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DiSanto Making Sure Boxing Heroes Are Remembered From Cradle to Grave

Bernard Fernandez

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A potter’s field, pauper’s grave or common grave is a term for a place for the burial of unknown or indigent people.

–From Wikipedia

There was an outpouring of emotion from boxing fans the world over, and deservedly so, when Matthew Saad Muhammad, arguably the greatest action fighter of all time, succumbed to the debilitating effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, on May 25, 2014.

Saad Muhammad, 59 at the time of his passing, was hardly unknown; he was a former WBC light heavyweight champion who defended that title eight times, and a first-ballot inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1998. But Saad Muhammad was not someone whose legacy could be defined solely by numbers in the record book; he was “Miracle Matthew,” a warrior imbued with such a remarkable heart and resilience that he came back from the brink of defeat time and again, winning bouts that were so exhilarating that the tapes should be preserved in a time capsule for future generations to unearth and marvel at.

“To me, Saad Muhammad is the most exciting fighter who ever lived,” says John DiSanto, who in 2004 founded PhillyBoxingHistory.com, a web site dedicated to the preservation of the memory of the local fighters who became his heroes. “His fights were unbelievable. I would say they were like `Rocky’ movies, but they can’t even make boxing movies that are that exciting.”

Saad Muhammad, however, died broke, the $4 million he earned during his 18-year professional career having long since vanished to imprudent spending and a leeching entourage. At one point he was unemployed and owed $250,000 in back taxes. When a proposed story of his life failed to find a buyer in Hollywood, Saad was reduced to working as an itinerant roofer, a sometimes trainer of fighters, and ultimately to life on the streets as a homeless person. It is a common tale, one repeated too often in a cutthroat sport that tends to chew up even its finest practitioners and spit them out once they’ve given their last full measure of devotion.

But the death of Saad Muhammad, sad though it might be, is only the beginning of another story, a more hopeful one that was repeated several times beforehand and is likely to be repeated again in the future. DiSanto, and others like him, are determined that fighters who made such an indelible mark on boxing, and on the memories of those who watched them bleed for our entertainment, should not fade away when the last spadeful of dirt is shoveled onto an unmarked grave.

Which is why DiSanto, 52, who a decade ago quit good-paying jobs in finance and marketing to devote all his attention to his avocation, again is asking the public to come forward with enough modest contributions so that Saad Muhammad’s final resting place be commemorated with a $5,000 gravestone where none now stands.

“Years from now, maybe someone will be doing research on Saad Muhammad, go to the cemetery and instead of seeing a bare patch of grass, he’ll see a big, beautiful gravestone,” DiSanto said.

A bare patch of grass in another cemetery is what prompted DiSanto to inaugurate the Philly Boxing History Gravestone Program, the first placement of which, in December 2005, commemorated the too-short life of super featherweight contender Tyrone Everett, who was only 24 when he was shot and killed by a jealous girlfriend on May 26, 1977. Everett is most remembered in Philadelphia and elsewhere as having been on the wrong end of one of the most egregious decisions ever, a 15-round split nod that enabled WBC 130-pound champion Alfredo Escalera of Puerto Rico to retain his title – in a bout staged in Philly, of all places.

“When I did it for Tyrone Everett, it sort of happened by accident,” DiSanto recalled. “I went out to Tyrone’s grave just to pay my respects. I had read about his viewing and how so many of his fans had shown up, the line going around the block. But when I got to the cemetery, I learned he didn’t have a gravestone. My first thought was, `This is something I can do. Tyrone Everett can’t be the only one.’”

DiSanto more or less paid the full price for Everett’s granite marker, but his next such project, a gravestone for welterweight contender “Gypsy” Joe Harris in 2006, saw him reach out to like-minded individuals who chafed at the notion of another great Philadelphia fighter bereft of proper identification. Harris was just 22 when his boxing license was revoked in October 1968 when an examination revealed that he was blind in his right eye. It was not a recent development; Harris was blinded in that eye as a child and had been fighting and winning with the equivalent of a pirate’s patch blocking half his field of vision.

“It was with the Gypsy Joe gravestone that it occurred to me that this might be something that could be ongoing,” DiSanto said.

And so it has been, with similar gravestones placed in 2008 for Garnet “Sugar” Hart and in 2011 for Eddie Cool, with Saad Muhammad up next. But while Saad may be the latest, he likely won’t be the last.

“When I do something like this, I announce it,” DiSanto said. “People can go online and donate $20 or whatever they can to make it happen. The thing is, some people complain that while this is a good thing to do, somebody else should be doing it. I keep hearing how there’s going to be this $300 million fight in May (Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao), and why doesn’t somebody involved with that just step up and pay for Saad Muhammad’s gravestone? But that hardly ever happens, so it’s up to us to do it.

“The way I look at it, fans of the fighters we remember and respect need to continue being fans. If I can get 100 of them to contribute 50 bucks, or 200 to contribute 25 bucks, we’re there. It’s simple math.”

But the gravestone program isn’t all that DiSanto does to keep alive the memory of the best fighters in one of America’s boxing hotbeds. Since 2008 he has annually presented the Briscoe Awards, in honor of the late, great middleweight contender “Bad” Bennie Briscoe, to contemporary Philadelphia fighters, and on May 17, 2011, he was present for the dedication of his most ambitious undertaking, a nearly seven-foot statue of former middleweight champion Joey Giardello in South Philly.

“The fighters who are fighting now, they’re history in the making,” DiSanto said. “Sometimes we don’t fully grasp that; time has to pass. The Briscoe Awards is a way to acknowledge what’s going on in the present, but it also is a way to fuse that with the memory of Bennie Briscoe, who deserves to be remembered forever. Those of us who saw him fight will never forget him.”

The Giardello statue, designed and crafted by noted sculptor Carl LeVotch, cost $100,000-plus and was the inspiration for numerous beef-and-beer dinners and other fundraisers over an extended period.

“That statue belongs to the people,” DiSanto said. “The people paid for it. Now, there were a couple of big donors, which made it a lot easier than it otherwise could have been. But there were also a lot of $10 donations that went into making the finished product a reality.

“To me, the Giardello statue is attributed to the artist that did it, and he did a beautiful job. It’s attributed to Joey’s family and to his legacy. But when I drive by Passyunk Avenue and I see it, I can say, `That’s mine, too.’”

So how long does DiSanto see himself throwing body, mind and spirit, into these myriad labors of love?

“At first I thought, `Boy, wouldn’t it be great to do this for a living?’” he said. “But in the 10 years since I’ve had the web site there is no living to be made. It’s a black hole as far as money is concerned. I’m just fortunate to have people who sponsor the Briscoe Awards and donate for the gravestones.

“Look, I know I’m going to have to go back to the kind of work I used to do, eventually. I miss my regular paycheck. But for now, this is what I do, and I believe in what I’m doing.

“When I get into something, I take it to ridiculous extremes and that’s what I’ve done with boxing. The sickness goes pretty far, and I tend to push it. But I’m happier doing this. I could go back to something in finance or marketing, working 12 hours a day, and be miserable. I’m not ready to do that yet.”

TSS readers interested in the Matthew Saad Muhammad gravestone a reality can make a donation by check or money order to “Philly Boxing History Gravestone Fund,” P.O. Box 428, Sewell, New Jersey 08080. Online payments via credit card can also be made by going to the PhillyBoxingHistory.com web site.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Sept. 26 Horn of Plenty and Other Notes

Arne K. Lang

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Considering the constraints, the month of September has been a pretty good month for professional boxing. And the month will close with a flourish. Eight world title-holders will be in action on the 26th, the last Saturday of the month.

Five of the belt-holders will appear on the SHOWTIME PPV doubleheader featuring the Charlo twins. The most intriguing fight on that card finds Jermall Charlo risking his belt and his undefeated record against rugged Sergiy Deveryanchenko. At last glance, Jermall was a consensus 17/10 (minus-170) favorite. In baseball, a 17/10 favorite is a heavy favorite. In boxing, not so. A serious handicapper who wouldn’t think of laying 17/10 in a baseball game would have no hesitation about laying these odds in a boxing match.

When Deveryanchenko steps into the ring, 51 weeks will have elapsed since his last fight, his bruising tiff with Gennadiy Golovkin. Jermall Charlo hasn’t been on the shelf for quite that long, having last fought in December.

A more interesting match on this particular Saturday, at least in the eyes of this reporter, will unfold earlier that day in Munich when the curtain finally comes down on Season 2 of the long-drawn-out World Boxing Super Series. Two titles will be on the line when Mairis Briedis (26-1, 19 KOs) meets Yuniel Dorticos (24-1, 22 KOs).

Briedis’ lone defeat came at the hands of Oleksandr Usyk in a very competitive fight. Briedis won five rounds on two of the cards and won six rounds on the other. Dorticos’ lone defeat came on enemy turf in Sochi, Russia when he was stopped with eight seconds remaining in a doozy of a fight with Murat Gassiev.

Forget the titles; titles are a dime a dozen. These two guys are plainly the two best cruiserweights on the planet.

“The tickets are flying out the door and we expect to sell out within hours, if not days,” said co-promoter Kalle Sauerland at a pre-fight press conference.

That assertion was made way back on January 22 when the fight, originally targeted for late December of last year, was headed to Riga, Latvia, on March 21. That date didn’t work, nor did the re-scheduled date of May 16, and ultimately Riga didn’t work either.

Whatever tickets were sold, had to be refunded. There will be no fans in attendance when Briedis and Dorticos finally lock horns on Sept. 26 at a TV studio in Munich. The fight will air on DAZN in the U.S.

“Rest makes rust” was an often-heard caution when big gamblers of yesteryear dissected a boxing match. The late, great pricemaker Herb Lambeck reflexively shied away from boxers that had been inactive for a considerable period of time. For him, the Briedis-Dorticos match would likely be a head-scratcher. Both combatants have been inactive since June 15 of last year when they appeared in separate bouts on the same card in Riga, Briedis’s hometown. And they aren’t getting any younger. Briedis is 34 and Dorticos is 35.

The odds got nicked down somewhat when the site shifted from Riga with fans to Munich without, predictably so as Briedis, the first fighter from Latvia to win a world title, has an avid local following.

Briedis, the superior boxer, is a consensus 9/5 favorite. That seems a shade high as he won’t be able to feed off the crowd – there won’t be a crowd – and Dorticos, the Cuban KO Doctor, has a better chance of ending the fight with one punch. It wouldn’t be shocking if the fight followed a similar tack as the recent fight between Dillian Whyte and Alexander Povetkin.

In case you missed it, Whyte was dominating his Russian adversary when things changed in a flash in the fifth round. Out of nowhere, Povetkin, the underdog, unleashed a picture-perfect uppercut that left Whyte flat on his back, unconscious before he hit the canvas. There have been other smashing one-punch knockouts this year – Ryan Garcia’s demolition of Francisco Fonseca comes quickly to mind – and there may be a few more, but it’s hard to visualize anyone topping Povetkin in the voting for Knockout of the Year.

By the way, if he wins it, Povetkin, 41, would be the second-oldest boxer to score the Knockout of the Year. George Foreman was 45 when he knocked out Michael Moorer in 1994. The source is The Ring magazine which has been issuing this award since 1989.

And if you happen to know the youngest fighter to score The Ring Knockout of the Year, then you’re pretty sharp. No, it’s not baby-faced Naoya Inoue, who is older (27) than he looks. The honor goes to the long-forgotten African-American/Filipino southpaw Morris East who was 19 when he knocked out defending WBA 140-pound champion Akinobu Hironaka in 1992.

In a rarity, it didn’t take long for Alexander Povetkin and Dillian Whyte to agree on a rematch. They will meet again on Nov. 21. The venue is undecided, but Eddie Hearn is hopeful that he can pot the fight somewhere outside his backyard “fight camp” with fans in attendance. The first lines on the fight show Whyte the favorite in the vicinity of 13/5. Povetkin-Whyte II will be a nice appetizer for the Errol Spence vs. Danny Garcia match that goes off later that day.

In an unrelated development, Fury-Wilder III is purportedly going to Allegiant Stadium, the new home of the Las Vegas Raiders, in late December. Bob Arum anticipates a crowd of 10,000-15,000 with social distancing protocols in place.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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Meekins vs. Kawoya: File It Under Bizarre

Ted Sares

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 It was August 8, 1988. The location was Resorts International in Atlantic City. The main event featured New Yorker John Wesley Meekins (18-1-2) vs another New Yorker (via Uganda and Denmark) Mohammed Kawoya (11-3).

The rangy and skilled Meekins with a stellar amateur career was a clear favorite over the lesser known Kawoya who had fought only once in the US, losing to Jorge Maysonet on cuts at the Felt Forum. Meekins was expected to move on to a world title fight after dispatching Kawoya.

Meekins enjoyed a successful career between 1984 and 1994, fighting the likes of Davey Montana, Mike Mungin, Harold Brazier, Saoul Mamby, Santos Cardona, Darrin Morris (who won his last 16 fights in a row), and Terence Alli. He would lose to a prime Meldrick Taylor (20-0-1) in 1989 with the IBF World Super Lightweight title at stake.

On June 15, 1990, Meekins beat Santos Cardona over 12 rounds to win the NABF light-welterweight championship, but would lose it to Terence Alli some seven months later. It was downhill after that and he retired in November 1994 with a record of 24-5-2 after being stopped by so-so Darryl Lattimore.

Back to Meekins vs. Kawoya

 This one did not go as expected. After being decked in round 2, Kawoya dropped Meekins in the opening seconds of round 3. An exciting fight with multiple knockdowns and furious exchanges was in progress and the fans loved it.

An aroused Meekins then went after the Ugandan with a vengeance and set up one of the most bizarre endings that few boxing fans have ever heard about, much less witnessed, as he again dropped Kawoya this time with a fast left hook. He then went for the kill. Referee Paul Venti sensed it and moved in—perhaps prematurely– as Meekins unleashed what he hoped would be a fight-ending volley of hard shots.

 As soon as Venti stepped in to stop the fight, Kawoya landed a right that dropped Meekins and had him crawling on the canvas and holding on to the ropes devoid of his senses for at least ten seconds. The punch was thrown at the exact moment that Venti ended matters and Venti didn’t realize what had occurred.

 While Kawoya thought he has scored a clean KO and celebrated wildly, the fact was that Venti had ended the fight a fraction of a second before and his decision would stand.

The fans not only enjoyed a great fight, they witnessed something truly memorable—something that had to be seen to be believed; namely, a winner struggling to get up and a loser celebrating what he thought was a knockout.

Kawoya pulled out of the rematch because of a throat infection and Saoul Mamby took his place as a late sub. The Ugandan never fought again, while Meekins never got the title shot that a more impressive effort might have gotten him.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com or on Facebook and welcomes comments.

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Price and Programming Lineup for Sept. 26 Charlo Twins PPV Doubleheader

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PRESS RELEASE — SHOWTIME Sports has announced the price and programming lineup for the first-of-its-kind pay-per-view doubleheader on Saturday, September 26, featuring two stacked fight cards each headlined by one of the world champion Charlo twins in an event presented by Premier Boxing Champions. THE SHOWTIME PPV event, CHARLO DOUBLEHEADER, is available for purchase at a suggested retail price (SRP) of $74.95 and includes six compelling fights, five of which are world championship bouts.

 THE EVENT

The first card of the SHOWTIME PPV telecast will be headlined by undefeated WBC Middleweight World Champion Jermall Charlo defending his title against Sergiy Derevyanchenko. WBA Super Bantamweight Champion Brandon Figueroa will defend his title against Damien Vázquez in the co-featured bout, while WBO Bantamweight World Champion John Riel Casimero faces off against Duke Micah in the pay-per-view opener. Following the main event and a 30-minute intermission, the second three-fight card headlined by WBC Super Welterweight World Champion Jermell Charlo facing unified 154-pound World Champion Jeison Rosario will begin. Luis Nery will battle Aaron Alameda for the vacant WBC Super Bantamweight World Championship in the co-feature, while former unified champion Danny Román faces former champion Juan Carlos Payano in a WBC Super Bantamweight title eliminator bout to open the second three-fight card of the pay-per-view.

TELECAST TEAM

The announce team for the SHOWTIME PPV telecast is comprised of the most experienced and decorated boxing team on television. Veteran sportscaster Brian Custer is the host. Versatile combat sports voice Mauro Ranallo handles blow-by-blow action alongside Hall of Fame analyst Al Bernstein and four-time world champion Abner Mares. Two Hall of Famers round out the telecast team: boxing historian Steve Farhood as unofficial scorer, and world-renowned ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr.

THE JOURNEY: CHARLO DOUBLEHEADER and DIGITAL PROGRAMMING LINEUP

In the leadup to the unprecedented two-event pay-per-view, SHOWTIME Sports will produce and premiere THE JOURNEY: CHARLO DOUBLEHEADER, a 30-minute show that chronicles the unique story of Jermall and Jermell, twins born one minute apart in Houston, Texas, as they rise through the ranks and put themselves in position to become global boxing stars. Voiced by SHOWTIME boxing host Brian Custer, THE JOURNEY: CHARLO DOUBLEHEADER features rarely seen footage and gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at their most pivotal career moments, motivations, and life outside of the ring.

THE JOURNEY will premiere on SHOWTIME on Sunday, September 13 at 11:30 p.m. ET/PT and will be available for free on the SHOWTIME Sports YouTube channel and all SHOWTIME On Demand platforms.

SHOWTIME Sports will also release new episodes, of the original, digital franchiseRING RESUME which examines the career progressions of boxing’s top stars, available on the SHOWTIME Sports YouTube channel. Beginning Monday, September 21, the SHOWTIME Boxing Snapchat page will focus on high-energy fight and training camp highlights featuring the Charlos. In addition, the Snapchat page will feature the Charlos’ RING RESUMES and THE JOURNEY to expand reach to young audiences with short-form, fast-paced storytelling. Plus, Brendan Schaub and Kenny Florian will preview the keys to the fights on BELOW THE BELT BREAKDOWN, available on the BELOW THE BELT YouTube channel.

MORNING KOMBAT INTERMISSION

Combat sports aficionados Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell will host a 30-minute intermission show after the conclusion of the Charlo vs. Derevyanchenko main event and the start of the second three-fight card. The duo, hosts of the popular live combat sports talk show and podcast MORNING KOMBAT, will also host live streams of the main events press conference and official weigh-in in addition to providing in-depth coverage on MORNING KOMBAT throughout the week. The official weigh-in and main events press conference will stream live on the SHOWTIME Sports YouTube channel and SHOWTIME Boxing Facebook page.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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