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SAD FINAL CHAPTER FOR A GREAT ACTION HERO

Bernard Fernandez

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Some call boxing the “the sweet science,” which conjures images of intricate strategies and balletic movements more reminiscent of a Nuryev or a Baryshnikov than of tough guys punching for pay. And make no mistake, there are fighters whose grace and fluidity of movement hinted at or even screamed that they were actual scientists of pugilism: Willie Pep, Miguel Canto and any number of other stylistic dandies weren’t exactly nerds, but they executed a more physical version of the Big Bang Theory. Imagine, if you can, Dr. Sheldon Cooper with nimble feet, quick reflexes and a snappy jab.

There are those, however, whose claim to fame owed more to indomitable will than to extraordinary skill, to power more than prettiness. The blunt-force trauma guys come forward relentlessly, taking punishment to dish out punishment, their most memorable bouts recalled as bloody wars of attrition that bespeak the beauty that can be found even in the fiercest, most primeval of boxing battles.

Former WBC light heavyweight champion Matthew Saad Muhammad was such an acclaimed warrior, wearing down opponents in two-way action classics that left a deep impression on anyone who saw him dig inside himself to find, time and again, some last ounce of courage which marked the difference between victory and defeat.

Now Saad Muhammad, 59, is gone, having succumbed to the debilitating effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Saad passed away early Sunday morning in the Intensive Care Unit of Chestnut Hill Hospital, in his hometown of Philadelphia.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

“He had been battling the illiness for the last couple of years, but then he took a turn for the worse,” said a longtime friend and associate, Mustafa Ameen. “Those of us who knew him will miss him. He was a good man. Sure, he had his ups and downs – a lot of ups, and a lot of downs. But at least now he isn’t suffering any more. Hopefully, he’s in a better place, and I’d like to think that he is.”

Saad Muhammad was a first-ballot inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1998, which tells the story of who and what he was more than his final won-lost record, which is a deceiving 49-16-3, with 35 knockouts. But, like many fighters who hang around too long, he was just 5-7-1 in his final 13 bouts, with four of his eight losses inside the distance coming during that span. He was by then a shell of his former greatness, and he knew it. But what’s a used-up fighter to do when he has made too many wrong choices, financial and otherwise, and has no way to earn a living but to keep putting himself in harm’s way?

“Toward the end I started losing my power,” Saad recalled in 1998, a few days before he was inducted into the IBHOF. “You can’t fight the way I did unless you got something to back it up. I couldn’t back it up any more. But you know what? I have no regrets. I was like Frank Sinatra. I did it my way.”

Well, maybe he did, at least professionally. As far as the rest of it … well, that’s another matter. Saad – abandoned as a child, homeless as a toddler and later as an adult, his $4 million fortune eroded to nothing by a profligate lifestyle and leeching entourage – surely would have done some things differently if life had afforded him a couple of discretionary do-overs.

“I was in a state of shock,” he said of the gut-wrenching decision he made in the summer of 2010 to walk into the RHD Ridge Center, Philadelphia’s largest homeless shelter. “I thought to myself, `Am I really going to go into this shelter?’ But I had to go somewhere. My money had run out. I was going hotel to hotel, bills piling up. I went into the shelter because I hoped it could help me make a change.”

It is hardly a unique situation, boxing history liberally dotted with sad stories of the rapid descent of good and even great fighters who treated their ring earnings as they were a permanently sustainable asset, like a backyard fruit tree that periodically renews its natural bounty.

By today’s exorbitant standards, Saad’s estimated $4 million fortune was more of a nice-sized molehill than a mountain. Floyd Mayweather Jr. has made 10 times that amount for a single bout. But it was significant swag for the 1970s and ’80s, and Saad admitted to living large – too large. He had a Rolls-Royce, a mink coat and a swarm of hangers-on he estimates at up to 60 people.

“I was putting my people up in hotels, buying them cars,” he said. “I would be nice to other people, help other people out, give to other people. Never once did I think, `Who’s going to take care of me when I’m broke?’ Stupid me.”

Perhaps Saad – his birth name was Maxwell Antonio Loach, although he didn’t rediscover that until he was an adult, and he won his 175-pound title when he was still known as Matthew Franklin, before his conversion to Islam – would have made more prudent choices had he not endured a childhood as harrowing as anything to be found in the pages of “Oliver Twist.” Even though boxing gave him a sense of purpose, he wandered through a lost-and-found life, seemingly a perpetual victim of circumstance.

Saad was introduced to hardship at an early age. Living with an aunt after his mother died, his childhood could have come out of a Charles Dickens novel. He was five years old, he said, the day his aunt told him to go out for a walk with an older brother, who was nearly eight.

“They just didn’t have enough money to take care of me, so they got rid of me,” Saad said. “I was so scared. Then a policeman found me at night and asked me my name. I said, `M-m-m-m-m.’ I was so scared. I was stuttering.”

The frightened child was taken to Catholic Social Services, where the nuns named him Matthew Franklin, after the saint and the thoroughfare (the Benjamin Franklin Parkway) where he had been abandoned.

“When people ask me to describe the greatest triumph of my career,” he said in 1998, “I tell them it was just surviving what I went through as a kid.”

Having been found, Matthew Franklin soon found ways to become lost again. He got into trouble early and often, some of the arguments ending in fistfights, a means of expression at which he proved to be quite adept. He was sent to reform school, where one of his teachers, whom he knew as “Mr. Carlos,” suggested he channel his pent-up rage into something useful, like boxing.

After compiling a 25-4 record as an amateur, Matt Franklin – his man-strength enhanced through work as a longshoreman before he turned pro in early 1974 – began his pro career in search of a signature style that fit both his temperament and gift for hitting hard. Following a 10-round unanimous-decision loss to Eddie Gregory (now Eddie Mustafa Muhammad) on March 11, 1977, Franklin decided that his most productive course of action was to ditch any notions of stick-and-move. He would stand and slug, and may he who came equipped with more concussive power and a higher threshold of pain have his hand raised at the end.

There have been more gifted fighters, to be sure, but by either of his professional names, Matthew Franklin or Matthew Saad Muhammad, the man would have to rank at or near the top of any list of crowd-pleasing favorites. He was at once an updated Jake La Motta and a precursor to Arturo Gatti. Anyone who purchased a ticket for one of Saad’s fights was sure to gets lots of bang for his buck. He won his 175-pound title on an eighth-round stoppage of Marvin Johnson on April 22, 1979, in Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, a virtual replay of his even-more-rousing 12th-round TKO victory over Johnson on July 26, 1977,” in Philly. But if the Johnson bouts represented Saad at his blood-and-guts best, there were other fights that rose to nearly that level, such as his 14th-round TKO of Yaqui Lopez and his fourth-round TKO of John Conteh in their second matchup.

“I was in a lot of wars,” Saad conceded in 1998. “People would see me get hit and not know how I could take the kind of shots that I took. Sometimes I don’t even know how I did it myself. It’s like God told me to get off that canvas and keep going.

“The (first) fight with Marvin Johnson had to be the fight of the century. It was like rock ’em, sock ’em robots all the way. Same thing with my fight with Yaqui Lopez and the second fight with John Conteh. It was fights like that that made me who I am.”

Lou Duva, the legendary manager and trainer who also was inducted into the IBHOF in 1998, said Saad’s constantly attacking, never-say-die approach would have made him a difficult opponent for anyone, including the best light heavyweight in the world at that time, Roy Jones Jr.

“Saad Muhammad was an outstanding fighter,” Duva said. “He’s the one guy who I think, if he were around today, could beat Jones. His style would just wear you down. It wore down a lot of good fighters, and I think it would wear Jones down.”

Told what Duva had said, Saad agreed with his assessment. “I think he’s right,” Saad said. “When I was at my best, I think I would have had a chance to beat any light heavyweight because of the way I fought. I got in trouble sometimes, but I always came right back at you.”

Not surprisingly, Saad sought to fill in the blank spaces in his life story with as much determination as he always exhibited inside the ropes. Who was he, really? Why had he been cast aside at such a young age? So he offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could offer information as the identities of those who had deemed him expendable.

Perhaps also not surprisingly, stepping forward to put in a claim to the reward money were the aunt who had abandoned him and the older brother who had left alone on the street, crying and frightened.

It might be argued that Saad’s plunge from wealthy champion to destitution (at one point he was unemployed and owed $250,000 to the IRS in back taxes), while self-inflicted, was a desperate bid to buy a form of love to replace the family he didn’t have in his formative years, and didn’t want him even when he was around.  It is a reasonable theory, although he exacerbated that situation by botching his later attempts at being a reasonably good husband and father. He was married and divorced twice, and his relationship with his children has also at times been rocky.

Speaking of rocky, Saad was up for the role of Clubber Lang in “Rocky III,” but lost out to a scowling bouncer from Chicago named Lawrence Tero – you now know him as Mr. T – because his vanity would not allow him to shave his head (Saad’s version) or because he objected to the script calling for him to lose the climactic fight to star Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa character (Ameen’s version). So Saad was obliged to sit back and watch as Mr. T became an instantly recognizable figure on the big and little screens.

Nor did a proposed film of Saad’s seemingly Hollywood-friendly tale ever gain traction beyond the discussion stage. Polly Wilkinson, who was for a time Saad’s business manager, kept pitching his story to the studios, but it never found a buyer. Thus was Saad reduced to working as an itinerant roofer, a sometimes trainer of fighters, and ultimately as a homeless person.

“Anyone can fall down,” he said of his difficult decision to admit he had hit bottom. “The important thing is whether you can get back up. You have to make commitments and do the right thing.”

If that sounds like a line from a “Rocky” movie, well, so be it. It wouldn’t be the first time life has imitated art. Or is that the other way around?

Rest in peace, Saad. You fought like a man possessed every time you stepped inside the ring, and the guess here is that you left this earth the same way.

 

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Gerald Sinclair Watches Over the Mayweather Boxing Club, a Las Vegas Landmark

Arne K. Lang

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It isn’t a stretch to say that the Mayweather Boxing Club is a Las Vegas landmark. Regardless of one’s feelings toward Floyd — and he certainly has his detractors – the man transcended his sport like no other boxer of recent vintage. According to Forbes, which publishes an annual list of the world’s highest-paid athletes, Floyd Mayweather Jr is one of only three athletes to surpass one billion dollars in career earnings, putting him on the same lofty pedestal as Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods – this despite the fact that Floyd competed in what has been characterized as a dying sport while attracting comparatively little money in commercial endorsements.

The word landmark conveys the thought of an edifice that is architecturally impressive. The Mayweather Boxing Club certainly isn’t that. It sits in a one-story complex of small businesses that take up a full block in an older section of Chinatown which in Las Vegas isn’t a residential neighborhood but an ever-sprawling stretch of Spring Mountain Road that runs west of the Strip for roughly a mile, a string of Asian-owned businesses, predominantly restaurants and massage parlors. The Mayweather gym sits in the back of the complex facing away from the street.

It’s easy to miss it if one is heading there for the first time (it’s helpful to have a car equipped with a GPS locator) but yet tourists often find their way there and that is another defining feature of a landmark.

When entering the gym, it’s likely the first person that one will see is Gerald Sinclair. He co-manages the gym along with his brother John and Cornelius Boza-Edwards, the former world super featherweight champion who engaged in some of the most exciting fights of the 1980s.

sinclair

Gerald Sinclair

The Mayweather Boxing Club opened in 2007. Sinclair, 56, was there from the beginning when the facility was roughly half its current size. He grew up in Hudson, New York, a city named for the river that borders the town on the east. Before moving to Las Vegas, he worked as a fork lift driver in a warehouse.

Sinclair was induced to come to Las Vegas by his sister. She is Floyd Mayweather’s mother. Floyd is Gerald’s nephew. It’s all about family at the Mayweather Gym. Floyd’s father of the same name and his uncle Jeff are fixtures there, as was their brother, the late Roger Mayweather, the best of the three fighting Mayweather brothers.

This reporter has never been in a boxing gym that didn’t have colorful posters of old fights tacked to the wall. The Mayweather gym is no exception but all of the oversized posters, all 15 of them, are of Mayweather’s fights. (Needless to say, he won them all.) His face appears on other insignia, including a large banner above a row of folding chairs. There are two regulation-size boxing rings, 11 punching bags of various descriptions clustered in a nook and some of the standard exercise equipment, all indicative of the fact that this is a place to work up a sweat, but the Mayweather Boxing Club is also a little museum of sorts, a paean to the splurgy proprietor who once sported the nickname “Pretty Boy.”

Some boxing gyms – Abel Sanchez’s compound in Big Bear comes quickly to mind – are off-limits to outsiders. The Mayweather Boxing Club is welcoming (which isn’t to say that a busload of fans would be welcome; it wouldn’t).

“When we opened the place,” says Gerald Sinclair, “Floyd came to us and said if fans want to come in and look around, go ahead and let them.”

While we were there the other day, an older man with a Spanish accent appeared in the doorway and sheepishly inquired if he and the people in his party could come inside and give it a quick look-see. “Be my guest,” said Sinclair, whereupon the visitor left and returned with his wife and another couple that he had left waiting in the car.

Sinclair says if the man hadn’t happened to mention that there were other people in his party, that he would have likely brought it up. “We have had guys who came by and left their wife and kids outside in the car and I told them to please invite them in. I know this place is a slice of history. We don’t exclude anyone.”

A tourist giving the gym a gander invariably takes a few selfies and then comes the million-dollar question: “Is he here?” A selfie with Floyd would be a prized souvenir.

No, he’s never there, or almost never there. On the rare occasions when he does pop in during normal business hours, he arrives unannounced, usually with a bodyguard. Floyd Mayweather Jr, who is known to hop in one of his private jets and fly halfway around the world on a whim, lives in a different universe than the denizens of the gym that bears his family name.

Although also rare, a visitor has a better shot of bumping into a celebrity. Eddie Murphy, Christine Aguilera, Maria Carey and P Daddy have walked in the door, as have many prominent athletes including Mike Tyson.

When Tyson appears, it’s old home week for Gerald Sinclair and his brother. During his amateur days and in his early days as a pro, Iron Mike resided in Catskill, living with his trainer Cus D’Amato in the large Victorian home that D’Amato shared with the sister of a sister-in-law. Catskill and Hudson are separated by only 12 miles. Sinclair remembers young Tyson turning up at some of his softball games. Mike made a big hit with the folks running the snack bar, covering the tab of kids hovering around him at the refreshment stand.

A number of boxers from overseas have worked out at the gym while visiting Las Vegas. For some novice boxers, a trip to the Mayweather Boxing Club is a rite of passage. (A stranger in town for a convention or trade show can also use the facility if it isn’t too crowded. There is a day rate for these situations, and the visitor must sign a waiver absolving the club of any liability should he get hurt.)

The Mayweather Boxing Club is now back at full steam after being closed to the general public for several months because of Covid-19. For a time, it was effectively the private gym of Gervonta “Tank” Davis and his team. Everyone who was there while Tank was preparing for his Oct. 31, 2020 date with Leo Santa Cruz, was required to get tested twice a week. There were no hiccups.

“As a boss, Floyd has been very generous to me,” says Sinclair. Thanks to Floyd, he got to see a part of the world that he never would have gotten to see. Floyd invited him along when he flew to Tokyo for his exhibition with Tenshin Nasukawa. Prior to this, Sinclair’s lone trip outside the United States was a trip to Tijuana.

Sinclair has picked up a new skill since leaving New York. He’s frequently the go-to guy when a boxer at the gym needs his hands wrapped. It’s not as simple as it looks, there’s an art to it, and Gerald learned at the feet of the master, Rafael Garcia Sr, who encouraged his interest. Garcia passed away in November of 2017 at age 88, leaving a hole in the hearts of the extended Mayweather family that burned wider when his fellow traveler Roger Mayweather joined him in the afterlife.

The United States has housed several iconic boxing gyms over the years. A short list would include Stillman’s Gym in mid-Manhattan, the Main Street Gym in downtown Los Angeles, the 5th Street Gym in Miami Beach, and the Kronk Gym in Detroit. The Mayweather Boxing Club is destined to eventually join that hallowed roster.

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Avila Perspective, Chap.131: ‘Boo Boo’ Andrade, Carlos Gongora and More

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap.131: ‘Boo Boo’ Andrade, Carlos Gongora and More

Do not confuse skill with athleticism.

Fans and many journalists often erroneously label a fighter with lightning speed, power, and a good jab as a skilled fighter when they are really, simply physically gifted athletes.

A truly skilled fighter can fight nose to nose with another and you can’t touch him, but he can clobber you. That is skill. They don’t need to run around the boxing ring at full flight mode. They can fight you straight-up.

One fighter Demetrius Andrade seems to finally be proving his skill-level after years of relying on mere athletic prowess.

Andrade (29-0, 18 KOs) defends the WBO middleweight title against Great Britain’s Liam Williams (23-2-1, 18 KOs) on Saturday April 17, at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. DAZN will stream the Matchroom Boxing card.

The undefeated southpaw from Providence, Rhode Island makes his fourth defense of the title he won in 2018. He formerly held the WBO super welterweight title too.

“You’re going to see the same you always see from me – a solid game plan, dominance, landing big shots, an all-around great performance and giving people what they have been missing, the sweet science,” said Andrade whose nickname is “Boo Boo.”

Because of his past reliance on athleticism, many possible foes simply avoided confrontations with Andrade in the prize ring. Who wants to step into a boxing ring and watch another fighter touch you with a jab and zip around the boxing ring? Fans don’t want to see it either. They want to see a fight, not a dance.

In his last defense Andrade was seen exhibiting inside fighting skills when he dispatched Luke Keeler by technical knockout in the ninth round in Miami. It was a display of straight-up fighting not often seen when the Rhode Island boxer performs.

Is this the new Andrade at age 33?

Williams, who hails from Wales, is nicknamed “the Machine” but lost twice to Liam Smith in two very close bouts. Those are his only defeats.

“I’m super confident and I don’t think there’s any way that he beats me. I think I can knock him out,” said Williams.

Andrade laughs at Williams’ comments.

“They call him ‘The Machine’, but when I am done with him, he’ll be ‘The Rust Bucket,” claims Andrade.

Williams feels its time to expose Andrade.

“I don’t think he has the same intensity as me,’ said Williams. “I wear my heart on my sleeve. I can punch harder than him. I have a better engine than him. I’m going to bring it all on the night and I don’t think he has the answers.”

Andrade expects the same results.

“Liam is not going to stop my train,” said Andrade. “I expect him to bring the fight because this is his opportunity, but at the end of the day he’ll be able to say, ‘I lost to Demetrius Andrade’.”

Gongora

IBO super middleweight titlist Carlos Gongora (19-0, 14 KOs) makes his first defense of his fringe world title against American Christopher Pearson (17-2, 12 KOs) in a battle between southpaws in the semi-main event at Seminole Hard Rock.

Ecuador’s Gongora was a last-minute replacement and upset Kazakhstan’s heavily favored Ali Akhmedov by knockout in the last round of their title fight last December. He also became his country’s first world title-holder.

Pearson enters the boxing ring after a similar feat. He was a late replacement when he met the favored Yamaguchi Falcao two years ago at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. He out-fought the Brazilian with a gutsy performance that convinced Golden Boy Promotions to sign him.

Gongora and Pearson both have much to prove.

Sunday

Thompson Boxing Promotions returns with one of its star prospects Ruben Torres (14-0, 10 KOs) who faces Diego Contreras (11-3, 5 KOs) in a super lightweight main event at Omega Products International in Corona, California. The fight card will be streamed on www.ThompsonBoxing.com and on its Facebook and YouTube.com pages.

Fights to Watch

Fri. 6 p.m. ESPN+ Miguel Vazquez (42-10) vs Isai Hernandez (10-1-1).

Sat. 11 a.m. ESPN+ Danny Dignum (13-0) vs Andrey Sirotkin (19-1).

Sat. 12 p.m. DAZN Demetrius Andrade (29-0) vs Liam Williams (23-2-1).

Sat. 5 p.m. FOX Tony Harrison (28-3) vs Bryant Perrella (17-3).

Sat. 6 p.m. TrillerFightClub.com (ppv) Regis Prograis (25-1) vs Ivan Redkach (23-5-1).

Sun. 2 p.m. ThompsonBoxing.com (free) Ruben Torres (14-0) vs Diego Contreras (11-3).

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Tank Davis and the Charlo Twins Featured on the Loaded Showtime/PBC Schedule

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Tank Davis and the Charlo Twins Featured on the Loaded Showtime/PBC Schedule

PRESS RELEASE — SHOWTIME Sports and Premier Boxing Champions today unveiled a loaded five-month boxing schedule of nine high-stakes world championship events beginning Saturday, May 15, live on SHOWTIME. The schedule delivers two events per month through August. Thirteen matchups have been announced thus far with no less than seven world title fights, and 12 fighters defending undefeated records. The lineup features many of boxing’s best young fighters taking on career-defining challenges in their primes. All fights on the schedule will take place before a live audience, keeping with applicable local COVID-19 safety protocols.

The sizzling summer run features the dynamic Charlo twins as undefeated electrifying champion Jermall Charlo defends his WBC middleweight world title against Juan Macias Montiel in a special Juneteenth homecoming in Houston on Saturday, June 19, live on SHOWTIME.

The following Saturday, June 26, unbeaten Mayweather Promotions star Gervonta “Tank” Davis moves up two weight classes for a chance to become a three-division world champion when he takes on fellow undefeated champion Mario Barrios for his super lightweight world title in what will be Davis’ second pay-per-view showdown.

The next month, WBC, WBA and IBF 154-pound charismatic world champion Jermell Charlo looks to make boxing history when he takes on WBO junior middleweight world champion Brian Castaño in a mega-fight to crown the first four-belt 154-pound world champion.

The SHOWTIME boxing schedule features eight editions of SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING and one premier SHOWTIME PPV event, all presented by Premier Boxing Champions:

  • MAY 15 – SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING
    • Luis Nery vs. Brandon Figueroa, WBC Super Bantamweight World Title Fight
    • Danny Roman vs. Ricardo Espinoza Franco, Super Bantamweight Fight
    • Xavier Martinez vs. Abraham Montoya, WBA Super Featherweight Fight
    • MAY 29 – SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING
      • Nordine Oubaali vs. Nonito Donaire, WBC Bantamweight World Title Fight
      • Subriel Matias vs. Batyrzhan Jukembayev, IBF Super Lightweight Title Eliminator
  • JUNE 19 – SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING 
    • Jermall Charlo vs. Juan Macias Montiel, WBC Middleweight World Title Fight
  • JUNE 26 – SHOWTIME PPV
    • Gervonta Davis vs. Mario Barrios, WBA Super Lightweight World Title Fight
    • Erickson Lubin vs. Jeison Rosario, WBC Junior Middleweight Title Eliminator
    • JULY 3 – SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING
    • Chris Colbert vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa, WBA Super Featherweight Interim Title Fight
  • JULY 17 – SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING 
    • Jermell Charlo vs. Brian Castaño, Undisputed IBF, WBA, WBC & WBO Junior Middleweight World Title Unification Fight
  • AUGUST 14 – SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING

                  Guillermo Rigondeaux vs. John Riel Casimero, WBO Bantamweight World Title Fight

         AUGUST 28 – SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING

    • David Benavidez vs. Jose Uzcategui, WBC Super Middleweight Title Eliminator
  • SEPTEMBER 11 – SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING
  • Stephen Fulton, Jr. vs. winner of Nery-Figueroa, Super Bantamweight World Title Unification Fight

“High-impact, meaningful fights amongst many of the biggest names and brightest stars in combat sports. That is what SHOWTIME promises and that is what we are delivering,” said Stephen Espinoza, President, SHOWTIME Sports. “With an opportunity to crown an undisputed world champion at 154 pounds, a highly anticipated super bantamweight title unification, a stacked pay-per-view showdown and more than a dozen fights between 118-168 pounds, SHOWTIME is presenting boxing’s best young fighters, all daring to be great by putting their world titles and undefeated records on the line.

Editor’s Note: This press release has been edited for brevity.

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