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The Event in 1968 That Forever Changed My World

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It was the most tumultuous year in one of the most tumultuous decades in American history. For those of a certain age, 1968 was a year unlike any other, a time of national angst and change. The country was roiled by the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; the Tet Offensive unexpectedly launched by North Vietnamese forces and the Viet Cong raised the stakes in the seemingly endless Vietnam war; there were violent clashes between antiwar protestors and Chicago police at the Democratic National Convention, and tensions ran high after a North Korea gunboat captured the adrift Navy intelligence vessel USS Pueblo in international waters and 83 crew members were held as hostages before their release was negotiated.

What happened in the sports world that year in no small part reflected what was happening in society on a broader scale: 200-meter American sprint medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and raised black-gloved fists on the medal stand during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at the Mexico City Olympics, and Arthur Ashe became the first black man to win a Grand Slam tennis tournament when he beat Tom Okker at the U.S. Open. In boxing, a power-punching kid from Houston, George Foreman, presaged his two widely separated rises to world professional championships by winning the heavyweight gold medal in Mexico City, and the leaner but just as hard-hitting Bob Foster won the light heavyweight title by knocking out Dick Tiger, the only time in Tiger’s 77-bout pro career in which he lost inside the distance.

For a not-quite-21-year-old Marine reservist and his 19-year-old bride, however, all those events took a back seat to something that occurred on Aug. 24 in New Orleans, and was of no particular significance to anyone other than the newly married couple and a selection of their friends and relatives. That was the day when my life forever changed for the better when I took Anne Marie d’Aquin as my soulmate, future mother of our four children and cooler-headed adviser on any number of critical domestic issues.

Now that we have reached the occasion of our golden anniversary – and 53½ years together, if you consider the formative stages of a relationship that began with a blind date of teenagers on Feb. 12, 1965 – I think it is high time to publicly acknowledge what those who know us well have known all along. Were it not for my Annie, I would be poorer and less fulfilled in every conceivable way. What’s that saying about certain sports teams? Oh, yeah, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And so it is with me; I am better, and probably much more so, as part of “us” than I could ever be as just me, a truth that likely would not be so had not I had the incredible good fortune to find a partner who meshed with me as no one else ever could, or probably would even dare to try.

Life deals you a hand of cards, and how that hand plays out depends in part on luck and in part on how you manage the cards you are holding. Consider this: the girl who lived next door to me during my high school years, a girl who was the same age as I and who also had a policeman father, turned out to be the regular-woman version of Elizabeth Taylor, having been married seven times. I even introduced her to her first husband, a friend of mine who has been married four times. That’s 11 marriages between them. I have known others who have made frequent excursions into marital hell, and it has occurred to me that I might have been a victim, or maybe a victimizer, of the serial wedding craps games were it not for one constant. I got it right the first time, even if Annie – and I’m being painfully honest here – has had cause to wonder if she did.

My temperament is, uh, a bit more mercurial than hers, and there were occasions when I made the egregious mistake of putting Fernandez the sports writer ahead of Fernandez the husband and Fernandez the father, making for lost moments I can never reclaim, like the time I rationalized that it was proper for me to head off to Las Vegas to cover a Oscar De La Hoya-Julio Cesar Chavez bout instead of staying home to attend my daughter Melanie’s high school graduation.

This is a boxing web site, so some of you are probably wondering why I am writing this very personal column, which is a one-time-only thing. Not that my wife planned on taking on the responsibility of being my de facto copy editor, but I do frequently ask her to read my stories before I send them in, in case there are errors I have made or improvements she might suggest.

This has enabled her to know more about fights and fighters than she ever could have imagined, which is kind of remarkable considering that, as many times as she has accompanied me to boxing events in and out of the country, she has only physically attended two cards. One of those was a show in Atlantic City headlined by an aging Roberto Duran, which Annie chose to be at since she served as a companion to a Panamanian girl who was living with us at the time as a foreign exchange student. Bottom line: I ask Annie to read my stuff because she is the only person I truly seek to impress, in the hope it will deter her from realizing she probably could have found someone more worthy of her as husband material, if only she’d been a bit more discerning and patient.

Not that she hasn’t been patient. Whenever I informed her of a move I was considering that would benefit my career, to newspapers in larger markets or which offered me better compensation and higher levels of responsibility, she agreed to pack up the house and the kids because what was good for me was good for the family, even if it meant giving up a home, a job or friends she loved. She has always put others, not only me, ahead of herself because that is who she is and why she is so well-liked by everyone who knows her. It is one of the little injustices I can’t explain that I have accumulated a number of journalism awards but there is no plaque or framed certificate in our home that pronounces my Annie as the best daughter, best sister, best wife, best mother, best nurse, best friend or best person.

There is another reason for this story, and it is that I am honoring a pledge I made to a now-deceased friend, Lucinda, who was the third wife of one of my former sports editors. Lucinda, who had earned her Ph.D. in psychology, always spoke to me of the love letters she cherished from her late husband Lee, who found the kind of bliss with her he apparently missed out on with his previous wives. “You should write a love letter to Annie,” Lucinda would scold me. “Tell her how you really feel. It will mean more to her than you realize.”

But I never got around to doing that, maybe because I do tell Annie that I love her every day, and maybe because it always has been easier for me to write about touchdowns, home runs, jump shots and guys who could hook off the jab than to channel my inner Percy Bysshe Shelley or William Wordsworth. I am too set in my ways to suddenly try to frame my innermost thoughts into couplets or iambic pentameter.

Hopefully, this paean to the great gift I was given a half-century ago, the angel who is forever at my shoulder, will suffice. And if not, I will reference some lyrics to one of my favorite Bonnie Raitt songs, You, which get to the point better than I or even Shelley or Wordsworth could:

Isn’t it love that keeps us breathing

Isn’t it love we’re sent here for

Wasn’t that loving we were feeling

It was something, baby

Deep in our souls … Deeper than we know

Keeping me holding out for

You … There was never any question

You’ll be forever on my mind

You and I, we were meant to be together

True hearts in a world where love is dyin’

Happy golden anniversary, my darling. Thank you for being, well, you. Being with you is more important than the winning Powerball Lottery ticket I might have bought, the Pulitzer Prize I would love to have received, the best-seller boxing book I often thought about doing but never got around to writing. It’s too late for any of those things to happen, but you know what? It really doesn’t matter. Because I got what I wanted, and what I needed, when you said “I do” one fine August day in 1968.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 274: Ryan Garcia and Devin Haney in Hollywood, Jake, Amanda and More

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HOLLYWOOD, Ca.- Adorned in a white suit, Ryan “King Ry” Garcia arrived on a big white horse followed by a handful of fair maidens dressed in various colors and some twirling hula hoops into the Avalon Theater on Vine Street on Thursday.

Inside the historic theater that once served as the Hollywood Canteen during World War 2, where actors like Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis and Rita Hayworth greeted soldiers, but this time it was the boxing media waiting.

Garcia (24-1, 20 KOs) will challenge undefeated Devin Haney (31-0, 15 KOs) for the WBC super lightweight world title on April 20 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. DAZN pay-per-view will stream the Golden Boy Promotions card.

It doesn’t get more Hollywood than this.

Inside the 97-year-old theater, once the two opposing factions arrived, the pageantry turned into a war of words, taunts and accusations.

This is boxing.

Aside from the taunts and words of derision tossed at each other, the Haney father and son combination admitted that Garcia was the one fighter willing to fight Devin.

“He (Garcia) raised his hand when no one else did,” said Bill Haney the father.

Devin Haney sat next to his father on the stage anxious as ever to prove his talent in the prize ring. After his victory over Regis Prograis that followed wins over Vasyl Lomachenko and George Kambosos, the former undisputed lightweight world champion is now dwelling in the super lightweight division and holds the WBC version.

“I was killing myself trying to make the weight,” said Haney about moving up to the 140-pound super lightweight division.

Haney has long been familiar with Ryan Garcia since their amateur days as they met in the boxing ring six times as youths.

“They fought six times in the amateurs with both of them winning three apiece. Now they meet with championship gold and the chance at being the face of American boxing on the line,” said Oscar De La Hoya, the promoter and head of Golden Boy Promotions. “In other words, this one counts!”

Garcia and Haney have taken similar paths.

Garcia fought professionally numerous times in Mexico where it is legal to fight under the age of 18. So did Haney. Both faced unknown opponents, sometimes last-minute changes forced them to fight foes that were not originally scheduled.

As pros, the two similarly and eagerly sought to face the best opponents possible despite their inexperience. Both proved more than capable.

Garcia quickly amassed a surprisingly large following of fans through social media and through his exploits of sudden knockouts from his uncanny speed.

“Everything I have today, I earned it,” said Garcia. “Nobody gave me a handout, I never had money, I’m really a small town boy.”

Haney proved able to defeat veteran world champions feared for their technical expertise with his own buttery-smooth fighting prowess.

“I am happy to be here. I worked hard to be here. I sacrificed a lot to be here, and at the end of the day, the world will see it on April 20,” said Devin Haney.

Next month in Brooklyn the two longtime foes will be performing. Will it be the biggest grossing pay-per-view of the year 2024?

Jake and Amanda

Jake Paul and Amanda Serrano are boxing’s best tag team.

Several years ago, Paul recognized that Serrano, a seven-division world champion Puerto Rican was capable of much more than fighting on the small stage.

Genius.

Paul signed Serrano to his Most Valuable Promotions company and together they have been able to draw a mixture of fans long ignored by other promoters.

Welcome to the age of the influencers.

For the past several years Paul has fought MMA stars, boxers and other social media influencers. And when he signed Serrano she fought Katie Taylor in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden where their fight drew more than a million pay-per-views.

Paul (8-1, 5 KOs) meets Ryan Bourland (17-2, 6 KOs) in an eight-round cruiserweight fight on Saturday March 2, at Coliseo Jose Miguel Agrelot in San Juan, Puerto Rico. DAZN will stream the card.

He will be co-piloting the fight card with the great Amanda Serrano (46-2-1, 30 KOs) who will be defending the undisputed featherweight world championship against Germany’s Nina “the Brave” Meinke (18-3, 4 KOs).

Once again Serrano and Paul will share a very good fight card that also features female super flyweights Krysti Rosario-Ortiz (2-0) and Gloria Munguilla (5-0).

Others on the card include Javon “Wanna” Walton, a featherweight out of Atlanta, Georgia. If he looks familiar there is a reason. He was featured in the Sylvester Stallone film Samaritan and also appeared in the HBO series Euphoria.

Walton has always boxed and now will be a part of the Paul and Serrano team.

Paul has that magic touch for attracting fans to boxing.

Just today Most Valuable Promotions signed Indian prizefighter Neeraj Goyat. The welterweight fighter was recently seen on social media approaching Paul in his training camp and daring the fighter to meet him in the boxing ring. The short video clip attracted more than 150 million views.

Paul, ever the think-out-of-the-box promoter, signed Goyat immediately.

“In just 2.5 years, MVP has organized some of the world’s most significant boxing events, and I’m excited to work with MVP to elevate the status of professional boxing in India and bring attention to boxers from India globally,” said an excited Goyat.

“His viral callouts of Jake Paul certainly got our attention,” said MVP co-founder Nakisa Bidarian.

Out-of-the box thinking.

Fights to Watch (all times Pacific Time)

Sat. DAZN 1:30 p.m. Amanda Serrano (46-2-1) vs Nina Meinke (18-3).

Sat. ESPN+ 2:10 pm Otabek Kholmatov 12-0, 11 KOs) vs. Raymod Ford (14-0-1, 7 KOs); Luis Alberto Lopez (29-2, 16 KOs) vs Reiya Abe (25-3-1, 10 KOs)

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Madueno Upsets Pauldo and Lopez Overcomes Escudero at Whitesands

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Madueno Upsets Pauldo and Lopez Overcomes Escudero at Whitesands

When it comes to professional boxing down in the Tampa Bay area, Canadian transplant Garry Jonas is a one-man band.

The architect of the Wednesday Night Fights series, Jonas doesn’t have to pay a site fee for the shows that he promotes because he owns the venue. The shows that he stages at his Whitesands Events Center in Plant City air on his live streaming platform ProBoxTV. His series currently has only one sponsor, a bookmaking operation called SportsBetting.Ag., and he owns that too. (A self-styled serial entrepreneur, Jonas continued his assault on the established order last week with his purchase of the respected Boxing Scene website, but that’s a story best saved for another day.)

Jonas promotes high-grade club fights. When he started this venture, he promised entertaining, well-matched fights and tonight he delivered. The “A” side fighters in the co-main events were matched tough.

In the featured bout, lightweight Justin Pauldo (17-2, 1 NC) was upset by Mexico’s Miguel Madueno. Managed by Jolene Mazzone, the former VP and matchmaker for Main Events and trained by Ronnie Shields, Pauldo, a resident or nearby Orlando, was unbeaten in his last 12 heading in.

In his previous start, Madueno turned in a lackluster performance against surging Canadian campaigner Steve Claggett. His showing (he was 30-1 with 28 KOs heading in) was inconsistent with his record. Tonight, he was more pugnacious, out-working the man in front of him, a 4/1 favorite. The decision was split; 97-92 and 95-94 for Madueno, 95-94 for Pauldo. There were no knockdowns, but the Mexican had a point deducted in round 5 for leading with his head.

Co-Feature

The co-main was an entertaining 10-round light heavyweight affair in which Edgar Berlanga stablemate Najee Lopez improved to 10-0 (8) with a hard-earned majority decision over Marcos Escudero (14-3). One of the judges had it a draw (95-95) but he was overruled by his cohorts who had it 97-93 and 99-91.

Lopez, who is of Puerto Rican descent but was born and raised in the Atlanta area, hadn’t previously gone beyond six rounds. He was the house fighter. Named the 2023 Prospect of the Year by the ProBox team of TV commentators, Lopez was making his eighth appearance at Whitesands. Escudero, a South Florida-based Argentine had won four straight heading in at club shows in Delray Beach, FL after back-to-back setbacks in competitive fights with Joseph George.

Escudero, who did most of the leading, had many good moments. The 99-91 tally against the Argentine was a head-scratcher. (Commentator Paulie Malignaggi said the offending  judge, Alvaro Rodriguez, should have his fee withheld and be forced to serve a one-year suspension.)

Also

In an 8-round lightweight contest, former two-time Olympian Tsendbaatar Erdenebat, a 27-year-old Mongolian southpaw who began his pro career in China and now resides in southern California, improved to 9-0 (4) with a unanimous decision over Guinea-born Mohamed Soumaoro (11-3) who was a willing mixer but was out-classed. The scores were 79-73 and 80-72 twice.

As one would expect from a two-time Olympian, Erdenebat is a good technician who puts his punches together well, but doesn’t have a lot of power. If his name rings a bell, he’s the fellow who purportedly sent Ryan Garcia to the hospital from the effects of a body punch during a sparring session.

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Two Featherweight Title Fights Top a Strong Bill at Turning Stone on Saturday

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When Top Rank announced in December that they would be returning to Turning Stone Resort & Casino for an ESPN+ show on March 2nd featuring two featherweight world title fights they promised a deep action-packed show. Usually such words fall by the wayside as the event ultimately comes together but in this instance the docket is loaded from top to bottom with name attractions, undefeated prospects, local grudge matches and two very well-matched co-headliners.

In the first of the co-headliners, Luis Alberto Lopez (29-2, 16 KOs) makes the third defense of his IBF featherweight belt against Japan’s Reiya Abe (25-3-1, 10 KOs). Lopez is a popular brawler whose aggressive style and lack of attention to defense usually makes for entertaining fights. Abe, a southpaw, is a slick boxer who is coming off a career best win against Kiko Martinez last April. Abe has a style similar to that of Ruben Villa who outboxed Lopez to a ten round unanimous decision win in 2019.

The co-headline finale is being contested for the vacant WBA featherweight title between Otabek Kholmatov (12-0, 11 KOs) and Raymond Ford (14-0-1, 7 KOs). Both fighters were highly touted heading into the pro ranks. Ford has the speed advantage but Kholmatov has a big edge in power. Social media seems split right down the middle on this fight and oddsmakers agree installing Kholmatov as a very slight favorite as of this writing.

Also on this show is the return of the ever popular Nico Ali Walsh (9-1, 5 KOs) who bounced back from his first career defeat on Dec. 16 at a show in Guinea where he defeated a Frenchman with a 9-2-1 record (mysteriously, that fight isn’t yet listed on boxrec). He will face off against Luke Iannuccilli (7-0, 3 KOs). Walsh, Muhammad Ali’s grandson, will make his debut at Turning Stone Resort Casino in the same exact arena where his aunt and Boxing Hall of Famer Laila Ali made her professional boxing debut in October of 1999 with her legendary father sitting ringside. This will mark the fourth time a member of Muhammad Ali’s family has fought at Turning Stone.

The card also includes several contests featuring up-and-coming undefeated fighters. One match in particular to keep an eye on is an eight-round welterweight bout between a pair of unbeaten fighters in Rohan Polanco (11-0, 7 KOs) and Tarik Zaina (13-0-1, 8 KOs). Zaina opened some eyes last November when he defeated Marcelino Lopez and Polanco is coming off three consecutive wins against opponents who had a cumulative record of 39-3.

Finally I would be remiss if I didn’t notate the local grudge match on the docket between Gerffred Ngayot (6-1, 5 KOs) of Buffalo and Bryce Mills (14-1, 5 KOs) of Syracuse. They are scheduled to face off in a six-round bout in the 140-pound division. They are on this show because each have solid local fan bases and matching them was a way to help fill the stands. Mills is a sharp accurate counterpuncher with all-around solid skills. Ngayot is an aggressive fighter who is not afraid to be first and fire away to the body. Stylistically this could turn into quite a barnburner and each have plenty of motivation to make a statement on what is a much bigger stage than they are accustomed to.

We are often quick to criticize those in the sport when cards come together that are seemingly either loaded with mismatches or bouts that just don’t pique much interest. This is an instance where those involved need to be applauded for putting together a card from top to bottom that will certainly give fans plenty of bang for their buck.

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