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Mickey Duff 1929 – 2014

Thomas Hauser

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Monek Prager, the son of a rabbi, was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1929. In 1938, his family immigrated to England, where Monek became Mickey Duff. Between 1945 and 1949 (according to Boxrec.com), he engaged in 44 professional fights, compiling a record of 33 wins, 8 losses, and 3 draws.

“To say I couldn’t punch wouldn’t be accurate,” Mickey told me once. “But I couldn’t punch very hard.”

He had four knockouts in those 44 fights.

Over time, Duff became one of England’s premier matchmakers, managers, and promoters. He loved boxing and was a marvelous story-teller. One of his tales involved John Mugabi, the hard-punching junior-middleweight from Uganda.

“Early in John’s career,” Duff recalled, “I wanted to get him a fight in the United States. So I called Don King, and King matched him against Curtis Ramsey in Atlantic City [on May 2, 1982]. I brought Mugabi over. Then an emergency came up and I had to go home. I hated to do it but there was no choice. All I could do was tell John’s trainer, George Francis, to call with the result the minute the fight was over.”

“So there I was, sitting in England, biting my nails when the phone rang,” Duff continued. “It was George, telling me that Mugabi had knocked Ramsey out in the first round. Then Don King gets on the line and says, ‘Mickey, the kid’s good but we got a problem. He’s begging me to take over his carerer. He says he wants Don King to promote him, but I told him no. I said you and I are friends, Mickey, and I won’t take him on unless he lets me keep you as a fifty-fifty partner.”

“Don,” Duff countered “I didn’t know you spoke Swahili.”

“I don’t,” King responded.

“That’s very interesting,” Mickey said, “because Mugabi doesn’t speak a word of English.”

Duff had a way with words. Noting the mess that Hasim Rahman got himself into when he tried to avoid a contractually-mandated rematch against Lennox Lewis, Mickey observed, “Rahman was three smart for his own good.”

Speaking of a rival promoter, Duff said, “So many of his fighters wind up in the hospital, he should sell his limousine and buy an ambulance.”

Commenting on the sad end of Muhammad Ali’s career, Mickey opined, “Ali has nothing to be ashamed of. But the people who let him keep fighting do.”

“The problem with boxing,” he told me once, “is that common sense isn’t common in boxing.”

But the Mickey Duff declaration that stands foremost in my mind was a commentary on the sweet science. “There are no permanent friends in boxing,” he declared. “And there are no permanent enemies in boxing.”

Mickey Duff was a permanent friend. He died on Saturday at the age of 84. Boxing will miss him.

*    *     *

On the eve of “March Madness”, Sports Illustrated ran an excellent feature on the first-round 1989 NCAA tournament game between the #1-seeded Georgetown Hoyas and Princeton. The 16th-seeded Tigers led by as many as ten points in the second half before succumbing by a single point on the last play of the game.

Why is that worthy of mention on a boxing website?

John Thompson (Georgetown’s coach at the time) later told this author, “Before the start of the NCAA tournament, I played a tape of Muhammad Ali for the team. It was a tremendous piece, a documentary that I wanted them to see as an inspirational thing. Then, in the locker room right before the first game, I talked with them about motivation and confidence. And just before they went out on the floor, the kids put their hands together and shouted, ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Rumble, young man, rumble. Ahhh!’ Then the game started, and we came within a basket of losing to Princeton.”

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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Boxing Odds and Ends: The WBA’s 50-Year-Old Cruiserweight Contender and More

Arne K. Lang

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Boxing’s seniors tour continues on Sept. 11 when Oscar De La Hoya returns to the ring after an absence of almost 13 years to fight former MMA star Vitor Belfort. The bout is scheduled for eight two-minute rounds and will count against De La Hoya’s professional boxing record which currently stands at 39-6 (30). More details will be revealed tomorrow at a Los Angeles press conference.

De La Hoya turned 48 in February. If he is looking for inspiration, he need look no further back than this past Saturday where cruiserweight Firat Arslan continued his ascent toward yet another world title shot with a fourth-round stoppage of Argentina’s Ruben Eduardo Acosta. Arslan is older than Oscar, he’s 50!

The match took place in Goeppingen, Germany, before a small gathering in Firat Arslan’s gym. It was sanctioned by the WBA for an “international” belt. A southpaw of Turkish descent, Arslan (pictured on the right) entered the contest ranked #5 by the repugnant organization and will presumably move up a notch.

Arslan is in his 24th year as a pro. His signature win was a 12-round decision over Virgil Hill in 2007. Hill was then 43 years old. Coincidentally, the man that Arslan just defeated was also 43.

The victory over Hill, a future Hall of Famer, earned Arslan a world cruiserweight title. He lost it to Guillermo Jones after one successful defense and would come up short in three other stabs at a world cruiserweight title, losing to Marco Huck twice and to Yoan Pablo Hernandez.

One doesn’t know if Ruben Eduardo Acosta turned up in Germany intent on rendering an honest effort. He went down three times from body shots and was counted out on his last trip to the mat. But the Argentine sported a decent record (38-17-5) and had gone seven years without being stopped, a pocket of 17 fights.

There’s an obvious difference between Arslan and De La Hoya. Arslan was out of the ring for 21 months after losing his title to Jones, but has otherwise maintained a steady schedule. His weight has never ballooned between fights and he has the physique of a man twenty years younger. De La Hoya has led a sedentary life since leaving the ring and is effectively starting over. He figures to weigh about 170 for Vitor Belfort which would be 25 pounds more than he carried for his last fight against Manny Pacquiao.

De La Hoya vs. Belfort is being promoted by Triller and will air on FITE. Triller and FITE are also collaborating on the Aug. 3 event at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden. The headline attraction of what will supposedly be a 10-fight card finds heavyweight contender Michael “The Bounty” Hunter taking on former amateur rival Mike “White Delight” Wilson.

Those attending the event who are over the age of 15 must provide proof of full vaccination or a negative test result within the previous 72 hours. Despite this potential deal-breaker, tickets purportedly disappeared fast, portending a complete sell-out.

Of course, there’s more to the event than boxing. Local rap groups DIPSET and THE LOX will battle it out in a competition ballyhooed as iconic in the promotional literature.

—-

A more compelling fight takes place in North London on Sept. 25 when IBF/WBO/WBA heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua defends his belts against former unified cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk. It will be the first boxing event at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium which opened in April of 2019. Built for the Tottenham Hotspurs, a Premier League soccer club, the stadium was also conceptualized with an eye toward housing an NFL team.

The soccer pitch is retractable. Underneath is an artificial turf for American football. Having the football field at a lower level than the soccer pitch will allow spectators in the first row to see over the heads of football players and coaches standing on the sideline. In soccer, the front row can be closer to the playing field because soccer players sit on chairs when they are not in the game. Moreover, the stadium has a separate entrance dedicated to NFL events and the press sections for American football and for soccer are configured differently.

Pro football fans in the U.S. tuning in on television will be get a bird’s eye view of the new stadium on Oct. 10 and again Oct. 17 when the NFL plays games in London, renewing a tradition that was interrupted last year by Covid-19. The NFL recently signed a 10-year deal with the landlord of Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

For the record, the Oct. 10 game features the Falcons against the Jets. On Oct. 17, it’s the Jaguars against the Dolphins. Both games will start at 9:30 am ET, 6:30 am PT. Football fans on the West Coast are advised to set their alarm clocks.

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Fast Results from London: Massive Heavyweight Joe Joyce Keeps on Rolling

Arne K. Lang

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Ponderous but formidable Joe Joyce moved one step closer to a title fight tonight at the Wembley Arena with a sixth-round stoppage of Carlos Takam. Carrying 264 pounds on a six-foot-six frame, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist was simply too big for his 40-year-old French-Cameroonian adversary.

In his previous bout, Joyce methodically dismantled favored Daniel Dubois with a steady dose of his thudding right jab. Dubois quit in the 10th round with a busted eye socket. Tonight’s fight followed a somewhat similar pattern.

Takam landed some good shots in the first two rounds as Joyce was slow to find his rhythm, but Joyce stuck to his game plan which was to wear him down and Takam’s punches gradually lost steam in the face of Joyce’s constant pressure.

Early in round six, Joyce rocked Takam with a big right hand and didn’t let him off the hook. Takam protested when the referee indicated that he had seen enough and the stoppage did strike many as premature, but the handwriting was on the wall for the veteran who declined to 39-6-1. The official time was 0:49.

Joyce is of Scotch-Irish and Nigerian descent. College educated with a degree in fine arts, he acknowledges that he has no great passion for the sport of boxing and is in it for the financial rewards, not the glory. At age 35, he isn’t going to get any better, but he appears to have a rock-solid chin and his nickname, Juggernaut, is quite fitting.

Joyce entered the bout ranked #2 by the WBO, a notch below Oleksandr Usyk who challenges title-holder Anthony Joshua on Sept. 25.

Other Bouts of Note

Ekow Essuman, a 32-year-old Nottingham man, born in Botswana, unseated British and Commonwealth welterweight champion Chris Jenkins, winning on an eighth-round stoppage. A hard right hook followed by a flurry of punches forced the referee to waive it off. The official time was 0:53.

Essuman, who was favored in the 3/1 range, improved to 15-0 with his sixth win inside the distance. A Welshman, Jenkins (22-4-3) was making the fourth defense of his domestic title.

London super welterweight Hamzah Sheeraz, who has been training at the Ten Goose Gym in Van Nuys, California, improved to 13-0 (9 KOs) with a fifth-round stoppage of Spain’s Ezequiel Gurria (15-2). Gurria was down twice in the fifth round before the bout was halted at the 2:23 mark.

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Steen, Bocachica, and Martino Jules Stay Unbeaten in Cornhuskerland

Arne K. Lang

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The long-running Showtime series ShoBox:The New Generation was at the Heartland Events Center in Grand Island, Nebraska last night. Super middleweight Isaiah Steen and welterweight Janelson Figueroa Bocachica, both of whom are managed by 2020 BWAA Manager of the Year David McWater, were featured in the main bouts.

Cleveland’s Steen, the half-brother of 2016 U.S. Olympian Charles Conwell, improved to 16-0 (12) with a 10-round unanimous decision over previously undefeated Kalvin Henderson (14-1-1). Steen started slow and slowed down again in the final two rounds, but dominated the middle rounds and won by scores of 96-94 and 97-93 twice. Henderson, a part-time schoolteacher in Fayetteville, Arkansas who earned a degree in music from the University of Arkansas, was hampered by a pulled muscle in his right shoulder which he believes happened in the fourth round.

Steen hopes to land a spot on the big show coming up in Cleveland in five weeks. Charles Conwell is already booked. He will oppose Massachusetts veteran Mark DeLuca in a supporting bout to the freak fight between Jake Paul and Tyrone Woodley.

Janelson Figueroa Bocachica, a Detroit native of Puerto Rican ancestry, kept his undefeated record intact, but just barely. He was held to a draw by Shinard Bunch who appeared to have done enough to edge it.

Bunch, whose middle name is Showtime (no fooling) fights out of Trenton, New Jersey and is trained by Chino Reyes who guided Jason Sosa and Tevin Farmer to world titles. He entered the bout with a 15-1 (13) record but was moving up in class in his first scheduled 10-rounder. Only six of his wins had come against opponents with winning records.

Bocachica (17-0-1) performed below expectations for the second straight fight, having been hard-pressed to turn away Mark Reyes Jr. in his previous go. One of the judges scored it for him (96-94) but the others had it 97-93 Bunch and 95-95.

The TV opener was an 8-round featherweight contest between Martino Jules, a 24-year-old southpaw from Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Aram Avagyan, a 30-year-old Armenian who began his pro career in Russia and is currently domiciled in California.

Although neither were big punchers, the Armenian had the odds in his favor. A 2016 Olympian, he had fought the tougher schedule and was the bigger man, coming in two pounds over the featherweight limit (which reportedly cost him $2000). But his performance was sloppy – he was repeatedly warned for leading with his head – and the decision was a foregone conclusion when Jules was credited with scoring a knockdown late in the final round.

In his biggest win to date, Martino Jules improved to 11-0. It was the first pro loss for the 30-year-old Avagyan who declined to 10-1-2.

Photo credit: Esther Lin / SHOWTIME

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