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The Middleweight Reigns of Hopkins and GGG: Truth, Lies, and Statistics

When Emmitt Smith passed Walter Payton to become the NFL’s career rushing leader on Oct. 27, 2002, a distinction he still holds, more than a few

Bernard Fernandez

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When Emmitt Smith passed Walter Payton to become the NFL’s career rushing leader on Oct. 27, 2002, a distinction he still holds, more than a few Dallas Cowboys fans immediately pronounced him the greatest running back ever because, well, their guy now had the numbers to validate that assertion. But the longevity that enabled Smith to compile those indisputably impressive numbers were not conclusive enough to sway diehard supporters of Payton, Barry Sanders, Gale Sayers, Jim Brown and, who knows, maybe Jim Thorpe and Red Grange, that those splendid runners weren’t just as good or even better.

Someone once said that there is truth, lies and damn statistics, figures that can be interpreted in different ways and might or might not prove anything beyond reasonable doubt.  Virtually every starting NFL quarterback today throws for more yards than Hall of Famers Sammy Baugh and Otto Graham did way back when, given changing times and rules designed to advance the modern passing game. There is another saying that records are made to be broken, which may be so, but the erasure of an existing mark and the penciling in of another does not always allow for shifting landscapes and individual gut reaction.  Fans tend to believe what they want to believe, which is why some records are not and can never be as sacrosanct as others.

Should Gennady Golovkin (38-0-1, 34 KOs) defeat Canelo Alvarez (49-1-2, 34 KOs) in their HBO Pay Per View rematch Saturday night at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, it would mark his 21st consecutive middleweight title defense, snapping the division record of 20 he now shares with the iconic Bernard Hopkins. But would that fact alone certify “GGG” as the best of the best among middleweight champions, or better than B-Hop?  It is a nebulous area, in light of the fact that many legendary 160-pounders did not stay at the weight long enough to stitch together comparable streaks, or the reality that where once there was only one true middleweight ruler while now there are four presumably major sanctioning bodies which award alphabetized title belts, diluting the very concept of what a world champ is or is supposed to be.

Although Golovkin’s focus is primarily on Alvarez – they fought to a controversial and mutually dissatisfying split draw on Sept. 16 of last year — he is aware of the boxing history he is on the verge of possibly making and the specter of the very-much alive and chatty Hopkins that hangs over the bout.

“It’s very important for me to set this record,” Golovkin admitted. “It’s like going for two victories – to beat Canelo and to set the record.”

Added Tom Loeffler, Golovkin’s promoter: “It would be a tremendous accomplishment if GGG’s able to beat Bernard’s record. Most people thought 20 middleweight title defenses was untouchable. If Gennady, on this huge platform, is able to beat Canelo and break the record at the same time, that would be really be something.”

Like Loeffer, the 53-year-old Hopkins, now retired as an active boxer but still an executive with Golden Boy Promotions, whose most accomplished and marketable asset is Alvarez, didn’t expect his record, defense No. 20 coming when he scored a unanimous decision over Howard Eastman on Feb. 19, 2005, to be matched and possibly surpassed so soon. But the forever proud and defiant B-Hop is firm in his belief, at least publicly, that when all is said and done on Sept. 15 he will continue to hang onto his share of a record to which he absolutely does not want Golovkin to take sole possession.

“I never thought I’d be talking about this (his record conceivably falling) so early,” Hopkins said when contacted for this story. “I thought it would last 20, maybe 25 years. But at least my name is still in the conversation (as the co-record-holder). It’s really kind of a unique situation.

“Will I go over and shake Golovkin’s hand if he wins? It’s something I would rather not have to do, to be honest. There’s a competitive side of me that’s always going to be there no matter what I do in life. But you know what? I don’t think I’ll have to congratulate him for breaking the record because he’s not going to win. Canelo is super-confident. He’s younger (28 to GGG’s 36) and getting better and he’s fighting a guy who’s older and don’t know how to upgrade. I’ve been breaking down this fight for months and I have a good idea of how it’s going to play out.

“I’m calling this a unanimous decision, kind of lopsided, for Canelo. Now, there will be some fireworks. But when the fight gets into the championship rounds, GGG is going to be desperate. He’s a big puncher and big punchers always try to take their guy out early. He’s not going to know what to do when it’s late in the fight, he’s way behind on points and he finds himself in deep waters.”

There is a suspicion when listening to Hopkins that his lofty expectations of what Canelo is capable of doing against Golovkin are actually his imagination of what he could do against the knockout artist from Kazakhstan if they somehow could square off prime-on-prime. It is a notion that Hopkins does not reject out of hand.

“There’s always going to be a debate about who fought the better guys, but you can’t fault Gennady Golovkin for the quality of people that were and are in his era,” Hopkins continued. “His history is his history and my history is my history. He must be respected for what he’s done, regardless of what happens on Sept. 15.

“But if people insist on making comparisons, there are names on my resume, and on his, that we both can be proud of having beaten. Some other names, not so much. But you can only beat who’s put in front of you.

“That said, there’s no question I fought more quality opponents, and it’s not just (Felix) Trinidad and Oscar (De La Hoya). What about Joe Lipsey? Robert Allen? Glen Johnson? Howard Eastman? We could get into a cat fight on social media about this, but I ain’t going to play that game. Like him, I had to fight a few guys that weren’t top-rate – Morrade Hakkar, he ran around the ring like Carl Lewis – but I had to fight them because they were mandatories and I didn’t want to relinquish my title that way. I’m glad I took those fights because if I didn’t I wouldn’t be talking now about the record I still have.”

So, does Hopkins allow himself to play the what-if game of what would happen if he and GGG could have met at the top of their respective and tactically different forms?

“If I was fighting in my prime now, or if he was fighting me back then, he’d find out what ring generalship is all about,” Hopkins said. “You don’t put yourself in spots where you are vulnerable, you put the other guy in spots where he’s vulnerable. I made a living off of guys that came forward and wanted to bang. I knew how to make aggressive guys miss, and then I made them pay. GGG is going to realize what ring generalship is when he fights Canelo.”

Bold words, like statistics, are not really definitive proof of anything. If someone wants to say that Golovkin or Hopkins currently is the pugilistic version of Emmitt Smith because of their shared record, fine. But there are other middleweights who are always going to be mentioned for that figurative No. 1 all-time position, a who’s who list that includes the celebrated likes of Harry Greb, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Carlos Monzon and Sugar Ray Robinson, among others. The outcome of a fantasy pairing of the clever Hopkins and power-punching Golovkin does make for an interesting matchup of mental poker, however, and more so when the damnable numbers get pushed into the pot.

Of Hopkins’ 20 defenses (one was a four-round no-contest against Robert Allen on Aug. 28, 1998, when Hopkins inadvertently was pushed out of the ring by referee Mills Lane and injured his ankle) were against opponents who posted a cumulative record of 620-49-29 with 454 wins by stoppage and 23 losses by knockout. Three of those title bouts were against Allen, two against Antwun Echols. Golovkin’s 20 defenses all came against different opponents – the do-over with Alvarez marks his first championship rematch – who were a collective 574-59-10 with 381 KO wins and 19 losses inside the distance. Hopkins fought seven men who either had been or would become world champions, the same number as Golovkin. And where Hopkins scored signature victories against Trinidad and De La Hoya, GGG can counter with a points nod over Daniel Jacobs and the split draw with Canelo, which many believe should have resulted in a win.

If Hopkins is correct that his title reign came against a generally better grade of opposition, so too might be Loeffler’s claim that Golovkin’s efforts to enhance his legacy against big-name rivals has been thwarted in part by a reluctance by some of the marquee middleweights to trade punches with one of the most devastating punchers ever to grace the division.

“There’s a lot of names in the past that we would like to have gotten in the ring, but for whatever reason they chose not to fight Gennady, whether it was Felix Sturm or Sergio Martinez or Peter Quillin,” Loeffler said. “Gennady’s definitely had kind of a blue-collar career. He was willing to fight anyone, and anywhere. Now he’s in the T-Mobile Arena against Canelo Alvarez in the biggest fight of the year. It’s definitely a legacy fight for him.

“We’ll see the best fighting the best, and that’s really what the sport is all about. It’s what Gennady’s always wanted.”

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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Yoka vs. Hammer Kicks Off the Thanksgiving Weekend Slate on ESPN+

Arne K. Lang

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PRESS RELEASE— Tony Yoka, the dynamic heavyweight punching Parisian, aims to impress in his ESPN platform debut. Yoka, who won a super heavyweight gold medal for France at the 2016 Rio Olympics, will fight veteran Christian Hammer in a 10-rounder Friday at H Arena in Nantes, France.

Yoka-Hammer will stream live and exclusively this Friday, Nov. 27 in the United States on ESPN+ beginning at 2:55 p.m. ET/11:55 a.m. PT.

The ESPN+ stream will also include the return of unbeaten 2016 French Olympic gold medalist Estelle Yoka-Mossely against Pasa Malagic in an eight-round lightweight bout. Yoka and Yoka-Mossely, who have been married since 2018, welcomed their second child in May.

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Earlier this year, Yoka inked a promotional agreement with Top Rank, which will co-promote him with Ringstar France.

“Tony Yoka’s potential is limitless, and he is a grounded young man who is motivated to be a great professional fighter,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “France has never had a world heavyweight champion, and I believe Tony is the one to bring the sport’s biggest honor home.”

The 28-year-old Yoka’s stellar amateur run included a berth at the 2012 London Olympics and gold medals at the 2015 World Championships and 2010 Youth Olympic Games. Before his triumph in Rio, he’d already defeated the likes of former heavyweight world champion Joseph Parker and current undefeated prospects Joe Joyce and Ivan Dychko. At the Rio Olympics, he defeated Croatian standout Filip Hrgović in the semifinals and edged Joyce in the gold medal match.

As a professional, Yoka (8-0, 7 KOs) made his debut in June 2017 with a second-round stoppage over the previously undefeated Travis Clark. Apart from a decision win over Jonathan Rice in his second outing, Yoka has stopped every foe, including durable Englishman David “White Rhino” Allen and former European champion Alexander Dimitrenko. He made his 2020 debut Sept. 25 and stopped former world title challenger Johann Duhaupas in one round.

Hammer (25-6, 15 KOs) has fought many of the leading heavyweight names during his 12-year career, falling short against Tyson Fury, Luis Ortiz and Alexander Povetkin. He’s notched myriad upset victories, including a highlight-reel knockout over David Price and a 2016 split decision over Erkan Teper for the WBO European belt. In March 2019, he went the 10-round distance against Ortiz and has not been stopped since Fury forced him to retire on his stool after eight rounds in their February 2015 clash.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 115: Macho, Freddie and More

David A. Avila

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Camacho me and Mia

“Macho.”

That single word is how Hector Camacho presented himself when introduced. It was the only word needed for the three-division world champion from Puerto Rico who was raised in Harlem, New York.

The first time I met Camacho was in a dark and packed Las Vegas nightclub in the MGM where he was a guest of Oscar De La Hoya back in March 2001. Though it was difficult to see, when Camacho was introduced, I could see the large gold medallion with the word “Macho” in letters six inches high.

Showtime network will be presenting a documentary called “Macho: The Hector Camacho Story” on Friday, December 4 at 9 p.m. on Showtime. It sparks memories of how a fighter in the lower weight classes grabbed the attention of the boxing world.

Camacho was more than flash or words, he was an electrifying boxer who stood out in the 1980s, an era dominated by the “Four Kings” Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard. Oh, and also a guy named Mike Tyson.

The fast-talking Camacho was a phenomenal fighter who swept aside opponents with his blinding speed and shocking power. It was against Los Angeles-based fighters like Refugio Rojas and Louie Loy that I first read about his exploits. Both were knocked out.

A third Southern California fighter John “Huero” Montes was thought to be the one to give Camacho a real challenge. The fight was televised to a national audience in February 1983. At the time I was watching it on a tiny black and white television and at 1:13 into the first round Camacho unleashed one of those lethal uppercuts and Montes was out-for-the-count.

Camacho arrived that day.

From that point on few could withstand the speedy southpaw’s blinding charges. Six months later he stopped Mexico’s “Bazooka” Limon to win the vacant super featherweight title.

One fighter who heard the final bell was Freddie Roach who could take a punch and knew a thing or two about fighting southpaws.

“I liked fighting southpaws,” said Roach via telephone. “My dad taught me early to keep my foot on the outside and lead with right hands.”

Roach had never lost to a southpaw. The winner that day between Camacho and Roach in Sacramento, on December 1985, was supposedly going to fight Puerto Rico’s heavy-handed Edwin Rosario.

Using his surefire method of fighting southpaws, Roach managed a knockdown of Camacho with the help of his foot. But it was not enough.

“He was very difficult. Lot of people raved about how fast his speed was. You didn’t really realize until you got into the ring with him,” said Roach. “I wasn’t the slowest, but wasn’t the fastest. I just couldn’t keep up.”

Despite using roughhouse tactics against the lefty speedster, Roach said that Camacho invited him to dinner after the fight.

That pretty much explains Camacho, a talented and big-hearted guy.

Last Stages

The last time I ran into Camacho was at the Pechanga Resort and Casino when he and Mia St. John were about to fight on the same boxing card in 2009. He was much heavier but still able to defeat middleweights.

How good was Camacho?

He defeated two of the Four Kings when he beat Roberto Duran twice and stopped Sugar Ray Leonard by knockout when they fought in 1997. Yes, Leonard was 41 and had not fought in six years, but this was Sugar Ray Leonard.

“I didn’t think he would ever beat Leonard,” said Roach.

Neither did Leonard.

“I just felt that I was a bigger man. I was smarter, stronger, all those things, but the first time he threw a punch, it was like, Pow! And I said, ‘Wow, that hurt,’” said Leonard about their encounter. “I tried the best I could to just go the distance. When he was at his best, he was a thing of beauty.”

What I remember after Camacho beat Leonard was how sincerely apologetic he was after the victory. He could talk the talk and walk the walk but inside he remained the kid from Harlem who was given extraordinary talent. And he was humbled by it.

Roach remembers their dinner together after their fight.

“That night he took me out to dinner with his friends and said you fought a good fight,” said Roach adding that Camacho was a very likeable guy. “I saw him along the way in his career.”

Roach, who would later train another astoundingly fast southpaw named Manny Pacquiao, said he never fought anyone again as talented as Camacho.

“You hear rumors of drug problems and training problems. But when he fought me, he was in for 10 and I tried every trick in the book but it didn’t work. He was in a higher class than I was,” Roach said. “He was one of the best fighters in the world.”

Don’t miss this Showtime documentary next week.

Jacobs and Rosado

Speaking of Roach, the famous trainer will be working the corner of Gabe Rosado (25-12-1, 14 KOs) when he meets Daniel Jacobs (36-3, 30 KOs) on Friday, Nov. 27, at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Florida. DAZN will stream the Matchroom Boxing card.

It’s Philly versus Brooklyn.

Rosado has long proven to be a real professional who keeps adding elements to his fight game. Paired with Roach he has further developed under the guidance of the Southern California-based trainer. Plus, Rosado can plain fight.

Jacobs, a former world champion, has proven to be an elite middleweight and looks just as comfortable as a super middleweight.

Expect the kind of prize fight they used to show in the Golden Age of boxing in the 1950s when you had guys like Johnny Saxton fighting Denny Moyer. It should be that kind of battle of wits and skill. I’m looking forward to it.

Photo: Hector Camacho, David Avila, and Mia St. John. Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Muhammad Ali Biographer Jonathan Eig Talks About His Book and the Icon Who Inspired It

Rick Assad

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Given the breadth and depth of Muhammad Ali’s 74 years, it isn’t very easy to capture the complete essence of the man.

Dozens of books have been written about the three-time heavyweight champion including Jonathan Eig’s 2017 biography, “Ali: A Life.”

Born in Louisville, Kentucky on January 17, 1942 as Cassius Marcellus Clay, he would one day be known around the globe as a world-class boxer, civil rights advocate, philanthropist and cultural icon.

Like so many others, the Brooklyn, New York-born Eig became intrigued by Ali.

“I loved Ali as a child. He fascinated me. He was outspoken, radical, yet so very loveable,” he said. “And, of course, he could fight! I was astonished to realize, around 2012, that there was no complete biography of Ali, even though he was probably the most famous man of the 20th century.”

Eig, currently at work on a major offering about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., added: “I had read lots of Ali books, including [David] Remnick’s “King Of The World: Muhammad Ali And The Rise Of An American Hero,” and [Thomas] Hauser’s “Muhammad Ali: His Life And Times,” and [Norman] Mailer’s “The Fight” – but those were not complete biographies,” he pointed out. “By 2012, enough time had gone by to put Ali in historical perspective. Also, there were plenty of people still alive to tell the story. I did more than 500 interviews, including all three of Ali’s living wives. I wanted to write a book that would treat Ali as more than a boxer. I wanted to write a book that would show the good and the bad. I wanted to write a big book worthy of an epic life, a book that danced and jabbed half as beautifully as Ali.”

Given Eig’s exhaustive research, what previously unknown tidbits about Ali did he come across?

“I learned thousands of new things. I think even hardcore Ali fans will find new information on almost every page,” said the former Wall Street Journal reporter and 1986 Northwestern University graduate. “I discovered things Ali himself didn’t know. I discovered Ali’s grandfather was a convicted murderer, for example. Ali didn’t know that! I read Ali’s FBI files, as well as those of Herbert Muhammad, Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad. I interviewed Ali’s childhood friends. I found MRIs of Ali’s brain. I counted the punches from all of his fights. I measured how those punches affected his speaking rate. Ali’s wives also confided in me things I never knew. I spent four years working on this book, and every day delivered revelations.”

Over the years, Ali, who posted a 56-5 ring record with 37 knockouts, seemed to mellow with time which helped ingratiate him to an even wider audience. How was this possible?

“People change. They grow. It’s hard to stay radical as you get older and richer,” said Eig, who has written five books including three that deal with sports. “The late Stanley Crouch had a great line about Ali. He said young Ali was a grizzly bear. Ali in the ’70s was a circus bear. Ali in his later years was a teddy bear. We all loved the teddy bear. We wanted to hug him and love him. But it was the grizzly bear who we should remember first. It was the grizzly bear who shook up the world.”

Sports Illustrated writer Mark Kram covered nearly the entirety of Ali’s career which spanned 1960 through 1981 and included a three-year period, 1967 until 1970 when he wasn’t allowed to box after being convicted of draft evasion because he refused induction into the armed forces.

In Kram’s book, “Ghosts Of Manila,” the author asserts Ali was essentially a pawn of the Black Muslims.

What’s Eig’s take?

“I love Kram’s book, but I think it’s dangerous to question anyone’s religious faith,” he said. “Ali was a true believer. The Nation of Islam took advantage of him at times. But does that mean he was a pawn? I don’t think so. He knew what he was doing. He made his own choices. One might argue that the NOI did more for Ali than Ali did for them.”

Ali wasn’t perfect and that included his fondness for women. As a Muslim, how did he hurdle this?

“He didn’t reconcile it – except to acknowledge that humans are human, they are flawed,” Eig said. “The thing I love about Ali is that he said he was the greatest, but he never said he was perfect. He talked to his wives about his weakness. He even talked to reporters about his flaws – his weakness for women, his disdain for training, his poor handling of money. He knew who he was and he never tried to be anything else.”

Eig, who has also penned “Luckiest Man: The Life And Death Of Lou Gehrig,” and “Opening Day: The Story Of Jackie Robinson’s First Season,” went on: “We’re all complicated, right? Ali was no more complicated than you or me, but he let the whole world see his complications – his racial pride and his racist behavior toward [Joe] Frazier, his love of women and his cruelty to his wives, his generosity with his money and his stupidity with money,” he said. “I don’t think Ali was different, just more open, more willing to let us see everything.”

Ali’s battles with Frazier, George Foreman and Ken Norton are legendary, but his two fights against Sonny Liston are filled with question marks, such as were they fixed?

Ali claimed the title on February 25, 1964 in Miami Beach when Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round and then faced Liston 15 months later in Lewiston, Maine, where he knocked out the challenger in the opening frame.

In Eig’s mind, were these two bouts on the level? “My hunch is that the first fight was legit. Liston quit when he knew he couldn’t win,” Eig said. “The second fight is more suspicious. Liston’s flop was pathetic. Bad acting! But I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure. As an aside, Liston’s wife said Sonny had diarrhea before the fight, which might have given him one more reason to throw it.”

Still, Ali in his prime was a sight to behold. “Ali before the exile, in my opinion, was the most beautiful boxer of all time. His combination of speed and power and ferocity was thrilling, elegant, frightening and marvelous,” Eig said. “Was he the greatest heavyweight of all time? Maybe, maybe not. Was he the most breathtaking? To me, yes.”

Early in Ali’s career his braggadocio was off-putting to many. But much of it was showmanship.

“One of the Greatest” doesn’t sound as good, does it? If we’re only discussing his action in the ring, Ali was one of the greatest,” Eig said. “But that’s like saying Louis Armstrong was one of the greatest trumpet players without considering his voice, his charm, his improvisational skills, his smile. In and out of the ring, Ali was the greatest in my book.”

For so many, Ali was many things. What traits in the man does Eig admire? “I love his fearlessness, his honesty, his insatiable appetite for people,” he said. “He was so very loving. But he could also be narcissistic. He wanted everyone to love him, but he wasn’t always sensitive to the feelings of others – including his wives and children. He turned his back on friends like Malcolm X and Joe Frazier when it served his purposes.”

While Ali could be polarizing, he had his legion of supporters including Howard Cosell, Jerry Izenberg, Robert Lipsyte, Larry Merchant and Jack Newfield.

“You could add Mailer, [George] Plimpton, and so many others to that list,” Eig noted. “Those men were lucky enough to spend time with young Ali and to bask in the great warmth of his sun. He was great to reporters. He was the best story they ever covered. And unlike most celebrities, he really paid attention to them.”

Eig continued: “I only met him once, six months before he died, and I envy those reporters who got to know him and got to see him at his best. I think those who knew and loved Ali became his disciples,” he pointed out. “Ali’s friend Gene Kilroy told me over and over that he thought Ali was like Jesus, that people would be studying his words and drawing inspiration from his life for centuries to come. That’s the feeling he gave to those with whom he spent time.”

Ali was a boxer, but so much more. How does Eig see him? “I think Ali will be remembered as one of America’s great revolutionary heroes – one whose courage went far beyond sports. Like Jackie Robinson, like Martin Luther King, like the abolitionists and suffragettes, he loved America but refused to accept its shortfalls,” he said. “He fought to make his country live up to the promises contained in the Declaration of Independence. He will also be remembered as an important world figure, one who united Africans, Americans and Asians, one who helped Americans better understand Islam and helped people of Islamic faith around the world better understand America.”

In Ali’s last quarter century, he was almost universally loved. This is a far cry from being labeled a draft dodger.

“Ali was always a spiritual man, but in his later years I believe he clarified and deepened his spirituality,” Eig said. “He became more focused and more thoughtful.”

When Eig turned in his manuscript, what was his immediate thought? “I wanted to take it back. I didn’t want to be done,” he said. “I had so much fun writing this book I wanted to work on it for the rest of my life. I knew I would never find anything more fun to work on.”

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