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TSS SPECIAL REPORT: What Happened in Texas

Kelsey McCarson

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Chavez Lee 120612 004aAs another Texas-sized boxing event approaches with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez vs. Austin Trout, TSS looks back at last year’s middleweight battle between Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. and Andy Lee. Did the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation’s Combative Sports division do their job? Did journalists do any better? Is there anything we can learn from what did (or didn’t) happen last summer in El Paso?

Last summer, middleweights Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. and Andy Lee agreed to face each other in El Paso, Texas in a 12-round bout for Chavez’s WBC middleweight title belt. The contest would help determine which talented up-and-comer would earn a lucrative opportunity against linear champion and pound-for-pound superstar, Sergio Martinez.

What ended up happening in Texas that summer was more than just a fight. What happened in Texas changed the way I think about the sport of boxing and the journalists who cover it.

The Long and Winding Road

Honestly, at the time of the fight, they were my two favorite middleweights. As a boxing writer in Texas, I had attended Chavez’s two preceding bouts against Peter Manfredo in Houston and Marco Antonio Rubio in San Antonio. It is said that familiarity breeds contempt but that’s a boldfaced lie. The exact opposite is more often the case. Chavez had grown on me.

As for Andy Lee, he’s just one of those fighters who happen to appeal to me for some reason. The Irishman has a pleasant demeanor, is articulate and fights from a southpaw stance; all characteristics I admire. Plus, my personal interaction with him revealed we seem to enjoy the same kind of things: humor, music and movies.

Either man, I thought at the time, would be the one to dethrone the aging Martinez. Still, El Paso is a long way away from Houston, and Texas is not like other states: one does not simply pile into a car to drive to its outermost boundaries. Right?

As it so happened, it actually wasn’t so far outside the realm of possibility to not happen. The McCarson clan, consisting of your TSS scribe and his wife/photographer, Rachel, did decide by unanimous vote that the fight was well worth the 745 mile drive across the long, serpentine highways through lonely parts of Texas. After all, eleven hours in a car is nothing compared to witnessing in person one of the better fights of the year between two of your favorite fighters. Off we went.

Weighty Issues

The customary Friday afternoon weigh-in before the Saturday night bout was anything but normal, despite my report submitted that evening:

Middleweights Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Andy Lee both made weight Friday ahead of their scheduled showdown in El Paso, Texas. The bout will be televised live Saturday on HBO World Championship Boxing beginning at 10:00 p.m. ET.

Challenger Andy Lee was first to the scale where officials announced a weight of 159.25 pounds. The usually mild-mannered Lee appeared focused and determined, even going so far as to wear a scowl for the majority of the time he stood on the dais.

Next up was Chavez, who was cheered on heavily by the robust, pro-Mexican crowd of spectators who had waited patiently in line outside the venue to see him before jamming themselves into one of the city’s more famous landmarks, the historic Plaza Theatre.

Chavez, son of legendary Mexican champion of the same name, has developed a reputation as of late for not taking training camps as seriously as perhaps his handlers would like, but he looked fit and ready to rumble this go around, weighing in at 159 pounds.

Both fighters appeared to be in impeccable shape and ready to fight. While fans of Chavez made up the majority of spectators present as expected, there was a noticeable contingent of pro-Lee supporters donning classic gold and black Kronk gym colors there as well.

What’s missing from the report is what I did not see. I did not see the contention on Team Lee’s faces as they argued over the weight of Chavez’s gloves. I did not see them argue with Top Rank officials and trainer Freddie Roach about the construction of Chavez’s gloves, did not see Lee put his own glove on the scale to prove it met the 10 oz middleweight requirement, did not see Texas official Robert Tapia refuse Lee’s request for reasons only he could fathom.

What else did I miss? At 159 pounds, was Chavez “fit and ready” as I noted above? Or was he, as others said at the time, disturbingly gaunt?

A Night at the Bar

A popular song in the Lone Star State says “the stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas.” What is said about the night’s sky was also true of the hotel bar that night. For despite being in the relatively secluded area of El Paso, the boxing’s biggest stars were out in full force.

Completed in 1912, this historic Camino Real is a truly magnificent building. The old world spaciousness and attention to detail is a special refuge from what passes for glamour in today’s increasingly postmodernly simple world. Under the cut-glass chandeliers, surrounded by hand-carved marble, said to be carefully crafted by Italian workmen over a century ago, the boxing world got together and had some drinks.

Larry Merchant is knocking them back with fans before turning it in for the night early. Over in the corner, Bob Arum chats with Harold Lederman, each stopping their conversation whenever necessary to submit to passerby requests for pictures or autographs. Irish middleweight Matt Macklin slouches comfortably in a foyer lazy boy, telling all who will listen it will be Lee’s day tomorrow. Peddlers hock shirts and hats with “Chavez” emblazoned across them in red, green and white letters to anyone who will have them. Many will.

Rachel and I are here now, too, over from our quaint Microtel to meet Twitter friends Eoin Casey and Paddy Cronan at the fancy fight hotel. Eoin and Paddy are there when we arrive, chatting it up with boxing trainer Ronnie Shields about tomorrow’s big bout. The Irishmen like Lee’s chances. Shields isn’t so sure, but after a few drinks of our own, Rachel and I do our best to help convince him otherwise.

Suddenly, Jim Lampley enters the fray. Jim snakes his way around the crowd to one of the happy bartenders in the middle of the room to order his fare. He heads back to the elevator when laughter erupts from nearby. It’s our table, because Paddy and Eoin have pointed out something a little peculiar: Lampley isn’t wearing any shoes.

The night ends with more alcohol than it probably should have. Eoin and Paddy are younger than I (at least at heart), so they employ their special Irish brand of vitality to head out and see what other nightlife El Paso has to offer. The McCarsons, meanwhile, put discretion before valor and head back to their sensibly sized mini-sized suite near the airport to rest up for the big fight.

Before drifting off to sleep, I send a direct message to Andy Lee on Twitter. I tell him how excited everyone seems at the hotel and how everyone I talked to believes in him. I do not mention Ronnie Shields, whose concerned look has me questioning my own pick by morning.

Snipers at the Sun Bowl

It almost didn’t happen, in El Paso anyway.

Just two months before the fight, The University of Texas System Chancellor, Francisco G. Cigarroa, forbade the fight from happening at the University of Texas El Paso’s football stadium, the Sun Bowl, citing numerous but vague security concerns. The people of El Paso simply weren’t having it. They wanted a big fight and they would have it. A coordinated effort from the community as well as numerous University of Texas at El Paso officials convinced Cigarroa to reverse his position in short order. Cigarroa's concession came with conditions, though, including the prohibition of alcohol at the event.

Whether warranted or not, Cigarroa’s actions created tons of tension the night of the fight, so much so, in fact, that the Associated Press sent not one, but two reporters to ringside that evening. One of the men there, Bart Barry, was tasked with standard fight report duties. The other, Juan Carlos Llorca, was sent to capture any and all nonboxing events that might occur at the Sun Bowl related to the supposed danger for which Cigarroa was so fearful.

As the sun receded behind the surrounding Franklin mountain range, the threat of rain fell with it. Lined around the top of the stadium’s room, silent guardians appeared as statuesque silhouettes above us, rifles in hand and ready to fire. But Cigarroa was wrong, and Llorca would have nothing to cover that night. Even typical fight night fisticuffs were conspicuously absent this evening. Bout after bout, there was no danger. By the time the main event came, the thought the time spent in the Sun Bowl being anything other than your typical fight night had all but disappeared completely, made only audible every now and then by boxing writer Barry’s teachings to his newly found neophyte friend, Llorca.

It was time for the fight.

The Fight

The fight itself lived up to its billing. It was entertaining and had an abrupt end. The two middleweights accounted well for themselves, each having his moment. Lee got off early, using a sharp, stiff jab and a long reach to build an early points lead. Chavez started coming on though in the fifth, and by the seventh round, his heavier punches were finally taking their toll.

The fight was stopped by referee Laurence Cole at 2:21 of round number seven. Lee was up against the ropes, visibly hurt and unable to defend himself, with Chavez pouring it on top of him like an avalanche.

My ringside report filed at deadline tells the story:

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (46-0-1, 32 KOs) notched his most impressive win to date Saturday night in front of 13,467 boxing fans in El Paso, defeating Irish challenger Andy Lee (28-2, 20 KOs) by TKO in round number seven.

Things did not start so well for Chavez.

The fight began with Lee soundly outboxing the tentative Chavez with forceful jabs and deft footwork. The second round was more of the same, as Chavez seemed befuddled by his opponent’s size and reach. In the third, Chavez started finding success digging in hard shots to the body, but he ate too many clean counters from Lee to take the round decisively.

The fourth round went to Chavez, though, as he was able to position Lee in the corner, at times almost at will, and let loose powerful hooks and uppercuts, even stunning the challenger for the first time in the contest when both men landed hard shots at the same time.

It was perhaps then, that Chavez realized the power advantage he possessed over Lee.

The now determined Chavez started taunting Lee in the fifth, which seemed to lead the challenger to not only do the same in return, but to also abandon his jab almost completely in order to trade shots with the slugging Mexican. Both men landed heavy shots as the action picked up.

“He’d just walk through them,” Lee would say afterwards.

The men took turns getting the better of each other in the sixth, with Chavez coming out on top of things by the end of it, landing both excellently timed and powerfully thunderous punches in the corner as the bell sounded.

Chavez would just keep coming in the seventh, where ultimately his harder, more effective blows turned out to be just too much for the brave Irish challenger.

With the win, Chavez retained his WBC middleweight title belt, setting up a showdown with linear champion Sergio Martinez.

After the fight, Lee praised the champion as a worthy opponent for Martinez.

“I couldn’t hold him off,” he said. “He was too big and too strong. He’d give Martinez a hell of a fight.”

Lee’s hall of fame trainer, Emanuel Steward, concurred. “Junior fought a smart fight. He’s very strong. He passed the test. “

After the fight, Chavez seemed confident in the execution of his plan in the fight, despite being down on all three judges scorecards’ at the time four rounds to two.

“I started by studying him,” he said. “I saw he had nothing. I dove in.”

The story of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is becoming increasingly interesting. The 26-year-old continues to make his mark in the same sport his famous father made his, despite being ever present in the shadow of the man largely considered the greatest Mexican champion of all-time.

“I’m very happy to carry this name, to keep doing more, and to write my story in boxing.”

The next part of the story will include Sergio Martinez. Bob Arum and Lou DiBella confirmed the contest for September 15th in Las Vegas after the fight.

Chavez Sr. seems as eager as his son for the fight. “Martinez has talked too much,” he told the press. “I hope when the times come for the fight he doesn’t’ run like a chicken in the ring.”

Junior was less openly disdainful of Martinez.

“Martinez moves a lot so I’ll have to move. That’s a fight I have to make.”

The fight was over, and it was time to travel home. Plans set beforehand were already in motion. If he ever wanted another shot at the middleweight title, Lee would have to get back in line. For Chavez, his time against Martinez had come. Bob Arum and Lou DiBella were now ready to cash in on the most lucrative fight possible for September’s fast approaching Mexican Independence Day weekend. Everyone was ready to move on.

The story should have been over, but it wasn’t. I did not know it at the time of our long drive home from the furthest point west in Texas, but questions were already starting to circulate within the boxing media. Calls needed to be made; documentation checked. If journalists had failed to ask the right questions in El Paso that night, questions about how PED tests were administered for both fighters, about what PEDs were tested for, about when the tests occurred, someone would now need to pick up the slack to find out what had happened in Texas.

What Andy Lee Didn’t Do

An eleven hour car ride back from El Paso provides lots of quiet time. I spent much of it reflecting on the fight, what Chavez was able to do and what Andy Lee didn’t. First things first, Andy fought a dumb fight.

Andy Lee is a thinking man, a boxer. He’s best when he uses his range, fires off a sturdy jab and keeps his opponent off balance by moving laterally. This does two very important things. First, it keeps his opponent from being able to plant his feet. The less his feet are planted, the less power he can generate, keeping Lee safer from harm. Second, this allows Andy to set up counter shots that have double the impact. As Lee’s opponent moves forward, Lee wants to use his ring generalship to set traps. As his opponent turns and turns to catch him, as he becomes increasingly flustered by Lee’s steady jab, he becomes more and more susceptible to rushing in like a fool. Once he does, Lee can use this ill timed aggression to pounce with naturally hard punches made even more forceful by his opponent’s forward momentum.

When Lee fights like this, he has his best chance to win. When he doesn’t, he risks losing. Such was the case in his first fight against rugged slugger Brian Vera. Vera wanted to make it a brawl and Lee obliged. The result was a TKO 7 upset win for Vera. In his second fight with Vera, though, Lee won virtually every round precisely because he forsook bravado and fought the way he should. The result was a wide UD win for Lee. It was a pure shutout, virtuoso boxer Andy Lee at his best, in such a thorough and sound boxing lesson that Vera had no qualms about serving as Lee’s chief sparring partner for the Chavez fight.

Conventional wisdom said Lee had learned his lesson, but apparently he hadn’t. Because what Andy Lee didn’t do against Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. was fight like he should have. He didn’t learn from his loss and subsequent win versus Brian Vera, didn’t use the time spent with Vera sparring to establish footwork he would use in the fight, didn’t listen to cornerman, the late Manny Steward, telling him not to stand there and trade with Chavez like a glutton.

No, in photos taken that night from ringside, Rachel captured far too many cases of Lee standing right in front of Chavez, far too many moments of the two men’s heads resting up against each other, far too many lineal advances by Chavez met head on by the valiantly foolish Andy Lee.

What Andy Lee didn’t do that night likely cost him the fight.

The Question

Unbeknownst to those of us on press row that evening, there were some serious issues regarding Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.’s prefight urinalysis.

“The format calls for the fighters to walk to the ring now, but there has been a delay in Julio Cesar Chavez’s dressing room,” Jim Lampley told the HBO television audience. “We’re told that in the other dressing room, Chavez tried and failed to provide a urine sample and the Texas State Athletic Commission has elected to take the sample after the fight.”

But according to Manny Steward and assistant Javon “Sugar” Hill, Chavez submitted his urinalysis before the fight, albeit under less than ideal circumstances.

“A guy runs over into our locker room and tells me to come back over because Chavez has to use the bathroom,” Hill told boxing writer Geoffrey Ciani. “He was taking his gloves off because he had to use the bathroom. So I go back over there, and there is a bathroom in the locker room. He’s in the bathroom and they’re taking his gloves off. That’s the only part I see. I didn’t look in the bathroom to see who was in there, but they took his gloves off when he was in there. There was a guy standing in front and holding a towel up across the doorway of the bathroom, because there was no door. I was standing there for maybe ten minutes at the most. They didn’t tell me he was taking a drug test. They said he had to use the bathroom. I was assuming that he had already taken the drug test because they put the gloves on him the first time.

“Then at that point I go back over there and I’m waiting for him to use the bathroom. Then finally a guy, I don’t know if he was a doctor or not, left. I asked the Commissioner what that was about, and he said, ‘That was Chavez, he just took his drug test’. I said, ‘Chavez just took his drug test now?’ ‘Yeah, yeah. He just took his test right now’.”

So which was it? That was the question (or so it seemed at the time). Did Chavez submit to a urinalysis drug test? Secondarily, did it occur before or after the fight?

Boxing journalists sprang to action, your TSS scribe included. I sent an email to Dickie Cole, Program Manager for Texas’ Combative Sports Program. In what I’ve since discovered is typical Cole fashion, he forwarded my inquiry to someone else for response.

“Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. and Andy Lee submitted urine samples at Saturday's fight,” Public Affairs Project Manager Randy Nesbitt emailed me on June 19, 2012.

“Thanks very much,” I replied. “Can you tell me what company does the testing and when the results are expected?”

No response.

Perhaps Mr. Nesbitt had bigger fish to fry. ESPN’s Dan Rafael (who did not travel to El Paso for the fight) reported later the same day that both Chavez and Lee provided pre-fight urine samples. Rafael’s sources included Billy Keane (Chavez’s manager), Carl Moretti (Vice President of Chavez’s promotional company, Top Rank), and Randy Nesbitt. So then, was HBO’s Jim Lampley just misinformed that evening when he told HBO viewers the urinalysis for Chavez would be done after the fight? Rafael says so. In a pro-Chavez blog entry, the ESPN writer says it was all just misunderstanding.

“Jim's comments at the time were accurate,” said HBO spokesman Kevin Flaherty. “We were unaware that shortly thereafter a sample was provided. That was unfortunate.”

Indeed, “Sugar” Hill’s recollection of the events that night seems to corroborate the story told to Rafael. And, while the circumstances explained by Hill would be less than ideal for any serious urinalysis test (typically, there would only be the fighter and a nonpartisan representative in the room in charge of observing and collecting the specimen), it’s quite within the realm of possibility that the urinalysis test was taken as described.

But were we, as boxing journalists, asking the right question?

The Question about the Question

Let’s assume both fighters took the WBC mandated and Texas prescribed pre-fight urinalysis drug tests just as Rafael reported, and let’s also assume there were no shenanigans done that night to keep either fighter from submitting a valid and true sample. While there seems to be lingering questions about this point, particularly with Chavez, let’s momentarily give everyone the benefit of the doubt and say before the fight, both Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. and Andy Lee submitted pre-fight urinalysis tests in their dressing rooms. Whoever told HBO’s Jim Lampley there was trouble with Chavez submitting his test, and that it would be done after the fight, was simply mistaken. And the events described in the dressing room by “Sugar” Hill were just happenstance. Both fighters took the test. It was administered and collected properly. The tests were sent to the testing agency and the results came back clean.

Is there still a question that hasn’t been asked or answered? Isn’t it readily apparent (in hindsight at least) that we never asked what the urinalysis test we assumed was given was screening for? Perhaps we should have.

As we learned just this February in this TSS exclusive, the state of Texas does not regularly test professional boxers for the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), including anabolic steroids, HGH, etc. Instead, the standard nine-panel screen is geared to illicit recreational substances. Moreover, despite numerous inquiries made by TSS, the state will not say definitively whether they’ve ever tested any fighter for PEDs. In fact, the state is even reluctant to advise its main event participants.

Ask Andy Lee. After his loss to Chavez last June, one of his representatives, Damian McCann, personally called Dickie Cole to ask the very questions we in the media should have been asking in the first place.  

“He told me his great grandfather or somebody was Irish and we were friends and if there was any wrong-doing he would be the first to put his hands up and fix it in the future,” said McCann. “I got no information at all about events of the previous Saturday evening; he did not know anything about the drug testing.”

McCann says he restated his questions to Cole again via email, hoping Texas’ head boxing man would provide the information. McCann’s email dated 6/18/2012:

Hi Dick,

Good to talk to you earlier. Further to our conversation, I can confirm that Andy Lee provided a urine sample for the Texas State Athletic Commission last Saturday evening (June 16, 2012) before his bout with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

I would now like to officially request confirmation and clarity from the Texas State Athletic Commission on the following:

Did Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. provide a urine sample as per professional boxing’s anti-doping drug testing regulations on Saturday evening (June 16, 2012) for the Texas State Athletic Commission?

If so, was Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.’s urine sample test carried out before or after the bout on Saturday evening (June 16, 2012)?

If so, what was the result of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.’s urine sample test of June 16, 2012?

If so, what are the names of the individuals who performed Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.’s urine sample test of June 16, 2012?

Many thanks,

Damian McCann

Cole responded to McCann by forwarding the questions over to – you guessed it – Randy Nesbitt.

Nesbitt again confirmed both Chavez and Lee submitted a pre-fight urinalysis test before their bout, and that the tests would take 7-14 days to be returned. He did not advise McCann on any of his more specific questions regarding the drug tests. McCann remained undeterred. On 6/20/12, he submitted the following:

Mr. Nesbitt,

Further to my request yesterday for a copy of the Texas State Athletic Commission’s Ant-Doping Testing Procedures, Rules and Regulations.

In relation the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.'s urine sample, can you please advise what specific test(s) are being conducted and what specific drug(s) are being test for?

What are the name (s) of the individual (s) and organisation or laboratory who performed Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.’s urine sample test?

Also can you please advise the name(s) of the official(s) and witness(s) that were present for the test.

Many Thanks,

Damian McCann

Almost three weeks later, McCann finally received a response to his request, though this time from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation’s Public Information Officer, Susan Stanford and Attorney General Greg Abbot, dated 7/10/12:

Good afternoon, Mr. McCann.

My name is Susan Stanford and I am the public information officer for the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

I apologize for the delay in responding to your request but I was out of the office from May 26 until July 2.

I have attached a copy of a Texas Attorney General's opinion regarding the release of information regarding drugs test results in relation to combative sports events. As you can see, the state's AG determined that drug test results constitute confidential medical records and are not public information.

Susan Stanford

Needless to say, TSS’s own subsequent efforts to confirm even the number of fighters tested for PEDs in the state of Texas has been unsuccessful. In fact, it appears the state does not even keep records of the information on hand.

“We do not keep those records,” confirmed Stanford to TSS via phone, when questioned about the unavailability of the records through the Public Information Act.

Aftermath

According to reports, 1.6 million fight fans watched Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. batter Andy Lee into the ropes on HBO’s World Championship Boxing. The event drew 13,476 people to the Sun Bowl that night and was televised worldwide, producing $1.84 million in ticket sales and distribution revenues for Top Rank, Inc.

Despite its success, questions remain around the drug tests performed that evening. Were any drug tests administered to the participants? Were they done before or after the fight? Were the drugs tests administered in such a way as to ensure both fighters gave accurate and true samples? Perhaps most importantly, in a WBC title bout, a fight between two world-class middleweights, where one of the fighters had previously failed a PED test in Nevada, did the drug test administered include screens for any PEDs, at minimum the diuretic Chavez tested positive for in 2009?

The late Manny Steward remained unconvinced about the situation. His night in El Paso turned out to be his last fight in the corner of longtime friend and roommate, Andy Lee. Steward voiced his concerns to Boxing Scene’s Chris Harmony just three months before succumbing to the illness that ultimately took his life that fall.

“I am very, very surprised and I am very concerned. In my experience I just recently had with Andy Lee; to my knowledge Julio Cesar Chavez [Jr.] never really took any drug test. They me tell me he was going to take a test after the fight and at the last minute they had my nephew come in, ‘Oh, he’s going to take it now’ and here, he comes in the room with two other guys and they said he took the test so he doesn’t have to take nothing now.

“As Andy said, ‘I’ve boxed with Wladimir Klitschko many times; for this fight I boxed with guys 180 pounds. His strength was going like he was almost a 500-pound man’. Based on that and some of the other things I am beginning to see, I realize that there may be something going on that I don’t know of.

“I’m looking at this, and he’s having leg cramps and Manny Pacquiao having leg cramps; there’s too many strange things going on. I really do believe now that’s become a very serious issue in our sport that has to be seriously dealt with, because having advantages of hometowns and small rings, even partial officials, that’s one thing. But to have where a person’s human strength and endurance is doubling and tripling that of an opponent, that could be one of the most difficult and problematic problems in our sport in the next year or so.”

McCann shared similar sentiments to me this week, as we discussed continued efforts to find out what happened in Texas last June. At very minimum, we reason together, the fighters who participated in the main event that night deserve to know what kind of drug tests were ordered, right?

“Emanuel Steward and his assistant, ‘Sugar’ Hill, knew that Andy had to provide a urine sample to officials at the venue prior to the fight,” said McCann. “They or Andy were not aware what drugs would be tested for as there is no uniformed and generic code of practice for drug testing in boxing in the US…but like everyone else we assumed, as a matter of course and to hold in good standing the credibility of the testing practice of [the state], that PEDs would be tested for. Without testing for PEDs, the testing regulations are not fit for purpose and totally inadequate.”

This weekend in San Antonio there will another big time boxing event in Texas. The unification bout between WBC junior middleweight titlist Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and WBA champ Austin Trout will be televised to millions of people all over the world. The venue has already sold over 30k tickets. The promoters of the bout, Golden Boy Promotions, and their television partner Showtime, are sure to bring in millions of dollars in ticket sales and distribution revenues.

What ends up happening in Texas will be more than just a fight. What happens in Texas could change the way we all think about the sport of boxing and the journalists who cover it. Maybe things get better this time. Maybe there will be transparency in the drug testing process, maybe the drug tests will be administered under proper protocol and include a screen for PEDs. Maybe the fighters and the promoters will leave no doubt about what happens in the ring that night and everyone goes home happy. Or maybe things remain the same, or maybe they get worse. Maybe facts about what happens in Texas on fight night keep getting muddled or withheld, maybe PED tests never become the norm, or even enforced, until someone dies in the ring because no one in the state will stand up for the participants.

Follow McCarson on Twitter @KelseyMcCarson.

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Triller, Holyfield, and Trump: Did Evander Get Hustled?

Thomas Hauser

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Triller-Holyfield-and-Trump-Did-Evander-Get-Hustled?

PART ONE OF A TWO-PART STORY — On September 11, Evander Holyfield was knocked out by Vitor Belfort in the first round of a boxing event at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. There was widespread criticism of the event before it took place and more criticism when it was over. Holyfield is 58 years old and shouldn’t be getting punched in the head by men trained in the art of hurting.

Worse, interviews with multiple people involved with the promotion suggest that Holyfield was hustled. That he went into the ring thinking he was about to participate in an exhibition in which neither man would use best efforts to hurt the other only to find himself double-crossed in a scenario akin to an old-time boxing movie.

How did boxing get into this mess? Read on.

In 2015, two musicians in search of an inexpensive way to edit their work launched a video app called Triller that enabled them and other users to avoid the cost of renting studio space. A year later, Triller was transitioning to becoming a social video app but had still not entered the mainstream consciousness. Enter Ryan Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh is a 46-year-old businessman, a big concept guy who’s adept at raising money. Over the years, he has been meshed in a wave of litigation touching upon his professional and personal life.

In 2004, Kavanaugh founded an entertainment company called Relativity Media that purported to use sophisticated algorithms to eliminate the risk from film financing. Variety named him “Showman of the Year” and he made his way onto the Forbes list of billionaires. Then Relativity Media filed for bankruptcy. Twice. Kavanaugh told the Wall Street Journal that he took Relativity into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2015 “to fend off vulture investors who were trying to steal the company” and that he wasn’t involved in the second bankruptcy. In 2018, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, Relativity Media sold substantially all of its remaining assets to a holding company called UltraV.

Meanwhile, in 2017, Kavanaugh founded a company called Proxima Media. In 2019, Proxima Media acquired a majority stake in Triller. Kavanaugh sought to position Triller as an American version of TikTok (the Chinese-owned, social networking service that was under attack by then-president Donald Trump). To date, Triller has fallen far short of TikTok’s success.

In describing Triller, a company press release states, “The Triller Network is a consolidation of companies, apps and technologies. Triller Network pairs the culture of music with sports, fashion, entertainment and influencers through a 360-degree tech and content-based vertical.”

Triller became a significant player in boxing when it put together a November 28, 2020, exhibition between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones that engendered an estimated 1.6 million pay-per-view buys. DAZN and Matchroom had jumpstarted the move of “trash boxing” into the mainstream of the sport when they partnered to stream Logan Paul vs. KSI on November 9, 2019. Tyson-Jones brought this phenomenon to a new level.

Triller got what it wanted most out of Tyson-Jones – massive publicity and clicks. And the event fit perfectly into what Kavanaugh (pictured below with Oscar De La Hoya) calls Triller Fight Club’s “four-quadrant model” consisting of “influencers, legends, music artists, and contemporary fighters.”

Then Triller shook up the boxing world. At a February 25, 2021, purse bid, it offered $6,018,000 for rights to the four-belt title-unification bout between Teofimo Lopez and George Kambosos. That was $2.5 million more than the next highest bid (submitted by Matchroom) and $3.7 million more than the number submitted by Top Rank (Lopez’s promoter). Lopez-Kambosos is currently scheduled to be contested at Madison Square Garden on October 4. Triller’s bid was a statement that – temporarily at least – it’s a significant player in legitimate boxing.

More Triller events followed. Most notably, on April 17, 2021, Jake Paul knocked out former MMA fighter Ben Askren in one round. One month later, it was announced that Paul was leaving Triller pursuant to a multi-bout deal with Showtime. The April 17 card also saw a more traditional boxing match between Regis Prograis and Ivan Redkach. The event and others that followed seemed to be mired in red ink. But they were aimed at building Triller’s base and were showpieces for potential investors.

Meanwhile, on April 14, 2021, Triller announced that it had acquired FITE – a small but successful technology company that has become a leader in the distribution of pay-per-view combat sports events. After numerous snags in ironing out the contracts, the acquisition was finalized in late-July.

As all of this was unfolding, Triller was looking for its next big legendary fighter. Mike Tyson was unhappy with the money he’d received in the aftermath of his encounter with Roy Jones and, on March 21, had issued a statement that read, “Just to be clear, there is no Tyson with Triller fight. I don’t know any Triller executives personally. I don’t have a deal with Triller or any head executive representing them for the next event. I will never do another event or any business with Triller, so anyone misrepresenting that they own the rights to my name or my next event isn’t true. I am not with or ever will be with Triller’s Fight Club.”

With Tyson unavailable, Triller turned to Oscar De La Hoya.

oscar

For more than a decade, De La Hoya was one of boxing’s brightest stars. But he’s now 48 years old and last fought in 2008 when he was brutalized by Manny Pacquiao.

There’s kindness in Oscar. But he has been wounded many times, physically and psychologically. The psychological wounds seemed to have caused more suffering than the physical. He has acknowledged having problems with alcohol and cocaine and has been in rehab multiple times. The ravages of his lifestyle and years as a fighter have taken a toll.

Three days before Tyson-Jones, De La Hoya said that he was considering a comeback fight against Gennady Golovkin. “You know how easy GGG would be for me?” Oscar asked rhetorically. “I always took a good shot and I always took apart fighters like him.”

Of course, in 2019, Oscar was talking about running for president of the United States.

Appearing at a March 26, 2021, press conference in Las Vegas to promote the Jake Paul vs. Ben Askren Triller card, De La Hoya took the microphone, announced “July 3, I’m making my comeback,” dropped the microphone, and walked off the stage.

Paul-Askren, when it came to pass, featured performances by Justin Bieber, The Black Keys, Doja Cat, Saweetie, Diplo, Major Lazer, and what was advertised as “the exclusive world premiere of the hip hop supergroup Mt. Westmore (Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Too $hort and E-40).” There were pole dancers with big butts and lots of cleavage. Taylor Hill, Charli D’Amelio, and other social media personalities made appearances.

There was also a lot of weed (much of which was openly smoked on camera) and alcohol. The commentating team of Ray Flores, Mario Lopez, and Al Bernstein was joined from time to time by Snoop Dogg, Pete Davidson, and De La Hoya.

Oscar looked bloated, sounded as though he’d participated liberally in hospitality room offerings, and said that he wanted to fight Mike Tyson. Ray Flores observed on air, “Oscar is definitely high.”

One might ask why the people around De La Hoya who care about him allowed that scenario to unfold. Four days later, Oscar appeared on “The DAZN Boxing Show” and was asked about his commentating that night.

“I’ve been in beast mode for about six weeks,” De La Hoya answered. “And I got a little into it; you know. I started having a couple drinks. And then they told me, ‘Why don’t you go and commentate?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, man! Okay. Okay.’ I got a little over carried away. And I apologize. But it’s all good. I’m back in beast mode.”

Thereafter, Ryan Kavanaugh told The Sun, “It was a fun event. You had two people up on stage smoking joints, so Oscar had a couple of drinks. He wasn’t falling over. He wasn’t so awful that he did something terrible. People love to talk sh**. I don’t think Oscar was that bad. He was just having fun with it. We told him to have fun with it. We said go and enjoy it. Anybody that has enough time to go onto the internet and start commenting negatively in big ways and making a point of it, they obviously have other issues.”

Then, on June 17, 2021, it was announced that De La Hoya would box against former MMA fighter Vitor Belfort in a Triller Fight Club pay-per-view event to be held in Las Vegas on September 11. Belfort, age 44, had retired in 2018 after compiling a 26-14 career record and losing four of his last six fights. He’d boxed only once as a pro and that was fifteen years earlier.

“This isn’t that WWE theatrics we’ve been seeing in boxing lately,” De La Hoya declared. “This is the real deal, a real fight with real knockouts for a real win. I’m in better shape than I was fifteen years ago. I want to make the biggest comeback in boxing history.”

On July 21, Triller announced that De La Hoya vs. Belfort was moving to the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The contract weight was 180 pounds and the bout would be contested over eight two-minute rounds. That brought the California State Athletic Commission into the act.

“We were told that Tyson and Jones would be an exhibition and we regulated it as such,” CSAS executive director Andy Foster said. “An exhibition in the State of California is when you don’t use your best efforts to win. Here, the fighters want to use their best efforts, so by definition it can’t be an exhibition. They want a fight and we’ll regulate it as such. They’re gonna box and we’re gonna score it.”

Asked about drug testing, Foster told this writer, “Both fighters will have to pass their medicals. We’re still working out the details on drug testing. Most likely, it will be conducted by California, not VADA. I think we’ll be focusing on PEDs, not recreational drugs.”

As for possible drug use by the TV commentators, Foster pledged, “The commission will control the environment in the technical zone at ringside.”

The formal kick-off press conference for De La Hoya vs. Belfort took place on July 27.

“I’m doing it for myself,” Oscar told a group of reporters before the formalities began. “I’ve had a f***ing crazy life, you know. I’ve had a crazy life. And sorry if I get all emotional and s***. I’ve done this for thirty-five years. I’ve always done it for my family and fans all over the world. I’ve gone into the ring and just let it all out because I love what I do. I love what I represent for people. But I’m finally fighting for myself. I can’t f***ing wait. It’s going to be hell, but I’ve been through hell and back. There’s nothing that can faze me. There is nothing that can break me down, all the s***, all the bulls***, whatever. I’m strong as a rock. I’m at peace. I finally got here. I’m getting f***ing crazy emotional. It’s been a f***ing struggle. People can talk all the s*** they want to but I will never give up. I feel that age is just a number, and I have to literally thank yoga. It’s not a f***ing joke. Yoga, like really, literally almost saved my life.”

That was followed by pronouncements like, “This is not a game. I said, ‘Look, if we’re gonna do this, let’s do it for real. Let’s not do this song and dance. Let’s not do these exhibitions, you know, that we’re tired of.’ This is the real thing. And the fact that we both agree that it’s gonna be a real fight, it’s gonna be a lot of fun. We’re gonna kick the s*** out of each other. That’s one thing for sure. Call me crazy, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.”

Asked about the possibility of fighting Canelo Alvarez, De La Hoya responded, “Why not? It’s only power. That’s all it is. Power, I can withstand. Speed, like Pacquiao, is a whole different story. I have a good chin, you know.”

At times, promoting the Belfort fight seemed like a therapy session for Oscar.

“I was raped at thirteen, from a woman, an older woman,” he told Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times. “Thirteen, lost my virginity over being, you know, being raped, basically. I was in Hawaii, I think, at some tournament. She was over thirty-five. You suppress everything. You’re living this life, the Golden Boy. But, oh s***, wait, that’s still there. Like I never, like, thought about it. I never processed it. I never really thought how my feelings are until one day it just comes out and you don’t know how to deal with it.”

More troubling, perhaps, was the ugly reality that De La Hoya was on track to be hit in the head multiple times by a man who could punch.

Over the years, Oscar traded blows with fighters like Manny Pacquiao, Felix Trinidad, Bernard Hopkins, Shane Mosley, Ike Quartey, Julio Cesar Chavez, Pernell Whitaker, and Floyd Mayweather Jr. Later, he offered a stark assessment of the risks inherent in the trade he’d chosen. “I hate getting hit,” De La Hoya said. “Getting hit hurts. It damages you. When a fighter trains his body and mind to fight, there’s no room for fear. But I’m realistic enough to understand that there’s no way to know what the effect of getting hit will be ten or fifteen years from now.”

However, at an August 25, 2021, media workout, Oscar declared, “Call me crazy but I just miss it. I missed getting hit and doing the hitting. I wasn’t ready to retire after I lost to Manny Pacquiao. I never felt like I was in wars. In boxing you’re just as old as how you feel. I went through hell and back treating my body wrong, but these last six months I feel amazing. I refocused myself and rededicated myself and I’m actually doing this for me. I can’t wait. I’m going to give the fans a war. I’ve been studying Marvin Hagler versus Thomas Hearns for a reason. I want a fight, a war. I have a good chin and I can take the punch. My inspiration for this fight is Arturo Gatti. I want one of those types of fights.”

No one asked about a September 27, 2010, interview with Broadcasting & Cable. In that interview, De La Hoya had acknowledged, “I did have tests done after every single fight. My last fight, they found something that they couldn’t really understand in my head. It didn’t help me to make my decision to retire, but it was obviously a concern. I had second and third opinions. It was something in my head that they thought could maybe have an effect thirty years down the road, but they just weren’t sure. Maybe they were being extra-careful.”

Then, on September 3, De La Hoya vs. Belfort ground to a halt. Oscar announced that he had tested positive for COVID and that the fight was off. One day later, 58-year-old Evander Holyfield was substituted as Belfort’s opponent.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing – will be published this autumn 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.

Holyfield-Belfort photo credit: Amanda Westcott / Triller Fight Club

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Serhii Bohachuk Gets 20th KO Win Plus Undercard Results from Montebello

David A. Avila

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Serhii Bohachuk Gets 20th KO Win Plus Undercard Results from Montebello

Montebello, CA.-Two contenders looking to rebound found their mark on Thursday.

Super welterweight Serhii Bohachuk (20-1, 20 KOs) needed a round to figure out the southpaw style of Raphael Igbokwe (16-3, 7 KOs) and then increased the pressure round by round until the pipes broke. More than 1,000 fans at the Quiet Cannon Event center were pleased.

Bohachuk likes to wheel and deal like a whirling dervish, but seemed to find a better lane for his lethal right when he slowed down a bit. Right after right connected on Igbokwe but the Texas fighter was pretty strong at first.

Though Igbokwe took a pounding early on, he seemed strong enough to absorb the head shots. But when the Ukrainian fighter began targeting the body that seemed to open up all the firing lanes. Bohachuk was like a hunter at a turkey shoot.

For the next three rounds Bohachuk pounded away at Igbokwe’s body and head. It didn’t seem possible for the lefty to absorb too much. He tried to fight back but nothing seemed to be able to slow down Bohachuk.

Referee Jack Reiss kept looking at Igbokwe and finally around the sixth round he signaled outside the ring to a ringside physician that assistance might be needed to make an evaluation. As the round ended Igbokwe’s corner signaled with a towel to stop the fight. Reiss called the fight over at the end of the sixth round.

Bohachuk was back and the fans were pleased.

Akhmedov

In the co-main event, Ali Akhmedov (17-1, 12 KOs) was bigger, stronger and seemingly faster than Texan David Zegarra (34-6-1, 21 KOs) and quickly took over the super middleweight fight. It lasted only four rounds.

Zegarra was unable to keep Akhmedov from charging in. Though he never went down he took a pounding in every round from the Kazakhstan fighter. Just as Akhmedov began to gain momentum, the fight was halted at the end of the fourth round.

Akhmedov was the winner by technical knockout.

Female War

Think Hagler-Hearns and that’s what you got with Chelsea Anderson (4-0) and Elvina White (5-1) clashing in a four-round lightweight explosion.

Anderson the taller fighter and White the slightly more experienced, ring-wise, let loose with a flurry of blows from the opening bell with each connecting early. Anderson used her reach to connect under and over especially with the rights. White seemed more successful with the left hook. A left and right shot through White’s guard and down she went. She beat the count and nodded her head as if signifying it was a good shot.

In the second round White knew that Anderson packed power but proceeded to attack anyway. Once again Anderson connected with that lethal right cross and down went White again. This time seemingly a little more stunned and the round ended.

The referee seemed concerned about White and signaled the ringside physician to take a look. He seemed satisfied by her response and allowed the fight to resume. White attacked with even more fury and though Anderson always seemed fully loaded with the right, the shorter White was able to avoid it.

It was hard to believe that the two lightweights were able to continue the high volume battle. Anderson seemed even more fresh than in the third round, and White seemed to be able to avoid that monster right from Anderson. But the taller fighter from Yorba Linda kept the pressure and used her reach to keep White at the end of her blows. Though White did connect it wasn’t enough to hurt Anderson who seemingly walked through them at times. The crowd stood on its feet for the final 30 seconds as both unloaded.

“I was ready for her movement,” said Anderson who lives and trains in Orange County. “I’ve been working on that over and under move for weeks.”

Two judges scored it 39-35 twice and a third 40-34 all for Anderson.

Other Bouts

In a battle of undefeated super featherweights Adrian Corona (8-0, 2 KOs) of Rialto, Calif. knocked out Oxnard’s Daniel Robles (7-1-1, 5 KOs) in the first round. It was supposed to be the boxer versus the puncher but it turned out that the Rialto’s Corona can punch too.

Corona moved in early at the opening bell and fired a crisp one-two through Robles guard and delivered him to the floor for a count. Robles beat the count and tried to rally. Corona moved in and floored him with a right cross and that was it. The referee stopped the fight at 2:45 of the first round.

Light heavyweights Rafayel Simonyan (9-1-1, 8 KOs) and Adrian Taylor (11-1-1, 4 KOs) went to war on the inside for eight rounds. It ended in a split draw.

Eric Mondragon (4-0-1) dominated all four rounds against Braulio Avila (3-11) to win by unanimous decision after four rounds in a lightweight bout.

An amateur featherweight fight saw Glendale, California’s Chantel Navarro win by unanimous decision over Riverside’s Daniela Rojas in a three-round fight that was far closer than might seem.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Serhii Bohachuk in Montebello and More News and Notes

David A. Avila

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Serhii Bohachuk leads an impressive lineup put together by 360 Promotions and returns to Southern California ready to resume an assault on the super welterweight division.

Asked how he intends to proceed?

“I don’t talk, talk, talk,” said Bohachuk. “I just show with action.”

Bohachuk (19-1, 19 KOs) meets southpaw Raphael Igbokwe (16-2, 7 KOs) in the main event on Thursday Sept. 16, at Quiet Cannon Events Center in Montebello, Calif. UFC Fight Pass will stream the boxing card that begins at 5:30 p.m. PST.

Early in the year Bohachuk, nicknamed “El Flaco,” was winning a showdown against Brandon Adams staged in Puerto Rico, when he was caught with a sneaky left hook. The fight was eventually stopped and the amiable Ukrainian fighter suffered his first loss.

But he’s back.

He scored a knockout win in July and now seems poised to make a run at the top, starting with Houston’s Igbokwe. For Bohachuk, 26, losing a fight actually could make world champions more inclined to accept a match with him. Who wanted to face a fighter with every win coming via knockout? Bohachuk just needs to continue winning.

Another contender looking to rebound is Ali Akhmedov (16-1, 12 KOs) who lost a bid for the IBO super middleweight world title to Carlos Gongora last December. No shame losing to the world champion from Ecuador.

Kazakhstan’s Akhmedov sits in the same situation as Bohachuk in that a loss actually makes him more alluring for a world champion to accept. Losing a fight did not hurt contenders like Sullivan Barrera or Sergey Kovalev.

Akhmedov, 26, meets Peru’s David Zegarra (34-5, 21 KOs) in an eight-round bout in the semi-main event. It should be interesting.

Rounding out the rest of the heavy duty card will be undefeated Adrian Corona (7-0) fighting undefeated Danny Robles (7-0-1) in a super featherweight six round bout. Also, undefeated female lightweights Elvina White (5-0) and Chelsey Anderson (3-0) clash in a four-round bout.

A special amateur feature pits national champion Chantel Navarro against Daniela Rojas for a special title to open the show that encompasses a total of eight pro bouts. Doors open at 4:30 p.m.

Previously 360 Promotions staged its boxing cards at the Avalon Theater in Hollywood, but they outgrew that venue. The Quiet Cannon venue in Montebello had been used for a couple of decades for boxing quite successfully. Now, 360 Promotions has picked up the gauntlet to provide boxing to that area in one of the best venues in Southern California.

For tickets and information go to: https://hollywoodfightnights.festivalsetup.com/ or to @360 Promotions on Instagram.

Coming Soon

Aside from Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder meeting on Oct. 9, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, several other shows are coming down the pike.

Oct. 15, at the Pechanga Arena in San Diego, Calif. a Top Rank show brings WBO featherweight titlist Emanuel Navarrete (34-1, 29 KOs) of Mexico defending against Southern California’s Joet Gonzalez (24-1, 14 KOs). Also on the same card, San Diego’s Giovani Santillan meets Angel Ruiz

Las Vegas

Two weeks apart, two of the top Pound for Pound fighters in the world invade Las Vegas for their piece of the boxing pie.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (56-1-2, 38 KOs) shoves in all his multiple world titles against Caleb Plant (21-0, 12 KOs) and his IBF super middleweight belt in an attempt to claim the undisputed super middleweight world championship on Saturday Nov. 6, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Canelo has three of the four belts not including those he took at light heavyweight. It doesn’t seem like a fair trade but the Mexican redhead doesn’t care. Plant is a right-handed version of Billy Joe Saunders and will use the exact same method of attack.

Terence Crawford (37-0, 28 KOs) defends the WBO welterweight title against Shawn Porter (31-3-1, 17 KOs) on Nov. 20, at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The Nebraska welterweight finally gets an opportunity to prove he’s at the top of the welterweight rung when he meets Porter. It’s a very good chance to compare how Crawford stands against Errol Spence Jr. who barely defeated Porter a couple of years ago in Los Angeles.

Fights to Watch

Thurs. UFC Fight Pass 7 p.m. Serhii Bohachuk (19-1) vs Raphael Igbokwe (16-2).

Sat. Fox S1 4 p.m. Jose Valenzuela (9-0) vs Denier Berrio (22-3-1), Rajon Chance (5-0) vs Elon De Jesus (3-0).

Pictured left to right: trainer Manny Robles, Serhii Bohachuk, assistant trainer Ben Lira, Ali Akhmedov, promoter Tom Loeffler. Photo credit: Al Applerose

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