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CHAMBERS DECIDES IT’S TIME TO CRUISE (FOR NOW)

Bernard Fernandez

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What is the difference between being heavyweight champion of the world and cruiserweight champion of the world?

Well, some would say the difference is zero.

Plus another number.

Even now, a quarter-century after his final bout as a cruiserweight, Evander Holyfield probably remains the greatest fighter ever to compete in that netherworld that exists between light heavyweight and heavyweight. On April 9, 1988, the “Real Deal” added Carlos “Sugar” DeLeon’s WBC cruiserweight championship to the WBA and IBF belts he already possessed when he stopped DeLeon in eight one-sided rounds at the Caesars Palace Sports Pavilion in Las Vegas. It was Holyfield’s fifth defense of the then-190-pound title he ascended to when he outlasted rawhide-tough WBA champ Dwight Muhammad Qawi to take a memorable 15-round split decision on July 12, 1986, in Atlanta.

Holyfield had no difficulty making 190 pounds back then. Presumably, he could have held onto his cruiser titles for damn well as long as he pleased. With the exception of Qawi, the other fighters he defeated in his relatively brief reign – Henry Tillman, Ricky Parkey, Ossie Ocasio, Qawi again and, finally, DeLeon – hadn’t posed particularly significant challenges to his reign.

But Holyfield knew his history, and, obviously, his math. His purse for fully unifying the cruiserweight title against DeLeon was $300,000. Even as he was winning that matchup with almost casual ease, it was public knowledge that undisputed heavyweight champion Mike Tyson had signed to defend his WBC, WBA and IBF titles against former champ Michael Spinks on June 27, 1988, in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. Tyson was to receive a minimum of $15 million for that much-anticipated showdown to Spinks’ $13.5 million.

Is it any wonder Holyfield’s promotional company, Main Events, brought in Houston-based conditioning expert Tim Hallmark to bulk up their muscular yet lean king of the cruiserweights to make a run at possible eight-figure paydays? Holyfield would have had to fight and win 50 times to rake in what he received against DeLeon equal to what Tyson got for 91 seconds of demolition work against Spinks just 2½ months later.

Holyfield, of course, made the transition seamlessly, going on to win some version of the heavyweight crown four times while establishing himself as one of boxing’s all-time best big men. He stands as Exhibit A for why so many cruiserweights (and more than a few light heavyweights) have attempted to follow the same path, packing on pounds in the quest for greater glory and a heftier bank account. And it’s relatively easy to gain weight, right? Just pass the doughnuts or a six-pack of beer.

But sometimes it is more prudent to go in the opposite direction, at least temporarily, which is why smallish heavyweight contender “Fast” Eddie Chambers (36-3, 18 KOs) is slimming down to the cruiserweight limit (now 200 pounds) for his debut bout in the lower weight class, a scheduled 10-rounder against South Africa’s Thabiso Mchunu (13-1, 10 KOs) on Aug. 3 at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn. The bout will be televised by the NBC Sports Network, which doesn’t appear to have the same aversion to cruiserweights that HBO, Showtime and other American broadcast outlets have shown since the division was introduced to scant enthusiasm in 1979.

Interestingly, Main Events president Kathy Duva – a publicist for the company which was then run by her late husband, Dan Duva, who oversaw Holyfield’s move up to heavyweight – not only has approved Chambers’ strategy of mixing it up with fighters more his own natural size, but she has readily endorsed it. Sometimes it is prudent for David to avoid Goliath, and for Jack to not climb that beanstalk.

“Our suggestion to Eddie was that it’s good to be able to walk around the rest of your life and say you were champion of the world,” said Duva, who now promotes Chambers along with Dan Goossen, of Goossen Tutor. “Eddie Chambers should be able to do that. He is that good. He has that kind of skill. In the cruiserweight division, he can dominate.

“Eddie still wants to win the heavyweight championship, and we’re OK with him moving back up to heavyweight eventually. But there is a better way to move him at this particular time. I’m playing chess. That’s what we do here. I need to position him, and it’s better to position him as the cruiserweight champion than as just another pretty good heavyweight, most of whom only have a goal in life to go to Germany and have somebody twice their size (read the Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali) beat the living hell out of them.”

The 6-1 Chambers knows what it’s like to almost always be the little guy trying to chop down much heavier opponents who tower over him. Although he was well behind on points in his March 20, 2010, title bout in Dusseldorf, Germany, against IBF/WBO/IBO/The Ring champion Wladimir Klitscho – who was 5 inches taller and outweighed him by 34¼ pounds – he hung in there until being stopped with less than a minute remaining in the 12th and final round.

“These super heavyweights operate in a system that’s patently unfair,” Duva said. “Guys that big may be less skilled, but they’re still going to beat guys who are more talented, but are so much smaller. You never see that kind of disparity in the lighter weight classes. Look at (Floyd) Mayweather-(Canelo) Alvarez. How much of a big deal was it that Alvarez had to give up two pounds to fight at a catchweight demanded by the Mayweather camp? But when Eddie Chambers gets in the ring against some of these huge heavyweights, he’s expected to give up 30, 40, even 50 pounds – and still win.

“But guess what? With only a couple of exceptions, he still did win those kinds of fights. He went into the last round with Wladimir Klitschko and the only reason he got knocked out is because he was still trying to win, unlike most of the Klitschkos’ opponents.”

It’s hard to dispute Duva’s assertions. In his last six fights, Chambers was outweighed by an aggregate 232 pounds – an average of 38.7 pounds. The last time he fought someone lighter than himself was Oct. 3, 2008, when he came in at 219 pounds to 205 for Livan Hernandez, himself a bulked-up former cruiserweight.

Chambers, 31, a Pittsburgh native who since 2002 has been based on the other side of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, was a trim and career-low 202 pounds for his most recent ring appearance, a 12-round unanimous-decision loss to Tomasz Adamek for the vacant IBF North American heavyweight title on June 16, 2012, in Newark, N.J. But it should be noted that Chambers tore a muscle in his left biceps early on, an injury that reduced him to throwing almost nothing other than right-hand leads and is a major reason why he will have been inactive for 13½ months by the time he steps inside the ropes against Mchunu. Oh, yeah, and Adamek (a former light heavyweight and cruiserweight titlist) outweighed Chambers by the obligatory 23 pounds.

“I think it’s a good idea to go down to cruiserweight, maybe dominate for a few years, then come back up to heavyweight with a stronger position as a world champion,” said Chambers, who noted he is usually at 196 or 197 pounds after a workout these days. “I really want to become a world champion, regardless of what class it’s in. When you’re a world champion, you can take satisfaction in having that distinction for as long as you live. There are great fighters who never became world champions, but there is a tendency to feel that your career is not complete until you earn that title.

“I’ve been a ranked heavyweight for a long time, but I don’t have that world championship. My detractors will say that’s why I’m moving down. That’s all right. Let them say whatever they want. Now I get to fight guys my own size for a while. When you look at the size differential with some of these really big heavyweights – I’m mainly thinking about the Klitschkos – it can change your mind a little bit about the notion of entering the ring with at least an equal chance to win.”

Perhaps Chambers’ expectation of domination at 200 pounds is overly optimistic. The reigning cruiserweight champions might not pose quite as large a hurdle to clear as the brothers Klitschko, but it would be wrong to presume that Poland’s Krzsztof Wlodarczyk (48-2-1, 34 KOs; WBC), Panama’s Guillermo Jones (39-3-2, 31 KOs; WBA), Germay-based Cuban Yoan Pablo Hernandez (27-1, 13 KOs; IBF) and Germany-based Serbian Marco Huck (36-2-1, 25 KOs; WBO) are chopped liver. But the path to the world title “Fast” Eddie so cherishes has to have fewer potholes than the one to the heavyweight crowns hoarded by the Klitschkos. Besides, Chambers is not even ranked at heavyweight by any of the world sanctioning bodies at present.

It should be noted that WBC lightweight champion Adrien Broner successfully stepped up two weight classes to challenge for Paulie Malignaggi’s WBA welterweight title in Broner’s first bout as a 147-pounder. Is it so unreasonable to believe that someone with Chambers’ credentials, should he impressively take care of Mchunu, could step to the front of the line for a shot at one of the cruiser kings?

Even Chambers, however, admits that the cruiserweight division, at least in the United States, traditionally has been regarded as the “black sheep” of boxing, which is why he even briefly

contemplated paring all the way down to the light heavyweight limit of 175. But then he thought of the debilitating effects that sort of downsizing had on Chris Byrd and Roy Jones Jr., who skipped over the cruisers altogether after having won heavyweight championships. No, trying for light heavyweight definitely would be a bridge too far.

“As much as I would love to try my hand at light heavyweight, which is one of the eight traditional divisions, and a division in which there was and is a lot of interest, I know what trying to go all that way down did to Chris and Roy,” Chambers said. “Trying to take off 20 or 25 pounds of muscle is harder, much harder, than trying to put it on. By skipping over the cruisers, those guys did damage to themselves. They never were the same.”

The cruiserweight division, for whatever reason, never gained the popularity some thought it might have gained when it was created as a bridge between light heavyweight and the larger heavyweights who were beginning to emerge in the late 1970s. It takes a real boxing history buff to recall that the WBC was the organization to sanction a cruiserweight title bout, which pitted Marvin Camel against Mate Parlov on Dec. 8, 1979. In what might be considered an omen, that fight did not even produce a champion; it ended in a draw. But Camel etched his name in the record books when he defeated Parlov in a rematch three months later. The WBA then went into the cruiserweight business in 1982, the IBF in 1983.

Alas, Camel is far less celebrated as the first cruiserweight champ than is former New York Yankee Ron Blomberg, who became the first designated hitter in Major League Baseball when he strode to the plate on April 6, 1973, for his historic first at-bat against the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park.

To her credit, Duva is no Johnny-come-lately when it comes to heralding the potential glories of the cruisers. Prior to Adamek’s IBF cruiserweight defense against Bobby Gunn on July 11, 2009, Duva mounted her soap box to proclaim that there should be a more prominent place of honor for the 200-pounders.

“All these huge heavyweights are the reason the division is in the sorry state it’s in,” Duva said. “Big, lumbering guys who can’t get out of their own way are never going to make exciting fights. Let’s face it, if you’ve got a 6-5, 240-pound, athletic guy in the United States, he’s probably playing basketball or football.

“Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson … those were small heavyweights. They could have gotten down to 200 if they had to. And think about some of the great heavyweights throughout history – Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano, even Joe Louis. They’d probably be cruiserweights today.”

Four years later, Duva is beating the same drum.

“If I had my way, I would rename the cruiserweight division the heavyweight division, because that’s what it really is,” she said. “I would call anything about, say, 220 the super heavyweight division, like they do in the Olympics. That’s what I would do if I were in charge of the world. Cruiserweight is a terrible name. It doesn’t sound tough enough, or something. If the cruiserweights were called

heavyweights, and bigger heavyweights were called super heavyweights, a lot more people would be interested in seeing today’s cruiserweights.

“Let’s be honest. Super heavyweights are slower. They often win by imposing their size on smaller opponents. But cruiserweight fights are fun to watch. They’re more exciting. I’m just fortunate I have this platform at NBC where we can do things that network TV executives elsewhere generally don’t want to do, which is to give these guys a chance.

“Some of the best fights I’ve ever seen were in the cruiserweight division, or involved small heavyweights or big light heavyweights who could make cruiserweight if they tried. The best fight I ever saw in person was Matthew Saad Muhammad and Yaqui Lopez, who were big light heavys. Great cruiserweight fights were Holyfield-Qawi, the first one, and Adamek-(Steve) Cunningham, also the first one. We were fortunate to promote both those fights.”

Duva’s plan is to have Chambers fight regularly on the NBC Sports Network, which will help him develop more of a following if he can get more eyeballs in the U.S. to see what he can do at a weight that presumably fits him better.

“I think the way for him to go is to dominate the cruiserweight division, and to be seen on television doing it,” she continued. “This is an American athlete, a tremendously articulate young man, nice personality, good-looking, charming as hell. He’s got everything. But he’s always portrayed as the little guy with no chance.

“But that little guy went to Germany and beat (Alexander) Dimitrenko, a guy twice his size. But nobody on this side of the Atlantic saw it, so what good did it do him? We have to change that.”

Holyfield, of course, is the most notable exception to the widely accepted rule of thumb that cruiserweight champions – think Al “Ice” Cole and Jean-Marc Mormek — don’t make much of a splash at heavyweight. So maybe Chambers’ second expedition at heavyweight, if and when he makes it, won’t be any more of a breakthrough journey than the first.

“Some cruiserweights will move up and do well, and some won’t,” she reasoned. “What the goal should always be is to provide entertainment to boxing fans. With Eddie, we think it’s best to take a step back, figure out what’s broken, and how to fix it.

“One of the things I’ve been on the warpath on for quite some time is the idea that being a cruiserweight is somehow second-rate. It’s so absurd. Somehow, some way, we have to change that kind of thinking.”

 

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Ed Odeven’s New Book Pays Homage to Sports Journalist Jerry Izenberg

Rick Assad

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It’s one thing to get to the top, but it’s something else entirely to remain there for more than half a century. Jerry Izenberg, longtime sports columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger, now semi-retired and living in Henderson, Nevada, has done just that.

Izenberg is the subject of Ed Odeven’s book, “Going 15 Rounds With Jerry Izenberg,” which was released New Year’s Eve and is available at amazon.com.

“By all accounts, he should be recognized as one of the greatest American sports columnists,” said Odeven, a 1999 graduate of Arizona State University who has lived in Japan since July 2006 and is the sports editor for the website Japan Forward. “A versatile professional, he was equally skilled at writing books and magazine articles and producing sports documentaries and crafting essays for the groundbreaking ‘Sports Extra’ television program on Channel 5 in New York in the 1970s.”

Odeven went on: “Jerry has seen everything and been seemingly everywhere. He brought gravitas to the newspaper sports section with decades of sustained excellence.”

During a seven-decade career in sports journalism, the 90-year-old Izenberg, found time to write 15 non-fiction books and one novel. His affinity for the manly sport is reflected in his 2017 book, “Once There Were Giants: The Golden Age Of Heavyweight Boxing.”

“From the 1950s to the present day [including recent years’ coverage of Tyson Fury and Manny Pacquiao, for instance], Izenberg has shined in his boxing coverage,” Odeven said. “You can’t ignore his remembrance pieces on fighters and boxing personalities across the decades [such as a terrific column on the late Leon Spinks in which he weaved a tapestry of the fighter’s life and his family’s struggles into a powerful piece], either.”

One of Izenberg’s favorite topics is Muhammad Ali.

“Izenberg first observed the great fighter’s infectious personality, popularity and boxing talent on display at the 1960 Rome Olympics,” Odeven said. “Cassius Clay was unlike any other famous pugilist in those days and for the rest of his life.”

Odeven spoke about the support Ali received from Izenberg: “When very few were publicly taking a stand to support Ali, Izenberg wrote columns that defended his right to fight. He took the boxing establishment to task for stripping Ali of his titles even while Ali’s case was making its way through the courts – and ultimately the United States Supreme Court.”

Izenberg, a graduate of Rutgers University who covered the first 53 Super Bowls, and Ali were close. “As friends, they were around each other in all corners of the earth,” Odeven said. “They shared highs and lows during periods of personal and professional success and disappointment.”

Here’s Jerry Izenberg talking about Ali’s humanity: “I was a single father and when my children came to live with me, they were very nervous. I took them to Deer Lake [Pennsylvania] for a television show I was filming as an advance to the Foreman-Ali fight. After the filming, knowing my situation, (Ali) took my son aside and put his arm around him and said, “Robert, you have come to live with a great man. Listen to him and you will grow to be a great man just like him.

“On the way up my daughter, who was seven, had said, ‘I hope Foreman beats him up because he brags too much and you always told me to not brag.’ “I told her, ‘you are seven and you have nothing to brag about. Both of these men are my friends. When you get there, keep your mouth shut.’ When we were packing up the equipment, he saw her in the back of the room and hollered, ‘come up here little girl. You with the braids.’ She was convinced I had ratted her out about what she said and tried her best to melt into the wall because she was frightened. As she walked toward him, she lost the power of speech and mumbled. He was 6-3 and she was 4-5. He grabbed her and held her over his head. ‘Is that man your daddy?’ All she could do was nod. ‘Don’t you lie to me little girl, look at him,’ and he pointed at me. ‘That man is ugly…ugly. You are beautiful, now gimme a kiss.’ On the way home she said, ‘I hope Muhammad can win,’ and I said, ‘you are just like the rest of them. The only difference is your age.’ He was one of my five best friends. When he died, I cried.”

Odeven offered his slant on why Izenberg was at home at major boxing events: “It was clear that Jerry was in a comfort zone on the week of a big fight, writing the stories that set the stage for the mano a mano encounter and the follow-up commentary that defined what happened and what it meant.”

Izenberg, noted Odeven, had worked under the legendary Stanley Woodward, as had Red Smith and Roger Kahn, among others, the latter most well-known for having penned the baseball classic, “The Boys Of Summer.” Many insist that Woodward, who read the classics, was the greatest sports editor.

Woodward, Odenven believes, helped shape Izenberg’s world outlook. “Izenberg became keenly aware of this human drama at its rawest form that existed in boxing,” he said, noting that in decades past the public was captivated by the big fights. “Examples, of course, include the first and third Ali-Frazier bouts and The Rumble In The Jungle [against Foreman]. Let’s not forget they were cultural touchstones.”

Referencing the third installment of Ali-Frazier in Manila, Izenberg said, “I’ve probably seen thousands of fights, but I never saw one when both fighters were exhausted and just wouldn’t quit…My scorecard had Ali ahead by one which meant if Joe knocked him down in the 15th, he would have won on my card. But there was no 15th because Joe’s trainer, Eddie Futch, ordered the gloves cut off after the 14th.

“At the finish, Ali collapsed. Later as Ali walked slowly up the aisle supported by his seconds, he leaned over toward the New York Times’ Dave Anderson and me and said through puffy lips, ‘Fellas. That’s the closest you will ever see to death.’”

Izenberg remembered his lead: “Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier did not fight for the WBC heavyweight title last night,” he wrote. “They did not fight for the heavyweight championship of the planet. They could have fought in a telephone booth on a melting ice flow. They were fighting for the championship of each other and for me that still isn’t settled.”

What makes Izenberg relevant even today? “His canvas was the global sports landscape and he explored the human condition in each of his columns in some way,” Odeven stated. “He recognized what made a good story and sought out individuals and topics that fit that description – and he still does.

“You could read a random stack of columns about any number of topics from the 1960s or ’90s and be enlightened and entertained at the same time…He has always had a razor- sharp eye for details that illuminate a column and a source’s words to give it added verve.” Moreover, added Odeven, Izenberg had a never-wavering commitment to championing a just cause: “Speaking out against racism and religious bigotry, he gave a voice to the voiceless or those often ignored.”

Note: Jerry Izenberg was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category in 2015.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 126: Viva Puerto Rico, Claressa Shields, Canelo and More

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 126: Viva Puerto Rico, Claressa Shields, Canelo and More

In the age of Covid-19 fights get canceled and re-arranged and that’s found here in this second attempt to stage Serhii Bohachuk versus Brandon Adams in a super welterweight showdown.

This pairing was first talked about back when the Dodgers and Lakers both won world championships last October. Finally, it’s ready to cast off.

Beautiful Puerto Rico will be the locale for Bohachuk (18-0, 18 KOs) when he meets Adams (22-3, 14 KOs) on Thursday March 4, at Felix Pintor Gym in Guaynabo. NBC Sports Network will televise the Ring City USA fight card.

“Flaco” Bohachuk has rampaged through the super welterweight division like a ravenous Ukrainian version of Pacman. Who can stop him?

Adams has fought the better competition including a world title match against Jermall Charlo that he lost by decision less than two years ago.

Other factors exist.

Bohachuk was formally trained by Abel Sanchez in Big Bear Mountain but now works with Manny Robles at sea level. Will it make a difference when he trades blows against the smaller but seemingly stronger Adams?

“We’re taking this fight seriously against Adams,” said Robles who has trained numerous world champions including Oscar Valdez and Andy Ruiz. “Adams is a very strong fighter.”

Bohachuk last fought deep in the heart of Mexico and emerged with a stoppage that saw him scrap with little-known but tough-as-nails Alejandro Davila. Both landed serious stuff but Bohachuk just had more firepower.

Adams says he has seen firepower like Bohachuk’s before. He went toe-to-toe with Charlo for the WBC middleweight title and never touched the canvas. He’s smaller but more muscular and has fought taller guys most of his career.

This is one of those fights that used to be held at the Olympic Auditorium back in the day. Ironically, there is a documentary that has just been released about those days before it was closed to boxing in 2005.

Added note: Fernando Vargas Jr. will also engage on the fight card. The son of “El Feroz,” Fernando Vargas Jr. fights out of Las Vegas and will be in his second pro fight as a super middleweight.

Women’s pay-per-view

An all-women fight card led by Claressa Shields takes place on Friday March 5. It will be streamed by FITE.tv beginning at 6 p.m. PT. Price is $29.99.

Shields (10-0) faces her toughest foe yet when she steps in the boxing ring against Canada’s undefeated Marie Eve Dicaire (17-0) for the undisputed super welterweight world championship.

Dicaire is a tall southpaw with speed and agility who has defeated several world champions.

Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and former undisputed middleweight world champion and super middleweight titlist who dropped down two weight divisions to pursue this venture.

Also, just added is Marlen Esparza, a USA Olympic bronze medalist, and current flyweight contender.

Esparza (8-1) agreed to fight on the pay-per-view card and meets Shelly Barnett (4-3-2) in a six-round bout set for the super flyweight division. Her last fight took place in October and she handed talented Sulem Urbina her first loss as a pro.

Barnett is a Canadian veteran of nine pro fights including an eight-round battle with Florida’s Rosalinda Rodriguez.

Rumor has it that Esparza is getting prepared for a showdown with Mexico’s Ibeth “La Roca” Zamora for the WBC flyweight world title later in the spring.

It’s a pretty good pay-per-view card that also features Danielle Perkins, Logan Holler and Jamie Mitchell in competitive fights. If you haven’t seen women fights, take a look. Shields alone can astonish with her fighting skills.

Canelo

That redhead from Mexico continues to decimate the competition whether its from England, Turkey or Russia. Line them up and let them fly.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez holds the WBA and WBC super middleweight world titles and was forced to fight the number one contender Avni Yildirim and promptly stomped him out like a bug on the rug.

Fans get upset. They don’t understand that ratings exist and with four or five sanctioning organizations all having different standings, a fighter like Alvarez who has two titles is forced to fight fighters ranked number one through 10. But it’s just a part of boxing that has to be done.

Alvarez had already skipped Yildirim before to fight Callum Smith for the WBA title which he won by unanimous decision. Now he will be meeting another Brit in Billy Joe Saunders who has the WBO version of the super middleweight title. It will take place on May 8, most likely in Las Vegas. That’s Cinco de Mayo weekend. Las Vegas needs the bank. Once again it depends on the Covid-19 situation.

Off topic, Canelo recently had an exchange with Claressa Shields who posted on social media that the Mexican redhead is one of her favorite fighters. She likes working on technique and posted one of her workouts where she is hitting a heavy bag with a combination that she saw Canelo use.

Canelo saw it and gave her a few tips. Champion to champion. That was kind of cool.

Farewell to L.A. Favorite

Featherweight contender Danny Valdez passed away on Sunday February 28 in Los Angeles. He was 81.

Valdez held the California Featherweight title when the state championship was not easy to gain. He also vied for the world title against Davey Moore in April 1961 in Los Angeles.

Many of his battles took place at the vaunted Olympic Auditorium where he fought the likes of Gil Cadilli and Sugar Ramos. Back in those days there was no better place to fight than the Olympic. But Valdez did engage in battles at Wrigley Field and the Hollywood Legion Stadium too.

Though Valdez fought up and down the West Coast in Oregon and California, he primarily battled at the Olympic Auditorium, a total of 24 times in all. If you ever watched a boxing card at the Olympic, it was a magical place.

Fights to Watch

(All Times are Pacific Time)

Thurs. 6 p.m. NBC Sports Network Serhii Bohachuk (18-0) vs Brandon Adams (22-3)

Fri. 6 p.m. FITE.tv.  Claressa Shields (10-0) vs Marie Eve Dicaire (17-0); Marlen Esparza (8-1) vs Shelly Barnett (4-3-2); Logan Holler (9-0-1) vs Schemelle Baldwin (3-1-2); Danielle Perkins (2-0) vs Monika Harrison (2-1-1); Jamie Mitchell (5-0-2) vs Noemi Bosques (12-15-3).

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Ramirez vs. Taylor Adds Luster to an Already Strong Boxing Slate in May

Arne K. Lang

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Boxing will heat up big-time in May. Canelo Alvarez will defend his WBC 168-pound title on May 8 against Billy Joe Saunders. Two weeks later, WBC/WBO 140-pound champion Jose Ramirez (26-0, 17 KOs) meets his IBF/WBA counterpart Josh Taylor (17-0, 13 KOs). Teofimo Lopez’s title defense against George Kambosos may transpire in May and now there’s talk that Manny Pacquiao will also return in May with Mikey Garcia in the opposite corner.

The Ramirez-Taylor fight was announced today (March 2). The match between the undefeated belt-holders, both former Olympians, will produce the fifth unified champion of the four-belt error. Middleweights Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor, junior welterweight Terence Crawford, and cruiserweight Oleksandr Usyk are the only boxers to have held this distinction.

Ramirez vs. Taylor will be on ESPN. The fight appears headed to an MGM Grand property in Las Vegas. The T-Mobile Arena, the city’s largest indoor sports arena, is likely in the running. The arena houses the city’s professional hockey team, the Golden Knights, which played their first game in many moons with fans in attendance on Monday. Attendance was capped at 15 percent of capacity and the game was a “sellout” with all 2,605 available seats attracting occupants.

Josh Taylor, who made his pro debut in El Paso, of all places, will be making his second appearance in Las Vegas, assuming the fight transpires there. The Tartan Tornado appeared at the MGM Grand Garden on Jan. 28, 2017, on a card topped by the WBA featherweight title rematch between Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz. Taylor and Frampton then shared the same trainer, Shane McGuigan.

In the words of Bob Arum, “Ramirez vs. Taylor is the best boxing has to offer, two elite fighters in the prime of their careers colliding in a legacy-defining matchup for the undisputed championship of the world. It’s a true 50-50 fight….”

In boxing, unlike other sports, anything under 2-to-1 is basically a “pick-’em” fight, so Arum isn’t far off the mark. For the record, however, the first betting lines to appear show the Scotsman the favorite in the 7-to-4 range, a price obviously based on the assumption that the fight will be held in Nevada, or at least anywhere other than Glasgow or Fresno.

Ramirez didn’t look sharp in his last outing when he scored a majority decision over Victor Postol at the MGM Bubble. Ramirez said he was burned-out after a long training camp – the fight was postponed twice – and said he thought the sterile atmosphere affected him; he was used to feeding off the energy of a crowd. Josh Taylor also had a tough time with Postol when they met in a 12-round bout at Glasgow on June 23, 2018 (the gritty Ukrainian is a tough nut to crack), but one would not have gleaned that from the scorecards which were soaked with hometown bias.

Josh Taylor’s last fight was at fan-less York Hall in London. The Scotch southpaw was entitled to a breather after his epic encounter with Regis Prograis and the IBF had just the ticket in mandatory challenger Apinun Khonsong. Taylor dismissed the overmatched Thai in the opening round with a body punch. This was Taylor’s first fight with new trainer Ben Davison.

The last time that Arum called an upcoming match a 50-50 fight, he was hyping the all-Mexican showdown between Miguel Berchelt and Oscar Valdez. That was no 50-50 fight, Berchelt was a solid favorite, but as it turned out, the pricemakers had underestimated the underdog who delivered the goods in a wildly entertaining skirmish.

On paper, Ramirez vs. Taylor will also be a very entertaining affair.

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