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Hopkins Hoping To Avoid Bittersweet Taste of Stale Sugar

Bernard Fernandez

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Boxing writers are only human, so members of our curious fraternity perhaps can be excused for repeating certain mistakes, if for no other reason than force of habit. A lot of us appear ready to trudge down that potentially crooked path again as Saturday night’s HBO-televised light heavyweight unification bout between IBF/WBA champion Bernard “The Alien” Hopkins (55-6-2, 32 KOs) and WBO titlist Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (25-0-1, 23 KOs) in Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall nears.

Consider the poll of fight scribes taken by our veteran colleague, Jack Obermayer. Of 23 media types asked to predict the outcome of Hopkins-Kovalev, a slight majority, 12, went with ageless wonder Hopkins, who turns 50 on Jan. 15, to 11 votes for the much-younger (31), much harder-hitting Russian.

Among those who grappled with the improbable notion that B-Hop might again bridge the Grand Canyonesque age gap was yours truly. This is how I called it for KOJO: “Can’t believe I’m going to the well again. Hopkins has a history of success against big punchers who come forward and try to take his head off. Will Kovalev be the guy who finally hands it to him? No. Hopkins by decision.”

Hopkins has made me appear smart more often than not. Oh, sure, I whiffed badly in going with Kelly Pavlik in 2008, but I was spot-on (and definitely in the minority) when I picked Hopkins to not only defeat, but to stop Felix Trinidad in 2001. I also correctly predicted B-Hop victories against Joe Lipsey, Oscar De La Hoya, Winky Wright, Jean Pascal, Karo Murat and Beibut Shumenov. But, in addition to the miscall on his scrap with Pavlik, I stubbed my toe in going against Hopkins in his matchups with Chad Dawson, Antonio Tarver and Joe Calzaghe. Still, I figure my perhaps excessive confidence in the Philadelphia boxing master has me mostly on the plus side of the ledger.

Face it: Boxing writers, and quite a few fight fans, are enthralled by anyone who wears a robe of greatness, even when that robe begins to get a bit threadbare. There is a hesitancy to let go of the idea that a surefire Hall of Famer has regressed to the point where he no longer can routinely dial up past glories as if he were ordering takeout pizza. But that most relentless of opponents, Father Time, doesn’t always rush onto the scene while blaring a trumpet. He frequently sneaks up on even the best of the best on little cat’s paws, stealing bits and pieces of reflexes, mobility and punching power until even the most celebrated of fighters reveals that he is, finally, past the point of no return.

Not that it’s certain, or even likely, that a still-very-capable Hopkins will suddenly fall into that familiar trap, but it has begun to occur to me that Hopkins-Kovalev could turn out to be a repeat of the Feb. 9, 1991, pairing in Madison Square Garden of 23-year-old WBC super welterweight champion Terry Norris and the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard. The Sugar man was three months shy of his 35th birthday and hadn’t fought since scoring a unanimous decision over the even older Roberto Duran in their rubber match on Dec. 7, 1989.

The public, and the press, had grown accustomed to seeing Leonard – who had already retired and unretired three times – pick right back where he had left off, the most stirring example being his shocking split-decision nod over the heavily favored Marvelous Marvin Hagler on April 6, 1987. Few people expected Leonard to fare so well; he had not fought in three years and had answered an opening bell only twice in the preceding five years. Still, that Leonard was only 30, and a comparatively low-mileage 30, in terms of professional wear and tear.

An ascending Norris figured to be a different and maybe even tougher test at that stage of Leonard’s career, but, hey, there was a widespread school of thought that this was still Sugar Ray Leonard. And so those inclined to bet with their hearts instead of their heads sent the five-time former world champion off as a 12-5 favorite. I sort of rolled with the prevailing tide, predicting a Leonard victory via ninth-round technical knockout.

I wasn’t the only one to figure Leonard’s glorious past again would serve as prologue to future triumphs. Before the fight, Thomas Hearns said, “Ray wouldn’t have picked anyone he wasn’t certain he could beat. This kid Norris has no chance.”

Norris, for his part, felt he had a very good chance. In fact, he was absolutely convinced that the ghost of the Sugar Ray that had been wouldn’t be glimpsed that evening.

“Ray is a great fighter, or at least he was a great fighter,” Norris judged. “I know he has a big edge in experience in big fights, but you know what they say about youth being served.

“No matter what he does, no matter what he says, he can’t do anything about the difference in our ages. I’ve seen the tapes of Ray when he was at his best, and I’ve seen tapes of his last few fights. It should be obvious to anyone that the Ray Leonard of today is not the same fighter as the Ray Leonard of five, six years ago. I’m stronger than him. I’m faster. My endurance is greater. I can outbox him and I can outpunch him. Really, I don’t see any way how he can beat me.”

The bout, as it turned out, went exactly as Norris had imagined. He floored Leonard in the second and seventh rounds en route to a rout on the official scorecards, which read 120-104, 119-103 and 116-110.

At the postfight press conference, Norris was almost apologetic at having won so emphatically. “It’s a sad victory because of the way the fight ended,” he said. “Ray took a pretty bad beating, and that was sad for me. Ray was my idol … still is my idol. That’ll never change.”

During his turn at the podium, Leonard announced his fourth retirement from the ring. But it would not be the one that stuck.

“I don’t listen to anyone but myself, so I had to find out for myself,” he said of his decision to test himself against the hot young kid whose attributes closely mirrored that his decade-younger self. “I’ve always been a risk-taker, and tonight I took a risk that didn’t pan out for me. This fight showed me it’s time to move on.”

Sugar Ray moved on from boxing all right, but the incessant itch to test himself required another scratch on March 1, 1997. After a ring absence of six years, Leonard, 40, came back against 34-year-old Hector “Macho” Camacho in Boardwalk Hall. As had been the case when he took on Norris, Leonard was viewed as somehow being immune to the natural laws of diminishing returns, or maybe his legion of admirers were still hesitant to let go of their fondest memories.

“Ray is an athlete,” said Leonard’s former trainer, Angelo Dundee. “Ray’s always doing something. Basketball, tennis. I understand he’s into golf now. I haven’t seen him play, but I bet he’s shooting pretty good scores. Any kind of sport, Ray picks up right away, like he’s been doing it his whole life.

“I think Ray will beat Camacho. I strongly believe that. I know what Ray can do. Macho’s thing was his speed, his quickness. Grabbing on to you. He won’t be able to do that with Ray.”

As might be expected, Leonard – who by then had become a grandfather – retained traces of a confidence that verged on arrogance. Asked if he still considered himself one of the top 10 middleweights in the world, despite his age and inactivity, he said, “Hell, yes.”

Top five?

“Yeah.”

Leonard said he was coming back, again, because “I need the attention that boxing brings. My ego is what made me who I am.” It was that ego that prompted Leonard to say that he could beat Camacho even if he was just 50 percent of his prime self, and that he would win “comfortably” at 75 percent of peak efficiency.

And if he somehow was able to reach back in time and make it to 100 percent?

“Annihilation,” he proclaimed.

His many acolytes bought into Leonard’s sales pitch, big time. Although Camacho opened as a 2-1 favorite, by fight night the line had moved so much that Leonard went off as a 7-5 favorite. He was, as always, the people’s choice.

But what happened that night was as jarring to the public’s sensibilities as had been the one-sided loss to Norris. Camacho, never noted for his punching power, had proclaimed “I ain’t running from no 40-year-old man,” and he didn’t, standing and trading in the center of the ring with no apparent fear of retaliation. And when referee Joe Cortez stepped in to stop the bout 68 seconds into the fifth round, after Leonard had been wobbled and then knocked down by two left uppercuts, it was time to bring down the curtain on a career that ranks among the grandest the fight game has ever seen. The fifth retirement announcement by Sugar Ray Leonard, the first man ever to have earned $100 million in purses, would be the one that was carved in granite, not written in wet sand.

“When I was knocked back and staggered, Joe Cortez said, `Ray, are you OK?’ And I was OK,’” Leonard said at the postfight media gathering. “Then when I went down, he asked, `Are you OK?’ I said yes again. But you know what? There was no sense pushing it. I was in trouble.”

Still reluctant to admit that his skills had faded, Leonard cited undisclosed injuries and other factors – to his right calf vs. Camacho, to his rib cage and the emotional turmoil of his divorce from his first wife, Juanita, vs. Norris – for those unsugary performances. But who could blame him for raging, raging against the dying of his once-luminescent light as a fighter?

“You always think of yourself as the best you ever were. That’s human nature,” Leonard, now 58, told me in March 2013 for a story I did for THE RING about fighters who keep saying goodbye, then hello again. “And that’s not just how highly successful people think. Everyone thinks that way.

“Most guys come back for money. They need another payday, and there are people around them feeding their egos, telling them how good they still are, because they want a piece of the action. Maybe they come back because they really don’t know anything but boxing, and they’re apprehensive about entering the next phase of their lives that doesn’t include it.

“But even if money is not an issue, and you have other options, you never lose that belief in yourself as a fighter, particularly if you’ve been to the very top of the mountain. (Being retired) eats at you. It’s hard to find anything else that can give you that high. Once you accomplish what I did against Marvin, you tell yourself, `I did it before, I can do it again.’ I felt that way about Muhammad Ali when he fought Larry Holmes. I had so much belief in Ali because of all the miraculous things he’d done, like going to Africa and beating George Foreman. But that Ali didn’t exist anymore by the time he fought Holmes.

“The reason I came back those last couple of times was because I was not happy. I was dying inside. The only place I felt truly comfortable and relaxed was in the ring. I needed that safety net. But at some point you have to face up to whatever problems you might have and deal with them. Nine times out of 10, it’s disastrous if you continue to push the envelope.”

One of these nights, if Hopkins continues to thumb his nose at Father Time while simultaneously offering it as a target for the fists of a lights-out puncher like Kovalev, he might know what it feels like to be have been Sugar Ray Leonard against Terry Norris or Hector Camacho. Will that night be this Saturday? I don’t think so, but then maybe that’s just the sentimentalist in me refusing to let go of the comfort zone B-Hop has made for me and so many others who are unwilling to turn away from yesterday in order to face tomorrow.

Photo Credit : Tom Hogan – Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions

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Season 2 of the World Boxing Super Series Concludes on Saturday in Munich

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PRESS RELEASE: The hotly-anticipated World Boxing Super Series Season II Cruiserweight Final between Mairis Briedis and Yuniel Dorticos takes place behind-closed-doors in a film studio at Plazamedia Broadcasting Center in Munich, Germany on Saturday, 26 September. On the line: The Muhammad Ali Trophy, IBF World Title, and vacant Ring Magazine 200 lbs belt.

The final will be shown live on DAZN in the US and Sky Sports in the UK.

“A final for the Muhammad Ali Trophy has proved to be something extraordinary. We have seen that it brings out the best in boxers which reflects the DNA of our tournament as to deliver and continue to deliver boxing at its very best to fans of the sport,” said Andreas Benz, CEO of Comosa, the event organizer.

“Plazamedia is a phenomenal solution, the studios are providing a controlled environment which is of huge benefit to us and the production team to keep everyone safe while also putting on a great show.

“At the same time, we have done everything to secure fair conditions for both teams, and to ensure they remain healthy and isolated until the action starts.”

Mairis Briedis, tournament No. 1 seed, qualified for the final through wins over Noel Mikaelian (UD) and Krzysztof Glowacki (TKO3), while Dorticos, No. 2 seed conquered Mateusz Masternak (UD) and Andrew Tabiti (KO10) to enter the 200 lbs decider.

“We are very happy about the announcement of the final,” said Latvia’s Mairis Briedis. “I love the fact that it will be in Munich as it reminds me of every time I went to train with the Klitschko brothers in Germany and the flights were always via Munich. Those are some great memories of the time spent with them there.”

Said Miami-based Cuban, Yuniel ‘The KO Doctor’ Dorticos, IBF World Cruiserweight Champion: “To all my fans worldwide, In Europe and especially in Munich, Germany: I am super happy the World Boxing Super Series final will take place in Munich, Germany, and I will see you all on Saturday, September 26th. The KO Doctor is back and ready to prescribe another dose of pain and take the Muhammad Ali Trophy back to Miami.”

Kalle Sauerland, Chief Boxing Officer of the WBSS, said: “On 26 September we will not only crown the best cruiserweight on the planet but also send a sign to the world that boxing is back with the first major transatlantic championship bout between the undisputed number one and two in their division.

The final is not only about honour and glory, but cementing a legacy. The winner will become a member of an exclusive ‘Ali Trophy Winner Club’ that includes Oleksandr Usyk, Callum Smith, Naoya Inoue and Josh Taylor. It doesn’t get much bigger in boxing, and we expect Briedis and Dorticos to have an absolute barnstormer!”

The Muhammad Ali Trophy was created by the late world-renowned artist Silvio Gazzaniga who also designed the iconic FIFA World Cup Trophy.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 106: Return of LA Boxing, Josh Taylor, Charlos and More

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 106: Return of LA Boxing, Josh Taylor, Charlos and More

Let’s call this week the Big Build Up.

Back in the 1920s to the 1950s the City of Angels was known as the place where Humphrey Bogart lived and played characters out of Raymond Chandler’s novels. Books like the “Big Sleep” and “Lady in a Lake” were made into movies based in Los Angeles.

Well, here we are back where boxing thrives, people or not.

Los Angeles kicks off the big boxing week starting with a televised fight card that features home grown featherweight Vic Pasillas at the Microsoft Theater in the downtown area. Fox Sports 1 will televise the Premier Boxing Championship card on Wednesday, Sept. 23.

Pasillas (15-0,8 KOs) faces Dominican fighter Ranfis Encarnacion (17-0, 13 KOs) in the co-main event at a fan-less event that begins a crowded week of boxing as we near the end of 2020.

“Coming out on top against Encarnación is going to catapult me into some big fights at featherweight. The division is wide open and I know with hard work I can take it over,” said Pasillas who is originally from Los Angeles. “This is by far the most important fight of my career. I’m coming with everything I got, because I know this is the turning point that will lead to bigger and better fights. I am ready to bring an exciting fight to the fans and get my hand raised in victory.”

Both Pasillas and Encarnacion are undefeated and unknown to most of the boxing world. A win changes everything especially when it’s difficult to even stage a boxing card.

Promoters are anxious to get their fighters in the ring by any means necessary.

On Thursday in Biloxi, Mississippi, super lightweight Michael Williams Jr. meets Thomas Miller in the headline attraction of a boxing card that will be streamed by UFC Fight Pass.

On Friday in southern Mexico, Serhii Bohachuk (17-0, 17 KOs) meets Alejandro Davila (21-1-2, 8 KOs) in Merida, Yucatan. No word if it will be streamed. The super welterweight from Ukraine has a 17-fight knockout streak and has become a main attraction in Hollywood, California for 360 Promotions.

“Serhii has become one of the most talked about rising stars in boxing,” said Tom Loeffler, promoter of 360 Promotions. “Boxing fans are excited to see if he can continue his knockout streak against Alejandro Davila, the toughest opponent he’s faced. He’s been training very hard with Manny Robles for this fight and if victorious, we’re certain there will be bigger opportunities for him in the near future.”

These are all tasty appetizers for the big buffet coming on Saturday.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Saturday morning, especially if you live in the California area, ESPN+ will showcase the IBF, WBA super lightweight world title fight between champion Josh Taylor (16-0, 12 KOs) and Apinun Khongsong (16-0, 13 KOs) in London. It will be streamed live on Sept. 26, Saturday morning, starting at 11 a.m PST.

This is an important match for Taylor (pictured on the left) who needs a win to nail down a unification clash with Jose Carlos Ramirez the WBC and WBO titlist. If Scotland’s Taylor emerges victorious the super lightweight clash will be one of the top fights of the year.

And if that fight happens to take place, then that winner more than likely meets WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford.

But first things first. Taylor needs to defeat Thailand’s Khongsong on Saturday.

“I didn’t want a warm-up fight, so getting straight back in there against my mandatory challenger is great, as it’s kept me fully focused. I want big fights in my career, so this is an important fight with my belts on the line,” said Taylor.

Charlos Pay-per-view

The Charlos brothers asked for it and they got it.

Long have the brothers from Houston, Texas asked for a pay-per-view fight card and it never seemed possible until now. The Charlos will headline a pay-per-view double-header on Saturday via Showtime.

Beginning at 4 p.m PT/ 7 p.m. ET the Showtime pay-per-view card begins with three top notch bouts:

WBO bantamweight titlist John Riel Casimero (29-4) vs Ghana’s Duke Micah (24-0, 19 KOs).

WBA super bantamweight titlist Brandon Figueroa (20-0-1, 15 KOs) vs Damien Vazquez (15-1-1, 8 KOs).

WBC middleweight titlist Jermall Charlo (30-0, 22 KOs) v Sergiy Derevyanchenko (13-2, 10 KOs).

Charlo was not impressed with Derevyanchenko’s performances against Daniel Jacobs and Gennady Golovkin because both were losses. He expects to dominate.

Derevyanchenko says he’s ready for Charlo.

“Golovkin is a very different fighter than Charlo, but Jacobs is similar stylistically, so that’s something I’ll be used to,” said Derevyanchenko. “This training camp has been very similar to camps for my previous fights though. We just brought in different sparring partners for this one. We’re using fighters who can show us what Charlo will bring to the ring.”

After a 30-minute intermission the second half of the boxing card begins.

Former bantamweight world champion Luis Nery (30-0, 24 KOs) moves up in weight to face Aaron Alameda (25-0, 13 KOs) for the vacant WBC super bantamweight world title. Both fighters are from Mexico.

Former super bantamweight titlists Danny Roman (27-3-1) and Juan Carlos Payano (21-3) meet in a 12-round bout.

In the grand finale WBC super welterweight titlist Jermell Charlo (33-1, 17 KOs) challenges IBF and WBA super welterweight titlist Jeison Rosario (20-1-1, 14 KOs) in a fight for all three belts.

“We lions,” said Charlo.

It’s a very big week for boxing that begins on Wednesday and ends Saturday.

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The Return of Wednesday Boxing Evokes Memories of a Golden Era

Arne K. Lang

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There’s a Wednesday card on the boxing docket this week. The card, which features several undefeated up-and-comers of the sort usually found on Showtime’s developmental series, “ShoBox: The New Generation,” will play out at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles and air on Fox Sports 1.

Not to be out-done, “ShoBox” is returning. The long-running series, which suspended operations in March in obeisance to COVID-19 restrictions, returns on Oct. 7 with a show emanating from Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Casino. The contestants in the main go of the four-fight card, Charles Conwell and Wendy Toussaint, have identical 12-0 records.

It just so happens that Oct. 7 is also a Wednesday. And these upcoming Wednesday shows transported this reporter back to his boyhood when boxing was a fixture on radio and television on Wednesday nights. The Wednesday series sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon beer ran from 1950 to 1960, airing the first five years on CBS and then on ABC.

Fights were all over the TV dial during the 1950s, not that there was much competition. The Big Three — NBC, CBS, and ABC — ruled the airwaves with DuMont a very distant fourth and cable television well off into the future. (For a time, the short-lived DuMont network aired boxing shows on Mondays.)

When televisions first came out, they were a big-ticket item. In 1948, RCA’s cheapest model sold for $395. That’s the equivalent of $10,400 today. By 1954, the cost of the least expensive model had declined to $189 and it came in a bigger box, with a 17-inch screen compared with the 13-inch screen that was standard six years earlier.

With the cost of the coveted contraption beyond the means of many wage earners, saloonkeepers cashed in. Boxing fans flocked to the neighborhood tavern to get their boxing fix. The saloonkeeper could write off his television sets on his taxes as a business expense.

Those were the days, and I date myself, when every town had a TV repair shop and the repairman, like the family doctor, made house calls.

The Wednesday Night Fights were a spin-off of the Friday Night Fights on NBC. The matchmaker for both series (through 1958) was the International Boxing Club which was headquartered at Madison Square Garden. The president of the IBC was James D. Norris (who would come to be seen as a puppet for mobster Frankie Carbo, but that’s a story for another day).

James D. Norris inherited a vast fortune from his father, Canadian businessman James E. Norris. The elder Norris was a big wheel in the sport of hockey and had a financial interest in the arenas that housed NHL teams in Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis. He made these arenas available to his son and the Wednesday fight cards moved around, unlike the Friday fights which were pinned to Madison Square Garden.

Both series would eventually venture out at times into virgin territory, but the Wednesday series was the trailblazer. The first nationally televised boxing show from the West Coast was a Wednesday affair. Jimmy Carter defended his world lightweight title against LA fan favorite Art Aragon, the original Golden Boy, at the Olympic Auditorium on Nov. 14, 1951. Aragon had upset Carter in a non-title fight 11 weeks earlier, but Carter took him to school in the rematch, winning a lopsided decision.

The Friday boxing series, which took the name “Gillette Cavalcade of Sports,” would come to be more fondly remembered, but once the TV became a living room staple, which happened fast, the Wednesday series drew higher ratings. This was predictable as more folks stayed home on Wednesday nights than on Friday nights. And although the Friday series had a larger budget, some of the most important fights of the era were staged on Wednesdays.

One of the highlights of the 1951 season was Ezzard Charles’ world heavyweight title defense against Jersey Joe Walcott at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. It was Walcott’s fifth crack at the title and he was considered ancient at age 37, but he avenged his two previous losses to Charles with a thunderous one-punch knockout.

Carmen Basilio appeared in The Ring magazine Fight of the Year in five consecutive years (1955-1959). The first two — his second meeting with Tony DeMarco and his second meeting with Johnny Saxton – were televised on a Wednesday.

Although he would be quickly forgotten, the Wednesday series brought Bob Satterfield a cult following because of his unpredictability. He certainly left an impression on octogenarian boxing writer Ted Sares who recently named Satterfield his all-time favorite fighter.

To conjure up a portrait of Satterfield, think Deontay Wilder and then fix Wilder with a glass jaw. Satterfield, whose best weight was about 182 pounds, was a murderous puncher, but during his career he was stopped 13 times.

LA’s Clarence Henry and Pittsburgh’s Bob Baker were ranked #3 in the heavyweight division when they ventured to Chicago to tangle with Satterfield, Henry in 1952 and Baker the following year. Henry knocked out Satterfield in the opening round. Satterfield hit the canvas so hard, said a ringside reporter, the resin dust flew up.

The Satterfield-Baker fight would also end in the opening round. Baker out-weighed Satterfield by 34 pounds, but Satterfield flattened him. Later on, in a non-Wednesday fight, Satterfield knocked out Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams in the third round. Williams, 33-1 heading in, was the larger man by 25 pounds.

One bet on or against Bob Satterfield at one’s own peril.

The Wednesday Night Fights had a nice run before the series was cancelled and supplanted in its time slot by “The Naked City,” a critically acclaimed police drama series. Perhaps the return of boxing on Wednesdays augurs well for another mid-week boxing series, but we won’t hold our breath.

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