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Why It Matters If That Mayweather Rumor Is Truth

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Three days before Floyd Mayweathers‘ “final” professional fight, an “October surprise” kerfuffle popped up, as it always does, in the days leading up to fights involving the man self- billed as The Best Ever.

This bombshell wasn’t a lawsuit lodged by an ex, or the like; the news peg here was the subject of PED testing, and the story, entitled “Can Boxing Trust USADA: Questions Surround Drug Testing For Mayweather-Pacquiao and Other Bouts,” drew some heavy buzz.

Maybe, arguably, not as much buzz as some might expect, being that a case was laid out by the dean of fight-writers, Thomas Hauser, and it involved the lead dog of the sport, Mayweather, who in the last several years had become a figure who transcended his sport.

The story came out during the lunch-time hour back east, but during a gathering held hours later in Vegas, none of the bigshot boxing media asked Mayweather about it, and elements that might be of interest to fight fans.

Such as, the Hauser story repeated an enduring rumor, that Mayweather had tested positive for a banned PED in three previous fights, but received a pass from the testing organization hired to handle PED testing and analyze and process the results of the testing.

Hauser had touched on that element before, back in November 2012, and then, as now, the story fizzled out. The writer went back to the well, on Oct. 13, believing, as I do, that this story deserves to have legs, and shouldn’t be summarily dismissed by the masses as being irrelevant.

Floyd fans, in particular, will disagree, by and large: as the “three failed tests” portion of the story was presented as a rumor, and lacked corroboration, they dismiss it as spurious, or, at least, lacking in enough merit to be plausible. There is no “there,” there…there is no smoking gun for us to make up our minds on, thus, they posit, we should move on.

That line of thinking I don’t summarily dismiss; after all, one learns, in journalism courses, that rumors must be verified before being reported. There must be strong sourcing, and ideally, multiple sources confirming something before rumor can become accepted fact. And that is why this story, this subject, this case, is more than a sports story. It is yes a sports story, but also a journalism story, a culture study, an ethical matter…

In short, it is complex, and, frankly, we the media don’t usually do “complex” well.

It’s easier to traffic in less complicated, less charged matters. But in the end, to delve into substantive matters, and try to make sense of the difficult-to-grasp issues, make us better humans, and in this vein, can and could make our sport safer, and better.

In that vein, in trying to nail down some facts, and move from rumor to fact, or, also, to debunk this persistent rumor, I tried to follow up.

In my mind, it made sense for the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), an organization that Hauser, right there in the headline of his piece, posits may not be trustworthy, to answer, explicitly, that designation and firmly rebut the “tested positive on three occasions” rumor, if it were not fact.

Some of us follow politics, and recall back in 2004, John Kerry, a Massachusetts Senator, snagged the Democrats nomination to run for President, to unseat incumbent George W. Bush.

All is fair in love and war, and politics is modified war, with character often being bombed to smithereens…so opponents went at Kerry hard. His record while serving in Vietnam came under scrutiny, with allegations being lobbed at him that his Purple Hearts were bogus, that descriptions of his valor in the field were fabricated. The allegations were dismissed in his camp, the campaign runners deciding that the accusers were fringe loons, with obvious axes to grind, and would be treated as such by potential voters. They missed the (Swift) boat; this is a new age, where information, right or wrong, travels around the world digitally in half the blink of an eye. A juicy lie can snowball into a hellish package of “truthiness” than can wreak havoc, summon carnage of reputation, and derail a campaign with surging with positive momentum. Swift Boating, with the definition by and large seen as opinion disguised and presented as fact used to assassinate in character as public figure, entered our lexicon…

Now, this is the SB Nation passage that struck me, hard, on the temple, before that last Floyd fight:

As reported by this writer on MaxBoxing in Dec. 2012, information filtered through the drug-testing community on May 20, 2012 to the effect that Mayweather had tested positive on three occasions for an illegal performance-enhancing drug. More specifically, it was rumored that Mayweather’s “A” sample had tested positive three times and, after each positive test, USADA had given Floyd an inadvertent use waiver.

Pro Floyd sorts sometimes reach out to me on social media, and tell me they think their guy is being Swift Boated. But even some folks who normally align on the “Floyd side” read the Hauser piece and said, at minimum, ‘jeeze, there’s a lot of smoke here, I do at least wonder if there is fire there, too.’

I try to see all sides; it’s what we as journos need to do, as best we can, because if we don’t start at that baseline, finding the truth becomes that much harder. When I read this portion of the Hauser story, I knew I needed to follow through, to attempt to separate fact from fiction, to get to the heart of the matter: did, in fact, the leader in our sport, who was able to secure the richest contract for any professional athlete ever, cheat his way to that rarefied place?

Was Floyd Mayweather, who helped build his rep, partially, by trumpeting the phrase “take the test” at potential rival Manny Pacquiao, and thereby implying that the Filipino was a cheater, in fact, a cheater?

If yes, we need to know, just because.

Because the sport and our society deserve better.

If no, we also need to know, because if he is being smeared, without basis in fact, then that must be rectified. Even if you don’t care for his out of the ring behavior, decry his history in getting into altercations with women, find despicable his recent lack of penitence surrounding the incident which saw him beat up the mother of his children, in front of said children, which is a matter of public record, then he still deserves to not be labeled a drug cheat if he isn’t. If he didn’t test positive three times and get those results swept under the rug, then I’d like to have that stated to us all, forcefully, unequivocally…because Floyd Mayweather does not deserve to be Swift Boated.

So, with that in mind, I reached out to USADA and Team Mayweather and asked, explicitly, please confirm or deny this rumor, that he tested positive before three mega-fights, so I can furnish that response to readers.

Here is my request to USADA:

Greetings: Can Travis please respond to this issue, and either confirm or deny that Mr. Mayweather tested positive three times. Here is the Hauser material which I’d like to get clarified, so the rumor, if false, can be reported far and wide.

As reported by this writer on MaxBoxing in Dec. 2012, information filtered through the drug-testing community on May 20, 2012 to the effect that Mayweather had tested positive on three occasions for an illegal performance-enhancing drug. More specifically, it was rumored that Mayweather’s “A” sample had tested positive three times and, after each positive test, USADA had given Floyd an inadvertent use waiver. These waivers, if they were in fact given, would have negated the need to test Floyd’s “B” samples. And because the “B” samples were never tested, a loophole in Mayweather’s USADA contract would have allowed testing to continue without the positive “A” sample results being reported to Mayweather’s opponent or the Nevada State Athletic Commission……If Mayweather’s “A” sample tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug on one or more occasions and he was given a waiver by USADA that concealed this fact from the Nevada State Athletic Commission, his opponent, and the public, it could contribute to a scandal that undermines the already-shaky public confidence in boxing. At present, the relevant information is not a matter of public record.

USADA CEO Travis Tygart (through senior communications manager Annie Skinner) declined to state how many times the “A” sample of a professional boxer tested by USADA has come back positive for a prohibited substance.

I think this is crucial, that we get clarity on this portion of the story. I hope you agree.

Thanks much,

Michael Woods

Here is the USADA response, from a spokesperson:

Dear Mr. Woods,

You can find USADA’s full response, including the response to your request below in the detailed chart at http://www.usada.org/wp-content/uploads/USADAs-Detailed-Correction-to-SB-Nation-Article-by-Tom-Hauser.pdf

I responded, thusly: So (Tygart) will not respond to THIS element of the allegations, separately, to me, then?

And I didn’t receive an answer to that query.

Also, I emailed Mayweather publicist Kelly Swanson, and her associate Lisa Milner, and asked them to furnish a request to Mayweather, so he could respond to this rumor and get an opportunity to bat down the allegations.

Greetings: Can Team Mayweather please respond to this issue, and either confirm or deny that Mr. Mayweather tested positive three times, as was alleged in the Sept. 9 Thomas Hauser story?

Here is the Hauser material which I’d like to get clarified, so the rumor, if false, can be reported far and wide.

I didn’t receive a reply from either Swanson or Milner.

So, where do we stand? Probably, sadly, where we stood before, in a foggy zone of uncertainty. To my way of thinking, and I will put it right out there that I won’t submit my POV is the only right manner to see this issue, if it were my reputation and legacy, if I were Floyd Mayweather, I’d want to eradicate lingering questions.

If I were Tygart of USADA, if I were Team Mayweather, I’d push back without equivocation on this ‘Floyd tested positive three times and the results were shoved under a rung’ rumor, put it in its place.

That neither of these parties do, to me, is at best curious.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Regis Prograis, Paul vs. Askren, and Kahlil Poe

Arne K. Lang

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Regis Prograis returns to this ring this Saturday, April 17, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. In the opposite corner will be Ivan Redkach, an LA-based Ukrainian who brings a 23-5-1 (18) record.

There was a time when there was a raging debate as to whether Prograis belonged on the pound-for-pound list. That talk quieted when Prograis lost to Josh Taylor in a battle of unbeatens in London. But the bout was a humdinger and Prograis, a slight favorite, didn’t lose by much. One of the judges ruled the fight a draw as did many watching at ringside and at home.

Prograis returned to the ring of October of last year, stopping the previously undefeated Juan Heraldez in the third round. That boosted his record to 25-1 (21 KOs).

Prograis vs. Redkach isn’t a particularly compelling match-up, but Prograis is one of the most exciting fighters in the sport and one would have thought that the match would have attracted more buzz. But no, all the talk about Saturday’s card has been about the main event between YouTube star Jake Paul and Ben Askren. It’s all yours, folks, have at it: Paul vs. Askren, Prograis vs. Redkach, other supporting bouts, musical entertainment, and a vast array of commentators including Snoop Dogg, Mario Lopez, and supermodel Taylor Hill for $49.99 on FITE TV.

ESPN writer Cameron Wolfe predicts that Saturday’s show will outsell every other PPV in 2021 outside of Tyson Fury vs. Anthony Joshua and Mike Tyson exhibitions.

“There is little doubt that boxing purists hate it,” notes Wolfe.

Number me among the purists. Paul vs. Askren is an insult to all the boxers who toil for years in the gym to hone their craft and give an honest effort each time they fight. Award-winning Washington Times columnist Thom Loverro notes that Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez earned $600,000 between them for their recent 12-round barnburner, an instant classic. Jake Paul and Ben Askren will earn millions for their encounter, a cruiserweight bout slated for eight rounds.

Having said this, I confess that I find the bout intriguing. As much as I hate to admit it, Jake Paul does possess a modicum of boxing skill and in Ben Askren he is facing a fellow who hates to lose at anything, be it frisbee golf, at which he’s very proficient, or a combat sport. The Hartland, Wisconsin native was 17-2 in MMA and 153-8 as a wrestler at the University of Missouri including an 87-0 mark in his last two seasons. A two-time NCAA champion and a 2008 Olympian, Askren is flat out one of the greatest college wrestlers of all time.

UFC honcho Dana White purportedly put down a $100,000 bet on Askren. (White has been known to win or lose that much at a blackjack table.)

The drawbacks to Askren from a handicapping standpoint are that he left MMA after undergoing a major hip surgery, he’s 36 years old, 12 years older than Jake Paul, and as an MMA fighter he wasn’t much of a striker. Also, there’s a possibility that he will lose his cool in the heat of battle and revert to a wrestling move, getting himself disqualified.

In one of the supporting bouts on the show, Frank Mir, a former two-time UFC heavyweight champion, opposes Philadelphia’s Steve Cunningham. A former two-time cruiserweight world title-holder, Cunningham gave Tyson Fury a heap of trouble before getting knocked out in the seventh round at Madison Square Garden in 2013.

Frank Mir turns 42 next month. Cunningham is 44 and has been out of the ring for 44 months. We won’t dignify this bout, slated for eight rounds, by talking more about it.

Khalil Coe

The latest boxer to cast his lot with Eddie Hearn is New Jersey light heavyweight Khalil Coe who officially joined Hearn’s Matchroom firm yesterday, April 12.

khalil

khalil Poe

Coe scored one of the biggest upsets in U.S. amateur boxing history when he starched Cuba’s Julio Cesar La Cruz in the opening round on June 23, 2018 at a tournament in Halle, Germany. A veteran of nearly 200 fights, La Cruz was a four-time world amateur champion and 2016 Olympic gold medalist. Coe was competing in his first overseas tournament.

Coe, who turns 25 in August, has a style that is well-suited to the pro ranks. But does he have the discipline to maximize his potential? He did not participate in the 2019 Olympic Trails (the 2020 edition was postponed by the pandemic) and according to BoxRec hasn’t fought since February of 2019 when he advanced to the finals of a tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria, only to lose on a walkover.

Coe hails from Jersey City. The second most-populous city in the Garden State, Jersey City sits across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

Crime has long plagued the residents of Jersey City and Coe is no stranger to the court system. He was arrested in April of 2017 on a gun possession charge and arrested again in March of 2019 in Newark. Details are murky.

The buffer between Khalil Coe and promoter Hearn is Split-T Management whose co-founder David McWater was named the 2020 Manager of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America. Split-T’s deep roster includes Teofimo Lopez, Charles Conwell and others including a bevy of intriguing young prospects. Coe is in good hands.

According to yesterday’s press release, Coe will make his pro debut on May 29 at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas underneath Devin Haney vs. Jorge Linares. He is expected to drop down a weight class as his career progresses and chase his first title at 168 pounds.

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Ramsey Clark and Muhammad Ali

Thomas Hauser

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Ramsey Clark, who championed human rights throughout his life and served as Attorney General of the United States during the last 26 months of Lyndon Johnson’s administration died on April 9 at age 93. In one of history’s ironies, Clark (probably the most liberal attorney general in the history of the United States) was responsible for approving the 1967 criminal prosecution of Muhammad Ali for refusing induction into the United States Army.

Clark was born in Dallas in 1927. He served in the Marines during World War II, was an undergraduate at the University of Texas, and earned his law degree at the University of Chicago. As Attorney General, he filed lawsuits to combat discrimination in employment and housing and in support of school desegregation and voting rights. After leaving office, he moved considerably further to the left, making some former allies uncomfortable. In 2008, the United Nations General Assembly honored him with its Prize in the Field of Human Rights, an award given out at five-year intervals. Previous recipients included Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr, and Nelson Mandela.

“A right is not what someone gives you,” Clark once said. “It’s what no one can take from you.”

I met Clark in 1989 when I interviewed him while researching Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times. Several years later, I interviewed him again when Frank Macchiarola and I co-authored a book entitled Confronting America’s Moral Crisis.

Speaking of Ali and Vietnam, Clark told me, “I opposed the war in Vietnam as early as I became aware of it which was sometime in the mid-1960s. I can remember the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and thinking that Wayne Morse and Earnest Gruening [the two senators who voted against the resolution] were heroes. And I remember William Fulbright’s limited opposition to the war and thinking it was good but not enough. Then, in September 1966, I was named acting attorney general and the appointment became final in February 1967.”

“I can’t say that I had a studied judgment on whether or not the war was legal,” Clark continued. “But I had grave doubts about it. If we’re going to be a constitutional government, before we get a half million men in a foreign country shooting and killing, we ought to know whether it’s constitutional and permissible to do it. Maybe as attorney general, I should have been out there saying, ‘This war is against the law.’ But I didn’t, and part of the reason was I had come into the government in 1961 in the midst of the civil rights struggle. By 1967, it might have looked like things were going well, but the truth is we were very badly embattled. There was quite a bit of conflict between those who wanted to keep expanding in the area of civil rights and those who did not, and we were barely able to hold on. Also, I was opposing the death penalty. We had stopped federal executions in 1963, and 1968 would be the first year in the history of the United States that we didn’t have a single execution despite the fact that that was the year Martin Luther King and Bob Kennedy were assassinated. Those struggles were very real and very important to me. There were a lot of people who wanted me to abandon them by resigning over the war in Vietnam, which was clearly the overriding moral issue in our society at the time. But in terms of all the things I believed in and all the causes in which I was involved, that would have let a lot of people down.”

Regarding Ali, Clark recalled, “Muhammad’s conflict with the draft board was a great concern of mine, although I’d have to say, not as great as the concern I had for the poor young black kids from the ghettos or the rural poor from the South who never had a chance to question whether or not to go to Vietnam and who got brutalized and killed. My own personal view was that a person should have a right to conscientious objector status without professing a specific religious faith, and that one should be able to base it upon what you might call philosophical rather than religious grounds. But that of course was not the law then, nor is it now. I don’t recall and doubt very much that I discussed the case with President Johnson. I had a strict policy not to discuss criminal cases with the president. I felt it would have been dangerous in appearance and potentially dangerous in fact to insert politics into a criminal matter, and the White House is a political office. Obviously, Muhammad’s indictment involved some hard choices. But the good thing about it was, there was power on both sides to shape and test the issues. I wasn’t particularly happy about it, but life is full of turbulence and conflict, and I never try to avoid either. In fact, I guess I seek them out because that’s where the chance to make a difference is.”

Ramsey Clark

Ramsey Clark

On June 20, 1967, Ali was convicted of unlawfully refusing induction into the United States Armed Forces. Four years later – on June 28, 1971 – the United States Supreme Court unanimously overturned his conviction.

“The government didn’t need Ali to fight the war,” Clark said afterward. “But they would have loved to put him in the service, get his picture in there, maybe give him a couple of stripes on his sleeve and take him all over the world. Think of the power that would have had in Africa, Asia, and South America. Here’s this proud American serviceman, fighting symbolically for his country. They would have loved to do that.”

Thereafter, Clark and Ali worked together on several projects. On one occasion, Ramsey and his wife joined Muhammad and Lonnie Ali as guests for dinner in my home. The mutual admiration between the two men was obvious.

“To me, Muhammad Ali is a totally spiritual person,” Clark said later. “It doesn’t have to do with the Christian faith in which he was raised, and it doesn’t have to do with the Islamic faith to which he converted. It has to do with his love for life, his faith in the human spirit, and his belief in the equality of all people. I see Ali as a human being whose sense of purpose in life is to help others. He must lay awake at night, wondering what he can do to help people, because wherever people are in need, his priorities are there. He sees children who are right next to him, but children who are starving in Africa and threatened by bombing in Iraq are also within the scope of his imagination. He wants to help everyone and he travels at great personal burden and financial expense to be wherever he’s needed. I say, God bless him. He makes an enormous difference.”

And there were other thoughts that Clark shared with me over time:

*         “I don’t like boxing. I oppose boxing because I think it’s violent and damaging to the young men who participate in it. It symbolizes our glorification of violence and the rule of violence over compassion and the rule of law. I also don’t believe in fame. I think fame, like power, is a profound misunderstanding and distortion of what is good and desirable. One of the most damaging beliefs people have is that only those who are famous or hold power can change things or make a difference. True social change has to come from the people. Each of us has to want to be involved and has to believe that we as individuals can make a difference and that our ability to make a difference doesn’t depend upon our being elected to the House of Representatives or being the preacher of the biggest church in town or president of a corporation or heavyweight champion of the world. Those roles tend to be selfish and self-fulfilling and debilitating in terms of the pureness of one’s commitment. You make so many compromises in pursuing those careers that it’s an illusion to think that’s how you make the changes you care about, if you care about justice and social change.”

*         “Muhammad Ali made an enormous difference. There was a quality of pure goodwill about him. There always has been, and I believe, always will be. Here was a young black man from American poverty. He could very easily have been embittered, hateful, racist. But through all his trials and tribulations, he never manifested any of those qualities. And when he spoke, he said loving things. In his mind, wishes came true, and that’s the way a good portion of his life has been. He meant different things to different strata of American society. But to the poor, he meant you can do what you will; anything is possible.”

*         “Muhammad Ali gave people hope. He inspired and continues to inspire millions of people. And to everyone, he meant that you can be gentle and strong, that there’s not a contradiction there; because for all his obvious physical strength, he always evoked gentleness and love. With Muhammad Ali, you saw grace; you saw joy. He meant charity in the truest sense of the word. He made people proud to be who they were.”

*         “It’s not an anomaly; it shows the way we are, really, that he came to the opportunity to do all that he did through fighting. But he’s always had a vision that goes beyond the violence of boxing. His character causes him to want to help others. And character is destiny. That’s the character we need. He hasn’t been able to accomplish all that he wanted. Much of what he set out to do never materialized. But he’s a person of unique good will and good works. He touched so many lives and brought out the better angels in millions of people.”

*         “You know, the joy of life is that you have to persevere and do what you can to make this a better world. We’re going to have a billion more people on earth before the end of this century. The great majority of them will have dark skin and live in terrible poverty. Hundreds of millions of them will have shortened lives and suffer from hunger, malnutrition, ignorance, and disease. But if the rest of us can come through in the manner of Muhammad Ali, we can solve the problems that lie ahead. The most important thing he communicates is his love and desire to do good. That was what he taught us all. And if you can really communicate that, that there are people who love; well, then maybe you’ll change the world.”

And there was a final grace note.

“I see him from time to time,” Clark said of Ali. “And the last time I saw him, I told him – and I meant it – I said to him, ‘You’ll always be my champion.’”

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Staredown: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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There Was a Smorgasbord of Tasty Delights in Dueling TV Fight Cards

Bernard Fernandez

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Technology has not advanced to the point where someone can actually be in two places at the same time, but until that happens, the next best thing is the wonderful consolation prize of being able to watch one fight card live on television while recording the other for delayed perusal.

Maybe there can be too much of a good thing sometimes. If I were in a position where I had to make a choice to physically be in attendance at one site or another on Saturday night, it would have been difficult choosing between being there to witness Philadelphia’s emerging welterweight sensation, Jaron “Boots” Ennis, put on another spectacular show in dispatching former junior welter world champion Sergey Lipinets in the Showtime-televised main event in Uncasville, Conn., or another gritty performance by blue-collar, working-class hero Joe Smith Jr. as he finally won a world light heavyweight title with a hard-fought, typically inelegant and somewhat controversial majority decision over Russia’s Maxim Vlasov in the ESPN/ESPN+ card-topper at the Osage Casino in Tulsa, Okla.

In and of themselves, the two featured bouts, so different in execution and outcome but each compelling in their own way, would have satisfied most fight fans. But like a buffet line where diners can snack on tasty hors d’oeuvres –type fare before loading their plates with a preferred entrée item, each card offered additional value by way of televised undercard bouts.

The most dominant performance, and the one of highest potential value moving forward? That would be still another star-making turn by the 23-year-old Ennis (27-0, 25 KOs), who did pretty much whatever he wanted in becoming the first fighter to knock out Lipinets (16-2-1, 12 KOs), the 32-year-old former IBF junior welterweight titlist who had gone the distance with Mikey Garcia and had never been decked as a professional until he went down twice against Boots, who looks like he has the goods to soon take his place in the pantheon of outstanding fighters to represent the city of his birth.

OK, so the first ruled knockdown by referee Arthur Mercante Jr., which came in the fourth round, likely was an error of judgment as replays showed that Lipinets actually tripped on Ennis’ foot. But there was no mistaking what happened in the sixth round, when Ennis, who had been casually teeing off on the stocky Russian as if he were just another heavy bag to be pounded on in the gym, caught Lipinets with a right hook followed by a left uppercut. Lipinets went down flat onto his back, and Mercante immediately waved the massacre off, dispensing with the formality of initiating a count.

The ending meant that Ennis still had not been extended beyond the sixth round as a pro, but this relatively swift termination of a bout whose outcome seemed predetermined from the outset was more significant given Lipinets’ reputation as a tough, durable former champ who had never been so outclassed in matchups with other top-shelf performers. If Ennis hadn’t already stamped himself as a force to be reckoned with in the 147-pound weight class, his domination of Lipinets sent that message out loud and clear.

“Another special fighter from Philadelphia. Imagine that,” said Showtime blow-by-blow announcer Mauro Ranallo.

“More Boots Ennis,” studio host Brian Custer said when asked what he wanted next. “This kid is spectacular. Say his name. Jaron `Boots’ Ennis is going to be a problem in the welterweight division.”

What wasn’t there to like? Ennis has a smorgasbord of ring skills that would be difficult for even other elite 147-pounders to solve. He switches from orthodox to southpaw as fluidly and effectively as does arguably the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Terence “Bud” Crawford (37-0, 28 KOs), the WBO welterweight ruler. He occasionally employed the shoulder roll that was a staple of the great Floyd Mayweather Jr., and his penchant for finishing off his man when he has him in trouble pretty much is beyond dispute at this stage of a career whose best days might yet come.

According to CompuBox statistics, Ennis landed a ridiculously high percentage of his power shots (91 of 172, 52.9%), going to the body frequently as part of a well-thought-out strategy crafted by his father-trainer, Derrick “Bozy” Ennis. His next fight may well be against the formidable Yordenis Ugas (26-4, 12 KOs), a Miami-based Cuban, but by now it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to imagine him giving the welterweight division’s crème de la crème, Crawford and WBC/IBF titlist Errol Spence Jr. (27-0, 21 KOs) all they could handle. Perhaps Ennis would benefit from a bit more seasoning against higher-tier opponents, but if his time isn’t exactly right now, that time is fast approaching.

“I was just in there, having fun, doing me,” Ennis said of his unhurried but quite thorough thrashing of Lipinets. “You know, being real relaxed and putting on a show … I just coasted, I took my time and I broke him down.”

Joe Smith Jr. MD12 Maxim Vlasov

The backstory of Joe Smith Jr. – a card-carrying member of Local 66 from Long Island, N.Y., who spends his days pouring concrete, digging trenches, laying sheetrock, power-washing septic tanks and knocking down walls with a sledgehammer, and his nights training as a light heavyweight contender with a dream of making it all the way to a world title – always have been a bit more intriguing than what his limited skill-set has been able to produce inside the ropes.

This 31-year-old Everyman with a most common name is tough, determined and a dangerous puncher, but all that will carry him only so far now that he finally has that bejeweled belt (as winner of the vacant WBO 175-pound championship) he so long has coveted, by virtue of his hardly clear-cut majority decision over the unorthodox Russian Maxim Vlasov. Seemingly behind through 10 rounds, a bloodied and perhaps desperate Smith reached deep inside himself to win the last two rounds, drawing even on my unofficial, watching-at-home scorecard at six rounds apiece. He fared better with the judges in Tulsa, however, with David Sutherland joining me in seeing the fight as a 114-114 standoff, a determination overruled by the cards submitted by Gerald Ritter (115-112) and Pat Russell (115-113).

Presumably next up for Smith is a unification showdown with WBC/IBF ruler Artur Beterbiev (16-0, 16 KOs), the Canada-based Russian who is an even bigger puncher than Smith and is widely regarded as the best light heavyweight on the planet. Such a bout likely would mean a career-high payday for the newly wed Smith, but just as likely the end of his brief reign as an alphabet titlist.

“I want other belts,” Smith, who fought from the first round on with a worrisome cut above his left eye. “I want the big fights out there. I believe I’m going to start unifying belts.”

Finally the favorite – Smith (27-3, 21 KOs) had made his reputation on his inside-the-distance upsets of Andrzej Fonfara and nearly 52-year-old Bernard Hopkins – the easy-to-like Everyman’s coronation proved to be no easy task as Vlasov (45-4, 26 KOs) confused him in the early going with an unorthodox style that had him delivering punches from odd angles.

But Smith is difficult to discourage, and he kept pressing his attack in the hope he could find an opening to deliver the kind of put-away shot that had vanquished Fonfara and B-Hop. He got in some wicked licks, too, several times hurting Vlasov, who bled from the mouth from the seventh round on.

The 11th round was perhaps pivotal, as Vlasov went down, clearly from a punch. But referee Gary Ritter ruled that the delivered blow was an illegal rabbit punch, and he waved off the knockdown and gave Vlasov additional time to recover.

“I believe that round where I hurt him, he stuck his head down (and into the disputed punch),” Smith said. “I should have got the knockdown on that. I think I would have got the stoppage that round, but he pulled it off and made it out on his feet.”

It also could have been that, not getting credit for the knockdown, which conceivably might have opened the door to a knockout or a TKO, made Smith – who originally was to have fought Vlasov on Feb. 13, a date postponed when the Russian tested positive for COVID-19 – fight even harder the rest of the way. CompuBox listed him as landing a career-high 174 power shots, 68 coming in the last two rounds that he so clearly needed.

Whatever viewers might have thought of the decision, Smith-Vlasov was entertaining and competitive.

Efe Ajagba KO3 Brian Howard

Ajagba, a 26-year-old Nigerian, delivered one of the most emphatic one-punch knockouts of the year when he landed a jolting overhand right to the left ear of Howard, who went down in a heap, unconscious, his legs twisted beneath him. Referee Tony Crebs signaled the end of the fight immediately.

It was the second fight for the 6’6” Ajagba, who signed with Top Rank in August 2020, with his new support team of manager James Prince and trainer Kay Koroma. Whether he has bettered his circumstances for those changes (he previously was with Richard Schaefer’s Ringstar Sports, and worked with manager Shelly Finkel and trainer Ronnie Shields) is a matter of conjecture, but the promise – and punching power — he had exhibited beforehand seems to have remained intact.

“It’s my time to shine,” Ajagba said. “I’m coming for the heavyweights to become heavyweight champion of the world.”

He could get his shot, and maybe more quickly now that he is with Top Rank, which promotes the WBC titlist, Tyson Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs), with a full unification matchup with WBA/IBF/WBO champ Anthony Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs) close to being finalized.

Nigeria has a history for producing good fighters, the most renowned being the late former middleweight and light heavyweight champion, Dick Tiger, an enshrinee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The best Nigerian heavyweight likely was Ike Ibeabuchi, who might have been good enough to win a world title had it not been for mental and legal issues that landed him in prison. It remains to be seen if Ajagba can match or surpass Ibeabuchi, but he would appear to have a reasonable chance of doing so in comparison to Samuel Peter, Henry Akinwande, David Izonritei and Duncan Dokiwari.

“Efe Ajagba is one of the most gifted young heavyweights I’ve seen in quite some time,” Arum said when he signed him. “He has immense physical tools and a great work ethic. I have the utmost confidence that we’re looking at a future heavyweight champion.”

The two televised lead-ins to Ennis-Lipinets were IBF junior bantamweight champion Jerwin Ancajas’ unanimous decision over Jonathan Rodriguez and rising welterweight Eimantas Stanionis’ UD12 over former world title challenger Thomas Dulorme.

Jerwin Ancajas UD12 Jonathan Rodriguez

Ancajas (33-1-2, 22 KOs), who years ago drew the attention of fellow Filipino Manny Pacquiao, retained his title for the ninth time against mandatory challenger Rodriguez (22-2, 16 KOs) of Mexico, who was decked for the first time in his pro career in round eight.

Eimantas Stanionis UD 12 Thomas Dulorme

Stanionis (13-0, 9 KOs), from Lithuania, could eventually become a factor in the loaded welterweight division. He certainly didn’t do himself any harm with his win over tough Puerto Rican Dulorme (25-5-1, 16 KOs).

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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