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Heroes and Boxers

Ted Sares

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Heroes put others first. Heroes sacrifice—sometimes with their lives.

NFL player Pat Tillman was not a boxer but he was a legitimate hero having been killed in Afghanistan under especially tragic circumstances. Notre Dame’s Rocky Bleier, having been drafted, survived the Vietnam War but was badly wounded twice on a mission to extract wounded and dead. He went on to a successful football career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The highly decorated Don Steinbrenner and Bob Kasul, the only professional football players to have been killed in action in Vietnam, were not so fortunate.

Stephen Williford, a 55-year-old plumber, chased down and caused the demise of a mass shooter in 2017 who had just slaughtered 26 people in a Sutherland Springs, Texas church. Stephen Williford was a hero.

When Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Menachem Begin reached for each other to negotiate a peace treaty, they both became instant heroes not to mention Nobel Peace Prize winners. Both put others first. Sadat would pay with his life.

Martin Luther King Jr. lived his life in an heroic manner and so did Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko as they fought Jim Crow and apartheid, respectively. Dr. King and Steve Biko paid dearly. JFK also paid, suggesting that heroes seldom live a full life.

Some names are automatically associated with heroism such as Jesse Owens who won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics. However, when a boxer is referred to as a hero, far more often than not this label is being misused.

Boxing

When Joe Louis destroyed Max Schmeling in their rematch in Yankee Stadium on June 22, 1938, the fight carried with it major international implications. It was more than just a fight and Joe became America’s hero. Poor Max really wasn’t the enemy at that time but he was perceived as such and perception is often a big part of reality.

Prominent boxing writer Nigel Collins summed it up nicely:

“The fight also fanned the flame of hope that was lit for millions of black Americans when Louis first became champion. There was no instant paradigm shift in race relations, but the second Schmeling fight and Louis’ lengthy and highly successful reign nudged more and more people into reconsidering their view of their black brothers and sisters. If nothing else, Louis gave people a reason and an opportunity to change.”

                                                         ***************

“After World War II, everything in life is a cakewalk.”- Danny Nardico

There are many perceived heroes in boxing, but relatively few real ones. The spectacle of muscular Danny Nardico and Charlie Norkus engaging in one of the greatest Pier Six brawls in history belied the fact that each was a veteran and one, Nardico, was highly decorated. Here were two ex-Marines, both possessing paralyzing power, meeting in Miami Beach in 1954 and there was palpable anticipation of a great fight. What the fans got went well beyond that.

                                                          ***************

Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be drafted under arguments that were later affirmed by the Supreme Court gave him hero stature to many—but not all. Later, however, and as he moved to a centrist position in his beliefs, the heroism of what he did began to cast itself in history.

                ***************

To be honest, a few months before I started training for the marathon, I could hardly walk across my bedroom without falling over.”-Michael Watson

Michael Watson boxed in a fast and furious lane, along with Nigel Benn, Carl Thompson, and Chris Eubank, but Watson, known as the “Force,” stood out, not just for his boxing achievements, which were considerable, but for something else. In an incredible back-and-forth classic with Eubank in 1991 (it was Britain’s version of Hagler-Hearns) Watson, ahead on points, was nailed with a paralyzing uppercut and hit the back of his head against the second strand of ropes.

Fast forward.

The “Force” spent over a month in a coma, had six brain operations, and then spent over a year in intensive care and rehabilitation and six more grueling years in a wheelchair while he ever-so-gradually recovered some movements and regained the ability to speak and write.

No one really expected him to live, much less talk or write, yet against all odds he finished the London Marathon on April 19, 2003, capturing the hearts and emotions of an entire nation. As people wept in joy and urged him on, he walked six days. He reached his goal after twelve long years, too many operations and hospitals, and years in a wheelchair. But he trained for months and completed his goal of 26 miles and 385 yards.

If heroism is measured by an incredible fighting heart and the inspiration it spawned, then Michael Watson (pictured in 2013 with Anthony Joshua) is indeed a hero.

“Getting angry won’t correct the past.” – Watson

                  ***************

Cornelius Johannes “Corrie” Sanders, best known for beating Wladimir Klitschko in 2003 for the WBO heavyweight title, died in September 2012, the victim of a a shooting during an armed robbery at a restaurant in South Africa where he was celebrating his nephew’s 21st birthday. The former champion heroically used his body to protect his daughter from the flying bullets. He was 46. Ironically, the S.A. headlines read ”Ring hero Sanders killed.” They might well have read “South African Ring great Sanders died a hero.”

     ***************

Curiously, three-time world champion Bobby Czyz, now 56, carried the nickname “Matinee Idol,” but Bobby has now hit some rough times. If someone in boxing would step up and help him, that someone just might be a real life hero. This holds true for many other ex-fighters who have stumbled along the way. Heroes are in short supply when it comes to helping ex-boxers, but there are some organizations that provide support. Iceman John Scully quickly comes to mind as someone out there helping ex-boxers find their way.

     ***************

The late Vernon Forrest embraced the value of giving back. A great boxer, he was also known for his humanitarian work for the non-profit and still thriving organization Destiny’s Child. Vernon possessed great core values.

Former U.S. Olympic boxing team head coach Al Mitchell once said, “I really believe he’s not going to be known for his boxing skills…I think he’ll be known for the way he gave outside his sport. He was just an unbelievable person.”

“He almost went broke,” continued Mitchell. “He borrowed money to make it work. He never looked for a profit out of it. It was just something he did. Vernon’s willingness to give back went beyond his former schools. He gave money to different gyms and boxing-related programs.”

Vernon Forrest was special in many ways, He inspired people. There are few heroes out there but Vernon was one.

“The people I work with have been abused and neglected…These are people that society turned their back on. Everybody needs help and everybody needs love.” Vernon Forrest

     ***************

Manny Pacquiao’s rise from abject poverty and street urchin to Senator and idolized boxer in the Philippines is not heroic in itself but his giving back to his people makes him one of the few boxers who earned that stature. Yes, he went through a period of “wicked ways,” but he has redeemed himself in those respects and has become the quintessential shooting star.

“One hundred million people now drop everything to watch him fight.”

Can you think of other boxers– past or present– who meet your definition of a hero?

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and Strongman competitors and may compete in the Ukraine in 2019. 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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The Fight of the Century: A Golden Anniversary Celebration

Arne K. Lang

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In professional boxing, fights can be rank-ordered as generic fights, big fights, bigger fights, mega-fights, and spectacles. The first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier wasn’t merely a spectacle, but the grandest spectacle of them all. This coming Monday, March 8, is the 50th anniversary of that iconic event.

Ali-Frazier I was staged at three-year-old Madison Square Garden, the fourth arena in New York to take that name. It drew a capacity crowd: 20,455 (19,500 paid). An estimated 60 percent of all the tickets sold fell into the hands of scalpers.

The fight was closed-circuited to more than 350 locations in the United States and Canada. At some of the larger venues, it established a new record for gate receipts, and this for an attraction that wasn’t produced in-house. In Los Angeles, 15,333 saw the fight at the Forum and 11,575 at the nearby Sports Arena.

Bill Ballenger, the sports editor of the Charlotte (NC) News, saw the fight at the Charlotte Coliseum. He reported that the audio – Don Dunphy did the blow-by-blow with Burt Lancaster and Archie Moore serving as color commentators – was loud enough to be heard outside the arena and that many folks, either unable or unwilling to purchase a ticket, loitered outside and followed the action in 30 degrees weather.

An estimated three hundred million people saw the fight worldwide. In England, by some estimates, half the population tuned in, watching either at home on BBC1 or at a theater where one could watch the fight unfold on a movie screen. Now keep in mind that in England the fight didn’t commence until 6:40 in the morning on a Tuesday!

Inside Madison Square Garden, the large flock of celebrities included many folks one wouldn’t expect to find at a prizefight. Marcello Mastroianni, Italy’s most famous movie star, made a special trip from Rome. Salvador Dali was there and Barbra Streisand and Ethel Kennedy, widow of Bobby Kennedy, seated next to her escort, crooner Andy Williams. Frank Sinatra was there working as a photographer for Life magazine. Lore has it that Sinatra wangled the assignment after failing to boat one of the coveted ringside seats.

The scene was made brighter by human “peacocks,” the label applied to Harlemites with an outrageous sense of fashion, and the electricity was palpable. When Ali appeared at the back of the arena, making his way from his dressing room to the ring, everyone had goosebumps.

The late, great New York sportswriter Dick Young once wrote that there is no greater drama than in the moments preceding a big heavyweight title fight and that was never more true than on March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden.

Ali (31-0, 25 KOs) and Frazier (26-0, 23 KOs) were both undefeated. Both had a claim to the heavyweight title, Ali because the belt had been controversially stripped away from him for his political beliefs. Opinions as to who would win were pretty evenly divided. In Las Vegas, Joe Frazier was the favorite at odds of 6 to 5. Across the pond in England, bookies were quoting odds of 11 to 8 on Ali.

Those that favored Ali were of the opinion that ‘Smokin’ Joe was too one-dimensional. That much was true. Joe was as subtle as a steam locomotive on a downhill grade. He ate Ali’s hardest punches, said Boston Globe reporter Bud Collins, as if they were movie house popcorn and he eventually wore Ali down. There was little doubt as to how the judges would see it after Joe knocked Ali down in the 15th round with a frightful left hook. When Ali arose, it appeared that he had been afflicted with a sudden case of the mumps. The decision was unanimous: 11-4, 9-6, 8-6-1.

This wasn’t the greatest fight of all time, but it was a fight that more than lived up to the hype. And, as several people have noted, the event took on a life of its own without the benefit of modern technology to push it along. The buzz was fueled in a large part by newspapers, the “antiquated” sort of newspapers that a fellow fished from his driveway or purchased at a newsstand on the way to or from work. If twitter and facebook had been around during Muhammad Ali’s prime, Ali would have blown the doors off the internet.

A cultural touchstone is an event that remains sealed in our memory. As we slide into old age, if we are lucky enough to live that long, we may not remember what we had for breakfast in the morning, but some long-ago events are as vivid as if they had happened just yesterday.

Boxing historian Frank Lotierzo has written poignantly about how overjoyed he was when he was surprised with the news that his father would be taking him to the fight. “To this day it remains the biggest thrill of my life!” wrote Lotierzo, who was then in the seventh grade. “And it’s not even close!”

I didn’t see the fight, but I can recall the faces of people that I overheard talking about it, people whose interest in the fight struck me as odd as I knew they had little interest in the world of sports. So, when the fight is replayed in its entirety on Sunday – it airs on ABC at 2 p.m ET and again at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN – I will be watching it for the first time. And it will be bittersweet as I will be reminded that I am in the twilight of my life and my thoughts will inevitably drift to my friends and loved ones that have left this mortal world in the years since that grand night in 1971 when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier locked horns in the Fight of the Century.

I get misty-eyed just thinking about it.

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Yoka TKO 12 Djeko in France: Claressa Pitches a Shutout on Ladies Day in Flint

Arne K. Lang

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Yoka TKO 12 Djeko in France: Claressa Pitches a Shutout on Ladies Day in Flint

March 8 is International Women’s Day which is actually a formal holiday in many parts of the globe. It was somehow fitting that female boxers were on display on the Friday feeding into it, a weekend without a must-see attraction on the men’s side.

Today’s activity began in the French port city of Nantes where 2016 Olympic gold medal winners Tony Yoka and Estelle Mossely, husband and wife, kept their undefeated records intact, both advancing to 10-0, against European opponents. Yoka (10-0, 8 KOs) was matched against Joel “Big Joe” Djeko (17-3-1), a 31-year-old Brussels native of Congolese and Cuban extraction who had fought most of his career as a cruiserweight. Mossely, a lightweight who now goes by Yoka-Mossely, drew Germany’s Verena Kaiser (14-2).

At the Rio Olympiad, Yoka got by Filip Hrgovic in the semis and Joe Joyce in the finals to win the gold, winning both bouts by split decision. Both would be favored over the Frenchman in a rematch fought under professional rules.

Against the six-foot-six Djeko, Yoka controlled the fight with his jab, repeatedly backing his foe against the ropes. Very few of Djeko’s punches got through Yoka’s high guard. Had the fight gone to the scorecards, it would have been a rout for Yoka, but it didn’t quite get there as Djeko turned his back on the proceedings midway through the 12th round after absorbing a sharp jab and it went into the books as a TKO for Yoka. At stake was some kind of European title or a derivation thereof.

Mossely’s fight with Kaiser, slated for 10 two-minute rounds, followed a somewhat similar tack, save that it went the full distance. With only one knockout to her credit at the pro level, Mosseley, typical of female boxers, lacks a knockout punch. But she’s a good technician and had too much class for the German.

Flint

A Covid-19 limited crowd of perhaps 300 was on hand to watch hometown heroine Claressa Shields oppose IBF 154-pound title-holder Marie Eve Dicaire at a 4,400-seat arena in Flint. There were five bouts on the undercard, three of which were women’s bouts.

Claressa

Claressa Shields

Shields, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was seeking to become a four-belt title-holder in a second weight class, having previously turned the trick at 160. Dicaire, a 34-year-old southpaw, brought a 17-0 record but she had never won a fight inside the distance and all of her previous bouts took place in French-speaking Canada.

The self-proclaimed GWOAT, Shields has no peer between 154 and 168 pounds. Heading into this contest, she had hardly lost a round since meeting Hanna Gabriels and tonight was another total whitewash, her fourth overall in 10-round fights.

Claressa Shields, now 11-0 (2) may be too good for her own good. Her fights are so one-sided that they are monotonous. Her TV ratings have actually been falling. Today’s show was a $29.99 pay-per-view on FITE when the established networks refused to meet her purse demands. It will be interesting to see how many tuned in.

In another fight of note, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza, in her first fight as a bantamweight, dominated Toronto’s Shelly Barnett en route to winning a 6-round unanimous decision. There were no knockdowns, but the scorecards (60-54, 60-53 twice) were indicative of Esparza’s dominance.

Esparza, who pushed her record to 9-1 (1), came in ranked #1 by the WBC in the flyweight class. Her lone defeat came at the hands of rugged Seniesa Estrada. Barnett declined to 4-4-3.

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Brandon Adams Bursts Bohachuk’s Bubble in Puerto Rico

Arne K. Lang

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Brandon Adams Bursts Bohachuk’s Bubble in Puerto Rico

Ring City USA, a new promotional entity, debuted on Nov. 19, 2020 with a show staged in the parking lot of Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, CA. Ring City stayed outdoors for their first offering of 2021, but the company was a long ways from California. Tonight’s card was staged on a roundabout near a municipal gym in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

The headline attraction was an attractive match between junior middleweights Serhii Bohachuk and Brandon Adams. The bout was originally set for Dec. 3, but had to be pushed back when Bohachuk tested positive for the coronavirus.

Bohachuk, a 25-year-old California-based Ukrainian, had stopped all 18 of his previous opponents. He had never gone past six rounds. Brandon Adams, a former world title challenger, represented a step up in class.

Bohachuk was well on his way to winning a unanimous decision when the tide turned dramatically in round eight. Fighting on a slick canvas, Adams suddenly found a new gear, unloading a series of punches climaxed by a thunderous left hook as Bohachuk retreated. The Ukrainian beat the count, but was teetering on unsteady legs and the referee properly called a halt.

Adams was without his regular trainer, 80-year-old Dub Huntley, who remained back in LA as a health precaution. In winning, he elevated his records to 23-3 (15). It was his best performance since defeating Shane Mosley Jr in the finals of Season 5 of the “Contender” series.

In the co-feature, an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rico’s Bryan Chevalier improved to 15-1-1 (12) with a third-round stoppage of Peru’s Carlos Zambrano (26-2). Chevalier scored two knockdowns, the first a sweeping left hook that appeared to land behind Zambrano’s head, and the second a punch to the liver that left Zambrano in severe distress. The referee waived the fight off in mid-count.

The official time was 2:21. Chevalier, a tall featherweight (5’11”) made a very impressive showing; he bears watching. This was Zambrano’s first fight since April of 2017 when he was knocked out in the opening round by Claudio Marrero in a bout for the WBA interim featherweight title.

The TV opener was an entertaining fight between contrasting styles that produced a weird conclusion when Danielito Zorrilla was awarded a technical decision over Ruslan Madiyev. The bout was stopped at the 1:16 mark of round eight after Zorrilla sank to his knees after absorbing a punch to the back of the head. The ringside physician examined him for evidence of a concussion, but ultimately it was Zorrilla’s choice as to whether the bout would continue. He declined and was reportedly taken to a hospital for observation.

Madiyev, a California-based Kazahk, was the aggressor. He fought the fight in Zorilla’s grill, often bullying him against the ropes. In round five, he had a point deducted for hitting behind the head, squandering what was arguably his best round.

The fight went to the scorecards with Zorrilla winning a split decision (77-74, 77-75, 73-76), thereby remaining undefeated: 15-0 (12). Ironically, Madiyev (13-2, 5 KOs), suffered his previous loss in a similar fashion.

Madiyev’s new trainer Joel Diaz reportedly discouraged his charge from taking this fight for fear that he wouldn’t get a fair shake in Puerto Rico. Diaz’s apprehensions were well-founded.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Ring City USA

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