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THE TSS Q ‘n A: Referee Kenny Bayless

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Referees in sports are there to protect the athletes and a byproduct of that objective is that sometimes the quest to protect the participants disappoints the fans. You might not like it and they don’t do it intentionally, but it’s the referee’s job to, especially in boxing, protect the fighters from themselves.

If a boxing referee thinks we have seen enough of a fight, then we’ve seen enough. The concept to stop a fight is simple but the process can be complicated. There are levels to this game, as they say. And there are levels to the art of refereeing. Referees are caretakers of boxing, present to protect what is in the best interest of the fighters’ health and life longevity.

My conversation with Las Vegas-based referee Kenny Bayless teaches us about the referee instincts. “It’s a trigger in us, “ Kenny Bayless told me about the moment when deciding a fight should be halted. “If we see that he has had enough and that trigger goes off, you just don’t pull back from it.”

Bayless went to school in the Bay Area at Cal State Hayward and moved to Vegas in 1972 to teach health and physical education, not to referee.

Today, he is one of the most respected referees in boxing. Fighters are supposed to protect themselves at all time. But he explains how referees are there at times to protect the fighters from themselves, or their egos. And when referees draw attention to themself, make a sound, deduct points or God forbid stop a fight before the bloodthirsty mob is satisfied, then they become the bad guy, the focus of fans’ ire.Bayless tells how he got started in the referee profession, explains the art of movement and verbal command, and enlightens us about ways to read a fighters’ body language in the ring. Bayless also discusses some of the most memorable fights he was involved in, including Floyd Mayweather/Shane Mosley, Amir Khan/Danny Garcia, and Manny Pacquiao/Juan Manuel Marquez IV.

Ray Markarian: What made you want to become a referee?

Kenny Bayless: It’s interesting because I was actually recruited to come to Vegas because they were lacking African-American teachers in the area. But I learned real fast that there were not many African-Americans in the area of sports in Las Vegas. You see Ray, I grew up in the Bay Area where we have the Oakland Raiders, the 49ers, the Giants, and Oakland Athletics. When I moved to Vegas they had no professional sports. The only sports teams to follow in Vegas were the UNLV Runnin Rebels and boxing.

RM: So, you went to Vegas to become a teacher? But how did you become involved in boxing?

KB: Well, I went to many boxing events but it wasn’t until I went to the Muhammad Ali (versus Jerry Quarry) fight at the Las Vegas Convention Center in 1972. That’s what kind of intrigued me to say hey, I want to get more involved. So, I got involved in the amateur program as a judge. And, I continued to go to the Golden Gloves. And my brother Kermit was going to the Golden Gloves with me at the time. So basically what I would do is, I would judge the amateur fights, but when I went to the professional shows, I would score the professional shows and compare it to the professional judges to see how well I did.

RM: That’s smart.

KB: Then, one of the judges that I was comparing my notes with said, ‘You’re in pretty good shape, why don’t become a referee?’

RM: OK.

KB: My first response was no, but then I just gave it a try.

RM: Right.

KB: So, I started watching referees a little bit more when I went to the shows. Richard Steele happened to come to town from Southern California. I asked him to show me the art of refereeing. He took me down to one of the local amateur gyms and I started working out with him and some of the amateur fighters. And that’s how I got started.

RM: I see. So, what were some of things that you would look for in referees? What makes a good referee?

KB: Well, movement is one of the most important things. There has to be a lot of movement. Every once in a while you’ll see a referee get in the way of the fighters but they get out of the way quick because the movement is always consistent. You can’t stay in a particular spot. You can slow it down or speed it up but the referee is always moving. That’s one of the things I would focus on. And the next thing is verbal command. Referees have to verbally command what they expect a fighter to do, especially if there are any fouls during a course of a fight.

RM: I always notice your eyes in a fight. You make great eye contact. And you seem to talk with your eyes to the fighters. You always look the fighters directly in their eyes to make a point. Is that something you’ve trained on?

KB: Well, I am very explicit. And it’s amazing that you ask that question Ray because I like to express myself to the fighters. I want to let them know that this is the real deal. I want to let them know if I am giving them a soft warning or a hard warning. I don’t want the problem to continue to happen because it could be a situation where I start deducting points. And, there have been some photos taken of my eyes that look funny. I can laugh about it now, but when I look at the pictures, the look I am giving is very explicit. And I hope the fighters understand that I want to correct any problem and I don’t want it to continue.

RM: I hear you. So, how much different is it to watch a fight from the outside of the ring than it is from the inside?

KB: It’s a big difference. As a spectator you see things at certain angles. Your viewpoint depends on the movement of the fighters.

RM: Yeah.

KB: For referees, it’s often said that we have the best seat in the house because we can move to see what’s going on. We don’t sit in one place. We move to see. So, watching the fight inside the ring is completely different. The fans don’t get to move like we get to move.

RM: That’s true.

KB: So, it is important for me to get in the right position so I can make the right call. Our movement is the key factor. There might be a time or two where we might get out of position, that’s just being human, but 99% of time we’re right there seeing everything.

RM: So, if you’re not moving you’re not doing your job. Is that fair to say?

KB: Well, movement works to our favor. See, I’m a former track athlete. I used to run the 400. So, I take a lot of pride in my reaction and my ability to move around the ring because it helps me be in position at the right time and it plays to my advantage. And I always make note of that to the referees coming up, I work out just like the fighters work out.

RM: Really?

KB: Yes. I get on the treadmill and do leg presses to be the best at what I do in the ring. I want to be just as fit for what I do as the fighters are for what they do.

RM: Do you care personally about the fighters when you referee a fight?

KB: Oh, by all means. This is a combat sport and safety is my number one priority. And concussions are a big issue. At the seminar I recently went to in California we learned how to pick up signals for concussions and serious injury. The boxing fan is there to get entertained. And when we have to stop a fight before the fans are thrilled enough then the referee becomes the bad guy.

RM: The fans always want more action and the referee protects the fighters.

KB: Yes. And sometimes we stop a fight before reaching the crescendo that the fans want.

RM: What are some of the things you look for when a fighter is in trouble?

KB: Well, you look at body chemistry. When a fighter is sitting down on his punches before, he might be pushing his punches now. We also look at his eyes. The fighter’s eyes can become very glassy and it is hard for anyone else to see that if they are not in the ring. We as referees really get a chance to observe a fighter in between rounds. We have the option to get into his corner and ask a question or two, look at his body chemistry, also look at how he responds to us and to his trainer. We can also ask the fight doctor to take a look.

RM: What kind of questions do you ask the fighters in the corners?

KB: Well, sometimes before I get to the corner, the fight doctor is there before me asking questions and examining the fighter. And the doctor will step back and give me an assessment before the bell rings for the next round. The doctor will say something like ‘Hey, keep a close eye on this guy. He might be taking a little too much.’ Or he might just say ‘The fighter is OK.’ So, before that bell rings I already know what I am focused on.

RM: OK. Here is a question. How do you know when to stop a fight? Let’s say the fighter is in trouble and in the middle of the round and there is no way out, how do you know when to stop it?

KB: Well, if I get the opportunity between the round to talk to the fighter, if the fighter is just taking too many shots, I go to his corner and say ‘Look, I’m going to protect you. If you want to continue fighting, you’re going to have to show me something.’ So, if he comes out and takes more punishment, I am going to stop the fight. But if he comes out and shows some defense and boxing ability I will let it go. But we have to always stick to safety first.

RM: So, is there any fight that you worked in the past that still bothers you today? Is there any fight that you maybe stopped too soon or let it go too long?

KB: No. That has never gone through my mind. See, I have been involved in fights where fighters have passed. And you never want to be in a situation where you are questioning yourself.

RM: OK.

KB: And I would rather stop a fight sooner than later.

RM: I hear you.

KB: As a matter of fact, I have been involved in three fights* where a fighter has passed. And each circumstance was different. But I have no regret that I let it go too long because I stopped it when I felt the fighter had enough. Unfortunately there were other circumstances that were involved such as the cerebral hematoma and the fighter has passed.

RM: Yeah.

KB: But no. To answer your question, I have never gone back and thought that I should have stopped a fight sooner. It’s a trigger in us, Ray. If we see that he has had enough and that trigger goes off, you just don’t pull back from it.

RM: Yeah. Well, it is really unfortunate that you were involved in such traumatic fights. But it must have taken you a long time to perfect the instinct to stop a fight.

KB: Yes. What a lot of people don’t know is that I feel like the third man in the ring every time I watch a fight on television. I put myself in the situation. So, when certain things are happening when I watch a fight on TV, I officiate it from home. And nine times out of ten, if that referee is on his A game, we will almost come to the same conclusion at the same time.

RM: OK.

KB: We continually train ourselves. And I don’t just do it for boxing. When I watch a football game and see pass interference, I am trying to call it. I want to make sure I am sharp in what I see. Because in boxing, we don’t have the luxury of calling timeout and looking at a replay. In boxing, we have to call it how we say it.

RM: Yep.

KB: So, we have to train our eyes for what we see. Now, is it possibly for us to miss something here and there? Well, sure it is. We are only human. But I want to be 99% right. It’s just about training our eyes to what we see. So when we see it we call it.

RM: Right… Two big fights that stand out to me that you did recently are Mayweather/Mosley and Amir Khan/Danny Garcia. Can you tell me about round 2 of Mayweather/Mosley? What did you think when Mayweather got in trouble?

KB: Well, I’ll tell you, when Mosley caught Mayweather with a good shot, I think it was a right hand, he followed it up with a second right hand.

RM: Yeah.

KB: When I saw it that early in the fight I was like ‘Oh, boy.’ I was not expecting that. You know, I thought the action was going to pick up in the middle rounds. I was just thinking about their style of fighting. But when Mosley hurt Mayweather my first response was ‘Oh boy, it is picking up a lot sooner than what I thought.’ But then Mayweather took control of the fight from that point.

RM: So, you didn’t have any feelings about stopping the fight?

KB: No. The thought never even crossed my mind. Although Mayweather was hurt, he grabbed and held, but his eyes were still clear and he recovered very fast.

RM: OK. Then what about Khan/Garcia? Amir Khan said he was OK. But you still stopped it.

KB: That was a situation where the referee has to protect the fighter.

RM: Yeah.

KB: Amir Khan got up from the first knockdown in a bad situation. And like you said, I asked him if he was OK and if he can continue and he said yes. And, it was towards the end of the round so I was giving him the opportunity to finish the round. So, now he gets a minute rest. But then he goes back out and goes down again. I give him another opportunity. And then he goes down again. So, then after the third knockdown I was just looking at his movement and he just didn’t have it. He just didn’t. He could have went down maybe four or five more times but there was just no point in letting it go. The punches were accumulating. So for his safety I just stopped the fight.

RM: OK. I respect your opinion. And I think you did the right thing.

KB: Thank you.

RM: Hey, what did you think of Tony Weeks’ decision to stop the Canelo/Angulo fight?

KB: “I agree with Tony’s decision to stop the fight. I think it was a good decision. Safety is always the first and most important concern. Angulo was taking a lot of shots. And sometimes we have to protect the fighters from themselves. I went to a referee seminar about six weeks ago with Jack Reiss and Big John McCarthy and we were discussing how fighters get concussions while they are still fighting. Most people don’t realize that fighters can also get concussions standing up. No matter what, most of the fighters are going to fight through it because they have heart. But that is part of the reason why we have doctors in each corner. So, to answer your question, I do agree with Tony’s decision to stop the fight.

RM: What is your favorite type of fight to watch?

KB: Well, I tell people that boxers are entertaining us. They are showing how well their skills match up against their opponent. I don’t like to get into who my favorite fighter is. I don’t root for one side or another because of my position. I don’t have a favorite fighter or a favorite type of fight. I just want both fighters to enter the ring and exit the ring under their own power.

RM: What is the best fight you’ve refereed?

KB: Shucks, there’s been a lot Ray. The third Barrera and Morales was a good one.

RM: Oh, that was a good one.

KB: It was a war of a fight. I did Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito.

RM: Oh, you did the first one?

KB: I did the first one. It was a war. Mayweather/De la Hoya was a good highly competitive fight. That’s what people want. When Pacquiao fought Morales. When Pacquiao fought Cotto. When Pacquiao fought Marquez, I did the second fight and the fourth fight. And both of those fights were incredible. In the fourth fight, Marquez knocked Pacquiao down in the third round and Pacquiao knocked Marquez down in the fifth round.

RM: Right.

KB: At the end of the fifth round it was one of the scenarios that I explained to you earlier. I go over to Marquez’s corner and the fight doctor is looking at Marquez because it appeared he had a broken nose and he was bleeding out of both nostrils. He had a really good working out from Pacquiao. So, I am waiting to see what the doctor says and he tells me to let the fight continue. Then the next round, Marquez knocks Pacquiao out cold.

RM: Yep. That’s crazy.

KB: That was a good fight. So, I have been in my share. I can tell you that.

RM: You just reminded me of the Floyd Mayweather/Victor Ortiz fight. When Joe Cortez looked away from the action for a second and Mayweather clocked Ortiz. Can you give me your opinion on that?

KB: Yep. We talk about that fight at the referee seminars. There was not really much that Joe Cortez can do. You know, before the start of each fight we tell the fighters to protect yourself at all times. And when Ortiz intentionally head-butted Mayweather, Joe Cortez stopped it. Then Ortiz apologized immediately. And then Joe was putting Mayweather in the neutral corner and Victor Ortiz went over and apologized to him a third time. So, after Joe put Ortiz in the neutral corner and deducted a point he apologized a fourth time. Well, how many more times are you going to apologize? Then when the action began, and Mayweather understanding the rules that you have to protect yourself at all times said hey, if you don’t protect yourself, here we go. Again, there was not a lot Joe could do in that situation. Yeah, it is sad the fight ended that way but there was nothing Joe could do about it.

RM: Well, I appreciate your time Kenny. Is there anything else you would like to get off your chest?

KB: Well, the boxing judges take a pretty hard hit when they score a fight. The sports announcers make comments about how there could possibly be a fix. Personally I don’t think they should be hard on the judges because anybody can have a bad day at the office. When people say the fight is fixed it taints the sport. People start making accusations that officials are paid under the table and it’s very far from the truth.

RM: Thanks for letting me know. It is refreshing to hear that from an official.

KB: Well Ray, we officials love our sport. We do everything we can to be fair for our sport. Taking money under the table is outrageous as far as I’m concerned. I want the fans to know that we are not on the take. You know, I am a big 49ers fan and I didn’t like some of the calls that went against the 49ers in the NFC Championship game. Like I said, I have made mistakes before. It does not mean I am on the take. I just made a mistake just like any human being can make.

*=1st fight9/26/1997 James Crayton vs. Johnny Montantes at Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas, NV: The Minnesotan Montantes passed away two days later. He was 28 years old. His record was 28-4 with 22 KOs.

2nd fight06/22/2002 Fernando Montiel vs. Pedro Alcazar at MGM Grand in Las Vegas for the WBO super flyweight title: The Panamanian Alcazar passed away two days later. He was 26 years old. His record was 25-1 with 14 KOs.

3rd fight07/01/2005 Martin Sanchez vs. Rustam Nugaev at Orleans Hotel, Las Vegas, NV: The Mexican Sanchez passed away the following day. He was 26 years old. His record was 13-8 with 10 KOs.

You can email Ray at Raymond.Markarian@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter here @raymarkarian

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A Conversation with Legendary Phoenix Boxing Writer Norm Frauenheim

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It seems all along that Norm Frauenheim was destined to become a boxing writer.

Two critical elements were at play that led the 75-year-old scribe to that profession.

“I was always interested in boxing, even as a kid,” said Frauenheim who spent 31 years with the Arizona Republic beginning in 1977. “I’m an Army brat. I was born in January 1949 on a base, Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, a city I didn’t really see until I hit the NBA road covering the [Phoenix] Suns for more than a decade starting in 1979-80.”

Frauenheim, a longtime correspondent for The Ring magazine who writes for various boxing sites such as boxingscene.com and 15rounds.com, added more background: “One of the many places I lived was Schofield Barracks on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu from 1962 to 1966,” he continued. “I delivered The Stars & Stripes to troops with the 25th Infantry Division, which was headed to Vietnam, along with my dad.

“Anyway, boxing and Schofield have long been linked, mostly because of a novel and film, ‘From Here to Eternity’ (the James Jones novel starring Frank Sinatra on the big screen). The troops were still boxing, outdoors, at the barracks along my newspaper route. I was 13 to 17 years old. I’d stop, watch and get interested. I’ve been interested ever since.”

Frauenheim added: “From there, my father and family shipped to Fort Sheridan, then a base north of Chicago where I spent one year and graduated from high school. Then my dad went back to Vietnam and I went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville (1967 through 1971) and graduated with a major in history. I was also a competitive swimmer, pre-Title IX.

“Competitive swimming is also at the roots of my sportswriting career. I was frustrated that Vanderbilt’s student newspaper didn’t cover us. I offered to do it. The newspaper agreed. I don’t swim as well as I used to. I look at a surfboard and look at the waves I used to take on and wondered what in the hell I was doing. It’s a lot safer to be at ringside.”

After a more than five-decade stint covering boxing, Frauenheim is glad that the manly sport is still around but with more outside competition.

“It’s surely not the [Muhammad] Ali era. It’s not the Golden 80s, either. It’s a fractured business in a world with more and more options for sports fans. MMA is just one example,” he said. “Boxing is not dying. It has been declared dead, ad nauseam. I read the inevitable obits and think of an old line: Boxing has climbed out of more coffins than Count Dracula.

“Still, the sport has been pushed to the fringe of public interest. But it’s been there before. Resiliency is one of its strongest qualities. It’ll be around, always reinventing itself.”

In some respects, boxing, like the other sports, has always been dependent on rivalries like the NBA’s Celtics versus Lakers, which drives the public’s interest and storylines.

“[Larry] Bird-Magic [Johnson] was basketball’s Ali-[Joe] Frazier,” Frauenheim says. “It transformed the league, setting the stage for Michael Jordan. It can happen again, in boxing or any other sport.”

Boxing is still the same but with tweaks here and there.

“When I started, championship bouts were 15 rounds instead of 12,” said Frauenheim who began his journalism career in 1970 at the Tallahassee Democrat and worked at the Jacksonville Journal before being lured in Phoenix. “There were morning weigh-ins instead of the day-before promotional show. There was also a lot more media. A big fight in Vegas meant all of the big media people were there. The last time that happened was Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2015, a fight that failed to meet expectations and I think eroded much of the big media’s appetite for more,” continued Frauenheim whose byline has appeared in USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

Mexican legend Saul Alvarez is still a major draw, but there are others on the horizon who are ready to step in and take over like the undefeated super middleweight David Benavidez.

“The clock is ticking on Canelo’s career, and I think he knows it. At this point, it’s about risk-reward. The 27-year-old Benavidez is too big a risk. Canelo, I think, looks at Benavidez and thinks he’ll beat him. I don’t think he would,” Frauenheim noted. “Benavidez is too big, has a mean streak and possesses a rare extra gear. He gets stronger in the late rounds.

“Even if Canelo wins, there’s a pretty good chance that Benavidez hurts him. There’s still a chance Canelo-Benavidez happens. But I think it’ll take some Saudi [Arabian] money.”

Boxers stand alone in the ring, literally and figuratively, but have a small supporting crew.

This makes them unique compared to baseball, football, basketball and hockey.

“Boxers are different from any other athlete I’ve ever covered. It’s why, I guess, boxing has been called a writer’s sport. There are plenty of NFL and NBA players who have grown up on the so-called mean streets,” Frauenheim said. “But they have teammates. They don’t make that long, lonely walk from the dressing room to the ring.”

Stripped naked, boxers are an open book, according to Frauenheim.

“They can be hard to deal with while training and cutting weight. But after a fight, no athlete in my experience is more forthcoming,” he said. “Win or lose, they just walked through harm’s way in front of people. In my experience, that’s when they want to talk.”

Selecting a career highlight or highlights isn’t easy for Frauenheim, but he tried.

“There are so many. I was there for the great Sugar Ray Leonard victory over Thomas Hearns [1981], a welterweight classic,” he recalled. “A personal favorite was Michael Carbajal’s comeback from two knockdowns for a KO of Humberto Gonzalez in 1993, perhaps the best fight in the history of the lightest weight class. I was also there for the crazy, including Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield’s “Bite Fight” and the “Fan Man” landing in the ring like the 82nd Airborne Division midway through a Riddick Bowe-Holyfield fight behind Vegas’ Caesars Palace.”

Three boxers set the tone and backdrop for Frauenheim’s illustrious tenure as a writer.

“Roberto Duran is the greatest lightweight ever. His lifestyle sometimes got the best of him. That was evident in his infamous ‘No Mas’ welterweight loss to Sugar Ray Leonard in New Orleans,” he said of that November 1980 bout. “He told me that he took the rematch, on short notice, because of the money. “Women-women-women, eating-eating-eating, drinking-drinking-drinking,” he told me in an interview of what he had been doing before Leonard’s people approached him for an immediate rematch of his Montreal victory. But take a look at Duran’s victory in Montreal [June 1980]. Watch it again. On that night, there’s never been a better fighter than Duran.”

Frauenheim added another titan to that short list: “Leonard, who is the last real Sugar,” he said, and ended with the only eight-weight division king. “Manny Pacquiao, an amazing story about a starving kid off impoverished Filipino streets. He was a terrific fighter, blessed with speed, power and instinct. Add to that a shy personality unchanged by all the money and celebrity. He is an example of what can still happen in boxing. He’s the face of the game’s resiliency.”

That’s quite a trio, and they’re the best of the best that Frauenheim’s seen and covered from ringside.

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Aaron McKenna and Kieron Conway Victorious in Osaka

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Aaron McKenna scored a 10th-round stoppage of Jeovanny Estela today (Monday, July 15) in Osaka, Japan. The bout was one of four scheduled 10-rounders in the middleweight division in a revamped Prizefighter Tournament with a $1,000,000 prize at stake for the winner.

One of two fighting brothers from the little town of Smithborough in County Monaghan, Ireland, the undefeated (19-0, 10 KOs) McKenna (pictured) was well ahead on the scorecards when the referee stepped in and halted the match at the 2:02 mark of the final round. He entered the ring a 4/1 favorite over Estela (14-1), a 23-year-old Floridian of Puerto Rican descent who began his pro career at 147.

McKenna’s opponent in the next round (at a date and place to be determined) will be England’s Kieron Conway (21-3-1, 6 KOs) who scored a seventh-round stoppage over China’s obscure Ainiwaer Yilixati (19-2). All three of Conway’s losses were to opponents who were undefeated when he fought them with two of those setbacks occurring on Canelo Alvarez undercards.

Two Japanese fighters – Riku Kunimoto and Kazuto Takesako – were victorious in the other bouts and will meet in the semifinals.

Local fan favorite Kunimoto, recognized as the middleweight champion of Japan, advanced to 12-1 (6 KOs) with a fifth-round stoppage of countryman Eiki Kani (8-5-3). This was a rematch. The two fought earlier this year in Nagoya with Kunimoto registering a fifth-round TKO.

Takesako (17-2-1, 15 KOs) registered the lone upset on the card with a hard-earned decision over England’s Mark Dickinson. It was the first pro loss for Dickinson who had only six pro fights under his belt but was a highly decorated amateur. The scores were 98-92, 97-93, and 95-94.

The next fight for Kunimoto will be another rematch. Takesako saddled him with his lone defeat, knocking him out in the first round at Tokyo’s venerable Korakuen Hall in May of 2021.

The tournament, co-sponsored by Matchroom and televised on DAZN, offers an aggregate $100,000 per event for knockouts. McKenna, Conway, and Kunimoto scooped up $25,000 apiece.

Aaron McKenna, his brother Stephen, and their father/trainer Feargal McKenna were the subjects of a story that ran on these pages. Stephen McKenna (14-0, 13 KOs) returns to the ring next month against 14-2 Joe Laws on a BOXXER promotion that will air on Sky Sports in the UK.

Aaron McKenna entered the Prizefighter Tourney as the pre-fight favorite and Matchroom honcho Eddie Hearn has indicated that he will be in line for a world title shot if he wins his next two matches.

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Results and Recaps from Philly where ‘Boots’ Ennis Stomped Out David Avanesyan

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PHILADELPHIA, PA — On what Matchroom Boxing Promotions called the most important night in Philadelphia boxing in over 40 years, Jaron “Boots” Ennis (32-0, 29 KOs), the current IBF welterweight champion from the city of Brotherly Love, attracted a larger-than-expected crowd of 14,119 to the Wells Fargo Center where he stopped David Avanesyan who was pulled out after five rounds. In Avanesyan (30-5-1, 18 KOs), Ennis looked to impress on two fronts, both commercially and critically.

It didn’t take long for there to be some excitement after Ennis landed a clean jab that caused Avanesyan to stagger momentarily. Ennis turned southpaw and the action stopped after Ennis landed a low blow. Rounds two and three saw both fighters decide to fight on the inside. Ennis was able to land crisp upper cuts while only getting hit with a few shots in exchange. After four rounds, the evidence was clear that Avanesyan was getting hit with clean shots as his face started to get busted up. Avanesyan had a moment when he landed a right hand that got the attention of the crowd and Ennis.

In return, Ennis continued to press forward, this time behind a straight left and combinations. A huge overhand left floored Avanesyan who rose to his feet. Round five ended with Ennis landing some clean power shots that had Avanesyan looking deflated. The ringside physician called an end to the fight after the conclusion of round five.

After the fight, Ennis agreed that he would love the opportunity to fight Terence Crawford if Crawford were to win next month, this despite not having the type of performance that he would have loved to have had after having a year-long lay-off. Eddie Hearn mentioned that he would love to have Ennis return to Philadelphia sometime in October or November if the Crawford fight can’t be made in a possible unification fight.

Other Bouts

After three pedestrian rounds, what sounded like it would be a grudge match between Jahlil Hackett (9-0, 7 KOs) and Pete Dobson (16-2) finally turned into a fight in the fourth. With both fighters finally warming up, Hackett used his jab to continue to work his way inside to land power combinations. Dobson was forced to back up into the ropes and take shots after a large lump formed on his forehead above his left eye.

The action settled down after the sixth round with Hackett taking total control. He continued to work behind an educated jab that stunted any offensive attack that Dobson tried to muster. After all ten rounds, two of the judges saw the fight 97-93, while the third had it 96-94 all in favor of Jahlil Hackett.

Skye Nicolson (11-0, 1 KO), the 2020 Tokyo Olympian and current WBC featherweight champion, utilized her skills in every way to defeat Dayan Vargas (18-2, 12 KOs). All three judges scored the fight 100-90 after Nicolson completed the shutout in dominating fashion through her command of range with a sharp jab and lateral movement. Moving forward unification fights and a possible move up in weight may force Nicolson to face the type of opposition that could make for more entertaining fights in the future.

Light heavyweight action kicked off the main portion of the DAZN telecast. Jersey City native Khalil Coe (9-0-1, 7 KOs) made short work of Kwame Ritter (11-2). After an uneventful first round, Coe started to close the distance to start the second round and as a result he landed a hard straight right that hurt Ritter. A left hook dropped Ritter and he fell backwards into the ropes. When he got up, Coe was able to swarm him with hard shots and the referee called a halt to the action with just one second remaining in the second round.

Former world title challenger Christopher “Pitufu” Diaz (29-4, 19 KOs) made quick work of the game but clearly overmatched Derlyn Hernandez (12-2-1). A short-left hook hurt Hernandez and the seasoned Diaz took his time applying the follow-up pressure that forced the referee to wave off the action at the 2:36 mark of the second round. Diaz stated prior to this comeback fight that he’s looking for one more run towards a world title.

Christian Carto (23-1, 17 KO’s) looked impressive in three rounds of action against Carlos Buitrago (38-14, 22 KOs). Both fighters were happy to exchange from the opening bell. Carto took the punches he was hit with well and was able to return fire with combinations that caught and dropped Buitrago to start round three. A series of well-placed power combinations hurt Buitrago as the round came to an end, which prompted the referee to stop the bout at the end of the round.

A pair of Boots Promotions fighters kicked off the night with entertaining bouts:

It took all six rounds to decide the Ismail Muhammad (5-0, 1 KOs) Frank Brown (3-5-2) fight. Brown pressed the action early and caught the cold Muhammad in an exchange knocking him down for the first time in his career. Muhammad rose to his feet and proceeded to work the gameplan to get himself back into the fight. Muhammad scored his own knockdown in the fourth round and finished the fight strong to earn the unanimous decision victory by scores of 58-54 twice and 57-55.

Dennis Thompson (1-0) won his professional debut at bantamweight with a unanimous decision over the game Fernando Valdez (1-8).

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