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INTO THE MIND OF A REF Jack Reiss On The Hows and Whys of Being the Third Man In the Ring

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If you always wanted to know what it takes to become a successful boxing referee or official and didn’t know where to start then you might want to read Jack Reiss’ story. Reiss is a former amateur boxer turned professional referee. Before that, he was a fireman in the Los Angeles Fire Department for 31 years, 19 years as a supervisor, until he turned professional referee in 1998.

When you follow Reiss’ story you will find a guy that has an undying passion for boxing, and as it turns out, has become one of the most respected referees in the sport today. And Reiss explains that he gained that esteem the hard way. Reiss thinks it’s his experience as a fighter that makes him a good official, and that his almost religious-like preparation has helped him earn respect from fighters inside of the ring.

Referees can’t hesitate on their instincts. That’s what makes them who they are. When they see it, they call it. And there is a discipline behind their approach. Reiss explains that every referee acquired those instincts in a different way.

He says that every referee needs to know what it feels like to take a punch because in a fight, there is more than what meets the eye. He says every referee had to pay his or her dues one way or another. But some had to pay their share more than others. Reiss tells me he resents the fakers in his profession. He calls them “posers,” officials that got “into the game for political reasons” or because they are “somebody’s important nephew.”

In a candid discussion about the science behind “the sweet science” and the politics (for lack of a better term) surrounding the fights, Reiss practically preaches to us about his tricks to the trade. He describes his approach inside the dressing room with fighters and talks about the controversial Canelo/Lara decision., tells us his theory on taking points, and explains why there are so many “poser” officials that do not have the respect of fighters in the sport of boxing.

RM: Let’s just start off by telling me how you became a referee.

JR: Well, I did some amateur fighting in kickboxing and boxing. And I have been involved in boxing since I was a little kid. I have a picture of my father standing at the beach in 1929, yoked at about 160 pounds in a boxing stance. So you know, it’s been in my family for years. So, I did it as an amateur and refereeing is something I always thought about doing. So, I finally called the Nevada State Athletic Commission because that was the only one I had ever heard of from watching the big fights on TV, you know.

RM: Yeah.

JR: So, I spoke to Marc Ratner and he said, “You could become a referee but why don’t you call the California Athletic Commission?” So, I said, “OK. Mr. Ratner thanks”…. So, I didn’t know. You know what I’m saying, Ray? So, I called the California Athletic Commission and hounded them for about a year and a half. I just kept on them. And they allowed me to be a part of this program in 1998, a three-year program. It was a class, followed by a professional referee probationary period. Professional referees Pat Russell, Lou Filippo, Larry Rozadilla and Marty Denkin taught the class. We also had many other refs and pro fighters as guest speakers. The first year was all classroom instruction and working in the ring with guys sparring. The second year was one fight a month as a ref or a judge. The third year we signed an agreement to allow us to do four rounds on a regular basis. But if you did anything that was egregious then they could let you go with no recourse.

RM: I see. Sounds legit.

JR: Yeah. The class started with about 90 people. It was filled with a nepotistic type atmosphere. There were a lot of sons, daughters, bankers, friends, and relatives of some of the existing referees. I didn’t know anybody, you know. But eight or nine of us passed the course as a ref, judge, or both.

RM: OK. So, tell me about the difference in mindset from when you started to the present day. How much have you changed since the first fight that you refereed?

JR: Oh my God, my first referee experience was my like my first sexual experience… It was over before I knew it. And I had to ask someone else how I did.

RM OK…

JR: In my initial refereeing experiences it was more about – How did I do? Did I do a good job? Did I do the right thing? – Now, at this stage of the game, on a regular basis, I look to my peers, guys I trust, and ask about what I could do different or better. What alternatives did I have in the situation I was in? It is not a matter of right or wrong. I am just always trying to improve. My goal is to do what is best for boxing, and to do what is best and fair for the fighters.

RM: OK. So, you are trying to be the perfect referee.

JR: Yeah. It is impossible to be perfect. But I try to do the best I can in each venture. You know what I mean?

RM: Yeah. I get it.

JR: It is the only way to grow. I have to be honest with you, Ray. There are a lot of posers, man. There are a lot of referees out there that are just posers. There are a lot of referees and judges that got into this game because they are somebody’s important nephew, if that makes sense to you.

RM: Yeah.

JR: They got into the game for political reasons or something.

RM: Yeah.

JR: They don’t know boxing. They don’t know combative sports. They have never been punched in the face in their entire life. How could you have compassion for a guy taking a beating if you have never taken a beating? You have to know how it is to dish it out and take it.

RM: I hear you.

JR: But I always try to constantly improve to be the best I could be. And if you are not trying to be the best you can be as a referee then you are falling backwards. You are getting complacent. It is sort of like a doctor in a sense…. And, I am not comparing myself to a doctor.

RM: Oh, course not.

JR: But a doctor has to keep up with the latest medical breakthroughs and the latest tests and things that are going on. In that sense, as a referee, you have to constantly watch fights and constantly question yourself, “What would I do if that was me? What alternatives would I have in that particular situation?” And ultimately, you have to know what is fair for the fighters and boxing.

RM: It seems like from our short conversation so far, that you want to do what is best for boxing.

JR: Yeah. And what is right for the fighters.

RM: Right. OK. So, you were talking about these posers. What do you think boxing fans think about them? How do you explain the posers to boxing fans? We see referees or judges that don’t look like they have been in a fight all of the time.

JR: Well, I explain it sincerely just like I explained it to you. Not everybody got there (became a referee or judge) taking the correct path. Some of these guys really don’t belong. Unfortunately we are adequated in the sense that officials don’t have a national commission or a worldwide commission that writes the rules and has the standards. In the NBA, NFL, or any other professional league, you can’t be a ref without going through their system.

RM: Good point.

JR: They tell you what is right and wrong. But more importantly, you are under their scrutiny, and you are EVALUATED Ray, you are EVALUATED, on a regular basis. In boxing, we have 50 states with 50 commissions. All the other countries in this world have their own commissions. Luckily, in California we have a wonderful commission that understands combative sports. But some states still have commissioners that are political appointees and they have no clue about combative sports. So if you go in the ring and screw up, they just say, “Oh, you were pretty good. That was good.” Nobody is correcting you. Fortunately in California we have a checks and balances system. But all over the world and throughout the United States, it is not like that.

RM: I see.

JR: And I will tell you another thing, check this out. In California we do 200 fights a year in MMA and boxing. In other places if they do 20 shows a year that is a lot. Those referees and judges aren’t getting a quarter of the experience we are getting. They have to do something to keep the officials sharp and learn.

RM: That just brought the Canelo/Lara fight to my attention. One judge from New Mexico scored the fight 117-111 for Canelo. There aren’t many big fights in New Mexico.

JR: Was it Levi Martinez?

RM: Yeah.

JR: Let me tell you about Levi. Levi is literally one of the most premier judges in the world. He is a WBA, WBO, and IBF judge. If you look up his name on Boxrec.com you will see over 100-world title fights as well the local shows he does around the area. His reputation precedes him but that is not always true with other people.

RM: So do you think these appointees or posers that you were referring to have the best interest of boxing in their hearts?

JR: I want to think that they do. But how can I know, Ray? We are fortunate here in California to have an outstanding mix of people in the commission. Our executive officer is an ex-fighter in MMA and boxing, and we have a neurosurgeon on the commission as well. What more can you ask for?

RM: I see. So, what makes a great official in your opinion?

JR: Someone who has absolute integrity, someone who cannot be bought, or bribed at all. Someone who understands the scope of what’s going on in front of him… I’ll give you a great example. The other day a rookie referee was refereeing this fight. It was the first round of the fight; there hasn’t been a lot of action. A fighter gets dropped and gets up on shaky legs. The referee stops the fight and said, “He was going to get hurt.” So I tried to explain to this official that you can’t just say, “He’s going to get hurt.” These guys get paid to get hurt..

RM: That’s true.

JR: This is their livelihood, Ray.

RM: Yeah…

JR: The only way you can protect them is to not allow them to fight. Our job is to protect them from unnecessary harm. And I explained that she might have done more damage by stopping the fight that way. And she goes “what do you mean?” I go, ‘look at the big picture. There’s more than just what is in front of you that’s at stake. Every fighter has earned the right to get a second look. On another note, if this fighter was an old fighter making a comeback and you stop that fight too quick, that fighter is thinking, “Oh, that referee screwed me. I am going to keep fighting. I have to prove to the world that I still got it.” Whereas, if you let a fight go to its natural conclusion, then that fighter knows he is done. There is no controversy, it is the best thing for boxing, and he will gracefully retire without maybe the next fight where he might get killed.

RM: I hear you.

JR: So there is a bigger picture you have to look at. You have to take a lot in. Never sacrifice the safety of a fighter. But there is more than just what’s in front of you at stake. If you stop a fight on HBO in the first round when a guy has a full gas tank, you will never work again. The fans come to see a fight. Does that make sense? You have to evaluate everything.

RM: So, it’s sort of a political job in a way… Or is that taking it too far?

JR: No. It’s not political. There’s just more to stopping a fight due to safety. Some refs say, “Oh, he was going to get hurt.” I think that’s a cop-out.

RM: OK.

JR: You have to have intelligent verbiage backed up by factual information of body language to stop a fight. You can’t just say, “He was done.” When I stop a fight, I can give you definite reasons why I stop a fight. In fact, I have my own criteria.

RM: Like what?

JR: If the fighter is a 50% capacity and he hasn’t taken too much punishment, I am going to give him one shot to continue to see how he responds to that knockdown, even if he’s on shaky legs. These guys have amazing recuperative power. The lights might go out for a second, but then the lights are flickering when they get back on their feet. So, if they have the ability to intelligently defend themselves, they are getting one shot from me. How they respond will determine the fight from that point on.

RM: So, to become a great official, you have to understand the science behind what it takes to stop a fight.

JR: Thank you very much. You said everything I was trying to say in one freaking sentence and it took me three paragraphs.

RM: Well, thanks. But you’re the expert.

JR: Well, that’s why they call it the sweet science, Ray. It really is a science. That’s why we can talk like this.

RM: Yep. That’s true.

JR: But you have to understand, the great fighters always find a way to continue. The great officials always look at the bigger picture. The most paramount thing on an official’s mind is fighter’s safety. You never want to violate that. But we also have a responsibility to our sport, to do what’s best for the sport of boxing.

RM: OK. Then let me know, what makes you different from any other referee?

JR: I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t know how the other referees think or train. But I can tell you that I feel like I am blessed to be a part of this sport. Just like you are. We’re blessed to be a part of a professional sport and I take the responsibility seriously. I constantly, constantly, train. I constantly try to better myself. I have a routine that I have followed since I started. I get myself in the zone before I step in the ring. I go to the gym and I move around with the fighters. And I have a book that I created, and it’s been 16 years already where I go over situation after situation after situation in my head to review. When I step in that ring, I have to be ready from the first second of the first round. You know, what’s my warm-up? A boxer warms up in the dressing room right?

RM: Yeah.

JR: I have to be mentally warmed up for the first second of the first round so I don’t miss something and I don’t overreact. So, I can’t tell you what makes me different. But I have an exuberant amount of passion for what I do. And I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for these warriors. And I have a tremendous amount of respect and love for our sport.

RM: Do you prepare for a big fight differently than you would for a small show?

JR: Yes. In a small show I might not know who is fighting until I get there. For a big show, they might give you an assignment a month out. So I get an opportunity to review the fights I have done with them and go through a more stringent routine. I go to YouTube to watch tapes. Look at styles. Look at weights. See where they’ve been. Are they coming up from a different weight? How did they do in their last five fights? Things like that, it’s a different preparation than a club show. But it’s a same manner in the respect that I have this routine that I go through to get in the zone for the first second of the first round. I can just do more research if it’s a big fight. It’s very important to know their natural weight. Some guys move up in weight and have no power. I want to know how they did in their last five fights. Are they moving up in weight? Have they won in the weight class they are going in to? Some guys that move up in weight got no power.

RM: Why is it important to know whether a fighter has lost or won his last few fights?

JR: Well, fighters get old overnight. And that is usually a good indication of what’s going on in their life. I look at the timespan between fights. If you have a guy that lost his last four fights I am thinking that his career has hit a skid. I want to know what he has done different to prepare for this fight. His career might come to an end. Why is he losing? Has he taken too many punches? Has he gone up in weight or down in weight? What are the contributing factors to why he lost? These are just more tools in my tool chest to help me accomplish “fighter safety” if that makes sense.

RM: No. That makes sense. But I am just playing devils advocate. Let’s say that I am fighter that lost my last three fights. – If I know a referee had your mindset, maybe I am thinking that the referee wants to stop the fight early, you know. How do you feel about that idea?

JR: That’s a great question and you are going to laugh when I give you the answer. I would love to have you come in the room with me when I give pre-fight instructions. I get a lot of good information. And more importantly, I get a baseline at where they are at mentally. I like to hear them talk. I want to see them move. I like to watch them walk in the dressing room and I like to watch them walk to the ring. I am trying to find out their normal senses. If you have a fighter that lost his last few fights, I like to ask, “How’s it going? How are you feeling?” They are always the first ones to cough up and give me the information that I am looking for.

RM: Yeah.

JR: Fighters usually fess up and tell you about the problems. They’ll say something like, “Oh, I know I lost my last few fights.” Or, “I had a bad shoulder last time. I’m ready now.”

RM: So, you use pre-fight information as a tool to help you referee a fight.

JR: Yeah. Well, none of it is a game stopper. I just use it as tools in my tool chest. Remember, you have to consider a lot more than what is in front of you. Something I know might save that guys life. What if a guy broke his right hand two fights ago, and tells me in the pre-fight that his hand is fine now. If he stops using his broken hand in the fight, I will know what’s going on. You know what I’m saying?

RM: Yeah. I hear you.

JR: That is the kind of information I use to help me make a decision. If I saw that, I would go to the doctor and tell him to check the right hand. It helps soften the blow if we need to stop a fight and it helps us protect the fighters.

RM: See, now I would never know that unless I talked to a referee. That’s important to know.

JR: Yeah. It’s important to know a fighter’s recent history, Ray. I want to get as much information as I can.

RM: OK. Talk to me about the art of neutrality. You used to be a fighter, so you know what they go through. How do you stay neutral as a referee?

JR: It’s very simple. And this is another reason why I feel that people have no business being a ref or a judge if they have never been punched in the face. I remember when I was training for fights. I was a 19-year-old kid, staying away from family and friends for months at a time. Fighters just want a fair and impartial referee.

RM: That reminds me of the Andre Ward/Edwin Rodriguez fight when you gave each fighter a two-point deduction for fouling. How did that all play out in your head?

JR: Remember when I was telling you how I prepare for fights?

RM: Yeah.

JR: In my books, I had that particular situation planned since 2002. I thought about the Holyfield/Tyson II situation when Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear. I thought what would happen to me if I had to guys so unruly? How would I try to maintain control?

RM: Yeah.

JR: So, Rodriguez was initiating a lot of that dirty stuff and Ward was retaliating… First, I verbally tried to correct them. I went to the corners and emphatically implored them to be professionals. That didn’t work. And then, in about the fourth round, Rodriguez got Ward in a guillotine. He tried to choke him out. He lifted Ward. And he was walking backwards, choking Ward. I was saying, “stop.” And Rodriguez wasn’t stopping. So Ward took matters into his own hands, and threw a punch over the top or two. Then I jumped in, and I think I got punched in the face.

RM: Right.

JR: So, I called time. Their adrenaline was spiraling out of control. My intent was to calm them down, and let this all pass so the fight will settle into something that resembles a professional boxing match.

RM: OK.

JR: I’ll give you an analogy. I was a fireman for 31 years. And I went on domestic violence assignments all of the time. If you have two cops go to a house and there is a lot of screaming. A lady is standing there with a pot in her hand and her husband is standing there with a black eye, he has a big welt on his head. They are cursing each other out, screaming. What do the cops do?

RM: They separate them…

JR: Yeah. They (cops) separate them. They take the husband outside. They tell him to calm down so they could hear the story. They hear both sides, let them vent, and then they say, “Well, you assaulted him and he assaulted you. Do you want to go to jail?” Guess what, everything straightens out. So, in that fight, I called time. I separated them, and said if this continues, I’m fining both of them. Once you hit their pocket book, they check. They start to pay attention. You know what I mean?

RM: Yeah.

JR: Obviously they settled down and it was a great fight the rest of the way.

RM: Yeah. OK. So…

JR: Let me ask you a question.

RM: Sure.

JR: Can a guy that never fought before understand this stuff? Can he even consider it? Can a guy that is somebody’s important nephew, who never had a fight in his life, become a good ref or judge? Can that guy understand competitive, combative, sports?

RM: I don’t think so, man. I think you’re going to need some sort of street cred.

JR: Yeah. You gotta have some kind of cred.

RM: Yeah. And do you think fighters understand the difference? Do fighters know when they are in the ring with a referee that has never gotten in a fight?

JR: Are you kidding me? Absolutely.

RM: OK.

JR: I mean, a guy like Bernard Hopkins will take advantage of you. If you are on the right side of him he is holding with his left hand. If you are on the left side he is holding with his right. All of the fighters are survivors’ man. This is a fight. They are moving, grabbing, and pulling until you correct them. These guys are smart. This ain’t tennis. These guys are hitting each other. They are going to do what they can to win, and it ain’t always going to be pretty.

RM: Now, I’m just curious. When Rodriguez had Ward in a guillotine and Ward defended himself. How come you didn’t just deduct a point from Rodriguez for the guillotine choke? I’m sure situations like that arise from time to time. But sometimes I see fouls, and referees just let them go without a warning.

JR: I deducted points for unsportsmanlike conduct from both fighters. I deducted points from Rodriguez for not letting go and Ward retaliating, and all the fouls prior to that. I will give you my theory on taking points. The fans don’t pay to see me take points and change the course of fight. They pay to see a fight come to a natural conclusion.

RM: True.

JR: This is not tennis. Take basketball for example, it is a non-contact sport, right?

RM: Yeah.

JR: But people that run the NBA know that there is going to be contact when you have seven-foot tall, 250-pound men jumping for a little ball. So they give them each five times to make contact before anything bad is going to happen.

RM: Right.

JR: Now transfer that over to boxing. We have highly trained athletes coming into the ring full of adrenaline, sometimes they hate each other, and there’s emotion on top of adrenaline. I got to tell you, the first few rounds aren’t going to be pretty. I try to use my people skills to calm them down and correct without taking points. The only caveat to that is if there is an intentional foul.

RM: That’s an interesting comparison. Thanks a bunch for your time, Jack. Is there anything else that you want the boxing world to know?

JR: I just want to say thank you for giving me the opportunity to even speak to you. It is not very often that we get to tell our side, our trials and tribulations, and talk about the challenges we face as officials. I appreciate it. I just want to give you one last parting thought.

RM: OK.

JR: As a referee in any other professional sport, there is a team of people looking at different angles. And when they are not sure, they call time, get in the huddle and make a decision. A referee in boxing and MMA has to get it right on the spot, and it’s right now. You can’t call timeout because someone has the advantage. If you call timeout, that person loses their advantage.

RM: Yeah.

JR: So, it is a very challenging position. And I hope the fans and writers understand.

RM: Definitely. Do you feel like referees get treated unfairly?

JR: Oh totally unfair. But when I checked the warranty on Jack Reiss, it doesn’t say anything about fairness. Nothing on my birth certificate says life is going to be easy or fair. That’s just the way life is. It’s unfair dude.

You can email Ray at Raymond.Markarian@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter at @raymarkarian

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The Hauser Report: The Women Take Center Stage at Madison Square Garden

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The Hauser Report: The Women Take Center Stage at Madison Square Garden

When DAZN launched in the United States in 2018, it promised subscribers “HBO-quality fights” on a monthly basis for one low monthly fee. Now its most notable offerings in America are on pay-per-view and its boxing program (as announced on January 10) includes a partnership with Misfits Boxing that will see KSI “fight exclusively on DAZN for the next five years” and a rumored series of boxing matches to be promoted by Jake Paul.

Looking at the larger picture, according to a January 11, 2023, report by Bloomberg, DAZN lost $2.33 BILLION in 2021 (a 79% increase over the previous year). That brought its total losses for the three-year period ending in 2021 to five BILLION dollars.

On February 4, DAZN limped into the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden with a nine-bout card promoted by Matchroom Boxing that featured five women’s bouts. Matchroom CEO Eddie Hearn was attempting to conjure up a sequel to his April 30, 2022, promotion that saw Katie Taylor vs. Amanda Serrano captivate a sold-out main arena.

Words like “massive . . .epic . . . huge” were thrown about in advance of Matchroom’s February 4 promotion. But in truth, there wasn’t much pre-fight buzz. Tickets were selling for as little as $30 and a lot of freebies were given away to fill up the Hulu Theater. Serrano vs. Erika Cruz (the main event) was a good entertaining fight. The rest of the card was a “massive” disappointment with the favored fighter (coming out of the blue corner in each instance) winning nine out of nine bouts, often in lackluster fashion.

Hearn once told British boxing writer Ron Lewis, “If I put on a bad fight, I want people to say it’s a bad fight.”

For the most part, these were bad fights.

The men fought 32 rounds and the favorite won 31 of them.

Records can be deceiving. For example, in the opening bout, Aaron Aponte (6-0-1, 2 KOs) whitewashed Joshua David Rivera (8-1, 5 KOs) over eight tedious rounds. How did Rivera get to 8-1? As of last month, his nine opponents had a composite ring record of 22 wins in 254 fights with 150 KOs by.

That was followed by Harley Mederos winning every round en route to a sixth-round stoppage of Julio Madera. Yankiel Rivera Figueroa cruised to an eight-round decision over Fernando Diaz. And Richardson Hitchins won every round on each judge’s scorecard against John Bauza.

That brings us to the women.

One of the selling points for the Matchroom card was that it featured five women’s “championship” bouts. But let’s get real. John Sheppard (who oversees BoxRec.com) reports that, as of this writing, the four major sanctioning bodies have created 1,380 different women’s titles in 15 weight divisions that they offer to promoters (for a sanctioning fee, of course). Since there are 1,909 active women boxers, this translates to 1.4 titles being available for each woman’s fight.

Two of the fights on February 4 (Amanda Serrano vs, Erika Cruz and Alycia Baumgardner vs. Elhem Mekaled) were for “undisputed world championships,” meaning that all four major sanctioning body belts were on the line. “Undisputed” also means that the ring is littered with sanctioning body officials who position themselves on camera behind the ring announcer who, in turn, is obligated to introduce each of them and reference each sanctioning body.

Title unification is significant when the fighters are legitimate champions. Otherwise, it’s simply a marketing ploy that plays into the travesty of making belts more important than fighters. The stars of Ali-Frazier I, II, and III were Ali and Frazier, not the belts they were fighting for.

And let’s not forget; one reason that promoters have started putting women fighters on their cards is that the women get paid a lot less than the men.

The first women’s fight on February 4 saw Shadasia Green (11-0), 10 KOs) take on Elin Cederroos (8-1, 4 KOs) in a scheduled ten-round super-middleweight bout. Cederos is a big strong woman without much of a punch whose career has been built in large measure on the ability to take a punch. Green has a bit of Ann Wolfe in her and punched harder than Cederroos could take. KO 6.

That was followed by back-to-back dreadful fights characterized by 30-to-1 odds favoring two protected fighters. Featherweight Ramla Ali won nine of ten rounds against Avril Mathie in an encounter marked by a conspicuous lack of action and drama with each round evocative of Groundhog Day. Then Skye Nicolson (another featherweight) decisioned Tania Alvarez over ten equally long rounds. Writer Keith Idec put that bout in perspective, describing Alvarez as having an “ineffective strange style” before adding, “She often literally ran toward Nicholson and didn’t set her feet before throwing inaccurate punches.”

Baumgardner-Mekaled was more respectable. Ten rounds for Baumgardner’s WBC, WBO, and IBF 130-pound belts plus the vacant WBA women’s junior-lightweight title. Baumgardner (an 8-to-1 favorite) scored two knockdowns and won nine of ten rounds on the judges’ scorecards. I gave her all ten.

That set the stage for Serrano-Cruz.

Serrano, age 34, has held numerous titles, some of which genuinely matter. Her fight against Katie Taylor was arguably the most important women’s boxing event ever with Taylor winning a split decision that many observers (including this one) thought should have gone the other way. That night, Amanda was remarkably gracious in defeat.

Cruz (the WBA featherweight beltholder) lacks power (3 knockouts in 17 bouts). Serrano-Cruz was for the four major featherweight belts. Amanda was a 7-to-1 favorite.

It was a good action fight.

Cruz won the first two rounds, bulling her way inside and going effectively to the body (which one doesn’t see often enough in women’s boxing). She was acquitting herself well in round three when an accidental clash of heads opened an ugly gash on her forehead. Blood flowed from the wound thereafter despite the best efforts of Erika’s cutmen to stop it.

Serrano fought Cruz’s fight for much of the night, trading punches when she could have done more to evade the blows and set up her own punches by moving and jabbing. There were more than a few firefights.

As the rounds passed, Cruz tired and began to lose form, overreaching with her punches and extending her head beyond her front knee. That left her wide open for counters. By the late stanzas, she was fighting on heart and not much more. In round ten, Erika put everything she had into going for the knockout that she knew she needed to win. But her gas tank was down to fumes and her efforts were to no avail.

Serrano won a well-earned 98-92, 98-92, 97-93 decision. Next up, a rematch against Katie Taylor on May 20 in Ireland.

*         *         *

In round one of Richardson Hitchens vs. John Bauza at Madison Square Garden, referee Charlie Fitch made a mistake. The fighters’ feet got tangled, Bauza went down, and Fitch mistakenly called the incident a knockdown. It had been a close round up until that point. Fitch’s call could have resulted in a three-point swing on one or more of the judges’ scorecards.

Well-run state athletic commissions rely on instant video review to remedy errors of this nature. The New York State Athletic Commission isn’t well-run. Fitch’s call was allowed to stand. It didn’t change the outcome of the fight. But it could have.

Contrast that with what happened on January 14 when Guido Vianello (a previously undefeated heavyweight being groomed by Top Rank) fought journeyman Jonathan Rice at Turning Stone Resort and Casino (a facility on Native American land in Verona, New York). Vianello was comfortably ahead on the judges’ scorecards when a sharp right hand from Rice opened a horrific gash above Guido’s left eye in round six. In round seven, the fight was stopped because of the cut.

Referee Benjy Esteves (the third man in the ring for Vianello-Rice) blew the call. It’s understandable that Fitch might not have seen two fighters get their feet tangled. Esteves, by contrast, did something that no referee should do. He ruled that Vianello’s cut had been caused by an accidental head butt that Esteves couldn’t possibly have seen because it never happened. He then told the judges to score the partially-fought seventh round after which, in his view, the winner would be determined by the scorecards. That would have led to Vianello being declared the victor.

Fortunately, the Oneida Indian Nation Athletic Commission (which oversees boxing at Turning Stone) utilizes instant video review. ESPN put the punch on a monitor at ringside for commission officials to review and the result was a TKO in Rice’s favor.

There have been complaints in the past that the 68-year-old Esteves lets fights go on too long. The most notable examples of this are his handling (or mishandling) of Magomed Abdusalamov vs. Mike Perez and Arturo Gatti vs. Joey Gamache. His ruling in Vianello-Rice raises a different issue. A referee shouldn’t call a head-butt unless he sees one. Moreover, Rice delivered the punch in question from long range, so there was no question about the cause of the cut.

Instant video review is a valuable tool. More commissions should use it.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – In the Inner Sanctum: Behind the Scenes at Big Fights – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Amanda Serrano Wins Another World Title; Serrano-Taylor II confirmed for Dublin

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It was another bloody Puerto Rico versus Mexico war and Amanda “the Real Deal” Serrano powered her way to victory over the gutsy Erika “Dinamita” Cruz to win the undisputed featherweight world championship on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“Now I’m one of the undisputed world champions, but I’m the only seven-division world champion,” said Serrano.

Now it’s on to Ireland.

Serrano (44-2-1, 30 KOs) became the seventh female fighter to become an undisputed champion in defeating Mexico’s Cruz (15-2, 3 KOs) and now has a date set to meet Katie Taylor in Dublin on the 20th of May.

But it was not easy in this lefty versus lefty battle.

On a night with five female 10-round bouts, Serrano’s battle with Cruz proved to be the highlight of the night. The men also fought too.

In the main event with a history of multiple Mexico-Puerto Rico wars setting high expectations, Cruz and Serrano battled toe-to-toe with neither willing to give ground or change pace.

Each round was difficult to score because of the two-minute limit. It was not long enough for separation.

Both fired combinations and both refused to slow down until a clash of heads saw Cruz emerge with a cut on her braided parted hair. Serrano winced but no cut was caused. Soon, before round three ended, blood dripped readily over the Mexican fighter’s face.

It was a bad omen.

After the referee and ringside physician looked at the cut the fight was allowed to continue. Both fighters incredibly increased their punch output and the war resumed. Blood be damned, a fight is a fight.

“I’m just glad they let the fight go past the fourth,” said Serrano because anything less than four rounds and the fight would not have been long enough to rate a technical decision. Surprisingly the fight lasted 10 rounds.

Cruz refused to be out-punched by the heavier blows from Serrano and seemed to be able to match the Boricua’s blows until the sixth round when a right hook and left staggered the Mexican briefly. Serrano recognized the look of near paralysis on Cruz and stepped on the gas. Cruz held briefly and managed to rally slightly to keep from being overrun. But it was close.

After a 20-second delay due to excessive water in Cruz’s corner, the fight resumed and the war surprisingly continued.

Serrano was told from her trainer Jordan Maldonado to go back to using down-the- middle punches with straight one-two combinations. The change worked well against the wider punching Cruz.

Serrano said she was advised to “go back to basics 1-2, 1-2.”

Still Cruz refused to be over-powered and maintained her output with six- and seven- punch combinations. Her corner advised to go to three-punch combinations when Serrano began using that tactic late in the fight.

Though still willing to fight, Cruz was visibly tiring while Serrano’s blows still maintained power.

Despite blood on her face for seven rounds Cruz never slowed and seemed angry with her corner. She began shrugging off the cut man’s attempts to wipe her face and the trainer’s advice. She simply seemed to want to rest her mind to prepare for battle again against one of the most feared punchers in the world.

The last three rounds saw both Serrano and Cruz attack the body and head with the Puerto Rican brunette using jabs and one-twos to gain separation. Her punches remained strong and straight.

After 10 rounds two judges scored the fight 98-92 and a third 97-93 all for Serrano the new undisputed featherweight world champion. The sound of that announcement seemed to bring tears of emotion for the Brooklyn-based Serrano.

“I’m just emotional. I finally got the undisputed title for my island,” said Serrano. “Erika is Mexican. I knew she was not just going to let me take her title belt.

Now the rematch was formally set to meet Katie Taylor in her native Ireland. It will be the undisputed lightweight champion’s first professional match in her country.

Alycia Baumgardner Undisputed Too

Alycia “the Bomb” Baumgardner powered her way to victory over France’s Elhem Mekhaled to win the undisputed super featherweight world championship. She nearly ended the fight early in the third round but settled for a one-sided unanimous decision after 10 rounds.

Baumgardner entered the prize ring known as a dangerous right-hand hitter, but it was the left hook that stunned Mekhaled and a right dropped her in the third round. The French fighter survived but was delivered to the canvas again with a volley of blows by heavy-handed Baumgardner.

Somehow Mekhaled survived though hurt several more times during the 10-round fight. She even managed to win a couple of rounds when Baumgardner tired from the attempt to gain a knockout. But the American fighter still kept a firm control of the match to decisively maintain a big lead and win by decision 99-89 twice and 98-90 on a third card.

“I had to fight when I had to fight,” said Baumgardner. “Plus, I had my period today.”

Baumgardner was gracious about the battle Mekhaled gave, refusing to quit.

“Mekaled has plenty of heart,” Baumgardner said. “I was throwing bombs in there and using my jab.”

It was Baumgardner’s third defense of her titles and she acknowledged that a possible rematch with Mikaela Mayer, who was in the audience, is a strong possibility.

“We want big fights, mega fights,” Baumgardner said.

Other Fights

Richardson Hitchins (16-0, 7 KOs) won a rivalry fight over John Bauza (17-1, 7 KOs) to win a regional title and remain undefeated and gain position for a super lightweight world title bid.

Puerto Rico’s Yankiel Rivera (3-0) beat Riverside, California’s Fernando Diaz (11-3-1) in an eight round flyweight match.

Harley Mederos (5-0) battered Mexico’s Julio Madera (4-3) to win by decision after a six round lightweight match.

Featherweight clash

In an ugly fight driven by constant holding, Australia’s Skye Nicolson (6-0) won by unanimous decision against Spain’s Tanya Alvarez (7-1) to win a regional title.

Nicolson walked in the ring with all the advantages but resorted to grab-and-hold tactics to slow down the bull-rushing Alvarez who walked in with little regard for defense. The Aussie fighter was the sharper puncher but could not hurt Alvarez who bore in looking to connect with body and head shots.

Unable to hurt Alvarez, soon Nicolson began holding excessively from the third round on and that slowed down the fight and eventually allowed Alvarez to score to the body. Though Nicolson was scoring more than her foe, the gap got closer and closer each round.

From the sixth round on Alvarez began to connect more and more as Nicolson spent most of every round holding instead of punching. Though Alvarez was unable to land many big shots to the head, her attacks to the body were mounting.

Perhaps because of her grabbing tactics, Nicolson seemed to tire in the last three rounds and that allowed Alvarez to take more advantage. Each round Alvarez began scoring more and more as the fight proceeded. Though Nicolson landed some blows in between holding, the strong Spanish fighter was landing more blows, mostly to the body.

Nicolson was lucky to not be deducted a point for holding. She was warned but never penalized by referee Sparkle Lee. After 10 rounds Nicolson was deemed the winner by decision 100-90, 98-92, 97-97.

Is she ready for a world title fight?

Definitely not yet.

Super Bantamweights

The battle between super bantamweight models saw Ramla Ali (8-0) use accuracy to take away Avril Mathie’s undefeated record (8-1-1) and win by unanimous decision after 10 rounds.

Ali was deadly accurate from the first round on as she beat Mathie to the punch during the exchanges and was able to connect first and last. Still, Mathie was game.

The two tall super bantamweight fighters willingly exchanged with neither fighter looking to run and both taking shots when they landed. The first half of the fight belonged to Ali but Mathie seemed determined and was not slowing down.

Mathie never faltered in the punch output department but was lacking in accuracy. Though Ali used head movement and angles to avoid many of the incoming shots, Mathie just seemed inaccurate compared to Ali. But her heart was big and that kept her in the fight.

The last three rounds saw Mathie take advantage of Ali slowing down and began scoring more to make the rounds seem more difficult to score. No longer was Ali winning the rounds decisively and Mathie was not slowing down.

After 10 rounds the judges scored in favor of Ali and her accuracy by scores of 99-91.

Super Middleweights

Super middleweight contender Shadasia Green (12-0, 12 KOs) allowed former champion Elin Cederroos (8-2) to take the early rounds until she lowered the boom with powerhouse rights to win by technical knockout.

Green wins the elimination bout to be next in line for undisputed champion Franchon Crews-Dezurn who defeated Cederroos last year to become champion.

Cederroos looked good for a few rounds as she out-punched Green early in the fight. But early on it was obvious that the American fighter was looking to land counter rights and did occasionally in the third and fourth round.

Then, in the third round, Green connected with a counter right that floored Cederroos and the momentum changed dramatically. From that moment on, though Cederrroos tried to respond, Green took control and looked intent on scoring a stoppage.

Green walked in confidently in the sixth round looking to land the right. The former college basketball player opened up with sixth consecutive rights that stunned Cederroos and added a left and right that forced the referee to halt the fight at 1:08 in the sixth round. Green won the elimination fight by technical knockout.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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The Inevitable Triple Crown of Emanuel Navarrete: Demystifying Alphabet Titles

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The Inevitable Triple Crown of Emanuel Navarrete: Demystifying Alphabet Titles

The thing which most needs to be understood concerning alphabet sanctioning bodies and the fighters who wear their belts is that the relationship is primarily one of customer and supplier.  Fighters pay to wear the alphabet belts that so profligate in the sport of boxing and they are in receipt of a service.  The service is twofold. Firstly, they are supplied with hardware. Belts for the “WBO Asia Pacific” middleweight title holder. Belts for the “World Boxing Council Silver flyweight title holder. Belts for the “World Boxing Association International” cruiserweight title holder. Belts for everyone.

Depending upon who you feel like recognising there can be around a thousand title belts floating around the world of boxing at any given time and the great percentage of these are not “world titles” but regional titles, pre-title titles (you read that right) and completely made-up titles for special occasions. Whenever you see a title, someone is paying a portion of their fight fee to the relevant sanctioning body. This is why fringe companies like the WBF and IBO spring into existence – where there is a belt there is cash.

This brings us to the second function served by the thousand belts sucking money out of boxing: they do make financial sense for the fighters and are directly profitable in the case of “world” titles.  Take the case of Padraig McCrory (16-0) out of Belfast.  He is a fine 175lb prospect with good power he has not yet quite harnessed into a fulsome skillset fighting just below national title level often on Michael Conlan undercards.  He’s also the light-heavyweight champion of the world according to the IBO, who crowned him for defeating Lean Bunn, a German who had never contested a fight longer than eight rounds before. He folded to McCrory in six.

Now McCrory can put “world light-heavyweight champion” on his fight-posters. For those that consider the IBO a body of minor reputation, that is fair, but boxing should not kid itself that IBO means more to most members of the paying public than WBA does – and nor should it, in this writer’s opinion. They are all in the same business and if it seems the fighter makes the title, keep in mind that Oleksandr Usyk wears an IBO heavyweight crown and Gennady Golovkin an IBO middleweight strap.

I was interested to see then that Emanuel Navarrete was set to step up to his third weight class and box for a “title” in the shape of the WBO 130lb world championship. The reigning 126lb WBO title holder, Navarrete is a fine example of a modern-day boxing customer to the bodies who are meant to police them. He has been paying the WBO for years.

I have to say here that there is no implication that Navarrete has done anything illegal nor even anything morally wrong within the culture of the industry he inhabits. Everyone pays sanctioning fees. Anthony Joshua, who is boxing’s second biggest earner since Floyd Mayweather’s retirement, is rumoured to have sunk well over a million dollars into sanctioning fees. Generally, champions and challengers will pay 2-3% of their fight purse to a roof of around $250,000 depending upon which ABC they are working with; some alphabets charge a registration fee to promoters, also. This means that for the likes of Joshua, Canelo Alvarez, and Floyd Mayweather the sanctioning fees can become quite prohibitive. Mayweather himself dropped belts to avoid paying these monies. The wonderful Erik Morales at one point completely ceased co-operating with his suppliers.

But generally, fighters do as Navarrete does and they pay for the gold. The proliferation of minor regional titles I describe in paragraph one was something that Navarrete neatly sidestepped. That is because he was very much the opponent for his 2018 fight with Isaac Dogboe, who had paid for regional title belts since 2015 at one point somehow being named both the WBO “African Featherweight” champion and the WBO “Oriental Featherweight” champion. Dogboe is British but was born in Ghana. Paying for these titles got him onto the WBO on-ramp, establishing him as a customer of this organisation and allowing relationships to be built between the WBO and Dogboe’s promotional organisation – again, if this sounds like a form of corruption, it should be noted that this is normal, no accusations of legal wrongdoing are being made.

When Dogboe surprisingly dropped his 122lb title to Navarrete, the WBO had a new customer – and a good one. Navarrete boxes in America and on American television, which is still the best way to enhance a purse without a pay-per-view audience. His most recent paydays are estimated at around a million dollars. This meant that when Navarrete decided that he could no longer make 122lbs, the WBO had a problem, namely that it was losing money on Navarrete’s purses as he no longer held a WBO strap. Navarrete also had a problem – he couldn’t leverage television or the paying public with a “world championship.” So, after boxing a fighter named Uriel Lopez Juarez who had lost his last three fights, Navarrete was deemed for a title shot at 126lbs, against another WBO customer, Ruben Villa, who had been paying to wield a regional WBO strap for the past year.

Villa was in no way qualified to face Navarrete. There is absolutely no question of the WBO fixing fights, but there they mandated a contest that would have genuinely shocked had it produced a Navarrete loss. This type of match-making is as old as the sport, where lesser fighters are sacrificed at the alters of the sport’s cash cows to fatten their records and progress their careers: but it is not, until recently, that this became normal for sanctioned “world title” fights.

Villa had never boxed over twelve rounds before in his career. Although he was clearly able to defend himself, Villa was dumped twice by Navarrete who won a clear points decision win. What we saw this Friday night in Glendale was a repeat of this exercise as Navarrete, once more struggling with the weight limit in his new division, departed for pastures new and 130lbs. The soft opponent this time would be Liam Wilson, an Australian, like Villa before him a loyal WBO customer having wielded both their “WBO Asia Pacific” 130lb title and their “WBO International” 130lb title in his short career (now 11-2). This is the first piece of the alphabet puzzle when trying to decipher who the most valued customers of an alphabet organisation are: is the championship match against a soft opponent who is expected to lose?

Look closer though, and you can sometimes see more.

Liam Wilson was astonished at the weigh-in when he was announced at just over 126lbs, nearly four pounds below the divisional weight-limit.

“Something happened with the scales,” he told Australian media.  “I’m sure they’ve been tampered with. I weighed in 20 minutes prior to the weigh in. I was just under weight. I went on the official scales for the official weigh-in and I was four pounds under, magically. So, in twenty minutes I lost four pounds, two kilos in Australian weight.”

Fighters sometimes sit in saunas forgoing water and sweating the best part of themselves into a tightly wrapped arrangement of plastic to lose this sort of weight. It is an enormous difference for Wilson, a man who has not weighed in close to 126lbs since the Oceanian Youth & Junior Championship – in 2012.

“I think he’s come in overweight and they tampered with the scales to make it seem like he made it.”

This is a significant accusation, and one that has not been proven. From the WBO’s own regulations:

The President of the Organization shall attend or designate a WBO Supervisor to attend every World Championship contest sanctioned by the WBO. The duties of said Supervisor shall be to represent the WBO at the Championship Match and prefight events including the weigh in…if a World Champion fails to make the prescribed weight for his category, the Champion shall lose the title at the scales, and the Championship shall then and there be declared vacant, whether or not the challenger makes weight.

The WBO then, is responsible for making sure the weigh in is conducted fairly to both parties.  Currently, there is no evidence that this was not the case.

Happily, the fight itself was a good one and a competitive affair before Navarrete lifted the vacant strap by technical knockout in the ninth. Navarrete, with limited experience of the 130lb punch was caught with a flush left hook in the fourth which Wilson followed up with good pressure and punching to ditch his man. Navarrete had the experience to spit the gumshield out while receiving a standing eight, clearly in trouble; Wilson did not have the experience to follow up against a hurt Navarrete who had bought himself some extra time.

That is why good customers tend to get inexperienced opponents when fighting for a favoured organisation’s strap. Imagine Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov or Roger Gutierrez chasing a hurt Navarrete across the ring in what, after all, is supposed to be a world-title fight. That is the key. There was nothing wrong with making Navarrete-Wilson; it was a good fight conducted in what were difficult circumstances for the Australian and one he nearly won, but for a world-title to be perpetrated upon the boxing public at the end of it is unreasonable.

It is also inevitable. As soon as the people who are policing the fighters become a service industry for those fighters, the type of easy night we repeatedly see for WBO favourites becomes nothing less than a part of the fabric of the sport. Even so, a fighter becoming a triple-crown champion by defeating not one but two fighters who have never boxed the championship distance seems shocking, even for this sport.

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