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MAY-PAC: “HIGHEST-GROSSING” DOESN’T NECESSARILY MEAN “BIGGEST” OR “BEST”

Bernard Fernandez

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There are many ways to keep score, but in today’s bottom-line world, whoever racks up the most cash often is presumed to be the winner. And when you’re talking about a boxing match whose principal revenue-producer’s nickname is “Money,” it’s only natural that the magnitude of the financial bonanza is a major topic of discussion.

There is no disputing that the May 2 pay-per-view pairing of WBA/WBC welterweight champion Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr. (47-0, 26 KOs) and WBO welter titlist Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 KOs) will be the highest-grossing prizefight ever. Projections are for total revenues exceeding $300 million, which would shatter all records, with Mayweather expected to add another $120 million or so to his net worth of $280 million. Pacquiao, on the short end of a 60-40 split, will have to “settle” for $80 million or so to add to a personal fortune estimated at $100 million, although it can be said that a dollar buys a lot more in his native Philippines than it does in the United States.

As might be expected, the income-generating aspects of Mayweather-Pacquiao were a major topic of discussion at Wednesday’s press conference at the Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, which was nearly as glitzy as the Academy Awards show in the same city just 18 days earlier. There was a red carpet, of course, and over 700 credentialed media from around the world were in attendance. It’s almost amazing that Floyd and Manny didn’t wear designer tuxedos when they stepped onto the stage.

It didn’t take long for anyone holding a microphone to focus on the almost incomprehensible amount of money this fight – which had been in a holding pattern for five years – figures to tally.

“They’re calling this the biggest payday in sports,” said Brian Custer, who, along with Kieran Mulvaney, co-hosted the offstage portion of the globally streamed presentation. “There’s no other sporting event that has generated the type of money that they expect that this fight will generate. When Floyd Mayweather fought Oscar De La Hoya, it set so many box-office records, especially when you talk about pay-per-view buys – 2.48 million. Bob Arum (the CEO of Top Rank, who promotes Pacquiao) says he expects this fight to do three to four million. Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather generated $150 million. They expect this fight to generate $300 million.”

Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions, got the gig as emcee at the podium and he, too, hammered home the point that every revenue stream is apt to turn into a raging, flood-level river.

“Hello, welcome to this amazing moment in boxing and sports history,” Ellerbe said. “We’re very excited to be making history today by officially announcing the biggest boxing event in the history of the sport, and one of the biggest events ever in all of sport – Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao.”

In introducing Mayweather, Ellerbe again referenced the spreadsheet logic that the worth of this fight is largely tied to its financial implications, and to Mayweather’s status as the world’s No. 1 PPV attraction.

“He’s been named the world’s highest-paid athlete by Forbes magazine, ESPN the Magazine and Sports Illustrated, which is truly a testament to his great popularity around the world,” Ellerbe said. Showtime ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. also touched on the familiar theme, calling Mayweather “the pay-per-view king” who is “recognized as the world’s highest-paid athlete, for good reason.”

All well and good. But to me, and I’m sure a lot of other fight fans, rich guys getting richer isn’t a reason to pony up wallet-draining amounts for tickets in the arena (face values range from $1,500 to $7,500, with scalpers likely to get much more) or for PPV subscriptions set at $89.95 (regular TV) or $99.95 (high-definition). What matters is this: Can the action in the ring possibly live up to the incredible hype? Because if it’s one thing that we all ought to know by now, it’s that, in boxing, “highest-grossing” isn’t necessarily tantamount to “biggest” or “best.”

There have been fights that were bigger and better than Mayweather-Pacquiao is likely to be, despite technological that have made the concept of superstardom in sports a much more lucrative proposition. Consider this: Maybe the most dominant lefthanded pitcher ever, Sandy Koufax, was paid $125,000 by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966, and he had to hold out to get that. In today’s dollars, Koufax’s career-high salary equates to $904,440. Another Dodgers southpaw ace, Clayton Kershaw, recently signed a seven-year, $215 million contract, with an annual payout of $30.7 million. Anyone who saw Koufax in his prime would dispute the notion that Kershaw, as good as he is, is 30 times better than Koufax, if at all.

Money skews all debate. Are Mayweather and Pacquiao, at 38 and 36, respectively, better fighters than, say, Micky Ward and the late Arturo Gatti? They are, without question. But will their May 2 showdown approach the fury and competitiveness of any or all of the three fights in the Gatti-Ward trilogy? That remains to be seen, although it wouldn’t surprise a lot of people if May-Pac doesn’t rise to the excitement level of those bouts, and any number of others involving lesser talents.

There have been highly anticipated bouts involving big-name fighters that were aesthetic disappointments, such as the welterweight unification pairing of WBC champ De La Hoya (who at the time was 31-0 with 25 knockouts) and IBF titlist Felix Trinidad (35-0, 30 KOs) on Sept. 18, 1999, at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Believing himself to be too far ahead to be in danger of losing on points, the “Golden Boy” played keepaway the final three rounds and was shocked to lose a 12-round majority decision to Trinidad, whose largely ineffective aggression was nonetheless rewarded. Statistics compiled by CompuBox revealed that De La Hoya had landed 263 punches to 166 for Trinidad.

In his account of that fight in The Ring magazine, editor Nigel Collins wrote: “The real loser, regardless of what you thought of the official verdict, was boxing. When the spotlight shone the brightest and the challenge was the greatest, neither risked all in the pursuit of ultimate glory, settling for a restrained, conservative approach.”

In truth, De La Hoya-Trinidad was a decent fight if viewed from the perspective of normalcy. Given the exaggerated expectations, though, it fell short. And therein lay the danger of everyone who presumes that Mayweather and Pacquiao will engage in a war for the ages simply because the stacks of high-denomination bills are so high. Consumers contributing to the fighters’ windfall are going to assume they will be rewarded with their money’s worth of spills and thrills, which is at best an iffy proposition.

Mayweather might still be the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, but his age suggests he has at least started on the downhill slope of a remarkable career. He is also known for his splendid defense, which could make it difficult for Pacquiao, who also isn’t quite all that he once was, to find openings. If Pacquiao, a 3-to-1 underdog, finds himself constantly flailing at empty air, as some are predicting, the latest “Fight of the Century” could turn tedious fast.

Face it: if these guys give fans merely a good fight, it won’t be enough, just as De La Hoya-Trinidad wasn’t enough. Risks will have to be taken, caution thrown to the wind, and mindsets will have to be shoot-the-works. Even if all that happens, magic isn’t always made. You never know what’s going to happen until you get there. Prefight hype does not a great event make.

The bar that Mayweather and Pacquiao will try to clear has been set very, very high by fighters from other eras whose historical significance on certain dates might be unapproachable in any case. Even if “Money” and “Pac-Man” fling themselves at each other with reckless abandon, the end result won’t – can’t – approach that of these classic bouts:

Jack Johnson-James J. Jeffries: July 4, 1910, Reno, Nev.

Johnson became the first black heavyweight champion when he defeated Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia, and his convention-flouting ways – openly consorting with white women, among other perceived transgressions – made white America nervous. Jack London – yes, the same Jack London who authored “Call of the Wild” — was at ringside for Johnson’s victory over Burns, and, writing for the New York Telegraph, he urged retired heavyweight champ James J. Jeffries to come back and restore the fight game to its proper order.

“Jeffries must emerge from his alfalfa farm and remove that smile from Johnson’s face,” London wrote. “Jeff, it’s up to you!”

Jeffries, who hadn’t fought since 1904 and was fat and happy in California, didn’t want the fight. But as public pressure mounted for him, or someone else, to put Johnson in his place, he returned to training.

The first so-called “Fight of the Century” was staged in a temporary stadium specifically erected for this fight, and from the opening bell it was obvious that Jeffries, who had had to lose 70 points to get back into fighting trim, was no match for Johnson, who openly taunted him. Johnson floored him in the first round, the first time Jeffries had ever been on the canvas, and he went down twice more before promoter/referee Tex Rickard stepped in and put a stop to the slaughter in the 15th round of the scheduled 45-rounder.

Johnson walked away with $120,00 – that’s $2,918,100 in today’s dollars – and Jeffries with a nice parting gift of $117,000. He never fought again.

Joe Louis-Max Schmeling II: June 22, 1938, New York City

Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler had hoped the 1936 Berlin Olympics would serve as a showcase to promote the notion of Aryan supremacy, but black American sprinter Jesse Owens put the kibosh to that by winning four gold medals. Still, the German hierarchy saw the outcome of the first Louis-Schmeling fight, on June 19, 1936, in Yankee Stadium, as proof that their ideology was correct. Schmeling, a former heavyweight champion, floored the favored and undefeated Louis with an overhand right in the fourth in the fourth round and he remained in control until closing the show on a TKO in Round 12.

For the rematch, President Franklin D. Roosevelt told Louis, “Joe, we need muscles like yours to beat Germany,” an allusion to the likelihood of America entering the burgeoning global conflict that became World War II. Louis took the admonition to heart and, before a crowd of 75,000, again in Yankee Stadium, he went right at Schmeling from the opening bell, knocking him down four times in Round 1 before the German’s corner threw in the towel.

In Germany, the radio broadcast – which began at 3 a.m. local time – was cut off before the final knockdown. In the U.S., the victory by the “Brown Bomber” was hailed by whites and blacks alike as an affirmation of American values. Modest and clean-living, Louis was widely seen as the antithesis of Johnson.

“He’s a credit to his race – the human race,” New York sports columnist Jimmy Cannon wrote of Louis’ avenging his only previous loss with the emphatic dispatching of Schmeling.

Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier I: March 8, 1971, New York City

In “Boxing,” the epic coffee-table publication authored by Bertram Job, he notes that Ali-Frazier I “was not simply just one more heavyweight world championship bout. It was the greatest event that had taken place since two men walked on the surface of the moon three years before.”

Ali had been stripped of his title for refusing to be inducted into the Army, which had resulted in an enforced 3½-year absence from boxing. During the interim, Frazier had rose up to claim the title, with their first meeting also the first time that two undefeated heavyweight champions: Ali went in at 31-0, with 25 KOs, while Frazier was 26-0 with 23 wins inside the distance. In demeanor, style and appearance, the two men could hardly be more dissimilar: Ali was tall, lithe, narcissistic and controversial; Smokin’ Joe was short, stumpy, taciturn and relentless.

If the old bromide that “styles make fights,” then Ali and Frazier were made for one another. Before a sellout crowd in Madison Square Garden, the two – each man was paid a then-record $2.5 million ($14.64 million in today’s dollars) – gave every bit of themselves. Frazier, however, came away with a unanimous decision, punctuating his performance with a leaping left hook that deposited Ali onto his back in the 15th and final round.

Ali would win two subsequent matchups, and it can be argued that Part III in the series, the “Thrilla in Manila,” was even more riveting. But the anticipation of something great, which was delivered in full, and then some, in Part I perhaps is unmatched in the history of boxing.

If there is a fight that, hopefully, holds the most potential parallels to Mayweather-Pacquiao, it is Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns I, which took place on Sept. 16, 1981, in the outdoor stadium at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. It also was a welterweight unification fight, with Leonard, the WBC 147-pound champion, coming in with a record of 30-1 (21) to 32-0 (30) for Hearns, the WBA ruler.

Perhaps because he had that one loss – to Roberto Duran – Leonard was the underdog, albeit a close one, at 6½-5 odds. There was a feeling in some quarters that the 6-1½ “Hitman,” with his imposing 78-inch reach, would put his physical advantages and superior punching power to good use against the quicker, more mobile Leonard.

But the action didn’t follow the script most had visualized. Hearns boxed, and masterfully, for long stretches, so much so that he began to build a substantial lead on the scorecards. Leonard, his left eye swelling, had little choice but to become the aggressor as the fight entered the championship rounds. Advised by his chief second, Angelo Dundee, that “You’re blowin’ it, son,” after the 12th round, he hurt Hearns in the 13th and was able to close the deal with a barrage of blows along the ropes in the 14th.

Six years ago, Leonard looked back at that first scrap with Hearns as the highlight of professional career, even more so than his stunning upset of Marvelous Marvin Hagler in 1987.

“To me, those were the great days of boxing, when there were rivalries, personalities, legends,” Leonard said. “There was such an abundance of talent in every division.

“Tommy Hearns seemed like an indestructible machine, so to beat him, I think that was my defining moment, the pinnacle. Those kind of matchups don’t come along too often.”

They seem to come along less often now, in an era where there are fewer great rivalries, personalities and legends. We look to Mayweather-Pacquiao because, where Leonard, Hearns, Duran and Hagler were able to test each other on almost a rotating basis, May and Pac were left with few attractive options except each other.

And so we pay, and pay big, for an oasis of a big in a parched landscape. Here’s hoping that Floyd and Manny provide us with the cool sip of pugilistic refreshment to carry us through until the next water hole shimmers somewhere off in the distance.

Photo by: Chris Farina / Top Rank

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‘Hotlanta’ Has Suddenly Become a Professional Boxing Hotspot

Arne K. Lang

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‘Hotlanta’ Has Suddenly Become a Professional Boxing Hotspot

This coming Saturday, Oct. 23, Top Rank will stage an important fight at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, home of the city’s NBA franchise. Shakur Stevenson challenges WBO 130-pound world title-holder Jamel Herring in a battle of former Olympians.

Saturday’s card will be the eighteenth boxing card in Atlanta this year. At least four more shows will be staged here before the year is out. On the pro boxing front, only Southern California has been busier. There have been more shows in Atlanta than in Las Vegas this year and only 10 shows in all of New York thus far in all of 2021.

True, most of the Atlanta shows have been low-budget affairs; club cards that attracted no mention in the national press. But the city’s NFL stadium housed the Jake Paul vs. Ben Askren freak fight in April and Gervonta “Tank” Davis headlined a pay-per-view show at the State Farm Arena against Mario Barrios in June.

It’s a fair guess that Atlanta would not have been on Top Rank’s radar screen if not for Davis. His fight with Barrios reportedly attracted a paid crowd of 16,570, an uncommonly large turnout by today’s standards. Eighteen months earlier, in his first appearance in Atlanta where he is a part-time resident, “Tank” drew 14,129 to the State Farm Arena for a far less compelling match with Yuriorkis Gamboa. That bout took place three days after Christmas, historically a dead zone for a boxing promoter.

The Davis-Gamboa fight with a vacant 130-pound belt at stake was Atlanta’ first world title fight since the 1998 match between Evander Holyfield and Vaughn Bean, a drought of 21 years.

Holyfield, who grew up in a public housing complex in Atlanta, had two prior title fights in the city where he was raised. In 1991, he defended his heavyweight title here against late sub Bert Cooper. Five years earlier, Evander wrested the WBA junior heavyweight (190 pound) title from Dwight Muhammad Qawi in an Atlanta ring.

The most important fight in Atlanta as measured by international news coverage was the Oct. 26, 1970 match between Muhammad Ali and Jerry Quarry. This was Ali’s first fight in 43 months, having lost the prime of his career to a suspension for draft evasion. The crowd of 5,000 at the city’s old municipal auditorium included 600 members of the press. (Ali chopped Quarry to pieces in a fight that was stopped after three rounds.)

The spearhead of the promotion was Atlanta attorney Leroy Johnson, the only African-American member of Georgia’s State Senate. He and Atlanta’s Jewish mayor overcame the opposition Georgia’s segregationist governor Lester Maddox who declared Oct. 26, 1970 a day of mourning. Maddox’s arms were tied because Georgia had no state boxing commission beholden to the Governor. Each municipality was free to set its own course.

The 1970 fight, the first of two between Ali and Quarry, came to be seen as a watershed moment in the history of the “New South.” Twenty-six years later, Ali returned to Atlanta to light the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony of the 1996 Olympic Games, one of the most indelible moments in TV history.

Of all the boxers born and raised in Georgia, none competed before more eyewitnesses than Beau Jack, a two-time world lightweight champion in the 1940s who appeared in a record 21 main events at Madison Square Garden.

Beau Jack had his first two fights in Augusta where he had a shoeshine stand in the clubhouse of the famous golf course, and two of his final three fights there, but fought only once in Atlanta, that coming very late in his career when his pull was diminished. On his road to Gotham’s famous sock palace, the Augusta native spent a considerable time living and fighting in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where, unlike Atlanta, there was no opposition to interracial matches.

Beau Jack’s lone appearance in Atlanta came on July 17, 1950. His fight with Bobby Timpson, a journeyman from Youngstown Ohio, was one of only two pro boxing events in Atlanta in that calendar year. The sport had been moribund in that city for the better part of the previous three decades.

To find a period when boxing activity in Atlanta was as robust as it has been lately, one has to go back 100 years. In those giddy days in the immediate aftermath of World War I when boxing was bursting out all over, a former streetcar conductor named Walker Miller (everyone called him Walk) turned Atlanta into a boxing hotspot on par with the region’s other major cities, Memphis and New Orleans, where the sport at the local level was also flourishing.

W.L. “Young” Stribling, perhaps the greatest regional attraction in boxing history, made his pro debut in 1921 at age 16 on a Miller-promoted show in Atlanta. Walk Miller would eventually become Stribling’s co-manager, maneuvering him into matches with several of the era’s top heavyweights, but achieved his greatest success with Theodore Flowers who worked as a porter in Miller’s gym before becoming the first man of color to win the world middleweight title.

deacon

The son of a Georgia sharecropper who was introduced to boxing while working in a Philadelphia shipyard, “Tiger” Flowers, nicknamed the Georgia Deacon, developed a following that crossed racial lines. His two bouts in Madison Square Garden with Harry Greb and his bout in Chicago with Mickey Walker were big money-makers. As he was advancing with Walk Miller at his side, the club scene in Atlanta withered.

Like many boxing promoters, Miller was a jack-of-all-trades. He was a gym operator, a trainer, a manager, a promoter, and a booking agent. The closest thing to him in today’s Atlanta is Terri Moss. A former pro boxer, Moss, 55, is the CEO and head trainer of the Buckhead Fight Club which has been keeping the sport alive in the Peach State with a series of low-budget promotions.

Imagine that. Walk Miller’s spiritual heir is a woman. Miller and his cronies would have never seen that coming.

The bout between the 24-year-old Stevenson (16-0, 8 KOs) and the 34-year-old Herring (23-2, 11 KOs) and a co-feature will air on ESPN and ESPN Deportes starting at 10:30 p.m. EST. The undercard will air on ESPN+.

There are nine fights scheduled on Saturday’s Top Rank show including appearances by up-and-comers Evan Holyfield, Evander Holyfield’s son, and Nico Ali Walsh, the grandson of Muhammad Ali.

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Late-Bloomer Jersey Joe Walcott Goes the Distance Again With Statue in Camden

Bernard Fernandez

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It may not always be apparent to those with untrained eyes, but there is genuine art in boxing for those who understand the beauty and majesty of a perfectly timed left hook. Just such a masterful moment of the sweet science was authored by Jersey Joe Walcott on July 18, 1951, in the seventh round of his fifth and likely final shot at the heavyweight championship he had been clawing and scratching his way toward since he turned pro at 16 in 1930.

Again a longshot against the great Ezzard Charles, against whom he already was 0-2 in title bouts, a frozen moment in time that fateful night at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field transformed Walcott from a symbol of his sport’s relentless but mostly unrewarded grinders to instant-legend status. At 37, he not only had become the oldest man to that point ever to win boxing’s most prestigious prize (a distinction he would hold for 43 years, until 45-year-old George Foreman dethroned WBA/IBF champ Michael Moorer on another incredible, bolt-from-the-blue knockout, on Nov. 5, 1994, in Las Vegas), but the patron saint of fighters with iron wills and vision quests they would see through to completion or die trying.

In a story that appeared on this site on July 16, 2018, I ranked Walcott’s blasting of Charles No. 1 on my personal list of all-time one-punch knockouts, which I described thusly:

Entering the seventh round, Walcott led the scoring, in rounds, by 5-1, 4-1-1 and 3-3. Moving forward while rocking side to side, the 9-1 underdog dipped to his left and exploded upward with a thunderous left hook that caught Charles flush on the jaw. The semi-conscious champion pitched forward onto his face.

It is difficult to encapsulate the full scope of such a historically significant and aesthetically flawless a punch into any inanimate object, like a statue, but sculptor Carl LeVotch perhaps came as close as is humanly possible with his eight-foot bronze of Walcott, which was unveiled this past Saturday during a celebratory day of festivities in Camden, N.J., the hometown of the beloved fighter whose real name was Arnold Cream. The unveiling took place along the Camden waterfront, at the Wiggins Park Promenade, following a 3½-mile parade that featured marching bands and other attractions.

For medical reasons I was unable to attend an event I had very much been looking forward to, but the spirit of the occasion – and the 20-year march from concept to completion for those who wanted the Walcott/Cream statue to be more than just another item on someone’s wish list – closely mirrored the ring career of an inspirational figure who fueled the imaginations of so many attendees. Chief among those is Vincent Cream, 61, the grandson of Jersey Joe who spearheaded the drawn-out efforts to raise the $185,000 required to fund the project, which is still not entirely paid for.

“It was an overwhelming moment,” Vincent Cream told Boxing Writers Association of America president Joseph Santoliquito, who covered the event for another media outlet. “Everyone who never met my grandfather met him today.

“No one ever dies. He’s here with us. When I look at his statue, and you see who’s gathered here – white, black, old, young, everyone coming together – his timelessness has come. To persevere for 23 years, it represents who my grandfather was as a man and his fortitude as a person. When you have a dream, it’s important to set goals between the dream and the achievement. Every time I brought up the idea of a statue, people would tell me, `Good luck with that.’ That was 10 years ago. We achieved it, a little at a time – like my grandfather.”

LeVotch, with whom I have long been acquainted, has nearly as long a track record in his boxing-related field as did Walcott, who took his ring nom de guerre in tribute to Joe “The Barbados Demon” Walcott, a welterweight champion whose career ended in 1911. The original fighting Walcott was a hero to young Arnold Cream’s father, Joseph Cream, who came to New Jersey from the British Virgin Islands. I first met LeVotch for a story I did on him that appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News editions of July 2, 2003, when he took me through the process of his creation of a 17-inch cold-cast bronze statuette he called The Spirit of Boxing, reproductions of which are owned by any number of boxing notables. His goal, he told me, was to create something more meaningful than the statue of the fictional heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa that was used as a movie prop for 1982’s Rocky III.

“It doesn’t move me,” LeVotch said. “A true piece of art is capable of moving the man on the street. It is an instrument to inspire. It’s been that way since antiquity. I have a great affinity for Rodin (that would be Auguste Rodin, the French sculptor, not Rodan, the Japanese movie monster). His The Thinker is a sacrament, if you will, of an inner grace.

“I’m one of those guys who believe boxing is a metaphor for life. I also think of it as an art form. Those who do it well are, in their own way, artists.”

In addition to his sculpted improvements of several awards the BWAA presents as its annual dinner, LeVotch’s other life-sized commemoration of a boxing life, that of former middleweight champion Joey Giardello (real name: Carmine Tilelli), was unveiled on May 21, 2011, in Giardelli’s old South Philadelphia neighborhood. Like Walcott, Giardelli – father of four sons, one of whom was born with Down Syndrome – was more than just a fighter, something LeVotch sought to convey through his art.

“I saw Joey not only as a terrific fighter, but as a father who cared deeply for his disabled son,” Carl told me a decade ago. “How do you convey all these different sides of a man in coagulated metal? My challenge was to capture the essence of the man as well as a physical likeness.”

Brought to tears by LeVotch’s artistic interpretation of who her husband was and what he represented in meaningful ways that extended beyond the ring, Rosalie Tilelli said, “I’m overwhelmed. I call Carl LeVotch my Michelangelo.”

Jersey Joe Walcott was demonstrably statue-worthy even if he hadn’t moved on from boxing to a full and rich later phase of his life in which he served as the first African-American elected sheriff of Camden County, serving from 1971 to ’74, and chairman of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board until 1984. His wife, Riletta Cream, also was committed to public service as a city educator and county freeholder from 1994 to 2011.

But it is Walcott the boxer who set records inside the ropes that almost certainly will never be matched, much less surpassed. Fighting in an era when there was just one heavyweight champion, not a bunch of alphabet title-holders, he fought eight times for boxing’s grandest prize, going 2-6 with two losses apiece to Joe Louis and Charles before he broke through against Charles with that museum-quality left hook in Pittsburgh. Five of those title bouts, incredibly, were in succession. There are more than a few historians who believe Jersey Joe should have won on points in his first go at Louis, in which he floored the “Brown Bomber” in the first and fourth rounds. No wonder Walcott’s most ardent fans, even those in his own family, were hesitant to risk seeing him come up short again when he again squared off against Charles in the home stadium of baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates.

“I was 12 when my dad won the heavyweight title and there he is, so real,” Ruth Cream, now 82, told Santoliquito at the unveiling. “I remember that night like it happened clearly. I was the only one downstairs at our house with reporters in our living room watching the fight on TV. Everyone else was upstairs in bed because they didn’t want to watch it.

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“After my father won, I remember running up the stairs to tell my family, `Daddy won!’”

After a successful defense on points against familiar foe Charles, Walcott, well ahead on points through 12 of the scheduled 15 rounds, was dethroned by Rocky Marciano on a 13th-round knockout on Sept. 23, 1952, in Philadelphia. He fought just once more, this time being stopped in one round by Marciano, before hanging up his gloves with a 51-18-2 (32) record. He was part of the 1990 charter class of inductees into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Camden officials are hoping their hometown hero’s statue becomes something of a tourist attraction, as is the case with the Rocky statue at the base of the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum and the 12-foot Joe Frazier statue, created by sculptor Stephen Layne and located outside the Xfinity Live! bar/restaurant in the South Philly sports complex. As splendid as it is, the Giardello statue draws fewer eyes given its location in a less-bustling and attraction-loaded neighborhood.

But in a metropolitan area where bronze tributes to sports stars of the four local professional franchises (Eagles, Phillies, 76ers and Flyers) are fairly commonplace, the statues of Frazier, Giardello, Walcott and, yes, Stallone are at least a signal that boxing, for so long Philadelphia’s fifth pro sport and a veritable cradle of champions, is recognizing a part of its past that is worthy of being preserved and treasured.

Editor’s Note: Bernard Fernandez, named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category with the class of 2020, was the recipient of numerous awards for writing excellence during his 28-year career as a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Daily News. Fernandez’s first book, “Championship Rounds,” a compendium of previously published material, was released in May of last year. The sequel, “Championship Rounds, Vol. 2,” with a foreword by Jim Lampley, arrives this fall. The book can be ordered through Amazon.com, in hard or soft cover, and other book-selling websites and outlets.

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Weekend Boxing Recap: The Mikey Garcia Stunner and More

Arne K. Lang

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Weekend Boxing Recap: The Mikey Garcia Stunner and More

Boxing was all over the map on the third Saturday of October with many of the shows pulled together on short notice as promoters took advantage of relaxed COVID constraints to return to business as usual. When the smoke cleared, a monster upset in Fresno overshadowed the other events.

Mikey Garcia, a shoo-in to make the Hall of Fame, was on the wrong side of it. Spain’s Sandor Martin, in his USA debut, won a well-deserved decision over Garcia at a Triple-A baseball park in Fresno.

Garcia, a former four-division belt-holder, was 40-1 coming in with his only loss coming at the hands of Errol Spence. Martin, a 28-year-old southpaw, brought a nice record with him from Europe (38-2) but with only 13 wins coming by way of stoppage it was plain that he wasn’t a heavy hitter. His only chance was to out-box Garcia and that seemed far-fetched.

But Martin did exactly that, counter-punching effectively to win a 10-round majority decision. Two judges had it 97-93 with the third turning in a 95-95 tally.

Neither Garcia nor Martin were natural welterweights. The bout was fought at a catch-weight of 145 pounds. After the bout, the Spaniard indicated a preference for dropping back to 140 where enticing opportunities await.

There was another upset, albeit a much milder one, in the co-feature where Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Gonzalez improved to 25-3-1 (14) while shearing the WBO world flyweight title from the shoulders of Mexicali’s Elwin Soto (19-2).

Soto was making his fourth defense of the title and rode into the match with a 17-fight winning streak. Gonzalez, a southpaw, had formerly fought for the WBO world flyweight title, getting stopped in seven rounds by Kosei Tanaka in Nagoya, Japan.

One of the judges favored Soto 116-112, but he was properly out-voted by his colleagues who had it 116-112 the other way.

Riga, Latvia

The first major fight on Saturday took place in Riga, Latvia, where hometown hero Mairis Briedis successfully defended his IBF cruiserweight title with a third-round stoppage of Germany’s Artur Mann who was on the deck three times before the match was halted at the 1:54 mark.

Briedis (28-1, 20 KOs) was making his first start since dismantling KO artist Yuniel Dorticos in the finals of season two of the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament. He scored the first of his three knockdowns in the waning seconds of round two when he deposited Mann (17-2) on the canvas with a straight right hand.

Although boosters of fast-rising WBO champ Lawrence Okolie would disagree, the Latvian is widely regarded as the best cruiserweight in the world. His only setback came when he lost a narrow decision to current WBA/IBF/WBO heavyweight champ Oleksandr Usyk in this ring in January of 2018. Now 36 years old, Briedis has yet to appear in a main event outside Europe. That’s undoubtedly about to change and a rematch with Usyk is well within the realm of possibility.

Newcastle, England

Chris Eubank Jr, whose fight two weeks ago in London with late sub Anati Muratov was cancelled at the 11th hour when Muratov failed his medical exam, was added to this Matchroom card and his bout with Wanik Awdijan became the de facto main event. A 26-year-old German, born in Armenia, Awdijan was 28-1 and had won 21 straight (against very limited opposition), but he was no match for Eubank Jr who broke him down with body shots, likely breaking his ribs and forcing him to quit on his stool after five frames.

Eubank Jr, 32, improved to 31-2 (23) His only defeats came at the hands of former world title-holder George Groves and BJ Saunders. He dedicated this fight to his late brother Sebastian Eubank who died in July while swimming in the Persian Gulf.

In other bouts, Hughie Fury, the cousin of Tyson Fury, stayed relevant in the heavyweight division with a stoppage of well-traveled German Christian Hammer and Savannah Marshall successfully defended her WBO world middleweight title with a second-round TKO of Lolita Muzeya.

Akin to Eubank-Awdijan, the Fury-Hammer fight also ended with the loser bowing out after five frames. A biceps injury allegedly caused Hammer to say “no mas,” but Fury, in what was arguably his career-best performance, was well ahead on the cards.

The Marshall-Muzeya fight was a battle of unbeatens, but Muzeya’s 16-0 record was suspicious as the Zambian had never fought outside the continent of Africa. She came out blazing, but Marshall, who improved to 11-0 (9) had her number and retained her title.

Brooklyn

In the featured bout of a TrillerVerz show at Barclays Center, Long Island’s Cletus Seldin, the Hebrew Hammer, knocked out William Silva in the seventh round. It was the fifth-straight win for the 35-year-old Seldin, a junior welterweight who was making his first start in 20 months.

Silva, a 34-year-old Brazilian who fights out of Florida, brought a 28-3 record. His previous losses had come at the hands of Felix Verdejo, Teofimo Lopez, and Arnold Barboza Jr. Seldin improved to 26-1 (22 KOs).

In other bouts, junior welterweight Petros Ananyan, a Brooklyn-based Armenian, improved to 16-2-2 (7) with a 10-round majority decision over local fighter Daniel Gonzalez (20-3-1) and Will Madera of Albany, NY, scored a mild upset when he stopped Jamshidbek Najmitdinov who was pulled out after five rounds with an apparent shoulder injury.

Najmitdinov, from Uzbekistan, was making his U.S. debut but he brought a 17-1 record blemished only by former world title-holder Viktor Postol. Madera improved to 17-1-3.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholand / Matchroom

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