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The Night Smokin’ Joe Fought Terry Daniels (But I Missed It)

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They say it takes two to tango, and in no sport does that old axiom hold true more than boxing, the ultimate one-on-one confrontation. We remember the great fights, even cherish the thought of those very special occasions when the combatants are highly skilled, determined to give it their all, and more or less evenly matched.

But classic slugfests are just prettier swatches in the patchwork quilt that is the entirety of any boxer’s career. For every unforgettable slugfest, there are two or three pairings, and sometimes a lot more, that are as non-competitive as George Armstrong Custer vs. the Sioux at the Little Bighorn. But history has carved out a place of honor for the gallant but doomed Custer, and maybe cynical fight fans shouldn’t be so quick to sweep into the dust bin of memory those no-hopers who were offered up as human sacrifices to vastly superior champions.

Jan. 15 marks the 43rd anniversary of one such fight, and one that by all rights I should have witnessed from ringside. In his first title defense since outpointing Muhammad Ali in the “Fight of the Century” on March 8, 1971, in Madison Square Garden, heavyweight king Joe Frazier took on mystery man Terry Daniels at New Orleans’ Rivergate Arena. The following afternoon, in Tulane Stadium a few miles away, Super Bowl VI would take place between the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins.

Why am I still a bit sad, all these years later, that I missed watching Smokin’ Joe floor the willing but outgunned Daniels five times before referee Herman Dutrreix stepped in and waved off the massacre 1 minute, 25 seconds into Round 4? Well, part of it is that I was then, as now, a boxing guy, the son of former welterweight Jack Fernandez, and whose childhood was spent watching flickering black-and-white telecasts of the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports as my dad gave his own running commentary alongside that of the inimitable Don Dunphy.

But another part of it is the fact that, as the Boy Wonder (I was all of 24 then) sports editor of the Houma Courier, a Louisiana newspaper in a town about 45 miles southwest of my hometown of New Orleans, I somehow had been accredited to cover Super Bowl VI by the nice folks at the NFL. I would be among the hundreds of credentialed media members in the chilliest (game time temperature: 39 degrees) Super Bowl played to that point, part of a near-capacity crowd of 81,000 that would watch the Cowboys dominate the Dolphins, 24-3, to an extent that nearly matched what Frazier had done the night before to Daniels.

Alas, my application to cover Frazier-Daniels – which was viewed live by 8,500 or so spectators, a sizable portion of whom likely were football fans taking a break from Bourbon Street – was denied. No reason was given for my exclusion, but it has been suggested that maybe the seating area for the press was much more limited than for Super Bowl VI, and, well, the Houma Courier and its kid reporter didn’t come equipped with the prestige granted representatives from the major metropolitan media centers.

Oh, sure, I knew Frazier was an overwhelming favorite, but I had watched Ali-Frazier I via closed-circuit at a New Orleans theater, and it disappointed me mightily that I had been denied the opportunity to see the left-hooking wrecking machine up close and personal. There was, of course, no way of my knowing that someday I would become the boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, in Smokin’ Joe’s adopted hometown, and on close enough terms with the great man and his family that I often was invited to functions that otherwise were off-limits to other media types.

Terry Daniels? He was merely The Opponent, a pale-hued, reasonably warm body imported from Texas to take his expected walloping from Frazier for a career-high purse of $35,000 (the champ was paid $350,000) and then to slink away, probably never to be heard from again.

It did sort of work out that way, but Daniels had a tale to tell, as does every ham-and-egger who is offered a dream shot at the title knowing that his vision of glory probably will dissipate into blood, pain and the realization of his own limitations. But, hey, 18 years after Frazier-Daniels, a 42-1 longshot named James “Buster” Douglas went to Tokyo, took down the seemingly invincible Mike Tyson and again reminded everyone that lottery tickets sometimes are cashed.

At 6-foot-1, 191½ pounds and with a deceptively impressive record of 29-4-1 that included 25 victories inside the distance, Daniels, might not have been a complete fraud. But, in retrospect, he can now be described as a precursor to Peter McNeeley, who served as Mike Tyson’s first designated victim after Tyson had served three-plus years in prison on a rape conviction.

In an interview a few days before he was to swap punches with Frazier, Daniels spoke boldly of his intention to shock the world. Asked if he possessed the wherewithal to douse Smokin’ Joe’s fistic inferno, Daniels said, “I don’t think I do. I know I do. I feel confident. I feel I’ve done everything I can do to get ready for this fight. I know I’m ready. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been. I feel strong, I feel good.”

Perhaps Daniels bought into his own bravado, or maybe he was just whistling past the graveyard. But he was going to be fighting for the title and, well, anything can happen in the ring, right? In any case he was going to come away with the kind of purse he never could have gotten fighting other semi-anonymities on the far fringes of actual contention. Sometimes all it takes for a guy like Daniels to float into wider public consciousness is to be in the right place at the right time, and New Orleans, on Jan. 15, 1972, was definitely the right place, and not just because of the Super Bowl that would be played the following day.

Much was made of the fact that Frazier-Daniels was to be the first heavyweight championship fight to be held in the Big Easy since reigning champion John L. Sullivan was stopped in 21 rounds by “Gentleman” Jim Corbett at the Olympic Club on Sept. 7, 1892, the first title fight under the Marquis of Queensberry rules. Forget Buster Douglas, whom nobody had heard of at that point (and why should they have? Buster was still in grade school); could Daniels, hyped by his publicity-savvy manager, Doug Lord, as a “Great White Hope,” replicate what Corbett had done to the legendary John L. almost 80 years earlier?

“I told the fight promoters I’ve got a white kid from Dallas, he’s friends with the Cowboys, and everyone knows the Cowboys are going to the Super Bowl in New Orleans,” Lord said. “They loved it. They bought it. For us, it was a fantasy world.”

Daniels had his own connection to football, having gone to SMU to play that sport as well as baseball, until a knee injury crushed those ambitions and steered him into boxing. Although Daniels might not have been anybody’s idea of the real deal, he wangled his dream shot at Frazier with a third-round stoppage of Ted Gullick, who was rated No. 9 in the world and was coming off a 10-round, majority-decision loss to a once-very legitimate contender, Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams.

Truth be told, maybe Daniels wasn’t in as futile a situation as universally accepted. Although Frazier had temporarily displaced Ali as the king of boxing, he was enjoying himself, perhaps a bit too much, in the afterglow of his electrifying victory in the Garden. Three months after his leaping left hook in the 15th round sent Ali crashing to the canvas, and served as an exclamation point to his unanimous-decision victory, Smokin’ Joe was in the south of France, entertaining miniscule European audiences with his musical group, the Knockouts. The tour mercifully ended when the Knockouts – who were hardly the second coming of the Temptations or the Four Tops – drew 50 paying patrons for one concert, obliging their chastened lead singer to get back to his real job.

In December 1971, Frazier was hunkered down in the dark and frigid (11 degrees below zero) predawn hours at his training camp at the Concord Hotel, in Kiamesha, N.Y., getting ready to go out and do roadwork with a sparring partner, Ken Norton, who would go on to make some noise in his own right. But try as he might, Frazier couldn’t quite summon the energy he had marshaled in his preparations for the first Ali bout, when so much more was at stake. Terry Daniels clearly did not inspire the 5-foot-11 champion to push himself into peak condition, and it showed on fight night when he stepped inside the ropes at a then-career-high 215½ pounds.

Even though Frazier kept bouncing Daniels off the floor as if he were a basketball, this version of Smokin’ Joe was set at a comparatively low flame. Former light heavyweight champion Jose Torres was even moved to observe, “I, for one, think that Joe didn’t look at all like that indestructible machine. My conclusion is that Frazier has lost interest in the sport of flat noses. He is ready to retire at any time. And now is that time.”

Torres wasn’t spot-on in his assessment – the best of Joe Frazier emerged one more time, in the unforgettable “Thrilla in Manila” against Ali on Oct. 1, 1975, which ended with trainer Eddie Futch refusing to allow the half-blinded Frazier to come out for the 15th round – but the unstoppable force of nature that blew through Bob Foster, Jimmy Ellis and Buster Mathis like a Category 5 hurricane was a receding shadow of his former might. His final successful defense came on May 25, 1972, in Omaha, Neb., against Ron Stander, a Midwestern version of Terry Daniels. The “Council Bluffs Butcher” lasted four rounds, but wasn’t allowed to come out for a fifth by a ring physician who disapproved of the multiple cuts on his swollen face, which would require 17 stitches to close.

It should be noted, however, that both Daniels and Stander – whose wife at the time was so dismissive of her husband’s chances that she noted “you don’t take a Volkswagen into the Indy 500 unless you know a hell of a shortcut” – stung the champ with jolting punches, which perhaps presaged Smokin’ Joe’s next, far less successful defense, in which he was dropped six times by George Foreman in losing on a second-round TKO on Jan. 22, 1973, in Kingston, Jamaica. There is a good chance Foreman would have won anyway, but Big George was seated at ringside for Frazier-Daniels and maybe he saw something he believed would be useful whenever he and Frazier got around to rumbling.

I had hoped to contact Daniels for this story, but my inquiries drew blanks. But he once admitted he was so impressed by Frazier, and the aura of impending violence the Philadelphian wore like a comfortable robe, that “I felt like shaking his hand when he stepped in (the ring).” It is a familiar feeling among standard-issue fighters who have the privilege of being battered by the very best; Stander kept a small, autographed and laminated photo of Frazier in his wallet, and Seamus McDonagh, who went on to run a shoeshine stand in San Francisco, handed interested customers photos of himself landing a hard right hand to the jaw of future heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield.

What we do know of Terry Daniels is this: Unlike the Miami Dolphins, who were thrashed so soundly by the Cowboys in Supe VI but came back to go 17-0 and win the Super Bowl the following season, there would be no second chance at redemption for a fighter whose first real shot at the big time would also be his last. Daniels, who would now be 68, finished his career with a 35-30-1 record that includes 28 KO wins, but also 13 losses inside the distance. After the pummeling he took from Frazier, he lost his next five fights, and 18 if his final 20.

There would be good moments for Daniels, too. He married twice and helped raise three sons, but he later was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, which some have called “pugilist Parkinson’s.” It is the sort of sad closing chapter that often is written about fighters who linger too long at the fair, and there can be no denying that destiny sometimes deals the same unhappy cards to the great and the mediocre.

So celebrate the best of Joe Frazier and the Ali who threw down with, among others, Sonny Liston, Foreman, Norton and so many other top-tier opponents. But remember, too, Daniels and Stander, as well as such passers-by as Dave Zygiewicz and Manuel Ramos (other Frazier title foes when he was the New York State Athletic Commission “world” champion) and Ali’s non-taxing conquests of Juergen Blin, Rudi Lubbers, Jean-Pierre Coopman and Richard Dunn.

They all had a brief moment in time when they were allowed to bask in the reflected glory of actual ring royalty. It’s not quite heaven, but it’s closer than most fighters ever get.

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Zhilei Zhang KOs Joe Joyce; Calls Out Tyson Fury

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Joe Joyce activated his rematch clause after being stopped in the sixth frame by Zhilei Zhang in their first meeting. In hindsight, he may wish that he hadn’t. Tonight at London’s Wembley Stadium, Zhang stopped him again and far more conclusively than in their first encounter.

In the first meeting, Zhang, a southpaw, found a steady home for his stiff left jab. Targeting Joyce’s right eye, he eventually damaged the optic to where the ring doctor wouldn’t let Joyce continue. At the end, the fight was close on the cards and Joyce was confident that he would have pulled away if not for the issue with his eye.

In the rematch tonight, Zhang (26-1-1, 21 KOs) closed the curtain with his right hand. A thunderous right hook on the heels of a straight left pitched Joyce to the canvas where he landed face first. He appeared to beat the count by a whisker, but was seriously dazed and referee Steve Gray properly waived it off. The official time was 3:07 of round three.

Zhang, who lived up to his nickname, “Big Bang,” was credited with landing 29 power punches compared with only six for Joyce (15-2) who came in 25 pounds heavier than in their first meeting while still looking properly conditioned. One would be inclined to say that age finally caught with the “Juggernaut” who turned 38 since their last encounter, but Zhang, 40, is actually the older man. In his post-fight interview in the ring, the New Jersey resident, a two-time Olympian for China, when asked who he wanted to fight next, turned to the audience and said, “Do you want to see me shut Tyson Fury up?”

He meant it as a rhetorical question.

Semi-Windup

Light heavyweight Anthony Yarde was matched soft against late sub Jorge Silva, a 40-year-old Portuguese journeyman, and barely broke a sweat while scoring a second-round stoppage. Yarde backed Silva against a corner post and put him on the deck with a short right hand. Silva’s body language indicated that he had no interest in continuing and the referee accommodated him. The official time was 2:07 of round two.

A 30-year-old Londoner, Yarde (24-3, 23 KOs) was making his first start since being stopped in eight rounds by Artur Beterbiev in a bout that Yarde was winning on two of the scorecards. Silva, a late replacement for 19-3-1 Ricky Summers, falls to 22-9.

Also

Former leading super middleweight contender Zach Parker (23-1, 17 KOs) returned to the ring in a “shake-off-the-rust” fight against 40-year-old Frenchman Khalid Graidia and performed as expected. Graidia’s corner pulled him out after seven one-sided rounds.

In his previous fight, Parker was matched against John Ryder who he was favored to beat. The carrot for the winner was a lucrative date with Canelo Alvarez. Unfortunately for Parker, he suffered a broken hand and was unable to continue after four frames. Tonight, he carried 174 pounds, a hint that he plans to compete as a light heavyweight going forward. Indeed, he has expressed an interest in fighting Anthony Yarde. Graidia declined to 10-13-4.

The Zhang-Joyce and Yarde-Silva fights were live-streamed in the U.S. on ESPN+.

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An Ode to the Polo Grounds on the (Belated) 100th Anniversary of Dempsey-Firpo

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If you happen to be up in Harlem this Saturday, they are holding a little shindig at the Polo Grounds Towers Community Center in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Dempsey-Firpo fight.

Better late than never, as they say. The centennial of this storied fight was actually September 14, a week ago Thursday. But that rubbed up against Mexican Independence Day which prompted little shindigs that would take precedence in a neighborhood where many of the inhabitants speak Spanish.

The Sept. 14, 1923 bout between heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey, the Manassa Mauler, and his Argentine challenger Luis Angel Firpo, the Wild Bull of the Pampas, was staged at the Polo Grounds. The match was slated for 15 rounds, but no one expected it would go that far. “The styles of both,” said a Brooklyn Times Union scribe in his pre-fight report, “eliminate the possibility of the affair becoming tedious.”

That proved to be an understatement. Dempsey vs. Firpo consumed only three minutes and 57 seconds of actual fighting, but the action was breathtakingly intense and the crowd, estimated at 80,000, was on its feet the whole while.

There were so many knockdowns and they came so fast that there was disagreement among ringside reporters as to the exact number. In the first round alone, Dempsey put Firpo on the canvas at least five times, if not seven, and Firpo returned the favor twice. However, it was the Argentine that scored the most memorable knockdown. With one mighty swing of his vaunted right hand, Firpo knocked Dempsey clear out of the ring, the Mauler landing head first on a table of ringside reporters and their telegraphers with his feet up in the air. The moment inspired one of the most famous paintings in sports, George Bellows “Dempsey and Firpo,” on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York since the museum opened in 1931.

Dempsey was reeling and almost out before the first round ended, but he gathered his senses and ended the contest in the next frame. His final punch, with Firpo bleeding heavily from his mouth, “lifted the Argentine giant from his feet and hurled him headlong to the floor with the crash of a mighty oak falling from great heights.” So wrote Grantland Rice.

The Polo Grounds sat in a hollow in the northern reaches of Harlem across the Harlem River from Yankee Stadium. It was the home of the New York Giants of the National League from 1891 until the franchise left for San Francisco at the end of the 1957 season. It also housed the New York Giants football team from its inception in 1925 through 1955 and in its end days, served as the temporary home of New York’s two expansion teams, the Mets and the Jets.

Professional boxing was first served up at the Polo Grounds in 1922. There were four boxing shows there in 1923 preceding Dempsey-Firpo, but these were small potatoes by comparison, notwithstanding the fact that each of the four shows included a title fight. Dempsey-Firpo was the first collaboration between Tex Rickard and Charles Stoneham who owned the controlling interest in the baseball team.

Rickard and Stoneham had a lot in common. Rickard ran gambling saloons in mining camps in Alaska and Nevada before making his mark as a boxing promoter and settling in New York where he headed up the boxing department at Madison Square Garden. Charles Stoneham was a gambler too. He made his fortune operating bucket shops, funneling his winnings into a string of thoroughbred race horses and a horse track and casino in Havana. His silent partner in many of his business ventures was purportedly the infamous Arnold Rothstein. (A so-called bucket shop was a business where people could bet on the rise and fall of stocks and other commodities like wheat and oil without taking an ownership stake in any of the companies that comprised the marketplace.)

Rickard died in 1929, opening the door to Broadway ticket scalper Mike Jacobs who supplanted Rickard as New York’s most powerful boxing promoter. Jacobs acquired the exclusive rights to stage boxing shows at both the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium. Charles Stoneham and his counterpart with the Yankees both profited when a card was held at either property.

Yankee Stadium was more modern and could accommodate a larger crowd, so Jacobs tended to pot his biggest promotions there. Joe Louis had 12 fights at Yankee Stadium, but only two at the Polo Grounds, namely his famous 1941 fight with Billy Conn and his fight later that year with Lou Nova. However, important matches continued to land at the Polo Grounds. Thirty-four boxers who would go on to be enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame had one or more fights at the Polo Grounds.

I’m dating myself, but this reporter is among an ever-shrinking cadre of people who once sat in the grandstand of the Polo Grounds. The allurement was baseball. Although born in Brooklyn, I was a Giants fan.

I vaguely remember descending the steep iron staircase that led from the 155th Street subway station to the ticket booths. When one exited the subway, he was on Coogan’s Bluff, named for the former Manhattan borough president who owned the land on which the stadium sat. Coogan’s Bluff became a euphemism for the Polo Grounds itself, as Chavez Ravine would become a euphemism for Dodger Stadium.

Coogan's Bluff

Coogan’s Bluff

The Polo Grounds had an odd, triangular-shaped configuration. The distance to both foul poles was short whereas centerfield was cavernous, the perfect playland for the wonderful Willie Mays whose range was unsurpassed. In the words of the late, great Jim Murray, Willie’s glove was where triples went to die.

When Charles Stoneham died in 1936, the ballclub passed to his son Horace Stoneham who moved the team in San Francisco and eventually sold it to local interests. Stoneham was vilified in New York for abandoning the city, but the park and surrounding neighborhood had deteriorated. The stadium was torn down in 1964 and became the site of a giant, low-income housing project, Polo Grounds Towers, a complex consisting of four 30-story buildings run by the New York City Housing Authority. The Polo Grounds Community Center is housed in Tower #2.

The Dempsey-Firpo fight was an incandescent moment in America’s Golden Era of Sports. It was a big deal in South America too. In Buenos Aires, tens of thousands of people reportedly jammed the streets around the newspaper offices to follow the progress of the fight on bulletin boards. The last boxing show at the Polo Grounds was staged on June 20, 1960. Floyd Patterson avenged his loss to Ingemar Johannson with a fifth-round stoppage. The predicted crowd of 40,000 failed to materialize. The official attendance was 31,892.

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Arne K. Lang is a recognized authority on the history of prizefighting and the history of American sports gambling. His latest book, titled Clash of the Little Giants: George Dixon, Terry McGovern, and the Culture of Boxing in America, 1890-1910, was released by McFarland in September, 2022.

 

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 253: Oscar De La Hoya Reloading in LA and More

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Oscar De La Hoya sat with a satisfied look inside his glittering building on Wilshire Boulevard, unveiling plans to stage a welterweight showdown between southpaw contenders next month.

Lately, the six-division world champion turned promoter from nearby East Los Angeles has attended every boxing show produced by his company Golden Boy Promotions. Big or small, the former fighter who acquired millions as a prizefighter has put full attention on expanding his boxing empire.

Golden Boy Promotions has reloaded.

On Tuesday, De La Hoya discussed plans to match Alexis Rocha with Top Rank’s Giovanni Santillan on Saturday, October 21, at the Kia Forum in Inglewood, Calif. DAZN will stream the show.

Rocha (23-1, 15 KOs) seems to have gained his man strength. Five out of seven of his past foes have not heard the final bell. The Orange County fighter’s seek and destroy style has made him a crowd favorite throughout Southern California.

Santillan (31-0, 16 KOs) is a different kind of cat. The San Diego-based welterweight was groomed by Thompson Boxing Promotions and then aided by Top Rank. With the loss of promoter Ken Thompson who passed away earlier this year, Top Rank has taken over the reins of the crafty fighter.

Both Rocha (pictured with Oscar) and Santillan are familiar with each other through sparring.

“I feel that I’ve grown so much over time and now’s my moment, and I want to keep just banging on the door for a world title. I know that Giovani is going to be a good opponent,” said Rocha who is based in Santa Ana.

San Diego’s Santillan expressed excitement about fighting in Los Angeles.

“This isn’t the first time that I go into enemy territory,” Santillan said. “I think that I will gain the LA fan base after this fight.”

It’s the kind of fight that would have sold out the Olympic Auditorium down the street. Battles between fighters from rival towns in Southern California resulted in fights like Bobby Chacon versus Danny “Lil Red” Lopez, or East L.A.’s Ruben Navarro versus South L.A.’s Raul Rojas.

Crosstown rivalries made the Olympic Auditorium a legendary venue for decades. And the Los Angeles area has always been a hotbed for boxing talent. Always.

De La Hoya knows that and has lived it.

“As Golden Boy, we know our position, we know exactly what we have to do in order to position that fighter to get them to that world title. Alexis Rocha is knocking on the door. Giovani has an amazing opportunity. So, this is what boxing is all about,” said De La Hoya.

MarvNation

Welterweights Eduard Skavynskyi (14-0) of Ukraine and Mexico’s Alejandro Frias (14-9-2) headline the main event at Thunder Studios in Long Beach, California on Saturday Sept. 23.

This is Skavynskyi’s first time fighting in the U.S. All his previous fights were in Russia and Ukraine.

Also, co-headlining are female minimumweights Yadira Bustillos (7-1) and Katherine Lindenmuth (5-1) in a rematch set for eight rounds.

Bustillos fights out of Las Vegas and Lindenmuth is based in New Mexico and looking to avenge her loss a year ago.

For tickets and information go to: https://www.tix.com/ticket-sales/marvnation/6815/event/1344994?fbclid=paaabuvxlnjny1dafchk0wwkftjganfmww6bayhkj7autu-mhjyz8ll__ycga

Heavyweight Rematch in England

Once again, the United Kingdom presents a heavyweight show and this time a rematch between China’s Zhilei Zhang (25-1-1, 20 KOs) and England’s Joe Joyce (15-1, 14 KOs) on Saturday, Sept 23. ESPN will stream the Frank Warren boxing card from London.

Zhang stopped Joyce in the sixth round this past April. Can he do it again?

Welterweight showdown in Florida

Jessica McCaskill (12-3) and Sandy Ryan (6-1) meet for several welterweight world titles on Saturday, Sept. 23, in Orlando, Florida. DAZN will stream the Matchroom Boxing card.

Super lightweight Richardson Hitchins (16-0, 7 KOs) test top contender Jose “Chon” Zepeda (37-3, 28 KOs) in the co-main event. Conor Benn is also on the card.

Fights to Watch

Sat. ESPN+ 2 p.m. Zhilei Zhang (25-1-1) vs Joe Joyce (15-1).

Sat. DAZN 5 p.m. Jessica McCaskill (12-3) vs Sandy Ryan (6-1); Richardson Hitchins (16-0) vs Jose Zepeda (37-3).

Alexis Rocha photo credit: Golden Boy / Cris Esqueda

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