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Slight Return: Andre Ward Crushes Paul Smith In the Ninth

Matt McGrain

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It’s Christmas of 2011 and as he sits down to pray before the Christmas turkey, Andre Ward is First in Line to The Throne. Manny Pacquiao has been dispatched by nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez and it is now Ward who is able to gaze at Floyd Mayweather’s star unfettered. No other pugilist stands between him and the undisputed #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. He has a style that is reminiscent of Mayweather’s too, the sportsman’s parody of hit-and-don’t-be-hit; he was fast of hand, foot and mind, and he is armed with the nickname “Son of God”, the type of moniker that radiates the same arrogance as “Money” Mayweather.

Eight days earlier, Son of God had thrashed Carl Froch in Atlantic City to become the lineal champion at 168lbs. Froch, who has only recently been stripped from pound-for-pound lists himself for inactivity, was as world-class an opponent as could be found for Ward in his division and he beat the Englishman out of sight. I gave only one of the twelve rounds to Froch, who was as brave and game as always but who was stripped of his defence and robbed of his offence by a fighter who was a class removed from him.

It wasn’t that he just out-jabbed and out-boxed Froch – this, everyone had expected – he out-muscled him. He bullied him. He out-fought him up close where Froch’s superior strength and size were meant to buy him points. Instead, he was roughed up badly by the stronger, dirtier American who mixed his otherworldly left-hook, right uppercut, left hook type combinations with a healthy dose of forearm and head when challenged in a like manner. The fight was not close. The fight, a meeting between two of the ten best super-middleweights of all time, was embarrassingly one-sided. It may be the best performance of the decade.

He was twenty-seven years old and entering his physical prime; he was heir apparent; my opinion was that we were looking at an all-time great talent who would mop up the leftovers at 168lbs, probe for superfights at 160lbs before moving up to dominate at 175lbs. I thought we were seeing the man who would move Floyd Mayweather over.

Four years later:

Andre Ward has just boxed his first contest in little over nineteen months and has been almost universally stripped of any pound-for-pound recognition at all, because, as the man said, how can you be the best at something if you don’t do it? A short rest on the laurels seemed reasonable; after all, there wasn’t a lot left at the weight for him to do – but that short rest turned into a difficult dispute over promotional rights (now resolved). Since, opposition has emerged which is so good that not only would an unbeaten Ward have risen to the pound-for-pound #1 slot, still one of the most affluent position in all of sports, questions have arisen as to whether or not Ward could emerge triumphant. One down there is Gennady Golovkin, a pure stalker of lethal intent, as terrifying a spectre as can be seen in the ring currently. One up, there is Sergey Kovalev, perhaps not quite as special as Golovkin, but in real terms the harder assignment due to his size. Ward, who remains the legitimate king of the super-middles, even if he tarnishes the crown he wears with inactivity, has spent time flirting with light-heavyweight just recently.

His last fight at 168lbs was fought almost three years ago – a liftetime in boxing terms. It was against the reigning 175lbs champion Chad Dawson, who volunteered to dip down to super-middle where Ward happily obliged and then obliterated him. Next up was Edwin Rodriguez, in an over-the-weight super-middle contest, Ward a happy winner on points; finally, tonight, Ward weighed in as a light-heavyweight, coming in at just under the agreed 172lbs. His opponent, Paul Smith, out of Liverpool, England, didn’t make the 172lb limit; he didn’t even manage the 175lb limit; Paul Smith, now 35-6, weighed in at 176lbs. Worse still, when an additional weight limit of 181lbs was introduced for 11 am on the day of the fight, Smith decided not to bother with that one, either, weighing in at 184lbs. Mutters began to circulate that Smith, who was rumoured to have weighed around 180lbs just two days before, had turned up in the States out of shape, in attendance just to pick up his paycheck. For a limited but brave fighter like Smith, looking at Ward and trying to figure out a way to win must be the same as you or I trying to launch ourselves up Mount Everest without oxygen. Of course Smith took the fight, but once he and his team settled down to uncovering a strategy that might defeat Ward, it is possible none could be found. Whatever the truth of the mater it was clear: something had gone wrong in Smith’s camp.

Still, as a come-back opponent, Smith was probably just the right side of acceptable for any super-middleweight other than Ward. Although he must now be regarded as a professional loser at the absolute elite level, Smith, in his two fights with Arthur Abraham, looked like a real test for a world-class fighter. Their first fight, especially, was close and exciting for all that cries of robbery at the decision in favour of Abraham were a little hysterical. The Englishman fought a very good fight and was probably deserving of the rematch he was granted – a fight he clearly lost. Fellow Brit George Groves dusted him in just two back in 2011, a sharp right hand over the ear discombobulating him and another almost identical one ending proceedings. James Degale did the same job with the left in the ninth round a year before. The point is that there are many British super-middleweights that Ward could have called upon to welcome him back that are considerably better than Smith. The joke, at least on the British side of the Atlantic, is that Andre Ward has decided to take on the second best super-middleweight in Paul Smith’s family. On these shores, brother Callum is held to be the best of the four boxing Smith brothers.

So it can come as no surprise that what we saw tonight in Ward’s hometown of Oakland, California was Paul Smith defeated without resistance in a one-sided fight that qualifies, basically, as a workout for Ward; a chance for him to get the meat back on his gristle, so to speak.

He certainly found his jab quickly enough, crackling it out throug the first round as Smith moved around the ring getting hit, Ward’s golden gloves ablur. The Oakland man remained standing between the first and second rounds and padded back out to jab Smith to the ropes in the opening moments of the second; Smith didn’t seem to panic outwardly, but he also appeared hypnotised by the jabs snaking into and between his high guard. Bereft of a meaningful plan, he likely had won no ten second spell of the fight by the end of the third, although he had managed to take away Ward’s left-hook with his high guard. Still, Ward was finding him with the late punches in combinations and with that jab.

Ward flirted with a guard-splitting uppercut in the fourth and began to relax into the fluidity of his offence, spared the vague possibility of any rust gumming up the works by the fact that Smith wasn’t really bothering to fight. Ward went to the body in the fifth but was twice warned to keep them up by the referee, sending him back to the head, but hurtful jabs to the body were his preferred flavour at the opening of the sixth. Pegged to the canvas by his own limitations and Ward’s brilliance, Smith looked a well-worn punching bag and as the round wound down as Ward’s right handsbegan to creep in.

Finally Smith’s moment came – and went – in the seventh as he landed a stinging right hand over the top, winging a left behind it, catching Ward near flush. This punch, if nothing else, reminded us that Ward had a solid chin. Ward celebrated this news with surgical precision, opening Smith up with punches, cracking him with rights of his own at bell. That such a one-sided fight had been allowed to reach the eighth seemed both strange and explicable in the light of Smith’s safety-first strategy. He bled freely from the left-eye but seemed determined to take his beating like a man, walking in, dipping and jabbing for openings, generally finding a punch for his trouble, a left uppercut up the middle the pick of the bunch. Smith, his face now a mask of red, looked a little sorry for himself in his corner between the eighth and ninth.

The advice dished out to Ward in his corner, meanwhile, was chilling – Ward was to “stop fooling around” and “ice” Smith. Generally, Ward doesn’t take corner advice well. Like his friend and mentor Bernard Hopkins he has the look of a man who may be content to listen politely but knows his own mind. On this occasion, he seemed happy to oblige. Ward beat Smith to a standstill, chucking rights over the top and into Smith’s seemingly unprotected face; suddenly Smith’s guard was meaningless and Ward was free to do what he wanted. Smith never quit – he was front and centre throughout – but when the towel came fluttering from Smith’s corner I felt relief rather than disappointment. The glorified spar was at an end.

Smith, who embarrassed himself with his inability to make an agreed weight well above the 168lbs limit he favours, will return to the UK and have success at British and European level. He will deserve that success. He’s a heart-fuelled fighter, for all that he never really showed that in Oakland this evening. And Ward? What does this victory mean for him?

Something and nothing, I would suggest. I suspect that Ward will re-emerge on a handful of pound-for-pound lists over coming weeks but don’t believe the hype. Beating Smith does not make Ward one of the ten most accomplished fighters in the world and wouldn’t even if he had out-boxed Godzilla back in 2013. Ward has a long way to go to claim his likely birthright, that of the best fighter in the world and his destruction of Paul Smith brings him no closer than Odysseus blinding the Cyclops brought him closer to home. There is an ocean to cross and suitors to best before he ascends to that throne, if he ever does.

It must also be uncertain whether his future even lies at super-middleweight. Ward hasn’t made 168lbs since the end of 2013 and the 172lb figure was Ward’s idea. Smith, ironically, favoured 170lbs but Ward declined – what was it about making 170lbs that Ward disliked? If he can still make super-middleweight with ease, German Robert Stieglitz and Brit James DeGale will be keen opposition, but are far from being marquee names. Arthur Abraham is ranked #1 in the division currently but Ward beat him twelve rounds to zero four years ago; it is unlikely that there will be public appetite for a rematch. Despite the one-sided nature of their contest, a rematch with Froch would be valid given Froch’s form since their first match, but the Englishman speaks of meeting Ward again only on the condition that they box in his hometown of Nottingham. This will not happen.

So perhaps Ward’s future lies with the twin moons of Golovkin and Kovalev still. Certainly nobody will be complaining about the opposition on the night of those meetings.

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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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Featured Articles

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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