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

Bernard Fernandez

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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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Final Takeaways from Wilder-Fury and a Doleful Dissertation on Riddick Bowe

Arne K. Lang

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I watched the Wilder-Fury fight from the cheap seats. Actually, I had no seat at all.

My press badge consigned me to the so-called auxiliary press section which was up in the rafters. One can’t work in that environment. There’s no table on which to plop one’s laptop; no power strip to keep it plugged in. And so, I watched the full undercard on the big TV in the press room and then went into the arena to catch the main go and the hoopla that preceded it.

The corridors leading into the arena were jammed with people hoping to score a ticket at the last minute. They were out of luck. The fight was a sellout. It was gridlock and for a moment I feared that the main event would start without me, but I managed to push my way through in time for the ring walks.

The arena was dark and it seemed that every seat in my assigned area was taken. And so, I walked up to the very top of the stairs and stood with my back against the wall, wedged in between two other standees including a friendly guy from New Zealand who, like me, had a press badge dangling from a chain around his neck.

From a reporter’s standpoint, there are certain benefits to being up in the rafters when the house is full. For one, you can get a better feel for the ambience. A boxing crowd skews younger and more boozed-up as one gets higher up in the stands and this translates into more exuberance. And that’s especially true when there are a lot of Brits in the house. They chant and sing in unison. Us poor Yanks just don’t know how to have so much fun.

I’m old school when it comes to ring walks. Spare me the razzmatazz. Mike Tyson didn’t need it. No fancy robe for him, nor tasseled trunks, not even socks. And yet when he walked down the aisle with a simple white towel draped over his bare shoulders, he exuded charisma.

And then, on Saturday, Tyson Fury was carried into the ring on a throne, dressed like a king with a big crown on his head as the PA system played Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” and, I’m forced to admit, it was magical. Talk about a tough act to follow.

I’ve seen boxers walk into the ring with fear unmistakably etched on their countenance as if they were walking to the gallows. Frank Bruno and Bruce Seldon could not mask that “tell” when they fought Mike Tyson. More often, a boxer’s expression on his ring walk is inscrutable which I suspect is a way of compensating for his anxiety.

What struck me about Tyson Fury’s ring entrance was that it betrayed no such apprehension; to the contrary, he oozed confidence as if this were nothing more than a tune-up fight. I swear, he looked like a chap who was headed off to a Halloween ball and had stopped for a few pints on the way to get a head start on the jollity. I couldn’t pick a winner in this fight, tilted toward Wilder, but as I watched Tyson Fury’s ring walk, I sensed that I had missed a great opportunity by failing to get down a wager on the Gypsy King.

Many years ago, when I was first credentialed for a fight (Larry Holmes vs. Tim Witherspoon was the headliner), they planted me in the third row. Since returning to boxing after a decade in which I busied myself writing college football annuals and such, it seems as if my career is in reverse gear. The next time there’s a really big fight in town, I may be consigned to the corridor with all those folks effectively left out in the rain.

Oh, well, it’s been a fun ride.

—-

Prior to the ring walks, three great heavyweight champions of recent vintage – Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, and Mike Tyson – were honored in the ring. Conspicuous by his absence was Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe, a 1990s-era contemporary.

royalty

Granted, this ceremony was the handiwork of WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman who presented each of the honorees with a medal and Riddick Bowe was no friend of the WBC. In 1992, he famously dumped his WBC world title belt in the trash rather than comply with the organization’s mandate that he fight top contender Lennox Lewis. But Bowe, whose lone setback in 45 pro fights came in chapter two of a storied trilogy with Holyfield, was no less formidable at his peak than the other three.

Having said that, it was better that he wasn’t included. His presence would have put a damper on the proceedings.

At age 52, Riddick Bowe is younger than Tyson, Holyfield, or Lewis. But in terms of how far he has slipped since his fighting days, he’s a lot older. Making his story more discouraging, he believes that he can still compete at a high level and actually has a manager out there banging the drums on his behalf.

Bowe’s last meaningful fight was way back in 1996 when he fought the second of back-to-back fights with Andrew Golota. After those two unruly scrums, he was inactive for almost eight full years. During this period, he joined the U.S. Marines but was discharged after only 11 days and served 17 months in prison for interstate domestic violence and kidnapping after a bizarre attempt to repair his fractured relationship with his wife Judy and their five children.

Bowe returned to boxing after his long absence and had three more fights, the last of which transpired in December of 2008 when he won an 8-round decision over a third-rater in Germany. More recently, he tried his hand at Muay Thai. On June 14, 2013, carrying 300 pounds on his flabby frame, he was stopped in the second round on a show in Thailand in which he failed to land a single blow, whether a punch or a kick. ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who watched the fight on YouTube, wrote that anyone who watched it “saw an old man with no remaining discernible skills.”

Bowe never transcended the sport like Tyson or Holyfield in large part because of his limited vocabulary. Of course, he never had a chance to develop that vocabulary because his loquacious manager Rock Newman insisted on doing all the talking. And now it appears that history has repeated. By all accounts, Bowe’s new manager is cut from the same mold. Meet Eli Karabell.

On his web site, Eli Karabell, a fellow in his early 20’s, informs us that he is a “Businessman, Investor, Public Servant, Innovator, Community Leader, Entrepreneur, Politician, Social Activist and President and CEO of the American Boxing Association, a post to which he was appointed (presumably by himself). In his hometown of St. Louis, he is quite the gadfly. According to an article in the Jan. 20, 2018 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Karabell antagonized former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens to such an extent that Greitens’ press secretary had to block his calls.

Since Nov. 23, a certain web site that we won’t name has run five ‘EXCLUSIVE’ stories quoting Karabell about Riddick Bowe’s comeback. In an early story, Karabell said, “I believe Mr. Bowe is the best fighter in the heavyweight division right now, bare none.” As for Bowe beginning his comeback with exhibitions, Karabell said that what he had in mind for him was proceeding directly into a series of 12-round fights.

More recently, Karabell expressed his frustration about failing to induce a top promoter into helping him facilitate Bowe’s comeback. Regarding Eddie Hearn, he said, “He has not read the contract (we sent him), will not respond to our offer and we believe he is trying to obstruct the process.”

Why wouldn’t he? In the immediate aftermath of his second fight with Andrew Golota, Bowe was slurring his words. During the trial that sent him to prison, Bowe’s attorneys argued that his conduct resulted from brain damage. A forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Neil Blumberg, testified that Bowe had suffered irreversible damage to the frontal lobe in his brain. More recently, a New York Times story by Alex Vadukul, published in 2015 – the year that Riddick Bowe was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame – noted that his voice “had warped into a slur.”

The nicest thing we can say about Eli Karabell is that he is pixilated. We have nothing nice to say about anyone in the boxing media who would give him a soapbox.

MGM Grand Garden photo compliments of Joe Santoliquito

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A Peek Inside Justin Fortune’s Old-School LA Boxing Gym

Rick Assad

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Stepping foot inside the Justin Fortune Boxing Gym is like taking a giant step back in time. Located in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles and situated across the street from Fairfax High, the gym could easily be confused for old-style gyms like Stillman’s or Gleason’s in New York City, the Fifth Street Gym in Miami or the Main Street Gym in Los Angeles. Because it’s on the second floor, one must enter from the street level and then walk up a dozen or so steps, fit your way through a narrow hallway before meeting Tamara Frapasella, Justin’s wife.

When I arrived at 9:30 a.m., the place was somewhat busy, but not overly so. There is one ring, but a bevy of heavy bags, a speed bag, a treadmill, several jump ropes, a shower and a steam room. A handful of professional personal trainers were working with eager students as sweat poured off their faces, arms and legs.

Over the course of the next five hours, the gym, which is adorned with old-time fight posters and signed pictures of ring legends like Muhammad Ali, Manny Pacquiao, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran, would be fairly bursting with energy.

A few hours in, one professional heavyweight was working with Fortune in the ring as he prepared for an upcoming bout at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It’s not uncommon to see celebrities at the Fortune Boxing Gym. On this day, a longtime actor, Frank Grillo, was there going through his paces with steely determination.

Fortune, originally from Perth, Australia, has been involved in a multitude of professions, including nearly two decades as a heavyweight boxer. “I’m a chef by trade so I never thought that I’d end up here,” said Fortune, who has also owned a restaurant. “I was always interested in boxing. I was heavily involved in sport. They were all one-on-one sports. I wasn’t much for team sports. Boxing I always enjoyed because it’s the ultimate one-on-one combat. That’s why I liked it so much.” Fortune said he has always liked keeping active. “Then I was heavily into power lifting and from power lifting I switched to boxing. I’m an idiot,” he said.

Fortune, who is 54 years old, knew the fight game isn’t an easy way to make money and was smart enough to exit at the right time. “I set myself time and monetary goals,” he noted. “And once I met them, whichever came first, I was out. I stuck to it. That’s why I’m not punchy or broke. This sport sucks you in. It’s really tough to get out of. You always want that one last fight.”

Fortune began his professional boxing career in 1990 and ended it in 2009. Along the way, he carved out a 15-9-2 record with nine knockouts. Fortune’s biggest fight came against future three-time world heavyweight titleholder and a two-time lineal champion Lennox Lewis in July 1995 in Dublin, Ireland, that concluded with a fourth-round stoppage. “Lennox is a very underrated fighter,” said Fortune, who had 20 wins in 24 amateur fights in Australia that included participating in the Commonwealth Games. “At that stage, in my mind, it didn’t matter. I only had 14 fights, but I would have gotten into the ring with anybody. I didn’t care.” Fortune said that he wanted the fight to continue. “I got screwed. I wouldn’t have won the fight, but in England, the judge is the referee,” he said. “I had only 14 fights, and I got hit with an uppercut, and that was it. The referee stopped it. It would have gone a lot longer.”

Fortune opened his initial gym not too far away on Sunset Boulevard in 2008 and was in business until December 2019 when it was demolished. “This is what I originally wanted,” Fortune said of the current site, reminiscent of the gyms in the 1940s and 1950s. “This style of gym. The wooden floors. The posters. The pictures. The old-time look.” Fortune’s clients range from Academy Award-winning actors to musicians and every day folks. “My clients are a good bunch of people,” he said. “They respect the place and they like coming here. It’s their gym.” Fortune also noted that 65 percent of the people who populate the gym are women.

Frapasella, a former actress and film producer, does all the behind-the-scene work at the gym, but also finds time to be a personal trainer for primarily women and some men. “I think it took us a lot of years to build that,” she said of the welcoming vibe that is clearly present. “We have every nationality you can think of. Everyone is fighting for whatever their reason, but we all get along. We built a family in here and at the end of the day, we’re a family.” Frapasella said the atmosphere and appearance are intentional. “This place is spotless,” she pointed out. “I do have a staff that helps me. I don’t do it all by myself. You want something that’s clean and is welcoming.”

Philadelphia-based heavyweight Joey Dawejko was there preparing for a fight with undefeated Frank Sanchez on March 7 at Barclays Center that will be televised on FOX. “My opponent is a prospect and 14-0,” said Dawejko, who is 20-7-4 with 11 knockouts and nicknamed “The Tank.” Dawejko is hoping to pull off a major upset against Sanchez, who has 11 knockouts. “This is a big opportunity for me because it jumpstarts this year, not only for more to come,” he said. “I’ve gotta get this win and we go from there. Bigger and better things.”

Jose Navarro is a retired World Boxing Council Continental Americas super flyweight champion and Olympian who capped his pro career 27-6 with 12 knockouts. Navarro is currently a personal trainer who works with roughly 50 clients. “It’s the same sport, but you’re on the outside,” he said. “It’s been different. Being in there you get to make your own choices. You see things from a different angle. I actually enjoy this a lot more because you’re teaching what you learned your entire career. So now you’re looking at it from a much different perspective.” Navarro said he likes working at the Fortune Gym. “It’s something you never stop learning,” he said. “You learn something every day. That’s why it’s called the sweet science.”

Joe La Russo is a onetime professional photographer whose specialty was shooting jazz legends such as Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. La Russo has been taking boxing lessons for nearly two decades. “I just started coming here the first of the year. I was at another gym for 13 years,” said La Russo, who comes to the Fortune Gym three times a week. “I started when I was 66 years old. In April, I’ll be 80. I just got a nice vibe. I knew people. I knew trainers. I’m dropping down in weight, so I’m on a new program. I feel great.” La Russo said he has always been fascinated with the manly art. “Boxing is all around,” he said. “When I was 16 growing up in Brooklyn, I wanted to go into the Golden Gloves, but my mother wouldn’t let me go,” he said. “So, 50 years later I’m at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood with Freddie Roach. But I came here for a change of pace. Different energy. Different vibe. It’s what keeps me young.”

Originally from South Africa, Vuyo Noyce, spent years in the fashion industry and is married and a mother of two. Noyce has been coming to the Fortune Gym for about four years and pays a visit two or three days a week for about two hours. “I like the environment here. It’s super laid back,” Noyce offered. “It’s not pretentious. I think the trainers are good and Justin’s fantastic. It’s like going to a friend’s house.”

Kylie Fulmer is an Australian and the World Boxing Federation Women’s Intercontinental super bantamweight champion who lives in Los Angeles and also calls the Fortune Gym home. “I spent five years out in Las Vegas, so I was training at TMT, the Floyd Mayweather Gym and Floyd Sr. was my coach for 14 months. Then I went over to [trainer] Dewey Cooper and I’ve been with him for three years,” said Fulmer, who has pieced together a perfect 7-0 record with six knockouts. “The goal this year is to stay active and fight as much as we can. I decided to come out here for a few weeks and had a chat with Justin and I had to make the decision to move over here.”

Fulmer said the decision to stay was fairly easy. “Justin being Australian, you know I’ve got a home away from home and a family,” she said. When asked why she selected the Fortune Gym, Fulmer said that it would help her reach her goals and that she feels comfortable here. “I just really need to focus on the fundamentals of boxing and make those corrections I feel are going to take me to the next level to get these world class fights,” she said.

Frankie Lopez is a 24-year-old cruiserweight, but will drop down in weight to super middleweight. Lopez can be found at the Fortune Gym because he’s also a personal trainer. That day he left for several hours because he had a few clients at UCLA. “I like to be around what I do because I like to incorporate everything with the patients, with my clients, but also patients in the ring to allow myself to better myself and my craft,” explained Lopez, who began as a kickboxer and owns a 12-1-1 mark with nine knockouts. “I used to be trained by Virgil Hill. He’s a five-time world champion and a Hall of Famer, a silver medalist in the 1984 Olympics and his wife [Carla] as well. She’s a four-time Olympian and they trained me for the longest time. But then I went on Google and this gym popped up out of nowhere. So, I came back the next day and I fell in love with it. They welcome you with open arms.”

What takes place in a boxing gym is serious business because if one doesn’t train properly there are consequences. What Fortune and Frapasella have constructed and designed at their gym is in some way atypical. “I make sure everybody’s good,” said Frapasella. “I’m like the gym mom. I want to make sure you have someone to talk to. You want to have a good experience.”

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Is Great Britain Finally Achieving Dominance in the Sport it Invented?

Bernard Fernandez

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Is Great Britain Finally Achieving Dominance in the Sport it Invented?

It is one of those interesting facts that means everything, or nothing, depending upon one’s allegiance to a particular flag.

There are presently 193 member countries in the United Nations. At one time or another, the United Kingdom invaded 176 and controlled or ruled over each of them, including 13 rebellious British colonies in North America that in 1776 declared their intention to gain independence as a new and free nation. By and by, Great Britain’s global reach, which at its peak covered 13.7 million square miles, or 24% of the Earth’s surface, receded to a point where Britons no longer could proudly claim that theirs was “the empire on which the sun never sets.” And with the UK’s transfer of Hong Kong to China in 1997, that empire, for all intentions and purposes, ceased to exist.

But even when the Union Jack flew over most of those far-flung lands, it had to be irksome for citizens of the island nation, where modern professional boxing was basically invented in the 19th century, that for decades its finest pugilistic big men were routinely flattened by a succession of justifiably confident Yanks who came to view the heavyweight championship of the world as a sort of U.S. birthright. During one especially lengthy drought, British heavyweights went up against American titlists 13 times and lost every bout, most coming inside the distance

But that was then, and this is now. British heavyweight boxing is on such an upswing that it not only has gained parity with its American counterparts, but in many ways surpassed them. That should be obvious to everyone who saw the 6-foot-9, 273-pound Tyson Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs) basically have his way with Deontay Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) en route to a seventh-round technical knockout that was justified, whether or not  you believe Wilder’s co-trainer, Mark Breland, made the correct decision by tossing a towel into the ring to save his man from additional punishment. By that point in an increasingly one-sided beatdown, Fury had established himself as the superior fighter in the rivalry, their previous and controversial split draw of Dec. 1, 2018, notwithstanding.

Although Wilder has 30 days to decide if he wants to exercise his option for an immediate rematch, Fury-Wilder III is no longer the heavyweight megafight that most fans, on either side of the pond, most want to see. Nor should they get it as early as June or July, the projected target date for another do-over.

(Note: this story was written prior to Wilder announcing that he would indeed immediately enforce the rematch clause in his contract for a third fight with Fury.)

Contacted by Talk Sport shortly after Fury retained his lineal title and added the vacant The Ring magazine belt, Matchroom Sport’s Eddie Hearn, who promotes WBA/IBF/WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs), the 2017 super heavyweight gold medalist at the London Olympics and a fellow Briton, said Fury-Joshua cannot be put on hold because moments like this not only come along rarely, but virtually never.

“I’ve spoken to AJ and he wants to go into this (Fury) fight next,” Hearn said. “We have to make this fight happen. We will never, ever get the chance for two Brits to fight for the undisputed heavyweight world championship. I promise you we will do everything we can to make this fight. It has to happen.

“(Joshua) has no fear of fighting Tyson Fury. He has been through everything and he wants to be undisputed. This is the chance for our sport to have one of those legacy moments that we will never get the opportunity to have again.”

Logic, however, has a way of getting lost in the snarl of conflicting business interests and personal animosity. Joshua is aligned with the streaming service DAZN; Wilder is co-promoted by Frank Warren and Top Rank’s Bob Arum, which means his bouts are shown in America on ESPN+. A Fury-Joshua showdown for all the hardware would guarantee another sellout of 90,000 in London’s Wembley Stadium, but finding middle ground on any number of contract details could prove problematic, as would the fact that Hearn’s relationship with both Arum and Warren is frostier than a Siberian winter. Even agreeing on a start time could be vexing; 5 or 6 p.m. Eastern Time opening bell in the U.S. would suit stay-at-home British fans just fine, but a 3 a.m. London time start to benefit American TV viewers would not.

But if the drawn-out negotiations that led to the long-delayed pairing of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao in 2015 proved anything, it’s that if the public demand is great enough, any deal can be made if each side is willing to yield a little. For Fury-Joshua, however, the need to make it happen sooner rather than later raises the stakes considerably. No one should be so adamant about gaining every possible concession that discussions are drawn out four or five years before contracts can be signed. Even a facsimile of a Mayweather-Pacquiao repeat is a water-torture situation that simply won’t do.

Fury-Joshua necessarily would go onto the back burner, at least temporarily, if Team Wilder – unwisely, in more than a few people’s opinion — exercises its option for an immediate rematch. The “Bronze Bomber” would seemingly benefit from a longer than usual layoff, given all the damage he incurred in the most grueling test of mind and body he’s ever been in, and like many formerly undefeated fighters who get their first bitter taste of defeat, he could benefit, even in his mid-30s, from a confidence-rebuilding fight or two against less daunting opponents before trying his hand again vs. Fury.  Oh, sure, the Alabaman still packs dynamite in his right hand, but the seeming friction between co-trainers Jay Deas, who saw hope for a miraculous comeback where little seemed to exist, and Breland, the compassionate realist, will need to be addressed if all parties are to remain on the same page going forward.

Certainly, the marked improvement in Fury’s offense justified his decision to replace on short notice more defensive-minded trainer Ben Davison with Javan “Sugar” Hill, the nephew and protégé of the late Emanuel Steward. Manny always instructed his Kronk Gym fighters to aggressively go for knockouts whenever possible, a mindset shared by Hill that clearly appealed to Fury, who didn’t want to risk another disappointment by pencil, or worse.

“Not bad for someone with pillow fists,” Fury said after he bloodied Wilder’s nose and left ear, raising some facial lumps along the way as well.

Steward, it should be remembered, was the chief second of lightly regarded Oliver McCall when he traveled to London to challenge WBC heavyweight champion and future Hall of Famer Lennox Lewis on Sept. 24, 1994. McCall stopped Lewis in two rounds, whereupon Lewis ditched trainer Pepe Correa for Steward. Manny’s makeover of Lewis made him a dangerous dude even more so, the most obvious improvement in his transformation of his new pupil’s soft, range-finding jab into a hard, accurate weapon that served to better set up a devastating overhand right. The long professional relationship of Lewis and Steward helped enhance each man’s legacy, as was the case when Steward made over another long-reigning heavyweight champ, Wladimir Klitschko, into a better version of himself. A couple more training camps together with Hill might have the same indisputable therapeutic effect on Fury.

But, even if circumstances are such that Fury and Joshua continue to peer at one another across an unbridgeable chasm, maybe even forever, the state of British heavyweight boxing is deep enough to withstand even that annoyance. Now that each has a victory, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Joshua and Mexican-American Andy Ruiz Jr. got together for a rubber match. Dillian Whyte (27-1, 18 KOs), whose only loss was a competitive seventh-round stoppage against Joshua on Dec. 12, 2015, remains a top-five-type talent, and on April 11 two more Brit big men worth following, Joe Joyce (10-0, 9 KOs) and Daniel Dubois (14-0, 13 KOs), square off in London with the winner sure to draw a closer look from both Fury and Joshua.

Contrast the relatively robust health of British heavyweight boxing at this time to the wheezing state of the division in the U.S., now that Wilder has been so outclassed that he might require some rebuilding. There was an IBF heavyweight elimination bout on the Wilder-Fury II card between brief alphabet belt-holder Charles Martin, who lasted only two rounds against Joshua, and Gerald Washington, who somehow made it to the fifth round against Wilder. The quasi-contenders engaged in an exercise in tedium before Martin won on a one-punch KO in the fifth round. It is reflective of the severe lack of depth in U.S. heavyweight boxing that fighters such as this can turn up in world ratings that once featured names like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe.

Until or if Wilder returns to form, the U.S. hopes this may have to be carried by the excessively fleshy Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, a recent Top Rank signee whose dream shot against Joshua went to Ruiz after Miller tested positive for an illegal substance, and Polish-born, Brooklyn-based Adam Kownacki, whose fan base even in the New York borough primarily consists of displaced Poles waving that country’s flag.

In heavyweight boxing’s latest edition of Star Wars, it would appear that it’s what’s left of the British Empire that is striking back.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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