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Christmas Day in Germany with Sugar Ray Robinson

Arne K. Lang

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Sugar Ray Robinson

It was snowing when Sugar Ray Robinson and his entourage left their hotel in Frankfurt, Germany, for the short walk to the sterile brick building where Robinson would display his wares. This wasn’t the soft snow that flutters from the sky to delight young children on Christmas morning; this was a driving snow, the kind that stings when it hits you in the face. No man should be out in this weather on Christmas but here was Sugar Ray Robinson on Christmas Day, 1950, going to work in a land far from home.

Robinson’s work was giving and receiving punches inside a small roped enclosure. He was a lot better at the former than the latter, capable of firing off a fusillade of punches before his opponent, if still standing, could answer with a punch of his own. But this was still a hard way to earn a living.

Robinson’s trip to Frankfurt was the final leg of a whirlwind European tour, five fights in 29 days beginning with an engagement in Paris on Nov. 27. In design, the tour replicated many of the tours arranged for America’s great black jazz musicians who found a more appreciative audience in Europe than in their home country. From Paris, Sugar Ray went to Brussels and Geneva and then returned to Paris for a match with Robert Villemain.

Robinson’s welterweight title wasn’t at risk in any of these five fights. He had given notice that he planned to vacate it. But these were not exhibitions. To the contrary, Robinson was matched against some of the top fighters in Europe. Villemain, a rugged fighter built along the lines of Marcel Cerdan, which is to say stocky, was Exhibit A.

They had met earlier that year in Philadelphia. The fight went 15 rounds with Robinson coming out on top. Prior to his first encounter with Robinson, Villemain had split two bouts with Jake LaMotta, avenging an awful decision from their first meeting, and scored a win over future Hall of Famer Kid Gavilan, the Cuban Hawk.

It has been noted that one of the hallmarks of great champions is that they invariably elevate their game in rematches. Fighting before a hostile crowd at the Palais des Sport, Robinson didn’t leave the sequel in the hands of the judges. He battered Villemain to the canvas in the ninth round and although the Frenchman beat the count, he was too badly hurt to continue in the eyes of the ref who waived the fight off.

After opposing a man of Villemain’s stature, Robinson was entitled to a nice long rest. But before news of his victory hit the next day’s papers, he and his entourage were on board a red-eye train to Frankfurt, a 12-hour trip.

Robinson was famous for his entourage. On this excursion it consisted of his manager, George Gainford, his wife, his chief second, his barber, his golf pro, two secretaries and a late addition, a dwarf he picked up in Paris who was useful to him as a translator. When the crew was together as a unit they all wore matching purple jackets, Robinson’s favorite color. In Europe, they could not have been more conspicuous if they were aliens from outer space.

It didn’t take long for sportswriters to anoint Sugar Ray Robinson the best boxer, pound-for-pound, in the modern (i.e. Queensberry) era of prizefighting. As an amateur he was 89-0. His pro record entering his second bout with Villemain was 119-1-2. The lone defeat had come in his second meeting with Jake LaMotta, a bout in which he was outweighed by 16 pounds, and he had avenged that loss thrice in what would ultimately be a six-fight series.

But forget the numbers. A fighter’s won-loss record is pretty much a useless statistic, albeit that was far less true in Robinson’s day. What was remarkable is that the most lavish bouquets lavished on him came from the senior members of the sportswriting fraternity.

Old-time fight fans are notorious for thinking that old-time fighters were superior to their modern counterparts and old sportswriters aren’t immune. Some wizened scribe was bound to have offered up this opinion: “Okay, I’ll grant you, this kid Robinson is pretty good, but if he had met Mickey Walker in Walker’s prime he would have been in for a rude awakening.” But no one offered up that caveat, at least no one to this reporter’s knowledge, and this reporter has spent countless hours rummaging through old newspapers. The lionization of Sugar Ray Robinson was unanimous.

In Frankfurt, Robinson was matched against Hans Stretz whose record was said to be 33-3. Seven years younger than Robinson at age 22, Stretz was a former and future German middleweight champion.

Stretz was refreshingly realistic when assessing his chances. “Anything can happen in boxing,” he said. “The worst sometimes beat the best and I’m not the worst.” But Stretz knew something that Robinson didn’t. He knew that the building that would house their fight, the Haus de Technik, a building built for industrial trade shows, was unheated and in hopes of getting an edge he prepared for Robinson in an unheated gym.

The patrons, reportedly 7,000, arrived wearing heavy jackets. Between rounds they stood and stamped their feet in unison on the concrete floor as a means of abating the chill.

Robinson knocked Stretz to the mat within the first 30 seconds of the fight. The German dusted himself off and had some good moments in rounds two and three, but that merely prolonged the inevitable. He would be knocked down eight times in all before the match was halted in the fifth round. The final punch was a straight left. Stretz wasn’t concussed but he was exhausted and made no attempt to rise as the referee tolled the “10” count.

Again there was no rest for the weary. Two days later, on Dec. 27, the ocean liner SS Liberte left Paris for New York. Robinson and his entourage, minus the dwarf, were on it.

It was important for Robinson to get home in a hurry. He would have only six weeks to get ready for his next fight and this was a biggie, a match with Jake LaMotta, the man who had given him his toughest fights. At stake would be LaMotta’s middleweight title, affording Sugar Ray an opportunity to win a world title in a second weight class. Before that, on Jan. 9, 1951, there was the annual dinner of the Boxing Writers Association of America where Robinson was set to receive the Edward J. Neill Memorial Award forged to honor “the person who has done the most for boxing during the preceding year.” (Neill was an Associated Press war correspondent who died from a shrapnel wound while embedded with the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War.)

Sugar Ray was a worthy honoree. In Europe, by virtue of his fistic brilliance, he brightened the day of many people still suffering from the ravages of World War II. And how odd that his trip to Europe would include a stop-over in Germany, America’s arch-enemy just a few years earlier.

German fight fans aren’t as animated as fight fans in other countries, but I have no doubt that most of them watching the Robinson-Stretz fight with no apparent emotional allegiance were sorely disappointed that Hans Stretz didn’t make a better showing. Boxing, more than any other sport, feeds on tribal loyalties. But they left knowing that they had seen a master craftsman at work. “(Sugar Ray Robinson) is perhaps the closest thing to a perfect fighting machine the human race will ever produce,” wrote Bill Zalenski, the ringside correspondent for Stars and Stripes.

—-

I don’t want to get maudlin here. Robinson’s excursion to Europe was all about making money to maintain his ostentatious lifestyle. But I have thought about the Robinson-Stretz fight a lot and there’s a part of me that wants to think that he was drawn to Frankfurt by a force more powerful than a felt need for pecuniary enrichment.

The crowd included a smattering of American GIs. A few years earlier, they would have been in Germany on a killing mission. A little over five years had elapsed since the war in Europe had officially ended with the signing of the Armistice. Measured by the sands of time, that was yesterday. And yet here in an unheated building in wintry Frankfurt, with wounds still fresh from the deadliest conflict in human history, Americans and Germans had come in peace to watch a recital by the most skilled practitioner of the so-called manly art.

How appropriate that this scene played out on Christmas.

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Downtown LA Fight Results From the Exchange

David A. Avila

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Downtown-LA-Fight-Results-from-the-Exchange

LOS ANGELES-Built in 1931 the Exchange was the former home of the stock market exchange for the West Coast. On Thursday night it was the home for professional boxing.

Jessy Martinez led a slew of prospects ready to showcase their fighting skills among the many business types at the Exchange located on the 600 block of Spring Street. He didn’t need more than one round to reveal his talent at the Bash Boxing show.

Martinez (14-0, 9 KOs) used the first minute or so to determine the incoming fire from Mexico’s Carlos Huerta (6-5-2), a fighter of similar height and speed. Once he learned the magnitude and strength of the punches coming his way, Martinez (pictured on the left) unfurled his own combination and saw his right cross visibly do damage.

A slow developing 12-punch combination by Martinez rocked Huerta who tried to evade the blows to no avail. Finally an overhand right dumped a bleeding Huerta into the ropes as referee Wayne Hedgpeth immediately waved the fight over at 2:26 of the first round.

It was a short but destructive win for Martinez who fights out of toney Woodland Hills, California.

“Hard work pays off,” said Martinez.

Another featured fight saw Compton featherweight Adan Ochoa (11-1, 4 KOs) slug it out with Chile’s Juan “La Maquina” Jimenez (8-9) for five destructive rounds. Though Ochoa had the height, speed and skill advantage, the Chilean fighter walked through every exchange and was cut in the first round because of his reckless charges.

But he fought hard.

Ochoa seemed to have Jimenez in trouble early with single power shots, but was unable to put the final touch. In the fifth round a clash of heads resulted in a gash above Jimenez’s forehead and blood came streaming down. The fight was stopped and due to the cut caused by an accidental clash of heads, the fight was stopped and Ochoa was deemed the winner by technical decision 50-45 twice and 49-46.

“He’s an Hispanic fighter and all Hispanic fighters are tough,” said Ochoa.

A welterweight fight saw Vlad Panin (7-0) use his physical superiority to defeat Mexico’s Daniel Perales (11-19-2) in a four round contest. Panin is a fighter of Belarus lineage and had solid support from his fans who saw him handily defeat Perales by unanimous decision.

Other Bouts

Five of the bouts featured four-round fights and the best of them all saw Orange County-based Victor Rodriguez make his pro debut. He looked very sharp for someone getting his baptism under fire.

Rodriguez (1-0) trains at Grampa’s Gym in Westminster and showed off a very sharp left jab that kept Osman Rivera (2-12-1) from penetrating into the fire zone. Both boxers had large followings and the crowds exchanged competitive cheers for their fighters throughout the four round match. Rodriguez was just a little too sharp for Rivera who was slightly frustrated. All three judges scored the fight 40-36 for Rodriguez.

Other results: Keehwan Kim (4-1) defeat Percy Peterson (3-16-3) by majority decision in a super featherweight contest that opened the show.

Isaac Lucero (1-0) won his debut by knockout in the first round over Anthony Zender (1-6) in a welterweight clash. Lucero floored Zender twice before the fight was stopped at 1:29 of the first round.

Austin Gudino (5-0) remained undefeated by decision after four rounds versus Nobelin Hernandez (0-4) in a super lightweight fight.

Moises Fuentes (4-1) slugged out a win over Sacramento’s tough Moris Rodriguez (8-16-1) after six rounds in a welterweight clash. Each round was hotly contested. The scores were 60-54 twice and 58-56.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Thomas Hauser Enters the Boxing Hall of Fame

Arne K. Lang

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Thomas-Hauser-Enters-the-Boxing-Hall-of-Fame

There were 25 names on the Observer Category ballot sent out to those casting votes for the next round of inductions into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Voters could choose as many as five. The top two vote-getters would get in.

A range of disciplines are included in the Observer category: journalists and photo-journalists, TV executives, broadcasters, record-keepers, statisticians, cartoonists. Some of the 25 potential inductees are long dead such as Percy Dana the great photographer who was omnipresent back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the San Francisco Bay area was swarming with big fights. The majority of those on the ballot, however, are still active. They are contemporaries of the electors.

This reporter had a strong feeling that longtime boxing writer and current TSS mainstay Bernard Fernandez would make the cut. Induction into the IBHOF is by nature a lifetime achievement award and Fernandez certainly qualified on that count. Among those stumping for him was ESPN’s Dan Rafael who shares his picks with his readers. Rafael’s opinions circulate widely among his peers.

We guessed right with Fernandez and then had more reason to strut when the other top vote-getter turned out to be frequent TSS contributor Thomas Hauser.

We didn’t see that coming. Yes, we thought that Hauser was more than qualified. Considering some of the “Observers” that were ushered into the Hall before him, his induction was long overdue. But much of Hauser’s work falls under the heading of investigative reporting and he has never been shy about airing his political views so we figured that he had alienated just enough voters to ensure that he would be kept waiting indefinitely.

We miscalculated.

Thomas Hauser

Thomas Hauser was born in New York City and grew up in Larchmont, an upper-middle-class village roughly 25 miles north of the city in Westchester County. His father was an attorney with a small general practice in the city and Hauser followed him into the practice of law, clerking for a federal judge and then working as a litigator for a Wall Street law firm after graduating from Columbia Law School.

When Hauser got bored with the life of a Wall Street lawyer, he thought he would give writing a try and then hit the jackpot with his very first book. “The Execution of Charles Horman” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Bancroft Prize, and the National Book Award.

Horman was a left-leaning journalist who was murdered while investigating the possible American masterminding of a military coup in Chile. The book spawned the movie “Missing” which earned Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Jack Lemmon), Best Actress (Sissy Spacek) and an Adapted Screenplay Oscar for director Costa-Gavras.

The movie put a brighter spotlight on Hauser’s book which was re-titled “Missing” and sent him off on the lecture circuit. Here’s Hauser in 1982 as depicted in a Los Angeles Times story following his talk at UC Irvine.

hauser wong

Hauser went on to write so many books that the exact number is uncertain (but somewhere north of 50). That includes works of fiction, works of general non-fiction and, of course, non-fiction books about boxing of which, at last count, there are eighteen. The opus is “Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times.” Harking in its design to the works of the great Chicago oral historian Studs Terkel, the book, released in 1991, won the William Hill Award for best sports book, a prestigious award in Great Britain.

Completing the book was an arduous task. Hauser interviewed approximately 200 people. He and Ali spent countless days at their respective homes and after the book was published the two went off on a book signing tour that spanned several continents.

Ali TH w book

Hauser had interviewed Ali long before they collaborated on the biography. It came when he was a 19-year-old undergraduate at Columbia hosting a weekly sports talk radio show on the student-run radio station. Ali was in town to fight Zora Folley at the old Madison Square Garden – Ali’s final fight before his exile – and Hauser wangled his way into Ali’s dressing room after Ali completed a public workout and taped an interview. It wouldn’t be the last time that he wangled his way into a fighter’s dressing room.

Four years later Hauser was at the newly reconstituted Madison Square Garden for the Fight of the Century, the first meeting between Ali and Joe Frazier. It was an epic confrontation, an event that Pete Hamill, writing for Harper’s Bazaar, called the most spectacular event in sports history. Hauser’s ticket bought him a seat in the last row of the mezzanine, as far away from the ring as one could be.

“Muhammad Ali” was actually Hauser’s second boxing book. “The Black Lights: Inside the World of Professional Boxing,” published in 1986, looks at all the machinations that led up to the Nov. 3, 1984 match between 140-pound title-holder Billy Costello and Saoul Mamby. Hauser’s portrait of Don King jumps off the page.

Hauser’s 2001 book, “A Beautiful Sickness: Reflections on the Sweet Science” is noteworthy because it was published by the University of Arkansas Press which has been publishing a Hauser anthology every year since. The books are compilations of Hauser’s favorite columns from the previous year.

The books invariably include at least one dressing room story as Hauser takes the reader into the dressing room of a fighter before a fight, giving us a peek at what happens during those pregnant moments before a fighter is summoned to the ring. In the fraternity of boxing journalists, Hauser is the consummate fly-on-the-wall.

Another hat he wears is that of a reformer. Boxing has become a niche sport, he laments, and it brought it upon itself, alienating the fans with too many champions and too many mismatches rather than the best fighting the best. “Having three heavyweight champions,” he says, “is like having three Kings of England.”

One of Hauser’s most admired people in boxing is Dr. Margaret Goodman, the Las Vegas neurologist who is the co-founder and the face of VADA, the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency. “The most pressing issue facing boxing today,” says Hauser, “is the rampant use of performance enhancing drugs.” Hitting a baseball harder and further is one thing. Hitting a man in the head harder warrants greater reproach.

The new inductees will be formally enshrined in the Hall on Sunday, June 14, the climax of Hall of Fame weekend, a four-day event.

From our perspective here at The Sweet Science, it will be cool to see Thomas Hauser and Bernard Fernandez on the dais together in Canastota. I wonder if we could induce them to wear a “The Sweet Science.com” tee shirt?

Probably not.

Photo (c): Wojtek Urbanek

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The Official TSS Ruiz-Joshua II Prediction Page

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The Official TSS Ruiz-Joshua II Prediction Page

Whenever a big fight comes down the pike, we like to survey members of our editorial staff to get their opinions. However, not all big fights qualify – only those in which the odds suggest that the underdog has a reasonable chance of winning. After all, what’s the point in running a survey if all the responses figure to be pretty much alike?

We did not perform this exercise for Joshua-Ruiz I because the odds were skewed too heavily in favor of Anthony Joshua. It was inevitable that Joshua would have his hand raised in triumph, or so it seemed to the vast majority of those who cover the sport.

You know the rest of the story.

STAFF PREDICTIONS

I see Joshua-Ruiz II resembling Kovalev-Alvarez. Joshua is going to fight a very technical fight behind the left jab and look to keep Ruiz at the end of that jab for much of the contest. And Ruiz will be loading up looking to land that fight altering punch like he did in the first fight. But this time, it won’t come. Joshua puts on a boxing clinic and wins a wide twelve round unanimous decision. – MATT ANDRZEJEWSKI

I’m picking Andy Ruiz for the stoppage in the late rounds. If Anthony Joshua wins it will be by knockout early but I’m betting Ruiz can handle his power. After that its Ruiz going to the body and wearing down the bigger fighter. Ninth round stoppage win for Ruiz. – DAVID AVILA

There is a saying in boxing that some fighters “look like Tarzan, fight like Jane.” It means pretty much the same thing as you can’t judge a book by its cover. It’s true, too. If beautiful, sculpted physiques are the determining factor of ring greatness, Mike “Hercules” Weaver — to be fair, a onetime alphabet champion for a hiccup or two — might have been the best heavyweight ever. Which brings us to Ruiz-Joshua II. If Andy Ruiz Jr. wolfs down all his Thanksgiving leftovers, he might show up looking even more like a Mexican Butterbean. Anthony Joshua looks like Tarzan, but in his first go at Ruiz he pretty much fought like Jane. I am sorely tempted to forget appearances and pick Ruiz, but I still have a nagging suspicion that the Joshua who got off the deck to beat Wladimir Klitschko is still present in that mass of muscles. I cast a reluctant vote for AJ, maybe on points. – BERNARD FERNANDEZ

New International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee THOMAS HAUSER agrees with his 2020 Canastota “stablemate” Fernandez. “Joshua by decision,” he writes. “But like most people I have my doubts.”

World Heavyweight King Andy Ruiz Jr. is reigning in Saudi Arabia? He must feel like Rocky Balboa getting ready for WW3 with the muscle-bound Ivan Drago on Christmas Day in Russia! Strange lands, strange laws, an imposing mountain to climb. After what I saw Ruiz do to Anthony Joshua in NYC on 6/1/19, I have to pick him to pick up where he left off. Fighting hard. Doing whatever it takes to win. Hurting AJ. Knocking him out in 11. – JEFFREY FREEMAN

The storyline of Anthony Joshua’s signature triumph over Wladimir Klitschko was how well Joshua handled adversity. That made his showing against Andy Ruiz all the more head-scratching. Was he overconfident? After all, Ruiz had a short training camp, having been roped in off the street, in a sense, after Joshua’s original opponent Big Baby Miller was ruled out. Perhaps Ruiz has the blueprint for beating Joshua; perhaps his style is just all wrong for Joshua — I’m really not sure — but my inclination is that the Brit will do a better job of exploiting his 8-inch reach advantage in the rematch. It wouldn’t surprise me if this fight follows the same tack as Ruiz’s fight with Joseph Parker, a distance fight with a lot of close rounds that ultimately went against the chubby Mexican-American. – ARNE LANG

What happened in the first fight? It’s been almost half a year since Ruiz shockingly defeated Joshua in one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight history and I’m still not really sure. For the longest time, I believed it was simply a tactical error made by Joshua in round three that spelled his doom. Once he suffered that first knockdown, he never recovered. But as fight week looms, part of me wonders if Ruiz just has a style that Joshua doesn’t know how to attack. Still, the greater part of me still thinks Joshua has what it takes to beat Ruiz. He’ll fight the second bout much differently this time and plod his way to a 12-round decision. The cards will be wider than most would like, but Joshua wins in most people eyes via UD in a competitive fight that reveals Ruiz’s limitations. – KELSEY McCARSON

When is a prediction not a prediction? When it defaults to some future event that subscribes the outcome. In this case it is the Ruiz-Joshua weigh in, generally speaking the final hiding place for cowards asked by their editors to turn in that prediction. But hear me out. Or rather hear out Iron Mike Tyson, here discussing Ruiz’s perceived weight loss: “I just don’t understand it.  But everybody has their own thing their vanity gets the best of them. “I’m a believer in ‘if it’s not broke don’t fix it.’ The only thing Ruiz has to do is do what he did last fight.” Tyson is unequivocally correct. Ruiz trusted himself to punch with the puncher last time around and he had the chin and the handspeed to get it done. Worst case scenario sees him a faster fighter with a better chin in a shootout; but he’s added a proviso here with his weight-loss. Ruiz’s weight makes it difficult for Joshua to bully him with his prodigious strength and is a faculty of his punch resistance. It has also been an indelible part of his ring character during his decade in the ring. Stripped of a sizeable portion, Ruiz may enhance both his speed and his gas-tank, but these are aspects in which he already out-strips Joshua; the benefits, therefore, do not outstrip the detriment. That said there is likely a sweet spot around 245 where Ruiz reaps the benefits of size without the loss of familiarity nor bulk and at this poundage or above, I’ll pick the Mexican to once again out-punch his svelter foe. Joshua, for his part, appears to have slimmed down too, perhaps looking to enhance his own speed and stamina. Both will be necessary if he is, as many British fight fans insist, intent on boxing and moving despite all evidence to the contrary of his being able to sustain this over a twelve-round fight. But watch those scales. I can’t remember a time in heavyweight competition where they meant as much.” – MATT McGRAIN

So preposterous was the outcome in the first fight that trying to come up with a prediction for the rematch seems like a comically futile endeavor. Here goes, anyway: If Ruiz is able to wade through another Joshua left hand-right uppercut, he may have his hands raised again. Ruiz is the better fighter, and Joshua, despite his overarching physical advantages, has no capable answer for the pudgy Mexican on the inside. If Joshua can stay disciplined for 12 rounds, working behind his jab, one could see him winning a snoozer of a decision; but one suspects his stamina will become an issue. Still, for all of the question marks surrounding Joshua’s mental state, his chin, etc., his punching power is genuine, so it’s entirely possible that he decks Ruiz inside five rounds. Of course, anything seems possible, even in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. Ruiz TKO8 – SEAN NAM

There are a lot of “ifs” in this one. The relatively small amount of weight that Ruiz lost (5-8 pounds) will make him lighter on his feet and even more dangerous, but he needs to couple that with a competitive fire and attitude. The purchase of a Rolls Royce and mansion is not a good sign. Meanwhile, Anthony Joshua is doing exercises that reportedly are elongating his musculature. If so, that’s a smart move. Muscularity and attendant vascularity, with exceptions like Holyfield, are not necessarily compatible with flexibility. If AJ can come in loose (rather than overly tight like the last time) and without the element of surprise, I see him fighting tall (using a superior jab coupled with sharp crosses) and keeping Ruiz at bay while winning a decision or even perpetrating a mid-to-late round stoppage. Remember, we are talking about a guy who beat Wlad Klitschko, Dillian Whyte, Joseph Parker, Alexander Povetkin, and many other solid opponents. – TED SARES

Who wins? The “sportswashing” government of Saudi Arabia as DAZN trumps global morality with viewers like me. Willfully or not, we all bow at the altar of Plutus. Follow the money and that probably means that barring another delightful surprise, Matchroom meal ticket Joshua takes back the belts in a cautious display while Ruiz’s payday keeps him from any loser status. – PHIL WOOLEVER

OBSERVATION: An interesting diversity of opinion. Reading through the lines, the most common thread was that this is a tricky fight to handicap and that no outcome would be all that surprising.

The graphic is by Colorado comic book cover artist ROB AYALA whose work is attracting a lot of buzz. Ayala’s specialty is combat sports. Check out more of his work at his web site fight posium.

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