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One Punch Meant World of Difference to Pazienza, Rosenblatt

There are very few things on which Vinny Paz, who used to be known as Vinny Pazienza until he had his last name legally changed some years back

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Pazienza

There are very few things on which Vinny Paz, who used to be known as Vinny Pazienza until he had his last name legally changed some years back, and Dana Rosenblatt are apt to agree. Perhaps the only common ground to which the polar-opposite former archrivals from New England are willing to admit is this: both of their lives irreversibly changed the night of Aug. 23, 1996, in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, with the landing of a single punch in  the fourth round of the first of their two bouts.

That punch, a looping overhand right launched by a bleeding, vision-impaired Paz (as he will be referred to for the remainder of this look-back story), landed flush on Rosenblatt’s jaw, drastically altering a crossroads fight that Rosenblatt was winning easily to that point. Although Rosenblatt, the younger (24 years of age to Pazienza’s 33), seemingly hotter growth property, lurched to his feet and beat referee Tony Orlando’s count, he clearly was in deep distress and the instantly revitalized “Pazmanian Devil” swarmed in to release as much of the pent-up aggression his ominous nickname suggested. So intent on his finishing purpose was Paz that, when Orlando jumped in moments later to end the battering and protect the out-on-his-feet Rosenblatt, he also was floored by a wild shot flung by the underdog victor. For that bit of overexuberance, a semi-penitent Paz was socked with a 90-day suspension and $5,000 fine by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board.

“I called Tony’s room later that night,” Paz, now 55, recalled when contacted for his remembrances of a fight that is inarguably one of his career highlights. “I said, `Tony, I want to tell you I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.’ He said, `Vinny, don’t worry about it. But can I get a rematch?’”

There would be a rematch, but not one pitting Paz against Orlando. Rosenblatt would get revenge of sorts on Paz when they squared off a second time, on Nov. 5, 1999, in Mashantucket, Conn., coming away with a disputed, 12-round split decision (it was disputed at least by Paz, who insists he was screwed by the judging) for the fringe IBO super middleweight title. But that didn’t – couldn’t – even the score for Rosenblatt for the punch that changed the arc of both fighters’ lives and careers 1,069 days earlier.

Now, about that jolting right that pumped new vitality into what had been Paz’s seemingly sagging fortunes while simultaneously sucking the momentum out of what had been Rosenblatt’s predicted ascendance to superstardom. Was it a purely lucky punch, as Rosenblatt contended then and still does, or the anticipated product of intense preparation, as Paz believes?

Depends on whom you ask.

“If you watch a tape of that fight and see him land that punch, he’s not looking at me at all,” said Rosenblatt, now 46. “His face is down. His eyes are closed. If that’s not a lucky punch, I don’t know what is.”

Paz, of course, begs to differ. “I had worked on that punch all through 10 weeks of training camp,” he said. “After the third round, I went back to the corner and told Rooney (trainer Kevin Rooney), `Kevin, I’m going to knock this f—— kid out.’ He said, `So go do it!’ I know you can do it, so go do it!’ And I did it. After I knocked him down and went to the neutral corner, I was thinking, `Please, please, Tony, let me go.’ I wanted to murder the guy. I wanted to take his head right off his shoulders.’”

So whose version of The Punch is the more accurate? Ron Borges, then the boxing writer for the Boston Globe, qualifies as an objective observer, having extensively covered both Pazienza, the wrong-side-of-the-tracks kid from Cranston, R.I., and Rosenblatt, the erudite southpaw from Malden, Mass., whose promoter, Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum, already had begun to hype as an updated version of such legendary Jewish fighters as Benny Leonard and Barney Ross. On this one question, however, Borges sides squarely with Paz.

“Vinny knew Dana would be open to being hit with that punch,” Borges recalled. “Those first three rounds, Dana was just beating the crap out of Vinny, who was already pretty busted up. After the third round, Dana, who was always this serious, self-contained guy, did something that was pretty uncharacteristic for him. He put one hand up and kind of dismissively twisted his glove around. I remember thinking, `He’s in trouble, because he actually thinks this fight is over.’ I knew that was the time when Vinny was most dangerous. In the very next round Vinny knocked his ass out with that overhand right.

“A few hours after the fight I was walking through the casino and ran into Dana’s dad, who was a very nice man. I told him, `I’m sorry for what happened to Dana, but I got to tell you something. I have no inside information, but I’m pretty sure that right now up in Dana’s room, his trainer, Joe Lake, is telling him he got hit with a lucky punch. But Mr. Rosenblatt, let me tell you something. Vinny spent a lot of time getting himself ready to throw that punch because he’s a professional. And that’s what your boy needs to know.”

Opinions will vary, of course. Perhaps the more pertinent consideration is not whether The Punch was the result of blind luck or meticulous planning, but all the circumstances that both preceded and followed it.

For Paz, the Rosenblatt bout, for the mostly insignificant and vacant WBU super middleweight title, had the earmarks of a last, possibly futile chance for redemption. He had not fought in 14 months, his most recent ring appearance having been an absolute beatdown at the hands of the luminously talented Roy Jones Jr. on June 24, 1995, also in Boardwalk Hall and, coincidentally, also with Tony Orlando as the referee. More than a few knowledgeable observers were ready to write off Paz, a former IBF super lightweight and WBA super welterweight champion, as past his prime and possibly as damaged goods. Remember, five years earlier Paz had been involved in a serious automobile accident that left him with two broken vertebrae in his spine and another that was dislocated. Doctors told him he would never box again, but, if his rehabilitation went well enough, he might someday be able to walk “with limited movement.” Fourteen months later, and after having had a metal device called a halo attached to his skull by screws, miracle man Paz resumed his career.

Contrast the foreboding sense of pessimism about Paz’s long-term prospects with the most optimistic projections for stylish southpaw Rosenblatt. In the September 1995 issue of The Ring, Arum predicted that the day would come, a few years down the road, when fight fans would want nothing so much as a matchup of Oscar De La Hoya, by then filled out to a robust 160 pounds and well on his way to his stated goal of world championships in six weight divisions, and Rosenblatt. The two had appeared on the same card at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on May 6, 1995, with De La Hoya stopping Rafael Ruelas in two rounds of a lightweight unification showdown and Rosenblatt retaining his minor WBC Continental Americas middleweight title on a first-round knockout of Chad Parker.

“The dream fight for the biggest money of all time is Oscar and Rosenblatt,” Arum was quoted as saying. “That’s what I think of when I go to sleep at night.”

Arum’s master plan presumably still was on the drawing board with Paz penciled in as a big-name steppingstone for Rosenblatt in what was billed as “The Neighborhood War” for New England supremacy on the 3-to-1 favorite’s way to bigger and better things. But Paz had his own ideas of how matters would play out. To his way of thinking, it was he who had lured Rosenblatt into the trap he had set, not the other way around.

“I had watched him a couple of times before he fought me and I knew I was gonna knock the kid out,” Paz said. “I picked him out. He didn’t pick me. I picked an undefeated young kid because I wanted people to know that the way it went down with Jones wasn’t the end of my career.”

Not surprisingly, Paz – who’d be a charter inductee into the trash-talking hall of fame, were there such a thing – began a campaign of verbal disparagement that he insists wasn’t just to help sell the show. Nor was it just insulting words Paz hurled at Rosenblatt, but other forms of intended intimidation aimed at getting under the younger man’s skin like a progressively irritating rash.

“Vinny sent a dozen black roses to Rosenblatt’s mother before the fight,” Borges said. “That was pure Vinny. Then, on the night of the fight, Vinny stopped walking toward his dressing room and peeled off in a different direction. The security guard who was accompanying him said, `Hey, Vinny, that’s the wrong way.’ Vinny  said, `Yeah, I know, I just got to do something first.’ Then he burst into Rosenblatt’s dressing room and told him, `Tonight’s going to be your worst f—— nightmare. I’m going to kick your f—— ass,’ at which point he got pushed out the door. But it was just a continuation of the mind games Vinny had been playing from the time the fight was announced.”

For his part, the polite Rosenblatt could not understand what he had done to incite Paz’s hatred of him. “I had no animosity toward him,” Rosenblatt said. “It was all on his end. His attitude was kind of like, `Yeah, I’m kind of a lowlife and this is my shtick. I’m going to make fun of this kid, then I’m going to beat him up.’ It was arrogance on his part, but I didn’t take it seriously.

“But before the second fight, maybe because I had beaten him up in the first one – up to the point he hit me with a punch I didn’t see, and praise to him for sticking around long enough to land that shot – it got even nastier on his end. A lot of the stuff he was saying was personal. I couldn’t believe some of the stupid s— he said.”

What Rosenblatt can’t dispute is the terrible toll The Punch took on him, in ways that likely would not have happened had he won as expected, very likely by stoppage had Paz’s badly swollen left eye and bleeding, busted nose worsened to the point where Orlando or the ring doctor would have had no choice but to call things off.

“My whole life would have been different,” Rosenblatt said of how his career, which went well for the most part but never reached the threshold of greatness, would now be regarded were it not for The Punch. “I’ll take boxing first. After Pazienza, I probably would have fought (Sugar Ray) Leonard, before Leonard fought (Hector) Camacho. Bob was promising Leonard. I would have made some money, maybe a million bucks, and, really, that wasn’t the Sugar Ray we all remember. Camacho proved that. I would have knocked out Leonard because he was done.

“After that, who knows? Now, all of a sudden, I’m a `name.’ Certainly my name would have resonated more than it does now. My life would be exponentially different, exponentially better.”

How so, he was asked.

“In my first fight after Pazienza (a 10-round unanimous decision over Glenwood Brown on Jan. 5, 1997, in Boston), I busted my (right) hand in the first round and I really mangled it by hitting him with it for nine more rounds. That was my power hand, since I’m naturally right-handed. Maybe I shouldn’t have kept going, but I knew if I lost twice in a row, I’d be done. But then I was out because of the hand injury for 15 months, and that really set me back.

“Why did I kind of fade away after the (first Paz) fight? It wasn’t just that I lost. It wasn’t the manner of how I lost. It was that I was off so long after I beat Glenwood Brown. Out of sight, out of mind, right? It was like I was yesterday’s news. And it wasn’t the same when I was able to fight again. I wasn’t with Bob anymore.

“I probably wouldn’t have fought Glenwood, where I busted my hand, were it not for that one punch from Pazienza. That was the beginning of the end for me, the start of a bunch of injuries to my hands and shoulders. That’s why I stopped fighting. But, hey, maybe I wouldn’t be doing mortgages now. So I don’t regret what happened then. Aw, that’s a lie. I do regret what happened.”

Rosenblatt retired from the ring after a three-round technical draw with Juan Carlos Viloria on June 28, 2002, a bout Rosenblatt almost certainly would have won were it not for the bad cut he sustained from what was ruled an unintentional head-butt. He finished with a 37-1-2 record with 23 victories inside the distance, but he never fought for a widely recognized world championship and the megafight with De La Hoya never became anything other than Arum’s temporary pipe dream.

But Rosenblatt hasn’t done badly in his post-boxing life. “I do residential mortgages,” he noted. “I was with a small bank up here, which is gone now, but I’m still in the business. I’ve been doing this since November 2001. I got in at a great time. Rates were going down, down, down, and I developed a lot of contacts.

“In my third month, I made $35,000. By the end of 10 months, I think I made about $1.5 million. I mean, do the math. I got, like, $15,000 for that final fight with Viloria. In 10 years after I stopped boxing and started doing mortgages, I made about $8 million and I invested it well.

“Over a five-year period I never made less than $800,000, and in my best year of 2005 I made $955,000. I was just killing it. But let me tell you, there were times when I would have given it all up to go back and finish my boxing career the right way.”

How good was Rosenblatt or, more to the point, how good might he have been? That, too, is a matter of conjecture. Teddy Atlas, who did color commentary for ESPN2’s telecast of Paz-Rosenblatt II, weighed in on the matter during his prefight analysis.

“He was never as good as his record before he got knocked out, and he never was as bad as they said after,” Atlas said. “He goes in and he’s fighting the right fight against Vinny (in their first matchup). He’s pot-shotting him when (Paz) rushed in and all of a sudden Rosenblatt gets caught with one of those looping punches, many of which missed before, and he’s out. After that night, the confidence left him like air from a punctured balloon. He’s a kid who never fully regained that confidence he once had in the ring. When he fights now, it’s like he’s waiting for something bad to happen.”

Paz, meanwhile, is still waiting for one more good thing to happen. He finished with a 50-10 record and 30 wins inside the distance, an accomplished enough career to get him inducted into the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame on June 3 of this year and a life notable enough to have been the subject of a critically acclaimed 2016 movie, Bleed For This, with Miles Teller in the lead role. But there is a widespread belief that Paz bulked up through the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and even some of his more ardent admirers are hesitant to endorse him for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame for that and other reasons.

“No doubt he was juicing,” said Borges. “His face took on the same sort of shape as Lyle Alzado’s. I’ve known Vinny since he was a skinny amateur. But, really, it’s partially the Duvas’ fault. He was much more of a boxer when he was an amateur and early into his pro career. He wasn’t looking to take two or three to land one. They kind of convinced him that if he was going to become popular and sell tickets, he had to be more than a boxer. He had to take people out. In that first fight against Rosenblatt it worked out. Other nights, not so much.

“And as far as the (IBHOF), I never say never because some of the guys who have gotten in there probably don’t deserve to be. I’m kind of a stickler. I think it should be a lot more exclusive than it is.”

Maybe more has been made of The Punch than needs to be, in terms of overall historical impact. But for two men so alike in some ways, so vastly different in others, the effects of it will forever stand as a touchstone for how a fleeting moment in time can have such a profound and lasting effect.

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A Pearl from the Boxing Vault: Fritzie Zivic Will See You Now 

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“He was a great teacher,” said Billy Conn. “[Fighting Zivic] was like going to college for five years, just boxing him ten rounds…”

Fritzie Zivic never asked why. He never asked if his opponent hit hard, if his opponent deserved the shot, if the opponent would be tough. He just said “yes” and signed the contract. While [Jake] LaMotta, who somehow gained the reputation for fearlessness of which Zivic was more deserving, was asked about Charley Burley, he is supposed to have muttered “Why do I need Burley when I have Zivic?” Zivic, of course, stepped out of his weight class to lose an under-celebrated series with LaMotta, and was one of the few top white contenders to ever meet the avoided Burley.

Perhaps this fearlessness is the reason why Zivic may have fought a better array of boxers than any fighter in history. In addition to the multiple contests with LaMotta and Burley, he met Kid Azteca, Bob Montgomery, Beau Jack, Henry Armstrong, Freddie Cochrane, Lew Jenkins, Izzy Jannazzo, Phil Furr, Bummy Davis, Sammy Angott, Lou Ambers and Jimmy Leto, something very close to a “who’s who” of boxing’s golden age, and he met most of them more than once. He didn’t always win, but he always gave his all and for this the people and the promoters of his hometown of Pittsburgh and beyond loved him. Other fighters? Not so much.

“He’s the dirtiest fighter I ever met,” claimed Charley Burley after his disputed points loss in their first fight. “He thumbed me over and over again.”

“When you fight for a living,” Zivic would explain years later, “if you’re smart you fight with every trick you know. If I hadn’t known nine zillion of them I never could have won the welterweight title from Henry Armstrong.”

In the modern era, fighters can come to a title without even matching a top contender. Forty fights is a career. But in the 1940s, it was unusual to see a champion with so few fights, even a young one. Like other trades, to reach the top of the heap a fighter had to become a master craftsman, the tools at his disposal needed to be of the highest quality. To this end, fighters needed to be matched often or tough or both. But there were and are some fighters who can provide a special lesson to that prospect or contender, a boxing lesson that, win or lose, crystallizes the nature of the sport for the man in the opposite corner.

Fritzie Zivic was such a fighter. Unquestionably world class in his own right, Zivic was a quick learner who took his “zillion tricks” and applied them to roughhouse boxing that tested every corner of his opponent, technical, physical and mental. Anybody that beat him looked destined for the top, anyone that lost could still pick up more than a thing or two. Unquestionably teak-tough, a stinging if not prohibitive puncher, he could box inside or out and a tight defense and iron chin kept him to two legitimate stoppage losses in a 232-fight career. But unquestionably, Zivic’s greatest strength were his smarts, the tricks, traps and roughhouse tactics he absorbed like a sponge during his eighteen years in the ring.

In December of 1936, Zivic would teach some of these tricks to a wonder-kid tearing his way up the middleweight division, one Billy Conn. Zivic was not yet in his own absolute prime but he was twenty-three and listed as a veteran of some sixty-eight fights. Still a teenager, Conn would at least have had bulk to fall back on as a substitute for experience, weighing some seven pounds heavier on fight night at just under 157lbs.

Zivic started fast, attacking with both hands and Conn allowed him his way, trying to outbox and outpunch the smaller man in the pocket. This had become Billy’s habit, fighting, as he did, in a fan-friendly manner that had made him Pittsburgh’s favorite prospect. He had been in a desperately close series with resident local tough and brutal infighter “Honey Boy” Jones. According to some, Conn had been lucky to emerge from their third fight with a decision, his inability to adapt costing him dear in points and punches. Now Zivic fought in a style intent on taking advantage of the same flaws Jones had partially exposed, and Billy was paying for it in blood.

“Through two torrid rounds,” wrote Regis Welsh for The Pittsburgh Press, “Fritzie belted Conn to a fare-thee-well, but never quite touched the vital spot. At the end of the second…[Conn] was smeared with blood from a cut on his left cheek and a badly battered mouth.”

The press hadn’t yet been enlightened to Conn’s iron chin and it’s quite possible that Fritzie had found the “vital spot” over and again throughout the fight. As time would tell, even history’s mightiest puncher would struggle to get over on the near invulnerable Conn. However, at the beginning of the third Billy looked “tired, weary and worn out” and “in the fourth and fifth, Zivic, in a rushing charge, bore Conn to neutral ropes and belted him about the head and body until it seemed that the anticipated kayo was inevitable.”

It needs to be said though, that in spite of his fighting the wrong fight, Conn was doing his own good work, mainly to the body. Some reports credit Conn with turning the fight with a body punch as early as the third, but whilst the supposed fight of two halves (Zivic winning the first five, Conn coming back in the second half of the fight) did not occur, it’s unlikely that Conn’s hooks had the supposed affect this early. Only two judges scored the third for Conn, and all three gave Zivic the fourth. Conn wouldn’t win a round on all three judges’ scorecards until the sixth.

It was in the sixth round that Conn cracked, and went outside. In the seventh and eighth Conn “boxed beautifully…he danced, feinted, pranced and punched.”  Zivic, now out of his element as a bullying counterpuncher and destructive infighter struggled to get past Billy’s “piston-like” jab. Conn had been trained for this by defensive specialist Johnny Ray from the very beginning, but he had been unable to make the transition in the ring until Fritzie had forced it. As one would expect, Zivic now changed tactics too, gunning almost exclusively for the body, only hunting Conn with power punches, bringing him the eighth round on one card. In the tenth, they went at it toe-to-toe again. “The boys used everything but knives,” stated the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “A wild-eyed crowd looked on.” The final round was shared on the three official cards resulting in a split decision win for Conn (6-3-1, 5-4-1, 4-5-1).

“From a mile in the rear to a nose in front takes heart in a man or a horse,” wrote Welsh in The Press. “Particularly in a novice of Conn’s immature ring experience against a seasoned veteran of Zivic’s type.”

Zivic’s type indeed! Fritzie was hell on wheels for a young fighter, one that hadn’t seen a top class cutie, never mind a back-alley wizard. But Conn knew what that fight had been worth, and he knew he was the better for it.

“He was a great teacher. [Fighting Zivic] was like going to college for five years, just boxing him ten rounds…I learned a lot in that fight. He’s a tough fighter, but I believe I’m just as tough.”

It’s a double lesson for a relative novice like Conn. First, he remembers every foul, every slither out of sight of the referee, every feint that cost him a round, every dig inside on the break. But it also teaches him that he can take it, that he can get in there with world-class fighters who know more than him and beat them. The first lesson is priceless, but the second can be the key to a career. Over the next twelve months the young Conn, who had struggled so desperately with Honey Boy Jones only three months earlier, would defeat great champions and ring legends such as Teddy Yarosz, Young Corbett III and Vince Dundee before adding Fred Apostoli and Solly Krieger and annexing the world’s light heavyweight title in 1939.

In 1941 he would be matched with the great Joe Louis. It would be unfair to Conn’s great trainer Ray, and to Conn himself, to lay too much credit for Conn’s legendary performance at Zivic’s door, but Conn’s tactics against Louis—mixing careful, punch-picking infighting with beautiful movement and judge of distance on the outside—were basically a more perfect version of the tactics he used in rounds six, seven, eight and nine against Zivic.

As for the teacher, he was naturally disappointed and was keen on a rematch, but fate was to intervene. Zivic would contract pneumonia the following summer whilst training for a match with Vince Dundee.

Chet Smith, then editor of The Pittsburgh Press: “There didn’t seem to be a chance for him…so we collected all we knew about him, wrote it into a story and sent it to the composing room…There were two weeks when it was touch and go with Fritzie, and the hospital folk refused to give out a single cheerful bulletin. We knew of course when he finally came out of the hospital that his boxing days were ended.”

I guess Zivic would have snorted at that. However they build them out in Zivic’s ancestral Croatia, they build them tough because Zivic was not only far from ended as a boxer, he would get better. There were more lessons to give out. The greatest fighter that would ever draw breath, he needed a lesson.

“I learned more in these two fights with Zivic than in all my other fights put together!”

So said Ray Robinson after pulling off the extraordinary feat of stopping Zivic in January of 1942. But this was the second time Zivic, a rarity in that he never discriminated against opposition on the grounds of colour or quality, had met Robinson. The first had occurred when Zivic had already slipped past his absolute prime, in October of 1941.

“It might have been a draw. It was close,” wrote the correspondent for The Telegraph Herald, but Zivic, the heavier man for a change, looked unsurprised at the unanimous decision against him. In the middle rounds he had, to a degree, had his way with Robinson but Sugar’s explosive domination of the ninth had left him struggling and at no time had he solved the Robinson jab. He knew he was beaten. “[Robinson] took a unanimous decision with such a convincing demonstration of speed and power,” wrote United Press ringside reporter Jack Cuddy, “that he will be favored to win the title.”

Robinson was learning from Zivic the same thing Conn had, that he could master a man at the next level, a veteran, a bigger one at that. But he learned more specific and unpleasant lessons in this fight, too.

“He was about the smartest I ever fought,” Robinson would later say in conversation with writer WC Heinz.  “…he showed me how you can make a man butt open his own eye…he’d slip my lead, then he’d put his hand behind my neck and he’d bring my eye down on his head. Fritzie was smart.”

He also taught Ray that he could coast a little in those middle rounds, that at the highest level he didn’t need to put forth every ounce in every moment, that he could let the occasional round go as long as he was paying attention. The same pattern that Sugar used in his first fight with Zivic he would use in his sixth fight with LaMotta, for the middleweight title, contesting the early rounds, easing off in the middle, and finishing so strongly as to stop the unstoppable, lifting the title on a late TKO. He sharpened that tool for the first time against Zivic.

By now Zivic was almost past the stage of teaching fighters of Robinson’s calibre lessons, but he had one more to give in their second fight just three months later.

Firstly, Robinson showed the importance of a lesson learned, nullifying Zivic’s darker arts, like Conn he was a better fighter for his 10 rounds in the ring with Fritzie. He worked hard to the body in clinches he couldn’t contest with craft or strength (something else he would repeat against LaMotta in their title meeting) and he was careful to break clinches at any cost when Zivic looked to utilize those lethal butts. When his opponent tried holding and hitting on the referee’s blindside, instead of trading he would dance away. Robinson had learned that the man who owned the real estate would win the negotiation and Zivic was being outclassed as a result. Of the first six rounds he won perhaps the first. In the seventh though, Robinson momentarily forgot himself and Fritzie delivered his last lesson. As Robinson came in Zivic stepped back and cracked Robinson with a left hook. “It really hurt. I was coming in and it met me on the chin!” Robinson would say afterwards that it was the hardest punch he had ever been hit with, according to The Afro American.

In the middle of the ninth, Robinson dropped Zivic with a perfect mirror image of the punch he had been shown in the seventh, using the right hand to ditch the heavier man as he was on the way in. Up at nine, Zivic never recovered, and although he was likely stopped prematurely in the tenth, he had nothing left to teach, at least not to Sugar. At 28-0, Ray, like Billy before him, saw his 20 rounds with Zivic as nothing less than finishing school for one of the most storied careers in boxing. They are only two of the dozens of fighters that Fritzie took to school, but perhaps they are the gifts he helped in giving that we can be most grateful for.

For the purposes of this article we’ve taken a look at three Zivic losses. I hoped, by looking at his fights with Billy Conn and Sugar Ray, we might see the benefit of letting a top prospect meet a dangerous genius-thug like Fritzie, the self-proclaimed “second dirtiest fighter in history” (he reserved top spot for Harry Greb). But Zivic did lose those fights. Let it not be forgotten then that between losing to Conn and Robinson, Zivic lifted the world’s welterweight title, destroying with a mixture of aggression, uppercuts and that dirty bag of tricks for which he remains famous, one Henry Armstrong. Zivic finished Armstrong as title material, beating him for the championship of the world not once but twice.

A 4-1 underdog, Zivic had been magnanimous about his own chances going in to their opener.

“If I lose it won’t be the first fight I lost, and if I win it, it won’t be the first fight I won.”

But Zivic had learned his own brutal lessons across the years and would be merciless in bringing them to bear. Also, across the years, between his title win and these more enlightened times, Zivic’s achievement in beating Armstrong has been undermined. Armstrong was old. He was past his best. Zivic had to get dirty to do it. All of that may be true, but it needs to be remembered that Armstrong had gone undefeated in thirteen bouts prior to meeting Zivic and that all of these fights were in defence of his welterweight crown, outside of one, his celebrated tilt at a world middleweight title. It needs to be remembered that in the previous three months, Armstrong had knocked out world-class contenders Phil Furr and Lew Jenkins. It needs to be remembered that Armstrong had his own bag of tricks, and that referee Arthur Donovan’s famous refrain, “if you guys wanna fight like that it‘s okay with me” was prompted by an Armstrong foul and not a Zivic one.

Most of all it needs to be remembered that Zivic never asked why, he just signed the contract. Whichever way you want to look at it, they just don’t make them like that anymore.

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Abraham Nova and his Mascot are Back in Action on Friday Night

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With his black beard dyed gold, junior lightweight Abraham Nova is one of boxing’s most recognizable practitioners. Sometimes there’s two of him which makes him stand out even more. His twin is an inflatable mascot painted to look just like him. On fight nights they are inseparable. The mascot shadows Nova on his ringwalk, bouncing up and down and dancing to animate the crowd.

Some gimmicks are just plain hokey. Some are annoying. But there’s something whimsical about Nova’s invention that brings a smile to boxing fans of all ages. “Abraham Nova having his own mascot is one of the coolest things in boxing,” says fight writer Ryan Songalia.

“I played all sports in high school, football, baseball, track, and got the idea of it from other sports,” says Nova of his twin who he unveiled in January of 2020 at the Turning Stone Casino and Resort in Verona, New York, where he upped his record to 18-0 with a fourth-round stoppage of Mexican journeyman Pedro Navarrete.

He’s 5-2 since then, the smudges coming against future world featherweight champion Robeisy Ramirez (KO by 5) and defending super featherweight world champion O’Shaquie Foster where he came out on the short end of a split decision. This coming Friday, in his first assignment since failing to de-throne Foster, he opposes 21-0 Andres Cortes at the Fontainebleu in Las Vegas on a Top Rank card airing on ESPN+.

“I was the one who asked for this fight,” says Nova. “Top Rank offered me a match on their June 8th Puerto Rican Parade Weekend show at Madison Square Garden against an opponent who was 17-2, but I turned it down and asked for a better opponent and they accommodated me.” Las Vegas native Andres Cortes, who has been profiled in these pages, is ranked #2 at 130 pounds by the WBO.

In common with boxing’s historical pattern, Abraham Nova had a hardscrabble upbringing.

Born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic, the second-youngest of 10 children, he came to the U.S. at the age of 1 where the entire family was initially shoe-horned into a two-bedroom apartment in Albany, New York.

His father, Aquiles, had a friend here who was the pastor of a church and in need of an assistant pastor to help with his growing congregation. Aquiles eventually founded his own church in Albany, The Pentecostal Church of Unity & Prayer where services are held in both Spanish and English.

As a toddler, Nova lived briefly in Guatemala and Mexico where his parents were called to “spread the word” and to assist in redevelopment projects. The family traveled 5,500 miles in a rickety old school bus from Albany to Guatemala during the end days of the Guatemalan Civil War.

Each of Nova’s four brothers boxed, but he was the only one to turn pro. As an amateur, he won the 2015 Olympic Trials Qualifying Tournament in Memphis, defeating Frank Martin and Richardson Hitchins in back-to-back fights, but failed to make the U.S. team for the Rio Games when he lost a split decision to Gary Antuanne Russell at the Olympic Trials in Reno. Those bouts were contested at 141 pounds.

A 30-year-old bachelor, Nova had his final amateur fights in Lowell, Massachusetts, a pillar of amateur boxing in New England, and has remained in the Boston area without losing his Albany identity. He is trained by ex-U.S. Marine Mark DeLuca, a boxer of some renown who sports a 30-4 record and may not be done with fighting quite yet at age 36.

Nova’s opponent, Andres Cortes, has won five of his last seven inside the distance beginning with a smashing first-round knockout of 34-2 Genesis Servania. On paper, it’s a 50-50 match-up. (The pricemakers are flummoxed; as of this writing, they have yet to establish a betting line.)

Abraham Nova’s mascot may never become as well-known as some of the costumed human mascots in college sports (e.g., West Virginia’s Mountaineer or Michigan State’s Sparty), let alone as beloved as the University of Georgia’s flesh-and-blood bulldog mascot Uga, but give the boxer credit for originality and for bringing a little levity to a sport too often besotted with incivility.

Note: Abraham Nova vs. Andres Cortes is the co-feature. In the main go, new Top Rank signee Rafael Espinoza makes the first defense of his WBO world featherweight title against Mexican countryman Sergio Chirino. Espinoza forged the 2023 TSS Upset of the Year when he got off the deck to defeat Robeisy Ramirez on Dec. 9 in Pembroke Pines, Florida, winning legions of fans with his unrelenting buzzsaw attack. Action from the Fontaineblue begins at 4:00 pm PST on ESPN+.

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A True Tale from the Boxing Vault: When the Champion Refused to Fight

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A-True-Tale-from-the-Boxing-Vault-When-the-Champion-Refused-to-Fight

A True Tale from the Boxing Vault: When the Champion Refused to Fight

BY TSS Special Correspondent David Harazduk — A hundred years ago, ducking a worthy challenger wouldn’t simply stoke the ire of the fans, it came with the prospect of jail time.

On Thursday, November 3, 1927, 16,000 fans packed Wrigley Field in Los Angeles hoping to witness their local favorite challenge for the welterweight world championship. Nicknamed the “Nebraska Wildcat,” Ace Hudkins had relocated to the Pacific Coast where his devil-may-care style in the ring made him instantly popular among Angelino fight fans. He was set to battle Joe Dundee, the champion, an Italian immigrant who had settled in Baltimore at a young age. But there was one problem.

The champion refused to fight.

Members of the California boxing commission, along with promoter Dick Donald, raced to the Biltmore Hotel to plead with Dundee (pictured) and his manager Max Waxman to come to Wrigley Field and fight. Waxman steadfastly refused. Donald, a quick-witted cigar-chomping Irishman known as the “Boy Promoter,” had promised Max’s man the ungodly sum of $60,000, and Dundee wouldn’t enter the ring for a penny less.

Under the rules of the California commission, a fighter could only receive a guarantee of $500. The rest of the purse came from a percentage of the gate: 37.5% for the champion and 12.5% for the challenger. Waxman insisted that Donald had offered $60,000, but the commission couldn’t enforce this side deal.

Tickets in the bleachers were sold at $2.20 a pop while those closer to the ring went for $11. The most the gate could possibly produce would be $90,000. Add in Wrigley Field’s 15% usage fee and payments to the preliminary fighters, officials, and even to rent the chairs situated around the ring, and Dundee’s dreams of $60,000- $75,000 if he lost the title- never had a prayer of being realized. After all, 37.5% of $90,000, plus $500, is only $34,250.

Meanwhile, Eddie Mahoney, a preliminary fighter, entered the ring at 8:30pm. Mahoney was scheduled to fight Joe Dundee’s brother Vince, a future middleweight world champion. When Vince didn’t follow Mahoney into the ring, Mahoney soon left, much to the bewilderment of the crowd.

Donald scrambled to find a plan B. He searched for welterweight contender Sergeant Sammy Baker to replace Dundee and fight Hudkins. When Baker couldn’t be located, Donald asked a preliminary fighter, Olympic gold medalist Jackie Fields, to take on Hudkins instead. Hudkins and Fields had been sparring partners when the featherweight champion of the 1924 Games in Paris was a nascent pro back in 1925. Fields’s manager, Gig Rooney, felt Hudkins was too big for the Olympic champ at this stage of his career and preferred to remain on the undercard against San Francisco’s Joey Silver.

With no plan B, Donald and the commissioners went back to Waxman in a last desperate plea to coax Dundee to defend his title. One commissioner, Charles Traung, offered Waxman an additional $10,000 check for Dundee to fight. Waxman stubbornly held out for more.

At 9:20pm, back at Wrigley, Donald signaled Jackie Fields and Joey Silver to enter the ring. Though Fields was wobbled twice, he opened up a cut over Silver’s left eye and split the San Franciscan’s lip on route to a convincing points victory in a ten-rounder. A few minutes after 10pm, Mahoney and Vince Dundee finally entered the ring for their clash. Dundee starched Mahoney inside of two rounds. When Waxman, who also managed Vince, heard of the second-round stoppage, he said “Vince knocked that guy out, eh? I told him to carry him along.” Waxman had hoped to stall for time.

Soon after the end of the Dundee-Mahoney fight, Ace Hudkins waltzed to the ring. He spent fifteen minutes seated in his corner, covered in a bathrobe and towels to keep him warm. Dundee never showed.

At 11:25pm, ring announcer Frank Kerwin slid into the ring and bellowed, “Owing to the fact that Joe Dundee did not receive his guarantee, he refused to go on with his match against Ace Hudkins.” The crowd was advised to “hold their seat checks and watch the newspapers for other announcements.”

The fans didn’t take too kindly to the announcement and hurled those rented chairs in disgust. Fights broke out all over the stadium, spilling into the ring. All available police officers in the area rushed to Wrigley Field, wielding their nightsticks in a bid to subdue the violent mob. Dozens of fans were injured in the fracas. To add insult to injury, those who had paid $2.20 for their seats in the bleachers were out of luck; they had never received a ticket in the first place.

The next day, Waxman and Joe Dundee checked out of the Biltmore Hotel at noon and made their way to the train station. Later that night, they were pulled off an eastbound train at Pasadena and arrested for false advertising.  Waxman posted a $1,000 bond for each of them.

A warrant was issued for Donald on the same false advertising grounds. He phoned into the police station promising to turn himself in once his feelings of humiliation subsided. The police agreed to wait.

Ultimately, all accused would be acquitted. Waxman would return the $22,249.43 that had been placed in his account and an $11,000 check.

Fans didn’t receive refunds as it was deemed unfair to give them only to those who had bought $11 tickets since the gallery patrons had no ticket stub and thus, couldn’t get a refund anyhow. After the preliminary fighters, Wrigley Field, officials, ushers, and the chair rental company were compensated, the rest of the money was placed into a community fund.

Because he had entered the ring for his title challenge, Ace Hudkins declared himself the new champion, but no commission accepted his claim. Dick Donald’s promotional career, once so promising, abruptly ended. In 1935, he took one last gasp in boxing, serving as matchmaker at the famed Olympic Auditorium for a brief spell.

Joe Dundee would never fight in California again. His championship reign ended dishonorably a year and half later when several commissions agreed to strip him of the title for refusing to fight any top contenders. When Jackie Fields won the vacant title, he and Dundee were matched for the undisputed crown on July 25, 1929. With Dundee a two-to-one underdog, Waxman and Dundee bet $50,000 on Joe to win, with fouls canceling the bet. Fields shellacked Dundee, knocking him down twice. In the second round, after the second knockdown, Dundee knew he was licked. He got up and hit Fields low as hard as he could. Dundee was instantly disqualified, losing any claim to the title as disgracefully as his hold-out against Hudkins.

If only some of the alphabet champions of today had to post bail under the threat of jail for ducking contenders, maybe boxing would be in a better state.

EDITOR’S: Author David Harazduk has run The Jewish Boxing Blog since 2010. You can find him at  Twitter/X @JewishBoxing and Instagram @JewishBoxing

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