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Kathy Duva Speaks Out On…Well, Everything (Part 2)

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Trying to fully unify a world championship in the fragmented arena of professional boxing – any world championship, in any weight class – is proving more difficult than super-gluing the fragmented, war-torn ethnic regions of the former Yugoslavia, or maybe prying Crimea from Russian control.

Certainly, the power brokers of boxing seem more intent on solidifying their own spheres of influence than in sitting down at a conference table, or maybe picking up a telephone, and working out an arrangement that would at least partially appease the most abused segment of the fight game, namely the fans who pay the freight with their hard-earned pay-for-view dollars.

Those diehard fans – the ones who once pined to see Mike Tyson swap punches with his homeboy from the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Riddick Bowe, or for Bowe to get it on with Lennox Lewis in a rematch of the 1988 Olympic super heavyweight gold medal bout — are still waiting for that megafight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao to be made. But the odds of it ever taking place are longer than, say, an overweight plumber getting a call to fix a leaky faucet in a rundown neighborhood and somehow winding up in a ménage a trois with a Victoria’s Secret model and the cover girl from the most recent Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

We all want to win the Powerball Lottery, don’t we? But pipe dreams almost never become reality, and no one understands frustration more than the boxing buff who knows which entree he truly hungers for, but too often is obliged to settle for some substitute item from the Column B side of the pugilistic menu.

Latest case in point: the light heavyweight division, so teeming with attractive, big-name talent, yet so isolated in terms of who will or won’t fight whom because of the entrenched positions of various entities who’d rather reconstruct a figurative Berlin Wall than find a way to achieve peace in our time.

Simply put, unless something changes very dramatically and very soon, there won’t be a unification showdown between WBA 175-pound ruler Adonis Stevenson and IBF champ Sergey Kovalev. That much-anticipated pairing – an updated version of Mayweather-Pacquiao, if you will – appeared to be nearly signed and sealed not that long ago. But it can’t be delivered because Stevenson, having turned his career over to Mayweather’s chief negotiator, the shadowy Al Haymon, jumped ship from HBO to rival Showtime, for whom he will fight exclusively for at least the foreseeable future. By all accounts it was a lucrative deal, financially, for Stevenson, but the bottom line is still this: Not only will we not get to see Mayweather-Pacquiao, we can’t hope to witness its near-equivalent, Stevenson-Kovalev. Instead, we get a matchup of Stevenson (23-1, 20 KOs) and Andzej Fonfara (25-2, 15 KOs) on regular Showtime on May 24. That fight comes on the heels of the HBO-televised seventh-round knockout victory by Kovalev (24-0-1, 22 KOs) of Cedric Agnew (26-1, 13 KOs) on April 29.

Such real or imagined mismatches are not just substitutions from the Column B side of the menu, but week-old slices of stale pie from Joe’s Greasy Spoon Diner.

As might be expected, Stevenson and Kovalev, prohibited from trading actual haymakers in the ring, took verbal or social-media potshots at one another.

“Adonis Stevenson is a piece of (crap),” Kovalev said while being interviewed in the ring. “I will fight any champion in my division. I want to get another title. I am ready for anyone.”

Stevenson fired back on Twitter, telling Kovalev that “You just a real slow BUM with no defence. Easy work! You can’t fight for (crap)! Tell mama Duva to call Al Haymon and Yvon Michel (Stevenson’s promoter) so I can have an easy pay day.”

Sticks and stones, folks. Again.

“Mama Duva” – that would be Kovalev’s promoter, Main Events CEO Kathy Duva – does have a horse in this race, so her thoughts on the current state of affairs might be interpreted as being at least somewhat biased. Then again, how could they not be, given the fact that Duva has just filed a suit against Stevenson, Golden Boy Promotions, Showtime and Michel, alleging breach of contract. But her views are interesting in any case, when one considers that she has taken a twirl in this kind of circle dance before. Although Duva’s company gets many of its television dates on NBC SportsNet these days, she and her late husband, Dan, did or do far more business with HBO than Showtime, and she believes that Showtime’s apparent interest in rounding up many of the currently formidable light heavies – in the process isolating Kovalev – will prove to be an exercise in futility because boxing is cyclical. Today’s hot division is tomorrow’s tepid leftovers.

“People think Sergey Kovalev is toast now because two guys from Canada (Stevenson and former – light heavyweight titlist Jean Pascal) went to Showtime,” Duva said in a far-ranging interview that touched on multiple topics. “You’re looking at a 49-year-old champion (IBF/WBA ruler Bernard Hopkins), a 36-year-old champion (Stevenson) and some French-Canadian guy (Pascal) who fought on HBO a few times and got not very impressive ratings at all, certainly not as impressive as Sergey got for fighting a guy (Agnew) that nobody knew.

“For anyone to say, `Showtime’s got it now. They’ve locked up the light heavyweight division,’ well … they might determine who the light heavyweight champion of Canada is. Maybe that guy will wind up fighting a 50-year-old champion (Hopkins) at some point. But I’m taking the long view. In five years, I think Sergey Kovalev will be a really big star and it really doesn’t matter who fights him now, or who ducks him now. Clearly, Stevenson was the express train to that kind of attention, but on the other hand HBO really has no choice but to focus on Sergey now.”

Duva said she can wait for Kovalev’s emerging star power to blossom, but she said the posturing between boxing’s perceived superpowers – Showtime and Golden Boy on one side, HBO and Top Rank on the other – is like dripping acid on the fabric of a sport that can ill-afford to have any more of its fan base eroded. Unlike the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, boxing does not operate under a singular authority that has the authority to do the right thing, or some reasonable proximity. No matter the intemperate words that sometimes come out of the mouths of the various principals, who’s going to slap them down like NBA commissioner Adam Silver did to dumb-ass Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling? Unlike the hazy notion of Mayweather-Pacquiao or Stevenson-Kovalev ever being staged, NBA fans know they’ll get LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant if their teams win their way into the Finals. Other sports are true meritocracies in that respect, boxing a traveling crapshoot.

“The big fights are boxing’s Super Bowls, its World Series, its Kentucky Derbies,” Duva continued. “Those are the times when fans that like sports but are not necessarily that much into boxing come and watch us. When you don’t have those events, or they don’t happen often enough, the whole sport suffers.”

To be fair, both HBO and Showtime have, at various times, tried to come up with multi-tiered formats that would give long-suffering fans some of what they want. Thirteen years ago HBO and promoter Don King staged a four-man middleweight unification tournament, its participants being IBF champion Bernard Hopkins, WBC champ Keith Holmes, WBA titlist William Joppy and Felix Trinidad, the WBA/IBF junior middleweight ruler who was moving up from 154 pounds. Hopkins won the event, memorably stopping the previously undefeated Trinidad in 12 rounds on Sept. 29, 2001, in Madison Square Garden.

Showtime cobbled together a similar coalition for its “Super Six” super middleweight tournament that took place from 2009 to 2011, the lineup consisting of WBA champion Mikkel Kessler, WBC titlist Carl Froch, 2004 Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward, former middleweight champs Jermain Taylor and Arthur Abraham, and 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Andre Dirrell.

Ward outpointed Froch in the finale, on Dec. 17, 2011, in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, in the process establishing himself as one of the premier pound-for-pound fighters. But while the end result was mostly positive, there were glitches: IBF champ Lucian Bute was not invited to participate; Taylor and Kessler withdrew during the course of the tournament and had to be replaced by Glen Johnson and Allan Green, pinch-hit assignments that are fine in baseball but warped the original premise almost to the point of it being unrecognizable. Maybe that’s why neither Showtime nor HBO have tried to launch a similarly ambitious project in another weight class.

Even if the premium-cable outlets and their partners did deign to undertake such a mission, boxing’s various sanctioning bodies would probably strip the last man standing of one or more of his titles with alarming speed. Like HBO/Top Rank and Showtime/Golden Boy, the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO are highly protective of their turf because it’s really not in their best interests for anyone to be seen as the undisputed kingpin of a particular weight class. The WBC, now under the direction of Jose Sulaiman’s son, Mauricio, has already declared it will vacate the title of any WBC champion if he has the temerity to fight for another organization’s bejeweled belt.

In the meantime, Duva is left to wistfully contemplate the near-deal she thought she had struck to put Kovalev in with Stevenson, on HBO, in what could have been a career-defining slugfest for either or maybe even both power-punchers.

“You have a situation here, unless I’m missing the boat, that’s a first,” she said. “I’m used to other promoters coming along and trying to screw up my deal. It’s part of what I live with. But in this case you had a manager (Haymon) and a television network (Showtime) actively come in and screw up a deal. I thought that was interesting.

“In the beginning, Stevenson’s promoter (Michel) was completely on board with the deal until (Stevenson and Haymon) they changed his mind.

“It was early February when I learned Al Haymon was talking to Stevenson. It was pretty clear to me where this was going. But what I didn’t know was that Al was talking to Stevenson as far back as last October or November. If had known that then, I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised. There are other people who shouldn’t have been surprised, but they’re not me.”

To be sure, not everyone agrees with Duva’s take on the situation. Stephen Espinoza, the executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports and Event Programming, told TSS editor Michael Woods that he’d love to stage a Stevenson-Kovalev fight, provided Stevenson survives a unification match with ageless wonder Hopkins, hardly a given.

“If Kovalev’s available,” he said. “Except for some reason Kathy Duva seems interested only in HBO and not maximizing revenues.”

Part 3 of 3 details the similarities and possible ramifications, in Duva’s opinion, of Golden Boy’s decision to exclusively align itself with Showtime, much as Don King did in the 1990s.

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Former World Bantamweight Champion Richie Sandoval Passes Away at Age 63

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Amanda Serrano and Jake Paul Vanquish Overmatched Foes in Tampa

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

Paul and Serrano move on to bigger things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now it’s on to Katie Taylor.

Jake Paul KOs Mike Perry

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

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

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

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

Perry survived.

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

“I kind of expected that,” said Paul.

Perry was honest about the outcome.

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

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

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

Other Bouts

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

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

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

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

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

Prelim Bouts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Esther Lin / MVP Promotions

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

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

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

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

Other Title Fight

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

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

Also

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

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

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

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

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