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Boston Beats the Count

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Edwin “La Bomba” Rodriguez, Massachusetts super middleweight contender, sparred with Tamerlan Tsarnaev two years ago. “Today I find out he’s a terrorist and one of the Boston Marathon bombers,” he posted on his Facebook page last Friday. “I’m glad I put a beating on him, but wish I’d known he was evil, because I wouldn’t have slowed down on him…”

According to USA Boxing, Tsarnaev was registered in Massachusetts as an amateur boxer in 2004-2005 and in 2008-2010. He trained at the Somerville Boxing Gym and later at the South Boston Boxing Club. Apparently, his first amateur fight was at the Golden Gloves competition at Lowell Memorial Auditorium in January 2004. The Lowell Sun reported that he arrived in the United States and settled in Cambridge only five months earlier. His family had fled Grozny, Chechnya, which was ground zero in the Russo-Chechen wars of the mid-90s and the early part of the twenty-first century. In 2003, the United Nations labeled it “the most destroyed city on earth.”

To Tsarnaev, the Golden Gloves may have marked a beginning. “I like the USA,” he told the Sun. “You have a chance to make money here if you are willing to work.” “I think he can win the whole thing,” his trainer said after that first bout. “He can throw.” The trainer in the opposite corner was just as impressed. “There might not be a better fighter in the [178 lb.] class. He was good.”

Tsarnaev was good enough to fight his way into the 2009 National Golden Gloves Championship’s 201 lb class at Salt Lake City. He knocked down his Chicagoan opponent only to lose what was called “a controversial decision.” The next year he won the regional tournament and the prestigious Rocky Marciano Trophy. He was supposed to represent New England in the Nationals again, but was disqualified when it was discovered that he was not yet an American citizen.

Trainer Kendrick Ball remembers the first time he saw Tsarnaev. “He was wearing a white shirt unbuttoned, tight jeans, and a trench coat. His shoes were bright like aluminum foil.” He had “a swagger,” Ball recalled. He seemed to be inviting someone to clown him but the trainer soon realized that “he could back it up.” Working the opposite corner, Ball watched him throw jabs up from the waist with a sharp exhale “like a steam shovel,” and follow up with powerful right hands. “He was strong,” Ball said, strong enough to invite to Camp Get Right, his gym in Worcester, for sparring. So the trainer and the fighter exchanged numbers and set dates.

Tsarnaev showed up to spar —alone. No trainer came with him, no second. And that’s a no-no in boxing. “I would never send my fighters to spar at another gym without me,” Ball said. “You never know what can happen. They can be overmatched; suffer a concussion that you might never hear about.” Stranger still was the fact that Tsarnaev brought no mouth piece, protective cup, or headgear. When Ball offered to let him borrow equipment, Tsarnaev declined. “He told me that’s how he fights.”

Ball let him go four rounds with an amateur super heavyweight, who dropped him with a left hook to the ribs. Tsarnaev recovered and wanted to continue. Ball wouldn’t let him. Instead, he invited him to spar with a super middleweight ranked ninth by the Transnational Boxing Rankings. “Edwin [Rodriguez] is too small for me,” Tsarnaev said. “I’ll take it easy on him.” Ball chuckled at that, and told him to “watch Friday Night Fights and see if you need to take it easy on him.” (Rodriguez scored a first round knockout on March 19th 2010 in a televised bout.) Tsarnaev watched, unmoved. “I’ll take it easy on him,” he said again.

In boxing parlance, “a gentleman” is a fighter who can be counted on to take it easy when sparring a lesser opponent. Rodriguez is “a gentleman,” said Ball —unless provoked. Tsarnaev’s arrogance provoked him.

Tsarnaev went two rounds with Rodriguez, who had no problem solving that steam shovel jab and landing at will. He was too hurt to continue on for a third round, but insisted on going back in for the fourth. Rodriguez decided to teach him a hard lesson. Before the round was over, Tsarnaev climbed out of the ring holding his side and spitting up blood in a bucket. Ball later found out that Rodriguez had broken one of his ribs. Afterwards, Tsarnaev had a more realistic outlook. “Edwin is really good,” he admitted.

Tsarnaev and his half-empty gym bag travelled to different clubs around Massachusetts looking for sparring. Ex-middleweight contender Rodney Toney, now a trainer, saw him at The Ring Boxing Club on Commonwealth Ave on a couple of occasions. The Ring is located along the route of the Boston Marathon.

In 2010, Tsarnaev was pursuing his dream to fight for the United States Olympic Team.

By 2011, his dream was fraying. According to FBI records, a foreign government petitioned them about Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The request was “based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010.” The FBI conducted a background check and interviewed the young man but found no evidence of terrorist activity.

In the summer of 2011, Tsarnaev showed up at the Big Six Boxing Academy in Providence, RI. As usual, he was alone. Jason “Big Six” Estrada, a professional heavyweight tipping the scales at over 230 lbs, sparred with him on two occasions and noticed that the stranger fought in a stand-up, European style with his lead arm extended out, and both hands waving around and probing for an opening. Estrada said that he had decent speed and a good defense, though it wasn’t enough: Estrada dropped him with body shots. Tsarnaev kept getting up and “coming back hard.” They sparred two sessions before it was decided to put him in with a fighter his own size. That fighter, a cruiserweight with twelve professional fights, was expected to handle the amateur. “I’m not gonna lie,” Estrada told me. “Tamerlan made him look silly.”

An opportunity beckoned. Big Six Entertainment was planning to promote its first professional card in December 2011. Tsarnaev “wanted to get on that card,” Estrada said. “And we were more than willing to get him on that card.”

But Tsarnaev never got back to him.

That may have been the pivot that changed the trajectory of his life. Tsarnaev drifted away from the boxing ring and into something else, something dark. Travel records indicate that he left the U.S. in January 2012 and took a flight to Sheretmetyevo International Airport in Russia. He returned in July, sporting a beard.

There are reports on the New England boxing circuit suggesting that his interest in boxing sputtered into this year before it died. Only two months ago, Kendrick Ball bumped into him at Lowell’s Golden Gloves tournament. “We talked boxing for about fifteen minutes,” Ball said. “I was going to call him in the next few weeks to spar with my fighter.”

Ball and Estrada were stunned at the news that he may have been responsible for taking four lives, including a child’s, and maiming over a hundred spectators and participants at the Boston Marathon. “He could’ve turned professional,” Ball said, his voice dropping to a whisper. “He would’ve been somebody we’d hear about, in a good way.” Would he have been a contender? Estrada believes he would have been “a crowd-pleaser.”

—Imagine that.

America is no longer secure. Our dialogue with the world has changed over the past twenty years and our enemies have changed as well. The existential threat that tried to erase the world’s oldest monotheistic religion and saw bomb shelters built in backyards has been turned on its head. Where Nazism and communism perverted reason and tried to break the moorings of faith, the new threat perverts faith and considers reason a sin.

Throughout its history, Boston has acted as the nation’s plain-speaking conscience, pointing towards both faith and reason when things get unruly. When patriots dumped British tea in the harbor, we told our sister colonies that it was high time for independence, and they followed. The abolitionist movement of the next century also found its epicenter here. Years before the Civil War, Boston said it was high time that slavery ended, and the rest followed, or were dragged. Ours is a city of calloused hands, strong virtue, and beginnings. It is no wonder that the first professional police department was established here, as was the first free public library.

Last Monday, Tsarnaev and his brother walked down Boylston Street in the shade of that library. It is alleged that they were behind what happened next, a terrorist attack during a sacred event. The city acted with the discipline of the Puritans who founded it. It shut itself down to make damn sure whoever did it got what was coming to them. All day Friday, the bricks-and-mortar itself seemed to glare in the eerie stillness; and the moment the faces of the bombers were broadcast to the world, a million eyes scanned the city and surrounding areas.

The Tsarnaev brothers grew desperate. They shot and killed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology officer in cold blood, carjacked an SUV, and were chased by screaming blue lights across Watertown. They threw bombs out the window to slow down their pursuers, but were cornered on Dexter Street. A firefight erupted in a residential neighborhood.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev madly flung himself toward the police officers with an explosive device strapped to his chest. He was shot to pieces. His injured brother was found curled up in a boat by a streetwise citizen. He is now in custody under heavy guard at Mount Auburn Hospital.

…..

In 1897, the first Boston Marathon was run. On April 15th 2013, there was blood at the finish line at the 117th. We’ll clean it up, take care of our own and anyone else who comes here with good intentions, and we’ll run again next year.

This is a place of beginnings, not endings. On April 15th 2013, a baby was born to boxing contender and gentleman Edwin Rodriguez. His name is Evan.

_______________________

Springs Toledo can be contacted at scalinatella@hotmail.com

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Christian Mbilli has the Wow Factor: Dismisses Mark Heffron in 40 Seconds

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Christian Mbilli has the Wow Factor: Dismisses Mark Heffron in 40 Seconds

The Gervais Auto Center in Shawinigan, Quebec, Canada, roughly 100 miles south of Montreal, hosted tonight’s card on ESPN+, a co-promotion of Camille Estephan’s Eye of the Tiger Promotions and Bob Arum’s Top Rank. Arum wasn’t there; he was in Leeds, England, but the outcome would have mitigated his aggravation at seeing his fighter Josh Taylor fall short earlier in the day.

Super middleweight Christian Mbilli, of whom Arum owns a piece, needed only 40 seconds to conquer British import Mark Heffron who, on paper, was a very credible opponent. Mbilli backed Heffron into the ropes and collapsed him with a left hook that landed under his rib cage. Heffron, 30-3-1 heading in with 24 KOs, went down on all fours and was counted out. The contest was over almost before it began.

The Cameroon-born Mbilli, a 2016 Olympian for France who turned pro in Montreal, is ranked #2 by the WBC and WBA; #3 by the IBF and WBO. With the victory, he advanced his record to 27-0 (23 KOs). His next fight will reportedly come in August with rugged but battle-blistered Sergiy Derevyanchenko in the opposite corner. Mbilli has been chasing a fight with Canelo Alvarez, but has scant chance of landing it. At this juncture of his career, the red-headed Mexican undoubtedly wants less daunting assignments.

Co-Feature

Arslanbek Makhmudov, the Russian Lion, rebounded from his poor performance against Agit Kabayel with a second-round stoppage of sacrificial lamb Milan Rovcanin. Makhmudov (19-1, 18 KOs) knocked Rovcanin to the canvas with an overhand right in the opening round. The punch knocked Rovcanin sideways, his head resting on the ring apron. To Rovcanin’s credit, he beat the count and launched a futile offensive after he arose. A similar punch ended the brief bout at the 2:32 mark of the next frame.

Makhmudov is certainly heavy-handed, but he moves at a glacial pace and would be up-against-it against a world-class opponent with faster hands and better footwork. Rovcanin, who had  been feasting on fourth-raters in his native Serbia, declined to 27-4.

Other Bouts of Note

In a bout contested at the catch-weight of 178 pounds, Montreal-based Mehmet Unal, a 31-year-old former Olympian for Turkey, scored the best win of his career with a fourth-round stoppage of 34-year-old Laredo, Texas campaigner Rodolfo Gomez.

Gomez, routinely matched tough and better than his record (14-7-3 heading in), protested loudly when the referee waived it off, but his corner stood poised to throw in the towel. He hadn’t previously been stopped, let alone knocked off his feet. Unal improved to 10-0 (8 KOs).

Super middleweight Mereno Fendero, a 24-year old French Army veteran, improved to 6-0 (4) with a six-round decision over 38-year-old Argentine journeyman Rolando Mansilla (19-15-1). Fendero won every round on all three cards including a 10-8 round on one of the cards although there were no knockdowns. Although badly out-classed, the teak-tough Mansilla, a glutton for punishment, earned his pay.

Local prospect Alexandre Gaumont, a middleweight, improved to 11-0 (7) with an unpopular 8-round split decision over Argentina’s Santiago Fernandez (8-1-1). Two of the judges gave Gaumont six rounds, ridiculed as home town bias, with the other awarding five rounds to the Argentine who received a loud ovation as he left the ring.

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Sweet Revenge for the ‘Cat’: Catterall Outpoints Taylor in a Fan-Friendly Fight

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Former unified junior welterweight champion Josh Taylor and Jack Catterall renewed acquaintances tonight in a sold-out arena in Leeds, England. Their first bout 27 months ago in Glasgow ended in favor of Taylor, a controversial winner by split decision as most felt that Catterall was robbed. Tonight, the Cat, as he is nicknamed, turned the tables, winning a unanimous decision in a 12-round non-title fight that was more entertaining than their first encounter.

Catterall, who closed a short favorite, came out fast and was plainly ahead at the mid-point of the fight. But Taylor closed the gap and on unofficial scorecards it was an even fight after 10 frames. Then, in the 11th, shortly after the referee halted the action to warn the fighters about something, Catterall turned the tide back in his favor, stunning Taylor with a looping left hand coming out of the break. Seconds later, both fighters went down in a heap in front of a corner post.

Both fighters were marked-up at the finish, more so Taylor who ended the fight with his right eye swollen and nearly closed shut.

A draw would not have been unreasonable, but two of the judges gave Jack Catterall nine rounds (117-111) and the other had it 7-4-1 (116-113).

In his post-fight interview, Eddie Hearn, Catterall’s promoter, conceded that the scores were too wide but opined that the right guy won. Few would disagree, but co-promoter Bob Arum had a different take. “Those scores were a disgrace,” he said, taking the microphone. “I feel sorry for Josh. I thought he won the fight….”

In avenging his lone defeat, Catterall improved to 29-1 (13). It was second straight loss for Taylor (19-2) who had been inactive since losing his unified title to Teofimo Lopez.

A rubber match would be welcome.

Semi Wind-up

In the chief supporting bout, Cheavon Clarke improved to 9-0 (7 KOs) with an eighth-round stoppage of Ellis Zorro. Clarke, who represented both his native Jamaica and England in international amateur competitions, won the BBBoC British cruiserweight title.

This fight didn’t provide a lot of action. The humdrum ended in the waning seconds of round eight when Clarke nailed Zorro with a chopping right hand. He seized the moment, swarming after Zorro, and chopped him down with a series of punches. None appeared to land very cleanly, but Zorro was counted out with a mere second remaining in the round. It was his second straight defeat after opening his career with 17-0. In his previous bout, Zorro was blasted out in the opening round by Jai Opetaia.

Clarke, 33, is eyeing the winner of the forthcoming fight in London between WBO cruiserweight champion Chris Billam-Smith and Richard Riakporhe.

Also

Welterweight Paddy Donovan, a Traveler from Limerick, Ireland, advanced to 14-0 (11 KOs) with a ninth-round stoppage of former British lightweight champion Lewis Ritson (25-4).

Donovan, trained by former middleweight titlist Andy Lee, fought off his back foot for the first seven rounds as Ritson forced the pace. He changed tactics in round eight which was a strong round for him and then closed the show in the ninth. A series of punches had Ritson plainly hurt and the referee stepped in after 32 seconds and waved it off. It was Donovan’s fifth straight win inside the distance.

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Okolie Demolishes Rozanski to Jump-Start a Busy Boxing Weekend

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The weekend boxing activity got underway today in Rzesnow. Poland where, to the dismay of the locals, Lukasz Rozanski, was blown away in the opening round by UK invader Lawrence Okolie. Heading in, the Pole was 15-0 with 14 knockouts, was coming off back-to-back first-round stoppages, and had never fought beyond the fourth round. And he was a world champion of sorts, making the first defense of his WBC bridgerweight title.

Okolie (20-1, 15 KOs) knocked him down hard on the seat of his pants with a straight right hand, the first of three knockdowns. The final knockdown was the result of a combination that knocked Rozanski to his knees with his head landing outside the ropes. There were only seconds to go in the round, but when Rozanski arose on unsteady legs, the referee properly waived it off. At age 38, his first career loss may also mark the end of his career.

A 2016 Olympian co-managed by Anthony Joshua, Okolie (pictured) was making his first start with trainer Joe Gallagher after previously working under Shane McGuigan and SugarHill Steward and his first start since losing his WBO cruiserweight title to Chris Billam-Smith.  At six-foot-five and with an 82-inch reach, the 31-year-old Londoner is a very interesting specimen. His stated goal when he turned pro was to unify the cruiserweight division before moving up to heavyweight.

Had Rozanski won, there was talk of him fighting Badou Jack. The guess is this may be Okolie’s first and last fight at bridgerweight (under 225), a division recognized only by the WBC which invented it. (The WBA is poised to follow its lead. The WBA board of directors recently approved the addition of a super cruiserweight weight class.)

Saturday

The action tomorrow in regard to major fights begins at the Royal Arena in Copenhagen where the Fighting Dane, Dina Thorslund (21-0, 9 KOs), defends her WBC/WBO female world bantamweight title against Turkey’s Seren Cetin (11-0, 7 KOs). Thorslund, whose name appears on many pound-for-pound lists, is appearing in her 11th world title fight.

The marquee event takes place in the late afternoon (USA time) in Leeds, England, where Josh Taylor (19-1, 13 KOs) clashes with Jack Catterall (28-1, 13 KOs) in an eagerly-anticipated and twice-delayed rematch. Catterall will be seeking to avenge his lone defeat.

Their first encounter took place in February 2022 on Taylor’s turf in Glasgow, Scotland. Taylor won a split decision. To say that it was controversial would be putting it mildly. One pundit called it the biggest robbery in British boxing history. At stake was Taylor’s unified welterweight title which he would lose in his next outing when he was upset by Teofimo Lopez.

Catterall has fought twice since that night in Glasgow, most recently scoring a 12-round decision over globetrotter Jorge Linares who announced his retirement after the match. This is Taylor’s first ring outing since the Teofimo fight in New York. He and Catterall have engaged in a nasty war of words since their first encounter and the match – televised live exclusively in the U.S. on ESPN+ and around the world on DAZN — is an advance sellout. Check local listings for start times.

There’s been steady money on Catterall today and, if the odds hold up, Josh Taylor will assume the role of an underdog for the first time in his career.

Lastly

We’re back to ESPN+ again for a show in Shawinigan, Quebec, Canada, a co-promotion between Eye of the Tiger and Top Rank.

In the featured bout, Christian Mbilli (26-0, 22 KOs) meets England’s Mark Heffron (30-3-1, 24 KOs) in a 10-round super middleweight contest.

The Cameroon-born Mbilli, a 2016 Olympian for France who turned pro in Montreal, is ranked #2 by the WBC and WBA; #3 by the IBF and WBO.

In the co-feature, heavyweight Arslanbek Makhmudov, the Russian Lion, returns to the ring looking to rebuild a reputation that was badly tarnished last December when he was manhandled by underdog Agit Kabayel in Saudi Arabia. Makhmudov (18-1, 17 KOs) opposes no-hoper Milan Rovcanin (27-3, 18 KOs) who has been feasting on fourth-raters in his native Serbia. The TV portion of this Saturday Night card has a scheduled starting time of 7 pm ET/4 pm PT.

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