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Politics Aside, Passionate Boxing Fan John McCain was an American Hero

Definition of a “hero,” from the Merriam-Webster dictionary: “A person admired for achievements and noble qualities; one who shows great courage.”

Bernard Fernandez

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Definition of a “hero,” from the Merriam-Webster dictionary: “A person admired for achievements and noble qualities; one who shows great courage.”

Sen. John McCain, the difficult-to-categorize, at least in a political sense, Republican senator from Arizona, was four days shy of his 82nd birthday when on Aug. 25 he finally succumbed to the ravishing effects of gliobastoma, a rare form of brain cancer he was first diagnosed as having on July 14, 2017. Those with aggressive GBM, as it is known in its shortened form, have a median survival period of 14 months, meaning the combative former Navy pilot did not outlive normal projections for those similarly stricken. For those familiar with the incredible true story of a genuine American hero, Sen. McCain’s adherence to any kind of norm must seem odd. His admirers – and they are many, including those who often opposed his positions as a two-time presidential candidate, two-term congressman and six-term senator – can be excused for somehow believing that a man who had survived as much as John Sidney McCain III had could somehow do it again if only through the force of his will and, maybe, his genetic makeup. Among his surviving family members is his 106-year-old mother, Roberta.

“It’s been quite a ride,” McCain, acknowledging the inevitability of his latest confrontation with the specter of death, wrote in a memoir published in May. “I’ve known great passions, seen amazing wonders, fought in a war, and helped make peace. I’ve lived very well and I’ve been deprived of all comforts. I’ve been as lonely as a person can be and I’ve enjoyed the company of heroes. I’ve suffered the deepest despair and experienced the highest exultation.

“I made a small place for myself in the story of America and the history of my times.”

A small place in the multifaceted story of John McCain, one that almost surely will not be mentioned this week by former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, among those expected to speak at McCain’s Thursday funeral service at Washington National Cathedral (a private funeral is planned for Sunday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.), is the former USNA boxer’s unabashed love of the sport, and his relentless championing of its participants.

McCain co-authored, along with Sen. Richard Bryan (D-Nev.), the Professional Boxing Safety Act, which became law on July 1, 1997, and he also sponsored the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, which became law on May 26, 2000. He would have preferred to go even further, but his vision of providing pension and unionized protections for professional boxers ran into the sort of legislative roadblocks that have become all too common in a political landscape marked by increasing partisanship. The biggest impediment to a boxers’ union and pension plan is the international aspect of boxing, with two of the four major world sanctioning bodies headquartered abroad: the WBA in Venezuela and the WBC in Mexico. It can be argued that the WBO, based in Puerto Rico, also is under “foreign” purview, although the Caribbean island is a territory of the United States.

“As long as there is not a pension plan or a union – and I say that as a conservative Republican – I don’t believe you in any way can compare what the fighters receive to that of other professional sports,” McCain said in 2000, during his first presidential run that ended with his party’s nomination going to George W. Bush. “Every other major professional sport in this country has unions and pension plans.”

McCain’s failed push for unionization in pro boxing ran contrary to the prevailing mood of the Republican hierarchy, and so was his advocacy for a bill that would have created the formation of a three-person commission within the Commerce Department to regulate the sport in America. On Nov. 16, 2005, the U.S. House of Representatives voted, 233-190, against the proposed bill. Interestingly, Democrats voted for the proposed legislation by 146-50, but the GOP shot it down by a 183-43 margin. It is one of several instances where McCain, considered something of a political maverick, reached across the aisle on matters he considered to be of enough importance to transcend party orthodoxy.

But if Americans at large paid little heed to McCain’s hit-or-miss boxing crusades, the fighters whose circumstances he strove to improve took notice. Among those who lauded him was IBF middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins.

“Sen. McCain is a true hero in my eyes,” Hopkins said in July 2000. “I know his history. You have to know who you’re dealing with, right? This is a man who was in a prison camp and could have been released early, but he didn’t want to leave his friends. That tells me something.”

The son and grandson of Navy admirals also named John McCain, there is a strong likelihood John III (one of his sons, John IV, is a fourth-generation Naval Academy graduate now serving as a Navy helicopter pilot) would have remained in the military until he reached mandatory retirement age and risen in rank to join his distinguished forebears were it not for the events of Oct. 26, 1967, when a surface-to-air missile struck his Skyhawk dive bomber on a mission over Hanoi. Its right wing destroyed, the crippled aircraft hurtled toward Truc Bach Lake when McCain parachuted to … well, not exactly safety. The force of his ejection from the plane broke his right leg and both arms, knocking him unconscious. Sinking to the depths of what might have been his watery grave, McCain came to, ignoring the pain as best he could, and somehow was able to kick his way to the surface with his good leg and activate his life preserver with his teeth.

Pulled ashore by some North Vietnamese, one of his captors slammed a rifle butt into his right shoulder, shattering it. Another bayoneted him in the abdomen and foot.

The severely injured McCain was then transported to Ho Loa Prison, which was derisively nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by its 500 or so prisoners of war. At first denied medical attention, McCain, who by that time was also suffering from dysentery, was described by one of his fellow POWs, Air Force Major George “Bud” Day, as looking “like he absolutely was on the verge of death.” His tale might have ended there, in that squalid setting, had not prison officials learned of his two-admiral lineage. The North Vietnamese, hoping to score a propaganda victory, not only provided him delayed if substandard medical attention – he underwent surgery on his broken leg, but several ligaments were damaged in the process – but offered him early release. Adhering to the military code of “first in, first out,” McCain said he would only accept if every man captured before him was released as well.

McCain’s refusal to take the accelerated release, as well as his steadfast refusal to give interrogators any more information than his name, rank, serial number and date of birth, so infuriated prison officials that they moved him into solitary confinement in March 1968, several months before his father was named commander in chief of all U.S. Pacific forces. Thus began the systematic torture he was to endure beginning in August 1968, during which time his once-dark-brown hair turned snowy white and his body weight dropped alarmingly, the result of being put on a diet of stale bread and thin pumpkin soup. But, he said, the torture ended around October of 1969 and his solitary confinement concluded in March 1970. After the signing of the Paris Peace Accords on Jan. 27, 1973, putting an end to the Vietnam War, McCain was released on March 14, 1973.

He came home with a body so irretrievably broken that he would walk with a limp for the rest of his days, and unable to raise his arms above his shoulders. There would be personal recriminations as well, with McCain, at the point of suicide and after four days of prolonged torture during the worst stretch of his incarceration, agreeing to write a confession of his “crimes” against the North Vietnamese people.

“I felt just terrible about it,” he recalled. “Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine.”

Perhaps it was the forced signing of that confession that prompted Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, of whom Sen. McCain was not a fan, to take an egregiously distasteful shot at his tormentor from Arizona during an appearance at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, during the 2016 presidential campaign. Asked about McCain’s service to his country while in the Navy, Trump responded, “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who aren’t captured.”

Although Trump — who never served in the military and received four deferments from 1964 to ’67 — quickly recanted, he was widely criticized by Democrats and Republicans alike for comments so seemingly inappropriate for someone aspiring to become Commander in Chief of all U.S. military forces. While it is not obligatory for a sitting president to have donned a uniform in defense of his country, to have done so would appear to be more beneficial than a deterrent; of the 45 individuals who have held the nation’s highest elected office, 22 saw combat or served in combat zones while another eight served in other capacities.

Although a frequent critic of Trump, McCain considered the late Ronald Reagan his hero and political role model. Thus was McCain paradoxical in many ways, forever, in the words of Winston Churchill, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. To left-leaning boxing promoter Bob Arum, McCain was a “great American” and “terrific boxing fan” whose politics were a bit too conservative for his own taste, while to Trump backers he was a gadfly who too often strayed left of their preferred right-of-center moorings. He was in his own way that rarest of politicians, true to his own sometimes alterable beliefs, a fighter for the constituents who kept him in office and a steadfast proponent for that most under-represented minority, the boxers with whom he so readily identified.

“There are some issues that need to be tackled simply because it’s the right thing to do,” he once said of his obsession with eliminating or at least minimizing some of the ills linked to professional boxing. “I’m very proud to be involved in the movement to effect some real change in the boxing industry. I believe that boxers are the most exploited of all professional athletes. They come from the lowest rung, and generally are the least educated. They’re the only major sport that’s not unionized.

“I can’t force boxers to invest their money, but I sure think I can prevent them from being exploited by unscrupulous outsiders.”

Perhaps my most enduring memory of Sen. McCain is the one time I had a chance to speak to him, in a brief interview that was more like two fight fans having a chat, despite the fact I was holding a tape recorder. It was Aug. 25, 1998, and the senator and Pennsylvania’s Republican governor, Tom Ridge, were part of a capacity-plus, sweat-soaked crowd of 1,350 at Philadelphia’s Blue Horizon for a sort-of notable event, the final USA Tuesday Night Fights telecast, which ended the cable network’s 17-year run. In the main event, heavyweight novelty attraction Eric “Butterbean” Esch blasted out journeyman Tim Pollard in the first round of a, natch, scheduled four-rounder.

It didn’t take long for the two politicians, who arrived wearing suits and ties, to doff their jackets and ties and to loosen their collars. But they nonetheless appeared to be enjoying themselves immensely; for Sen. McCain especially, this suffocatingly hot night was a chance to let his hair down and indulge his not-so-secret passion.

“It’s my first time here, but I’ve seen the place on television a hundred times,” he said. “I’d heard about the incredible atmosphere and everything I heard is true. This is one of the great, classic places for boxing.”

Rest in peace, Sen. McCain. The symbolic 10-count has sounded and you take your earthly leave having scored a couple of victories on points in the ongoing quest to make things better for fighters and those who care about them.

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Season 2 of the World Boxing Super Series Concludes on Saturday in Munich

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PRESS RELEASE: The hotly-anticipated World Boxing Super Series Season II Cruiserweight Final between Mairis Briedis and Yuniel Dorticos takes place behind-closed-doors in a film studio at Plazamedia Broadcasting Center in Munich, Germany on Saturday, 26 September. On the line: The Muhammad Ali Trophy, IBF World Title, and vacant Ring Magazine 200 lbs belt.

The final will be shown live on DAZN in the US and Sky Sports in the UK.

“A final for the Muhammad Ali Trophy has proved to be something extraordinary. We have seen that it brings out the best in boxers which reflects the DNA of our tournament as to deliver and continue to deliver boxing at its very best to fans of the sport,” said Andreas Benz, CEO of Comosa, the event organizer.

“Plazamedia is a phenomenal solution, the studios are providing a controlled environment which is of huge benefit to us and the production team to keep everyone safe while also putting on a great show.

“At the same time, we have done everything to secure fair conditions for both teams, and to ensure they remain healthy and isolated until the action starts.”

Mairis Briedis, tournament No. 1 seed, qualified for the final through wins over Noel Mikaelian (UD) and Krzysztof Glowacki (TKO3), while Dorticos, No. 2 seed conquered Mateusz Masternak (UD) and Andrew Tabiti (KO10) to enter the 200 lbs decider.

“We are very happy about the announcement of the final,” said Latvia’s Mairis Briedis. “I love the fact that it will be in Munich as it reminds me of every time I went to train with the Klitschko brothers in Germany and the flights were always via Munich. Those are some great memories of the time spent with them there.”

Said Miami-based Cuban, Yuniel ‘The KO Doctor’ Dorticos, IBF World Cruiserweight Champion: “To all my fans worldwide, In Europe and especially in Munich, Germany: I am super happy the World Boxing Super Series final will take place in Munich, Germany, and I will see you all on Saturday, September 26th. The KO Doctor is back and ready to prescribe another dose of pain and take the Muhammad Ali Trophy back to Miami.”

Kalle Sauerland, Chief Boxing Officer of the WBSS, said: “On 26 September we will not only crown the best cruiserweight on the planet but also send a sign to the world that boxing is back with the first major transatlantic championship bout between the undisputed number one and two in their division.

The final is not only about honour and glory, but cementing a legacy. The winner will become a member of an exclusive ‘Ali Trophy Winner Club’ that includes Oleksandr Usyk, Callum Smith, Naoya Inoue and Josh Taylor. It doesn’t get much bigger in boxing, and we expect Briedis and Dorticos to have an absolute barnstormer!”

The Muhammad Ali Trophy was created by the late world-renowned artist Silvio Gazzaniga who also designed the iconic FIFA World Cup Trophy.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 106: Return of LA Boxing, Josh Taylor, Charlos and More

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 106: Return of LA Boxing, Josh Taylor, Charlos and More

Let’s call this week the Big Build Up.

Back in the 1920s to the 1950s the City of Angels was known as the place where Humphrey Bogart lived and played characters out of Raymond Chandler’s novels. Books like the “Big Sleep” and “Lady in a Lake” were made into movies based in Los Angeles.

Well, here we are back where boxing thrives, people or not.

Los Angeles kicks off the big boxing week starting with a televised fight card that features home grown featherweight Vic Pasillas at the Microsoft Theater in the downtown area. Fox Sports 1 will televise the Premier Boxing Championship card on Wednesday, Sept. 23.

Pasillas (15-0,8 KOs) faces Dominican fighter Ranfis Encarnacion (17-0, 13 KOs) in the co-main event at a fan-less event that begins a crowded week of boxing as we near the end of 2020.

“Coming out on top against Encarnación is going to catapult me into some big fights at featherweight. The division is wide open and I know with hard work I can take it over,” said Pasillas who is originally from Los Angeles. “This is by far the most important fight of my career. I’m coming with everything I got, because I know this is the turning point that will lead to bigger and better fights. I am ready to bring an exciting fight to the fans and get my hand raised in victory.”

Both Pasillas and Encarnacion are undefeated and unknown to most of the boxing world. A win changes everything especially when it’s difficult to even stage a boxing card.

Promoters are anxious to get their fighters in the ring by any means necessary.

On Thursday in Biloxi, Mississippi, super lightweight Michael Williams Jr. meets Thomas Miller in the headline attraction of a boxing card that will be streamed by UFC Fight Pass.

On Friday in southern Mexico, Serhii Bohachuk (17-0, 17 KOs) meets Alejandro Davila (21-1-2, 8 KOs) in Merida, Yucatan. No word if it will be streamed. The super welterweight from Ukraine has a 17-fight knockout streak and has become a main attraction in Hollywood, California for 360 Promotions.

“Serhii has become one of the most talked about rising stars in boxing,” said Tom Loeffler, promoter of 360 Promotions. “Boxing fans are excited to see if he can continue his knockout streak against Alejandro Davila, the toughest opponent he’s faced. He’s been training very hard with Manny Robles for this fight and if victorious, we’re certain there will be bigger opportunities for him in the near future.”

These are all tasty appetizers for the big buffet coming on Saturday.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Saturday morning, especially if you live in the California area, ESPN+ will showcase the IBF, WBA super lightweight world title fight between champion Josh Taylor (16-0, 12 KOs) and Apinun Khongsong (16-0, 13 KOs) in London. It will be streamed live on Sept. 26, Saturday morning, starting at 11 a.m PST.

This is an important match for Taylor (pictured on the left) who needs a win to nail down a unification clash with Jose Carlos Ramirez the WBC and WBO titlist. If Scotland’s Taylor emerges victorious the super lightweight clash will be one of the top fights of the year.

And if that fight happens to take place, then that winner more than likely meets WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford.

But first things first. Taylor needs to defeat Thailand’s Khongsong on Saturday.

“I didn’t want a warm-up fight, so getting straight back in there against my mandatory challenger is great, as it’s kept me fully focused. I want big fights in my career, so this is an important fight with my belts on the line,” said Taylor.

Charlos Pay-per-view

The Charlos brothers asked for it and they got it.

Long have the brothers from Houston, Texas asked for a pay-per-view fight card and it never seemed possible until now. The Charlos will headline a pay-per-view double-header on Saturday via Showtime.

Beginning at 4 p.m PT/ 7 p.m. ET the Showtime pay-per-view card begins with three top notch bouts:

WBO bantamweight titlist John Riel Casimero (29-4) vs Ghana’s Duke Micah (24-0, 19 KOs).

WBA super bantamweight titlist Brandon Figueroa (20-0-1, 15 KOs) vs Damien Vazquez (15-1-1, 8 KOs).

WBC middleweight titlist Jermall Charlo (30-0, 22 KOs) v Sergiy Derevyanchenko (13-2, 10 KOs).

Charlo was not impressed with Derevyanchenko’s performances against Daniel Jacobs and Gennady Golovkin because both were losses. He expects to dominate.

Derevyanchenko says he’s ready for Charlo.

“Golovkin is a very different fighter than Charlo, but Jacobs is similar stylistically, so that’s something I’ll be used to,” said Derevyanchenko. “This training camp has been very similar to camps for my previous fights though. We just brought in different sparring partners for this one. We’re using fighters who can show us what Charlo will bring to the ring.”

After a 30-minute intermission the second half of the boxing card begins.

Former bantamweight world champion Luis Nery (30-0, 24 KOs) moves up in weight to face Aaron Alameda (25-0, 13 KOs) for the vacant WBC super bantamweight world title. Both fighters are from Mexico.

Former super bantamweight titlists Danny Roman (27-3-1) and Juan Carlos Payano (21-3) meet in a 12-round bout.

In the grand finale WBC super welterweight titlist Jermell Charlo (33-1, 17 KOs) challenges IBF and WBA super welterweight titlist Jeison Rosario (20-1-1, 14 KOs) in a fight for all three belts.

“We lions,” said Charlo.

It’s a very big week for boxing that begins on Wednesday and ends Saturday.

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The Return of Wednesday Boxing Evokes Memories of a Golden Era

Arne K. Lang

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There’s a Wednesday card on the boxing docket this week. The card, which features several undefeated up-and-comers of the sort usually found on Showtime’s developmental series, “ShoBox: The New Generation,” will play out at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles and air on Fox Sports 1.

Not to be out-done, “ShoBox” is returning. The long-running series, which suspended operations in March in obeisance to COVID-19 restrictions, returns on Oct. 7 with a show emanating from Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Casino. The contestants in the main go of the four-fight card, Charles Conwell and Wendy Toussaint, have identical 12-0 records.

It just so happens that Oct. 7 is also a Wednesday. And these upcoming Wednesday shows transported this reporter back to his boyhood when boxing was a fixture on radio and television on Wednesday nights. The Wednesday series sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon beer ran from 1950 to 1960, airing the first five years on CBS and then on ABC.

Fights were all over the TV dial during the 1950s, not that there was much competition. The Big Three — NBC, CBS, and ABC — ruled the airwaves with DuMont a very distant fourth and cable television well off into the future. (For a time, the short-lived DuMont network aired boxing shows on Mondays.)

When televisions first came out, they were a big-ticket item. In 1948, RCA’s cheapest model sold for $395. That’s the equivalent of $10,400 today. By 1954, the cost of the least expensive model had declined to $189 and it came in a bigger box, with a 17-inch screen compared with the 13-inch screen that was standard six years earlier.

With the cost of the coveted contraption beyond the means of many wage earners, saloonkeepers cashed in. Boxing fans flocked to the neighborhood tavern to get their boxing fix. The saloonkeeper could write off his television sets on his taxes as a business expense.

Those were the days, and I date myself, when every town had a TV repair shop and the repairman, like the family doctor, made house calls.

The Wednesday Night Fights were a spin-off of the Friday Night Fights on NBC. The matchmaker for both series (through 1958) was the International Boxing Club which was headquartered at Madison Square Garden. The president of the IBC was James D. Norris (who would come to be seen as a puppet for mobster Frankie Carbo, but that’s a story for another day).

James D. Norris inherited a vast fortune from his father, Canadian businessman James E. Norris. The elder Norris was a big wheel in the sport of hockey and had a financial interest in the arenas that housed NHL teams in Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis. He made these arenas available to his son and the Wednesday fight cards moved around, unlike the Friday fights which were pinned to Madison Square Garden.

Both series would eventually venture out at times into virgin territory, but the Wednesday series was the trailblazer. The first nationally televised boxing show from the West Coast was a Wednesday affair. Jimmy Carter defended his world lightweight title against LA fan favorite Art Aragon, the original Golden Boy, at the Olympic Auditorium on Nov. 14, 1951. Aragon had upset Carter in a non-title fight 11 weeks earlier, but Carter took him to school in the rematch, winning a lopsided decision.

The Friday boxing series, which took the name “Gillette Cavalcade of Sports,” would come to be more fondly remembered, but once the TV became a living room staple, which happened fast, the Wednesday series drew higher ratings. This was predictable as more folks stayed home on Wednesday nights than on Friday nights. And although the Friday series had a larger budget, some of the most important fights of the era were staged on Wednesdays.

One of the highlights of the 1951 season was Ezzard Charles’ world heavyweight title defense against Jersey Joe Walcott at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. It was Walcott’s fifth crack at the title and he was considered ancient at age 37, but he avenged his two previous losses to Charles with a thunderous one-punch knockout.

Carmen Basilio appeared in The Ring magazine Fight of the Year in five consecutive years (1955-1959). The first two — his second meeting with Tony DeMarco and his second meeting with Johnny Saxton – were televised on a Wednesday.

Although he would be quickly forgotten, the Wednesday series brought Bob Satterfield a cult following because of his unpredictability. He certainly left an impression on octogenarian boxing writer Ted Sares who recently named Satterfield his all-time favorite fighter.

To conjure up a portrait of Satterfield, think Deontay Wilder and then fix Wilder with a glass jaw. Satterfield, whose best weight was about 182 pounds, was a murderous puncher, but during his career he was stopped 13 times.

LA’s Clarence Henry and Pittsburgh’s Bob Baker were ranked #3 in the heavyweight division when they ventured to Chicago to tangle with Satterfield, Henry in 1952 and Baker the following year. Henry knocked out Satterfield in the opening round. Satterfield hit the canvas so hard, said a ringside reporter, the resin dust flew up.

The Satterfield-Baker fight would also end in the opening round. Baker out-weighed Satterfield by 34 pounds, but Satterfield flattened him. Later on, in a non-Wednesday fight, Satterfield knocked out Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams in the third round. Williams, 33-1 heading in, was the larger man by 25 pounds.

One bet on or against Bob Satterfield at one’s own peril.

The Wednesday Night Fights had a nice run before the series was cancelled and supplanted in its time slot by “The Naked City,” a critically acclaimed police drama series. Perhaps the return of boxing on Wednesdays augurs well for another mid-week boxing series, but we won’t hold our breath.

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