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The Brothers Spinks

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In a scene from Barbet Schroeder’s 1987 film, Barfly, based on the life and times of Charles Bukowski, the protagonist, Henry “Hank” Chinaski (Mickey Rourke) has just been assaulted by his girlfriend, Wanda (Faye Dunaway), leaving him bleeding heavily from the head and all over his shirt. Someone knocks at his door and Hank answers, looking primordial. The man outside pauses, taking in his appearance, and asks: “Are you Henry Chinaski?”

“No,” Hank replies, “I’m Leon Spinks!”

A quarter-century ago, that line had rich comic recognition. Every viewer knew Leon Spinks. Neon Leon, they called him. He cut a memorable figure in pop culture—the missing front teeth, the superhuman partying and serial car smash-ups, the endemic and tragicomic inability to make sensible choices, the road to ruin pipedwith the sound of laughter, to paraphrase the Johnny Cash song, ringing in his ears.

In 1987, Leon was nearly a decade past his one crowning glory—February 1978, when he beat 36-year-old Muhammad Ali to win the heavyweight title in one of boxing’s great upsets. But no one was laughing at his younger brother, Michael. In 1985, Michael defeated the 36-year-old Larry Holmes to become the first reigning light heavyweight king to win the heavyweight crown. Michael and Leon thus became the only brother act in heavyweight title history (before the Klitschkos).

In One Punch from the Promised Land: Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, and the Myth of the Heavyweight Title, John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro tell the story of these brothers who boxed differently, lived differently, and forged different fates (one lives in a mansion, the other doesn’t). The book is chock-full of fresh interviews and outrageous stories, and yes, most involve Leon. It also doesn’t skimp on frankness, whether acknowledging Leon’s mental deficiencies or Michael’s Marciano-like tightness with a buck.

The brotherly bond took form in 1950s and 1960s St. Louis, where Leon and Michael grew up in the nightmarish Pruitt-Igoe housing project. By the late sixties, criminal gangs ran the place, and police responding to crime calls wouldn’t enter without back up, which didn’t always come. Learning their trade at the nearby DeSoto Rec Center, the Spinks brothers fought their way onto the historic 1976 U.S. Olympic boxing team, which starred Sugar Ray Leonard and Howard Davis. Neither Leon nor Michael was expected to win gold medals, but both did. Leon turned pro. Michael went back to his regular job; he never loved boxing, but when Monsanto, for whom he worked cleaning offices, switched him to cleaning bathrooms, he thought he might like boxing well enough.

In the early going, the Spinks saga was all about Leon. In just his eighth pro fight, he was matched with an out-of-shape, unmotivated Ali, who by then barely did any fighting in the ring at all. He lay against the ropes, absorbing arm, shoulder, and kidney punches, looking to steal rounds, wear out opponents, and charm judges and fans with his clowning. The act had grown wearisome. Leon pounded Ali with abandon and held off a late-round charge to win the decision. The Greatest had been beaten by a novice pro. Moreover, he had been displaced as champion by a man as different from him as could be imagined.

Florio and Shapiro are insightful in describing how Spinks represented a new kind of heavyweight champion. Most of Leon’s predecessors came from poor or modest backgrounds, but none from such a deep-seated ghetto culture. He was “a kid from the projects who had little guidance, an eye for the ladies, and a sweet tooth for cocaine,” Florio and Shapiro write. “He had only two speeds—turbo and sleep.” Leon’s constant run-ins with the law for minor traffic infractions or drug possession—he was once busted for a quantity of cocaine valued at $1.50—made him a figure of ridicule within weeks of beating Ali. If it bothered him, he didn’t let on. To be certain, it bothered Michael, who put his own professional career on hold in a vain attempt to look after his older brother.

The authors describe how, shortly before it was time for him to enter the ring in New Orleans for his rematch with Ali, Leon disappeared, and neither his camp nor his bodyguard—Mr. T., the future Clubber Lang—could find him. He was finally located in a hotel room, drunk. Somehow Leon managed to fight on relatively even terms with Ali for five rounds before Ali took command. It wasn’t much of a fight. Ali danced for the first time in years, but he landed mostly one- and two-punch combinations while holding Leon ceaselessly over 15 rounds and winning a lopsided decision. Leon went back out partying and kept the party going for years, though his career quickly became a sideshow. He lost about as often as he won, drank up his paydays in single sittings, and generally lived the life of a wild, not terribly bright dude. Years later, training Leon for one last shot at remaking his career, Emanuel Steward went looking for the fighter and found him in the usual place—a hotel—and in the usual state—drunk, naked, and with a woman. “Coach, it ain’t like it look,” Leon said. Naturally, Leon wound up broke, and he shows signs of dementia today, but he is fortunate to have met and married a woman who is protective of him.

Where Leon was madcap, Michael was reserved and enigmatic, only slightly off-kilter and in none of the ways that make headlines. “Michael always seemed so logical compared to Leon,” promoter Bob Arum told the authors. “It seemed to me that Michael had some sense. Leon never had any sense.” Michael turned out to be a better fighter than his older brother, too, largely because of his personal stability and discipline. But in 1983, his life was upended when his common-law wife, the mother of his two-year old daughter, was killed in a car accident weeks before he was to fight Dwight Muhammad Qawi to unify the light heavyweight title. Just as he was preparing to enter the ring, someone brought the little girl into Michael’s dressing room. She promptly asked him where her mother was. Michael almost went to pieces, but he went out and beat Qawi, using his left jab to control the fight. Qawi derided him for “running.”

Michael had a curious ability to inspire disdain in his opponents, perhaps because of his unusual style, if it was a style. He’d start out orthodox, but in the heat of battle punches would start flying in from all angles. In 1985, when Michael beat Holmes—then 48-0 and one win away from equaling Rocky Marciano’s perfect record—Holmes complained about the decision, though Michael had won clearly. The following year, Holmes had a legitimate gripe about their rematch, which Michael also won by decision: most observers thought Holmes deserved the nod. Even in 1987, when Michael knocked out the much bigger Gerry Cooney, whom he feared, he couldn’t seem to convince his opponent. The usually gracious Cooney said that Michael didn’t belong in the same ring with him.

Where Leon endured a sustained descent, Michael’s downfall was mercifully brief: in June 1988, he faced off against Mike Tyson in the bout that would unify (for a few years at least) the heavyweight title. Tyson was at his peak, a terrifying force combining speed and power. Emanuel Steward told Florio and Shapiro that before the Tyson fight, Michael was afraid to leave his dressing room. He entered the Atlantic City ring, as the authors put it, wearing “the look of a rabbit that had just spotted a hunter’s rifle.” Michael’s trainer, Eddie Futch, wanted him to box Tyson, to stay away for four or five rounds—easier said than done in those days. “Take him out in deep water and then we can drown him,” he said. Tyson never gave them a chance, annihilating Spinks in 91 seconds. It was Michael’s only loss as a professional and his last fight. He lives on a generous spread outside Wilmington, Delaware, and mostly keeps a low profile. But he made news in 2011 when he sued the estate of the late Butch Lewis, his longtime manager and friend, for mismanaging the millions in boxing earnings that were to pay Michael’s living expenses.

“I don’t know what an average person goes through in a lifetime,” Michael once said, “but I’ve been through a lot up to now—and I have lived life as cautiously as I possibly can. My life hasn’t been a bowl of cherries.” Leaving aside the caution, Leon could say the same. Florio and Shapiro bring the Spinks brothers and their struggles to life and remind us that, different as they were, they were united by at least two deep forces: love and trouble. Consider a moment in September 1978 before the opening bell in New Orleans. As Ali stood in his corner calmly waiting for the fight to begin, Leon reached for his brother and held him in a tight, lingering embrace. He might have been voicing some version of the old spiritual’s lament: Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen. But Michael knew.

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Season 2 of the World Boxing Super Series Concludes on Saturday in Munich

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PRESS RELEASE: The hotly-anticipated World Boxing Super Series Season II Cruiserweight Final between Mairis Briedis and Yuniel Dorticos takes place behind-closed-doors in a film studio at Plazamedia Broadcasting Center in Munich, Germany on Saturday, 26 September. On the line: The Muhammad Ali Trophy, IBF World Title, and vacant Ring Magazine 200 lbs belt.

The final will be shown live on DAZN in the US and Sky Sports in the UK.

“A final for the Muhammad Ali Trophy has proved to be something extraordinary. We have seen that it brings out the best in boxers which reflects the DNA of our tournament as to deliver and continue to deliver boxing at its very best to fans of the sport,” said Andreas Benz, CEO of Comosa, the event organizer.

“Plazamedia is a phenomenal solution, the studios are providing a controlled environment which is of huge benefit to us and the production team to keep everyone safe while also putting on a great show.

“At the same time, we have done everything to secure fair conditions for both teams, and to ensure they remain healthy and isolated until the action starts.”

Mairis Briedis, tournament No. 1 seed, qualified for the final through wins over Noel Mikaelian (UD) and Krzysztof Glowacki (TKO3), while Dorticos, No. 2 seed conquered Mateusz Masternak (UD) and Andrew Tabiti (KO10) to enter the 200 lbs decider.

“We are very happy about the announcement of the final,” said Latvia’s Mairis Briedis. “I love the fact that it will be in Munich as it reminds me of every time I went to train with the Klitschko brothers in Germany and the flights were always via Munich. Those are some great memories of the time spent with them there.”

Said Miami-based Cuban, Yuniel ‘The KO Doctor’ Dorticos, IBF World Cruiserweight Champion: “To all my fans worldwide, In Europe and especially in Munich, Germany: I am super happy the World Boxing Super Series final will take place in Munich, Germany, and I will see you all on Saturday, September 26th. The KO Doctor is back and ready to prescribe another dose of pain and take the Muhammad Ali Trophy back to Miami.”

Kalle Sauerland, Chief Boxing Officer of the WBSS, said: “On 26 September we will not only crown the best cruiserweight on the planet but also send a sign to the world that boxing is back with the first major transatlantic championship bout between the undisputed number one and two in their division.

The final is not only about honour and glory, but cementing a legacy. The winner will become a member of an exclusive ‘Ali Trophy Winner Club’ that includes Oleksandr Usyk, Callum Smith, Naoya Inoue and Josh Taylor. It doesn’t get much bigger in boxing, and we expect Briedis and Dorticos to have an absolute barnstormer!”

The Muhammad Ali Trophy was created by the late world-renowned artist Silvio Gazzaniga who also designed the iconic FIFA World Cup Trophy.

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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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