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When Floyd Did Lose (And Why He Might Again)

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As a professional boxer who has plied his trade for 17 dominant years, and earned pyramid-high stacks of cash in the process, Floyd Mayweather Jr. has not had to swallow the sour taste of defeat. He is 43-0, with 26 knockouts, and aside from a few momentary hiccups , never has been seriously threatened during all that time. Even at the relatively advanced age of 36, “Money” is so confident that his oh won’t ever go that he has proclaimed himself high above the vaguest hint of failure. How could the most flawless fighter ever to lace up a pair of gloves (and if you don’t believe that, he’ll be glad to tell you again) be taken down by a mortal man? Would the mighty gods of Greek mythology atop Mount Olympus fear someone on Earth hewn of flesh and bone?

Mayweather, who puts his WBC welterweight championship on the line Saturday night against Robert Guerrero (31-1-1, 18 KOs) in a Showtime Pay-Per-View bout at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand, considers the possibility that he might not be invincible to be as ridiculous as Dr. Sheldon Cooper, the resident know-it-all on The Big Bang Theory, might the suggestion that he isn’t always the smartest guy in the room.

“Of course I feel unbeatable,” Mayweather replied to a teleconference question regarding his own towering sense of self-worth. “I’m the best. I’m not going into any fight figuring that I’m beatable. Anything is possible in life, but as far as my career, I feel I can adapt to anything.”

Ask Mayweather how he would stack up, prime on prime, with the most gifted and charismatic fighters of all time in and around his weight class – Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, pick a legend, any legend – and the Grand Rapids, Mich., native always envisions having his hand raised in triumph. He is not so much about getting past Guerrero – or any potential victim, if he actually does fulfill the six-bouts-in-30-months terms of his contract with Showtime/CBS that conceivably could pay him up to $250 million – as he is about adding ever-higher and more ostentatious levels to the monument to himself he continues to construct.

“I want to make a legacy for myself as the greatest fighter who ever entered the ring,” he said. “Being a legend, wanting your name mentioned in the mix of other (great) fighters’ names, that’s why I work so hard right now. I’ve been fighting since 1987. I’ve been a professional for 17 years, and I’ve been dedicated to my craft.

“Last time I checked, I was 43 and 0. I’m not going to be impressed by no opponent. I’m going to go out and do what I do best, which is to always beat the opponent that’s in front of me.”

But, if you go back far enough into Mayweather’s past, it’s reasonable to assume he is as susceptible to disappointment inside the ropes as anyone else. Guerrero might hold the winning numbers to the megabucks lottery in which all of Mayweather’s wannabe dance partners are intent on playing, although it does seem a longshot proposition. A few years ago, the Powerball jackpot might or might not have gone to Manny Pacquiao, although that’s something we aren’t likely to know for sure since that superfight’s expiration date seems to have passed forever. Maybe the most dangerous future test for Floyd – the guy now cast as the Pac-Man equivalent – is WBC/WBA 154-pound champ Canelo Alvarez. We’ll just have to wait and see how Mayweather’s end game works out before offering any final judgments.

But let the record show that Floyd Jr. – just 10 when he was introduced to the family sport (Floyd Sr., who now trains his son, took Leonard into the 10th and final round before being stopped in 1978, and uncle Roger was a two-division world champion) – was 84-6 as a celebrated amateur, winning three national Golden Gloves titles and a berth on the 1996 U.S. Olympic boxing team that competed in Atlanta.

Several of those six amateur setbacks came when Floyd was a kid, still mastering the myriad nuances of boxing. But even when his undeniable skills were almost fully developed, the last of those slaps to his sensibilities came at the Olympics, which should serve as a reminder that any fight that goes to a decision, be it amateur or professional, can end with the scales of justice tipped crazily to the wrong side. Ask Roy Jones Jr. about what happened in his gold-medal bout against South Korean punching bag Park Si-Hun in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Ask any number of pro superstars who did everything seemingly necessary to win only to be stunned when the official scorecards were announced. Big reputations are generally a plus for a fighter, but they do not offer total protection from malfeasance by pencil.

For 19-year-old Floyd Mayweather Jr., the myth of his own invincibility was shattered, if it hadn’t already been by his five previous stumbles, in the Olympic semifinals. Touted by U.S. Olympic coach Al Mitchell as the best defensive fighter on the team, and not bad on offense either, he had defeated Kazakhstan’s Bakhtiyar Tileganov (by RSC-2, the equivalent of a technical knockout), Armenia’s Artur Georgynan (16-3) and Cuba’s Lorenzo Aragon (albeit by a tight 12-11 margin in the computer-scored bout) to reach the semis, where he faced reigning world amateur champion Serafim Todorov of Bulgaria.

What happened in that matchup likely remains Mayweather’s most indelibly bad memory in boxing, and to now is the last time he did not exit the ring a winner. No, the 10-9 decision that went against Mayweather isn’t as controversial as Jones’ “loss” to Si-Hun, but that’s only because it came in the semis instead of the title match. Mayweather left Atlanta with a consolation-prize bronze medal that wasn’t really much of a consolation at all.

For those who don’t remember the particulars, here’s what happened. Although Egyptian referee Hamadi Hafez Shouman did not deduct any penalty points from Todorov, although warning him numerous times for slapping, Shouman was so convinced that Mayweather must have won that he mistakenly raised the young American’s hand after the decision was announced.

U.S. boxing team leader Gerald Smith filed a protest with AIBA, complaining not only of the failure to penalize Todorov for alleged infractions, but because he believed that Olympic officials were hesitant to take action against anyone representing the home country of Emil Jetchen, a Bulgarian who served as AIBA’s chief of judges and referees.

“We feel the officials are intimidated where anyone competing against Mr. Jetchen’s fellow countrymen do not have a chance, as demonstrated in this bout,” Smith complained in his letter. Smith also claimed that Mayweather landed clean punches that did not count, and Todorov was awarded points on occasions when he threw punches that whiffed entirely or did not land to a scoring area.

Although the ’96 U.S. boxing team was generally successful when stacked against more recent editions, like the 2012 men’s squad that went to London and failed to bring back a single medal, the overall haul – a gold for 156-pounder David Reid and bronzes to Mayweather (125 pounds), Terrance Cauthen (132), Rhoshii Wells (165) and Antonio Tarver (178) – was less than expected, or maybe even deserved.

“Mayweather was the best defensive fighter on the team,” recalled Mitchell, whose longtime gig as the head boxing coach at the U.S. Olympic Education Center in Marquette, Mich., ended in early 2009, when the program was disbanded. “What surprised me is how he pressured the Cuban (Aragon) when they fought. I told him, `You can’t just rely on your defense or you’ll lose.’ And he did step it up on offense. He really surprised me.”

And the semifinal showdown against Todorov?

“Mayweather got the shaft,” Mitchell said. “He should have gone on to the final (in which Thailand’s Kamsing Somuck defeated Todorov, 8-5) and if he had, he would have won the gold medal. No question about that in my mind. I got all those Olympic fights on tape and I look at them quite a bit. I still can’t believe they screwed him like they did.”

The unexpected hero for the U.S. was Reid, who was trailing by 10 points entering the third and final round when he unleashed a thunderbolt of an overhand right that landed flush on the jaw of the heavily favored Cuban, Alfredo Duvergel, who went down and stayed down to the count of 10. The dramatic finish meant that Reid, not Mayweather or Tarver, got the big build-up and the big contract to turn pro. It was reported that Reid received a $1.5 million signing bonus and the guarantee of a $14.4 million over the life of a five-year deal to sign with a new promotional company, America Presents, although those figures were probably exaggerated.

“It is our belief that in five years David Reid will surpass $50 million in earnings,” the president of America Presents, Dan Goossen, said at the time. “This young man is a superstar waiting to happen.”

Reid went on to have a nice, albeit brief, pro career which was shortened by a persistent droopy left eyelid that several surgeries failed to correct. He retired with a 17-2 record, with seven wins inside the distance, and won the WBA super welterweight title in only his 12th pro outing. After making two successful defenses, his championship was brutally claimed by Felix Trinidad, who overcame a third-round knockdown to floor the Philadelphian four times en route to a one-sided unanimous decision. Reid was never the same after that, going 3-1 against second-tier competition before retiring in 2001. For the past eight years Reid, who suffers from occasional bouts with depression and mood swings, has lived in a modest, two-bedroom apartment in Marquette, Mich. Almost all of his money from boxing is gone.

Contrast that with Mayweather, who signed with Top Rank, made a lot of money with that company and, after an acrimonious split with TR founder Bob Arum, makes even more now as the head of his own outfit, Mayweather Promotions. His nine previous PPV fights heading into the Guerrero bout have generated 9.6 million buys and $543 million in TV revenue, and he has appeared in the four biggest non-heavyweight PPV bouts in boxing history, No. 1 on the list being his May 5, 2005, split decision over Oscar De La Hoya, which did a whopping $136.85 million.

Life clearly is good for the Money Man, and apt to get even better if his insistence that defeat is not an option proves correct.

Still, I have to wonder if somewhere in the back of his mind is a nagging melancholia over his missed Olympic opportunity. More than a few millionaire pros have said their most lasting and satisfying memory in boxing came from representing their country on the brightly lit Olympic stage. Of course, those saying that more often than not came away with gold medals.

I would have asked Floyd about his reflections of his Olympic experience during last week’s teleconference, but a snafu with the automated process resulted in my not being placed in queue. Thus my inquiring mind did not learn if Mayweather’s psyche bears any scars from losing out on the gold he probably deserved, or if he has maintained any kind of relationship with his 1996 Olympic teammates, especially Reid.

So let’s leave it to Mitchell to fill in whatever blanks can be filled.

“I’m cool with Mayweather,” said Mitchell, whose fighters frequently work out in Mayweather’s Las Vegas gym when he and they are in town. “He treats me real good, and I think he’s gonna treat the fighters he has now (who are under contract to Mayweather Promotions) good. He takes care of them, tries to do right by them. That means so much when you’re a young fighter trying to get ahead.

“To tell the truth, he surprised me a little. Back in 1996, I thought he’d be really good, but maybe not this good. He always had lots of talent, but he’s shown he’s a smart businessman, too. He put himself in a position to succeed and he’s still succeeding.”

And is Mayweather’s relationship with other members of the ’96 U.S. Olympic boxing team as solid as with the young fighters he currently mentors?

“Until two years ago, he talked to (his former teammates) all the time,” Mitchell said. “Now … not so much. I don’t know why that is. That might be his choice. Maybe it isn’t. Time goes by and things change. Nobody said everything has to stay the same forever.

“You know, it’s kind of funny. At first, nobody on that ’96 team got along. There were about four different cliques. But in that last month before we left for Atlanta, everybody started to come together to work toward a common goal.

“Remember, that might have been America’s youngest team ever. We mostly had a bunch of kids, and they had to deal with that computer scoring. There wasn’t no boycotts either. All the big boxing countries were there.

“When people look back , they’re gonna say it was one of our better teams, no matter what the medal count was. Mayweather wasn’t the only one of our guys to get a bad decision. He just got the worst one. And you know what? They still did all right. What they did was unbelievable.”

The 1996 U.S. team produced five world champions in Mayweather, Reid, Tarver, Fernando Vargas and David Diaz. Three others – Eric Morel, Zahir Raheem and Rhoshii Wells – were challengers for widely recognized world titles. All in all, a good bit of collective success, if not exactly on a par with the renowned 1976 and ’84 squads.

Yet you wonder if Mayweather, the breakout star of that ’96 bunch, is headed for a fall if he continues to box past a point where the pendulum begins to swing back in the other direction. If Guerrero is not the pro equivalent of Serafim Todorov, isn’t it at least possible that Alvarez could be? Is there a judge or judges with faulty eyesight or a hidden bias who could contribute to the first smudge on Mayweather’s pro resume? And what if his remarkable skills eventually diminish to where he comes back to the pursuing pack?

Remember, then, Mitchell’s warning of what once was, and could be again. Nobody said everything has to stay the same forever.

It will be interesting to see how much of forever remains for the finest fighter of his era, beginning now.

 

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Fighters from Tijuana are on a Roll; Can Alexandro Santiago Keep Up the Momentum?

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Fighters from Tijuana are on a Roll; Can Alexandro Santiago Keep Up the Momentum?

Last Thursday, a Golden Boy Promotions card in California produced an early entrant for Upset of the Year. In the main event, unsung Jesus “Ricky” Perez out-pointed former U.S. Olympian and former two-division title-holder Joseph “Jojo” Diaz.

Perez hails from Tijuana. Heading in, he had lost five of his last nine and had never won a match slated for more than eight rounds. He started fast and held on to win a split nod (ancient ringside judge Lou Moret awarded Perez nine of the 10 rounds).

The fast-growing, hardscrabble city of Tijuana, which sits at the northwest tip of the Baja peninsula, has produced a steady stream of good boxers over the years (Erik Morales, a Hall of Famer, and Antonio Margarito, a two-time world welterweight champion, come quickly to mind), but is currently enjoying arguably the best run in the city’s boxing history. And the distaff side is sharing in the prosperity. Flyweight Kenia Enriquez (28-1, 11 KOs) and her younger sister Tania Rodriguez (21-1, 10 KOs), a light flyweight, are knocking on the door of world title fights (Kenia holds an interim belt).

Last December, when pundits at the leading U.S. boxing websites brainstormed to come up with the 2023 Fight of the Year, two bouts stood out above all others: the Feb. 18 match between super bantamweights Luis Nery and Azat Hovhannisyan and the June 10 super middleweight contest between Jaime Munguia and Sergiy Derevyanchenko.

The Nery-Hovhannisyan match was a riveting, see-saw rumble that ended with Nery winning by TKO in the 11th round. Munguia scored a knockdown in the 12th to overcome Derevyanchenko, eking out a razor-thin but unanimous decision. Both victors have since added another “W” to their respective ledgers. Nery (35-1, 27 KOs) KOed Filipino veteran Froilan Saludar. Munguia (43-0, 34 KOs) dominated and stopped England’s John Ryder.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Luis Nery and Jaime Munguia were both born and raised in Tijuana. And we will be hearing a lot more about them. Although unofficial, Nery has an agreement in place to fight superstar Naoya Inoue in Tokyo in May and, according to various reports, Nery is now the frontrunner to be Canelo Alvarez’s next opponent.

The month after Munguia-Derevyanchenko, Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (pictured) scored his signature win and won the vacant WBC world bantamweight title with an upset of the great Filipino fighter Nonito Donaire. Santiago won a clear-cut decision on the card topped by the mega-fight between Terence Crawford and Errol Spence.

Santiago (28-3-5, 14 KOs) has a formidable challenge for his first title defense which comes on Saturday in Tokyo. In the opposite corner will be undefeated Junto Nakatani (26-0, 19 KOs) who is moving up in weight after winning world titles at 112 and 115. Nakatani can really crack as he showed with his brutal, one-punch knockout of Andrew Moloney.

There are two other title fights on the card which will air in the U.S. on ESPN+. Needless to say, one will have to get out of bed early to catch all the action. The first bell is slated for 4 am ET, 1 pm PT.

Santiago will be a heavy underdog against his Japanese opponent who will have a 5-inch height advantage. However, if recent history is any guide, one should not be too quick to dismiss his chances.

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Who Murdered Peter Bufala? A ‘Whodunit’ with a Boxing Backdrop

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On Friday, Oct. 8, 1976, Peter Bufala returned home from work just as a new day was dawning. The Las Vegas baccarat dealer pulled his Cadillac into his circular driveway, exited his car, walked toward his front door, and was felled by two bullets from a 9 mm handgun, one entering his chest and the other his brain. A neighbor fetching his morning newspaper found him lying in a pool of blood on his front lawn. He was dead when the police arrived. He was 33 years old and left behind a wife and two young daughters.

A 12-year resident of the fast-growing southern Nevada gambling mecca, Bufala grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania, a blue collar suburb of Philadelphia. He had come here to rekindle his boxing career.

A Middle Atlantic amateur featherweight champion, he had begun his pro career on a high note, winning a 4-round decision over a fellow novice on a show at New York’s St. Nicholas Arena that included Rubin “Hurricane” Carter who would go on to fight for the world middleweight title but would be best remembered for the many years he spent behind prison walls for his alleged involvement in a triple homicide.

Following his New York engagement, Bufala fought in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Virginia. As a pro, he never fought in his home state and there was a reason for it. In 1961, while undergoing a routine medical examination at an amateur show, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur. The Pennsylvania Boxing Commission rescinded his license. He subsequently underwent a series of tests at Temple University Medical Hospital and was given a clean bill of health, but the Pennsylvania authorities were unyielding and, bit by bit, in a day when news traveled slowly, other jurisdictions fell into line.

Nevada was the Wild West. The regulators there had looser standards and Bufala resumed his career on Sept. 2, 1964 at the Castaways, out-pointing his opponent in a 5-round match to improve his ledger to 7-3. The publicity man misspelled his name, adding an extra “f”, and he would remain Pete Buffala whenever his name appeared in the sports section of the local papers.

Fifty years ago, in 1964, approximately 165,000 people resided in all of sprawling Clark County, home to Las Vegas. The thought that Vegas would someday host a Formula 1 Grand Prix or a Super Bowl, two of the grandest sports spectacles in the world, was preposterous. The only local sport that ever made the national news wire was boxing.

The fulcrum was Bill Miller, a hot-headed boxing junkie from Elmira, New York, who owned a saloon on the Las Vegas Strip that he out-fitted with a boxing gym in the basement. Miller’s “Strip Fight of the Week,” which bounced from one little casino to another during a run that lasted well over a decade, bucked the national trend. Small fight clubs, with very few exceptions, had fallen by the wayside, a development triggered by the mass production of televisions.

Miller was hardly immune to all the little hassles that plague a grass-roots boxing promoter. Matches were constantly falling out. But he had several things working in his favor. As opportunities dried up elsewhere, journeymen boxers were drawn here by the promise of steady work. And although Miller couldn’t afford to pay enough to make boxing a full-time profession, good-paying jobs were plentiful in the construction and hospitality industries.

To be certain, there were also push factors. Chester, Pennsylvania, a shipbuilding hub during World War II, had fallen on hard times, plagued by unemployment and racial strife. Lowell, Massachusetts, a city known for its vibrant amateur boxing culture, was likewise hurting with row after row of textile factories sitting vacant. Lowell produced Eddie Andrews, a hard-hitting middleweight who would be the first fighter to make promoter Miller any significant money without having to take him on the road to a larger precinct or overseas.

Andrews supplemented his ring earnings dealing blackjack at Caesars Palace. For a time, Ralph Dupas was a co-worker. A former world title-holder at 154 pounds, Dupas settled in Las Vegas in the mid-1960s as his career was winding down and remained here until his encroaching dementia passed the tipping point and family members brought him home to his native New Orleans to live out his final days.

Returning to Peter Bufala, he worked his way up the ladder on Miller’s promotions, eventually topping the marquee for a fight with Johnny Brooks. They fought at the Hacienda, a grind joint at the south end of the Strip (where Mandalay Bay now sits) on April 13, 1965. Brooks was nothing special, but he was better than his 17-6-3 record. He would go on to last the distance in 10-round fights with future Hall of Famers Emile Griffith and Carlos Monzon.

Bufala was bloodied in the third round and knocked down in the fourth, but mounted a furious rally and at the end of the 10 rounds the judges could not pick a winner and the match went into the books as a draw. Working on the “5-point-must” system, the scores were 46-44 Bufala, 46-45 Brooks, and 46-46. (Trivia time: The 46-46 tally was turned in by ringside judge Harry Reid who would go on to become the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate. Nowadays, visitors flying in to Las Vegas arrive at Harry Reid International Airport.)

Had Bufala won the bout, his next fight would have been a 12-rounder against Reno’s Dave Patterson, the Nevada Lightweight Champion. But when he returned to the ring the following month, it was in a 6-rounder against an unsung fighter from Los Angeles named Davey White and, in a shocker, White blasted him out in the second round.

Bufala announced his retirement after this fight. It warranted scarcely a mention in the Las Vegas papers, but the folks back in Chester hadn’t forgotten him. “Pete Bufala Quits Boxing for Health,” read the bold headline on the sports page of the June 9, 1965 issue of the Delaware County Daily Times. The accompanying story said that Buffala, “Chester’s most promising professional fighter,” had emerged from his most recent bout with a blot clot in his neck and was troubled by chronic back problems. (Buffala would have one more fight before quitting the sport for good. He won his final fight, a 6-rounder, bringing his final record, per boxrec, to 16-5-2.)

Bufala never returned to Chester. He married a local girl and, in short order, was a father of three, two girls and a boy who tragically died at 16 months when he crawled into a plastic laundry bag and suffocated as his mother was distracted writing checks.

In December of 1973, the MGM Grand opened on the southeast corner of the busiest intersection on the Las Vegas Strip. This was the city’s original MGM Grand that would take the name Bally’s and was recently re-branded the Horseshoe. With 2,100 rooms, a 1,200-seat showroom and a jai alai fronton, the MGM Grand made its competitors look puny by comparison. Peter Bufala was there on opening night, dealing baccarat.

In terms of the money put at risk, baccarat is the crème-de-crème of card games. It attracts the whales, the high-rollers that leave the biggest tips. On a good night at a high-end establishment like the MGM Grand, it wasn’t uncommon for a dealer to rake in $500 in gratuities. Bufala worked the graveyard shift (likely 9 pm to 5 am; it varied by hotel), the most coveted shift for a dealer in a day when visitors to Las Vegas were more nocturnal than they are today.

One didn’t get to be a baccarat dealer in a ritzy joint by working his way up from the bottom. One had to know the right people. In the vernacular, one got juiced into the job. And the juicer might expect a kick-back.

One of the most influential people in Las Vegas was an outsider who tried to keep a low profile, Gaspare “Jasper” Speciale. A transplanted New York bookmaker, Speciale co-owned and managed the Tower of Pizza restaurant which sat a stone’s throw from the MGM Grand on the opposite side of the street. Speciale opened doors for dozens of people seeking employment in the hospitality industry. If one was new in town and needed work in a hurry, Jasper was the man to see.

Until the arrival in Las Vegas of the notorious Tony Spilotro, Speciale was the city’s premier private money lender. He would eventually serve four years in a federal prison for loan-sharking.

Whenever there was a murder in Las Vegas that had the earmarks of a mob hit, speculation always centered on Gaspare Speciale. It mattered not that he was active in his church and donated lavishly to local charities. Moreover, he had a warm spot in his heart for prizefighters. In the spacious backyard of his home, chockablock with mementos of his boyhood in New York City, there was a replica of Stillman’s Gym complete with a punching bag and rubbing tables.

Another theory, although one that acquired less currency, pointed the finger at Bufala’s father-in-law who was the beneficiary of Peter’s life insurance policy. The two were partners in a small sporting goods store where it was rumored that one could purchase an unregistered firearm.

On the day that Peter Bufala was assassinated, the story about it in the Las Vegas Sun, an afternoon paper, said that the former boxer had no bad habits – he didn’t drink, smoke, gamble or chase women — and that he was well-liked by everyone that knew him. But, said a police detective, “Someone wanted him dead and eventually we’re going to find out who that someone is and why.”

Forty-seven years after the fact, the who and the why remain as baffling as ever. If Peter Bufala were alive today, he would be 80 years old. This is a mystery that will likely never be solved.

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The Hauser Report: Foster-Nova at MSG and Other Notes

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The Hauser Report: Foster-Nova at MSG and Other Notes

Boxing returned to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, courtesy of Top Rank and ESPN. The festivities started at 5:30 PM and lasted until close to midnight. That meant there was plenty of time to talk with boxers and boxing enthusiasts like Rosie Perez, Gerry Cooney, and (drumroll please) former lineal heavyweight champion Shannon Briggs.

Briggs was in the house as part of an effort to lay the groundwork for a boxing gym and a documentary about the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Who does Shannon think is the best of today’s heavyweights?

“I don’t know,” Briggs answered. “I thought it was Tyson Fury, but his fight against Ngannou was weird. And Wilder against Parker; that was weird too. Joshua; you never know where his head is at. And I’m still not sure about Usyk as a heavyweight. Like I said, it’s weird.”

Briggs also said that he has signed a contract for an eight-round boxing match against former UFC champion Rampage Jackson to be contested on June 1 in Qatar and that he is slated to receive a purse of $5,000,000. I hope Shannon gets a letter of credit from a reliable bank sooner rather than later.

As for the fights at hand; the nine-bout card went pretty much as expected. Some of the “A-side” fighters were there because they’re prospects; others because they’re ticket-sellers. Top Rank has two Hall of Fame matchmakers – Bruce Trampler and Brad Goodman – so the favorites went nine for nine.

Arnold Gonzalez won a decision over Charles Stanford who was one of the opponents brought in a while back to get knocked out by Evan Holyfield.

Ofacio Falcon, who has been steered clear of fighters who might test him, fought Edward Ceballos (who couldn’t test him). Falcon won every round on each judges’ scorecard.

Isaah Flaherty (who can fight going forward and going forward) was cut high on the forehead by an accidental clash of heads in round one and forced the action against Julien Baptiste en route to a six-round shutout decision.

Referee Benjy Esteves let a fight between Euri Cedeno and Antonio Todd go on too long before saving Todd from further damage by halting the beating in round five.

Later, referee Shada Murdaugh let an overmatched Moses Johnson hit the canvas five times in the first round (the knockdown that started it all was mistakenly called a push, so there were only four official knockdowns) before waiving off things in favor of Italian heavyweight Guido Vianello late in the stanza.

Andres Cortes was battering Bryan Chevalier around the ring when Chevalier’s corner appropriately waved a white towel late in round four.

The best prospects on the card were Bruce “Shu-Shu” Carrington and Delante “Tiger” Johnson.

Johnson (11-0, 5 KOs) squared off against Paulo Cesar Galdino (13-7-2, 9 KOs, 4 KOs by). Galdino had won only one of his last five fights, and that was against an opponent with three wins in 13 outings. Referee Ricky Gonzalez wisely called a halt to the action with Galdino taking a beating in round one.

Carrington (10-0, 6 KOs) is a slick stylish fighter. Bernard Torres (18-1, 8 KOs) had been chosen as his opponent because he’s one-dimensional, slower than Shu-Shu, and doesn’t have much of a punch. As the fight wore on, Torres (a 10-to-1 underdog) had the look of a man who was thinking, “I have no idea how to solve this puzzle that’s in front of me.” Late in round four, Carrington (who can whack when he sets down on his punches) launched a brutal right hand that deposited Torres face down, unconscious on the canvas.

The main event matched O’Shaquie Foster (21-1, 12 KOs) against Abraham Nova (23-1, 16 KOs, 1 KO by).

Foster won the vacant WBC 130-pound title by decision over Rey Vargas last year and, trailing badly on the judges’ scorecards, salvaged his belt with a dramatic twelfth-round knockout of Eduardo Hernandez three months ago. He deserves credit for working his way up from B-side status in several earlier outings to where he is today.

Nova was an 8-to-1 underdog. But Foster-Nova turned into a hard, grinding fight with neither man able to establish dominance over the other. Referee Steve Willis did a good job of controlling the action without inserting himself in the flow more than necessary. I had Foster winning by one point with a flash knockdown that he scored in round twelve being the difference. The judges favored O’Shaquie with a 116-111, 115-112, 113-114 split verdict.

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Kansas City’s dramatic overtime victory over San Francisco in last Sunday’s Super Bowl drew the largest viewing audience in the history of television. So it’s safe to assume that many of you who are reading this column watched the game. With that in mind, I’d like to comment on the furor surrounding 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan’s much-criticized decision to receive the ball first after winning the coin toss at the start of overtime.

The NFL’s overtime format for playoff games differs from the rules used during the regular season. Each team is guaranteed one possession in a playoff game unless the defense scores a touchdown or safety on the other team’s first possession. If the game is tied after each team has possessed the ball once, the next score wins.

Shanahan elected to receive the kick-off at the start of overtime. San Francisco marched down the field, but their drive stalled at the Chief’s 9-yardline and the 49ers settled for a 27-yard field goal.

Then it was Kansas City’s turn. And even though the Chiefs were trailing, they had a slight tactical edge because they knew what they had to do; tie or win. Punting wasn’t an option. So when Kansas City was faced with a fourth-down-and-one situation on its own 34-yard-line, the Chiefs went for the first down and Patrick Mahomes kept the drive alive with an 8-yard run. Ten plays later, Kansas City scored the winning touchdown.

Did Shanahan “blow it”?

No.

If the game had been tied after the teams had one possession each, the next score of any kind would have won. And the 49ers would have had the ball first on each exchange of possessions from that point on until the end of the second overtime. That would have been a significant advantage.

Also, consider the fact that Kansas City had scored only one touchdown in sixty minutes of play prior to the overtime.

Shanahan and the 49ers lost the game. They didn’t “blow it” with what I think was a reasonable coin-toss decision.

—-

The future of Sports Illustrated is in doubt. Last month (on January 19), a series of unpaid financial obligations reached critical mass and massive layoffs decimated its editorial staff. SI is likely to survive in some form, perhaps as an online-only publication. But its glory years are in the past.

Sports Illustrated was first published in 1954. Spectator sports were on the verge of exploding in popularity in tandem with the expansion of television. SI rode that wave. It was one of the first national publications to understand and exploit the growing popularity of pro football. Its editorial staff recognized Muhammad Ali’s prowess as a fighter and his importance as a social and political figure while most mainstream publications still referred to him as “Cassius Clay.” Long-form articles and in-depth reporting made it a “writers’ magazine” of the highest order. Wordsmiths like Frank Deford, Herbert Warren Wind, Paul Zimmerman, Dan Jenkins, Jim Murray, William Nack, Robert Creamer, Tex Maule, Jack Olsen, Roy Blount Jr., Walter Bingham, and Rick Reilly plied their trade for SI. Its print circulation peaked at more than three million subscribers. The annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue (inaugurated in 1964) became a national institution.

Boxing (according to the SI archive) was featured on the magazine’s cover 138 times. Forty of those covers belonged to Muhammad Ali. Only Michael Jordan (with fifty covers) surpassed that total. Other cover subjects from the sweet science (listed alphabetically) included Carmen Basilio, Nino Benvenuti, Riddick Bowe, George Chuvalo, Gerry Cooney, Oscar De La Hoya, Buster Douglas, Roberto Duran, Joe Frazier, Marvis Frazier, Gene Fullmer, Joey Giardello, Marvin Hagler, Gypsy Joe Harris, Roy Harris, Thomas Hearns, Larry Holmes, Evander Holyfield, Ingemar Johansson, Sonny Liston, Danny Lopez, Ray Mancini, Rocky Marciano, Christy Martin, Floyd Mayweather, Tom McNeeley, Carlos Monzon, Ken Norton, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Patterson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Earnie Shavers, Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, Mike Tyson, Chuck Wepner, and Pernell Whitaker. To that list, one could add Don King and (most recently) Jake Paul.

From its inception, SI chose a “sportsman of the year” (later referred to on occasion as its “sportswoman” or “sports team” of the year). Three boxers were accorded that honor: Ingemar Johansson (in 1959), Muhammad Ali (1974), and Sugar Ray Leonard (1981).

But in recent years, the economics of publishing have changed. And the instant flow of information in a digital age made a sports weekly less relevant. In 2018, Sports Illustrated became the property of Meredith Corporation which acquired Time Inc. (SI’s parent company). A series of licensing agreements and resales involving the magazine followed. In 2020, it transitioned from a weekly to a monthly publication. Meanwhile, the quality of its editorial content was declining.

Worse, SI seemed to be losing its moral compass. For some subscribers, the final straw came when the magazine designated Deion Sanders as its 2023 “Sportsman of the Year”.

That honor (as defined by Sports Illustrated) is bestowed annually upon the athlete or team whose performance most embodies “the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement.” In its article celebrating the choice of Sanders, SI talked at length about how Deion had “transformed a moribund Colorado football program” and “transformed a community.” Nothing was said about his removing more than sixty scholarship players from the team roster (young men who had enrolled at Colorado in good faith) and replacing them with players brought to the university through the transfer portal.

Mark Whicker (whose credits include the BWAA’s Nat Fleischer Award for Career Excellence in Boxing Journalism) put the matter in perspective when he wrote, “SI was celebrating an egomaniacal huckster who ran off dozens of players who didn’t fit his template, with his son’s media company taping every move. In doing so, he dislocated lives and relationships. Some refugees said that Sanders never even bothered to learn their names.”

The selection of Sanders might have engendered a lot of publicity and “clicks” for SI. But did he really (Colorado finished the season with a 4-and-8 record) embody “the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement” more than Shohei Ohtani (whose 2023 season was unmatched in baseball history), Nikola Jokic (arguably the best big man ever who led the Denver Nuggets to the 2023 NBA crown), and Novak Djokovic (who cemented his status as the best tennis player of all time in 2023)?

I grew up with Sports Illustrated. I began reading the magazine when I was a boy. It has been in my home ever since. In 1991, I crossed an item off my “bucket list” when I wrote an article that was published in SI. On numerous occasions, I’ve relied on its archives for research. I miss the magazine that it was.

That magazine isn’t coming back.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – MY MOTHER and Me – is a personal memoir that will be published by Admission Press this spring and is available for pre-order at Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/My-Mother-Me-Thomas-Hauser/dp/1955836191/ref=sr_1_1?crid=5C0TEN4M9ZAH&keywords=thomas+hauser&qid=1707662513&sprefix=thomas+hauser,aps,80&sr=8-1

In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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