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Funeral of a Dream—Rebirth of a Documentary

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Let’s kick it old school—Golden Girls style.

Picture it. Boxing. 1995.

The sonic sledgehammers of Wu-Tang, Biggie, and Nas sluiced the streets. If you had a cell phone, it was of the Zack Morris variety. Forget about the internet.

Fighters like James Toney, Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Pernell Whitaker, Ricardo Lopez, Roy Jones, Jr., and so many other exceptional fighters of the day, could be seen gracing the squared circle with such excellence to rival any other era in the sport.

I was a young man then, in front of the blaze of my parents’ television, turned on to the sweet science for life.

And how lucky is the boxing community now to have Gaylen Ross’s documentary Titleshot capturing that time period in the sport.

Ross’s film chronicles the journey of Godfrey Nyakana, the then junior middleweight contender from Uganda, looking for his title shot under the tutelage of former light heavyweight contender, “Irish” Bobby Cassidy.

Drawn to the characters she encountered in her previous documentary on the diamond district of 47th Street, Ms. Ross came to Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn in the mid-nineties to find out what boxing was all about.

And so she did. She learned it’s about loss.

You see, Mr. Nyakana, a young man who travelled three hours from his East Bronx basement apartment every day to train in arguably the best gym in the world and to live the American dream, never got his title shot, suffering a second round TKO at a crucial moment in his career.

Ms. Ross thought her project may have faced an insurmountable opponent—defeat. But that was until she spoke with sports journalist Jerry Izenberg, who opened Ross’s eyes to the true frame of her story and to the reality of the sport: that there are many more fighters that don’t make it than those fighters that do. Mr. Izenberg aptly described this reality of boxing as the “funeral of a dream.”

“When you have this massive failure in the public—and this is what makes boxing so amazing—it’s about getting up from that. That’s boxing, as Bobby Cassidy said,” Ross explains.

But can someone come back?

Real life and real boxing do not guarantee the phoenix-rising-from-the- ashes myth we often see in featured films on boxing, Ross tells me.

There will be no going the distance in Titleshot—no falling to the ring apron blood-soaked and exhausted aside Apollo Creed, no, “Yo Adrien—I did it!” No false promise that effort alone will secure victory. Perhaps, as I think Ross’s documentary will prove, it is the effort itself that is the victory.

And as such, defeat, as tough as it is, is made noble and compelling.

***

You go to any gym, any time, and you will see the same pugs, with the same dreams, perfecting the same movements of the sweet science. And yet to peek into Gaylen Ross’s 16MM documentary is to see another world entirely, a world not dominated by the pixilated cheapening of digitized video, and one in which the fluidity of film tells the story of a fighter chasing after a disappearing dream.

When I ask Robert Cassidy, long-time boxing journalist and son of “Irish” Bobby Cassidy, about the state of boxing today, he says boxing is still thriving, especially in the metropolitan area, but the sport is now a reflection of the one percent—ninety-nine percent economy that most industries suffer under.

Ross herself believes that just as boxers today are desperate to make a living, that boxing stories themselves “beg” for film, for the graceful way film upholds the dignity of the sport.

Having the footage of Titleshot in the vault for twenty years, Gaylen Ross now looks to update her footage and complete her project. She is in the midst of her Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign (http://bit.ly/1Wwt26P) to raise money for her film. One of the rewards is tickets to a December event held by Ring 8, a nonprofit organization in NYC that helps ex-fighters with financial, housing, medical, and funeral assistance.

To contribute to the making of the film is not only to pay tribute to boxing, but to New York City itself. He’s been the Gleason’s Gym owner for 35 years, and Bruce Silverglade explains: “Boxing has always been a reflection of the city.

“Back then it was not uncommon to see Arturo Gatti, Kevin Kelley, Tom “Boom Boom” Johnson, and Junior Jones at Gleason’s training alongside drug dealers and wise guys like Sammy “the Bull” Gravano and his henchman—all the while the Feds hitting the bags looking to bust them all.”

To say the least, Silverglade notes that New York and Brooklyn have changed. You’ll see gyms (those that still exist, that is) now more populated with white-collared types, women and children, than you will with competitive amateurs and pros. Though business is better than ever, Silverglade admits, he says it’s not as fun as it once was.

Yet Robert Cassidy says the dream is not dead. Yes, the cemeteries are nearly full but the Long Island journalist makes mention of local kid made good, Chris Algieri. When Algieri was coming up, Cassidy covered him extensively, and although the fighter from Huntington was gaining notoriety fighting at local venues like The Paramount, he had little in the way of money to show for it.

“He was almost at his wits end,” Cassidy tells me over the phone. “He was about to look for something else to do, but then he broke through.”

This is the power of boxing and the power of Titleshot: that even in the face of losing, of seemingly insurmountable odds, the fighter enters the ring despite this (perhaps because of this).

“There will always be a Chris Algieri for the next group of young fighters. Chris was in the same situation many of these kids are in today until he finally broke through. And that’s the dream—that’s what these guys are still chasing.”

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Fast Results from the Big Apple: Crawford and Teofimo Win Impressively

Arne K. Lang

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Two world title fights ornamented Bob Arum’s pre-Christmas show at Madison Square Garden. In the main go, Terence “Bud” Crawford stopped brave but ultimately out-gunned Egidijus Kavaliauskas in the ninth stanza. The official time was 0.44. Crawford (36-0, 27 KOs) was making the third defense of the IBF welterweight title he won from Jeff Horn.

Kavaliauskas (21-1-1) had some good moments early and stung Crawford with a looping right hand in round three that generated an apparent knockdown that was ruled a slip. But Crawford, with his superior hand speed, ultimately assumed control, knocking his Lithuanian foe to the canvas in round eight and then again in round nine. The fight ended with Kavaliauskas on his feet but clearly beyond the point of no return.

In the co-feature, Teofimo Lopez (15-0, 12 KOs) turned in another spectacular performance, stopping Richard Commey in the second round to snatch away Commey’s IBF lightweight title.

Lopez and Commey launched right hands almost simultaneously, but Lopez’s punch got their first. Commey got up in a hurry after landing on his right knee, but his legs were spaghetti and he reeled about the ring like a drunken sailor. Lopez then pummeled him against the ropes, landing a slew of unanswered punches to force the referee to waive it off. Heading in, Commey was 29-2 with both losses by split decision.

Lopez has been calling out Vasiliy Lomachenko and it appears they will meet in April.

Other Bouts

In the TV opener, Northern Ireland’s Michael Conlan (13-0, 7 KOs) scored a unanimous decision over former amateur rival Vladimir Nikitin (3-1). Russia’s Nikitin held two wins over Conlan at the amateur level, most famously a terrible decision in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The scores were lopsidedly in favor of Conlan (100-90, 99-91, and 98-92). While he was the rightful winner, the fight wasn’t as one-sided as the scores suggested. There were no knockdowns, but Conlan suffered a bad cut over his right eye in the eighth round, the best round of the fight.

Fast rising super middleweight Edgar Berlanga, a 22-year-old New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, did it again, scoring his 13th first round knockout in as many fights.  Berlanga scored two knockdowns, the first with a left hook and the second with a body shot, before the ref interceded to save Cesar Nunez from further punishment. A 34-year old Spaniard, Nunez entered the contest with a misleading 16-1-1 record.

Australian junior welterweight George Kambosos Jr improved to 18-0 (10) with a 10-round split decision over former world lightweight titlist Mickey Bey (22-4-1). The scores were 97-92, 96-93, and 94-95.

Kambosos sealed the win with a big 10th round, knocking Bey down with a right-left combination and pummeling him when the action resumed. It was a case of youth being served. At age 26, the heavily tattooed Australian was the younger man by 10 years.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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Vergil Ortiz Jr KOs Brad Solomon at Fantasy Springs (plus Undercard Results)

David A. Avila

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INDIO, Calif.-Vergil Ortiz Jr hunted and pursued the elusive Brad Solomon for several rounds before lowering the boom with three knockdowns and ultimately stopping the formerly unstoppable fighter for a knockout victory on Friday.

It’s on to bigger and better things.

Ortiz (15-0, 15 KOs) proved that styles didn’t matter and Solomon’s (28-2, 9 KOs) slippery moves couldn’t prevent the brutal outcome before several hundred fans and two Boxing Hall of Famers at Fantasy Springs Casino. It was Solomon’s first ever loss by knockout.

Despite winning all of his previous fights by stoppage, the lean Texan who trains in Riverside, Calif. had never fought a boxer with the pedigree of Solomon. It was the main question remaining for Ortiz. Could he figure out the winning equation to defeat a pure boxer?

He had the answer in his pocket all of the time.

Solomon moved smoothly around the ring from the opening bell. Ortiz followed with his tight guard and snap quick punches to the body and head. The first round revealed that Ortiz’s quick hands were just as quick as Solomon’s and much more powerful.

“I had to utilize my jab, figure out the right time to throw a punch,” said Ortiz. “He came to fight.”

After three rounds of chase and pursue, both fighters exchanged briefly and a body shot by Ortiz convinced the fleet opponent to go back on his toes. While trying to move away Ortiz fired a stiff left jab and down went Solomon. Body shots followed and Solomon was visibly affected by them. On one occasion he feigned a low blow but referee Raul Caiz ruled it was a clean blow.

“I can’t lie. I don’t think he was hurt right there,” said Ortiz of the jab knockdown. “

The subsequent blows would prove otherwise in the next round.

Ortiz opened up the fifth round at a rapid pace and though Solomon tried evasive maneuvering, it all proved in vain especially after a six-punch volley by Ortiz. Down went Solomon in the corner but he was able to beat the count. Solomon got up and tried to use his quickness to avoid Ortiz’s charge but a double left hook to the head sent him down once again. Referee Caiz waved the fight over at 2:22 of the fifth round to give Ortiz the knockout win and retain the WBA Gold welterweight title.

“I just took my time,” said Ortiz. “He’s difficult to figure out and made me use my brain.”

Ortiz, 21, continued his domination of the welterweight division though many felt Solomon could stall his rapid ascent to the top.

El Flaco

Serhii “Flaco” Bohachuk (17-0, 17 KOs) continued his knockout streak but needed a little time to figure out the switching tactics of Colombia’s Carlos Galvan (17-10-1, 16 KOs). But after five rounds he discovered that the body attack was the key. Bohachuk floored Galvan three times in the fifth round, two by body shots and the end came at 1:40 of the fifth round.

Other Bouts

Puerto Rico’s Alberto “El Explosivo” Machado (22-2, 18 KOs) snapped a two-fight losing streak by moving up to the lightweight division and knocking out Dominican Republic’s Luis Porozo (14-2, 7 KOs) with body shots in the second round. Machado had problems making the 130-pound super featherweight limit and showed a move up in weight was beneficial as he dropped Porozo three times until referee Tom Taylor ended the fight at 2:59 of the second round for a win by knockout.

Machado is co-promoted by Miguel Cotto Promotions and Golden Boy Promotions.

Alexis Rocha (15-0, 10 KOs) withstood an all-out assault from Mexico’s Robert Valenzuela Jr. (17-2, 16 KOs) early in the welterweight title fight and used a withering body attack to break down the taller fighter. After that it was all downhill sledding for the Santa Ana fighter who broke the will of Valenzuela with bludgeoning blows to the left and right side of the body.

“I was being lazy to be honest, so it’s my fault,” said Rocha on being bloodied by a counter uppercut while punching. “It’s very important, I came to fight and throw body punches to wear my opponent down. I think that’s very key in boxing in general.”

At the end of the fifth round the Mexican fighter was holding on. The fight was stopped at the end of the fifth round giving Rocha the win by knockout and he retains the WBC Continental Americas title in the welterweight division.

“I knew the body shots were taking a toll on him,” Rocha said. “Today was a good learning experience.”

Bektemir Melikuziev (4-0, 3 KOs) boxed his way to a unanimous decision victory over Vaughn Alexander (15-4, 9 KOs) in a 10-round fight for the WBA Continental Americas title. But it was sort of strange to see a guy nicknamed “the Bully” dance around the ring avoiding contact. Still, he won every round but disenchanted fans with his unwillingness to exchange with the muscular Alexander. No knockdowns were scored in the fight. All three judges saw it 100-90 for Melikuziev.

Luis Feliciano (14-0, 8 KOs) knocked down Herbert Acevedo (16-3-1, 6 KOs) early in the 10 round NABF super lightweight title fight and then cruised to victory by unanimous decision. The Puerto Rican who trains in Southern California pummeled Acevedo’s body before delivering a two-punch combination that sent the challenger to the deck. It was Feliciano’s first defense of the title he captured by decision over talented Genaro Gamez.

“I give props to Herbert Acevedo. He’s a tough and rugged fighter. I thought he was out when I dropped him in the third round. I tried to get the finish, but he weathered the storm,” said Feliciano. “I’m happy to finish the year with a win, and we are on to the next.”

A super welterweight fight saw Ferdinand Kerobyan (13-1) destroy Fernando Carcamo (23-11) with two knockdowns in the first round and the fight was stopped at 1:46 of the first round.

A super middleweight match ended in the third round by knockout win for Erik Bazinyan (24-0) over Saul Roman (46-14),

Hall of Fame

Also present at the Golden Boy Promotions boxing card were Oscar De La Hoya and Bernard Hopkins who was recently voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame by the boxing writers. He will join De La Hoya who was inducted several years ago.

Hopkins was selected last week along with Sugar Shane Mosley and Juan Manuel Marquez. Their induction takes place next June in Canastota, New York. It’s quite an honor and well deserved for one of the greatest middleweights in the history of the sport. He also captured the light heavyweight world title. We will have more on this great Philadelphia prizefighter in the coming months.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Frank Erne Enters the Boxing Hall of Fame, a Well-Deserved Honor

Arne K. Lang

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Former featherweight and lightweight champion Frank Erne was back in the news last week with the announcement that he is entering the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Erne and the other members of the newest class will be formally enshrined on Sunday, June 14, 2020.

Mr. Erne won’t be able to attend the induction ceremony. He’s been dead since 1954. However, were he alive, he would have the satisfaction of knowing that this honor is well-deserved.

Frank Erne competed from 1892 to 1908. Of his 53 documented fights, 21 were slated for 20 rounds or more. His opponents included George Dixon, Terry McGovern, and Joe Gans, all of whom went into the Hall of Fame with the inaugural class of 1990. Dixon, a bantamweight, McGovern, a featherweight, and Gans, a lightweight, are widely considered the best of all time in their respective weight classes. Erne defeated Dixon and Gans although both turned the table in rematches.

Frank Erne becomes the first fighter born in Switzerland to enter the IBHOF. When he was six or seven years old (reports vary) his parents moved to Buffalo, New York. In his early teens, he found work as a pinsetter in a bowling alley that was part of a larger complex that included a boxing gym. An instructor there, a boxing professor as they were called back then, took Erne under his wing.

Erne had his early fights in Buffalo. In 1895, he went to New York and attracted national notice with back-to-back knockouts of Jack Skelly. A Brooklyn man, Skelly was such an outstanding amateur that there was little backlash when he was sent in against featherweight champion George Dixon in his very first pro fight (the opening match in the Carnival of Champions at New Orleans, an event climaxed by the historic fight between John L. Sullivan and James J. Corbett).

Skelly was no match for Dixon and ultimately no match for Frank Erne. Two months after their second meeting, Erne had his first of three encounters with Dixon. Their initial go was a 10-rounder that was fairly ruled a draw. The rematch was set for 20 rounds with Dixon’s title on the line.

Here’s Nat Fleischer’s post factum: “Erne proved to be in every respect a superior boxer on this occasion for he outpointed Dixon at long range, beat him decisively at in-fighting, had it all over Dixon in ring generalship, besides possessing courage and fearlessness.” The ringside correspondent for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, more measured in his assessment, called it “one of the fiercest and cleanest fights, as well as one of the most scientific, that has ever been seen.”

Dixon had lost only twice previously, the first by disqualification and the other in a 4-round contest, and would win back his title in the rubber match, clearly out-pointing Erne in a match that went 25 rounds.

Making weight was always a problem for Frank Erne. After surrendering his title to Dixon, he moved up to lightweight and challenged George “Kid” Lavigne. They fought twice.

In their first meeting, Lavigne, the fabled “Saginaw Kid,” retained his title thanks to a generous referee who scored the fight a draw, but justice was served in the rematch which was staged at an outdoor arena on the outskirts of Buffalo on the day preceding the Fourth of July,1899. Despite injuring his hand in the seventh frame, Erne gave Lavigne a good drubbing and had his hand raised at the conclusion of the 20-round match. He now had the distinction of winning world titles in two separate weight classes.

Erne first met Joe Gans in March of 1900 when Gans was still in his prime. The match, slated for 25 rounds, ended in the 12th when Gans suffered a terrible injury to his left eye – some reports say the eye was knocked out of its socket – from an accidental clash of heads. The referee ruled that Gans was at fault and awarded the contest to Erne. Based on newspaper reports, that was a fair adjudication as Erne, the defending champion, had all the best of it, leaving Gans in great distress at the end of the previous round.

Gans avenged the defeat 26 months later, knocking out Erne in the opening round at Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada, across the Niagara River from Buffalo. Erne’s unrelenting battle with the scales had finally caught up with him.

Erne retired the following year, but returned five years later and had one more fight, winning a 10-round decision in Paris over British veteran Curly Watson in a fight billed for the welterweight championship of France. He remained in the French capitol for some time thereafter, working as a boxing instructor and promoting a few fights before returning to the United States and taking up residence in New York City.

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Frank Erne was no fool with his money, but the stock market crash of 1929 dealt him a severe blow and he was forced to seek regular employment. He became a salesman for a fuel company.

Erne won’t be around for his formal IBHOF induction, but he wasn’t completely forgotten in his dotage. On Jan. 9, 1951, the day after his 76th birthday, he received a special award at the silver anniversary dinner of the Boxing Writers Association, a gala affair held in the posh Starlight Room of the Waldorf-Astoria with entertainment provided by Jimmy Durante and other nightclub headliners.

Erne wasn’t honored only for his in-ring exploits, but for his good character. During World War II and again during the Korean War, it was common for famous boxers of yesteryear to visit wounded soldiers in VA hospitals and regale them with stories from their fighting days to boost their spirits. Frank Erne, although he had some infirmities, was especially active in this regard, “indefatigable” said New York Times sports editor Arthur Daley.

Frank Erne, it says here, is a worthy addition to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Kudos to the electors who placed him on their ballot.

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