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Stacked Japanese Cards Includes Late FOTY Contender

Matt McGrain

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An extraordinary day of boxing in Japan today produced a desperately late contender for the fight of the year as many of Japan’s best fighters gathered under two separate roofs to put on a show of boxing as good as anything seen in the west this year.

First up was the absurdly talented prospect  Kosei Tanaka who moved to 6-0 versus Filipino warhorse Vic Saludar (now 11-2), fought for Tanaka’s strap, which had been annexed by the Japanese in just his fifth fight. Saludar, who is twenty-five and looks about forty, embodies the bloody-mindedness and durability of his countrymen as well as any of his more famed cousins and he came to win. Tanaka was fighting here in his last fight at 105lbs, such are the demands made upon his 5’5 inch frame in making minimumweight, and perhaps it showed. Overly-eager to get his less prestigious opponent out of there he walked through fire and has now been chin-checked by an able puncher (nine of Saludar’s eleven victories have come by way of stoppage). His offense-first strategy was not without risks however, and he was dropped by a ratcheting shot to the temple in the fifth; up quickly, he surged back into the attack, winning by stoppage with a shot to the body in the sixth.

It was an odd performance that will call into question both Tanaka’s ring smarts, perhaps understandably for a twenty-year old prospect who finds himself defending a “world” title, and his punch resistance. This would be harsh were it not for the fact that Tanaka is, like his lethal countryman Naoya Inoue, bound, at some stage for super-flyweight and bantamweight. My own guess is that fighting dumb was the real problem here and that this can be amended. The great thing about the fight game is we will get to find out, and it should be great fun.

Perhaps not as much as the next bout on offer, Katsunari Takayama versus Jose Argumedo, a fight of the year candidate fought on the very last day of the 2015. Takayama, a strapholder at 105lbs, is always entertaining; I’ve never see him in a bad fight. Fast, with wonderful footwork and a very limited punch, one would expect to see him box and move and stay away from his opponent, always a more dangerous puncher than he, but rather he flirts with disaster. Perhaps the best engine in boxing allows him to work, work, work for three minutes of every round and this he does, often in close, throwing two-handed and providing ample opportunity for his opponent to hit back.

This, Jose Argumedo did. Not a huge puncher, Argumedo is a good hitter and likely relished the openings the lighter punching Takayama gave; indeed, after losing the first round he banked the second punching through the target with a crackling right hand. Of more concern was the cut to the left eye the paper-skinned Japanese emerged with in this round.

Takayama, of course, began aggressively in the third but was labelled with some hard punches; for the first time I doubted the fight would go the distance, although I’ve been burned by such predictions before where Takayama is concerned – the pace he sets is incredible.

Argumedo, seemed, for the moment, equal to it and I thought he poached the round to take a lead into the fourth which saw the doctor called to the ring apron for the first time for a short look at Takayama’s cut. I thought the Japanese worked well in this round however, driving back his Mexican opponent with two right hands, boxing directly and with nerve.

The fifth was a round of the year candidate with toe-to-toe wars erupting all over the ring. The work was becoming sloppy but the pace was so absurd and the battle so heart-fuelled that it was impossible not to be moved. In the sixth, Argumedo took a flush right hand and nodded, “yes” to Takayama who barrelled forwards. My feeling was that the fight was turning firmly in favour of Takayama whose stamina seems limitless.

But it was not to be. Argumedo landed hard punches in the eighth and Takayama ended this round with not one but two cuts on his formerly good right eye; the doctor, this time, spent more than a minute examining him. He was allowed to complete the eighth, and a raucous ninth but it was clear the fight would not be allowed to see twelve rounds. Takayama was pulled at the end of the ninth and the fight went to the scorecard, the Mexican taking a split technical decision 87-84 twice and 85- 86 in what should register as a minor shock. My card had it the same as this last; I had Takayama taking the fight by a point, but certainly there is nothing wrong with the decision for all that the winning cards may be a little wide.

Those who have already picked a fight of the year can probably rest easy given how it ended, but make no mistake, had the fighters been allowed to complete twelve rounds we might have had a problem.

Next up in what was becoming one of the best day’s boxing I’ve ever seen, a rematch of the desperately close Kazuto Ioka-Juan Carlos Reveco meeting from April of this year, a majority decision win for Ioka not without controversy. A meeting between the #3 and #5 ranked flyweights respectively, it was attractive for reasons other than the alphabet trinket on the line. Both good boxing and hard punching were expected and both were delivered as Ioka wiped the slate clean of any uncertainty surrounding his victory in their first contest with a splendid, dominant performance over a game, brave fighter.

Ioka opened smartly behind his composed jab, looking for and landing a left hook to the body as Reveco circled to his left while awaiting opportunities to swarm in. A clear first round for Ioka did not mean a great deal given the pattern of their first fight but as the fight progressed it was clear that a new pattern was emerging.

Ioka looked every inch how he was supposed to during his short spell as the world’s best prospect in the time before Amnat Ruenroeng got to him and decisioned him over twelve torrid rounds in 2014. A triple left hand in the third was a highlight as Ioka found a hook, uppercut and another hook as he stepped up the rattling body-attack he began in round one. Boxing neatly behind the jab, he would happily abandon it on occasion and land a lead uppercut through the middle and as he countered the work Reveco used to do damage last time around something close to a technical mismatch began to emerge. The fourth round saw a stirring two-handed surge from Ioka who had his opponent rattled with his back to the ropes and giving little back; Reveco, who emerged with a cut below his left eye, fired his way out of danger when a stoppage seemed a possibility; nevertheless after six rounds I had Ioka 5-1 ahead.

Skill is often a substitute for experience but Reveco is tough and insistent and he began, for me, to creep into a fight he had looked like losing on a stoppage as early as the fourth. Ioka seemed aware of this and in the ninth he launched a hellacious attack to both body and head, pinning Reveco on the ropes again and savaging him. Reveco, all heart, came roaring back when once again on the brink, but Ioka appeared too big, too solid and brought his own more youthful insistence to the fore. An uppercut seemed to stagger Reveco with a minute remaining and his retaliation seemed exhausted. The fight began to take on the singular sense of the brutal.

Before the eleventh, Ioka was the very semblance of calm while Reveco looked a beaten man; when Ioka folded him with the latest in a long line of brutal bodyshots – a surgical left hook, his honey punch all night – I was surprised to see Reveco force himself to his feet before 10. His determination spoke for him. But when he remained bent as though by nausea, ring centre, unable to obey the referee’s instruction to walk to him, the contest was, rightly, ended.

It was an impressive display from Ioka, the type of display I once expected of him. It may yet be that he has plenty to offer at the sharpest end of this stacked division although his size at the weight was a factor today. Whether he moves north or stays put he won’t always be so much the bigger man.

The “main event”, featuring senior Japanese pugilist Takashi Uchiyama, was typically one-sided. One of the longest reigning strapholders in the world and clear divisional #1 at super-featherweight, Uchiyama dominated the over-matched Oliver Flores, stopping him in three rounds, not for the first time today, with a bodyshot.

Uchiyama is in desperate need of extension at this point in his career, having fought just five rounds in 2014. Aged 36, big money fights and pound-for-pound honours will not be within his grasp much longer and while he’s proven winning is easy boxing at this sort of level, hopefully the desire to do more than the minimum will move him to greater things in 2016. He did announce himself “ready for anyone” at the post-fight press conference, but this is not new rhetoric. He expects to be matched again in April.

Destructive body-punching seems, after today, as much a part of the Japanese fistic psyche as the murderous flavour of box-punching served up by Uchiyama, Tanaka, Ioka, and, earlier in the week, Naoya Inoue. Each is different but each bursts from the same culture of brilliant violence rendered with technical surety. They won’t all come west – but those that do should be welcomed with open arms by fight fans.

Based on today’s quality of entertainment we arguably have some catching up to do.

Check out our quick result video from Japan at The Boxing Channel.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 121: Prizefighting in 2021

David A. Avila

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Prizefighting actually dipped underground for the past nine months with professional boxers training illegally in darkened gyms behind shuttered windows and locked doors.

It still remains an underground sport.

The slow death cloud of the coronavirus led to government restrictions forbidding large gatherings especially in enclosed facilities. Boxers still train.

It was a primary reason that prizefighting among the elite was never more bare.

When Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder met at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for their rematch, a crowd of more than 15,000 fans witnessed the heavyweight spectacle. That took place on February 22, and it was the last hurrah in 2020.

A new year begins but the old ways of doing things are no longer in place. Those large purses are unattainable without fans, but it’s difficult to convince the prizefighters. All they know is they want to get paid with pre-2020 checks.

Very few of the top male prizefighters took to the prize ring.

One leading American matchmaker, who did not wish to go on record, said fighters do not understand that ticket sales are an important aspect of the fight game. Many prizefighters feel they are underpaid and being cheated when offered purses that fall under their pre-2020 monies.

No fans, no money.

Television or streaming app revenue is not enough without the clicking of the turnstile.

Fans are the reason that fighters get paid and without fans prizefighting does not exist.

Reality in 2021

Before the advent of television, prizefighters were paid strictly on the basis of ticket sales. The more fans a fighter could attract, the bigger the purse. When television arrived it drastically changed the landscape.

Television networks who delve into boxing bring their own budgets and cable networks like HBO and Showtime drastically changed the landscape. Instead of thousands, millions were being paid to the stars. Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather were the prizefighters leading the way past $20 and $30 million dollar purses. MMA still hasn’t reached those figures. Not even close, unless they are fighting against a boxer as Conor McGregor did several years ago.

During the past three years new players arrived with streaming apps like ESPN+ and DAZN entering the boxing world. One primary advantage has been its worldwide ability to transmit boxing events. However, because not all of the world has access to high tech, those streaming apps are still in the pioneering phase when it comes to building a fan base. At the moment, television still holds the upper hand but the gap is closing quickly.

Lately, DAZN has taken to inserting sponsors logos into their live programming without skipping a beat. It was only a matter of time before they realized the capabilities of inserting commercials digitally. It’s not a new idea; it was explored decades ago by our own BoxingChannel.tv.

Still, as long as the pandemic exists and fans are unable to attend boxing cards the mega fights that drive prizefighting will not take place. The arrival of various vaccines for the coronavirus are a big plus for the sport emerging out of the underground state of boxing. But the fighters need to fight.

Tyson Fury needs to meet Anthony Joshua in a battle for the heavyweight championship and Errol Spence Jr. must fight Terence Crawford this year. Others like Teofimo Lopez are doing their part to open the eyes of fans to the new breed of prizefighters who can fight, talk and excite with their electrifying skills.

Potential stars like Serhii Bohachuk, Vergil Ortiz Jr. and Charles Conwell are catching the eye of fans and all are basically around the same weight classes. They took advantage of the openings for television and streaming spots.

Prizefighters everywhere need to understand this pandemic may last longer than you think. God forbid, but there could be another looming around the corner. It’s time to go for broke and get back in the prize ring. Time is not on your side.

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Remembering Young Stribling on the Centennial of his First Pro Fight

Arne K. Lang

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This coming Sunday, Jan. 17, marks the 100th anniversary of the pro debut of one of boxing’s most interesting characters. On this date in 1921, Young Stribling, carrying 118 pounds, won a 4-round decision over Kid Dombe in the opening bout of a 4-bout card at the auditorium (it had no name) in Atlanta, Georgia. Stribling would go on to fight for the world heavyweight title and would leave the sport as boxing’s all-time knockout king, a distinction that commands an asterisk.

Stribling’s effort against Dombe, who was billed as Georgia’s newsboy champion, made a strong impression on the ringside reporter for the Atlanta Constitution. “A young gentleman,” he wrote, “is destined to become mighty popular in the squared circle. He is Young Stribling of Macon, and a classier bit of boxing machinery hasn’t been uncovered in these parts in a good many years.” Stribling failed to stop his opponent, but left him “badly mussed-up.”

Young Stribling, born William Lawrence Stribling, bubbled into a great regional attraction. Name a place in Georgia – Albany, Americus, Augustus, Bainbridge, Rome, Savannah, Thomasville, etc. – and Stribling fought there. As the star forward on his high school basketball team, one of the best teams in the country, he never ventured far from home for a boxing match until he was deep into his career.

Many of Stribling’s fights were held in conjunction with fairs and carnivals and some others were staged in vaudeville houses. Stribling was the son of professional acrobats. As a young boy, he and his younger brother Herbert performed alongside their parents in a novelty act, a mock prizefight done up in slapstick.

Stribling attracted national attention in 1923 when he opposed veteran Mike McTigue, the reigning light heavyweight champion. The bout was held in a 20,000-seat wooden arena in Columbus, Georgia.

A New Yorker, but an Irishman by birth, McTigue brought his own referee, which wasn’t uncommon in those days. The arbiter was Harry Ertle, a City Marshal in Jersey City, famed as the third man in the ring for Jack Dempsey’s fight with Georges Carpentier, the first fight with a million-dollar gate.

“The road is a treacherous place,” a wizened old fight manager was overheard saying at New York’s fabled Stillman Gym. And Columbus, Georgia, a town situated on the banks of the Chattahoochee River and purportedly a Ku Klux Klan stronghold, was certainly a treacherous place for Team McTigue on that balmy October afternoon.

After 10 rather pedestrian rounds, Ertle called the fight a draw. But he was in such a hurry to exit the ring that he did not make his verdict clear. Rather than call the combatants to the center of the ring and raise both their arms, he merely pointed at both corners, “spreading his hands as a baseball umpire calling a baserunner safe after a slide.”

Ertle didn’t get far. He was immediately accosted by the head of the local organizing committee who upon confirming that Ertle had scored the bout a draw, ordered the referee back into the ring. “You will never get out of here (if you don’t give the fight to Stribling),” he said. “We have all the railroad stations covered.”

Ertle went back into the ring, awarded the fight to Stribling, and then three hours later in the safety of a private residence, he signed a statement saying that his original decision should stand. The incident made all the papers and made Stribling a household name in houses where folks read the sports pages.

When Stribling fought McTigue, he was only 18 years old. And he was fast growing into his body, tipping the scales for the fight at 165 pounds.

Stribling and McTigue renewed acquaintances five months later in Newark, New Jersey. In a shocker, the “Georgia Schoolboy” dominated the Irishman. Stribling won all 12 rounds in the estimation of one ringside reporter. He had McTigue almost out in the 11th and again in the 12th but reverted to clowning and let him off the hook. “It was a bad habit,” said a reporter, “that the kid picked up working the country fair circuit.”

Because New Jersey was then a “no-decision” state, McTigue was allowed to keep his title. Stribling would get another chance at the belt in June of 1926 when he met McTigue’s conqueror Paul Berlenbach at Yankee Stadium.

Boxing writers fawned over Young Stribling who seldom appeared in public without his parents; his father was his chief cornerman. His parents’ names were “Ma” and “Pa,” or that’s what condescending East Coast writers always called them.

The Stribling-Berlenbach fight, wrote syndicated sportswriter Damon Runyon, “was the most widely advertised and most eagerly anticipated event of some years in New York.” The crowd, reportedly 56,000, “attracted more political bigwigs and social and sporting dignitaries than you could shake a stick at.” And the fight, marred by excessive clinching, was a dud. It went the full 15 rounds and Berlenbach, the Astoria Assassin, won decisively (the scores were not announced).

It was back to the drawing board for Young Stribling, which meant back to the life of a barnstormer. Over the next 33 months, he had 75 (!) documented fights and lost only once, that coming at the hands of clever Tommy Loughran in a 10-round bout at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. That impressive run boosted him into a match with Jack Sharkey, an “eliminator” in which the winner would be one step removed from fighting for the world heavyweight title vacated by Gene Tunney.

Stribling vs. Sharkey was the last important bout arranged by Tex Rickard who died seven weeks before the bout materialized in an arena erected on a polo field in Miami Beach. It was North against South, and the crowd, nearly 35,000, was solidly against Sharkey, the Boston Gob. But Stribling came up short again in a rather disappointing, albeit closely contested 10-round affair. There was little dissension when the New York referee gave the fight to the Bostonian.

Later that year, Max Schmeling defeated Paulino Uzcudun at Yankee Stadium, setting the stage for a Sharkey-Schmeling fight for the vacant title. In the fourth round, Sharkey was disqualified after sending Schmeling to the canvas with a punch that was palpably low.

After his setback to Jack Sharkey, Young Stribling fought his way back into contention with wins over three ranked opponents after splitting a pair of suspicious fights with Primo Carnera in Europe. In fact, in a 1930 poll of 55 sportswriters by the New York Sun, Stribling was named the best heavyweight, out-polling both Sharkey and Schmeling. When the German picked Stribling for his first title defense, he was, in the eyes of many people, choosing his most worthy challenger.

Carnera vs. Stribling was the icebreaker event at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, the new home of the city’s baseball team, the Indians. The bout came to fruition on the eve of the Fourth of July in 1931, two days after the cavernous ballpark was formally dedicated in an elaborate ceremony.

Stribling started fast, but Schmeling ultimately proved too strong for him. In the 15th round, Schmeling knocked him to the canvas and then pummeled him into a helpless condition, forcing the referee to intervene and waive it off. This wasn’t a great fight, but it was a quite a spectacle, notwithstanding the fact that there were a lot of empty seats. The Ring magazine named it the Fight of the Year.

This would be Young Stribling’s last big-money fight. In his final ring appearance, he outpointed light heavyweight title-holder Maxie Rosenbloom in a 10-round non-title fight in Houston. According to BoxRec, he left the sport with a record of 224-13-14 with 129 knockouts, a record eventually broken by Archie Moore who would be credited with 131.

About those knockouts: It came to be understood that many were bogus, not fictional, but rather set-ups on the carnival circuit where he padded his record against someone with whom he was well-acquainted. But there are also some curious knockouts on Archie Moore’s ledger. On Moore’s list of KO victims one finds the names of Professor Roy Shire and Mike DiBiase, popular grunt-and-groan wrestlers.

As to Young Stribling’s fistic legacy, historians are all over the map. The biography of Stribling by Jaclyn Weldon White (Mercer University Press, 2011) is titled “The Greatest Champion that Never Was.” That’s a bit over the top. The reality is that when Stribling was matched against his strongest opponents, his Sunday punch was missing in action.

You won’t find Stribling’s name on Matt McGrain’s 2014 list of the 100 Greatest Heavyweights of All Time. Stribling checks in at #23 on McGrain’s list of the all-time greatest light heavyweights and, with all due respect to McGrain, that also strikes us as a bit off-kilter, not giving Stribling enough credit. In more than 250 documented fights, he was stopped only once, that coming with 14 seconds remaining in the 15th and final round of his bout with Max Schmeling.

Regardless of where you choose to place him, Young Stribling was certainly colorful.

Young Stribling lived his life in the fast lane, and with him that isn’t a cliché. He loved to fly, and when he headed off somewhere in his six-seater, said a reporter, “he would take the plane off the ground in a shivering climb so steep veteran flyers gasped.” On the highways, his preferred mode of travel was a motorcycle.

Stribling married his high school sweetheart and they had three children. On Oct. 1, 1933, he left his home in Macon on his motorcycle and never returned. A head-on crash with an incoming car sent him to the hospital where he died the next day from internal injuries. Ma and Pa were there with him in his final hours, as was his wife who had given birth to a baby boy eight days earlier in this very same hospital.

William Lawrence “Young” Stribling was 28 years old when he drew his final breath. He packed a lot of living into those 28 years, including a whirlwind boxing career that took flight 100 years ago this coming Sunday.

Note: The photo is the cover photo from the October 1924 issue of The Ring magazine

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R.I.P. Boxing Promoter Mike Acri

Arne K. Lang

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Word arrived yesterday, Jan. 12, that boxing promoter Mike Acri died this past Sunday at age 63. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer.

Acri was from Erie, Pennsylvania, which also happens to be the hometown of Hall of Fame promoter Don Elbaum. The two often worked in tandem, most notably when they promoted the fight between Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier-Lyde.

Acri promoted Ali; Frazier-Lyde was under contract to the venerable Elbaum. The bout between the daughters of the legendary pugilists, billed as Ali-Frazier IV, took place on June 8, 2001 at the Turning Stone Resort in Verona, New York, kicking off Hall of Fame Weekend at the boxing shrine in nearby Canastota.

Mike Acri birthed the tradition of holding pro fights at Turning Stone on the Eve of the Hall of Fame festivities. The first of these shows, in 1998, pitted Hector Camacho against West Virginia journeyman Tommy Small. Camacho TKOed Small in the sixth, recapturing some of the prestige he had lost in his pussycat showing against Oscar De La Hoya.

Acri was especially proud of the Turning Stone series. “At these events, you have memorabilia people, you have past inductees, and most important, boxing fanatics from everywhere… it’s the ultimate thrill to know that my fight cards are the center of attention for the biggest boxing weekend of the year,” he told prominent boxing writer Jake Donovan for a 2005 story that ran on this site.

Acri had his best run with Paul Spadafora, the trouble-plagued “Pittsburgh Kid” who went on to win the IBF lightweight title and left the sport with a record of 49-1-1.

Spadafora fought frequently – 15 fights in all — at the Mountaineer racino in Chester, West Virginia, where Acri was the matchmaker. The little town of Chester sits roughly 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh and 40 miles south of Youngstown, Ohio, cities with rich boxing traditions.

Although Acri was with Spadafora when the “Kid” was just getting started, he was best known as a rejuvenator who latched hold of fighters with name value who were cascading into irrelevancy and restored some of their lost luster while maneuvering them into a few good late-career paydays. Exhibit A was Roberto Duran.

Acri was one of the prime movers of the lucrative rubber match between Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard. In his next outing, Duran was shockingly defeated by Pat Lawlor, a third-rater, and was written off as finished, but Acri extracted more mileage from the Panamanian legend, guiding him into two good-money fights with Vinny Pazienza and two with the aforementioned Camacho, interspersed with stay-busy fights that served to keep his name in the news.

Mike Acri’s last co-promotion, if that is the word, was the acclaimed Showtime documentary “Macho: The Hector Camacho Story,” for which he received an Executive Producer credit. We here at The Sweet Science send our condolences to his family and loved ones.

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