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Boxers and Motorcycles: Fatal Attraction

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By BERNARD FERNANDEZ

They are, or were, superbly conditioned athletes, adept at moving quickly, hitting hard and taking risks. For some, the risk-taking part is merely an occupational hazard, part of a job description that by definition entails some degree of personal peril. For others, those who know the exhilaration of staring into the face of disaster and making it blink, it might be easy to feel as if they are indestructible, somehow impervious to the possibility of instant tragedy. Courting danger, conquering one’s fear in the process, can almost be an aphrodisiac. Hurtling down a highway at a high rate of speed provides the kind of rush that not even participation in the most physically challenging of sports can furnish.

Boxers and motorcycles have always gone together, like a right cross off a left jab. But there is often a high price to be paid for the attraction certain fighters have for land rockets that offer them scant protection from the kind of horrific collisions that make bikers 25 times more likely to suffer death or serious injury than those involved in car crashes.

All of which makes former two-time world champion Paul “The Punisher” Williams one of those fortunate enough to have been involved in such a motorcycle accident and live to tell about it. Just a week after signing for an HBO Pay Per View fight with Canelo Alvarez that, had he won, might have made him incredibly rich and a certifiable superstar, Williams was in Atlanta, where he was to serve as best man at his brother Leon’s wedding. The date was May 27, 2012.

But Williams, who was more accustomed to dishing out punishment than receiving it in the ring, never made it to the nuptials. Driving a modified Suzuki 1300 Hayabusa, a recent gift to himself, Williams was going too fast (an estimated 75 mph) when he swerved up a steep roadside embankment to avoid a collision and was catapulted 60 feet into the air. His body landed with such force that his spinal cord was severely damaged, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Williams was later told by workers at Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, Ga., where he arrived by ambulance, that there had been three motorcycle accidents in the Atlanta metropolitan area that weekend, and that he was the only rider among them who had survived.

Initially clinging to the hope that he could be rehabilitated to a point where he could resume his boxing career, Williams understandably slipped into periods of depression when it became obvious that he would forever be confined to a wheelchair. But the Aiken, S.C., native is an optimist by nature, and he makes his much-anticipated return to the fight game, as a trainer, on Friday night at the Buffalo Run Casino in Miami, Okla., when his protégé, super welterweight Justin DeLoach (13-1, 7 KOs), takes on Dillon Cook (16-0, 6 KOs) in the opening eight-round bout of a ShoBox: The New Generation quadrupleheader, the 10-round main event of which pits super lightweight knockout artist Regis “Rolugarou” Prograis (16-0, 13 KOs) against Aaron “The Jewel” Herrera (29-4-1, 18 KOs).

“What’s happened has happened,” Williams said of his altered circumstances. “It is what it is. This is my first time stepping back into the world. I love boxing.

“What I don’t want to see is a fighter getting hurt. This is a hard sport. I know when I was in there I was always going for broke. But I want Justin – all fighters, actually – to come out of the ring the same way they came in. Win or lose, I don’t want to see anybody get hurt.”

But despite his fervent hope that those in his potentially damaging profession remain safe inside the ropes, there is a part of “The Punisher” that will always regret that he can never again know the joy of taking to the open road on his supercharged motorcycle and feeling the wind in his face. Like the character played by Tom Cruise in Top Gun, he wistfully still feels the need for speed, like other adrenaline junkies who weigh the benefits of that feeling of freedom against the sobering statistics and decide that the risk is worth taking.

“There’s nothing like being on a bike and it’s just you and the road,” Williams told writer Jason Langendorf of Vice Sports for an article that was posted in January 2015, 32 months after the accident that forever changed his life. “Peaceful. That was some of the best time, clearing my head. The fun. It’s a whole different world.

“Of course, you’ve got people who say, `Oh, he’s stupid. He should’ve never got on that bike.’ Hey, you know me. I don’t have no regrets. I don’t mean to be selfish, but if I had my legs again, I’d bike to the house right now.”

The allure of motorcycles to the adventurous and those who reject conformity is, of course, a matter of long-standing. The silver screen has romanticized the image of the biker as rebel. Think of a leather-jacketed Marlon Brandon in The Wild One, Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, Cruise as hotshot jet fighter pilot “Maverick” in Top Gun. It is one of the reasons milquetoast CPAs and librarians in Las Vegas pack the Harley-Davidson apparel store on the Strip, loading up on cool-looking gear, whether or not they actually ride bikes, that allows them to channel their inner Brando. It is also the reason thousands of spectators were drawn to the daredevil antics of the late Evel Knievel, who used to jump his chopper over long rows of parked buses and 18-wheelers. Sometimes he even made it all the way over. And when he didn’t … well, seeing him bounce off pavement like a rag doll on failed attempts was part of the show, too. We could not turn away because the constant possibility of death or grievous injury was as much of a reason for watching as Knievel’s chances for actually pulling off feats that seemed nearly impossible.

Williams is hardly the first fighter or noted athlete to have risked so much on a motorcycle, and lost, nor will he be the last. Perhaps the most notable example in recent years is former IBF super featherweight and WBC lightweight champion Diego “Chico” Corrales, winner of perhaps the most spectacularly action-packed fight of the 21st century, on May 7, 2005, at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay, in which he somehow rallied from two 10th-round knockdowns at the hands of Jose Luis Castillo to win by a stoppage in the very round in which he appeared to be all but finished.

“You can vote now,” Gary Shaw, Corrales’ promoter, excitedly said at the postfight press conference after his guy had staged the comeback to end all comebacks. “This is Fight of the Year, Fight of Next Year, Fight of the Decade. I don’t believe you’ll ever see anything like this again.”

Added Joe Goossen, Corrales’ trainer: “In my 35 years (in boxing), that was the greatest fight I’ve ever seen.”

Exactly two years to the day after registering the victory that forever shall be the cornerstone of his boxing legacy, Corrales died on a Las Vegas highway when the 29-year-old, depressed over a downturn in his fistic fortunes and aboard his newly purchased racing bike, ran into the back of a car and was then struck by another from behind. Corrales – who police said had been “traveling at a high rate of speed,” estimated at 100 mph – was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of one of the two cars involved sustained minor injuries.

“The guy was a true warrior. Simply by the way he fought he should be in the (International Boxing) Hall of Fame,” a somber Shaw said of Corrales, a father of five, who left behind a wife who was six months pregnant. “Believe me, if he could’ve got off that cold pavement, he would.”

Ironically, Corrales had discussed his motorcycle riding the previous summer in a Las Vegas Review-Journal story.

“I’m only young once and, unless someone hasn’t told me something yet, I only get to live once,” he said. “If I couldn’t do this stuff now, stuff I always wanted to do, I would never get a chance to do it.”

Corrales’ cautionary tale is very similar to that of heavyweight Young Stribling, a 1996 inductee into the IBHOF who posted a 224-13-14 record, with 129 victories inside the distance, in a career that spanned from 1921 to ’33. Sometimes criticized for being overly cautious in the ring, Stribling was famously reckless outside of it. He was obsessed at traveling at breakneck speeds, whether it was behind the wheel of a car or on a motorcycle. But it was on his bike that Stribling’s life was cut short, at 28, when he was involved in a terrible crash that left him with internal injuries that ultimately proved fatal. He was rushed to a hospital in Macon, Ga., where he died on Oct. 3, 1933.

The list of fighters killed or seriously injured in motorcycle-related accidents has continued to mount. Former WBO light heavyweight champion Julio Cesar Gonzalez, 35, was killed in a motorbike accident in Mexico on March 10, 2012, following a hit-and-run involving a drunk driver. Australian women’s amateur titlist Donna Pepper was 30 when she died in a crash on Feb. 13, 2012, in Cambodia while on a five-month Asian holiday. Former WBC super middleweight champ Anthony Dirrell, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2006, not only overcame cancer but a 2012 motorcycle crash that resulted in a broken leg and a four-hour surgical procedure to repair the damage. Dirrell again was able to resume his career and is set to take on Caleb Truax on April 29 at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.

The Philadelphia metropolitan area has been especially hard-hit by fatal incidents involving fighters on motorcycles. Middleweight contender James “Black Gold” Shuler was only 26 when, on March 20, 1986, his red Kawasaki collided with a tractor-trailer and he died at the scene. Undefeated light heavyweight prospect Andre “Thee” Prophet – who will be posthumously inducted into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame on May 15 was even younger, 20, when he and a woman companion, 19-year-old Tres Kelly, both succumbed from massive injuries suffered on Aug. 13, 1988, when the borrowed bike Prophet was driving was struck by a hit-and-run driver. Former super middleweight contender Tony “The Punching Postman” Thornton, of Glassboro, N.J., who fought three times for world titles with losses to Chris Eubank, James Toney and Roy Jones Jr., was retired and 49 when he died on Sept. 10, 2009, 11 days after he was involved in a bad collision.

But boxing is not the only sport, or occupation, that has lost members to motorcycle accidents. Baltimore Ravens cornerback Tray Walker, 23, died on March 18 of this year, the day after he was critically injured in a dirt bike crash in Liberty City, Fla. Other famous people who met their end on cycles include T.E. Lawrence, better known as “Lawrence of Arabia,” rock star Duane Allman and 69-year-old retired astronaut Pete Conrad, the third person to walk on the moon.

It should be stipulated here that hundreds of thousands of individuals drive or ride safely on motorcycles, which can be legally operated in every state and throughout the world. There also are no laws prohibiting usage of tobacco products and alcoholic beverages by those who meet age requirements, or for those who choose to join the military, skydive, swim in the ocean with sharks and barracudas or bungee-jump off high bridges. Acceptance of risk is a part of everyday life, and there can be no faulting those who voluntarily enter the danger zone if they are cognizant of the possible consequences.

The chips always fall where they may.

“I know I can’t change time, but I do think about that day (of his accident),” said Williams in an interview with Joseph Santoliquito of The Ring magazine in January 2015. “What if I was going a little slower? What if that car in front of me wasn’t there? There’s a million of the, all of those `What ifs.’ I’ve seen both worlds, being a world champion and now being paralyzed.

“If I could change time, I would. But I can’t, so I have to deal with it. If I wasn’t able to deal with it, I probably would have committed suicide by now or would be angry and depressed all of the time.

“I have my bad days and my good days. I do feel there are two sides of me: who I was and who I am. I had all this money, all this fame, I was on top of the world. Everyone loved me.”

Williams received the Bill Crawford Award for Courage in Overcoming Adversity at the 89th annual Boxing Writers Association of America Awards Dinner in Las Vegas in 2014, at which time he received a standing ovation and the realization that, while he had lost so much, he had not lost everything.

 

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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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A Conversation with Legendary Phoenix Boxing Writer Norm Frauenheim

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It seems all along that Norm Frauenheim was destined to become a boxing writer.

Two critical elements were at play that led the 75-year-old scribe to that profession.

“I was always interested in boxing, even as a kid,” said Frauenheim who spent 31 years with the Arizona Republic beginning in 1977. “I’m an Army brat. I was born in January 1949 on a base, Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, a city I didn’t really see until I hit the NBA road covering the [Phoenix] Suns for more than a decade starting in 1979-80.”

Frauenheim, a longtime correspondent for The Ring magazine who writes for various boxing sites such as boxingscene.com and 15rounds.com, added more background: “One of the many places I lived was Schofield Barracks on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu from 1962 to 1966,” he continued. “I delivered The Stars & Stripes to troops with the 25th Infantry Division, which was headed to Vietnam, along with my dad.

“Anyway, boxing and Schofield have long been linked, mostly because of a novel and film, ‘From Here to Eternity’ (the James Jones novel starring Frank Sinatra on the big screen). The troops were still boxing, outdoors, at the barracks along my newspaper route. I was 13 to 17 years old. I’d stop, watch and get interested. I’ve been interested ever since.”

Frauenheim added: “From there, my father and family shipped to Fort Sheridan, then a base north of Chicago where I spent one year and graduated from high school “Then my dad went back to Vietnam and I went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville (1967 through 1971) and graduated with a major in history. I was also a competitive swimmer, pre-Title IX.

“Competitive swimming is also at the roots of my sportswriting career. I was frustrated that Vanderbilt’s student newspaper didn’t cover us. I offered to do it. The newspaper agreed. I don’t swim as well as I used to. I look at a surfboard and look at the waves I used to take on and wondered what in the hell I was doing. It’s a lot safer to be at ringside.”

After a more than five-decade stint covering boxing, Frauenheim is glad that the manly sport is still around but with more outside competition.

“It’s surely not the [Muhammad] Ali era. It’s not the Golden 80s, either. It’s a fractured business in a world with more and more options for sports fans. MMA is just one example,” he said. “Boxing is not dying. It has been declared dead, ad nauseam. I read the inevitable obits and think of an old line: Boxing has climbed out of more coffins than Count Dracula.

“Still, the sport has been pushed to the fringe of public interest. But it’s been there before. Resiliency is one of its strongest qualities. It’ll be around, always reinventing itself.”

In some respects, boxing, like the other sports, has always been dependent on rivalries like the NBA’s Celtics versus Lakers, which drives the public’s interest and storylines.

“[Larry] Bird-Magic [Johnson] was basketball’s Ali-[Joe] Frazier,” Frauenheim says. “It transformed the league, setting the stage for Michael Jordan. It can happen again, in boxing or any other sport.”

Boxing is still the same but with tweaks here and there.

“When I started, championship bouts were 15 rounds instead of 12,” said Frauenheim who began his journalism career in 1970 at the Tallahassee Democrat and worked at the Jacksonville Journal before being lured in Phoenix. “There were morning weigh-ins instead of the day-before promotional show. There was also a lot more media. A big fight in Vegas meant all of the big media people were there. The last time that happened was Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2015, a fight that failed to meet expectations and I think eroded much of the big media’s appetite for more,” continued Frauenheim whose byline has appeared in USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

Mexican legend Saul Alvarez is still a major draw, but there are others on the horizon who are ready to step in and take over like the undefeated super middleweight David Benavidez.

“The clock is ticking on Canelo’s career, and I think he knows it. At this point, it’s about risk-reward. The 27-year-old Benavidez is too big a risk. Canelo, I think, looks at Benavidez and thinks he’ll beat him. I don’t think he would,” Frauenheim noted. “Benavidez is too big, has a mean streak and possesses a rare extra gear. He gets stronger in the late rounds.

“Even if Canelo wins, there’s a pretty good chance that Benavidez hurts him. There’s still a chance Canelo-Benavidez happens. But I think it’ll take some Saudi [Arabian] money.”

Boxers stand alone in the ring, literally and figuratively, but have a small supporting crew.

This makes them unique compared to baseball, football, basketball and hockey.

“Boxers are different from any other athlete I’ve ever covered. It’s why, I guess, boxing has been called a writer’s sport. There are plenty of NFL and NBA players who have grown up on the so-called mean streets,” Frauenheim said. “But they have teammates. They don’t make that long, lonely walk from the dressing room to the ring.”

Stripped naked, boxers are an open book, according to Frauenheim.

“They can be hard to deal with while training and cutting weight. But after a fight, no athlete in my experience is more forthcoming,” he said. “Win or lose, they just walked through harm’s way in front of people. In my experience, that’s when they want to talk.”

Selecting a career highlight or highlights isn’t easy for Frauenheim, but he tried.

“There are so many. I was there for the great Sugar Ray Leonard victory over Thomas Hearns [1981], a welterweight classic,” he recalled. “A personal favorite was Michael Carbajal’s comeback from two knockdowns for a KO of Humberto Gonzalez in 1993, perhaps the best fight in the history of the lightest weight class. I was also there for the crazy, including Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield’s “Bite Fight” and the “Fan Man” landing in the ring like the 82nd Airborne Division midway through a Riddick Bowe-Holyfield fight behind Vegas’ Caesars Palace.”

Three boxers set the tone and backdrop for Frauenheim’s illustrious tenure as a writer.

“Roberto Duran is the greatest lightweight ever. His lifestyle sometimes got the best of him. That was evident in his infamous ‘No Mas’ welterweight loss to Sugar Ray Leonard in New Orleans,” he said of that November 1980 bout. “He told me that he took the rematch, on short notice, because of the money. “Women-women-women, eating-eating-eating, drinking-drinking-drinking,” he told me in an interview of what he had been doing before Leonard’s people approached him for an immediate rematch of his Montreal victory. But take a look at Duran’s victory in Montreal [June 1980]. Watch it again. On that night, there’s never been a better fighter than Duran.”

Frauenheim added another titan to that short list: “Leonard, who is the last real Sugar,” he said, and ended with the only eight-weight division king. “Manny Pacquiao, an amazing story about a starving kid off impoverished Filipino streets. He was a terrific fighter, blessed with speed, power and instinct. Add to that a shy personality unchanged by all the money and celebrity. He is an example of what can still happen in boxing. He’s the face of the game’s resiliency.”

That’s quite a trio, and they’re the best of the best that Frauenheim’s seen and covered from ringside.

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Aaron McKenna and Kieron Conway Victorious in Osaka

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Aaron McKenna scored a 10th-round stoppage of Jeovanny Estela today (Monday, July 15) in Osaka, Japan. The bout was one of four scheduled 10-rounders in the middleweight division in a revamped Prizefighter Tournament with a $1,000,000 prize at stake for the winner.

One of two fighting brothers from the little town of Smithborough in County Monaghan, Ireland, the undefeated (19-0, 10 KOs) McKenna (pictured) was well ahead on the scorecards when the referee stepped in and halted the match at the 2:02 mark of the final round. He entered the ring a 4/1 favorite over Estela (14-1), a 23-year-old Floridian of Puerto Rican descent who began his pro career at 147.

McKenna’s opponent in the next round (at a date and place to be determined) will be England’s Kieron Conway (21-3-1, 6 KOs) who scored a seventh-round stoppage over China’s obscure Ainiwaer Yilixati (19-2). All three of Conway’s losses were to opponents who were undefeated when he fought them with two of those setbacks occurring on Canelo Alvarez undercards.

Two Japanese fighters – Riku Kunimoto and Kazuto Takesako – were victorious in the other bouts and will meet in the semifinals.

Local fan favorite Kunimoto, recognized as the middleweight champion of Japan, advanced to 12-1 (6 KOs) with a fifth-round stoppage of countryman Eiki Kani (8-5-3). This was a rematch. The two fought earlier this year in Nagoya with Kunimoto registering a fifth-round TKO.

Takesako (17-2-1, 15 KOs) registered the lone upset on the card with a hard-earned decision over England’s Mark Dickinson. It was the first pro loss for Dickinson who had only six pro fights under his belt but was a highly decorated amateur. The scores were 98-92, 97-93, and 95-94.

The next fight for Kunimoto will be another rematch. Takesako saddled him with his lone defeat, knocking him out in the first round at Tokyo’s venerable Korakuen Hall in May of 2021.

The tournament, co-sponsored by Matchroom and televised on DAZN, offers an aggregate $100,000 per event for knockouts. McKenna, Conway, and Kunimoto scooped up $25,000 apiece.

Aaron McKenna, his brother Stephen, and their father/trainer Feargal McKenna were the subjects of a story that ran on these pages. Stephen McKenna (14-0, 13 KOs) returns to the ring next month against 14-2 Joe Laws on a BOXXER promotion that will air on Sky Sports in the UK.

Aaron McKenna entered the Prizefighter Tourney as the pre-fight favorite and Matchroom honcho Eddie Hearn has indicated that he will be in line for a world title shot if he wins his next two matches.

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