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Wilder The Latest Hope To Save US Heavyweight Boxing

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Contrary to what some would have you believe, there are still American-born heavyweights actively plying their trade. But in recent years, due to the increasing domination of the division by Eastern Europeans, U.S. heavyweight contenders have become so rare as to be placed on the endangered-species list. And the mere concept of an American heavyweight champion, at least one capable of getting fight fans here and around the globe legitimately excited, has all but vanished.

It’s enough to make you think that such iconic figures as Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe, who in the 1980s and into the ’90s represented this country’s last golden era of heavyweight boxing, deserve not only induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (Tyson was enshrined in 2012), but their own permanent exhibits in the Smithsonian Institute. Are American big men of their caliber already extinct, or soon to be? Are Iron Mike, the Real Deal and Big Daddy destined to be regarded as the pugilistic equivalents of saber-toothed tigers, wooly mammoths and T-Rexes?

In an increasingly parched-earth landscape, Americans have been patiently awaiting the next perceived savior of U.S. heavyweight boxing, a once-fertile garden that yielded such superstars of the sport as Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Larry Holmes, as well as the aforementioned Tyson and Holyfield. But the domestic talent pipeline began to be turned off nearly two decades ago, with the prevailing theory being that reasonably large, athletically gifted American kids were dreaming more of making it to the NFL and NBA than of becoming heavyweight champion of the world.

Oh, there has been no shortage of pretenders and wannabes to momentarily fire our collective imagination. Michael Grant, with one of the most magnificent heavyweight physiques since Ken Norton’s muscles were something of a national treasure, was going to be The Man, at least until Lennox Lewis’ overhand right landed flush on a jaw that was noticeably more fragile than Grant’s granite-carved abdomen. Since Grant was revealed to be just pretty good, but hardly great, segments of the U.S. public have dared to purchase lottery tickets on such quasi-contenders as Chris Arreola, Eddie Chambers and Seth Mitchell, which to date have gone uncashed so far as the really big prize is concerned.

Which brings us to Deontay Wilder, 6-foot-7 knockout artist from Tuscaloosa, Ala., who again has boxing buffs daring to believe that America can reclaim at least a share of the heavyweight kingdom that the Klitschko brothers have held for what seems like forever, with no sign that their vise-like grip will loosen any time soon. Wilder (29-0, 29 KOs) attempts to run his remarkable knockout streak to 30 here Saturday night in Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall, in one of three Showtime-televised bouts of a card headlined by IBF light heavyweight champ Bernard Hopkins’ defense against Germany’s Karo Murat, and there is a strong likelihood that Nicolai Firtha (21-10-1, 8 KOs) won’t make it to the end of the scheduled 10-rounder.

“I know I’m blessed with God-given power,” Wilder said after his most recent ring appearance, a first-round starching of former WBO heavyweight champion Sergei Liakhovich on Aug. 9. “I always pray that I don’t hurt the guy I’m fighting, that if he has a family he will be OK enough afterward to continue to provide for them.

“I don’t depend on (power), but it is there. I think all my KOs are helping me get a lot of people’s attention, and I love that. I embrace it. I think more people are now starting to feel that maybe I can be the guy who brings the heavyweight title back to America. Honestly, I would love to be that guy.”

So feel free to buy a lottery ticket on Wilder, a bronze medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, if you are an optimistic sort. Twenty-nine consecutive victories inside the distance is an impressive feat, regardless of the level of competition. But upon further inspection, it is reasonable to conclude that Wilder has yet to swim with the sharks after spending virtually all of his professional boxing career splashing wading-pool-quality opponents.

Oh, sure, Liakhovich once held the WBO strap, but the native of Belarus is 37 and is now the loser of five of his last seven bouts. He’s a trial horse these days, a stepping stone, trading on what’s left of his celebrity status in exchange for paydays.

Englishman Audley Harrison, who also was taken out in one round by Wilder on April 27? He did win the super heavyweight gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, but he was 40 when he squared off against Wilder and hadn’t had a victory of real consequence in years.

Other than Liakhovich and Harrison, the most notable entry on Wilder’s resume – if you don’t include Ty Cobb, who is no relation to the late, great Hall of Fame baseball player of the same name from the early part of the 20th century – is onetime fringe contender Owen “What the Heck” Beck of Jamaica, who was taken out in three rounds on June 23, 2012. Beck has now lost nine straight fights, and 12 of 17.

Not that any of this means that Wilder can’t emerge as a truly elite heavyweight; many prospects’ early diets consist of easy-to-chew opponents as they hone their craft and gain needed confidence. But at some point the pablum must be replaced with tougher guys with some gristle to them, as capable of inflicting damage as of meekly accepting it. And when that step up in class occurs, it becomes less difficult to delineate fighters possessing the actual goods from those whose reputations are mostly fabricated.

Case in point: Philadelphia middleweight Tyrone Brunson, who begin his pro career by stringing together 19 consecutive first-round knockouts.

“Even if you fought 19 grandmothers in a row, it’s still kind of notable to get them all out of there in the first round,” Brunson’s promoter, Carlos Llinas, said in August 2008. “Look, I know Tyrone has been moved slow. But I truly believe Tyrone has got what it takes to be special. He’s got everything. He’s got the heart, he’s got the chin and, obviously, he has the power.”

Brunson, who hasn’t fought in 19 months, is 2-2-1 since Llinas made that statement, which suggests he should have kept on beating up Granny. At the very least, he was done a disservice by being paired too lightly for too long and thus was denied a chance to develop whatever potential he might have had.

Promoter Butch Lewis, who was 65 when he died on July 23, 2011, is best known for his association with two heavyweight champions, Leon and Michael Spinks (Michael also was a cruiserweight titlist), but he took a chance on a pair of less-accomplished heavies, Vaughn Bean and Faruq Saleem, with varying results. Bean twice fought for versions of a world title, losing to Michael Moorer and Holyfield. Saleem might be described as Bean Lite; he won his first 38 pro bouts, but against a procession of barely warm bodies, most of whom would have had to redeem upgrade certificates to reach C-level. Still, Lewis desperately wanted to believe that Saleem could get lucky, if given the right opportunity.

“We’re talking about the bleepin’ heavyweight division,” the entertainingly profane Lewis said in November 2008, when the then-34-year-old Saleem had pieced together that 38-0 mark, with 32 wins inside the distance. “Every bleeper-bleeper whose name anybody recognizes is older than 34, damn near. And nobody’s a killer. I mean, who’s the killer?

“I think Faruq has the potential to deal with any of these bleepin’ champions on a given night. That’s not to say how great my fighter is, but it tells you the level of what the division is. What we got to do is get the wins, then step up to where you can kick ass and look good doing it. Hit the right guy on the chin. Then you can pull down some real money.”

In his next fight after Lewis made those comments, Saleem was the one who got hit on the chin. He was stopped in the fourth round of a scheduled six against Shawn McLean, who entered the ring with a 2-4 record, and promptly retired. Another case of a rudderless ship crashing against the rocks of reality.

It’s a bit dicey at this juncture predicting on which side of the figurative fence Wilder –who wanted to play either football or basketball for his hometown Alabama Crimson Tide until circumstances steered him into boxing – falls. It’s clear he’s a better, more exciting prospect than some of those who were given a similar build-up but came up short. Like Butch Lewis said, correctly if not necessarily about Saleem, all it takes is hitting the right guy on the chin. And if you do that often enough and over a long enough period, you can even get to be a multimillionaire pay-per-view star with a spot for your plaque reserved on a wall at the IBHOF in Canastota, N.Y.

Given the indisputable fact that America very much needs a heavyweight to pick up the flickering torch laid down by Tyson, Holyfield and Bowe – I guess you could include ancient George Foreman in that number – here’s hoping that Wilder proves to be more than just another shadow of his predecessors’ greatness.

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Abraham Nova and his Mascot are Back in Action on Friday Night

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With his black beard dyed gold, junior lightweight Abraham Nova is one of boxing’s most recognizable practitioners. Sometimes there’s two of him which makes him stand out even more. His twin is an inflatable mascot painted to look just like him. On fight nights they are inseparable. The mascot shadows Nova on his ringwalk, bouncing up and down and dancing to animate the crowd.

Some gimmicks are just plain hokey. Some are annoying. But there’s something whimsical about Nova’s invention that brings a smile to boxing fans of all ages. “Abraham Nova having his own mascot is one of the coolest things in boxing,” says fight writer Ryan Songalia.

“I played all sports in high school, football, baseball, track, and got the idea of it from other sports,” says Nova of his twin who he unveiled in January of 2020 at the Turning Stone Casino and Resort in Verona, New York, where he upped his record to 18-0 with a fourth-round stoppage of Mexican journeyman Pedro Navarrete.

He’s 5-2 since then, the smudges coming against future world featherweight champion Robeisy Ramirez (KO by 5) and defending super featherweight world champion O’Shaquie Foster where he came out on the short end of a split decision. This coming Friday, in his first assignment since failing to de-throne Foster, he opposes 21-0 Andres Cortes at the Fontainebleu in Las Vegas on a Top Rank card airing on ESPN+.

“I was the one who asked for this fight,” says Nova. “Top Rank offered me a match on their June 8th Puerto Rican Parade Weekend show at Madison Square Garden against an opponent who was 17-2, but I turned it down and asked for a better opponent and they accommodated me.” Las Vegas native Andres Cortes, who has been profiled in these pages, is ranked #2 at 130 pounds by the WBO.

In common with boxing’s historical pattern, Abraham Nova had a hardscrabble upbringing.

Born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic, the second-youngest of 10 children, he came to the U.S. at the age of 1 where the entire family was initially shoe-horned into a two-bedroom apartment in Albany, New York.

His father, Aquiles, had a friend here who was the pastor of a church and in need of an assistant pastor to help with his growing congregation. Aquiles eventually founded his own church in Albany, The Pentecostal Church of Unity & Prayer where services are held in both Spanish and English.

As a toddler, Nova lived briefly in Guatemala and Mexico where his parents were called to “spread the word” and to assist in redevelopment projects. The family traveled 5,500 miles in a rickety old school bus from Albany to Guatemala during the end days of the Guatemalan Civil War.

Each of Nova’s four brothers boxed, but he was the only one to turn pro. As an amateur, he won the 2015 Olympic Trials Qualifying Tournament in Memphis, defeating Frank Martin and Richardson Hitchins in back-to-back fights, but failed to make the U.S. team for the Rio Games when he lost a split decision to Gary Antuanne Russell at the Olympic Trials in Reno. Those bouts were contested at 141 pounds.

A 30-year-old bachelor, Nova had his final amateur fights in Lowell, Massachusetts, a pillar of amateur boxing in New England, and has remained in the Boston area without losing his Albany identity. He is trained by ex-U.S. Marine Mark DeLuca, a boxer of some renown who sports a 30-4 record and may not be done with fighting quite yet at age 36.

Nova’s opponent, Andres Cortes, has won five of his last seven inside the distance beginning with a smashing first-round knockout of 34-2 Genesis Servania. On paper, it’s a 50-50 match-up. (The pricemakers are flummoxed; as of this writing, they have yet to establish a betting line.)

Abraham Nova’s mascot may never become as well-known as some of the costumed human mascots in college sports (e.g., West Virginia’s Mountaineer or Michigan State’s Sparty), let alone as beloved as the University of Georgia’s flesh-and-blood bulldog mascot Uga, but give the boxer credit for originality and for bringing a little levity to a sport too often besotted with incivility.

Note: Abraham Nova vs. Andres Cortes is the co-feature. In the main go, new Top Rank signee Rafael Espinoza makes the first defense of his WBO world featherweight title against Mexican countryman Sergio Chirino. Espinoza forged the 2023 TSS Upset of the Year when he got off the deck to defeat Robeisy Ramirez on Dec. 9 in Pembroke Pines, Florida, winning legions of fans with his unrelenting buzzsaw attack. Action from the Fontaineblue begins at 4:00 pm PST on ESPN+.

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A True Tale from the Boxing Vault: When the Champion Refused to Fight

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A True Tale from the Boxing Vault: When the Champion Refused to Fight

BY TSS Special Correspondent David Harazduk — A hundred years ago, ducking a worthy challenger wouldn’t simply stoke the ire of the fans, it came with the prospect of jail time.

On Thursday, November 3, 1927, 16,000 fans packed Wrigley Field in Los Angeles hoping to witness their local favorite challenge for the welterweight world championship. Nicknamed the “Nebraska Wildcat,” Ace Hudkins had relocated to the Pacific Coast where his devil-may-care style in the ring made him instantly popular among Angelino fight fans. He was set to battle Joe Dundee, the champion, an Italian immigrant who had settled in Baltimore at a young age. But there was one problem.

The champion refused to fight.

Members of the California boxing commission, along with promoter Dick Donald, raced to the Biltmore Hotel to plead with Dundee (pictured) and his manager Max Waxman to come to Wrigley Field and fight. Waxman steadfastly refused. Donald, a quick-witted cigar-chomping Irishman known as the “Boy Promoter,” had promised Max’s man the ungodly sum of $60,000, and Dundee wouldn’t enter the ring for a penny less.

Under the rules of the California commission, a fighter could only receive a guarantee of $500. The rest of the purse came from a percentage of the gate: 37.5% for the champion and 12.5% for the challenger. Waxman insisted that Donald had offered $60,000, but the commission couldn’t enforce this side deal.

Tickets in the bleachers were sold at $2.20 a pop while those closer to the ring went for $11. The most the gate could possibly produce would be $90,000. Add in Wrigley Field’s 15% usage fee and payments to the preliminary fighters, officials, and even to rent the chairs situated around the ring, and Dundee’s dreams of $60,000- $75,000 if he lost the title- never had a prayer of being realized. After all, 37.5% of $90,000, plus $500, is only $34,250.

Meanwhile, Eddie Mahoney, a preliminary fighter, entered the ring at 8:30pm. Mahoney was scheduled to fight Joe Dundee’s brother Vince, a future middleweight world champion. When Vince didn’t follow Mahoney into the ring, Mahoney soon left, much to the bewilderment of the crowd.

Donald scrambled to find a plan B. He searched for welterweight contender Sergeant Sammy Baker to replace Dundee and fight Hudkins. When Baker couldn’t be located, Donald asked a preliminary fighter, Olympic gold medalist Jackie Fields, to take on Hudkins instead. Hudkins and Fields had been sparring partners when the featherweight champion of the 1924 Games in Paris was a nascent pro back in 1925. Fields’s manager, Gig Rooney, felt Hudkins was too big for the Olympic champ at this stage of his career and preferred to remain on the undercard against San Francisco’s Joey Silver.

With no plan B, Donald and the commissioners went back to Waxman in a last desperate plea to coax Dundee to defend his title. One commissioner, Charles Traung, offered Waxman an additional $10,000 check for Dundee to fight. Waxman stubbornly held out for more.

At 9:20pm, back at Wrigley, Donald signaled Jackie Fields and Joey Silver to enter the ring. Though Fields was wobbled twice, he opened up a cut over Silver’s left eye and split the San Franciscan’s lip on route to a convincing points victory in a ten-rounder. A few minutes after 10pm, Mahoney and Vince Dundee finally entered the ring for their clash. Dundee starched Mahoney inside of two rounds. When Waxman, who also managed Vince, heard of the second-round stoppage, he said “Vince knocked that guy out, eh? I told him to carry him along.” Waxman had hoped to stall for time.

Soon after the end of the Dundee-Mahoney fight, Ace Hudkins waltzed to the ring. He spent fifteen minutes seated in his corner, covered in a bathrobe and towels to keep him warm. Dundee never showed.

At 11:25pm, ring announcer Frank Kerwin slid into the ring and bellowed, “Owing to the fact that Joe Dundee did not receive his guarantee, he refused to go on with his match against Ace Hudkins.” The crowd was advised to “hold their seat checks and watch the newspapers for other announcements.”

The fans didn’t take too kindly to the announcement and hurled those rented chairs in disgust. Fights broke out all over the stadium, spilling into the ring. All available police officers in the area rushed to Wrigley Field, wielding their nightsticks in a bid to subdue the violent mob. Dozens of fans were injured in the fracas. To add insult to injury, those who had paid $2.20 for their seats in the bleachers were out of luck; they had never received a ticket in the first place.

The next day, Waxman and Joe Dundee checked out of the Biltmore Hotel at noon and made their way to the train station. Later that night, they were pulled off an eastbound train at Pasadena and arrested for false advertising.  Waxman posted a $1,000 bond for each of them.

A warrant was issued for Donald on the same false advertising grounds. He phoned into the police station promising to turn himself in once his feelings of humiliation subsided. The police agreed to wait.

Ultimately, all accused would be acquitted. Waxman would return the $22,249.43 that had been placed in his account and an $11,000 check.

Fans didn’t receive refunds as it was deemed unfair to give them only to those who had bought $11 tickets since the gallery patrons had no ticket stub and thus, couldn’t get a refund anyhow. After the preliminary fighters, Wrigley Field, officials, ushers, and the chair rental company were compensated, the rest of the money was placed into a community fund.

Because he had entered the ring for his title challenge, Ace Hudkins declared himself the new champion, but no commission accepted his claim. Dick Donald’s promotional career, once so promising, abruptly ended. In 1935, he took one last gasp in boxing, serving as matchmaker at the famed Olympic Auditorium for a brief spell.

Joe Dundee would never fight in California again. His championship reign ended dishonorably a year and half later when several commissions agreed to strip him of the title for refusing to fight any top contenders. When Jackie Fields won the vacant title, he and Dundee were matched for the undisputed crown on July 25, 1929. With Dundee a two-to-one underdog, Waxman and Dundee bet $50,000 on Joe to win, with fouls canceling the bet. Fields shellacked Dundee, knocking him down twice. In the second round, after the second knockdown, Dundee knew he was licked. He got up and hit Fields low as hard as he could. Dundee was instantly disqualified, losing any claim to the title as disgracefully as his hold-out against Hudkins.

If only some of the alphabet champions of today had to post bail under the threat of jail for ducking contenders, maybe boxing would be in a better state.

EDITOR’S: Author David Harazduk has run The Jewish Boxing Blog since 2010. You can find him at  Twitter/X @JewishBoxing and Instagram @JewishBoxing

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Results from the MGM Grand where Gervonta Davis Returned with a Bang

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After an absence of 421 days, Gervonta “Tank” Davis returned to the ring at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. In the opposite corner was Detroit-born Frank “The Ghost” Martin who has been training in Dallas under Derrick James. In previous fights, Gervonta, who holds the WBA world lightweight title, has shown a tendency to start slow before closing the show with a highlight-reel knockout. Tonight was no exception.

Martin, 18-0 heading in, fought off his back foot from the get-go, but had good moments and was arguably ahead after five frames. But as the fight moved into the middle rounds, Martin became more stationary and one could sense that the ever-stalking Davis was wearing him down. In Round 8, Davis trapped Martin against a corner post, discombobulated him with a left uppercut and then turned out his lights with a chopping left hand. There was no chance that Martin could rise before referee Harvey Dock completed the “10” count.

Davis (30-0, 28 KOs) celebrated by standing on the top strand of rope and doing a black flip. He has many lucrative options going forward and will be favored to defeat whoever his next opponent will be.

The Davis-Martin fight was the capstone of a four-fight pay-per-view, the second collaboration between Premier Boxing Champions and Amazon Prime Video.

Benavidez-Gvozdyk

In his first fight as a light heavyweight, David Benavidez scored a 12-round unanimous decision over former lineal light heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

Benavidez, who improved to 20-0 (24), worked the body well and kept up the pressure in the early-going, building a substantial lead. His work output declined over the last third of the fight, but his punches still carried more steam than those of Gvozdyk, 37, who suffered his second loss in 22 pro fights, the other inflicted by the indomitable Artur Beterbiev, prompting the SoCal-based Ukrainian to take a long hiatus from the ring. The judges had it 119-109, 117-111, and 116-112.

Puello-Russell

In a major upset, Alberto Puello of the Dominican Republic saddled Gary Antuanne Russell with his first pro loss, winning a split decision. Puello appeared to have the edge in a furious final round, without which the bout would have ended in a draw. Puello, who improved to 23-0 (10), had to overcome a dubious call by referee Allan Huggins who took a point away from the Dominican in Round 7 for too much holding.

Russell, who was making his first start against a southpaw, is now trained by his brother Gary Russell Jr., the former featherweight champion, who replaced their late father. Russell Jr last fought in January of 2022.

Heading in, Gary Antuanne Russell had won all 17 of his pro fights by knockout. One of the judges thought he won handily. But his tally, 118-109 for Russell, was overruled by the115-112 and 114-113 scores awarded the underdog. Puello, who briefly held the WBA diadem at 140 but had it stripped from him when he tested positive for PEDs, won an interim belt in that weight class with his upset tonight.

Adames-Gausha

In the PPV opener, Alberto Puello’s countryman Carlos Adames successfully defended his WBC middleweight title in his first world title fight with a one-sided decision over former U.S. Olympian Terrell Gausha. Adames, whose late father reportedly sired 35 children, was the aggressor and landed many more punches. He advanced his record to 24-1 (19). It was the fourth loss in 29 pro starts for the 36-year-old Gausha. The judges had it 119-109 and 118-110 twice.

Adames’ triumph made it 2-0 for the Dominicans and their trainer Ismael Salas.

Other Bouts of Note

In a huge upset, Delaware’s Kyrone Davis overcame Arizona’s previously undefeated and highly-touted Elijah Garcia, winning a split decision. A 21-year-old father of two, Garcia, 16-0 heading in, was rated #1 by the WBA and seemingly one step removed from challenging Erislandy Lara for the WBA middleweight title. But Davis, trained by Stephen “Breadman” Edwards, had a solid game plan and although Elijah came on strong in the homestretch, it was too little, too late.

One of the judges favored Garcia 98-92, but his cohorts each gave seven rounds to Davis (19-3-1, 6 KOs) and the decision was fair.

Filipino junior lightweight Mark Magsayo, in his second fight back since losing back-to-back fights with featherweight belt-holders Rey Vargas and Brandon Figueroa, advanced to 26-2 (17) with a 10-round unanimous decision over Mexico City’s Eduardo Ramirez (28-4-3). Magsayo scored a knockdown in the third round with a straight right hand and won by scores of 99-90 and 97-92 twice.

Photos credit: Al Applerose

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