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Little Giants Shinsuke Yamanaka and Wanheng Menayothin Win in the Orient

Matt McGrain

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Shinsuke Yamanaka and Wanheng Menayothin Win – Two of the best fighters in the Orient – and the world – posted wins in their home countries of Japan and Thailand this week.

The world’s undefeated #1 bantamweight, Shinsuke Yamanaka was pitted against Venezuelan hard man Liborio Solis in Japan on Friday.  Yamanaka, 24-0-2 at bell, defended both that undefeated status and his position as the premier fighter at 118lbs; that said, it seems a long time since his back-and-forth thriller with Malcolm Tunacao, a fight he won by twelfth round stoppage, and after his last contest with the highly ranked veteran Anselmo Moreno, a boring joust which sent the few interested parties in the western media up in arms and yelling robbery, I personally felt he needed to make a statement against Solis.

In fairness, I should say that I scored the Moreno fight a draw personally, and don’t think of a card for Yamanaka unreasonable, but the fight was an awkward exchange of single punches and difficult angles.  Solis seemed a good opponent, then, to bring out the best in Yamanaka.  Aggressive, and armed with a certain intimidating wildness, for all that he isn’t a huge puncher, the Venezuelan seemed the right man to overcome Yamanaka’s “wait-and-see” posturing.  This did not prove the case in the first round with Solis seeming to want a look at his opponent and Yamanaka taking advantage to get his southpaw left started, a punch he hardly landed on Moreno.

In the second, a quickly formed right-hook as Solis stepped in bought Yamanaka a flash knockdown and seemed to place the Japanese in total control; but Solis wore the look of a man determined to go home with, at the very least, a story to tell.  Pressure, and an untidy, winging attack brought Solis a flash of his own in the opening seconds of the third, a direct right hand putting a disorganized Yamanaka on the seat of his trunks.  Yamanaka was unhurt, but Solis didn’t seem to care, and he came firing out of the neutral corner, bashing and lashing Yamanaka across the ring. The world’s #1 bantamweight seemed unsure how to handle this tornado of ineffective yet dangerous punching and by turns gave ground, held, and hit Solis back.  By the end of the round he seemed to have regained control, only to be flashed for a second occasion by another Solis right; clearly embarrassed he was up at 1 having surrendered his lead on the cards.

Yamanaka remained aggressive in the fourth, which impressed me.  By the end of the seventh the fight had been established as something more akin to what we had expected to see from the beginning; a consummate Yamanaka performance defined by elegant footwork and fine punch-selection.  Solis had his moments, as in the sixth, during which he landed a hard punch and followed it up by scything his way through a non-existent field of corn, but showed little to trouble Yamanaka in earnest.

Solis arguably took the eighth on aggression but perhaps worn by Yamanaka’s wonderful left to the body, he visited the canvas again in the ninth round.  A beautifully timed and unusually short right-hand dropped the Venezuelan for a short count.  Finding himself once more well behind on the cards, that Solis made the effort through the tenth, eleventh and twelfth to keep bringing the fight to Yamanaka was impressive; he may even have won the tenth.  He left with little to show for it, however, dropping the decision 117-107 on all cards; a wide but not unreasonable margin of victory.

The day before in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, the world’s #2 strawweight Wanheng Menayothin was in action against the Japanese, Go Odaira (12-4-3 going in).  Menayothin, 40-0 at bell, was a prohibitive favorite with a relative novice in the other corner, but there were signs that Odaira might provide reasonable, if not stiff competition.  He gave the highly ranked and perennial fight-of-the-year contender Katsunari Takayama all he could handle for seven rounds before succumbing at the end of 2014, and returned to winning ways with a knockout win of the Japanese national title at the weight in 2015.  Menayothin, I think, will only lose to a fighter of prestigious power, of which there are none at 105lbs currently, or a fighter of prestigious speed, although it must be pointed out that a combination of world-class jab and functional quickness has allowed the Thai to out-box many faster opponents.

Nevertheless, I was hopeful, if not expectant, that Odaira might surprise us with a testing, if not a winning performance.  This hope was dispelled by the first round which, in keeping with Menayothin’s style, was one of fistic curiosity.  He likes to look at his opponents in the first round, applying gentle pressure in order to take a measure of their artillery.  This is what I mean when I say power is key to solving Menayothin; if you can’t make him respect you, at a minimum, he is going to come for you.  Normally this happens in the second – against Odaira, he didn’t even wait his customary three minutes and was catching his man with sickening regularity with a drilled right hand normally heralded by the establishment of his jab.

Shinsuke Yamanaka and Wanheng Menayothin Win

This did nothing to discourage Menayothin’s stalking pressure which is normally underpinned by great discipline; disciplined defense, disciplined punch selection and disciplined, functional footwork that is surprisingly adept at bringing him into range against taller, longer opponents.  Here, he abandoned that discipline to an extent, abandoning the jab in favor of the right and it undermined his offense.  Odaira was able to slip and duck and run from trouble all the while firing back with his inelegant but persistent punches.

Odaira was boxing in a pattern, however, allowing himself to be moved back to the ropes and corners before sliding and ducking his way out of danger.  In the third, Menayothin half-feinted all the way inside, committing to nothing, before throwing a right hand punch across himself as Odaira tried to escape to his own right.  The blow landed with the type of crispness that often brings a reaction and this one tumbled Odaira to the canvas like a sprinter hemorrhaging out of the blocks, all motion and stumble.  Up at three, the Japanese appeared more rattled than legitimately hurt.  Menayothin remained steady – disciplined – with his pursuit, preferring single shots, every one of which was cheered lustily by the partisan Thai crowd.

The two played cat and mouse in a depressingly one-sided fourth round before Menayothin dropped the boom in the fifth.  Odaira had a little surge at the opening of the round but Menayothin remained absolutely consistent and in the end, pretty much just bludgeoned his opponent to the canvas.  If the first knockdown held a certain flour-down-the-chute elegance, the second was sheer brute, the inevitable begun by a left-hook and ended by a series of thudding right hands that saw the referee wave the contest off without a count.

This was not vintage Menayothin, although he got the job done more quickly than fellow strawweight Takayama and with only the occasional loss of that steel-trap discipline.  Menayothin, surely, is ready for better things and with the strawweight division relatively stacked at the moment, the time, surely, is ripe.  Divisional #1 Hekkie Budler and he would stage an excellent fight, I suspect, countryman CP Freshmart would make for an intriguing all-Thai dust-up and Takayama, too, would make a fine opponent could he or Menayothin be tempted into leaving home in pursuit of what would be one of the most fascinating clashes of style imaginable in boxing right now.

Yamanaka, meanwhile, did what was expected of him and returned to the world of thrills and spills that, at least for me, defined him prior to the Moreno fight.  I make #4 bantamweight Jamie McDonnell, out of Doncaster, England, his most interesting potential opponent although the two men’s respective power-bases and straps make this meeting unlikely.  Skilled southpaw Juan Carlos Payano, of the Dominican Republic would be another fascinating match, as would an all-Japanese affair between Yamanaka and superstar Naoya Inoue, who lurks below at 115lbs.

Both Yamanaka and Menayothin have options, but neither man has boxed outside his home country; aged 33 and 30 respectively, it’s probably time to take those options.

 

Check out a results video for this fight at The Boxing Channel

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Fury-Wilder III is Apparently Back on Again, Kicking Fury-Joshua to the Curb

Arne K. Lang

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Yesterday, May 16, it was widely reported that all the roadblocks to the eagerly-anticipated heavyweight unification showdown between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury had been removed and that the fight would take place on Aug. 14 in Saudi Arabia. The source for this information was Fury who posted the news on his Twitter page. “This is going to be the biggest sporting event ever to grace planet Earth,” bloviated the Gypsy King with his characteristic understatement.

The news that Fury-Joshua was a done deal was splashed all over the web with even reputable journalists participating in the feeding frenzy, lest they be seen as being asleep at the switch. But since when does a boxer become the unimpeachable source for news of this nature? Here at TSS we have an unofficial policy that confirmation must come from the promoter(s).

Joshua vs. Fury may yet come off on Aug. 14 in Saudi Arabia. Nothing that happens in boxing would surprise us. But at the moment, it appears that Deontay Wilder will be in the opposite corner when the Gypsy King makes his return to the ring.

When Deontay Wilder agreed to give Tyson Fury a rematch, the contract specified a rubber match in the event that Wilder should lose. Wilder’s manager Shelly Finkel activated the rematch clause immediately. There was talk that Fury-Wilder III would take place in July 2020 but the pandemic put the fight in limbo.

Bob Arum, who co-promotes Wilder, would come to claim that the rematch clause ran out in October, freeing Fury to fight Anthony Joshua instead. Fury vs. Joshua would be a bigger fight (translation: more lucrative) because it would unify the title and because Fury dominated Wilder so thoroughly in their second encounter that it diminished interest in a third meeting. Wilder did not help his cause by claiming that Fury’s gloves were loaded. “I highly believe you put something bad in your glove,” he said. “Something the size and shape of an egg weight.” (Bob Arum dismissed the wild allegation as “Trumpian.”)

Team Wilder took their grievance to arbitration. Today, retired federal judge Daniel Weinstein, after four days of testimony, ruled that Wilder was entitled to a third fight. Weinstein, like Arum, is a graduate of Harvard Law School. He is, say various web sites, something of a Moses in the arbitration field, “recognized as one of the premier mediators of complex, multi-party, higher stakes cases, both in the United States and abroad.” Weinstein previously mediated disputes involving Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao plus a laundry list of Hollywood celebrities.

Weinstein did not award Wilder any damages. He ruled that Fury-Wilder III must occur before Sept. 15, but yet left open the possibility of an extension. It’s a fair guess that Wilder will accept step-aside money to let Fury-Joshua go forward with the proviso that he gets to fight the winner.

According to ESPN’s Mark Kriegel, Arum had reserved Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas for July 24 as his parachute in the event that the Fury-Joshua fight fell out.

None of the key principals – promoters Arum, Frank Warren, and Eddie Hearn, or Shelly Finkel – have yet to comment on this new development. This is an evolving story. Stay tuned.

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Mayhem in Worcester

Ted Sares

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A number of bizarre events unfolded during a boxing show at the Palladium in Worcester, MA, on March 9, 2007. This was foreseeable. The main event was a freak fight that pit Eric “Butterbean” Esch, the “King of the Four Rounders,” against Joe Siciliano, a 49-year-old Leominster, MA, narcotics detective. Siciliano, who had a 4-3 record, came in at a grotesque 313 pounds, but “The Bean,” then 40 years old and sporting a 76-7 record, weighed a humungous 417. On paper it was a terrible mismatch, and a potentially dangerous mismatch at that.

The corpulent Siciliano (pictured) didn’t lack for guts. “The people want to see a fight, and I’m not going in there and dance around and make it boring,” he said. “People come to see Butterbean because he loves to brawl. Well, he’s going to get one. Whether the fight lasts 30 seconds or four rounds, it’s going to be action-packed. You’re not going to see any love taps. You’re going to see power punches. I’m not going to give up easy. I’m psyching myself up for this.”

“This is definitely a big step up for me,” said the 49-year-old, “but I feel real good. I’m fresh, and I’ve been training a lot. I’ve been given the chance to fight this guy, and I’m feeling very confident.”

We’re hoping for a four-round decision,” added Jimbo Isperduli, Siciliano’s trainer/manager and the fight’s promoter. Translation: If Joe lasts four rounds, it would be deemed a monster upset.

Earlier in the show, Butterbean’s son Brandon Esch (aka Babybean) got poleaxed by Matthew Eckerly. The 266-pound kid remained on the canvas unconscious for several scary minutes. It was Brandon’s professional debut and would be his last boxing fight. And the guy who beat him was no world beater. Eckerly was 1-3 coming in and would proceed to lose his next and final seven fights, all by KO.

After watching his son, Butterbean was subdued and likely very anxious.

babybean

Brandon Esch (Babybean)

The Fight

In the first round, Joe was knocked down and there was a good deal of running, hugging and holding. At one point, Joe spit out his mouthpiece ala Chico Corrales to buy some time and extend the fight. When the round ended, he raised his hands in some sort of celebration. He had done what Peter “Hurricane” McNeely and many others couldn’t do; he had survived the first round. Esch had crushed many of his opponents in the first stanza, ending the bout as soon as one of his power shots hit home.

Unfortunately for Joe, he had nothing left to hold off his stalking and grotesque opponent. Round Two was Bean Time and Joe’s chances had now become zero to none. The end was in sight. Bean mercifully resorted mostly to body shots so as not to do any needless damage to the terribly mismatched detective. After several knockdowns in which Joe seemed to bounce off the canvas, two towels were thrown in to stop the massacre. But Joe had pocketed $4,000 and gained some serious bragging rights.

Despite Butterbean’s cult following, throngs of Siciliano fans booed. Now there’s high camp and there’s cornball, but this was something else. Siciliano had a huge following in the Leominster-Fitchburg-Gardner area and had personally sold 1,000 tickets for the fight.

Butterbean was winding down his career and this would be his last boxing win. His final record was 77-10-4. Joe finished at 5-4.

As he pursued other viable options, Butterbean’s  legacy as one of the greatest four-round boxers of all time remained intact.

Ted Sares enjoys researching and writing about boxing. He can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Remembering Oscar ‘Shotgun’ Albarado (1948-2021)

Arne K. Lang

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Former world junior middleweight champion Oscar “Shotgun” Albarado passed away on Feb. 17 at age 72 in a nursing home in his hometown of Uvalde, Texas. Albarado’s death didn’t go unnoticed in the town that he put on the sporting map, but news out of Uvalde appears to travel to the outside world by Pony Express. There’s been no notice of it in the boxing press; even the authoritative boxrec has yet to acknowledge his passing. This isn’t uncommon. A boxer has a high probability of dying in obscurity, even if he had a large fan base during his heyday.

The folks in Uvalde had a big shindig to honor Albarado after he won the title; a barbecue at the fairgrounds. “All Texas and especially the city of Uvalde share pride in your accomplishments,” read a proclamation from the Governor of Texas, Dolph Briscoe.

The date was June 20, 1974. Sixteen days earlier, Albarado had wrested the 154-pound title from Koichi Wajima in Tokyo. Down two points on two of the scorecards through the 14 completed rounds, Albarado took the bout out of the judges hands, knocking Wajima down three times and out in the final stanza.

It was a long road to Tokyo. An eight-year pro, Oscar had at least 55 pro fights under his belt when he was granted a crack at the title. As he was scaling the ladder with occasional missteps, he became a fan favorite at the Olympic Auditorium, the shrine of Mexican-American boxing in L.A. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Albarado’s parents were migrant farm workers. They spent a portion of each year picking sugar beets in Minnesota. The kids went along with them. Albarado was purportedly six years old when he first worked in the fields.

He was 17 years old when he had his first documented fight, a 4-rounder in San Antonio, but there are some reports that say he was fighting in Mexico when he was as young as 15.

Albarado became a local attraction in South Texas and then spread his wings, moving to Los Angeles where there was better sparring and boxers of Mexican extraction were a more highly-valued commodity. He was backed by LA fight functionary Harry Kabakoff, a wheeler-dealer who knew all the right people. A colorful character, Kabakoff, born Melville Himmelfarb (don’t ask) had struck it big with bantamweight Jesus “Little Poison” Pimentel, a boxer he discovered while living in Mexicali.

Billed as the Uvalde Shotgun and eventually as just Shotgun Albarado, Oscar had his first fight at the Olympic on Jan. 9, 1969, and four more fights there in the next three months. He lost the last of the five and with it his undefeated record to Hedgemon Lewis who out-pointed him in a 10-round fight. There was no shame in losing to Hedgemon, an Eddie Futch fighter who went on to become a world title-holder.

Albarado was back at the Olympic before the year was out. All told, he had 17 fights at the fabled South Grand Street arena, going 13-3-1. His other losses came at the hands of Ernie “Indian Red” Lopez (L UD 10) and Dino Del Cid.

Del Cid, dressed with a 29-8-2 record, was a Puerto Rican from the streets of New York or a Filipino, depending on which LA newspaper one chose to read. Apprised that Albarado was a slow starter, he came out slugging. A punch behind the ear knocked Albarado woozy and the ref stepped in and stopped it. It was all over in 81 seconds.

Oscar demanded a rematch and was accommodated. Six weeks later, he avenged the setback in grand style, decking Del Cid three times in the opening stanza and knocking him down for the count in the following round with his “shotgun,” his signature left hook.

As the house fighter, Albarado got the benefit of the doubt when he fought Thurman Durden in January of 1973. The decision that went his way struck many as a bit of a gift. But the same thing had happened to him in an earlier fight when he opposed fast-rising welterweight contender Armando Muniz.

As popular as Alvarado was at the Olympic, his pull paled beside that of young Muniz. Born in Mexico but a resident of Los Angeles from the age of six, Muniz attended UCLA on a wrestling scholarship before finishing his studies at a commuter school and had represented the United States in the 1968 Olympics while serving in the Army.

Muniz vs. Alvarado was a doozy. We know that without seeing the fight as we have the empirical evidence in the form of the description of the scene at the final bell; appreciative fans showered the ring with coins. The verdict, a draw, met with the approval of the folks in the cheap seats, but ringside reporters were of the opinion that “Shotgun” was wronged. The LA Times correspondent had it 7-2-1 for the Texan.

Oscar had two more fights after avenging his loss to Del Cid before heading off to Tokyo to meet the heavily-favored Wajima who was making the seventh defense of his 154-pound title. Two more trips to Tokyo would follow in quick succession.

Albarado made the first defense of his newly-acquired belt against Ryu Sorimachi. He stopped him in the seventh round, putting him down three times before the match was halted. Three-and-a-half months later, he gave the belt back to Wajima, losing a close but unanimous decision in their rematch.

Oscar quit the sport at this juncture, returning to Uvalde. He was in good shape financially. He had used his earnings from his Olympic Auditorium fights to open a gas station. With the Tokyo money, he expanded his holdings by purchasing a laundromat.

This would be a nice place to wrap up this story. Former Austin American-Statesman sportswriter Jack Cowan, a Uvalde native, recalled that when Oscar opened his service station, he gave his new customers an autographed photo of himself in a boxing pose inscribed with the words “Oscar Albarado: The Next World Champion.” He would make that dream become a reality, defying the odds, while breaking the cycle of poverty in his family. Boxing was the steppingstone to a better life for him and his children.

But ending the story right here would be disingenuous. This is boxing, after all, and when the life story of a prominent boxer comes fully into a focus, a feel-good story usually takes a wrong turn.

Oscar got the itch to fight again. Sixty-seven months after walking away from boxing, he resumed his career with predictable results. He was only 34 when he returned to the ring, but he was a shell of his former self, an old 34.

Albarado was knocked out in five of his last seven fights before leaving the sport for good with a record of 57-13-1 (43 KOs). He made his final appearance in Denmark, the adopted home of double-tough Ayub Kalule who whacked him out in the second round.

Albarado’s obituary in the Uvalde paper was uncharacteristically blunt. “He suffered from pugilistic dementia,” it said, “caused by repeated concussive and sub-concussive blows.”

There was no sugar-coating there, no Parkinson’s to obfuscate the truth.

If he had known the fate that awaited him, would he have still chosen the life of a prizefighter? That’s not for us to say, but author Tris Dixon, while researching his new book, interviewed a bunch of neurologically damaged fighters and almost to a man they said they would do it all over again.

Albarado had four children, three sons and a daughter. When he was elected to the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017, he was too decrepit to travel, but all four of his children — Oscar Jr, Emmanuel, Jacob, and Angela — made the trip to North Hollywood to accept the award on his behalf.

The kids were proud of their old man, a feeling that did not dissipate as he became incapacitated. If boxing was helpful in tightening the bond, then it’s a fair guess the Uvalde Shotgun had no regrets.

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