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WOODSY’S ROAD TO AC Travelogue, Part 2

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Bernard Hopkins has throughly entertained me, getting into a nasty rumble with Karo Murat. You half expected on Saturday night for Murat to whip out a foreign object at the Boardwalk Hall AC, and go into full heel mode against B-Hop. In this second part of my Atlantic City travelogue–here is Part 1 if you missed it–I share my experiences post-fight, which includes a visit to a fabled AC watering hole, where I was welcomed with more warmth and generosity than I’d ever previously experienced.

1:22 AM I did a little tidying up in the press room, and chatted with my man Carlos Suarez, of Boricua Boxing, and also Showtime shooter Tom Casino. His grind isn’t near done; he’ll be culling images he’s shot of the Hopkins-Murat (as seen in above Hogan photo), Quillin-Rosado and Wilder-Firtha fights, into a compelling gallery, which Showtime will put out in the early AM. This is a 24/7 business, we agree, and you’ve got to give the people ie the readers and the bosses… what they want in this day and age. Is what it is…

Carlos says he won’t be long, but after 25 minutes, I tell him I’d like to jet. He laughs and basically admits he’ll be there for a spell more. (At 4:30 AM, I get a Tweet from him, admitting that he’s glad he didn’t ask me to wait, as he’s still in the press room, working on photos and videos for his websites.) So me and Mitch Abramson head to my Zipcar, parked inside the building in an immense hangar, and head to The Irish Pub. That’s where Zach Levin, a common friend, and sometimes contributor to TSS, is hanging, with a crew. That crew includes Benn Schulberg, a writer whose father Budd was fabled for his contributions to the silver screen (he wrote the 1957 Academy Award-winner “On the Waterfront” script) and the fight game (he wrote a bunch of superior books on the pug scene). His name will be familiar to disciples of the late George Kimball, the former Boston Herald and then TheSweetScience.com columnist. Kimball was pals with heavy hitters, like Schulberg, and investigative ace Jack Newfield, and Pete Hamill, and would occasionally delight readers with anecdotes from the days when some of these lions prowled and pounced with severe vigor and top-tier wordsmithery.

1:43 AC is a bit of a trip. There is a bit of a lawless vibe to it, an aura that makes you wonder what the ratio of good guys to bad guys is, especially after midnight. We see a gal leaning against a pole, smoking a cigarette. Is she advertising something? Herself? Or waiting for a bus or something? We turn right onto Saint James Place, drive down a lonely road, and see a couple rooming houses. Mitch jokes that he will be residing in one of these establishments in about 30 years. We don’t see another soul, but we do see the sign for the Pub. We find parking, always a marvel to NYC people used to crawling around, looking for open real estate. Parking lots, how ’bout that!

Inside, the mood is super relaxed. Zach greets us, and it’s clear he’s in love with the Pub. The memorabilia on the wall is a trip, and the proprietor, he tells us is a doll, and a character to boot. Cathy Burke is her name, and she owns the joint with her hubby Richard. I meet Cathy after a couple minutes, and she takes a seat at the table, along with Zach, Mitch, Benn, another guy name Mike, and Krystyna Rodriguez. We shoot the breeze, and I grab a wing that is in a basket, after Zach tells me and Mitch to help ourselves. Stories begin to be swapped. Cathy says that Joe DiMaggio spent a lot of time here, in the 80s, as the Pub is beneath hotel rooms which are available during warm weather months.

1:56 Burke, it is clear, is a throwback sort in a good way. She endears herself to me forever when she points at me and Mitch and Zach and excitedly, delightedly refers to us as the new guard, in the tradition of the Schulbergs and Kimballs and Bert Sugars and such, who were regulars at The Irish Pub. I do an aw shucks, and mean it, but she says no, You guys are the next wave of talent. Mitch and I whisper that we’ve never had such a fabulous assault of affirmation in our lives.

2:01 I look to my left and see a guy I know. Don’t know his name, he’s dark skinned, in his late 50s maybe, sturdy. Boxing guy, gotta be, I think to myself. Turns out the dude is a Heartbreaker, as in, one of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers. That’s drummer Steve Ferrone, and he’s leaving the pub with two pals. He’s a mongo fight fan, someone tells me. I can’t let that pass, I hustle out the door, and catch Ferrone on the street, headed to his car.

2:04 The drummer tells me he’s a mega fight fan; he is 63, lives in Cali, and works out at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym in Hollywood. He grew up in Brighton, England, and has been doing the boxing workout for three years. Ferrone and two pals came to AC to watch the Hopkins-Murat/Golden Boy card. “Hopkins is enthusiastic and powerful, and loves what he does, clearly” Ferrone said. “He’s not out there fighting some hack, he’s fighting good fighters.” He was in NYC doing some recording work, and finished early, and snuck over to AC. I try and lure him and the Heartbreakers to play Barclays Center, near my house and then thank him and his pals, for indulging me in the chat. One of Ferrone’s pals is Massachusetts guy, Mike, and he roars when I do my profane Norman Stone imitation. Another night’s highlight….

Back inside, Cathy says that the salt of the earth manner of Schulberg and Kimball and company was something she always treasured. It is crystal clear that this is a lady for whom honor and loyalty and decency are utmost imperatives. She recalls that author Richard Ben Cramer came in, looking for info on Joe DiMaggio, who he heard stayed at the Pub. “I’ve talked to a lot of his friends,” the writer told Burke. “Mr. Cramer, all due respect, but those people, if they talked to you on the record, they weren’t his friends,” she replied. No, she said politely, when Cramer asked for some material on Joe D for his book, “Joe DiMaggio: A Hero’s Life.”

“And I think Cramer was a great writer,” she adds, making clear her principles don’t sit in an acid bath of malice.

2:11 Burke asks me what I want to drink. “Just a ginger ale,” I said. Her eyes indicate she’s mildly mystified by the request. “I retired, in ’95,” I say. “Ohhh, that’s great,” she says. Kimball too put a cork in the jug, we recall. “When the guys used to come in, and order, I’d get George ice cream. Peach ice cream,” she said of the author, who died on July 6, 2011, not long after writing me an email telling me to wait for a new story, as he wasn’t yet ready to hang up the gloves. “Don’t give up on me,” he wrote. We all remark that peach ice cream isn’t easy to find, but, Cathy says, she had a guy.

3:17 Zach apologizes to me, asks for my forgiveness, wonders if I will still be his friend? Great God, what did he do? The egregious offense turns out to be…I ordered a slice of apple pie, and it was sitting waiting for me while I chatted with Cathy, after she twisted my arm, and wouldn’t allow me to pay for two The Irish Pub t-shirts. “I ate your pie,” Zach tells me. I forgive, forget, and order another slice.

4:15 Bout time to roll out. I’d love to stay, the joint is open 24 hours, but with this delicate constitution, I need to get some sleep, or I will get a cold. I scoop up Mitch, say goodbye to the gang, give Cathy a hug and promise to be back, as I have NEVER been treated with more warmth in an eatery as I have on this night…and scoop up Mitch and drive off.

I bring him to Ballys, and then drive seven miles to my bargain motel, a Best Western. I saved more than $100, and I then sent $100 to the family of fallen fighter Frankie Leal, so I’m happy with my choice of frugality. (I don’t say this to brag, or prove what a mensch I am. No, I ask that you follow me, and the other folks who have sent money to help Frankie’s wife and son make ends meet in the future, and donate.)

4:44 This is ridiculous, and fabulous. I have the radio on “scan” and it picks up a station playing Christmas tunes. Too early for that? Nonsense I say. Give the people what they want. I hum along to “Holly, Jolly Christmas.”

5:05 I drive around a gal holding up a puking man in the Best Western lot, and then give the puke puddle a wide berth as I walk to the desk, to get a room key. The room is quite clean, and I don’t feel the need to inspect for bed bugs. Being a ludicrous type, I open up my laptop, and post Bernard Fernandez’ story on the Hopkins and Quillin fights to TSS.

5:17 Teeth are brushed, bladder is emptied, I crawl into bed. Don’t fall asleep right away, as some leftover adrenaline keeps my brain buzzing. But then I drift off, thinking of what a marvel Hopkins in, and the lovely compliments and apple pie at The Irish Pub. It’s like Ferrone said about Hopkins; I too enjoy the hell out of what I do. I drift off, humming “Holly, Jolly Christmas.”

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The Canelo-Yildirim Travesty was Another Smudge on ‘Mandatory’ Title Defenses

Arne K. Lang

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Canelo Alvarez’s rout of grossly overmatched Avni Yildirim has once again cast a harsh light on the “mandatory challenger” gambit employed by the sport’s world sanctioning bodies. Canelo successfully defended his WBC 168-pound belt this past Saturday in Miami when Yildirim’s corner pulled him out after only three rounds.

During the nine minutes of actual fighting, Yildirim was credited with landing only 11 punches, none of which appeared to have been launched with bad intentions. A person posting on a rival web site likened Yildirim’s woeful performance to that of Nate Robinson’s showing against Jake Paul. Another snarky poster said that faint-hearted Adrien Broner, by comparison, had the heart of a lion. True, the 29-year-old Turk was sent in against a beast, but one yet has a right to expect more from a contest packaged as a world title fight.

Yildirim was coming off a loss. In his previous fight, he lost a split decision to Anthony Dirrell in a bout that was stopped in the 10th round by the ringside physician because of a bad cut over Dirrell’s left eye that resulted from an accidental head butt. He hadn’t won a fight in three-and-a-half years, not since out-pointing 46-year-old Lolenga Mock who predictably faded late in the 12-round fight, enabling Yildirim to win a narrow decision. Earlier in his career, he was stopped in the third round by Chris Eubank Jr in a fight that was one-sided from the get-go.

So, how exactly did Avni Yildirim build himself into position to become the mandatory opponent for the sport’s top pound-for-pound fighter? Did he “earn” this opportunity and the rich payday that came with it by submitting the winning bid in an auction? Is that a rhetorical question?

In an ESPN Q & A, the award-winning writer Mark Kriegel said that Canelo-Yildirim was payback for certain favors that were granted to Canelo by the WBC, citing the organization’s new “Franchise Champion” category and to their decision to countenance Canelo’s fight with Callum Smith for their vacant 168-pound title. But this doesn’t answer the question as to how Yildirim ascended to the role of a mandatory challenger; it merely informs us why Canelo agreed to take the fight.

This was the second great mismatch in 10 weeks involving a mandatory challenger. On Dec. 18, Gennadiy Golovkin opposed Poland’s Kamil Szeremeta in the first defense of the IBF middleweight title that he won with a hard-earned decision over Sergiy Derevyanchenko. The feather-fisted Szeremeta was undefeated (21-0, 5 KOs) but hadn’t defeated an opponent with a recognizable name.

This was a stroll in the park for GGG. Szeremeta was a glutton for punishment – he lasted into the seventh round — but at no point in the fight did he pose a threat to the 38-year-old Kazakh. Golovkin knocked him down four times before the plug was pulled.

In theory, the “mandatory challenger” ruling forestalls the very abuses with which it has become identified. It prevents a champion from fighting a series of hapless opponents while a more worthy challenger is left out in the cold. One could say that it stands as an example of the law of unforeseen consequences, save that it would be naïve to think that the heads of the sanctioning bodies didn’t foresee this versatility and venally embrace it.

Historians will likely lump Avni Yildirim with such fighters of the past as Patrick Charpentier and Morrade Hakker who were accorded mandatory contender status by the WBC so that they could be fodder for a title-holder in a stay-busy fight. Charpentier was rucked into retirement by Oscar De La Hoya who dismissed the overmatched Frenchman in three one-sided rounds at El Paso in 1998. Hakker was thrown in against Bernard Hopkins at Philadelphia in 2003. He brought his bicycle with him, so to speak, and thus lasted into the eighth.

In common with Yildirim and a slew of other mandatory challengers (Vaughn Bean comes quickly to mind), Charpentier and Hakker had misleading records. Steve Kim, in an article for this publication, said that Hakker’s record was more inflated than the Goodyear blimp.

A mandatory title defense isn’t always a rip-off. One wonders where Tyson Fury would be career-wise today if the WBO hadn’t established the Gypsy King as the mandatory challenger to Wladimir Klitschko, setting the wheels in motion for a changing of the guard. That worked out well for the good of the sport as Fury, after some disconcerting speed bumps, would prove to be a breath of fresh air.

But a mandatory title defense between evenly-matched opponents remains a rarity and there’s no end in sight to the charade.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Canelo Pummels Yildirin Into Submission in Three One-Sided Frames

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Saul “Canelo” Alvarez dismissed Avni Yildirim like a bothersome fly to retain the WBA and WBC super middleweight titles by technical knockout in a mandatory fight on Saturday.

Challenge completed.

After less than three months from his last victory, Canelo (55-1-2, 37 KOs) returned to the boxing ring and battered Turkey’s Yildirim (21-3, 12 KOs) to submission at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida. Callum Smith or Yildirim please take your seat.

It was just 70 days ago that Alvarez took the WBA title away from England’s Smith but the Mexican redhead was eager to return to the ring and dominated Yildirim like the former sparring partner he was.

It was hardly a contest.

Yildirim spent most of 2020 working with Southern California’s famed trainer Joel Diaz, but there is only so much a teacher can teach. Regardless of the expertise given to the Turkish fighter the trainer can’t jump in the boxing ring. Despite repeated admonishments by Diaz, his fighter just could not pull the trigger.

“It doesn’t matter who trains him I just do my work and listen to my corner,” said Alvarez “I feel very strong at this weight.”

Alvarez pummeled Yildirim like a punching bag early and often during the first two rounds. Left and right uppercuts pierced through Yildirim’s guard and body shots pummeled the body. Return fire was seldom exchanged.

After two rounds of sustaining punishment to the head and body, Yildirim attempted to fire back. He paid for his gamble with a counter right fired through the guard by Canelo and down went the challenger.

Though Yildirim survived the third-round knockdown, as he returned to the corner his trainer Diaz warned that another round like the third would force a stoppage. Diaz decided after further inspection to end the fight then and there at the end of the third round.

“I said I would get the knockout and I got the knockout,” said Alvarez.

The win sets up a showdown with England’s Billy Joe Saunders who holds the WBO super middleweight world title.

“This year it’s going to be very special against BJ Saunders,” said Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn who is planning their encounter for May 8. “It’s going to be one of the biggest fights of the year.”

Canelo said he is eager for the pending encounter.

“He’s a difficult fighter. He has the WBO title and we need to go for him,” said Alvarez.

Alvarez said his plans are to continue making history as a Latino fighter winning undisputed world titles in the super middleweight division.

“In Latin America it hasn’t been done,” Alvarez said. “I want to make history.”

Other Bouts

McWilliams Arroyo walked through Abraham Rodriguez’s punches and won by technical knockout in the fifth round to win the interim WBC flyweight title.

Despite a change of opponents within the last week Arroyo (21-4, 15 KOs) was able to adapt to last-minute opponent Rodriguez (27-3, 13 KOs) and work the body and head until the Mexican fighter’s corner tossed in the white towel to end the fight at 1:41 of the fifth round.

A battle of heavyweights between China’s Zhilei Zhang (22-0-1, 17 KOs) and America’s Jerry Forrest (26-4-1) ended in a majority draw after 10 rounds. Despite three early knockdowns scored by Zhang, the momentum changed after Forrest attacked the body inside. The scores were 95-93 Forrest and 93-93 twice for a majority draw.

In a super middleweight fight between two extremely tall prospects Diego Pacheco (11-0, 8 KOs) won by unanimous decision over Rodolfo Gomez Jr. after eight rounds. No knockdowns were scored between the two fighters who each towered at 6-feet 4-inches.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Results from Auckland: Parker UD 12 Fa; Ahio KO 7 Long

Arne K. Lang

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New Zealand heavyweights Joseph Parker and Junior Fa met four times as amateurs and each man won twice. On Saturday night in Auckland, they met for the first time as professionals and the heavily favored Parker broke the deadlock with a 12-round unanimous decision.

The bout beat the clock, in a fashion. During the match the crowd at the waterfront arena, estimated at 8,500, was informed that Auckland was reverting to Phase Three effective at 6:00 in the morning, following the discovery of a new Covid-19 infection. That meant, among other things, that public gatherings would be restricted to 10 people and schools would be open only to the children of essential workers.

The fight was a rather drab affair in which both men had trouble landing clean punches, perhaps owing partly to ring rust. Parker (28-2, 21 KOs) was making his first start in 12 months; Fa (19-1, 10 KOs) had been inactive since November of 2019.

Parker, the former world title challenger who went the distance with Anthony Joshua, had the upper hand in the early rounds and opened a small cut over Fa’s left eye in the seventh round, perhaps the result of an errant elbow. The cut became larger and bled profusely as the bout continued but it was never in danger of being stopped.

Parker had a worried look on his face as he awaited the reading of the scores, but he had nothing to fear. The judges had it 115-113, 117-111, and a head-scratching 119-109.

After the fight, Parker said, “It was a lot closer than we expected.”

Ahio vs. Long

The undercard was rubbish, but the Ahio-Long fight warrants a mention. A stablemate of Junior Fa, Hemi Ahio improved to 17-0 (12) with a wicked seventh-round knockout of Julius Long who was thoroughly gassed when Ahio caught him against the ropes and landed his haymaker. They had previously met in a 6-round affair that went the distance.

If the name Julius Long sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because he’s been around since 2001. Listed at seven-foot-one but likely an inch or two shorter, the boxer nicknamed the Towering Inferno came to New Zealand in 2013 to serve as a sparring partner for David Tua and never left.

Nearly 15 full years have elapsed since Long was whacked out in the opening round by Samuel Peter on a Duva Promotions card at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Casino.

George Kimball was ringside for TSS and described the scene: “The overmatched Long had already been down once when Peter smashed him with a left-right combination…(Long) hit the ropes with such force that he shot back off them like he was bouncing from a trampoline. Unfortunately for Long, the slingshot effect propelled him straight into the path of the right hand Peter had dispatched toward his head, effectively doubling the force of the blow. Long went down as if he had been whacked with a sledgehammer and lay motionless on the canvas. Referee Arthur Mercante Jr waved it off without a count, but he could have counted to 100.”

Long is now 43 years old. Since his crushing defeat by Samuel Peter, he is 4-17-1 and counting his defeat last night has been stopped seven more times. For his rematch with Akio, he weighed in at 326 ¾ pounds, more than 100 pounds more than his opponent.

In his adopted home, Julius Long, who grew up in Detroit, is a qualified chef, an occupation that requires an apprenticeship and many hours of training. He supplements his income moonlighting as a freelance prizefighter. By all accounts, he’s a very likeable man, but someone needs to take away his boxing gloves and burn them.

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