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Los Angeles Lightweight Mikaela Mayer Clinches An Olympic Berth In Buenos Aires

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Six U.S. boxers — four men and two women — have locked up berths in the 2016 Olympic summer games in Rio de Janeiro. The latest to qualify is 25-year-old Los Angeles lightweight Mikaela Mayer. Born on the Fourth of July, Mayer defeated Mexico’s Victoria Torres in the championship round of the Americas Qualifier tournament in Buenos Aires to secure the berth. She joins light flyweight Nico Hernandez, bantamweight Shakur Stevenson, lightweight Carlos Balderas and middleweights Charles Conwell and Claressa Shields on the U.S. team.

The male boxers that failed to qualify in Buenos Aires will have two more opportunities to make the cut. For flyweight Virginia Fuchs, it will be do-or-die when she competes in the final qualifying event for female boxers at Astana, Kazakhstan in May.

Mikaela Mayer transitioned into boxing after getting her start in Muay Thai. A self-described girly girl from a family of hippies, she has worked as a model and a bartender and has already appeared in a Dr. Pepper commercial. In an earlier era, writers for major publications would have inevitably referenced her as a blonde bombshell (albeit she’s not always a blonde).

Mayer stayed the course after failing to qualify for the 2012 Olympic team, losing in the finals of the Olympic trials. In Buenos Aires this past week, she defeated boxers from Puerto Rico, Canada, and Barbados to claim her place in the finals.

Mayer and defending Olympic middleweight champion Claressa Shields will be favored to take home the gold in Rio. If that transpires, that would give the U.S. two of the three gold medals. The Olympic committee recognizes only three weight classes for female boxers. Another difference is that bouts for women consist of four two-minute rounds and not three three-minute rounds, as has always been the rule on the men’s side.

The U.S. team left Buenos Aires without locked-in Olympic qualifiers in the three highest weight classes. The most prominent Olympic hopeful, heavyweight Cam F. Awesome (aka Lenroy Thompson), came within an eyelash of qualifying, losing a split decision to his Brazilian opponent. The colorful Awesome dubs himself the Taylor Swift of boxing.

 

 

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Book Review

Literary Notes from Thomas Hauser

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Bernard Fernandez has written thousands of articles during his 55-year career as a sports journalist. Championship Rounds: Round 5 is the fifth (and Bernard says, the last) collection of his articles to be published in book form.

Fernandez has a way with words. He also has an ear for quotes as evidenced by the following thoughts from Championship Rounds: Round 5:

Alex Rodriguez (speaking about his brother, Francisco, who died after being knocked out by Teon Kennedy at the Blue Horizon in Philadelphia): “My brother had a perfect heart, perfect lungs, perfect kidneys, perfect pancreas. Because of him, other people will have a chance for better health, more birthdays, the fulfillment of their own dreams. Paco is going to continue walking through this world through them.”

Johnny Tapia (after Don King completely dominated the final prefight press conference for his fight against Nana Yaw Konadu in Atlantic City): “I don’t understand this. I mean, I’m the one who’s fighting, right?”

Archie Moore: “A legend is something between fact and fable. Some people might say that that is an accurate description of me.”

George Foreman (on Roy Jones): “The better he is at his craft, the less people understand it.”

Mike Tyson (on Sonny Liston’s gift for weakening opponents through intimidation): “He was a menacing force. Sonny could pull it off. I could pull it off. Not a lot of people could pull it off.”

Bert Sugar (reflecting on some of the unsavory characters who have been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame): “You can always make a case for someone’s exclusion. It depends on how moralistic you want to be. But remember, this is boxing we’re talking about.”

Ferdie Pacheco (after watching 47-year-old Roberto Duran get knocked out by William Joppy in three rounds): “What happened tonight happens too often in boxing. How often do we need to see Joe Louis knocked out by Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali beaten to a pulp by Larry Holmes, Sugar Ray Robinson losing to everybody? How much longer do we need to see these legends take beatings like this? This wasn’t a boxing match. It was a licensed execution. I hope it’s the end of the line for Roberto. It should have been the end of the line ten years ago.”

Seth Abraham (reflecting on having signed Roy Jones to a multi-bout contract with insufficient quality control regarding opponents): “In retrospect, I wish I had taken a  harder line with him. He wanted to make the most money. That’s fine. He wanted to take the fewest risks. That’s not fine if you want the most money.”

Matthew Saad Muhammad (on his hyper-aggressive ring style and growing older): “You can’t fight the way I did unless you got something to back it up. I couldn’t back it up anymore.”

Archie Moore. “Boxing is magnificent. It’s beautiful to know. But you’ve got to marry it. And so I did. Boxing was my lover. It was my lady.”

Earnie Shavers (on knocking Larry Holmes down and near-senseless with an overhand right. Miraculously, Holmes rose from the canvas and, four rounds later, knocked Shavers out): “I was the heavyweight champion of the world. All my troubles were finally over. It was the greatest feeling I’d ever had. And it lasted for five whole seconds.”

Dan Goossen (on Michael Nunn leaving him for a new manager): “Am I hurt that he decided to leave me? Of course. It’s kind of like being married to a beautiful woman. Guys are going to whistle at her, try to pick her up. It’s up to her to do the right thing and come home. Same thing with Michael. People are going to constantly hit on him. This time, he didn’t come home.”

*        *        *

Women’s boxing peaked with Katie Taylor vs. Amanda Serrano at Madison Square Garden on April 30, 2022. It was a superb fight between two skilled fighters in an atmosphere that was electric. In Malissa Smith’s words, that night “set the stage for a new era of elite female boxing” and “legitimized” women’s boxing.

Six months later, Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall squared off at the O2 Arena in London with Mikaela Mayer vs. Alycia Baumgardner on the undercard. Like Taylor-Serrano, the fights in London were a platform for women’s boxing to build on.

 Smith’s new book – The Promise of Women’s Boxing (Rowman & Littlefield) – focuses on women’s boxing from the 2012 Olympics to date and is a sequel to her first book – A History of Women’s Boxing (published a decade ago).

Smith has put a huge amount of research into her work. But she recites the details of fight after fight after fight. After a while, the fights tend to blur together and reading about them feels like reading a 224-page encyclopedia article.

Also, when Smith’s writing isn’t too dry, it tends toward hyperbole. Words like “great” and “spectacular” are overused . . . Amanda Serrano is a very good boxer. She is not “one of the hardest-hitting fighters in boxing, male or female.” (Amanda’s last seven opponents have gone the distance against her) . . . And as good a fight as Taylor-Serrano was, it was not “one of the greatest boxing matches in the history of the sport.”

Here, the thoughts of promoter Lou DiBella are instructive. As recounted by Smith, DiBella cautions that fans should “stop comparing women’s boxing contests to men’s and start appreciating them on their own terms.”

*        *        *

Every fighter has a story. And every fighter’s story is interesting. But some fighters’ stories are more interesting and more artfully told than others.

Land of Hope and Glory by Maurice Hope with Ron Shillingford (Pitch Publishing) has some worthwhile moments but falls short of the mark.

Hope (30-4-1, 24 KOs, 2 KOs by) fought professionally from 1973 through 1982. The high point of his career came in 1979 when he stopped Italian-born Rocky Mattioli in San Remo to claim the WBC 154-pound title. Two years later, he lost his belt to Wilfred Benitez.

The loss to Benitez ended with a frightening highlight-reel knockout that left Hope unconscious on the canvas for an extended period of time. In an ugly coda, when Wilfred was told that Maurice had lost two teeth in the battle, Wilfred responded, “He can put the teeth under his pillow.”

There are some entertaining passages in Land of Hope and Glory. Recounting the prelude to his championship-winning fight against Mattioli, Hope recalls, “Walking to the ring was frightening. Shady figures in the crowd in dark suits and sunglasses were walking around with hands on their breast pockets. Whether there was just a handkerchief there or a loaded gun, the impact had the desired effect – intimidation. I pretended not to see them but it was hard to stay focused and calm. Gangsters with bandages around their hands seemed to be everywhere. It seemed like the Mafia had taken over the whole venue.”

There are also poignant recountings of the death of Hope’s son in a car accident and Maurice visiting a horribly disabled Wilfred Benitez in Puerto Rico long after Wilfred had descended into a hellish dementia.

But sixty pages pass before Land of Hope and Glory gets to a boxing gym. Hope doesn’t turn pro until page 93. And overall, the treatment of boxing is superficial. The book doesn’t explain with nuance or in depth what’s involved in being a fighter or what the business of boxing is about.

There are too many factual errors. For example, Las Vegas is described as being “in the middle of the Arizona desert.” And there’s some fuzzy math. Hope complains about an 80-79 decision that he lost to Mickey Flynn, writing, “The 80-79 decision meant Flynn won two rounds and the other six were draws.” That leads to two thoughts; (1) It’s more likely that Flynn won one round with seven rounds being called even; and (2) Since Maurice was the A-side fighter in that bout and Flynn had thirteen losses on his record, one might speculate that referee Benny Caplan (who was the sole judge) leaned over backward in Maurice’s favor and marked his scorecard “10-10” for rounds that Flynn should have won.

To his credit, Hope got out of boxing at the right time. After losing to Benitez and in his next fight to Luigi Minchillo, he retired from the ring at age thirty. He understood the risks of the trade he had chosen and now writes, “In my mind, boxing is the hardest sport out there. Once you get in the ring, you know your head’s going to hurt.”

 Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – MY MOTHER and me – is a memoir available at Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/My-Mother-Me-Thomas-Hauser/dp/1955836191/ref=sr_1_1?crid=5C0TEN4M9ZAH&keywords=thomas+hauser&qid=1707662513&sprefix=thomas+hauser%2Caps%2C80&sr=8-1

          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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Avila Perspective, Chap. 288: Jake Paul and Amanda Serrano

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No Texas this time.

Jake Paul and Amanda Serrano take their show to Florida with a new interesting cast of fighters after heavyweight legend Mike Tyson was forced to withdraw.

Paul (9-1, 6 KOs) faces bare knuckle champion Mike “King of Violence” Perry (6-0, 3 KOs) in a cruiserweight match on Saturday July 20, at Amalie Arena in Tampa. The Most Valuable Promotions event will be shown on PPV.COM and also on DAZN pay-per-view.

“I love to take risks. He’s a dangerous man,” Paul said. “Really this came about because he has a crazy fan base.”

Also, in a dangerous match, Serrano (46-2-1, 30 KOs) faces potent knockout puncher Stevie Morgan (14-1, 13 KOs) in the super lightweight class.

Both Paul and Serrano are taking risks.

It’s another interesting match devised by Paul who has a knack for piquing the interest of fight fans one way or another. This time he chose bare knuckle titlist Perry who also has loads of experience in MMA including more than a dozen UFC fights.

Perry is the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship titlist and no stranger to boxing, jujitsu or MMA. He’s known for knockout power in both hands, little defense, but a very strong chin.

“I’m doing it for me, for the fans, for BKFC, for MMA but mainly for me. I believe in myself,” said Perry at the press conference. “I’m a brawling boxing mug.”

Paul chose Perry mainly because he feels MMA or bare knuckle fighters cannot defeat him.

“You’re going to see what I do to their best fighter. This guy has no skills,” said Paul about BKFC or UFC fighters.  “You saw what I did to Nate Diaz.”

In the female fight, Serrano chose Morgan who has a large fan base in Tampa. The hometown fighter believes this is a perfect match for them both.

“I’m not being disrespectful. I’m just stating facts. Amanda has a fighting style that best suits me,” said Morgan who is slightly taller.

Serrano was dead-eyed serious about the fight and Morgan’s comments.

“I don’t pay attention to that. That doesn’t pay my bills. You’ll see Saturday night,” said Serrano. “I don’t look past any opponent.”

Several other interesting bouts are on tap including another boxer versus MMA as Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. faces Uriah Hall in a cruiserweight bout. Undefeated lightweights Ashton Sylve and Lucas Bahdi are set for 10 rounds. And female super middleweight contender Shadasia Green meets Natasha Spence in an eight-round fight.

According to Most Valuable Promotions the previously scheduled fights between Paul and Tyson and Serrano versus Katie Taylor will take place in November.

Prelims begin at 4 p.m.

Golden Boy at Fantasy Springs

Hard-hitting welterweights Alexis Rocha (24-2, 16 KOs) and Santiago Dominguez (27-0, 20 KOs) head the main event at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif. on Friday, July 19. DAZN will stream the Golden Boy Promotions card.

Santa Ana’s Rocha has faced the better-quality opposition, but Mexico’s Dominguez remains undefeated despite almost stumbling in his first fight in California last March.

Will Rocha’s experience be too much for Dominguez who won a split decision in his last fight?

Also on the card will be a number of undefeated prospects including Bryan Lua, Jorge Chavez and Grant Flores.

Nakatani

Three-division world champion Junto Nakatani (27-0, 20 KOs) defends the WBC bantamweight title against Vincent Astrolabio (19-4, 24 KOs) on Saturday, July 20, at Tokyo, Japan. ESPN+ will stream the Teiken Promotions card.

Nakatani, 26, is considered by many to be the next best Japanese fighter to Naoya Inoue. Many also consider Nakatani among the best dozen pound for pound fighters in the world.

The southpaw slugger is familiar to Southern California boxing. He trains with noted trainer Rudy Hernandez who has developed him into one of the best and most feared fighters below featherweight.

Fights to Watch

Fri. DAZN 6 p.m. Alexis Rocha (24-2) vs Santiago Dominguez (27-0)

Sat. ESPN+ 2 a.m. Junto Nakatani (27-0) vs Vincent Astrolabio (19-4).

Sat. PPV.COM and DAZN ppv 6 p.m. Jake Paul (9-1) vs Mike Perry (6-0); Amanda Serrano (46-2-1) vs Stevie Morgan (14-1).

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The Mirage Goes Dark and Another Storied Venue for Boxing Bites the Dust

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Life comes at you fast. It seems like only yesterday that I stood in a crowd of rubberneckers gawking at the artificial volcano that fronted the spanking new Mirage Hotel and Casino. After sundown, it erupted every 15 minutes, sending fireballs into the sky accompanied by a soundtrack of actual eruptions as the air was perfumed with the scent of a pina colada. In those days, late November of 1989 and beyond, the artificial volcano was Southern Nevada’s #1 tourist attraction, supplanting Hoover Dam. (The “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign at the south end of the Strip hadn’t yet become a magnet for hordes of camera-toting tourists.)

I didn’t come to the 3,044-room Polynesian-themed resort to see the volcano. I came there to see the centerpiece of the grand opening festivities, a prizefight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, the third meeting between the two gladiators. The Mirage had actually opened for business two weeks earlier, but it was a soft opening, as they say in the trade. The boxing event on Thursday, Dec. 7, 1989, was the cherry on the cake, a spectacle in every sense of the word. Celebrities were chaperoned to their ringside seats on a red carpet, mirroring the Oscars, and a mesmerizing fireworks display, better than New Years Eve, lit up the sky in the interlude between the last preliminary bout and the main event.

Leonard-Duran III was the first of 13 boxing shows at the Mirage, the last of which was staged in 1995. Thirteen isn’t many, but they included some of the biggest fights of the era, five of which – the first five – were staged under the stars in makeshift arenas built specifically for boxing. And now, with the closure of the Mirage today (July 17), another place that housed historic prizefights has dissipated into the dustbin of history.

The accoutrements were more memorable than the fight. Roberto Duran had turned back the clock in his most recent bout, unseating middleweight title-holder Iran Barkley at the Atlantic City Convention Center, but against Sugar Ray he looked older than his 38 years. Leonard was content to out-box Duran and won nearly every round. The final chapter of the Four Kings round-robin (Leonard, Duran, Marvin Hagler, and Tommy Hearns) was a dud.

Two months after the Leonard-Duran rubber match, fringe contender James “Buster” Douglas shocked the world with a 10th-round stoppage of Mike Tyson.

Tyson-Douglas was in faraway Tokyo, but the Mirage became a sidebar to the story of the fight when mischievous Jimmy Vaccaro, who ran the Mirage Race and Sports Book, just for the fun of it posted odds on the match. That gave the Mirage a monopoly as it would be the only property in the bookmaking universe to take bets on the outcome of the fight.

The betting line bounced around a little bit and at one point the odds favoring Mike Tyson stood at 42/1. This price would come to be etched in stone. “42 to 1” became the title of an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary.

It wasn’t lost on Mirage founder and chairman Steve Wynn that Buster Douglas would be the perfect poster boy for a gambling establishment. After all, Buster was the Joe Blow that knocked out Superman and won the big jackpot. Wynn’s attorneys succeeded in extricating Douglas from the clutches of Don King and he was matched against Evander Holyfield, a former cruiserweight champion who was 24-0 with the last six wins coming as a heavyweight.

Worldwide, Douglas vs. Holyfield was a much bigger attraction than Leonard-Duran III. The Mirage reportedly credentialed 1,200 members of the media, many from overseas.

In the days leading up to the fight, there were rumors that Buster Douglas had been lax in his training. Those rumors were confirmed when Douglas weighed-in at 246 pounds, 14 ½ pounds more than he had carried for Mike Tyson.

Counting the intermissions between rounds, the fight lasted a shade over nine minutes. In the third frame, Buster missed with an uppercut and Holyfield countered with an overhand right that landed on the temple. Buster fell to the canvas and made no attempt to rise as referee Mills Lane tolled the 10-count. As he lay there, picking at his nose, the scene was reminiscent of the famous photo of Jack Johnson lying on his back with his right arm shading his eyes from the sun at the conclusion of his 1915 fight with Jess Willard, a match that would always beg the question of whether Johnson was faking it.

Steve Wynn, who could be charming but was a perfectionist with a volatile temper, was livid. On the streets of Las Vegas, there was talk that Wynn had Douglas and his crew evicted from their hotel rooms even before the arena was locked down. If it were true that Buster Douglas was given the bum’s rush like some deadbeat inhabitant of a fleabag hotel, he would have been the first millionaire to experience this indignity. His purse was reportedly $24 million with $19.9 million guaranteed (roughly $40 million in today’s dollars).

Wynn partnered with promoter Bob Arum for the Leonard-Duran fight. For Douglas-Holyfield, he decided to go it alone, eliminating the middleman. By his reckoning, he had people on staff who were quite capable of getting all the moving parts to mesh into a coherent whole. But manufacturing a megafight is a complicated undertaking and Wynn would discover that he had over-reached. Plus, he had soured on boxing after two stinkers.

History would show that Steve Wynn would never again commit a large amount of money to host a prizefight. But this didn’t mark the end of boxing at the Mirage as Wynn owed Don King some dates as part of the out-of-court settlement that freed Buster Douglas from King’s grasp and a handful of promoters with lesser clout (e.g., Kathy Duva, Cedric Kushner, Dan Goossen) would anchor an occasional show there in a four-wall arrangement.

Don King’s first two Mirage promotions pit Mike Tyson against Razor Ruddock. Tyson stopped Ruddock in the seventh round on March 18, 1991. The stoppage by referee Richard Steele, which struck many as premature, sparked a wild melee in the ring between the opposing handlers. The sequel in June went the distance. Tyson copped the decision. Take away the three points that Ruddock was docked for low blows and Tyson still would have won.

King also promoted the last of the outdoor shows at the Mirage, a September 14, 1991 card topped by Julio Cesar Chavez’s super lightweight title defense against Lonnie Smith. In hindsight, this event was historically important.

Although Chavez was a massive favorite and the weather was oppressively hot, the Mexican Independence Day weekend fight attracted a larger-than-expected turnout of mostly Mexican tourists with deep pockets. In future years, many big fights in Las Vegas would be noosed to a Mexican holiday weekend. Chavez vs Smith was the ice-breaker.

In addition to Leonard, Duran, Holyfield, Tyson, and Chavez, future Hall of Famers Riddick Bowe, Jeff Fenech, Azumah Nelson, Buddy McGirt, and Michael Carbajal appeared at the Mirage. “Big Daddy” Bowe never headlined a show at the Mirage but had three fights here preceding his memorable trilogy with Evander Holyfield.

Steve Wynn divested his interest in the Mirage in 2000 and the property became part of the MGM consortium. In December of 2021, the property was purchased by the Hard Rock organization whose parent company, as it were, is the Seminole Indian tribe of Florida. The transition from the Mirage to the Hard Rock is expected to take almost three years. When the renovation is finished, the property will have a new hotel tower shaped like a giant guitar. The guitar, the symbol of the Hard Rock brand, couldn’t hold the volcano’s jockstrap, but it is what it is in the city that constantly reinvents itself.

Back when the Mirage opened, the charismatic Steve Wynn was the most admired man in town. An innovator and a true visionary, Wynn melded the sensibilities of Walt Disney and Bugsy Siegel and changed the face of the Las Vegas Strip. Wynn still has a large footprint in Las Vegas reflected in two look-alike five star hotel-casinos, the Wynn and the Encore, but, incredibly, he is now persona non grata in the city that once worshiped him. His fall from grace is not a proper subject for this website. Suffice it to say that Wynn, now 82, was quite the philanderer in his younger days and his recklessness caught up with him.

Yes, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since that magical night almost 35 years ago when Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran formally christened the newest and brightest jewel on the Las Vegas landscape. Those were the days, my friend, and for some of us it seemed like only yesterday.

A recognized authority on the history of prizefighting and the history of American sports gambling, TSS editor-in-chief Arne K. Lang is the author of five books including “Prizefighting: An American History,” released by McFarland in 2008 and re-released in a paperback edition in 2020.

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