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'Hurricane' Carter's Death Still Brings No Closure

Bernard Fernandez

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“Based on a true story.”

Hollywood packages many of its biographical movies in such a manner, but my experiences in covering the controversial aftermath of a 1999 flick, The Hurricane, about the life and times of incarcerated former middleweight contender Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, taught me that separating truth from fiction is frequently a matter of individual perception. For whatever reason, most people choose to believe what they want to believe. Maybe that’s because human beings are prone to react subjectively, on the basis of their own personal emotions and biases, rather than on a dispassionate review of factual matters.

As Norman Jewison, director of The Hurricane, said after a lawsuit brought by former middleweight champion Joey Giardello, whose winning defense of his title in a Dec. 14, 1964, bout against Carter in Philadelphia was severely distorted in the film (and on this point there can be no doubt), observed after Giardello’s suit was settled out of court, “The truth is a moving target, I found. When you make a film about real people, about something that really happened, you’ll never get it right because there’s always somebody who’s going to disagree with you.”

The announcement of Carter’s death on Easter Sunday, at age 76 and after a long bout with prostate cancer, brought back a flood of memories of how difficult it sometimes is to pronounce anything as the incontrovertible truth, because, as Mr. Jewison correctly noted, truth is almost always slippery to pin down to everyone’s satisfaction. And that’s especially the case when the movie people decide to take what is or what was real and twist it, like a pile of Silly Putty, into a story line that fits a particular director’s or screenwriter’s agenda.

All the news stories I’ve read about Carter’s death state, unequivocally, that he was a black man wrongfully convicted of the murder of three white patrons of a Paterson, N.J., bar in 1966. That verdict, arrived at by an all-white jury, resulted in Carter spending 22 years behind bars. But is “not guilty” the equivalent of “innocent”? There are still people familiar with the case who insist that a judge’s eventual overturning of Carter’s conviction was based on procedural matters –namely, prosecutorial errors – rather than on evidentiary ones. The only way anyone can say with any degree of certainty that Rubin Carter was or wasn’t a murderer was to have been in that bar the night those three people were killed, in which case the observer either would have wound up as another corpse or, had he or she survived, could have testified that it was or wasn’t someone other than the boxer who pulled the trigger.

It is not my intention to speculate about the larger and more prevalent theme of The Hurricane, which is the senseless killing of three people and one man’s possibly unjust two-decades-plus spent behind bars in retribution for those deaths. But there is a key three-minute sequence in Jewison’s otherwise well-made, well-received film that casts a dark shadow about the authenticity of the entire finished product, and how that depiction played fast and loose with something indisputably true. That sequence deals with Carter’s bout with Giardello (whose real name was Carmine Tilelli), an honest workman who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.

In the movie, Giardello is shown taking a horrific beating from Carter in the 15th and final round. After a delay in the tabulation of the judges’ scorecards, the champion is proclaimed the winner by unanimous decision, an announcement greeted with boos and catcalls from the audience in the Philadelphia Civic Center. An unnamed blow-by-blow commentator for the telecast is also aghast at the injustice perpetrated against the challenger.

“I’ve seen a lot of things in my time, but it’s taken 35 minutes to tell us what this hometown crowd (Giardello, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., trained in South Philly and was a longtime resident of the Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill, N.J.) already knows,” Jewison’s fictionalized broadcaster says in the film. “Joey Giardello is about to lose the crown to Rubin `Hurricane’ Carter.

“They (the judges) must have been watching a different fight, because the one we just saw, Hurricane Carter took the title,” the broadcaster says after the decision angers spectators whose allegiance had shifted over the course of the bout from Giardello to Carter.

Full disclosure: My wife and I took Giardello, who was 78 when he died on Sept. 4, 2008, and his wife, Rosalie, to see The Hurricane the week of its release for the purpose of me writing about their reaction to the fight sequence in question.

“I can’t believe what I’m seeing,” Rosalie Tilelli, who attended the actual fight, said to her husband as the fight scene played on the wide screen. “They made it seem like he beat the hell out of you. I never thought it would be like this. I thought they would make it, you know, a little bit controversial. But this is ridiculous. It’s so unfair.”

Said Giardello: “They got the crowd booing me. How could they do that? Nobody booed. Those were my people there, from South Philly. They were happy I won. And I did win. I won, he lost. End of story.

“End of the fight, Carter congratulated me in the ring. He wasn’t complaining because he didn’t have anything to complain about. I was better than him. I know it, he knows it, everybody who was at the fight knows it. It’s just too bad all the people who see this movie won’t know it.”

Two people who knew what Giardello and his wife knew were Les Keiter, who called the fight for TV, and Ron Lipton, a New York-based referee who was a personal friend of Carter’s and had been asked by the moviemakers to do the choreography for the boxing sequences, a job he didn’t get because, he said, he refused to go along with Jewison’s instruction to portray the fight as a racially-motivated robbery.

It took me less than 10 minutes of calling around to track down Keiter, who was then living in Hawaii, for his take on how he – or the guy pretending to be him on-screen – was portrayed.

“The scene was absolutely, totally fictitious,” Keiter told me. “I never said any of that. Not even close.

“I have my call of the fight on tape. I played it for several of the sports writers here in Hawaii. Giardello, in my scoring, was the clear-cut winner. Now, it was a reasonably close fight. But the 15th round was just the reverse of what was shown. It was all Giardello, with his boxing and his counterpunching.”

Lipton has photos of himself with Muhammad Ali when they went to post bail for Carter in 1976. In an email he posted on the Cyber Boxing Zone message board after Carter’s death, he said “the photos of me standing with Carter with Ali speak for themselves.” It was Carter, in fact, who proposed to Jewison that his friend, Lipton, serve as the choreographer for the fight scenes for the movie.

So why didn’t Lipton get that gig, which would have paid him a nice chunk of money he admits he could have used? It was, he said, because he resisted the movie people’s suggestion to take liberties with what really happened that night.

“But Joey Giardello is still alive. It would hurt him to have the fight presented that way,” Lipton said he told the Hollywood people.

“No big deal. He’s just some old pug nobody cares about,” he said of the response he received.

When Giardello settled out of court – for a reported $350,000 – Lipton admitted to being happy that justice, to an extent, was served because, well, Lipton was a fan of all the good things Giardello represented as a fighter.

“I can never remember crying, except once,” he recalled when he read about the settlement. “That was when Joey Giardello left the ring after his second fight with Dick Tiger, the one in which he lost his title. Joey took a beating, but he refused to quit. There was no one I had ever seen in the ring who could be braver than Joey was that night.

“I’d rather be dead than to do anything to embarrass a great warrior like that.”

Interestingly, a big-time lawyer with a Washington, D.C., firm contacted my executive sports editor at the Philadelphia Daily News, demanding that the newspaper fire me or face a lawsuit because my stories had resulted in adverse publicity for the movie, possibly causing it to lose out on several potential Academy Awards. Denzel Washington, who did receive a Golden Globe Award for his portrayal of Carter, lost the Best Actor Oscar to Kevin Spacey for American Beauty. That picture also beat out The Hurricane for Best Picture.

“The controversy surrounding (The Hurricane) stems from the fact that some people think I shouldn’t be around. They think I should be dead,” Carter said at the time.

Thankfully, my boss told the attorney representing Beacon Communications Corp., which financed the movie, that the paper didn’t fire its reporters for writing what was true. The lawsuit against the Daily News and me was never filed, and as part of the settlement there were some tweaks of the DVD version of The Hurricane before it went on sale. The standard disclaimer – which states that certain events and characters “have been composited or invented, and a number of incidents fictionalized” – was moved from the closing credits to the beginning of the movie. And the epilogue, which shows the real-life Carter receiving a championship belt from the World Boxing Council in 1993, noted that the awarding of that belt was “in recognition of his 20-year fight for freedom.” The additional explanation is important, because it refutes any implication that the WBC was attempting to rectify an injustice tied to the decision for Giardello.

Armyan Bernstein, head of Beacon Communications, stopped short of an apology in his letter to Giardello, but he wrote that “we had no intention of taking away from your legacy as world middleweight champion, or of besmirching the other boxing accomplishments in which you, your friends and family take pride. Rubin Carter, who worked with us on The Hurricane, told me that you never ducked a fight.”

I didn’t buy that explanation then, and I don’t buy it now. It’s one thing for a screenwriter to script lines of dialogue for movies about, oh, Alexander the Great or some real person from hundreds of years ago. It’s another to do the same thing about a person and events that took place in the mid-20th century, with conversations and other materials that could have been easily documented.

“The movie was such a lie, such a contrived piece of (bleep),” Lipton wrote after Carter had passed away. “Not one thing in the movie is true.” He concluded that what lies ahead for the deceased fighter is now “between Carter and God.”

It could be 100 percent correct that Carter was railroaded. I’ve been around long enough to have personally witnessed many instances of racially-tinged injustices, an unfortunate byproduct of those turbulent times and one that has yet to be completely eradicated. Certainly, Carter was adamant in his steadfast refusal to conduct himself, even in prison, as someone who needed to pay for the heinous crime for which he was convicted.

“I wouldn’t give up,” he said in an interview on PBS in 2011. “No matter that they sentenced me to three life terms in prison. I wouldn’t give up. Just because a jury of 12 misinformed people … found me guilty does not make me guilty. And because I was not guilty, I refused to act like a guilty person.

“When I walked into prison, I refused to wear their stripes. I refused to eat their food. I refused to work their jobs, and I would have refused to breathe the prison’s air if I could have done so.”

I’m not as quick to give Jewison the benefit of the doubt, no matter how well-intentioned he might be or how skillful in the presentation of his art. More than a few of the acclaimed director’s films have dealt with societal themes and injustice, and before The Hurricane he examined racial tensions in In the Heat of the Night (1967), which won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and A Soldier’s Story (1984). In 2010 he received a lifetime achievement award from the Directors Guild of America. But The Hurricane, in striving to make a point, bent history to fit the director’s narrative, and that is where any movie “based on a true story” can go terribly wrong.

It fit Jewison’s vision to demean Joey Giardello, and it fit that vision to build up Rubin Carter as a fighter of near-mythical ability whose destiny to become one of the all-time great middleweight champions was diverted by a judge and jury that couldn’t see past the color of his skin. No one can deny that Carter was a devastating puncher with some career exclamation points, the most notable of which was his one-round stoppage of the great Emile Griffith, but his final professional record of 27-12-1, with 19 knockout victories, was hardly Hall of Fame-worthy. The movie suggests that Carter was still a top contender, only recently removed from his presumably unjust points loss to Giardello, when he was sent to prison. Not so; he was just 7-7-1 in his post-Giardello bouts and was no longer world-ranked.

After the settlement, Giardello and his attorney, George Bochetto, expressed satisfaction that their primary goal had been the preservation of Giardello’s deserved reputation as a tough fighter who never ducked anyone, which they felt was tarnished by the movie.

“For 19 years, I fought the greatest fighters around and I beat Carter fair and square,” Giardello said. “I just wanted to set the record straight, and I think it has been.”

Said Bochetto: “Joey’s reputation always was his primary concern. He wanted it restored. He put it on the line to make sure that it was.”

But The Hurricane has been televised multiple times since its release 14-plus years ago, and I caught bits and pieces of it on the tube only a few weeks ago, including the disputed fight sequence. It is still as blatantly false as ever, and the disclaimers which appear on the DVD version aren’t anywhere to be found unless you have that DVD as part of your video library.

In other words, the truth might have set Carter free, but, to those who aren’t aware of the real story of the fight in question, Joey Giardello’s legacy is still besmirched.

Like Norman Jewison said, the truth is a moving target and Hollywood, the ultimate land of make-believe, often misses the bulls-eye that it seldom aims at in any case.

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The Top Ten Lightweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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The lightweight decade 2010-2019 was a disaster. Far and away the weakest list I have compiled so far; it was also far and away the most difficult to compile. Two excellent fighters, fit to grace any list, open at nine and ten but they made the tiniest handful of appearances at the poundage in the decade. Eight to four are populated by interchangeable lightweights whose ordering is confused by a 2012 robbery that has seen the “loser” of that contest edge in front of the “winner” adding to an already confused picture. The result is our seeing fighters who engender a sense of “what’s he doing there?” as high as number four.

Towering over this hot mess are the top two for the decadal division, two giants of the sport about whom it is a pleasure to write, and a clear number three.

Despite the foibles of lightweight there were also some excellent fights to run the ruler across on the way to ordering them. So, without further apologies here are the top ten lightweights for the last decade.

Ratings are by Ring between 2010 and 2012 and TBRB from 2013 to 2019.

10 – Juan Manuel Marquez

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 6-2 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

I am arguably reaching in placing Juan Manuel Marquez at ten given the limited contribution he made to the lightweight decade, but it must be borne in mind that Marquez was the decade’s first legitimate, lineal lightweight champion. Lightweight gave us but three champions in the decade and certainly room can be made for all of them here.

Marquez had previously stopped the younger, fresher, purportedly stronger Juan Diaz in nine rounds in 2009 in what I rate his career’s best performance until that time but nominated to re-match him in July of 2010, probably unnecessarily. Marquez was once more brilliant, his jab never better, Diaz clearly wary of the uppercut that had hurt him so in their first fight.

Marquez mopped up his lightweight title run against Michael Katsidis in November of that same year. Marquez didn’t just beat the younger, stronger Katsidis, he became just the second man to stop the Australian, the quickest ever to do so.

This fight was also noteworthy as being veteran broadcaster Jim Lampley’s finest moment and we will give him the final word on Marquez at lightweight, and as we won’t be seeing him again in this series, Marquez generally (my italics):

“If it comes down to the question of whether you can courageously apply your technique…bet on Juan Manuel Marquez. He knows how to do that better than anyone in boxing.”

09 – Mikey Garcia

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 22-1 Ranked For: 27% of the decade

Mikey Garcia is a splendid fighter but one who seems to have spread himself a little thin divisionally speaking. He swept into lightweight, established himself as the number one contender, remained divisionally ranked until the end of 2019 but fought hardly a contest within 135lbs.

The work he did do there though, was significant, two fights enough to establish him as one of the pre-eminent lightweights of the timeframe.

Most impressive was his January 2017 knockout victory over Dejan Zlaticanin. Zlaticanin, himself coming off impressive back-to-back stoppages of Franklin Mamani and Ivan Redkach, was an undefeated strapholder; Mikey established his world class jab within seconds and lost not a minute of the eight they completed. The uppercut and hook combination for the knockout made for the best stoppage of the lightweight decade.

Robert Easter, himself a contender for the number ten spot, was a second undefeated fighter who was ranked in the top five laid low by Garcia. Easter though, offered stiffer resistance, doing well with his own jab and even winning a few rounds on the way to a lop-sided decision loss. Garcia fought an aggressive, disciplined fight against a much taller and longer opponent leaving no doubt as to the winner, dropping Easter with a gorgeous, penetrating right hand in the third.

Lightweight certainly would have benefited from more Garcia but what he gave was good enough to see him creep in at nine.

08 – Ricky Burns

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 16-6-1 Ranked For: 32% of the decade

Ricky Burns traded on heart and durability but the thrashing that the great Terence Crawford handed him in March 2014 is not one he recovered from. Dejan Zlaticanin sent him scurrying from the division in his very next fight.

In the months before his brave decision to match Crawford, however, Burns turned in one of the more impressive runs of the lightweight decade between 2011 and the summer of 2013. It began with Michael Katsidis, the former lightweight titleholder who had been laid low by Juan Manuel Marquez one year earlier. Katsidis never recovered from the beating Marquez laid upon him, but descriptions of him as shot proved as wide of the mark as those who installed Katsidis as a favourite.  Katsidis turned in a fine pressure performance and Burns needed the combination of jab and body attack he deployed to win a much, much closer fight than the judges saw. Ricky’s remains one of the most underrated jabs of the decade at lightweight or elsewhere.

Ranked contender Moses Paulus went next and here Burns turned in perhaps his best defensive performance. A victim of the fashionable “earmuffs” approach to defence, Burns showed himself here capable of parrying and blocking as well as shutting the shop and waiting. He arguably put these two strata of his skillset – the careful offence, the dynamic defence – together just once in his career, against Kevin Mitchell, then still ranked among the world’s ten best lightweights.  Burns countered well that night and although far from difficult to hit he made himself hard to hit clean. It was probably the difference-maker as he drew Mitchell into a war he could not hope to win, dusting him off in four exciting rounds.

Finally, he stopped Jose Gonzalez in nine before going off a cliff in a fashion more familiar in speedsters than technically adept workhorses.

07 – Antonio DeMarco

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 10-7 Ranked For: 28% of the decade

Antonio DeMarco fights on and in fact has two fights planned this year. This has been to the great detriment of his paper record.

In the early part of the decade, the part which he fought at lightweight, he lost just twice, once to the doomed figure of Edwin Valero and once to Adrien Broner, both of whom beat him clean but DeMarco is in possession of a pair of wins that make Broner’s ranking above him questionable still.  Key among them is his 2011 stoppage of Jorge Linares.

On the surface, this is the type of win to rappel into the farthest reaches of this list. Linares would become one of the finest lightweights of the decade and his name carries meaning whatever the context; but it is the context of this fight that prevents DeMarco climbing much farther.

Linares had never boxed twelve rounds when he met DeMarco and despite dominating early, he was cut up badly by DeMarco’s clean punching born of consistent pressure. Suffering the attentions of a faster, more talented fighter, DeMarco did the only thing he could, stepping in the fire zone and pressing; eventually Linares began to give ground. When a lacerating straight broke his nose in the sixth, the whole fight changed and when DeMarco cut him over the right eye in the seventh, his night became desperate. Suffused with blood, Linares was compromised in the eleventh from footwork to defence to his beautiful, gliding offence; the referee, perhaps prompted in part by the blood pouring from the face of Linares, stopped the fight.

It needs to be remembered who Linares was at this point of his career. He had been stopped in a round in 2009 and would be stopped in two with facial damage in his very next fight. This was the Linares that DeMarco broke down, not the storied veteran that Vasily Lomachenko would face years later. It is an impressive win, but DeMarco needs more for the spot.

Fortunately, he has it. After taking out gatekeeper Miguel Roman in five, DeMarco was matched with John Molina in a fight billed as an exciting shootout between evenly matched and exciting fighters. DeMarco blasted him out in a round. His power-punches were booming equalisers that laid more talented fighters low.

06 – Adrien Broner

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 20-4 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

It is unpleasant to see Adrien Broner, a serial failure at the highest level and seemingly a horror of a human being ranked above the likes of Garcia and Marquez, but assessing legacy must be blind.  Broner is well into double figures for contests at lightweight and picked up the same number of ranked contenders as the two part-time decadal lightweights ranked at nine and ten – so he belongs, there is no debate to be had about that.

And, to be fair to him, his biggest win is a beauty, being his 2012 victory over Antonio DeMarco.  DeMarco may have been on the slide but marginally. He remained a cagey, balanced, firmly planted southpaw, difficult to fight and harder to beat. Broner out-waited DeMarco and countered him, took a narrow lead in the early rounds before throwing more heavy punches the later the fight went. It became a beatdown, DeMarco failing to find the timing that would counter his opponent’s speed earlier in his career.

Three months later, Broner was nearly as impressive blasting out number eight contender Gavin Rees in just five rounds. In the aftermath Rees called him the best fighter he had ever met and predicted he would go all the way to the top. That hasn’t happened – for reasons too many to cogitate here – but he did enough to rank among the ten most accomplished lightweights of the decade.

05 – Brandon Rios

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 12-5 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

Things have been messy and difficult up until this point – now that get very messy and very difficult.  Brandon Rios was awarded an official decision over Richar Abril in 2012 but he did not beat him; this was an outright robbery. Rios is not credited for that win here.

That fight is dealt with in detail in the entry below; for the moment, take my word for it and we will look at why it is reasonable for Rios to rank top five despite the Abril fight being treated here as a loss.

First and foremost is his defeat of the excellent Miguel Costa, world’s number one contender in February of 2011, lain low by a career’s best performance from Rios. Costa bossed Rios early, moving off him and tattooing him with power punches; Rios followed stoically but lost every one of the first five rounds. Focused and prepared, Rios seemed merely inconvenienced by the powerful punches of a world class competitor and there was something inevitable about what remains a dramatic collapse from Costa in the mid-rounds; in the tenth, battered and unresponsive, he was rescued by the referee as Rios clubbed him into submission with meathook shots.

Either side, Rios turned in impressive stoppage victories over ranked men Anthony Peterson and John Murray. Best-for-best, this adds up to near parity between Rios and Broner, but Rios claimed more quality names at the poundage; it edges Rios in front of his fellow American despite the Abril fight.

04 – Richar Abril

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 8-2-1 Ranked For: 44% of the decade

If you scour the internet, you might be able to find the single ringside scorecard that had Richar Abril’s 2012 fight with Brandon Rios a draw; every other scorecard by ringsiders had the fight for Abril, some of them by margins as wide as 120-108.

Every ringsider, that is, outside of two of the officials paid to score the fights.

What we can only hope was the abject stupidity of Glenn Trowbridge and the infamous Adalaide Byrd (both still judging fights today folks) cost Abril the win that night but here, I am taking the rare step of ignoring the official decision, something I have only done on one other occasion in the course of this series. Almost all ringsiders agree, and the film demonstrably shows, this was an Abril win.

It was not an exciting fight, partly due to its one-sidedness. Abril shelled up in close and Rios, who failed to make weight, threw cuffing shots apparently incapable of penetrating. In the second half of the fight, Abril closed with great awareness, carefully to consistently outland Rios in every round, defensively sound, offensively alive to opportunity.

Either side of his defeat of Rios, Abril defeated the same man who defined Brandon’s lightweight run, Miguel Acosta, and contender Sharif Bogere in a filthy, badly refereed contest. In essence, his legacy at the weight echoes that of Rios almost exactly, with one exception: he beat Rios.

Abril is not an inspiring figure. He boxed in a dry, careful fashion that did not endear him to fans but he excelled at controlling his opponents and there is no way to rank him below Rios given how dominant he was over him in their fight. That puts him in the top four.

03 – Jorge Linares

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 20-4 Ranked For: 35% of the decade

Jorge Linares was “one for the most fantastic boxers I have ever saw in my life” according to the great Emanuel Steward and you can see what he means. Linares is as beautifully balanced, as well co-ordinated as any lightweight seen this decade, outside of the top two. Lithe, quick-handed, and a fine selector of punches, he began the decade anointed by the then pre-eminent Freddie Roach, spending his spare time sparring with the legendary Manny Pacquiao.

Then it went wildly wrong. Linares had his faced ripped apart by the punches of Antonio DeMarco in 2011 and then Sergio Thompson in 2012. It was a long way from these losses back to the top but Linares made it, in the main by travelling to the UK and battering her best lightweights. His winning streak ran to thirteen fights.

Key among them was his 2015 victory over Kevin Mitchell. Mitchell, who had restored himself from both personal and professional strife with a quite remarkable performance against Daniel Estrada, was once again ranked among the world’s top ten. Linares has struggled when hurt throughout his career, but when dropped by Mitchell in the fifth, Linares, who had been struggling a little in the third and fourth, remained concentrated. He didn’t enjoy the rest of that fifth round, but he escaped it and instead of crumbling he crumbled Mitchell, cutting him up and stepping in to take over in the eighth then patiently closing the blinds in the tenth.

It was a fine turning of the corner by a fighter who would go on to deliver on some of his seemingly limitless potential, firstly against an inspired Anthony Crolla, once more in the UK, who he beat close then, re-matched and dropped on the way to a wide decision victory. Finally, Linares, a road-warrior if ever there was one, invited Luke Campbell over to the USA and squeaked past him in a brilliant strategic joust.

Linares was a real enigma. Skin so thin it might as well be used to pack the meat that constitutes his face, he has literally fallen apart in the ring; soft of chin, he has been blown out. The fighter that Manny Steward saw all those years before probably never emerged, but he still appears special enough to edge out Abril.

Take note though, he is not a “natural” divisional decadal number three and there is real distance between Linares and the fighter that ranks number two.

02 – Terence Crawford

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 26-0 Ranked For: 15% of the decade

Terence Crawford is a genius in the ring, and we watched the emergence of that genius at lightweight. 2014 was the year and almost all the meaningful damage that the Nebraskan did to the 135lb division was done in that year.

I was glued to his March dissection of Scotsman Ricky Burns and it was painful to watch my countryman dismantled so completely, Burns complaining about Crawford’s control of distance and angles in a gracious post-fight interview. In truth, Burns had boxed beautifully to make so many of the rounds in what was a clear, wide victory for Crawford so close, but we did not know then what we know now: Crawford is one of the best fighters in the world.

At the end of 2014 when he welcomed number two contender Ray Beltran to his native Omaha, this was clear. Beltran had outfought and arguably been robbed of a victory over Ricky Burns when he visited Scotland for what was a hotly disputed draw but there were multiple classes between he and Crawford when they met that November. Crawford did mostly what he liked, and what he liked, from round two, was to box as a southpaw, jabbing with impunity, bringing Beltran forwards onto punches and in doing so shutting his opponent’s offence down almost completely. In the final round Beltran, who had not won a single round on my scorecard, threw around twenty punches, even though his only route to victory was by knockout.

In between his wide defeats of Burns and Beltran, he dispatched Yuriokis Gamboa in the ninth.  These were three technical mis-matches in one year against quality opposition after which he departed for 140lbs.

This is enough to make him a clear number two, but in all honesty were his numbers and opposition not enough to get him over that line, it would still be difficult to see him lower. Crawford was imperious.

01 – Vasily Lomachenko

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 14-1 Ranked For: 15% of the decade

Ranked for almost an identical number of weeks throughout the 2010s, Vasily Lomachenko was also given, like Terrence Crawford, to taking a close look at his opposition in the opening round.

Another thing these two have in common is that their visitations to 135lbs were relatively brief. We will meet no other divisional decadal number one with so few fights at the poundage – having only met legitimately ranked men at the poundage however, Lomachenko has done enough to clearly seal up the number one spot. He has but one peer and has clearly edged that peer out.

Gatecrashing the division meeting none other than Jorge Linares helped. This had the appearance of rash, even careless matchmaking, a duel, essentially, to determine the finest lightweight of the decade. It appeared careless matchmaking, certainly, when Lomachenko was dropped in the sixth walking carelessly onto a straight punch that clearly hurt him.

But Lomachenko isn’t like other fighters. He had learned over the course of a monumental amateur career that he had the innate toughness to support his genius; Lomachenko re-took his feet and blasted Linares out in the tenth.

He certainly hasn’t looked back. Jose Pedraza, the world’s number three lightweight at that time, made it through a nightmarish eleventh to take Lomachenko the distance in 2018 but it was a wide, hurtful loss for the brave, world class Puerto Rican. Anthony Crolla went next and was stopped in just four rounds, his first stoppage loss since 2012. Luke Campbell, ranked number seven just as Crolla had been, seemed to be having a better evening but he won just two rounds and was on the receiving end of some savage combinations in making it to the final bell.

Lomachenko learns his man’s range then abuses it, hovering just within or just outside it, using his quick reflexes and beautiful, consistent slipping to keep him safe while he deploys what has become one of the best body-attacks in the sport. Predicting him is impossible, which forces fighters to try to take the play away from him, which leaves them open for the widest variety of counters in boxing this century.

It is mildly frustrating then that he and Crawford never met in the ring. Had it happened, that ring would have contained as much skill as any since Roberto Duran defeated Ray Leonard.

The other lists:

Heavyweight

Cruiserweight

Light-Heavyweight

Super-Middleweight

Middleweight

Light-Middleweight

Welterweight

Light-Welterweight

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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.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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