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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, as Personified By Bernard Hopkins

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Boxing and the self-help industry are not a natural fit. One is brutal, violent sport unwelcoming to a business of workbooks and touchy-feely seminars. Yet continuous self-improvement is crucial to competing at the highest level in the ring and if both sides were willing to let down their guards, there could be some great connections. Dale Carnegie would probably have embraced the legendary personal kindness that Jack Dempsey and Muhammad Ali showed to others. Daniel Pink could find amazing case studies in the motivation behind the grueling training regimens of Rocky Marciano and Joe Frazier. However, the greatest match ever would be with Stephen Covey and Bernard Hopkins.

Covey, who passed away in 2012, is best remembered for his landmark book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” For the past 25 years, this book has guided millions of people who have wished to become simply better in their lives. To my knowledge, it has never been applied to the sweet science. When one does, there are numerous boxers one can find that embrace these habits, but Hopkins may be the most effective boxer in history. As the 49-year-old former undisputed middleweight champion and current IBF light heavyweight champ prepares for Saturday’s bout with Beibut Shumenov, it is worth exploring how Hopkins embodies Covey’s seven habits.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

The first three habits focus on personal victories and gaining independence and control. Covey writes that, “[Proactive people] work on things they can do something about.” For Hopkins, that has meant staying in top physical condition and maintaining a strict training regimen. He has been fighting for 25 years and has been a titleholder for more than half of them. A fighter does not accomplish that by abusing his body and gaining and losing a lot of weight. He does it by proactively hitting the gym every day.

Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind

Hopkins entered the fight game at the relatively late age of 23 because of a five-year stint in prison. He began his career as a light heavyweight and lost his professional debut in October of 1988. Instead of walking away or getting discouraged, Hopkins sought the tutelage of Philadelphia trainer Bouie Fisher, who determined Hopkins would be more suited competing as a middleweight.

“He came to our gym straight out of jail and with an 0-1 record,” Fisher said in 1995. “Bernard was smaller than he is today, but he knew what we wanted here and he did what he was told in camp. He did not want anything bad from the streets.”

Of course, one’s ultimate goal evolves over a 25-year career, but Hopkins began his career with the end result of not going back to the streets in his mind and has maintained that type of focus ever since.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

The history of pugilism is full of fighters who destroyed their careers through booze, drugs, gargantuan meals, chasing women, and lavish lifestyles. Hopkins is not one of them. He seems to put three things first in his life: his family, his finances and his career. He has been married for more than 20 years and managed his finances to the point where he was bagging his own groceries when he was a millionaire. Hopkins is also very strict about what he puts into his body. He does not drink, smoke, do drugs or eat things that do not agree with his health. It is a level of self-discipline that few people are able to achieve.

Habit 4: Think Win-Win

Covey’s next three habits are about establishing interdependence with colleagues. Thinking win-win may not apply directly to boxing matches, but it does to making them happen. To be successful with this habit, one also has to appreciate what he is worth and not compromise that. After winning the middleweight title in 1995, Hopkins defended his title with lower paydays than some of his contemporaries were earning and turned down numerous blockbuster fights because he did not feel that he was offered enough money.

Finally, Hopkins agreed to face Oscar De La Hoya in 2004 for $10 million. Critics at the time wondered why Hopkins had turned down so many other mega-fights and he explained that he knew what he was worth and would not risk his health or title for anything less. De La Hoya also thought win-win in the situation. After Hopkins knocked him out, De La Hoya invited him to be a partner in his Golden Boy Promotions and manage the East Coast side of the business.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

This habit centers on people skills, which in the ring is about as useful as proficiency in Microsoft Office. Though if one looks at how Hopkins performs in the squared circle, it is clear that he methodically works to understand his opponents before attacking them. The approach is not always pleasing to boxing fans. Hopkins has not knocked an opponent out since De La Hoya. In his next bout against Howard Eastman, his record 20th middleweight title defense, Hopkins used the first six rounds to study his challenger before using the final six to close the deal.

As he has gotten older, Hopkins has used this approach more and more. Today, he averages only 39 punches a round, the least of any fighter today, and the result is often a close decision. One cannot always call it pretty, but no one can deny its effectiveness.

Habit 6: Synergize

Covey wrote, “All the habits we have covered prepare us to create the miracle of synergy.” In seminars, synergy is the highest form of principle-centered leadership. For Hopkins, his embrace of the previous five habits allows him to continue to compete at the highest level against fighters who are at least a decade younger than him.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

After knocking out Segundo Mercado in April of 1995 to win the IBF Middleweight title, Hopkins immediately watched film of the bout.

“I just wanted to see what I did wrong,” he said.

That continued self-evaluation, improvement and evolution has allowed him to continue on after many fighters cannot. Hopkins is not the same fighter who knocked out Mercado nor the same boxer who knocked out Felix Trinidad in 2001 nor the one who stopped De La Hoya. Nevertheless, he continues to be introspective and adapt to the fight game in a way that works for him.

Of course, self-improvement case studies are not biographies and boxing fans can still note that Hopkins success and interactions have not come without controversy. While some may voice these frustrations, no one can argue against his effectiveness as an all-time great fighter.

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Former World Bantamweight Champion Richie Sandoval Passes Away at Age 63

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Richie Sandoval, who won the WBA and lineal bantamweight title in one of the biggest upsets of the 1980s and then, not quite two years later, suffered near-fatal injuries in a title defense, has passed away at the age of 63.

News circulated fast in the Las Vegas boxing community on Monday, July 22, the grapevine actuated by a tweet from Hall of Fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler: “Boxing and the Top Rank family lost one of our own last night in the passing of former WBA bantamweight champion Richie Sandoval. It hurts personally and professionally to know that Richie is gone at age 63. RIP campeon.”

Details are vague but the cause of death was apparently a sudden heart attack that Sandoval experienced while visiting the Southern California home of his son of the same name.

Richie Sandoval put the LA County community of Pomona, California, on the boxing map before Shane Mosley came along and gave the town a more frequently-cited mention in the sports section of the papers. He came from a fighting family. An older brother, Albert “Superfly” Sandoval, became a big draw at LA’s fabled Olympic Auditorium while building a 35-2-1 record that included a failed bid to capture Lupe Pintor’s world bantamweight title.

Richie was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic boxing team that was stranded when U.S. President Jimmy Carter (and many other world leaders) boycotted the event as a protest against Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan.

As a pro, Sandoval’s signature win was a 15th-round stoppage of Jeff Chandler. They fought on April 7, 1984 in Atlantic City. Chandler was making the tenth defense of his world bantamweight title.

Despite being a heavy underdog, Sandoval dominated the fight, winning almost every round until the referee stepped in and waived it off. Chandler, who was 33-1-2 heading in and had avenged his lone defeat, never fought again.

Sandoval made two successful defenses before risking his title against Gabby Canizales on the undercard of Hagler-Mugabi in the outdoor stadium at Caesars Palace. In round seven, Sandoval, who had a hellish time making the weight, was knocked down three times and suffered a seizure as he collapsed from the third knockdown. Stretchered out of the ring, he was rushed to the hospital where doctors reduced the swelling in his brain and beat the odds to save his life. This would be Richie’s lone defeat. He finished his pro career with a record of 29-1 (17 KOs).

Bob Arum cushioned some of the pain by giving Richie a $25,000 bonus and offering him a lifetime job at Top Rank which Richie accepted. And let the record show that Arum was good to his word.

A more elaborate portrait of Richie Sandoval was published in these pages in 2017. You can check it out HERE. May he rest in peace.

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Amanda Serrano and Jake Paul Vanquish Overmatched Foes in Tampa

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Amanda “the Real Deal” Serrano mowed through knockout puncher Stevie Morgan in less than two rounds on Saturday and Jake Paul soundly defeated bare knuckle champion Mike Perry by knockout too.

Paul and Serrano move on to bigger things.

“It’s feels great, it feels amazing. My 50th fight, my 31st knockout, I’m super blessed,” said Serrano.

Despite jumping up three weight divisions Serrano (47-2-1, 31 KOs) showed more than 17,000 fans and Morgan (14-2, 13 KOs) at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, how she was able to win seven weight divisions.

Fans and perhaps Katie Taylor breathed a sigh of relief that Serrano is truly back. In Serrano’s last fight she was forced to withdraw back in March due to an accident to her eye moments before a fight. Now the Puerto Rican and Irish super stars will meet in Texas on November 15.

Fans can expect a rematch of one of the greatest fights of all time.

Tonight, before walking into the boxing ring, Morgan had commented that of all the top female fighters Serrano was low hanging fruit. The Puerto Rican legend merely shrugged her shoulders and replied that she lets her fists do the talking.

Both fighters hesitated touching gloves but did. After that, Serrano immediately went into assassin’s mode and moved forward while punching like a finely tuned hemi-engine. Morgan tried to keep up but discovered Serrano was not easy to hit.

Serrano moved forward smoothly while slipping and punching. A stiff looking Morgan, whose legs seemed unbent, tried to fend off the Puerto Rican champion’s blows but was smacked repeatedly in the first round with lefts and rights.

When the bell rang to end the first round, it was obvious that Morgan was overmatched.

As the second round commenced Serrano immediately slipped into attack gear behind her southpaw defensive guard. Once again, she fired combinations while moving quickly forward against the taller Morgan.

It was even worse than the first round as Serrano unloaded a dozen unanswered blows forcing the referee to stop the fight at 38 seconds of the second round.

“I think these girls were mistaking my kindness for weakness,” said Serrano. “If you’re not on my level that’s what happens.”

Morgan quickly learned she’s not on the championship level.

“Stevie Morgan just started a little while ago. I knew it would have been a little too much for her,” said Serrano. “My hat goes off to her. It’s not easy.”

Now it’s on to Katie Taylor.

Jake Paul KOs Mike Perry

In the co-main event Jake Paul (10-1, 7 KOs) floored Mike Perry (6-1) the Bare Knuckle Champion in the first and second round of the cruiserweight fight. And then battered the smaller fighter with a jolting jab to the body and head that opened up cuts on the former MMA fighter.

Paul continued to show improvement and proved once again that whether its MMA or Bare Knuckle fighting, his boxing skills are superior to their combat champions.

“Man, he’s tough as nails. I’m sorry it took so long. Respect man. He’s the king of violence,” said Paul about his fallen foe whose nickname is the “King of Violence.”

Paul attacked the body with a strong left jab while circling slowly left and right. Perry stood straight up with a low guard and his chin up. Paul hit that chin repeatedly and eventually cracked it in the fifth round.

Perry survived.

In the sixth round the bigger blonde fighter Paul bludgeoned Perry with another left jab and then opened with a barrage of blows that blasted the bare knuckle fighter to the canvas. Though he beat the count, he stumbled and the referee stopped the fight at 1:12 of the sixth round.

“I kind of expected that,” said Paul.

Perry was honest about the outcome.

“I tried man, but the kid hit me hard,” said Perry.

Now it’s on to Mike Tyson on November 15 in Arlington, Texas.

“Mike. I love you. But this is my sport now. I’m so honored but I’m going to take your throne.”

Other Bouts

A lightweight battle between undefeated fighters saw Canada’s Lucas Bahdi (17-0, 15 KOs) lose every round until he unloaded a three-punch combination that rendered Ashton Sylve (11-1, 9 KOs) unconscious before he hit the canvas.

Sylve utilized his speed and counters for five rounds and seemed to cruise for five years. But Bahdi showed a good chin especially against lightning uppercuts that sneaked through the guard.

“He’s very twitchy and very quick. I was trying to get to his body early on,” said Bahdi. “He’s very fast and has good counter punches.

In the sixth round Sylve was opening up a little more with his hands down and Bahdi saw the opening and quickly launched a right followed by a left hook that knocked out Sylve before he hit the floor at 2:27 of the sixth round.

“I knew his head’s there in the center all the time,” said Bahdi. “I think I stole the show tonight.”

Prelim Bouts

A rematch between lightweights saw Corey Marksman (10-0-1) win by majority decision against Tony Aguilar (12-1-1) in a back-and-forth battle. Marksman out-worked Aguilar with an especially effective counter-right that scored repeatedly. Their first encounter last February ended in a draw.

Shadasia Green (14-1, 11 KOs) stumbled a bit but got the win against Natasha Spence (8-5-2) to win by unanimous decision in a super middleweight. It was her first fight since losing to Franchon Crews-Dezurn for the world title.

Green was cruising for most of the fight behind a sharp jab and rights to the body but during an offensive out burst Spence caught her with a counter right and floored her in the seventh. It was half punch and half slip, but she was knocked down.

Though Green did not get a knockout she emerged with the win 78-73, 77-74 twice.

“I had fun in there tonight,” said Green. “I belong at the top with the best.”

Alexis Chaparro (2-0) knocked out Kevin Hill (1-2) with a five-punch combination at 2:01 of the second round in a middleweight fight.

Angel Barrientes (12-1) defeated Edwin Rodriguez (12-9-2) by majority decision after six rounds in a super bantamweight fight. The scores were 57-57, 60-54 twice for Barrientes who resides in Las Vegas.

Photo credit: Esther Lin / MVP Promotions

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Nakatani Strengthens his Pound-for-Pound Credentials: Blasts Out Astrolabio

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Junto Nakatani is the best 118-pound boxer in the world. Tonight, in Tokyo, he reinforced that judgment with a first-round knockout of Vincent Astrolabio at Japan’s national sumo arena. A short left to the solar plexus left the Filipino writhing on the canvas. He tried to rise but fell back down, forcing referee Tom Taylor to waive it off. It was all over in less than three minutes, 2:37 to be precise. Nakatani (28-0, 21 KOs) was making the first defense of his WBO bantamweight title after previously winning title belts at 112 and 115.

Tall for the weight class at five-foot-seven-and-a-half, the 26-year-old Japanese southpaw produced his second highlight reel knockout in his last four fights. The first come in May of last year at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas where he scored a frightening, 12th-round one-punch knockout of Andrew Moloney.

Nakatani won’t have to travel far to unify the belt. The other three current bantamweight champions are also Japanese. Down the road, potentially, is a showdown with countryman Naoya Inoue. That match, should it transpire, would be the biggest domestic fight in Japanese boxing history. Astrolabio, who had been stopped only once previously and was making his second stab at a world title, declined to 18-5.

Other Title Fight

LA’s Anthony Olascuaga, a stablemate of Nakatani (both train in LA under the tutelage of Rudy Hernandez), won the vacant WBO flyweight title with a third-round stoppage of Riku Kanu. A left uppercut put Kano (22-5) on the deck for the full count. The official time was 2:50 of round three.

Olascuaga (7-1, 5 KOs) was rucked out of obscurity in April of last year when he dropped down a weight class and performed far better than expected, albeit in a losing effort, against Kenshiro Teraji, a fight that he took on 10 days’ notice. Despite his inexperience and the locale, the LA fighter entered the ring a consensus 3/1 favorite over Kanu.

Also

In his first 10-rounder, ever-improving Tenshin Nasukawa (4-0, 2 KOs) stopped U.S. invader Jonathan Rodriguez in the third round. Five unanswered punches climaxed by a straight left ended matters at the 1:49 mark. The bout was contested at a catchweight of 120 pounds.

Nasukawa, a baby-faced, 25-year-old southpaw, transitioned to boxing after becoming famous in Japan for his kickboxing exploits. His first foray into boxing was an exhibition with Floyd Mayweather who knocked him out in the opening round, but he’s made considerable progress since then.

Against Rodriguez, Nasakawa was dominant from the get-go. Rodriguez was in dire straits as the second round ended. The first fighter from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley to fight in Japan, Rodriguez (17-3-1) joins the ranks of one-hit wonders. He scored a shocking first-round KO of former title-holder Khalid Yafai, but then lost his very next fight en route to this affair.

The promotion lost a bit of luster when the title fight between WBO 115-pound belt-holder Kosei Tanaka and Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Rodriguez (no relation to Nasukawa’s opponent of the same name) fell out when Rodriguez weighed a staggering six pounds over the limit.

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