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Cotto Still King of New York, At Least the One on Two Legs

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BROOKLYN,N.Y. – If Miguel Cotto were a baseball player, his popularity in the Town That Never Sleeps might not rise to the level of, say, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays or Tom Seaver. But the WBC middleweight champion from Caguas, Puerto Rico, probably could make a case for holding his own, at least with the many Puerto Rican fight fans who have migrated to these parts, against countryman Bernie Williams, the beloved former New York Yankees centerfielder who played on four World Series championship teams and on May 23 had his No. 51 retired and a plaque honoring him placed in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.

The 34-year-old Cotto (40-4, 33 KOs) ran his record in his home-away-from-home to 11-1, with six victories inside the distance, when he defended his 160-pound strap Saturday night on a spectacularly entertaining, fourth-round stoppage of former IBF and WBA middleweight titlist Daniel Geale (31-4, 16 KOs), of Australia, before an announced attendance of 12,157 in the Barclays Center, approximately 99.5 percent of whom were there to cheer on their sort-of native son. And they did just that, lusty chants of “Cotto! Cotto!” erupting before the opening bell and periodically throughout the one-sided bout until a buzzed Geale, who went down under three times (once in the first round and twice more in the fourth) advised referee Harvey Dock that he’d prefer to take the rest of the night off. The end came after an elapsed time of 1 minute, 28 seconds.

It was Cotto’s debut not only in the Barclays Center (he previously had fought nine times in Madison Square Garden, once in Yankee Stadium and once in the Hammerstein Ballroom), but under the auspices of Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports, which signed him in March after his contract with Top Rank expired. The change of venue and promotional companies didn’t seem to affect Cotto’s appeal to his legion of NYC supporters, however, although they may be obliged to travel to Las Vegas or to purchase HBO pay-per-view subscriptions for their hero’s next bout against former WBC/WBA super welterweight champ Canelo Alvarez (45-1-1, 32 KOs) in September, as seems likely. Alvarez – who is coming off his own exclamation-point triumph, a three-round blowout of the dangerous James Kirkland on May 9, which drew 31,000 mostly pro-Alvarez spectators in Houston’s Minute Maid Park — is likely an even bigger money fight, and possibly a bit less dangerous, than a unification showdown with WBA middleweight ruler Gennady Golovkin (33-0, 30 KOs), who was at ringside and is fresh off his own latest kick-ass victory, a six-round stoppage of Willie Monroe Jr. on May 16 in Inglewood, Calif.

Given their large and devoted followings, in addition to their nationalities – the 24-year-old Alvarez is already a Mexican icon, and boxing history is rife with classic confrontations between elite Mexican and Puerto Rican fighters – Cotto-Canelo figures to be a must-see event.

“It is the biggest fight in boxing after (Floyd) Mayweather-(Manny) Pacquiao,” said Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya, who was on hand along with fellow GBP executive Bernard Hopkins on something of a scouting mission. “But the difference is with Cotto-Canelo, you will be guaranteed action.”

Michael Yormack, president of Roc Nation Sports, sounded as if the only thing holding up a Cotto-Canelo superfight was putting all the details on contracts and providing the combatants with pens.

“It’s a fight everyone wants to see,” he said, which certainly seems to be the prevailing opinion. “It’s a fight we’re going to make. We have the framework of a deal done.”

As Golovkin also holds a WBC interim championship, he is the mandatory for the more legitimate 160-pound belt held by Cotto, who also possesses the lineal and THE RING magazine titles. But Golvokin apparently is amenable to accepting a seven-figure step-aside fee, with the assurance he would be first in line for the Cotto-Canelo winner.

It is a heady time for the sweet science, with fights suddenly all over the TV dial and May-Pac shattering PPV records. But, boxing being boxing, even a feel-good moment as such transpired on a big sports Saturday, and is apt to be replicated in September should Cotto-Canelo take place, didn’t command the world’s, or even New York’s, full attention. A bit earlier in the day, just 19.7 miles away in Elmont, N.Y., a bedroom community in Nassau County just outside the Queens Borough line, American Pharoah became thoroughbred racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years in leading wire-to-wire to win by 5½ lengths over runner-up Frosted. Over in the Bronx, meanwhile, Bernie Williams’ old team, the American League East Division-leading Yankees, were thrashing the Los Angeles Angels, 8-2, to extend their winning streak to five games.

But the full slate of other attractions in New York and around the world (such as a flu-ridden Serena Williams’ French Open title, her 20th in a Grand Slam event, two fewer than Open Era record-holder Steffi Graf), doesn’t explain why the New York Daily News, whose pages once were graced by the elegant prose of such distinguished boxing writers as Michael Katz and Tim Smith, did not have a single word about the big fight on the day it was to take place.

To be sure, boxing is like any other athletic endeavor in that somebody can find fault with what, at first glance, would appear to be a blemish-free performance. There are those out there (you know who you are) who contend that Cotto became the first Puerto Rican to win world titles in four separate weight classes by beating up a damaged-goods Sergio Martinez on June 7, 2014, and that he defended it Saturday night by forcing Geale, who already had been having trouble making the 160-pound middleweight limit, dangerously dehydrate himself by agreeing to a contractual catch weight of 157 lbs. Having made that weight with not an ounce to spare, Geale apparently went on a feeding frenzy like a contestant at the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island, gaining an almost unfathomable 25 pounds in a single day. His sluggish attempts at coming toward, or running away from, the much quicker Cotto called to mind the plight of WBC super middleweight champion James Toney, who gained, depending on which version of the story you choose to believe, 15, 19 or 24 pounds overnight in yielding his title on a wide unanimous decision to the decidedly more mobile Roy Jones Jr. on Nov. 14, 1994.

“I think the weight had an effect for sure, but that’s boxing,” Geale rationalized after a lackluster effort that lowered his stock while simultaneously elevating that of Cotto, who was all but certain to become an eventual enshrinee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame regardless of what happened Saturday night, or will happen moving forward. “I signed the contract. I have always struggled to make 160, so this was obviously much tougher.”

The mini- or maxi-weight controversy aside, give credit where credit is due. Not all that long ago, Cotto was thought to be on the downhill side of an exemplary career, but he seems to have been rejuvenated under the tutelage of trainer Freddie Roach, who served as his chief second for the third time. Conversely, Cotto’s latest star turn is apt to restore some of the lost luster to Roach, a seven-time Trainer of the Year honoree by the Boxing Writers Association of America who saddled up the losing entry in a pugilistic version of the Triple Crown, with Mayweather’s two 147-pound belts in addition to Pacquiao’s one at stake.

“You’re the best thing that ever happened to me,” Cotto told Roach after Geale had been wolfed down like another shrimp on the Barbie.

Cotto turned away from trainer Pedro Diaz and to Roach after he dropped back-to-back unanimous decisions to Floyd Mayweather Jr. (which was no surprise) and Austin Trout (which was). It has been a mutually beneficial arrangement, not unlike the owner of a vintage sports car taking his pride and joy to an expert for the sort of restoration that turns faded glory into something as good or better than the original.

“He gave me the confidence I lost after dealing with two losses in a row for the first time in my career,” said Cotto, who has been punching for pay for 14 years. Asked what fight plan Roach had laid out against Geale, Cotto said, “The plan was to follow Freddie instructions all the time.”

Those instructions apparently called for extensive use of the left hook, which Cotto employed up and down the ladder to floor Geale in the first round and twice more in the fourth, although the hook merely served to set up the overhand right that was the capper of a flurry of punches on the last knockdown.

Now it’s on to Alvarez, a closer size fit to Cotto, who came in for the Geale fight at 153.6 pounds, a smidgeon below the super welterweight limit. Cotto said his team would probably try to set a contract weight of 155 pounds for Alvarez.

“It’s going to be just another fight,” Cotto said, matter-of-factly. “Canelo is just going to be another opponent. We’re going to be ready for him.”

If the site selected is Las Vegas, however, it won’t be just another venue. Alvarez would have the crowd on his side, with Cotto ceding home-arena advantage. Then again, true champions presumably pay little heed to such matters. Hopkins, for one, says he feeds as much or more off negative energy as he does off the positive variety. Still, Cotto is the franchise for New York City boxing, or at least the subset that has Puerto Rican roots and heritage. The only thing that might have made this latest quasi-homecoming better is if the Belmont Stakes had taken place the previous weekend, or was scheduled for the following weekend. American Pharoah wasn’t exactly the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room, deflecting attention from the 153.6-pound fighter deserving of a larger portion of the spotlight, but the 3-year-old colt was without question the 1,170-pound horse assuming that role.

“I am so thankful for New York, no matter where I’ve been in New York fighting,” Cotto said in a nod toward his most faithful followers. “People here have always been supportive of me.”

The guess here is that they will continue to be, right until Cotto crosses his career finish line. Bernie Williams, who was a Yankee Stadium favorite through his final at-bat, surely understands what it is to bask in that kind of love in a tough town that doesn’t yield its affections easily.

PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Hogan – Hoganphotos/Roc Nation Sports/Miguel Cotto Promotions

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The Mirage Goes Dark and Another Storied Venue for Boxing Bites the Dust

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Life comes at you fast. It seems like only yesterday that I stood in a crowd of rubberneckers gawking at the artificial volcano that fronted the spanking new Mirage Hotel and Casino. After sundown, it erupted every 15 minutes, sending fireballs into the sky accompanied by a soundtrack of actual eruptions as the air was perfumed with the scent of a pina colada. In those days, late November of 1989 and beyond, the artificial volcano was Southern Nevada’s #1 tourist attraction, supplanting Hoover Dam. (The “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign at the south end of the Strip hadn’t yet become a magnet for hordes of camera-toting tourists.)

I didn’t come to the 3,044-room Polynesian-themed resort to see the volcano. I came there to see the centerpiece of the grand opening festivities, a prizefight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, the third meeting between the two gladiators. The Mirage had actually opened for business two weeks earlier, but it was a soft opening, as they say in the trade. The boxing event on Thursday, Dec. 7, 1989, was the cherry on the cake, a spectacle in every sense of the word. Celebrities were chaperoned to their ringside seats on a red carpet, mirroring the Oscars, and a mesmerizing fireworks display, better than New Years Eve, lit up the sky in the interlude between the last preliminary bout and the main event.

Leonard-Duran III was the first of 13 boxing shows at the Mirage, the last of which was staged in 1995. Thirteen isn’t many, but they included some of the biggest fights of the era, five of which – the first five – were staged under the stars in makeshift arenas built specifically for boxing. And now, with the closure of the Mirage today (July 17), another place that housed historic prizefights has dissipated into the dustbin of history.

The accoutrements were more memorable than the fight. Roberto Duran had turned back the clock in his most recent bout, unseating middleweight title-holder Iran Barkley at the Atlantic City Convention Center, but against Sugar Ray he looked older than his 38 years. Leonard was content to out-box Duran and won nearly every round. The final chapter of the Four Kings round-robin (Leonard, Duran, Marvin Hagler, and Tommy Hearns) was a dud.

Two months after the Leonard-Duran rubber match, fringe contender James “Buster” Douglas shocked the world with a 10th-round stoppage of Mike Tyson.

Tyson-Douglas was in faraway Tokyo, but the Mirage became a sidebar to the story of the fight when mischievous Jimmy Vaccaro, who ran the Mirage Race and Sports Book, just for the fun of it posted odds on the match. That gave the Mirage a monopoly as it would be the only property in the bookmaking universe to take bets on the outcome of the fight.

The betting line bounced around a little bit and at one point the odds favoring Mike Tyson stood at 42/1. This price would come to be etched in stone. “42 to 1” became the title of an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary.

It wasn’t lost on Mirage founder and chairman Steve Wynn that Buster Douglas would be the perfect poster boy for a gambling establishment. After all, Buster was the Joe Blow that knocked out Superman and won the big jackpot. Wynn’s attorneys succeeded in extricating Douglas from the clutches of Don King and he was matched against Evander Holyfield, a former cruiserweight champion who was 24-0 with the last six wins coming as a heavyweight.

Worldwide, Douglas vs. Holyfield was a much bigger attraction than Leonard-Duran III. The Mirage reportedly credentialed 1,200 members of the media, many from overseas.

In the days leading up to the fight, there were rumors that Buster Douglas had been lax in his training. Those rumors were confirmed when Douglas weighed-in at 246 pounds, 14 ½ pounds more than he had carried for Mike Tyson.

Counting the intermissions between rounds, the fight lasted a shade over nine minutes. In the third frame, Buster missed with an uppercut and Holyfield countered with an overhand right that landed on the temple. Buster fell to the canvas and made no attempt to rise as referee Mills Lane tolled the 10-count. As he lay there, picking at his nose, the scene was reminiscent of the famous photo of Jack Johnson lying on his back with his right arm shading his eyes from the sun at the conclusion of his 1915 fight with Jess Willard, a match that would always beg the question of whether Johnson was faking it.

Steve Wynn, who could be charming but was a perfectionist with a volatile temper, was livid. On the streets of Las Vegas, there was talk that Wynn had Douglas and his crew evicted from their hotel rooms even before the arena was locked down. If it were true that Buster Douglas was given the bum’s rush like some deadbeat inhabitant of a fleabag hotel, he would have been the first millionaire to experience this indignity. His purse was reportedly $24 million with $19.9 million guaranteed (roughly $40 million in today’s dollars).

Wynn partnered with promoter Bob Arum for the Leonard-Duran fight. For Douglas-Holyfield, he decided to go it alone, eliminating the middleman. By his reckoning, he had people on staff who were quite capable of getting all the moving parts to mesh into a coherent whole. But manufacturing a megafight is a complicated undertaking and Wynn would discover that he had over-reached. Plus, he had soured on boxing after two stinkers.

History would show that Steve Wynn would never again commit a large amount of money to host a prizefight. But this didn’t mark the end of boxing at the Mirage as Wynn owed Don King some dates as part of the out-of-court settlement that freed Buster Douglas from King’s grasp and a handful of promoters with lesser clout (e.g., Kathy Duva, Cedric Kushner, Dan Goossen) would anchor an occasional show there in a four-wall arrangement.

Don King’s first two Mirage promotions pit Mike Tyson against Razor Ruddock. Tyson stopped Ruddock in the seventh round on March 18, 1991. The stoppage by referee Richard Steele, which struck many as premature, sparked a wild melee in the ring between the opposing handlers. The sequel in June went the distance. Tyson copped the decision. Take away the three points that Ruddock was docked for low blows and Tyson still would have won.

King also promoted the last of the outdoor shows at the Mirage, a September 14, 1991 card topped by Julio Cesar Chavez’s super lightweight title defense against Lonnie Smith. In hindsight, this event was historically important.

Although Chavez was a massive favorite and the weather was oppressively hot, the Mexican Independence Day weekend fight attracted a larger-than-expected turnout of mostly Mexican tourists with deep pockets. In future years, many big fights in Las Vegas would be noosed to a Mexican holiday weekend. Chavez vs Smith was the ice-breaker.

In addition to Leonard, Duran, Holyfield, Tyson, and Chavez, future Hall of Famers Riddick Bowe, Jeff Fenech, Azumah Nelson, Buddy McGirt, and Michael Carbajal appeared at the Mirage. “Big Daddy” Bowe never headlined a show at the Mirage but had three fights here preceding his memorable trilogy with Evander Holyfield.

Steve Wynn divested his interest in the Mirage in 2000 and the property became part of the MGM consortium. In December of 2021, the property was purchased by the Hard Rock organization whose parent company, as it were, is the Seminole Indian tribe of Florida. The transition from the Mirage to the Hard Rock is expected to take almost three years. When the renovation is finished, the property will have a new hotel tower shaped like a giant guitar. The guitar, the symbol of the Hard Rock brand, couldn’t hold the volcano’s jockstrap, but it is what it is in the city that constantly reinvents itself.

Back when the Mirage opened, the charismatic Steve Wynn was the most admired man in town. An innovator and a true visionary, Wynn melded the sensibilities of Walt Disney and Bugsy Siegel and changed the face of the Las Vegas Strip. Wynn still has a large footprint in Las Vegas reflected in two look-alike five star hotel-casinos, the Wynn and the Encore, but, incredibly, he is now persona non grata in the city that once worshiped him. His fall from grace is not a proper subject for this website. Suffice it to say that Wynn, now 82, was quite the philanderer in his younger days and his recklessness caught up with him.

Yes, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since that magical night almost 35 years ago when Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran formally christened the newest and brightest jewel on the Las Vegas landscape. Those were the days, my friend, and for some of us it seemed like only yesterday.

A recognized authority on the history of prizefighting and the history of American sports gambling, TSS editor-in-chief Arne K. Lang is the author of five books including “Prizefighting: An American History,” released by McFarland in 2008 and re-released in a paperback edition in 2020.

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A Conversation with Legendary Phoenix Boxing Writer Norm Frauenheim

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It seems all along that Norm Frauenheim was destined to become a boxing writer.

Two critical elements were at play that led the 75-year-old scribe to that profession.

“I was always interested in boxing, even as a kid,” said Frauenheim who spent 31 years with the Arizona Republic beginning in 1977. “I’m an Army brat. I was born in January 1949 on a base, Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, a city I didn’t really see until I hit the NBA road covering the [Phoenix] Suns for more than a decade starting in 1979-80.”

Frauenheim, a longtime correspondent for The Ring magazine who writes for various boxing sites such as boxingscene.com and 15rounds.com, added more background: “One of the many places I lived was Schofield Barracks on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu from 1962 to 1966,” he continued. “I delivered The Stars & Stripes to troops with the 25th Infantry Division, which was headed to Vietnam, along with my dad.

“Anyway, boxing and Schofield have long been linked, mostly because of a novel and film, ‘From Here to Eternity’ (the James Jones novel starring Frank Sinatra on the big screen). The troops were still boxing, outdoors, at the barracks along my newspaper route. I was 13 to 17 years old. I’d stop, watch and get interested. I’ve been interested ever since.”

Frauenheim added: “From there, my father and family shipped to Fort Sheridan, then a base north of Chicago where I spent one year and graduated from high school “Then my dad went back to Vietnam and I went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville (1967 through 1971) and graduated with a major in history. I was also a competitive swimmer, pre-Title IX.

“Competitive swimming is also at the roots of my sportswriting career. I was frustrated that Vanderbilt’s student newspaper didn’t cover us. I offered to do it. The newspaper agreed. I don’t swim as well as I used to. I look at a surfboard and look at the waves I used to take on and wondered what in the hell I was doing. It’s a lot safer to be at ringside.”

After a more than five-decade stint covering boxing, Frauenheim is glad that the manly sport is still around but with more outside competition.

“It’s surely not the [Muhammad] Ali era. It’s not the Golden 80s, either. It’s a fractured business in a world with more and more options for sports fans. MMA is just one example,” he said. “Boxing is not dying. It has been declared dead, ad nauseam. I read the inevitable obits and think of an old line: Boxing has climbed out of more coffins than Count Dracula.

“Still, the sport has been pushed to the fringe of public interest. But it’s been there before. Resiliency is one of its strongest qualities. It’ll be around, always reinventing itself.”

In some respects, boxing, like the other sports, has always been dependent on rivalries like the NBA’s Celtics versus Lakers, which drives the public’s interest and storylines.

“[Larry] Bird-Magic [Johnson] was basketball’s Ali-[Joe] Frazier,” Frauenheim says. “It transformed the league, setting the stage for Michael Jordan. It can happen again, in boxing or any other sport.”

Boxing is still the same but with tweaks here and there.

“When I started, championship bouts were 15 rounds instead of 12,” said Frauenheim who began his journalism career in 1970 at the Tallahassee Democrat and worked at the Jacksonville Journal before being lured in Phoenix. “There were morning weigh-ins instead of the day-before promotional show. There was also a lot more media. A big fight in Vegas meant all of the big media people were there. The last time that happened was Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2015, a fight that failed to meet expectations and I think eroded much of the big media’s appetite for more,” continued Frauenheim whose byline has appeared in USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

Mexican legend Saul Alvarez is still a major draw, but there are others on the horizon who are ready to step in and take over like the undefeated super middleweight David Benavidez.

“The clock is ticking on Canelo’s career, and I think he knows it. At this point, it’s about risk-reward. The 27-year-old Benavidez is too big a risk. Canelo, I think, looks at Benavidez and thinks he’ll beat him. I don’t think he would,” Frauenheim noted. “Benavidez is too big, has a mean streak and possesses a rare extra gear. He gets stronger in the late rounds.

“Even if Canelo wins, there’s a pretty good chance that Benavidez hurts him. There’s still a chance Canelo-Benavidez happens. But I think it’ll take some Saudi [Arabian] money.”

Boxers stand alone in the ring, literally and figuratively, but have a small supporting crew.

This makes them unique compared to baseball, football, basketball and hockey.

“Boxers are different from any other athlete I’ve ever covered. It’s why, I guess, boxing has been called a writer’s sport. There are plenty of NFL and NBA players who have grown up on the so-called mean streets,” Frauenheim said. “But they have teammates. They don’t make that long, lonely walk from the dressing room to the ring.”

Stripped naked, boxers are an open book, according to Frauenheim.

“They can be hard to deal with while training and cutting weight. But after a fight, no athlete in my experience is more forthcoming,” he said. “Win or lose, they just walked through harm’s way in front of people. In my experience, that’s when they want to talk.”

Selecting a career highlight or highlights isn’t easy for Frauenheim, but he tried.

“There are so many. I was there for the great Sugar Ray Leonard victory over Thomas Hearns [1981], a welterweight classic,” he recalled. “A personal favorite was Michael Carbajal’s comeback from two knockdowns for a KO of Humberto Gonzalez in 1993, perhaps the best fight in the history of the lightest weight class. I was also there for the crazy, including Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield’s “Bite Fight” and the “Fan Man” landing in the ring like the 82nd Airborne Division midway through a Riddick Bowe-Holyfield fight behind Vegas’ Caesars Palace.”

Three boxers set the tone and backdrop for Frauenheim’s illustrious tenure as a writer.

“Roberto Duran is the greatest lightweight ever. His lifestyle sometimes got the best of him. That was evident in his infamous ‘No Mas’ welterweight loss to Sugar Ray Leonard in New Orleans,” he said of that November 1980 bout. “He told me that he took the rematch, on short notice, because of the money. “Women-women-women, eating-eating-eating, drinking-drinking-drinking,” he told me in an interview of what he had been doing before Leonard’s people approached him for an immediate rematch of his Montreal victory. But take a look at Duran’s victory in Montreal [June 1980]. Watch it again. On that night, there’s never been a better fighter than Duran.”

Frauenheim added another titan to that short list: “Leonard, who is the last real Sugar,” he said, and ended with the only eight-weight division king. “Manny Pacquiao, an amazing story about a starving kid off impoverished Filipino streets. He was a terrific fighter, blessed with speed, power and instinct. Add to that a shy personality unchanged by all the money and celebrity. He is an example of what can still happen in boxing. He’s the face of the game’s resiliency.”

That’s quite a trio, and they’re the best of the best that Frauenheim’s seen and covered from ringside.

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Aaron McKenna and Kieron Conway Victorious in Osaka

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Aaron McKenna scored a 10th-round stoppage of Jeovanny Estela today (Monday, July 15) in Osaka, Japan. The bout was one of four scheduled 10-rounders in the middleweight division in a revamped Prizefighter Tournament with a $1,000,000 prize at stake for the winner.

One of two fighting brothers from the little town of Smithborough in County Monaghan, Ireland, the undefeated (19-0, 10 KOs) McKenna (pictured) was well ahead on the scorecards when the referee stepped in and halted the match at the 2:02 mark of the final round. He entered the ring a 4/1 favorite over Estela (14-1), a 23-year-old Floridian of Puerto Rican descent who began his pro career at 147.

McKenna’s opponent in the next round (at a date and place to be determined) will be England’s Kieron Conway (21-3-1, 6 KOs) who scored a seventh-round stoppage over China’s obscure Ainiwaer Yilixati (19-2). All three of Conway’s losses were to opponents who were undefeated when he fought them with two of those setbacks occurring on Canelo Alvarez undercards.

Two Japanese fighters – Riku Kunimoto and Kazuto Takesako – were victorious in the other bouts and will meet in the semifinals.

Local fan favorite Kunimoto, recognized as the middleweight champion of Japan, advanced to 12-1 (6 KOs) with a fifth-round stoppage of countryman Eiki Kani (8-5-3). This was a rematch. The two fought earlier this year in Nagoya with Kunimoto registering a fifth-round TKO.

Takesako (17-2-1, 15 KOs) registered the lone upset on the card with a hard-earned decision over England’s Mark Dickinson. It was the first pro loss for Dickinson who had only six pro fights under his belt but was a highly decorated amateur. The scores were 98-92, 97-93, and 95-94.

The next fight for Kunimoto will be another rematch. Takesako saddled him with his lone defeat, knocking him out in the first round at Tokyo’s venerable Korakuen Hall in May of 2021.

The tournament, co-sponsored by Matchroom and televised on DAZN, offers an aggregate $100,000 per event for knockouts. McKenna, Conway, and Kunimoto scooped up $25,000 apiece.

Aaron McKenna, his brother Stephen, and their father/trainer Feargal McKenna were the subjects of a story that ran on these pages. Stephen McKenna (14-0, 13 KOs) returns to the ring next month against 14-2 Joe Laws on a BOXXER promotion that will air on Sky Sports in the UK.

Aaron McKenna entered the Prizefighter Tourney as the pre-fight favorite and Matchroom honcho Eddie Hearn has indicated that he will be in line for a world title shot if he wins his next two matches.

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