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Roy Jones, Antonio Tarver and Two Gray Birds Who Stare

Kelsey McCarson

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It’s not every day you meet the man who destroyed your childhood hero. I was afforded the opportunity earlier this year in Houston when Antonio Tarver came to town to meet with his public relations firm, ThinkZilla.

This was not a media event. It was him and me, and it was surreal. I make it a point to never meet my childhood idols. In boxing, this would consist of exactly two people: Roy Jones, Jr. and Evander Holyfield. I’ve never had to duck Holyfield, but I’ve been face-to-face with Jones several times over the years. I pass him by as if he were a stranger. I’m not exactly sure why I do this. Is it that I don’t want to be disappointed in someone I looked up to as a kid? Is it that I don’t want him to be disappointed in me? Is it that there’s nothing really to say to him? I don’t know.

But when I learned Tarver had hired ThinkZilla, I contacted them and told them to let me know when he came to town so I could come interview him. I’m always looking for people to talk to for The Sweet Science and Boxing Channel, and honestly, I didn’t immediately connect Tarver to Jones in my mind until the day I was about to meet him.

ThinkZilla’s CEO, Velma Trayham, contacted me Saturday afternoon and told me where to be. I was there within the hour. It hit me hard when he walked into the room. Tarver had effectively destroyed my childhood on May 15, 2003 when he knocked out Jones with one punch at the Mandalay Bay Resort Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, and I was shaking hands with him.

When I was in my early 20s, I was at a particularly desperate point in my life when I witnessed a miracle. I was a hardcore drug user and I finally wanted help. I was so sick of it all. But that’s not the miracle. Plenty of people go through that.

My dad had dropped me off at what seemed like a thousand miles from nowhere in a little Texas town called Alpine. The thinking behind the move was that I could simply go to college out there and get my life back on track. But Dad was wrong. I quickly found fellow druggies and got right back where I once belonged.

But like I said, one day I was finally sick of all that mess. I was ready to change, but wasn’t quite sure how. I reached out to my parents to try and get into rehab or something but my neither of them wanted to help me. I don’t blame them. I was as trustworthy as a snake.

I was stuck and felt as though I might as well be dead.

I was walking back to the library one day when I saw the miracle. There was a small, gray bird lying dead in one of those big, rectangular ashtrays outside the building. It was an ugly, wretched and dead thing. Like me, I thought. Like me! I could not help but to cry about it. Or maybe I was crying about me. I don’t know. I felt so bad that he had died there like that in those ashes that I took the poor little thing out of there and put him in the green grass where the sunlight could touch him one last time. Soon he would rot and decay, I thought, and it will be as if he’d never been.

I sat there crying. I looked at that bird forever. I do not know if anyone else was around me, though I suppose there were many as I was near a busy walkway. But I cried my desperate little eyes out for that bird and stared at it until my head sunk down so low into my hands that I couldn’t see anymore.

That’s when it happened.

Suddenly, the stiff, dead bird started to regain his color. All of a sudden, he was moving around! I could not believe my eyes. I wiped my tears away and began to laugh from the sheer joy of it all. How could this be? How? He was dead!

Soon the bird stood up on his legs as if he had never been dead at all. He looked at me for a long time. I looked right back at him. It was very peculiar, but I feel like the bird was both thanking me and pitying me at the very same time. Then he flew away into the blue sky.

I wasn’t technically a child the night Tarver knocked out Jones. I was in my early twenties, actually, but I still thought and acted like a one. Believe me. Youth was still served to me in its fullest measure, and while my younger life had experienced a strong serving of pain and suffering, I still maintained a ton of affection for hero-types. It didn’t matter to me whether or not that was a healthy thing, or even if it was truly warranted. That’s just the way it was.

Honestly, part of me still can’t believe Tarver knocked out Jones. How could that even happen? Jones was everything to me. I was nothing and had nothing, but he was everything. He was fast, strong and made everything look so cool. He was the best in the world at what he did.

I didn’t even believe it at first. Tarver knocked him out? With one punch? Was it legit? Was it legal? How could that have possibly happened? It was unfathomable to me. Jones had never come close to tasting defeat. Not really. Up to that point in his career, his lone loss was when he was disqualified for hitting Montell Griffin after he had already put him down on the canvas. He avenged it later with a first round KO of Griffin and made it look easy.

That was Jones. He was Superman.

Jones was the best fighter I’d ever seen. I saw him dominate other fighters the way you might think could only happen in the movies. He knocked out Virgil Hill with a body punch. He played basketball on the same days as he fought. He barley ever lost a round. Heck, I once saw Jones put both hands behind his back before luring a fighter named Glen Kelly in close for the knockout blow.

Jones just couldn’t be touched. He was the best ever. Well, at least to me.

But Tarver didn’t think so. After going 12 rounds with Jones the year prior and losing a majority decision, Tarver was sure he could beat him. In fact, Tarver told me he thought he beat Jones the first time. After all, he threw and landed more punches in the fight, and appeared to control the action throughout.

But Jones had a fairly good excuse, and I believed it. The fight took place just six months after he had moved up to heavyweight to snatch a title belt away from John Ruiz. Jones had to lose 25 pounds to come back down to 175, and he appeared gaunt and listless like never before.

The two met again the very next year.

Jones blamed his subpar performance in the first fight on the weight issue. During the prefight instructions at center of the ring, referee Jay Nady asked if anyone had any questions. Tarver replied, “I got a question. You got any excuses tonight, Roy?” I mean, he said that to Roy Jones, Jr.! Can you believe it? This dude was in trouble! Right? Jones was going to knock him out with one punch!

Things looked good at first. Jones won the first round on all three official scorecards. But during an exchange in the second round, Tarver dropped Jones with a deadly accurate overhand left flush to the chin. Jones went down like he just got hit by a bowling ball. He rose at the count of nine but the fight was rightly waved off when he stumbled across the ring into the ropes like a newborn baby deer.

I was absolutely crushed. Superman was dead. In that one moment, someone who grew up believing Jones was invincible was slapped aside the head with the stark reality of truth: no one is invincible. Not even Jones.

It took much longer than I’d like to admit to get clean after witnessing such an amazing and astonishing miracle, but I eventually did it. I never forgot that little, sweet bird and what he meant to me. But I soon began to doubt exactly what happened that day. How could that bird have been dead? That’s impossible. Right?

But sometime later in my life, maybe in my early 30s, during another particularly desperate moment, it happened again. I was in the side bedroom, the one where I thought my wife and I would have one of our children in someday. But we didn’t have kids after years and years of trying and still haven’t. We may never have them. Such is life.

It was with great horror when I saw it that day: our two dogs playing with a wounded gray bird. It was barely alive and could not fly. It was broken. Like me, I thought. Like me.

I ran outside as fast as I could but it was far too late. That bird was dead. I was so very sad for him. But I had seen a bird come back to life before, so I wondered if it could happen again. I felt so desperate. I found sunlight for the bird atop the back ledge of our fence. I placed him there and prayed for him. Maybe he could be fixed, too.

As you can imagine, it didn’t work. I began to cry. I had been crazy after all. While I wasn’t on drugs when I saw that first bird come back to life, maybe my mind was already so warped that I couldn’t really understand what actually happened that day. Now that I was sober for over 10 years, my brain worked as well as anyone else’s. This broken little bird was dead. He was not coming back to life again. My head sunk down so low into my hands that I couldn’t see anymore.

That’s when it happened. When I lifted my head back up to see him, the bird was gone!

What? Surely, the wind had blown him off the fence and he had fallen down to the ground. Right? Except that there was no wind that day. Still, maybe he just rolled off onto to the ground or something. Maybe I had pushed him off while I was crying or something. I don’t know. I had seen stranger things, so I looked everywhere he could have fallen. I searched frantically for that precious little bird but he wasn’t there. He wasn’t anywhere! He was gone.

Then I heard a bird sing.

I looked high above to see a bird sitting on the electrical wire above me. He looked down on me. Again, it was as if he was looking at me with a mixture of thankfulness and pity. The bird flew down towards me from the wire to the fence where I had placed him as if he wanted to get a closer look at me. He stared awhile before flying off again into the deep blue sky.

Meeting Tarver was strange. Now 45 years old, it was interesting to hear him talk about his various exploits, both inside the ring and out. What struck me was how often he seemed to reference that singular moment in time, too.

At one point in our talk, I said something like: I have to tell you, I was one of the people you devastated that night you knocked Jones out. There was an entire generation of people like me who believed he was invincible.

“I know, man,” said Tarver. “I know.”

But here’s the most interesting thing, something I only realized after talking to Tarver. He didn’t knock Jones out my memory that night. Jones will always be Jones to me, the way I can turn on ESPN Classic and see Muhammad Ali being Ali in 1965, or the way I can turn on my iPod and still listen to The Beatles be The Beatles. Things change but they always stay the same.

Recently, it has felt as if my heart is being torn up inside me, bit by bit – I literally feel as if I am being ripped in half from the top down to the bottom. I don’t know why it’s happening. I wish I did, but I don’t. Things that seemed so important seem less so now.

My life seems so small.

But here is the strangest thing: two little gray birds have been coming over to the window where I sit to peck at it with their beaks. It has happened every day for over a week now. It happened twice today as I am writing this. This has never, ever happened before, and I have lived in this house for over six years. But these little gray birds come every day as if they refuse to let me ignore them.

They look at me the same way the other two birds did, with a mixture of thankfulness and pity. Mostly, though, these birds just look at me with their deep, black eyes. They sit there and stare at me. They just stare at me, pecking at the window, and I cry.

Everything ends. But in a way, nothing really ever ends, too. Jones will always be Jones to me. Not the one Tarver knocked out way back then. Not the one who continues to fight long after his sell by date. Not the one recently caught sending nude pictures of himself to a female boxer named Stacey Reile.

No, Jones will always be Jones to me, the one I thought was Superman. And sure, the wisdom that comes with age and experience tell me heroes and such are silly matters, little and worldly trifles that shouldn’t really mean anything to me as I grow older.

But to the wonderfully fragile part of me, the one that believes dead things will live again someday, that doesn’t matter at all.

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Fast Results from Brooklyn: No Surprises as Garcia and Hurd Win Lopsidedly

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight, Philadelphia’s Danny Garcia made his eighth appearance at Barclays Center. Garcia’s 2017 fight with Keith Thurman drew 16,533, the attendance high for a boxing show at the arena. A far smaller crowd was in attendance tonight to see Garcia take on Ivan Redkach in a non-title fight slated for 12 rounds.

Redkach, a 33-year-old LA-based Ukrainian, is a southpaw. That’s no coincidence. Garcia hopes to land big-money fights with Errol Spence and/or Manny Pacquiao, both southpaws.

Redkach (23-4-1 coming in) turned his career around in his last fight with a career-best performance, a sixth-round stoppage of former two-division title-holder Devon Alexander, a 15-year pro who hadn’t previously been stopped. But there was a class difference between he and Danny Garcia, a former WBA and WBC 140-pound world title-holder and former WBC 147-pound champion.

Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs) was simply sharper. His workrate slowed late in the fight, allowing the game Redkach to steal a few rounds, but at the final gun he was relatively unmarked whereas Redkach was conspicuously bruised. The scores were 118-110 and 117-111 twice. The crowd booed at intervals, understandable as they were subject to a drab 7-fight card that was even less interesting than it was on paper.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Jarrett Hurd, making his first start since losing his WBA/IBF super welterweight title to Julian Williams last May, went on cruise control from the opening bell and jabbed his way to a lopsided 10-round decision over Francisco Santana. Hurd, who improved to 24-1, finally let loose late in the 10th frame, putting Santana (25-8-1) on the canvas with a succession of left hooks, but by then many in the crowd had probably nodded off.

This was Hurd’s first fight with new trainer Kay Koroma who has drawn raves for his work with America’s elite amateurs. The scores were 97-92 and 99-90 twice. SoCal’s Santana has now lost five of his last eight.

The opening bout on the main TV portion of the card was a 12-round super bantamweight contest between Philadelphia’s Stephen Fulton and fellow unbeaten Arnold Khegai who currently trains in Philadelphia.

Fulton (18-0, 8 KOs) simply had too much class for Khegai (16-1-1), a Ukrainian of Korean heritage. Although Khegai frequently backed Fulton into the ropes, the Philadelphian had an air-tight defense and connected with many more punches. The fight went the full 12 with Fulton prevailing by scores of 116-112 and 117-111 twice.

If the WBO has its way, Fulton will proceed to a fight with Emanuel Navarrete, but don’t hold your breath as Navarrete is promoted by Bob Arum who undoubtedly wants to extract more mileage from him before letting him risk his belt against a crafty fighter like Stephen Fulton.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Sacramento Honors Diego ‘Chico’ Corrales

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight (Saturday, Jan. 25) former two-division world boxing champion Diego “Chico” Corrales will be posthumously inducted into the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame at the organization’s eighth annual induction ceremony at the Thunder Valley Casino Resort.

Corrales, who grew up in Sacramento, the son of a Columbian father and a Mexican mother, turned pro at age 18 and went on to compile a record of 40-5 (33 KOs). He won his first title in 1999 with a seventh-round stoppage of previously undefeated Robert Garcia. Now recognized as one of boxing’s top trainers, Garcia was making the fourth defense of his IBF 130-pound title.

Five years later, Corrales won the WBO world lightweight title with a 10th-round stoppage of Brazil’s previously undefeated Acelino Freitas. That set up a unification fight with the WBC belt-holder Jose Luis Castillo.

Corrales and Castillo met on May 7, 2005, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. To say they put on a great fight would be an understatement. The boxing writers in attendance will tell you that this was the greatest fight of all time. It was named Fight of the Decade by The Ring magazine.

The final round, the 10th, was unbelievable. Heading into the round, Corrales was ahead on two of the three scorecards, but his left eye was swollen nearly shut and during the round he was knocked down twice. No one would have faulted referee Tony Weeks for stopping the fight after the second knockdown. But, somehow, Corrales was able to rally, pulling the fight out of the fire with a barrage of punches that had Castillo out on his feet when Weeks waived it off.

Two years to the very day of this iconic fight, Diego “Chico” Corrales died in a motorcycle accident in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas when he rear-ended a car while traveling at a high rate of speed. He was 29 years old.

Corrales was a thrill-seeker. In a 2006 profile, Las Vegas Review-Journal boxing writer Kevin Iole enumerated these among Castillo’s hobbies: jumping out of planes from 14,000 feet, bungee jumping from 400 feet, snowboarding in treacherous terrain and scuba diving amid a school of sharks. “He lived his life the same way he fought,” said his promoter Gary Shaw, “with reckless abandon.”

It might seem odd that it took so long for Corrales to be recognized by the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame, but there was a period when Corrales’s name was mud in his hometown and perhaps the organization’s founder, Las Vegas sports radio personality T.C. Martin, a Sacramento native, thought it appropriate to let old wounds heal.

In 2001, shortly after suffering his first pro loss at the hands of Floyd Mayweather, Corrales pled guilty to felony domestic violence in the beating of his first wife and would serve 14 months in prison. “The whole family has worn a black eye for it,” Diego’s brother Esteban Corrales told Sacramento Bee reporter Marcos Bretan.

For all his recklessness, the incident didn’t jibe with his persona. In the company of Las Vegas sportswriters, the soft-spoken and well-spoken Corrales came across as polite and humble.

Corrales, one of five inductees in the 2020 class, joins three other boxers already installed in the Sacramento Hall: Pete Ranzany, Loreto Garza, and Tony “Tiger” Lopez.

Ranzany, a welterweight, fought four former or future world champions and was a fixture in Sacramento rings in the late 1970’s. Garza wrested the WBA super lightweight title from Argentina’s Juan Martin Coggi in France and successfully defended the belt here in Sacramento with a one-sided conquest of Vinny Pazienza. Lopez, Sacramento’s most popular fighter ever, made the turnstiles hum at the city’s largest arena where he fought eight of his 14 world title fights beginning with his 1988 humdinger with defending IBF 130-pound champion Rocky Lockridge.

Among the speakers at tonight’s confab will be Kenny Adams. Perhaps best known as the head trainer for the 1988 U.S. Olympic team that won eight medals in Seoul, Adams currently trains Nonito Donaire. He was with Diego Corrales for 24 fights, during which Corrales was 23-1, avenging the lone defeat by Joel Casamayor. Festivities start at 7 pm.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Ramirez-Postol, Taylor-Serrano and More

Arne K. Lang

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It takes a strong constitution to be a boxing promoter because things always go wrong. The only law that governs boxing is Murphy’s Law.

Carl Frampton’s first fight under the Top Rank banner was slated for Aug. 10 of last year in Philadelphia. With the fight five days away, Frampton suffered a freak injury while sitting in a hotel lobby. A boy playing behind a curtain knocked over a seven-foot pillar which fell on Frampton’s left hand, fracturing it.

This was the second time that a Frampton fight was knocked out by a freak injury. Two years earlier, a homecoming fight in Belfast had to be scrapped when Frampton’s opponent, Andres Gutierrez, slipped in the shower in his hotel on the eve of the battle and suffered severe facial injuries.

The latest bout to fall out because of an odd development is Jose Ramirez’s Feb. 2 WBC/WBO lightweight title defense against Viktor Postol at a Chinese golf resort south of Hong Kong. The event fell victim to the coronavirus, more exactly the fear it has instilled.

The virus, which produces flu-like symptoms that are resistant to conventional antibiotics, apparently originated at an outdoor food market in the city of Wuhan where live animals are sold. The numbers vary with each new story, but according to one account there have been 444 confirmed cases in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital city, and 653 cases worldwide including two in the United States, a man in his 30’s living near Seattle and a Chicago woman in her 60’s.

The fear of a pandemic (an epidemic becomes a pandemic when it spreads across multiple geographic regions of the world) has led to some drastic measures. The Chinese government has reportedly put 12 cities on lockdown, blocking traffic in and out. At many airports, visitors arriving from China are being screened. There are now thermal cameras than can record a person’s body temperature remotely.

Jose Ramirez (pictured with his promoter Bob Arum) was scheduled to leave for China yesterday (Jan. 23) but was intercepted. Viktor Postol is already there and apparently stranded until an outgoing flight can be arranged.

The Ramirez-Postol fight was to air on ESPN. No make-up date has been set.

– – –

British promoter Eddie Hearn says he’s close to finalizing a fight between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano. Hearn says the fight will take place in the U.S. in April. It figures that Madison Square Garden is the frontrunner.

If the fight comes off on schedule, this will be the biggest women’s fight in history!

That’s because the odds attached to the fight figure to be in the “pick-‘em” range and that guarantees that boxing writers and others in the boxing community will be surveyed to get their picks – about which there figures to be considerable disagreement – and that will greatly enhance the pre-fight buzz.

Taylor, 33, last fought in November in Manchester, England, advancing her record to 15-0 (6 KOs) with a unanimous decision over Christina Linardatou, a fighter from Greece via the Dominican Republic. It was Taylor’s first fight at 140 after previously unifying the lightweight title with a hard-fought decision over Belgium’s Delfine Persoon.

Amanda Serrano, a 31-year-old southpaw, born in Puerto Rico and raised in Brooklyn, has won titles in five weight divisions. She last fought as a featherweight, turning away gritty Heather Hardy, but has competed as high as 140. Boasting a 37-1-1 record, she’s won 23 straight, 18 by stoppage, 10 in the opening round

What sets women boxers apart from their male counterparts is that the women have a significantly lower knockout ratio. Amanda Serrano is the glaring exception.

Despite a less eye-catching record, Taylor has arguably fought the stiffer competition considering her extensive amateur background. As a pro, her victims include Cindy Serrano, Amanda’s older sister by six years. Taylor whitewashed her in a match at Boston Garden, prompting the elder Serrano sister to call it a career.

– – –

The most bizarre (non)story to appear in a boxing web site this week involved former unified heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe. A man representing Bowe, identified as Eli Karabell, was frustrated because Eddie Hearn wasn’t returning his calls. Karabell had offered Hearn the right of first refusal on Bowe’s next fight.

Bowe, now 51 years old, last fought in a boxing ring in 2008 when he returned to the sport after a three-and-half year absence for an 8-round bout in Germany. In 2013, he appeared in a kickboxing fight in Thailand where he was stopped in the second round after being knocked down five times by leg kicks.

“Will there be another chapter to write for Bowe?” concluded the author of this piece.

Egads, let’s hope not.

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