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The Ali-Shavers Fight and the Ever-Present Open Scoring Debate

Bernard Fernandez

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Saturday, Sept. 29, marks the 41st anniversary of Muhammad Ali’s last successful title defense. The 35-year-old Ali defended his WBA and WBC belts against Earnie Shavers, a devastating puncher, but otherwise limited, in Madison Square Garden. Those tuning in to the Thursday night fight on NBC, an estimated 70 million, were able to track the round-by-round scoring. And therein lies an interesting tale.

A bit of background. Technically, the first instance of open scoring, at least as it pertained to television, was to have been implemented by Ted Nathanson, producer for NBC Sports, which televised the May 11, 1977, heavyweight bout pitting Ken Norton against Duane Bobick in Madison Square Garden. Although on-site spectators would not have been privy to round-by-round scoring, the TV audience would have had such access. The grand experiment proved dead on arrival, however, when Norton needed only 58 seconds of the first round to blast out Bobick.

Nathanson was nothing if not determined, however, and he successfully lobbied for the same format to be used for the Ali-Shavers fight. As was the case for Norton-Bobick, spectators in the arena would not have the same access to the round-by-round scoring as would NBC viewers. The New York State Athletic Commission, then headed by former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, signed off on the arrangement with NBC with some hesitation.

John F.X. Condon, vice president of Garden Boxing, said he originally had planned to show the round-by-round scoring on the huge overhead screen to the 14,613 on-site spectators, but he decided against it. “We didn’t think it was wise,” Condon concluded. “Personally, I think it also detracts from the pleasure of watching at home. Fight fans like to get involved. They like the uncertainty of waiting for the final decision.”

Even more adamant in his opposition to open scoring, in any form, was legendary Garden matchmaker Teddy Brenner, who said he would do everything in his power to ensure that the NBC experiment would be a one-and-done, at least if he had anything to say about it. “I am against it,” Brenner stressed. “We at the Garden plan to do something about it.”

Unlike Norton-Bobick, Ali-Shavers would go the 15-round distance, with scoring on a round basis instead of the 10-point-must system now in place. Ali won by 9-5-1 on the card submitted by referee Johnny LoBianco and by 9-6 on the cards turned in by judges Tony Castellano and Eva Shain, the latter of who made history as the first woman ever to work a big-time fight. It was Ali’s 19th victorious title defense.

Garden officials were embarrassed, however, when a question of fairness was raised. The NBC telecast was shown in Ali’s dressing room, and a runner was assigned to keep Ali trainer Angelo Dundee informed of the judges’ evolving scores. The Shavers dressing room did not have similar access, which led his manager, Frank Luca, to complain of preferential treatment being granted to Ali. He said the NYSAC even attempted to obligate the fighters to use 10-ounce gloves instead of eight-ouncers, a change which was not approved but would have been detrimental to the harder-hitting challenger.

When informed of a playing field seemingly tilted to favor Ali, Patterson said the NYSAC never again would consent to open scoring at any venue in the state, be it for on-site spectators or just TV. “That will be stopped,” Patterson said. “I understand Angelo Dundee had someone running back to get him information and the other corner didn’t. That’s not fair. It could influence a fight, affect gambling in the arena with cheaters. It was not a success and it will never happen again.”

Shavers, who went into the Ali fight with a 54-5-1 record that included 52 wins inside the distance, said he might have fought differently – yeah, right – had he been apprised of the round-by-round scoring. “My corner told me I was ahead,” he lamented. “I didn’t go for the knockout. I would have put more pressure on him, taken more chances.”

Promoter Don King pushed for open scoring on May 5, 1994, at a Las Vegas press conference to hype the pay-per-view card two nights later at the MGM Grand headlined by WBC super lightweight champion Frankie Randall’s rematch with Julio Cesar Chavez, whom he had controversially outpointed nearly four months earlier.

“Progress can’t be stopped,” King said with his trademark bluster and hyperventilation. “It’s time for a change. Bring boxing out of the dark and into the light. People who go to football and basketball games know what the score is at all times. Why should boxing be the only sport where judges pass little scraps of paper back and forth and nobody else knows who’s winning until the end?”

King said he had been “excoriated and vilified” for having promoted two bouts during the previous eight months that ended in questionable decisions, and that open scoring could eliminate or reduce the problem.

“If anything controversial happens, people will be calling for (WBC president) Jose Sulaiman and me to be ridden out of town on a rail,” King continued. “One little controversy and these four great (rematches, the others being Simon Brown vs. Terry Norris, Gerald McClellan vs. Julian Jackson and Azumah Nelson vs. Jesse James Leija) suddenly become secondary. I don’t want that to happen.”

His Hairness indisputably was on target in noting that the two referenced bouts, in which Pernell Whitaker retained his WBC welterweight title on a majority draw against Chavez on Sept. 10, 1993, and Randall nipped Chavez on a split decision in large part because JCC had been docked two penalty points by referee Richard Steele, were controversial. Most ringside observers had Whitaker winning eight to 10 of the 12 rounds in San Antonio, Texas, and were it not for the two penalty points Chavez would have won a split decision instead of losing by the same margin.

Although King advocated for open scoring to be instituted immediately, he had to know that the wheels of change do not move that swiftly in Nevada or any other jurisdiction. But Marc Ratner, the executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, while expressing his own doubts as to the usefulness of open scoring, said such a proposal at least merited further scrutiny.

“For this particular card, there will be no open scoring,” Ratner said. “But we’re not ostriches. We don’t have our heads in the sand. This is an issue that should be studied.”

Studied and almost certainly likely to be rejected, as it later was by the NSAC, for reasons that to Ratner were even more glaringly obvious than those offered by King for the other course of action.

“What if two fighters accidentally butt heads in the fourth round and one of them suffers a cut?” hypothesized Ratner. “If the bleeding fighter is ahead on the scorecards, his corner might be tempted not to close the cut, thereby prompting the bout’s premature conclusion and a decision victory.”

An even more compelling reason to forever squash the notion of full-blown open scoring holds that a fighter, if he knows he is sufficiently ahead entering the late rounds to be uncatchable on the scorecards, would get on his bicycle and pedal around the ring to eliminate or at least reduce the risk of being knocked out. Such a safety-first approach would drain whatever measure of hope still existed for the losing fighter banking on a puncher’s-chance turnaround.

We haven’t heard the last of the open scoring debate. The subject came up again in the aftermath of the Golovkin-Alvarez rematch, a tightly contested bout which Alvarez won by majority decision, much to the displeasure of Golovkin and his supporters. But for now, fight fans must continue to live with the occasional scorecard that defies credulity. And while too much controversy is never a good thing, some of it helps sell the sport and keeps interest high up to and even beyond the final bell. The alternative is the elimination of uncertainty, and with it the magic that sometimes is produced when two fighters believe success hinges on giving maximum effort to the very last punch.

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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Fast Results from London: Usyk Outpoints Teak-Tough Chisora

Arne K. Lang

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In a fight that was a lot closer than most folks expected, Oleksandr Usyk overcame Dereck Chisora, winning a unanimous decision on scores of 117-111, 115-113, and 115-113.

The 36-year-old Chisora, who at 255 ½ was 38 ½-pounds the heavier man, came out firing to good effect but it was inevitable that his workrate would slow if the Ukrainian southpaw could take him into the late rounds. Indeed, Usyk did find his groove when Chisora slowed down, but to Chisora’s credit he dug deep after being wobbled in the seventh and eighth frames and took the bout to the scorecards.

Usyk entered the fight ranked among the top three heavyweight contenders by all four major sanctioning bodies and #1 by the WBO.  Fighting at a career-high but lighter-than-expected 217 pounds, Usyk maintained his placements but yet his showing suggested that he may be too small for the likes of Tyson Fury or Anthony Joshua.

With the victory, Usyk, now 33 years old, advanced his record to 18-0 (13). Chisora, who is managed by former foe David Haye, falls to 32-10.

Co-Feature

George Kambosos Jr, who is from Sydney, Australia, but does his serious training in the United States, set himself up for a possible bout with Teofimo Lopez with a 12-round split decision over Welshman Lee Selby. The scores were 118-110, 116-112, and 114-115. Many of the rounds were difficult to score, but the 118-110 tally was a head-scratcher.

Kambosos, who went to post a short favorite, did his best work in the late rounds while improving his ledger to 19-0 (10). It was the third fight back for Selby since losing his IBF world featherweight title in his fifth defense on a split decision to Josh Warrington.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round cruiserweight contest, Belfast’s Tommy McCarthy overcame stubborn Bilal Laggoune, winning a 12-round majority decision to claim a vacant European title. The scores were 116-112, 116-113, and 114-114.

Belgium’s Laggoune, who fell to 25-2-2, did his best work early and late but McCarthy, who improved to 17-2, dominated the middle rounds. After the fight, McCarthy called out Mairis Briedis who is generally recognized as the top cruiserweight in the world. McCarthy, who is of Irish and Jamaican descent, proudly noted that he is the first black Irishman to win a European title.

Savannah Marshall, a 29-year-old middleweight from the English seaport city of Hartlepool, exploited advantages in height and reach to win a vacant WBO world title and remain undefeated with a seventh round TKO of Scotswoman Hannah Rankin. Marshall (9-0, 7 KOs) unloaded a flurry of punches that caused out-classed Rankin to take a knee and although she wanted to continue, the referee thought it prudent to waive the fight off.

Marshall’s previous claim to fame was that she defeated Claressa Shields as an amateur, turning the trick in 2012 at a tournament in China. Rankin, who declined to 9-5, has a second career to fall back on. She is a world-class bassoonist.

Two undercard fights were cancelled.

Former British bantamweight champion Kash Farooq’s bout with Mexican journeyman Martin Tecuapetla fell out when a member of Farooq’s team tested positive for the coronavirus. A scheduled 10-round heavyweight contest between David Allen and mysterious Christopher Lovejoy was lost when venerable promoter Don King came out of the woodwork waiving a valid managerial contract on Lovejoy which Lovejoy had failed to acknowledge when he signed for the fight.

The Usyk-Chisora affair, the capstone of a long-drawn-out Matchroom promotion, was televised on Sky Sports Box Office in the U.K., on DAZN in North America and other parts of the world, and even on radio in the U.K. with Dillian Whyte joining the broadcast crew by phone from his training quarters in Portugal.

Moscow

Earlier today, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, power puncher Murat Gassiev (27-1, 20 KOs), carrying a career-high 230 ½ pounds, returned to the ring after a 27-month absence and made his pro debut as a heavyweight. Gassiev, trained by Abel Sanchez, made short work of flabby 43-year-old Swiss-Albanian bruiser Nuri Seferi (41-10). A big right hand deposited Seferi on the deck and he was all at sea when he made it to his feet, forcing the referee to step in. It was all over in 67 seconds. Gassiev’s lone defeat came at the hands of Oleksandr Usyk in the finals of the 2018 World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament.

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Jaime Munguia Wins by Split Lip at Fantasy Springs

David A. Avila

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A savage Jaime Munguia uppercut led to a knockout victory over Tureano Johnson but it was nip and tuck for several rounds in the Mexican fighter’s second foray in the middleweight division on Friday.

Munguia (36-0,29 KOs) busted open the lip of Johnson (21-3-1, 15 KOs) and that fighter’s hopes of an upset victory in front of zero fans at Fantasy Spring Casino in Indio, CA. But for a short while, each took their pound of flesh.

Johnson jumped on Munguia from the opening bell with a bruising attack. Using his legs and shoulder to keep the Tijuana fighter frozen and short chopping right hands that seemed to confuse the taller Mexican fighter, he pinned the former super welterweight world titlist along the ropes.

“He is a fighter with an annoying style, so I tried to adjust because he really surprised us in the first round,” said Munguia, 24. “They told me to adjust and get my distance. Little by little we did. He was very strong.”

After minor adjustments were made Munguia began finding a home for vicious right and left uppercuts. They proved to be the perfect antidote for the Johnson rushes and snapped the Bahamian native’s head back repeatedly.

Back and forth the fight went, Johnson boring forward and scoring with repeated rights and Munguia unleashing combinations from long range and uppercuts on the inside.

Finally, in the sixth round, a left uppercut snapped back Johnson’s head and referee Raul Caiz stopped the fight. He led Johnson to the ringside physician who examined the split lip and allowed 20 more seconds. The fight resumed and Munguia unleashed another merciless combination.

The ringside physician advised referee Caiz to stop the fight and it was ruled a knockout win for Munguia at the end of the sixth round.

“I was very anxious for this fight and I learned a lot from this fight,” said Munguia.

Welterweights

A battle between undefeated welterweights saw Rashidi Ellis (23-0, 14 KOs) use his speedy combinations to keep distance against pressure fighting Alexis Rocha (16-1) and win by unanimous decision after 12 rounds.

No knockdowns were scored but judges saw Ellis winning 116-112 twice and 115-113.

“It was a great fight I came out victorious against an undefeated fighter,” said Ellis. “It was my hand speed and footwork.”

WBO Light Flyweight World Title

Elwin Soto (18-1, 12 KOs) successfully defended the WBO light flyweight world title by unanimous decision after 12 rounds versus Nicaragua’s Carlos Buitrago (32-6-1, 18 KOs). No knockdowns were scored the in fight that seemed closer than the judges scores 119-109, 117-111, 115-113 all for Soto.

Soto pressured Buitrago throughout the fight but seemed to be out-punched by the counter-puncher. Still, neither fighter was ever in danger of being floored.

Flyweights

Marlen Esparza (8-1) used speedy combinations and perfectly-timed counters to hand Sulem Urbina (12-1) her first loss as a professional in a flyweight fight that went eight rounds.

A 2012 Olympic bronze medalist, Esparza, 31, fights out of Houston.

Urbina, 30, formerly fought for the Mexican National Team and lives in Phoenix.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Golden Boy Promotions

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A Halloween-Inspired Homage to Bernard Hopkins

Bernard Fernandez

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A Halloween-Inspired Homage to Bernard Hopkins

A TSS CLASSIC — It is that time of year. The late-October autumn air on the East Coast is crisp and cool, and throughout America kids are looking forward to trick-or-treat. Go into any neighborhood and you’ll see jack-o-lantern faces carved into pumpkins, ghosts fashioned out of old bedsheets hanging from tree branches, cardboard witches taped to front doors.

Only two of Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins’ 55 professional bouts have taken place in October, but in a very real sense this is his special time, too. Why? Because he is boxing’s equivalent of Michael Myers, the impossible-to-kill night stalker of all those “Halloween” movies, the bogeyman who offed an inordinately high number of unsuspecting teenagers and routinely transformed Jamie Lee Curtis into a screaming, quivering mass of terrified victimhood.

Saturday night, in that haunted mausoleum known as Boardwalk Hall where he has done some of his best work, boxing’s ageless hobgoblin again came out of the shadows to spoil someone else’s party. This time it was the much-younger Kelly Pavlik –OK, so he isn’t exactly a teenager–who was executed. And that grimacing older fellow playing the role of Jamie Lee Curtis was Top Rank founder Bob Arum, who didn’t shriek out loud but looked like he just had swallowed a whole mess of something foul-tasting. Hopkins’ ridiculously easy, 12-round unanimous decision over Pavlik hadn’t followed the predicted script that called for him to finally be battered senseless and forever dragged from his bully pulpit.

“At least (Pavlik) gets to keep his titles,” a glum Arum said of Pavlik’s retention of his WBC and WBO middleweight belts that were not on the line in the 170-pound catchweight bout.

When will they ever learn? Arum has been bewitched, bothered and bewildered by Hopkins before. A few years ago, when Arum still had some promotional dibs on his once-favorite cash cow, Oscar De La Hoya, he promoted a Las Vegas doubleheader in which the Golden Boy and Hopkins were featured in separate bouts. The idea was that De La Hoya would remain loyal, Hopkins would also join the Top Rank fold and everyone would profit nicely from the arrangement. But De La Hoya formed his own company, took Hopkins with him and Arum, who can hold a grudge with the best of them, was left to simmer longer than Grandma’s home-made soup.

Of course, Hopkins has had that effect of any number of exasperated promoters who have tried to make him toe their company line. This guy not only marches to the tune of his own drummer, he has his own percussion section. Butch Lewis can’t string together five or six words, when speaking about Hopkins,  that do not include at least one expletive. Try as he might, even Don King never could bring B-Hop to heel. Lou DiBella still bristles when he thinks about what he believes to be Hopkins’ acts of betrayal. And Dan Goossen regards his brief but stormy association with Hopkins as something along the lines of a Greek tragedy.

“My biggest disappointment in boxing,” Goossen has often said of the pitched battles he waged with his most recalcitrant client behind the scenes. This from a guy who worked with Mike Tyson when Leg-Iron Mike was at or past the point of total mental meltdown.

To Hopkins’ way of thinking, promoters – well, perhaps not Golden Boy, in which he is a limited partner and, at least for now, on kissy-face terms – represent boxing’s power structure, which he claims is hell-bent on making fighters indentured servants with little or no charge over their own destinies. Other than beating up or embarrassing their gloved minions in the ring, there is nothing Hopkins enjoys more than tweaking the noses of those he is convinced have pooled their considerable resources to drive him from the sport.

So there Hopkins was, Michael Myers resurrected for the umpteenth time, chortling over the fact he had again rained on the parade of a perceived enemy. To the Philadelphian’s way of thinking, spoiling the undefeated record of Pavlik, Top Rank’s current marquee attraction, wasn’t just an isolated thundershower drenching Arum’s suddenly soggier operation; it was the landfall of a Category 5 hurricane capable of blowing a familiar tormentor right off the map.

“After Oscar beats (Manny) Pacquiao … look, I don’t want to wish nothing bad on anybody, but that might be the end of Top Rank,” said Hopkins, who might not daydream of such an outcome but clearly would not be despondent were it to come to that.

No wonder the Arums, Lewises, Kings, DiBellas and Goossens probably offer up nightly prayers that their favorite deity, or fate,  humbles Hopkins, or at least makes him grow old fast. Hasn’t this codger been on the verge of retirement now since, what, the first Clinton Administration?

“A few years ago we were here (at Boardwalk Hall) with our jaws on the floor, marveling at Bernard’s performance against Antonio Tarver,” said Mark Taffet, the HBO Pay Per View chief. “We had a beautiful retirement party for Bernard. I still have the big banner on our 11th floor at HBO. We made a beautiful framed photograph of that fight. But here we go again.

“I think I’ll ask Bernard for the $48 (cost of) the frame. I mean, where does he go now? I can’t believe anything this guy does. He continues to amaze us.”

Truth be told, Hopkins is the most accomplished fortysomething fighter the world has ever seen, and the competition for that designation isn’t even close. OK, so George Foreman flattened Michael Moorer to win the heavyweight championship for the second time at 45, unquestionably an inspiring feat, but Big George had lost every round until he delivered the takeout shot in Round 10, and he took terrible beatings in post-40 matchups with Alex Stewart and Axel Schulz, even though he won dubious decisions in those bouts. Archie Moore, the “Old Mongoose,” was the light heavyweight champ well into his 40s, but a French-Canadian fisherman with rudimentary skills, Yvon Durelle, knocked him down four times, including three in the first round, in their Dec. 10, 1958, first meeting in Montreal. Hopkins has been on the canvas exactly twice in his entire career, both of those coming in his Dec. 17, 1994, matchup with Ecuodorean Segundo Mercado, in Quito, Ecuador, for the vacant IBF middleweight crown. Even those flash knockdowns probably owed more to the thin air in Quito, which is 9,350 feet above sea level, and the fact Hopkins arrived there only four days before the fight, not nearly enough time to get acclimated to the altitude, than to the power in Mercado’s punches. Nonetheless, Hopkins salvaged a draw and he battered Mercado en route to a seventh-round TKO 4½ months later, in Landover, Md.

Almost from the time he broke through to the throne room Hopkins has busied himself making enemies, which might seem counterproductive until you examine those emotions which fuel his internal fire.

Hopkins is one of those athletes who seems happiest when he’s unhappy, like tennis’ John McEnroe. He doesn’t get mad, he gets even. Even the slightest provocation can get Hopkins stoked, and nothing lights that particular fire like the notion he is being dismissed, disrespected or disenfranchised.

Take his Sept. 29, 2001, battle with Felix Trinidad for the undisputed middleweight championship of the world. Everybody remembers how Hopkins twice grabbed and threw down the Puerto Rican flag at open-to-the-public press conferences, but the key to his finest performance ever, or at least until the dismantling of Pavlik, was Hopkins’ controlled rage at discovering that his own promoter, King, had had the Sugar Ray Robinson Trophy pre-engraved with the name of Trinidad, another King client, on it.

Like fellow paranoids Richard M. Nixon and Bobby Knight, Hopkins reads and listens to every negative thing anyone has written or said about him. He has compiled an enemies list, at least in his mind, and it pleases him greatly when those who would draw pleasure from his toppling are again left red-faced and embarrassed.

“They say Bernard is old,” Hopkins said at the postfight press conference early Sunday morning. “Yes, I am. They say Bernard is finished. They ain’t saying that now.

“I’m tired, man. I’m tired of proving myself to the same naysayers. Don’t y’all know you motivate me? I mean, what do I got to do, kill somebody? I’m the most underrated fighter when it comes to defense, when it comes to offense, when it comes to my heart. That’s why I always fight like I have to prove something.”

From a technical standpoint, Pavlik – who went off as a 5-1 favorite – probably was toast once Hopkins, who studies film as if he were Roger Ebert, detected that the Youngstown, Ohio, fighter’s big right hand was neutralized whenever he had to throw his payoff punch across his body. That’s why B-Hop continually moved to his right. But for emotional purposes, his victory might have been assured when one Internet writer beseeched Pavlik to “do boxing a favor” and “forever free him” and other dissidents of the torture of watching Hopkins, a defensive genius, make good fighters look bad.

Trash talker supreme that he may be, nothing inspires Hopkins like being on the receiving end of a really mean-spirited insult.

So, what if nine of his last 10 bouts have gone the distance, the exception being his ninth-round knockout of De La Hoya on Sept. 18, 2004? Hopkins is allowed to evolve, just as a strikeout pitcher has to resort to guile as he loses steam off his fastball. What we get nowadays is more a recital of chamber music than a KISS concert, but that does not detract from the fact he still produces classic material. Asked what it was that Pavlik found troubling about Hopkins’ unorthodox style, Pavlik’s trainer, Jack Loew, said, “Kelly had trouble adjusting to everything.”

If Hopkins has his way – and, gee, doesn’t it seem as if that happens quite a bit at this late stage of the game – then another aging legend, Roy Jones Jr., will find a way to win his Nov. 8 fight with Joe Calzaghe in Madison Square Garden, paving the way for a rematch of Jones-Hopkins I, which took place way back in May 22, 1993? Jones won that fight, for the vacant IBF middleweight championship, by close but unanimous decision.

“I’d like to fight Roy Jones again before I die,” Hopkins said.

Might be a long time coming. After all, everyone knows that you can’t eradicate the common cockroach, Michael Myers and Bernard Hopkins.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally ran on Oct. 20, 2008, under the title “Halloween’s Early for Hobgoblin Hopkins.” The two Bernards – Hopkins and Fernandez – will be formally inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame next year with the class of 2020. Fernandez joins TSS classmate Thomas Hauser in the “Observer” category.

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