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Hands of Stone, Marvelous Marv, and Billy D

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512x 6e2e1Long ago—November 10, 1983—you had to leave home if you wanted to see a big fight live. The only alternative to being ringside was watching a big-screen broadcast in arenas, theaters, or auditoriums, in what was known as closed-circuit television.

I caught the Amtrak from Stamford to Providence, where my brother Pete, one year older, was a freshman at Providence College. We would go to the Providence Civic Center to watch Roberto Duran, the Hands of Stone, take on Marvelous Marvin Hagler for the middleweight title in Las Vegas.

We had been Duran fans for years, captured by the ferocity of his fighting style and also, strangely, by his refusal to observe rudimentary standards of sportsmanship—a quality we never admired in anyone else. Had Duran come along when we were older and less in need of outlaw heroes, we might have disliked him. The past June, we had listened to radio updates on 1010 WINS, as Duran separated Davey Moore from his future in eight brutal rounds in Madison Square Garden and won a piece of the junior middleweight championship, his third world title in as many weight classes. We found an old dropcloth, spread it out on the floor of our garage, and wrote roberto duran rules in heavy black letters. We hung it up on the chain-link fence by the high school football field for the whole town to read in the morning.

The Moore win was Roberto’s redemption for the No Mas fight of November 1980, when he quit in the eighth round of his rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard. He’d won acclaim as an all-time great when he beat Leonard in their first fight for the welterweight title. Now the shame of No Mas—an event still debated today—sent Duran spiraling downward. He gained weight, lost his edge, and started losing fights, too. Most boxing people wrote him off. Now he was on top of the world again, fighting for a fourth world title and a $4 million payday against Hagler, who would earn about $8 million. It was Hagler’s first big-money fight. Leonard had retired the year before, and Hagler hoped to replace him as boxing’s superstar. Pete didn’t like Duran’s chances, and I wasn’t so sure myself. All I knew was that he had to box; he couldn’t go rushing in against Hagler the way he had against Leonard. Hagler was a natural 160-pounder; Roberto was coming up from 154, and before that, 147, and before that, 135. I thought he could frustrate Hagler, unless Hagler just blew him away. That’s what’d he’d been doing to everyone else—Alan Minter, Fulgencio Obelmejias, Tony Sibson, Mustafa Hamsho, William “Caveman” Lee, and Wilford Scypion.

I got a cab from the train station to the Providence College campus, where the door to Pete’s dorm room, in Stephens Hall, was open, with people coming in and out. Among them was one of the tallest people I’d ever seen: Ernie “Pop” Lewis, a freshman forward on PC’s basketball team. With him was a freshman guard named Billy Donovan, who reminded me of Richie Cunningham. Pop and Billy spent most of their time on the bench. Basketball at PC had fallen off a cliff; the golden days of the fifties and sixties, and the culminating glory, a 1973 Final Four appearance, belonged to some other time. College sports were an empire now, and the Friars were vassals in the powerhouse Big East Conference.

Everyone wanted to talk about the fight.

“Hagler will kill Duran!” one guy with a thick Massachusetts accent said.

“Two or three rounds at the most.” His loyalties were clear: Hagler was from Brockton, Rocky Marciano’s hometown, though he spent his childhood years in Newark, until the 1967 riots destroyed the tenement he lived in with his mother. Before the mayhem ended, 12-year-old Marvin and his mother crawled on the floor of their apartment to avoid getting sprayed with bullets through the windows.

“Duran has never been knocked out,” someone else said.

“Hagler hasn’t fought anybody.”

“Duran is a quitter,” another guy said. “I saw him against Sugar Ray. Who quits a fight?”

“He didn’t quit, that fight was fixed,” said still another. The boxing expertise in the room was used up quickly.

From what I saw of it, Providence was bleak, or “gritty” in the preferred euphemism. The city had endured a long economic decline and was rife with mob influence. Its mayor was soon to be convicted of assault and forced from office. Only the Capitol building’s impressive dome suggested a future. The decade-old Providence Civic Center looked like just another generic indoor arena (it is known today as the Dunkin Donuts Center, or the Dunk). But it was packed with fans, and their loyalties seemed curiously split. Hagler should have had a New England advantage; he had even fought in the Civic Center earlier in 1983, stopping Scypion in four rounds. But Duran fans were out in force, as always. They roared every time his face appeared on the giant screen.

                                                                             *******
It became clear right off that Roberto had a plan: to wait on Hagler and counterpunch. Hagler didn’t like being the guy who had to lead, and so he went after Duran only in mid-gear. Duran stood back, letting Hagler come to him, sneaking in right hands when he could. Some got through. Hagler did best with his jarring southpaw jab, but he didn’t seem quite himself. I told myself that Duran had won three of the first five rounds, though they were all close.

“He’s outboxing him,” I told Pete, who was unconvinced.

The sixth round changed the fight. Hagler’s cornermen, Goody and Pat Petronelli, offering gentle criticism—“You’re a little tight, Marv”—sent Hagler out to be more aggressive, and he pounded Duran at close quarters with uppercuts. Duran had long been an unheralded defensive fighter, blessed with reflexes and judgment that allowed him to move his head in anticipation of punches—sliding and slipping, mimicking the punch’s trajectory to lessen its impact. Now it seemed like Hagler couldn’t miss that head. The Civic Center sounded like a Hagler crowd now. It looked like Duran might go.

Duran was breathing with his mouth open, and he kept shaking his arms out like someone who had just lifted weights. For the first time, he’d been outmuscled—not undone by speed, the way Leonard had mastered him, but by brute force. A sustained assault might finish the job, but Hagler didn’t launch it. He won the rounds—7, 8, 9, 10—building a huge lead but keeping his pilot light on simmer. The fight’s outcome now seemed clear; it lacked only a conclusion.

Then in the 11th, Hagler danced away from Duran as the crowd booed. In the 12th and 13th, Duran saw opportunity in Hagler’s swelling left eye and nailed Marvin again and again with his best punch, the straight right. From where we stood, Duran was still well behind, but if he won the last two rounds, who could say?

Only now did Hagler grasp that Duran could not hurt him and that his title was at risk, and only now did he fight as if he remembered the bitterest night of his career: the 1979 draw in Las Vegas with then-middleweight champion Vito Antuofermo, in which Hagler didn’t do enough to hold off Vito’s late charge. Antuofermo kept his title on a draw. Here he was, at the scene of the crime, letting a much more formidable foe in through the out door. Some old remembered terror must have crept into his heart. It was time to fight.

Hagler spent the 14th and 15th rounds bludgeoning Duran, who could do little but hold and throw out the occasional right. Marvin’s jab and uppercuts dominated both rounds completely. Duran was so weary it was almost inspiring watching him stay upright. We knew he had lost and started walking out before the decision was announced, but the judges made it absurdly close: 144-143, 144-142, and 146-145 for Hagler. Duran led on two cards after the 13th round. Hagler hadn’t turned up the octane a moment too soon.

It surprised me that Marvin and the Petronellis were so ill-prepared for Duran’s tactics. They seemed caught off-balance again in 1987, when the unretired Leonard fought Hagler the way everyone knew he would—circling and moving. The Petronellis were rock-solid people, but as strategists they didn’t rate with the sages Duran, Leonard, and Thomas Hearns brought with them most of their careers: Ray Arcel and Freddy Brown, Angelo Dundee, and Emanuel Steward. And great as Marvin was, he was not an instinctive fighter like Duran or Leonard. He could not decode spontaneous messages. Marvin was a striver; he was always respected, often admired. Ray and Roberto were creators; they were loved or hated.

Back at Stephens Hall, I drank beer and listened to college talk, now shifting from sports to girls. The traffic in and out of the room continued. Pop Lewis and Billy Donovan came in to get the lowdown.

“Was it a fair decision?” Pop asked. We assured him that it was.

“Duran is tough, though,” Billy Donovan said, shaking his head. “15 rounds with Hagler. Tough guy!”

On this everyone agreed.     

                                                                             *******
The next summer, we tried to watch Duran fight Thomas Hearns at home, on a temporary cable channel. They called it pay per view. The video feed went out, but the audio came through, enough for us to hear something that sounded impossible: Duran getting knocked around the ring. Hearns vaporized him in the second round with a right hand. That seemed the end of the line, but Duran kept coming back, winning his second-greatest victory in 1989 against the powerful middleweight champion Iran Barkley. He was 38 when he finally got his rematch with Leonard, losing in a dreadful fight for which, curiously, he brought no fire. For 12 rounds he trailed after Leonard with the enthusiasm of a man forced to walk around the block for exercise. He kept fighting until age 50, quitting only after suffering serious injuries in a car accident.

Hagler blasted out Hearns in an epic battle in 1985, finally achieving the stardom he had sought. But Leonard beat Hagler in their still-disputed superfight, the capper of a decade of battles between what George Kimball called the Four Kings. Marvin moved to Italy to pursue an acting career, became fluent in Italian, and rarely came back home. He saved his money. No glamor, no shortcuts, no excuses: he lives the way he fought.

Pete and I were in our junior and senior years at PC in 1987, when the Friars became the most improbable Final Four team in NCAA history. They got there under the leadership of a 34-year-old coach named Rick Pitino, the heroics of point guard Billy Donovan—they called him Billy the Kid or Billy D—a smothering full-court press, and a band of ace three-point shooters, including Pop Lewis. The Friars played their home games at the Civic Center, but whenever I went there, I always thought about Duran and Hagler first.

Providence looks much better today than it did in 1983, though I’m not sure it’s much better off, given Rhode Island’s financial and economic woes. Billy D is the head coach at Florida, where he’s won two NCAA titles and become one of the highest-paid coaches in the country. He was always a striver, but somewhere along the way he became a creator. That happens about as often as fighters like Duran and Hagler come along.

As for me and Pete, we did some striving of our own, but we’re never more than a nod away from the two teenagers who scrawled a message on a banner in the middle of the night.

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“One Night in Miami”: Film Review by Thomas Hauser

Thomas Hauser

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On February 25, 1964, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. defeated Charles “Sonny” Liston in Miami Beach over the course of six remarkable rounds to claim the heavyweight championship of the world. Late that night, the new champion found himself in a room at Hampton House (a black hotel in segregated Miami) with Malcolm X, several other followers of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, and football great Jim Brown. Soul singer Sam Cooke (a friend of Clay’s) had been at the fight, but there’s no historical record of his being in the hotel room with the others at that time.

One Night in Miami is built around imagining what transpired in that room amongst Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke. Directed by Regina King from a screenplay by Kemp Powers, it’s available on Amazon Prime.

The film fits into the genre known as historical fiction. Dramatic license was taken. Viewers should understand that, at times, it’s allegorical rather than an accurate factual recounting. The larger question is whether the film is impressionistically honest. The answer is “yes.”

One Night in Miami begins with the 1963 fight between Clay and Henry Cooper in London. It then segues to Cooke being treated rudely by an all-white audience at the Copacabana, followed by Jim Brown (the greatest running back in National Football League history) being reminded by a patronizing southern gentleman that he’s just a “n—–.” Next, we see Malcolm as the Nation of Islam’s most charismatic spokesman, after which the scene shifts to Liston-Clay I.

Thirty-four minutes into the film, the drama moves to Hampton House.

Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke were prominent in different ways. Each was young, black, and famous. But Malcolm was a social and religious figure of considerable intellect while the other three were known as entertainers.

The dialogue between the four men is light at first and then turns serious.

Malcolm is played by Kingsley Ben-Adir. On what should have been one of the greatest nights of his life, his world is slipping away. His deadly rupture with Elijah Muhammad is almost complete. Soon, Clay will abandon him. Ben-Adir comes across as a bit weaker and more tentative than one might expect, although Malcolm’s intellect is evident in his performance.

It’s hard to imagine anyone playing Cassius Clay well except the young Muhammad Ali. But Eli Goree bears a resemblance to Clay and is pretty good in the role.

Jim Brown was an intimidating physical presence. Aldis Hodge lacks this physicality but his performance is solid.

Leslie Odom Jr, who plays Sam Cooke, has star quality. He’s the only one of the four major actors who has the charisma and presence of the man he’s portraying. But as a result, Cooke has a stronger on-screen persona than Malcolm. That’s a problem as tensions between the two men boil over.

Toward the end of the film, Malcolm reveals that he intends to leave the Nation of Islam because of differences with Elijah Muhammad and will found a new organization.

“Who’s gonna be in this new organization?” Clay asks.

“I think lots of people will follow me over,” Malcolm answers. “Especially if you come with me.”

Clay, of course, didn’t follow Malcolm. He sided with Elijah Muhammad. One year later, he and Jim Brown were the only participants from the hotel room gathering as portrayed in the film who were still alive. Sam Cooke was shot to death in a California motel on December 11, 1964. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem.

One Night in Miami cautions us that our icons are flesh and blood human beings with strengths and flaws. In its best moments, the film is a powerful reminder that the issues of self-respect, black empowerment, and racial equality are timeless.

Pictured left to right: Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown), Kingsley Ben-Adir (Malcolm X) Leslie Odom Jr (Sam Cooke) Eli Goree (Cassius Clay)

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Staredown: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Crossover star Holly Holm Adds New Dimensions to Claressa Shields

Kelsey McCarson

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She laughs about it now, but back then it wasn’t all that funny.

Boxing champion Holly Holm was competing in her first professional MMA fight, and all her years of training inside the ropes as a world champion boxer had just taken over her entire body.

Holm had kicked her opponent down to the ground, so she did what any well-schooled boxer would do. She pivoted away from her fallen prey and headed over to the neutral corner.

All of that was wrong.

“What are you doing?” her coach yelled from cageside. “Finish her!”

It was Holm’s first big mistake in moving over from boxing to MMA, but she was lucky that night. It turned out that Holm’s opponent was finished whether she had run over there or not, so it was a lesson she could learn without much consequence.

But the instruction of that moment stands true today, so it’s just one of the many things Holm has shared with 25-year-old boxing champion Claressa Shields as the two-time Olympic gold medalist attempts to follow in her footsteps.

“I was thinking yeah, that will definitely happen to me!” Shields said.

After Shields signed a three-year promotional deal in December with the Professional Fighters League (PFL), the first thing Shields needed to do was look for the right gym.

Shields found that place at Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, one of the most famous MMA gyms in the country, and the one most recognized among the masses as the home gym of former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holm and pound-for-pound king Jon Jones.

Holm remains the only fighter (male or female) to have won legit world championships in both boxing and MMA, and Shields said Holm welcomed her to Jackson Wink with open arms.

“She’s been super great and very nice to me. We both come from the same background…and she actually turned out to be a world champion [in MMA], actually turned out to be really good,” Shields said.

But Holm’s funny story about her first MMA fight is something that points to just how large a hill Shields has decided to climb.

Whereas pop culture has just recently started to realize the power of habits through the work of writers such as Charles Duhigg and James Clear, it’s something professional fighters have known for a long time now.

“Oh, you’re going to have a habit of this because you used to box.”

That’s something Holm tells Shields almost every time they work together, and there are just so many examples.

In fact, just watching the 25-year-old boxing champion trying to learn to do all these new things in a different way is exhausting.

That Shields practically lives inside the gym for weeks at a time so she can train four or five times a day for all the kinds of things she never had to worry about before as a professional boxer is a testament to her seriousness and her courage.

But perhaps the most amazing part of the entire story is that Shields still plans on boxing.

While Holm won world championships in both sports, she achieved those things separately. Meanwhile, Shields said she wants to do the same thing Holm did but at the same time.

So, while I’m standing there with her inside an MMA cage in New Mexico, Shields is plotting fights in both sports. On one hand, she’s talking to me about a title unification bout in boxing against Marie-Eve Dicaire. On the other, she’s talking about future superfights in MMA against the likes of UFC champ Amanda Nunes.

“I’m trying to separate the two,” Shields said specifically about her training that day but she might as well have been talking about her whole life right about now.

It’s arguably the most amazing storyline right now in combat sports.

Shields started boxing when she was just 11 years old. She earned her first gold medal at the Olympics at 17 and her second four years later.

Today, Shields is a three-division world champion, and she says she’s not nearly finished adding to her growing number of boxing belts.

But all those years and all those successes have built so many habits. Ducking and slipping is great for boxing, but both become considerable detriments to defense when you suddenly have to worry about things like knees and kicks.

And what about wrestling and jiu-jitsu?

But all that stuff together is exactly what makes Shields’ epic decision to dare to be great at both sports at the same time so amazing in the first place.

Look, Shields might never accomplish the same amazing feat Holm did when she shocked Ronda Rousey in 2015 for the UFC women’s bantamweight championship.

But she’s aiming to eclipse that incredible mark anyway, and with Holm and many others offering Shields ideas about what she needs to think about as she climbs up the steepest hill she can find, she’ll definitely have her best chance at doing it.

Kelsey McCarson covers combat sports for Bleacher Report and Heavy.

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part One

Ted Sares

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Britain’s Martin Murray has fought the very best and has now closed out a heartbreaking if not admirable and old school career.

Others are just beginning to hit their stride and suddenly the possibilities are mouthwatering.

The buzz is back on. The heat is coming. No excuses. No badly injured shoulders. No running. This is macho explosive. This is the best fighting the best like it used to be done. Cherry picking is not allowed.

Back in the day, warriors like Ernie Durando, Kid Gavilan, Joey Giardello, Tony DeMarco, Bobby Dykes, Paul Pender, Joey Maxim, Holly Mims, Bobo Olson, and way too many others to list here would fight other top-notch boxers. It was the norm; not the exception. Tony DeMarco beat Kid Gavilan in 1956 and then fought Gaspar Ortega three times in a row in a relatively short period of time.

In the process of compiling a 95-25-1 record, Ezzard Charles engaged in an eye-popping 27 fights against men who would go on to be enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame and/or the World Boxing Hall of Fame.

The List

Rocky Marciano (twice) – IBHF/WBHF

Joe Louis – IBHF/WBHF

Jersey Joe Walcott (four times) IBHF/WBHF

Archie Moore (thrice) IBHF/WBHF

Joey Maxim (five times) IBHF/WBHF

Jimmy Bivins (five times) IBHF/WBHF

Charley Burley (twice) IBHF/WBHF

Harold Johnson IBHF/WBHF

Lloyd Marshall (thrice) WBHF

Gus Lesnevich WBHF

In addition, Charles had three fights with Rex Layne, two with Ken Overlin, two with Elmer Ray, and one with Bob Satterfield

“Some day, maybe, the public is going to abandon comparisons with Joe Louis and accept Ezzard Charles for what he was—the best fist fighter of his particular time”  –Red Smith

Beau Jack, Aldo Minelli, Yama Bahama, Johnny Cesario, Fighting Harada, Eder “Golden Bantam” Jofre, Vicente Saldivar, Jose “El Huitlacoche” Medal, and then later Juan LaPorte and Livingstone “The Pit Bull” Bramble did not know what easy opponents meant. They were willing to fight anyone anywhere and were seldom stopped.

Vito Antuofermo, Ralph Dupas, Willie Pastrano, Curtis Parker, Bennie Briscoe, Kassim Ouma, Emanuel Augustus, Scott LeDoux, Ben Tackie, Ray Oliveira, Renaldo Snipes, Freddie Pendleton, John Scully, Charles Murray, Ted Muller, Anthony Ivory, and Alfredo “Freddy” Cuevas were also representative of those who would fight anyone anywhere. Picking made-to-order opponents was not what they were about.

Ali, Norton, Young, Quarry, fought one another. So did Duran, Leonard, Hagler, and Hearns. Across the pond, Watson, Benn, and Eubank did the same. Frazier, Holyfield, Mugabi, Tszyu, Cotto, and Chacon never ever backed away, nor did Mexican notables Castillo, Marquez (JMM), Morales and Barrera.

No one will accuse Floyd “Money” Mayweather of not fighting the best but they might point out that Floyd sometimes used long time intervals between bouts to his advantage. “Money” was not a particularly active fighter. The phrase “cherry picking” gained traction during this time.

Still, Andre Ward cleaned out an entire division. Cotto fought Pacquiao and Canelo, De La Hoya met Pacquiao, Klitschko faced Fury and then Joshua. Fury — after beating Klitschko — fought Wilder twice. Chisora will fight anyone they put in front of him. Heck, GGG fought 24 brutal rounds with Canelo and if that wasn’t the best fighting the best, what was?

“…great fights lead to other great fights.”—Max Kellerman

To be continued……

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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