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Jeff “Candy Slim” Merritt: A Fighter’s Life

Steve Compton

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They were sad eyes, those eyes of his. Despite his six feet and five inches in height they always seemed to be staring up at you, like a child looking up at a disappointed father. Maybe it was that he felt more comfortable with his picture being taken if it was for a mug shot than a publicity photo. They belied the man’s insecurity that was hidden so well behind a monstrous left hook. As one of his former trainers, Angelo Dundee, once said, “He was an awful mixed up kid, he always was.” Those eyes never gave any indication of the man’s profession. He was a fighter. Indeed, Jeff Merritt had been a fighter most of his life.

By his own admission, Merritt had been a shy, self conscious child.  He walked in fear of the neighborhood bullies and street toughs. So, when confronted on the streets of his native Kansas City, he would often lash out first and viciously. At 15, he stood six foot one and a half inches and weighed 177 pounds. Although, Merritt channeled this rage in the boxing ring, his burgeoning amateur career was cut short when he was sent to the Booneville Reformatory for Juvenile Criminal Delinquency in May of 1962 as a result of his street fights.

Boonville was an infamous facility that was converted to a men’s prison in 1983 after years of notoriously brutal treatment of the youths housed there. Boonville was overcrowded and extremely violent. Little care was given to rehabilitation and as a result recidivism was high. Children as young as eight found themselves incarcerated with youths as old as 21. Boys incarcerated for the relatively minor offense of truancy found themselves bunking with murderers. Rapes were common and fights were a way of life. Many of the boys who found themselves behind the walls of Boonville left forever changed, damaged and without the skills to build a life for themselves.

Jeff Merritt walked into this hellish nightmare and, as large as most full grown men, continued his policy of hitting first and hitting hard. As a result of this behavior, Merritt was transferred to the Missouri State Penitentiary at Jefferson City less than four months after being admitted to Boonville. The Missouri State Penitentiary was the oldest prison west of the Mississippi and nicknamed the “bloodiest 47 acres in America.” It seemed Merritt, at the age of 15, had jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

One week to the day after arriving at the Penitentiary, an event happened that may have had some impact on the direction Merritt’s life would take in the coming years. On September 25, 1962, Sonny Liston, one of the most famous inmates to ever come out of the MSP, won the most coveted prize in sports, the heavyweight championship of the world. For a kid sitting behind those melancholy walls, Liston’s victory must have served as a shining beacon of hope. Yet it would be several years before Merritt would re-enter the world of boxing.

Jeff was paroled from the MSP on July 24, 1963 and returned to Kansas City. For the next year and a half Merritt worked odd jobs but, with a 9th grade education, his options were limited and at the start of 1965 he reverted to a life of crime. Over a period of ten months Merritt was arrested no less than seven times for offenses ranging from carrying a concealed weapon to armed robbery and from aggravated assault to rape. On November 2, 1965 he was convicted of 1st degree robbery and sent back to the MSP for a seven year stretch. Walking into the MSP for the second time, Merritt was now a solid six foot two and a half inches tall and one hundred ninety-one pounds and still growing. Very quickly, Merritt was training in the prison gymnasium and even found himself working a heavy bag that had once belonged to Sonny Liston and still had his name written on it.

Merritt showed so much promise that two months after finding himself behind prison bars he was on the team representing the prison in a tournament being hosted there. Merritt was one of only two boxers on the team to win their bouts, defeating Roy Rodriguez via decision after three rounds. The following year, Merritt won the Missouri Valley AAU boxing championship which the MSP hosted. Under any other circumstances, the victory would have awarded him the opportunity to compete in the National AAU tournament held in San Diego that April but Merritt’s status as an incarcerated felon prevented such a trip.

Merritt continued to train and participate in whatever bouts he could get behind prison walls and, at some point, he had occasion to enter the ring against first round NFL draft pick Francis Peay who had played offensive tackle at the nearby University of Missouri. It took only one round with the lanky 20 year old for the six foot four inch two hundred and forty six pound Peay to give up any hope of a boxing career. Thoroughly impressed, Peay returned to New York where he played for the Giants.

In the off season Peay kept in shape by boxing at the state-of-the-art gymnasium in the National Maritime Union’s recently built eleven million dollar annex on 9th Avenue. Former heavyweight champion Joe Louis and former featherweight champion Sandy Saddler had been hired by the Union as physical instructors for its members and the vocational school they had recently opened. The Union was putting together a team of professional boxers with George Albert and Chris Jacman promoting their fights out of the Union Hall on 7th Avenue. One day Peay ran into the two ex champions and gushed over the lanky power-punching fighter incarcerated in Missouri. Their interest peaked; Louis, Saddler, and a handful of officials from the Union made the trek to Jefferson City to see the young phenom for themselves.

The prison agreed to accommodate what took on the appearance of a tryout. A ring was set up on the prison baseball field. With the Union contingent and one thousand inmates looking on, Merritt would face three other prison boxers, one at a time, disposing of each in a round apiece. Louis and Saddler were impressed. They made it clear that the Union wanted to be in the Jeff Merritt business.

Two months after the exhibition, Joe Louis appeared on Merritt’s behalf before the parole board. Louis stated that if the board would grant Merritt’s parole, the National Maritime Union was prepared to offer Merritt a job, training, financial support, housing, and management. The parole board was amenable on condition that the New York parole board agreed to take over his case. When these conditions were met the following month, Merritt was granted parole. On January 18, 1968, Jeff Merritt left Missouri State Penitentiary a free man. As the legendary blues singer Leadbelly had once sang his way out of prison, Merritt had now fought his way out of prison and seemed destined for stardom.

Merritt moved to New York and, one month after being released, turned professional with a first-round knockout of Ronnie Williams at the National Maritime Union Hall. The next month, he climbed off the canvas to win a four-round decision over Joe Belton. Followed by another first round knockout a month later against similarly non-descript competition. The opponents may not have been threatening, but Jeff was building his confidence, establishing himself, and most importantly he was learning.

Every developing fighter dreams of fighting in Madison Square Garden, hence it was known affectionately as “the Mecca of Boxing.” When a fighter fought in the Garden he knew he was on his way.  Merritt not only made it to the Garden in his fourth professional fight but he had the honor of appearing on the undercard of the heavyweight championship fight between Joe Frazier and Manuel Ramos. In an excellent showcase for the young fighter, before a crowd of nearly 11,000, Merritt stopped Milton Torres in the first round.

Three months later, Merritt would return to the Garden and suffer his first defeat. Fighting on the undercard of a heavyweight extravaganza that saw Buster Mathis stop James J. Woody and George Chuvalo stop Manuel Ramos, Jeff was stopped in the third round by a sparring partner of Joe Frazier named Johnny Gause. The fight was action packed, with Gause hitting the deck twice in the first round only to climb off the canvas to stop Merritt. Luckily for Merritt, the fight got very little press coverage and was nothing more than a speed bump for his career.

Merritt returned to the comfortable confines of the Union Hall for a confidence building win over Jimmy Patterson two months later, but his days with the Union were rapidly coming to a close. Early in 1969, a disgruntled union member filed a lawsuit in federal court against the union leadership, charging misuse of union funds in the support of boxers. From that point on, the Union’s association with boxers was officially reserved to sponsoring amateur fighters. However, William Perry, assistant to Union President Joseph Curran, maintained Jeff’s contract and continued to get him fights on the east coast.

As the Union fought dissent within its ranks, Merritt’s career continued to progress, and the decision was made to increase his level of competition. He was first matched in Philadelphia with local undefeated heavyweight prospect Roy Williams. Williams, like Merritt, was a talented and dangerous prospect. At six feet five inches, Williams could match Merritt’s height; and like Merritt, he was a regional AAU and Golden Gloves champion. Unlike Merritt, Williams was undefeated and had faced significantly better opposition as both an amateur and a professional. Also, like Merritt, Williams would become one of boxing’s great “what-if” stories. He was a man that seemed to have it all, but bad luck and his own complacency in the ring prevented him from ever getting the big money fights. Complacency seemed to be Williams’ greatest weakness. He would often start slowly and most of his losses were due largely to his inability or unwillingness to let his hands go.

Williams’ first loss to Merritt set the pattern for his future defeats. Williams, when faced with a man as big, strong, and hard hitting as himself, simply could not get untracked. He quickly fell behind on points as Merritt chased and punched him with little reply. In the fifth, Williams landed one of his infrequent combinations and dropped Merritt for a mandatory 8 count. When the referee waved the fighters together, Williams inexplicably returned to retreating and allowed Merritt to clear his head.  Jeff went back to outpointing Williams to win a clear eight round decision. It had been Jeff’s longest fight and most dangerous opponent to date, yet he passed the test with flying colors.

Two more quick stoppages followed over the next two months before Merritt was matched with another more experienced Philadelphian. Roger Russell had been a national AAU light heavyweight champion before turning pro and had recently moved into the heavyweight ranks with an upset win over contender Leotis Martin. After the Martin fight, Russell had managed a draw with former title challenger Zora Folley in a tedious contest, but had slipped with three straight losses and hoped to get back into the win column with a victory over Merritt in a showcase fight on the undercard of Joe Frazier’s title defense against Jerry Quarry. However, Merritt proved too big and too strong for Russell and won the unanimous decision.

Two months later, Merritt was scheduled to appear on the undercard of another event featuring young heavyweight prospects at Madison Square Garden, to be headlined by Olympic champion George Foreman’s bout with Chuck Wepner.  A week before the bout, Pires pulled out and California’s Henry Clark was substituted. Clark, a big athletic heavyweight with solid skills and experience, patterned himself after Muhammad Ali. Having been in the ring with Sonny Liston, Zora Folley, Eddie Machen, Leotis Martin, and Florida’s Al Jones, Clark was easily Merritt’s most seasoned opponent. Jeff got off to an early lead before the two fighters closed out the fight with a final round replete with action that brought the crowd to their feet. Once again, Merritt was proclaimed the winner and once again Garden matchmaker Teddy Brenner invited him back to the Mecca of boxing.

*Part I of a III part series

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The Bones Adams Story (Part Two)

Arne K. Lang

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When Bones Adams retired from boxing, he was still in his mid-twenties. The kid from Henderson, Kentucky, now lived in Henderson, Nevada, a suburb of Las Vegas, and before leaving the sport he had made enough money to go on a home-buying spree.

Real estate in the form of rental homes was a sound investment, or so everyone told him. But that was before the Great Recession, a scourge that clobbered real estate speculators and new homeowners, hitting Las Vegas especially hard.

“Suddenly,” says Bones, looking back, “a house next door to one of my mine, a house that looked a lot like mine,” was on the market for half the price that I paid for mine. I didn’t have the equity to ride out the storm.”

One of Bones’ best friends worked as a limousine driver for Charles Horky. The friend suggested that Bones join the team. Horky, a big fight fan, hired him in a flash.

Horky was an American success story. Starting with one limousine, he built a mini-empire. His fleet serviced the MGM Grand properties, of which there were eight on the Las Vegas Strip. Many of his regular clients were celebrities.

A town like Las Vegas attracts a lot of predators. Charles Horky fit right in. The FBI would allege that he didn’t merely turn a blind eye when his drivers supplied hookers and drugs – cocaine, meth, Ecstasy – to his customers, but that he encouraged it and demanded a cut of the action. Then there was the little matter of unauthorized charges on credit cards, a common scam in Vegas, particularly in “gentleman’s” clubs. “What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas,” goes the slogan, and what often stays is a lot more money than a visitor remembers spending.

On Dec. 13, 2012, the FBI arrested Charles Horky and eight of his employees or associates, including four limousine drivers, on racketeering charges. Clarence “Bones” Adams, identified in the papers as one of the limousine drivers, was caught up in the sting.

“I did some stuff I shouldn’t have,” Bones acknowledged when this reporter broached the subject. But he says he wasn’t a limousine driver except on his first day of work because Horky thought he was more valuable out in the field working as a starter, a person that works with the concierge at a hotel. (In Las Vegas, a taxi driver is prohibited from carrying more than five passengers. For larger parties, it’s often cheaper to hire a limo than taking multiple cabs.)

At his initial hearing, Bones pleaded not guilty. The attorney he hired, confident that he would receive only a slap on the wrist, got him to change his plea. Indeed, probation was what the prosecutors recommended. But the judge thought otherwise and Bones would serve six months at the federal correctional institution in Taft, California.

– – –

When we caught up with Bones Adams last week, he had just returned from shepherding his three youngest children to school (Bones has a daughter, Alexa, from a previous marriage). It entailed three stops – a high school, a middle school, and an elementary school. The school buses don’t service his neighborhood, an upper-middle-class neighborhood in the southwest part of Las Vegas.

The home that Adams shares with Millette, his wife of 14 years, and their children has a very deep back yard. Situated at the end of the long driveway is a 3,200-square foot building that houses a two-car garage and the boxing gym. The previous owner was a custom glass maker. This was his workshop.

Bones Adams doesn’t speak well of his former manager Cameron Dunkin, but Bones concedes that Dunkin did him a big favor when he sold his contract to James Prince. The change-over was made shortly after Bones’ first match with Paulie Ayala.

Prince, the Houston-based rap music mogul, was previously involved in the careers of Floyd Mayweather Jr, with whom he had a big falling out, and Andre Ward, among others. Today he is connected to a stable of boxers in Las Vegas who compete under the Prince Ranch insignia, the most notable of whom is former U.S. Olympian Michael Hunter who meets undefeated Sergey Kuzmin at Madison Square Garden on Sept. 13 in a match that will leave the winner well-positioned for a shot at a world heavyweight title.  Undefeated super bantamweight Raeese Aleem (pictured with Bones) is one of several rising contenders.

The gym that sits in Bones’ backyard was designed for Prince Ranch fighters but isn’t exclusively for them. “Basically,” says Bones, “whenever there is a really big fight in town, one of the fighters comes here.” Amir Khan used the gym to put the final touches on his preparation for Canelo Alvarez. Daniel Jacobs did likewise. More recently, Manny Pacquiao and his trainer Freddie Roach were here during the final days preceding PacMan’s fight with Keith Thurman. Tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood, the gym offers a marquee fighter a level of privacy he is unlikely to find elsewhere.

pac

pac

When Khan was here in May of 2016, Bones Adams wasn’t yet immersed in the daily routine of a trainer. It would be more accurate to say that he was the facility’s caretaker. But he and Khan forged a relationship and when Khan was in the market for a new trainer – having left Virgil Hunter, who trained him for his bout with Terence Crawford — he thought of his new buddy back in Las Vegas.

Amir Khan is no longer an “A side” fighter in the United States. Canelo Alvarez starched him with one punch and he was flayed on social media for his weak showing against Crawford. But Khan, an Olympic silver medalist for England at age 17, remains one of the most well-known sporting personalities in the U.K. His supposedly tempestuous relationship with his attractive American-born wife has been a steady source of fodder for the tabloids.

Bones spent two-and-a-half weeks with Khan in Khan’s hometown of Bolton and another two-and-a-half weeks in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where Khan finished his training for his fight with Billy Dib, a late sub for India’s Neeraj Gorat who had to pull out after being injured in a car crash. The fight was hyped as a landmark event that would pave the way to a succession of bigger fights in Saudi Arabia.

The Arab nation has been in the news lately and we asked Bones for a few tips on the unlikely chance that we would ever go there. “I was told that I shouldn’t strike up a conversation with a woman I didn’t know, but what I found was that things had loosened up,” he said. “However, ‘no touching’ is still the rule (a no-no that covers everything from a handshake to a hug). The people over there were very warm. We were treated very well.”

Late in his boxing career, Bones’ hairline began to recede. The recession has now completed its journey, perhaps with a little assistance from a barber, and Bones is fashionably bald. But he looks younger than his age; the muscles in his arms are taut, fittingly so for a man who preaches that a boxing-themed workout is the best workout of all for a man that wants to stay physically fit.

Capture

When Bones looks back on his boxing career, he thinks about what might have been if those that had influence over his career had done a better job of looking out for his interests and if the deck hadn’t been rigged against him in several of his most important fights. But the bitterness has long since dissipated, usurped by an understanding that there were times when his life could have spiraled completely out of control and an appreciation for those that reeled him back in. Foremost is his wife Millette, whose name Bones spells out to make certain the reporter gets it right.

It’s been a bumpy ride for Clarence “Bones” Adams, but he is now in a good place. Back in the day, the WBA stripped him of his title for no good reason other than they could, but looking back Bones can see that owning all the title belts in the world wouldn’t have amounted to a hill of beans if he hadn’t met Millette who has stood by his side through thick and thin.

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Mexican Stalwarts Navarrete and Magdaleno Break-in the Banc of California

David A. Avila

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Mexican Stalwarts Navarrete and Magdaleno Break-in the Banc of California

LOS ANGELES-A new stadium got its boxing baptismal with two brutal Mexican wars to re-introduce Los Angeles fans to international prizefighting on Saturday evening.

WBO titlist Emanuel “El Vaquero” Navarrete of Mexico City retained the world title by knockout and former champion Jessie Magdaleno proved pure violence still prevails in Mexican style boxing in front of 3,944 fans at Banc of California Stadium.

Soccer took a back seat on Saturday.

It was baptism under fire as Navarrete (28-1, 24 KOs) roasted fellow Mexican Francisco “Panchito” De Vaca (20-1, 6 KOs) who was willing to jump into the flames but found it too hot to withstand. However, he did try.

De Vaca arrived with only six knockout wins in 20 fights but that didn’t stop him from exchanging with the slightly taller and aggressive Navarrete. From the opening sound of the bell each traded blows, with Navarrete landing two vicious left uppercuts to punctuate the first round.

Though Navarrete won the round, De Vaca proved to have a sturdy chin.

The challenger from Phoenix erupted in the second round with a more aggressive attitude, but quickly discovered he was on the floor looking up after absorbing a sidewinder right cross from Navarrete. He got up and renewed the attack.

De Vaca never wavered from exchanging blows with the champion but it proved to be futile as the harder hitting Navarrete seemed to move the challenger back with each connected blow. De Vaca was hurt but refused to submit as Navarrete pummeled him with blows from multiple angles. After what seemed like a minute filled with machine-like blows, referee Raul Caiz stopped the fight though De Vaca never went down at 1:54 of round three to give Navarrete the win by knockout.

“De Vaca showed his fighting heart. He gave 100 percent in the ring tonight,” said Navarrete, who hopes to return to Los Angeles. “I want to continue the tradition of Mexican boxing in Los Angeles. I want to fill arenas and follow in the footsteps of Mexican legends.”

Top Rank’s Bob Arum said Navarrete will be returning to the boxing ring next month in Las Vegas on the same fight card as lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury on Sept. 14.

Magdaleno

Former super bantamweight world champion Jessie Magdaleno (27-1, 18 KOs) won by technical decision over Tijuana’s Rafael Rivera (27-4-2, 18 KOs) in a fight stopped due to an accidental elbow slicing a cut on the Las Vegas fighter.

“He’s an aggressive fighter, he’s a warrior as we say in boxing,” said Magdaleno, who did not think it was an intentional elbow.

Magdaleno, a southpaw, breezed through three rounds with his slick boxing and power shots to the body. Rivera found it difficult to find openings until a clash of heads caused a cut on Magdaleno’s nose. Rivera was able to capitalize on the former super bantamweight world champion’s concern over the blood running down his nose.

In the next three rounds Magdaleno began targeting the body with strong lefts and rights. It seemed to visibly slow down Rivera. A left cross in the seventh round staggered Rivera who was barely able to stay on his feet.

Rivera gutted out the pain and battled back in the eighth round with renewed vigor. It looked like he was willing to go down swinging.

Magdaleno expected Rivera to come out smoking in the ninth round and he did not disappoint. Both slugged it out in the corner, with Magdaleno decking Rivera with a short left cross but the Tijuana fighter beat the count and returned to the battle. During another exchange, an inadvertent elbow by the Mexican fighter sliced the side of Magdaleno’s right eye. Blood spewed out and referee Tom Taylor, on the advice of the ringside physician, stopped the fight at 2:55 of the ninth round.

The fight was decided by the score cards with two judges at 89-81 and a third at 88-82, all for Magdaleno.

“It felt great, I felt strong, better than ever,” said Magdaleno about fighting in the 126-pound featherweight division. “I took off the ring rust. We fought smart. We put on our boxing shoes and out-boxed him.”

The former WBO super bantamweight who lost the title to Isaac Dogboe last year, now feels his victory over Rivera should open the door to a world title fight in the featherweight division.

When asked who he would like?

“I want them all, it don’t matter,” Magdaleno said.

Other Bouts

Super lightweight prospect Arnold Barboza (22-0, 9 KOs) was too big and too strong for Filipino Ricky Sismundo (35-15-3, 17 KOs) and battered the willing fighter for all four rounds. A three-punch combination by South El Monte’s Barboza dropped Sismundo in the third round who beat the count and tried battling back. In the fourth round, Barboza continued the attack and at the end of the fourth round referee Ray Corona stopped the fight as Sismundo dropped to a knee at the end of the stanza.

Barboza was coming off a knockout win over former world champion Mike Alvarado and may be ready for a world title shot.

Kazakhstan’s Janibek Alimkhanuly floored Canada’s Stuart McLellan twice before ending the fight with a flourish of blows that forced referee Rudy Barragan to end the fight at 2:51 of the fifth round.

Alimkhanuly retains the WBO Global and WBC Continental America’s middleweight belts. He fights out of Los Angeles and is trained by Buddy McGirt.

A welterweight clash saw South Africa’s Chris Van Heerden (28-2-1, 12 KOs) win by unanimous decision over Russia’s Aslanbek Kozaev (33-3-1, 8 KOs) in a bloody eight round war. The fight started slowly with Van Heerden hitting and moving but after cuts suffered by both fighters, the two began exchanging heavy blows to the delight of the crowd. Both bled heavily for the last four rounds but let loose with everything just in case the fight was stopped. After eight rounds two judges saw it 79-73 and a third 78-74 for Van Heerden.

After a close two rounds, Javier Molina (20-2, 8 KOs) put some distance between himself and Manuel Mendez (16-6-3, 11 KOs) to win by unanimous decision in a super lightweight match. Molina was able to take control with some nifty counter punches that caught Mendez walking in. It was never an easy fight as Mendez battled through each round. But after eight rounds two judges scored it 79-73 and a third 78-74 all for Molina.

“I moved down to 140 pounds and it felt comfortable,” said Molina, a former 2008 US Olympian who fights out of Norwalk, Calif. “It felt good to be back in the ring.

Dominican southpaw Elvis Rodriguez dropped lefty Jesus Gonzalez with a short right hook in the first round of their super lightweight bout. The Texan got up and was caught with a jab left cross and down he went again. Referee Rudy Barragan halted the fight at 1:40 of the first round. Rodriguez is trained by Freddy Roach.

Russian lightweight Dmitry Yun (2-0) survived two knockdowns to win by decision over Austin’s Javier Martinez (4-7, 3 KOs). The Texan floored Yun with the first blow he landed –a right cross – in the opening round, then repeated it with a counter right cross in the third round. But problems with his mouthpiece and lack of footwork kept Martinez from gaining ground on the fleet but light punching Yun. Two judges scored it 57-54 and a third 56-54, all for Yun.

New Mexico’s Brian Mendoza (18-0, 13 KOs) brutalized Miami’s Rosemberg Gomez (20-8-1, 16 KOs) with body shots and eventually ended the fight at 2:12 of the first round in their welterweight clash.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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WBO Title-holder Emanuel Navarrete Defends at Banc of California Stadium

David A. Avila

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WBO Title-holder Emanuel Navarrete Defends at Banc of California Stadium

LOS ANGELES-World champions are gathering at a busy street corner of Los Angeles that has been the site of numerous heroic, villainous and emotional moments in the history of the second largest city in the USA.

Two full scale riots erupted and flamed out on that corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Figueroa Avenue in the 60s and 90s.

A presidential debate took place between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon on those same grounds when they were running in 1960.

NBA superstars Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan performed their magic on that corner too.

On Saturday, WBO super bantamweight titlist Emanuel Navarrete (27-1, 23 KOs) defends against Arizona’s Francisco De Vaca (20-0, 5 KOs) in the main event at the sparkling new Banc of California Stadium. ESPN will show the Top Rank fight card.

The stadium stands on the same location where the LA Memorial Sports Arena once stood proudly until it fell into disarray and was torn down several years back.

Sixty years ago, the first world championship boxing match was held on these same grounds and fans saw France’s Alphonse Halimi lose to Mexico’s Jose Becerra by fifth round knockout at the LA Memorial Sports Arena. Seven months later they fought again next door at the LA Coliseum and Becerra won by knockout again.

That was only the beginning, others like Muhammad Ali, Archie Moore, Sugar Ray Robinson, Bobby Chacon, Jerry Quarry, Danny “Lil Red” Lopez, Ruben Olivares, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Amir Khan all fought on those same grounds.

Imagine, when Navarrete (pictured above) rises from his corner to fight Phoenix’s De Vaca on Saturday, he will be continuing the ever-growing streak of civil and professional fights that took place on that same historic street corner.

WBO Super Bantamweight Title

Navarrete erupted on the fight scene like a ghost when he first defeated Isaac Dogboe last December at Madison Square Garden. It was supposed to be a Broadway opening for Dogboe, but instead turned into a horror story as those long arms of the Mexican fighter proved perplexing. The rematch was even more horrific for Dogboe.

Now the Mexico City fighter meets little known challenger De Vaca, who comes from an area that has recently been developing boxing talent in the desert city of Phoenix.

“The truth is that it doesn’t matter who is my opponent. I always prepare 100 percent for each of my fights, and this was no exception,” said Navarrete, 24, who is making his second defense of the WBO title. “We already did the hard work in the gym, and we are ready for a great fight. If De Vaca comes to fight hard, I am prepared to go even harder. I’m ready to give a great battle to all the fans.”

Can De Vaca do what Navarrete did to Dogboe last year?

“I wanted to fight for a world title since I was 5 years old, and now that we have the opportunity, we are going to make our dream come true this Saturday,” said De Vaca, 24, who fought once in Southern California back in 2016. “Come Saturday, there will be a new world champ for Phoenix and Michoacán. I’m coming for that world title.”

Co-Main

Former super bantamweight titlist Jessie Magdaleno (26-1, 18 KOs) meets Rafael Rivera (27-3-2, 18 KOs) in a featherweight match set for 10 rounds. After struggling to make the 122-pound super bantamweight limit, the Las Vegas southpaw now fights at 126 pounds. It’s made a difference.

“He’s a totally different person at 126 pounds,” said Frank Espinoza who manages Magdaleno. “Even the way he talks and thinks is different. Who would have thought four pounds would make such a difference.”

Magdaleno, the former WBO super bantamweight titlist, now meets Tijuana’s Rivera who never fails to provide high intensity fisticuffs.

“I don’t take none of these guys lightly. Every opponent is difficult. He’s fought great fighters. He’s been in there with great fighters and done a hell of a job. I can’t overlook him because he’s here to put on a great show as well,” said Magdaleno, 27. “He throws a lot of punches, and he’s quick. That’s what I am, and that’s what is going to make a hell of a fight for this fight card.”

Rivera fought featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz earlier this year. Though he lost by decision, he gained fans for his ferocity.

“I’ve been fighting against top-level fighters for a long time, so I feel confident and secure that whether it’s against a world champion or a former champion, I’ll put up a good fight,” said Rivera, 25. “Jessie is a good fighter. I’ve seen him fight before. He’s an aggressive fighter, but I’m just here to do my work.”

It’s a rather strong and lengthy fight card to baptize the new stadium into the world of prizefighting. Expect a lengthy line of fans on the same corner where many historic events have taken place.

Boxing has returned to the same street corner where legends like Ali, Sugar Ray, Quarry and Schoolboy Chacon previously performed. It’s a corner with many memories, both pleasant and notorious.

Photo credit: Hector De La Cruz

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