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Did Jennings’ Loss Mark Arum’s Last Hope to Again Taste Heavyweight Glory?

Bernard Fernandez

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For someone who promotes two fighters who are widely considered to be the world’s pound-for-pound best, what took place Friday night at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, N.Y., had to be a somewhat bitter pill for Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum to swallow.

The good news for the 87-year-old Arum is that his fast-rising featherweight prospect Shakur Stevenson (10-0, 6 KOs), a silver medalist at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, took another long stride toward possible superstardom with an impressive fourth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jessie Cris Rosales (22-2-1, 10 KOs) in the co-featured bout televised via ESPN+.

But while Stevenson could become a world champion in the 126-pound weight class as early as 2020, the reality is that the highly skilled little lefthander is not and never will be a heavyweight. Neither will lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko or welterweight champion Terence Crawford, the current headliners of the Top Rank stable who already have outgrown a couple of lower-weight divisions but can never be heavyweights except in terms of their prodigious talent. Many knowledgable observers consider Lomachenko and Crawford, in whichever order, to be first and second among all fighters regardless of poundage, and certainly no worse than somewhere in the top three or four.

All of which means that the 12th-round technical knockout of Bryant “By-By” Jennings (24-3, 14 KOs) by underdog Oscar Rivas (26-0, 18 KOs) in the main event could eliminate any chance, however slim it might have been, of Arum having another heavyweight champion before he retires. Jennings, a relatively recent addition (in the summer of 2017) to the Top Rank stable who went in ranked No. 2 by the WBO, No. 7 by the WBA and No. 8 by the IBF, likely will fall out of the top 10 of all three sanctioning bodies. That might have been the case even had Jennings not fallen victim to Rivas’ final-round surge. Although it appeared to the ESPN+ broadcast crew that the Philadelphian should have been comfortably ahead on points, he was on the wrong end of two of the three judges’ scorecards and would have lost anyway if he somehow made it to the final bell.

Although Jennings  gave a credible account of himself in his only shot at a world title, losing a unanimous decision to IBF/WBA/WBO champion Wladimir Klitschko on April 25, 2015, his age is only one factor working against him now. There are simply too many hungry contenders standing between him and another shot at boxing’s biggest prize.

Prior to Jennings’ most recent bout before his meeting with Rivas, a ninth-round TKO of Russia’s Alexander Dimitrenko last Aug. 18 in Atlantic City, N.J., his trainer, John David Jackson, offered his opinion as to why the Top Rank honcho would ride the “By-By” train as far as it would go before it derailed.

“I think Bob wants one more heavyweight champion,” Jackson offered. “Yeah, he has a lot of great fighters, but if you have the heavyweight king, you rule boxing. It’s still the most prestigious and marketable division in the sport. That’s just how it works. And Bryant represents the last, best opportunity for Bob to get there before he retires.”

Arum, a former member of U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy’s Justice Department in the early 1960s, has been promoting boxing matches – more than 2,000, and counting — for 52 years, and while some of his greatest successes have come with fighters from featherweight to middleweight, his promotional debut involved a heavyweight who was the biggest of them all. Introduced to Muhammad Ali by football great Jim Brown, Arum started at the very top, staging Ali’s winning title defense against rugged Canadian George Chuvalo on March 29, 1966, at Toronto’s Maple Leafs Garden. He would go on to promote 26 Ali fights, his most with any heavyweight.

“I didn’t know boxing,” Arum once said of his almost-accidental introduction to what would become his life’s work. “I didn’t even really know about divisions other than heavyweight. I only knew there were heavyweights. Then people started contacting me about promoting fighters in other divisions and believe me, it was a good four or five years after I started with Ali.”

After Arum’s long and fruitful association with Ali ended, he continued to build his company by showcasing such celebrated non-heavyweights as Carlos Monzon, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Julio Cesar Chavez, James Toney, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Miguel Cotto and, of course, Lomachenko and Crawford. But Arum pined for another thrill ride with a heavyweight attraction as compelling as had been his heyday with Ali, or as close an approximation to that as possible.

He found it in the unlikely person of George Foreman, who had been retired for 10 years. Arum took a flier on the old and plump Foreman as his improbable comeback gathered momentum, although initially doubting that he and the presumably cheerier version of Big George would click.

“I was not enthusiastic, realizing what a horrid person he had been,” Arum said of his expectation that Foreman’s personality makeover was false and contrived. “After spending an hour with him I said, `This is the greatest con man in history,’ because he was so different from what he had been before. But it wasn’t a con. He had really changed.”

It was one of Arum’s, and Top Rank’s, grandest moments when the 45-year-old Foreman, far behind on points, regained the heavyweight title he had relinquished to Ali so many years earlier with a one-punch, bolt-from-the-blue 10th-round knockout of Michael Moorer on Nov. 11, 1994. But Foreman took a pounding in getting a gift nod over Axel Schulz in his next outing, and he retired again after losing a controversial majority decision to Shannon Briggs on Nov. 22, 1997. Arum’s dips into the heavyweight pool since then have been infrequent and generally less than satisfying. He has tried his hand to generate some of that old big-man magic with former champs Hasim Rahman and Ray Mercer, to no avail.

Top Rank’s relatively low-risk co-promotional signings of Jennings and then-WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker, who promptly lost his unification matchup with Anthony Joshua, again have failed to produce the desired results. Last month Arum worked out a co-promotional deal with the management of Bulgarian veteran Kubrat Pulev. More recently he inked a new heavyweight hope in Sonny Conto, a 22-year-old from South Philadelphia who was the silver medalist at the 2018 National Golden Gloves. The 6-foot-4 Conto, who turns pro against the ever-popular opponent to be named on Feb. 8, is being called “a superstar in the making” by his manager, David McWater, and maybe he might turn out to be just that. But it takes time for a newly minted pro to work his way up to champion or even contender status, and by the time Conto gets there – if he gets there at all – it is hardly a given that an already octogenarian Arum will be around to savor the moment.

Until then, we’ll all have to imagine what it might be like if there was a machine that could enlarge Lomachenko and Crawford by six or seven inches in height and a hundred pounds of heft.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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WBO Title-holder Emanuel Navarrete Defends at Banc of California Stadium

David A. Avila

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WBO Title-holder Emanuel Navarrete Defends at Banc of California Stadium

LOS ANGELES-World champions are gathering at a busy street corner of Los Angeles that has been the site of numerous heroic, villainous and emotional moments in the history of the second largest city in the USA.

Two full scale riots erupted and flamed out on that corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Figueroa Avenue in the 60s and 90s.

A presidential debate took place between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon on those same grounds when they were running in 1960.

NBA superstars Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan performed their magic on that corner too.

On Saturday, WBO super bantamweight titlist Emanuel Navarrete (27-1, 23 KOs) defends against Arizona’s Francisco De Vaca (20-0, 5 KOs) in the main event at the sparkling new Banc of California Stadium. ESPN will show the Top Rank fight card.

The stadium stands on the same location where the LA Memorial Sports Arena once stood proudly until it fell into disarray and was torn down several years back.

Sixty years ago, the first world championship boxing match was held on these same grounds and fans saw France’s Alphonse Halimi lose to Mexico’s Jose Becerra by fifth round knockout at the LA Memorial Sports Arena. Seven months later they fought again next door at the LA Coliseum and Becerra won by knockout again.

That was only the beginning, others like Muhammad Ali, Archie Moore, Sugar Ray Robinson, Bobby Chacon, Jerry Quarry, Danny “Lil Red” Lopez, Ruben Olivares, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Amir Khan all fought on those same grounds.

Imagine, when Navarrete (pictured above) rises from his corner to fight Phoenix’s De Vaca on Saturday, he will be continuing the ever-growing streak of civil and professional fights that took place on that same historic street corner.

WBO Super Bantamweight Title

Navarrete erupted on the fight scene like a ghost when he first defeated Isaac Dogboe last December at Madison Square Garden. It was supposed to be a Broadway opening for Dogboe, but instead turned into a horror story as those long arms of the Mexican fighter proved perplexing. The rematch was even more horrific for Dogboe.

Now the Mexico City fighter meets little known challenger De Vaca, who comes from an area that has recently been developing boxing talent in the desert city of Phoenix.

“The truth is that it doesn’t matter who is my opponent. I always prepare 100 percent for each of my fights, and this was no exception,” said Navarrete, 24, who is making his second defense of the WBO title. “We already did the hard work in the gym, and we are ready for a great fight. If De Vaca comes to fight hard, I am prepared to go even harder. I’m ready to give a great battle to all the fans.”

Can De Vaca do what Navarrete did to Dogboe last year?

“I wanted to fight for a world title since I was 5 years old, and now that we have the opportunity, we are going to make our dream come true this Saturday,” said De Vaca, 24, who fought once in Southern California back in 2016. “Come Saturday, there will be a new world champ for Phoenix and Michoacán. I’m coming for that world title.”

Co-Main

Former super bantamweight titlist Jessie Magdaleno (26-1, 18 KOs) meets Rafael Rivera (27-3-2, 18 KOs) in a featherweight match set for 10 rounds. After struggling to make the 122-pound super bantamweight limit, the Las Vegas southpaw now fights at 126 pounds. It’s made a difference.

“He’s a totally different person at 126 pounds,” said Frank Espinoza who manages Magdaleno. “Even the way he talks and thinks is different. Who would have thought four pounds would make such a difference.”

Magdaleno, the former WBO super bantamweight titlist, now meets Tijuana’s Rivera who never fails to provide high intensity fisticuffs.

“I don’t take none of these guys lightly. Every opponent is difficult. He’s fought great fighters. He’s been in there with great fighters and done a hell of a job. I can’t overlook him because he’s here to put on a great show as well,” said Magdaleno, 27. “He throws a lot of punches, and he’s quick. That’s what I am, and that’s what is going to make a hell of a fight for this fight card.”

Rivera fought featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz earlier this year. Though he lost by decision, he gained fans for his ferocity.

“I’ve been fighting against top-level fighters for a long time, so I feel confident and secure that whether it’s against a world champion or a former champion, I’ll put up a good fight,” said Rivera, 25. “Jessie is a good fighter. I’ve seen him fight before. He’s an aggressive fighter, but I’m just here to do my work.”

It’s a rather strong and lengthy fight card to baptize the new stadium into the world of prizefighting. Expect a lengthy line of fans on the same corner where many historic events have taken place.

Boxing has returned to the same street corner where legends like Ali, Sugar Ray, Quarry and Schoolboy Chacon previously performed. It’s a corner with many memories, both pleasant and notorious.

Photo credit: Hector De La Cruz

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Ruiz vs. Joshua: Enough is Enough; Let’s Get it On

Ted Sares

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Ruiz vs. Joshua: Enough is Enough; Let’s Get it On

In October of 1974, when Muhammad Ali was in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) to fight George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle,” the people cheered him as he trained on the roads. They backed off when Big George walked his menacing German Shepard. It was love vs. fear and fear never had a chance.

When Foreman hit the big bag, there was no “Night Train’ playing in the background; it just went “Thump, Thump Thump” and it was ominous.

As Jonathan Snowden wrote, “Far from the charming infomercial king who would later grow rich selling American electric grills bearing his name, this Foreman was hard to reach—a mystery not just to white sports writers of the time, but to his African hosts as well.”

He added, “Two African-American fighters were competing, for the first time, in the heart of Africa, under the watchful eye of military strong man Joseph Mobutu.” Mobutu guaranteed the combatants upfront money. His goal was to put his country on the global map.

Upon visiting Mobutu’s palace, Drew “Bundini” Brown said, “All my life I’ve been hearing about the White House, today I visited the Black House.”

Among other things, Mobutu was famous for corruption and nepotism while the people of Zaire suffered from poverty and human rights abuses.

Meanwhile Don King made his bones as a promoter and James Brown did his thing. An international press corps that included literary heavyweights George Plimpton and Norman Mailer enjoyed the scene. It was one big party. It was “When We Were Kings.” It was grand.

During the fight—one in which many feared for Ali’s life—Muhammed taunted with “Is that all you got, George?” In the end, Ali’s “rope-a-dope” strategy paid off. As Archie Moore related, “Ali had him thinking and worrying, and he wasted too much ammunition on Ali’s arms…And when George got tired against a skilled warrior like Ali, that was the beginning of the end.”

The end came in the eighth round when Ali knocked out a discouraged, depleted and tired Foreman. Let the celebrations begin. “Ali bomaye!”

The fact that this spectacular event took place in an edgy country with a reputation for corruptness did not amount to a hill of beans in the final analysis. After all, this was boxing.

Fast Forward

“We wanted to go somewhere that believed in the sport of boxing, which had a vision. We already knew Saudi Arabia was for real and knew they were investing in the sport of boxing. That was very important for us.” — Eddie Hearn

Now, like Mobutu, Saudi authorities will try to improve their image on human rights by hosting—or at least trying to host– the Anthony Joshua vs. Andy Ruiz rematch in what has been billed as the “Clash on the Dunes.” The event will unfold in Diriyah, a town on the outskirts of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capitol and largest city.

A brand-new term has entered the language to explain the actions of the Saudi authorities: “Sportswash.” If fact, that’s exactly what Mobutu did before the term was invented.

“If Saudi Arabia is going to invest in these fights, with the population they have, with the potential to grow the sport of boxing, you could be seeing a big change in the dynamics of the sport, which truly excites me.” — Hearn.

Boxing is a tough way to make a living and many fighters end up badly damaged. Relatively few ever get an opportunity to make life-changing money. Ruiz and AJ, like Ali and Foreman, should be able to do their thing without the self-righteous nonsense. Heck, when did integrity ever get in the way of the boxing community ever doing anything? Ruiz and Joshua have nothing to do with the way people live in the Arabian nations.

Enough is enough. Let’s get it on.

Ted Sares 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). He is an active power lifter and Strongman competitor in the Master Class.

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From Child Prodigy to Elite Trainer, ex-Champ Bones Adams has had a Bumpy Ride

Arne K. Lang

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PART ONE OF A TWO-PART STORY — Las Vegas boxing trainer Clarence “Bones” Adams (pictured working the mitts with Amir Khan) has something in common with Tiger Woods. Both appeared on the TV show “That’s Incredible.” The show, co-hosted by former NFL quarterback Fran Tarkenton, had a five-year run (1980-84) on ABC.

Tiger hadn’t even started kindergarten when his father brought him on the show to show off his acuity at hitting golf balls into a cup. Many viewers undoubtedly wondered if this painfully shy five-year-old kid would hit his peak as a golfer before he hit puberty.

Bones Adams wasn’t as cuddly cute as Tiger when he appeared on the show, his small hands encased in oversized boxing gloves, but, of course, he was a lot older. The precocious puncher was eight.

Precocious indeed. Reportedly 176-4 as an amateur, Adams was 15 years old when he made his pro debut on April 3, 1990 in Memphis, Tennessee. In the opposite corner was Simmie Black, a veteran of 158 fights.

Black was a professional loser of the stripe that has become virtually extinct in the United States, but he was 37 years old and had swapped punches with several top-shelf fighters, and here he was matched against a 15-year-old kid with no professional boxing experience whatsoever.

The kid won a 4-round unanimous decision and several years later, at age 18, he would fight a future Hall of Famer for the bantamweight championship of the world.

Clarence Richard Adams Jr has been called Bones ever since he was a little boy. The nickname was attached to him because someone said he was all skin and bones and he embraced it because he always hated the name Clarence. He spent his formative years in Henderson, Kentucky, where his father was a truck driver until blood clots in his legs forced him to quit. New employment was hard to find. Tobacco and coal, the prime economic movers in the growth of Henderson County, were in decline.

For a time, the family lived in Smith Mills, Kentucky, in a house without electricity and running water. To help out his parents, Bones worked in the fields, picking soybeans, corn, and tobacco. Working in the fields and honing his skills as a boxer – the gym was in Evansville, Indiana, 11 miles from Henderson – left little time for school. He dropped out in the eighth grade.

“No disrespect intended,” says Bones, “but the kids in the projects in the inner cities had it easy compared to us.”

The Adams’ later moved to Detroit where they lived along 7 Mile Road, the grittiest corridor in the city. They then settled in the town of Carmi in southern Illinois (a little more than an hour’s drive from their ancestral home in Henderson) where Bones’ father, since deceased, ran pizza parlors. Bones was living in Carmi when he turned pro.

Bones brought a 26-0-1 record into his March 27, 1993 bout with IBF world bantamweight champion Orlando Canizales at Evian les Bains, France. But it was a soft 26-0-1, a record forged against no-name opponents in tank towns like Greenville, South Carolina, Saint Joseph, Missouri, and Eldorado, Illinois. At this stage of his development he had no business being in the same ring with Canizales, the pride of Laredo, Texas, who was making the 12th defense of his title and would come to be regarded in many quarters as the top bantamweight of the modern era.

“When the fight was pitched to me,” says Bones, “I was told that the venue was neutral, but when I got over there I saw people coming up to Canizales saying ‘how nice to see you again’ and I learned that one of the judges was from Texas.”

The previous year, Canizales had twice defended his title in France. The Texas judge, Ronnie Ralston, was working his fourth Canizales title fight. (Astoundingly – but hey, maybe not; this is boxing – when Canizales lost three years later to Junior “Poison” Jones in a bid for the IBF super bantamweight title, Ronnie Ralston scored the fight 119-109 for Canizales. The other judges had Jones winning by six and seven points.)

Bones was being thrown to the wolves, but he was no pushover. Canizales broke Bones’ jaw in the third round, but the kid kept plugging away. After ten frames, Canizales led by two points on all three cards; the fight still hung in the balance. But in the 11th, Bones’ father, who had no boxing experience but was working his corner, tossed in the towel.

Canizales vs Adams was held in a classy joint, the Casino Royale resort overlooking Lake Geneva, a favorite getaway for European bluebloods. This was quite a departure for Bones who was only a few years removed from scrounging through dumpsters for aluminum cans and other stuff that could be sold to a recycling center or a junk dealer. But the luxurious accommodations were no consolation. At an age when many young men are hijinking through their freshman year of college, here was Bones Adams nursing a painfully broken jaw on a long flight home across the Atlantic, a jaw that would be surgically repaired at his own expense.

In both of his next two fights, Bones dislocated his left shoulder and was forced to shut it down. With three straight losses, all inside the distance, his future looked grim. But Bones persevered and in 1995 was accorded a match in Las Vegas with Kevin Kelley on the undercard of the world lightweight title fight between Oscar De La Hoya and LA-area rival Genero “Chicanito” Hernandez.

They fought outdoors at Caesars Palace in the early evening on a swelteringly hot day. Fighting for a purse of $40,000, Bones fought the last four rounds of the 12-round fight with a badly swollen left eye that appeared to ringsiders, but not referee Mitch Halpern, to be the result of an accidental head butt. When the smoke cleared, veteran Las Vegas judge Bill Graham had it 116-112 for Bones Adams, but he was overruled by Art Lurie, another local man, and Rhode Island import Clark Sammartino who both had it 114-114 and it went into the books as a draw.

A former featherweight champion, Kevin Kelley, the Flushing Flash, was 43-1-2 going in. He was one of the great action fighters of his day, but this particular fight was rather dull. “And that tells you right there I got screwed,” says Bones. “I controlled the ring, I made him fight my fight.”

Bones would be on the wrong side of another questionable decision in an even bigger fight, but prior to that disappointment, all of his hard work finally paid off and he experienced the highest high of his boxing career.

On March 4, 2000, at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Adams deposed WBA super bantamweight champion Nestor Garza. Although he broke his hand in the eighth round, he won a wide decision.

“I was having a lot of aches and pains,” Bones recalled, “but when I woke up on the morning of the fight, I felt great, I felt very strong. I called all my friends and told them to bet on me. I had a lot of friends that night.”

Bones says that going into the fight he had only $980 to his name. He bet $900 on himself and says he secured 8/1 odds. (In truth, Garza wasn’t quite that big a favorite. In boxing, upsets invariably become bigger upsets in the re-telling and with the passage of time.)

After two successful title defenses, Bones returned to Mandalay Bay to oppose Paulie Ayala. Bones held the WBA 122-pound title, Ayala was that organization’s 118-pound champion, and yet there was no title at stake, save that of a fringe organization (we wouldn’t even try to explain how that came about – hey, this is boxing).

Title or no title, the fight created a lot of buzz. Wladimir Klitschko’s WBO title defense against Charles Shufford was relegated to the undercard. And the bout was a humdinger that went to the scorecards after 12 nip-and-tuck rounds. Bones won the last round on the card of all three judges, but that wasn’t sufficient to get him over the hump. Ayala won a split decision.

Bones didn’t bring the same fire into his rematch with Paulie Ayala who was returned a clear winner after 12 rounds. He felt that he deserved no less than a draw in his next fight, a 12-round featherweight contest with tough Guty Espadas Jr, but that fight too ended with Bones on the wrong side of a split decision. For this bout, Bones had a 12-week camp in Big Bear and felt that he had over-trained.

He would go on to have six more fights for small purses before calling it quits, retiring with a record of 44-7-4. When he left the sport, he wasn’t yet 26 years old, but he had a lot of mileage on his odometer – as a pro, he had answered the bell for 344 rounds – and it was time to say goodbye.

Bones concedes that he began to make some bad choices following his first loss to Paulie Ayala, for example using recreational drugs as a crutch to uplift his spirits. He then made a whopper of a bad choice when he accepted an offer of employment from the predatory Charles Horky.  To be continued……

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