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Deontay Wilder’s Hall of Shame

Deontay Wilder’s Hall of Shame
This is a look at the title opposition of one Deontay Wilder, America’s great heavyweight hope and currently ranked number

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Deontay Wilder’s Hall of Shame

This is a look at the title opposition of one Deontay Wilder, America’s great heavyweight hope and currently ranked number two in that flagship division.

What it is not is a critique of the WBC’s rankings policy.  It could easily be interpreted as such; we are told time and time again that the reasoning behind a given fight is only that it is “mandatory” and therefore has to be fought.

It is a wonder that any competitive fights get made at all, this being the case.

This is also not an accounting of Wilder’s apparent bad inflatable slide luck in attempting to make stiffer matches for himself.  It is an examination of what has actually happened rather than what someone tried to do.

I admit that it doesn’t make for pretty reading, but horror rarely does.

All rankings are by the TBRB; other independent ranking organizations are available – and they don’t seem to see things any differently.

ERIC MOLINA (23-2), 1st Defense, June 2015. 

I am not a total skeptic when it comes to soft opposition; “one for me, one for you” is a reasonable approach I think, and Wilder took on his only ranked opponent to date when he met Stiverne for the WBC trinket in early 2015. A more limited opponent seemed a reasonable move to me, and the Texan, Eric Molina, qualified.

Chris Arreola was in a strange place in his career in 2012. Having failed in his attempt at a heavyweight strap against Vitali Klitschko in 2009 and then lost to former cruiserweight belt-holder Tomasz Adamek in 2010 he had hit the road on what amounted to an old-fashioned barn-burning tour in boxing outback against his own selection of limited opposition. This culminated in a ten round decision win over a heavyweight named Friday Ahunanya, a once promising Nigerian heavy who had just dropped a six-rounder to a professional loser called Cisse Callif.

When the result of this fight was later changed to a No Contest when Arreola failed the drugs test (marijuana), I think it’s fair to say that the once proud Mexican-American had reached his career low. It is understandable then that Molina was excited to be matched with him in February of 2012. This excitement did not last long. Molina was blasted out in 150 seconds.

These things happen in boxing, and Arreola was capable of making them happen so it was fitting that Molina be afforded the chance to rebuild. Between this first round knockout defeat and his June 2015 meeting with Wilder, Molina had five fights. He met no ranked contenders. In fact, he met no fighters of note outside of a 45 year old DaVarryl Williamson who hadn’t boxed for two years and who was rescued from himself in the fifth. Molina stooped lower in his next contest, beating up the 10-12-2 Theo Kruger. After one more outing he was apparently “ready” to meet Wilder with the belt on the line.

Molina was not a bad fighter and he actually landed some good shots on the belt-holder on his way to being stopped in the ninth, lasting eight rounds longer than he had against Arreola. That being said, he was also woefully under-qualified for championship boxing. Still, as I said, a soft one is reasonable after lifting the title. The real question was the eternal one – who’s next?

Who should he have fought instead?  Vyacheslav Glazkov, pre-injury, ranked seven.

JOHANN DUHAUPAS (32-2), 2nd Defense, September 2015.

To his tremendous credit, Wilder was out quickly but the man in the other corner once again underwhelmed.

Frenchman Johann Duhaupas was big with a big reach but the headline in assessing him as an opponent for Wilder was his twelve round points loss to novice Erkan Teper in March 2015. Their fight was turgid, honest (although Teper did have a point deducted for pushing) and in no way controversial; cards of 116-111 twice and 115-112 in favor of Teper were a fair reflection of the contest.

Maybe, at the absolute limits of what is acceptable, Teper could have reasonably have been favored with a shot at Wilder’s trinket, especially after his next fight, a two round battering of David Price. But it was Duhaupas , the loser of that contest that would get to meet Deontay.

Welcome to Wilder territory.

Between Teper and his title match, Duhaupas was able to put a veneer of respectability on his shot with a narrow majority decision victory over Manuel Charr. Charr was a legitimate opponent and I thought Duhaupas handled him reasonably well, especially early, edging away and walking his opponent onto a decent jab, lobbing in the occasional ill-directed right when he felt it was safe to do so.

Still, once again, Charr was not a ranked opponent; he was a gatekeeper, the type of fighter whose defeat would open up for the victor a fight with a ranked opponent, the defeat of whom might in turn open up an elimination bout against a top contender. Not in this instance. In this instance, a loss to a novice and a hairline victory over a gatekeeper got Duhaupas into a ring with Wilder.

It wasn’t pretty.

Who should he have fought instead?  Carlos Takam, ranked six.

ARTUR SZPILKA (20-1), 3rd Defense, January 2016. 

Artur Szpilka is my favorite Deontay Wilder opponent and I will go so far as to say that had Wilder fought a ranked man in September, this would have been a reasonable outing in January.

Szpilka was a quick southpaw who made up for his dearth in reach with a shifting style and good arbitrary head movement. The problem with his status as a title-challenger, aside from an absence of a top ten ranking, was his defeat two years earlier to Wilder’s chief domestic rival Bryant Jennings. Jennings had taken the high road to Wilder’s low road, crashing himself upon the rock that was Wladimir Klitschko where Wilder preferred the weakest of the available “champions” in Stiverne; fair to say, Jennings paid for his bravery, never being quite the same again after his meeting with Doctor Steelhammer. Against Szpilka, though, Jennings had looked excellent, winning nearly every round on his way to a stoppage victory in the tenth.

Szpilka’s return was not the preferred route of prospective Wilder title-challengers though, and he even found time to defeat a legitimately ranked opponent in Tomasz Adamek. His first two opponents of 2015 were more in keeping with those favored by Wilder’s challenges in Ty Cobb (18-6) and Manuel Quezada (29-9 and on a five fight losing streak) and these victories, combined with a two round victory over Yasmany Consuegra who blew out his knee in the second were good enough to make the match with Wilder.

It is worth keeping in mind that this bizarre combination of opposition likely made Szpilka Wilder’s most legitimate opponent.  Unsurprisingly it therefore made for his best match, too, as well as his key learning fight. Szpilka’s style made Wilder a little uncomfortable and the Pole won several rounds before Wilder closed the blinds in what remains, for me, his most impressive knockout.

Who should he have fought instead?  Szpilka’s first conqueror, Bryant Jennings, ranked ten.

CHRIS ARREOLA (36-4-1), 4th Defense, July 2016. 

Wilder’s fourth defense against Chris Arreola was probably his most cynical. Arreola had name recognition to recommend him and little else. A perfectly reasonable opponent for a young prospect, he was no more a legitimate title challenger than I am, having recorded two wins in his previous six contests.

This underlines the problem with handing out baubles to fighters who are not yet ready to properly defend them: it takes a devalued property and gives it to a fighter who will happily devalue it further while making money.

After that one round blowout of Molina, Arreola matched Bermane Stiverne and was somehow installed as a prohibitive favorite. Stiverne promptly broke his nose and pounded out a decision win. Arreola saved himself from a descent into obscurity with another first round knockout, this time over Seth Mitchell, but the taste of that Stiverne defeat would not go away and he demanded and received a rematch. This time he was stopped in six. Arreola then fought a really fun fight with an unknown called Curtis Harper, earning himself an eight round decision and a short reprieve from obscurity, but much of this work was undone when he found himself on the lucky end of a ten round draw with Fred Kassi.

Then Arreola met Travis Kauffman.

Kauffman was exactly the sort of opponent Arreola should have been meeting at that point in his career. Kauffman had just moved on from facing professional losers with records like 10-21 or 19-22-3 and on to genuine tests, fighters who were coming to win but might not be expected to for whatever reason – in short, Arreola was now a trial horse. To give him his due, he got himself in shape for Kauffman, but was caught with a crackling up and down combination in the third and dropped. Drawing upon all his experience he forced Kauffman into the type of tough combat often seen in the netherworld where busted flushes show against drawing hands and with both men exhausted down the stretch he made it close – two cards reading 114-113 in his favor bought him the split, though my card read the same as the odd judge, who saw it by the same score in the other direction.

Regardless, the fight was changed to a No Contest after Arreola failed another drug test.

Of course he got a fight with Wilder.

Who should he have fought instead?  Anyone.

GERALD WASHINGTON (18-0-1), 5th Defense, February 2017.

At the time of his meeting with Gerald Washington, Wilder was ranked the number four heavyweight in the world and was heralded the world champion by the WBC. Gerald Washington was a prospect. A prospect in his mid-thirties, so a prospect in a rush, but a prospect none the less.

Washington’s three-pronged arrival in 2015/16 heralded a fighter of no little talent who carried all the foibles any heavy of his inexperience can be expected to exhibit. Against the sawn-off aggressor Amir Mansour he looked genuinely excellent early before floundering against his more seasoned opponent down the stretch. He was lucky, in my view, to escape with the split draw the judges found for him but it was an excellent learning fight for a man who at a lean 250lbs looked the part.

Next up was a true veteran in Eddie Chambers. Here, I thought Washington was probably good for his eight round decision win but it was bizarre to watch a man with such a pronounced size advantage work so hard to avoid exchanges. More bizarre still was the huge number of punches both men missed. It is rare that such inaccuracy is televised.

I’ve never seen him beat up the bloated ghost of the fighter who had once been Ray Austin but that was the shambolic elimination for his meeting with Deontay Wilder. Wilder staged a predictably one-sided blow-out over five.

Who should he have fought instead?    Dillian Whyte (10), Christian Hammer (9), Andy Ruiz (8) or Kubrat Pulev (6).

BERMANE STIVERNE (25-2-1), 6th Defense, November 2017.

To be fair to Wilder, Bermane Stiverne was a substitute opponent for Luis Ortiz, who failed a drug test. It is also fair to point out that when Wilder’s British counterpart Anthony Joshua lost his opponent, world number six contender Kubrat Pulev on short notice, he substituted world number seven contender Carlos Takam.

That, as they say, is how it’s done.

It is also worth pointing out that Stiverne was due to fight on the Wilder-Ortiz undercard with a view to stoking and then staging the rematch nobody wanted to see early next year anyway. While that percolates, consider, too, that Stiverne had somehow remained a WBC top contender despite the fact that he has fought only once in the three years since Wilder pounded out a wide, dull decision over him. He fought 30-10 Audley Harrison victim Derric Rossy and was extended the full ten rounds.

Stiverne, like all these opponents, did nothing to earn a ranking on a reasoned, independent organization’s top ten at heavyweight. All of them were deeply, deeply flawed as title opponents. It is true that Wilder has been unlucky in cornering quality opposition, but it is also true that he is the number two draw in heavyweight boxing and if his representatives want to get low-key quality opposition to America to test him, it is just a matter of paying.

If they prefer to corner fan dollars while lining up victims, that is their choice and as a road to riches it is as tried and tested as fighting the best. But what must be remembered, as negotiations begin in earnest for the Joshua-Wilder showdown this coming year, is that this policy has left Joshua’s people with far and away the stronger hand.

It is Joshua who has bested by far the better opposition. He has beaten four ranked men in his 20 fights – Charles Martin (9), Dominic Breazeale (9), Wladimir Klitschko (1) and Carlos Takam (7) – while Wilder has managed one in his 39 (Bermane Stiverne; 6).

In matters not unrelated, Joshua is commanding purses between $13m and $19m while Wilder cleared as little as $1.4m dollars for his most recent contest.

To be clear, Wilder’s call for a 50/50 split in any fight between the two is ridiculous at best and dishonest at worst; it is likely that if Wilder is assigned 25% of the take (and he will, and should, get more) then it will represent a payday in wild excess of anything he has ever earned.

There’s no fooling boxing. One way or the other you get what you deserve.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott

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Fighters from Tijuana are on a Roll; Can Alexandro Santiago Keep Up the Momentum?

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Fighters from Tijuana are on a Roll; Can Alexandro Santiago Keep Up the Momentum?

Last Thursday, a Golden Boy Promotions card in California produced an early entrant for Upset of the Year. In the main event, unsung Jesus “Ricky” Perez out-pointed former U.S. Olympian and former two-division title-holder Joseph “Jojo” Diaz.

Perez hails from Tijuana. Heading in, he had lost five of his last nine and had never won a match slated for more than eight rounds. He started fast and held on to win a split nod (ancient ringside judge Lou Moret awarded Perez nine of the 10 rounds).

The fast-growing, hardscrabble city of Tijuana, which sits at the northwest tip of the Baja peninsula, has produced a steady stream of good boxers over the years (Erik Morales, a Hall of Famer, and Antonio Margarito, a two-time world welterweight champion, come quickly to mind), but is currently enjoying arguably the best run in the city’s boxing history. And the distaff side is sharing in the prosperity. Flyweight Kenia Enriquez (28-1, 11 KOs) and her younger sister Tania Rodriguez (21-1, 10 KOs), a light flyweight, are knocking on the door of world title fights (Kenia holds an interim belt).

Last December, when pundits at the leading U.S. boxing websites brainstormed to come up with the 2023 Fight of the Year, two bouts stood out above all others: the Feb. 18 match between super bantamweights Luis Nery and Azat Hovhannisyan and the June 10 super middleweight contest between Jaime Munguia and Sergiy Derevyanchenko.

The Nery-Hovhannisyan match was a riveting, see-saw rumble that ended with Nery winning by TKO in the 11th round. Munguia scored a knockdown in the 12th to overcome Derevyanchenko, eking out a razor-thin but unanimous decision. Both victors have since added another “W” to their respective ledgers. Nery (35-1, 27 KOs) KOed Filipino veteran Froilan Saludar. Munguia (43-0, 34 KOs) dominated and stopped England’s John Ryder.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Luis Nery and Jaime Munguia were both born and raised in Tijuana. And we will be hearing a lot more about them. Although unofficial, Nery has an agreement in place to fight superstar Naoya Inoue in Tokyo in May and, according to various reports, Nery is now the frontrunner to be Canelo Alvarez’s next opponent.

The month after Munguia-Derevyanchenko, Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (pictured) scored his signature win and won the vacant WBC world bantamweight title with an upset of the great Filipino fighter Nonito Donaire. Santiago won a clear-cut decision on the card topped by the mega-fight between Terence Crawford and Errol Spence.

Santiago (28-3-5, 14 KOs) has a formidable challenge for his first title defense which comes on Saturday in Tokyo. In the opposite corner will be undefeated Junto Nakatani (26-0, 19 KOs) who is moving up in weight after winning world titles at 112 and 115. Nakatani can really crack as he showed with his brutal, one-punch knockout of Andrew Moloney.

There are two other title fights on the card which will air in the U.S. on ESPN+. Needless to say, one will have to get out of bed early to catch all the action. The first bell is slated for 4 am ET, 1 pm PT.

Santiago will be a heavy underdog against his Japanese opponent who will have a 5-inch height advantage. However, if recent history is any guide, one should not be too quick to dismiss his chances.

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Who Murdered Peter Bufala? A ‘Whodunit’ with a Boxing Backdrop

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On Friday, Oct. 8, 1976, Peter Bufala returned home from work just as a new day was dawning. The Las Vegas baccarat dealer pulled his Cadillac into his circular driveway, exited his car, walked toward his front door, and was felled by two bullets from a 9 mm handgun, one entering his chest and the other his brain. A neighbor fetching his morning newspaper found him lying in a pool of blood on his front lawn. He was dead when the police arrived. He was 33 years old and left behind a wife and two young daughters.

A 12-year resident of the fast-growing southern Nevada gambling mecca, Bufala grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania, a blue collar suburb of Philadelphia. He had come here to rekindle his boxing career.

A Middle Atlantic amateur featherweight champion, he had begun his pro career on a high note, winning a 4-round decision over a fellow novice on a show at New York’s St. Nicholas Arena that included Rubin “Hurricane” Carter who would go on to fight for the world middleweight title but would be best remembered for the many years he spent behind prison walls for his alleged involvement in a triple homicide.

Following his New York engagement, Bufala fought in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Virginia. As a pro, he never fought in his home state and there was a reason for it. In 1961, while undergoing a routine medical examination at an amateur show, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur. The Pennsylvania Boxing Commission rescinded his license. He subsequently underwent a series of tests at Temple University Medical Hospital and was given a clean bill of health, but the Pennsylvania authorities were unyielding and, bit by bit, in a day when news traveled slowly, other jurisdictions fell into line.

Nevada was the Wild West. The regulators there had looser standards and Bufala resumed his career on Sept. 2, 1964 at the Castaways, out-pointing his opponent in a 5-round match to improve his ledger to 7-3. The publicity man misspelled his name, adding an extra “f”, and he would remain Pete Buffala whenever his name appeared in the sports section of the local papers.

Fifty years ago, in 1964, approximately 165,000 people resided in all of sprawling Clark County, home to Las Vegas. The thought that Vegas would someday host a Formula 1 Grand Prix or a Super Bowl, two of the grandest sports spectacles in the world, was preposterous. The only local sport that ever made the national news wire was boxing.

The fulcrum was Bill Miller, a hot-headed boxing junkie from Elmira, New York, who owned a saloon on the Las Vegas Strip that he out-fitted with a boxing gym in the basement. Miller’s “Strip Fight of the Week,” which bounced from one little casino to another during a run that lasted well over a decade, bucked the national trend. Small fight clubs, with very few exceptions, had fallen by the wayside, a development triggered by the mass production of televisions.

Miller was hardly immune to all the little hassles that plague a grass-roots boxing promoter. Matches were constantly falling out. But he had several things working in his favor. As opportunities dried up elsewhere, journeymen boxers were drawn here by the promise of steady work. And although Miller couldn’t afford to pay enough to make boxing a full-time profession, good-paying jobs were plentiful in the construction and hospitality industries.

To be certain, there were also push factors. Chester, Pennsylvania, a shipbuilding hub during World War II, had fallen on hard times, plagued by unemployment and racial strife. Lowell, Massachusetts, a city known for its vibrant amateur boxing culture, was likewise hurting with row after row of textile factories sitting vacant. Lowell produced Eddie Andrews, a hard-hitting middleweight who would be the first fighter to make promoter Miller any significant money without having to take him on the road to a larger precinct or overseas.

Andrews supplemented his ring earnings dealing blackjack at Caesars Palace. For a time, Ralph Dupas was a co-worker. A former world title-holder at 154 pounds, Dupas settled in Las Vegas in the mid-1960s as his career was winding down and remained here until his encroaching dementia passed the tipping point and family members brought him home to his native New Orleans to live out his final days.

Returning to Peter Bufala, he worked his way up the ladder on Miller’s promotions, eventually topping the marquee for a fight with Johnny Brooks. They fought at the Hacienda, a grind joint at the south end of the Strip (where Mandalay Bay now sits) on April 13, 1965. Brooks was nothing special, but he was better than his 17-6-3 record. He would go on to last the distance in 10-round fights with future Hall of Famers Emile Griffith and Carlos Monzon.

Bufala was bloodied in the third round and knocked down in the fourth, but mounted a furious rally and at the end of the 10 rounds the judges could not pick a winner and the match went into the books as a draw. Working on the “5-point-must” system, the scores were 46-44 Bufala, 46-45 Brooks, and 46-46. (Trivia time: The 46-46 tally was turned in by ringside judge Harry Reid who would go on to become the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate. Nowadays, visitors flying in to Las Vegas arrive at Harry Reid International Airport.)

Had Bufala won the bout, his next fight would have been a 12-rounder against Reno’s Dave Patterson, the Nevada Lightweight Champion. But when he returned to the ring the following month, it was in a 6-rounder against an unsung fighter from Los Angeles named Davey White and, in a shocker, White blasted him out in the second round.

Bufala announced his retirement after this fight. It warranted scarcely a mention in the Las Vegas papers, but the folks back in Chester hadn’t forgotten him. “Pete Bufala Quits Boxing for Health,” read the bold headline on the sports page of the June 9, 1965 issue of the Delaware County Daily Times. The accompanying story said that Buffala, “Chester’s most promising professional fighter,” had emerged from his most recent bout with a blot clot in his neck and was troubled by chronic back problems. (Buffala would have one more fight before quitting the sport for good. He won his final fight, a 6-rounder, bringing his final record, per boxrec, to 16-5-2.)

Bufala never returned to Chester. He married a local girl and, in short order, was a father of three, two girls and a boy who tragically died at 16 months when he crawled into a plastic laundry bag and suffocated as his mother was distracted writing checks.

In December of 1973, the MGM Grand opened on the southeast corner of the busiest intersection on the Las Vegas Strip. This was the city’s original MGM Grand that would take the name Bally’s and was recently re-branded the Horseshoe. With 2,100 rooms, a 1,200-seat showroom and a jai alai fronton, the MGM Grand made its competitors look puny by comparison. Peter Bufala was there on opening night, dealing baccarat.

In terms of the money put at risk, baccarat is the crème-de-crème of card games. It attracts the whales, the high-rollers that leave the biggest tips. On a good night at a high-end establishment like the MGM Grand, it wasn’t uncommon for a dealer to rake in $500 in gratuities. Bufala worked the graveyard shift (likely 9 pm to 5 am; it varied by hotel), the most coveted shift for a dealer in a day when visitors to Las Vegas were more nocturnal than they are today.

One didn’t get to be a baccarat dealer in a ritzy joint by working his way up from the bottom. One had to know the right people. In the vernacular, one got juiced into the job. And the juicer might expect a kick-back.

One of the most influential people in Las Vegas was an outsider who tried to keep a low profile, Gaspare “Jasper” Speciale. A transplanted New York bookmaker, Speciale co-owned and managed the Tower of Pizza restaurant which sat a stone’s throw from the MGM Grand on the opposite side of the street. Speciale opened doors for dozens of people seeking employment in the hospitality industry. If one was new in town and needed work in a hurry, Jasper was the man to see.

Until the arrival in Las Vegas of the notorious Tony Spilotro, Speciale was the city’s premier private money lender. He would eventually serve four years in a federal prison for loan-sharking.

Whenever there was a murder in Las Vegas that had the earmarks of a mob hit, speculation always centered on Gaspare Speciale. It mattered not that he was active in his church and donated lavishly to local charities. Moreover, he had a warm spot in his heart for prizefighters. In the spacious backyard of his home, chockablock with mementos of his boyhood in New York City, there was a replica of Stillman’s Gym complete with a punching bag and rubbing tables.

Another theory, although one that acquired less currency, pointed the finger at Bufala’s father-in-law who was the beneficiary of Peter’s life insurance policy. The two were partners in a small sporting goods store where it was rumored that one could purchase an unregistered firearm.

On the day that Peter Bufala was assassinated, the story about it in the Las Vegas Sun, an afternoon paper, said that the former boxer had no bad habits – he didn’t drink, smoke, gamble or chase women — and that he was well-liked by everyone that knew him. But, said a police detective, “Someone wanted him dead and eventually we’re going to find out who that someone is and why.”

Forty-seven years after the fact, the who and the why remain as baffling as ever. If Peter Bufala were alive today, he would be 80 years old. This is a mystery that will likely never be solved.

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The Hauser Report: Foster-Nova at MSG and Other Notes

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The Hauser Report: Foster-Nova at MSG and Other Notes

Boxing returned to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, courtesy of Top Rank and ESPN. The festivities started at 5:30 PM and lasted until close to midnight. That meant there was plenty of time to talk with boxers and boxing enthusiasts like Rosie Perez, Gerry Cooney, and (drumroll please) former lineal heavyweight champion Shannon Briggs.

Briggs was in the house as part of an effort to lay the groundwork for a boxing gym and a documentary about the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Who does Shannon think is the best of today’s heavyweights?

“I don’t know,” Briggs answered. “I thought it was Tyson Fury, but his fight against Ngannou was weird. And Wilder against Parker; that was weird too. Joshua; you never know where his head is at. And I’m still not sure about Usyk as a heavyweight. Like I said, it’s weird.”

Briggs also said that he has signed a contract for an eight-round boxing match against former UFC champion Rampage Jackson to be contested on June 1 in Qatar and that he is slated to receive a purse of $5,000,000. I hope Shannon gets a letter of credit from a reliable bank sooner rather than later.

As for the fights at hand; the nine-bout card went pretty much as expected. Some of the “A-side” fighters were there because they’re prospects; others because they’re ticket-sellers. Top Rank has two Hall of Fame matchmakers – Bruce Trampler and Brad Goodman – so the favorites went nine for nine.

Arnold Gonzalez won a decision over Charles Stanford who was one of the opponents brought in a while back to get knocked out by Evan Holyfield.

Ofacio Falcon, who has been steered clear of fighters who might test him, fought Edward Ceballos (who couldn’t test him). Falcon won every round on each judges’ scorecard.

Isaah Flaherty (who can fight going forward and going forward) was cut high on the forehead by an accidental clash of heads in round one and forced the action against Julien Baptiste en route to a six-round shutout decision.

Referee Benjy Esteves let a fight between Euri Cedeno and Antonio Todd go on too long before saving Todd from further damage by halting the beating in round five.

Later, referee Shada Murdaugh let an overmatched Moses Johnson hit the canvas five times in the first round (the knockdown that started it all was mistakenly called a push, so there were only four official knockdowns) before waiving off things in favor of Italian heavyweight Guido Vianello late in the stanza.

Andres Cortes was battering Bryan Chevalier around the ring when Chevalier’s corner appropriately waved a white towel late in round four.

The best prospects on the card were Bruce “Shu-Shu” Carrington and Delante “Tiger” Johnson.

Johnson (11-0, 5 KOs) squared off against Paulo Cesar Galdino (13-7-2, 9 KOs, 4 KOs by). Galdino had won only one of his last five fights, and that was against an opponent with three wins in 13 outings. Referee Ricky Gonzalez wisely called a halt to the action with Galdino taking a beating in round one.

Carrington (10-0, 6 KOs) is a slick stylish fighter. Bernard Torres (18-1, 8 KOs) had been chosen as his opponent because he’s one-dimensional, slower than Shu-Shu, and doesn’t have much of a punch. As the fight wore on, Torres (a 10-to-1 underdog) had the look of a man who was thinking, “I have no idea how to solve this puzzle that’s in front of me.” Late in round four, Carrington (who can whack when he sets down on his punches) launched a brutal right hand that deposited Torres face down, unconscious on the canvas.

The main event matched O’Shaquie Foster (21-1, 12 KOs) against Abraham Nova (23-1, 16 KOs, 1 KO by).

Foster won the vacant WBC 130-pound title by decision over Rey Vargas last year and, trailing badly on the judges’ scorecards, salvaged his belt with a dramatic twelfth-round knockout of Eduardo Hernandez three months ago. He deserves credit for working his way up from B-side status in several earlier outings to where he is today.

Nova was an 8-to-1 underdog. But Foster-Nova turned into a hard, grinding fight with neither man able to establish dominance over the other. Referee Steve Willis did a good job of controlling the action without inserting himself in the flow more than necessary. I had Foster winning by one point with a flash knockdown that he scored in round twelve being the difference. The judges favored O’Shaquie with a 116-111, 115-112, 113-114 split verdict.

—-

Kansas City’s dramatic overtime victory over San Francisco in last Sunday’s Super Bowl drew the largest viewing audience in the history of television. So it’s safe to assume that many of you who are reading this column watched the game. With that in mind, I’d like to comment on the furor surrounding 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan’s much-criticized decision to receive the ball first after winning the coin toss at the start of overtime.

The NFL’s overtime format for playoff games differs from the rules used during the regular season. Each team is guaranteed one possession in a playoff game unless the defense scores a touchdown or safety on the other team’s first possession. If the game is tied after each team has possessed the ball once, the next score wins.

Shanahan elected to receive the kick-off at the start of overtime. San Francisco marched down the field, but their drive stalled at the Chief’s 9-yardline and the 49ers settled for a 27-yard field goal.

Then it was Kansas City’s turn. And even though the Chiefs were trailing, they had a slight tactical edge because they knew what they had to do; tie or win. Punting wasn’t an option. So when Kansas City was faced with a fourth-down-and-one situation on its own 34-yard-line, the Chiefs went for the first down and Patrick Mahomes kept the drive alive with an 8-yard run. Ten plays later, Kansas City scored the winning touchdown.

Did Shanahan “blow it”?

No.

If the game had been tied after the teams had one possession each, the next score of any kind would have won. And the 49ers would have had the ball first on each exchange of possessions from that point on until the end of the second overtime. That would have been a significant advantage.

Also, consider the fact that Kansas City had scored only one touchdown in sixty minutes of play prior to the overtime.

Shanahan and the 49ers lost the game. They didn’t “blow it” with what I think was a reasonable coin-toss decision.

—-

The future of Sports Illustrated is in doubt. Last month (on January 19), a series of unpaid financial obligations reached critical mass and massive layoffs decimated its editorial staff. SI is likely to survive in some form, perhaps as an online-only publication. But its glory years are in the past.

Sports Illustrated was first published in 1954. Spectator sports were on the verge of exploding in popularity in tandem with the expansion of television. SI rode that wave. It was one of the first national publications to understand and exploit the growing popularity of pro football. Its editorial staff recognized Muhammad Ali’s prowess as a fighter and his importance as a social and political figure while most mainstream publications still referred to him as “Cassius Clay.” Long-form articles and in-depth reporting made it a “writers’ magazine” of the highest order. Wordsmiths like Frank Deford, Herbert Warren Wind, Paul Zimmerman, Dan Jenkins, Jim Murray, William Nack, Robert Creamer, Tex Maule, Jack Olsen, Roy Blount Jr., Walter Bingham, and Rick Reilly plied their trade for SI. Its print circulation peaked at more than three million subscribers. The annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue (inaugurated in 1964) became a national institution.

Boxing (according to the SI archive) was featured on the magazine’s cover 138 times. Forty of those covers belonged to Muhammad Ali. Only Michael Jordan (with fifty covers) surpassed that total. Other cover subjects from the sweet science (listed alphabetically) included Carmen Basilio, Nino Benvenuti, Riddick Bowe, George Chuvalo, Gerry Cooney, Oscar De La Hoya, Buster Douglas, Roberto Duran, Joe Frazier, Marvis Frazier, Gene Fullmer, Joey Giardello, Marvin Hagler, Gypsy Joe Harris, Roy Harris, Thomas Hearns, Larry Holmes, Evander Holyfield, Ingemar Johansson, Sonny Liston, Danny Lopez, Ray Mancini, Rocky Marciano, Christy Martin, Floyd Mayweather, Tom McNeeley, Carlos Monzon, Ken Norton, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Patterson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Earnie Shavers, Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, Mike Tyson, Chuck Wepner, and Pernell Whitaker. To that list, one could add Don King and (most recently) Jake Paul.

From its inception, SI chose a “sportsman of the year” (later referred to on occasion as its “sportswoman” or “sports team” of the year). Three boxers were accorded that honor: Ingemar Johansson (in 1959), Muhammad Ali (1974), and Sugar Ray Leonard (1981).

But in recent years, the economics of publishing have changed. And the instant flow of information in a digital age made a sports weekly less relevant. In 2018, Sports Illustrated became the property of Meredith Corporation which acquired Time Inc. (SI’s parent company). A series of licensing agreements and resales involving the magazine followed. In 2020, it transitioned from a weekly to a monthly publication. Meanwhile, the quality of its editorial content was declining.

Worse, SI seemed to be losing its moral compass. For some subscribers, the final straw came when the magazine designated Deion Sanders as its 2023 “Sportsman of the Year”.

That honor (as defined by Sports Illustrated) is bestowed annually upon the athlete or team whose performance most embodies “the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement.” In its article celebrating the choice of Sanders, SI talked at length about how Deion had “transformed a moribund Colorado football program” and “transformed a community.” Nothing was said about his removing more than sixty scholarship players from the team roster (young men who had enrolled at Colorado in good faith) and replacing them with players brought to the university through the transfer portal.

Mark Whicker (whose credits include the BWAA’s Nat Fleischer Award for Career Excellence in Boxing Journalism) put the matter in perspective when he wrote, “SI was celebrating an egomaniacal huckster who ran off dozens of players who didn’t fit his template, with his son’s media company taping every move. In doing so, he dislocated lives and relationships. Some refugees said that Sanders never even bothered to learn their names.”

The selection of Sanders might have engendered a lot of publicity and “clicks” for SI. But did he really (Colorado finished the season with a 4-and-8 record) embody “the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement” more than Shohei Ohtani (whose 2023 season was unmatched in baseball history), Nikola Jokic (arguably the best big man ever who led the Denver Nuggets to the 2023 NBA crown), and Novak Djokovic (who cemented his status as the best tennis player of all time in 2023)?

I grew up with Sports Illustrated. I began reading the magazine when I was a boy. It has been in my home ever since. In 1991, I crossed an item off my “bucket list” when I wrote an article that was published in SI. On numerous occasions, I’ve relied on its archives for research. I miss the magazine that it was.

That magazine isn’t coming back.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – MY MOTHER and Me – is a personal memoir that will be published by Admission Press this spring and is available for pre-order at Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/My-Mother-Me-Thomas-Hauser/dp/1955836191/ref=sr_1_1?crid=5C0TEN4M9ZAH&keywords=thomas+hauser&qid=1707662513&sprefix=thomas+hauser,aps,80&sr=8-1

In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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