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The Year in Boxing, Part 2

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May belonged to Mayweather, as “Money” earned a b-load of it for his night of “toil” against Robert Guerrero.

The underdog challenger did the best he could to stir up the pot with misdeeds that were TMZ worthy in the run-up to the promotion, and then his pop, Ruben, tried to get under Floyd’s skin by calling him a “woman beater” at the final presser ahead of the first fight of Floyd’s megadeal with Showtime.

Most all like Mayweather to get the better of the Ghost, all but Canelo Alvarez. “Robert Guerrero has a great opportunity to win,” Canelo predicted. “He’s hungry for glory and will try everything to get the victory. I am picking Guerrero.” Yeah, no. Hunger for glory is one thing, but having the skill set to defuse and dissect Mayweather is a different deal. Canelo would learn that for himself a bit down the line….

On fight night, May 4, Mayweather looked utterly superb. He’d been hit a few times in his last outing, against Miguel Cotto, but working with his pop had him back to using his legs as weapons, keeping him out of range when Guerrero came into striking range, and helping him get whatever angle he wanted on the loser, enroute to taking a UD12, 117-111 times three. Floyd landed 60% of his power shots, and all who theorized that a jail stint and a year off would sap him shut their traps.

Two days later, we heard that Manny Pacquiao would seek to curtail a two-fight losing streak, and dodge the taxman, with a gig in Macau, against Brandon Rios. Would Rios, the plucky banger with a yen for rumbles and a distinct lack of aversion to trading, finish what Juan Manuel Marquez started? A hint was provided which many of us keyboard tappers should have paid the most keen of attention to: most fighters liked Pacman to beat Rios, by a wide margin, assessing “Bam Bam” to be more of a club level fighter than a player on the elite fields.

The sport lost a certified character, in matchmaker-gadfly-conspiracy theorist Johnny Bos, on May 11, and we were all a bit poorer for it, as the Sunset Park, Brooklyn native had boxing in his blood, from tip to top, and nobody alive could surpass him in that capacity. Here’s a snippet from an homage I wrote:

“This XL character–he was 6-4, north of 250 pounds, prone to wearing hip hop and pimp-ish gear– was something of a tortured soul. He had a pathological need to diagnose the ills he saw riddling the sport and broadcast his critiques to the world. At the same time, in more recent years, he wanted to be back on the big stage, in NYC, fashioning the paths of prospects to the big time. For a years, I’d try and gently counsel him to adjust his expectations and subvert his iconoclastic tendencies, so he might be accepted back into the club which he bitterly railed had spurned him. “Johnny,” I’d say, “it makes it harder for the big shots to bring you back into the fold when you say controversial things, and are too honest.” But he was pathologically incapable of self-censorship. The truth wasn’t something to be dispensed selectively. He couldn’t pick and choose his spots, modulate his delivery to minimize the damage to the ego of the guilty. He couldn’t, he wouldn’t, and for that he must be praised, and his passing must be lamented with more fanfare than his level of celebrity typically enjoys.” I think about him pretty often, all this time later…

The Lucas Matthysse bandwagon got filled to over-capacity after he beat up Lamont Peterson, so much so that his promoter, Richard Schaefer, requested an extra seat, as he ejaculated heady praise after the third round rubout in AC, “We have a new Manny Pacquiao. He’s from Argentina, and his name is Lucas Matthysse.”

Mayweather ended up the month making more news, telling the world that he’d be taking on a young, strong rumbler, the heart-throb hitter Canelo Alvarez, that September. The word dropped on Twitter, a sure sign of the times: “I chose my opponent for September 14th and it’s Canelo Alvarez. I’m giving the fans what they want. It will be at the MGM Grand.”

June brought the dropping of another shoe, with word that Kery Davis was out at HBO. He’d been the main connection between HBO and uber advisor Al Haymon, so with Haymon persona non grata at HBO, well, the writing was on the wall.

Arturo Gatti continued to provoke years after his death, but you can count me among those who supported his inclusion into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The man was in four Fights of the Year, for goodness sake, he gave you more than your money’s worth every time he gloved up, and he exemplified the essence of willpower on display during trying times in the athletic realm. Damn right he deserved a Hall pass…

Light heavy Adonis Stevenson launched a left that stopped Chad Dawson, and himself onto must see lists, and did the sport a kind favor by prolonging the legacy of Manny Steward, his trainer-manager, that much more. Here’s what I wrote after Adonis downed Dawson, from a portion of a conversation I had with Steward not long before he died: “Adonis is dangerous all the way through. We got some kind of weird-ass guy here, one of these stamina freaks…There’s nothing like knocking [emeffers] out. That’s what made Mike Tyson special. I train all my fighters to go for the KO. But they have the stamina in case it doesn’t happen.”

Cracks appeared in the Adrien Broner wing of the Hall of Fame, as the former Mr. HBO had a hard time with Paul Malignaggi in his initial testing of the welterweight waters. The buildup to this bout set a record for crassness, with too much talk of side dishes and such for the liking of many. Postfight, Malignaggi ranted that the most politically connected get always gets the W. So did he simply leave it at that? No; the Brooklyner made the savvy move, and hooked on with the same man who advises Broner, one Al Haymon. Can’t beat ’em…

Mid month, the hardcore push to tell the world that still thinks Mike Tyson is the heavyweight champion about the upcoming Floyd Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez scrap unfolded. The 11-city tour to hype the event kicked off in NYC, in Times Square. The effort to nudge, nay yank, boxing out of the niche category for a spell paid dividends, as Mayweather was all over mainstream media, from the Comedy Channel to MSBC to Bloomberg News, before, during and after the Canelo “test.”

A man some think could be a great candidate to be at the top of the talent apex when Mayweather is nearing the finish line, Gennady Golovkin, impressed fans with his intensity in taking out Matthew Macklin in NYC. A left hook hatched in hell drained the energy from the Irishman in round three, and excited Golovkinites demanded he sign to fight Andre Ward, and Floyd Mayweather, on the same night, ASAP.

July brought us a notable occurrence which we hope balloons into a full-fledged trend, so we can look back and say we told ’em so. Golden Boy and Floyd Mayweather broke the news that the Floyd-Canelo card would be bolstered by a showdown between young guns Danny Garcia, a 140 pound champ, and Lucas Matthysse. Jokes about Garcia’s head being destined for row four at the MGM ensued, but a trend towards stacking PPVs, rather than merely letting the feature bout carry all the weight makes nothing but sense to me, if the people who put these things together actually, ya know, care about pleasing the wallet-openers who keep the sport afloat.

An underrated ex champ, known more for his sexual identity and the fact that his punches killed a foe, died the third week of July, and the boxing world mourned Emile Griffith. His legacy will be that of a man who serves as a reminder of the ultimate price any person can pay in that ring, and as a symbol of acceptance, who helped usher the pushback against homophobia another millimeter forward.

This one was a certified under the radar classic, friends. Anyone who figured the Omar Figueroa-Nihito Arakawa bout which unfolded in San Antonio would be on the short list for FOY needs to contact me about a job, and a physician about getting counseling and meds for their addiction to watching too many crappy streams. The wide scores for Figgy didn’t give near enough credit to the scary reservoir of toughness and pride the Japanese boxer showed, scary because you had to hope he’d not absorbed a lethal level of punishment over twelve rounds. This was ostensibly a lightweight tussle, but in terms of heart and will, two heavyweights traded leather that night in Texas.

August 2013, and Mike Tyson still commanded eyes and ears on him whenever he popped up. The fighter turned promoter told us he was planning on killing himself during the dark days of 2008, 2009, and his addiction to drugs had him thinking his time on this earth wouldn’t be for much longer. But he persevered, and with his new promotional work, and a book, and a one-man stage act, the former Brooklyn bad boy continues to mesmerize; it used to be with his prowess with violence, and now it is his rare ability to process his missteps in a humorous, self-effacing and fresh fashion.

The hottest month didn’t overwhelm with live action, but the month’s marquee tussle had to be be Jhonny Gonzalez’ derailment of Abner Mares’ momentum train. Left hooks in round one spelled doom for Mares, a feather champ up against a former bantam and feather titlist. The two had sparred five years before, and Mares’ star had drifted upward while the older man’s had dimmed.

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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