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The Hauser Report: Alvarez-Kirkland and More

Thomas Hauser

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On September 30, 2014, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez attended a luncheon at HBO to announce a multi-fight contract with the network. His red hair and green pullover shirt gave the impression of an early Christmas present.

One reason Canelo signed to fight on HBO was that he didn’t want to play second fiddle to Floyd Mayweather at Showtime. Beyond that, he’s a key puzzle piece in HBO’s desire to continue its appeal to Latino subscribers and Golden Boy’s attempt to maintain its standing as a major promoter.

“My focus is Canelo, one hundred percent,” Oscar De La Hoya told reporters at the luncheon. “Whatever he asks, I have to do.”

At age 24, Alvarez has established himself as a marketable commodity within the boxing community. He’s not a crossover star in United States. Nor is he an elite fighter. In ESPN’s most recent pound-for-pound poll, not one panelist gave him a top-ten vote. De La Hoya, by age 24, had won an Olympic gold medal and beaten the likes of Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernell Whitaker. And let’s not forget what happened when Canelo fought Floyd Mayweather two years ago.

That said; with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr imploding and Juan Manuel Marquez on the verge of retirement, Alvarez is Mexican boxing’s most promising hope for the future. He engenders good ratings. He has amassed a 45-and 1 (32 KOs) ring record against increasingly credible competition. And there have been times (most notably against Erislandy Lara and Austin Trout) when he went in tougher than he had to.

On Saturday, May 9, Alvarez entered the ring for the first time pursuant to his new contract with HBO. Bart Barry summed up the impending confrontation as follows:

“A week after Pacquiao-Mayweather, Mexican Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez will fight Texan James Kirkland at Minute Maid Park in Houston before a crowd that should be about three times the MGM Grand’s crowd. ‘But oh,’ cries a passel of aspiring businessmen from their parents’ couches. ‘They won’t make as much money.’ First of all, why the hell are you so excited about strangers making money? Second of all, three times as many aficionados and potential aficionados will have a chance to see a major event in a sport you care about, which is better for your sport in every single way.”

Kirkland entered the ring with a 32-and-1 (28 KOs) record. James has granite hands but a bit of glass in his chin. He came out punching at the opening bell. Canelo weathered the storm, mixed effective body punching with solid shots to the head, hurt Kirkland with a hard right to the body, and knocked him down with a straight right up top.

There was 1:20 left in round one. Kirkland was in trouble but survived the onslaught that followed, including a barrage that left him all but out on his feet at the close of the stanza.

Round two was marked by exciting back-and-forth action.

In round three, Kirkland was clearly tired and Alvarez seemed to be wearing down. Both fighters dug deep. A right uppercut put James on the canvas at the 1:50 mark. He rose. There were more punches. Then Canelo wound up an overhand right from so far back that everyone in Houston except Kirkland could see it coming. The blow landed flush on James’s jaw and knocked him out.

Last week, Evander Holyfield complained, “I’ve attended the three biggest fights of the year so far: Deontay Wilder vs. Bermane Stiverne, Wladimir Klitschko vs. Bryant Jennings, and now Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. And you know what I’ve seen? Not much boxing. In 36 total rounds, I saw zero knockdowns. I saw a lot of holding and hugging and a lot of running. I saw three 12-round unanimous decisions. What I didn’t see were punches being thrown and landed. No fighter in any of the three fights was ever threatened or even in trouble. I didn’t even see a fighter with a cut or a bruise after the fight. Everyone was just playing defense, trying not to get hit. How can you have a boxing match if guys aren’t throwing and landing punches? The answer is, you can’t.”

According to CompuBox, Alvarez outlanded Kirkland 87-to-41 over the course of three rounds with a 79-to-41 edge in power punches. That didn’t leave much room for jabs in the computation. Evander has been going to the wrong fights.

*     *     *

Six hours before Alvarez-Kirkland, Hildago, Texas (300 miles southwest of Houston) hosted a Premier Boxing champions doubleheader on CBS.

In the opening bout, England’s Jamie McDonnell (25-2, 12 KOs) survived a third-round knockdown to score a hard-fought 114-113, 114-113, 114-113 decision over Japan’s Tomoki Kameda (31-0, 19 KOs). The final round (when McDonnell dug deep and Kameda didn’t) was the difference.

But the real story of the evening was referee Laurence Cole and three judges, who administed a dose of Texas injustice to Scotsman Ricky Burns (37-4, 11 KOs) in his fight against local favorite Omar Figueroa (24-0, 18 KOs).

Prior to the bout, Figueroa (who was moving up from 135 pounds) showed a lack of professionalism by weighing in 1.5 pounds over the 140-pound contract weight. But the day’s most relevant number might have been ”22” (the number of miles that Figueroa lives from Hidalgo).

As early as round two, CBS commentators Mauro Ranallo, Paulie Malignaggi, and Virgil Hunter were commenting on Cole’s conduct of the proceedings.

“Cole has become a big factor in this fight,” Hunter noted. As the fight wore on, Virgil added, “Laurence Cole continues to pull Ricky Burns’s arm away [in clinches], putting him in a dangerous situation . . . Right now, you see Figueroa holding and hitting, and he’s not being warned. Let’s have a fair fight here.”

When Figueroa led with his head (which he did often), Cole warned Burns for pushing Omar’s head down.

“I don’t like that warning,” Malignaggi said on one such occasion. “I’d like to see Cole warn Figueroa as well.” After a similar warning later in the fight, Hunter objected, “You have a right to protect yourself. The head is a dangerous weapon.”

“He [Cole] continues to inject himself unnecessarily,” Ranallo opined.

In round eight, Cole deducted a point from Burns for “holding,” prompting Malignaggi to observe, “When both guys are jockeying for position like that, it’s not even holding.” In round eleven, Cole deducted another point from the Scotsman.

It was an exciting fight. Figueroa is a volume-punching, come-forward brawler, and Burns obliged him. But the bout was marred by the refereeing and also by the nagging suspicion that Ricky would be jobbed by the judges when it was over.

That’s what happened. I thought that, even with Cole’s intercession, Burns won. The judges ruled otherwise, scoring 117-109, 116-110, 116-110 in Figueroa’s favor. To say that Burns won only three or four rounds was frivolous.

It’s no accident that every time there’s questionable officiating in Texas, it favors the house fighter.

Figueroa is an exciting fighter. But he gets hit too much. If Omar faces a big puncher, not even Texas refereeing and judging will save him.

*     *     *

TruTV’s introductory boxing telecast on Friday, May 1, was lost in the frenzy surrounding Mayweather-Pacquiao. Its second telecast took place on May 8.

In the opening bout, Seanie Monaghan (23-0, 15 KOs) took on Brazil’s Cleiton Conceicao (20-6-2, 16 KOs).

Looking beneath the surface of Conceicao’s record, the last man he beat had 36 losses and had been knocked out eight times in a row. The eight men Cleiton defeated before that had a composite ring record of 8 wins, 64 losses, and 1 draw. He’d been brought to the Prudential Center in Newark on the assumption that he’d take punishment without dishing out too much.

Monaghan scored effectively to the body in the early going. But Seanie gets hit a lot, and Friday night was no exception. He was cut early over his right eye, which was closed by the end of the fight. And he faded late, which is uncharacteristic of him. A flurry of punches in round nine, starting with an overhand right to the ear, put him in a bit of trouble. But he pounded out a 99-91, 98-92, 98-92 decision.

The main event matched Glen Tapia (23-1, 15 KOs) against Frenchman Michel Soro (25-1, 15 KOs).

Seventeen months ago, Tapia suffered a brutal knockout loss at the hands of James Kirkland. He was put in soft in his next three outings (as had been the case in most of his outings before the Kirkland fight).

Soro had won all 25 of his fights contested on French soil and neither of the two fights contested away from home. That changed in round four, when an explosion of punches beginning with a solid right hand put Tapia out on his feet, forcing referee David Fields to stop the fight.

Ray Mancini’s expert commentary was a plus throughout the telecast.

*     *     *

When Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquio met in the ring on May 2, “those in attendance and the millions of people watching around the world” knew that something was wrong. Michael Buffer (the real “TBE”) could barely talk.

The promotion of Mayweather-Pacquiao was marked by turf wars at every turn. The division of ring announcing duties was no exception. Buffer is identified with HBO. Jimmy Lennon is Showtime’s guy. After extensive negotiation, a narrative was scripted that divided announcing duties between them as evenly as possible.

Then, on the morning of the fight, Buffer woke up and his voice was gone. Too many interviews during the week had robbed him of his magical powers.

The original plan had been for Buffer to open the show by welcoming viewers at the start of the pay-per-view telecast. He’d also been slated to read the introductions and results for Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Gamalier Rodriguez. Those chores were reassigned to Lennon.

Meanwhile, Michael spent the day drinking tea with honey and communicating by email only. By fight night, his voice had recovered to the point where he was able to introduce the Filipino national anthem, call Manny Pacquiao to the ring, and intone his iconic, “Let’s get ready to rumble!”

But his voice was noticeably hoarse.

Michael Buffer without his voice is like a fighter with a torn rotator cuff.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – Thomas Hauser on Boxing- was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part Two

Ted Sares

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Boxers Fighting the Best and Doing It Again for the First Time: Part Two

As mentioned in Part One, the phrase “cherry picking” gained meaningful traction during the time “Money” Mayweather was making his run. A new and very simple business model seemed to fuel it; namely, make the most money the quickest way with the least amount of risk and that translated into fewer fights. The change was almost imperceptible.

WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. (31-1) has fought once a year sine 2014. WBO middleweight king Demetrius Andrade (39-0) started out fast but then fell into a less active mode. Wlad Klitschko began to pick his spots with more caution as he met the likes of Francesco Pianeta and Alex Leapai. Shane Mosley slowed down towards the end and even Guillermo Rigondeaux (20-1) has faded from the headlines after being stopped by Vasyl Lomachenko.

Back to the Future

Suddenly, however, a twist has emerged that suggests a new model may well be in the offing; to wit: make the most money the quickest way but with lesser regard to risk. Perhaps Daniel Dubois fighting Joe Joyce last November was an example. Translated, it could mean that the best will fight the best as they did in days of yore. If so, Mega- possibilities await.

“I Want All The Belts, No Easy Fights, I Want To Face The Best.” –Virgil Ortiz

Ryan “King Ry” Garcia (21-0) has called out everyone and anybody and it appears he might get his wish in Devin “The Dream” Haney (25-0) or maybe the exciting Gervonta “Tank” Davis (24-0).

The new breed of Davis, Garcia, Haney and Teofimo “The Takeover” Lopez is being is being compared to the “Four Kings” (Leonard, Hearns, Hagler, Duran) but a flattered Devin Haney wisely notes “those guys fought each other.”

In this connection, writer James Slater nails it as follows: “Right now, in today’s boxing world, Haney, Lopez, Davis and Garcia could all do well, they could win a title or two and they could pick up some huge paydays, without fighting each other. This is the state the sport is in these days. It’s up to the fighters to really WANT to take take the risks, to take on their most dangerous rivals. The ‘Four Kings’ did it, time and again, and this is what added enormously to their greatness.”

Teofimo Lopez did it. After shocking Richard Commey, he beat Vasyl Lomachenko in an even more shocking outcome and now wants George Kambosos, Jr. to step aside for a Devin Haney fight.

It doesn’t get any better than the specter of Errol Spence Jr. (27-0) fighting “Bud” Crawford (37-0) unless it’s Tyson Fury (30-0-1) meeting Anthony Joshua (24-1.) If Covid 19 is under control, they could do this one in front of 100,000 fans.

Josh Taylor has talked about challenging Lopez even if it means dropping down to lightweight, and then moving up to 147 to challenge Crawford or Spence.

Dillian Whyte rematching with Alexander Povetkin is another highly anticipated fray and has the added dimension of being a crossroads affair. Oleksandr Usyk will likely face off with Joe Joyce in Usyk’s first real test as a heavyweight.

In late February there’s a big domestic showdown in New Zealand between heavyweights Joseph Parker and Junior Fa. On that same date In London, Carl Frampton squares off with slick WBO 130-pound champion Jamel Herring.

And Juan Francisco Estrada rematching with a rejuvenated Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez has everyone’s attention.

Super exciting Joe Smith Jr. meets Russia’s Maxim Vlasov for the vacant WBA light heavyweight belt. What’s not to like?

The showdown between Miguel Berchelt (38-1) and Oscar Valdez (28-0) is the best on the February docket and could end up being a FOTY.

Speaking of FOTY’s, the prospect of Naoya “Monster” Inoue vs. Kazuto Ioka is as mouthwatering as it can get and has global appeal.

Meanwhile, Artur Beterbiev looms and it’s not a question of opponents as much as it’s a question of who wants to contend with his bludgeoning style of destruction.

Claressa Shields, Marie Eve Dicaire, Katie Taylor, Amanda Serrano, Delfine Persoon, Jessica McCaskill, and Layla McCarter are prepared to make female boxing sizzle. In the final analysis,  when Vasyl Lomachenko becomes an opponent, you know something is very different.

You can read Part One HERE

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Vic Pasillas: An East L.A. Fighter

David A. Avila

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When East L.A.’s Vic Pasillas enters the prize ring this weekend he follows a path that many from his area have trod before. Not all were successful, but those that succeed become near legendary.

But it’s definitely not easy being from East L.A.

Pasillas (16-0, 9 KOs) meets Michigan’s Raeese Aleem (17-0, 11 KOs) for the vacant interim WBA featherweight title on Saturday Jan. 23, at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. Showtime will televise live.

Once again, a fighter from East L.A. stands pivoted for greatness. Can Pasillas go all the way?

For the past 130 years, prizefighters from East Los Angeles have developed into some of the best in the world if you can get them into the prize ring. Oscar De La Hoya and Leo Santa Cruz are two who were able to duck drugs, crime, street gangs and longtime allegiances that can often mislead aspiring boxers toward deadly endings.

One of the first featherweight champions in history lived in East L.A. Solly Garcia Smith won the world championship in 1893. He was the first Latino to ever win a world title.

There are many others from “East Los” who were talented prizefighters that were sidetracked into oblivion. Talented pugilists like brothers Panchito Bojado and Angel Bojado were derailed by mysterious obstacles that East Los Angeles presents. Others like Frankie Gomez and Julian Rodriguez showed dazzling promise but disappeared.

It’s almost as if a curse hangs over East L.A. area like a blanket of smog.

Many were surefire champions. But for some reason East L.A. or East Los as it’s called by those living in the 20 square mile radius, seems to have a dark lingering spell that makes it extra difficult for prizefighters to succeed.

Back in the 1950s a supremely talented fighter named Keeny Teran was skyrocketing to fame when heroin dropped him like an invisible left hook. Celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Danny Kaye were his biggest backers. Yet, not even they could help Teran.

Drugs almost took Pasillas too.

The fighter known as “Vicious” Vic Pasillas could have tripped into one of those sad stories from East L.A. you often hear about from your abuelitas. The streets can easily claim you if you let your guard down. Who is a friend and who is a foe are not often clear as the colors brown or white. It’s a potholed journey to navigate the barrio streets that look tame during the day, but ominous when the darkness arrives.

Barrio Life

Growing up with parents who were incarcerated led Pasillas to find loyalty from the vatos on the street. They treated him well and gave him protection and a sense of family, but often led to being involved in petty and major crimes.

“I moved out of the neighborhood. I had to get away from my friends. No disrespect to them but I knew that I would end up in jail,” said Pasillas who moved to Riverside, Calif. which is 60 miles east of East L.A. “Nobody knew where I was.”

One thing certain: prizefighting was his gift. All that he encountered recognized his boxing ability.

“He was always a gifted fighter,” said Joe Estrada, who would often take him to tournaments around California or in other states. “Every tournament he entered he won. He has always had speed, power, and defense. He’s always been a great boxer, but trouble was always around him.”

Gangs had always been a part of Pasillas life. He was born into gangs in South El Monte and even after moving to East L.A. it was not an escape. It was vatos locos that took him under their wing and showed him love and respect. They took care of him; some were also boxers.

East L.A. is an area much like a spider web. You can travel a quarter mile in one direction and suddenly you are in enemy turf. Gangs are everywhere. If you are an adult male you can’t simply walk outside a door without looking in all directions. It makes you razor sharp in recognizing danger. You always look out for danger.

Pasillas loved boxing and loved his friends, the big homies, but cutting off one for the other was the most difficult decision. He would train, fight, and win but then hang with the homies and end up being arrested with the rest of them.

“The cops would come and everybody would run so I would run,” said Pasillas. “I didn’t do anything, but I would get busted with everybody else for trying to evade the police.”

Things remained the same until he met his wife. The streets never had a chance. Once married he moved to the Riverside area. It was 2011 and newly married he needed to make a decision on whether to try and make the Olympic team or turn professional.

“I was ready to go to the Olympics. First, I was going to smash everybody but my wife got pregnant at 2011. It forced me to get a job at a warehouse. I was making 50 dollars a week. Pennies,” said Pasillas. “I got a call from Cameron Dunkin and Top Rank. They offered me a fight on the third Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez fight. That was my pro debut.”

Sadly, the streets reclaimed him again.

Reckoning

A move to northern California seemed to change things but the struggle to stay outside the grasp of the streets remained real even hundreds of miles away. Despite the dark times Pasillas still had friends and admirers.

Seniesa Estrada, who holds the interim WBA flyweight title and is poised to fight for a world title in March, remembers sparring with Pasillas when she could not find girls to spar.

“Vic was always very good. He would take it easy on me, of course, but I would learn so much from sparring with guys like him and Jojo Diaz and Frankie Gomez,” said Estrada, who grew up and still lives in East L.A.

Pasillas, 28, had more than 300 amateur fights. He lost only eight times. Anyone who ever saw him fight immediately recognized his immense talent.

“Vic is one of the best fighters I ever saw,” said Joe Estrada. “Everyone knew that when he’s in shape he can’t be beat. Just so much talent.”

That talent will be tested on Saturday when he meets Michigan’s undefeated Aleem. Whoever wins their battle will meet the winner between Angelo Leo and Stephen Fulton who fight for the WBO super bantamweight title.

“I want to fight the best now, and Pasillas is one of the best fighters in the division. I’m not ducking or dodging anyone. I’m going to be a world champion by all means necessary,” said Aleem who now fights out of Las Vegas.

Pasillas doesn’t doubt that Aleem has talent.

“I don’t want to give up my game plan but best believe I’m going to do whatever it takes to win this fight. If he wants to bang, then we’ll bang, if he wants to box, we’ll box. I’ve seen so many different styles in the amateurs, there is nothing that he brings that I haven’t seen. My power is what he’s going to have to deal with,” Pasillas said.

It’s been an incredible up and down journey so far for Pasillas; a lifetime of dealing with hidden traps on East L.A. streets that have toppled many previous fighters now long forgotten.

Or will those same streets show the way to glittering success as former champions De La Hoya, Santa Cruz, Joey Olivo, Richie Lemos, Newsboy Brown and Solly Garcia Smith discovered.

One thing Pasillas already discovered was his own family.

“People invite me all the time to events and parties but I tell them I already have plans with my family,” said Pasillas who has a wife and two elementary age children. “I never really had a family like other people.”

Now he has his own family. Something he didn’t have during his youth due to drugs and the streets.

“It’s just a domino effect. I’m making sure I’m going to stop that s—t,” says Pasillas. “It’s going to be good for East Los. I’m a born and bred fighter from East Los.”

Sometimes the streets can break you or make you.

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Hank Aaron and Muhammad Ali

Thomas Hauser

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Hank Aaron, one of the greatest players in baseball history, died today (January 22) at age 86.

Aaron is best known for breaking Babe Ruth’s mark of 714 career home runs. He finished his sojourn through baseball with 755 homers, a record that stood until 2007 when it was eclipsed by Barry Bonds. He still holds the MLB career records for most RBIs, most total bases, and most extra base hits while ranking third on the list for most hits and most games played and fourth in runs scored. He was a thoughtful gracious man who inspired a generation.

Decades ago, I was conducting research for the book that would become Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times. As part of this process, I interviewed many great athletes. Some, like Jim Brown, had played an important role in Ali’s life. Others had interacted with Muhammad in a less significant manner. The people I spoke with included sports legends like Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Reggie Jackson. On September 5, 1989, I was privileged to talk with Aaron.

Aaron had broken Babe Ruth’s record in 1974, the year that Ali dethroned George Foreman to reclaim the heavyweight championship of the world. The thoughts that Aaron shared with me – one great athlete talking about another – follow:

“I was born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1934. I came up with the Braves when I was twenty. And coming from Mobile, I was very shy. I wasn’t satisfied with the way things were, but I felt like I had to do something special in baseball in order to get people to listen to me. By the time Ali came along, things were a little different but not that much. My first awareness of him was when he won the gold medal. And I saw greatness stamped all over him. How great, I didn’t know. But I was impressed by his ability and his confidence.

“Being a gifted athlete, being one of the best in the world at what you do, is a great feeling. But sometimes it’s kind of eerie because you wonder why you’re blessed with so much ability. I’d go up to the plate to face a pitcher and I’d know that, before the night was over, I was going to hit one out of the ballpark. I felt that, and I’m sure Ali felt the same way. That no matter who he got in the ring with, he was better and he’d figure them out. He had all kinds of confidence. And I was the same way. The only thing that scared me was, when I was approaching Babe Ruth’s record, I got a lot of threatening letters. I’m sure Ali went through the same thing with letters from people who didn’t want him to be heavyweight champion. Most of that stuff is nothing but cranks. But one of them might be for real, and you never know which one.

“I don’t think there’ll ever be another fighter like Muhammad Ali. I’m not putting anybody else down. Maybe someone could have beaten Ali in his prime, but I’m not concerned about that. There’s just no one who could possibly be as beautiful in the ring as he was. For a guy to be that big and move the way he did; it was like music, poetry, no question about it. And for what he did outside the ring, Ali will always be remembered. When you start talking about sports, when you start talking about history; you can’t do it unless you mention Ali. Children in this country should be taught forever how he stood by his convictions and lived his life. He’s someone that black people, white people, people all across the country whatever their color, can be proud of. I know, I’m glad I had the opportunity to live in his time and bear witness to what he accomplished. God gave Ali the gift, and Ali used it right.”

I remember very clearly reading to Ali what Hank Aaron had said about him. And Muhammad responded, “Hank Aaron said that about me? I’m honored.”

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Staredown: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published 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. In 2019, Hauser was selected for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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