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THE HAUSER REPORT: Roc Nation Notes

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On Friday night, January 9, Roc Nation Sports made its long-awaited boxing debut in The Theater at Madison Square Garden.

The driving force behing Roc Nation is rap impressario Shawn Carter a/k/a Jay Z.

Jay Z’s entry into the world of boxing began inauspiciously last year when Roc Nation won the purse bid for Peter Quillin’s mandatory WBO title defense against Matt Korobov with a bid of $1,904,840 (more than twice market value). Roc Nation then advised the boxing community that the bout would be contested at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on November 1.

There were two problems with that. First, soon after the bid, New York State Athletic Commission executive director David Berlin advised Roc Nation COO for boxing Dave Itskowitch that the NYSAC would not license Korobov because of a congenital brain condition. Then, while alternative sites were being explored, Quillin gave up the title at the direction of his manager (the ubiquitous Al Haymon), rather than take the fight.

More recently, Roc Nation acquired of Gary Shaw Productions in the hope of benefitting from Shaw’s expertise and also his longtime relationship with HBO Sports president Ken Hershman. On fight day, it announced the signing of Andre Ward to a longterm promotional agreement. But Roc Nation’s fighter roster is pretty thin. And its other flagship fighter, Bryant Jennings, is expected to be eradicated by Wladimir Klitschko on April 25.

The thoughts of rap artist and vitamin-water mogul Curtis Jackson a/k/a 50 Cent are instructive. Last month, Fiddy observed, “When you come into the sport of boxing and have money, you’re steak. To a lot of people, you look like dinner.”

There’s only one chance to make a first impression, so January 9 was important to Roc Nation.

Two days before the event, Itskowitch told writer Tom Gerbasi, “We want to make the in-arena experience more appealing to fans. We want to really amp up the fan experience. I know the fights should do the talking. But there will be other bells and whistles that are going to make things even more enjoyable for fans and keep the fans engaged.”

When fight night arrived, radio personality Angie Martinez was the in-ring hostess. There were a lot of celebrities in attendance. Jay Z, Rihanna, Jake Gyllenhall, C.C. Sabathia, Victor Cruz, DJ Mustard, and Carmelo Anthony were there. Rap artist Fabulos performed for ten minutes before the main event.

The attendance was announced as 4,235, but the house was papered. And rather than give those freebies away as comps, Roc Nation took the unusual step of purchasing them before giving them away. That meant it had to pay an MSG facility fee as well as state and city taxes on each one.

As for the fights; they were essentially club fights.

The six undercard bouts were a mix of bad mismatches and competitive but boring contests. The most notable undercard moment came when light-heavyweight prospect Jerry Odom whacked Andrew Hernandez with two crushing blows. Unfortunately, those blows landed while Hernandez was on the canvas, having taken a knee to recover from a body shot. Odom was appropriately disqualified.

The co-featured fight of the evening pitted sloppy aggression (Tureano Johnson) against all-out retreat (Alex Theran). Sloppy aggression won when the ring doctor stopped the bout after the fifth round.

The main event pitted Arthur “Dusty” Hernandez-Harrison against Tommy Rainone. Harrison, a 20-year-old from Washington DC, is being groomed and protected. Rainone lacks power and came into the bout with 4 knockouts in 28 fights. Four months ago, Tommy fought to a draw against a boxer with a 1-and-2 record. His most recent loss was to an opponent whose record was 2-and-6. Harrison prevailed on the judges’ scorecards by a 100-90, 99-91, 99-91 margin.

Roc Nation lost a lot of money on the show. It costs six figures to open The Theater. Fighters have to be paid, and there were other heavy promotional expenses. Was it an effective loss leader?

The marriage of music and boxing hasn’t been successful in the past. Think HBO’s ill-fated KO Nation and promoter Cedric Kushner’s money-hemorrhaging Thunderbox. It’s not enough to have a ten-minute performance by a popular rap artist before the main event. The fights have to be entertaining too.

*     *     *

As is often the case on fight night, some of the most interesting happenings were outside the ring.

Freddie Roach worked Chris Van Heerden’s corner during a ten-round, split-decision triumph over Cecil McCalla. Later, Roach had kind things to say about Gennady Golovkin.

“I’ve watched his ring generalship,” Roach told me. “It’s f—–g great. Ring generalship is a lost art, but Golovkin has it. Ninety-five percent of the time, he’s in the right position. If you do that, you win fights. He’s heavy-handed. He’s a nice kid. I’m a big fan.”

Golovkin is the current WBA middleweight champion. Miguel Cotto (who Roach trains) has the WBC belt.

“Golovkin’s people want him to fight Cotto,” Roach noted. “But we want Canelo first.”

How realistic is the possibility that Cotto will fight Golovkin down the road?

“Well,” Roach said, taking a deep breath. “I like fighting fights that people want to see. It would be a huge challenge.”

A challenge that Cotto is unlikely to accept.

*     *     *

Andre Ward was also at ringside and spoke with reporters.

Ward characterized his contract with Roc Nation as “a blockbuster deal” for a lot of money. An educated guess is that it calls for two fights a year over a five-year period. Unless a television network like HBO bails Roc Nation out, the promoter could lose a lot of money on Andre.

Ward spoke eloquently in favor of elite fighters fighting in big fights and declared, “We can’t say ‘we’ll give the fans what they want,’ and then not compete against each other.”

Then, in the next sentence, Ward said that he’d like to have one or two tune-up fights before going in tough.

*     *     *

Steve Weisfeld was on hand for the festivities as a judge for the New York State Athletic Commission. That raised the issue of whether there was a conflict of interest between his role at The Theater and his work as a rules expert and unofficial ringside judge for HBO.

The answer is no.

Weisfeld’s contract with HBO expired after the December 6, 2014, telecast featuring David Lemieux vs. Gabriel Rosado and was not renewed.

*     *     *

And finally . . .

As noted earlier, Roc Nation is a spending a lot of money to break into boxing. One indication of that was the presence of Michael Buffer at ringside.

Buffer is expensive, but his presence makes an event bigger. Earlier in the day, I had lunch with Michael, and he reminisced about a time in his life when he saw Muhammad Ali fairly often.

“We’re talking about 1973, 1974,” Buffer said. “This was way before I got involved in boxing. There wasn’t a thought, an inkling, a clue that I‘d be a ring announcer some day. I was just a fan, living in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, working as a Volkwagen salesman.”

“Lansdale was a 90-minute drive from Deer Lake. One or twice a week when Ali was in training, I’d visit the camp. Deer Lake was open to everyone. The crowds got pretty big. But no matter how many people were there, Ali sat down and signed every autograph that every last person wanted after each sparring session.”

“Larry Holmes was one of Ali’s sparring partners back then,” Buffer continued. “He’d drive up from Easton in a 1965 black Lincoln Continental and was always late, so he was always getting speeding tickets. [Former lightweight champion] Ike Williams hung around. He was broke. Ali would ask him questions about boxing to make him feel important and slip him a few dollars. He gave money to a lot of people.”

“After a while, Ali got used to seeing me around,” Buffer recalled. “Usually, I drove a Volkswagen to the camp. Occasionally, I rode my motorcycle [a Suzuki 550]. One time when I was there, Ali hopped on the bike, rode off, and was gone for an hour. Angelo [trainer Angelo Dundee] was furious at me for giving Ali the motorcycle. He was gone so long, they thought he’d been injured in an accident.”

“And there’s another memory I have that’s special,” Buffer said. “Ali had a couple of magazine covers with his picture on them taped to the wall of the gym. He’d been so nice to me that I wanted to do something for him. So I took the covers off twenty-or-so boxing magazines that I had with his picture on them and brought them to Deer Lake. Ali and I put them up together on the wall. When I think back on that, it’s pretty cool. Me and Muhammad Ali taping magazine covers to the wall of the gym at Deer Lake. And now I’m in the Hall of Fame. Go figure.”

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (Thomas Hauser on Boxing: Another Year Inside the Sweet Science) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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Thomas Hauser is the author of 52 books. In 2005, he was honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America, which bestowed the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism upon him. He was the first Internet writer ever to receive that award. In 2019, Hauser was chosen for boxing's highest honor: induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Lennox Lewis has observed, “A hundred years from now, if people want to learn about boxing in this era, they’ll read Thomas Hauser.”

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Results and Recaps from Philly where ‘Boots’ Ennis Stomped Out David Avanesyan

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PHILADELPHIA, PA — On what Matchroom Boxing Promotions called the most important night in Philadelphia boxing in over 40 years, Jaron “Boots” Ennis (32-0, 29 KOs), the current IBF welterweight champion from the city of Brotherly Love, attracted a larger-than-expected crowd of 14,119 to the Wells Fargo Center where he stopped David Avanesyan who was pulled out after five rounds. In Avanesyan (30-5-1, 18 KOs), Ennis looked to impress on two fronts, both commercially and critically.

It didn’t take long for there to be some excitement after Ennis landed a clean jab that caused Avanesyan to stagger momentarily. Ennis turned southpaw and the action stopped after Ennis landed a low blow. Rounds two and three saw both fighters decide to fight on the inside. Ennis was able to land crisp upper cuts while only getting hit with a few shots in exchange. After four rounds, the evidence was clear that Avanesyan was getting hit with clean shots as his face started to get busted up. Avanesyan had a moment when he landed a right hand that got the attention of the crowd and Ennis.

In return, Ennis continued to press forward, this time behind a straight left and combinations. A huge overhand left floored Avanesyan who rose to his feet. Round five ended with Ennis landing some clean power shots that had Avanesyan looking deflated. The ringside physician called an end to the fight after the conclusion of round five.

After the fight, Ennis agreed that he would love the opportunity to fight Terence Crawford if Crawford were to win next month, this despite not having the type of performance that he would have loved to have had after having a year-long lay-off. Eddie Hearn mentioned that he would love to have Ennis return to Philadelphia sometime in October or November if the Crawford fight can’t be made in a possible unification fight.

Other Bouts

After three pedestrian rounds, what sounded like it would be a grudge match between Jahlil Hackett (9-0, 7 KOs) and Pete Dobson (16-2) finally turned into a fight in the fourth. With both fighters finally warming up, Hackett used his jab to continue to work his way inside to land power combinations. Dobson was forced to back up into the ropes and take shots after a large lump formed on his forehead above his left eye.

The action settled down after the sixth round with Hackett taking total control. He continued to work behind an educated jab that stunted any offensive attack that Dobson tried to muster. After all ten rounds, two of the judges saw the fight 97-93, while the third had it 96-94 all in favor of Jahlil Hackett.

Skye Nicolson (11-0, 1 KO), the 2020 Tokyo Olympian and current WBC featherweight champion, utilized her skills in every way to defeat Dayan Vargas (18-2, 12 KOs). All three judges scored the fight 100-90 after Nicolson completed the shutout in dominating fashion through her command of range with a sharp jab and lateral movement. Moving forward unification fights and a possible move up in weight may force Nicolson to face the type of opposition that could make for more entertaining fights in the future.

Light heavyweight action kicked off the main portion of the DAZN telecast. Jersey City native Khalil Coe (9-0-1, 7 KOs) made short work of Kwame Ritter (11-2). After an uneventful first round, Coe started to close the distance to start the second round and as a result he landed a hard straight right that hurt Ritter. A left hook dropped Ritter and he fell backwards into the ropes. When he got up, Coe was able to swarm him with hard shots and the referee called a halt to the action with just one second remaining in the second round.

Former world title challenger Christopher “Pitufu” Diaz (29-4, 19 KOs) made quick work of the game but clearly overmatched Derlyn Hernandez (12-2-1). A short-left hook hurt Hernandez and the seasoned Diaz took his time applying the follow-up pressure that forced the referee to wave off the action at the 2:36 mark of the second round. Diaz stated prior to this comeback fight that he’s looking for one more run towards a world title.

Christian Carto (23-1, 17 KO’s) looked impressive in three rounds of action against Carlos Buitrago (38-14, 22 KOs). Both fighters were happy to exchange from the opening bell. Carto took the punches he was hit with well and was able to return fire with combinations that caught and dropped Buitrago to start round three. A series of well-placed power combinations hurt Buitrago as the round came to an end, which prompted the referee to stop the bout at the end of the round.

A pair of Boots Promotions fighters kicked off the night with entertaining bouts:

It took all six rounds to decide the Ismail Muhammad (5-0, 1 KOs) Frank Brown (3-5-2) fight. Brown pressed the action early and caught the cold Muhammad in an exchange knocking him down for the first time in his career. Muhammad rose to his feet and proceeded to work the gameplan to get himself back into the fight. Muhammad scored his own knockdown in the fourth round and finished the fight strong to earn the unanimous decision victory by scores of 58-54 twice and 57-55.

Dennis Thompson (1-0) won his professional debut at bantamweight with a unanimous decision over the game Fernando Valdez (1-8).

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Muratalla Nips Farmer and Segawa Upsets Villa on a Top Rank Card in Las Vegas

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Fontana, California lightweight Raymond Muratalla, ranked #2 by the WBC and WBA and #4 by the IBF, continued his charge toward a world title with a hard-fought 10-round decision over Philadelphia southpaw Tevin Farmer on a Top Rank card at the Palms in Las Vegas tonight. The judges had it 97-92, 96-93, and 95-94. There were no knockdowns but referee Tom Taylor deducted a point from Farmer in round eight for excessive holding.

Farmer, 33, formerly held the IBF junior lightweight title. He lost the belt in his fifth defense to Jojo Diaz in 2020 and was out of the ring for the next 29 months. He won three straight after returning to the ring, elevating his record to 33-5-1 (8) preceding tonight’s tussle with Muratalla.

Farmer fought mostly off his back foot but was seemingly ahead after seven frames. But Muratalla, who improved to 21-0 (16), had more fuel in his tank and clearly got the best of the late rounds. He landed the best punch of the fight with a shade over a minute remaining in the final stanza, catching Farmer against the ropes and rocking him with a looping right hand.

Co-Feature

In a major upset, Sulaiman Segawa, a 33-year-old southpaw from Silver Spring, Maryland, by way of Uganda, out-worked Ruben Villa to win a 10-round unanimous decision and snatch away Villa’s regional featherweight title. The judges had it 98-92, 97-93, and 96-94.

Villa came in ranked #1 at 126 by WBC. He had lost only once in 23 starts, that coming in a WBA title fight vs. Emanuel Navarrete, a narrow defeat. Among his victims were reigning IBF featherweight champion Luis “Venado: Lopez. He was a consensus 14/1 favorite over Segawa who was 16-4-1 with only six knockouts coming in. But Villa fell behind early and although he had his moments, he didn’t punch hard enough to keep the Ugandan from staying the course.

Other Bouts of Note

In his first fight at 140 pounds, Brisbane, California’s Charlie Sheehy won an unpopular 8-round decision over SoCal’s Ricardo Quiroz. The judges had it 78-74 and 77-73 twice.

Sheehy (10-0, 5 KOs) was underwhelming. Quiroz (13-5) has been repeatedly matched tough and has never been stopped.

In a junior lightweight match, Jonathan “Geo” Lopez, a 21-year-old Pennsylvania native of Puerto Rican descent, trained by Eddy Reynoso, improved to 16-0 (12 KOs) first a first-round demolition of Venezuela’s Leonardo Padilla (23-6-1). Lopez, who defeated the likes of Xander Zayas and Abdullah Mason in the amateurs, knocked Padilla sideways and through the ropes with a body punch. Padilla slumped to his knees when he was extricated and was counted out at the 1:43 mark. “Geo” is a fighter who bears watching.

Albert “Chop Chop” Gonzales, a 22-year-old SoCal super featherweight, used an effective body punch to wear down and stop Texas campaigner Conrado Martinez. The end came at the 1:43 mark of the sixth and final round. Trained by Robert Garcia, Chop Chop improved to 9-0 (5 KOs). Martinez falls to 9-2.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez Delights the Home Folks: TKOs Barrera in 10

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Former pound-for-pound king Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez retuned to the ring last night (Friday, July 12) after a 19-month absence and scored a 10th-round TKO of Colombia’s Rober Barrera. The match was staged in the sports arena named for Alexis Arguello in the old town district of Managua. It was a homecoming for Chocolatito who was making his first start in his native Nicaragua since February of 2015 and making his debut as a bantamweight. He previously held titles at 105, 108, 112, and 115.

Barrera was 27-5 heading in, but his last three wins came against opponents who were a combined 12-55-4, suggesting he would be easy meat for the hometown hero. But the Colombian proved to be a lot tougher than expected. He wasn’t afraid to exchange with Gonzalez but was gradually worn down. He slumped to the canvas after taking a left to the rib cage in round eight and was felled by a combination in the next frame. Referee Ramon Gonzalez was remiss in not stopping the fight sooner. The official time was 0.51 of the 10th and final round.

Chocolatito Gonzalez (pictured on the left next to Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez after a sparring session at the Garcia Boxing Academy in Riverside, CA) turned 37 in June. That’s an advanced age for a prizefighter, in particular a prizefighter who competes in one of the smallest weight classes and Chocolatito began his boxing career in the very smallest class.

In October of 2015, he was elevated to #1 pound-pound-pound by The Ring magazine and also by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, displacing long-reigning king Floyd Mayweather. Chocolatito was then 43-0 with 37 KOs and competing in the flyweight (112-pound) class. Since then, Gonzalez is 9-4, losing twice to Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (L MD 12; L KO 4) and twice to Mexico’s Juan Francisco Estrada (L SD 12; L MD 12).

Scottish boxing historian Matt McGrain, writing about Chocolatito’s “coronation” at the top of the P-F-P list, had this to say: “[Gonzalez] is the antithesis of Floyd…a destroyer who does not seek to hit and not be hit, but rather to hit, hit, hit…he breaks people.”

There were shades of the 2015 version of Gonzalez tonight. He still throws punches in bunches, but he also gets hit more often than he would have earlier in his career. Now a veteran of 22 world title fights who has answered the bell as a pro for 305 rounds, he would be wise to call it a career and rest on his laurels.

But he won’t and his next fight will inevitably be a bantamweight title fight in Japan. In an unprecedented development, all four of the belt-holders at 118 are Japanese: Junto Nakatani (WBC), Takuma Inoue (WBA), Ryosuke Nishida (IBF), and Toshiki Takei (WBO). On top of that, Chocolatito’s promoter is Japanese boxing kingpin Akihiko Honda.

With his win tonight, Gonzalez, a surefire first ballot Hall of Famer, advanced his record to 52-4 (42 KOs).

Photo credit: Supreme Boxing

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