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The Hauser Report: Adrien Broner Punks Out

Thomas Hauser

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Three competing fight cards of note were televised simultaneously on June 20. The most intriguing match-up of the night was on NBC and showcased Adrien Broner vs. Shawn Porter.

There was a time when Broner (30-1, 22 KOs) sought to position himself as the successor to Floyd Mayweather. No undersized punching bag was safe when Adrien was on the loose. His formula was to potshot opponents until he knew they were safe and then go after them. He had (and still has) prodigious physical gifts.

“At lightweight, where he was able to exploit his size,” Jimmy Tobin writes, “Broner walked opponents down and banged them out. His mediocre defense was masked by his ability to handle a lightweight punch. His struggles to transition between offense and defense were hidden by the fact that Broner never needed to take a backward step.”

But as Broner moved up in weight and the caliber of opponent improved, his limitations as fighter became evident. He won a narrow split-decision victory over Paulie Malignaggi at 147 pounds in 2013 and, later that year, was exposed in a unanimous-decision loss at the hands of Marcos Maidana.

Broner claimed that he wanted a rematch against Maidana. But as Carlos Acevedo observed, “Not only was Broner thrashed by Maidana, he was humiliated. He rose like a man suffering from Jake Leg after being knocked down in the second round, tried to buy a disqualification by writhing on the canvas like a two-year old in a Wal-Mart after Maidana butted him, hit the deck again in the eighth, was the victim of a revenge humping, and then fled the ring under a gauntlet of beer cups. Another loss to Maidana might have put an end to the Broner hype once and for all.”

So instead of fighting a rematch against Maidana, Broner went down in weight to 140 and fought three overmatched opponents. Then, on Saturday night, he squared off against Shawn Porter (25-1, 16 KOs) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas at a catchweight of 144 pounds.

Porter’s resume had a unanimous-decision victory over Devon Alexander on it and also a majority-decision loss to Kell Brook. As a point of further comparison with Broner, Shawn wiped out Paulie Malignaggi in four rounds last year.

Porter was a 6-to-5 betting favorite. Broner has better natural gifts, but the feeling among those in the know was that Adrien is soft. Broner can trash-talk with the best. But it has become increasingly clear that he can’t back it up. Against Porter, he didn’t even try to.

Boxing maven Charles Jay has opined, “I hate it when a guy talks like a monster before the fight and then comes out and fights like a little lamb. I’ve seen it too many times, and it shows disrespect for the sport itself.”

That was Broner on Saturday night.

“Hit and don’t get hit” doesn’t mean “run, hold, and be boring.” There’s a difference between fighting cautiously and stinking out the joint.

Against Porter, Broner ran all night. Whenever Shawn got inside, Adrien tied him up. As the fight progressed, hugging and holding evolved into forearms to the throat. Then Adrien added headlocks to his repertoire. By round four, Steve Smoger (who was commentating for NBC) noted, “All we’ve seen so far is four rounds of fouls and forearms.”

Porter tried to make it more of a battle. But he couldn’t figure out how to do damage while coming in. And whenever he got inside, Broner tied him up. Adrien simply didn’t want to fight. And Shawn didn’t know how to fight a guy who didn’t want to fight.

Referee Tony Weeks let Broner continue to hold and foul until round eleven, when he belatedly deducted a point. It was one of the few times in memory that the crowd has roared its approval when the referee took a point away from a fighter.

Early in round twelve, Porter got sloppy and Broner landed a hook up top that put Shawn on the canvas. But when Porter rose, Adrien went back to holding and hugging rather than going for a knockout (which he obviously needed to win).

Porter prevailed by a 118-108, 115-111, 114-112 margin on the judges’ scorecards and had a 149-to-88 advantage in punches landed.

Thereafter, Broner nonsensically proclaimed, “I’m okay. It’s okay. It don’t matter. I’m a real animal. I came to fight today and I didn’t get the decision. But at the end of the day, everyone here will take my autograph and my picture.”

Broner isn’t as good as he says he is. Boxing fans figured that out a while ago.

*     *     *

David Lemieux (33-2, 31 KOs) vs. Hassan N’Dam (31-1, 18 KOs) on FoxSports2 was a even-money fight in Lemieux’s hometown of Montreal for the vacant (and phony) IBF 160-pound world championship belt.

Lemieux is an entertaining fighter, who couldn’t get over the hump in back-to-back losses against Marco Antonio Rubio and Joachim Alcine in 2011. N’Dam who was knocked down six times in a 2012 loss to Peter Quillin, scored his biggest win last year, a unanimous 12-round decision over Curtis Stevens.

Lemieux wanted a slugfest. And because he was in the ring with a fighter who has limited defensive skills, he got one. That led to N’Dam being knocked down once in round two, twice in round five, and again in round seven; each time by a left hook up top.

They weren’t flash knockdowns. They were punishing damaging blows. And when Lemieux wasn’t knocking N’Dam down, he was loading up with both hands and pummeling him around the ring for long stretches of time.

One couldn’t help but compare N’Dam’s fortitude to that of Daniel Geale, who quit on his feet two weeks ago against Miguel Cotto. Unlike Geale, N’Dam took an incredible amount of punishment. And not only did he keep fighting; he kept trying to win.

In the end, the judges favored Lemieux by a 115-109, 115-109, 114-110 margin.

Lemieux vs. Gennady Golovkin will be fun while it lasts if it happens.

*     *     *

Andre Ward (now 28-0, 15 KOs) hasn’t joined the federal witness protection program. But he’s no longer in the thick of things either.

Ward rose to prominence with victories over Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham, and Carl Froch in Showtime’s “Super Six” 168-pound tournament. But contractual problems, injuries, and a general disinclination to fight credible opponents limited him to two ring appearances in the forty-two months that followed.

Then Ward signed a promotional contract with Roc Nation at the start of 2015, demanded a tune-up fight, and was relegated to BET, where he fought England’s Paul Smith (35-5, 20 KOs) on Saturday night.

Smith, a likable man who has never beaten a world-class fighter, was a 30-to-1 underdog. He simply didn’t have the tools to challenge Ward on any level.

Ward fought a safety-first fight. After three dreary rounds, he had a 72-to-10 edge in punches landed. The rest of the fight was no different. During the seventh stanza, blow-by-blow commentator Barry Tompkins observed, “It’s been the same dance since the opening round.” The seventh round also saw Smith cut above the left eye (which has been a problem for him in recent fights). In round nine, Ward broke Smith’s nose; blood began to pour; and Paul’s corner stopped the fight. Andre won every minute of what looked like a one-sided sparring session.

Fights like this might help Ward’s bank account. There are reports that his purse for the fight was $2,000,000. But they don’t help the Roc Nation brand.

Meanwhile, Ward’s status in boxing is best understood when one compares him to Miguel Cotto.

Ward is undefeated. When last in action, he was rated #2 on most pound-for-pound lists. Both Ward and Cotto are signed to Roc Nation. Each man fought a B-level opponent this month.  But Cotto fought on HBO and Ward needed a time buy on BET to get his comeback fight on television.

There are two opponents of note outside of the Al Haymon universe that Ward could fight next: Gennady Golovkin at 168 pounds and Sergey Kovalev at 175. No other foreseeable Andre Ward fight matters.

*     *     *

A word on Sergio Martinez, who announced his retirement from boxing on June 13 at age forty.

Martinez walked into a boxing gym for the first time at age twenty. He turned pro three years later and compiled a ring record of 51 wins, 3 losses, and 2 draws. On April 17, 2010, he decisioned Kelly Pavlik to claim the world middleweight crown. Six successful championship defenses followed. But as Sergio grew older, his body betrayed him. Plagued by a bad knee that limited his training and ring movement, he was dethroned last year by Miguel Cotto.

I was priviliged to spend the hours before and after a fight in Martinez’s dressing room on six occasions. The first of these came on November 20, 2010, when Sergio rendered Paul Williams unconscious with a crushing overhand left in the second round.

Williams and his trainer, George Peterson, later spoke of a “lucky punch.”

“It definitely wasn’t a lucky punch,” Sergio countered. “Anybody who has seen the tape – it’s not too long – sees me throwing the same punch six times and landing five, and then I knock him out. It was a premeditated punch, not lucky.”

David Greisman’s analysis supported Sergio’s view.

“Can we please put this to rest, already,” Greisman wrote. “Martinez landed the same timed overhand left as the knockout punch numerous times in both his first fight with Williams and in their rematch. By my tally, Martinez landed it fifteen times in their first bout, including nine times in the final three rounds of the bout, as he realized it was another weapon that would work on Williams. And in the rematch, Martinez landed it half a dozen times in four minutes. Seven times, if you count the final blow.”

Outside the ring, Martinez has been an advocate for women who have been subjected to domestic violence and for children who’ve been the target of bullying in school.

“A world-class fighter doesn’t have to act like a thug,” he says. “As a professional athlete who is in the public eye, I have a duty to speak out on behalf of people who need help and are not heard.”

Sergio Martinez has always conducted himself with dignity and grace. Boxing will miss him.

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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The Ups and Downs of Hall of Fame Boxing Writer Jack Fiske

Arne K. Lang

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Hall of Fame boxing writer Jack Fiske passed away 15 years ago this coming Sunday, Jan. 24, 2006. Fiske was 88 years old.

Fiske was one of the last of the breed, a full-time boxing writer for a major metropolitan daily. They don’t make them like that anymore.

In his final years as a journalist, however, Fiske no longer worked for the San Francisco Chronicle, his longtime employer. To read his stuff required a subscription to a newsletter. And the newsletter, in common with Fiske, had become a dinosaur in a world where the only constant is change. It went belly-up several weeks before Fiske passed away.

Born in New York City in 1917, Jack Fiske attended the University of Alabama where he covered the school’s boxing team for the school newspaper. The star of the team, Fiske was fond of recollecting, was a fiery bantamweight, George Wallace. America would come to know Wallace as the fiery segregationist who served four terms as Governor of Alabama and was a failed U.S. presidential candidate.

After graduation, Fiske worked for a paper in Virginia and two small papers in the Bay Area before latching on with the Chronicle. In addition to covering the fights as a ringside reporter, Fiske authored a twice-weekly feature called “Punching The Bag” that circulated widely among hard-core fans and industry insiders.

Fiske had to be on his toes because for much of his tenure at the paper the arch-rival San Francisco Examiner had a fine full-time boxing man of their own, Eddie Muller, whose son of the same name hosts “Noir Alley” on Turner Classic Movies.

“Punching The Bag” was jam-packed with information and editorial content. Fiske had little tolerance for inept ring officials and regulators who owed their cushy jobs to political connections. First-time promoters, the lifeblood of the sport, were assured of positive ink. But once a promoter became established, he had to earn his props by making competitive matches.

During Fiske’s early days with the Chronicle, the top sports in terms of newspaper coverage were baseball, horseracing, and boxing, and the Bay Area was a beehive of boxing activity. In 1955, there were 73 boxing shows in San Francisco, Oakland, and nearby Richmond. The biggest shows were usually held at the Cow Palace. Ten title fights were staged here beginning with Ezzard Charles’ 1949 world heavyweight title defense against local fan favorite Pat Valentino.

One can guess where this is heading. Bit by bit, the Bay Area boxing scene became fallow. In the eyes of the Chronicle higher-ups, Fiske came to be seen as superfluous. In 1992, the paper let him go. “Punching The Bag” died after an amazing 43-year run.

Fiske hastened his demise as a newspaperman by his disinclination to become more versatile. He never wanted to cover any sport other than boxing. His attraction to the sweet science was manifested in his vast collection of boxing memorabilia which dominated every room of his home.

In 1994, Fiske was persuaded to resurrect his column for “Professional Boxing Update” and its sister publication, “Flash.” These were 12-page newsletters cranked out by a fellow from Capitola, CA, named Virgil Thrasher, a big boxing buff with a second sideline as a blues harmonica player.

At their peak, Thrasher’s newsletters had 6000 subscribers, 10 percent overseas. Circulation-wise, this was a big comedown for Fiske, but he was too professional to approach his assignments half-heartedly. Although he held a grudge against his former employer, his bitterness surfaced only once.

When the Chronicle made no mention of the passing of World War II era lightweight champion Ike Williams, Fiske carped that the sports department was run by clowns more attuned to women’s volleyball than to matters of significance.

“Professional Boxing Update” and “Flash” were modest endeavors, but the contributors were first-rate, most especially during the mid-1990s. Jack Fiske was then in good form, as was acerbic Las Vegas oddsmaker Herb Lambeck, a peerless boxing pricemaker. In those days, no one was better at dissecting a forthcoming fight than lead writer Graham Houston, himself a Future Hall of Famer. Houston, who was the North American correspondent for several British publications, stayed on with Thrasher’s newsletters until the very end.

For some subscribers, these publications functioned mostly as tip sheets. When the opinions of Houston and Lambeck dovetailed, one could wager with a high degree of confidence.

Within four years of joining PBU/Flash, Jack Fiske’s health began to fail and he was unable to meet his deadlines. To ease Fiske’s slide to infirmity, Thrasher took to reprinting some of his old Chronicle columns.

When Virgil Thrasher launched his newsletters in 1985, he stole readers from established magazines by delivering information in a timelier fashion. Ironically, he became a victim of the same force. A new generation of fight fans, weaned on the internet, demanded updates quicker than the mailman could bring.

It would have been nice if Thrasher had continued on for a few more weeks, thereby affording readers a tribute to Jack Fiske on the occasion of his passing. But at least Fiske wasn’t entirely forgotten.

In 2003, at age 85, Fiske was ushered into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. As is the custom when an inductee passes away, the flag atop the Canastota shrine was lowered to half-staff when news arrived of his passing.

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Michael Coffie vs. Darmani Rock Smacks of Joe Joyce vs. Daniel Dubois

Arne K. Lang

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Although it wasn’t a world title fight, the match between Joe Joyce and Daniel Dubois which took place in London on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, attracted a lot of buzz. Only one heavyweight bout in 2020 was more eagerly anticipated, that being the rematch in February between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder.

Joyce vs. Dubois was that rare pairing of two undefeated heavyweights who were roughly at the same stage of their career. Dubois was 15-0 (14 KOs) heading in; Joyce was 11-0 (10).

And that brings us to the crossroads fight on Jan. 30 at the LA Shrine Expo between Darmani Rock (17-0, 12 KOs) and Michael Coffie (11-0, 8 KOs). Unlike Joyce vs. Dubois, this is not a well-marinated showdown, but yet there are some parallels, most notably it’s a match between unbeaten heavyweights in which the victor will undoubtedly make a big jump in public esteem and the loser, more than likely, will be pushed back into the shadows.

There was a big age gap in the Joyce-Dubois fight. The 35-year-old Joyce was the older man by 12 years. Likewise, Rock vs. Coffie features a young old-timer vs. an opponent who is merely young.

Michael Coffie, 34, came to boxing late after serving eight years in the Marine Corps. He entered the New York City Golden Gloves tournament on a whim and with virtually no formal training and yet he succeeded in reaching the finals.

When Coffie (pictured)  turned pro, his manager was none other than Randy Gordon, the former chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission who has kept his hand in boxing as a journalist and radio personality, co-hosting a boxing-themed talk show on Sirius FM with Gerry Cooney. Gordon knows more than a little about heavyweights, having been involved with Bonecrusher Smith who was briefly (very briefly) the WBA world heavyweight champion.

“(Bonecrusher) was not anywhere near the fighter that Mike is,” Gordon told Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez on the occasion of Coffie’s pro debut in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. On that night, Coffie needed only 61 seconds to dismiss his opponent, ending the contest with a short right hand. The sacrificial lamb, wrote Fernandez, “went down like an anvil dropped in the ocean.”

In his most recent fight, on Nov. 7, Coffie was matched against Minnesota veteran Joey Abell, a noted spoiler. Abell would have been a good measuring rod for assessing Coffie’s progress, but unfortunately the bout was over almost before it started. Early in the second round, Abell suffered a biceps injury while throwing a punch and couldn’t continue.

The “A” side in this fight, however, isn’t Coffie but the other guy. Darmani Rock, 24, had an outstanding amateur career, winning several important tournaments including the 2014 Youth World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. Rock was upset in the finals of the 2016 Olympic Trials and then turned pro, signing with Roc Nation, the deep pockets sports management company founded by Jay-Z.

darmani

Darmani Rock on the right

Questions have been raised, however, about Rock’s dedication. He weighed 278 pounds in his last fight, 30 pounds more than in his pro debut. (Coffie’s fighting weight also hovers around 270 and he is the same approximate height – both are listed at 6’5” — but Coffie has always been big.)  Moreover, Rock has been inactive for 15 months and may have trouble shaking off the rust.

Darmani Rock hails from Philadelphia; Michael Coffie from Brooklyn, more fodder for the tub-thumpers. Philadelphia was the stomping grounds of Smokin’ Joe Frazier. The City of Brotherly Love has arguably produced more good prizefighters per capita than any city in the country. Brooklyn spawned Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe, and Shannon Briggs, all of whom bubbled out of gritty Brownsville which also happens to be the neighborhood where Michael Coffie spent much of his youth until he was spirited away to a less threatening environment by foster parents.

I don’t want to get carried away with the Joyce-Dubois analogy. Joe Joyce had a stronger amateur pedigree than Darmani Rock. Daniel Dubois had a spectacular run leading up to his match with Joyce including a one-sided triumph over well-regarded Nathan Gorman. Moreover, neither Joyce nor Dubois had ever fought an opponent with a losing record. The same can’t be said of Coffie and Rock who have built their records on the backs of the usual suspects. Darmani Rock’s last two opponents were both 42 years old.

Moreover, Coffie vs. Rock isn’t the main attraction on the PBC card. Top billing goes to Caleb Plant’s 168-pound title defense against Caleb Truax.

As we recall, the Joyce-Dubois fight produced a major upset. Dubois was understood to be faster on his feet and more heavy-handed – considered more likely to turn the tide with a single punch – but youth was not served on that night at the historic Church House in Westminster. Joyce methodically peppered Dubois with his jab which caused a big lump to develop over Dubois’s left eye. The eye eventually shut completely and the fight ended in the 10th round with Dubois taking a knee and allowing himself to be counted out. Joyce’s victory elevated him to #2 in the WBO rankings, a notch below Oleksandr Usyk who is potentially his next opponent.

One doesn’t know what will transpire when Coffie fights Rock, but as Michael Buffer would say, “someone’s ‘O’ will have to go.” Fights of this nature are inherently intriguing and that goes double when the combatants are heavyweights.

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“One Night in Miami”: Film Review by Thomas Hauser

Thomas Hauser

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On February 25, 1964, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. defeated Charles “Sonny” Liston in Miami Beach over the course of six remarkable rounds to claim the heavyweight championship of the world. Late that night, the new champion found himself in a room at Hampton House (a black hotel in segregated Miami) with Malcolm X, several other followers of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, and football great Jim Brown. Soul singer Sam Cooke (a friend of Clay’s) had been at the fight, but there’s no historical record of his being in the hotel room with the others at that time.

One Night in Miami is built around imagining what transpired in that room amongst Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke. Directed by Regina King from a screenplay by Kemp Powers, it’s available on Amazon Prime.

The film fits into the genre known as historical fiction. Dramatic license was taken. Viewers should understand that, at times, it’s allegorical rather than an accurate factual recounting. The larger question is whether the film is impressionistically honest. The answer is “yes.”

One Night in Miami begins with the 1963 fight between Clay and Henry Cooper in London. It then segues to Cooke being treated rudely by an all-white audience at the Copacabana, followed by Jim Brown (the greatest running back in National Football League history) being reminded by a patronizing southern gentleman that he’s just a “n—–.” Next, we see Malcolm as the Nation of Islam’s most charismatic spokesman, after which the scene shifts to Liston-Clay I.

Thirty-four minutes into the film, the drama moves to Hampton House.

Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke were prominent in different ways. Each was young, black, and famous. But Malcolm was a social and religious figure of considerable intellect while the other three were known as entertainers.

The dialogue between the four men is light at first and then turns serious.

Malcolm is played by Kingsley Ben-Adir. On what should have been one of the greatest nights of his life, his world is slipping away. His deadly rupture with Elijah Muhammad is almost complete. Soon, Clay will abandon him. Ben-Adir comes across as a bit weaker and more tentative than one might expect, although Malcolm’s intellect is evident in his performance.

It’s hard to imagine anyone playing Cassius Clay well except the young Muhammad Ali. But Eli Goree bears a resemblance to Clay and is pretty good in the role.

Jim Brown was an intimidating physical presence. Aldis Hodge lacks this physicality but his performance is solid.

Leslie Odom Jr, who plays Sam Cooke, has star quality. He’s the only one of the four major actors who has the charisma and presence of the man he’s portraying. But as a result, Cooke has a stronger on-screen persona than Malcolm. That’s a problem as tensions between the two men boil over.

Toward the end of the film, Malcolm reveals that he intends to leave the Nation of Islam because of differences with Elijah Muhammad and will found a new organization.

“Who’s gonna be in this new organization?” Clay asks.

“I think lots of people will follow me over,” Malcolm answers. “Especially if you come with me.”

Clay, of course, didn’t follow Malcolm. He sided with Elijah Muhammad. One year later, he and Jim Brown were the only participants from the hotel room gathering as portrayed in the film who were still alive. Sam Cooke was shot to death in a California motel on December 11, 1964. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem.

One Night in Miami cautions us that our icons are flesh and blood human beings with strengths and flaws. In its best moments, the film is a powerful reminder that the issues of self-respect, black empowerment, and racial equality are timeless.

Pictured left to right: Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown), Kingsley Ben-Adir (Malcolm X) Leslie Odom Jr (Sam Cooke) Eli Goree (Cassius Clay)

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, he was selected for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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