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33 Boxing Notables Name Their Top ‘Must-See-TV’ Fighters: A New TSS Survey

Ted Sares

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Welcome to the first Quarterly TSS Survey of 2019. The following questions were asked: In the past, what ONE fighter did you most look forward to watching on week-end TV? How about today? Who is that ONE fighter that makes work go by faster on Friday in anticipation? As always, the respondents are listed alphabetically.

JIM AMATO — author, writer, historian and collector: Whenever Roberto Duran was on TV I would try to find time to watch him. Even in the 90s when he was fighting on the USA Network. He was such a clever technician. A true master of fisticuffs. Today I enjoy watching Mikey Garcia. He’s a real throwback to yesterday’s boxers. I respect the fact that he is willing to meet the talented and bigger Errol Spence Jr. A supreme challenge. Like Duran, Arguello, Basilio, Olivares, etc…Mikey is ready to take on the very best.

RUSS ANBER — trainer, elite cornerman, and owner of Rival Boxing Equipment: The one name that popped into my head above all others was Danny “Little Red” Lopez. I believe I watched every fight he had on mainstream television, and was thrilled every time. I also remember how heartbroken I was when he lost to the great Salvador Sanchez. I loved Little Red!

MATT ANDRZEJEWSKI — TSS boxing writer: In the past it was Arturo Gatti. What can I say about Gatti that has not already been said? His fights were almost always fan friendly, high contact affairs with plenty of drama. Even his tune-up fights, like the one against Calvin Grove in 1997, turned out to be wars. Today, it is Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. He sure is exciting to watch. Just comes forward, abandoning defense, and only thinking about landing his own shots. Like Gatti, even Sor Rungvisai’s tune-up fights turn out to be exciting.

DAVID AVILATSS West Coast Bureau Chief: In the past Muhammad Ali was that fighter I would plan ahead to make time to watch. Even when he was suspended I read about anything he had to say. When he returned to boxing against Jerry Quarry, I celebrated. Today, I would say Canelo Alvarez. I saw his first fight in America and I’m amazed at his career.

BOB BENOIT — former pro fighter and current referee: Archie Moore was my favorite to look forward to in the past.  Presently, I don’t have one.

JOE BRUNO — former New York City sportswriter; prolific author: I would wait in anticipation to see any Joe Frazier fight. He gave it his all and never cheated the public. Same with Arturo Gatti. As for today, nobody comes to mind. Most of the potential great fighters are now fighting MMA which, to me, is unwatchable.

STEVE CANTONauthor and President of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame: I don’t think that I can say that there was just one fighter I looked forward to seeing on week-end TV. Growing up, I always looked forward to the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports Friday Night Fights with Don Dunphy. The fighters who appeared regularly were always a treat to watch, like Emile Griffith, Gaspar Ortega, Chico Vejar, Vince Martinez, Luis Rodriguez, Dick Tiger, Carlos Ortiz, Joe Brown, etc. etc. etc.

CHARLIE DWYERformer professional referee and member of U.S. Marine Corps Boxing Hall of Fame: Micky Ward. Win, lose or draw it was going to be a good one to watch. Today, Gennady Golovkin, a disciplined, consistent, no-nonsense fighter.

STEVE FARHOOD — Showtime announcer, former editor of The Ring magazine and 2017 IBHOF inductee: In the days of weekend network TV, the fighter I most looked forward to seeing in action was Matthew Saad Muhammad. Fortunately, he fought often in Atlantic City, so I was usually able to attend his fights. I was never surprised by the twists and turns in Saad’s fights; after half a dozen times, I came to expect them. He was thrilling–and at a very high level. And I’d put Marvin Johnson up there, too, largely because he twice fought Saad. Today, that fighter would be John Molina. While Molina is, of course, defensively weak, and hasn’t proven to be championship caliber, his fights have been as consistently entertaining–and as consistently unpredictable–as those of any fighter you can name. He may not lead the league in home runs, but nobody has hit more eight-run homers than Molina.

BERNARD FERNANDEZ — TSS mainstay and lifetime Member of the BWAA:  As a grade-school kid, I put Carmen Basilio right up there with my other sports heroes, Billy Cannon (LSU’s only Heisman Trophy winner), Bob Pettit (the NBA great and also an LSU product) and Stan Musial, who had nothing at all to do with LSU. The “Upstate Onion Farmer” was my dad’s favorite fighter, so he became mine, but I probably would have liked him anyway because he was in The Ring’s Fight of the Year five years running, from 1955-59. Later on, I was drawn to Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard, who were so alike in some ways and so different in others.

Now? I admit to having a natural affinity for Regis Prograis, partly because he is a native New Orleanian, as I am, but also because he’s an action fighter with a big punch. Other southpaws whose bouts I never want to miss are Errol Spence Jr. and, of course, Vasiliy Lomachenko, who does stuff like nobody else can.

JEFFREY FREEMAN (aka KO Digest) — TSS boxing writer: Mike Tyson was my weekend warrior back in the good old days of cable television. I’d plan my busy work schedule around Tyson’s fights, always requesting those Saturday nights off. These days, I’m most excited about Anthony Joshua’s world heavyweight title bouts. With the DAZN app loaded onto my iPhone, I never have to miss any AJ action even if I’m at a wedding in Provincetown, Massachusetts like I was when he knocked out Alexander Povetkin. Joshua’s fights are global events and I will go out of my way not to miss the flagship fighter of boxing’s resurgent flagship division.

RANDY GORDON — writer, editor, radio show host and former head of the New York State Athletic Commission: When I was in college, Joe Frazier was the man! Today, I can’t get enough of Vasiliy Lomachenko, Regis Prograis and Deontay Wilder (I just can’t pick one!).

LEE GROVES – author, writer and Wizard of CompuBox: When I first began watching boxing, the fighter I looked most forward to seeing was Danny “Little Red” Lopez because he was an incredibly exciting fighter who often had to overcome adversity before securing victory. I also admired his humility and sportsmanship, assets that stood in contrast to the destruction he had just completed inside the ring. I soon learned that was the case for many big hitters, but he was among the first I saw that demonstrated that dynamic. As for today, I can only speak as a punch-counter, so, in that vein, I look forward to counting Leo Santa Cruz because he throws a lot of punches and those punches are easy for me to see and discern. Also, because he maintains his rhythm, it makes it easier for me to maintain my rhythm.

HENRY HASCUP – historian; President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame:  That’s a tough one. I know most people would say Tyson or Pacquiao and I would agree with them, but I also liked Matthew Saad Muhammad and Arturo Gatti. They didn’t win all the time but they sure gave us our money’s worth. Regarding today, I have several but none gives me the excitement of the ones I listed above!  I love watching guys like Crawford, Spence, Alvarez,  Lomachenko, Triple G, and the Garcias, but I just can’t pick just one!

JACK HIRSCH– former President and now lifetime member of the BWAA: There is no one particular fighter I can name. If absolutely forced to, I would say Ali and Frazier for the great drama they gave to the heavyweight division in the 60’s and 70’s.

BRUCE KIELTY — boxing matchmaker, manager, and historian: Whether you liked him or hated him, Mike Tyson had the type of menacing charisma that compelled you to watch. Apparently many people felt the same way because it was once reported that Mike was responsible for 30% of HBO subscribers. Today, Errol Spence captures my attention. He has consistent excellence and poise beyond his years. More importantly, he carries himself with class, unlike so many of boxing’s ignorant buffoons.

STUART KIRSCHENBAUM – boxing commissioner emeritus, State of Michigan: Thomas Hearns fighting on national TV would have me and all of Motown watching. Without so many networks having boxing you do not have the same fan base until they reach Pay Per View, so I haven’t felt that same anticipation in years. Even a Floyd Mayweather fight you would have to mortgage your house to watch…then it would be like eating Chinese food. One hour after the fight you would feel hungry again for some action.

 JIM LAMPLEY– linchpin of the HBO announcing team; 2015 IBHOF inductee: In my youth, long before I could have envisioned working in boxing media, it was of course Muhammad Ali. Once I arrived in the sport, 1986, it was of course Mike Tyson. And regardless of recent results, among the current crop of great fighters, there are a flock of them but if you force me to choose one it is Triple G. “Big Drama Show” still applies. But as I hope my work demonstrated, for the most part I loved and appreciated them all. Collectively, they taught me about life. Their instruction in that regard is irreplaceable for me.

ARNE LANG — TSS editor-in-chief, author, historian: I really can’t think of any fighters who were “must-see TV” for me other than those I knew personally. But I became smitten with the stumpy Avtandil Khurtsidze while watching him dismantle Antoine Douglas and was very much looking forward to seeing Khurtsidze fight Billy Joe Saunders. That would have been a great style matchup. Unfortunately, Khurtsidze got swept up by U.S. federal prosecutors in a sweep of the Russian Mafia and it’s likely we will never see him again.

RON LIPTON — former fighter, retired police officer, pro referee: Back in the early 60’s after seeing Rubin Carter knock out Florentino Fernandez and Emile Griffith in one round each, he was the one I looked forward to seeing in his next fight on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports the most. Then it became Ali and Mike Tyson that generated the most anticipation for me. As to today, I have to pass on that one as an active referee.

ADEYINKA MAKINDEUK barrister, author, and contributor to the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Boxing: I always looked forward to watching Hogan Jimoh, a lightweight, and Eddie Ndukwu, a featherweight, on Nigerian TV in the late 1970’s. They were the best that Nigeria could offer in the post-Dick Tiger era and attracted sizeable crowds to the National Stadium. As for today, I can’t pick one fighter as it invariably depends on the quality of opposition they are facing. So it could be the exceedingly skillful Terence Crawford one week or the very resourceful Oleksandr Usyk on the other.

JOE PASQUALE — elite boxing judge:  I can only respond to the question as it pertains to retired boxers to avoid any conflict of interest perceptions on fighters I may be judging in the future. That said, Sugar Ray Leonard in his prime probably stands out as the one fighter I looked forward to watching on TV. His boxing IQ combined with his explosive abilities, heart and charisma always made Leonard a fighter full of intrigue for me. I am still thrilled when I watch the videos of his bouts.

J. RUSSELL PELTZ — venerable Philadelphia boxing promoter and 2004 IBHOF inductee: As a kid, Dick Tiger because there always was a chance for a knockout.  Also Sonny Liston but when I began watching late in 1959 I only saw him once with Eddie Machen. Henry Hank also was a pleasure due to his style. Emile Griffith because of his great back and shoulders. Also, Bennie Briscoe. Today, no one gets my juices going. Wilder is interesting because he can crack you at any moment in the fight.

CLIFF ROLD — boxing writer; founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board: Mike Tyson in the past, today Naoya Inoue.

FRED ROMANO — author and former ESPN researcher:  There were so many great weekend warriors from the late seventies into the 90s. I particularly looked forward to the Mancini fights, such as those against Arguello, Frias and Espana. You were always guaranteed to get a good action fight. Today, I enjoy watching Lomachenko for his unique style and excellent technique and skill. If Tuesdays were included, my throwback choice would be Foreman and his comeback fights on the USA Network.

LEE SAMUELS — Top Rank publicist and 2019 IBHOF Inductee: Years ago seeing Muhammad Ali in action was awesome – a tremendous all-action bigger-than -life champion. As a writer with the Philadelphia Bulletin we covered two of Ali’s fights – his first fight with Leon Spinks, then in his finale against Trevor Berbick. Ali was a dynamic athlete, full of life and mischief in media rooms and always had something unique to say about his opponents. As far as today’s champions, Bob Arum said it best when he noted “Vasiliy  Lomachenko reminds me of Muhammad  Ali.” Loma, the greatest amateur of our time, is an unpredictable force who attacks from a variety of angles and is unquestionably the most exciting athlete in the ring today. Which brings us to Terence Crawford who amazingly takes time, rhythm and space to figure out his challenger and – while facing hard punching – finds a route to where he can take out his opponent in spectacular fashion. He is a must-see champion in the game of boxing right now.”

 ICEMAN JOHN SCULLY — former boxer; manager, trainer, TV commentator, writer, historian: When I was coming up as a kid watching weekend TV fights I never missed an Aaron Pryor fight. I remember him getting knocked down once and before the referee could even start an eight count he had done sort of a somersault while on the canvas and lifted himself off the canvas and started punching at his opponent before the guy could even get his hands back up. Never missed his fights after that.

Today I’m not as drawn to as many guys because they aren’t as visible as they were back when the three major networks along with USA and ESPN were showing fights on a weekly basis but I’d say in terms of action and watching someone who you know is going to produce or at least try as hard as he can to produce some fireworks every time he steps in there, Id’ say that Deontay Wilder is a must-watch type of guy.

 TED SARES — TSS writer: In the past it was Bobby Chacon. I watched him fight Olivares, Little Red, then two with Boza Edwards and three with Limon. It was scotch and cigar time each time. Today, it’s a tie between Loma simply because he does things I have never seen before, and Wilder because the concussive end can come at any time in the fight.

PETER SILKOV — boxing writer: In the past, (80s/90s) there was a whole host of fighters who would make me look forward to Friday and Saturdays, unfortunately, that isn’t the case now. If I had to pick one fighter from recent years who I have followed avidly it would be Roman Gonzalez, closely followed by GGG and Kovalev. Unfortunately, all three now seem to be at the end of their careers. If I had to pick a fighter for right now it would be Usyk, followed by Tyson Fury.

ALAN SWYER — filmmaker, writer, and producer of the acclaimed El Boxeo: As a very young kid, I couldn’t wait to see Sugar Ray Robinson, especially when he was scheduled to fight Basilio. Today, the guy I most look forward to seeing is Terence Crawford. For an in-depth interview with Alan Swyer about “El Boxeo” please CLICK HERE

GARY “DIGITAL” WILLIAMS –the voice of “Boxing on the Beltway”:  For me in the 80’s, it was Hector “Macho” Camacho. It was a lot of fun watching him during that time. He seemed to be a very cool character and someone fresh for that time.

BEAU WILLIFORD – former trainer and manager and Mr. Boxing in Louisiana’s Cajun Country: When I was a very young boy, my father took me to Lee Field House at Fort Bragg to see Rocky Marciano vs. Archie Moore. I became a huge fan of both. My favorite weekend boxer was Gaspar Ortega. Today I get excited when “Canelo” Alvarez is boxing.

 PETER WOOD — former boxer and author of several books including The Boy Who Hit Back — There was once a wild heavyweight–a large human-shaped piece of muscle. He was dripping in id and marinated in pure ego. He was the only fighter who bested Muhammad Ali in a pre-fight press conference, calling Ali a “chicken…cheep! cheep! cheep!” and “a black kangaroo”. He was the only fighter who was ever able to knock Joe Frazier down twice in one round. He was the only fighter to be disqualified in the Pan-American Games for biting Lee Carr’s shoulder, and the only fighter to be shot dead at the Mustang whorehouse in Nevada–Oscar Bonavena. RIP … Today? Tyson Fury is an interesting character. He is cut out of the same maniacal cloth–id and ego.

Observations:

A very wide range of answers with Ali, Frazier, and Tyson being mentioned the most. As for today, Lomachenko, Spence, Crawford and Wilder get the nod but not by much.

Peter Wood’s contribution was especially enjoyable because it reflected his special way of writing. And Jim Lampley’s was as poignant as they get.

Many thanks to all the contributors.

P.S. How about you? Is there one particular fighter — past or present – who has you waiting for Saturday with bated breath?

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and Strongman competitors. He is a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA).

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3 Punch Combo: Scoping Out Teofimo vs Nakatani, Ajagba vs Demirezen and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — Boxing on ESPN+ returns this Friday with a card from the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, MD headlined by the fast-rising lightweight sensation Teofimo Lopez (13-0, 11 KO’s). Lopez will be facing the undefeated Masayoshi Nakatani (18-0, 12 KO’s) of Japan in a final IBF eliminator to become the mandatory challenger for champion Richard Commey (29-2, 26 KO’s). While Lopez is a known commodity to most boxing fans, the same cannot be said of Nakatani. So just who is this unheralded fighter from Japan and does he pose any threat to Lopez?

Nakatani, 30, turned pro in 2011 after an amateur career that by most accounts consisted of somewhere between 50 and 60 bouts. As a pro, he has never fought more than three times a year and never outside of Japan, but by managing to stay undefeated he has crept into the Top 15 rankings of three of the four major sanctioning bodies in the lightweight division.

Looking closer Nakatani’s resume, the overall level of his competition is highly questionable.  Probably his best win was in his eighth pro fight when he won a 12-round unanimous decision against Ricky Sismundo. Sismundo has sprung some surprises in the past and as a matter of fact gave undefeated rising contender Maxim Dadashev a scare earlier this year, but this is the same Ricky Sismundo who was defeated by Ruslan Madiyev last week in California, bringing his record to 35-14-3.

Other than Sismundo, the names on Nakatani’s resume are hardly recognizable.

Nakatani, an orthodox fighter, is tall for the lightweight division standing nearly six feet in height. As such, he likes to work behind the left jab. However, that jab is not very sharp or powerful, but used as more of a range finder and to set up his right hand. Sometimes he will follow the right with a left hook but his primary offense is the left jab followed by the right.

Nakatani is not that athletic or quick inside the ring. His hand speed is below average for the division. He is also not a powerful or heavy handed puncher. The knockouts are more from his level of competition than anything else.

Here are a few other notes on Nakatani based on my observations: He does not like to fight on the inside and will initiate clinches when his opponent closes the distance. And he has a habit of trying to avoid punches with his legs, often times pulling straight back with his hands down. He has gotten clipped quite a few times but fortunately for him those fighters that have done so have not possessed big punching power.

I actually do think Nakatani is the strongest opponent for Lopez to date. That being said, however, I do not think he will give Lopez much trouble. Teofimo may get frustrated some by Nakatani’s constant clinching on the inside, and he may get hit with a few range finding jabs, but expect another Lopez knockout here sometime in the first half of the fight.

Under The Radar Fight

The attention of the boxing world this week is going to be focused on the big welterweight pay-per-view title fight between Manny Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KO’s) and Keith Thurman (29-0, 22 KO’s). Also on the show is an intriguing heavyweight fight that is falling deep under the radar between a pair of 2016 Olympians in Efe Ajagba (10-0, 9 KO’s) and Ali Eren Demirezen (11-0, 10 KO’s).

Ajagba, 25, represented his native country of Nigeria in the Super Heavyweight division of the 2016 Olympics where he lost to Ivan Dychko in the quarterfinals. Since turning pro, he has really turned heads, building a reputation as a fearsome puncher.

Ajagba is a big imposing heavyweight. He stands 6’5” tall and possesses a massive 85-inch reach. Best described as an aggressive boxer puncher, he will press the action, often times behind a very stiff and powerful left jab from the orthodox stance. Very athletic for a man his size, he possesses above average hand speed for the heavyweight division. His best trait is his power; he possesses legitimate one punch knockout power in both fists. The natural tools are all there for Ajagba to potentially one day be a dominant force in the division.

But there are things Ajagba needs to work on, namely his defense. Right now, he lacks any sort of head movement and often poses in front of his opponents after punching them to admire his work. He hasn’t paid yet for his lack of attention to defense but that may change as his competition rises.

Demirezen, 29, represented Turkey in the Super Heavyweight division of the 2016 Olympics where he lost to Filip Hrgovic in his opening fight. Since turning pro he hasn’t had much fanfare, but has amassed quite an impressive early pro record while fighting mostly in Germany.

Though he may not have the imposing physique of Ajagba, Demirezen possesses some solid skills as well as some surprising athleticism. As a matter of fact, I’d go so far as to call him a poor man’s version of Andy Ruiz Jr.

Demirezen will look to apply pressure behind the left jab and work combinations with his quick hands behind that jab. He does not really possess one-punch power but is heavy handed and his punches can take a cumulative effect on his opponents. His best punch is a quick left hook to the body that he often lands with precision.

If physiques won a boxing match, this would be no contest. But as we saw with Joshua-Ruiz, physiques don’t always win. Ajagba will be favored and rightfully so, but Demirezen can fight. This is an interesting fight between two undefeated heavyweight prospects who were recent Olympians and one that I am very much looking forward to on Saturday.

Prospect Watch – Luis Arcon

 There is a lot that gets me excited about the future of the sport. Not only is the sport being broadcast like it never has before but we have many good prospects who are beaming with talent. So many good prospects, as a matter of fact, that some very talented young fighters are falling a bit under the radar. One such fighter is junior welterweight Luis Arcon who moved to 8-0 with 8 knockouts this past Friday with a third-round knockout of Mario Lozano.

Like many of today’s top prospects, Arcon has a strong amateur pedigree. His amateur background includes representing his native country of Venezuela in the 2016 Olympics.

Arcon, 27, turned pro in March of 2018 in Mexico. So far he has breezed through his competition though it must be noted that he hasn’t faced the toughest of challenges. But he has looked very good so far in his early pro career and has been flashing some incredible talent.

Fighting from the orthodox stance, Arcon likes to work behind a well-timed and very powerful left jab. His footwork is excellent and he often positions himself at the right angles to land combinations behind that jab. He possesses very fast hands and can often fire off a volley of power shots before his opponent can react.

And then there is the power. Perhaps this is what stands out most when watching Arcon on video. Granted, as noted earlier, the competition has not been the stiffest, but he has displayed devastating knockout power in both fists. His best punch is the left hook to the body which often has a paralyzing effect on his opposition.

With his amateur background, Arcon is ready to take the next step in his career. His game is polished and he possesses massive power in both of his hands. He belongs on all top prospect lists and has a bright future in this sport.

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R.I.P. Pernell ‘Sweet Pea’ Whitaker, One of the All-Time Greats

Arne K. Lang

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Tributes are pouring in for Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker who was killed last night (Sunday, July14) after being struck by a car while walking across a busy intersection in Virginia Beach, Virginia. An Olympic gold medalist who won six world titles in four weight classes,  Whitaker was a defensive wizard. At his peak he was considered the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. In 2002, The Ring magazine named him the 10th best boxer of the last 80 years.

Whitaker, who turned 55 in January, turned pro in 1984 at Madison Square Garden on a show that included five of his U.S. Olympic teammates – Evander Holyfield, Mark Breland, Meldrick Taylor, Tyrell Biggs, and Virgil Hill.

As a pro, Whitaker was managed by Main Events, a Duva family company, and did most of his training in Philadelphia under the watchful eye of George Benton. In his 17th pro fight, Pernell ventured to Paris to challenge WBC lightweight champion Jose Luis Ramirez who was 100-6 going in. Whitaker came up short on the scorecards, losing a split decision.

This ranked among the worst decisions in boxing history. Whitaker’s chief second Lou Duva accused WBC president Jose Sulaiman of fixing the fight so as not to spoil an all-Mexico showdown between Ramirez and Julio Cesar Chavez.

Two fights later, Whitaker won his first title, taking the IBF lightweight belt from Greg Haugen. Pernell won all 12 rounds on two of the cards. He added the WBC belt in a rematch with Jose Luis Ramirez, winning a wide decision, and added the WBA belt with a first-round stoppage of Puerto Rico’s Juan Nazario in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

Between his first fight with Ramirez and his April 4, 1997 encounter with Oscar De La Hoya in Las Vegas, Whitaker was undefeated, a span of almost 10 years consisting of 26 fights. During this run he won world titles at 140 and 154 pounds before dropping back to welterweight for four successful title defenses.

There was one “blemish” late in this 26-fight run, a draw at the San Antonio Alamodome with Julio Cesar Chavez. This was also controversial. The post-fight report by William Nack was the cover story in Sports Illustrated. The headline was “Robbed!”

Sweet Pea lost a unanimous decision to De La Hoya that most ringsiders thought was a lot closer than what was reflected by the scorecards (DLH won by margins of 4, 6, and 6 points). A poll of 26 ringside reporters by the Las Vegas Review Journal revealed that 14 scored it for Whitaker with one having it a draw.

Six months after his bout with De La Hoya, Whitaker opposed Andrey Pestryaev at Foxwood’s Resort in Connecticut. He won a unanimous decision but wasn’t himself. A post-fight urine test revealed the presence of cocaine. That dictated a six-month suspension during which he failed a random drug test. He wouldn’t step back into the ring until Feb. 20, 1999, when he opposed IBF welterweight champion Felix Trinidad at Madison Square Garden.

This would the first fight in Whitaker’s remarkable career that he lost without controversy. Trinidad broke Pernell’s jaw during the bout and retained his title with a clear-cut unanimous decision.

Whitaker retired, but launched a comeback 26 months later with a fight in Lake Tahoe against Mexican journeyman Carlos Bojorquez. In this fight, Whitaker suffered a fractured clavicle in the second round. He soldiered on, but 27 seconds into the fourth, seeing that Whitaker was a one-armed fighter in considerable pain, referee Joe Cortez pulled the plug. This would be the final fight of his career. He left with a record of 40-4-1 and 1 “NC” (the Pestryaev contest).

Less than 48 hours later, back home in Norfolk, Virginia, Whitaker was rushed to the hospital with an apparent overdose. His girlfriend called 911 after finding him having a seizure on the floor of the bathroom, his body covered in sweat.

Sweet Pea, who worked as a boxing and personal trainer in retirement, appeared to have it all together back in June of 2007 when he was formally inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. His emotional speech was the highlight of the induction ceremony. But in 2014 he was back in the news again when he was forced to evict his 73-year-old mother from the home she had occupied for 30 years. He said that he could no longer afford to maintain the home which he had always kept in his name. The United Press wire story said that Whitaker had squandered millions on drugs and legal expenses.

The man that struck Whitaker with his vehicle remained on the scene. Preliminary reports indicate that the driver was not impaired in any way. We here at The Sweet Science extend our condolences to Whitaker’s family and loved ones.

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The Battle of Wits Between Roach and Birmingham May Decide PacMan vs. Thurman

Bernard Fernandez

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The Battle of Wits Between Roach and Birmingham May Decide PacMan vs. Thurman

It is the boxers who are the center of attention, of course, and that is how it always has been and always should be. But there are a select few high-visibility bouts in which the lead trainers play a more significant role than usual, so much so that their prefight and in-fight strategizing could make the difference between victory and defeat for their guy.

Although it isn’t an undercard attraction in its own right, a mental scrap worth monitoring pits Freddie Roach, Manny Pacquiao’s longtime strategist and a seven-time winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America Eddie Futch Award as Trainer of the Year, against Dan Birmingham, a two-time BWAA Futch winner whose status as one of the elite trainers has dimmed somewhat over the past decade and a half. But the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Birmingham’s reputation could be buffed and polished to its former sheen should Keith “One Time” Thurman win as spectacularly as he has vowed to do on July 20.

The matchup of Pacquiao vs. Thurman might turn out to be just such a fight in which a spotlight, for better or worse, is shone upon the handiwork of the trainers. Those in attendance in Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena won’t able to hear their spoken instructions between rounds, but subscribers to the PBC on Fox Sports Pay Per View telecast should pay close attention to what takes place in those vital one-minute interludes when all the preparation that went before is either working as planned, or is undergoing a hurried rewrite on the fly. Seemingly unlikely victories have been procured, more often than casual observers of the sweet science might realize, because the chief second offers just the right bit of tactical advice or just the right inspirational message at precisely the right moment.

The prevailing story lines before the first punch that counts is thrown have been fairly standard stuff: Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KOs), the living legend and only world champion in eight separate weight classes, attempting to extend the outer limits of his prime at the improbable age of 40, and Thurman (29-0, 22 KOs), the WBA welterweight champion and 10 years Pacquiao’s junior, out to demonstrate that injuries and two-plus years of near-total inactivity haven’t done to him what the natural laws of diminishing returns might or might not have done to the Fab Filipino.

If there were sports books odds dealing with the corner battle involving Roach and Birmingham, Roach, a disciple of the late, great Eddie Futch who has had Pacquiao’s ear for their 16 years together, with the exception of a one-bout absence, almost certainly would be as much a favorite as Mike Tyson was over Buster Douglas or Anthony Joshua over Andy Ruiz Jr. Roach, 59, doesn’t need to make a case for his future induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame as he already has been enshrined, in 2012. Should Pacquiao demonstrate that he is still an elite fighter of the here and now instead of a cherished but faded icon of the past, Roach could take a step toward an almost-unimaginable eighth Futch Award.

And Birmingham?

Like Roach, a former lightweight who posted a 40-13 record with 15 knockouts in a professional career that spanned from 1978 to ’86, Birmingham is a life-long devotee to a sport that got under his skin at an early age and took permanent root. Unlike Roach, who at one point was 25-2 and world-rated under the tutelage of the sainted Futch, Birmingham, 68, never even sipped the proverbial cup of coffee as a pro. He began boxing at 15, weighing all of 112 pounds, in his gritty hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, until he decided that sun and surf were preferable to soot and rust, necessitating a relocation to more pleasant environs along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

There are other differences between Roach and Birmingham, both subtle and stark. As a devotee to Futch, Roach was always in relatively close proximity to the old master’s retinue of stars and hot prospects, laying the groundwork for Roach to begin his own career as a trainer, if not exactly at the top, then at least a ways removed from the bottom. Birmingham, whose other passion besides boxing is rock ’n’ roll – he describes himself as a “guitar-playing 1960s hippie who was at Woodstock” – also had a mentor in Ben Getty, Thurman’s original coach, who took the Ohio transplant on as an assistant trainer to Thurman, then a youthful prodigy.

And while Roach has long since established his bona fides apart from Futch, who was 90 when he passed away on Oct. 10, 2001, to some it might appear that Birmingham is still playing the role of understudy to Getty, who was 63 when he died unexpectedly in 2009.

Thurman was a seven-year-old kid with no discernible purpose in life when he came into contact with Getty, a former serviceman whose post-military life had been unceremoniously reduced to that of a janitor at a Clearwater elementary school. It was Getty who brought Thurman to his after-school YMCA boxing program, where he learned – and loved – to shadowbox, jump rope and spar. It was like the boxing version of Luke Skywalker mastering nuances of The Force under Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda.

“Ben Getty was a very special man,” Thurman said in 2015.  “He was the one who taught me to go for the KO. He used to say this line that pissed me off a lot. I don’t know if he said it to piss me off, or if he just said it because he never wanted me to forget. But he used to say, `You are nothing without your power.’ It took me a long time to understand what that really meant.

“To me at first it was real basic. I took it as telling me I can’t box. Maybe to a degree he did mean that, but throughout the years as I reflect, I think he just never wanted me to forget how important my power is, and how my power has the ability to change the outcome of a fight.”

Getty’s sudden death left a still-developing Thurman at a career crossroads. Shelly Finkel, manager of or adviser to some of boxing’s greatest champions and biggest draws, recommended that Thurman turn himself over to Roach, whose Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles had become a preferred destination for fighters such as himself, brimming with potential yet to be maximized. Thurman politely declined, choosing instead to remain on home turf and with Getty’s right-hand man, Birmingham, who might have been better known at that time than Getty thanks to those two Futch Awards. Thurman continues to publicly revere Getty, wearing trunks with “Ben” stitched across the waistband. You might think that Birmingham takes at least some umbrage to that, but he insists it isn’t so.

“It hasn’t been uncomfortable at all,” Birmingham said of his station as a sort of ersatz Getty, as far as Thurman is concerned. “Ben Getty and I were very close friends. I gave him the keys to my gym so he and Keith could come and go as they pleased. When Ben passed away, just a couple of days later Keith came to me and asked, `Would you take over?’ I said, `Absolutely.’

“Keith’s history with Ben makes my job a lot easier. I don’t have to teach him any basics, that’s for sure. We just analyze the opponent, see what we need to do on fight night to win, and I train him that way. Pacquiao is a diverse fighter. He’s got quick hands, quick feet and he’s a good boxer. He’s fairly unpredictable.”

Not so Thurman, who apparently is holding firm to Getty’s sacred mandate that punching power must remain his No. 1 priority. He has predicted that Pacquiao will go down inside of six rounds, which might be easier said than done even against a Manny who no longer is at peak form.

Make no mistake, though, Birmingham should not be considered a Getty clone that has slavishly adhered to every verse from the Gospel of Ben. In 2004 and 2005, the years he won his Futch Awards, Birmingham was boxing’s tastiest flavor of the moment. His charge Ronald “Winky” Wright, who was inducted into the IBHOF in 2018, outpointed Shane Mosley in a super welterweight unification showdown on March 13, 2004, and followed that up with another points nod over Mosley the same year. In 2005, Wright turned in a career-best performance, utterly dominating Felix Trinidad en route to a one-sided decision, to which he added another UD12 over veteran Sam Soliman.

While Birmingham primarily was recognized for his work with Wright, he augmented his rising profile by taking a lesser talent, 2000 U.S. Olympian, Jeff “Left Hook” Lacy, to the IBF super middleweight title in 2004. Lacy won four times in those two years, three coming inside the distance.

It should be noted that Wright, a clever southpaw who was never known for his ability to get opponents out of there with one shot or even a semi-fusillade of them, was far different stylistically than is Thurman. It therefore seems reasonable to assume that this updated version of Dan Birmingham is no more an exact duplicate of Ben Getty than Freddie Roach is of Eddie Futch.

There are different methods by which a trainer gets his fighter to rise to the occasion when the stage is most brightly lit. Angelo Dundee, Lou Duva and Richie Giachetti, all regrettably gone, embodied the motivational techniques favored by excitable men of Italian heritage. Who can forget Dundee, in maybe the signature moment of his remarkable career, forcefully telling Sugar Ray Leonard, “You’re blowing it, son!”  after the 12th round of his epic welterweight unification matchup with Thomas Hearns on Sept. 16, 1981. An energized Leonard, his eyes swollen and behind on the scorecards, responded by flooring the Hit Man in the 13th round and stopping him in the 14th.

Futch and George Benton, also regrettably gone, were more professorial in their demeanor, rarely raising their voices and disinclined to resort to rah-rah stuff. If Thurman, who has a Nepalese wife and has walked the Himalayas in a quest to find some measure of inner serenity, were to seek out some ancient and wise soothsayer he could do worse than to come across some Tibetan version of a Futch or Benton.

So pay keen attention to the 60-second breaks between rounds when Roach – who, it should be noted, is listed as Pacquiao’s co-trainer, in addition to Manny’s friend and associate Buboy Fernandez – and Birmingham dispense their abbreviated instructions. Whoever wins those small battles of the brain might determine who wins the larger conflict inside the ropes.

Photo credit: Andy Samuelson / Premier Boxing Champions

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