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Good-Bye to Roseland, From Hauser

Thomas Hauser

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After a while, the big arenas where fights are held start to feel the same. The spectator areas, dressing rooms, and ringside corrals have a homogenous look. Small venues are more likely to have their own unique character.

Roseland had character. It opened as a ballroom in 1919 at Broadway and 51st Street in New York. Thirty-seven years later, the building was torn down and ballroom dancers were redirected to what had once been a skating rink one block to the north.

In the decades that followed, Roseland hosted everything from gala parties to rock concerts. Guests sang Happy Birthday to Hillary Clinton and listened enthralled as the Rolling Stones blasted out Satisfaction.

Time marches on. Roseland will close its doors after an April 7 concert by Lady Gaga. Then it will be demolished to make way for a high-rise building.

Roseland was never identified with boxing in the public mind. But over the years, 27 fight cards were contested there. An overhanging balcony offered spectators a spectacular view of the ring. There wasn‘t a bad seat in the house.

The first boxing event held at Roseland was a Cedric Kushner “Heavyweight Explosion” card on December 8, 1998, featuring Al Cole vs. Kirk Johnson, Obed Sullivan vs. Jesse Ferguson, and Shannon Briggs vs. Marcus Rhode. Three months later, Kushner returned with Hasim Rahman vs. Michael Rush and Danell Nicholson vs. Frankie Swindell. Rahman KO’d Rush in five rounds. Two years later, he knocked out Lennox Lewis in South Africa to become heavyweight champion of the world.

Paulie Malignaggi won his second pro fight at Roseland with a fourth-round stoppage of Robert Sowers on July 26, 2001. He was there again on November 23 to fight on a card promoted by Lou DiBella with the proceeds going to the families of police officers and firefighters who had died on 9/11. Future champions Jermain Taylor and Orlando Salido also emerged victorious that night. But the show ended on a horrifying note when James Butler (who lost a unanimous decision to Richard Grant in the main event) sucker-punched Grant as the victor stood in the ring awaiting a post-fight television interview.

It was a horrifying moment. Grant dropped to the canvas. Blood poured from his mouth. His jaw was fractured and he went into convulsions. Butler was arrested on the spot. He later pled guilty to felony assault, served four months in prison, and was released on five year’s probation. He is now in prison again subsequent to guilty plea in conjunction with the 2004 murder of writer Sam Kellerman.

Five years passed after the Butler-Grant fiasco before boxing returned to Roseland. The most glorious moment in the ballroom’s ring history occurred on July 15, 2011, when Pawel Wolak and Delvin Rodriguez fought to a ten-round draw that evoked memories of the first encounter between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward.

David Tua, Peter Quillin, Yuri Foreman, David Telesco, and Louis Del Valle also fought at Roseland. The final bell tolled on Wednesday night, when DiBella Entertaiment promoted the last fight card that the one-time ballroom will ever host.

Wednesday’s fights started shortly after 7:00 pm. The seats filled up early. Soon only standing room was available. Curtis Jackson III (better known as Fifty Cent) was there. So was Rosie Perez. Stephen Espinoza and Gordon Hall were on hand to scout future opponents for ShoBox. Harold Lederman and Peter Nelson gave HBO a presence.

There were nine fights, most of them well-matched with spirited action. If one imagined that the fighters’ gloves were black, their trunks black or white, and the ring canvas tan, it could have been the 1940s.

Ron Rizzo (vice president of operations for DiBella Entertainment) stood in the balcony, overlooking the scene. “For me, the closing is personal,” Rizzo said. “I was working for Cedric when we did the first show here. Roseland always had a special feel to it. There’s enough room and enough open space that you can move around and socialize between fights. Wherever you are, you get a good look at the ring. In all the years I’ve been in boxing, I haven’t found a place I like as much as this. I’ll miss it.”

Those thoughts resonated with Kushner, who was sitting quietly on a banquette toward the rear of the arena. These are hard times for Cedric. Once, he was at the center of the boxing universe. But in recent years, he has suffered reversals.

How did Kushner feel about Roseland closing?

“It’s a sign of the times,” Cedric said. “And for me, personally, it’s another part of my past, gone.”

*     *     *

On February 25, 1975, Elijah Muhammad died and his son, Wallace, succeeded him as leader of the Nation of Islam.

Muhammad Ali later recalled, “That didn’t surprise us, because we’d been told Wallace would come after his father. But what surprised some people was, Wallace changed the direction of the Nation. He’d learned from his studies that his father wasn’t teaching true Islam, and Wallace taught us the true meaning of the Qur’an. He showed that color don’t matter. He taught that we’re responsible for our own lives and it’s no good to blame our problems on other people. And that sounded right to me, so I followed Wallace. I’ve changed what I believe, and what I believe in now is true Islam.”

That bit of history is relevant today because Mauricio Sulaiman has succeeded his father as president of the World Boxing Council. Mauricio can take the organization that his father was largely responsible for building, keep the good, and reform its abuses. Or he can embrace the concept of phony belts, questionable officiating, biased rankings, and a lack of overall financial accountability.

The choice is his.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (Straight Writes and Jabs: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Jason Moloney TKOs Baez

Arne K. Lang

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Top Rank was back inside the MGM Grand “Bubble” tonight for chapter six of their semi-weekly ESPN summer series. Jason Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney twins, accomplished what his brother Andrew Moloney was unable to accomplish in this ring on Tuesday night, adding a “W” to his ledger and looking good doing it. It came at the expense of Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez.

It was Jason Moloney’s second start on U.S. soil after coming up just a tad short in a bid for the vacant IBF world bantamweight title at Orlando in October of 2018. Against Baez, he fought a smart tactical fight, blunting the Mexican’s superior reach by fighting him at close quarters. Baez fought from the third round on with a cut over his right eye and then suffered a cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By then the fight was becoming increasingly one-sided and Baez’s corner did not let him come out for round eight.

Jason Moloney improved to 21-1 with his 18th knockout. Leonardo Baez, who took the fight on short notice after Maloney’s original opponent Oscar Negrete was forced to withdraw with a detached retina, slumped to 18-3.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Abraham Nova advanced to 19-0 with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow but won no new fans with a lackadaisical performance. Nova, born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic and raised in Albany, NY, showed little but his jab through the first seven rounds until hurting Sparrow with a big right hand in the eighth. The judges had it 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91.

Sparrow (10-2), whose lone previous loss was by disqualification, was making his first start in 15 months. He was slated to fight Ryan Garcia in Los Angeles last Sept. 14 but never made it to the weigh-in after being arrested by U.S. marshals on a charge of threatening a woman with a gun after she threw his clothes out the window…

Other Bouts

In an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Gonzalez advanced to 15-0 with a unanimous decision over Ecuador’s Luis Porozo (15-3). The scores were 76-74 and 77-73 twice.

Gonzalez wasn’t particularly impressive although he did score two knockdowns. He decked Porozo near the end of round two with a left hook following a straight left and decked him again near the end of round seven with a left uppercut to the body.

In a rather ho-hum fight, welterweight Vlad Panin improved to 8-1 with 6-round majority decision over San Antonio’s 36-year-old Benjamin Whitaker (13-4). Panin, a Belarusian who grew up in Las Vegas and earned a BA in English from UCLA, has a good back story but seemingly a limited upside in the fight game.

In an entertaining 6-round welterweight clash, Filipino campaigner Reymond Yanon improved to 11-5-1 with a split decision (59-55, 58-56, 56-58) over Clay Burns. A 33-year-old ex-Marine from Fort Worth, Burns declined to 9-8-2.

The opener, a heavyweight bout slated for six rounds, matched two Phoenix-based fighters in a rematch. Kingsley Ibeh, a former standout defensive lineman for the Washburn College Ichabods, avenged his lone defeat and improved to 4-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Waldo Cortes (5-3). Ibeh, who at 286 had a 39-pound weight advantage, softened Cortes up with a series of uppercuts and Cortes was on his way down when he was tagged with a glancing left hand. He got to his feet, but referee Vic Drakulich waived it off. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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