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Back to Back Boxing Jewels in Southern California This Weekend

David A. Avila

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Southern

Once again summer means the Southern California landscape will be sizzling with fight cards from Montebello to Inglewood.

Perhaps the most curious of the cluster of fights takes place at the Forum in Inglewood on Saturday July 15. HBO will televise but only a few. It would be better to watch in person with two world title fights and an elimination light heavyweight clash in place.

But first let’s look at Friday night.

It’s been several years now since Golden Boy Promotions began staging regular fight cards at Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles. It’s been the jewel of all fight cards in Southern California.

Not since the glory days of the Olympic Auditorium from the 1930s to the 1980s has a regular boxing series taken hold like the Belasco series.

During the glory days the Olympic had a weekly series of boxing cards that brought everyone from Henry Armstrong to Danny “Li’l Red” Lopez headlining the old boxing palace.

The late Bennie Georgino, who managed Lopez and Alberto Davila, used to lament the loss of the weekly boxing series at the Olympic. Back in the 50s and 60s Georgino had a sandwich shop located right across the street from the now defunct Herald-Examiner newspaper. Ironically, the old newspaper building is across the street from the Belasco Theater.

During boxing’s heyday when newspapers actually had beat reporters covering the sport and competing for headlines, there were more than five daily newspapers battling in Los Angeles. It was in the 1960s that the Times and Mirror merged along with the Herald and Examiner merging too.

“Boxing will never return to Los Angeles,” Georgino would tell me often. But it has returned.

On Friday, another roster of talented youngsters are showcased at the old downtown theater.

Belasco

A co-main event features Edgar Valerio (10-0, 6 KOs) a tall featherweight from Los Angeles meeting Torreon, Mexico’s Jairo Ochoa (18-11, 9 KOs) in an eight round bout.

Valerio, 22, is managed by Joel De La Hoya and at first was fighting at bantamweight but now at 126 pounds and has gained power with the extra weight. He’s fearless and has lofty goals.

“I’ve never seen anyone work harder,” said De La Hoya of Valerio. “I know you need that kind of work ethic to go far. I watched my brother (Oscar De La Hoya) during his entire career and that’s what it takes to go to the top. Nobody worked harder.”

Another to watch on the card is Joshua Franco (11-0, 6 Kos) who began at bantamweight but has lately fought as a super flyweight and faces Antonio Rodriguez (11-16-1).

Franco, 21, a San Antonio, Texas native, trains in Riverside under the guidance of Robert Garcia. Every time he enters the boxing ring he seems to get better and better. He kind of reminds me of a smaller version of Mikey Garcia with his ability to set up punches and opponents. I’m sure being around Mikey Garcia has influenced more than a few of Franco’s moves.

Forum

On Saturday a fight card co-promoted by various major promoters opens up the Forum for a heavy duty-affair.

Back in the 70s when it was called the Fabulous Forum, some of the best boxing cards took place including my own favorite Mexican versus Mexican clash, Carlos Zarate (45-0, 44 KOs) versus Alfonso Zamora (29-0, 29 KOs). It was called the Battle of the ZZZ Boys. The two Mexican bantamweight champions were undefeated and had a combined  73 knockouts in 74 pro fights. It was a ridiculous percentage of knockouts. That day on April 23, 1977, Zarate put Zamora to sleep in the fourth round. Riots erupted, cherry bombs were lit, a wrestler entered the ring to challenge anyone and both trainers of Zarate and Zamora ended up throwing blows with each other.

Hopefully we don’t repeat the riot but see the knockouts. Expect several knockouts on Saturday.

One surefire firecracker of a fight will be WBC super featherweight titlist Miguel Berchelt (31-1, 28 KOs) defending against the former titleholder Japan’s Takashi Miura (31-3-2, 24 KOs) in the main event.

If you follow boxing than you must know about the intense rivalry Japan and Mexico have had in the boxing ring for decades. The first boxing match I ever attended at the Olympic was a Japan vs Mexico rivalry when Sho Saijo defeated Jose Pimentel on March 21, 1968. They fought each other three times with Saijo winning the world title on their third encounter.

Once again we have a Japanese warrior in Miura. This guy has been involved in two all-time classics. The first was in August 2013 when he and Sergio “Yeyo” Thompson met in 100 degree heat inside a bull ring in Cancun. It was stifling in that arena and both Miura and Thompson fought to near death. Each floored the other and the fight changed momentum several times. Finally, Miura emerged the winner by unanimous decision after an incredible 12 rounds. In November 2015, Mexico’s Francisco Vargas challenged Miura and both clashed like two pit bulls. Miura nearly knocked out Vargas in the fourth round and then was near a knockout win when Vargas surprised him and stopped the Japanese champion in the ninth round. In his last fight, Miura dazed another  Mexican warrior, Miguel Roman, with a paralyzing body shot and then mercilessly bombed him with blows for a knockout.

Miura is one hard man.

“This will be my third fight in the United States, and I feel comfortable in getting myself acclimated to the time difference. I am looking forward to being on HBO again and putting on an exciting fight for the boxing fans,” said Miura. “If I am able to get the belt back Saturday, and the opportunity is there, I would want to unify the belts in the super featherweight division.”

Now we have Berchelt whose fight against Francisco Vargas last January could be the Fight of the Year for 2017. Both exchanged blows that left the audience dumbfounded by the sheer violence. It’s one of the reasons that Golden Boy matchmaker Robert Diaz recently won an award for his talented pairings. The Berchelt-Miura fight just might bump off the January affair. It’s a fight you have to see in person to appreciate.

“This by no means will be an easy fight – Miura has gone to war many times in his career and I am expecting nothing less in this fight,” said Mexico’s Berchelt. “I want to prove that winning this belt was no fluke, and defending it against a warrior like Miura is the perfect opportunity to do that.”

Heavy Construction

Regular Joe Smith (23-1, 19 KOs) the construction worker comes to town once again and this time he faces Cuban dandy Sullivan Barrera (19-1, 14 KOs) in defense of the WBC International light heavyweight title. It’s sort of an elimination contest. Usually when you win the WBC International title you get to the front of the line to face the champion which is Adonis Stevenson. But so far it hasn’t happened for Mr. Smith.

“We were looking for a title fight. Looking to get Stevenson but that didn’t work out,” said Smith a dues paying member of Local 66 as a construction worker.

Now “regular” Joe by day and “Killer” Joe by night is poised to face another ranked light heavyweight in Barrera.

Smith says L.A. has been good to him so far. The last time he stepped in the ring he knocked Bernard Hopkins out of the ring. No one ever had stopped the great Hopkins in a fight in his entire career until last December at the same Forum.

“That fight got my name out there,” said Smith. “Everybody knows who Hopkins is.”

Despite knocking out Andrzei Fonfara, who had previously knocked out Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the New York construction worker was stuck in limbo. Now he’s stuck on the “must avoid list” and meets Barrera whose win over Ukraine’s Vlacheslav Shabranskyy earned him a place on this card.

Barrera’s attempt to gain recognition came against Andre Ward last year. The Cuban native was unable to defeat Ward but then no one else has either. No shame in losing to Oakland’s Ward.

“Smith beat a legend in Bernard Hopkins, but [Hopkins] had been out of the ring for a long time before their fight,” said Barrera.

Killer Joe Smith has his hands full with Barrera and vice versa. It appears to be a firecracker of a fight looming on Saturday.

KingRy

In one year the 18-year-old Ryan “KingRy” Garcia has blazed through nine opponents with a semblance of speed, power and guile not seen since 1992. He doesn’t turn 19 until the first week of August but one would swear they’ve seen him for years.

Garcia fights out of the desert community of Victorville, Calif. and you may think because of its small town locale the lanky lightweight is a secret waiting to happen. But the boxing world already knows Garcia, especially with 15 US National titles as an amateur hanging on his walls.

Now the pro world is witnessing what many have predicted for the kid with the best left hook since Oscar De La Hoya. Best right too. He has all of the tools and is still getting his professional style polished to perfection.

In his last fight that left hook was like an apparition. You think you might have seen it but the suddenness and finality of its impact left his opponent that night at T-Mobile immobile and helpless.

Garcia is a gym rat and is known to travel to various gyms in search of polishing up his growing skills. At this point his quick reflexes are his primary defense. There are a few openings and cracks on his defensive shield but no one has been able to pierce the barrier. This is a chance for fans to see for themselves another Southern California jewel in the tradition of De La Hoya, Shane Mosley and Fernando Vargas. They don’t come that often. Take advantage of it. His fight will not be televised so the best advice would be to purchase a ticket to take a look at this young phenom.

Garcia (9-0, 8 KOs) faces Mexico’s Mario Antonio Macias (28-21, 14 KOs) in a lightweight clash set for four rounds. Macias has fought nothing but contenders in his last three fights including Gervonta Davis the current IBF super featherweight titlist. It’s a matchup meant to test the abilities of Garcia. He is on a fast track.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.

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Muhammad Ali Biographer Jonathan Eig Talks About His Book and the Icon Who Inspired It

Rick Assad

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Given the breadth and depth of Muhammad Ali’s 74 years, it isn’t very easy to capture the complete essence of the man.

Dozens of books have been written about the three-time heavyweight champion including Jonathan Eig’s 2017 biography, “Ali: A Life.”

Born in Louisville, Kentucky on January 17, 1942 as Cassius Marcellus Clay, he would one day be known around the globe as a world-class boxer, civil rights advocate, philanthropist and cultural icon.

Like so many others, the Brooklyn, New York-born Eig became intrigued by Ali.

“I loved Ali as a child. He fascinated me. He was outspoken, radical, yet so very loveable,” he said. “And, of course, he could fight! I was astonished to realize, around 2012, that there was no complete biography of Ali, even though he was probably the most famous man of the 20th century.”

Eig, currently at work on a major offering about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., added: “I had read lots of Ali books, including [David] Remnick’s “King Of The World: Muhammad Ali And The Rise Of An American Hero,” and [Thomas] Hauser’s “Muhammad Ali: His Life And Times,” and [Norman] Mailer’s “The Fight” – but those were not complete biographies,” he pointed out. “By 2012, enough time had gone by to put Ali in historical perspective. Also, there were plenty of people still alive to tell the story. I did more than 500 interviews, including all three of Ali’s living wives. I wanted to write a book that would treat Ali as more than a boxer. I wanted to write a book that would show the good and the bad. I wanted to write a big book worthy of an epic life, a book that danced and jabbed half as beautifully as Ali.”

Given Eig’s exhaustive research, what previously unknown tidbits about Ali did he come across?

“I learned thousands of new things. I think even hardcore Ali fans will find new information on almost every page,” said the former Wall Street Journal reporter and 1986 Northwestern University graduate. “I discovered things Ali himself didn’t know. I discovered Ali’s grandfather was a convicted murderer, for example. Ali didn’t know that! I read Ali’s FBI files, as well as those of Herbert Muhammad, Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad. I interviewed Ali’s childhood friends. I found MRIs of Ali’s brain. I counted the punches from all of his fights. I measured how those punches affected his speaking rate. Ali’s wives also confided in me things I never knew. I spent four years working on this book, and every day delivered revelations.”

Over the years, Ali, who posted a 56-5 ring record with 37 knockouts, seemed to mellow with time which helped ingratiate him to an even wider audience. How was this possible?

“People change. They grow. It’s hard to stay radical as you get older and richer,” said Eig, who has written five books including three that deal with sports. “The late Stanley Crouch had a great line about Ali. He said young Ali was a grizzly bear. Ali in the ’70s was a circus bear. Ali in his later years was a teddy bear. We all loved the teddy bear. We wanted to hug him and love him. But it was the grizzly bear who we should remember first. It was the grizzly bear who shook up the world.”

Sports Illustrated writer Mark Kram covered nearly the entirety of Ali’s career which spanned 1960 through 1981 and included a three-year period, 1967 until 1970 when he wasn’t allowed to box after being convicted of draft evasion because he refused induction into the armed forces.

In Kram’s book, “Ghosts Of Manila,” the author asserts Ali was essentially a pawn of the Black Muslims.

What’s Eig’s take?

“I love Kram’s book, but I think it’s dangerous to question anyone’s religious faith,” he said. “Ali was a true believer. The Nation of Islam took advantage of him at times. But does that mean he was a pawn? I don’t think so. He knew what he was doing. He made his own choices. One might argue that the NOI did more for Ali than Ali did for them.”

Ali wasn’t perfect and that included his fondness for women. As a Muslim, how did he hurdle this?

“He didn’t reconcile it – except to acknowledge that humans are human, they are flawed,” Eig said. “The thing I love about Ali is that he said he was the greatest, but he never said he was perfect. He talked to his wives about his weakness. He even talked to reporters about his flaws – his weakness for women, his disdain for training, his poor handling of money. He knew who he was and he never tried to be anything else.”

Eig, who has also penned “Luckiest Man: The Life And Death Of Lou Gehrig,” and “Opening Day: The Story Of Jackie Robinson’s First Season,” went on: “We’re all complicated, right? Ali was no more complicated than you or me, but he let the whole world see his complications – his racial pride and his racist behavior toward [Joe] Frazier, his love of women and his cruelty to his wives, his generosity with his money and his stupidity with money,” he said. “I don’t think Ali was different, just more open, more willing to let us see everything.”

Ali’s battles with Frazier, George Foreman and Ken Norton are legendary, but his two fights against Sonny Liston are filled with question marks, such as were they fixed?

Ali claimed the title on February 25, 1964 in Miami Beach when Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round and then faced Liston 15 months later in Lewiston, Maine, where he knocked out the challenger in the opening frame.

In Eig’s mind, were these two bouts on the level? “My hunch is that the first fight was legit. Liston quit when he knew he couldn’t win,” Eig said. “The second fight is more suspicious. Liston’s flop was pathetic. Bad acting! But I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure. As an aside, Liston’s wife said Sonny had diarrhea before the fight, which might have given him one more reason to throw it.”

Still, Ali in his prime was a sight to behold. “Ali before the exile, in my opinion, was the most beautiful boxer of all time. His combination of speed and power and ferocity was thrilling, elegant, frightening and marvelous,” Eig said. “Was he the greatest heavyweight of all time? Maybe, maybe not. Was he the most breathtaking? To me, yes.”

Early in Ali’s career his braggadocio was off-putting to many. But much of it was showmanship.

“One of the Greatest” doesn’t sound as good, does it? If we’re only discussing his action in the ring, Ali was one of the greatest,” Eig said. “But that’s like saying Louis Armstrong was one of the greatest trumpet players without considering his voice, his charm, his improvisational skills, his smile. In and out of the ring, Ali was the greatest in my book.”

For so many, Ali was many things. What traits in the man does Eig admire? “I love his fearlessness, his honesty, his insatiable appetite for people,” he said. “He was so very loving. But he could also be narcissistic. He wanted everyone to love him, but he wasn’t always sensitive to the feelings of others – including his wives and children. He turned his back on friends like Malcolm X and Joe Frazier when it served his purposes.”

While Ali could be polarizing, he had his legion of supporters including Howard Cosell, Jerry Izenberg, Robert Lipsyte, Larry Merchant and Jack Newfield.

“You could add Mailer, [George] Plimpton, and so many others to that list,” Eig noted. “Those men were lucky enough to spend time with young Ali and to bask in the great warmth of his sun. He was great to reporters. He was the best story they ever covered. And unlike most celebrities, he really paid attention to them.”

Eig continued: “I only met him once, six months before he died, and I envy those reporters who got to know him and got to see him at his best. I think those who knew and loved Ali became his disciples,” he pointed out. “Ali’s friend Gene Kilroy told me over and over that he thought Ali was like Jesus, that people would be studying his words and drawing inspiration from his life for centuries to come. That’s the feeling he gave to those with whom he spent time.”

Ali was a boxer, but so much more. How does Eig see him? “I think Ali will be remembered as one of America’s great revolutionary heroes – one whose courage went far beyond sports. Like Jackie Robinson, like Martin Luther King, like the abolitionists and suffragettes, he loved America but refused to accept its shortfalls,” he said. “He fought to make his country live up to the promises contained in the Declaration of Independence. He will also be remembered as an important world figure, one who united Africans, Americans and Asians, one who helped Americans better understand Islam and helped people of Islamic faith around the world better understand America.”

In Ali’s last quarter century, he was almost universally loved. This is a far cry from being labeled a draft dodger.

“Ali was always a spiritual man, but in his later years I believe he clarified and deepened his spirituality,” Eig said. “He became more focused and more thoughtful.”

When Eig turned in his manuscript, what was his immediate thought? “I wanted to take it back. I didn’t want to be done,” he said. “I had so much fun writing this book I wanted to work on it for the rest of my life. I knew I would never find anything more fun to work on.”

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The Peculiar Career of Marcos Geraldo

Ted Sares

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 If you play word association with retired boxer Marcos Geraldo, you might come up with “chinny,” or “easy work.” But if you did, you would be wrong.

This extremely active Mexican boxer fought out of Baja California but was a staple in Nevada and Southern California and was 38-12 before he ventured outside these regions

Many saw Geraldo as easy work because of the 21 KOs he suffered but what they missed was the fact he had 50 KOs of his own and that made him an ultra-exciting type of fighter–and it guaranteed him plenty of marquee events. If you didn’t get Marcos, he was likely to get you. That translated to bringing in fans. He also was an active fighter and fought, for example, 12 times in 1972 alone. He also toiled 25 times at the Silver Slipper in Las Vegas—yes, 25 times—and he went 21-4!

Along the way, Geraldo (who at various times was the middleweight and light heavyweight champion of Mexico) did battle with four Hall of Famers — Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, and Virgil Hill — several world champions, and numerous title contenders. (Michael Nunn, another stiff opponent, could someday become a member of the Hall as well.)

As his career progressed, the level of his opposition became stiffer. Listed in the order of appearance, these are the records of some of his opponents at the time that he fought them: Peter Cobblah (48-46-5), Angel Robinson Garcia (138-80-21), Armando Muniz (32-6-1), George Cooper (49-4-3), Sugar Ray Leonard (21-0), John LoCicero (15-3), Marvin Hagler (48-2-2), Caveman Lee (13-2), Thomas Hearns (33-1), Fred Hutchings (20-1), Ron Wilson (71-33-7), Prince Mama Muhammad (29-1-1), Michael Nunn (7-0), Tony Willis (9-0), Chris Reid (14-0-1), Virgil Hill (16-0), Jesus Gallardo (16-1), Antoine Byrd (6-1-1).

Whew!

In 1979, Geraldo went the distance with Sugar Ray Leonard which surprised boxing buffs though Ray had previously been extended by others.

The following year he gave Marvelous Marvin Hagler all he could handle while losing a unanimous but close decision in a surprisingly tough thriller.

Hagler (May 1980)

Hagler pressed the action in-close but surprisingly was met with strong counterpunching. Both did plenty of shoe shining. First Hagler; then Geraldo. It was tit for tat and the fans roared their approval. What won the fight for Hagler was his stamina and harder punching which enabled him to tire the tough Mexican, but he never managed to break him down.

The scoring was Duane Ford 97-93, Art Lurie 97-94, and Chuck Minker 97-95.

The fans at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas gave both fighters a standing ovation as they raised each other’s arm up in a marvelous (no pun intended) show of mutual respect. The media framed it it as a “great” fight. It defined “fan–friendly.”

Geraldo had stopped Bomber John LoCicero before the Hagler fight, but was KOd in round one by both Caveman Lee and Thomas Hearns subsequent to Hagler. And then he was stopped much later by Michael Nunn and Virgil Hill.

His final slate was 71-28-1 — 100 bouts put him in rarefied company. Also, seven of those 21 KO losses came in his last eight fights.

After a very close review of his career, the word association that could more appropriately fit might be “incongruity,” or “action, or “resilient,” or even “peculiar.”

Sadly, he was always one big win away from entering the top tier.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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HITS and MISSES: Javier Fortuna Shines and More

Kelsey McCarson

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HITS and MISSES: Javier Fortuna Shines and More

The boxing schedule continued during the penultimate week of November though there seemed a little less action over the weekend than prior weeks. Still, important contests took place featuring some of the top fighters in the sport.

Here are the biggest HITS and MISSES from another week on the boxing beat.

HIT: Future Fortunes of Javier Fortuna 

Perhaps it’s just my affinity for southpaws, but Javier Fortuna looked sensational on Saturday night in the main event of an FS1 PBC Fight Night card.

Fortuna, 31, from the Dominican Republic, is a legit threat in the 135-pound division. His sole loss since moving up to lightweight was a split-decision to former titleholder Robert Easter in a fight that could have been scored either way, and his athletic and unorthodox style will just about always make him a problem for anyone.

Alongside being tied to Al Haymon’s PBC group, Fortuna is promoted by Sampson Lewkowicz, whose most famous recent client is probably former middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. Like Martinez, Fortuna is the type of talent who could unexpectedly make some legitimate noise in his division during the latter part of his career.

MISS: Austin Delay’s Emotional Reactions to Accidental Headbutts

Despite the two losses on his record, there’s a lot to like about lightweight prospect Austin Dulay. The 25-year-old from Nashville defeated Jose Luis Gallegos in a 10-round decision in the co-feature of the PBC card on Saturday night in Los Angeles.

Dulay’s a sharp-fisted, crafty southpaw with fast hands and good feet. While his win over Gallegos absolutely proved he possesses some upside as a rising talent in the sport, his emotional responses to the three accidental headbutts in the fight gives his team plenty to work on with the fighter as he progresses.

Referee Thomas Taylor did a great job explaining the key concept to him. “It happens,” Taylor reminded Dulay at least twice in the fight after the clashes of heads. Indeed, it does happen, and that’s especially true in southpaw vs. orthodox matchups.

After the second headbutt in the fight, which happened in the sixth round, Dulay angrily gunned for the knockout. Everyone loves action like that, but reactive responses to innocuous events aren’t on the path to the highest levels in the sport. Dulay needs to reel his emotions back in during those types of moments if he hopes to become a world champion.

HIT: The Savagery of Alen Babic vs. Tom Little

Hopefully, you’ve witnessed the majesty of Alen Babic by now. The 30-year-old from Croatia is the type of heavyweight you’d better enjoy now on the way up the ranks because, let’s face it, Babic’s style and skill set make him likely to be exposed as he climbs higher up the ladder.

Until that time comes, though, Babic is must-see TV. The savagery of seeing a volume punching heavyweight who throws just about every single punch with serious emotional intent is a wonder to behold.

For his part, Tom Little did his best to turn the Babic tide back. In fact, the 33-year-old was the first fighter to weather Babic’s early storm and offer a return, but Babic ultimately dumped him down for the third-round knockout.

By the way, that’s faster than Daniel Dubois and Filip Hrgovic did it.

MISS: Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Not Making Superfight Priority

What shouldn’t be lost in the Terence Crawford vs. Errol Spence debate is how both fighters would rather fight Manny Pacquiao instead of each other.

I had the chance to speak with both elite welterweight champions within the past week, and both men told me the same thing in regards to their focus on making one fight happen. Crawford wants Pacquiao next. Spence does, too.

While it’s completely understandable why these guys would seek the bigger payday against the legendary future Hall of Famer, something would seem to be broken in boxing overall when arguably the best and most important fight in the sport doesn’t even seem to have a tiny chance of happening anytime soon.

HIT: The Professional Amateur Conor Benn

Imagine having just around 20 amateur bouts and trying to put together a world-level professional boxing career. Now, imagine also trying to follow in the footsteps of your father, himself a former world champion.

But rising welterweight contender Conor Benn seems to be on his way to giving that run a serious go. Benn, 24, from England, defeated Germany’s Sebastian Formella in the main event of a Matchroom Boxing card on DAZN on Saturday.

While Benn doesn’t exactly have the look of a can’t-miss prospect destined for greatness, he does at least possess some of the qualities that could lead him to the top of the sport. Certainly, Benn believes it.

After beating Formella, Benn argued he’d done it just as good as two-time welterweight titleholder Shawn Porter had done.

“I beat him just as good,” Benn said during his post-fight interview.

He wasn’t wrong about that, and neither was his father, Nigel Benn, for lavishing praise on his son after his big win.

“Well done, son. I’m proud of you,” Nigel Benn said.

Benn has a tough road ahead of him. He’s basically been a professional amateur up to this point, a fighter getting paid professional money to employ an amateur skill set on fight night.

But he’s improving at a rate that suggests that might not be the case soon.

Photo credit: Sean Michael Ham / TGB Promotions

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