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The Avila Perspective Chap. 30: A Day in L.A., Plant, Pacquiao, and More

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L.A.

Every time it rains in L.A. I think about the Doors song “Riders in the Storm.”

On Sunday a brief window of dryness blanketed as I drove to downtown L.A. on freeways that were slightly emptier than normal with the L.A. Chargers playing the New England Patriots. I guess some people stayed home to watch it.

Freeway traffic plays a big part in any Californian’s life. But it’s rare that a boxing event is held on a Sunday. My destination that day was LA Live across the street from the Staples Center.

LA Live has a skating rink in the middle of the courtyard and people were milling around an hour before the boxing card was to begin at Microsoft Theater. The theater is a swanky building across the skating rink from the ESPN structure.

A guy resembling my nephew Giovanni is talking to a few people next to the Starbucks. As I walk closer the person is gone. Later, I would see that the same kid resembling my nephew is actually fighting on the large boxing card. About a dozen fights are listed on the boxing bout sheet.

The Microsoft Theater has gone through a name change since it was first opened in 2007. It used to be called the Nokia Theater. The large theater hosts the ESPYs, EMMYs, Grammys and American Music Awards. But it’s no stranger to boxing events. A few fight cards have been held in its confine.

Crowds gathered early for the Premier Boxing Champions boxing card and by 5 p.m. it filled up pretty good.

One of the earliest boxing champions to arrive as a viewer was Mikey Garcia with several other young boxers and their entourages. The four division world champ has a date with Errol Spence Jr. in a couple of months. Spence arrived to watch the LA fight card a little later.

Title Fight

The main event featured Caleb Plant challenging the dangerous IBF super middleweight titlist Jose Uzcategui.

Plant has always shown he had skills and athleticism inside the boxing ring. But you can have all the tools in the world and it doesn’t mean a thing. What it really comes down to is can you take a punch from a puncher? Uzcategui can punch.

The Tennessee native has a pretty hefty following and they were loud in support of the slick fighting Plant. During the first six rounds it was like watching a concert with girls standing and cheering. But when the tide turned and Uzcategui began finding the antidote for Plant’s slickness, the same crowd was deadly quiet.

Plant is an entertainer. He can’t help himself. But he’s a classy kind of guy and fans genuinely like him. He can also fight.

Despite an undefeated record Plant had never truly established he belonged on the A list. He has A list skills but had never beaten an elite fighter until Sunday. He beat a good one and fans were thoroughly engrossed.

After their entertaining bloody clash you would have thought the two warriors would be red hot with anger. But instead, the two were like old chums and gracious after their 12-round battle. It kind of reminded me of long ago when two late greats Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello battled twice in the early 1980s. Those two great warriors became great friends and propelled the sport of boxing to greater heights and awareness. Later, Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward did the same in the early 2000s. It’s the beauty of boxing.

In the locker room Plant told Uzcategui they ought to share some Modelos soon. That got a big laugh and hug from the Venezuelan fighter who trains in Mexico. There were no hard feelings, just a lot of bruises and cuts.

Super middleweights may be the new showcase division.

A few possible opponents were in the crowd including David Benavidez, the current WBC titlist. A match with Plant or even a rematch with Uzcategui would bring an even bigger crowd. The super middleweights are heating up. There’s a lot of talent now in the 168-pound division including James DeGale, Callum Smith and George Groves in the United Kingdom and Gilberto Ramirez of Mexico. Hey, it’s even possible to see Gennady “GGG” Golovkin in the super middleweight division if the money is right.

I can’t wait to see the next super middleweight world title matchup.

El Cholos

When the fight card was over we walked across Figueroa Avenue to the Mexican restaurant famous for its margaritas. El Cholos has been around since the 1920s and has expanded to almost a dozen eateries in Southern California. I wish they had one in Las Vegas which does not have a good sit down Mexican restaurant.

El Cholos has become a favorite destination for me following boxing cards in L.A. After the fights several boxing reporters joined me for dinner including Muhammad Mubarak, Anthony Saldana and his wife Cynthia Saldana, Nancy Rodriguez from Supreme Boxing and Daniel who works with them and others. Usually my good friends from the Japanese press join us and long-time photographer Al Applerose, but not on this occasion. Still, we spent a couple of hours there and even ran into an old friend, Liz Quevedo Parr. As an amateur fighter she dominated two divisions for Team USA and now owns a gym in Long Beach called Guv’Nors Boxing Club. She recently had a cover page write up in OC Weekly.

At El Cholos we talked about Plant, Spence, Garcia and Benavidez. We also talked about women’s boxing especially Maricela Cornejo who is managed by Nancy Rodriguez. Both have movie star looks. Cornejo will be fighting in about 12 days in Hollywood at the Avalon Theater. Another female we discussed is Kenia Enriquez who fights out of Tijuana, Mexico. She’s very good.

The Lakers were playing across the street and I expected a rush of fans following the game. But the Lakers lost that night so fans must have been disgruntled and left quickly to their respective homes. Rain was threatening too. We can’t drive in the rain.

Eating and drinking with other journalists is one of the joys of being a fight reporter. Who better to talk about boxing than people that actually know the sport? Only in L.A., New York or Philadelphia can you find plenty of fans that actually know boxing and its politics. Over the years I’ve met some truly knowledgeable fight fans throughout Southern California.

Pacman and Broner

We’re heading to Las Vegas on Thursday, first to see Layla McCarter headline a Mayweather Promotions card that night at the MGM Grand. Tickets are free and it’s a hefty boxing card featuring many fighters from Floyd Mayweather’s stable.

McCarter is the best female fighter in the world pound for pound. Nobody has beaten her in 11 years and she’s fought in numerous countries around the world. Do you know how hard that is to accomplish? Ask any fighter.

Friday is a weigh-in for the Showtime pay-per-view card and I’m curious to see how many fans show up.

It’s been a while since Manny Pacquiao last fought in Las Vegas. Back on November 2016 he battled Jessie Vargas at the Thomas & Mack Center. On Saturday, Pacquiao will face Adrien Broner for the WBA welterweight world title at the MGM Grand. Showtime will have it on pay-per-view.

Every time I see Pacquiao I remember first watching him at the Wild Card gym almost 20 years ago. Freddie Roach kept telling a few of us to watch out for the lefty Filipino kid. Right from the start he proved to be deadly accurate. Pacquiao, now 40, has exceeded all my expectations and out-lasted everyone from that era.

I remember years ago in 2003 talking outside on the parking lot of the Olympic Auditorium. It was still light outside on a summer night and Freddie saw me and a couple of reporters and walked up to talk about his first experience in the Philippines training Pacquiao. He was still overwhelmed by the experience. Later that night Pacquiao would obliterate Emmanuel Lucero in the third round with a vicious uppercut. Even though I knew Pacman was very good I would have never predicted his longevity in a sport that usually spits out good fighters in 10 years.

On Saturday we will see how much the Filipino super star still has left in his legs. Hopefully on the drive to Las Vegas it won’t rain or snow.

Photo credit: Luis Mejia / TCB Promotions

Fights to watch

Fri. 5 p.m. PT DAZN – Jorge Linares vs Pablo Cano; Amanda Serrano vs Eva Voraberger; Demetrius Andrade vs Artur Akavov.

Fri. 6:30 p.m. PT/9:30 PM ET ESPN* Bryant Jennings (24-2) vs Oscar Rivas (25-0).

Sat. 6 p.m. PT Showtime pay-per-view – Manny Pacquiao vs Adrien Broner; Badou Jack vs. Marcus Browne; Rau’shee Warren vs Nordine Oubaali; Jhack Tepora vs Hugo Ruiz.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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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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