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DELIVERANCE: Sept. 16, 1981

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Deliverance

Your anniversary. Your wife’s birthday. Valentine’s Day. Your kid’s birthday(s). These are dates you had best remember. Or, put another way, these are dates you had better not forget!

I have a thing for remembering dates. In my head, months and days are swirling around and around. With me, however, it’s not just important, better-not-forget dates of my ever-expanding family: The birthdays of Roni, Shari, Traci, Ali, Michael, Greer, Jon, Andrew, Mel, Dave and Michele. Each of their anniversaries. My grandkids’ birthdays. Then, there are the boxing dates. You say a day of the month and I recall a fight that happened on that date.

January 22. February 25. March 8. March 31. June 9. June 11. June 20. September 25. October 1. November 22. Those dates are George Foreman’s stoppage of Joe Frazier; Cassius Clay’s TKO of Sonny Liston; Muhammad Ali v Joe Frazier; Eddie Mustafa Muhammad’s winning of the light heavyweight title from Marvin Johnson and Mike Weaver’s knockout of John Tate (on the same card); Larry Holmes W 15 against Ken Norton; Larry Holmes over Gerry Cooney; Roberto Duran over Sugar Ray Leonard; Sonny Liston KO 1 Floyd Patterson and Muhammad Ali over George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle.”

Right now, being we’re in September, I have September 16 on my mind. September 16, 1981, to be exact. This week marks the 33rd anniversary of one of the most exciting night of boxing I have ever had the privilege of attending and, in this case, being a part of.

On September 16, 1981, in a makeshift arena that was the parking lot of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada, “The Showdown”—as promoter Dan Duva called it—or “Superfight”—as much of the media dubbed it—took place. In one corner stood the swift-handed, fleet-footed, once-beaten WBC welterweight champion of the world. In the other corner stood the undefeated knockout artist, the WBA welterweight champion of the world. In an era that produced many highly-anticipated fights, this was one of the most highly-anticipated of them all.

Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns.

Leonard was 29-1, his only loss being the 15-round decision to Roberto Duran 15 months earlier. He eradicated that defeat five months later with perhaps the finest outing of his career, shutting out and stopping Duran in the eighth round of their title bout which has become known as the “No Mas” fight.

Just three months before facing each other in Las Vegas, Leonard and Hearns had fought in Houston, Texas, but not against each other. They were the star attractions in a title doubleheader. If both won their bouts, they’d go on to face each other in one of the most anticipated matches in the history of boxing.

Hearns took his 31-0 record into the ring first. Twenty-nine of those victories had come by knockout. His opponent was the tough Pablo Baez. Hearns upheld his end of the promotion, putting Baez to sleep in the fourth round. He made it look easy. It was then Leonard’s turn. He was in against WBA Jr. Middleweight champion Ayub Kalule and his 36-0 record. Half of those wins were by knockout.

The contest was competitive throughout the first eight rounds, with Leonard holding a slight edge. The promoters and their families were edgy. A mega-million dollar fight loomed if Leonard won. There were no talks of Hearns-Kalule. Suddenly, in the ninth round, Leonard broke through. His speed and power were unleashed in a blur against the Ugandan. In a heartbeat, the fight was over. Leonard had won. He was now the WBC Welterweight Champion and WBA Jr. Middleweight Champion.

The superfight—the fight the boxing world had been waiting for—would now happen. It would match Sugar Ray Leonard against Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns. The date: September 16, 1981. The venue: Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada.

* * *

While many fans and members of the media took to rightfully calling this matchup “Superfight,” promoter Dan Duva named it “The Showdown.” Either way, this showdown was indeed a superfight.

The fight card began late in the afternoon, somewhere around 4:00. Without the TV lights above the ring, it was nearly 115 degrees at ringside. The main event was still around four hours away.

I arrived shortly before the start of the first undercard fight, and was joined in the next half hour by Albert, then Pacheco, then Dunphy. We did microphone and voice checks during the heavyweight prelim between Marvis Frazier and Guy “The Rock” Casale, a fight won by Frazier on a fourth-round TKO.

The ABC-TV crew of Howard Cosell and Alex Wallau (who would go on in later years to become President of the ABC television network) showed up shortly after the arrival of Don Dunphy. Cosell, who drew one of the biggest ovations of the night from the still-filing-in-crowd, was dressed in one of ABC’s cheap-but-colorful sport jackets, emblazoned with the ABC logo. In his mouth was one of the longest cigars I have ever seen.

Shortly before the start of the fight card, a honeymoon couple approached the ringside gate which separated the ringside ticket holders from the working press.

“Mr. Cosell, Mr. Cosell!” called the pretty, new, young wife. “Mr. Cosell, Mr. Cosell! She called, waving a fight program.

I tapped Cosell—who was wearing his headset while reading a local paper—on his right shoulder. He looked at me.

“Howard, a young lady is frantically trying to get your attention,” I said to him, then pointed the couple out. He turned to look at her. Then he turned to thank me. He stood up and walked towards the newlyweds.

I watched as he approached them.

“Mr. Cosell, Mr. Cosell. My husband and I are on our honeymoon. We’re big boxing fans and also big fans of yours. Could you please sign this program for us?”

“Of course, my dear. I’ll gladly sign it. What are your names?” She told him. He signed the front page of their program. Then he shook both of their hands and kissed the young bride on her cheek. The joy on her face was obvious and her smile was radiant as her husband took a photo of his new bride with the heavyweight champion of sportscasters.

As he walked back to his ringside seat, Cosell said, in a loud voice to the newlyweds, “This must be a bigger thrill than the honeymoon itself!”

Columnist Dick Young shook his head and said to Cosell, whom he was at verbal war with for years, “You’re an egotistical maniac, Howard!”

“And you’re just a jealous bastard!” Cosell shot back.

* * *

We sat through the searing desert heat for several more hours and a few more undercard fights. Included was a knockout victory for teenage sensation Tony Ayala.

Finally, it was time for the main event. I took a thermometer which the TV production crew had given me and placed it on one of the ring’s turnbuckles. I left it there until it was time for Leonard and Hearns to make their respective ring walks.

Although the setting of the desert sun had “cooled” the arena to 92 degrees, the television lights had jacked the ringside temperature up by 35 degrees. Inside the ring, it was 127 degrees. Picture getting into your car on a summer day after it had been baking—windows up—in the sun for hours. Imagine getting into that car and staying in that heat for close to an hour. Now imagine working out in the car! It was unthinkable that any two athletes could perform the way they did in such stifling, searing heat on the night of September 16, 1981.

I looked around. The arena was packed. Flashes on cameras were going off all over the arena. Most fans were on their feet, waiting for the fighters. On my left, Howard Cosell was doing his stand-up open.

“HELLO AGAIN EVERYONE. THIS IS HOW/AHD COE/SELL.”

On my right were three sweating announcers on whom I was placing frozen bottles of water and mopping with towels provided by the hotel. I was wearing a suit and tie and could not have been wetter had I jumped in the pool at Caesars Palace. The judges were in place. The ring was clear, except for referee Davey Pearl and ring announcer Chuck Hull.

Then came the voice of Mike Weisman in our headsets.

“The fighters are on their way!”

***

Thomas Hearns entered the ring first. He was loose. Sweat glistened off his lean, rail-thin and almost weak-looking 147-pound body. Yet, despite his lack of musculature, there was no getting away from the fact he was crushing welterweights with relative ease. Only two out of 32 opponents had lasted the distance with him. Both of them took such a beating over 10 rounds that they would been better off getting knocked out. He had won the title from Pipino Cuevas 13 months earlier. In that fight, Hearns used a frightening right hand to the chin to lay the rugged Mexican face down—and out—in round two, for the WBA Welterweight Championship.

Hearns was taller than Leonard by nearly four inches, outreached him, outgunned him in the power department and seemed to be near Leonard’s equal in speed. That’s why Hearns was made a 6 ½ -5 favorite. That’s why I bet my moustache of 10 years on with a friend that Hearns would win. He’d pay me $500 if Hearns won. I’d shave my moustache if Leonard won.

On the back of Leonard’s robe was the word “DELIVERANCE.” Nobody realized it, but that word conveyed the feelings Leonard carried into this fight. So many fans and members of the boxing press thought he was nothing more than a fluffed-up media darling and pretty boy. Leonard was out to prove them wrong. The fighters bounced in their respective corners. My heart was racing as if I had been working out. The most-anticipated fight I had ever seen was about to start, and I had one of the best seats in the house!

For the first two rounds, Hearns patiently stalked Leonard, who bounced left, then right, then back again, never giving “The Hitman”—one of Hearns’ two nicknames—a clear shot at him with his vaunted, powerful right. When Hearns did land, it was with a stinging left jab to the face.

By the third round, a small mouse appeared under Leonard’s right eye. It was in that round that Leonard absorbed, for the first time in the fight, a sharp right to his chin. Hearns had landed what looked to be his “Sunday Punch,” but Sugar Ray was still on his feet.

The temperature inside the ring was close to 130 degrees. It was around 35-40 degrees cooler at our ringside positions, but all of us at ringside were drenched in sweat.

“How could these two fighters possibly be performing at this level under such extreme conditions?” we wondered.

Late in round three, Leonard turned his laser hands loose, scoring with a fast combination to the head. Hearns looked surprised, though not hurt, by the assault. Then he continued to pursue Leonard. As Hearns pressured him, Leonard danced and made Hearns miss.

At the end of the round, Leonard threw his hands into the air as if in victory. For him, the round was a positive step. He now knew, not only that he could win, but that he would win.

Rounds four and five were much like the first two—with Hearns pursuing behind controlled aggression and a long, hard, steady jab to Leonard’s puffing left eye.

Round six would be a turning point in the fight. Leonard knew he was behind on the scorecards and realized he couldn’t allow Hearns to build much more of a lead. He began to take the fight to the “Motor City Cobra”—Hearns’ other popular nickname. For the first time, Leonard’s hand speed was very apparent. His right shot over Hearns’ low-held left. His left zeroed in on Hearns’ just-as-low right. Hearns was content to keep spearing Leonard with his jab, and the mouse under Leonard’s left eye grew nastier and nastier.

Suddenly, Leonard ripped a vicious left hook to the side. Hearns doubled in agony.

“THE RIBS OF THOMAS HEARNS ARE BROKEN! THEY ARE BROKEN!” screamed Howard Cosell, who was two seats away from me.

I looked at Cosell and shook my head, trying to tell him I didn’t believe Hearns’ ribs were broken. Cosell, however, stayed with his thought.

“THE RIBS OF HEARNS ARE BROKEN, AND HE’S IN BIG TROUBLE!” Cosell announced.

I wrote a note and passed it to the man on my left, ABC-TV’s Alex Wallau.

“I don’t think the ribs are broken. Wind just knocked out of him.” I wrote. Wallau nodded. He kept it to himself, though. When Cosell said something while on-air, he usually tended to stay with that thought. There was no way he was going to change his broken rib theory.

At this point, Marv Albert, who was providing between-rounds commentary for closed-circuit viewers (ancestors of pay-per-view buyers) of the “Showdown,” hit his “Cough Button,” which turned his microphone off. He leaned over to me and asked, “I can hear Cosell and what he’s saying. Do you think Hearns’ ribs are broken?” I shook my head, but told him I’d find out by running over to Hearns’ corner and asking Emanuel Steward, Hearns manager and trainer.

Our announcing position was in a neutral corner, and I ran around and over to Hearns’ corner. I waited for Steward to come down and take his corner position on a stool between rounds eight and nine.

“Manny, Howard Cosell is announcing that Hearns’ ribs are broken. Are they broken? Should we go with that for the closed-circuit telecast?” I asked him.

“They’re not broken,” Steward told me. “He had the wind knocked out of him, that’s all.”

I said “Thank you,” and ran back to tell Albert. He looked at me, anxiously awaiting my answer.

“Steward said they are not broken,” I told Albert. “Hearns just had the wind knocked out of him.”

Cosell heard me tell that to Marv. He leaned in front of Wallau and towards me.

“I’m telling you,” said Cosell, “that Hearns’ ribs are broken. It’s obvious.”

Through the seventh and eighth rounds it certainly looked to be that way. Every time Leonard moved in close, Hearns would tuck his right elbow in close to his body to protect his side from the onslaught which he knew was coming.

“BODY, RAY, BODY!” screamed a voice from Leonard’s corner. “BODY!

In the ninth round, tired of the beating he was taking, Hearns reverted to becoming the boxer he was as an amateur, when he won almost 170 fights, but knocked out only 11 opponents.

With all that was inside him, he pecked and poked away with jab after jab at Leonard’s puffing left eye. Suddenly, the vaunted slugger had become the masterful boxer. And just as suddenly, the masterful boxer had become the aggressor.

Leonard’s problem was that every time he stepped within range, he got popped by a jab and then his target moved away. And so it went from the ninth round through the 11th. Hearns moved and boxed, Leonard pursued and stalked, though rather ineffectively.

Because of the buildup of points early in the fight by Hearns, and because of the success he was having in this portion, it was obvious who was headed towards victory.

However, Emanuel Steward didn’t like what he was seeing from his fighter, despite the fact that he was boxing and winning. The almost-frightened look on Hearns’ face told him something. Steward implored him, “If you’re not going to fight, then I’m going to stop it!”

Over in the other corner, Angelo Dundee was even more animated.

“You’re blowin’ it, son!” he exhorted. “You’re blowin’ it!”

Leonard didn’t need an explanation. He came out for the 13th round knowing what he had to do.

He went right after Hearns, whose legs looked wobbly, as much from the blistering heat as from the 36 previous minutes against his WBC counterpart.

Working in close, Leonard leaned on Hearns, who toppled backwards. Then, in an effort to stay up, his legs entwined with Leonard’s and he went down. He was up right away, but Leonard was on him again. This time, “The Hitman” was hit. Again and again. Hearns backed to the ropes. Then, with Leonard still in pursuit and still throwing, Hearns folded up at the middle and began to slide through the ropes. He was as much outside the ropes as he was inside them. Referee Davey Pearl then told Hearns to “get up.”

Angelo Dundee was enraged. He had felt Hearns exiting the ring was because of punches. He jumped up on the ring apron screaming “B—-t!” Pearl was quick and adamant in telling Dundee to get down from the ring apron.

Leonard was quick to pounce back on Hearns. Another flurry put him down. This time, Pearl ruled it a knockdown. Somehow, a weary Hearns managed to rise at the count of nine, just as the bell sounded.

As tired and battered as Leonard was, one glance across the ring let him know that Hearns was in worse shape. Far worse shape.

Leonard knew this would be the last round of the fight. So did the 23,615 fans in attendance and millions watching on worldwide closed-circuit.

Leonard doubled his hook to the body and head, following with crisp rights to the head. Yet, Hearns remained upright. Leonard punched in volleys, then motioned to Pearl to stop the fight. When the ref did not end it, Leonard hammered away at Hearns some more. At that point, at 1:45 of the round, Pearl stepped in a pushed Leonard off of Hearns.

At that point, I was very curious as to which of the two warriors had been leading at the time of the stoppage. I jumped into the ring and waited until Chuck Hull had made his announcement.

“…NOW THE UNDISPUTED WELTERWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD, SUGAR…RAY…LEONARD!”

I then asked the commission member who was holding the three scorecards if I could see them for a moment. I said I needed the scores for television. There is no way that commission official should have given them to me without checking with Nevada’s Executive Director, first. But he did. For some reason, he simply handed them to me. I scooted across the ring and threw them to Marv Albert, who began to read them to the audience. Incredibly, all three judges—Lou Tabat, Duane Ford and Chuck Minker—had Hearns ahead. They had him ahead by four, three and two points, respectively.

Thankfully, the scoring didn’t matter. What mattered was the heart and effort by both of these ring legends. They were Herculean in both victory and defeat.

And for Ray Leonard, the victory gave him what he had stepped into the ring for, what he wore on his robe: DELIVERANCE. The fight also gave credence to him, from that moment forth, to be called “Sugar Ray.” He had certainly earned the name.

Ahh! The memories of an incredible night will live forever.

EXTRA ROUNDS:

Following the “Showdown” and Leonard’s Deliverance, I saw the friend with whom I made the bet. He looked at me and smiled, then made a shaving motion with his finger under his nose. What he meant was my moustache, not his. He didn’t have one. I lost the bet. I had to shave. Afterwards, I complied, and told him he could see the results on ESPN the next night from Atlantic City, where Sal Marchiano and I would be. A red eye would take us from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and across the country to Philadelphia, where we would then rent a car and drive the one hour to Atlantic City.

When we came on the air, my then-four-year-old daughter, Ali, was watching ESPN, waiting for her daddy to appear on the screen.

“Here comes daddy,” said her mom.

Ali just stared in disbelief, then broke into tears.

“That’s not my daddy!” she sobbed. In her four years, she had never seen me without a moustache. That moustache she once knew has made only one, quick appearance, since.

Who would have thought, that almost 23 years to the day of “The Showdown,” my Ali would be honeymooning with longtime boyfriend/new husband, Dave, in Hawaii.

Ahh, the 33rd anniversary of a classic.

The memories are beautiful!

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There Was a Smorgasbord of Tasty Delights in Dueling TV Fight Cards

Bernard Fernandez

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Technology has not advanced to the point where someone can actually be in two places at the same time, but until that happens, the next best thing is the wonderful consolation prize of being able to watch one fight card live on television while recording the other for delayed perusal.

Maybe there can be too much of a good thing sometimes. If I were in a position where I had to make a choice to physically be in attendance at one site or another on Saturday night, it would have been difficult choosing between being there to witness Philadelphia’s emerging welterweight sensation, Jaron “Boots” Ennis, put on another spectacular show in dispatching former junior welter world champion Sergey Lipinets in the Showtime-televised main event in Uncasville, Conn., or another gritty performance by blue-collar, working-class hero Joe Smith Jr. as he finally won a world light heavyweight title with a hard-fought, typically inelegant and somewhat controversial majority decision over Russia’s Maxim Vlasov in the ESPN/ESPN+ card-topper at the Osage Casino in Tulsa, Okla.

In and of themselves, the two featured bouts, so different in execution and outcome but each compelling in their own way, would have satisfied most fight fans. But like a buffet line where diners can snack on tasty hors d’oeuvres –type fare before loading their plates with a preferred entrée item, each card offered additional value by way of televised undercard bouts.

The most dominant performance, and the one of highest potential value moving forward? That would be still another star-making turn by the 23-year-old Ennis (27-0, 25 KOs), who did pretty much whatever he wanted in becoming the first fighter to knock out Lipinets (16-2-1, 12 KOs), the 32-year-old former IBF junior welterweight titlist who had gone the distance with Mikey Garcia and had never been decked as a professional until he went down twice against Boots, who looks like he has the goods to soon take his place in the pantheon of outstanding fighters to represent the city of his birth.

OK, so the first ruled knockdown by referee Arthur Mercante Jr., which came in the fourth round, likely was an error of judgment as replays showed that Lipinets actually tripped on Ennis’ foot. But there was no mistaking what happened in the sixth round, when Ennis, who had been casually teeing off on the stocky Russian as if he were just another heavy bag to be pounded on in the gym, caught Lipinets with a right hook followed by a left uppercut. Lipinets went down flat onto his back, and Mercante immediately waved the massacre off, dispensing with the formality of initiating a count.

The ending meant that Ennis still had not been extended beyond the sixth round as a pro, but this relatively swift termination of a bout whose outcome seemed predetermined from the outset was more significant given Lipinets’ reputation as a tough, durable former champ who had never been so outclassed in matchups with other top-shelf performers. If Ennis hadn’t already stamped himself as a force to be reckoned with in the 147-pound weight class, his domination of Lipinets sent that message out loud and clear.

“Another special fighter from Philadelphia. Imagine that,” said Showtime blow-by-blow announcer Mauro Ranallo.

“More Boots Ennis,” studio host Brian Custer said when asked what he wanted next. “This kid is spectacular. Say his name. Jaron `Boots’ Ennis is going to be a problem in the welterweight division.”

What wasn’t there to like? Ennis has a smorgasbord of ring skills that would be difficult for even other elite 147-pounders to solve. He switches from orthodox to southpaw as fluidly and effectively as does arguably the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Terence “Bud” Crawford (37-0, 28 KOs), the WBO welterweight ruler. He occasionally employed the shoulder roll that was a staple of the great Floyd Mayweather Jr., and his penchant for finishing off his man when he has him in trouble pretty much is beyond dispute at this stage of a career whose best days might yet come.

According to CompuBox statistics, Ennis landed a ridiculously high percentage of his power shots (91 of 172, 52.9%), going to the body frequently as part of a well-thought-out strategy crafted by his father-trainer, Derrick “Bozy” Ennis. His next fight may well be against the formidable Yordenis Ugas (26-4, 12 KOs), a Miami-based Cuban, but by now it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to imagine him giving the welterweight division’s crème de la crème, Crawford and WBC/IBF titlist Errol Spence Jr. (27-0, 21 KOs) all they could handle. Perhaps Ennis would benefit from a bit more seasoning against higher-tier opponents, but if his time isn’t exactly right now, that time is fast approaching.

“I was just in there, having fun, doing me,” Ennis said of his unhurried but quite thorough thrashing of Lipinets. “You know, being real relaxed and putting on a show … I just coasted, I took my time and I broke him down.”

Joe Smith Jr. MD12 Maxim Vlasov

The backstory of Joe Smith Jr. – a card-carrying member of Local 66 from Long Island, N.Y., who spends his days pouring concrete, digging trenches, laying sheetrock, power-washing septic tanks and knocking down walls with a sledgehammer, and his nights training as a light heavyweight contender with a dream of making it all the way to a world title – always have been a bit more intriguing than what his limited skill-set has been able to produce inside the ropes.

This 31-year-old Everyman with a most common name is tough, determined and a dangerous puncher, but all that will carry him only so far now that he finally has that bejeweled belt (as winner of the vacant WBO 175-pound championship) he so long has coveted, by virtue of his hardly clear-cut majority decision over the unorthodox Russian Maxim Vlasov. Seemingly behind through 10 rounds, a bloodied and perhaps desperate Smith reached deep inside himself to win the last two rounds, drawing even on my unofficial, watching-at-home scorecard at six rounds apiece. He fared better with the judges in Tulsa, however, with David Sutherland joining me in seeing the fight as a 114-114 standoff, a determination overruled by the cards submitted by Gerald Ritter (115-112) and Pat Russell (115-113).

Presumably next up for Smith is a unification showdown with WBC/IBF ruler Artur Beterbiev (16-0, 16 KOs), the Canada-based Russian who is an even bigger puncher than Smith and is widely regarded as the best light heavyweight on the planet. Such a bout likely would mean a career-high payday for the newly wed Smith, but just as likely the end of his brief reign as an alphabet titlist.

“I want other belts,” Smith, who fought from the first round on with a worrisome cut above his left eye. “I want the big fights out there. I believe I’m going to start unifying belts.”

Finally the favorite – Smith (27-3, 21 KOs) had made his reputation on his inside-the-distance upsets of Andrzej Fonfara and nearly 52-year-old Bernard Hopkins – the easy-to-like Everyman’s coronation proved to be no easy task as Vlasov (45-4, 26 KOs) confused him in the early going with an unorthodox style that had him delivering punches from odd angles.

But Smith is difficult to discourage, and he kept pressing his attack in the hope he could find an opening to deliver the kind of put-away shot that had vanquished Fonfara and B-Hop. He got in some wicked licks, too, several times hurting Vlasov, who bled from the mouth from the seventh round on.

The 11th round was perhaps pivotal, as Vlasov went down, clearly from a punch. But referee Gary Ritter ruled that the delivered blow was an illegal rabbit punch, and he waved off the knockdown and gave Vlasov additional time to recover.

“I believe that round where I hurt him, he stuck his head down (and into the disputed punch),” Smith said. “I should have got the knockdown on that. I think I would have got the stoppage that round, but he pulled it off and made it out on his feet.”

It also could have been that, not getting credit for the knockdown, which conceivably might have opened the door to a knockout or a TKO, made Smith – who originally was to have fought Vlasov on Feb. 13, a date postponed when the Russian tested positive for COVID-19 – fight even harder the rest of the way. CompuBox listed him as landing a career-high 174 power shots, 68 coming in the last two rounds that he so clearly needed.

Whatever viewers might have thought of the decision, Smith-Vlasov was entertaining and competitive.

Efe Ajagba KO3 Brian Howard

Ajagba, a 26-year-old Nigerian, delivered one of the most emphatic one-punch knockouts of the year when he landed a jolting overhand right to the left ear of Howard, who went down in a heap, unconscious, his legs twisted beneath him. Referee Tony Crebs signaled the end of the fight immediately.

It was the second fight for the 6’6” Ajagba, who signed with Top Rank in August 2020, with his new support team of manager James Prince and trainer Kay Koroma. Whether he has bettered his circumstances for those changes (he previously was with Richard Schaefer’s Ringstar Sports, and worked with manager Shelly Finkel and trainer Ronnie Shields) is a matter of conjecture, but the promise – and punching power — he had exhibited beforehand seems to have remained intact.

“It’s my time to shine,” Ajagba said. “I’m coming for the heavyweights to become heavyweight champion of the world.”

He could get his shot, and maybe more quickly now that he is with Top Rank, which promotes the WBC titlist, Tyson Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs), with a full unification matchup with WBA/IBF/WBO champ Anthony Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs) close to being finalized.

Nigeria has a history for producing good fighters, the most renowned being the late former middleweight and light heavyweight champion, Dick Tiger, an enshrinee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The best Nigerian heavyweight likely was Ike Ibeabuchi, who might have been good enough to win a world title had it not been for mental and legal issues that landed him in prison. It remains to be seen if Ajagba can match or surpass Ibeabuchi, but he would appear to have a reasonable chance of doing so in comparison to Samuel Peter, Henry Akinwande, David Izonritei and Duncan Dokiwari.

“Efe Ajagba is one of the most gifted young heavyweights I’ve seen in quite some time,” Arum said when he signed him. “He has immense physical tools and a great work ethic. I have the utmost confidence that we’re looking at a future heavyweight champion.”

The two televised lead-ins to Ennis-Lipinets were IBF junior bantamweight champion Jerwin Ancajas’ unanimous decision over Jonathan Rodriguez and rising welterweight Eimantas Stanionis’ UD12 over former world title challenger Thomas Dulorme.

Jerwin Ancajas UD12 Jonathan Rodriguez

Ancajas (33-1-2, 22 KOs), who years ago drew the attention of fellow Filipino Manny Pacquiao, retained his title for the ninth time against mandatory challenger Rodriguez (22-2, 16 KOs) of Mexico, who was decked for the first time in his pro career in round eight.

Eimantas Stanionis UD 12 Thomas Dulorme

Stanionis (13-0, 9 KOs), from Lithuania, could eventually become a factor in the loaded welterweight division. He certainly didn’t do himself any harm with his win over tough Puerto Rican Dulorme (25-5-1, 16 KOs).

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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The Hauser Report: Notes and Nuggets

Thomas Hauser

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On Saturday, April 10, Ebanie Bridges fought Shannon Courtenay for the vacant WBA world bantamweight championship. The fact that Courtenay-Bridges was a “world championship” fight is an embarrassment.

John Sheppard (who oversees BoxRec.com) reports that one out of every seven women’s fights is for a sanctioning body belt, with “world” championships near the top of the pyramid. Indeed, Sheppard notes that boxing’s world sanctioning bodies have created more women’s “championship” belts than there are active women boxers.

Bridges entered her “world championship” fight with a 5-0 (2 KOs) ring record. But the caliber of her opponents was appalling. Taken in order, they were:

*         Mahiecka Pareno, whose two career wins came against a woman named Jean De Paz (who has never won a fight)

*         Laura Woods, whose only pro fight was against Bridges

*         Kanittha Ninthim, who has lost twelve of thirteen fights

*         Crystol Hoy, who has won one of eleven fights since 2010.

*         Carol Earl, age 45, whose only career victories came against fighters with a composite ring record of 0-16.

So how did Bridges quality for a “world championship” fight? Well, Bridges is – shall we say – voluptuous with long blonde hair and given to wearing bikinis. As Boxing Scene recently reported, “There is more footage and photos found online of Bridges in bikinis than there are of her actual fights.”

One might find further elucidation in statements that Bridges made recently to various outlets:

*         “There’s plenty of girls with more fights than me. The difference? It’s the way I look. Let’s be real. If I wore what everyone else wore, people wouldn’t be interested. You can criticize me as much as you like. But if I looked plain, then you wouldn’t even know this fight was happening. People will tune in to see if this girl wearing lingerie can actually fight or is she just a model? This is an entertainment business. Everyone wears underwear at weigh-ins. Do you want me to wear a paper bag?”

*         “It doesn’t matter what society thinks what you should be doing. If you want to do it, you just f****** do it. I want to stay strong with it. I won’t hide the fact that I’m beautiful. What the f***! I’m going to go over there and going to flex in my lingerie. I’m going to be who I am.”

*         “Hey for people who judge me on first sight, open your mind a little bit and maybe you can see that this girl is pretty f****** real even though she has fake tits.”

Prior to fighting Bridges, Courtenay had compiled a 6-1 (3 KOs) record against mediocre opposition. Shannon isn’t close to being a world-class fighter. But during the pre-fight promotion, she indicated that she took her trade seriously, saying, “I look at people like Katie Taylor that has done everything she could to raise the bar to allow women like me to fight for a living. And I don’t like it being disrespected by not talking about the boxing, talking about what someone’s gonna wear at a weigh-in. People like Katie Taylor didn’t work her backside off to pave the way for women like me and you to be in this position to talk about underwear.”

The fight itself was a pleasant surprise. Bridges was the physically stronger of the two women and the aggressor for most of the bout. Courtenay landed the cleaner punches but didn’t hit hard enough to keep Ebanie off her. A clash of heads in round two bloodied the scalp of each combatant.

Neither woman had a credible defense. A right hand wobbled Bridges in round five and began the process of closing her left eye. By round nine, the skin around it was a bulging purple mess and the eye was completely shut. At that point Ebanie couldn’t see right hands coming, but Shannon lacked the power to put her away. It was a good, honest, low-level club fight.

The judges ruled unanimously for Courtenay by a 98-92, 98-92, 97-94 margin. She deserved the nod but not by that much.

Ebanie Bridges has the right to present herself to the public the way she wants to. But for the WBA to sanction Courtenay-Bridges as a “world championship” fight shows how absurd WBA “world championships” can be and why today’s better women boxers don’t get the respect they deserve.

*     *     *

And now for boxing purists . . .

I correspond regularly by email with a reader named John. Most of our exchanges are about boxing. Some go beyond the sweet science. Among the thoughts he has expressed that are worth sharing are:

*         “No real fighter takes pride in losing with everyone watching. When did that become an act of courage, to make money on losing? That is not a fighter’s mentality. Never has been. That is an entertainer’s mentality, an actor’s job. Sometimes I get so angry to see people who have the chance of a lifetime do just that. If you want to let people use you, go ahead. But then you are no longer a fighter.”

*         “The loss of Hagler so suddenly really has affected people. His reach was deep into the boxing world. He carried himself as a Champion. Many people who are very critical of what boxing has become still look to Hagler as an example of what boxing is. Or should I say was? When did it all become a circus atmosphere in the ring? All this talking that means nothing. All the noise that drowns out the quiet truth of a fighter, men who walk into the ring and do what few men are gifted to do. We had something special. I hope we do not lose sight of that. It takes a lot to get my attention. But the loss of Hagler has stayed with me.”

*         “Things used to start with the idea of building something up in the boxing ring based on certain principles. I give you an honest display of good boxing, and you pull your money out and say you appreciate it.  Now everyone is so wrapped up in getting money. Every step of the way, every person has got to stick their hand in the pocket of the fight fan. It sickens me.”

*         “I do not expect everyone to know from experience what it is like to suffer from hunger. It is not a pleasant thing. Most people think being hungry is having lunch a few hours late. There are people who have grown up and gone to bed hungry many a night. And either you are one of them or you are not.”

Photo credit: Dave Thompson / MATCHROOM

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Staredown: Another Year Inside Boxing – 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.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel

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Featured Articles

Jaron Ennis KOs Sergey Lipinets and Other Results from the Mohegan Sun

David A. Avila

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Jaron-Ennis-KOs-Sergey-Lipinets-and-Other-Results-from-the-Mohegan-Sun

Jaron Ennis KOs Sergey Lipinets and Other Results from the Mohegan Sun

Philly is on the up. Again.

Jaron “Boots” Ennis kicked his stature into another gear with an impressive knockout of former world champion Sergey Lipinets on Saturday.

“It’s on the up now for bigger and better fights,” said Ennis.

Those Philly fighters know how to do it.

Before a small audience Philadelphia’s Ennis (27-0, 25 KOs) showed that he’s ready for the elite level class by dominating the always tough Lipinets (16-2-1, 12 KOs) at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn.

Is there any other American welter looking for action?

Ennis walked into the arena with all of the physical advantages, but experience can be a tricky matter in the fight game. Lipinets was ready to provide the lesson.

For the first two rounds Ennis used his superior reach, height and speed to keep the former super lightweight world titlist from entering his domain. The Philly fighter wacked at the Russian fighter’s body and head while taking minimal return fire.

Lipinets finally found his way inside and both fighters traded big blows. A wicked right uppercut by Ennis connected and Lipinets bounced a right cross on the Philly fighter. Both absorbed the big blows with little effect.

Still, Ennis was winning all of the rounds and Lipinets realized that maintaining the status quo was not doing him any good. He increased his attack and slipped on Ennis foot and went down. It was incorrectly ruled a knockdown by the referee but it was the least of the Russian fighter’s problems.

Both fighters attacked the body but Lipinets shot one far below the belt and the fight was stopped for a moment. Lipinets was warned. Both went into attack inside and it seemed to be Lipinets best round. He seemed to find his way back into a groove.

“I saw he wasn’t as skilled on the inside as I was so that’s when I started getting a little closer,” Ennis said.

Ennis may have realized that Lipinets had a good round and he wasn’t about to allow another. As the two fighters re-engaged in their war inside, Ennis connected with a right hook to the chin and a left uppercut finished the job. Down went Lipinets and referee Arthur Mercante waved off the fight at 2:11 of the sixth round without a count.

“We worked on a lot of power shots and a lot of speed. That’s what we did,” said Ennis. “Everything is all natural.”

The impressive knockout of Lipinets proved that Ennis has more than enough ability to hang with the best welterweights around.

“Maybe one of the guys will want to fight me. Who knows?”, said Ennis.

Other Bouts

IBF super flyweight titlist Jerwin Ancajas (33-1-2, 22 KOs) floored Mexico’s Jonathan Rodriquez (22-2, 16 KOs) and hammered out a win by unanimous decision. But it wasn’t an easy fight. It never is when you put the Philippines versus Mexico.

Ancajas needed the win to keep his name handy for a possible match in the now heated super flyweight division that features Juan Francisco Estrada, Roman Gonzalez, and Carlos Cuadras.

A battle between welterweight contenders saw Eimantis Stanionis (13-0) power his way to a unanimous decision win after 12 rounds versus Thomas Dulorme (25-5-1).

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel

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