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Ethnic Pride Keeps Smaller Shows Like Golovkin-Macklin Alive

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MASHANTUCKET, Conn. – Ireland’s Matthew Macklin didn’t attend the press conference at the Foxwoods Casino following his fight with Gennady Golovkin. Media interaction wasn’t a priority for someone who had just been pummelled by one of boxing’s hardest punchers.

A few miles away, Danny O’Connor was in hospital receiving stitches to a damaged eye following his bout on the same card. But despite his facial appearance, O’Connor was victorious, outpointing Hector Munoz and helping bring some joy to the Irish-American bandwagon that drove the several thousand ticket sales for the event.

A promoter’s goal is to find fighters that can resonate with a community. That’s because boxing is among the few sports still driven by ethnic tribalism. Save for a couple of major fights each year, the US mainstream media generally ignores boxing, thus diminishing its exposure to the average sports fan. It’s left to those fuelled by factors of race and nationality to keep smaller shows alive.

HBO and much of the boxing media heralded Kazakhstan native Golovkin as a future star before Saturday’s bout, and while he may yet realize that status, it was Macklin and O’Connor that most of the crowd traveled to see. A fighter without an established fanbase must accomplish exceptional feats to attract a crowd. Not so for Irish fighters; their fervent support means that even unremarkable achievements can result in high-profile exposure. The Irish contingents don’t follow a fighter because they think he will be the next star. Their pursuit is based on ethnic pride.

Nobody went to Connecticut on Saturday thinking the 31-year-old Macklin (pictured above, euphoric after his previous win, in Hogan photo) was headed for greatness. Macklin, born in England to Irish parents, had 29 wins but was knocked out by the premier middleweight Sergio Martinez last year, was outpointed by another middleweight titlist Felix Sturm in 2011 and had two previous losses on his record. The oddsmakers made the unbeaten Golovkin a 1/8 favorite to win. Regardless, Irish fans still came to see him try to take Golovkin’s WBA piece of the middleweight crown.

Yet the pro-Macklin chants of “Ole, Ole” quickly dissipated as the bell sounded and the out-numbered Kazakhs suddenly made their presence felt. Macklin was on the back foot from the start, unable to mount much offense. Avoiding thudding blows from Golovkin became the top priority. His face severely reddened after only two minutes, Macklin looked like he had completed an average fight. But Golovkin isn’t an average fighter. Every time Macklin attempted an attack, he was caught by head-snapping punches. The pattern continued until one minute into the third round when Golovkin forced Macklin onto the ropes and delivered a sickening left hook to the stomach. The challenger went down and remained there for several minutes, gasping for air.

“He never let me get started,” said Macklin after regaining his composure. “He has clubbing, solid power and you can feel the weight of every punch he throws. I tip my hat to him.”

“We knew Macklin would be brave, but we knew that once he stood and fought with us, it would be over,” said Golovkin’s trainer Abel Sanchez. Golovkin now has a record of 27-0 with 24 knockouts.

The Irish-American fans were in better voice earlier in the night. Even though welterweight Danny O’Connor was fighting a man who entered the ring with a 21-10 record and a first round knockout defeat in his most recent bout, it was immaterial to the busloads of supporters from Massachusetts who wore green “Clan O’Connor” shirts. O’Connor, a proud Irish-American from the Boston suburbs, may have just one loss on his record but after another points victory on Saturday he has now scored only seven knockouts in 21 wins, a worrying stat given that concussive power is a typical requirement for a world-class prizefighter. O’Connor has rarely been in an easy bout. Although not powerful, he often adopts a straightforward, aggressive style that results in crowd-pleasing fights. So was the case on Saturday en route to a 79-73 points decision verdict from all three judges.

“I let it become a fight,” said O’Connor, 28, afterward. “He was a tough dude, but that was partially my fault. At the end of the day, I just like to fight. I guess I’m more old-school than some guys. Obviously it’s not the best route.”

An Irish fighter who achieves even a modicum of success can attract partisan fans who think their man is worth following regardless of how porous his defense or delicate his scar tissue. The Jewish and Italian groups that also drove US prizefighting in previous generations no longer have the same staunch loyalty to the sport. Excluding the Irish, enthusiastic crowds in recent years have come from ethnicities associated with the lower rungs of American’s socio-economic ladder, such as Mexicans, Filipinos and Puerto Ricans.

While many Irish have assimilated into the upper echelons of American society, large swathes of the community still band together for the fights, using the events as a vehicle to embrace their heritage. Boxing provides the perfect opportunity for ethnic groups to sing songs about the homeland, forget woes in a sea of alcohol and testosterone, and cheer on one of their own as he bravely takes the fight to the world.

And so it was that those with varying degrees of Irishness traveled to Connecticut on Saturday. The crowd would have been notably smaller if Macklin was waving the Union Jack or if O’Connor chose not to emphasize his roots.

While their performances weren’t overly inspiring, both Macklin and O’Connor fought like stereotypical Irishmen; game, tough and flawed enough to make the fights entertaining. Macklin’s journey may be coming to an end and O’Connor will need to make some tactical adjustments if he is to extend his career. But there’ll be others before long; Ireland’s severe economic recession will see continued emigration and more fighters looking for support from their US-based kindred. Before that, promoters can always dream that Golovkin will spur an awakening in the Kazakh community’s love for the fight game.

 

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Tyson Fury Roared and Deontay Wilder Remained Silent at their L.A. Presser

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TSS special correspondent LAUREN RODRIGUEZ was on the scene for the Top Rank Promotions press conference in downtown Los Angeles on June 15 at which the third meeting between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder was formally announced. Here is her report.

The third fight between Tyson “Gypsy King” Fury (30-1, 21 KOs.) and Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) will go down July 24th in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena. This continued mash-up between the two comes 16 months since their last bout. The first fight, in December 2018, ended in a draw and their second in February 2020, ended in a victory for Fury in the 7th round.

Fury carried the press conference while Wilder remained largely muted.

The WBC champion Fury remains undefeated, a status he is adamant in maintaining. The heavyweight boasted a white suit patterned with images of himself in a crown and wearing the belt he won off Wilder.

“This is a reminder of what happened to him last time, this is a remembrance suit of Deontay Wilder’s ass-kicking.”

The “Gypsy King,” an entertainer, left little words unsaid as he berated his silent opponent.

“It shows how weak a mental person is, it shows the emotional effect the last fight had on his life… I was worried about him after the defeat I gave him,” said Fury.

An Alabama native, Wilder has a 93% knockout rate, the highest rate for any heavyweight.

Wilder wanted no part in other questions from Q/A moderator Christina Poncher, or the media, as he remained silent with headphones and sunglasses to shield him from questions.

Wilder’s trainer, longtime friend and former heavyweight contender Malik Scott answered very few questions for the fighter as tensions rose.

“He’s very stubborn, like most legends and gifted people they have their things with them. As long as he gives me what I want in the gym, I don’t care about the stubbornness cause we’re going to get this done,” said Scott.

If it’s one thing Fury and team all agree on, it’s that history will repeat itself in this third fight come July.

When it comes to what we can expect this time, Fury’s trainer SugarHill Steward stated, “All I have to say is, over time, he [Fury] now has power to knock a man out with one punch. His boxing IQ is one-punch knockout power.”

In Gypsy King fashion, we will have an entertaining show come next month. Fury intends on moving his weight all the way to 300, so he can give Wilder a bigger knockout in the ring and fans a bigger show.

“This time I’m hoping to take him out early, one, two, three rounds max.”

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Tokyo-Bound Aussie Heavyweight Justis Huni Stops Rugged Paul Gallen in the 10th

Arne K. Lang

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Had Justis Huni fought Paul Gallen two months ago, the match would have been trashed as little more than exhibition. During his record-tying 19 years in rugby, Gallen evolved into one of Australia’s most well-known sporting personalities. When Gallen took up boxing in 2014, it was thought that he did it as a lark; as a way of cashing in on his name recognition. And his first 11 opponents were a motley bunch of former rugby players, MMA fighters, 40-somethings, and boxing novices.

Then came the night of April 21, 2021. In a shocker, Gallen demolished former WBA heavyweight titlist Lucas “Big Daddy” Browne in less than two minutes. “Gallen transformed from a rugby league player to a bona fide prize fighter before our very eyes,” said prominent Australian sports journalist Andrew McMurtry.

That knocked Lucas Browne out of a lucrative match with Justis Huni and vaulted Paul Gallen, who turns 40 in August, to the head of the queue. They met Wednesday night (Australia time) at a convention center in Sydney and Huni, five-and-a-half inches taller, 15 pounds heavier, and the younger man by nearly 18 years, saddled Gallen (11-1-1) with his first defeat.

Heading into the fight, Gallen conceded that the heavily favored Huni was faster. However, he thought that he could wear the bigger man down. “If I get through those first four to five rounds, I’ll be in his face the whole time and I think I can knock him out late,” he said.

It proved to be the other way around. Huni dominated the fight and when he knocked Gallen down in the 10th with a big right hook, the referee stepped in and stopped it. But Gallen, who had a bum shoulder from his rugby days and thought that he fought most of the fight with a broken rib, showed tremendous heart.

It was the fifth professional fight for Huni (5-0, 4 KOs) who won the Australian heavyweight title in his pro debut. Of Dutch, Swedish, Samoan, and Tongan heritage, he quit school at age 15 to give boxing his full attention and will represent Australia in the Tokyo Olympics which start next month.

Brisbane-born Huni is already being talked-about as the best-ever Australian-born heavyweight. The rap against him is a lack of one-punch knockout power which won’t be a detriment in Tokyo.

In undercard bouts of note, Brisbane middleweight Isaac Hardman (11-0, 9 KOs) scored a 4th-round stoppage of Emmanuel Carlos (12-2) and middleweight Andrei Mikhailovich, a Russian residing in Auckland, New Zealand, advanced to 16-0 (9) with a second-round stoppage of previously undefeated Alex Hanan (13-1).

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Three Pros are Joining the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team, Ruffling Some Feathers

Arne K. Lang

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USA Boxing, the agency that controls amateur boxing in the United States, has a rule that prohibits professional boxers from competing in their tournaments. That rule remains in effect, but yet three pro boxers – middleweight Troy Isley, lightweight Keyshawn Davis, and featherweight Duke Ragan – will suit up for the United States in the forthcoming Tokyo Games. The announcement, which fell largely under the radar, came on June 7.

USA Boxing is subservient to AIBA, the sport’s international governing body, and to the International Olympic Committee. The Boxing Task Force of the IOC changed the rules to allow Isley, Davis and Ragan to compete and the honchos at USA Boxing are none too happy about it.

Blame the Covid-19 pandemic which forced the postponement and ultimately the cancellation of several qualifying tournaments including the “Americas” tournament in Buenos Aires at which boxers from 42 national federations – including the United States — would be competing for the Olympic slots allocated to this region. A total of 286 boxers from around the world will compete in Tokyo in the eight men’s and five women’s weight divisions with the coveted slots dispersed among four Continental Regional Divisions.

With no tournament, the Task Force redesigned the quota allocation process using world rankings to determine the national squads. The rankings were formulated using a point system from events held between January 2017 and October 2019.

The re-jiggering opened the door for Isley, Davis, and Ragan to rejoin the team. Isley and Davis had their first pro fight in February of this year. Ragan turned pro in August of 2020.

Team USA protested that the BTF allocation was unfair to the boxers that finished first in the final domestic qualifying tournament (December 2019 in Lake Charles, Louisiana), but their claim was denied. Isley and Ragan were knocked out of that tournament before reaching the finals; Davis finished first when his opponent in the finals took ill and had to pull out, but he was subsequently booted off the team, reputedly for missing too many practices which he attributed to a family health emergency. That unfrocking has been rescinded.

Before he left the team, Keyshawn Davis was considered the U.S. boxer with the best chance of winning a gold medal in Tokyo. A southpaw, he earned his spurs at the Alexandria Boxing Club in North Alexandria, Virginia, which was also the home gym of Troy Isley who lived right down the street.

The common thread between all three of the returnees is Kay Koroma who coached Davis and Isley at the Alexandria club where he was the top lieutenant to the club’s patriarch Dennis Porter and at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs where he served as an assistant to Billy Walsh. Duke Ragan, who hails from Cincinnati, is Koroma’s nephew.

Koroma came to the fore in 2016 when he earned raves for his work with Olympians Claressa Shields. Shakur Stevenson, Charles Conwell and others. But Koroma, one of the hottest young trainers in the sport, won’t be available to work with the 2020/21 team before it heads off to Tokyo. “My plate is too full,” he told The Sweet Science.

Koroma, like many of his former pupils, turned pro himself. He continues to work with Shakur Stevenson, whom he has known since Shakur was 13 years old, he assists veteran coach Al Mitchell with Mikaela Mayer and he recently replaced Ronnie Shields as the head trainer of rising heavyweight contender Efe Ajagba.

Isley, Davis, and Ragan comprise three-fifths of the men’s Olympic team. Super heavyweight Richard Torrez Jr and welterweight Delante “Tiger” Johnson flesh out the quintet.

USA Boxing released a letter to its membership expressing frustration over the decision of the IOC Task Force which killed the dreams of seven boxers who hoped to snare an Olympic berth at the Buenos Aires tournament or, barring that, the Last Chance tournament in Paris which was also a casualty of the pandemic. The letter can be read at the USA Boxing web site.

The seven boxers who were fenced out are:

Darius Fulgham (heavyweight, Houston, TX)

Rahim Gonzalez (light heavyweight, Las Vegas, NV)

Joseph Hicks (middleweight, Lansing, MI)

Charlie Sheehy (lightweight, Brisbane, CA)

Bruce Carrington (featherweight, Brooklyn, NY)

Anthony Herrera (flyweight, East Los Angeles, CA)

and

women’s flyweight Andrea Medina (San Diego, CA).

USA Boxing insists there are no plans to allow professionals to compete for the United States in the 2024 Olympiad and beyond. This is a one-shot exception forced by a unique circumstance. But, needless to say, when it comes to amateur boxing, nothing is etched in stone.

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