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Jesse Hart: The Spawn of a Cyclone is Brewing up a Storm in Philly

Bernard Fernandez

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By BERNARD FERNANDEZ

In this pivotal year in American politics, a power struggle of sorts with presidential-primary-type overtones is brewing in Philadelphia boxing. It involves two fighting men of the city, one a beloved older citizen and the other his firebrand son, each of whom has his own vision of how the immediate future will soon play out.

So who gets the final say?

“I do,” insists 26-year-old Jesse Hart (19-0, 16 KOs) who wants to fight for the WBO super middleweight championship before the end of 2016 and likely would be afforded that opportunity should he win his Friday night fight against journeyman Dashon Johnson (19-18-3, 6 KOs), of Escondido, Calif., at the 2300 Arena in South Philly.

“Me,” Jesse’s father-trainer, 1970s middleweight contender Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, 64, said when asked the same question. But Cyclone is of a mind that his son going for a world title this year – or maybe even in the next couple of years – would be a rush to judgment with potentially disappointing consequences.

“I wouldn’t want him fighting for no championship now,” Cylone said when asked if Jesse’s likely elevation to a No. 1 rating from the WBO and mandatory-challenger status for the winner of the April 9 title fight between champion Arthur Abraham (44-4, 29 KOs) and Gilberto Ramirez (33-0, 24 KOs), should result in a showdown for a bejeweled belt. “Jesse is saying now, right now. Me, I would prefer him to wait until he gets about seven more fights and is more comfortable in the ring. A lot of people want him to (be in a title fight soon). Why? I told Bob (Arum, founder of Top Rank, Jesse’s promotional company) I thought he needed six or seven more fights, and then he’d be ready for anybody. Jesse got the tools to get (a world title) now, but he needs to get the tools to hold onto it after he gets it.”

So, if push comes to shove, which Hart gets to make the final decision?

“The son,” said J Russell Peltz, the longtime Philadelphia promoter who co-promotes Jesse’s career.

Or it might be Arum, whom Cyclone said will have a voice in the matter.

“Bob is smart,” Cyclone mused. “Bob will know when Jesse is ready, just like I’ll know.”

Time is always a factor in boxing. How long should a big fight be allowed to simmer until it’s ready to be served at its flavorful best? Or should some matchups be microwaved and hurried to the table?

Jesse Hart’s impatience to fight for a world title is understandable. Another seven bouts worth of seasoning would take him to age 28, possibly 29, and would possibly abbreviate his championship reign, should he be fortunate enough to have one. He believes he is ready to go for the big prize now, so why wait?

But Arum also might not want to delay the process of developing the next Top Rank superstar any longer than necessary. Manny Pacquiao (57-6-2, 38 KOs), Arum’s prime attraction for what seems like forever, has announced his April 9 rubber match against Timothy Bradley Jr. (33-1-1, 13 KOs) at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand, will be his farewell to boxing, so Arum, 84, can be excused for wanting to quickly determine a marquee replacement for “Pac-Man.” That might be Hart, or Ramirez, or possibly WBO super lightweight champion Terence Crawford (28-0, 20 KOs), most recently observed scoring a fifth-round stoppage over Philadelphia’s Hank Lundy (26-6-1, 13 KOs) on Feb. 27 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.

It is a promoter’s duty to stroke the egos of all of his fighters, to make them feel as if each is his top priority, and Arum has taken care to ensure that Jesse Hart is showered with the requisite compliments.

“There’s boxing stars and there’s superstars,” Jesse said before a recent workout at the Joe Hand Boxing Gym in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia. “You got to know how to talk when you get up in front of that camera. You got to have a great smile. There’s different characteristics that go into it, and Bob said I got ’em all. He said I got the total package, the `it’ factor, to be a superstar.”

It is not anything Jesse hasn’t heard before. Not long after he joined Top Rank’s deep stable, Arum told the then-24-year-old about what could happen when talent meets charisma and the fighter in question is given the benefit of Arum’s special touch.

“When we first sat down, (Arum) said, `I want you. You’re going to be a superstar. You have what (Oscar) De La Hoya had, what Floyd Mayweather has,’” Jesse said in January 2014. “I was, like, wow. Then he asked me, `Who’s the first Mexican-(American) fighter that was on a Wheaties box?’ I said, `I don’t know, who was it?’ He said, `Oscar De La Hoya. That’s how big I want you to be. You have all the qualities to be a megastar in the sport of boxing. I’m going to let you reach those heights.’”

Jesse certainly has the genes to be something special. His dad, Cyclone, began his career with 19 straight victories inside the distance and has been described by Peltz as “the best one-punch knockout artist I ever saw in person.”

Hart had the good fortune – or misfortune, depending on which way one chooses to look at it – of being one of four Philly middleweights who were all world-ranked in the top 10 in the 1970s, the others being Bennie Briscoe, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts and Willie “The Worm” Monroe. But elite opponents ducked the Philly Four as if they were lepers and, although Watts and Monroe did score decision victories over a young Marvin Hagler at the since-demolished Spectrum, only Briscoe ever was afforded the opportunity to fight for a world championship. He was 0-3 in such bouts, losing twice to Rodrigo Valdez and once to Carlos Monzon.

“We held down the city for, like, 20 years,” Cyclone said of that golden era of middleweights in Philly, when he and the other local kings of the ring were stars as celebrated as much as any member of the Eagles, Phillies, 76ers or Flyers. “Couldn’t nobody come in here and do nothin’ with us. The only way we could make money was to fight each other.”

Thus was the legend embellished of Philly’s down-and-dirty gym wars, where the best of the best took turns cannibalizing one another for neighborhood pride and then did so again in well-attended main events at the Spectrum. It was an era perhaps beyond replication, but Jesse Hart, who has heard all the stories of that magical time from his dad, is eager to do his part to restore at least some of that lost tradition.

Jesse had been scheduled to appear on the non-televised portion of the Crawford-Lundy undercard, but he went directly to Arum and requested that he headline his own show in his hometown. It is high time, Jesse declared, that Philadelphia fighters, the most accomplished of whom have been obliged to take their act on the road, return to America’s best fight town and remind everyone of what once was, and could be again.

“I wish I was back in that (1970s) era,” he sighed. “The mission for me has always to become one of the greatest Philadelphia fighters. I kept hearing about how great my dad was, how great Georgie Benton was, how great Bennie Briscoe was. Gypsy Joe Harris. My dad came up in that era and that’s the mindset I have. In my mind, I’m a 15-round fighter. I’m not a modern-day dude, man.”

Cyclone remembers taking Jesse to the gym for the first time when he was around 10. He has tutored him well, but no trainer can confer the gift of power on a fighter who lacks the natural capability to deliver a shot with the force of a runaway locomotive. Cyclone had that gift, and he said Jesse does, too.

“I realized he had the same qualities I had as a fighter,” Cyclone said. “He can punch with either hand, he can take you out with either hand. Once he gets a little more comfortable, ain’t nobody going to beat Jesse Hart.”

Jesse said he is pretty damn comfortable now, and he has little inclination for taking the long view espoused by Cyclone. He has a wife and child to support, and why shouldn’t he strike when the iron is hot? If he’s a superstar-in-waiting, as Arum had so often told him, why delay the inevitable?

“All I know is I get the winner of the Ramirez-Abraham fight,” Jesse said. “I don’t care who it is. That’s why I’m pushing for a win (against Johnson) in spectacular fashion. This fight is going to prove to the world that I’m one of the best super middleweights in the world, if not the best.

“This is what sets me apart. Nobody else is fighting here. I wanted to bring it home to the Philly fight fans. I’m not knocking nobody else, but what other top Philadelphia fighter is bringing it back here? Bernard Hopkins isn’t. Danny Garcia isn’t.

“That’s why we’re calling this promotion `Hart of the City.’ All our pro teams stink, nobody’s doing nothin’. But you got Jesse Hart standing up for Philly.

“Oh, and make sure to tell everybody that Philly still has the best boxers in the world.”

 

 

 

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Maxim Dadashev Dead at Age 28

Arne K. Lang

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Junior welterweight boxer Maxim Dadashev passed away this morning (Tuesday, July 23) at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Prince George County, Maryland.  The news was confirmed by Dadashev’s trainer Buddy McGirt and his strength and conditioning coach Donatas Janusevicious.

Dadashev’s death was a result of injuries suffered in a fight four days earlier at the MGM casino-resort in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Dadashev’s match with Subriel Matias, scheduled for 12 rounds, was billed as a title eliminator with the victor first in line to face the winner of the upcoming match between Josh Taylor and Regis Prograis. It was the chief undercard bout on a show headlined by fast rising lightweight contender Teofimo Lopez.

Dadashev, who entered the contest undefeated (13-0) was facing another undefeated fighter in Puerto Rico’s Matias, also 13-0 but against suspect opposition. As the fight wore on, it became increasingly more one-sided with Dadashev absorbing heavy punches to the body and head. After the 11th round, Dadashev was pulled from the fight by McGirt.

Dadashev protested McGirt’s decision. He wanted to continue the fight although it was evident that he had no chance of winning without a knockout. But he had trouble walking as he repaired to his dressing room and began vomiting violently once there. Placed on a stretcher, he was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance where he underwent a two-hour operation for a subdural hematoma. A portion of his skull was reportedly removed in an effort to reduce the swelling.

Federal privacy laws prevented the hospital from releasing any details without the consent of his next of kin. As Dadashev lay in the hospital in an induced coma, his wife flew to be by his side from their home in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Reportedly 281-20 as an amateur, Dadashev had fought exclusively in the United States since turning pro. Managed by Egis Klimas and promoted by Top Rank, he trained in Oxnard, California, along with stablemates Vasiliy Lomachenko and Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

As expected, Buddy McGirt, who entered the International Hall of Fame this year, was devastated by the news. “He did everything right in training,” said McGirt, “no problems, no nothing….great, great guy. He was a trainer’s dream. If I had two more guys like him, I would need nobody else because he was truly dedicated to the sport.”

We here at TSS send our condolences to Dadashev’s family and loved ones.

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Good Night, Sweet Pea

Springs Toledo

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Good-Night-Sweet-Pea

Good Night, Sweet Pea

Bishop James E. Jones Jr.’s booming baritone was rising up through the rafters at the Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia. He was preaching about hands—your neighbor’s hands, the hand in yours now, the Father’s hands into which Jesus commended his spirit from the cross. “Sweet Pea’s HANDS,” he shouted, “took him to places HIS EYES NEVER IMAGINED!”

Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker, the greatest pure boxer since Willie Pep, lay in repose at the foot of the stage, his hands crossed at his belt. His coffin was black. An Olympic flag was draped over it and boxing gloves carefully arranged on top. The few thousand who attended his Saturday morning memorial service came to mourn and to celebrate a perfect fighter, an imperfect man, and a community that has long-since learned to look up no matter what.

Mark Breland was there. He came down from New York to honor the captain of an Olympic boxing team that won nine gold medals in 1984. Long gone is the fresh-faced amateur smiling under a laurel wreath, but Breland remains reed thin. He stood at the podium in a gray suit with a powder blue shirt and was too overwhelmed with grief to say much. “We knew him differently,” he said.

Kathy Duva, now a promoter, then his publicist, was there too. “Pound-for-pound,” she said. “That’s how he signed his autographs.” And that’s exactly what he was: the pound-for-pound best boxer in the world from September 1993 through March 1996, despite performances that struck the unsophisticated as pusillanimous. “He simply chose not to engage in outright brutality,” Duva said. “It was so much more fun to tease and toy with his opponents.” Whitaker teased and toyed with everyone, including a young Floyd Mayweather Jr. who, she said, “could not lay a glove on him” even as he sparred with those hands of his behind his back in 1996. Whitaker brought laughter into the midst of danger because of his cosmic level of skill, and because it kept boredom at bay. Merely making world-class fighters miss wasn’t enough; so he’d dart behind them and as they looked around to see where he went, he’d tap them on the rear end. When Roger Mayweather was known as “Black Mamba” and feared for his right hand, Whitaker—fighting here at the Norfolk Scope—yanked his trunks down in the middle of the sixth round.

“An imp with gold teeth,” said one wit during his glory days, “floating around that blue canvas like a cloud,” added Duva.

No one could outbox him. It isn’t easy to settle firmly on a lightweight in history who could. But the product of Young Park, a housing project just east of the Scope, wasn’t raised to shrink from violence. As a child, his father wouldn’t tolerate tears when he was hurt by neighborhood bullies. He’d turn him around. “Go back,” he’d say. “Give them everything you got.” When he was eight, he and nine-year-old Mario Cuffee got into a street fight and Clyde Taylor, a mailman who moonlighted as the neighborhood’s recreation director, hustled over and grabbed both by the scruff of the neck. “Do your fighting in the gym,” he said, and with permission from the boys’ parents, restaged the fight in the ring, with boxing gloves that looked like balloons. Whitaker lost that one, but found a mentor who began the process of transforming an undersized project kid into a giant of boxing and boxing history. Whitaker credited Cuffee almost as much. “Come to think of it,” Cuffee told me Monday, “I beat him that first fight, though I gotta come clean, he got me back a few years later.” When Whitaker fought Greg Haugen at the Coliseum in 1989, Cuffee bought a ticket and made his way across the Hampton Roads Beltway through a blizzard to see Haugen lose every round. At the post-fight press conference, Cuffee was standing in the back, “in cognito.” Whitaker spotted him and told the story of their fateful childhood fight. “Thanks Mario,” he said. Haugen, his face scuffed and swollen, looked up. “Yeah,” he said. “Thanks Mario.”

In Detroit, while still an amateur, he was invited to spar with Hector Camacho just as Floyd Mayweather was later invited to spar with him. Camacho couldn’t land a glove on him either. “He got mad and started fighting dirty,” Whitaker told the Newport News. “He grabbed me behind the head, pulled it down, and hit me with an uppercut. Then I grabbed him and threw him to the canvas and we started wrestling and fell out of the ring.” Whitaker offered to take it outside. Camacho talked a lot but never went near him again.

In 1984, after the Duvas had convinced Whitaker to throw in with Main Events, they introduced him to trainer George Benton. Benton, who understood the science of belligerent invisibility like no one else, took what Taylor had begun and finished it. He taught him to stop running around the ring, to stand on a dime; to see the difference between wasting energy and ducking and slipping just enough to let punches graze your hair or flick your ear. Benton made sure he became, in his words, “harder to hit than the numbers,” and a master at punching around, between, over, and under what’s coming in. “When I talk he stands and listens like a private would a general,” he said in 1986. “Sweet Pea’s going to be one of the best fighters ever.”

Seven years later, Whitaker swaggered into the ring against Julio Cesar Chavez, then 87-0 and rated by The Ring as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Whitaker fought him on a dime—twisting, rolling, fast-stepping outside his lead foot, and punching around, between, over, and under whatever came in. He had a trick that kept working. He’d turn his right shoulder in to narrow himself and hide his left until the moment it clubbed Chavez on the side of the head. You could hear it land—“whump!”—and it landed all night. In the ninth round, he was outfighting Chavez on the inside—“whump, whump!”—which no one had ever done. Chavez was befuddled and —“whump!”—puffing up. And then, at the end, 59,000 witnessed one of boxing history’s most egregious heists. Two of the three judges called the fight a draw. That’s what we were told anyway. Josè Sulaimàn, WBC president, countryman of Chavez, and favorite stooge of Don King, was seen collecting the scorecards after every round that night.

It is a grandiose irony. Whitaker put an exclamation point on Benton’s prediction in two fights he didn’t win. The second one was nearly as bad as the first.

At 33, he faced a 24-year-old Oscar De La Hoya, then 23-0 and rated by The Ring as the second best pound-for-pound fighter behind Roy Jones Jr. Whitaker made him look like a golem and won that fight too despite an official loss that stinks to this day. “The world saw it,” he said afterward, and smiled anyway, gold teeth gleaming. “The people saw it.”

Bishop Jones saw it. He remembered him standing triumphantly on the ropes before the decision against him was announced. He remembered it well.

“What I loved most about Sweet Pea Whitaker,” he told the mourners at the Norfolk Scope,

“.…was when he KNEW he had won the fight he DIDN’T WAIT on the referee to hold up his hands. He didn’t WAIT on the THE JUDGES to tell him whether or not he had won the fight, but if you look on the back of your programs, there’s a SIGNATURE MOVE that the champ would always do when he knew he had WON THE FIGHT. Family! HE WOULD THROW UP BOTH HIS HANDS!”

With that, Jones stepped back from the podium and thrust both hands in the air. When the people saw that, they roared as one. But Jones was just getting started, the crescendo wasn’t reached, not yet. He stopped them short. “EXODUS CHAPTER SEVENTEEN, VERSE ELEVEN! Whenever Moses held up…” and stepping back again, struck the same pose, “…HIS HANDS the people always had the victory…if the champ could hold up his hands in the middle of his fight, then SURELY you and I ought to HOLD UP OUR HANDS!”

Mario Cuffee jumped to his feet and thrust both hands in the air. Thousands, dressed in their best on the hottest day yet this year, rose as one and thrust both hands in the air. Whitaker’s signature move, multiplied. It was a transcendent moment; the spirit of a man—a father, a brother, a friend, a neighbor—merging with the spirit of the city he loved.

Bishop Jones lowered his gaze to the black coffin at the center of it all. “SWEET PEA!” he thundered as if to wake him up, “That one is for you! You got the victory! CHAMP!”

I closed my eyes and somewhere, I know, Whitaker opened his.

“—YOU GOT THE VICTORY!”

 

 

___________________

Special thanks to Dr. James E. Jones Jr. senior pastor and founder of Greater Grace Church in Portsmouth, VA.

 Springs Toledo is the author of Smokestack Lightning: Harry Greb, 1919, now available in paperback.

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Mad Max and Manny

Ted Sares

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The crowd chants “Manny, Manny, Manny” at the weigh-in at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and Pacquaio’s beloved Pinoy fans are going wild. It’s a BIG event, bigger even than many heavyweight title fights.

Max

Meanwhile, Maxim “Mad Max” Dadashev’s wife Elizabeth is flying from her home in St. Petersburg, Russia, to be with her husband at a hospital in Maryland. Dadashev was critically injured on Friday night while suffering an upset loss to heavy-handed Puerto Rican bomber Subriel Matias at another MGM property, the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

Dadashev, 28, was 281-20 as an amateur, undefeated in 13 professional fights, and the IBF’s third-ranked junior welterweight, but Matias had his number and dominated throughout in a tough and grinding affair.

Capture 9

Maxim Dadashev

At the end of the 11th round, Buddy McGirt told his fighter, “I’m going to stop it, Max.” Dadashev protested. Maybe Max’s brain signaled no, maybe not. But his heart surely said “I’m not done.”

McGirt overruled him, a sage move, but unbeknownst to anyone the damage had been done and it was severe.

“He had one hell of a fight,” McGirt told the Washington Post. “Tough fight, tough fight; took a lot of tough body shots. I just think it was time to stop it. He was getting hit with too many shots. I said to him, ‘I’m stopping it.’ He said, ‘No, don’t.’”

The scores at the time of the stoppage were 109-100, 108-101 and 107-102 in favor of Matias. According to CompuBox, Matias out-landed Dadashev 319-157; 112 of Matias’ punches were body shots.

Max was stretchered out of the arena and rushed to UM Prince George’s Hospital where his skull was opened up to relieve the pressure caused by bleeding. The cavity reveals brain damage, and memories of Mago surface. The dreaded and familiar scenario then begins as he is put into an induced coma. Hopefully, the swelling goes down, the bleeding stops, and no blood clot appears as the later would make a terrible situation grave. In any event, Max will never box again. His well-publicized dream to win a world title will not be fulfilled.

In a post-fight interview, ESPN’s ringside analyst Tim Bradley said, “That’s a scary situation and every time you step foot in the ring you know that was always the talk that I would have with my wife. You know before I would step foot in the ring, I would sit her down, I would look at her and I would say, ‘Look at me, honey. Take a good look at me, open your eyes wide open because I might not come out the ring, for one, and I know I’m not coming out of the ring the same way that I came in.’”

Manny

Back to the big fight the following evening:

The crowd chants “Manny, Manny, Manny” as he enters the ring to battle Keith Thurman for still another championship as his worshipers are now virtually in a state of mass hysteria and begin singing and cheering loudly. The scene borders on the surreal.

Across the Pond

Earlier on Saturday, across the pond in London, heavyweight David Allen took a bad beating from 6’9” David Price and required oxygen. He also was stretchered out and sent to a hospital, adding to the angst. But he will be okay. According to his promoter, Eddie Hearn, Allen had a broken orbital bone and a damaged tongue, but brain scans suggested he was okay.

David Allen — “Very happy and proud of David Price. I will be okay, but the last 12 months or so my health has been deteriorating and I’m glad I hung on, took the chance, and made money. [I’m] now probably done.”

“Manny, Manny, Manny”

In Las Vegas, Manny has decked Thurman in the first round and the place is delirious. The crowd senses that this is his night although Thurman is not backing up. In the tenth, Pac almost puts “One Time” away after landing a devastating body punch.

Finally, the fight is over and Manny is declared the winner. The decibel count goes off the chart as the Pinoys sing “We Are The Champions.” Viewers hit the mute button. These are not fans as much as they are cultists. One wonders if those who are chanting even know that this has been a week where boxing exposed its grim side.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

Ted Sares is a member of Ring 8, a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA). He is an active power lifter and Strongman competitor in the Master Class.

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