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Hopkins Looking Ahead, Not at 20-Year Reunion of 1st World Championship

Bernard Fernandez

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HOPKINS LOOKING AHEAD, NOT THINKING ABOUT 20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF HIS FIRST WORLD TITLE

You might think that the 20th anniversary of the winning of his first world championship would be a cause of celebration for Bernard Hopkins, or at least a reason for fond remembrance.

Such an assumption would be incorrect. For all his accomplishments, Hopkins, 50, is more of a forward-thinker than a looking-past type. He might or might not have one more fight to squeeze out of his career as an active fighter, but in either case he’s prepared for the next phase of a most interesting life, which the reformed ex-con envisions as a color commentator for televised boxing, a celebrity endorser, a more fully involved executive with Golden Boy Promotions or, who knows, maybe the host of a network news/entertainment show.

“I’ve been knowing Michael Strahan for, like, five years,” Hopkins, when contacted for this story, said of his friendship with the two-time-Super Bowl-winning defensive end for the New York Giants who now co-hosts “Michael and Kelly” with Kelly Ripa weekday mornings on ABC-TV. “Michael said, `Bernard, you’re a charming guy. You have personality. We have two things in common: We both like to talk, and we got that gap between our teeth.”

During an hour-long discussion of what was, what is and what is yet to be, the oldest fighter ever to win a widely recognized world title made it clear that his final bout, whether it is against an undetermined opponent sometime this year or his unanimous-decision loss to Sergey Kovalev in their light heavyweight unification showdown last Nov. 8 in Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall, is not the end of Bernard Hopkins. It only marks a new beginning.

“I’m always going to have fighting in me,” Hopkins said. “Physically, this year is important to me. I’m 50. There’s a movement out there that I represent, and that’s the 50-and-up club. If I do take another fight, it has to be meaningful. But, really, how many good fighters would want to run the risk of getting beat up by a 50-year-old man? There aren’t a lot of Sergey Kovalevs out there. I give him a lot of respect for agreeing to fight me. Adonis Stevenson (the WBC light heavyweight champ), he ain’t kicking down no doors to get to me or to Sergey.”

And if no credible opponent signs up for B-Hop’s farewell to the ring wars, after 27 years in the pro ranks?

“Then that’ll be that,” he said. “I’m not going to embarrass myself by begging or pleading to fight anybody.”

For many champions, retirement means taking it easy, maybe eating some of the fattening food that they had to deny themselves to remain in fighting trim, and to become fixtures at card shows and other gatherings where nostalgic fans can gaze upon them and recall just how proficient they once were in the toughest, most demanding sport of all.

Hopkins doesn’t intend to settle into the comfortable if somewhat dissatisfying existence of an official relic. After being a guest presenter at the 90th annual Boxing Writers Association of America Awards Dinner in New York on April 24, and then taking in the Wladimir Klitschko-Bryant Jennings heavyweight title bout in Madison Square Garden the following night, he jetted to Las Vegas the next day to serve as an expert commentator for ESPN’s week-long coverage of the Mayweather-Pacquiao megafight, which comes on the heels of what he hopes was the first of many similar gigs with HBO Sports, having been a part of the broadcast team for the March 14 Kovalev-Jean Pascal fight in Montreal along with Jim Lampley and Max Kellerman. And while he is still learning a few tricks of that trade, like shortening his trademark 10-minute soliloquies, as entertaining as they might be, to more easily digestible 10-second sound bites.

“It takes some getting used to,” Hopkins, Philadelphia’s most notable fighter since the heyday of the late, great Smokin’ Joe Frazier, said of his introduction to vocal brevity. “I can’t dominate the conversation. I admit, I got a problem with that sometimes. But I’m learning you can use a few words to make a point instead of a lot of words. Jim Lampley has been working with me on that, like a mentor. He tells me to get in and get out. Just like in boxing.”

As an interviewee instead of as an interviewer, B-Hop can still go the distance, rattling off lengthy responses to questions about, well, just about anything. For the purposes of this story, the subject was his first world championship victory, in his third shot at a title, when he won the vacant IBF middleweight belt on a seventh-round stoppage of Ecuador’s Segundo Mercado on April 29, 1995, in Landover, Md. But, somewhat oddly, Hopkins’ recollections of that fateful, life-altering encounter were not on the tip of his always-wagging tongue.

“You know, I really haven’t thought about that fight in a long time,” he said. “Not even for one second.”

Perhaps, if you’re the veteran of 28 world title bouts, including 21 during his 10-year reign as a middleweight champion, it’s easy to tuck one such fight into the dustier recesses of memory. Or it just might be that Hopkins has sharper, more vivid recollections of his first two title scrums, which came up short. It nagged him that he had to wait 17 years to get a rematch with Roy Jones Jr., who won a unanimous decision for the vacant IBF middleweight crown on May 22, 1993. That festering wound was finally cleansed when Hopkins outpointed Jones on all the judges’ scorecards in a non-title, light heavyweight matchup on April 3, 2010.

And it is the first scrap with Mercado, a descendant of African slaves, that Hopkins is forever apt to recall, and none too fondly. Again fighting for the vacant IBF middleweight championship, Jones having moved up to super middleweight, Hopkins seemingly was being dealt from a stacked deck, although he was ranked No. 1 by the IBF to No. 2 for Mercado. Not only was he going up against an Ecuadorean in his home country, but the lead promoter for the fight was Don King, who had Mercado, a Quito resident who presumably was accustomed to that city’s thin air at an elevation of 9,252 feet. Hopkins, on the other hand, was brought in just two days before the bout (as he remembers it today) or four days before (the time line described by the Showtime broadcast crew). In either case, that was hardly enough time for Hopkins’ body to adjust to the stark change in altitude.

“Oh, man, that whole trip was something else,” Hopkins said. “There was a war or something going on between Ecuador and Peru. Everywhere you went, there were a lot of soldiers carrying submachine guns.

“After we arrived, I ran into (future WBA super middleweight champion) Frankie Liles and he said, `You just coming in?’ This was Thursday, two days before my fight with Mercado. I said yeah. He told me he and some of the other fighters from America had been there for, like, two weeks, to get adjusted to the altitude.

“I didn’t have nearly enough time to make that adjustment. Let me tell you, it does make a difference. The next day, I went out to run and got lightheaded. I could hardly breathe. Then I went to the gym that had been assigned for me and there was dog and chicken s— all over the place. I turned around and said, `Man, they want me to work out here? You have got to be kidding.’

“Butch Lewis (Hopkins’ promoter at the time) found some local guy, a tour guide or something, and gave him a few dollars to find us a better place. He sent us to a gym even further up the mountain! We’re being driven up there on these winding roads, with no guard rails. I’m looking out the window and you can see over the cliff. Make a bad turn, you drop all the way down and it’d have been all over. I got to the gym alive, shook out a few things, and that was it. I wasn’t about to go back up there again.”

So why did Hopkins arrive in Quito with so little time for get acclimated? He said he has “documentation” that Lewis, from whom he later split, had been given $100,000 by King to delay his departure for Ecuador and thus further enhance Mercado’s chances to become the first professional boxer from his country to win a world championship.

“I keep stuff,” Hopkins said. “They call me a hoarder, but you never know when you might need something.”

What a gasping Hopkins, who was floored in the fifth and seventh rounds, needed was a second wind. Somehow he found it, dominating the closing rounds as it was Mercado who appeared to tire more down the stretch. When it was all over, the IBF title remained vacant, Hopkins coming out ahead, 114-111, on Al DeVito’s card while Colombia’s Francisco Hernandez had Mercado winning by 116-114. That left matters up to the swing judge, Paul Gibbs, who submitted a scorecard all even at 113-113.

The IBF-mandated rematch took place just 133 days later, at sea level and on American soil. The atmospheric change and a supportive audience must have energized Hopkins, who brutalized Mercado from the opening bell until referee Rudy Battle stepped in to wave a halt to the one-sided proceedings with 1 minute, 10 seconds remaining in the seventh round.

“If he couldn’t beat me in Ecuador, he damn sure wasn’t about to beat me in the States,” Hopkins said. “I think Don King knew that. It was my fight to lose at that point, and I wasn’t about to let that happen.”

As for Mercado, the thrashing he received in Landover – Hopkins still was “The Executioner” then, 20 of his 27 victories coming inside the distance, including 12 in the first round – ruined him. He was 1-7-1 thereafter until his retirement in 2003, with six of the losses by knockout.

I asked Hopkins what might have happened had Mercado gotten the nod in their first fight, or if he had fought a Mexican for a WBC belt in Mexico or Las Vegas instead of an Ecuadorean for an IBF belt in Ecuador. Boxing politics being what they are, it is not unreasonable to presume that he would have had to wait longer, perhaps even a great deal longer, to get another shot at a world championship. Maybe he would never have gotten that opportunity to become what he became.

“That makes a lot of sense, based on history,” he said. “It’s happened before, plenty of times. It does give you something to think about. It probably would have put me on a different path. But there’s no sense in wondering about what might have happened. My thing is to look ahead more than to look back, whether I ever throw another punch or not.”

As champion, Hopkins reinvented himself. With an eye toward the longevity he was to achieve, he honed the hit-and-don’t-get-hit style that has enabled him to remain at or near the top longer than any elite fighter, and that includes Archie Moore and George Foreman. He makes no apologies for the makeover that some have labeled as exciting as watching paint dry.

“Yeah, I heard how I was boring, how I was a technician,” Hopkins said. “Some of it hurt. Fighters believe that the only way to be a superstar is to be `TV-friendly’ or `fan-friendly.’ If you’re hitting and not getting hit back much, you’re perceived as not being marketable. But I came to realize I had great defense and great reflexes. I could make a guy miss and make him pay. The thing is, you can do all that and still look pretty good doing it, and against real fighters.

“Why should you take punches to prove you can take a punch? That’s ridiculous. It’s worse than ridiculous. It’s stupid.”

So the onetime “Executioner,” more recently re-labeled as “The Alien,” is morphing into “The Elocutioner.” His diction might not be velvety smooth or his grammar always perfect, but he doesn’t slur his words or demonstrate any signs of a damaged brain. Those are the foremost prerequisites for someone who is eager to continue making a good living by talking. Hopkins’ late mother, Shirley, once thought her son’s chattiness might lead him to become a preacher or a politician, and B-Hop said his first dream was to become a disc jockey on the radio.

He found boxing instead.

“I’m in a good place,” Hopkins continued. “My money’s fine, my family’s fine. People say,`Why don’t you just rest? Take it easy?’ I can’t. I won’t. To me, everything is a competition. It shouldn’t be, but it is. That’s just the way I am.”

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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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