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Manny Pacquiao: The Early Years in L.A.

David A. Avila

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Light speed best describes how quickly the years pass in a prizefighter’s career.

A mere 12 years ago the upstairs boxing gym was in full throttle when a few of us zigzagged our way through the maze of boxers, trainers, groupies and journalists at the Wild Card Boxing gym.

Headmaster Freddie Roach smiled and ambled his way toward us. He seemed a little more peppy as he stuck his hand out to greet us.

“I’ve got a new fighter you should see,” said Roach. “He’s a Filipino kid and he’s been knocking out everyone here.”

Today, everyone knows Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao (seen in above Chris Farina-Top Rank photo, ahead of Roach, as they arrive in Macao), but back in 2001, just those regulars at the Hollywood boxing haven knew about the quicksilver southpaw. Other than the regular boxing beat writers, there were no several hundred boxing fans waiting outside. In those days James Toney was the marquee fighter in that gym and others like Israel Vazquez, Roger “Speedy” Gonzalez, Ian MacKillop and a few others trained there.

Roach was anxious to show off Pacquiao and itching to grab a fight for his newest protégé. When IBF junior featherweight titlist Lehlo Ledwaba’s opponent fell through they called Roach and he immediately took the fight. It was one of those unique breaks that seem to come at the right time.

A few of us had watched Pacquiao spar and he worked like a human buzz saw inside the ring. It didn’t matter who sparred, they all ate a lot of punches as Pacquiao darted in and out and fired blurring combinations. So when the contract was finalized, those few of us who knew about Pacquiao made sure to mention this fight to our readers and friends.

Pacquiao’s television debut took place on June 23, 2001, at the MGM Grand. The main event was Oscar De La Hoya facing Spain’s Javier Castillejo. Few gave the Spaniard a chance against De La Hoya. And even fewer realized about the coming of Pacquiao.

What I remember is HBO’s television boxing crew crowing about the talent of Ledwaba. They hyped the South African who was making his sixth title defense and mentioned little about Pacquiao. It’s one of their failings. They rarely bother to watch preliminary fights, let alone visit boxing gyms. So when Pacman made his entrance they were completely surprised.

A handful of Southern California journalists knew what was going to happen. We had seen his exploits in the gym and were confident about Pacquiao being able to transfer that to the prize ring. It was an eager moment for this writer because I had promised many of my friends that Pacquiao would run over Ledwaba.

Poor Ledwaba. Pacquiao was a replacement just two weeks before the fight date. There was no reason to believe that a former flyweight world champion would give much trouble. But that night Ledwaba was massacred from the first round until the sixth when he no longer could continue. Just like that Pacquiao was a world champion again.

Five months later Pacquiao would be defending that title against Agapito Sanchez in San Francisco.  Sadly, Sanchez was murdered in 2005 in a dancing ballroom in his native country. The diminutive Dominican southpaw trained at the old L.A. Boxing Club located behind the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. He was a clever boxer who was very familiar with Pacquiao’s style. When he met Pacquiao at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium it was already pre-determined what needed to be done.

Pacquiao was butted and held and frustrated by Sanchez’s tactics. Cuts flowed from the champion’s face and though he tried to fight his way through the constant butts and clinches, it was just not possible. Sanchez used every trick in his arsenal to keep the champion from utilizing his power. The fight ended in a technical draw after ringside physicians ruled that Pacquiao could not continue.

It proved to be a good learning experience for Pacquiao.

After a two-round demolition of Jorge Eliecer Julio in Memphis, the U.S. did not see Pacquiao in the ring for another year. The champion fought twice in the Philippines and brought along his trainer Roach to the islands for the first time.

Pacquiao’s L.A. fight debut finally took place in the summer of 2003 at the Olympic Auditorium. It would be his first and only appearance in the historic boxing venue. The historic boxing structure where every great fighter like Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali to Salvador Sanchez showed their skills would shutter its doors for good two years later.

A few of us arrived early and were talking outside on the parking lot when trainer Roach arrived with his boxing gear over his shoulder. He had just returned from the Philippines and was anxious to tell us about his experience.

“The people are very friendly but the place is very poor,” said Roach, adding that amenities like tissue paper and other small items were not readily available. “I learned a lot. Next time I go I’m bringing stuff with me.”

Pacman’s next opponent would be undefeated Emmanuel Lucero of New York. Though he was living in the Big Apple he was actually born in Mexico City. Not many boxing journalists knew much about Lucero except that he was Mexican.

It was a good fight card that night. Fernando Vargas had recently lost against rival Oscar De La Hoya and chose to fight Fitz Vanderpool. Others fighting and winning were Sergio Mora, BJ Flores and Malik Scott. A large boxing crowd showed up that night to see the solid fight card.

Filipino prizefighters had been showcased in the Olympic Auditorium for many decades. Guys like Speedy Dado and Pablo Dano were great Filipino boxers and attractions at the L.A. boxing venue from the 1930s on. Pacquiao was yet another link to great Filipino fighters of the past.

Lucero entered the ring with an unorthodox low crouch and ducked under Pacquiao’s immediate attacks. But the Mexican from New York couldn’t touch Pacquiao who would dart back a few feet before resuming the attack. Then came those uppercuts. When Pacman zipped in to deliver one of those left-hand uppercuts, Lucero seemed to walk into the punch and down he went like a sniper had shot him from one of those seats in the rafters. It was over in a mere three rounds and the crowd was in awe.

Next would be the real awe-inspiring fight when he met Mexico’s Marco Antonio Barrera.

First Mexican challenge

A triumvirate of Mexican prizefighters ruled the boxing landscape in the junior featherweight and featherweight divisions in 2003. Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez conquered most of the best fighters from 122 to 126 pounds and their followers debated who was superior.

Roach was not sure what to expect.

“We’ll see what happens,” said Roach before the fight. “Barrera is a good fighter and very smart, but he’s never faced anyone like Manny.”

Little was expected of Pacquiao when he signed to face Barrera on November 2003. Barrera had humiliated United Kingdom’s Prince Hamed and defeated Morales in a rematch a year earlier. He had also run over former world champions Johnny Tapia, Enrique Sanchez and Kevin Kelley. Plus, he had just signed a contract with the new promotion company Golden Boy Promotions. But everything went wrong for the Mexican fighter from day one.

When he left his former promoter it caused bad feelings including an announcement from them that Barrera had suffered a head injury and had a metal plate place in his head. Then a major fire at his Big Bear Lake location forced his training camp to move. Plus, he simply did not take Pacquiao seriously.

Bad idea.

Pacquiao floored Barrera several times and never allowed the Mexican champion to regain footing. If anything, Barrera could only look to survive the onslaught but even in survival mode, Pacquiao stormed past the barricades of Barrera’s defense. It ended in round 11.

“What I do remember is fighting a guy I knew nothing about and a very explosive fighter. What I remember about other than losing the fight was he really beat me with the body shots,” said Barrera in a recent telephone press conference.“He was an extremely quick fighter that I was not prepared for.”

Most of the boxing world was unprepared for Pacquiao but soon would appreciate his talent. Crowds began to gather outside the Wild Card Boxing Gym and soon even the boxing reporters doubled and tripled on the doorsteps. From this point on Pacquiao’s journey would never be overlooked again.

End of part one.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 105: Angry Welterweights and More

David A. Avila

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Those welterweights don’t play.

One welterweight just got out of jail and wants to take out his angry frustrations in the boxing ring.

“One of us is getting knocked out. If it gets to where I’m behind on points, I’m just going to come forward and try to take him out, even if I end up getting knocked out,” said Juan Carlos Abreu. ““If he stands and fights, it’s better for me. That’s what I want.”

Standing in front of Abreu (23-5-1) will be one of the top welterweights in America, Philadelphia’s Jaron Ennis (25-0, 23 KOs). This is could be Ennis’ first true test against an experienced foe on Saturday Sept. 19, at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. Showtime will televise the Premier Boxing Champions card.

Ennis, 23, has been breezing easily since first jumping in the prize ring in April 2016. So far, the competition has been unable to cope with the athleticism he possesses. Will Abreu be the first to pose a problem?

“Whatever he brings, we are going to be ready. I’m going to go out there, do my thing, be smart, have my fun, and get that stoppage at the end of the night,” said Ennis, whose last opponent Bakhtiyar Eyubov was eliminated in four rounds in January. “You can’t just go in there and go for the knockout. That’s how you get tired and lose your cool or even get hit with punches that you shouldn’t be getting hit with.”

Abreu hopes he loses his cool.

“If he stands and fights, it’s better for me. That’s what I want. I really want one of us to get knocked out,” says Abreu of the Dominican Republic who was purportedly jailed for street fighting.

This welterweight matchup is the precursor to the WBC super welterweight eliminator between Terrell Gausha (21-1-1, 10 KOs) and Erickson Lubin (22-1, 16 KOs).

Gausha and Lubin both have lost once in their pro careers and need a win to get another crack at a world title.

Gausha lost a decision to Erislandy Lara three years ago. Lubin was stopped in one round by Jermell Charlo three years ago. Both realize the nature of the beast.

“I think Gausha has some problems with southpaws, but I’m not focused on that. I’m focused on my game plan and coming out victorious Saturday night,” said Lubin, 24, a southpaw called “the Hammer” for a reason.

Gausha is originally from Cleveland, Ohio but trains in Southern California and has fought four elite southpaws in his career. He believes one more is not a problem.

“This will be my fourth southpaw in a row. So, I’m more comfortable and familiar this time around,” said Gausha, 33, a former US Olympian who trains with Manny Robles Jr. “The guys before me, they all fought each other. Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran. They all fought each other. To be the best, you have to beat the best. And you can see that the fights I take, even after a long layoff, they are tough fights.”

Top Rank

Also, on Saturday Sept. 19, heavyweights and super lightweights lead a Top Rank card featuring some interesting bouts that will be shown on ESPN+.

Newly acquired Efe Ajagba (13-0,11 KOs) meets Jonnie Rice (13-5-1) in a 10-round heavyweight clash. It’s Nigeria’s Ajagba’s second fight this year. Though still a little raw he shows immense potential and great natural strength.

Rice fights out of Bones Adams’ Gym in Las Vegas and has some power. He built up his record on heavyweights in Tijuana boxing rings but has some pop. He’s a sizeable heavyweight and good measuring stick for Ajagba.

The main event is a doozy.

Puerto Rico’s Jose “The Sniper” Pedraza (27-3, 13 KOs) meets Southern California’s Javier Molina (22-2, 9 KOs) in a 10-round super lightweight bout at the MGM Grand Bubble in Las Vegas.

This should be good.

Pedraza, 31, is a former WBO lightweight world titlist who lost in his first defense to Vasyl Lomachenko. Nothing bad about that. He defeated Mexico’s Raymundo Beltran for the belt and has shown a penchant for showing up big when you least expect it.

Molina, 30, is a 2008 US Olympian and a member of the fighting Molina family. His brother Oscar was a member of Mexico’s 2012 Olympic team. His other brother Carlos fought for the world title against Amir Khan. Though Javier Molina has never shown great power, he can truly fight.  His last win came against Amir Imam this past February.

Pending Lightweight Clash

Speaking of the lightweight division, is anyone else as excited as me about the looming showdown between the remarkable Vasyl Lomachenko and impressive Teofimo Lopez coming in less than a month?

Lomachenko, 32, the Ukrainian stylist known as “Hi Tech,” has that incredible footwork and ability to control distance. He’s a master of frustrating opponents and imposing his style of darting in and out of danger. But as good as he is, he can’t sell tickets. Only hardcore fans appreciate his peerless boxing skills.

Lopez, 23, hails from Brooklyn and has that ex-factor you can’t teach. He’s pizzazz and panache with a punch. That combination of flair and power excites fans and seemingly makes him a natural gate attraction. But in spite of his electric abilities, he’s facing a master boxer. Is he ready?

Top Rank is known for having a team of matchmakers headed by boxing wizard Bruce Trampler. It makes me wonder why they are pitting these two against each other?

The probable answer: neither sells out an arena alone. May the best man win.

A friend of mine from East L.A., who formerly boxed and comes from a boxing family, shared his knowledge and opinion on the matchup. He has an interesting take.

“His footwork is incredible,” said George Rodriguez about Lomachenko. “Don’t get me wrong, Teofimo is an incredible talent, but Lomachenko has that footwork.”

Any way you look at it, the winner of this clash clearly bumps up his own image.

Lomachenko (14-1, 10 KOs) versus Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs) at the MGM Grand Bubble in Las Vegas on October 17. Mark down that date. It will be televised on ESPN.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Sept. 26 Horn of Plenty and Other Notes

Arne K. Lang

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Considering the constraints, the month of September has been a pretty good month for professional boxing. And the month will close with a flourish. Eight world title-holders will be in action on the 26th, the last Saturday of the month.

Five of the belt-holders will appear on the SHOWTIME PPV doubleheader featuring the Charlo twins. The most intriguing fight on that card finds Jermall Charlo risking his belt and his undefeated record against rugged Sergiy Deveryanchenko. At last glance, Jermall was a consensus 17/10 (minus-170) favorite. In baseball, a 17/10 favorite is a heavy favorite. In boxing, not so. A serious handicapper who wouldn’t think of laying 17/10 in a baseball game would have no hesitation about laying these odds in a boxing match.

When Deveryanchenko steps into the ring, 51 weeks will have elapsed since his last fight, his bruising tiff with Gennadiy Golovkin. Jermall Charlo hasn’t been on the shelf for quite that long, having last fought in December.

A more interesting match on this particular Saturday, at least in the eyes of this reporter, will unfold earlier that day in Munich when the curtain finally comes down on Season 2 of the long-drawn-out World Boxing Super Series. Two titles will be on the line when Mairis Briedis (26-1, 19 KOs) meets Yuniel Dorticos (24-1, 22 KOs).

Briedis’ lone defeat came at the hands of Oleksandr Usyk in a very competitive fight. Briedis won five rounds on two of the cards and won six rounds on the other. Dorticos’ lone defeat came on enemy turf in Sochi, Russia when he was stopped with eight seconds remaining in a doozy of a fight with Murat Gassiev.

Forget the titles; titles are a dime a dozen. These two guys are plainly the two best cruiserweights on the planet.

“The tickets are flying out the door and we expect to sell out within hours, if not days,” said co-promoter Kalle Sauerland at a pre-fight press conference.

That assertion was made way back on January 22 when the fight, originally targeted for late December of last year, was headed to Riga, Latvia, on March 21. That date didn’t work, nor did the re-scheduled date of May 16, and ultimately Riga didn’t work either.

Whatever tickets were sold, had to be refunded. There will be no fans in attendance when Briedis and Dorticos finally lock horns on Sept. 26 at a TV studio in Munich. The fight will air on DAZN in the U.S.

“Rest makes rust” was an often-heard caution when big gamblers of yesteryear dissected a boxing match. The late, great pricemaker Herb Lambeck reflexively shied away from boxers that had been inactive for a considerable period of time. For him, the Briedis-Dorticos match would likely be a head-scratcher. Both combatants have been inactive since June 15 of last year when they appeared in separate bouts on the same card in Riga, Briedis’s hometown. And they aren’t getting any younger. Briedis is 34 and Dorticos is 35.

The odds got nicked down somewhat when the site shifted from Riga with fans to Munich without, predictably so as Briedis, the first fighter from Latvia to win a world title, has an avid local following.

Briedis, the superior boxer, is a consensus 9/5 favorite. That seems a shade high as he won’t be able to feed off the crowd – there won’t be a crowd – and Dorticos, the Cuban KO Doctor, has a better chance of ending the fight with one punch. It wouldn’t be shocking if the fight followed a similar tack as the recent fight between Dillian Whyte and Alexander Povetkin.

In case you missed it, Whyte was dominating his Russian adversary when things changed in a flash in the fifth round. Out of nowhere, Povetkin, the underdog, unleashed a picture-perfect uppercut that left Whyte flat on his back, unconscious before he hit the canvas. There have been other smashing one-punch knockouts this year – Ryan Garcia’s demolition of Francisco Fonseca comes quickly to mind – and there may be a few more, but it’s hard to visualize anyone topping Povetkin in the voting for Knockout of the Year.

By the way, if he wins it, Povetkin, 41, would be the second-oldest boxer to score the Knockout of the Year. George Foreman was 45 when he knocked out Michael Moorer in 1994. The source is The Ring magazine which has been issuing this award since 1989.

And if you happen to know the youngest fighter to score The Ring Knockout of the Year, then you’re pretty sharp. No, it’s not baby-faced Naoya Inoue, who is older (27) than he looks. The honor goes to the long-forgotten African-American/Filipino southpaw Morris East who was 19 when he knocked out defending WBA 140-pound champion Akinobu Hironaka in 1992.

In a rarity, it didn’t take long for Alexander Povetkin and Dillian Whyte to agree on a rematch. They will meet again on Nov. 21. The venue is undecided, but Eddie Hearn is hopeful that he can pot the fight somewhere outside his backyard “fight camp” with fans in attendance. The first lines on the fight show Whyte the favorite in the vicinity of 13/5. Povetkin-Whyte II will be a nice appetizer for the Errol Spence vs. Danny Garcia match that goes off later that day.

In an unrelated development, Fury-Wilder III is purportedly going to Allegiant Stadium, the new home of the Las Vegas Raiders, in late December. Bob Arum anticipates a crowd of 10,000-15,000 with social distancing protocols in place.

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Meekins vs. Kawoya: File It Under Bizarre

Ted Sares

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 It was August 8, 1988. The location was Resorts International in Atlantic City. The main event featured New Yorker John Wesley Meekins (18-1-2) vs another New Yorker (via Uganda and Denmark) Mohammed Kawoya (11-3).

The rangy and skilled Meekins with a stellar amateur career was a clear favorite over the lesser known Kawoya who had fought only once in the US, losing to Jorge Maysonet on cuts at the Felt Forum. Meekins was expected to move on to a world title fight after dispatching Kawoya.

Meekins enjoyed a successful career between 1984 and 1994, fighting the likes of Davey Montana, Mike Mungin, Harold Brazier, Saoul Mamby, Santos Cardona, Darrin Morris (who won his last 16 fights in a row), and Terence Alli. He would lose to a prime Meldrick Taylor (20-0-1) in 1989 with the IBF World Super Lightweight title at stake.

On June 15, 1990, Meekins beat Santos Cardona over 12 rounds to win the NABF light-welterweight championship, but would lose it to Terence Alli some seven months later. It was downhill after that and he retired in November 1994 with a record of 24-5-2 after being stopped by so-so Darryl Lattimore.

Back to Meekins vs. Kawoya

 This one did not go as expected. After being decked in round 2, Kawoya dropped Meekins in the opening seconds of round 3. An exciting fight with multiple knockdowns and furious exchanges was in progress and the fans loved it.

An aroused Meekins then went after the Ugandan with a vengeance and set up one of the most bizarre endings that few boxing fans have ever heard about, much less witnessed, as he again dropped Kawoya this time with a fast left hook. He then went for the kill. Referee Paul Venti sensed it and moved in—perhaps prematurely– as Meekins unleashed what he hoped would be a fight-ending volley of hard shots.

 As soon as Venti stepped in to stop the fight, Kawoya landed a right that dropped Meekins and had him crawling on the canvas and holding on to the ropes devoid of his senses for at least ten seconds. The punch was thrown at the exact moment that Venti ended matters and Venti didn’t realize what had occurred.

 While Kawoya thought he has scored a clean KO and celebrated wildly, the fact was that Venti had ended the fight a fraction of a second before and his decision would stand.

The fans not only enjoyed a great fight, they witnessed something truly memorable—something that had to be seen to be believed; namely, a winner struggling to get up and a loser celebrating what he thought was a knockout.

Kawoya pulled out of the rematch because of a throat infection and Saoul Mamby took his place as a late sub. The Ugandan never fought again, while Meekins never got the title shot that a more impressive effort might have gotten him.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com or on Facebook and welcomes comments.

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