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Keith Thurman Can Bomb In the Ring, and Land Power Shots Outside, Too

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Much of the air in the room of the sport has been sucked up by the megastars Manny Pacquiao (who gloved up and beat Tim Bradley on April 12) and Floyd Mayweather (who takes on Marcos Maidana May 3 in Vegas) in the last six weeks or so. To the point that, other cards and other fighters who likely deserve more attention, and more media buzz, have suffered.

One such soul is Keith “One Time” Thurman, a 25-year-old Florida resident stepping into the ring, and looking to defend his WBA interim welterweight crown, on Saturday night in California.

First we all went ga-ga over Manny, and this week we’ve been starting to perk antennae to near max efficiency as we count down to Mayweather’s first tangle of the year.

I wanted to rectify that, just a bit, and chat with the young gun who in the last year has started to have people talk about him as a pound for pound top 10 candidate. I wondered if he felt the same, that his Saturday scrap, topping a Golden Boy card, and a triple-header on Showtime, was under radar somewhat.

“My true opinion is,” he said, pausing for effect, “I don’t know and I don’t care. My job is to step in that ring, and perform, and I will put on a great performance.”

The buzz factor has also been limited by the choice of opposition; Julio Diaz is 40-9-1, 34-years-old, and coming off a draw, and two losses. He is excessively fortunate to be given this opportunity against two-fisted banger Thurman. “I was hoping for a bigger challenge,” Thurman admitted. “But they gave me this test. It’s a stay busy fight for me.” He said that he is pleased in knowing the true die-hard fans will watch the tussle, which he termed “high risk, little reward.” He noted that Diaz is likely to be fueled by the understanding that he NEEDS to win, or his window will close with a crash. “No, I don’t believe he is in my league, and I believe I will outclass him.”

Only a fool looks past the task in front of him; but it’s not unwise to at least ponder the roads that might be taken further along the journey. Thurman told me he can easily say a road leading to Shawn Porter (24-0 with 15 KOs), the 26-year-old Ohio resident who defended his WBC welter title against Brooklyn’s Paul Malignaggi on April 19, notching a TKO4. Thurman didn’t go out of his way to shower Porter with praise, however. He told TSS that he thought Malignaggi turned in “one of the worst performances of his career. It was a bad boxing performance, for a guy who knows a lot about fighting. I think it has to do with ego, I think he underestimated Porter. He never had his hands up, for four rounds! He could’ve blocked those jumping left hooks.” I thought Porter was simply too strong for Malignaggi and that the startegy might have been immaterial, because of the power edge, and told Thurman that concept. He continued, noting that Malignaggi was susceptible to power brokers when he fought at 140 pounds, and should really have used a different gameplan, should have run some more to lessen the number of shots he was eating. (Note: I reached out to Malignaggi, to get a response, and heard back. “It’s fine, all fighters are allowed to have their opinion,” Malignaggi told me. “Thurman is a young man, on some things he is ignorant, but he’s got that youthful ‘jump the gun’ mentality, we all have it and we all go through it. I have my own opinions and I feel strongly about what happened on Saturday night, there’s no need for the back and forth from me, however. I will leave it at Porter fought a good fight and was VERY well prepared to fight.”)

“I know me and Porter are going to fight,” Thurman continued. In fact, he knew that before anyone else brought up the idea, he said. Both are part of the class of 2008, Thurman said, and he’s sparred with Porter previously. He said that the styles will work in his favor when he does tangle with Porter, because he has a higher caliber of firepower to draw on.

“I do respect his power,” he said, “but I seem to find a way to land big punches” while Porter more so grinds you down. “At any given point, in any given round, I have the ability to put you down,” Thurman stated. “And I would love to fight Shawn Porter. When we meet up, there will be only one remaining young, undefeated welterweight. It would be a terrific, fan friendly fight, and we’d see who is the cream of the crop. And the winner would deserve a shot at Mayweather. It could be 2015, or whenever. The longer Floyd stays in it, he will have to answer to one of these young dogs coming up.”

I love the idea of a Thurman-Porter clash taking place, as an eliminator, with the winner to get a shot at the Mayweather lotto ticket. Thurman is down with that, he said. He expects to handle Porter when and if that pairing is made. And yes, he’d adore a shot at Floyd. He’d take it ASAP, or later.

“I’m ready now,” he said. “I’ll be more ready later. The older he gets, the more gray hairs he gets, and wrinkles on his forehead….I’m coming to my prime, he will be fading out of his. He can postpone it till his last hurrah if he wants.”

Thurman noted, as have many on message boards, that Floyd has chosen, in his last five fights, a fighter of Puerto Rican extraction, a Puerto Rican, a Mexican-American, a Mexican, and now a Latino, Marcos Maidana of Argentina. “With all due respect, I love the sport,” he said, “and I’m mixed, African-American and Caucasian, my mom is white, my father is black, whoever says that on a message board knows their Mayweather history. He’s fought more Latinos than Africans or African-Americans.” Thurman said Floyd is canny to attach his fights to Latino holidays, which helps insure good PPV numbers, from a marketing perspective, because Latinos tend to regard boxing higher on the sports food chain than most other racial/ethnic classes. Thurman noted that African-Americans, like Shane Mosley, and Zab Judah, and Chop Chop Corley, had more luck finding Mayweather than his recent opponents did, for whatever that’s worth.

“Again, with all due respect, boxing is one of the most racial sports,” he said. “It’s almost always a Mexican vs. an American, a Puerto Rican versus a Mexican, a black versus a white, etc. Fighters are always representing their heritage. Basically, I’d like to see diversity in Mayweathers’ choices,” Thurman said, in wrapping up.

My take: Thurman is coming into his own in the ring, and finding his place outside, as a talker, as a fight seller, as a self-marketer. Or, more appropriately perhaps, WE are simply finding out in Thurman what has been there in front of us for a spell. Those megastars, and our perhaps excessive attention paid to them, maybe do a small disservice to the sport as a whole, because it means we don’t spread the wealth of coverage and attention around like we should.

Readers, talk to me…how do you see Thurman’s near-term arc playing out? What would Thurman-Porter look like? And is Thurman a stellar candidate to face Floyd, and would he have a decent chance to beat Mayweather?

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Remembering ‘Rocky Estafire,’ One Tough Syrian

Ted Sares

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On Sept. 9, 1978, a Bayonne, New Jersey brawler who was billed as Rocky Estafire when he was first starting out, stopped slick Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts in Jersey City giving notice that he was becoming a force to be reckoned with in the middleweight division. Watts was no slouch having split a pair with Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

”Strictly LaMotta style,” said Paddy Flood of his fighter who would come to be known by his real name, Mustafa Hamsho.

In 1980, he beat undefeated Wilford Scypion and followed that up with close wins over Curtis Parker and Alan Minter in 1981 leading to his first of two title clashes with Hagler. This bloody encounter, won by Hagler on an 11th-round TKO, left both fighters needing stiches.

“Throughout Hagler’s nonstop, 11th-round barrage, Hamsho kept coming on. He didn’t win a round, but he did take the battle of the stitches, 55-5,” wrote Pat Putnam in Sports Illustrated. “I don’t know what his corner was waiting for…The meat from his eyes was hanging down. But I can’t let that bother me. I just have to think, better him than me,” said Hagler.

More from Putnam: “When Hagler had left the hospital, the doctors were still working over Hamsho, who, until his trainer, Al Braverman, jumped into the ring to stop the fight, looked as though he would run out of blood before he ran out of heart. He was badly cut under both brows: Each wound was at least two inches long and half an inch wide. There was another slice under his left eye. He didn’t win a round from any of the three officials.”

Al Braverman, who co-managed Hamsho with the aforementioned Flood, once described the Syrian’s style as follows: “….”He’s got no style. He just wades in, throwing punches from any angle.”  He also possessed great stamina, a granite chin and incredible courage, along with head and shoulder butts, elbows, low blows, shoves, holding, chops behind the head, and whatever he could get away with.

The Matinee Idol

Bobby Czyz was 20-0 when he met Hamsho at the Convention Center in Atlantic City on Nov. 20, 1982. The undefeated New Jersey lad with the somewhat strange moniker of “Matinee Idol” and the high IQ had solid wins over Danny Long, Teddy Mann, Oscar Albarado, Elisha Obed, and Robbie Sims. Against Hamsho he was stepping up in class but he was a solid opponent for the Syrian who was 34-2-2 coming in.

If Bobby won, he would position himself for a shot at Marvelous Marvin, but Hamsho mauled and mugged the future world light heavyweight champion over ten rounds and won a convincing UD. (The rest of the Bobby Czyz story is told in “The Boxer Who Became a Bagger,” a remarkable and poignant article by sports columnist Steve Politi that first appeared in the Newark Star-Ledger.)

Wilfred Benitez

HIs UD victory over Wilfred Benitez (45-2-1) in 1883 was pure Hamsho featuring elbows, butts, and low blows. The third round was difficult to watch as the compact Syrian rendered a brutal beating on “El Radar,” using accurate nonstop shots coming from all directions. Between slips and knockdowns, Wilfred hit the deck four times.

Clearly, Benitez had faded, but Hamsho hastened the process and helped point the legendary Puerto Rican in a downward direction. Wilfred looked sluggish and poorly conditioned; he was not the same Benitez who knocked out Maurice Hope in spectacular fashion or out-boxed Roberto Duran for 15 rounds. Something was wrong.

But even in top shape, Benitez would have struggled against Hamsho with his mauling, brawling, non-stop pressure. Hamsho could make anyone look bad.  (Wilfred Benitez would lose several more outings after the Hamsho beatdown. Matthew Hilton finished the job with a terrifying KO in 1986. Wilfred’s story is a terribly sad one as he now requires constant care.)

Hamsho would lose another fight with Hagler—this time quickly and badly– and then go 6-2 before retiring in 1989 with a record of 44-5-2.

Those who were fortunate enough to see him fight remember a fan-pleasing, all-action combination of Vito Antuofermo, Michael Katsidis, Antonio Margarito, and Gene Fullmer.

Amir Khan and Prince Naseem Hamed are two very high profile, proud Muslim fighters. Mustafa Hamsho’s name can be added.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Miguel Madueno Scores His 12th Straight Knockout at Ontario, Calif

David A. Avila

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Ontario, CA — A return of fans to the Inland Empire saw Mexico’s Miguel Madueno extend his consecutive knockout streak to a dozen at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario, California on Friday.

It was the first fan-filled event for a Thompson Boxing card in the “I.E.” in almost two years.

Lightweight contender Madueno (26-0, 24 KOs) of Culiacan powered his way to his 12th consecutive knockout and this came at the expense of fellow Mexican Jose Luis Rodriguez (25-15-1, 13 KOs) with a focused attack to the body.

Rodriguez was clever and tough and would not allow Madueno to overwhelm him during the first four rounds. But in the fifth he was not as lucky as a four-punch barrage to the body sent him to one knee. He beat the count but was overwhelmed by Madueno who forced referee Raul Caiz to end the fight at 2:46 of the fifth round.

“In reality I thought I would end it early,” said Madueno about seeking an early knockout. “But he could take it.”

In the co-main event Japan’s Katsuma Akitsugi (7-0) outhustled Northern California’s Eros Correa (10-1) after eight rounds in a bantamweight scrap to win by majority decision.

Akitsugi, a southpaw, and Correa both showed quick hands and good chins. But the Japanese fighter was always on attack and Correa resorted to holding from the second round on. He was never warned by the referee for excessive holding. It could have helped him get back in the fight.

Every time Akitsugi entered the danger zone Correa would grab ahold like an MMA fighter instead of fighting on the inside. While Correa held Akitsugi punched and that proved the difference as two judges scored it 78-74 for Akitsugi, while a third saw it 76-76.

“I could not box my style at all,” said Akitsugi, 23. “I’m glad I brought the win home.”

Other Bouts

San Bernardino’s Esteban Munoz (5-1, 3 KOs) knocked out Tijuana’s Manuel Martinez (6-5-4) with a body shot in the first round. He could not beat the count. Munoz had stunned Martinez earlier with a counter right. Then he found an opening to the body and delivered a right to the gut and down went Martinez. He was counted out at 1:50 of the first round.

Coachella’s Lazaro Vargas (4-0) out-worked Ulises Rosales (0-5) over four rounds of a super bantamweight match to win by unanimous decision 40-36 on all three cards.

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Oscar Rivas is Boxing’s First Bridgerweight Champ; Tops Spunky Ryan Rozicki

Arne K. Lang

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Back in January, the World Boxing Council announced that they were creating a new weight division. Tailored to boxers weighing between 200 and 224 pounds, they named it Bridgerweight. Tonight, at the Olympia Theatre in Montreal, the first WBC bridgerweight champion was crowned. Montreal-based Oscar Rivas, a 2008 Olympian representing his native Columbia, turned the trick with a unanimous 12-round decision over fellow Canadian Ryan Rozicki, advancing his record to 28-1 (19).

Rozicki, who is from Nova Scotia, out-performed expectations. Although he had knocked out all 13 of his opponents since turning pro in 2016, he hadn’t defeated anyone of note and hadn’t fought beyond six rounds. He drew the assignment when Rivas’s original opponent Bryant Jennings was scratched because of his refusal to accept Canada’s COVID protocols for unvaccinated foreigners. (A match between Rivas and Jennings would have been a rematch of their Jan. 18, 2019 contest in Verona, New York, a rather ho-hum match that had a dramatic ending when Rivas turned up the heat in the 12th round.)

Rivas, 34, was making his second start since suffering his lone defeat, a setback on points in a 12-round contest with Dillian Whyte in London. The heavier man by 19 pounds, he dominated the first two frames, rocking Rozicki in the opening stanza, but the Nova Scotian clawed his way back into the fight. Rivas had a strong penultimate round and although he had a point deducted for holding in the final stanza, it did not factor into the outcome. The judges had it 116-111 and 115-112.

What’s next for Oscar Rivas? Logically a bout with Evgeny Romanov. A 36-year-old Russian with a 16-0 (11-0 mark), Romanov was ranked #2 behind Rivas in the WBC’s latest set of bridgerweight rankings. Romanov’s claim to fame is that he TKOed Deontay Wilder is in amateur days, but that was way back in 2008.

Another possibility, and one likely to attract more buzz, would be a bout with Alen Babic. A 30-year-old Brit by way of Croatia, the colorful, free-swinging Babic (8-0, 8 KOs) has a date later this month in London with Texas trial horse Eric Molina.

The best guess, however, is that Rivas will discard the belt and go back to competing as a heavyweight. The bridgerweight title, we suspect, like many of the lesser titles, will be perpetually vacant, which likely wouldn’t trouble the WBC at all as they will gather up a sanctioning fee from a bridgerweight title fight whether there is an incumbent or not.

There were two 8-rounders offering chief support, but both were cancelled when the opponents failed to pass muster. Left in the lurch were “A side” Canadians Sebastien Bouchard, a welterweight, and Steve Rolls, a middleweight.

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