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Controversial Wilder – Fury Draw a Case of Déjà Vu All Over Again

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The moment ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. revealed the official scoring of Saturday night’s Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury bout – a controversial split draw in Los Angeles that enabled Wilder, the WBC heavyweight champion who to many people’s way of thinking, including mine, appeared to have received an early Christmas present – I had the feeling I had seen it all before.

And I had, 25 years earlier, on Sept. 10, 1993, in San Antonio, Texas. With one or two minor changes, what took place in the Staples Center ring closely mirrored what transpired in the Alamodome when WBC welterweight titlist Pernell Whitaker was obliged to settle for a hotly disputed majority draw against Julio Cesar Chavez in a heist of a fight which Whitaker appeared to have won handily. In this virtual replay a quarter-century later, British challenger Tyson Fury won – uh, make that should have gotten credit for winning – nine of the 12 rounds in the much-anticipated Showtime Pay Per View matchup, the most notable exceptions to the norm being rounds nine and 12, in which Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs) was floored by an increasingly desperate Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs) who had to be aware his only chance at victory hinged on scoring a late, bolt-from-the-blue knockout. My personal scorecard thus gave Fury a 115-111 edge, the same tally arrived at by unofficial Showtime judge Steve Farhood, a vocal a majority of the 17,698 on-site spectators and, most vociferously, Showtime analyst Paulie Malignaggi.

Although Malignaggi, a former IBF super lightweight and WBA welterweight champion, presumably disagreed with the 113-113 scorecard submitted by the swing judge, England’s Phil Edwards, his most withering criticism was directed at Mexican judge Alejandro Rochin, who somehow saw Wilder as a 115-111 winner. Canadian judge Robert Tapper was the realist of the group, with a 114-112 edge to Fury (originally announced as 114-110).

“I don’t care about any replays,” the exasperated Malignaggi replied when fellow analyst Al Bernstein suggested they check the tape for possible moments that might have negated Fury’s steady stockpiling of rounds and thus allowed Wilder to surprisingly retain his title. “They matter nothing. This decision is a joke. Alejandro Rochin should better never work a day in his life again in boxing.”

The guess here is that Rochin and Edwards will continue to be in the rotation for high-visibility WBC title-fight assignments, as was the case with Switzerland’s Franz Marti and England’s Mickey Vann, both of whom figured that crowd favorite Chavez had done enough to merit a 115-115 standoff in a bout in which the beloved Mexican national hero appeared to have been thoroughly schooled by Whitaker. In tandem they overrode the 115-113 card for Whitaker turned in by Texas-based judge Jack Woodruff, which still was too close to my way of thinking.

But for those who might not go along with my premise that Wilder-Fury was a near-exact replication of Whitaker-Chavez, which did not feature any knockdowns, I offer two other bouts that also reminded me of certain aspects of Wilder-Fury: Bernard Hopkins’ 12th-round stoppage of Felix Trinidad in their middleweight unification fight on Sept. 29, 2001, in Madison Square Garden, and future heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko overcoming three knockdowns to register a unanimous, 12-round decision over Samuel Peter on Sept. 24, 2005, in Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall for Peter’s minor NABF title.

Mash those three fights together and the combined result would be, in relation to Wilder-Fury as well as the immortal words of the late, great baseball philosopher Yogi Berra, déjà vu all over again.

Like Chavez, who complained that it was he, not Whitaker, who deserved better than a kiss-your-sister draw because “Sweet Pea” had done “more running that fighting,” Wilder – whose nearly closed window of opportunity momentarily flung wide-open when he drilled Fury in the 12th round with the kind of power shots that had enabled him to win inside the distance 39 previous times – said the two knockdowns he registered should count for more than anything Fury had done in a performance that, on balance, was more impressive than his unanimous-decision dethronement of Wladimir Klitschko three years earlier.

“I think with the two knockdowns, I definitely won the fight,” Wilder said in a post-fight interview with Showtime’s Jim Gray. “You know, we fought our hearts out tonight. We’re both warriors. We both went hand-to-hand, but with those two drops I feel I won the fight.”

That argument was previously trotted out, with no success, by Ivailo Gotzev, Samuel Peter’s manager, who said that his guy’s three knockdowns of Klitschko – two in the fifth round, one in the 10th – trumped the fact that Wlad, with his metronome jab, had dominated virtually every other second of a fight that ended with all three judges favoring him by the same 114-111 margin.

“If a man who scored three knockdowns is declared a loser, to me, that’s no loser,” Gotzev groused. For what it’s worth, there would be a rematch, on Sept. 11, 2010, with Klitschko scoring a 10th-round knockout victory over Peter to retain his IBF and WBO titles in Frankfurt, Germany.

Now let’s flash back to Hopkins-Trinidad, which was presaged by the mind games played by B-Hop – which included his twice disrespecting the Puerto Rican flag at press conferences – and had the effect of so enraging Trinidad that he threw caution to the wind from the opening bell and tried to get the crafty Philadelphian out of there with every loaded-up punch that missed the mark. Hopkins fought superbly and under control until he felt it was time to really let loose, battering his favored opponent to the point that Trinidad’s father-trainer felt he had no choice but to throw in the towel in the 12th round to save his son from further punishment.

Although Wilder had vowed he would pick his spots to go to the heavy artillery against Fury, whose gift is not necessarily in looking good himself but in making the other guy look bad, he seemed to forget whatever strategical refinements laid out for him in camp by trainers Mark Breland and Jay Deas. Swinging wide and wild from the outset, Wilder’s fight plan, whatever it might have been as crafted by Breland and Deas, quickly devolved into pure brawling tactics. It seems a pretty safe bet that Fury’s constant putdowns of him had made the excitable Wilder, well, just a little bit crazy.

“All the build-up for the fight, the hype and everything … I really wanted to get him out of there and give the fans what they wanted to see,” Wilder told Gray. “It was just the simple fact that I was rushing the punches. When I rush my punches like that, they never land. I’m never accurate when I’m trying to force the punches. But the rematch, I guarantee I’m gonna get him.”

And maybe Wilder would, as Klitschko did to Peter in their do-over, if it actually comes to that. But the rematch clause in the contracts signed by Wilder and Fury could only be invoked by Wilder in the case of the loss of his title to Fury, and with the draw that did not happen. Yeah, a rematch with Fury no doubt would do good business, but Wilder and his support crew have to realize – as do Fury and his people – that it would not be a blockbuster on the scale of a fight with WBA/WBO/IBF champ Anthony Joshua.

Although Wilder and Fury both paid obligatory lip service to the notion of an immediate rematch, their thoughts seemed to drift more to a clear-the-decks showdown with Joshua for all the titles, a likely attendance of 90,000 in London’s Wembley Stadium and a super-sized payday beyond anything that even Wilder-Fury II could generate. For his part, Joshua and his promoter, Eddie Hearn, would now seem to have the luxury of picking which of the non-losers, Wilder or Fury, they would most want to share the ring with in what surely would be the most lucrative fight of 2019.

“There’s a third heavyweight out there,” Fury said in referencing the specter of Joshua that hung over the proceedings like a bad moon rising. Then, making clucking sounds, he yelped, “Chicken! Chicken! Joshua, where are ya, AJ?”

Wilder had hoped to use a victory over lineal champion Fury, preferably one ending in another emphatic knockout, as a springboard into the superfight with Joshua he most craves. It now seems reasonable to presume that to safeguard the route to Joshua, Wilder’s team of advisers – that would be promoter Lou DiBella, Premier Boxing Champions honcho Al Haymon and co-trainers Breland and Deas – will think long and hard before consenting to a rematch with Fury, whose difficult-to-solve style did indeed prove to be troublesome to the lean and lanky Alabaman. Despite the public outcry for Whitaker-Chavez II, one fervently shared by Whitaker and his handlers, that fight never happened. Chavez was too valuable a property to be exposed to the kind of risk and potential embarrassment that might have resulted had he again tangled with Whitaker.

Curiously, some of the key figures in Whitaker-Chavez were represented, either live and in person or by extension, at Wilder-Fury. The late Jose Sulaiman was president of the WBC and present in San Antonio that night 25 years ago; at ringside in LA was Sulaiman’s son and successor, Mauricio Sulaiman. And in the house at both widely separated fights was Shelly Finkel, who managed Whitaker then and is an adviser to Wilder now.

There is an old saying: the more things change, the more they remain the same. It’s as true in boxing, and maybe even more so, than in any other area of human existence. The faces and names may be different, but the game remains constant.

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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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 280: Matchroom Snatches ‘Boots’ Ennis and More

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 280: Matchroom Snatches ‘Boots’ Ennis and More

It was bound to happen in professional boxing.

A British promotion company lured one of America’s top, if not the top, welterweight prizefighter in the world in Jaron “Boots” Ennis it was announced this week by Matchroom Boxing. It’s a multi-fight deal.

Ennis (31-0, 28 KOs) holds the IBF welterweight title after knocking out Venezuela’s Roiman Villa last July in Atlantic City. The Philadelphia-based fighter has long been considered one of the most talented and complete boxers in the world. And now he’s signed with Matchroom Boxing based in London.

“I’m excited for this partnership with Eddie Hearn, Matchroom and DAZN,” said Ennis. “I can’t wait to continue making my mark and becoming undisputed world champion.

It was just a matter of time before British promoters latched on to America’s best talent. Instead of pitting British fighters against American fighters, why not sign American fighters too.

Most fans in America fail to realize that boxing in the United Kingdom is a bigger more popular sport in that nation. Boxing ranks high in England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. It also ranks high in British Commonwealth countries like Australia.

Now Matchroom Boxing which streams boxing cards through DAZN will have another American star on its platform. The company previously had boxing’s biggest star, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, until his contract ran out. Signing Ennis could be the answer in finding the next big thing in boxing.

“I’ve watched this young man for many years, and I always believed he would become a pound-for-pound great, and I have no doubt he is already the greatest fighter in the division,” said promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing. “To win the race to sign Jaron is a massive coup for Matchroom Boxing and DAZN.”

Matchroom already has Conor Benn and the addition of Ennis gives the British promotion company two of the best welterweights in the division.

The signing of an American star like Ennis in some ways represents the international competition for sports talent whether its soccer, boxing or baseball as what we saw in the signing of Japan’s two biggest baseball stars by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Streaming has replaced television and the ability to watch fights live from any spot in the world has changed how we watch boxing and other sports.

A massive struggle by streaming giants has commenced and DAZN along with ESPN and Prime Video have joined the battle.

Manchester Card on Saturday

Two female world title fights lead the charge this weekend for Matchroom Boxing along with a men’s super featherweight clash between two former EBU titlists Jordan Gill and Zelfa Barrett.

IBF super bantamweight titlist Ellie Scotney (8-0) meets France’s Segolene Lefebvre (18-0) the WBO super bantamweight titlist in a unification match on Saturday April 13, at Manchester Arena in Manchester, England. DAZN will stream the Matchroom Boxing card.

Also, Rhiannon Dixon (9-0) meets Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-1) for the vacant WBO lightweight title.

R.I.P.

Promoter Gary Shaw passed away this week according to several sources including WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman.

I first met Shaw when he was COO of Main Events in the late 1990s after Dan Duva passed away. At the time Ferocious Fernando Vargas was a rising star and the promotion company was a major player in the boxing scene. They also had Meldrick Taylor, Pernell Whitaker, and Arturo Gatti on their roster.

Later, he moved on to form his own company and with fighters such as Rafael Marquez, Diego Corrales and others he staged many fights on Showtime. If I recall correctly, Shaw was connected with the Diego Corrales vs Jose Luis Castillo battles and the Israel Vazquez vs Rafael Marquez wars.

The fights between those warriors are considered the best for that period in the early 2000s.

Another sports figure, OJ Simpson passed away too.

I mention OJ because I often came across the USC Trojan football running back who lit up the gridiron during the 1960s and 70s.

As a college student I lived a few blocks from Simpson in the Brentwood area and often saw him with his family. Once while in New York City visiting a friend I ran into him again at La Guardia Airport.

Simpson was accused and acquitted of murdering his wife and her friend in 1994.

Fights to Watch

Sat. DAZN 9 a.m. Ellie Scotney (8-0) vs Segolene Lefebvre (18-0)).

Sat. ESPN 7 p.m. Jared Anderson (16-0) vs Ryad Merhy (32-2); Efe Ajagba (19-1) vs Guido Vianello (12-1-1).

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Resurgent Angelo Leo Turns Away Eduardo Baez on a Wednesday Night in Florida

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Resurgent Angelo Leo Turns Away Eduardo Baez on a Wednesday Night in Florida

The latest in the series of bi-monthly Wednesday Night Fights played out tonight at the ProBox TV Events Center (formerly Whitesands) in the Tampa Bay area community of Plant City, Florida.

In the main event, featherweight Angelo Leo improved to 24-1 (11) with a unanimous 10-round decision over stubborn but outclassed Eduardo Baez (23-6-2). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Leo, from Las Vegas by way of Albuquerque, was formerly a key member of Floyd Mayweather Jr’s “Money Team.” He briefly held a version of the world super bantamweight title, a diadem he lost to Stephen Fulton in his first title defense. Baez, a former world title challenger, never stopped trying, but Leo was stronger and sharper while scoring his third straight win at this venue following stoppages of Nicolas Polanco and Mike Plania.

Leo has his sights set on IBF world featherweight title-holder Luis “Venado” Lopez.

Co-Main

In a well-matched, 8-round super featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Jaycob Bradley Gomez (10-0-1) kept his unbeaten record intact with a hard-fought majority decision over scrappy Jose Arellano (11-2). The scores were 76-76 and 77-75 twice.

Gomez, whose father was a former cornerman for Miguel Cotto, was making his sixth appearance at this venue. Arellano, a Mexico-born Coloradoan, fought most of the fight with a deep cut over his right eye. Without that impediment, he just might have sprung the upset.

Other Bouts

In another super featherweight match, also slated for “8,” Puerto Rico-born Dominic Valle, a local product, improved to 9-0 (7 KOs) with a second-round stoppage of Mexico’s Angel Vazquez Lupercio (12-2). Valle hurt Lupercio with a body punch and then backed him into the ropes and unleashed a barrage of punches, leading referee Alica Collins to waive it off. The official time was 2:27 of round two.

A third-generation prizefighter who has a side gig as a model, the 23-year-old Valle is managed by the influential David McWater who also handles Valle’s brother Marques, a junior middleweight who fights here in two weeks.

Yoel Angeloni, a 20-year-old welterweight, stamped himself a fighter to watch with a 74-second blowout of obscure 42-year-old Michael Williams. The son of an Italian father and a Cuban mother, raised in Italy, Angeloni was purportedly 140-2 as an amateur (9-2 per boxrec).

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 277: Canelo and Munguia and More Boxing News

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