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Behind the Scenes At Pacquiao-Bradley 2: Part One

Thomas Hauser

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Shortly after one o’clock on the afternoon of Thursday, April 10, Manny Pacquiao concluded a series of satellite interviews that originated in Section 118 of the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The interviews were designed to promote his April 12 fight against Tim Bradley and everything had gone according to plan.

“My advantage is that I’m quicker than him and punch harder than him,” Pacquiao told one interviewer.

When asked about being knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez, Manny responded, “Sometimes these things happen. That is boxing.”

An interviewer for Sky-TV posed the all-but-obligatory question of whether or not Pacquiao would fight Floyd Mayweather.

“I’m happy for that fight,” Manny said. “If not in boxing, maybe we can play one-on-one in basketball.”

As for his musical talents, Pacquiao acknowledged, “I can sing, but my voice is really not that good. The fans like my singing because of what I’ve done in boxing.”

At one point, Manny noted, “Sportsmanship is very important to me because it is my way of displaying respect to the sport of boxing, to my opponent, and to the fans.”

After the interviews ended, Pacquiao was leaving Section 118 when a voice from across the arena shouted out loud and clear: “Manny, we love you. Manny, we love you. Manny! Manny!”

Pacquiao turned to acknowledge the fan, one of many who follow him wherever he goes. Then his face broke into a broad smile. The man shouting was Tim Bradley.

Manny waved, Tim waved back. In two days, they would try to beat each other senseless in a boxing ring. But for now there was fondness between them.

Welcome to Pacquiao-Bradley 2, featuring two elite fighters who carried themselves with dignity and grace throughout the promotion with no lapse of decorum by either man.

Pacquiao’s saga is well known. In an era of phony championship belts and unremitting hype, he has been a legitimate champion and also a true peoples’ champion. The eleven-month period between December 6, 2008, and November 14, 2009, when he demolished Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, and Miguel Cotto were his peak years in terms of ring performance and adulation.

That was a while ago.

Tim Bradley believes in himself and epitomizes Cus D’Amato’s maxim: “When two fighters meet in the ring, the fighter with the greater will prevails every time unless the opponent’s skills are so superior that the opponent’s will is never tested.”

Most elite athletes are overachievers. Bradley comes as close to getting one hundred percent out of his potential as anyone in boxing. He’s a more sophisticated fighter than many people give him credit for. He’s not just about coming forward, applying pressure, and throwing punches. He has a good boxing brain and knows how to use it. But he isn’t particularly fast, nor does he hit particularly hard. The keys to his success are his physical strength and iron will.

“I’m not the most talented fighter in the division,” Tim acknowledges. “Not at all. There are guys with better skills and better physical gifts than I have. Where I separate myself from other fighters is my determination. I wear the other guy down. That’s what it is; hard work and determination. I work my butt off. I come ready every time. People keep saying that I don’t hit that hard, that I don’t box that well. But I keep winning, don’t I?”

Before each fight, Bradley promises himself that his opponent will remember him for the rest of his life. Marvin Hagler is his favorite fighter. Blue-collar work ethic, shaved head, overshadowed by boxing’s glamour boys.

Pacquiao and Bradley met in the ring for the first time on June 9, 2012. During that bout, Tim suffered strained ligaments in his left foot and a badly swollen right ankle. He was rolled into the post-fight press conference in a wheelchair.

“Both of my feel were hurt in that fight,” he recalls. “And I had a lion in front of me. All I could do was take it round by round. And it wasn’t enough to survive each round. I had to win them.”

Bradley, as the world knows, prevailed on a split-decision. A firestorm of protest followed.

In the aftermath of the bout, Pacquiao was an exemplary sportsman. “I’m a fighter,” Manny said. “My job is to fight in the ring. I don’t judge the fights. This is sport. You’re on the winner’s side sometimes. Sometimes you’re on the loser’s side. If you don’t want to lose, don’t fight.”

But others were less gracious. The beating Bradley took outside the ring was worse than the punishment he took in it.

“After the fight,” Tim remembers, “they announced that I was the winner. I was on top of the world, and then the world caved in on me. It should have been the happiest time of my life, and I wound up in the darkest place I’ve ever been in. I thought the fight was close. I thought the decision could have gone either way. You prepare your entire life to get to a certain point; you get there; and then it all gets taken away. I was attacked in the media. People were stopping me on the street, saying things like, ‘You didn’t win that fight; you should give the belt back; you should be ashamed of yourself; you’re not a real champion.’ I got death threats. I turned off my phone. All I did was do my job the best way I could, and It was like I stole something from the world.”

“It was bad,” says Joel Diaz, who has trained Bradley for the fighter’s entire career. “Tim was all right with people criticizing the decision, but the personal attacks really hurt. Tim is a proud man, and it was hard for him to walk tall anywhere.”

In Pacquiao’s next fight, he suffered a one-punch knockout loss at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez. Eleven months later, he rebounded to decision Brandon Rios. Meanwhile, Bradley edged Ruslan Provodnikov in a thriller and outboxed Marquez en route to another split-decision triumph.

That set the stage for an April 12 rematch at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Bradley was the reigning champion, but Pacquiao was the engine driving the economics of the fight. The event was labeled “Pacquiao-Bradley 2”, and Manny was guaranteed a $20 million purse ($6 million less than for their initial encounter). Tim was promised $6 million (one million more than the first time around).

Each fighter felt that there was unfinished business between them.

“There is a big question mark on our first fight,” Pacquiao said at a February 6 press conference in New York. “This time, we will answer that question.”

“The whole Pacquiao situation still bothers me,” Bradley added. “So on April 12, I’m going to clean that up.”

Fight week had a strange feel to it. The Pacquiao-Bradley rematch hadn’t taken place earlier because neither HBO nor Top Rank (which promoted both fighters) thought it would sell well. But after Marquez starched Pacquiao and Bradley beat Marquez, the possibility of beating Tim loomed as a more impressive credential for Manny. Also, as part of a deal to secure the fight, Bradley agreed to a two-year extension of his promotional contract, which was due to expire in December 2014.

That said, the promotion was struggling a bit.

Elite fighters have a glow, an aura around them. Pacquiao in his prime was electrifying. But in recent years, the Pacquiao super nova has dimmed.

In the days leading up to Pacquiao-Bradley 2, the narrative was no longer about Manny’s Magical Adventure. The media no longer waited in heightened anticipation for his arrival at publicity events. The fighter himself seemed to have a bit of “Pacquiao fatigue.” Certainly, he was aware of the talk that his career was nearing an end.

Again and again during fight week, Manny told interviewers, “My time in boxing is not yet done. I want to prove that my journey in boxing will continue.”

There was the mandatory appearance by Pacquiao on Jimmy Kimmel Live and all of the ritual hype. But pay-per-view sales were tracking poorly, an estimated 650,000-to-700,000 buys (down from 875,000 for the first Pacquiao-Bradley fight). Ticket sales were respectable, but there wouldn’t be a sell-out.

It was Bradley who generated much of the energy in the media center. Tim is inherently likable with an exuberance for life and a smile that lights up a room when he enters. Insofar as his status as a role model is concerned, he and his wife, Monica, appear to have a loving stable marriage. When Bradley takes his children to school in the morning, it’s not a designed photo op for television cameras. There’s no bimbo girlfriend, no charge of domestic violence, no conspicuous spending. The thought of Tim blowing twenty thousand dollars in a strip club is ludicrous.

Bradley loves challenges. “I’m looking forward to the fight,” he told the media. “It will be fun.”

Reflecting on his football-playing days, Tim opined, “Boxing is more fun than playing quarterback. I like it better where, if someone hits me, I can hit him back.”

Defending the judges’ decision in Pacquiao-Bradley I, Tim told an interviewer, “Everybody has an opinion. That means I have an opinion too. Manny Pacquiao is one of the best fighters ever to lace on a pair of gloves. I’m a big fan of Manny Pacquiao. But I beat him.”

Then the interviewer stated proudly that he was rooting for Pacquiao, and Bradley responded, “If you’re a Pacquiao fan; hey, Manny is a good dude. I respect the person he is and I respect what he has done for the sport. I have no problem with anyone who roots for him.”

That left the trashtalking to Bob Arum, who spent much of the week denouncing the host site and the MGM Grand’s president of entertainment, Richard Sturm.

Arum was appropriately angry that the hotel-casino was festooned with advertising for the May 3 fight between Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana to the detriment of his own promotion. Introducing Sturm at the final pre-fight press conference on Wednesday, he referenced the executive as “the president of hanging posters and decorations for the wrong fight.”

Then, at the end of the press conference, Arum went further, declaring, “I know the Venetian [which had hosted Pacquiao’s previous fight in Macau] would never make a mistake like this, They would know what fight was scheduled in three or four days, and they wouldn’t have a 12-to-1 fight all over the building that’s going to take place three weeks from Saturday. That’s why one company makes a billion dollars a quarter and the other hustles to pay it’s debt.”

The following day, Arum elaborated on that theme, telling reporters, “There are two companies which are the leadingAmerican companies in gaming, and it’s for a reason. It’s because they’re smarter than these guys and they know what they’re doing. First is the Venetian-Sands company and then there is the Wynn. Pick up a paper and look at where the stock of each company is going. Then tell me who has smarter people. Is it luck? I don’t think so. If one company is making so much more than the other company and doesn’t have financial problems because they borrowed too much money, it’s not luck. It’s because they’re smarter and conduct themselves better. This company really has a serious management problem.”

Thereafter, in various interviews, Arum called Sturm “a horse’s ass . . . totally clueless . . . a moron . . . a brain-dead moron,” and added, “He doesn’t have a fucking clue what the f— he’s doing.”

On Friday, the promoter proclaimed, “They [the MGM Grand] did something that I believe is an absolutely horrendous thing to do. It shows tremendous disrespect for the Filipino people, who are suchnice people. If I were Flipino, I would never patronize an MGM Hotel again.”

Then, as a helpful guide to Filipino high-rollers who might have been offended by the slight, Arum listed all of the MGM Grand properties that they might want to avoid in the future.

Meanwhile, the odds had settled on Pacquiao as a 9-to-5 favorite, down from 4-to-1 in the first Pacquiao-Bradley encounter.

Bradley has never been thought of as a big puncher. His ledger shows a meager twelve knockouts, with only one in the past seven years. Pacquiao, by contrast, has 38 career KOs. But Manny’s record is devoid of stoppages since his 2009 demolition of Miguel Cotto.

That led Bradley to declare, “Manny is still sensational physically, but I don’t think the fire is there anymore. He’s not the same fighter he used to be. He’s still a tremendous fighter. But the killer instinct, the hunger, is gone and it won’t come back again. Manny fights for the money. I have the hunger to win. I just feel that his heart isn’t in it anymore.”

Were Bradley’s comments about Pacquiao no longer having “killer instinct” designed to undermine Manny’s confidence? Or perhaps to goad him into fighting recklessly?

“Neither,” Tim answered. “I’m simpy stating a fact.”

Team Pacquiao didn’t entirely disagree with Bradley’s thought. Trainer Freddie Roach acknowledged, “Recently, Manny has felt it was enough to just win his fights. He didn’t want to hurt his opponent more than he had to. I’ve had a lot of talks with him about that and I’m sure it’s not going to happen again. When Bradley told Manny that he’d lost the killer instinct, frankly, Manny got pissed off. He thought it was disrespectful.”

“Sometimes I’m too nice to my opponent,” Pacquiao added. “I have been happy winning on points because it is winning. But the fans want to see that hunger from me, and I’m always concerned about the fans and their satisfaction. So I’m going to fight this fight to show that I still have that hunger and that killer instinct.”

But there were questions as to whether, intent aside, Pacquiao still had the strength and physical stamina to close the show against an elite opponent.

“To me, it’s not about killer instinct,” Joel Diaz noted. “I don’t think Pacquiao is being compassionate. I don’t think he can finish anymore. Look at what happened when he fought Marquez in their third fight. The judges scored it for Pacquiao, but a lot of people thought Marquez should have won. Everyone knew it was close. And Pacquiao couldn’t come on strong late. Pacquiao is getting older. He’s not the fighter he used to be in the second half of his fights.”

Bradley understands that there are no sure things in boxing. “I may lose this fight,” he said in a teleconference call. “You never know.Things happen in the ring when you least expect it.It only takes one punch to end the night.”

But as Pacquiao-Bradley 2 approached, Tim was confident, saying, “I’m a more mature fighter now than I was two years ago. I’m better at getting in and out on guys and controlling the distance between us, which I showed in the Marquez fight. I’m a better fighter now than I was the first time Pacquiao and I fought. And Manny can’t say that.”

“This is the first time I’ve fought the same guy twice,” Bradley continued. “And I think it’s an advantage for me. The first time we fought, I didn’t know how much intensity Manny brought to the ring. Omigod! He throws so many feints and closes the distance so fast and punches from all angles. He always keeps you guessing when he’s going to come in and out. Now I know what to expect. I was able to make adjustments in the first fight, and Manny had problems with me when I was moving. I’m excited; I’m happy. On Saturday night, I’ll get to show what I can do on the biggest stage possible. I know there are people who say I can’t hurt him. If Manny feels that way, let him come in reckless and see what happens.”

And there was another factor to consider. In his first fight against Pacquiao, Bradley had done something stupid. For the only time in his career, he’d entered the ring without socks because he’d once heard Mike Tyson say that going sockless helped him grip the canvas and increase the leverage on his punches. Bradley had trained sockless in the gym for that fight. But the canvas in the ring on fight night was different from the gym canvas. And the demands on fight night are different from the demands of sparring. In the early going against Pacquiao, Tim had suffered ligament damage in his left foot and sprained his right ankle.

“With two good feet, I’ll be able to move quicker this time and set down harder on my punches,” Bradley promised. “With two good feet, I can adjust my footwork to deal with whatever Pacquiao brings to the table. Pain-free is another dimension, and I’ll be pain-free this time.”

Indeed, the main concern in Bradley’s camp was that the judges might overcompensate for the perceived injustice of the scoring in Pacquiao-Bradley I and, fearing ridicule, have a default setting on close rounds in favor of Manny.

“We know the judges will have a lot of weight on their backs,” Joel Diaz noted. “The stage was set for Tim to lose the first fight, and it didn’t happen. Now the stage is set for Tim to lose again. If the fight goes the distance and it’s close, the judges will give it to Pacquiao. All I ask is for the judges to be fair. If Tim wins, give him the win. If Pacquiao wins, give him the win.”

Meanwhile, as the clock to fight night ticked down, it seemed as though Bradley had more enthusiasm for the battle than Pacquiao did.

“I got something to prove,” Tim declared. “I got something to prove to the media; I got something to prove to the fans; I got something to prove to everyone who says I didn’t win the first fight. This fight is redemption for me. I feel deep in my heart that I won the first fight and I didn’t get any credit. I’m going to beat Manny Pacquiao again. And this time, I want the credit for it.”

Team Pacquiao, of course, had a different view.

“Bradley is a very good fighter,” trainer Freddie Roach said. “He’s tough and resilient. He takes good shots.He has a good chin. He has determination and a lot of heart. When you hit him, he fights back.”

“But I don’t think Bradley has all the abilities that Manny has,” Roach continued. “He’s not as fast. He doesn’t punch as hard. When Manny is on his toes and uses his footspeed, he closes the distance better than any fighter in the world. Once you put Bradley on the ropes, his chin goes up in the air, he opens up, and he punches wild. When that happens, Manny can beat him down the middle. Once the scores have been announced and you’ve lost a fight, there’s nothing you can do about it except say, ‘We’ll get him next time.’ I think Manny beat this guy once, and I think he’ll beat him again.”

Pacquiao agreed with his mentor.

“I am impressed with what Bradley has done since our fight,” Manny acknowledged. “His style is hard to explain. He is not easy to beat. But I am still faster than Bradley and I still punch harder than Bradley. He says that he wants to see my killer instinct, so he will see it.”

Part Two of “Behind the Scenes at Pacquiao-Bradley 2” takes readers into Tim Bradley’s dressing room in the dramatic hours before and after the fight. It will be posted on The Sweet Science tomorrow.

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Michael Coffie vs. Darmani Rock Smacks of Joe Joyce vs. Daniel Dubois

Arne K. Lang

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Although it wasn’t a world title fight, the match between Joe Joyce and Daniel Dubois which took place in London on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, attracted a lot of buzz. Only one heavyweight bout in 2020 was more eagerly anticipated, that being the rematch in February between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder.

Joyce vs. Dubois was that rare pairing of two undefeated heavyweights who were roughly at the same stage of their career. Dubois was 15-0 (14 KOs) heading in; Joyce was 11-0 (10).

And that brings us to the crossroads fight on Jan. 30 at the LA Shrine Expo between Darmani Rock (17-0, 12 KOs) and Michael Coffie (11-0, 8 KOs). Unlike Joyce vs. Dubois, this is not a well-marinated showdown, but yet there are some parallels, most notably it’s a match between unbeaten heavyweights in which the victor will undoubtedly make a big jump in public esteem and the loser, more than likely, will be pushed back into the shadows.

There was a big age gap in the Joyce-Dubois fight. The 35-year-old Joyce was the older man by 12 years. Likewise, Rock vs. Coffie features a young old-timer vs. an opponent who is merely young.

Michael Coffie, 34, came to boxing late after serving eight years in the Marine Corps. He entered the New York City Golden Gloves tournament on a whim and with virtually no formal training and yet he succeeded in reaching the finals.

When Coffie (pictured)  turned pro, his manager was none other than Randy Gordon, the former chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission who has kept his hand in boxing as a journalist and radio personality, co-hosting a boxing-themed talk show on Sirius FM with Gerry Cooney. Gordon knows more than a little about heavyweights, having been involved with Bonecrusher Smith who was briefly (very briefly) the WBA world heavyweight champion.

“(Bonecrusher) was not anywhere near the fighter that Mike is,” Gordon told Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez on the occasion of Coffie’s pro debut in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. On that night, Coffie needed only 61 seconds to dismiss his opponent, ending the contest with a short right hand. The sacrificial lamb, wrote Fernandez, “went down like an anvil dropped in the ocean.”

In his most recent fight, on Nov. 7, Coffie was matched against Minnesota veteran Joey Abell, a noted spoiler. Abell would have been a good measuring rod for assessing Coffie’s progress, but unfortunately the bout was over almost before it started. Early in the second round, Abell suffered a biceps injury while throwing a punch and couldn’t continue.

The “A” side in this fight, however, isn’t Coffie but the other guy. Darmani Rock, 24, had an outstanding amateur career, winning several important tournaments including the 2014 Youth World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. Rock was upset in the finals of the 2016 Olympic Trials and then turned pro, signing with Roc Nation, the deep pockets sports management company founded by Jay-Z.

darmani

Darmani Rock on the right

Questions have been raised, however, about Rock’s dedication. He weighed 278 pounds in his last fight, 30 pounds more than in his pro debut. (Coffie’s fighting weight also hovers around 270 and he is the same approximate height – both are listed at 6’5” — but Coffie has always been big.)  Moreover, Rock has been inactive for 15 months and may have trouble shaking off the rust.

Darmani Rock hails from Philadelphia; Michael Coffie from Brooklyn, more fodder for the tub-thumpers. Philadelphia was the stomping grounds of Smokin’ Joe Frazier. The City of Brotherly Love has arguably produced more good prizefighters per capita than any city in the country. Brooklyn spawned Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe, and Shannon Briggs, all of whom bubbled out of gritty Brownsville which also happens to be the neighborhood where Michael Coffie spent much of his youth until he was spirited away to a less threatening environment by foster parents.

I don’t want to get carried away with the Joyce-Dubois analogy. Joe Joyce had a stronger amateur pedigree than Darmani Rock. Daniel Dubois had a spectacular run leading up to his match with Joyce including a one-sided triumph over well-regarded Nathan Gorman. Moreover, neither Joyce nor Dubois had ever fought an opponent with a losing record. The same can’t be said of Coffie and Rock who have built their records on the backs of the usual suspects. Darmani Rock’s last two opponents were both 42 years old.

Moreover, Coffie vs. Rock isn’t the main attraction on the PBC card. Top billing goes to Caleb Plant’s 168-pound title defense against Caleb Truax.

As we recall, the Joyce-Dubois fight produced a major upset. Dubois was understood to be faster on his feet and more heavy-handed – considered more likely to turn the tide with a single punch – but youth was not served on that night at the historic Church House in Westminster. Joyce methodically peppered Dubois with his jab which caused a big lump to develop over Dubois’s left eye. The eye eventually shut completely and the fight ended in the 10th round with Dubois taking a knee and allowing himself to be counted out. Joyce’s victory elevated him to #2 in the WBO rankings, a notch below Oleksandr Usyk who is potentially his next opponent.

One doesn’t know what will transpire when Coffie fights Rock, but as Michael Buffer would say, “someone’s ‘O’ will have to go.” Fights of this nature are inherently intriguing and that goes double when the combatants are heavyweights.

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“One Night in Miami”: Film Review by Thomas Hauser

Thomas Hauser

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On February 25, 1964, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. defeated Charles “Sonny” Liston in Miami Beach over the course of six remarkable rounds to claim the heavyweight championship of the world. Late that night, the new champion found himself in a room at Hampton House (a black hotel in segregated Miami) with Malcolm X, several other followers of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, and football great Jim Brown. Soul singer Sam Cooke (a friend of Clay’s) had been at the fight, but there’s no historical record of his being in the hotel room with the others at that time.

One Night in Miami is built around imagining what transpired in that room amongst Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke. Directed by Regina King from a screenplay by Kemp Powers, it’s available on Amazon Prime.

The film fits into the genre known as historical fiction. Dramatic license was taken. Viewers should understand that, at times, it’s allegorical rather than an accurate factual recounting. The larger question is whether the film is impressionistically honest. The answer is “yes.”

One Night in Miami begins with the 1963 fight between Clay and Henry Cooper in London. It then segues to Cooke being treated rudely by an all-white audience at the Copacabana, followed by Jim Brown (the greatest running back in National Football League history) being reminded by a patronizing southern gentleman that he’s just a “n—–.” Next, we see Malcolm as the Nation of Islam’s most charismatic spokesman, after which the scene shifts to Liston-Clay I.

Thirty-four minutes into the film, the drama moves to Hampton House.

Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke were prominent in different ways. Each was young, black, and famous. But Malcolm was a social and religious figure of considerable intellect while the other three were known as entertainers.

The dialogue between the four men is light at first and then turns serious.

Malcolm is played by Kingsley Ben-Adir. On what should have been one of the greatest nights of his life, his world is slipping away. His deadly rupture with Elijah Muhammad is almost complete. Soon, Clay will abandon him. Ben-Adir comes across as a bit weaker and more tentative than one might expect, although Malcolm’s intellect is evident in his performance.

It’s hard to imagine anyone playing Cassius Clay well except the young Muhammad Ali. But Eli Goree bears a resemblance to Clay and is pretty good in the role.

Jim Brown was an intimidating physical presence. Aldis Hodge lacks this physicality but his performance is solid.

Leslie Odom Jr, who plays Sam Cooke, has star quality. He’s the only one of the four major actors who has the charisma and presence of the man he’s portraying. But as a result, Cooke has a stronger on-screen persona than Malcolm. That’s a problem as tensions between the two men boil over.

Toward the end of the film, Malcolm reveals that he intends to leave the Nation of Islam because of differences with Elijah Muhammad and will found a new organization.

“Who’s gonna be in this new organization?” Clay asks.

“I think lots of people will follow me over,” Malcolm answers. “Especially if you come with me.”

Clay, of course, didn’t follow Malcolm. He sided with Elijah Muhammad. One year later, he and Jim Brown were the only participants from the hotel room gathering as portrayed in the film who were still alive. Sam Cooke was shot to death in a California motel on December 11, 1964. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem.

One Night in Miami cautions us that our icons are flesh and blood human beings with strengths and flaws. In its best moments, the film is a powerful reminder that the issues of self-respect, black empowerment, and racial equality are timeless.

Pictured left to right: Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown), Kingsley Ben-Adir (Malcolm X) Leslie Odom Jr (Sam Cooke) Eli Goree (Cassius Clay)

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Staredown: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Crossover star Holly Holm Adds New Dimensions to Claressa Shields

Kelsey McCarson

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She laughs about it now, but back then it wasn’t all that funny.

Boxing champion Holly Holm was competing in her first professional MMA fight, and all her years of training inside the ropes as a world champion boxer had just taken over her entire body.

Holm had kicked her opponent down to the ground, so she did what any well-schooled boxer would do. She pivoted away from her fallen prey and headed over to the neutral corner.

All of that was wrong.

“What are you doing?” her coach yelled from cageside. “Finish her!”

It was Holm’s first big mistake in moving over from boxing to MMA, but she was lucky that night. It turned out that Holm’s opponent was finished whether she had run over there or not, so it was a lesson she could learn without much consequence.

But the instruction of that moment stands true today, so it’s just one of the many things Holm has shared with 25-year-old boxing champion Claressa Shields as the two-time Olympic gold medalist attempts to follow in her footsteps.

“I was thinking yeah, that will definitely happen to me!” Shields said.

After Shields signed a three-year promotional deal in December with the Professional Fighters League (PFL), the first thing Shields needed to do was look for the right gym.

Shields found that place at Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, one of the most famous MMA gyms in the country, and the one most recognized among the masses as the home gym of former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holm and pound-for-pound king Jon Jones.

Holm remains the only fighter (male or female) to have won legit world championships in both boxing and MMA, and Shields said Holm welcomed her to Jackson Wink with open arms.

“She’s been super great and very nice to me. We both come from the same background…and she actually turned out to be a world champion [in MMA], actually turned out to be really good,” Shields said.

But Holm’s funny story about her first MMA fight is something that points to just how large a hill Shields has decided to climb.

Whereas pop culture has just recently started to realize the power of habits through the work of writers such as Charles Duhigg and James Clear, it’s something professional fighters have known for a long time now.

“Oh, you’re going to have a habit of this because you used to box.”

That’s something Holm tells Shields almost every time they work together, and there are just so many examples.

In fact, just watching the 25-year-old boxing champion trying to learn to do all these new things in a different way is exhausting.

That Shields practically lives inside the gym for weeks at a time so she can train four or five times a day for all the kinds of things she never had to worry about before as a professional boxer is a testament to her seriousness and her courage.

But perhaps the most amazing part of the entire story is that Shields still plans on boxing.

While Holm won world championships in both sports, she achieved those things separately. Meanwhile, Shields said she wants to do the same thing Holm did but at the same time.

So, while I’m standing there with her inside an MMA cage in New Mexico, Shields is plotting fights in both sports. On one hand, she’s talking to me about a title unification bout in boxing against Marie-Eve Dicaire. On the other, she’s talking about future superfights in MMA against the likes of UFC champ Amanda Nunes.

“I’m trying to separate the two,” Shields said specifically about her training that day but she might as well have been talking about her whole life right about now.

It’s arguably the most amazing storyline right now in combat sports.

Shields started boxing when she was just 11 years old. She earned her first gold medal at the Olympics at 17 and her second four years later.

Today, Shields is a three-division world champion, and she says she’s not nearly finished adding to her growing number of boxing belts.

But all those years and all those successes have built so many habits. Ducking and slipping is great for boxing, but both become considerable detriments to defense when you suddenly have to worry about things like knees and kicks.

And what about wrestling and jiu-jitsu?

But all that stuff together is exactly what makes Shields’ epic decision to dare to be great at both sports at the same time so amazing in the first place.

Look, Shields might never accomplish the same amazing feat Holm did when she shocked Ronda Rousey in 2015 for the UFC women’s bantamweight championship.

But she’s aiming to eclipse that incredible mark anyway, and with Holm and many others offering Shields ideas about what she needs to think about as she climbs up the steepest hill she can find, she’ll definitely have her best chance at doing it.

Kelsey McCarson covers combat sports for Bleacher Report and Heavy.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

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