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The Year 1976 Was The Ultimate Boxing Convergence

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On March 24th 1975, Muhammad Ali made the first defense of his undisputed heavyweight title against 6-5, 230 pound journeyman Chuck Wepner. Five months earlier Ali won the title for the second time by knocking out undefeated George Foreman in the eighth round. Wepner (30-9-2) was a tough guy but certainly wasn’t expected to give Ali (45-2) much trouble as the 10-1 odds against him indicated. Well, Wepner’s awkwardness and rabbit punching bothered Ali, and in the ninth round he scored a flash knockdown of Ali. Ali dominated the fight after that, finally finishing Wepner at 2:41 of the 15th round. Wepner’s inspired performance struck a nerve with an unknown struggling actor named Sylvester Stallone who was watching the fight on closed circuit in a Los Angeles theater. When Stallone got home that night he wrote a script for a movie about a down-and-out heavyweight fighter and titled it “Rocky.” More on that later.

By January of 1976, Ali had made four successful defenses of the title he won from George Foreman in October of 1974. Ali’s popularity was soaring at this time and boxing was on network television almost every weekend. On Saturday afternoon, January 24, 1976, Foreman fought on ABC Wide World of sports for the first time since losing his undefeated record and title to Ali. Foreman’s opponent, Ron Lyle, was another big heavyweight who could really punch with both hands. Eight months earlier Lyle had been stopped by Ali in the 11th round in the only title shot of his career. Both Foreman (40-1) and Lyle (31-3-1) viewed their fight as a crossroad bout; in order for either of them to get another shot at Ali and the title, they had to win. Prior to fighting Ali, Foreman intimidated his opponents and usually had their heart before he threw a single punch. However, Ron Lyle didn’t scare easily and looked Foreman directly in the eye at center ring with sheer disdain during the referee’s final instructions. As expected, the fight was a dockside brawl.

During the first round, Lyle, who was boxing in retreat, shook Foreman right at the bell to end the round. Foreman came on strong in the second round and shook Lyle real good despite the round only being two minutes long. In the third round Foreman and Lyle exchanged bombs but neither could put much hurt on the other. However, Foreman looked to be the more tired of the two. Early in the fourth round Lyle dropped Foreman with a left-hook-right hand combination and looked to be gaining the upper hand. But as Howard Cosell said during his call of the fight, Foreman struck back and dropped Lyle with a chopping right hand.

Lyle beat the count and with a minute to go in the round Foreman tried to finish him. George had Lyle against the ropes and was pot-shooting him with jabs, right hands and left hooks with Lyle only punching back sporadically. Then Lyle came back out of nowhere and staggered Foreman with short left hooks and right hands, and then dropped him face first with a right hand. Foreman struggled to beat the count and staggered back to his corner as the bell sounded to end the round. Early in the fifth Lyle staggered Foreman and just when it looked as if Ron was going to finally put him away, Foreman exploded with a barrage of hay-maker hooks and right hands, battering Lyle into a ring corner and unloading on him. Lyle crumbled to the canvas and there was no need for the referee to count because he was out.

Foreman-Lyle 40 years later is still remembered as one of the most exciting bouts ever. Everyone remembers where they were when they watched it and it was instrumental in starting off 1976 as a banner year in boxing.

Three months later Ali defended his title on ABC the night before the Kentucky Derby. His opponent was third ranked Jimmy Young out of Philadelphia. The fight was a stinker and after 15 rounds Ali retained the title via a controversial unanimous decision. However, between the pre-fight, the bout itself and the post-fight, America was entertained by Muhammad Ali for over two hours on network television on the last Friday night in April of 1976.

Two and a half months after Ali defeated Jimmy Young, the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Montreal began. The 1976 summer games saw the birth of superstar competitors the likes of decathlete Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner and gymnast Nadia Comaneci. During the 1970s, boxing was one of the marque events during the summer games. At that time boxing was on TV every weekend, or so it seemed. Muhammad Ali was the most recognized person in the world and it just so happened that the United States Olympic boxing team was pretty stout.

During the last two weeks of July 1976, the American boxing team medaled in seven of 11 weight classes. Five of those medals were gold, won by flyweight Leo Randolph, lightweight Howard Davis, light welterweight Sugar Ray Leonard, middleweight Michael Spinks and light heavyweight Leon Spinks. To go along with them, bantamweight Charles Mooney captured a Silver and heavyweight John Tate won a Bronze.

Six of those Olympians (Mooney never turned pro) became household names and began fighting on network television on the weekends starting in early 1977. Sugar Ray Leonard and Michael Spinks went on to become all-time greats at welterweight and light heavyweight. Leo Randolph and John Tate won world titles at super Bantamweight and heavyweight, and less than two years after the games, Leon Spinks upset Muhammad Ali for the undisputed heavyweight title and then lost it back to him six months later. Howard Davis, who was voted the outstanding boxer at the games, failed in three attempts to win the lightweight title as a pro.

On November 21, 1976 the movie “Rocky” premiered in New York City. Sylvester Stallone played the character of Rocky Balboa. In the role inspired by Chuck Wepner, Balboa gets a shot at heavyweight champ and Muhammad Ali clone, Apollo Creed. Like Ali in early 1975, Creed was looking for an easy payday with some sort of a Disney theme for the bout. Prior to the Creed-Balboa fight, former champ Joe Frazier makes a cameo and interacts with Creed in the manner he used to with Ali. And like Wepner, Balboa makes it to the 15th round but instead of being stopped, Rocky loses a split decision. Rocky received ten Oscar nominations in nine categories at the 49th Academy Awards and won best picture.

There has never been a better year in boxing than 1976 where the right things all converged for the final generation in which boxing remained a first-tier sport. Think about all of that. The most popular and most recognized fighter in history, Muhammad Ali, hovering over great fights and great fighters on TV almost every weekend, during an Olympic year with the U.S. team that produced two all-time greats winning five gold medals, followed by the November release of perhaps the most iconic boxing movie ever.

These events brought scores of new fans to boxing and we’ll likely never see anything like the year 1976 again! What a year it was, and the resurgence it ignited in the sport was something boxing rode through the late 1990s.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 284: Tyson Fury, Oleksandr Usyk, and Much More

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 284: Tyson Fury, Oleksandr Usyk, and Much More

Argue all you want about the appeal of other sports, only boxing grabs fans on all levels and stratum.

It’s the oldest sport that has an international swag that only the World Cup can rival once every four years. Boxing has it every year.

Heavyweights take the forefront in Saudi Arabia while lightweights battle in Southern California. It’s an all-day affair pitting champions from all parts of the world.

Tyson Fury (34-0-1, 24 KOs), the WBC and lineal heavyweight champion, finally meets Oleksandr Usyk (21-0, 15 KOs) who holds the IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles on Saturday, May 18, at Riyadh. DAZN ppv, ESPN ppv, and PPV.Com will stream the massive fight card at 9 a.m. PT/ 12 p.m. ET.

It’s a rare opportunity to decide who truly is the “baddest man on the planet.” Ever since the emergence of the alphabet titles, few know the name of the heavyweight champion. Not since Mike Tyson ruled the prize ring could fans tell you the name of the champ.

Some people still think Tyson is the heavyweight champ.

Now we have England’s “Gypsy King” Fury ready to prove that he indeed is the biggest and baddest of all the heavyweights in the world. He’s got his dad head-butting people to prove it.

“I predict that somebody’s ‘0’ has got to go. And it’s going to be that team over there, unfortunately for them,” said Tyson Fury who at six-feet, nine-inches tall towers over most opponents.

Facing Fury is Usyk, the Ukrainian fighter who twice defeated Anthony Joshua for several versions of the heavyweight championship.

Though several inches shorter and much lighter in weight, Usyk has displayed mobility and agility that allows him to dart in and out of danger. Will this tactic work against Fury?

“I have a plan. It’s a better plan. And it’s a great plan,” said Usyk. “I will have the opportunity to become undisputed for a second time.”

Of course, size doesn’t always matter when it comes to heavyweights. History has taught us the bigger man doesn’t always win. From Jack Dempsey whipping Jess Willard to Joe Frazier beating Buster Mathis, size doesn’t dictate the winner when it comes to heavyweights.

Top Rank’s Bob Arum summed up the importance of this heavyweight clash.

“After this fight, there is one ‘Baddest Man on the Planet,’ the undisputed heavyweight champion. That means everything in the sport of boxing. That means everything for fans who love boxing,” said Arum.

Two other world titles fights are also planned.

IBF super featherweight titlist Joe Cordina (17-0, 9 KOs) defends against Anthony Cacace (21-1, 7 KOs).

Cordina was seen in Santa Monica, California sparring various super featherweights in preparation for this match. His last match against Texan Edwin Vazquez was a squeaker but you can never tell what the Welsh fighter will do.

Who can forget his two-round demolition of Japan’s Kenichi Ogawa?

Cruiserweights also battle. IBF titlist Jai Opetaia (24-0, 19 KOs) of Australia defends against Latvia’s Mairis Briedis (28-2, 20 KOs). This is a rematch. They fought two years ago with Opetaia winning by decision in Australia. Can Opetaia do it again in neutral territory?

PPV.Com

Headlining the PPV.COM announcing crew for the Fury-Usyk card will be Dan Canobbio, Chris Algieri and Kevin Iole. They will be commentating and also discussing the fight via text on social media.

It’s been almost a year since this this style of reporting was adopted. Fans like the opportunity to discuss the fight with the experts.

San Diego Fights

Three-division world champion Emanuel Navarrete (38-1-1, 31 KOs) attempts to become a four-division world champion when he meets Ukraine’s Denys Berinchyk (18-0, 9 KOs) for the vacant WBO lightweight title on Saturday, May 18, at Pechanga Arena in San Diego, Calif. ESPN will televise.

The Mexican fighter known as “El Vaquero” seeks to become the sixth Mexican fighter with four division world titles and join the prestigious elite. Among those accomplishing the feat are Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, Juan Manuel Marquez, Erik Morales, Jorge Arce and Leo Santa Cruz.

Navarrete barely survived his last fight with a majority draw against Robson Conceicao last November in Las Vegas. Perhaps the extra five pounds will help?

On the co-main event welterweight contender Giovani Santillan (32-0, 17 KOs) of San Diego returns home to face Georgia’s Brian Norman (25-0, 19 KOs) for the interim WBO welterweight title.

Santillan, 32, is coming off a big knockout win over Alexis Rocha last year. The southpaw has always stepped up when bigger and better competition confronts him. Can he do it again?

Norman, 23, is a hard-hitting welterweight who fought 16 times in his first two years. Many of those fights took place in Mexico. It’s a big test for him.

East L.A. Fights

Super featherweights Dariial Kuchmenov (7-0) and Daniel Lugo (5-2) meet Saturday May 18, at Salesian High School in East Los Angeles. The Elite Boxing USA promotions card begins at 6 p.m. The card features several other bouts including female fighter Mayra Ruiz.

For tickets go to www.tix.com/ticket-sales/eliteboxing/7

18th & Grand Exhibit

The final day to visit the “18th & Grand” exhibit takes place on Sunday May 19, at La Plaza De Cultura Y Artes located at 501 N. Main Street in downtown Los Angeles 90012. The exhibit is free.

Inside you will find photos and art of the Olympic Auditorium that was the center of boxing, wrestling, roller derby, and rock concerts for decades.

For boxing fans, its where the sport showcased the likes of Henry Armstrong, Baby Arizmendi, Art Aragon, Jerry Quarry, Mando Ramos, Scrap Iron Johnson, Art Hafey, and many others.

The exhibit is free of charge.

Jake Paul vs Mike Tyson

Tickets went on sale this week for the return of Iron Mike Tyson who will face Jake Paul in a heavyweight match commissioned as an actual fight.

Most Valuable Promotions will stage Tyson versus Paul along with the rematch between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano on July 20, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Netflix will stream the card live.

A number of other bouts are planned for the mega event.

Paul’s first actual boxing match took place when Tyson fought Roy Jones Jr. in Los Angeles several years ago.

“I started Jake off and I’m gonna finish him,” promised Tyson when they fight.

Paul said he respects Tyson like family.

“I love you like a father loves his son, but I must discipline you. You’re going down, man,” said Paul.

Fights to Watch

Sat. PPV.COM 9 a.m. Tyson Fury (34-0-1) vs Oleksandr Usyk (21-0).

Sat. ESPN, 7:30 p.m. Emanuel Navarrete (38-1-1) vs Denys Berinchyk (18-0).

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At Long Last: Marvelous Marvin Hagler to Finally Get His Statue in the ‘City of Champions’

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At Long Last: Marvelous Marvin Hagler to Finally Get His Statue in the ‘City of Champions’

Not much good news comes out of Brockton, Massachusetts these days but I’ve got some.

Former undisputed middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler will be posthumously honored in the city he helped keep on the boxing map with a life-sized bronze statue produced by Brodin Studios in Kimball, Minnesota. The statue of Hagler, “in an action stance” will be unveiled on June 13th at a small space near to where the old Petronelli Gym was once located.

According to Hagler’s widow Kay, the space is now called the Marvelous Marvin Hagler Park.

That date, June 13, 2024 will be on the 43-year anniversary of Hagler’s 1981 rematch with Vito Antuofermo at the Boston Garden. As the new champion, Hagler was making the second defense of the world title he won in 1980 from Alan Minter. Hagler’s first shot at the title came in 1979 against Antuofermo in Las Vegas and was ruled a draw. The rematch was a mismatch.

The unveiling, scheduled for Thursday June 13 at 11 am, will also fall on the 31-year anniversary of Hagler’s 1993 induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY. Will thousands show up to celebrate like they did when another Brockton boxer was remembered?

Back in 2012, when a 22-foot-tall Rocky Marciano statue was put up by the WBC, many asked why Hagler didn’t also have a statue in Brockton and would he ever get one? The answer is yes.

Somebody finally did something for Hagler. Before he died in 2023, longtime Marciano family friend Charlie Tartaglia told me the reason he put up a bronze plaque for Hagler at Massasoit College with his own money was because as he put it, “Nobody ever did nothin’ for Hagler.”

Brockton state representative Gerry Cassidy secured the $150,000 needed from the state to build and maintain the long overdue statue in tribute to Hagler who died in 2021 at the age of 66.

Hagler’s new sculpture will be on display approximately two miles away from Rocky’s. It won’t be as tall as Marciano’s towering memorial but that’s fine, Rocky was a heavyweight while Marvin was a middleweight.

“This testament to a true hometown sports and community icon will be a permanent monument to one of the greatest champions from our ‘City of Champions,’” said Brockton Mayor Robert F. Sullivan in a public statement announcing the marvelous news.

The legendary physique of Hagler in his prime is befitting of a likeness commemorating it. Somebody on Facebook wrote, “I guarantee his jaw and muscles were stronger than his statue is going to be.” Another Facebooker wrote, “A fitting tribute to a boxing great gone too soon.”

Hagler reigned as middleweight champion of the world from 1980 to 1987 and during this time he carved out a reputation as one of the greatest middleweight champions in the history of boxing. Hagler was a member of the “Four Kings” which also included Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns and Roberto Duran. Hagler beat Duran and Hearns but lost to Leonard.

One of the reasons it took so long for Hagler to be honored in this way is that despite his greatness in the boxing ring, Hagler had another reputation in Brockton and that was as somebody with the capacity for violence against women, most notably his ex-wife Bertha.

Domestic incidents between the pair were common and in her complaint against Hagler, Bertha alleged that she lived in fear of Marvin; that he put his hands on her and threw a large rock at her car. Regardless of all this, Brocktonians are happy and excited to see Hagler and his surviving family finally get what’s coming to him even if it will come three years after Hagler passed away.

Still, not everyone in the City of Champions is so pleased with the planned placement of the new statue. As mentioned, the Hagler memorial will be located a couple miles away from Marciano’s.

“Hagler’s statue belongs at Brockton High School,” says Mark Casieri, owner and caretaker of Rocky Marciano’s childhood home located at 168 Dover Street. Casieri knows a thing or two about Brockton boxing. “It belongs there alongside Rocky’s statue so that the youth coming up through the school system are able to know the sports heroes that came out of Brockton.”

Brockton High School has been in the news recently but for all the wrong reasons. Violence and debauchery at the high school has gotten so bad that politicians considered bringing in military units of the National Guard to quell the unprecedented unrest. It’s ironic but Brockton has become like Newark, NJ, the city that Hagler’s mother moved him away from to protect him.

As a young middleweight just starting out as a professional fighter, Hagler fought nine of his early bouts at the Brockton High School gym including his pro debut against Terry Ryan in 1973.

For the record, I reached out to Brodin Studios for some information about the statue (its official height and weight? What fight is the action stance from?) but they are playing it very close to the chest, saying only what an honor it was to build it for Hagler and the entire Brockton community.

The Marvelous One is finally getting his statue in the City of Champions. Better late than never.

Photo insert: Marvin Marvin and Vito Antuofermo (undated; circa 2010)

*** Boxing Writer Jeffrey Freeman grew up in the City of Champions, Brockton, Massachusetts from 1973 to 1987, during the Marvelous career of Marvin Hagler. JFree then lived in Lowell, Mass during the best years of Irish Micky Ward’s illustrious career. A former member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a Bernie Award Winner in the Category of Feature Story Under 1500 Words, Freeman Covers Boxing for the Sweet Science in New England.

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Fury vs. Usyk: Who Wins and Why? – The Official TSS Prediction Page

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The heavyweight division, it has been said, is the engine that drives the sport of boxing. By this measure, Saturday’s match in Saudi Arabia between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk is the most important fight in decades.

Whenever a very big fight comes down the pike – assuming the odds are not too lopsided – we call upon our fine community of wordsmiths to get their thoughts. The participants in the poll are listed alphabetically.

Simply put size matters. Usyk has never fought anyone that weighed more than 225 pounds and given Fury’s recent history it seems safe to assume he should tip the scales north of 260. Eleven years ago, Fury fought another former cruiserweight champion in Steve Cunningham. Cunningham’s speed gave Fury problems early and Fury was even knocked down. But Fury used his size and weight to lean on Cunningham draining him of all his energy. Eventually a badly fatigued Cunningham was knocked out by Fury. I see something happening when Fury faces Usyk. Usyk has success early and maybe even scores a knockdown or two. But Fury leans on Usyk and uses that weight advantage to slowly wear down the smaller man. FURY TKO 10. – MATT ANDRZEJEWSKI

After a lackluster and controversial split decision win over Francis Ngannou, Fury looks fit as a fiddle and should handle the six-inch shorter Usyk by keeping his distance and landing more than enough big blows. In a fight filled with drama and excitement, it’s FURY by unanimous decision. – RICK ASSAD

Fury’s jab and straight right vs. Usyk’s straight left and right hook (think Cotto vs. Pacquiao), whichever two-punch combination is more effective will decide who controls the range and pace. I believe Usyk’s straight left along with his southpaw stance and movement will give Fury trouble, but Usyk doesn’t attack like other smaller heavyweights to the body (i.e. Tyson/Frazier). Like Lomachenko, he uses his footwork to get inside, which will give him enough moments to make a focused and in-shape Fury take it to another level. Fury also isn’t a big body puncher, but he will use his size to lean on Usyk after he lands clean shots to wear Usyk down and gain control of the fight. FURY by decision. – LUIS CORTES III

Oleksandr Usyk is a good little man but he’s in way over his head against a well-trained Tyson Fury who looks to be treating this fight with the respect it deserves. Usyk will puzzle Fury for a few rounds but once Tyson makes his adjustments, he will bring his superior size and power to bear on the smaller fighter, wearing him out to the body and grinding him down late. I pick FURY by TKO in the championship rounds. Usyk will be on his feet when the fight is stopped but nobody will be crying foul about it. – JEFFREY FREEMAN

FURY by stoppage late. He’ll be in condition this time (unlike the Ngannou debacle). And an in-shape Fury boxes well enough and is too big and strong for Usyk to deal with. – THOMAS HAUSER

There’s always a chance that a fight will be stopped on cuts. Of the two, the Gypsy King would seem to be more prone to this unfortunate happenstance. He overcame a terrible gash over his right eye to upend Swedish southpaw Otto Wallin and it was a cut over his right eye during a sparring session – a cut that reportedly required extensive stitching — that pushed back this fight from its originally scheduled date of Feb. 17. Since this fight has a rematch clause, the ring physician may feel less pressure to allow the fight to continue against his better judgment if it boils down to this. Regardless, USYK has lost fewer rounds as a pro and it’s easy to envision the Ukrainian banking enough rounds to stave off a late rally by Fury to cop the decision. – ARNE LANG

A lot of ink has been shed on the cut Tyson Fury suffered in sparring causing a postponement of this fight to this coming Saturday; it’s Tyson Fury’s elbows that interest me though. Fury fought in terrible pain in his third contest against Deontay Wilder in 2021, taking cortisone injections in both elbows prior to this fight. Wilder actually outjabbed Fury early and Fury threw three or fewer jabs in seven of the eleven rounds. Since, he has been inactive (only three fights since his late 2021 defeat of Wilder), unimpressive (especially against novice Francis Ngannou last year) and irrelevant (the world needed Chisora III like it needs more inflation). In short, this fight, which once seemed so clear cut to me, will now be decided by intangibles. Fury looks sleek, I’m interested to see his weight. Over 265lbs and he’s struggling to get the jab working and will be here to maul a fleet-footed Usyk. Under and he thinks his elbows are right and he will look to control the smaller man with his range.  Based on the videos team Fury have been releasing, I’ll go for Fury to dominate until his stamina starts to slide at which point, Usyk will take over – I think that will be late enough for Fury to get home with a decision win.  But nothing would surprise me now. – MATT McGRAIN

Since his high profile wins over Deontay Wilder, madhatter Tyson Fury has carried himself like a dilettante (admittedly, not the first time he has been guilty of that charge in his erratic career) and the effects showed last year against Francis Ngannou, a boxing newbie who nearly (and risibly) secured a place in prizefighting lore next to Buster Douglas. Fury will find his usual advantages—size, footwork, counter punching—negated by Oleksandr Usyk, who, despite being a converted cruiserweight, has proven he can not only outthink his opponents but outwork them as well. USYK via Split Decision – SEAN NAM

FURY uses size alone for a UD 12, with little drama barring a cut. Unless the distractions of Fury’s celebrity lifestyle have eroded his mauling focus (the wake-up call against Ngannou probably remedied that), I can’t see how Usyk can win this though he’s proved me wrong before. Fury’s mobility makes it very doubtful Usyk will be able to get in and out unscathed to score like he did against Joshua or Dubois, and even more unlikely he can outgun Fury toe to toe. Still, Usyk has perfected his southpaw style into a puzzle nobody has solved yet so Fury might have some early problems. — PHIL WOOLEVER

Editor’s Note: It’s a fair guess that Fury vs. Usyk will be the most heavily bet fight of all time, surpassing Mayweather-Pacquiao. As a rule, fights in the “pick-‘em” range attract the most action. At mid-week, although the action was tilting toward Fury, “11/10 and take your pick” was still readily available. In fact, at some houses, the action is so well-balanced that the operator reduced his vigorish (i.e., the house commission assuming balanced action), going from a 20-cent to a 10-cent line, confident that he could not lose.

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