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Arturo Gatti’s Greatness Is In Eye of the Beholder

Bernard Fernandez

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Unlike mathematics, where equations simple and complex can have only one correct answer, other subjects are open to individual interpretation. And one of the areas most open to personal perspective is sports.

Can we all agree that Pete Rose wasn’t the most naturally gifted baseball player ever to pick up a bat or field his position? But “Charley Hustle” approached each game as if it were a life-and-death situation, and that laser-beam intensity enabled him to almost will his way to the highest hit total in major league history.

Basketball’s Moses Malone? A Hall of Famer, to be sure, but hardly anyone speaks of him with the same hushed reverence reserved for fellow centers Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or even free-throw-clanking Shaquille O’Neal. But the 6-10 Moses might have been the premier offensive rebounder ever, small hands and all, because he fought to corral each missed shot in his team’s scoring zone as if he were a hungry wolf going after a T-bone steak. He won a ton of those battles, often against bigger, more athletic opponents, because he wanted to win them more.

The definition of “greatness” is a nebulous thing, as Civil War Gen. Lew Wallace noted when he wrote that “Beauty is altogether in the eye of the beholder.” It is a sentiment expressed, in one form or another, over the centuries by deep thinkers ranging from Confucius to William Shakespeare to John Keats to Ralph Waldo Emerson to H.G. Wells to Aldous Huxley.

And so it is for fight fans who gaze upon the scarred, blood-splattered legacy of the late Arturo “Thunder” Gatti, whose posthumous induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on Sunday in Canastota, N.Y., has stirred a level of controversy unlike any since 2002, when Sweden’s Ingemar Johansson was enshrined amid charges that the former heavyweight champion did not have a sufficiently impressive resume to take his place among true immortals of the ring.

Oh, sure, Gatti was a fearless warrior who routinely fought through pain and adversity as few boxers ever have. He was a threat until the final bell of every fight, no matter how far down on the scorecards he was at any given moment, and his epic battles with Micky Ward (three times), Ivan Robinson (twice), Wilson Rodriguez, Gabriel Ruelas and Angel Manfredy generated enough electricity to keep the lights burning for a lifetime in any frequent spectator’s memory. Gatti was a participant in The Ring Fight of the Year four times (1998, 1999, 2002 and 2003), a remarkable achievement viewed from any angle.

“You can’t give any fighter higher accolades than to say he always gave fans more than their money’s worth,” said J Russell Peltz, who held a 50 percent promotional share of Gatti (the other half belonged to Main Events) for much of the Italian-born, Montreal-raised, New Jersey-based fighter’s career. “You knew you were always going to get great action every time Gatti stepped inside those ropes.

“I’ve heard all the arguments (against Gatti’s induction). `He never beat a fighter he wasn’t supposed to beat.’ Well, what does that mean? Look, it’s not the Hall of Greatness. It’s the Hall of Fame. Gatti carried East Coast boxing on his back for years. Without him, what would we have had in Atlantic City? We would have had nothing.

“Was Rocky Graziano a great fighter? No, he wasn’t. But he was good for boxing. He meant something to the sport, and do did Gatti. I mean, come on. The people who don’t think Gatti should be in there are jealous. They’re haters, and there’s a lot of haters around.”

By Peltz’s definition, Anthony Coleman qualifies as a “hater” because Coleman is firm in his opinion that Gatti does not pass the sniff test for having a plaque hung on the hallowed walls of the IBHOF. Writing in East Side Boxing prior to the announcement of those making the cut for inclusion in the Class of 2013, Coleman opined that Gatti’s selection “wouldn’t be as odious” as that of Johansson, but “I honestly feel that Gatti shouldn’t be inducted into the Hall of Fame over far more deserving candidates … Maybe all of this controversy would be solved if we created two Halls – one to honor the truly great boxers and the other to honor the fighters we give a damn about.”

There is some merit to both sides of the argument, but one thing seems obvious. Even though Gatti has taken his eternal 10-count – he was only 37 when he died under mysterious circumstances in his wife’s home country of Brazil on July 11, 2009, with Brazilian authorities ruling his death by hanging a suicide after initially charging Amanda Rodrigues Gatti with murder – he nonetheless figures to have the largest, loudest cheering section among the thousands in attendance. The other inductees – “moderns” Virgil Hill and Myung Woo Yuh, old-timers Jeff Smith and Wesley Ramey, pioneer Joe Coburn non-participants Mills Lane, Jimmy Lennon Jr. and Arturo “Cuyo” Hernandez and observers Colin Hart and Ted Carroll – might well have a lower controversy quotient, but then none of those names stir fight fans’ emotions to the same crazy-high degree.

After Gatti thrilled still another sellout crowd in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall with still another blood-and-guts victory, a 12-round unanimous decision over Italy’s Gianluca Branco for the vacant WBC super lightweight title on Jan 24, 2004, Carl Moretti, then a Main Events vice president, smiled and said, “His right hand hurts again, his left eye’s swollen, we had a packed house. It must be an Arturo Gatti fight.”

Gatti himself often acknowledged that his stand-and-trade style not only catered to his pugilistic strengths, but to his thirst for meeting opponents head-on. Whoever walks away from the smashup wins. Boxing strategies don’t come much simpler than that, or more crowd-pleasing.

“That’s who I am, that’s how I fight,” Gatti said before he grudgingly relinquished his IBF junior lightweight title on an eighth-round stoppage against Angel Manfredy on Jan. 17, 1998. “Fighting the way I do is what made me a world champion. Maybe I could fight a little more cautiously, but that wouldn’t be me. I’ve come to accept that.”

What Gatti could not accept in the Manfredy bout was being prevented from fighting on, despite the cascade of blood flowing down his swollen face from the gaping gash that was opened over his left eye in the first round. The cut got progressively worse until ring physician Dominic Coletta felt he had no choice but to halt the carnage on medical grounds. “He basically was fighting with one eye,” Coletta said of the half-blinded Gatti.

Gatti, of course, was vehement in his contention that he had Manfredy – who was leading by two and three points, respectively, on two of the official scorecards, with the third even – right where he wanted him.

“(The cut) was the only reason he won the fight,” Gatti complained. “I would have knocked him out in the later rounds.”

Even Manfredy had to marvel at Gatti’s ability to soak up punishment like a sponge when a more prudent action might have been for him to fight more defensively in an effort to protect the eye.

“Once he gets hit, he always goes berserk and tries to trade,” Manfredy said. “Everybody gets to Gatti because he’s easy to hit. He took a beating from Wilson Rodriguez. He took a beating from Calvin Grove. He took a beating from Gabriel Ruelas. But he hung in and won those fights. You have to give him credit for that.”

The suits at HBO, who made it a common practice to exercise contractual “out” clauses with fighters if they lost fights televised by the pay-cable giant, thus reducing their marketability, never seemed to hold it against Gatti when he came up short. Even after he was outpointed in his next two fights following the bloodbath with Manfredy, typical barnburners against Ivan Robinson, HBO stuck with him because a few defeats did nothing to damage his burgeoning popularity. A Gatti fight, win or lose, was assured of producing high ratings and maximum drama.

“Arturo Gatti is not a human being,” Lou DiBella, then a senior vice president with HBO Sports, said after the second of his two slugfests with Robinson. “He is a Bizarro.”

But even Superman was powerless when exposed to kryptonite, and the Bizarro that was Gatti was revealed to be merely mortal against a pair of future Hall of Famers who clearly were way out of his class. Oscar De La Hoya had his way with him en route to winning via fifth-round TKO on March 24, 2001, in Las Vegas, and Floyd Mayweather Jr. had an even easier time cruising to a dominating, sixth-round stoppage on June 25, 2005, in Boardwalk Hall. After that mismatch, Mayweather haughtily dismissed Gatti as nothing more than a “C-plus fighter.”

It was Gatti’s failure to be even somewhat competitive with De La Hoya and Mayweather that his critics claim counts for more than all of Gatti’s bop-’til-you-drop successes against tough but second-tier opponents. Yes, the Gatti-Ward trilogy was mesmerizing, but it wasn’t Ali-Frazier. Although the courage and resilience displayed by Gatti and Ward was similar, they lacked that stamp of greatness that made Ali and Smokin’ Joe so very special.

A dispassionate examination of Gatti’s record lends some credence to the suggestion that he might not be as Hall of Fame-worthy as some. Despite his unquestioned status as a legend in Atlantic City, where he fought 23 times, his record there was a relatively pedestrian 17-6, with 12 knockout victories and four losses inside the distance. He couldn’t mount much of an attack in losing his last two fights in Boardwalk Hall, falling in nine rounds to Carlos Baldomir and in seven to Alfonso Gomez. After the beatdown by Gomez, even Gatti had to acknowledge that he had given all he had and there was nothing left in the tank.

“Hasta la vista, baby,” he said in delivering his farewell address through puffy lips. “I did my best. I came in thinking I could outbox him, but the ring kept getting smaller and smaller. I can’t keep taking this abuse no more.”

But Gatti – who finished with a 40-9 record with 31 KOs, 21 of those outings televised by HBO – is a fighter who can’t be judged solely by statistics. Like former WBC light heavyweight champion Matthew Saad Muhammad, who also made a habit of teetering along the edge of disaster in fights not meant to be seen by the weak of heart, Gatti’s ring appearances always elicited the sort of visceral reactions that defied conventional analysis. His many fans loved him because he went to hell and back in a gasoline overcoat and was unafraid to spit in the eye of the devil himself.

“I have to admit that Saad Muhammad beat better-quality fighters,” said Peltz of the Philadelphian whose 1998 IBHOF induction drew few yelps of outrage. “He beat Marvin Johnson twice. Johnson is probably a better name on Saad’s resume than anybody Gatti beat. Saad also beat Yaqui Lopez twice. He beat John Conteh. The greatest fight I ever saw is still Saad’s first fight with Marvin Johnson.

“But Gatti and Saad were the same kind of fighter. They’d be getting beat to a pulp, then all of a sudden they’d come back and score a knockout.”

Saad Muhammad, maybe more than anybody, can relate to who Arturo Gatti was and what he was all about.

“It’s a man thing, beating hell out of somebody and him beating hell out of you, then hugging each other at the end,” Saad said prior to his IBHOF induction. “Being in that ring, you learn respect. You learn to give it, and to get it.”

 

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 106: Return of LA Boxing, Josh Taylor, Charlos and More

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 106: Return of LA Boxing, Josh Taylor, Charlos and More

Let’s call this week the Big Build Up.

Back in the 1920s to the 1950s the City of Angels was known as the place where Humphrey Bogart lived and played characters out of Raymond Chandler’s novels. Books like the “Big Sleep” and “Lady in a Lake” were made into movies based in Los Angeles.

Well, here we are back where boxing thrives, people or not.

Los Angeles kicks off the big boxing week starting with a televised fight card that features home grown featherweight Vic Pasillas at the Microsoft Theater in the downtown area. Fox Sports 1 will televise the Premier Boxing Championship card on Wednesday, Sept. 23.

Pasillas (15-0,8 KOs) faces Dominican fighter Ranfis Encarnacion (17-0, 13 KOs) in the co-main event at a fan-less event that begins a crowded week of boxing as we near the end of 2020.

“Coming out on top against Encarnación is going to catapult me into some big fights at featherweight. The division is wide open and I know with hard work I can take it over,” said Pasillas who is originally from Los Angeles. “This is by far the most important fight of my career. I’m coming with everything I got, because I know this is the turning point that will lead to bigger and better fights. I am ready to bring an exciting fight to the fans and get my hand raised in victory.”

Both Pasillas and Encarnacion are undefeated and unknown to most of the boxing world. A win changes everything especially when it’s difficult to even stage a boxing card.

Promoters are anxious to get their fighters in the ring by any means necessary.

On Thursday in Biloxi, Mississippi, super lightweight Michael Williams Jr. meets Thomas Miller in the headline attraction of a boxing card that will be streamed by UFC Fight Pass.

On Friday in southern Mexico, Serhii Bohachuk (17-0, 17 KOs) meets Alejandro Davila (21-1-2, 8 KOs) in Merida, Yucatan. No word if it will be streamed. The super welterweight from Ukraine has a 17-fight knockout streak and has become a main attraction in Hollywood, California for 360 Promotions.

“Serhii has become one of the most talked about rising stars in boxing,” said Tom Loeffler, promoter of 360 Promotions. “Boxing fans are excited to see if he can continue his knockout streak against Alejandro Davila, the toughest opponent he’s faced. He’s been training very hard with Manny Robles for this fight and if victorious, we’re certain there will be bigger opportunities for him in the near future.”

These are all tasty appetizers for the big buffet coming on Saturday.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Saturday morning, especially if you live in the California area, ESPN+ will showcase the IBF, WBA super lightweight world title fight between champion Josh Taylor (16-0, 12 KOs) and Apinun Khongsong (16-0, 13 KOs) in London. It will be streamed live on Sept. 26, Saturday morning, starting at 11 a.m PST.

This is an important match for Taylor (pictured on the left) who needs a win to nail down a unification clash with Jose Carlos Ramirez the WBC and WBO titlist. If Scotland’s Taylor emerges victorious the super lightweight clash will be one of the top fights of the year.

And if that fight happens to take place, then that winner more than likely meets WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford.

But first things first. Taylor needs to defeat Thailand’s Khongsong on Saturday.

“I didn’t want a warm-up fight, so getting straight back in there against my mandatory challenger is great, as it’s kept me fully focused. I want big fights in my career, so this is an important fight with my belts on the line,” said Taylor.

Charlos Pay-per-view

The Charlos brothers asked for it and they got it.

Long have the brothers from Houston, Texas asked for a pay-per-view fight card and it never seemed possible until now. The Charlos will headline a pay-per-view double-header on Saturday via Showtime.

Beginning at 4 p.m PT/ 7 p.m. ET the Showtime pay-per-view card begins with three top notch bouts:

WBO bantamweight titlist John Riel Casimero (29-4) vs Ghana’s Duke Micah (24-0, 19 KOs).

WBA super bantamweight titlist Brandon Figueroa (20-0-1, 15 KOs) vs Damien Vazquez (15-1-1, 8 KOs).

WBC middleweight titlist Jermall Charlo (30-0, 22 KOs) v Sergiy Derevyanchenko (13-2, 10 KOs).

Charlo was not impressed with Derevyanchenko’s performances against Daniel Jacobs and Gennady Golovkin because both were losses. He expects to dominate.

Derevyanchenko says he’s ready for Charlo.

“Golovkin is a very different fighter than Charlo, but Jacobs is similar stylistically, so that’s something I’ll be used to,” said Derevyanchenko. “This training camp has been very similar to camps for my previous fights though. We just brought in different sparring partners for this one. We’re using fighters who can show us what Charlo will bring to the ring.”

After a 30-minute intermission the second half of the boxing card begins.

Former bantamweight world champion Luis Nery (30-0, 24 KOs) moves up in weight to face Aaron Alameda (25-0, 13 KOs) for the vacant WBC super bantamweight world title. Both fighters are from Mexico.

Former super bantamweight titlists Danny Roman (27-3-1) and Juan Carlos Payano (21-3) meet in a 12-round bout.

In the grand finale WBC super welterweight titlist Jermell Charlo (33-1, 17 KOs) challenges IBF and WBA super welterweight titlist Jeison Rosario (20-1-1, 14 KOs) in a fight for all three belts.

“We lions,” said Charlo.

It’s a very big week for boxing that begins on Wednesday and ends Saturday.

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The Return of Wednesday Boxing Evokes Memories of a Golden Era

Arne K. Lang

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There’s a Wednesday card on the boxing docket this week. The card, which features several undefeated up-and-comers of the sort usually found on Showtime’s developmental series, “ShoBox: The New Generation,” will play out at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles and air on Fox Sports 1.

Not to be out-done, “ShoBox” is returning. The long-running series, which suspended operations in March in obeisance to COVID-19 restrictions, returns on Oct. 7 with a show emanating from Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Casino. The contestants in the main go of the four-fight card, Charles Conwell and Wendy Toussaint, have identical 12-0 records.

It just so happens that Oct. 7 is also a Wednesday. And these upcoming Wednesday shows transported this reporter back to his boyhood when boxing was a fixture on radio and television on Wednesday nights. The Wednesday series sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon beer ran from 1950 to 1960, airing the first five years on CBS and then on ABC.

Fights were all over the TV dial during the 1950s, not that there was much competition. The Big Three — NBC, CBS, and ABC — ruled the airwaves with DuMont a very distant fourth and cable television well off into the future. (For a time, the short-lived DuMont network aired boxing shows on Mondays.)

When televisions first came out, they were a big-ticket item. In 1948, RCA’s cheapest model sold for $395. That’s the equivalent of $10,400 today. By 1954, the cost of the least expensive model had declined to $189 and it came in a bigger box, with a 17-inch screen compared with the 13-inch screen that was standard six years earlier.

With the cost of the coveted contraption beyond the means of many wage earners, saloonkeepers cashed in. Boxing fans flocked to the neighborhood tavern to get their boxing fix. The saloonkeeper could write off his television sets on his taxes as a business expense.

Those were the days, and I date myself, when every town had a TV repair shop and the repairman, like the family doctor, made house calls.

The Wednesday Night Fights were a spin-off of the Friday Night Fights on NBC. The matchmaker for both series (through 1958) was the International Boxing Club which was headquartered at Madison Square Garden. The president of the IBC was James D. Norris (who would come to be seen as a puppet for mobster Frankie Carbo, but that’s a story for another day).

James D. Norris inherited a vast fortune from his father, Canadian businessman James E. Norris. The elder Norris was a big wheel in the sport of hockey and had a financial interest in the arenas that housed NHL teams in Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis. He made these arenas available to his son and the Wednesday fight cards moved around, unlike the Friday fights which were pinned to Madison Square Garden.

Both series would eventually venture out at times into virgin territory, but the Wednesday series was the trailblazer. The first nationally televised boxing show from the West Coast was a Wednesday affair. Jimmy Carter defended his world lightweight title against LA fan favorite Art Aragon, the original Golden Boy, at the Olympic Auditorium on Nov. 14, 1951. Aragon had upset Carter in a non-title fight 11 weeks earlier, but Carter took him to school in the rematch, winning a lopsided decision.

The Friday boxing series, which took the name “Gillette Cavalcade of Sports,” would come to be more fondly remembered, but once the TV became a living room staple, which happened fast, the Wednesday series drew higher ratings. This was predictable as more folks stayed home on Wednesday nights than on Friday nights. And although the Friday series had a larger budget, some of the most important fights of the era were staged on Wednesdays.

One of the highlights of the 1951 season was Ezzard Charles’ world heavyweight title defense against Jersey Joe Walcott at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. It was Walcott’s fifth crack at the title and he was considered ancient at age 37, but he avenged his two previous losses to Charles with a thunderous one-punch knockout.

Carmen Basilio appeared in The Ring magazine Fight of the Year in five consecutive years (1955-1959). The first two — his second meeting with Tony DeMarco and his second meeting with Johnny Saxton – were televised on a Wednesday.

Although he would be quickly forgotten, the Wednesday series brought Bob Satterfield a cult following because of his unpredictability. He certainly left an impression on octogenarian boxing writer Ted Sares who recently named Satterfield his all-time favorite fighter.

To conjure up a portrait of Satterfield, think Deontay Wilder and then fix Wilder with a glass jaw. Satterfield, whose best weight was about 182 pounds, was a murderous puncher, but during his career he was stopped 13 times.

LA’s Clarence Henry and Pittsburgh’s Bob Baker were ranked #3 in the heavyweight division when they ventured to Chicago to tangle with Satterfield, Henry in 1952 and Baker the following year. Henry knocked out Satterfield in the opening round. Satterfield hit the canvas so hard, said a ringside reporter, the resin dust flew up.

The Satterfield-Baker fight would also end in the opening round. Baker out-weighed Satterfield by 34 pounds, but Satterfield flattened him. Later on, in a non-Wednesday fight, Satterfield knocked out Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams in the third round. Williams, 33-1 heading in, was the larger man by 25 pounds.

One bet on or against Bob Satterfield at one’s own peril.

The Wednesday Night Fights had a nice run before the series was cancelled and supplanted in its time slot by “The Naked City,” a critically acclaimed police drama series. Perhaps the return of boxing on Wednesdays augurs well for another mid-week boxing series, but we won’t hold our breath.

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Erickson Lubin Wins, But Misplaced His Hammer

David A. Avila

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Erickson Lubin misplaced the hammer but found a way to victory over Terrell Gausha by unanimous decision in a slow-developing WBC super welterweight eliminator on Saturday.

Lubin (23-1, 16 KOs), a southpaw slugger, was unable to lower the boom on Gausha (21-2-1, 10 KOs) at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. But he did enough in a tactical battle that only activated into a real fight in the later rounds.

Back and forth the two super welterweights mostly feinted and fired blows at each other’s guard. Few managed to pierce for scoring blows and those that landed were mostly to the body.

“It was a chess match. I respected what he had, he was trying to counter what I had. My trainer was telling me to be cautious and not get hit with anything stupid,” said Lubin, whose trainer is the respected Kevin Cunningham.

Gausha, 33, was the more accurate puncher but fired less than Lubin. Though he seemingly scored more often with counter rights, the scarcity of his blows allowed Lubin to control the pace of the fight.

It wasn’t until the mid-rounds that Gausha stepped into a slightly quicker pace. In the 10th, a short right connected and wobbled Lubin who covered up.

“I knew I had hurt him, but he was able to recover,” said Gausha, 24, who tried to finish off the hurt fighter but was unable to land another scoring blow.

“I’m in shape and I was able to recuperate,” Lubin revealed.

It was still unclear who was winning the fight. In the 12th and final round Lubin stepped up the pace and connected with a crisp right hook that clearly snapped the head of Gausha. But he fought his way out of the dangerous corner.

After 12 rounds all three judges scored it for Lubin 115-113, 116-112, 118-110.

“Gausha is a tough competitor, he’s at the top for a reason,” said Lubin. “I feel I beat one of the top 154s and I’m going to keep doing that.”

Gausha was classy in defeat.

“I take my hat off to Erickson Lubin. He was the better man tonight,” said Gausha.

Lubin now awaits the winner between Jermell Charlo and Jeison Rosario who fight each other next week for the WBC, WBA and IBF super welterweight titles. Showtime will provide the title match on pay-per-view.

Featherweights

Former IBO featherweight titlist Tug Nyambayar (12-1, 9 KOs) floored Cobia Breedy (15-1) twice in the first two rounds but struggled the rest of the way to win by split decision. One judge scored it 115-113 for Breedy and two others for Mongolia’s Nyambayar 114-112 and 114-113.

Nyambayar knocked down Breedy with a counter right cross in the first round and then floored him with four rights and a left hook in the second. After that, Breedy was the busier fighter and no one was able to take control.

“Boxing is boxing. It was a tough fight,” said Nyambayar.

Welterweights

In a solid match Philadelphia’s Jaron Ennis (26-0, 24 KOs) was able to find out exactly where he stands against real competition and stopped the unstoppable Juan Carlos Abreu (23-6-1, 21 KOs) in the sixth round by technical knockout in their welterweight showdown.

More than just a knockout win, Ennis discovered that he can indeed take a punch from an elite level puncher.

Nobody questioned whether Ennis had boxing skills or athleticism and power, but nobody knew if he could take a punch. They discovered it as Abreu was able to connect in the fourth and fifth rounds. The Dominican fighter pulled out his tricks and connected several times with sneaky rights and lefts. Ennis remained standing.

Abreu was looking to trade bombs with Ennis in the fifth and sixth round and paid the price in getting delivered to the canvas with a pretty right counter uppercut. He survived. But in the sixth a slew of punches along the ropes sent him down again. He beat the count again but during a fierce exchange he was floored a final time at 1:06 of the sixth round. It was the first time Abreu had ever been stopped.

“I feel I put on a wonderful show and got the knockout,” said Ennis. “I feel I showed the division I am here.”

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