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British Boxing 2018 In Review

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British Boxing

BBC boxing correspondent Mike Costello this week called British boxing “the envy of the world” to the vocal approval of his sidekick Steve Bunce. A touch jingoistic, perhaps, but far from an unreasonable position for all that.

Britain currently boasts three of the five best heavyweights in the world, the best super middleweight, two of the five best featherweights and more than ten percent of the fighters currently ranked among the TBRB rankings.

Anthony Joshua has even crept on to one or two pound-for-pound lists.

It’s been one hell of a year for the British fight game whichever way you cut it and that’s been reflected in enormous paydays and even bigger crowds. Below, we look at the British scene specifically, naming the British Fighter of the Year, the British Fight of the Year and the British Trainer of the Year, among others. Making selections in every area was difficult. That’s a sign of a sport in ruddy health and with many of the winners triumphing in performances they turned in at the very end of the year it is likely to get healthier in 2019.

That, as the man once said, is in the cut.

Here’s what’s in the book.

 British Fighter of the Year: Josh Warrington

“The problem with Josh Warringon,” wrote Forbes.com in previewing his match with Lee Selby this past March, “is he fights like a guy with an 8.5 percent KO ratio…I have Lee Selby winning by unanimous decision and setting up a meeting with Carl Frampton later this year.”

Warrington has stood as the underdog for as long as he can remember, only his rabid and unflinchingly loyal fanbase in Leeds, England seeming to consistently believe in him.

“Before I fought Joel Brunker people were saying “Brunker will have him out of their in five.”  Then,” he told Boxing News before this month’s meeting with Frampton, “they said Hisashi Amagasa was going to blast me out.  Then they said Kiko Martinez was going to blast me out.  It didn’t make me angry but…I just didn’t understand why.”

Selby was ranked the #4 featherweight in the world at the time of his meeting with Warrington, who was then ranked #9. The result of the fight was not debatable, despite the odd split-decision victory rendered for Warrington on the night. Selby did good work in the middle rounds with a sharp body-attack but Warrington continued to press.  Selby’s vaunted jab was almost worthless, like throwing paper darts at a tiger.

Warrington had derailed a British superfight in Selby-Frampton but the British boxing press and public seemed satisfied that Warrington-Frampton would make for a reasonable substitution, a good fight that would see Frampton restore the natural order.

Warrington didn’t get the memo.

Instead, he out-fought and out-thought a fighter who was supposed to be a level above him, too good to lose, a marked favorite. The first round was the fight in microcosm. Warrington stood ring center throwing punches which, if not quite wild, were uncontrolled, out-hitting Frampton, who stood his ground. But Warrington didn’t just fly in and start swinging. He feinted, threatening right hand shots by coming square, before quickly moving back into an orthodox stance, scampered forwards on quick feet, led with a technically sound jab which helped partially neutralize Frampton’s supposedly superior jab, and then, when he’d done all the hard work and forced a disorganized retreat, he let rip. It was thrilling, brilliant, and he had the chin and the engine to make it work.  He was faster, stronger, had a superior fight plan, and most of all, he was better. Given Frampton’s pedigree and one-time pound-for-pound status, that is enormously impressive

When the referee lifted the underdog’s hand once more at the end of twelve scintillating rounds, the argument as to who was the British fighter of the year was over.

British Fight of the Year: Dillian Whyte KO11 Dereck Chisora

On the same night as Warrington was anointed the best of British in Manchester, Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora were staging an even better fight in London.

It was the fight Chisora most wanted, a rematch of his desperately narrow and brutal points defeat in their fight of the year candidate from December 2016. The rematch broke the mold in that it was even better than the first.

Chisora, who defines his style of pressure and brawl as “rolling thunder” (though he also compared himself to laxative pills in the build-up), rolled out of his corner throwing meathook right hands to the body; Whyte dialed in his counter right-hand. Battle-lines were drawn in mere seconds and they would be savagely contested throughout.

The difference between this and their first fight was Chisora’s conditioning. Happy to nestle on the ropes and duke it out in some of his recent contests, Chisora was pushing, pushing, pushing his man while Whyte looked to out-box and out-slug the man driving him back. Whyte’s defensive deficiencies combined with Chisora’s face-first pursuit saw each man swallow and hold bombs while they roughed each other up inside, heads, low-blows and two deducted points for Chisora.

But he took hardly a step back. Over and over again Whyte rattled him with a big punch but Chisora’s force of will brought him straight back, armed with that thunder.

After every round it seemed the pace must slow or a man must wilt. Even when the end came it was no breach of heart or conviction but rather a sudden disconnection of Chisora from body by a single punch that left him under a deep blanket of darkness on the canvas. It was as dramatic an ending to a fight as can be imagined and it is the reason there is no separate knockout of the year category.

The brilliance of a fight can often be defined in the testimony of the winner for the loser. Despite a prickly personality and a tendency to speak the worst of his foes, victorious and defeated, Whyte was effusive.

“Chisora is a fighting man. He’s not a boxer, he’s not a technician he’s a fighting man. He’s a black Viking, he’ll hit you with anything. The more you hit him, the more he keeps coming.

“Dereck’s a tough dude, man.”

British Breakthrough Fighter of the Year: Charlie Edwards

In September of 2016 English flyweight champion Charlie Edwards stepped up to take on the world’s #2 at 112lbs, John Riel Casimero, then coming off a four round stoppage of Amnat Ruenroeng. It was an ambitious and a questionable move and most people expected to see him brutalized.  He was, in ten brave rounds.

Six fights later, having strung together consecutive wins against non-elite opposition and helped nurse his mother through a life threatening illness, Edwards landed another title shot this December against the best flyweight in the world: Cristofer Rosales.

The same Cristofer Rosales who looked so lethal in stopping Daigo Higa, who had knocked out every one of his fifteen opponents going into that fight; who looked outright frightening butchering a fighter who likely would have been a favorite over Edwards himself, elite prospect Paddy Barnes. Edwards was expected once again to show bravery while suffering pain before inevitably succumbing.

Instead, the 25 year old Surrey man turned in a performance of such high quality it took me some time to understand what it was I was seeing. His use of footwork to control the space was that of a much more seasoned fighter; his patience and understanding of the rhythm of the fight was a picture of maturity, his timing beautiful, his management of his punches – here quick and sharp, there more stinging – was quite extraordinary.

All of this against a man who has fought more top-ten ranked opposition than Edwards has been scheduled to fight ten rounds.

It was not an exciting fight, just a stunning one. Had Edwards eked out a narrow, disputed decision I would have been quite surprised; to see him out-box Rosales and win clearly was almost surreal.

Edwards put both the flyweights and the super-flyweights on notice and there are some challenging fights on his horizon for 2019, but win, lose or draw he has already exceed the expectations of everyone but himself, his team, and his family.

In other words, the only people who matter.

British Prospect of the Year: Dean Sutherland

My kilt may be showing a little with this selection but I’ve gone for twenty-year old Scotsman and light-welterweight Dean Sutherland as my British Prospect of the Year for 2019. Currently 4-0 as a professional fighter, Sutherland may seem a little premature but it’s worth noting that he has the ambition to match my selection, talking openly of a British or European title shot by the end of the New Year. If this seems ridiculous it’s worth noting that Sutherland brings a wealth of combat experience from the ranks of kickboxing, where he gained multiple titles including the 67kg ISKA Full Contact Title; this means little more to me than it probably does to you, but I’m told it’s an impressive feat.

For decades, Muay Thai has been providing cross-over stars in the western discipline, men like Saensak Muangsurin who won a title in his fifth professional contest, Samart Payakaroon who  fought for one in his twelfth, or Yokthai Sithoar who managed it in his eleventh.  The point is, full contact ring experience counts for plenty across disciplines and for all that kick-boxing is less successful at providing champions in the professional boxing ranks, it has happened.

Whether or not that is Sutherland’s destiny is a question that will only be answered at the end of a hundred miles of bad road; kickboxing is well and good but we all know the special questions posed of a chin by professional boxing. His heart, too, will no doubt be more tested than that of fighters with similar records.

What we do know is that he is a swift, assured and accurate puncher armed with speed and composure.  He’s out twice before March; coming to a television near you by December.

British Trainer of the Year: Ben Davison

Ben Davison was no doubt somewhat bemused when an obese, alcoholic, suicidal and depressed Tyson Fury gate-crashed the workout he was holding for other fighters and, in his own inimitable style, took over.

Later, and inevitably, in a bar, Davison thought the huge heavyweight was joking when he told him:

“If you can get numbers of each one of those girls, I’ll let you train me.”

Game, Ben gave it a whirl and was astonished when, upon producing two phone numbers, Tyson stayed true to his word.

“It’s all about confidence,” Tyson would say breezily when recalling the selection process for the key member of his camp. “If he’s not confident enough to approach them two girls, how can he handle me?”

For many, it was a bad joke. Davison had no experience at such a lofty level and was in no way qualified to handle such a brilliant yet delicate asset. But Davison unlocked the key to motivating Tyson in a matter of days. He kept it fun and non-adversarial. The fallout between Tyson and his uncle, Peter Fury, was unpleasant and apparently for keeps. The chemistry between Ben and Tyson was there for all to see from the very start.

But, press repeatedly asked anyone but Tyson and Ben, what was it that would happen when the crucial moment came in the corner of a big fight? How would Ben, with so little experience, find the answer much less the words? It was all well and good taking a series of weight loss classes and having a giggle but what about when it came to the crunch?

Those questions were answered much more quickly than we could have supposed. Tyson and Ben seemed to have jumped the shark when they took a fight with Deontay Wilder so soon after their return to action, but Fury didn’t just look good; he seemed entirely to outclass his befuddled opponent. When Wilder eventually landed a meaningful punch and Tyson visited the canvas, we were treated to the sight of Ben Davison standing between hall of fame trainer Freddie Roach and first ballot hall of fame fighter Ricky Hatton, calmly dominating the corner with sage advice.

It has been suggested in one or two corners that he has done nothing but wax a Porsche; often the people doing the suggesting are the same ones who said that Tyson would look lost without former trainer Peter Fury.

The fact is that with Ben Davison in his corner, Tyson Fury has looked better.

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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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