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The Real “Fight of the Century” Remains Corrales-Castillo I

Bernard Fernandez

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Forget the hype. Forget what you were told. Forget even what you know, or think you know. Not to disparage Mayweather-Pacquiao, which is the undisputed revenue-producing champion of all time, but the real “Fight of the Century” remains the classic first pairing of lightweight champions Diego “Chico” Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo. Their epic unification clash on May 7, 2005, at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas was so riveting that many consider it to be the greatest boxing match of all time.

Such an assertion might or might not be considered true, as there are always disparities in individual perception. There is no algorithm to pinpoint which treasured fight in ring history indisputably deserves to be at the very top of that figurative mountain. But while the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight was relayed to the International Space Station to be viewed by U.S. astronauts at their leisure, Corrales-Castillo I, won by Corrales on a 10th-round stoppage only moments after it appeared he was on the verge of being taken out himself, is what we would want communicated throughout the galaxy to show other intelligent life forms, if indeed there are any, that inhabitants of Earth are incredibly tough, courageous and not to be messed with.

“You can vote now,” Gary Shaw, Corrales’ promoter, said at the postfight press conference a decade ago. “This is Fight of the Year, Fight of Next Year, Fight of the Decade. I don’t believe you’ll ever see anything like this again.”

There have, of course, been some excellent bouts since Corrales and Castillo took each other to hell and back. But in the 10 years that have passed, Shaw and others who were fortunate enough to have been eyewitnesses that amazing night haven’t had cause to rate any fight higher for drama and gut-wrenching excitement.

“Oh, it was a great fight. A spectacular fight,” Shaw told me a few days ago. “But that was Corrales. He always said that they would have to carry him out of the ring before he’d ever stop fighting. He was the ultimate never-give-up guy.

“I actually thought the fight was going to be over in that 10th round. Diego had gone down a second time and was on his hands and knees. I was thinking as a promoter would, `What am I going to say at the press conference? How am I going to bring Diego back?’ The next thing I knew, I had almost an out-of-body experience. When I looked up, Castillo was sagging against the ropes and the referee (Tony Weeks) was waving the fight off. Incredible.”

Said referee Tony Weeks, who drew the assignment as third man in the ring: “That fight definitely is the highlight of my career. It will go down in history. It is history. And those guy guys, Corrales and Castillo, made me a part of that history. I’m forever indebted to them. They epitomized what true champions are.”

As amazing rallies go, Corrales’ comeback from the brink was like a baseball team that was six runs down with two outs and the bases empty in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 of the World Series somehow pulling out the victory. If such a stark momentum shift in a boxing match can be equated to a miracle, well, this was it.

“In the 10th round, Castillo nailed Corrales with a left hook and he went down,” Weeks recalled. “There was the mouthpiece issue, of course. (More on that a bit later.) Corrales got up and he seemed to be OK, so I let things go on and, boom, he goes down again. At this point I’m thinking it’s a brutal fight, I might have to stop it if he goes down another time. But, somehow, Corrales was able to turn the tables. If you look at the film, you can see my focus shift from Corrales to Castillo.

“It was unbelievable, and it all happened so fast. One minute I’m counting over Corrales and the next minute I’m stopping the fight with Castillo out on his feet.”

As is often the case with any story that has a rich vein of silver linings, there are dark clouds of controversy and even tragedy that stick to Corrales-Castillo I like lint on a Velcro brush. Jay Larkin, the Showtime boxing boss who was instrumental I making the fight, was ousted from the position he had held for 21 years later in 2005. He was 59 when he died, after a lengthy battle with brain cancer, on Aug. 9, 2010. Corrales was never the same after that first go-round with Castillo; he lost his final three bouts, including the rematch, retired and, inebriated and reportedly despondent , he died in a motorcycle crash in Las Vegas on May 7,2007 – two years to the day after the signature victory of a praiseworthy career in which he went 40-5, with 33 wins inside the distance.

“When I received the news (of Corrales’ death), I was devastated,” Weeks said. “I couldn’t believe it. For it to happen on that particular date … that was devastating. I got to know Corrales through boxing, in the ring and out of the ring. He was a real nice guy, a real likable guy. He would always cater to the public as far as giving autographs and taking pictures with fans. You would never think he was such a fierce warrior if you met him outside of the ring.”

More so than most, I have a deep connection to Corrales-Castillo I because, in some small way, I feel like I helped make it happen. I was the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America in 2005, and it was my decision, at the suggestion of Las Vegas-based writer Kevin Iole, to bring the 80th annual BWAA Awards Dinner to the Strip for the first time after many years of it being staged exclusively on the East Coast, most often in New York.

As part of the process of transforming that plan into a reality, I contacted officials at both Showtime and HBO and said the event could only be staged in Las Vegas if it was in conjunction with a major fight the following night. I gave a list of preferred dates to both premium cable networks and told them, basically, that we’d partner up with whichever stepped up first.

Larkin clearly was on board. “We very much want to be involved,” he told me, “and I’m prepared to go a half-million dollars over our normal budget for a Showtime Championship Boxing telecast to make it happen.”

What he delivered was a showdown between Corrales, the WBO lightweight champion, and Castillo, who held the WBC title. It was an attractive fight, given the reputations of both fighters, but it wasn’t a megafight. In fact, the announced attendance that night in the Mandalay Bay Events Center was 5,100, well short of capacity, although the correct figure is probably somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000.

To my way of thinking, anything good that took place on May 7 was gravy. The BWAA Awards Dinner, thanks in large part to Mandalay Bay public relations director Gordon Absher, who was instrumental in the event selling out with a celebrity guest list that included, among others, Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Bernard Hopkins, Vitali Klitschko, Winky Wright, James Toney, Shane Mosley, Chris Byrd, Hasim Rahman, Lamon Brewster, Erik Morales, Glen Johnson, Wayne McCullough, Jeff Lacy, Zab Judah, Kevin Kelly and Richie Sandoval.

But the BWAA Awards Dinner, star-studded as it was, merely served as an appetizer to the real main event the following night. Corrales and Castillo hurled themselves at one another with uncommon fury from the opening bell. The exchanges were frequent and torrid, clinches rare, and the ebb and flow suggested something lifted from a WWE script. It was obvious seconds into Round 1 that those spectators who were fortunate enough to be in the arena, and the Showtime viewing audience, were witnessing an instant classic.

The toll of the punishment being dished out both ways soon became apparent, most noticeably on Corrales’ face, which was a gargoyle mask with angry, purplish lumps under each eye. He later described them as “marbles, big, hard marbles.” And as those marbles enlarged, a curtain was slowly being drawn across the slits his battered eyes had become.

Asked afterward if he was concerned about his diminishing field of vision, Corrales, well, lied. Distorting reality is something desperate fighters do to buy extra time from a referee or a ring physician upon whose judgment their further participation in a bout hinges.

“It’s not my job to worry about swelling,” he said of the mouses that had become rat-sized, offering still another magnificent prevarication. “It’s not my job to worry about knockdowns. It’s not my job to worry about anything that might hinder me. It’s the corner’s job to worry about those things. It’s my job to fight.”

Make no mistake, Corrales’ trainer, Joe Goossen, was fretting enough for the entire corner team. And what he told his fighter, or what Corrales decided on his own, might have proved the difference between a spectacular, back-from-the-brink victory and near-certain defeat.

In his most notable fight prior to his trench war with Castillo, Corrales had wrested the WBO 135-pound title from Brazil’s Acelino Freitas on a 10th-round TKO on Aug. 7, 2004, in Mashantucket, Conn. It did not escape Corrales’ attention that, whenever Freitas appeared to be in real trouble, he would “accidentally” lose his mouthpiece, obliging referee Mike Ortega to call time to have it rinsed off. A slick ploy, but one that ultimately did not prevent Freitas’ championship from changing hands.

Twenty-five seconds into Round 10, Castillo landed flush with a left hook that sent Corrales crashing to the canvas. His mouthpiece was dislodged by the shot, which probably was done legitimately, but Corrales – who had demonstrated remarkable recuperative powers throughout his career, in which he previously had been decked eight times – got precious additional seconds of recovery time.

The second knockdown, also from a left hook, had “Chico’s” chances of winning hanging by a slender thread. Even before Weeks reached a count of nine, a clearly buzzed Corrales removed his mouthpiece, apparently intentionally.

“The first time it came out, it came out by itself,” Corrales said. “The second time, I took it out to breathe. But I didn’t drop it on purpose.”

Weeks deducted a point from Corrales for intentionally spitting out the mouthpiece and directed him to his corner, where Goossen took his sweet time in rinsing it off and re-inserting it. When Corrales turned to face Castillo again, 28 seconds had elapsed.

Would Corrales have been stopped without the break in the action? Possibly. But Corrales, still in desperate straits, got there first with an overhand right, which he followed up with a barrage of blows, driving the Mexican back against the ropes, his head vibrating like it was on a swivel. Weeks believed he had no choice but to step in and wave things off at the 2:06 mark.

At the time of the stoppage, Corrales led, 87-84 and 86-85, on the scorecards of judge Lou Moret and Daniel Van de Wiele, with Castilo up, 87-84, on Paul Smith’s card.

“Castillo was naked,” Weeks said of the stoppage. “He was being hit with bombs. He went limp. He was unable to defend himself. He was out on his feet. His eyes rolled back, his arms were at his sides. I had to stop it.”

Not surprisingly, Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, who promoted Castillo, went ballistic.

“Forget the Long Count (in Dempsey-Tunney II),” Arum fumed. “Twenty-eight seconds. Nearly half a minute. If Jose Luis had spit out his mouthpiece, maybe he would have gotten 28 seconds (to recuperate).”

Shaw, of course, saw things differently.

“There’s nothing worse than taking away from a night like this,” he said. “This fight cannot be sullied by controversy.”

For his part, Weeks stands by his decision to allow Corrales enough time to have his mouthpiece rinsed and re-inserted, a ruling which was in accordance with Nevada State Athletic Commission rules, according to Marc Ratner, then the NSAC executive director.

“I would not do anything differently,” insisted Weeks, one of boxing’s best referees. “The first time (the mouthpiece came out), I didn’t see Corrales spit it out. Even the second time, I didn’t see it. But it was out, so the second time I thought, `We got a situation here.’ The appropriate thing was to deduct a point, which I did.”

Maybe Shaw is correct; the mouthpiece controversy doesn’t seem quite as big a deal now, maybe because the action was so indelibly printed on the minds of all that were privileged to have seen one of the great prizefights of all time. Fifteen years into the 21st century, there still hasn’t been anything to quite match it, not even the Gatti-Ward troika and, money considerations aside, not Mayweather-Pacquiao.

“The thing that bothers me the most (about the May-Pac fight) is they made it about money, instead of what a great fight really should be about,” he said. “I have a lot of mixed emotions about Saturday night in relation to Corrales-Castillo because those guys didn’t get anywhere near the money that Mayweather and Pacquiao got. But they were the ones who fought their hearts out and put everything on the line. Mayweather and Pacquiao didn’t, in my estimation.”

The measure of what Corrales-Castillo I was is the fact that it remains a measuring stick against which other fights are judged. Prior to junior welterweight Lucas Matthysse’s 12-round, majority decision over Ruslan Provodnikov on April 18 in Verona, N.Y., Provodnikov’s promoter, Art Pelullo, raised the possibility of a reasonable facsimile of May7, 2005, again taking place.

“I believe it’s going to be Corrales-Castillo I,” Pelullo opined. It wasn’t, but it is indicative of just how special a fight that was that boxing people still bring it up with a reverence that Mayweather-Pacquiao dwarfed in revenues generated but not where it counts, inside the ropes.

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Holmes-Spinks I: The Grassy Knoll for Boxing’s Conspiracy Theorists

Bernard Fernandez

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The most enduring of American conspiracy theories involves a gunman who may or may not have existed and may or may not have been on a grassy knoll in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the subject of numerous speculative books and movies, all of which involve some individual’s ironclad take on what happened, why it happened and who was involved in making it happen, will always be grist for the mill for those still dissecting that national tragedy. More than a few of those arguments dispute the Warren Commission’s official conclusion that presumed killer Lee Harvey Oswald acted on his own and not in concert with unidentified, shadowy figures.

On a more recent and lesser scale, a raft of conspiracy theories arose in the wake of the alleged Aug. 10 jailhouse suicide of multimillionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, whose list of celebrity acquaintances includes two presidents of the United States and even a member of the British royal family. As was the case when nightclub owner Jack Ruby fatally shot Oswald before he could go on trial, conspiracy theorists on all sides have conjectured whether Epstein’s suspicious death was actually a hit and, if so, ordered by whom?

Boxing, with its blemished past dotted by nefarious power brokers and decisions that sometimes defy logic, also has provided conspiracy junkies with ample material to analyze and debate. Olympic boxing, often characterized as a cesspool of corruption, immediately comes to mind. So does the Sept. 10, 1993, majority draw in which WBC welterweight champion Pernell Whitaker, whom almost everyone without an official scorecard saw as the clear victor, was obliged to settle for a dissatisfying standoff with crowd favorite and Mexican national hero Julio Cesar Chavez in a bout that drew a live crowd of 60,000 or so in the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. Although Whitaker retained his title on the draw, he and his outraged supporters were convinced the outcome was predicated more on the WBC, headquartered in Mexico City, exerting behind-the-scenes influence to ensure that Chavez came away with his undefeated record still intact. Irrefutable truth is often difficult to pin down in such matters, but the 55-year-old “Sweet Pea,” who died after being struck by a car on July 14, went to his grave believing he had been cheated out of a deserved triumph that would have further embellished his Hall of Fame legacy.

Given its historical implications, what is arguably the grassy knoll of boxing remains the Sept. 21, 1985, pairing of long-reigning heavyweight champion Larry Holmes and undisputed light heavyweight titlist Michael Spinks, who was attempting to become the first (or maybe not) 175-pound champ to move up in weight and capture his sport’s most prestigious and lucrative prize.

Spinks – who came away with a razor-thin and controversial 15-round split decision — was bidding to do something no other light heavyweight had ever done, although there are those who cite Tommy Burns, who outpointed heavyweight champ Marvin Hart over 20 rounds on Feb. 23, 2006, as the first 175-pound titlist to accomplish the feat. In any case, since Burns, 13 light heavyweight champs had tried and failed in their bids to become king of the heavyweights, a list that included such ring legends as Billy Conn, Archie Moore and Bob Foster.

Given the fact that the 35-year-old Holmes was making his 20th title defense and was widely considered as one of the best heavyweight champions of all time, he was installed as a prohibitive favorite over Spinks, who was not only bucking tradition but the perceived limits of his own body. Even respected Los Angeles Times sports columnist Jim Murray, noting that Spinks had weighed in at 199¾ pounds – heavier than such legendary heavyweight champions as and Jack Dempsey and Rocky Marciano ever did for title bouts – went a bit overboard in writing that the challenger looked “like a blowfish” and that his weight gain was accelerated by a 4,500-calorie-a-day diet that might be “all right for a guy getting ready to play Henry the Eighth.”

But Spinks’ bulking-up process was not the result of having scarfed down a bunch of French fries, chocolate milkshakes and doughnuts, but rather the calculated machinations of New Orleans-based fitness coach and nutritionist Mackie Shilstone, whose then-unorthodox methods would soon gain wider acceptance but then were seen by the boxing establishment as, well, somewhat bizarre.

“We have a scientific, unique program that is secret – a program that was developed specifically for Michael, using techniques that would be revolutionary for boxing,” Shilstone said to the bemusement of hidebound traditionalists.

Spinks, whose walking-around weight between light heavyweight matches was usually 10 pounds or so above the division limit, said he was already familiar working with Shilstone – to shed unwanted pounds.

“Mackie had already helped me lose weight to get down to light heavyweight,” Spinks said when contacted for this story. “He told me that if I wanted to fight Larry Holmes for the heavyweight championship, he could help me put the weight on the right way. And that’s what he did. He also said he wouldn’t take anything from what I already had, in terms of what I did well as a light heavyweight, that I still would be able to do all that as a heavyweight. He was right, too. I was as fast as a heavyweight as I was as a light heavyweight.”

Unlike Conn, Moore, Foster and other light heavyweight champs who made no secret of their ambition to storm and conquer the heavyweight division, Michael admits to initially lacking the burning desire to replicate the feat of his older brother and fellow 1976 Olympic gold medalist Leon Spinks, who dethroned WBC/WBA heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali via 15-round split decision in a monumental upset on Feb. 15, 1978. Leon had always been naturally larger than Michael, never weighing less than 194 pounds for any of his first 23 outings as a pro. The mere notion of moving up to heavyweight seemed unlikely and more than a bit risky to Michael, who figured he would continue to do what he’d already been doing, which was to dominate all comers at light heavy.

It was Butch Lewis, who promoted both Spinks brothers, who determined that Michael going to heavyweight was not only doable, but highly advisable financially.

“Butch told me I could fight Larry Holmes for the heavyweight championship,” the younger Spinks recalled. “I was, like, `What?’ He said, ‘Yeah, and you can beat him.’ I said, `You really think so?’ And he said, `Absolutely.’

“Butch (who was 65 when he died of a heart attack on July 23, 2011) had faith in me, so I took that and ran with it.”

Maybe what bottom-line Butch had was absolute faith in the economic realities of boxing, which always hold that heavyweight champions are vastly better-compensated than their light heavyweight counterparts. Consider these numbers: Michael Spinks’ purse for his final light heavyweight defense, an eighth-round stoppage of Jim MacDonald on June 6, 1985, was a relatively paltry $100,000, a pittance compared to the $1.1 million contract he signed to challenge Holmes.

Say what you will about the flamboyant Lewis, who was noted for wearing a tuxedo and bow tie but no shirt on fight night, but his steering of Michael Spinks’ career was a case study on how to milk the system for every available dollar. It was Lewis who made the bold call, after Spinks had followed up his stunner over Holmes by outpointing the “Easton Assassin” on another close and controversial call, a 15-round split decision in the rematch seven months later, to hold Spinks out of the heavyweight unification tournament being put together by HBO Sports president Seth Abraham and promoter Don King. In doing so Spinks passed on a potential $5 million payday against eventual tourney winner Mike Tyson, but he was paid about the same amount to defeat the formidable Gerry Cooney, putting into motion a series of events that led to his June 27, 1988, megafight with Tyson in Atlantic City. OK, so Spinks didn’t make it through the first round, but he received a career-high $13.2 million for what proved to be his final fight and only professional loss, a pretty nice parting gift when you get right down to it.

Holmes had his own potential date with destiny in that first clash with Michael Spinks. Were he to win, it would be his 49th consecutive victory without a loss, matching the record set by Marciano – ironically, against Archie Moore and, even more ironically, 30 years to the day after The Rock knocked out the Ol’ Mongoose in the ninth round in what turned out to be his final fight.

In the lead-up to the fight at The Riviera in Las Vegas, for which members of the Marciano family were invited guests, Holmes seemed to chafe at constantly being compared to a beloved fighter who had died in a crash of a small private plane on Aug. 31, 1969. “I’m not fighting Marciano,” Holmes complained. “He’s dead. I never knew him. I’m fighting for Larry Holmes, for me, for what I can do for my family.”

To Holmes, who was no stranger to the seven-figure club and who was down for a $3 million purse, there was a racial component to the constant comparisons to Marciano, who was white, much in the same manner that black baseball great Hank Aaron was the target of unfair and sometimes cruel criticism as he neared the sacrosanct record of 714 career home runs set by Babe Ruth. When Aaron passed Ruth by homering for the 715th time on April 8, 1974, the feat was celebrated by many Americans and baseball fans in general, but not by everyone.

Members of the Marciano family, who ostensibly had been summoned to congratulate Holmes in the event of his making it to 49-0, celebrated when the close decision for Spinks – by margins of 143-142 (twice) and 145-142 – was announced. That did not set well with Holmes, who felt such a display was disrespectful to him and, additionally, was the wrong call historically as long-reigning champions such as himself usually got the benefit of the doubt in close fights.

“I was robbed,” Holmes, in announcing one of his several retirements from boxing that didn’t stick, said at the postfight press conference, suggesting that alleged conspirators in influential places who finally had brought him down can “kiss me where the sun never shines,” which meant “my big black behind.”

Nor was Holmes any more disposed to be gracious to Peter Marciano, Rocky’s younger brother and the foremost keeper of the “Brockton Blockbuster’s” eternal flame. “You are freeloading off your dead brother,” Holmes told Peter, tossing in the zinger that “Rocky couldn’t carry my jockstrap.”

Months later, after the heat of the moment had long since cooled down, Holmes, in most instances a respectful and thoroughly decent man, offered a public apology to anyone he might have offended with his earlier intemperate remarks.

“I’m sorry for what I said, for the way things came out,” Holmes told a Boston reporter. “I don’t want to take anything away from Peter or the Marciano family. I haven’t slept for two months thinking about this.

“I’ve reached out to Peter Marciano. I’d like to get together with him, either in his town or mine (Easton, Pa.). There must be something that can be done to make this right.

“I have no hard feelings against Rocky Marciano. He was one of the greatest fighters of all time. His 49-0 record speaks for itself. If I hurt Marciano’s family, I regret it.”

What Holmes did not back away from, not then and not now, is his belief that he deserved to win both of his fights with Michael Spinks, with the first loss a thinly veiled and successful attempt to keep him from sidling up alongside the sainted Marciano.

“There was no doubt about it,” he said of a decision he still regards as a cold slap in the face. “I knew what they were going to do to me. I knew if I didn’t knock him out, I wasn’t going to get the decision.” Nor is he alone in that contention, just as there are Spinks partisans who are just as insistent that the judges got it right.

Asked if he thought then, or does now, that he did not receive all the credit he was due from Holmes and his other persistent proponents of the conspiracy theory that refuses to die, Spinks said it shouldn’t matter at this point. The record book indicates he won, so that should be that.

“It was a close fight, but I did think I won,” he reiterated. “There’s no animosity between me and Larry. We get along. He’s not really sore about it anymore. At one of his golf tournaments that I attended, he took the microphone and said something about how he’d lost to me, but that wasn’t all bad because he made so much money for losing.”

What Holmes wants to make clear more than anything is that he wants to forever bury any hint that race is or should still be a part of the discussion. He said there was too much of that in the past, and still too much now. He pointed out that Gerry Cooney, the white guy against whom his high-visibility fight was neatly divided into opposing racial camps, as well as Spinks have been regular participants in his charity golf tournament.

“Half of my family is white,” Holmes pointed out. “I’m not a racist. I don’t have anything against white folks or anybody else. My son is getting ready to be married in a couple of weeks to a white girl. My daughter is married to a white guy.

“I didn’t really care about racial s— then, and to this day I don’t care about it. Gerry Cooney is my friend. Now, I didn’t like the decisions in my fights with Michael Spinks, but you can’t dwell on that. You got to move past that.”

Which might be one man’s way of saying that any lingering ghosts on that figurative grassy knoll overlooking a boxing ring where a fight took place 34 years ago should finally be allowed to just fade away.

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The Hauser Report: Fight Notes on Mexican Independence Day Weekend

Thomas Hauser

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Boxing is accustomed to having a major fight in Las Vegas as the centerpiece of Mexican Independence Day Weekend. This year, Canelo Alvarez was penciled in as the star attraction. But Canelo and his presumed challenger, Gennady Golovkin, couldn’t come to terms, and boxing’s PPV-streaming-video king decided that he would enter the ring next against Sergey Kovalev on November 2. That left a holiday void to fill and three separate promotions vying to fill it.

The action began on Friday, September 13, at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater. Three bouts were billed as featured attractions on a Matchroom USA card streamed on DAZN.

First up, as expected, Michael Hunter (17-1, 12 KOs) outslicked Sergey Kuzmin (15-0, 11 KOs). Kuzman had an extensive amateur background in the Russian amateur system but is a one-dimensional fighter. For most of the fight, he plodded forward while Hunter potshotted him at will in what looked like a spirited sparring session en route to a 117-110, 117-110, 117-110 triumph.

Next, Amanda Serrano (36-1-1, 27 KOs), who has won belts in weight classes ranging from 118 to 135 pounds, challenged WBO 126-pound beltholder Heather Hardy (22-0, 4 KOs). It was expected to be an ugly beatdown with Hardy on the receiving end. The only open issue for most fight fans was how long Heather would last.

Hardy only knows one way to fight. Moving forward, which she has been able to do in the past against stationary opponents who had less of a punch that she did. All of her previous fights had been made for her to win. Questionable hometown judging carried her across the finish line on several occasions when it appeared as though she had fallen short.

At the final pre-fight press conference for Hardy-Serrano, Heather proclaimed, “I’m the toughest girl I know.”

But tough alone doesn’t win fights. Against Serrano, Hardy took a pounding in a lopsided first round that two of the judges correctly scored 10-8 in Amanda’s favor. Round two was more of the same. Serrano was the more skilled, faster, stronger fighter and a sharper puncher. Heather hung tough. But she was hanging from a thread.

Over the next eight rounds, Hardy showed courage and heart. For the first time in her career, she was in the ring against an opponent who hadn’t been chosen because it was presumed that Heather would beat her. She survived and legitimately won a few rounds against Serrano in the process.

The final scorecards were 98-91, 98-91, 98-92 in Serrano’s favor. Each woman received an $80,000 purse. Hardy earned every penny of it. And she earned respect for her effort in a way that none of the “W”s on her ring record had brought her.

The main event showcased lightweight Devin Haney (22-0, 14 KOs) against Zaur Abdulaev (11-0, 7 KOs). Haney is 20 years young and a hot prospect. Abdulaev, age 25, is a solid fighter but in a different league than Haney.

Devin entered the ring as a 20-to-1 favorite. At this point in his career, he appears to be the whole package with speed, power, explosiveness, and good ring skills. Physically and mentally, he’s mature beyond his years as a fighter but still has the enthusiasm of youth. Over the course of four rounds, he gave Abdullaev nothing to work with, broke the Russian down, and fractured Zaur’s cheekbone. Abdullaev’s corner called a halt to the proceedings after the fourth stanza.

Haney has The Look that fighters like Shane Mosley and Roy Jones Jr. had when they were young. He and boxing are in their honeymoon years. As for the immediate future; Devin has been calling out Vasyl Lomachenko. But given the different promotional entities and networks involved, the chances of that fight happening anytime soon are nil.

Twenty years ago, fight fans could have looked forward to Haney being meaningfully challenged at each level as he moved forward in an attempt to prove how good he is. In today’s fragmented boxing world, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

On Saturday, the scene shifted to Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, for another DAZN telecast. This one was promoted by Golden Boy and was supposed to showcase 21-year-old lightweight Ryan Garcia (18-0, 15 KOs), who’s being marketed as a heartthrob who can fight, against light-punching Avery Sparrow (10-1, 3 KOs). That match evaporated one day before its scheduled date when Sparrow was arrested and taken into custody on an outstanding arrest warrant issued after he allegedly brandished a handgun in a domestic dispute this past April.

The main event wasn’t much of a contest either with Jaime Munguia (33-0, 26 KOs) defending his WBO 154-pound belt against Patrick Allotey (40-3, 30 KOs) of Ghana.

Munguia had nice wins last year against Sadam Ali and Liam Smith. Then, five months ago, he was undressed by Dennis Hogan (although the judges in Monterrey, Mexico, found a way to give Jaime a dubious home country majority decision). Allotey’s record looked good until one checked the quality of his opponents on BoxRec.com. Munguia was a 30-to-1 favorite.

When the fight began, Allotey seemed most comfortable on his bicycle and decidedly uncomfortable when he was getting hit by the hooks that Munguia pounded repeatedly into his body. Two minutes into round three, one of those hooks put him on the canvas. A combination dropped him for the second time just before the bell. Patrick seemed disinclined to come out of his corner for round four but was nudged back into the conflict. Two minutes later, he took a knee after another hook to the body and his corner stopped the bout.

The third significant fight card of Mexican Independence Day weekend was the biggest of the three. Promoted by Top Rank and streamed on ESPN+, it featured Tyson Fury vs. Otto Wallin at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Like the other two shows, this one disappointed at the gate. The Hulu Theater had been reconfigured on Friday night so the rear sections were curtained off. There were more empty seats than seats with people in them at Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday.

When Fury fought Tom Schwarz at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on June 15, Top Rank had announced a crowd of 9,012. But according to final receipts submitted to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, only 5,489 tickets were sold for that event with another 1,187 complimentary tickets being given away. The announced attendance for Fury-Wallin was 8,249. T-Mobile arena seats 20,000 for boxing.

ESPN+’s featured three-fight stream didn’t begin until 11:00 PM eastern time. Jose Zepeda (30-2, 25 KOs, 1 KO by) won a 97-93, 97-93, 97-93 decision over former beltholder Jose Pedraza (26-2, 13 KOs, 1 KO by). Then WBO 122-pound titlist Emanuel Navarrete (28-1, 24 KOs) cruised to a fourth-round stoppage of Juan Miguel Elorde (28-1, 15 KOs). That set the stage for Fury-Wallin.

There are plenty of “world heavyweight championship” belts to go around these days. Claimants during the past four years have included Manuel Charr, Joseph Parker, Ruslan Chagaev, Lucas Browne, Charles Martin, and Bermane Stiverne. Fury (who entered the ring with a 28-0, 20 KOs record) is currently being marketed as the “lineal” heavyweight champion and can trace his lineal roots all the way back to Wladimir Klitschko (which falls short of going back to John L. Sullivan). The best things said about Wallin (20-0, 13 KOs) during fight week were that he was probably better than Tom Schwarz (Fury’s most recent opponent) and that, as noted by Keith Idec of Boxing Scene, Wallin was “perfectly polite” during the fight-week festivities.

Bob Arum, who shares a promotional interest in Fury with Frank Warren, praised Fury as the second coming of The Greatest and advised the media, “People are seeing things that they haven’t seen since Muhammad Ali. You’re seeing a great fighter who can connect to the people and he’s a real showman.”

Fury (born, raised, and still living in the United Kingdom) got into the spirit of things and proclaimed, “I am going to change my name for the weekend to El Rey Gitano [which translates from Spanish to English as “The Gypsy King”]. And he further declared, “Isn’t it a great thing that a total outsider is showing so much love, passion, and respect for the Mexican people. At the minute, they are being oppressed by the people here [in the United States]. Building a wall, chucking ‘em all out, and treating them terrible. I don’t know what is going on, but it is nice to see a total stranger, heavyweight champion of the world, coming here and respecting people and paying homage to their beliefs and special days. I’ve got the Mexican shorts, the Mexican gloves, the Mexican mask, the Mexican music, the Mexican flag. I have Mexicans as part of my training team. There is a lot of honor and respect in fighting on this date.”

That elicited a response from WBA-IBF-WBO heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz, who declared on social media, “Tyson Fury’s talking sh**. He’s representing Mexico – he’s not even Mexican, what kind of sh** is that? A British f***in, he ain’t even Mexican, wearing the f***ing Mexican flag, messed up man. Stay in your lane.”

Meanwhile, with no existing World Boxing Council title at stake, WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman stepped in and announced that Fury-Wallin would be contested for a special “Mayan belt” that was also offered to the winner of Munguia-Allotey. Maybe someday boxing will have interim Mayan belts and Mayan belts in recess as well.

Fury was a 25-to-1 betting favorite. For two rounds, everything went according to plan. Then, in round three, a looping left by Wallin opened a horrible, deep gash along Tyson’s right eyebrow. The cut gave the fight high drama. There was a real chance that it would worsen to the point where there was no alternative to stopping the bout. Despite the efforts of cutman Jorge Capetillo, blood streamed from the wound for the rest of the fight.

Knowing that he was in danger, Fury abandoned what he likes to think of as finesse boxing and began to brawl, coming forward and trying to impose his 6-foot-9-inch, 254-pound bulk on his opponent. By round eight, Wallin was exhausted. Tyson was teeing off from a distance and, when he came inside, bullying Otto around.

Wallin fought as well as he could. But he was being pounded around the ring and getting beaten down. Then, remarkably, 38 seconds into round twelve, he whacked Fury with a good left hand and, suddenly – if only temporarily – Tyson was holding on.

The final scorecards read 118-110, 117-111, 116-112 in Fury’s favor.

“I was happy that he was cut,” Wallin said afterward. “But I wish I could of capitalized a little more on it.”

And a final thought . . . When there are three heavyweight “world champions” (which is what boxing has now), there is no heavyweight champion at all.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – A Dangerous Journey; Another Year Inside Boxing– will be published this autumn by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank (note Fury’s jumbo-sized sombrero)

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Mexico’s Jaime Munguia KOs Allotey and Franchon Crews Unifies

David A. Avila

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Mexico's-Jaime-Munguia-KOs-Alottey-and-Franchon-Crews-Unifies

LOS ANGELES-Mexico’s Jaime Munguia walked into the warm and humid outdoor arena like a conquering hero and walked out the same way after knocking out Patrick Allotey to retain the WBO super welterweight title on Saturday.

The large, mostly Mexican, Independence weekend crowd was ecstatic.

Munguia (34-0, 27 KOs) showed the more than 7,000 fans at Dignity Health Sports Park that he learned a few things from his new trainer and that was a bad thing for Ghana’s Allotey (40-4, 30 KOs). The tall Tijuana fighter seemed calm and focused in this possible last defense of his super welterweight title.

“I don’t know yet, I’ll have to meet with my team to decide,” said Munguia about evacuating the weight division to move up to middleweight.

Allotey probably wishes Munguia left yesterday.

For a short while, Allotey used movement and pot shots to catch the aggressive Mexican fighter during the first two rounds. Both landed blows but not enough to quench the thirst of the pro-Mexican crowd there to see a knockout.

Things turned around quickly in the third round as Munguia, who is now trained by former Mexican great Erik Morales, began catching up to Allotey, in particular with bludgeoning body shots. A three punch Munguia combination dropped the Ghanaian for the count. He got up and was met with a blistering five-punch combination, including one that sent him across the ring for another knockdown. Allotey beat the count near the end of the round.

The fight could have ended in the previous round but it was allowed to continue. A left hook to the body of Allotey sent him to the floor after a delayed reaction. The Ghanaian’s corner asked the referee Jack Reiss to halt the fight at 2:18 of round four, giving the knockout win to Munguia.

Cheers erupted from the large Mexican crowd.

“Step by step, I’ve learned a lot from all the fighters that I’ve fought before,” said Munguia who lives in Tijuana. “This is Mexican Independence Day and I feel really good and I’m ready to go further for more.”

Franchon Crews   

Franchon Crews Dezurn (6-1) won by unanimous decision but this time it was a more impressive Maricela Cornejo (13-4, 5 KOs) who showed up in the sudden rematch that was put together in two days. Impressive or not, Crews walked away with both the WBC and WBO super middleweight world titles.

Both women warriors exchanged thunderous blows that bounced off each other to the delight of the crowd, but neither would go down. By the middle rounds, Cornejo slowed visibly but still had enough to stay in the fight competitively. It was a much better performance than their first clash a year ago in Las Vegas that saw Crews win the WBC title by decision.

Once Cornejo slowed, Crews slowed her pace too but had more energy and was able to use her jab and combinations. Toward the last few rounds there was a lot of holding but both connected with solid blows until the end.

After 10 rounds two judges scored it 98-92 and a third 97-93 for Crews.

It was a remarkable performance by both fighters who were not originally scheduled to meet. But when the original Mexican opponent Alejandra Jimenez was unable to obtain a visa, Golden Boy Promotions asked Cornejo and she gladly obliged just two days ago.

“I got out here thinking I was going to fight one person, a person who had been bullying me on the internet. Alejandra Jimenez, if you want this one, you can come get it too. I’m not here for a good time, I’m here for a long time. This is the land of the warriors, not the posers, not the models,” said Crews. “I want to be respected just like the men are respected. I’m going to step up to the plate and take the challenges. I don’t go into any match thinking I’m entitled to anything.”

Duno

Romero Duno (21-1, 16 KOs) underwent some minor drama before even stepping into the ring, but it didn’t stop him from winning by knockout against Los Angeles tough guy Ivan Delgado (13-3-2, 6 KOs) in their on and off and on again lightweight fight.

When sizzling prospect Ryan Garcia’s opponent Avery Sparrow was arrested and unable to fight, it was suggested that Duno should be Sparrow’s replacement. That didn’t go well with Garcia’s team and was abruptly shot down. The Duno-Delgado fight then went back on the drawing board, as originally planned, but Delgado came in more than four pounds overweight.

It didn’t matter.

Duno battered Delgado in the first round but the local fighter managed to use his experience to fend off further damage by the heavy-handed Filipino. After that it was a game of cat and mouse. Through most of the fight, Duno landed more blows but Delgado used some slick counters to score and keep the strong puncher from landing the killer blow. Still it wasn’t enough, and at the end of the seventh round the corner decided to end the fight, giving Duno the win by knockout.

“I was just doing my job,” said Duno. “I know Delgado is a tough fighter.”

Regarding Ryan Garcia, “I know Ryan Garcia wants to fight me. He’s a top boxer.”

Other Bouts

Joselito Velasquez (11-0, 9 KOs) knocked out fellow Mexican Francisco Bonilla (6-7-3, 3 KOs) in a battle between North and South Mexican flyweights. Velasquez floored Bonilla in the second round when he beat Bonilla to the punch with a left hook. Finally, in the fourth round during a Bonilla rally, Velasquez connected with a left-right combination the sent the Chihuahua fighter to the floor. Referee Sharon Sand immediately waved the fight over at 2:54 of the fourth round.

A battle between undefeated super middleweights saw the very tall Diego Pacheco (6-0, 5 KOs) win by knockout over Oakland’s Terry Fernandez (3-1, 3 KOs). Pacheco used his size to keep Fernandez at bay then pummeled him with long rang rights and shots to the body. At the end of the second round, Pacheco battered Fernandez with 18 consecutive blows from one corner to the other. In the third round, Pacheco connected with a three-punch combination that snapped back Fernandez’s head violently and though he did not go down, the referee Eddie Hernandez wisely stopped the fight at 41 seconds of the third round.

Rafael Gramajo (11-2-2, 3 KOs) won by knockout over Daniel Olea (13-9-2) at the end of the fourth round when he could not continue in their lightweight contest.

Alejandro Reyes (1-0) won his pro debut by knockout over Mexico’s Jorge Padron (3-5, 3 KOs) with a left hook to the body at 1:55 of the second round of a lightweight match. New referee J Guillermo counted out Sonora’s Padron.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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