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Wladimir Klitschko Embraced Al Davis’s Mantra: “Just Win, Baby”

Bernard Fernandez



Al Davis

Having maintained a home in Los Angeles for several years, there is at least a chance now-retired two-time heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko has some knowledge of Al Davis, the maverick former coach, general manager and principal owner of the NFL’s Raiders, in both their Oakland (twice) and L.A. residencies.

After the then-Los Angeles Raiders had hammered the Washington Redskins, 38-9, to win Super Bowl XVIII in Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 22, 1984, a smiling and self-satisfied Davis repeated to CBS interviewer Brent Musburger what already had become his and his team’s enduring catchphrase: “Just win, baby.”

If there is a difference between a just-win Klitschko – whose retirement announcement on Wednesday, depending upon one’s point of view, was either shocking or very much expected – and Davis, it is in the manner in which they went about the victory process. Davis was always a proponent of the quick strike, forever fond of quarterbacks who could launch the long ball and often did. His prototypical passer was Daryle “The Mad Bomber” Lamonica, who would send receivers Warren Wells, Fred Biletnikoff and Raymond Chester sprinting downfield on go routes until they were totally gassed or hauled in a couple of touchdown throws, whichever came first. Thirty-three years after Lamonica retired from the Raiders in 1974, Davis used the first pick in the NFL draft to select LSU rocket-launcher JaMarcus Russell, who had Lamonica’s big arm but was hardly a Tom Brady when it came to conditioning or the mental aspects of a complex game. Russell was out of the league after three hugely disappointing seasons, one of the most colossal busts in NFL history.

The 41-year-old Wladimir “Dr. Steelhammer” Klitschko – who received a Ph.D. in sports science from the University of Kiev and speaks four languages (Ukrainian, Russian, German and English) – always had been a dash of Lamonica and heavy doses of Frank Ryan, a fellow Ph.D. and former quarterback who is best known for leading the Cleveland Browns to their last NFL title (1964), far less for publishing two seminal papers in the Duke Mathematical Journal.

At 6-foot-6 and 245 or so pounds distributed on a chiseled physique reminiscent of Michelangelo’s David, the younger of the highly educated heavyweight champion Klitschko brothers – former WBC titlist Vitali “Dr. Ironfist” Klitschko, now 46, retired in 2013 and is the mayor of Kiev – could, and did, win using whichever method he deemed to be the most logical in a particular situation. He could air it out, if that best suited his purpose, as evidenced by the 54 knockouts he registered in fashioning a 64-5 record during a 21-year professional journey that five years hence will result in first-ballot induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. But Wlad, whose fragile chin was never his strong suit, was wise enough to understand that always going for broke in the ring sometimes can break even a heavyweight wielding a figurative steel hammer. He lost title bouts inside the distance to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster, neither of whom will ever have a plaque in the IBHOF, and even had to overcome three knockdowns en route to a points nod over Samuel Peter in the first of their two meetings. And when Wlad also was dropped three times in his most recent bout, an 11th-round TKO loss to huge (6-6, 250), young (27) and strong Anthony Joshua on April 29, in which Joshua retained his IBF title and also annexed the vacant WBA belt before a crowd of 90,000 in London’s Wembley Stadium, a seed undoubtedly was planted in Klitschko’s analytical mind that apparently blossomed with Wednesday’s retirement announcement.

“… I’ve traveled the world, learned new languages, created businesses, built intellectual properties, helped people in need, became a scientist, entrepreneur, motivator, hotelier, trainer, investor and much else,” the statement read. “I was and am still capable of doing all this because of the global appeal of boxing. At some point in our lives we need to, or just want to, switch our careers and get ourselves ready for the next chapter and chart new courses toward fresh challenges.”

Reading the intelligently worded statement, I have no doubt it is factually correct and was actually composed by Wlad and not by a hired publicist, many of whom function as apologists for coarse practitioners of the pugilistic arts incapable of speaking complete sentences without a steady stream of vulgarities. Some fighters don’t seem to need or want such functionaries; witness the f-bomb-congested, four-city press tour to hype the upcoming Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Conor McGregor carnival sideshow. Raise your hand, perhaps sheepishly, if you are drawn to that bizarre matchup because of its gutter-level lead-up rather than in spite of it.

Klitschko, on the other hand, referred to the exciting slugfest pitting Olympic super heavyweight gold medalists (Wlad got his in 1996, Joshua in 2012) as a confrontation of “gentlemen,” staying classy despite the realization that he quite possibly was one big punch from career-rejuvenating success after he dropped the favored Briton in the sixth round, with over two minutes remaining to seal the deal. He didn’t, but considering his relatively advanced age and career-long 17 months of inactivity between his uninspired dethronement on points by Tyson Fury and showdown with Joshua, it could be argued that Wlad had been involved in his most exciting fight in years, and maybe ever. He immediately announced his intention to exercise the rematch clause in his contract, but with his retirement announcement negotiations for a do-over – in which the Kazakhstan-born, Ukrainian-raised son of a Soviet Air Force colonel stood to make upwards of $20 million on Nov. 11 at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Center – ended.

Fight fans are left to debate whether Wlad could have or would have spanked Joshua prime-on-prime, but such exquisitely timed confrontations of elite boxers are relatively rare. Someone always is on the way up, someone always is on the way down. Having lost back-to-back scraps for the first time as a pro, and already affluent enough to consider the move into a rewarding next phase of his life, the erstwhile “Dr. Steelhammer” again chose the safe course. Who knows? Maybe he was influenced by last week’s report issued by the American Medical Association that, of 111 deceased NFL players who had donated their brains for scientific research, 110 had varying degrees of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). In boxing, the gradual and silent thief of mental faculties is pugilistica dementia, which can debilitate the body even as it wipes clean memories of boxing glory, and pretty much everything else. No one can fault Klitschko if he is stepping away to ensure more quality time in the long term with his fiancée, American actress Hayden Panettiere, and the couple’s 2½-year-old daughter, Kara Evdokia Klitschko. If the child turns out to be anywhere near as smart as her pop, perhaps Wlad soon will be reading Dostoevsky bedtime passages to her instead of Mother Goose nursery rhymes.

Of course, book smarts and ring smarts are not mutually inclusive. Wlad always marched to the tune of his own drummer, even when doing so put him somewhat at odds with his late, great trainer, Emanuel Steward, who constantly preached the gospel of Al Davis-like aggression and often stood by, perplexed, as one of his most accomplished pupils formulated his own fight plans on the fly. Manny always wanted to see a little more of let ’er rip Thomas Hearns in Wlad, and sometimes got an XXL-sized version of master technician Willie Pep.

“For one-punch power, Wladimir tops them all,” Steward, who was Klitschko’s chief second for 17 bouts prior to his death, at 68, on Oct. 25, 2012, once said. “If he ever becomes more aggressive and just went after people, he could be the most devastating puncher ever. I’ve trained many fighters and Wladimir is one of the few who can turn out the lights without using the dimmer switch first.”

Had Klitschko attempted to tailor his style to fit Steward’s more action-packed specifications, there is at least a possibility he would have placed higher than No. 16 in a recent poll of 30 trainers, historians, matchmakers and media members conducted by The Ring magazine to determine the top 20 heavyweight champions of all time. He also might have been more often on the wrong end of knockouts, as was the case when he threw down with Sanders and Brewster. His stylistic choices make for a debate with no quantifiable resolution.

Before his April 25, 2015, title defense against Bryant Jennings in Madison Square Garden, with Steward disciple Johnathan Banks serving as his chief second, Klitschko – who would win by unanimous decision – explained that he never was one to adhere to strict dictums. Every fight is different and, well, it’s like Al Davis declared. The first rule of athletic competition, be it boxing, football or whatever, is to just win, baby.

“I cannot make the fight by myself,” Wlad explained. “I need somebody who wants to fight back. That’s what makes an exciting fight. If somebody just doesn’t want to get knocked out, it’s very difficult because you have to chase him.

“There have been different fights I’ve had in the 25 years (including amateurs) of my career. I do have different qualities of boxing and punching and, if it’s needed, of clinching. It doesn’t matter. I know the game and I know how to win to have lasted this long.”

Fighting primarily in Europe, most often Germany, during his extended heyday, Klitschko never felt the need to apologize for the 160-plus clinches in which he was engaged, many initiated by him, in a unanimous decision over Russia’s Alexander Povetkin on Nov. 5, 2013, in Moscow. He would have been lustily booed for that performance in the U.S., but he did what he felt he had to do to win. End of story.

And now the end of the story, at least the boxing part of it, really is here. Some will dismiss his lengthy time upon the heavyweight throne – 29 title bouts spanning two reigns, breaking the record of 28 held by the legendary Joe Louis – as being too boring, too casually dominant in most instances. But guess what? Floyd Mayweather Jr. has followed more or less the same path, with far fewer knockouts and significantly more expletives uttered. Art appreciation is a matter of individual taste, whether the canvases being examined offer comparisons between Tyson and Ali or Monet and Picasso.

Now that Wladimir Klitschko has signalled his intention to take his leave, probably for keeps, an appreciation is in order. He utilized his superior power selectively, but with telling effect, and he called upon his myriad other skills as warranted. Most of all, though, he remained a bastion of honor and dignity in a profession that sometimes is bereft of both qualities.

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Maxim Dadashev Dead at Age 28

Arne K. Lang




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Good Night, Sweet Pea

Springs Toledo




Good Night, Sweet Pea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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Mad Max and Manny

Ted Sares




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


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

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

Capture 9

Maxim Dadashev

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

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

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

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

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

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


Back to the big fight the following evening:

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

Across the Pond

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

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

“Manny, Manny, Manny”

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

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

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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

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