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Thomas Hauser and Others Remember Dave Wolf at 75

Thomas Hauser

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Dave Wolf

This week marks a bittersweet milestone. Dave Wolf would have been 75 years old on August 24.

Dave died ten years ago, on December 23, 2008. As I wrote at the time, he was passive-aggressive, anti-social, and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He also did as good a job of managing Ray Mancini as any manager ever did for a fighter and performed managerial magic on other occasions for the likes of Donny Lalonde, Duane Bobick, Lonnie Bradley, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, and Donnie Poole.

The legendary Jimmy Cannon once wrote, “The fight manager wouldn’t defend his mother. He has been a coward in all the important matters of his life. He has cheated many people but he describes himself as a legitimate guy at every opportunity.”

Dave was the antithesis of that. His first question was always “What’s best for the fighter?” rather than “What’s best for me?”

He had as full an appreciation of boxing and its traditions as any person I’ve known. Beneath his gruff exterior, there was a warmth about him that led to his being embraced by those who knew him best. And he’s assured a slice of immortality because of his accomplishments in the sweet science and as the author of Foul: The Connie Hawkins Story, one of the best books ever written about basketball.

Recently, I asked some people who knew him what comes to mind when they think about him today.

Jon Wolf was Dave’s brother.

Gina Andriolo met Dave in the 1970s while she was working for a small newspaper in Brooklyn. Later, she represented Dave as his attorney. Eight years after they met, they were married. They separated after four years of marriage.

Toby Falk and Dave were high school sweethearts. Decades later, they reunited and lived together in Dave’s apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan from 1989 until his death in 2008.

Teddy Atlas trained two of Dave’s fighters, Donny Lalonde and Donnie Poole.

Ray Mancini was Dave’s signature fighter.

Ray Leonard fought Donny Lalonde, another of Dave’s fighters.

Seth Abraham and Lou DiBella knew Dave in their capacity as executives at HBO.

Bruce Trampler was a matchmaker for Bob Arum during Ray Mancini’s glory years with the promoter.

Promoters Russell Peltz and Artie Pelullo worked with Dave on several fights.

Ron Katz and Don Majeski have been matchmakers, advisers, and jacks-of-all trades in boxing for decades.

Al Bernstein, Larry Merchant and Jerry Izenberg knew Dave through their roles in the media.

Harold Lederman (HBO’s “unofficial ringside judge”) was judging fights officially when Dave was in his prime as a manager.

Randy Gordon was editor of The Ring when Ray Mancini was at his peak as a fighter.

Mark Kriegel wrote what is widely regarded as the definitive biography of Ray Mancini.

Craig Hamilton managed several fighters and is the foremost boxing memorabilia dealer in the United States. He dealt extensively with Dave in the latter capacity and helped Dave’s family liquidate his memorabilia collection after Dave’s death.

Some of their memories follow:

Jon Wolf: “My father had severe back problems that limited his mobility. Dave was six years older than I was, so when I was a boy, he played the role of father in teaching me to do things like riding a bike and playing baseball. He took me to the NFL championship game between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers at Yankee Stadium when I was twelve years old. It was freezing cold, and Dave kept missing parts of the game to get up from our seats and go get hot chocolate for me to keep me warm. I played basketball in high school. Dave was in journalism school at Columbia by then and came to all my games. He’d sit in the stands and shout instructions. There were times when it was like he was coaching the game.”

Gina Andriolo: “I was young when I met Dave, and I was very impressed. Right away, I could see he was one of the smartest people I’d ever known. He was very intense in his interaction with people. He could be brusque and combative. He always let people know where they stood with him. He liked being alone. And he loved sports; all sports, not just boxing. Dave could watch curling on TV and be happy.”

Toby Falk: “Dave was creative, intellectually curious, very intense, stubborn, determined. He was a private person, not at all social. He had no interest in talking with most people. Every now and then, he’d go to an opening at the Museum of Modern Art with me because he loved me, but it was a chore for him. If he bonded with you, he really liked you. But there weren’t many people who fit into that category. He’d stay up into the wee small hours of the morning watching old fights on television. But it wasn’t just boxing. It was all sports. His idea of a beautiful summer Sunday was to sit inside and watch a baseball game on television.”

Jerry Izenberg: “He was a very good writer. That’s what stands out in my mind. People remember that he wrote Foul, which was a very good book. But he also wrote some very good magazine articles.”

Al Bernstein: “Dave wrote one of my favorite books and one of the best sports books ever written. It was about Connie Hawkins, who’d been banned from playing in the NBA, and it broke new ground for what a sports book should be. Beyond that, Dave did what managers are supposed to do. He worked hard and maximized every opportunity for his fighters. I liked him a lot.”

Bruce Trampler: “I’ve never dealt with anyone who did his homework the way Dave did. He was one of the most conscientious, dedicated, well-prepared managers ever. I spent hours on the phone with him going through every detail of every fight again and again. Every conversation turned into a cross-examination. He was always asking questions and taking notes. He was painstaking in his preparation at every level. I give him the highest marks in every category that has anything to do with managing a fighter. He could be an annoying bastard and he was a complete pain-in-the-ass to deal with. But he was doing his job as he saw it, and he was one of the greatest managers ever.”

Ray Mancini: “Nobody – I mean, nobody – paid more attention to details than Dave. When I fought Alexis Arguello, Dave got Top Rank to agree that I’m going to leave the dressing room after the national anthem ends. If Arguello isn’t in the ring and the fight doesn’t start seven minutes after I’m in the ring, I’m leaving and Arguello has to wait for me to come back. That’s fine with me because, as a fighter, I don’t want to stand in the ring and get cold waiting for the fight to start. And everyone knew that Dave was crazy enough to take me out of the ring if Arguello was late. I loved it. I fought Ernesto Espana outdoors in a football stadium in Warren, Ohio. The day before the fight, Dave went to the stadium and stood in the ring at the same time of day the fight would start. Then he said, “Okay, this will be Ray’s corner and this will be Espana’s corner.’ He was making sure I had as much shade in my corner as possible and Espana was facing the sun. As a fighter, you love stuff like that.”

Lou DiBella: “He was a stand-up guy. For a guy without much charm, he was colorful in his own way. He was a guy who knew how to sit back and watch and figure out what was going on. He understood the strengths and weaknesses of his fighters. And unlike too many managers in this miserable business, he recognized that he had a fiduciary duty to his fighters and acted like it. There were never any side deals that the fighter didn’t know about.”

Mark Kriegel: “Dave was trained as a journalist. He was a story-teller, and that’s part of what a great manager does. He understood why Ray Mancini mattered, and he was able to tell the story in a way that people understood. He went from being a journalist to a producer, and he was great at it. I never met him, but I can’t think of another manager I would have liked to have met more.”

Randy Gordon: “Dave would come up to my offce at The Ring to look at old Ring magazines. This was before the Internet and Ebay, so it wasn’t easy to find them. He’d sit there and read, and then we’d talk about what he’d read. I learned a lot of my boxing history from those conversations. Some people thought Dave was on the weird side, different, strange, whatever word you want to use. But I enjoyed him as a fight guy, and I knew how much he cared about his fighters. He poured his heart into them.”

Don Majeski: “It’s easy to move a great fighter. Some fighters are so great that you don’t really have to manage. You just point them in the right direction and ask for more money. A great manager gets the most out of the least. Dave got people to treat .200 hitters like they were .300 hitters and .300 hitters like they hit .350. He made Ray Mancini, who was good but not great, into an iconic fighter. Bob [Arum] gave Ray the exposure, but it was Dave who gave Bob the product. He made millions of dollars for Donny Lalonde, who was an okay fighter. He got Ed “Too Tall” Jones onto CBS. He always looked after his guys. He never wanted one of his fighters to be an opponent. He was one hundred percent for his fighters. He was a great boxing guy.”

Craig Hamilton: “Ray Mancini was a likable white Italian-American fighter with a crowd-pleasing style. Any competent manager could have made good money with Ray, although probably not as much as Dave did. But look at the job Dave did for Lonnie Bradley. Lonnie was a black kid out of Harlem who was a competent fighter with a quiet personality. Dave maneuvered him to a winnable title fight [for the WBO middleweight belt against 13-and-6 David Mendez] and then got him a half-dozen title defenses against guys who weren’t very good.”

Teddy Atlas: “There were some things Dave did that I took issue with in terms of our relationship. But I recognized his gifts and his ability to move a fighter. He was a smart guy. He knew how to play the game with the sanctioning organizations and was willing to play it. He loved playing the game. I think he enjoyed the maneuvering and getting to the kill more than the success of it. And he made money for his fighters. A fighter can be successful in the ring and not make a lot of money. Dave made good money for the fighters he managed. His talent was to take a fighter who was okay and make it appear to the world that the fighter was better than he was, maybe even great. He knew how to build a fighter and capitalize on it when the fighter won. He was a master at developing a storyline for his fighters and having it resonate with the press. He was difficult; some would say crazy. But he did the job for his fighters.”

Ray Mancini: “Dave was a control freak. That was his thing. He was doing it for me, but he wanted total control and we had our battles. Sometimes I had to tell him, ‘You work for me. I’m the fighter.’ Then he’d get hurt and sulk and say things like, ‘I guess you don’t need me anymore.’ If he got a bug up his ass about something, he wouldn’t talk to me for a while and he wouldn’t return phone calls. He was a complicated guy.”

“Gina Andriolo: Dave approached boxing like a three-dimensional chess game. Regardless of the immediate issue he was dealing with, he was always looking three moves down the road. He had an amazing capacity for detail and kept meticulous records on everything. Every detail mattered. Most fight managers go to their fighters’ weigh-ins. Dave would find out when the scales were being calibrated and send me to make sure they were calibrated right.”

Harold Lederman: “Dave knew boxing; no question about it. He was a great boxing guy. But he was a tough guy to deal with when it came to officials. He was always arguing he didn’t want this referee or that judge to work his fighter’s fight. He never argued that he didn’t want me, but there were a lot of guys he didn’t want. And he argued long enough and hard enough that he was usually able to get rid of the guys he didn’t want. That’s one of the things that made him a great manager.”

Jon Wolf: “Before one of Ray Mancini’s fights in Las Vegas, Dave told everyone in the entourage, ‘No one is to gamble until the fight is over.’ He didn’t want anyone leaving whatever good luck we might have on the casino floor or bringing any kind of bad luck in. That same trip, Dave sent me downstairs to buy copies of all the newspapers they had so he could read what was being written about the fight. I had four nickels left over after I bought the papers. So I put a nickel in a slot machine, and five dollars worth of nickels came out. I played a few more nickels with similar results and went back upstairs with the newspapers and a bucket full of nickels. Dave took one look and asked, ‘What the f*** is that?’ I explained, and he told me, ‘Get rid of them.’ So I took the nickels downstairs, found an old lady who was playing the nickel slots, and said to her, “Excuse me, ma’am. I just won these and God told me to give them away.'”

Artie Pelullo: “Dave was a strange quirky guy, very opinionated. A lot of people thought he was a pain-in-the-ass to deal with, but I never had a problem with him. He came to me with Lonnie Bradley, and we did a couple of fights together. He wasn’t the kind of guy you went to a bar with for a couple of drinks and light conversation. But you could make a deal with him and his word was good. I liked him.”

Seth Abraham: “Dave didn’t care much about pleasantries and what I would call conventional business practices. Several times, he came to meetings at HBO wearing shorts. It wasn’t important but it was unconventional and it sticks in my mind. He was very perceptive and very bright. He always presented his case well. And as best I could tell, he was always honest with me. If you’re in boxing, you have to learn who the honest people are and who are the dishonest people. As a TV executive, I did business with both. And I can honestly say, I never had any integrity issues with Dave.”

Russell Peltz: “I didn’t know Dave well, but I don’t think he liked me very much. I say that because, one time, I wanted to make a match with one of his fighters and Dave told the fighter he didn’t trust me. What had happened was, a few years earlier, Dave was managing Duane Bobick and wanted a comeback fight for Bobick after he’d been knocked out by John Tate. I offered him George Chaplin as an opponent and told Dave that Chaplin couldn’t fight, which I believed was true. So Bobick and Chaplin fought in Atlantic City, Chaplin knocked him out, and Dave never trusted me again.”

Gina Andriolo: “He loved his fighters. He believed in his fighters. And he looked after his fighters in every way. His philosophy was, a fighter should get in and out of boxing as quickly as possible with as little damage as possible and as much money as possible. God, he fought for his fighters. I remember, one time, Dave got particularly angry when a promoter who shall remain nameless sent him a contract he didn’t like. It wasn’t what Dave thought they’d agreed to. I was doing Dave’s legal work at the time. He was shouting at me, ‘Call that m*********** up and tell him no f***ing way. He can take his contract and shove it.’ So I called the promoter up and – I was being tactful – I said, ‘Dave has a slight problem with paragraph 4(B). Is there any way we can change it?’ And Dave started screaming at me, ‘That’s not what I said. I said tell him he’s a m*********** and he can shove his contract up his ass.’”

Ray Mancini: “There were times when I said to myself, ‘This guy is out of his mind.’ Some of the things he asked for from promoters bordered on the ridiculous. Dave could take years off a promoter’s life. Lots of managers threaten to call a fight off. When Dave threatened to call a fight off, the promoter knew he might.”

Ray Leonard: “My best memories of Dave Wolf are from when I fought Donny Lalonde. He truly believed in Donny and the other fighters he worked with. We were cool with each other. What stands out most with me is that there was always respect between the two of us.”

Gina Andriolo: “There were always enormous piles of old newspapers and boxing magazines all over the apartment. Sometimes, that was a source of conflict between us. I’m not talking about a reasonable number of papers. I’d ask, ‘Why do we have to have ten-year-old newspapers stacked in the kitchen cabinets?’ But Dave needed them there to be happy. And he knew where every piece of paper was. God forbid I should move a piece of paper and he couldn’t find it.”

Jon Wolf: “Dave and I shared a bedroom when we were young. One time – I was three or four years old – my parents came home and Dave had built a wall in the bedroom out of chairs and whatever other furniture he could move so I’d stay on my side of the room and leave his toys alone and not knock his blocks over or mess up whatever game he was playing.”

Toby Falk: “There were piles of newspapers and magazines all over the apartment; thousands of magazines going back for years. In what I suspect was a major concession, he’d let Gina put flowery wallpaper in the kitchen when they were married. But he covered it over with fight posters as soon as she moved out.”

Craig Hamilton: “Dave’s main thing as a collector was fight programs, which a lot of people aren’t interested in because they don’t display that well. He had a solid fight program collection; Johnson-Jeffries and some other good ones. He wasn’t much of an autograph guy. He had a few good on-site posters, including one from Ali-Frazier III in Manila, and a lot of Ray Mancini stuff that had some value because Ray has a following, particularly in Ohio. But for someone who was obsessed with collecting, Dave’s collection wasn’t that good. Most of the rest was garbage. Dave had thousands of magazines that were virtually worthless. I’m not talking about old Ring magazines from the 1920s and 30s that are worth something. I’m talking about magazines from the 1970s and later that you can’t give away. Maybe a hospital will take them. They were stacked all over his apartment – in piles on the floor, on shelves, in closets, every place imaginable. There were piles and piles of magazines – three, four feet high – blocking access to bureau drawers and file cabinets. And they hadn’t been dusted in years. You could see that from the cobwebs. Obviously, they had meaning to Dave. They were very personal for him.  But it wasn’t the place you’d bring a woman on a first date if you were trying to impress her. God bless Toby; I don’t know how she put up with it.”

Larry Merchant: “In a game that rewards individual initiative, Dave was a guy who jumped in, did his thing, and did it well. He was one of the more interesting characters in a business full of characters.”

Toby Falk: “Both of us had been married and divorced twice, so we didn’t feel the need to get married again. But we lived together for almost twenty years. He wasn’t well for much of our time together. There were complications from diabetes and some other problems. When he was fifty-five, he was diagnosed with leukemia. He didn’t fear death. He just didn’t want to be incapacitated or linger. He was cremated, so I can’t say he’s turning over in his grave over what’s happening now in America. But Dave was anti-authoritarian and very politically aware. And he hated injustice. Wherever he is now, I’m sure he’s very upset by Donald Trump.”

Ray Mancini: “Dave showed how the job should be done. He battled for everything for me. There were things other managers let happen to their fighters that Dave would never have let happen to me. What he did for my career, I can never thank him enough. I loved him. I loved him dearly.”

And a note in closing . . .

Dave and I became friends in his later years. I don’t use the term “friends” lightly. We had lunch together on a regular basis and talked often about people and events that had shaped us. As I wrote when he died, “Much of Dave’s anger stemmed from the fact that he hadn’t learned to read in a meaningful way until the age of twelve and thus had been labeled ‘dumb.’”

When Dave was young, dyslexia and other reading disabilities weren’t understood. The fact that he was able to surmount them to write Foul was remarkable in itself.

It was extraordinarily painful for a young boy with a high IQ who was sensitive in many ways to be labeled “dumb.” One way Dave dealt with the pain was to construct a hard exterior that served as a protective shell. Explaining that to me over lunch one day, Dave told me a story.

Once, when Dave was in grade school and the teacher briefly left the classroom, one of the boys started teasing him in front of the other children, saying that Dave couldn’t read.

“I can read,” Dave said.

“Prove it,” the boy countered. Then he went to the blackboard and wrote something in chalk. “Prove you can read. Read this.”

So very laboriously, Dave read aloud: “Dave . . . Wolf . . . is . . . stupid.”

More than a half-century later, Dave remembered that moment very clearly. And it still scarred him.

Photo: Dave Wolf with Donny Lalonde and Teddy Atlas. Photo undated but circa 1986.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – There Will Always Be Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing
journalism.

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Three Punch Combo: Two Intriguing Prelims on the Wilder-Fury Card and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — Wilder-Fury II fight week is upon us and there will certainly be plenty of stories written about the remarkable comeback of Tyson Fury. But Fury is not the only comeback story this week. On the undercard as part of the televised pre-show leading up to the PPV event, Amir Imam (22-2, 19 KO’s) will look for his second straight win following a lengthy layoff after losing to Jose Ramirez in their 140-pound title fight in March of 2018.

Comeback stories in boxing come in many forms. Some, like Fury’s, derive from battling personal demons outside the ring. Some come from fighters suddenly figuring the game out after being seemingly vanquished to permanent journeyman status. Think of Orlando Salido and Tevin Farmer. And finally, some come from once promising fighters rebounding from setbacks that turned them into an afterthought in the sport. This is where Amir Imam falls.

Imam (pictured) is an afterthought at the moment. But as I have harped about on several occasions, just because a fighter suffers a setback or even multiple setbacks, that does not necessarily mean they should be seen as afterthoughts. Sometimes setbacks actually become a blessing in disguise.

Let’s not forget that Imam was a highly decorated amateur. He nearly qualified for the 2012 Olympics but was in the unfortunate position of fighting in the same weight class as Errol Spence Jr.

Early in his pro career, Imam showcased a telephone pole-like jab that was mindful of the jab of former welterweight champion Ike Quartey. Often freezing opponents in their footsteps, Imam often worked thunderous pinpoint combinations behind this jab. He had skill, power and speed. It is easy to see why so many, myself included, thought Imam could not only win a world title one day but become a superstar.

Remember just two-and-a-half years into his pro career Imam easily out boxed Yordenis Ugas in winning a wide eight-round unanimous decision. Fast-forward six years later and Ugas has turned into one of the best welterweights in the sport. That win by Imam showed just how good a fighter he can be.

In November of 2015, Imam was one step away from a title fight when he was upset by Adrian Granados in what was supposed to be a tune-up fight. Granados was a vastly underrated fighter at that time and Imam looked somewhat unprepared for the storm that he encountered that night.

Two-and-a-half years later, Imam held his own while losing a unanimous decision to Jose Ramirez. After this bout, a legal battle ensued with his then promoter Don King that caused an extended ring absence. Imam is now aligned with Top Rank.

Many in boxing have all but given up on Imam. But the talent that we saw when he was coming up the ladder is still there. And that was evident last November when in his first fight back from the Ramirez loss, he impressively knocked out Marcos Mojica.

On Saturday, Imam will be in the ring with Javier Molina (21-2, 9 KO’s) who is coming off an upset first- round knockout of Hiroki Okada. The fight is at a catch-weight of 142 pounds. Molina is a solid pro and an impressive win by Imam would put him back on the map. Not only do I expect an impressive performance by Imam here but I think he will one day soon complete his own comeback bid and become a world champion.

Who is Jeo Santisima?

On the pay-per-view portion of the Wilder-Fury II undercard, boxing’s busiest champion Emanuel Navarrete (30-1, 26 KO’s) will defend his WBO 122-pound title against the organization’s number five ranked contender in Jeo Santisima (19-2, 16 KO’s) of the Philippines. So, who is Santisima and does he pose any threat to Navarrete?

Santisima, 23, turned pro when he was 16 and has had all 21 of his fights in the Philippines. He began his career 2-2 but since then has reeled off 17 straight wins.

To put it mildly, Santisima has been in with soft competition. Even the most hardcore boxing fan would be hard-pressed to recognize any names on his resume. His best win on paper was a first- round knockout in 2017 of Goodluck Mrema who was then 16-0. Mrema has lost four more fights since then, including three by knockout.

There is actually quite a bit of footage available of Santisima on YouTube. He is an orthodox fighter who is a boxer-puncher by trade. He has a decent left jab and will look to work combinations behind that punch. Santisima also will sit back and look to counter. Again, against limited opposition, he has shown an ability to bait his opposition into throwing by using subtle feints to set up counter opportunities.

Santisima is fairly athletic. His hand speed is average, but he appears to possess heavy-handed power in both fists. I’d say his best punch is his left hook. It is often delivered short, quick and compact. He has hurt opponents to both the head and body with that punch.

One major flaw in Santisima’s game is that when he jabs, he often gets lazy when bringing it back. He has been clipped a few times when doing this and will need to correct this flaw to stand any chance against Navarrete.

I initially dismissed Santisima’s chances in this fight, but after watching him on YouTube, I suspect he may surprise some people. We all know Navarrete is a punching machine. But by throwing so many punches, Navarrete is somewhat susceptible to counter shots. With Santisima being a decent counterpuncher with heavy hands, I can see him landing some damaging punches. And that left hook, in my opinion, is for real.

Everything considered, I think Santisima will, at the least, make the fight with Navarrete entertaining for the fans. Yes, there is a good chance he may get overwhelmed but as long as he is standing, he will be dangerous and make things fun.

An Interesting Option for Diego Magdaleno

Diego Magdaleno (32-3, 13 KO’s) put a spark in his career when he won a clear 10-round unanimous decision over Austin Dulay (13-2, 10 KO’s) in a lightweight contest this past Saturday. Coming on national television, the win will certainly get Magdaleno another opportunity. And putting my matchmaker hat on for a second, I see one very interesting option out there for him.

Back in January, I was ringside at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, NY to watch one time can’t-miss prospect Felix Verdejo in action against journeyman Manuel Rey Rojas. The prevailing thought at ringside was “don’t blink” with the expectation that Verdejo would dispatch Rojas quickly and in a spectacular fashion.

Instead, Verdejo looked sluggish in coasting to a wide unanimous decision victory. The fight looked like a glorified sparring session and the explosiveness we once saw in the early portion of Verdejo’s career was once again non-existent. Despite the win, Verdejo’s stock continued to plummet.

Top Rank, Verdejo’s promoter, needs to find out what they have in Verdejo once and for all. There is no need to match him anymore with the Manuel Rey Rojas’ of the world. Verdejo needs a step-up and Magdaleno fits the bill.

Could Verdejo lose to Magdaleno? The answer is a resounding yes. But could Magdaleno with his aggressive style bring out the best in Verdejo? The answer is also a resounding yes.

Verdejo vs. Magdaleno would be a perfect co-feature to the big title unification fight that Top Rank is planning in the spring.

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The Top Ten Light-Heavyweights of the Decade 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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The light-heavyweight decade just passed was neither as impressive as cruiserweight nor as underwhelming as heavyweight when placed under the microscope; most notable was the emergence of no fewer than six lineal champions, an impressive number that will not be bettered and might tell any one of a hundred stories depending on who is writing it.

I welcome you to my telling.

10 – Oleksandr Gvozdyk

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 17-1 Ranked For: 10% of the Decade

Tavoris Cloud came close to grabbing the number ten spot, but his second most impressive win after his 2010 defeat of Glen Johnson is his points decision over Gabriel Campillo from 2012. This, sadly, is a straight-up robbery despite Campillo suffering a disastrous first round. It’s a very good fight though, and if you have the time, check it out. I did actually look at Campillo then, because despite the fact he has lost many of his keynote contests, he was repeatedly abused on the cards, against Cloud, against Beibut Shumenov and in the draw with Karo Murat, but there isn’t quite enough there to make the ten. I looked briefly at Andrzej Fonfara, who did as much to eliminate Campillo from contention as any other fighter but despite all the right names, Fonfara tended to meet them on all the wrong dates, when they were well past prime.

So, I went back to the future and have named as the #10 light-heavyweight for the decade the last lineal champion but one, Oleksandr Gvozdyk. Gvozdyk inflicted terrible injuries on the long-reigning champion Adonis Stevenson and so it seems ghoulish to dwell upon how they were dealt, but the big clue came in the third round when Stevenson was dropped hard. He was nimble, quick-handed and already had a nice line in feints with glove and boot.  He essentially outlasted a much more seasoned fighter to take the stoppage victory in eleven.

He managed just a single defense before an even more deadly Artur Beterbiev caught up with him, but I think he did just enough on his run to the Stevenson fight to get the nod, picking off the likes of Tommy Karpency and Isaac Chilemba as early as ninth and tenth fights.

09 – Chad Dawson

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 7-5-0-1 Ranked For: 45% of the Decade

Chad Dawson’s run from 2006 to 2009 was legitimately special but was brought to a juddering halt by Jean Pascal in the summer of 2010. Dawson was a preeminent light-heavyweight of the time but the last decade was not kind to him, as reflected in his paper record. So, the question isn’t whether he should rank any higher here, but whether he should rank at all.

I’ve come down on the side of “yes” due to just three fights and in essence just one. Dawson bounced back from Pascal with a very impressive win over Adrian Diaconu who had his own problems with Pascal but remained a ranked contender and a well-organized, doughty opponent. Dawson outboxed him cleanly over twelve in his first fight with Emmanuel Steward in his corner and from here moved on to a contest with true champion Bernard Hopkins.

Hopkins, ancient and brilliant, suffered a separation of his left shoulder and the fight was abandoned, originally awarded to Dawson, later rendered a no-contest making a rematch a necessity. Dawson, whose style had elements of the cutie, turned stalker for Diaconu and it was a style he re-embraced for his contests with Hopkins. Working behind a jab, his superior speed and an occasional flurry brought him what should have been a clear points win despite the majority decision the judges found.

As unsatisfying as these fights were, they represent a summit in that Dawson became the true light-heavyweight champion of the world. When he lost it in a disastrous first round knockout loss to the decade’s defining champion, Adonis Stevenson, it spelled the end for him as a top contender. He has continued to box but has yet to earn another meaningful victory at the poundage, a harsh indictment of his late career.

The early career sneaks him in at number nine.

08 – Jean Pascal

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 10-5-1-1 Ranked For: 68% of the Decade

It feels very much as though Jean Pascal has been around forever and certainly his longevity is reflected in the touchstone fighters he has met across the decade. How many men faced both Hopkins and Dawson and Bivol and Elieder Alvarez?

Despite this, Pascal has failed to nail up the kind of scalps that might be expected from so many years spent on the dangerous side of the street. He lost to all of the above, bar one, and his second-best result is arguably his last – a twelve round split over #8 contender Badou Jack scored in dying days of a decade he once ruled over. Their fight was a lo-fi classic, all tension and surges, first one way, then the other and the cards reflected this, Pascal’s sudden spurts of activity and jab (excellent when he used it) enough to get him across the line in a split decision. It was a rough, difficult, contest and not the type of fight a veteran tends to win.

In the fight immediately prior to this came another surprising and exciting victory, this time over the much younger Marcus Browne. In many ways this was the ultimate old-man mugging, as Pascal lost every round – except the ones that mattered. Buying himself three points on the cards by way of knockdowns, Pascal turned a sure defeat into a sure victory as he was out-sped, out-hit but not-out-thought or outpointed. He won by way of technical decision over eight rounds and by a single point after an accidental headbutt opened a gusher on Browne’s forehead.

So, Pascal finalized his case with mere hours of the decade remaining, but it was a victory that he earned when it was only months old that cements his place. In August of 2010 another accidental headbutt resulted in another technical decision in the favor of Pascal, this time after eleven, the victim, Chad Dawson. That made Pascal the lineal champion.

07 – Eleider Alvarez

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 21-1 Ranked For: 52% of the Decade

Eleider Alvarez is the most underrated fighter on this list, and although I don’t feel great about him slipping in ahead of Jean Pascal, it helps that Alverez defeated him.

Pascal, as it happened, had several special nights before him, but at the time it felt like Alvarez was clearing up on the last generation as Isaac Chilemba (then still ranked, a part of so many of these stories), Lucian Bute and Pascal all fell to him. The Chilemba fight was dull and close, the Pascal fight a jab clinic with Alvarez in control, however the judges scored it, but it was against Bute that Alvarez showed what might be possible. Bute was the mere remains of the fighter that had impressed years previously, but Alvarez dazzled with his speed and heavy-handedness, thrashing him in five.

A Columbian by birth, Alvarez fights out of fistic hotspot Montreal but went in the summer of 2018 to the United States to face Sergey Kovalev. Kovalev’s air of invincibility had been crushed forever by Andre Ward, but he had re-established himself as the number one contender to the legitimate title when Eleider came calling. The Columbian, in truth, was marginally outboxed through the first six rounds but Kovalev never appeared entirely comfortable while stalking his man. In the seventh, behind on the cards and with the fight ebbing away, Alvarez followed up a swift feinted jab with a booming right hand over the top that set Kovalev on his trunks; his follow-up was sensational and saw him a winner on the three-knockdown rule.

Alvarez was out-classed by a jab-right hand strategy in the rematch, and that puts the brakes on his standing here. He remains, at thirty-five, a serious player in the division.

06 – Dmitry Bivol

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 17-0 Ranked For: 25% of the Decade

Dmitry Bivol is currently ranked the world’s #1 contender to Artur Beterbiev’s championship and joyfully, that fight will likely be made for 2020. In 2018 and 2019, Bivol cleared out several fighters belonging to the last generation and picked off two live contenders from this one, and it’s enough to see him ensconced in the decade’s divisional top ten.

Bivol impressed in bombing out Cedric Agnew and Trent Broadhurst in 2017 but his first fight of 2018, against Sullivan Barrera, was when he was confirmed top tier. Barrera was highly ranked, a puncher, and tough. Bivol won every minute of every round and stopped him in the twelfth. No light-heavyweight was ever so assured after so few fights. The footwork was quick and sure. His jab was so good it stripped Barrera almost entirely of his own jab, and he went literal clusters of rounds without landing one. The right hand behind is as fast as any in boxing despite his size and the body-attack is deployed as a part of a layered offense, strategic, opportunistic. Bivol has the depth in offense of a much, much more experienced man.

Once more pitted against generational leftovers behind this win, Bivol completely dominated the scorecards against Isaac Chilemba and Jean Pascal. These were fighters on the slide but what was impressive was that Bivol was at no point out-thought by either. His defensive surety and offensive riffing meant that both men failed to find tactical cracks in Bivol’s boxing armor despite whatever fleeting successes they achieved.

When he turned in similarly one-sided cards against the fresher, hungrier Joe Smith, Bivol’s completeness was signaled. He has been imperious and dominant against a wide range of quality opposition in a short timeframe.

05 – Bernard Hopkins

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 5-3-1-1 Ranked For: 46% of the Decade

If you remember 2010-2019 the same way I do, you remember Bernard Hopkins beating up an ancient Roy Jones and thinking “that makes sense, now he’ll retire.”

He didn’t retire and in fact he had some of the most thrilling fights of his career – yes thrilling – before him. Chief among these was his December 2010 battle with Jean Pascal. Pascal, by then lineal champion, dropped Hopkins twice in the contest but was so summarily outboxed that many believed he was lucky to escape with the draw. An immediate rematch was fought.

This fight had George Foreman, whose record as the oldest champion in boxing history was about to be supplanted, “on the edge of his seat” with excitement, a response to the tension that purveyed each round. Emanuel Steward called it “the best fight” Hopkins had boxed since his knockout of Felix Trinidad.  It was an astonishing display and a unanimous points victory over a prime, young, hungry champion boxing in his hometown. Hopkins was under heavy pressure early but leading with the right hand placed a clearly uncertain Pascal back in his box. He sniffed the decision out by a point on my card.

Hopkins was not always so much fun at light-heavyweight and when he ran into Chad Dawson in his next two fights (a no contest and a loss) the fun seemed to be over; but writing Hopkins off is foolish. He came back and out-smarted Tavoris Cloud, then the #2 contender in the world, punishing him for every little mistake, scraping up enough points for a clear decision. He was by then forty-eight years old. Karo Murat and Beibut Shumenov fared little better – Shumenov even became the first Hopkins opponent to visit the canvas in a decade; then the wheels came off a little with a wide loss to Sergey Kovalev before he was knocked clean out of the ring and the sport by Joe Smith.

But he will never be forgotten. During a decade of life when most men are looking to wind down, Hopkins wound up and he wound up a big chunk of the light-heavyweight division.

04 – Andre Ward

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 11-0 Ranked For: 14% of the Decade

I had no clue what to do with Andre Ward when I realized I had to rank him. 11-0 for the decade, sure, but less than that at 175lbs where he hovers at around half a dozen contests. It’s not a great deal.

But the more I thought about it the less troubling it seemed. Sure, he didn’t spend a lot of time in the division, but his numerical record is a site better than that of Chad Dawson, as is his paper one. The reason is his two duels with Sergey Kovalev.

The first, fought in late 2016, ached with tension. Kovalev dominated the first two rounds and even dumped Ward on the end of a one-two in the second but the American’s adaptability is his great strength.  His original plan was to scavenge punches while taking as little risk as possible but Kovalev saw straight through that and sought to dominate him behind the jab. In the third, Ward spent some time taking chances, nothing radical, but enough to make Kovalev think about his speed. In the sixth he pot-shot the body; he wrestled, he out-hit Kovalev in ugly clinches in a desperately close fight.

And that’s the key here. Ward identified early that he was outgunned and mashed a whole series of small adaptations into a strategic quilt that he used it to make the fight close. I had Kovalev winning by a point, but his success was as much making it reasonable for him to have won as in winning. It was a tortuous fight to score.

Most media favored Kovalev making a rematch inevitable. Famously, or infamously, Ward landed significant low blows in this fight, in the second, when he appeared to be losing control, the seventh, and the eighth, where punches deemed either borderline or low depending on your perspective resulted in a stoppage win for Ward.

What to make of all this? A desperately close first fight that could be scored any one of three ways, a controversial stoppage in the second? In the end, I honor those results. I won’t overturn the decision in such a close fight for ranking purposes and a stoppage is a stoppage. This means Ward has the best and second-best wins on this list. It’s the top five for him!

03 – Artur Beterbiev

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 15-0 Ranked For: 50% of the Decade

Current champion Artur Beterbiev spent longer in the decadal rankings than the likes of Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson, all while competing in just fifteen professional fights. He achieved this by being matched tough but brilliantly early. In just his sixth fight he met Tavoris Cloud, who had lost back to back against Bernard Hopkins and Adonis Stevenson but remained ranked at #7 and was a sure challenge for a green professional, albeit one who had rated a crack amateur.

Beterbiev blew through Cloud in two rounds, already boxing like an AI/human hybrid, his control of ring center absolute, his variety and technical surety on offense outstanding. Probably there is no “correct” way to box, but for the four short minutes this fight lasted that seemed arguable. Inside, outside, offense, defense, against a world-class opponent on the slide, Beterbiev was devastating.

A few months later Beterbiev, still nothing but a baby in professional terms, took on Gabriel Campillo, the big, awkward light-heavyweight who was robbed against Cloud three years before. This was a different type of challenge: one that was mobile, quick, a slippery boxer with a nice line in unorthodox offense.  Beterbiev found him in just four, with shorter, harder punches than Cloud was able to land on Campillo in twelve.

Beterbiev is a wrecking-machine, a new incarnation of the east European technician, a Russian raised on boxing who studied at a Sports School from the age of sixteen. His title-winning performance against Gvozdyk was seminal, wearing him out, out-landing and finally bullying him to the canvas, echoing their meeting in the amateurs. He is going to take some beating, though at thirty-five years of age this exquisite form surely can’t last much longer.

02 – Adonis Stevenson

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 16-2-1 Ranked For: 56% of the Decade

When Adonis Stevenson separated Chad Dawson from his senses in the first minute of their 2013 championship contest he became, for around half that time, everyone’s favorite fighter. The grotesque over-celebration in Dawson’s stunned face, followed by nine title defenses during which the highest ranked opponent he met was Andrzej Fonfara (5), made him rather less popular.

The truth of those defenses is inescapable, however. While Stevenson may not have shown much interest in meeting the best in the division once he’d easily dispatched the champion, he did dispatch the champion, and he did stage the defenses. Years of ranking fighters has taught me that they should be ranked in accordance with what they did do, rather than what they did not. Stevenson’s title reign made him the definitive champion for the decade and the opposition he did meet saw him build the number two light-heavyweight resume for that timeframe.

It is constructed in part of men who are on this list (Dawson, Cloud) and men who were considered for it at some stage (Fonfara, Karpency). As a puncher, he’s arguably unequalled even in this company and remains undervalued as a boxer. His reign came to a tragic end when Gvozdyk repeatedly found and hurt him in their 2018 contest, hospitalizing him and injuring him seriously. That he was recovered enough in October to attend the WBC convention and take the stage under his own steam is testimony enough to his fighter’s heart and was a fitting end to the light-heavyweight decade.

01 – Sergey Kovalev

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 29-4-1 Ranked For: 84% of the Decade

I remember Sergey Kovalev’s 2013 arrival in the UK very well.  He was here to take on Nathan Cleverly, who due to his holding a mathematics degree and having the word “clever” in his name was repeatedly lauded for his “ring IQ” by the British press, who also made him a favorite. In fact, he was about to be hopelessly outgunned by a fighter who may look like a mere prototype for Bivol or Beterbiev right now, but who in his day was every bit as intimidating as either of those men.

Kovalev landed in England having brutalized Campillo earlier that year; he didn’t rank with the truly elite combination artists of the decade, but he had a two-piece and a three-piece as good as literally anyone boxing, and he laid it out for Campillo that night. The Spaniard was gone in three rounds. Cleverly would get as far as the fourth.

All of this made Kovalev a strapholder, something he would remain for much of the rest of the decade, but he would never become the true world champion. That title was held by Adonis Stevenson and Stevenson wanted no part of Kovalev. As a writer who upholds the “tradition” (dubious, as there were conflicting claims in every era) of one division, one champion, this requires some explaining: if Stevenson managed nine defenses of the legitimate world title, how can Kovalev be justified as ranking above him?

True championship status is indeed a heavy indicator of pre-eminence, but it is far from definitive. The reasoning for Kovalev’s standing as the finest light-heavyweight of the decade is simple: he defeated more ranked contenders; he defeated more top five contenders; he defeated the number one ranked contender on two separate occasions; he sat atop the division for longer; he looked a better fighter.

The last of these points is disputable, the rest is not. It was clear when Kovalev embarrassed the ageing Hopkins that he was not just dangerous, but special; twice stopping Jean Pascal, who had never even been down before his first contest with Kovalev, rendered him terrifying. Even after he was toppled by Ward and then, later, by Eleider Alvarez, he returned to the top of the rankings. Now, in 2020, years after his savage prime ended, Kovalev remains ranked among the new generations of former Soviet-bloc light-heavyweights, even the embarrassing loss to middleweight Saul Alvarez not enough to flush him out of the top five.

The decade captured both the worst and the best of Kovalev and that makes appraising his reign complex. What makes him the clear number one is the timing that emerged around him. Clearly the best of the first decadal generation, emerging talent didn’t have time to build a conquering resume.

First by default is still first; nobody came close to overhauling him.

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Plant TKOs Feigenbutz in Nashville; A Bizarre Turnabout in the Co-Feature

Arne K. Lang

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Plant-TKOs-Feigenbutz-in-Nashville-A-Bizarre-Turnabout-in-the-Co-Feature

Vincent Feigenbutz came to Nashville with the hopes of becoming the first fighter from Germany to win a world title on American soil since Max Schmeling in 1930. But he was out-gunned by hometown hero Celeb Plant who successfully defended his IBF world super middleweight title with a 10th round stoppage.

It was obvious early on that Plant was the better athlete. He was more fluid and had a more well-rounded game and there was never a point in the fight where he was in jeopardy. But Feigenbutz made a gallant effort and remained upright until the very end. Eventually, however, referee Malik Waleed decided that Feigenbutz had taken enough punishment for one night. Waleed called a halt at the 2:23 mark of round 10.

The unbeaten, 27-year-old Plant, now 20-0 (12 KOs) was making the second defense of the title he won from Jose Uzcategui. Feigenbutz, who was making his U.S. debut, lost for the third time in 34 pro starts.

In the co-feature, tenacity eventually paid dividends for Abel Ramos who stopped Bryant Perrella with one second remaining in the 10th and final round of their welterweight contest. The fight harked to the famous first meeting between Julio Cesar Chavez and Meldrick Taylor which the broadcasters and both combatants referenced in their post-fight commentary.

Perrella, a 30-year-old southpaw from Fort Myers, Florida, took advantage of his significant height and reach advantage to pile up points and was comfortably ahead on the scorecards entering the final round, In fact, scoring the last round 10-7 for Ramos, Perrella would have still prevailed, albeit by a majority decision. But with barely a minute remaining in the 10th, Ramos dropped him with a hard left uppercut and then dropped him again with an overhand right as the fight moved into the final seconds.

Perrella beat the count but his gait was unsteady as he walked laterally from referee Jack Reiss and Reiss stopped the fight with only one tick left on the clock. Pennsylvania-born, Phoenix-based Ramos, who has fought extensively in Mexico, improved to 26-3-2 with his 20th knockout. Hard-luck Bryant Perrella fell to 17-3.

—-

In the TV opener, a 10-round lightweight match, Las Vegas veteran Diego Magdaleno (32-3, 18 KOs) rejuvenated his career with a unanimous decision over Nashville’s Austin Dulay (13-2). Magdaleno, 33, was making his first start since being stopped in the seventh round by Teofimo Lopez last February and his first start with new trainer Bones Adams.

Magdaleno started slow but found his rhythm in round four and gradually took the starch out of Dulay with a steady barrage of body punches. Some of the punches landed low and referee Reiss deducted a point from Magdaleno in round seven shortly after Magdaleno put Dulay on the canvas with a body punch. The scores were 97-91 and 96-92 twice.

In a non-televised undercard bout of note, Flint, Michigan junior middleweight Leon Lawson III needed only 36 seconds to put away Francisco Javier Castro. The 20-year-old Lawson, who defeated Ryan Garcia in the amateurs, improved to 13-0 (6). It was the fifth straight loss for the 36-year-old Castro who declined to 28-13.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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