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SERGEY KOVALEV Is TSS FIGHTER of the YEAR

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Utter domination, it was, from the singing of the National Anthem onward.

Yep, he “Krushed” it, did 31-year-old Sergey Kovalev, nailing down the win as TSS Fighter of the Year when he overwhelmingly, completely, most thoroughly handled the living legend that is Bernard Hopkins on November 8, 2014 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

It was a bout that saw experts split about 50-50 on who’d have their hand raised in a classic Legend vs. Upstart clash which screened on HBO, and it will be, arguably, the most enduring takeaway from the year in boxing when one is looking back at this 12 month span and assessing the pros, the cons and the accomplishments during that time-span.

Kovalev had a quarter of my vote when he clanged a right hand of the noggin of the man who has forgotten more fistic wizardry than the masses of campaigners today have learned, and sent the no-longer-ageless wonder to the mat. Notice was served then, and then cemented over the remainder of the 12 round light heavyweight consolidation bash that the Russian-born fighter who’d had to cold-call promoters from coast to coast to secure himself a backer who would take a flyer on him, that Sergey Kovalev was king of the division.

The man dislodged from the throne acknowledged as much after he’d had the brutal truth that a younger, stronger pugilist had his number on this late fall evening tattoed into his temple, chin and torso. Hopkins, a bottomless well of pride not prone to conceding any damned thing easily, gave it up for Kovalev, who who branded a brand of pugilist on this night.

TSS reached out to the now California-based boxer, who seeks to continue his momentum surge in his next outing, on March 14, against ex champion Jean Pascal, and informed him he is our 2014 Fighter of the Year. “Thank you for choosing me, and believing in me,” Kovalev said. “Happy New Year and I wish you good reporting in 2015!”

In case you don’t know, the fighter is a good egg; he’s been knee-deep in diaper duty since son Aleksander was born right before the Hopkins changing-of-the-guard effort, and all of us who cover him are genuinely happy for the fighter, whose dimples betray a soft side which is utterly absent when he does his thing in ring. Thus, it makes me, personally, pleased to bestow the fighter with this honor, after consulting with the TSS staff and our publisher. Indeed, when the victor who receives the spoils also happens to be a good soul, there is something that much more right in this world.

Promoter Kathy Duva, of Main Events, who listened when manager Egis Klimas told her he was working with a future champion and could use a hand-up from a promotional entity, was also pumped when told that TSS was tapping Kovalev as FOY.

“Awesome,” enthused the New Jersey based dealmaker. “Of course he deserves it! And I will be happy to tell you why. During 2014 Sergey displayed all of the qualities that should distinguish the Fighter of the Year. First of all, he consistently pursued the best opposition. Think about it. During 2014 Sergey agreed to fight Adonis Stevenson (although Stevenson ultimately pulled out), Bernard Hopkins and now Jean Pascal. After Sergey, they are the three top fighters in the division. Sergey not only defeated all of his opponents, he dominated them, losing a total of one round in three fights. That round was lost when Blake Caparello stepped on his foot to score a cheap knock down. You saw what happened to Blake in the second round! And to cap it off, Sergey outboxed a legendary boxer in Bernard Hopkins. As I have said to everyone who is willing to listen, is not just that Sergey defeated a great world champion who half the media expected to win, winning two more titles in the process, it was the way that Sergey did it–displaying levels to his game that he had not shown us before.”

To be sure, the choice didn’t come without considerable debate and thought. Our man Kelsey McCarson weighs in with some light dissent, and food for thought on others who merited the top slot. “By far the most important award in boxing given every year by those who do such things is Fighter of the Year,” says McCarson, who himself had a helluva year in his realm, as he raised over $10,000 for the medical expenses of a Texas boy battling cancer, little Corbin Glasscock, when he engaged in a sparring match with contender Jermell Charlo last month. “This year’s candidates include light heavyweight Sergey Kovalev, lightweight Terence Crawford, welterweight Manny Pacquiao, middleweight Andy Lee and flyweight Roman Gonzalez. While I can make a pretty decent case for every one of those guys (in fact, I voted for Kovalev in Bleacher Report’s year-end awards because we were asked to do so before all fighters had their 2014 fights in the books), the truth of the matter is that no one really stands out head and shoulders above the rest. The field is a close, competitive bunch of excellent fighters who all had fine years. To that end, Japan’s Naoya Inoue should also be considered for the honor. This Japanese junior flyweight is a monster puncher with superb skills. He’s fast, exciting and perhaps the future of boxing in Japan and maybe even the entire world. Inoue, age 21, won the WBC junior flyweight title against Adrian Hernandez in just his sixth professional fight. He defended it versus Samartlek Kokietgym, then jumped up two weight classes to knock out the best junior bantamweight in the world, Omar Narvaez, for that division’s WBO belt to close out the year, on Tuesday. All three wins for Inoue came by knockout, and he stands above his peers as a young up-and-comer who both says he wants to fight the very best and actually does so. “

Well reasoned, Kelsey, and for that reason, we’re naming Inoue as first runner up in the category of TSS Fighter of the Year.

Kovalev manager Klimas seemed content with our choice of his guy over Inoue as FOY. “I am very glad you are voting for Sergey as a Fighter of the Year and I strongly believe he deserved it, as it was good year for him,” Klimas said. “Especially since he showed on November 8th that he is not just a puncher, but also that he knows how to box, destroying each round the legendary Bernard Hopkins!”

Congrats Sergey, and thank you for your service to your craft, and for providing us with so much entertainment value this boxing season.

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Remembering Leotis Martin who KOed Sonny Liston 50 Years Ago Today

Arne K. Lang

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Remembering-Leotis-Martin-who-KOed-Sonny-Liston-50-Years-Ago-Today

On Dec. 6, 1969, 50 years ago today, former heavyweight champion Sonny Liston fought former sparring partner Leotis Martin on the stage of the showroom of the newly built International Hotel in Las Vegas, a property that subsequently took the name Las Vegas Hilton and is called the Westgate today. The Sunday afternoon fight was televised by ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” with Howard Cosell behind the mic. The match was slated for 12 rounds. The victor would be recognized as the heavyweight champion of the newly formed North American Boxing Federation.

Leotis Martin, who resided in Philadelphia, was a former national Golden Gloves and national AAU middleweight champion. As a pro, he was 30-5 with 18 knockouts. But he was given scant chance of defeating Sonny Liston (49-3, 38 KOs) who had won 14 in a row, 13 inside the distance, since his second defeat to Muhammad Ali. Although Liston had defeated no one of note during this run, he had yet re-established himself in the public mind as one of the hardest hitting punchers ever.

Martin had several other things working against him. He was a small heavyweight. Liston, who came in at 220, would out-weigh him by 21 pounds. And he wasn’t a full-time boxer. In Philadelphia, he was a machinist for the Budd Company, one of America’s leading manufacturers of metal components for automobiles and railroad cars.

Martin had helped Liston train for his matches with Floyd Patterson and Muhammad Ali. When a big name fighter is matched against a former sparring partner, there is always the suspicion that a gentleman’s agreement is in effect.

Liston vs Martin played out somewhat like the recent fight between Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz although it lasted two rounds longer.

After eight frames, Liston was ahead by two points on one of the scorecards and by three points on the others on Nevada’s “five-point-must” system. A flash knockdown of Martin in round four contributed to the imbalance.

Martin could sense that Liston was tiring, but it wasn’t apparent to those in the audience – reportedly 1,800 paid – and that made the drama that was about to unfold all the more dramatic.

In round nine, Leotis landed three unanswered combinations, one right after the other. The third was the classic one-two: left to the body, right to the jaw. Sonny Liston pitched forward, landing face first to the canvas, dead to the world. The ref counted “10” over his prone body. “He could have counted to 300,” said Review-Journal ringside reporter Jimmy Cox.

Nevada’s ringside physician, Dr. Donald Romeo, came equipped with capsules of ammonia. The first one that he broke and waved under Sonny’s nose had no effect. The second capsule brought Liston out of his slumber.

Sonny Liston was reportedly 39 years old, but was widely considered to be somewhat older than his listed age. The brutal manner in which he succumbed to Leotis Martin seemingly indicated that he had reached the end of the line, but he wasn’t done quite yet. Six months later, at the Armory in Jersey City, he butchered Chuck Wepner, the “Bayonne Bleeder,” in a fight stopped by the ring doctor after nine rounds.

That would prove to be his final fight. On Jan. 5, 1971, Sonny’s wife Geraldine returned to their home in Las Vegas from a 12-day holiday trip to St. Louis, her hometown, and found her husband dead in their bedroom. Rigor mortis had already set in.  The coroner’s report said Liston died from congestive heart failure, but that didn’t explain what brought on the coronary and there’s strong circumstantial evidence that he was a victim of foul play.

Leotis Martin’s triumph elevated him to #1 in the heavyweight rankings of the WBA, the sport’s paramount sanctioning body. A fight with fellow Philadelphian Smokin’ Joe Frazier was his likely reward. But it wasn’t to be.

Martin emerged from his fight with Liston with a detached retina. Back in those days, retinal detachment surgery was a hit-and-miss proposition. The most famous boxer to have his retina repaired mid-career was Sugar Ray Leonard, but that didn’t happen until 1982 and it was a far more complicated procedure than what it is nowadays. Three ophthalmic surgeons attended Sugar Ray during his two-hour operation at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Leotis Martin basically had no choice but to retire. His signature win would be the final fight of his career.

Martin returned to Philadelphia and to his job in the foundry and lived out his days quietly in the city’s racially diverse Mount Airy neighborhood. In November of 1995 he passed away after suffering a stroke brought on by diabetes and hypertension. He was 56 years old.

By the way, Tim Dahlberg was one of the ringside reporters. This was his first prizefight. In time he would travel the globe as the National Sports Columnist for the Associated Press and he’s still going strong today.

Reminiscing about his first prizefight with Las Vegas sports columnist Ron Kantowski, Dahlberg recalled that there was a young heavyweight on the Liston-Martin undercard that looked pretty good.

The kid’s name was George Foreman.

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Downtown LA Fight Results From the Exchange

David A. Avila

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Downtown LA Fight Results From the Exchange

LOS ANGELES-Built in 1931 the Exchange was the former home of the stock market exchange for the West Coast. On Thursday night it was the home for professional boxing.

Jessy Martinez led a slew of prospects ready to showcase their fighting skills among the many business types at the Exchange located on the 600 block of Spring Street. He didn’t need more than one round to reveal his talent at the Bash Boxing show.

Martinez (14-0, 9 KOs) used the first minute or so to determine the incoming fire from Mexico’s Carlos Huerta (6-5-2), a fighter of similar height and speed. Once he learned the magnitude and strength of the punches coming his way, Martinez (pictured on the left) unfurled his own combination and saw his right cross visibly do damage.

A slow developing 12-punch combination by Martinez rocked Huerta who tried to evade the blows to no avail. Finally an overhand right dumped a bleeding Huerta into the ropes as referee Wayne Hedgpeth immediately waved the fight over at 2:26 of the first round.

It was a short but destructive win for Martinez who fights out of toney Woodland Hills, California.

“Hard work pays off,” said Martinez.

Another featured fight saw Compton featherweight Adan Ochoa (11-1, 4 KOs) slug it out with Chile’s Juan “La Maquina” Jimenez (8-9) for five destructive rounds. Though Ochoa had the height, speed and skill advantage, the Chilean fighter walked through every exchange and was cut in the first round because of his reckless charges.

But he fought hard.

Ochoa seemed to have Jimenez in trouble early with single power shots, but was unable to put the final touch. In the fifth round a clash of heads resulted in a gash above Jimenez’s forehead and blood came streaming down. The fight was stopped and due to the cut caused by an accidental clash of heads, the fight was stopped and Ochoa was deemed the winner by technical decision 50-45 twice and 49-46.

“He’s an Hispanic fighter and all Hispanic fighters are tough,” said Ochoa.

A welterweight fight saw Vlad Panin (7-0) use his physical superiority to defeat Mexico’s Daniel Perales (11-19-2) in a four round contest. Panin is a fighter of Belarus lineage and had solid support from his fans who saw him handily defeat Perales by unanimous decision.

Other Bouts

Five of the bouts featured four-round fights and the best of them all saw Orange County-based Victor Rodriguez make his pro debut. He looked very sharp for someone getting his baptism under fire.

Rodriguez (1-0) trains at Grampa’s Gym in Westminster and showed off a very sharp left jab that kept Osman Rivera (2-12-1) from penetrating into the fire zone. Both boxers had large followings and the crowds exchanged competitive cheers for their fighters throughout the four round match. Rodriguez was just a little too sharp for Rivera who was slightly frustrated. All three judges scored the fight 40-36 for Rodriguez.

Other results: Keehwan Kim (4-1) defeat Percy Peterson (3-16-3) by majority decision in a super featherweight contest that opened the show.

Isaac Lucero (1-0) won his debut by knockout in the first round over Anthony Zender (1-6) in a welterweight clash. Lucero floored Zender twice before the fight was stopped at 1:29 of the first round.

Austin Gudino (5-0) remained undefeated by decision after four rounds versus Nobelin Hernandez (0-4) in a super lightweight fight.

Moises Fuentes (4-1) slugged out a win over Sacramento’s tough Moris Rodriguez (8-16-1) after six rounds in a welterweight clash. Each round was hotly contested. The scores were 60-54 twice and 58-56.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Thomas Hauser Enters the Boxing Hall of Fame

Arne K. Lang

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There were 25 names on the Observer Category ballot sent out to those casting votes for the next round of inductions into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Voters could choose as many as five. The top two vote-getters would get in.

A range of disciplines are included in the Observer category: journalists and photo-journalists, TV executives, broadcasters, record-keepers, statisticians, cartoonists. Some of the 25 potential inductees are long dead such as Percy Dana the great photographer who was omnipresent back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the San Francisco Bay area was swarming with big fights. The majority of those on the ballot, however, are still active. They are contemporaries of the electors.

This reporter had a strong feeling that longtime boxing writer and current TSS mainstay Bernard Fernandez would make the cut. Induction into the IBHOF is by nature a lifetime achievement award and Fernandez certainly qualified on that count. Among those stumping for him was ESPN’s Dan Rafael who shares his picks with his readers. Rafael’s opinions circulate widely among his peers.

We guessed right with Fernandez and then had more reason to strut when the other top vote-getter turned out to be frequent TSS contributor Thomas Hauser.

We didn’t see that coming. Yes, we thought that Hauser was more than qualified. Considering some of the “Observers” that were ushered into the Hall before him, his induction was long overdue. But much of Hauser’s work falls under the heading of investigative reporting and he has never been shy about airing his political views so we figured that he had alienated just enough voters to ensure that he would be kept waiting indefinitely.

We miscalculated.

Thomas Hauser

Thomas Hauser was born in New York City and grew up in Larchmont, an upper-middle-class village roughly 25 miles north of the city in Westchester County. His father was an attorney with a small general practice in the city and Hauser followed him into the practice of law, clerking for a federal judge and then working as a litigator for a Wall Street law firm after graduating from Columbia Law School.

When Hauser got bored with the life of a Wall Street lawyer, he thought he would give writing a try and then hit the jackpot with his very first book. “The Execution of Charles Horman” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Bancroft Prize, and the National Book Award.

Horman was a left-leaning journalist who was murdered while investigating the possible American masterminding of a military coup in Chile. The book spawned the movie “Missing” which earned Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Jack Lemmon), Best Actress (Sissy Spacek) and an Adapted Screenplay Oscar for director Costa-Gavras.

The movie put a brighter spotlight on Hauser’s book which was re-titled “Missing” and sent him off on the lecture circuit. Here’s Hauser in 1982 as depicted in a Los Angeles Times story following his talk at UC Irvine.

hauser wong

Hauser went on to write so many books that the exact number is uncertain (but somewhere north of 50). That includes works of fiction, works of general non-fiction and, of course, non-fiction books about boxing of which, at last count, there are eighteen. The opus is “Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times.” Harking in its design to the works of the great Chicago oral historian Studs Terkel, the book, released in 1991, won the William Hill Award for best sports book, a prestigious award in Great Britain.

Completing the book was an arduous task. Hauser interviewed approximately 200 people. He and Ali spent countless days at their respective homes and after the book was published the two went off on a book signing tour that spanned several continents.

Ali TH w book

Hauser had interviewed Ali long before they collaborated on the biography. It came when he was a 19-year-old undergraduate at Columbia hosting a weekly sports talk radio show on the student-run radio station. Ali was in town to fight Zora Folley at the old Madison Square Garden – Ali’s final fight before his exile – and Hauser wangled his way into Ali’s dressing room after Ali completed a public workout and taped an interview. It wouldn’t be the last time that he wangled his way into a fighter’s dressing room.

Four years later Hauser was at the newly reconstituted Madison Square Garden for the Fight of the Century, the first meeting between Ali and Joe Frazier. It was an epic confrontation, an event that Pete Hamill, writing for Harper’s Bazaar, called the most spectacular event in sports history. Hauser’s ticket bought him a seat in the last row of the mezzanine, as far away from the ring as one could be.

“Muhammad Ali” was actually Hauser’s second boxing book. “The Black Lights: Inside the World of Professional Boxing,” published in 1986, looks at all the machinations that led up to the Nov. 3, 1984 match between 140-pound title-holder Billy Costello and Saoul Mamby. Hauser’s portrait of Don King jumps off the page.

Hauser’s 2001 book, “A Beautiful Sickness: Reflections on the Sweet Science” is noteworthy because it was published by the University of Arkansas Press which has been publishing a Hauser anthology every year since. The books are compilations of Hauser’s favorite columns from the previous year.

The books invariably include at least one dressing room story as Hauser takes the reader into the dressing room of a fighter before a fight, giving us a peek at what happens during those pregnant moments before a fighter is summoned to the ring. In the fraternity of boxing journalists, Hauser is the consummate fly-on-the-wall.

Another hat he wears is that of a reformer. Boxing has become a niche sport, he laments, and it brought it upon itself, alienating the fans with too many champions and too many mismatches rather than the best fighting the best. “Having three heavyweight champions,” he says, “is like having three Kings of England.”

One of Hauser’s most admired people in boxing is Dr. Margaret Goodman, the Las Vegas neurologist who is the co-founder and the face of VADA, the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency. “The most pressing issue facing boxing today,” says Hauser, “is the rampant use of performance enhancing drugs.” Hitting a baseball harder and further is one thing. Hitting a man in the head harder warrants greater reproach.

The new inductees will be formally enshrined in the Hall on Sunday, June 14, the climax of Hall of Fame weekend, a four-day event.

From our perspective here at The Sweet Science, it will be cool to see Thomas Hauser and Bernard Fernandez on the dais together in Canastota. I wonder if we could induce them to wear a “The Sweet Science.com” tee shirt?

Probably not.

Photo (c): Wojtek Urbanek

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