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Kathy Duva Speaks Out On…Well, Everything (Part 1)

Bernard Fernandez

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You say this latest “Cold War” pitting Showtime and Golden Boy’s Richard Schaefer against HBO and Top Rank founder Bob Arum is basically a new twist on an old theme? Something with elements of hostility and intrigue that boxing really hasn’t seen before, at least to this degree, and might never see again?

How naïve such an assumption would be. Main Events CEO Kathy Duva might now merely play the role of interested observer, given her lack of direct involvement with either of the warring factions, but she was in the midst of a nearly identical battle, with different principals, 20 or so years ago, and she says that what happened then makes today’s combatants seem as if they are engaging in child’s play. The difference between then and now is the dizzying rise of social media, which takes every squabble, every veiled or direct insult that used to take place behind closed doors or in private conversations, and puts the nastiness out there on Twitter or Instagram for everyone to see.

So Duva, whose company has found a cozy television home on NBC SportsNet, sits back and watches as Showtime’s forces engage in a bitter and expensive war of attrition with its opposite numbers at HBO, the end result of which could be the mutual destruction of each side or, at least, one or the other.

And Duva figures she or some other patient entrepreneur will be sitting there like a spider, waiting to feast on the fleshy remains of the struggle scattered about on the world wide web. Something new – maybe better, maybe not — almost surely must arise in such an eventuality because, well, the fight game isn’t just going to go away because the two biggest current players have bled themselves dry. Somehow, some way, boxing always survives, doesn’t it? Just like the common cockroach survived the Ice Age while mighty dinosaurs didn’t.

“If HBO and Showtime beat each other up enough, and make each other small enough because their executives get tired and say, `We’re not going to bankroll this anymore,’ you’re going to see other networks come back into boxing,” Duva theorized. “We’re already close. ESPN has already bought a heavyweight title fight (in which WBO/WBA/IBF champion Wladimir Klitschko defends against Alex Leapai this Saturday evening in Oberhausen, Germany).

“What’s happened is that HBO’s budget for boxing has shrunk. Showtime’s has grown. But if you look at the money they spend on boxing as opposed to what they spend on one football game, any network that has the will to do it could come into this business and blow them both away on the same day.

“The result of this fight is that they’re going to empower somebody else because that’s how this business works. It’s not like they have only the two premium cable outlets and a finite number of fighters. There’s always going to be somebody else, and that’s the part that the two of them are just not thinking about. It’s the part that will create opportunities for someone like me, so I’m not arguing about it or knocking it.

“ESPN or NBC, or maybe CBS, will say, `Hey, here’s a great big void. Let’s jump in and take it over.’ When you try to eliminate competition, all you do is creating openings for somebody else. Really, I’m kind of happy about it. I’m not going to lie. I got no problem with the `Cold War.’ It was great for Main Events the first time. We put a lot of great fights on HBO during that time. Don King took his fighters elsewhere (to Showtime) and it created dates for us.”

Spanish philosopher/essayist George Santayana once observed that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. In the mid-1990s, HBO and Showtime were tossing similarly poison-tipped darts at one another, albeit with the better-financed, more powerful HBO in an even more obvious position of strength and scrappy Showtime hoping to take its haughty tormentor down a peg or two. And while Duva’s late husband, Dan, held a seat at the head table, he also knew, as his widow does now, that he could become the beneficiary of whatever collateral damage was wrought by the fierce determination of the arch-rivals to inflict as much damage upon the other as was humanly possible.

Playing the role of current HBO Sports president Ken Hershman then was the well-financed Seth Abraham, boxing’s equivalent of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Current Showtime honcho Stephen Espinoza predecessor was the late Jay Larkin, forever asked to do more with less and doing it with some degree of regularity. Arum was still Arum, then as now a feisty, spit-in-your-eye sort long on vinegar and short on patience. But instead of Schaefer, Arum’s mortal enemy was Don King, publicly harrumphing “Only in America!” while cutting backroom deals that any seedy Washington politician would have been envious of.

And where the pivotal figure in the ring today is Floyd Mayweather Jr., who crossed the street from HBO to Showtime and brought his enormous star power with him, Showtime’s big-ticket attraction was Mike Tyson, who was to do for Larkin what Mayweather abdication from HBO is supposed to be doing for Espinoza and his company today.

There is a notion, quaint and incorrect, that Cold War I was a bit more civil than the present version. Hey, didn’t HBO and Showtime both televise, via their pay-per-view arms, the Lennox Lewis-Tyson heavyweight megafight on June 8, 2002, in Memphis, Tenn.? Wasn’t that an indication that the two sides could play nice, at least once, if circumstances so dictated? And if it happened then, isn’t there still hope that a Mayweather –Manny Pacquiao fight somehow can be made for the good of the sport, present business allegiances notwithstanding?

King and Arum even occasionally got past their obvious personal differences, if there was enough money to be made on each side. They were photographed, smiling and shaking hands, when the matchup of Arum’s Oscar De La Hoya and King’s Felix Trinidad was made. OK, so those smiles were forced and fake. A very attractive superfight nonetheless was negotiated and took place. If it happened then, couldn’t it happen again? Wouldn’t it just be a matter of Arum and Schaefer sitting down together and somehow stowing away the animosity, or at least picking up a telephone and having a conversation? What might happen if Hershman and Espinoza bumped into each other at a coffee shop and, you know, sat down for a latte and a Danish? If Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill could have a summit meeting with Joe Stalin, isn’t a temporary boxing truce at least possible?

Duva said the idea that Arum-Schaefer somehow surpasses Arum-King, or even Arum-Dan Duva, for pure, unadulterated hatred is downright ludicrous. Those legendary feuders, the Hatfields and McCoys, had nothing on the feudin’ fight folks of two decades past.

Although Lewis-Tyson was a shared event (and, almost certainly, a one-of-a-kind thing never to be repeated), the counterpoint that underscores just how weird had gotten was the scheduling of two major fights on the same night in the same town – literally just down the street from each other — and at the same time. That, too, is something unprecedented and highly unlikely to ever happen again.

Remember what was supposed to happen on Nov. 4, 1995? HBO had announced the much-anticipated rubber match between Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield, which was to take place in the outdoor arena at Caesars Palace. Fox (not Showtime), meanwhile, had penciled in the matchup of Tyson, in his second comeback fight on the comeback trail against an opponent to be named (it would prove to be Buster Mathis Jr.) at the MGM Grand, just down the Las Vegas Strip.

Boxing’s answer to the Gunfight at the OK Corral, of course, didn’t happen. Bowe did fight Holyfield, “Big Daddy” winning on an eighth-round stoppage, but a few days before Tyson was to have fought Mathis, he appeared at a press conference to show the bandaged right thumb he supposedly had injured in sparring a couple of weeks earlier. At Tyson’s side were two doctors who held up X-rays and assured the media that the injury was indeed legitimate.

Duva, whose company co-promoted Bowe-Holyfield III, is one of many skeptics who continues to believe that, wink-wink, Tyson-Mathis (which was rescheduled and took place on Dec. 16, 1995, in Philadelphia) was pushed back not so much because of Tyson’s perhaps damaged thumb as because his likely blowout of Mathis was going to get killed at the box office by the more competitive and attractive third pairing of Bowe and Holyfield.

“I can’t remember who had first dibs on the date,” Duva said. “Back then I was the (Main Events) publicist and raising three kids, too. I can’t say I was paying that much attention to that stuff. That was Danny’s deal.”

But Duva has a much more vivid recollection of Lewis-Tyson, which might have resembled peace in our time between HBO and Showtime but was actually a raging fire fight involving guys in suits that somehow was kept out of the public’s eye.

“Everyone who was involved in that debacle – and `debacle’ is the only word to use – will tell you that, yes, it was an incredibly successful event,” she said. “It was incredibly successful from a financial standpoint. At the time it was the highest-viewed pay-per-view fight ever , so I have to be careful in parsing my comments. But everyone who was involved in it walked away saying, `We will NEVER do this again.’ It was a nightmare.

“Here’s the difference. Today, you are seeing on social media conversations that took place privately on the phone back then, when Dan and King and Arum hated each other’s guts on a level (Arum and Schaefer) don’t even come close to. It’s just that most people weren’t aware of how deep it went. But I was living through it.

“During that Lewis-Tyson promotion, they had to have a weekly conference call with all the lawyers that were involved, representing all the various entities just to hash out the legal issues. Those calls would last for two or three hours every Tuesday.

“You had lawyers literally arguing over who would bring the stool into the ring. I mean, crazy stuff. The Tyson and Lewis camps were trying to screw each other in so many ways, I can’t even begin to count them all.

“At one point we got a house for Lennox (Main Events was his U.S. promoter) to stay in when he got to Memphis,” Duva continued. “Next thing I know, Mike Tyson’s people rented him a house in the same neighborhood. We had a blowup over that.

“If you recall, there was a press conference where Tyson literally assaulted Lennox Lewis (and chewed on his thigh). There’s no other word for it. And they’re trying to put them in the same neighborhood? All we were trying to do was to keep them apart until the bell rang.”

Today’s technological advances, Duva figures, would have altered the landscape considerably.

“If there had been Twitter back then, you’d realize that what’s happening now with Arum and Richard Schaefer is, like, I don’t know, gentlemen playing cricket or something. But, as a publicist, all that nastiness would have made my job a lot easier.”

Part 2 of 3 will deal with how the HBO-Showtime divide is impacting the light heavyweight division, now and moving forward.

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Conor McGregor vs. Pac-Man: The Circus is Back in Town

Arne K. Lang

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MMA superstar Conor McGregor stole some of the thunder from a busy Saturday in boxing with his announcement that his next fight would come against Manny Pacquaio. “boxing Manny Pacquiao next in the Middle East,” McGregor tweeted on Friday, Sept. 25.

Jayke Johnson, a representative of Pacquiao, confirmed that there have been preliminary talks. Johnson hinted that this would be Pacquiao’s final fight and said that Senator Manny would be donating a large chunk of his purse to COVID-19 relief in the Philippines. The situation is bad there. As of Sept. 22, there were 291,789 confirmed infections in a population of approximately 109 million. The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that travelers postpone all travel to the Philippines, including essential travel.

The best guess is that the fight will take place early next year. Pacquiao is unlikely to leave his homeland until the pandemic has abated there.

Pac-Man, who turns 42 in December, last fought in July of 2019 when he further cemented his great legacy with a 12-round decision over previously undefeated Keith Thurman. McGregor, 32, last fought in January of this year. His fight with Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone was over in 40 seconds. Cerrone left the ring with a fractured nose and orbital bone.

In June, McGregor announced his retirement, but few people gave it any credibility. McGregor was just making noise which he is very good at. But like him or loathe him, the fellow is certainly adept at selling his brand. In the world of combat sports, the Dubliner is Mr. Charisma.

In 2019, McGregor was reportedly the 4th wealthiest sports personality in the world, trailing only Mayweather, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo. And his bank balance was growing in leaps and bounds because the whiskey he was promoting was flying off the shelf. Proper No. 12, a three-year-old blended Irish whiskey bottled at Ireland’s oldest distillery, was launched in September of 2018 and reportedly attracted $1 billion in sales in its very first year. (The “12” refers to the postal code of the neighborhood where McGregor grew up.)

McGregor started the company; he wasn’t merely the spokesperson. The parent company of Tequila maker Cuervo recently upped their stake in Proper No. 12 to 49 percent. Without a punch or a kick, McGregor made a big score.

(By the way, the popularity of Conor McGregor’s libation isn’t matched by the reviews. A bottle was sent complimentary to a business magazine in London with instructions to pass it around the office. No one liked it. “It smelled like ethanol and tasted only marginally better,” said one imbiber.)

McGregor’s fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. in June of 2017 attracted a whopping 4.3 million pay-per-view buys. The match at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas drew 13,094 paid and a live gate of $55.4 million, the second highest in Nevada history (albeit well short of the $72 million gate generated by Mayweather vs Pacquiao in 2015).

McGregor plainly won the first round in that fight and won the first three rounds in the eyes of many observers. But by the ninth round the Irishman was clearly fatigued and Mayweather stopped him in the 10th.

Many people, including this reporter, believe that there was a gentleman’s agreement in place whereby Mayweather agreed to fight the first few rounds under wraps to give the paying fans more bang for their buck. In a recent tweet, McGregor said that he was disgusted with himself for not following up his early advantage and that, if he could go back and do it over, he would give Floyd a good kick in the neck because getting disqualified wouldn’t have stung as bad as getting TKOed.

The preamble to the McGregor-Mayweather fandango was a four-city promotional tour that began in Los Angeles and coursed through Toronto and New York before concluding in London. At each stop, the public was invited to come and witness the fighters’ vent their mutual enmity and the circus was live-streamed on several social media platforms.

Each session was marked by an orgy of F-bombs. Veteran boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, after tuning-in to the Toronto segment, articulated the feelings of many as he voiced his disgust: “(The show) defiled whatever remained of the nobility of combat sports, and in a broader sense the fabric of civilized society.”

If there is a promotional tour for McGregor-Pacquiao, it will take a different tack. Manny is deeply religious; he won’t play that game.

Historically, some fights for charity have been little more than exhibitions. A writer for an MMA site speculates that McGregor-Pacquiao may be contested under a modified rule set, whatever that means. Regardless, if this event comes off, it wouldn’t command my patronage if I were anything other than a boxing writer obliged to give it a look-see.

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Emerging Heavyweights: Three to Watch

Ted Sares

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Victor Faust (Viktor Vykhryst), a 6’6” 232-pound Ukrainian heavyweight (and long-time amateur) is a product of the great amateur program in the Ukraine–one that has produced the likes of the Klitschko brothers, Oleksandr Usyk, Vasily Lomachenko, and more recently Sergiy Derevyanchenko.

At first glance, his amateur record does not appear stellar, but a closer review indicates several SD’s or MD’s.

Earlier this month, on Sept. 20, he scored a frightening one punch KO when he fought the more experienced Gabriel Enguema (10-9) in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro. It was his third KO victory in three professional fights—all in 2020. The end came as a result of a Doctor Steelhammer-like perfect straight right to knock the Spaniard out cold. It brought back memories of Wladimir’s KO of Calvin Brock in 2006. Faust displayed skills, size, a solid chin, and power in dispatching his opponent.

“…Soon everyone will …see how skillful he is. He’s the complete package and will compete in massive fights sooner rather than later.” Erol Ceylan (Faust’s German promoter)

Oh yes, Faust beat Romanian Mihai Nistor in the amateurs and the talented Nistor in turn halted Anthony Joshua in the amateurs back in 2011. (Nistor also went 1-2 with Filip Hrgovic and lost to Tony Yoka in 2012.) Of course, one must be circumspect when using logic in boxing. Now that Nistor has turned pro, he will be worth following as his style is very much Tysonesque.

There are others who have—at a minimum– the same potential as Faust.

Tony Yoka

tony

Hard-hitting Frenchman 6’7” Tony Yoka (8-0) has beaten far better opposition than Faust and has a far better amateur record. In fact, he beat Filip Hrgovic and Joe Joyce in the 2016 Rio Games on the way to a Gold Medal. Recently, he dismantled veteran and fellow Frenchman Johan Duhaupas, a fringe contender with some notable notches on his belt. The end came in the first round by virtue of a crunching right uppercut.

Yoka perhaps could be slotted above Faust at this point.; he just might be the best of the new guys on the block. However, there are some dicey anti-doping issues that have tainted his reputation, though they do seem to be mostly resolved at this point.

Arslanbek Makhmudov

Arslanbek

This Russian “Lion,” 6’5 ½”, 260 pounds with an imposing muscular frame, is still another hungry prospect ready to break into the next tier. Nicknamed the “Lion,” — he also has been called “Predator” and “Beast — he is 10-0 (10 KOs).

He now lives and fights out of Montreal. The holder of two regional titles, he stopped a shot Samuel Peter in one round this past December.

“I’m confident that with my team, Eye of the Tiger Promotions and Golden Boy Promotions, I will reach my goal of becoming heavyweight champion of the world,” —Makhmudov.

This all said, The Lion needs some work on his technical skills as size can only go so far.

Makhmudov’s next opponent is Canadian heavyweight Dillon “Big Country” Carman (14-5) whose claim to fame is that he KOd comebacking Donovan Ruddock in 2015 in Toronto. This one will end differently for “Big Country.”

Others

Arguably, classy Americans Stephan Shaw (13-0), and Jared Anderson (6-0 with four KOs in the first round) could be added to the above. Filip Hrgovic and Efe Ajagba, both 6’6”, have already moved up.

A good yardstick is 6’5” American Jonathan Rice who lost a 10-round bout to Ajagba, was TKO’d in the seventh round Makhmudov, lost a 6-round decision to Tony Yoka, and a lost 6-round decision to Shaw.

Have I missed any?

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com of on Facebook.

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Jermell Charlo Unifies Super Welterweights Via Solar Plexus Punch

David A. Avila

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WBC super welterweight titlist Jermell Charlo knocked out IBF and WBA titlist Jeison Rosario with a knockout punch delivered to the solar plexus on Saturday to add two more belts to his collection.

“I’m definitely bringing home the straps,” said Charlo.

Shades of Bob Fitzsimmons.

Back in 1897, Fitzsimmons used the same solar plexus punch to dethrone Gentleman James Corbett for the heavyweight title in Carson City, Nevada.

In another casino city Charlo (34-1, 18 KOs) floored Dominican Republic’s Rosario (20-2-1, 14 KOs) three times at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. He and his brother co-headlined a heavy duty pay-per-view card with no fans in attendance on the Premier Boxing Champions card.

Charlo jumped on Rosario quickly in the first round when he charged and clipped him with a left hook to the temple. Down went the two-belt champion for the count. But he got up seemingly unfazed.

For the next several rounds Rosario was the aggressor and put the pressure on Charlo who was content to allow the Dominican to fire away. Occasionally the Houston fighter jabbed but allowed Rosario to pound up and down with both fists.

After allowing Rosario to get comfortable with his attack, suddenly Charlo stopped moving and connected with a short crisp counter left hook and right cross in the sixth round. Down went Rosario again and he got up before the count of 10.

Charlo said it was part of the game plan.

“I’m growing and I realize that the knockout will just come,” he said.

Charlo was in control with a patient style and allowed Rosario to come forward. But the Dominican was more cautious in the seventh.

In the eighth round Charlo jabbed to the head and then jabbed hard to Rosario’s stomach. The Dominican fighter dropped down on his seat as if felled by a gun shot. He could not get up and convulsed while on the floor. The referee Harvey Dock counted him out at 21 seconds of round eight.

“That jab that got to him must have landed in a vital point,” said Charlo after the fight. “I hope he recovers and bounces back.”

Charlo now has three of the four major super welterweight world titles.

WBC Super Bantamweight Title

Luis Nery (31-0, 24 KOs) captured the WBC super bantamweight title by unanimous decision over fellow Mexican Aaron Alameda (25-1, 13 KOs) in a battle between southpaws. The war between border town fighters was intense.

Nery, a former bantamweight world titlist, moved up a weight division and found Alameda to be a slick southpaw with an outstanding jab. At first the Tijuana fighter was a little puzzled how to attack but found his groove in the fourth round.

But Alameda, who fights out of Nogales, Mexico, began using combinations and finding success.  A crafty counter left uppercut caught Nery charging in a few times, but he managed to walk through them.

In the final two rounds Nery picked up the action and increased the pressure against the slick fighting Alameda, He forced the Nogales fighter to fight defensively and that proved enough to give the last two rounds for Nery and the victory by unanimous decision. The scores were 115-113, 116-112 and 118-110 for Nery who now holds the WBC super bantamweight world title. He formerly held the WBC bantamweight title.

Roman Wins

Danny “Baby-Faced Assassin” Roman (28-3-1, 10 KOs) managed to rally from behind and defeat Juan Carlos Payano (21-4, 9 KOs) in a battle between former world champions in a nontitle super bantamweight clash. It wasn’t easy.

Once again Roman fought a talented southpaw and in this fight Payano, a former bantamweight titlist, moved up in weight and kept Roman off balance for the first half of the fight. The jab and movement by the Dominican fighter seemed to keep Roman out of sync.

Roman, who fights out of Los Angeles, used a constant body attack to wear down the 35-year-old Payano and it paid off in the second half. Then the former unified world champion Roman began to pinpoint more blows to the body and head. With seconds left in the 12th and final round, a left hook delivered Payano down and through the ropes. Sadly, the referee missed the knockdown. It didn’t matter as all three judges scored it identical at 116-112 for Roman after 12 rounds.

“I made some adjustments and picked up the pace and got the win,” said Roman who formerly held the WBA and IBF super bantamweight world titles.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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