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Chilemba, Lepikhin Beneficiaries of Boxing’s Blended Brand of Immigration Reform

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The debate over immigration reform continues to rage in the United States Congress, but two fighters from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean are finding that temporarily sweating in pursuit of their boxing dreams while in the U.S. – or, for that matter, in Canada or Mexico – is enough to qualify them as semi-official North Americans.

To some – say, those geographically-challenged U.S. citizens who can’t quite remember that Pierre is the capital of South Dakota, or that Montpelier is the capital of Vermont — it might seem odd that Isaac “Golden Boy” Chilemba (23-2-2, 10 KOs), from Johannesburg, South Africa by way of his native Blantyre, Malawi, and Vasily “The Professor” Lepikhin (17-0, 9 KOs), from Gelendzhik, Russia, will square off in a scheduled 12-rounder for the vacant North American light heavyweight championship on March 14 in Montreal, Quebec. It is the opener of an HBO-televised tripleheader, the middle segment of which is the 12-round heavyweight matchup of Steve “USS” Cunningham (28-6, 13 KOs), a two-time former IBF light heavyweight champion from Philadelphia, and Vyacheslav Glazkov (19-0-1, 12 KOs), who is from Ukraine but now resides in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The nightcap to this United Nations smorgasbord of pugilism pairs WBA/IBF/WBO light heavyweight champ Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (26-0-1, 23 KOs), from Kopeysk, Russia, but now based in Los Angeles, against former WBC 175-pound titlist Jean Pascal, who hails from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but now makes his home in Laval, Quebec.

Hey, we all were told decades ago that jet travel would make the world seem like a smaller place, but the long, international arm of boxing seemingly has accelerated the shrinkage.

So, what about the African and the Russian fighting for a North American championship belt? How can that be justified even under the strange and often arbitrary rules of the alphabet organizations, whose decision-makers seem to make things up as they go along?

Main Events CEO Kathy Duva, who promotes both Chilemba and Lepikhin, said birth nation or country of residence no longer are the only considerations for fighting for NABF or USBA titles, even though those designations would seem to be self-explanatory.

“They train in North America,” she explained. “All of the sanctioning bodies recently have taken to recognizing that the place where the fighters are based for training (that would be Los Angeles for Chilemba and Oxnard, Calif., for Lepikhin) is their home as well.”

But, really, what does it matter? The NABF championship is a nice but essentially meaningless trinket, sort of like the eighth-place finisher in a beauty pageant being named Miss Congeniality. What is of most consequence to fight fans everywhere in our global village has little to do with who holds some second-tier title or is the beneficiary of an NABF amendment written in crayon. All we want to know is, can the guy fight? Is he worth our time and effort for us to watch him ply his trade?

In Kovalev’s case, those answers are as obvious as the nose on Cyrano de Bergerac’s face. The lead stallion in the Main Events stable can box and he can punch, a nice package of skills that, coupled with his developing aura of charisma, stamp the most recent conqueror of the great Bernard Hopkins as a superstar of the present and probably quite a ways into the future. No, Kovalev isn’t the lineal light heavyweight champion – that would be WBC ruler Adonis “Superman” Stevenson (25-1, 21 KOs), who defends that title against against Sakio Bika (32-6-3, 21 KOs) in the Showtime-televised main event on April 4 in Quebec City – but the WBC has indicated to Stevenson that he must take on Kovalev for the whole shooting match in the near future, if they are both still in possession of their titles. If that were to happen – and it’s a big if — the survivor would be the first truly undisputed world champion since Hopkins rounded up the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO middleweight belts in 2001.

It should be noted that Stevenson is another boxing product of multiple countries and cultures, having been born in Haiti, relocated to Laval, Quebec, and then to Las Vegas. Oh, and Bika is a native of Cameroon who now lives in Sydney, Australia.

Even though shadowy power broker Al Haymon apparently is intent on signing every boxer with a pulse to a roster already more populous than the state of Montana (capital: Helena), Duva professes not to be concerned. If her guy, Kovalev, keeps winning, and especially if he were to meet and beat Stevenson, thereby fully unifying the crown for a few moments (one or more of the alphabet groups would surely find a way to subdivide his realm), most if not all roads at 175 would lead to the Krusher.

“I take the long view of things because I’ve been doing this for so long,” Duva said when asked about Haymon’s apparent goal of establishing a boxing monopoly. “I have seen so many people come along over the years with the intention of taking over boxing and owning it and changing everything about it. Yet I still sit here in my chair and Bob Arum (the CEO of Top Rank) is still sitting in his. There are a few others out there, most notably Golden Boy (Oscar De La Hoya’s company, not Chilemba’s nickname), probably the only upstart to become a major promoter that I can think of that survived. Let’s wait to see what happens in a year or two.”

Duva believes that the light heavyweight division, so rich in history and tradition – some of the legendary champions it has produced are George Carpentier, Tommy Loughran, Gus Lesnevich, Billy Conn, Archie Moore, Harold Johnson, Bob Foster, Matthew Saad Muhammad and Michael Spinks – is ready for a new era of prosperity, perhaps even to the point of becoming what the talent-deep welterweight division is now. And she has an inkling that the 27-year-old Chilemba, who is ranked No. 2 by the WBC, No. 6 by the WBO and No. 7 by the IBF, and Lepikhin, 29, ranked No. 5 by the WBO and No. 12 by the WBA, have the right stuff to become major factors. You might not know them so much now, but the winner – maybe the loser, too – could leave a deep impression by the time the March 14 tripleheader concludes.

“I think in the next three or four years you’re going to see light heavyweights vying for that top spot on the pound-for-pound list, like you see welterweights doing it now,” she said, a not-so-veiled reference to the May 2 unification megafight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. “This is the future. We have a few different things going. Sergey is always looking for the very biggest and best fights that he can get.”

On March 14, a pair of 175-pounders from thousands of miles away fight for the North American championship in French-speaking Canada. After that, who knows? The world isn’t such a big and strange place anymore, not for boxers without borders willing to have their passports frequently stamped.

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Arne’s Almanac: Jake Paul and Women’s Boxing, a Curmudgeon’s Take

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Jake Paul can fight more than a little. The view from here is that he would make it interesting against any fringe contender in the cruiserweight division. However, Jake’s boxing acumen pales when paired against his skill as a flim-flam artist.

Jake brought a 9-1 record into last weekend’s bout with Mike Perry. As noted by boxing writer Paul Magno, Jake’s previous opponents consisted of “a You Tuber, a retired NBA star, five retired MMA stars, a part-time boxer/reality TV star, and two undersized and inactive fall-guy boxers.”

Mike Perry, a 32-year-old Floridian, was undefeated (6-0, 3 KOs) as a bare-knuckle boxer after forging a 14-8 record in UFC bouts. In pre-fight blurbs, Perry was billed as the baddest bare knuckle boxer of all time, but against Jake Paul he proved to have very unrefined skills as a conventional boxer which Team Paul undoubtedly knew all along. Perry lasted into the eighth round in a one-sided fight that could have been stopped a lot sooner.

Jake Paul is both a boxer and a promoter. As a promoter, he handles Amanda Serrano, one of the greatest female boxers in history. That makes him the person most responsible (because the buck stops with him) for the wretched mismatch in last Saturday’s co-feature, the bout between Serrano and Stevie Morgan.

Morgan, who took up boxing two years ago at age 33, brought a 14-1 record. Nicknamed the Sledgehammer, she had won 13 of her 14 wins by knockout, eight in the opening round. However, although she resides in Florida, all but one of those 13 knockouts happened in Colombia.

“We found that in Colombia there were just more opportunities for women’s boxing than in the United States,” she told a prominent boxing writer whose name we won’t mention.

The truth is that, for some folks, Colombia is the boxing equivalent of a feeder lot for livestock, a place where a boxer can go to fatten their record. The opportunities there were no greater than in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1995. It was there that Peter McNeeley prepped for his match with Mike Tyson with a 6-second knockout of professional punching bag Frankie Hines. (Six seconds? So it would be written although no one seems to have been there to witness it.)

Serrano vs Morgan was understood to be a stay-busy fight for Amanda whose rematch with Katie Taylor was postponed until November. Stevie Morgan, to her credit, answered the bell for the second round whereas others in her situation would have remained on the stool and invented an injury to rationalize it. Thirty-eight seconds later it was all over and Ms. Morgan was free to go home and use her sledgehammer to do some light dusting.

The Paul-Perry and Serrano-Morgan fights played out in a sold-out arena in Tampa before an estimated 17,000. Those without a DAZN subscription paid $64.95 for the livestream. Paul’s next promotion, where he will touch gloves with 58-year-old Mike Tyson (unless Iron Mike pulls a Joe Biden and pulls out; a capital idea) with Serrano-Taylor II the semi-main, will almost certainly rake in more money than any other boxing promotion this year.

Asked his opinion of so-called crossover boxing by a reporter for a college newspaper, the venerable boxing promoter Bob Arum said, “It’s not my bag but folks who don’t like it shouldn’t get too worked up over it because no one is stealing from anybody.” True enough, but for some of us, the phenomenon is distressing.

The next big women’s fight happens Saturday in Detroit where Claressa Shields seeks a world title in a third weight class against WBC heavyweight belt-holder Vanessa Lepage-Joanisse.

A two-time Olympic gold medalist, undefeated in 14 fights as a pro, Shields is very good, arguably the best female boxer of her generation which makes her, arguably, the best female boxer of all time. But turning away Lepage-Joanisse (7-1, 2 KOs) won’t elevate her stature in our eyes.

Purportedly 17-4 as an amateur, the Canadian won her title in her second crack at it. Back in August of 2017, she challenged Cancun’s Alejandra Jimenez in Cancun and was stopped in the third round. Entering the bout, Lepage-Joanisse was 3-0 as a pro and had never fought a match slated for more than four rounds.

Vanessa Lepage-Joanisse

Vanessa Lepage-Joanisse

True, on the women’s side, the heavyweight bracket is a very small pod. A sanctioning body has to make concessions to harness a sanctioning fee. Nonetheless, how absurd that a woman who had answered the bell for only 11 rounds would be deemed qualified to compete for a world title. (FYI: Alejandra Jimenez was purportedly born a man. She left the sport with a 12-0-1 record after her win over Franchon Crews Dazurn was changed to a no-contest when she tested positive for the banned steroid stanozolol.)

Following her defeat to Jimenez, Vanessa Lepage-Joanisse, now 29 years old, was out of action for six-and-a-half years. When she returned, she was still a heavyweight, but a much slender heavyweight. She carried 231 pounds for Jimenez. In her most recent bout where she captured the vacant WBC title with a split decision over Argentina’s Abril Argentina Vidal, she clocked in at 173 ¼. (On the distaff side, there’s no uniformity among the various sanctioning bodies as to what constitutes a heavyweight.)

Claressa Shields doesn’t need Vanessa Lepage-Joanisse to reinforce her credentials as a future Hall of famer. She made the cut a long time ago.

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Former World Bantamweight Champion Richie Sandoval Passes Away at Age 63

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Richie Sandoval, who won the WBA and lineal bantamweight title in one of the biggest upsets of the 1980s and then, not quite two years later, suffered near-fatal injuries in a title defense, has passed away at the age of 63.

News circulated fast in the Las Vegas boxing community on Monday, July 22, the grapevine actuated by a tweet from Hall of Fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler: “Boxing and the Top Rank family lost one of our own last night in the passing of former WBA bantamweight champion Richie Sandoval. It hurts personally and professionally to know that Richie is gone at age 63. RIP campeon.”

Details are vague but the cause of death was apparently a sudden heart attack that Sandoval experienced while visiting the Southern California home of his son of the same name.

Richie Sandoval put the LA County community of Pomona, California, on the boxing map before Shane Mosley came along and gave the town a more frequently-cited mention in the sports section of the papers. He came from a fighting family. An older brother, Albert “Superfly” Sandoval, became a big draw at LA’s fabled Olympic Auditorium while building a 35-2-1 record that included a failed bid to capture Lupe Pintor’s world bantamweight title.

Richie was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic boxing team that was stranded when U.S. President Jimmy Carter (and many other world leaders) boycotted the event as a protest against Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan.

As a pro, Sandoval’s signature win was a 15th-round stoppage of Jeff Chandler. They fought on April 7, 1984 in Atlantic City. Chandler was making the tenth defense of his world bantamweight title.

Despite being a heavy underdog, Sandoval dominated the fight, winning almost every round until the referee stepped in and waived it off. Chandler, who was 33-1-2 heading in and had avenged his lone defeat, never fought again.

Sandoval made two successful defenses before risking his title against Gabby Canizales on the undercard of Hagler-Mugabi in the outdoor stadium at Caesars Palace. In round seven, Sandoval, who had a hellish time making the weight, was knocked down three times and suffered a seizure as he collapsed from the third knockdown. Stretchered out of the ring, he was rushed to the hospital where doctors reduced the swelling in his brain and beat the odds to save his life. This would be Richie’s lone defeat. He finished his pro career with a record of 29-1 (17 KOs).

Bob Arum cushioned some of the pain by giving Richie a $25,000 bonus and offering him a lifetime job at Top Rank which Richie accepted. And let the record show that Arum was good to his word.

A more elaborate portrait of Richie Sandoval was published in these pages in 2017. You can check it out HERE. May he rest in peace.

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Amanda Serrano and Jake Paul Vanquish Overmatched Foes in Tampa

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Amanda “the Real Deal” Serrano mowed through knockout puncher Stevie Morgan in less than two rounds on Saturday and Jake Paul soundly defeated bare knuckle champion Mike Perry by knockout too.

Paul and Serrano move on to bigger things.

“It’s feels great, it feels amazing. My 50th fight, my 31st knockout, I’m super blessed,” said Serrano.

Despite jumping up three weight divisions Serrano (47-2-1, 31 KOs) showed more than 17,000 fans and Morgan (14-2, 13 KOs) at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, how she was able to win seven weight divisions.

Fans and perhaps Katie Taylor breathed a sigh of relief that Serrano is truly back. In Serrano’s last fight she was forced to withdraw back in March due to an accident to her eye moments before a fight. Now the Puerto Rican and Irish super stars will meet in Texas on November 15.

Fans can expect a rematch of one of the greatest fights of all time.

Tonight, before walking into the boxing ring, Morgan had commented that of all the top female fighters Serrano was low hanging fruit. The Puerto Rican legend merely shrugged her shoulders and replied that she lets her fists do the talking.

Both fighters hesitated touching gloves but did. After that, Serrano immediately went into assassin’s mode and moved forward while punching like a finely tuned hemi-engine. Morgan tried to keep up but discovered Serrano was not easy to hit.

Serrano moved forward smoothly while slipping and punching. A stiff looking Morgan, whose legs seemed unbent, tried to fend off the Puerto Rican champion’s blows but was smacked repeatedly in the first round with lefts and rights.

When the bell rang to end the first round, it was obvious that Morgan was overmatched.

As the second round commenced Serrano immediately slipped into attack gear behind her southpaw defensive guard. Once again, she fired combinations while moving quickly forward against the taller Morgan.

It was even worse than the first round as Serrano unloaded a dozen unanswered blows forcing the referee to stop the fight at 38 seconds of the second round.

“I think these girls were mistaking my kindness for weakness,” said Serrano. “If you’re not on my level that’s what happens.”

Morgan quickly learned she’s not on the championship level.

“Stevie Morgan just started a little while ago. I knew it would have been a little too much for her,” said Serrano. “My hat goes off to her. It’s not easy.”

Now it’s on to Katie Taylor.

Jake Paul KOs Mike Perry

In the co-main event Jake Paul (10-1, 7 KOs) floored Mike Perry (6-1) the Bare Knuckle Champion in the first and second round of the cruiserweight fight. And then battered the smaller fighter with a jolting jab to the body and head that opened up cuts on the former MMA fighter.

Paul continued to show improvement and proved once again that whether its MMA or Bare Knuckle fighting, his boxing skills are superior to their combat champions.

“Man, he’s tough as nails. I’m sorry it took so long. Respect man. He’s the king of violence,” said Paul about his fallen foe whose nickname is the “King of Violence.”

Paul attacked the body with a strong left jab while circling slowly left and right. Perry stood straight up with a low guard and his chin up. Paul hit that chin repeatedly and eventually cracked it in the fifth round.

Perry survived.

In the sixth round the bigger blonde fighter Paul bludgeoned Perry with another left jab and then opened with a barrage of blows that blasted the bare knuckle fighter to the canvas. Though he beat the count, he stumbled and the referee stopped the fight at 1:12 of the sixth round.

“I kind of expected that,” said Paul.

Perry was honest about the outcome.

“I tried man, but the kid hit me hard,” said Perry.

Now it’s on to Mike Tyson on November 15 in Arlington, Texas.

“Mike. I love you. But this is my sport now. I’m so honored but I’m going to take your throne.”

Other Bouts

A lightweight battle between undefeated fighters saw Canada’s Lucas Bahdi (17-0, 15 KOs) lose every round until he unloaded a three-punch combination that rendered Ashton Sylve (11-1, 9 KOs) unconscious before he hit the canvas.

Sylve utilized his speed and counters for five rounds and seemed to cruise for five years. But Bahdi showed a good chin especially against lightning uppercuts that sneaked through the guard.

“He’s very twitchy and very quick. I was trying to get to his body early on,” said Bahdi. “He’s very fast and has good counter punches.

In the sixth round Sylve was opening up a little more with his hands down and Bahdi saw the opening and quickly launched a right followed by a left hook that knocked out Sylve before he hit the floor at 2:27 of the sixth round.

“I knew his head’s there in the center all the time,” said Bahdi. “I think I stole the show tonight.”

Prelim Bouts

A rematch between lightweights saw Corey Marksman (10-0-1) win by majority decision against Tony Aguilar (12-1-1) in a back-and-forth battle. Marksman out-worked Aguilar with an especially effective counter-right that scored repeatedly. Their first encounter last February ended in a draw.

Shadasia Green (14-1, 11 KOs) stumbled a bit but got the win against Natasha Spence (8-5-2) to win by unanimous decision in a super middleweight. It was her first fight since losing to Franchon Crews-Dezurn for the world title.

Green was cruising for most of the fight behind a sharp jab and rights to the body but during an offensive out burst Spence caught her with a counter right and floored her in the seventh. It was half punch and half slip, but she was knocked down.

Though Green did not get a knockout she emerged with the win 78-73, 77-74 twice.

“I had fun in there tonight,” said Green. “I belong at the top with the best.”

Alexis Chaparro (2-0) knocked out Kevin Hill (1-2) with a five-punch combination at 2:01 of the second round in a middleweight fight.

Angel Barrientes (12-1) defeated Edwin Rodriguez (12-9-2) by majority decision after six rounds in a super bantamweight fight. The scores were 57-57, 60-54 twice for Barrientes who resides in Las Vegas.

Photo credit: Esther Lin / MVP Promotions

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