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

Bernard Fernandez

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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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Harper and Jonas Battle to a Draw in Episode 2 of ‘Matchroom Fight Camp’

Arne K. Lang

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The second edition of Eddie Hearn’s “Fight Camp” summer series unfolded today in the backyard of the mansion that serves as the Matchroom Sport headquarters in Brentwood, Essex, England. The main event was ostensibly the 12-round bout for the Commonwealth cruiserweight title between Chris Billam-Smith and Nathan Thorley, but most of the pre-event talk was about the women’s match between Terri Harper and Natasha Jonas which went last in the program. Harper was making the first defense of the WBC world super featherweight title that she took from long-reigning title-holder Ewa Wahlstrom in February.

Harper vs. Jonas, originally scheduled for April 24, was the first-ever female world title fight between two Brits and it proved to be a very entertaining scuffle, building on the momentum of the inaugural Fight Camp offering last Saturday when Ted Cheeseman and Sam Eggington put on a splendid show.

When the smoke cleared, Terri Harper retained her belt by virtue of earning a draw, but the question of which English boxer was superior remained unanswered.

At age 23, Harper was younger by 13 years, but Liverpool’s Jonas, a 2012 Olympian, had the stronger amateur pedigree. Jonas started fast but Harper had the edge plus youth on her side as the bout wended into the final furlongs. In round eight, however, Jonas rocked her with a left-right combination and she hurt her again in the next round.

Harper had to dig deep in the final round to arrest the momentum and she rose to the occasion, staving off defeat. The judges had it 96-94 for Harper, 96-95 for Jonas, and 95-95.

Harper remained undefeated at 11-0. It was the second loss for Jonas in 11 pro fights.

Terri Harper is a good human interest story. Before she was coaxed out of retirement in 2017, she was peeling potatoes in a fish and chips shop in her hometown of Denaby in County Yorkshire. As for her next fight, she now has three apparent options: a unification fight with Poland’s Ewa Brodnicka, the WBO belt-holder and a recent Matchroom signee, a match with Mikaela Mayer (Brodnicka’s “mandatory”), or a rematch with Natasha Jonas. Whatever develops, her next match will be eagerly anticipated.

Other Bouts

The fight between Chris Billam-Smith and Nathan Thorley, which actually went second in the bout order, was a soft defense for Billam-Smith. Trained by Shane McGuigan, Billam-Smith (11-1, 10 KOs) blasted out Thorley in the second round. He ended the one-sided scrap with a short right hand as Thorley was boring in, knocking him to his knees. Thorley beat the count, but his legs were unsteady and the referee properly stopped it.

A 27-year-old Welshman, Thorley came in undefeated (14-0), but he had been feasting on slop – his previous opponents were collectively 106-549 – and the result wasn’t unexpected. The official time was 2:05.

In a 10-round contest in the super-welterweight division, Liverpool’s Anthony Fowler, another Shane McGuigan protégé, improved to 13-1 (10) with a seventh-round stoppage of game but out-gunned Adam Harper (9-2). Fowler, a gold medal winner at the 2014 Commonwealth Games as a middleweight, had no fear of the light-punching Harper and was in full control from the get-go. His lone defeat came by split decision to rising contender Scott Fitzgerald.

In a featherweight contest, 20-year-old Leeds southpaw Ivan “Hopey” Price improved to 3-0 with a 6-round shutout over Jonny Phillips (5-5).

A fifth fight, a scheduled 8-round clash between lightweights Kane Baker and Aqib Fiaz, was canceled when Fiaz took ill.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 100: Global Impact of Prizefighting

David A. Avila

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Boxing is huge.

Unknown to many, professional prizefighting extends to almost every country on this planet. Only soccer exceeds it in appeal.

Prizefighting could very well be the very first professional sport ever established in history. Scholars of history concur.

This weekend you can get a taste of boxing’s reach to other parts of the world.

London, England will be boxing central on Friday Aug. 7.

DAZN will be streaming a Matchroom Boxing fight card that features cruiserweights Chris Billiam-Smith (10-1) and Nathan Thorley (14-0) battling for the Commonwealth cruiserweight title. It’s an eight-hour time difference between London and Los Angeles, California where the start time will be 11 a.m.

The main feature, however, pits WBC super featherweight titlist Terri Harper (10-0) against Olympian Natasha Jonas (9-1) in a 10-round bout. Both of these fights take place at Fight Camp, the home of promoter Eddie Hearn.

If the set up looks familiar, years ago America’s Hugh Hefner used to stage boxing cards at his home, the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills, California. The late magazine mogul loved the sport and invited many of his friends in the entertainment industry to watch prizefighting. People watching from their living rooms saw via television the rich enjoying their riches.

It’s the closest I will ever come to being rich.

One of the first events I ever saw at the Playboy Mansion showcased female fighters. Hefner was a true believer in female boxing and always included a female bout if possible. It was one of his stipulations.

Daytime Boxing

This Friday morning on the West Coast, boxing fans get an opportunity to re-visit an outdoor setting similar to the Playboy Mansion fights. DAZN will be streaming the card live from England.

If Americans think they are the only boxing fans in the world, well, they definitely are not.

When it comes to boxing, the Brits, Irish, Scots, Welsh and neighboring countries all love boxing more than Americans do. Even when you go further east into Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Russia and all the other countries that used to be part of the defunct Soviet Union, they all love boxing. Let me reiterate, they love boxing.

In America, we’re accustomed to acknowledging that Mexicans love boxing as well as the Cubans and Puerto Ricans. But when it comes down to it, all of Latin America loves boxing. It comes second to soccer but that’s it. Boxing is a staple in Latin America.

In the good ole U.S. of A. the majority of people – including newspaper editors – favor team sports. Individual sports like tennis, track and field, and prizefighting take a back seat on newspapers or television network sports news.

But when boxing or MMA comes on a television screen or is scheduled for an arena, the American fans of those sports come out rain or shine.

Pacific Ocean and Other Areas

Across the Pacific, in the Australia and Asian continents, boxing also has a firm grip. Smaller weight classes have been dominated by Japanese, Korean and Philippine fighters for years.

They love boxing too.

A dream of mine has always been to see a fight card at Tokyo’s Korakuen Hall. Japanese boxing fans are able to watch boxing almost every week at the legendary fight palace.

Asia has always produced great fighters in the lower weight classes.

Manny Pacquiao arrived more than 20 years ago barely a blip on the boxing radar. Who would have guessed he would be revered as one of the greatest fighters of his generation?

Can American fight fans imagine what the boxing world would be like without fighters from other countries?

Imagine boxing without Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, Gennady “GGG” Golovkin, Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua, Vasyl Lomachenko, Naoya Inoue or Roman Gonzalez. It’s easy to forget that all of these fighters mentioned are not from the USA. Each has fought many times in front of American audiences.

In America, we fail to realize we don’t have a monopoly on talent.

Last week, both DAZN and Showtime placed fight cards on the same day. DAZN started early and brought a thoroughly entertaining boxing card including a possible Fight of the Year between super welterweights that saw Ted Cheeseman win over Sam Eggington after 12 raucous rounds of action.

Later, on the same night, Showtime brought super bantamweights, and boxing fans got a look at new WBO super bantamweight title winner Angelo Leo win by decision over last-minute entry Tramaine Williams. The replacement fighter accepted the challenge after scheduled fighter Stephen Fulton tested positive for the coronavirus.

Saturday Expectations

On Saturday night, Showtime returns with super tall welterweight Jamal James (26-1, 12 KOs) meeting Thomas Dulorme (25-3-1, 16 KOs) at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles.

Both James and Dulorme suffered losses to Yordenis Ugas.

It’s a shame that the virus has shut down audiences throughout the world. Los Angeles would have been eager to watch this event, especially in the heart of downtown. Rumors spreading are that one or two major fight cards will be held in L.A. later in the year.

Fans can watch on television as Dulorme and James battle to see who can crack that top 10 tier of welterweights. Dulorme miraculously salvaged a draw against Jessie Vargas when they fought by scoring a knockdown late in their fight. James has beaten solid competition but no one convincingly. This is an opportunity for either fighter to prove his worth.

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Pete Hamill Was Much More Than a Boxing Writer

Arne K. Lang

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Pete Hamill was one of my heroes. It pains me to write that the legendary journalist died today, Aug. 5, at age 85.

Hamill grew up in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, the oldest of seven children of an immigrant from Belfast who lost a leg to an injury suffered in a semi-pro soccer game. Like much of gentrified Brooklyn, Park Slope is a trendy neighborhood, but that certainly wasn’t true during Hamill’s boyhood when the air was ripe with the scent of the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal.

In one of his early non-fiction books, Hamill recollected the time during his adolescence when he called an acquaintance a kike while the Hamill family was gathered around the dinner table. This angered his father who reached over and slapped him. “Benny Leonard was a kike,” snarled the elder Hamill, referencing the esteemed 1920s-era lightweight champion. Awkward language aside, the old man was teaching his son something about the importance of respecting people of all backgrounds – and indirectly something about the nobility of prizefighters.

Hamill would write that in his blue-collar Brooklyn neighborhood in the years after World War II, there were only two sports that mattered: baseball and boxing. The institutions in his community, he wrote, were the factory, the church, the police station, the saloon, and the boxing gym. “There were fights in old dance halls, in bankrupt skating rinks, in National Guard armories, all of them serving as farm clubs for the big arena: Madison Square Garden.”

In his teens, Hamill took to hanging around boxing gyms. He befriended Jose Torres (pictured with Hamill in their later years) before Torres turned pro. Once he became established as a journalist, Hamill encouraged Jose’s literary ambitions and Torres, who won the world light heavyweight title under the tutelage of Cus D’Amato, went on to become a writer of considerable repute, “Boxing’s Renaissance Man.”

In a 1996 piece for Esquire, Hamill wrote, “I came to believe that fighters themselves were among the best human beings I knew. They were mercifully free of the macho bull**** that stains so many professional athletes. They were gentle in a manly way.” But by then Hamill had become disillusioned with boxing, viewing it as the detritus of a less advanced age. The tipping point was a dinner he attended where everybody tried to avoid looking directly at the guest of honor, Muhammad Ali, whose tremors were so bad that he was unable to lift a piece of chicken to his mouth. But Hamill continued to turn up at some of the big fights.

A high school dropout, Hamill briefly occupied the top editor’s chair at New York’s two major dailies, the Post and the Daily News. His published works include ten novels, more than a hundred magazine stories, two memoirs (one of which, “Downtown: My Manhattan,” serves as an excellent travel guide for anyone visiting New York), and several teleplays including the boxing-themed “Flesh and Blood” which was adapted by CBS into a two-part, four-hour telecast with a young Denzell Washington in a supporting role.

I once had the privilege of having lunch with Pete Hamill. The invitation came from my friend Harvey Rothman, rest his soul. Harvey had been the entertainment director at Caesars Palace when the Miami mob ran the joint and was unceremoniously dumped and left to his own wiles when the mob was kicked out. Hamill was in town to research “The Neon Empire,” a crime drama about Las Vegas commissioned by Showtime. The three of us had lunch at Caesars Palace and, if memory serves, Pete and I covered the tab as Harvey’s comping privileges had been revoked.

At the time, I didn’t know much about Hamill. My only recollection of him was seeing him on the David Susskind Show, a TV talk show in New York that dealt with current affairs. I don’t remember much of what was said at our luncheon other than we reminisced about New Orleans where we had both hung our hat for a spell. He was disappointed to learn that Sidney’s News Stand on Decatur Street was gone and the property had morphed into a seedy liquor store.

I would later learn that we had much in common other than the fact we were both born in Brooklyn (I grew up on Long Island so I wasn’t an authentic Brooklynite). During our early teen years, we both discovered the world of books through the novels of James T. Farrell, the great Chicago writer (long out of vogue) whose masterwork was the “Studs Lonigan Trilogy.”

Pete and I met up again when I hosted a late-night sports talk radio show in the Sportsbook of the old Stardust Hotel. My guest that night was the fabled boxing press agent Harold Conrad (purportedly the inspiration for the Humphrey Bogart character in the movie “The Harder They Fall”), who was then working for Don King. To my great surprise, Conrad arrived with Pete Hamill. Harold was then in his seventies and his memory was starting to fail him. Hamill could foresee that there would be some pregnant moments during the show if I didn’t have someone else to bounce questions off.

When someone dies at a ripe old age, it’s normal to say that he led a full life. But it’s hard to imagine anyone leading a life as full as the life that Pete Hamill led.

He was there marching along and taking notes as Dr. Martin Luther King led a march from Memphis to Jackson. He was there in Belfast at the height of “the troubles.” He was there when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated and helped subdue the attacker. He was on assignment in lower Manhattan when terrorists took down the World Trade Center and then spent the next 11 days documenting the recovery efforts. He dated Shirley MacLaine and Jackie Onassis. And, of course, he was ringside for the Fight of the Century, the first meeting between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Writing for Harper’s Bazaar, he called it the most spectacular event in sports history and no one who was there that night would disagree.

Pete Hamill was Forrest Gump. At the moments that define the timeline of my generation, he was seemingly always there.

Pete Hamill is survived by his second wife, journalist Fukiko Aoki, two daughters and a grandson. His eldest daughter Deirdre, a travel photojournalist based in Arizona, worked for a brief time at the Las Vegas Sun where she honed her craft covering the club fights. Pete’s brother Denis Hamill, younger than Pete by 17 years, is also a noted journalist.

Hamill, who was suffering from diabetes and using a walker, died in his bed at New York Presbyterian / Brooklyn Methodist hospital where he had gone after breaking his hip in a fall. The hospital is located in Park Slope. The well-traveled Pete Hamill had come full circle.

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