarter proved in one swoop by moving up two weight divisions to beat South Africa’s Noni Tenge that she is truly the best female prizefighter pound for pound. And McCarter did it against the hometown girl by knockout. No other woman can make a similar claim. Who else on this list has traveled to another country repeatedly and emerged victorious? Undoubtedly McCarter is the best of the best in female prizefighting. Her skills are far beyond most everyone on this list, plus she can fight anywhere from junior lightweight to junior middleweight and win.

2.) Ana Maria Torres (28-3-3, 16 KOs) – Mexico City’s Torres has been out of action due to pregnancy but expected to return to the Mexican wars in her country. She owns wins over Jackie Nava, Mariana Juarez and Ava Knight who are all on this list. Torres is a main reason female boxing in Mexico has risen to outstanding heights. Her two wars with Nava are classic. Torres can fight junior bantamweight to featherweight. The female prizefighting world awaits her return.

3.) Cecilia Braekhus (21-0, 5 KOs) – Norway’s Braekhus recently defeated France’s power punching Anne Sophie Mathis by decision in a neutral site in Denmark. She needs to fight Holly Holm next in a neutral site to secure complete dominance. Both have multiple world titles but most of their wins have come via hometown decisions. Braekhus’s win over Mathis broke that mold and looks ready to prove she will fight outside of home.

4.) Melissa Hernandez (18-3-3, 6 KOs) – Puerto Rico’s Hernandez is almost always the smaller fighter but knows how to fight bigger, taller and heavier fighters. She has the skill set to battle with featherweights to junior middleweights. It seems the only way Hernandez can lose is by hometown judgments in other countries. She’s like a hired gun, she will go anywhere to fight. Hernandez is fearless.

5.) Ann Sophie Mathis (26-3, 22 KOs) – After dominance for a decade the French bomber lost back-to-back fights for the first time in her career. Her moment in the sun remains the blistering knockout of Holly Holm in New Mexico. No one can stand in front of her and withstand her bombs. She’s one of the few knockout punchers in the women’s boxing world. How much remains in her tank? She’s now 35.

6.) Ava Knight (10-1-3, 5 KOs) – San Francisco’s Knight cleared out the flyweight division in 2012 and looks to erase the one flyweight titleholder remaining Melissa McMorrow. Knight’s much too strong for any flyweight and probably needs to move up to find competition. She’s made it clear she would like a rematch with Ana Maria Torres who beat her several years ago at junior bantamweight. Knight is strong enough to fight all the way up to 122-pounds if necessary. Need proof? She beat fellow pound for pound fighter Mariana Juarez in Mexico City.

7.) Mariana Juarez (35-6-3, 16 KOs) – After being named Female Boxer of the Year in 2011, it was clear that fighting at 112 pounds was not a good thing. Last summer she barely survived 10 rounds against Shindo Go because of the weight loss problems. After admitting the weight loss was too stressful, she then backed off and fought once more against Knight at 112 pounds. No surprise that she lost. Even if they fought at 115 it would have been tough beating Knight. However, Juarez remains one of the most skilled female fighters in the world. She can fight as high as 122 pounds if necessary.

8.) Melinda Cooper (22-2, 11 KOs) – Few female prizefighters are willing to face the super talented Cooper. They’re not fooled by her pretty face. In the past four years she fought junior featherweights to girls now fighting at lightweight. Cooper’s intelligence inside the ring and ability to turn on the speed with power keep her on the most feared list. Now she’s dropping to her true weight of junior bantamweight to bantamweight. A bantamweight world title shot is next on her list, very soon. The Las Vegas prizefighter remains one of the most exciting female boxers today.

9.) Jackie Nava (28-4-3, 12 KOs) – Tijuana’s Nava was on the verge of fighting Ana Julaton or Ana Maria Torres but pulled out when discovering she was pregnant. The popular Mexican prizefighter has been televised numerous times in Mexico and remains one of that country’s star attractions.

10.) Kaliesha West (16-1-3, 4 KOs) – After defending the bantamweight world title three times Southern California’s West moved to the junior featherweight division last October and beat Christina Ruiz by unanimous decision to capture the world title in the 122-pound weight class too. Several girls on this list could be potential opponents in 2013. West has the speed and defense to continue her dominance and could eventually move up another weight division if she desires.

11.) Holly Holm (31-2-3, 9 KOs) – New Mexico’s Holm avenged a knockout loss to Anne Marie Mathis but left most of the female boxing fans wondering if she can beat any of the top female fighters outside of her home state. Can she regain any semblance of dominance again? Holm, a welterweight, is scheduled to fight Australia’s Diana Prazak the current junior lightweight world titleholder on December 7, in New Mexico of course.

12.) Kina Malpartida (14-3, 4 KOs) – Peru’s first world champion seems to get better and better every fight. Malpartida has not lost a fight in four years and has defended the WBA junior lightweight title five times since 2009. Next up is former featherweight champion Stacey Reile on Dec. 8 in Dominican Republic. Can Malpartida continue her dominance over the junior lightweight division?

Honorable Mention:

Hanna Gabriel, Monica Acosta, Alicia Ashley, Yesica Bopp, Ana Julaton, Lisa Brown, Jessica Rakoczy, Etsuko Tada, Susie Ramadan, Erica Farias, Janeth Perez.

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A Big Upset in London as Oleksandr Usyk Outclasses Anthony Joshua

Arne K. Lang

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Oleksandr Usyk gathered up all four meaningful cruiserweight belts before leaving the division. Tonight, on a special night at London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, he acquired three of the four meaningful heavyweight belts to add to his rich collection. In a battle between former Olympic gold medalists, the 34-year-old Ukrainian cashed his ticket to the Hall of Fame (and on the first ballot) with a unanimous decision over Anthony Joshua. There were some strange scorecards turned in earlier in the evening so it was no sure thing that the judges would get it right, but they did. Usyk won by tallies of 117-112, 116-112, and 115-113.

There were no knockdowns but this was an entertaining fight with momentum shifts and the goosebumps that come whenever an underdog is acquitting himself well against a bigger man more capable of turning the tide with one punch.

Usyk, who improved to 19-0 (13) started strong. With his superior hand and foot speed, he actually looked a level above Joshua. But Usyk’s pace slowed in the fifth and Joshua started closing the gap. Usyk had a strong seventh round, but Joshua came back strong in the next stanza and it seemed as if he had more fuel in his tank and was capable of a Garrison finish. But no, Usyk closed strong and ended the match with a flourish.

Joshua, whose ledger declined to 24-2 (22), was expected to land the more damaging punches but it was Usyk, who suffered a cut around his right eye, whose punches were more damaging. At the end, Joshua’s right eye was swollen nearly shut.

Joshua’s defeat spoiled a lucrative match with his countryman Tyson Fury (assuming Fury gets past Deontay Wilder). That match will likely come to fruition someday, but it won’t be quite the mega-fight that it would have been under “normal” circumstances.

Co-Main

Lawrence Okolie drew a softie for the first defense of his WBO world cruiserweight title that he won with a smashing performance over Krzysztof Glowacki. In the opposite corner was Montenegro’s Dilan Prasovic who came in undefeated (15-0) but against suspect opposition and was out of his element. Okolie stopped him in the third round, improving his ledger to 17-0 (14 KOs).

A former McDonald’s burger-flipper who is co-managed by Anthony Joshua and trained by Shane McGuigan, Okolie decked Prasovic with a right hand in the second round and terminated the fight in the next frame with a body punch that didn’t appear to land especially hard. The official time was 1:57.

Standing 6’5 ½” with an 82 ½-inch reach, the ever-improving Okolie hopes to unify the division before moving up to heavyweight. He may out-grow the cruiserweight class before a unification fight presents itself.

Other Bouts

Liverpool’s Callum Smith, in his first fight as a light heavyweight and his first fight with Buddy McGirt in his corner, rolled back the clock to the days when he was running up a string of fast knockouts and sent Lenin Castillo to dreamland with a booming right hand in the second round. This was a scary knockout. Castillo’s leg twitched as he lay on the canvas. He was removed from the ring on a stretcher and taken to a hospital where, according to promoter Eddie Hearn, he was fully responsive.

Smith (28-1, 20 KOs) was making his first start since losing to Canelo Alvarez in a match in which he was reluctant to let his hands go. Castillo, from the Dominican Republic, had previously taken Dmitry Bivol the distance (albeit while losing virtually every round) in a bid for Bivol’s WBA 175-pound crown. He was 21-3-1 heading in and hadn’t previously been stopped.

Chicago middleweight Christopher Ousley (13-0, 9 KOs) stepped up in class and won a 10-round majority decision over former world title challenger Khasan Baysangurov (21-2). Baysangurov, a Ukrainian, did well in the late rounds but it was too little, too late. The judges had it 95-95 and 97-94 twice.

While Ousley, 30, didn’t look especially sharp, this was good win for him. He had been working with trainer Manny Robles and Anthony Joshua is one of his sponsors. Baysangurov had won four straight since suffering an 11th-round stoppage at the hands of Rob Brant.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Russian Lion, an Exemplary Judge and More

Arne K. Lang

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Russian Lion, an Exemplary Judge and More

Arslanbek Makhmudov, says his promoter Camille Estephan, is the most feared heavyweight in the world. Makhmudov did nothing to discount that opinion last night (Friday, Sept. 23) in Quebec City where he needed only one round to dismiss Erkan Teper. That was his 13th knockout in as many pro starts. He’s answered the bell for only 22 rounds.

Makhmudov is ponderous as is to be expected for a boxer who stands 6’5 ½” and weighs 260, but what he lacks in foot speed he makes up in hand speed and he carries power in both of his hands. Teper came out intent on pressing the action, but Makhmudov quickly had him fighting off his back foot. Teper was on the canvas three times in all — the second knockdown could have been ruled a slip – and his corner threw in the towel as soon as the first round ended.

The outcome wasn’t totally unexpected although Teper, a 39-year-old German of Turkish descent, brought a 21-3 record and had gone 12 rounds on several occasions. In his previous match which was held at a Holiday Inn in Mexico, Makhmudov stopped Czechoslovakian slug Pavel Sour in 37 seconds.

Makhmudov’s nickname is “Lion.” He’s hardly the first Russian to be cloaked with this cognomen. The most celebrated of the Russian lions was George Hackenschmidt, a wrestler who rose to prominence in the first decade of the twentieth century. In those days, pro wrestling was legitimate, or at least quasi-legitimate, and the biggest matches attracted heavy betting.

At age 32, it’s past time for Makhmudov to ramp up his level of competition. He and his management say he’s ready to tackle any heavyweight in the world.

In the co-feature on the Quebec City show, Christian Mbilli stopped Ronny Landaeta in the third frame of a 10-round super middleweight match. Mbilli, born in Cameroon, represented France in the 2016 Olympics. Akin to Makhmudov, he came to Canada to launch his pro career.

Mbilli improved to 19-0 (18). He won a one-sided, 8-round decision over sturdy Mexican veteran Humberto Ochoa on the lone occasion when he was forced to go the distance. Landaeta, a 38-year-old Spaniard, brought an 18-3 record and hadn’t previously been stopped.

We would love to see Arslanbek Makhmudov fight the winner of the forthcoming battle between Efe Ajagba and Frank Sanchez and we would love to see Christian Mbilli in the ring with Edgar Berlanga. Of course, at the moment those are just fantasy fights not likely to happen anytime soon, if ever.

It’s old news now, but a boxing judge took to social media to apologize for a bad scorecard. Who ever heard of such a thing?

The fight in question was the WBC 130-pound title fight between Oscar Valdez and Robson Conceicao staged in Tucson on Sept. 10.

A common opinion expressed by those tuning in on TV was that Conceicao was entitled to a draw, notwithstanding the fact that he had a point deducted for hitting behind the head, a questionable call. But the judges disagreed. Two had it 115-112 for Valdez and the other favored Valdez by a 117-110 score.

The outlier was Stephen Blea, a veteran arbiter from Denver. After reviewing a tape of the fight, Blea decided that his unpopular 117-110 tally was too generous to the defending champion and felt compelled to offer an apology. “I have decided to reach out to my NABF/WBC ring officials committee to undergo a thorough training and review program and will not accept any championship assignments until I complete the process,” he wrote. “I am an honorable man with profound, love, knowledge and respect to the sport. I am sorry for having brought unnecessary controversy to such a sensational fight.”

Blea noted that he had judged over 200 fights and refereed over 500 with no controversy and that his assignments had taken him around the world. A theology major in college, Blea has been a long-time supporter of amateur boxing in Colorado and had served as the head boxing coach of the Denver Police Department.

Boxing writer Patrick L. Stumberg had this reaction to Blea’s letter of contrition: “We’ve seen tons of judges turn in inexplicably bad scorecards and just keep on trucking like nothing happened, so this is very refreshing.”

Indeed. The Boxing Writers Association of America has intermittently handed out an award for “Honesty and Integrity” at their annual banquet. Stephen Blea would seem to be a worthy nominee.

Heavyweight boxers just keep getting bigger. Top Rank’s newest signee, Antonio Mireles, stands six-foot-nine and weighs 265 pounds.

Mireles, 24, upset top-seeded Jeremiah Milton at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials (held in December of 2019 in St. Charles, Louisiana) but didn’t get the chance to compete in Tokyo. The super heavyweight slot went to Team USA veteran Richard Torrez Jr who went on to win a silver medal.

Mireles hails from Des Moines, Iowa, a state that has produced a slew of outstanding wrestlers over the years but very few professional boxers. Only one Iowa man has fought for the world heavyweight title and he didn’t fare very well. Ron Stander, the “Bluffs Butcher” from Council Bluffs was butchered by Smokin’ Joe Frazier in 1972. Stander was a bloody mess when the ring doctor waived the fight off after four rounds.

Antonio Mireles has been training at Robert Garcia’s boxing academy in Oxnard, CA. He is penciled in to make his pro debut on the Oct. 15 Top Rank show in San Diego anchored by Emanuel Navarette’s WBO world featherweight title defense against Joet Gonzalez.

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The Hauser Report: Ken Burns Explores Muhammad Ali

Thomas Hauser

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“I wanted to write about Muhammad Ali,” Wilfrid Sheed told me years ago when we were discussing the text that Sheed had written for an elaborate coffee-table book. “He’s one of those madonnas you want to paint at least once in your life.”

Ali is also a subject that filmmakers want to make documentaries about. More documentaries have been fashioned about Ali than any other athlete ever.

There was a time when Ali was the most famous, most recognizable, most loved person on the planet. He was an important social and political figure in addition to being a great fighter. One day after Cassius Clay (as he was then known) beat Sonny Liston to claim the heavyweight crown, he met with reporters and told them, “I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want to be and think what I want to think.”

At a time when the heavyweight championship of the world was the most coveted title in sports, that lit a spark that grew into a raging fire. Commenting on the impact of Ali’s refusal to accept induction into the United States Army at the height of the war in Vietnam, Islamic scholar Sherman Jackson observed, “You can’t teach that kind of thing in lectures and books. That kind of thing has to be modeled.”

Now Ken Burns – one of America’s most honored filmmakers – has thrown his hat into the ring. Burns rose to prominence in 1990 when PBS aired his critically-acclaimed eleven-hour documentary on the Civil War. Since then, he has tackled subjects ranging from baseball, Mark Twain, and jazz to World War II, the war in Vietnam, and the Brooklyn Bridge. In 2005, he explored the life and times of Jack Johnson in a 3-1/2-hour documentary entitled Unforgivable Blackness. Now Burns has returned to the sweet science with Muhammad Ali – an eight-hour opus co-directed and written with Sarah Burns (his daughter), and David McMahon (her husband).

Muhammad Ali unfolds chronologically and is divided into four parts designated as “rounds” – a questionable designation since Ali was hardly a four-round fighter.

Round One: The Greatest (1942-1964) details Cassius Clay’s upbringing in Louisville through his first fight against Sonny Liston with considerable exposition of the Nation of Islam and the allure that it had for Clay.

Round Two: What’s My Name (1964-1970) covers Ali at his peak as a fighter [Liston II through Ali-Folley with Ali-Quarry I tacked on]. Also, Ali and the draft.

Round Three: The Rivalry (1970-1974) takes viewers from Ali-Bonavena, through Ali-Frazier I and II up to an introduction of Don King and the stirrings of Ali-Foreman.

Round Four: The Spell Remains (1974-2016) begins with “The Rumble in the Jungle” and lays out the remaining forty-two years of Ali’s life.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I was one of several people asked by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 2018 to review Burns’s proposal for the documentary and answer a series of questions keyed to whether or not CPB should fund it. Given the excellence of Burns’s work, I began my response with the thought, “It feels presumptuous to be critiquing a proposal by Ken Burns,” and added, “I have no doubt that Ken Burns will do a masterful job in the areas that he covers. His track record speaks for itself. Muhammad Ali is important. And Mr. Burns’s proposal, coupled with his reputation for excellence as a filmmaker, promise a comprehensive entertaining look at his subject.”

The finished documentary bears out that promise. It’s thorough and nicely put together. Burns lays out both the positive aspects and also the ugly underside of the Nation of Islam without sugarcoating the principles that Ali espoused at a time in his life when he adhered to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad. The glorious and ultimately tragic arc of Ali’s ring career is well told. The cruelties that he visited on Joe Frazier outside the ring and Ali’s profligate womanizing are honestly addressed. The archival footage and still photos are excellent.

Keith David’s narration is smooth. Some of the talking heads are exceptionally good.

Former WBO heavyweight beltholder Michael Bentt is particularly insightful in describing Ali’s ring technique.

Professor and media commentator Todd Boyd is a welcome voice. Speaking about Ali’s taunting of Joe Frazier, Boyd declares, “Ali is making the sort of jokes that racist white people would make. I feel like, in that instance, he used his powers for evil as opposed to using them for good.”

Khalilah Ali (Muhammad’s second wife) and two of his daughters, Rasheda and Hana, provide valuable personal insights. Veronica Porche (Muhammad’s third wife) is a particularly welcome inclusion.

Journalist Salim Muwakkil makes a solid contribution. And Burns gives ample time to three wise men who covered Ali for much of his journey – journalists Robert Lipsyte, Jerry Izenberg, and Dave Kindred.

Kindred is the most lyrical of the three. Recalling Ali-Frazier III, he states, “They turned each other into monsters. That’s boxing at its cruelest. That’s what the game is. And they were at their best cruelest that night.” Later, commenting on Ali’s horribly debilitated physical condition, Kindred observes, “The game that we asked him to play to entertain us has left him looking like this.”

On the minus side, the documentary is too long. Its eight hours drag in places. Some of the material (e.g., the extensive film footage from Ali’s amateur career and some of his professional fights) could have been shortened with no loss in quality.

More significantly, Burns offers no new interpretations of Ali.

In responding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting questionnaire, I advanced the thought, “There has been an endless stream of Ali documentaries over the past half century. More are currently in production. For maximum impact and to make a maximum contribution to history, it’s not enough for Mr. Burns to do what has been done before better than it has been previously done. He has to break new ground.”

How could he break new ground?

“I hope,” my response continued, “that Mr. Burns devotes some time to the final twenty years of Ali’s life in a more than superficial way. These decades cry out for interpretation. What did Ali mean to the world over these years? Was his legacy corrupted by the calculated filing away of rough edges from his persona and the ‘sanitization’ of his image by CKX, ABG [two companies that owned commercial rights to Ali’s name, likeness, and image], and others for economic gain? Is there still an Ali message that resonates? In memory, can Ali be a force for positive change? Is there a way to harness the extraordinary outpouring of love that was seen around the world when Ali died?”

“Round Four” of the documentary could have addressed these issues. But it didn’t. The last thirty-five years of Ali’s life (everything after the end of his ring career) are compressed into twenty-five minutes. And much of this time is devoted to Ali lighting the cauldron at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

The 1996 Olympics were an important marker in the public’s embrace of Ali. But they were also the point at which corporate America rediscovered Muhammad and the sanitization of his image for economic gain began. This was evident in everything from subsequent superficial advertising campaigns to the 2001 feature film starring Will Smith. Burns’s documentary doesn’t sanitize Ali. But it doesn’t talk about the sanitization either. And that sanitization was a corrosive force.

Decades ago, Alex Haley (who fashioned The Autobiography of Malcolm X with its subject) told me, “I think it’s important for future generations to know who Muhammad Ali was. So, if I were to talk to a young boy about Ali today – a young boy who wasn’t alive in the 1960s, who didn’t live through Vietnam, someone for whom Ali is history – I’d talk to that boy about principles and pride. I’d say, ‘If you really want to know about people and history in the times before you were born, you owe it to yourself to go back, not read books so much, but to go to a library where you’ll have access to daily papers and read about this man, every single day for years. That might give you some understanding of who Muhammad Ali was and what he meant to his people.'”

Every single day. Day after day. For years.

Muhammad Ali’s spirit is inside all of us. At its best, Ken Burns’s film reminds us of how charismatic, charming, electrifying, wise, foolish, generous, loving, cruel, kind, complex, simple, and great Ali could be.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing – will be published in October by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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