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Gary Shaw’s Version of Conor McGregor Was Kimbo Slice

Bernard Fernandez

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It has been suggested that, at this 21st century stage of human development, there is no such thing as a truly original idea, only gussied-up versions of previous attempts at creating something unique. Perhaps more so than anyone else, Gary Shaw understands the rationale for pairing boxing great Floyd Mayweather Jr. and mixed martial arts sensation Conor McGregor. It’s basically the same notion that Roman emperors and their minions had when they would pit captured beasts from faraway lands, say a lion and a tiger, in the Colosseum.  The Roman satirical poet Juvenal (circa 100 A.D.) coined the phrase “bread and circuses” to describe the practice of staging elaborate and costly games – chariot races, anyone? — in order for those in power to maintain control by periodically distracting their increasingly bored and restless subjects.

Boxing has not been around forever, although it sometimes seems like it, so Mayweather vs. McGregor, to be contested under boxing rules, has been relentlessly hyped as a fresh twist on a familiar format. Can the preening Mayweather, staunch upholder of his sport’s status quo, preserve order by putting away McGregor, a crass party-crasher from another combat-sport discipline? The lion again is doing battle with the tiger for entertainment purposes, and all indications are that pay-per-view and gross-revenue records will fall like tall wheat before the scythe.

But there is nothing really new or innovative about Mayweather vs. McGregor, except for the fact that each man’s reputation in his own realm is such that they come into Saturday night’s megafight at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena (to be televised via Showtime Pay Per View) with large, established fan bases that will be augmented by untold millions of the curious lured by what they’ve been promised is an event unlike anything they’ve ever witnessed. And maybe what will be delivered will prove at least somewhat worthy of the stiff tariff ponied up by on-site attendees and PPV subscribers, although Shaw has grave reservations.

“I don’t see any MMA fighter beating a boxer under boxing rules, especially one of Floyd’s class,” said Shaw, who has been on both sides of the philosophical chasm as president of his own boxing promotional company, Gary Shaw Productions and president of now-defunct EliteXC Live Events, a failed MMA challenger to the supremacy of UFC. “The footwork is different.  Going from four-ounce gloves to eight-ounce gloves is an immense difference. Plus, a boxer is used to seeing where his opponent is, in terms of technique and distance. It’s not the same in MMA, where there’s standup but also kicking and ground-and-pound.

“Unless I’m very wrong, this is a fight that isn’t a real fight at all. I can’t imagine there’s any way that Mayweather can possibly lose. Now, if the fight was under MMA rules, McGregor would be just as much of a sure thing. He’d take Mayweather down quickly because Floyd doesn’t have those skills, and you can’t pick them up in an eight-week training camp. You just can’t.”

Now that he’s sold his boxing promotional company to Roc Nation Sports, with which he briefly was affiliated (“I lasted there about three weeks,” he said of an operation that appears to still be seeking its footing) and EliteXC has long since gone belly-up, Shaw, now 72, doesn’t have a reason to root for either of the expletive-spewing principals or their sport of origin. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an interest as to what happens as, a decade or so ago, he had his own dream of creating a crossover superstar who could straddle the worlds of boxing and MMA like the Colossus of Rhodes. The vehicle through which Shaw would achieve such sweeping success was, much like McGregor, bearded, lefthanded, possessed of crushing punching power and a menacing scowl that could melt lead.

Shaw’s candidate for the kind of superstardom that many seek but few attain came into this world on Feb. 8, 1974, in Nassau, the Bahamas, as Kevin Ferguson. Most came to know him by his nom de guerre, Kimbo Slice. His legend withered before it had much chance to take root, but there can be no denying that Kimbo, who was just 42 when he died on June 6, 2016, was for a time considered to be larger than life, a comet streaking across the sky. Just as McGregor arrives at this juncture with liberal splashes of charisma and a compelling back story (see Wright Thompson’s enthralling profile in the Aug. 21 issue of ESPN the Magazine), Kimbo had an undefinable something that drew people to him like moths to an open flame. Shaw’s ambitious plan was to take Kimbo, who came to widespread attention through YouTube videos of unsanctioned, bare-knuckle brawls that saw him destroy opponents with Tysonesque brutality, and make him into the heavyweight champion of the world.

“Kimbo is one of those people that comes along every once in ages who has what I call the it factor,” Shaw said in the late spring of 2009. “I have a lot of fighters who come to me and are great talents but don’t have the it factor. Manny Pacquiao has the it factor. He’s a star. He reeks of stardom. People gravitate toward him.

“Kimbo is that way. When he walks into a room, he lights up that room. People yell `Kimbo! Kimbo!’ It doesn’t have anything to do with how he did in his last fight. It has to do with the it factor. When Tyson walks into an arena, everyone stands up. He’s Mike Tyson, of course, but he’s got that it factor.”

The phenom known as Kimbo Slice was first brought to my attention by my son Randy, who asked me to check out a YouTube video of the thickly muscled former linebacker’s backyard demolition of some large, hairy guy whose name now escapes me. It was a cruder, more violent and much-abbreviated version of Sonny Liston disassembling Floyd Patterson. But being unofficial ruler of Miami’s street-fighting scene to king of the ring is a quantum leap, so I paid no heed to rumors that already were circulating that this baddest of badass dudes might soon be trying his hand at, you know, actual boxing.

Depending upon which version of the story one chooses to believe, the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Kimbo Slice was either 0-0 in sanctioned boxing matches (according to BoxRec.com) or 7-0, with six knockouts (Wikipedia). Shaw said  those seven bouts were indeed legit, and who cares if the list of Kimbo’s victims – James Wade, Tay Bledsoe, Charles Hackmann, Brian Green, Jesse Porter, Howard Jones and Shane Tilyard – is hardly a who’s who of professional pugilism. Pulverizing power might be the rawest and most primal of a fighter’s resources, but it can camouflage a lot of technical shortcomings. But before he could put himself into a position (if ever that was a possibility) to challenge either or both of the Klitschko brothers, Kimbo gave up his boxing dream to sign with UFC, whose president, Dana White, no doubt had taken note of the high ratings Kimbo’s MMA appearances on CBS had garnered for EliteXC.

Could Kimbo ever have approached anything even remotely close to the boxing potential as envisioned for him by Shaw?

“He wasn’t really young enough (37 when he ostensibly made his pro debut with first-round, 17-second knockout of Wade on Aug. 13, 2011) to be trying to make the transition, but he might have done well had he stuck with it,” Shaw said. “He was just so immensely strong that if he caught anybody on the chin, the fight was over. But he didn’t really train to put it all together in the boxing ring.”

Nor did Kimbo justify his initial burst of popularity in MMA (a 5-2 record with three knockouts in sanctioned matches, 1-1 in exhibitions). It factor or not, the onetime University of Miami football player and father of six with the made-for-Hollywood past (he had worked as a bouncer in a Miami strip club and later as a limousine driver and bodyguard for a pornography production company) had exploitable weaknesses both inside the ring and the octagon. He had dubious stamina, which virtually obliged him to end matters within mere minutes of a fight’s beginning, and, at best, negligible skills in MMA other than a big punch. What’s worse, his reputation was sullied when Sam Petruzelli, a last-minute fill-in for the injured Ken Shamrock in the main event of a CBS-televised card on Oct. 4, 2008, claimed he was pressured to stand up and trade shots with Kimbo, instead of taking the fight to the ground where his ju-jitsu skills might give him an edge. Whether the accusation was true or not, it spawned enough of a scandal that CBS pulled out of its deal with EliteXC and the organization eventually folded.

It is Kimbo’s brief encounter with “Merciless” Ray Mercer, an Olympic heavyweight gold medalist and former WBO heavyweight champion, however, that adds an element of intrigue to Mayweather-McGregor. An accomplished boxer, even if he was then 46, Mercer lasted only 72 seconds against Kimbo in their June 23, 2007, exhibition match in Atlantic City, tapping out after Kimbo got him in a guillotine choke hold. But in an actual sanctioned MMA bout, Mercer knocked out a highly decorated MMA veteran, Tim Sylvia, in nine seconds on June 13, 2009, putting him down and out with the first punch he threw.

If there is anything that can be taken from the strange journey of Kimbo Slice, who died of heart failure shortly after a mass on his liver was diagnosed, it is this: lions should remain lions and tigers should remain tigers. Without question Conor McGregor is a better mixed martial artist, and probably boxer, than Kimbo ever was, but then Floyd McGregor Jr. is no James Wade. You can, ahem, slice it any way you want and it still projects to be a mismatch.

“Mayweather is the dean of spatial relationships,” Shaw said. “He knows how close he can go to another fighter without that fighter connecting on Floyd’s chin. He is an absolute master of spacing, which is the key to hitting and not getting hit back. He’s been doing this for many, many years. He’s become, like, a professor of boxing.”

And what of Mayweather dropping hints that he will go for the gusto and take the kind of risks he has rarely taken in the past against a boxing neophyte like McGregor?

“He’s not going to change his style against McGregor,” Shaw predicted. “Why should he? What he’s been doing has worked for him all this time. He’s a highly skilled fighter, maybe one of the all-time greats in any era. I know some of the stuff he does outside the ring turns people off so they just don’t like him, but a lot of those people are going to pay to see him in the hope of seeing him get a come-uppance.

“It was the same thing with Mayweather-Pacquiao. I didn’t believe that would be a real fight, a competitive fight, and I don’t believe this one will be, either. The only bad thing is if it’s a repeat of Mayweather-Pacquiao, with Floyd so dominant that it’s seen as boring, it’ll have a negative effect on all the pay-per-views to follow. It’ll leave a sour taste.”

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

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 82: Jason Quigley Returns to SoCal and More

David A. Avila

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Southern California prizefighting heats up with Jason Quigley headlining a fight card in Orange County and then, two days later, another fight card takes place in the heart of Los Angeles.

Ireland’s Quigley (17-1, 13 KOs) faces Mexico’s Fernando Marin (16-4-3, 12 KOs) on Thursday Jan. 23, at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, Calif. DAZN will stream the Golden Boy Promotions fight card live.

Quigley, 28, seeks to reclaim territory lost when he suffered a defeat last July against Tureano Johnson. Ironically, Marin would lose 10 days later in Hollywood to super welterweight contender Serhii Bohachuk.

For several years Quigley had trained in Southern California but decided to change trainers and location. He moved to Great Britain and still prepares near his native country but primarily fights in the U.S.

At one time Quigley clamored for a match against Gennady “GGG” Golovkin or Saul “Canelo” Alvarez but now finds himself trying to prove he belongs in the upper tier of the middleweight division. It’s loaded with talent.

Also on the same fight card will be popular North Hollywood super welterweight Ferdinand Kerobyan who was headed to contender status when he ran into Blair “the Flair” Cobbs. At the time Cobbs was an unknown quantity but no longer.

Kerobyan (13-1, 8 KOs) meets Azael Cosio (21-8-2) in an eight-round clash in the semi-main event at OC Hangar. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Red Boxing International

On Saturday Jan. 27, Red Boxing International hosts its first boxing card of the year at Leonardo’s Night Club located at 6617 Wilson Ave. L.A. 90001. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Super welterweight Bryan Flores (13-1, 6 KOs) meets Brandon Baue (15-17) in the main event  in the first event of the year for the ambitious promotion company. For the past two years Flores fought primarily in Tijuana, Mexico where he racked up six wins. Now he’s back on Southern California soil.

Another match features lightweights Angel Israel Rodriguez (5-0) facing off against Braulio Avila (3-6) in a six-round fight.

Rodriguez fights out of Pico Rivera, Calif. but recently fought in Costa Rica where he won by first round knockout in November. He will be fighting Avila who just fought two weeks ago at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, Calif.

It’s a long fight card with 11 bouts on the schedule.

JRock and Rosario

Boxing fans received another lesson on never underestimating a ranked contender regardless of the name recognition.

Jeison Rosario knocked out Julian “J Rock” Williams who was making the first defense of the WBA and IBF super welterweight world titles he won last year in my selection as “Fight of the Year.”

Rosario walked in with little recognition and was thought to be a soggy piece of bread for Williams. The long armed Dominican fighter walloped Williams in front of his hometown fans in Philadelphia. It was yet another warning for fans to understand that anyone who steps in the boxing ring ranked as a contender can do the unthinkable. In this case Rosario knocked out the champion in five rounds.

Many felt Williams was far too skilled, especially on the inside where he showcased those skills last May against former titlist Jarret Hurd. It was a remarkable display of the art of inside fighting. But against Rosario, he never got a chance to exhibit those skills.

The loaded super welterweight division has another dangerous champion in Rosario.

Fights to Watch

Thurs. 6 p.m. DAZN – Jason Quigley (17-1) vs Fernando Marin (16-4-3).

Sat. 6 p.m. Showtime – Danny Garcia (35-2) vs Ivan Redkach (23-4-1).

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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Recalling Three Big Fights in Miami, the Site of Super Bowl LIV

Arne K. Lang

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The San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs collide on Feb. 2 in Miami in Super Bowl LIV (54) in what will assuredly be the biggest betting event to ever play out on American soil. It’s the 10th Super Bowl for the South Florida metropolis which ties it with New Orleans as the most frequent destination for football’s premier attraction.

With its heavily Latin population, Miami would seem to be natural for big fights. However, this hasn’t been the case. Several great champions fought here, including Roberto Duran who twice defended his world lightweight title in these parts, but these weren’t big fights. In the case of Duran, his opponents were lightly regarded and the Panamanian legend was still three years away from his first encounter with Sugar Ray Leonard, a match that increased his name recognition a hundred-fold.

There were, however, three fights in Miami that summoned the interest of virtually all of America’s A-list sportswriters. Here they are in reverse chronological order.

Aaron Pryor vs. Alexis Arguello (Nov. 12, 1982)

Alexis Arguello (72-5) was bidding to become boxing’s first four-division champion. In his way stood WBA junior welterweight title-holder Aaron Pryor (31-0, 29 KOs), a man now widely regarded as the best 140-pound boxer of all time.

Arguello, a Miami resident, having been exiled from his Nicaraguan homeland by the Sandanista rebel occupation, was a textbook boxer who defeated his opponents with surgical efficiency. Pryor was a typhoon. He mowed down his opponents with relentless pressure. It was a great style match-up and it didn’t disappoint. Contested before nearly 30,000 at Miami’s iconic Orange Bowl, Pryor vs. Arguello was a fight for the ages.

“There was power, finesse, poise, courage and a tremendous ebb and flow,” said Associated Press writer Ed Schuyler who dubbed it Manila in Miniature. In the ninth, 11th, and particularly the 13th rounds, Arguello hit Pryor with straight right hands that would have felled an ordinary fighter, but Pryor had an iron chin.

In the 14th, Pryor buckled Arguello’s knees with a straight right hand and then unloaded a furious combination as Arguello fell back against the ropes. He was out on feet when referee Stanley Cristodoulou intervened and he would lay prone on the canvas for several minutes before he could be removed to his dressing room.

Sonny Liston vs. Muhammad Ali (Feb. 25, 1964)

If you happen to find a poster for this fight with the name Muhammad Ali on it, don’t buy it. It’s bogus. Liston met up with Muhammad Ali in their second fight. In their first encounter, Liston opposed Cassius Clay.

Clay’s Louisville sponsors, after a brief flirtation with Archie Moore, settled on Angelo Dundee as his trainer. Angelo operated out of his brother Chris Dundee’s gym located at the corner of 5th Street and Washington Avenue in Miami Beach. The fighter who took the name Muhammad Ali trained here and kept a home in Miami for most of his first six years as a pro.

Clay/Ali was 22 years old and had only 19 fights under his belt when he was thrust against heavyweight champion Sonny Liston at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Liston was riding a 28-fight winning streak after back-to-back first-round blowouts of Floyd Patterson.

In a UPI survey, 43 of 46 boxing writers picked Liston. “Clay has no more chance of stopping Liston than the old red barn had of impeding a tornado,” wrote Nat Fleischer, the publisher of The Ring magazine.

This would be the first of many famous fights for Muhammad Ali who emerged victorious when Liston quit after the sixth frame citing an injured shoulder. What is not widely known, however, is that the fight, which was shown on closed-circuit in the U.S. and Canada, was a bust at the gate. The 16,448-seat Convention Center was only half full.

The expectation that Liston would take the lippy kid out in a hurry depressed sales, as did sky-high ticket prices ($250 tops when $100 was the norm). And there may have been more subtle factors. “This may not be the best place for a fight between two Negroes,” wrote Robert Lipsyte of the New York Times, cognizant that people of color were not welcome as guests at the ritzy beachfront hotels along Collins Avenue.

Jack Sharkey vs. W. L. (Young) Stribling (Feb. 27, 1929)

A big fight, as I define it, doesn’t have to be a blockbuster. An important fight that produces an upset automatically becomes a bigger fight in hindsight. The Sharkey-Stribling fight of 1929 didn’t draw an immense crowd by Jack Dempsey standards, but the turnout, reportedly 35,000, far exceeded expectations and the fight – which preceded Miami’s first Orange Bowl football game by six years — really established Miami as a potentially good place for a big sporting event.

Promoted by the Madison Square Garden Corporation, the bout was originally headed to a dog racing track but it quickly became obvious that a larger venue was needed. A stadium was erected on a Miami Beach polo field, taking the name Flamingo Park (not to be confused with the thoroughbred track of the same name).

Slated for 10 rounds, the bout was conceived as one of two “eliminators” to find a successor to Gene Tunney who had retired. What gave the fight it’s primary allure, however, was the North-South angle. Sharkey, born Joseph Zukauskas, hailed from Boston. Stribling, born into a family that traveled the fair circuit with a variety act, was from Macon, Georgia.

The fight, which aired on the NBC radio network, was a dud, a drab affair won by Sharkey who had the best of it in virtually every round. Both went on to fight Max Schmeling for the world heavyweight title. Stribling, dubbed the “King of the Canebrakes” by Damon Runyon, lost by TKO in fight that was stopped late in the 15th round. Sharkey took the title from Schmeling on a split decision after losing their first meeting on a foul.

Young Stribling died in a motorcycle crash at age 28, by which time he had engaged in 251 documented bouts, the great majority of which were set-ups. Jack Sharkey lived to be 91.

—-

The strong earnings of the Sharkey-Stribling bout inevitably drew the Madison Square Garden Corporation back to Miami for an encore. On Feb. 27, 1930, Jack Sharkey opposed England’s “Fainting” Phil Scott. Four years later, on March 1, 1834, Primo Carnera defended his world heavyweight title here against former light heavyweight champion Tommy Loughran, the Philadelphia Phantom.

Both bouts were big money losers, as were the great majority of major fights during this period. Eight months after the Sharkey-Stribling cash cow, the stock market crashed, plunging the United States into the Great Depression. Few Americans could afford to vacation in Florida, let alone travel anywhere for a big fight.

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Star Power: Ryan Garcia and Oscar De La Hoya at West L.A. Gym

David A. Avila

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Under gray skies and very cool temperatures Ryan Garcia arrived with his father and a couple of others at the Westside Boxing Gym on Monday.

Waiting anxiously were about 100 people comprised of mostly videographers and photographers who had already surrounded Oscar De La Hoya who arrived earlier.

Golden Boy greets the Flash.

Garcia (19-0, 16 KOs) has a fight coming soon against Nicaragua’s Francisco Fonseca (25-2-2, 19 KOs) on Friday Feb. 14, at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. The Golden Boy Promotions show will be streamed by DAZN.

“I’m ready for this fight,” Garcia said quickly.

Some say it has been a rather quick road for the fighter from Victorville known as the Flash. But if you ask Garcia, it has been too slow.

“I think he (Garcia) will be world champion this year,” said De La Hoya, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions.

Years ago, De La Hoya arrived with the same hoopla but his travel to the top seemed even faster. By his fifth pro fight he was matched with Jeff Mayweather. Yes, those Mayweathers. At the time Mayweather had fought 27 professional fights and had only two losses. De La Hoya stopped him in four.

In his eighth pro fight De La Hoya met Troy Dorsey, a tough Texan who had formerly held the IBF featherweight world title and who would later win a super featherweight world title. De La Hoya stopped him in one round.

Two years after winning the Olympic gold medal in Barcelona, the Golden Boy met WBO world titlist Jimmi Bredahl at the Olympic Auditorium and after dropping him several times finally stopped him in the 10th round. It was De La Hoya’s first world title and he was 21 years old.

Garcia is now 21 and ready to test the loaded lightweight division waters. For a while he was fighting at super featherweight, a division loaded with talent. But lightweights are the Maginot Line when it comes to boxing’s big hitters. Everybody can punch in the 135-pound limit lightweight division.

When Garcia met Romero Duno last November in Las Vegas many expected the speedy Victorville fighter to get his come-uppance. Instead the lanky slugger lit up the strong Filipino fighter and dropped him into the ether world.

It was mesmerizing stuff.

Now he’s back with a load of credibility after shutting down detractors with his devastating knockout win over Duno. It wasn’t supposed to be that easy. Just like it wasn’t supposed to be that easy when De La Hoya raced by world champions like Secretariat did in the Kentucky Derby decades ago. It’s not supposed to be that easy, but for some it truly is.

Garcia seems to be headed for a journey so remarkable that he has other world champions like WBC titlist Devin Haney eyeing him for their next challenges. It barely results in a yawn for the fighter who will be facing a very credible foe in Fonseca next month.

“I’m not even the champion and he’s calling me out,” said Garcia with a whatever kind of look.

Other fighters and promoters can see what Garcia represents and want to get a slice of it too. Its intangible yet most of the boxing world can sense something is coming and Garcia might be part of it.

That’s called star power and it’s difficult to explain. Some have it, many want it and others have no chance of ever attaining it.

Time will tell how far Garcia’s star power will venture.

One man lived that life and, in a sense, still lives that life and that is De La Hoya. Even he senses a déjà vu moment with Garcia.

“It’s why we made him one of the richest young prospects in boxing today,” De La Hoya said.

Expect several thousand ardent fans of Garcia to fill the seats on Valentine’s Day. How else can you explain it but, star power.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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