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The Avila Perspective, Chap. 24: Remembering Marty Denkin plus Upcoming Fights

David A. Avila

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Marty Denkin

Prizefighting in the state of California lost one of its senior members over the weekend as long-time referee and judge Marty Denkin passed away.

It was fitting that Denkin’s departure took place before one of the biggest fights of the last three years. Announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. honored the late official at the heavyweight world championship between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury on Saturday. All paid their respects with a moment of silence and a 10-count.

Denkin, 84, was a former Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputy and though born in New York, spent most of his life in California. Boxing was thoroughly in his blood.

Many who follow the boxing world knew Denkin as one of the long-serving officials of the California State Athletic Commission. He was the senior member and had served in many capacities including assistant executive officer in the Los Angeles office.

Others remember Denkin for his parts in movies like Raging Bull, Rocky III and Rocky IV. Of course he played the part of a boxing referee and is known as the official who counted out Rocky Balboa after getting floored by Clubber Lang the role played by Mr. T.

The last time I saw Denkin was just two weeks ago at a Thompson Boxing Promotions show in Ontario, Calif. He was wheeled to ringside by his daughter at the November 16 show. He had recently judged at a prior Thompson card in Ontario.

Denkin loved boxing.

He was always looking for ways to help the sport that at times can be rife with politics and sabotage. He had his supporters and opponents.

The first time I actually spoke to Marty Denkin was at a CSAC meeting in downtown L.A. around 2000. I had been covering the sport as a boxing writer for about seven years and he walked up to me and told me matter-of-factly “I heard you’re a straight-shooter and want to talk to you about a few things.” He became my introduction into the governing portion of the boxing world. I told Mr. Denkin that I don’t take sides but merely write the facts. From that point on he would let me know about his views on judging and scoring a fight. We would often compare scores right after a fight. He would hand over his scorecard to the referee and then look my way and silently ask what score I had. We usually had the same scores.

Once after a televised James Toney fight he was given a lot of criticism for his scoring. Any time Toney fought, especially in a close struggle, the Michigan prizefighter would display his high boxing IQ and score in ways that most ignore like hitting while being held. Denkin pointed this out after the fight and explained why he scored in favor of Toney. He willingly gave out his boxing wisdom.

Pat Russell, one of the best referees of all time, said years ago he once allowed a brutal fight to continue and one of the participants was taken to the hospital. He visited the hospital to see the fallen boxer who would survive. But the event left him shaken and distraught that evening.

“It was about four in the morning when I got a phone call and it was Marty Denkin,” said Russell, who retired as a referee a couple of years ago but still judges fights. “He told me that I had done everything right and not to worry.”

Russell further explained that Denkin’s call truly helped him through the event and he sincerely appreciated the thoughtfulness by the act.

“I never forgot it,” said Russell.

The boxing community in California will never forget Marty Denkin.

California Tsunami

Three large fight cards are spread out across Southern California this Saturday. This is a sign of the times.

Boxing is exploding.

Golden Boy

In the Coachella desert area Golden Boy Promotions stages a fight card led by Carlos “The Solution” Morales (17-3-3) who faces Nicaragua’s super tough Rene Alvarado (29-8) in the main event Saturday Dec. 8, at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio. For Morales this is a big test. Alvarado has become a genuine gatekeeper for the featherweight and super featherweight divisions. If you don’t have the goods, well, Alvarado will let you know.

Two other rising prospects Joet Gonzalez and Hector Tanajara are also on the card in separate bouts.

Tanajara (15-0, 5 KOs) has a tough lightweight matchup against Robert Manzanarez (36-2, 29 KOs) on the semi-main event. It’s rare when Tanajara, 21, fights someone taller than him and to make things more difficult Manzanarez is a southpaw. It’s a pick’em fight.

The fight card can be seen free on Facebook Watch.

360 Promotions

The StubHub Center in Carson hosts the 360 Promotions card featuring elite three female bouts including the woman considered by many the pound for pound best Cecilia Braekhus.

Braekhus (34-0) defends the WBA, WBC, WBO, IBF and IBO welterweight world titles against Poland’s Aleksandra Lopes-Magdziak (18-4-3) on Saturday Dec. 8. HBO will televise the showdown.

Add undefeated Claressa Shields (7-0) fighting Germany’s Femke Hermans (9-1) and you have a pair of the best female fighters in the world.

Expect to see many other great female fighters in attendance including Layla McCarter, Cyborg, Kali Reis, Christina Hammer, Jelena Mrdjenovich, and Laila Ali among others.

The male portion of the card showcases Juan Francisco Estrada (37-3, 25 KOs) versus Victor Mendez (28-3-2, 20 KOs) in a super flyweight clash. Both fighters hail from Hermosillo, Mexico so they are familiar with each other. Estrada has long been one of the best fighters out of Mexico that many people do not know. He’s an all-around boxer and puncher. Elite stuff.

Another female fight offered is Aussie Louisa “Bang Bang” Lawton (8-2) who always entertains with her go-for-broke style. She’s fighting local pugilist Lorraine Villalobos who despite only three pro bouts is talented.

The StubHub always delivers great fights. Always. It seems to have a magic aura that produces memorable battles. All total there are nine bouts planned.

Tickets are still available at Ticketmaster.com.

Red Boxing

In the city of Industry, Red Boxing International has a nine-bout fight card at Industry Hills Expo Center.

The boxing card is filled with young prospects and features a heavyweight clash pitting Rodney Hernandez (11-7-2) against Nick Jones (7-1) in the main event. Hernandez upset LaRon Mitchell who was undefeated last June.

For tickets and information call (323) 769-9696.

Top Rank show in NYC

WBO and WBA lightweight titlist Vasyl Lomachenko (11-1) meets Puerto Rico’s Jose Pedraza (25-1) in the main event at The Theater in Madison Square Garden on Saturday Dec. 8. ESPN will televise.

Lomachenko is fresh from a broken arm but is ready for his clash against Pedraza who vanquished Ray Beltran to get to this point.

WBO super bantamweight titlist Isaac Dogboe (20-0) defends against Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete (25-1) who hasn’t fought top tier fighters yet.

Another on the card is lightweight sensation Teofimo Lopez (10-0) fighting Mason Menard (34-3) for the vacant NABF lightweight title. This is Menard’s third shot at a regional title and he doesn’t get a break facing the talented Lopez.

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Jason Moloney TKOs Baez

Arne K. Lang

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Top Rank was back inside the MGM Grand “Bubble” tonight for chapter six of their semi-weekly ESPN summer series. Jason Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney twins, accomplished what his brother Andrew Moloney was unable to accomplish in this ring on Tuesday night, adding a “W” to his ledger and looking good doing it. It came at the expense of Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez.

It was Jason Moloney’s second start on U.S. soil after coming up just a tad short in a bid for the vacant IBF world bantamweight title at Orlando in October of 2018. Against Baez, he fought a smart tactical fight, blunting the Mexican’s superior reach by fighting him at close quarters. Baez fought from the third round on with a cut over his right eye and then suffered a cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By then the fight was becoming increasingly one-sided and Baez’s corner did not let him come out for round eight.

Jason Moloney improved to 21-1 with his 18th knockout. Leonardo Baez, who took the fight on short notice after Maloney’s original opponent Oscar Negrete was forced to withdraw with a detached retina, slumped to 18-3.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Abraham Nova advanced to 19-0 with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow but won no new fans with a lackadaisical performance. Nova, born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic and raised in Albany, NY, showed little but his jab through the first seven rounds until hurting Sparrow with a big right hand in the eighth. The judges had it 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91.

Sparrow (10-2), whose lone previous loss was by disqualification, was making his first start in 15 months. He was slated to fight Ryan Garcia in Los Angeles last Sept. 14 but never made it to the weigh-in after being arrested by U.S. marshals on a charge of threatening a woman with a gun after she threw his clothes out the window…

Other Bouts

In an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Gonzalez advanced to 15-0 with a unanimous decision over Ecuador’s Luis Porozo (15-3). The scores were 76-74 and 77-73 twice.

Gonzalez wasn’t particularly impressive although he did score two knockdowns. He decked Porozo near the end of round two with a left hook following a straight left and decked him again near the end of round seven with a left uppercut to the body.

In a rather ho-hum fight, welterweight Vlad Panin improved to 8-1 with 6-round majority decision over San Antonio’s 36-year-old Benjamin Whitaker (13-4). Panin, a Belarusian who grew up in Las Vegas and earned a BA in English from UCLA, has a good back story but seemingly a limited upside in the fight game.

In an entertaining 6-round welterweight clash, Filipino campaigner Reymond Yanon improved to 11-5-1 with a split decision (59-55, 58-56, 56-58) over Clay Burns. A 33-year-old ex-Marine from Fort Worth, Burns declined to 9-8-2.

The opener, a heavyweight bout slated for six rounds, matched two Phoenix-based fighters in a rematch. Kingsley Ibeh, a former standout defensive lineman for the Washburn College Ichabods, avenged his lone defeat and improved to 4-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Waldo Cortes (5-3). Ibeh, who at 286 had a 39-pound weight advantage, softened Cortes up with a series of uppercuts and Cortes was on his way down when he was tagged with a glancing left hand. He got to his feet, but referee Vic Drakulich waived it off. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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