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Who Wants to be a (Mere) Millionaire? Elite Fighters Now Dream of Billionaire Status

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The late Ralph Kiner, who could hit the long ball but wasn’t particularly adept at anything else on a baseball field, led the National League in home runs seven times in as many seasons from 1946 to 1952. That specialized skill was good enough for him to receive a $91,000 contract to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates in ’52, which at the time of its signing made him the highest-paid player in the league. In reaction to criticism from those who felt the one-dimensional slugger wasn’t worth his new deal, Kiner responded, “Singles hitters drive Fords; home run hitters drive Cadillacs.”

Kiner, who was inducted into his sport’s Hall of Fame in 1975, was 91 when he passed away on Feb. 6, 2014. As the radio voice of the New York Mets from the team’s inaugural season in 1962 through 2013, he lived long enough to see just how puny $91,000 for a year’s labor (worth $846,554.11 in 2018 dollars) would be today. The highest-paid players for the just-ended 2018 season were Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw ($35.57 million) and Los Angeles Angels centerfielder Mike Trout ($34.08 million). It has been widely speculated that Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, an impending free agent who was paid a relatively piddling $21.625 million in 2018, will command a multiyear deal approaching or even in excess of $400 million, which doesn’t seem that exorbitant in these inflated times and considering that he is only now entering what should be his prime, having just turned 26 on Oct. 16.

If Harper signs for something approximating the target figure being bandied about by his agent, Scott Boras, he will become the most highly compensated athlete over the life of an existing base contract, vaulting past boxing superstar Canelo Alvarez, the recently crowned WBC/WBA middleweight champion, who agreed to an exclusive deal with the streaming service DAZN (pronounced “Da Zone”) in mid-October. The 11-fight agreement, the details of which were not disclosed, reportedly calls for the world’s most currently marketable fighter to be paid somewhere between $350 million and $365 million. If he deigns to learn English, the red-haired Mexican sensation, who is only 28 years of age and shows no signs of slippage, could become a popular enough commercial spokesman to become a Madison Avenue heavyweight and possibly approach $1 billion in overall earnings. Breaking the 10-figure barrier might enable Canelo to eventually surpass the only man to have defeated him, the legendarily greedy Floyd Mayweather Jr., who currently reigns as the highest-grossing boxer of all time at $785 million, according to Forbes, a particularly impressive figure when you consider virtually none of it comes from pitching products.

Perhaps it is the possibility that his cherished position atop boxing’s mounting cash pile could someday be challenged by Alvarez, or simply that his lavish spending habits are finally catching up with him, that the aptly nicknamed “Money” Mayweather, who turns 42 on Feb. 24, is publicly speculating about another low-risk cash grab for a rematch with past victim Manny Pacquiao or a schooling of another mixed martial artist who might want to try his hand at boxing, Khabib Nurmagomedov. A 30-year-old Russian, Nurmagomedov is coming off a victory over Conor McGregor, the previous MMA star who foolishly thought he might be able to beat Mayweather at his own game.

His conspicuous consumption notwithstanding, Mayweather ranks no better than ninth among all super-rich athletes. Retired NBA great Michael Jordan is No. 1 with total earnings of $1.85 billion, including endorsements, followed by golfers Tiger Woods ($1.7 billion), the late Arnold Palmer ($1.4 billion) and Jack Nicklaus ($1.3 billion). In addition to Mayweather, other boxers on Forbes’ top 25 list include Mike Tyson (No. 14, $700 million; filed for bankruptcy in 2003), Oscar De La Hoya (No. 19, $520 million), Pacquiao (No. 20, $510 million) and Evander Holyfield (No. 24, $475 million).

Perhaps more than anyone within that highly exclusive, diamond-encrusted circle, Mayweather puts the lie to Kiner’s long-ago assertion that Cadillacs are the preferred ride of athletes who don’t have to concern themselves with showroom sticker shock. Shortly after he pulled down $250 million or so for his May 2, 2015, unanimous decision over Pacquiao, which set records with 4.6 million pay-per-view subscriptions and $600 million in gross revenues, Floyd treated himself to the world’s most expensive car, the $4.8 million Koenigsegg CCXR Trevita. But that fabulous  new toy apparently wasn’t enough to satisfy Mayweather, an insatiable collector of stratospherically priced land rockets; shortly thereafter he dropped another $3.2 million for a Ferrari Enzo, upping to 25 his collection of luxury vehicles that includes various models of Rolls-Royces, McLarens, Bentleys, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins and Bugattis.

Mayweather, of course, is free to spend his millions in any manner he so chooses,  but the skyrocketing level of money in professional sports, a seeming affirmation of Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko character  pronouncing that “greed is good” in 1987’s Wall Street, calls to mind another line from that movie, uttered by the character played by Charlie Sheen. “How many yachts,” Gekko’s young and increasingly disillusioned protégé asks, “can you water-ski behind? How much is enough?”

In announcing his massive, groundbreaking deal with Alvarez, Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, armed with $1 billion in rights fees over eight years from the Perform Group’s DAZN, said the burgeoning financial pie for elite performers like Canelo would make for large-enough slices so the best of the best can financially compete with or even eclipse premier athletes in soccer, basketball, baseball, golf or whatever.

“I am so excited to shake up the world of boxing in America,” Hearn said at a Madison Square Garden press conference to introduce DAZN to U.S. consumers, opening a fertile market which potentially could spell the demise of pay-per-view on this side of the pond, and maybe everywhere. “You’ve seen us do it in the UK … there were certain things I needed to be able to take boxing here to a new level, to build a stable that is unrivaled.”

In addition to Alvarez, all reasonably established members of the Golden Boy coterie figure to benefit from the company’s affiliation with DAZN, both in terms of available dates and the promise of increased purses. Other big-name fighters can expect to be recruited once they are free of their current contractual obligations. But it is Canelo, who will make his DAZN debut when he moves up to super middleweight to challenge WBA champion Rocky Fielding on Dec. 15 at the Garden, who will be the bell cow leading the way to what might soon become a new reality. That fight will be streamed free to entice fans to subscribe to DAZN, a preview of coming attractions as it were, and is not a part of Alvarez’s contractual commitment to the streaming service, which officially begins in 2019.

If the $365 million figure is indeed correct, over the life of the five-year deal Alvarez not only will pull down a minimum of $35 million per fight, but an average of $191,675.79 per day, even if he is just hanging out at home. No wonder he reached for a pen when the DAZN contract was placed before him.

A word of caution, though, comes from former middleweight champion Marvin Hagler, who said it can be difficult for a fighter, or any successful pro athlete, to remain focused and hungry once they become too rich and comfortable. “It’s tough to get out of bed to do roadwork at 5 a.m. when you’ve been sleeping in silk pajamas,” the Marvelous one once observed.

Boxing has always been the sport of participants who sought to rise up from impoverished circumstances, who had to ply their trade for years and for low wages until, hopefully, their hard work and dedication, if melded with the requisite amount of talent, finally paid off. Celebrated former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey fit that profile, fighting often and for scant recompense until the “Manassa Mauler” became one of the most compelling figures in the 1920s golden age of sports. He received an almost-incomprehensible $300,000 for his July 2, 1921, fight with Georges Carpentier, which generated boxing’s first million-dollar live gate ($1,789,238). The payday for Dempsey, who knocked out the Frenchman in four rounds, would equate to $3,112,226.80 in 2018 dollars, a staggering amount in light of the fact that the average American worker’s pay that year was $3,649.40.

When Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier squared off in the first of their classic three bouts on March 8, 1971, each was guaranteed a king’s ransom of $2.5 million ($15,485,175.88 in 2018 dollars). It was a huge sum at that time, especially when you consider that it wasn’t until 1979 that Houston Astros pitcher Nolan Ryan became the first $1 million baseball player. Even more incredibly, future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton, a 27-year-old lefthander who was coming off a 20-7 season, was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies because Carlton had the audacity to ask Cardinals owner Gussie Busch, the beer baron, for a raise to $65,000. Carlton got that figure from the Phillies, and rewarded them by posting a 27-10 record with a 1.97 ERA and 310 strikeouts in 1972. Carlton’s $65,000 salary in 1972 ($389,879.81 in today’s dollars), even adjusted for inflation, would amount to a little more than one-90th of what Kershaw made this season.

The “silk pajamas” analogy offered by Marvin Hagler seems more appropriate now than ever. Are today’s multimillionaire athletes as appreciative of what they had as those from other, less-well-compensated eras? A child of poverty growing up in Grand Rapids, Mich., Mayweather was offered a six-fight, $12.5 million contract extension by then-HBO boxing czar Lou DiBella in the autumn of 1999. Mayweather initially rejected the proposal, saying he could not fight for “slave wages,” and insisted he wanted $3 million for his next fight, which would have given him virtual parity with more established, ratings-producing HBO mainstays Oscar De La Hoya and Roy Jones Jr. Mayweather grudgingly accepted the stipulated $750,000 for the last remaining bout on his HBO contract, and retained his WBC super featherweight title on a unanimous decision over mandatory contender Gregorio Vargas on March 18, 2000. Longtime HBO analyst Larry Merchant, however, was critical of his refusal to sign the extension, saying, “Mayweather’s no $12 million fighter.”

Time would prove that Mayweather’s exceedingly high opinion of himself and his worth was more than justified, but not every athlete who plays contractual hardball wins similar stare-downs. Mexican-American heavyweight contender Alex Garcia, at his manager’s urging, turned down a proposed $1 million payday to swap punches with comebacking George Foreman in 1993, the rationale being that he could get $5 million by holding off for a year or so, time in which he presumably could raise his recognizability factor. Garcia instead got knocked out, for a $15,000 purse, in a stay-busy bout with journeyman Mike Dixon on June 8, 1993. He bet on himself and lost, never again coming within whiffing distance of the kind of money he might have made for fighting Big George.

Another athlete who bet big on himself and lost is former Minnesota Timberwolves forward Latrell Sprewell, then 34 and on the downhill side of what had been a mostly productive career. After having been paid $14 million a year on his previous contract, he should have counted himself fortunate to be offered a three-year extension for $21 million, an annual average of $7 million. He instead publicly ripped team owner Glen Taylor, asking reporters how anyone could expect him to try to “feed his family” for such a paltry sum. Taylor withdrew the offer and Sprewell never played another game in the NBA, for anybody.

“His comment about `feeding my family’ wasn’t really the issue with me,” Taylor said in an interview in October 2006. “That was just a bad thing. What was worse was that he said, `Well, then maybe I shouldn’t play so hard,’ or something like that. That, I took issue with.”

It will be interesting to see if today’s ultra-wealthy athletes can remain as driven and committed as their less-affluent forebears, who not only played or fought for pride and championships, but to pay the bills and actually feed their families. Where once sports fans marveled at the three-year, $400,000 (total!) contract the New York Jets lavished upon rookie quarterback Joe Namath on Jan. 2, 1966, the San Francisco 49ers signed newly acquired and largely unproven Jimmy Garoppolo, who previously had served as Tom Brady’s backup with the New England Patriots, to a five-year, $137.5 million contract, with a salary-cap hit of $37 million for this season alone. Where Bob Pettit, a 10-time first-team All-NBA selection and two-time league NBA who was still playing at a high level, retired from the St. Louis Hawks after the 1964-65 season because he thought he could do better as a banker than his $65,000 basketball salary ($513,591.67 in 2018 dollars), LeBron James raked in $85 million in 2017, $52 million of which came from endorsements.

After he has a couple of hundred million dollars put away for a rainy day, will Canelo Alvarez still want to suffer the rigors of training camp and more trials by combat to further embellish his legacy? Or will he be satisfied to walk away, fat and happy, with still more to give because the incentive to do so had diminished in correlation with the expansion of his bank account?

Like the Charlie Sheen character asked in Wall Street, how much is enough? It is a question everyone who buys a Powerball or Mega Millions lottery ticket probably poses to himself or herself, even as we imagine what it must be like to find that life has supplied us with its elusive winning numbers.

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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Fighters from Tijuana are on a Roll; Can Alexandro Santiago Keep Up the Momentum?

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Fighters from Tijuana are on a Roll; Can Alexandro Santiago Keep Up the Momentum?

Last Thursday, a Golden Boy Promotions card in California produced an early entrant for Upset of the Year. In the main event, unsung Jesus “Ricky” Perez out-pointed former U.S. Olympian and former two-division title-holder Joseph “Jojo” Diaz.

Perez hails from Tijuana. Heading in, he had lost five of his last nine and had never won a match slated for more than eight rounds. He started fast and held on to win a split nod (ancient ringside judge Lou Moret awarded Perez nine of the 10 rounds).

The fast-growing, hardscrabble city of Tijuana, which sits at the northwest tip of the Baja peninsula, has produced a steady stream of good boxers over the years (Erik Morales, a Hall of Famer, and Antonio Margarito, a two-time world welterweight champion, come quickly to mind), but is currently enjoying arguably the best run in the city’s boxing history. And the distaff side is sharing in the prosperity. Flyweight Kenia Enriquez (28-1, 11 KOs) and her younger sister Tania Rodriguez (21-1, 10 KOs), a light flyweight, are knocking on the door of world title fights (Kenia holds an interim belt).

Last December, when pundits at the leading U.S. boxing websites brainstormed to come up with the 2023 Fight of the Year, two bouts stood out above all others: the Feb. 18 match between super bantamweights Luis Nery and Azat Hovhannisyan and the June 10 super middleweight contest between Jaime Munguia and Sergiy Derevyanchenko.

The Nery-Hovhannisyan match was a riveting, see-saw rumble that ended with Nery winning by TKO in the 11th round. Munguia scored a knockdown in the 12th to overcome Derevyanchenko, eking out a razor-thin but unanimous decision. Both victors have since added another “W” to their respective ledgers. Nery (35-1, 27 KOs) KOed Filipino veteran Froilan Saludar. Munguia (43-0, 34 KOs) dominated and stopped England’s John Ryder.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Luis Nery and Jaime Munguia were both born and raised in Tijuana. And we will be hearing a lot more about them. Although unofficial, Nery has an agreement in place to fight superstar Naoya Inoue in Tokyo in May and, according to various reports, Nery is now the frontrunner to be Canelo Alvarez’s next opponent.

The month after Munguia-Derevyanchenko, Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (pictured) scored his signature win and won the vacant WBC world bantamweight title with an upset of the great Filipino fighter Nonito Donaire. Santiago won a clear-cut decision on the card topped by the mega-fight between Terence Crawford and Errol Spence.

Santiago (28-3-5, 14 KOs) has a formidable challenge for his first title defense which comes on Saturday in Tokyo. In the opposite corner will be undefeated Junto Nakatani (26-0, 19 KOs) who is moving up in weight after winning world titles at 112 and 115. Nakatani can really crack as he showed with his brutal, one-punch knockout of Andrew Moloney.

There are two other title fights on the card which will air in the U.S. on ESPN+. Needless to say, one will have to get out of bed early to catch all the action. The first bell is slated for 4 am ET, 1 pm PT.

Santiago will be a heavy underdog against his Japanese opponent who will have a 5-inch height advantage. However, if recent history is any guide, one should not be too quick to dismiss his chances.

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Who Murdered Peter Bufala? A ‘Whodunit’ with a Boxing Backdrop

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On Friday, Oct. 8, 1976, Peter Bufala returned home from work just as a new day was dawning. The Las Vegas baccarat dealer pulled his Cadillac into his circular driveway, exited his car, walked toward his front door, and was felled by two bullets from a 9 mm handgun, one entering his chest and the other his brain. A neighbor fetching his morning newspaper found him lying in a pool of blood on his front lawn. He was dead when the police arrived. He was 33 years old and left behind a wife and two young daughters.

A 12-year resident of the fast-growing southern Nevada gambling mecca, Bufala grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania, a blue collar suburb of Philadelphia. He had come here to rekindle his boxing career.

A Middle Atlantic amateur featherweight champion, he had begun his pro career on a high note, winning a 4-round decision over a fellow novice on a show at New York’s St. Nicholas Arena that included Rubin “Hurricane” Carter who would go on to fight for the world middleweight title but would be best remembered for the many years he spent behind prison walls for his alleged involvement in a triple homicide.

Following his New York engagement, Bufala fought in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Virginia. As a pro, he never fought in his home state and there was a reason for it. In 1961, while undergoing a routine medical examination at an amateur show, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur. The Pennsylvania Boxing Commission rescinded his license. He subsequently underwent a series of tests at Temple University Medical Hospital and was given a clean bill of health, but the Pennsylvania authorities were unyielding and, bit by bit, in a day when news traveled slowly, other jurisdictions fell into line.

Nevada was the Wild West. The regulators there had looser standards and Bufala resumed his career on Sept. 2, 1964 at the Castaways, out-pointing his opponent in a 5-round match to improve his ledger to 7-3. The publicity man misspelled his name, adding an extra “f”, and he would remain Pete Buffala whenever his name appeared in the sports section of the local papers.

Fifty years ago, in 1964, approximately 165,000 people resided in all of sprawling Clark County, home to Las Vegas. The thought that Vegas would someday host a Formula 1 Grand Prix or a Super Bowl, two of the grandest sports spectacles in the world, was preposterous. The only local sport that ever made the national news wire was boxing.

The fulcrum was Bill Miller, a hot-headed boxing junkie from Elmira, New York, who owned a saloon on the Las Vegas Strip that he out-fitted with a boxing gym in the basement. Miller’s “Strip Fight of the Week,” which bounced from one little casino to another during a run that lasted well over a decade, bucked the national trend. Small fight clubs, with very few exceptions, had fallen by the wayside, a development triggered by the mass production of televisions.

Miller was hardly immune to all the little hassles that plague a grass-roots boxing promoter. Matches were constantly falling out. But he had several things working in his favor. As opportunities dried up elsewhere, journeymen boxers were drawn here by the promise of steady work. And although Miller couldn’t afford to pay enough to make boxing a full-time profession, good-paying jobs were plentiful in the construction and hospitality industries.

To be certain, there were also push factors. Chester, Pennsylvania, a shipbuilding hub during World War II, had fallen on hard times, plagued by unemployment and racial strife. Lowell, Massachusetts, a city known for its vibrant amateur boxing culture, was likewise hurting with row after row of textile factories sitting vacant. Lowell produced Eddie Andrews, a hard-hitting middleweight who would be the first fighter to make promoter Miller any significant money without having to take him on the road to a larger precinct or overseas.

Andrews supplemented his ring earnings dealing blackjack at Caesars Palace. For a time, Ralph Dupas was a co-worker. A former world title-holder at 154 pounds, Dupas settled in Las Vegas in the mid-1960s as his career was winding down and remained here until his encroaching dementia passed the tipping point and family members brought him home to his native New Orleans to live out his final days.

Returning to Peter Bufala, he worked his way up the ladder on Miller’s promotions, eventually topping the marquee for a fight with Johnny Brooks. They fought at the Hacienda, a grind joint at the south end of the Strip (where Mandalay Bay now sits) on April 13, 1965. Brooks was nothing special, but he was better than his 17-6-3 record. He would go on to last the distance in 10-round fights with future Hall of Famers Emile Griffith and Carlos Monzon.

Bufala was bloodied in the third round and knocked down in the fourth, but mounted a furious rally and at the end of the 10 rounds the judges could not pick a winner and the match went into the books as a draw. Working on the “5-point-must” system, the scores were 46-44 Bufala, 46-45 Brooks, and 46-46. (Trivia time: The 46-46 tally was turned in by ringside judge Harry Reid who would go on to become the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate. Nowadays, visitors flying in to Las Vegas arrive at Harry Reid International Airport.)

Had Bufala won the bout, his next fight would have been a 12-rounder against Reno’s Dave Patterson, the Nevada Lightweight Champion. But when he returned to the ring the following month, it was in a 6-rounder against an unsung fighter from Los Angeles named Davey White and, in a shocker, White blasted him out in the second round.

Bufala announced his retirement after this fight. It warranted scarcely a mention in the Las Vegas papers, but the folks back in Chester hadn’t forgotten him. “Pete Bufala Quits Boxing for Health,” read the bold headline on the sports page of the June 9, 1965 issue of the Delaware County Daily Times. The accompanying story said that Buffala, “Chester’s most promising professional fighter,” had emerged from his most recent bout with a blot clot in his neck and was troubled by chronic back problems. (Buffala would have one more fight before quitting the sport for good. He won his final fight, a 6-rounder, bringing his final record, per boxrec, to 16-5-2.)

Bufala never returned to Chester. He married a local girl and, in short order, was a father of three, two girls and a boy who tragically died at 16 months when he crawled into a plastic laundry bag and suffocated as his mother was distracted writing checks.

In December of 1973, the MGM Grand opened on the southeast corner of the busiest intersection on the Las Vegas Strip. This was the city’s original MGM Grand that would take the name Bally’s and was recently re-branded the Horseshoe. With 2,100 rooms, a 1,200-seat showroom and a jai alai fronton, the MGM Grand made its competitors look puny by comparison. Peter Bufala was there on opening night, dealing baccarat.

In terms of the money put at risk, baccarat is the crème-de-crème of card games. It attracts the whales, the high-rollers that leave the biggest tips. On a good night at a high-end establishment like the MGM Grand, it wasn’t uncommon for a dealer to rake in $500 in gratuities. Bufala worked the graveyard shift (likely 9 pm to 5 am; it varied by hotel), the most coveted shift for a dealer in a day when visitors to Las Vegas were more nocturnal than they are today.

One didn’t get to be a baccarat dealer in a ritzy joint by working his way up from the bottom. One had to know the right people. In the vernacular, one got juiced into the job. And the juicer might expect a kick-back.

One of the most influential people in Las Vegas was an outsider who tried to keep a low profile, Gaspare “Jasper” Speciale. A transplanted New York bookmaker, Speciale co-owned and managed the Tower of Pizza restaurant which sat a stone’s throw from the MGM Grand on the opposite side of the street. Speciale opened doors for dozens of people seeking employment in the hospitality industry. If one was new in town and needed work in a hurry, Jasper was the man to see.

Until the arrival in Las Vegas of the notorious Tony Spilotro, Speciale was the city’s premier private money lender. He would eventually serve four years in a federal prison for loan-sharking.

Whenever there was a murder in Las Vegas that had the earmarks of a mob hit, speculation always centered on Gaspare Speciale. It mattered not that he was active in his church and donated lavishly to local charities. Moreover, he had a warm spot in his heart for prizefighters. In the spacious backyard of his home, chockablock with mementos of his boyhood in New York City, there was a replica of Stillman’s Gym complete with a punching bag and rubbing tables.

Another theory, although one that acquired less currency, pointed the finger at Bufala’s father-in-law who was the beneficiary of Peter’s life insurance policy. The two were partners in a small sporting goods store where it was rumored that one could purchase an unregistered firearm.

On the day that Peter Bufala was assassinated, the story about it in the Las Vegas Sun, an afternoon paper, said that the former boxer had no bad habits – he didn’t drink, smoke, gamble or chase women — and that he was well-liked by everyone that knew him. But, said a police detective, “Someone wanted him dead and eventually we’re going to find out who that someone is and why.”

Forty-seven years after the fact, the who and the why remain as baffling as ever. If Peter Bufala were alive today, he would be 80 years old. This is a mystery that will likely never be solved.

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The Hauser Report: Foster-Nova at MSG and Other Notes

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The Hauser Report: Foster-Nova at MSG and Other Notes

Boxing returned to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, courtesy of Top Rank and ESPN. The festivities started at 5:30 PM and lasted until close to midnight. That meant there was plenty of time to talk with boxers and boxing enthusiasts like Rosie Perez, Gerry Cooney, and (drumroll please) former lineal heavyweight champion Shannon Briggs.

Briggs was in the house as part of an effort to lay the groundwork for a boxing gym and a documentary about the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Who does Shannon think is the best of today’s heavyweights?

“I don’t know,” Briggs answered. “I thought it was Tyson Fury, but his fight against Ngannou was weird. And Wilder against Parker; that was weird too. Joshua; you never know where his head is at. And I’m still not sure about Usyk as a heavyweight. Like I said, it’s weird.”

Briggs also said that he has signed a contract for an eight-round boxing match against former UFC champion Rampage Jackson to be contested on June 1 in Qatar and that he is slated to receive a purse of $5,000,000. I hope Shannon gets a letter of credit from a reliable bank sooner rather than later.

As for the fights at hand; the nine-bout card went pretty much as expected. Some of the “A-side” fighters were there because they’re prospects; others because they’re ticket-sellers. Top Rank has two Hall of Fame matchmakers – Bruce Trampler and Brad Goodman – so the favorites went nine for nine.

Arnold Gonzalez won a decision over Charles Stanford who was one of the opponents brought in a while back to get knocked out by Evan Holyfield.

Ofacio Falcon, who has been steered clear of fighters who might test him, fought Edward Ceballos (who couldn’t test him). Falcon won every round on each judges’ scorecard.

Isaah Flaherty (who can fight going forward and going forward) was cut high on the forehead by an accidental clash of heads in round one and forced the action against Julien Baptiste en route to a six-round shutout decision.

Referee Benjy Esteves let a fight between Euri Cedeno and Antonio Todd go on too long before saving Todd from further damage by halting the beating in round five.

Later, referee Shada Murdaugh let an overmatched Moses Johnson hit the canvas five times in the first round (the knockdown that started it all was mistakenly called a push, so there were only four official knockdowns) before waiving off things in favor of Italian heavyweight Guido Vianello late in the stanza.

Andres Cortes was battering Bryan Chevalier around the ring when Chevalier’s corner appropriately waved a white towel late in round four.

The best prospects on the card were Bruce “Shu-Shu” Carrington and Delante “Tiger” Johnson.

Johnson (11-0, 5 KOs) squared off against Paulo Cesar Galdino (13-7-2, 9 KOs, 4 KOs by). Galdino had won only one of his last five fights, and that was against an opponent with three wins in 13 outings. Referee Ricky Gonzalez wisely called a halt to the action with Galdino taking a beating in round one.

Carrington (10-0, 6 KOs) is a slick stylish fighter. Bernard Torres (18-1, 8 KOs) had been chosen as his opponent because he’s one-dimensional, slower than Shu-Shu, and doesn’t have much of a punch. As the fight wore on, Torres (a 10-to-1 underdog) had the look of a man who was thinking, “I have no idea how to solve this puzzle that’s in front of me.” Late in round four, Carrington (who can whack when he sets down on his punches) launched a brutal right hand that deposited Torres face down, unconscious on the canvas.

The main event matched O’Shaquie Foster (21-1, 12 KOs) against Abraham Nova (23-1, 16 KOs, 1 KO by).

Foster won the vacant WBC 130-pound title by decision over Rey Vargas last year and, trailing badly on the judges’ scorecards, salvaged his belt with a dramatic twelfth-round knockout of Eduardo Hernandez three months ago. He deserves credit for working his way up from B-side status in several earlier outings to where he is today.

Nova was an 8-to-1 underdog. But Foster-Nova turned into a hard, grinding fight with neither man able to establish dominance over the other. Referee Steve Willis did a good job of controlling the action without inserting himself in the flow more than necessary. I had Foster winning by one point with a flash knockdown that he scored in round twelve being the difference. The judges favored O’Shaquie with a 116-111, 115-112, 113-114 split verdict.

—-

Kansas City’s dramatic overtime victory over San Francisco in last Sunday’s Super Bowl drew the largest viewing audience in the history of television. So it’s safe to assume that many of you who are reading this column watched the game. With that in mind, I’d like to comment on the furor surrounding 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan’s much-criticized decision to receive the ball first after winning the coin toss at the start of overtime.

The NFL’s overtime format for playoff games differs from the rules used during the regular season. Each team is guaranteed one possession in a playoff game unless the defense scores a touchdown or safety on the other team’s first possession. If the game is tied after each team has possessed the ball once, the next score wins.

Shanahan elected to receive the kick-off at the start of overtime. San Francisco marched down the field, but their drive stalled at the Chief’s 9-yardline and the 49ers settled for a 27-yard field goal.

Then it was Kansas City’s turn. And even though the Chiefs were trailing, they had a slight tactical edge because they knew what they had to do; tie or win. Punting wasn’t an option. So when Kansas City was faced with a fourth-down-and-one situation on its own 34-yard-line, the Chiefs went for the first down and Patrick Mahomes kept the drive alive with an 8-yard run. Ten plays later, Kansas City scored the winning touchdown.

Did Shanahan “blow it”?

No.

If the game had been tied after the teams had one possession each, the next score of any kind would have won. And the 49ers would have had the ball first on each exchange of possessions from that point on until the end of the second overtime. That would have been a significant advantage.

Also, consider the fact that Kansas City had scored only one touchdown in sixty minutes of play prior to the overtime.

Shanahan and the 49ers lost the game. They didn’t “blow it” with what I think was a reasonable coin-toss decision.

—-

The future of Sports Illustrated is in doubt. Last month (on January 19), a series of unpaid financial obligations reached critical mass and massive layoffs decimated its editorial staff. SI is likely to survive in some form, perhaps as an online-only publication. But its glory years are in the past.

Sports Illustrated was first published in 1954. Spectator sports were on the verge of exploding in popularity in tandem with the expansion of television. SI rode that wave. It was one of the first national publications to understand and exploit the growing popularity of pro football. Its editorial staff recognized Muhammad Ali’s prowess as a fighter and his importance as a social and political figure while most mainstream publications still referred to him as “Cassius Clay.” Long-form articles and in-depth reporting made it a “writers’ magazine” of the highest order. Wordsmiths like Frank Deford, Herbert Warren Wind, Paul Zimmerman, Dan Jenkins, Jim Murray, William Nack, Robert Creamer, Tex Maule, Jack Olsen, Roy Blount Jr., Walter Bingham, and Rick Reilly plied their trade for SI. Its print circulation peaked at more than three million subscribers. The annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue (inaugurated in 1964) became a national institution.

Boxing (according to the SI archive) was featured on the magazine’s cover 138 times. Forty of those covers belonged to Muhammad Ali. Only Michael Jordan (with fifty covers) surpassed that total. Other cover subjects from the sweet science (listed alphabetically) included Carmen Basilio, Nino Benvenuti, Riddick Bowe, George Chuvalo, Gerry Cooney, Oscar De La Hoya, Buster Douglas, Roberto Duran, Joe Frazier, Marvis Frazier, Gene Fullmer, Joey Giardello, Marvin Hagler, Gypsy Joe Harris, Roy Harris, Thomas Hearns, Larry Holmes, Evander Holyfield, Ingemar Johansson, Sonny Liston, Danny Lopez, Ray Mancini, Rocky Marciano, Christy Martin, Floyd Mayweather, Tom McNeeley, Carlos Monzon, Ken Norton, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Patterson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Earnie Shavers, Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, Mike Tyson, Chuck Wepner, and Pernell Whitaker. To that list, one could add Don King and (most recently) Jake Paul.

From its inception, SI chose a “sportsman of the year” (later referred to on occasion as its “sportswoman” or “sports team” of the year). Three boxers were accorded that honor: Ingemar Johansson (in 1959), Muhammad Ali (1974), and Sugar Ray Leonard (1981).

But in recent years, the economics of publishing have changed. And the instant flow of information in a digital age made a sports weekly less relevant. In 2018, Sports Illustrated became the property of Meredith Corporation which acquired Time Inc. (SI’s parent company). A series of licensing agreements and resales involving the magazine followed. In 2020, it transitioned from a weekly to a monthly publication. Meanwhile, the quality of its editorial content was declining.

Worse, SI seemed to be losing its moral compass. For some subscribers, the final straw came when the magazine designated Deion Sanders as its 2023 “Sportsman of the Year”.

That honor (as defined by Sports Illustrated) is bestowed annually upon the athlete or team whose performance most embodies “the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement.” In its article celebrating the choice of Sanders, SI talked at length about how Deion had “transformed a moribund Colorado football program” and “transformed a community.” Nothing was said about his removing more than sixty scholarship players from the team roster (young men who had enrolled at Colorado in good faith) and replacing them with players brought to the university through the transfer portal.

Mark Whicker (whose credits include the BWAA’s Nat Fleischer Award for Career Excellence in Boxing Journalism) put the matter in perspective when he wrote, “SI was celebrating an egomaniacal huckster who ran off dozens of players who didn’t fit his template, with his son’s media company taping every move. In doing so, he dislocated lives and relationships. Some refugees said that Sanders never even bothered to learn their names.”

The selection of Sanders might have engendered a lot of publicity and “clicks” for SI. But did he really (Colorado finished the season with a 4-and-8 record) embody “the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement” more than Shohei Ohtani (whose 2023 season was unmatched in baseball history), Nikola Jokic (arguably the best big man ever who led the Denver Nuggets to the 2023 NBA crown), and Novak Djokovic (who cemented his status as the best tennis player of all time in 2023)?

I grew up with Sports Illustrated. I began reading the magazine when I was a boy. It has been in my home ever since. In 1991, I crossed an item off my “bucket list” when I wrote an article that was published in SI. On numerous occasions, I’ve relied on its archives for research. I miss the magazine that it was.

That magazine isn’t coming back.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – MY MOTHER and Me – is a personal memoir that will be published by Admission Press this spring and is available for pre-order at Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/My-Mother-Me-Thomas-Hauser/dp/1955836191/ref=sr_1_1?crid=5C0TEN4M9ZAH&keywords=thomas+hauser&qid=1707662513&sprefix=thomas+hauser,aps,80&sr=8-1

In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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