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Will Keith Thurman’s  Hand Injury Force a Stylistic Makeover?

Bernard Fernandez

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A boxer’s hands are the tools of his trade. Like all tools, they are subject to chipping and breaking from repeated usage. But whereas a carpenter can go to a hardware store and purchase, say, a new hammer, a fighter with a damaged hand can’t send out for a replacement fist during the course of a bout. He has to finish the job with the same physical equipment with which he began.

Given WBA welterweight champion Keith “One Time” Thurman’s recent injury history, which has sidelined him for nearly two years, it remains to be seen if the 30-year-old from Clearwater, FL is still the elite fighter he was before the trouble he encountered with his right elbow (which required surgery) and badly bruised left hand that could affect him as much or more as any accumulated ring rust when he defends his title against Josesito Lopez Saturday night in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

Thurman-Lopez is the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions card to be televised via Fox and Fox Deportes, with the lead-in a 10-rounder pitting heavyweight Adam Kownacki (18-0, 14 KOs against former world title challenger Gerald Washington (19-2-1,12 KOs).

Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs) understands his much-anticipated return against prohibitive underdog Lopez (30-7, 19 KOs) — barring a line change, Thurman is a whopping -2300, Lopez +1490 — comes shrouded in question marks. Is he the same devastating puncher who not so very long ago was widely considered to be the best 147-pounder on the planet, or have circumstances not of his choosing dictated that he switch to a less-aggressive style? And even if Thurman reveals himself to be all or nearly all of what he had been, where does he stand in a new and improved welterweight division in which IBF champion Errol Spence Jr. (24-0, 21 KOs) and WBO titlist Terence Crawford (34-0, 25 KOs), who moved up from super lightweight during the Floridian’s medical sabbatical, may have usurped him in the public consciousness? Another welter who again has insinuated himself into that discussion is 40-year-old Manny Pacquiao ( 61-7-2, 39 KOs), the secondary WBA champ who demonstrated he still has some gas in his tank with the near-shutout he pitched en route to a unanimous decision over Adrien Broner on Jan. 19. And don’t dismiss the very real possibility of another comeback by Floyd Mayweather Jr. (50-0, 27 KOs), despite the fact he turns 42 next month.

If nothing else, 22 months of inactivity have not adversely affected Thurman’s ability to parry and counter tough questions posed to him by the media, as he proved during a teleconference on Tuesday in which he was asked frequently about the current state of his health and his vision of what the future might hold. Asked how he felt about skeptics who are leery of his readiness to quickly or even ever re-assume his former position atop the division, Thurman responded with some witty quips that came with a serious undertone.

“I could care less about what people say and think about Keith Thurman, how he’s ducking guys, he’s getting injured to avoid people,” he responded. “I’m a seven-figure fighter, man. There’s a lot of money out there to be made. I’ve worked really hard my whole life since the age of seven (when he took up boxing).

“A lot of opinions really don’t get to me. If anything, some of them are humorous. My favorite is I’m Keith `One Time’ Thurman, I’m Keith `None Time’ Thurman, I’m Keith `Sometime Thurman,’ I’m Keith `Once Upon a Time’ Thurman. That was pretty amusing.”

But it is not so easy to crack wise when the subject involves balky body parts and the necessary healing process that isn’t always easy, fast or effective. Although he says and certainly hopes otherwise, what might otherwise be a standard keep-busy type of fight against the willing but limited Lopez now shapes up as a litmus test for Thurman to certify he is not damaged goods.

The hand injury obliged Thurman to withdraw from a scheduled May 19, 2018, bout against an opponent that had yet to be named. Given that boxing is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind activity, Thurman – whose most recent bout was a split-decision victory in his welterweight unification showdown with WBC champ Danny Garcia on March 4, 2017– understandably grew antsy as fight fans turned to others for their pugilistic adrenalin fixes. Spence, perhaps kiddingly and perhaps not, even suggested that Thurman’s lengthening absence from the ring was deliberate.

“With Keith Thurman, he’s going to stay injured as long as I keep winning,” Spence said in November. “I don’t think me and him are ever going to fight.”

Thurman said there was nothing he could do about the reality of his circumstances and he would have jeopardized his career by attempting to rush back into action against medical advice.

“The elbow surgery … I kept pressing my doctor to give me a turnaround date,” Thurman said. “I didn’t understand why he kept beating around the bush. He was very clever with his wording. He pretty much never answered the question.

“Probably it was about six months after the surgery that I realized this was a long recovery and I would need more time. It was 10 months to a year of recovery, which would have been OK. It was frustrating, but it wouldn’t have been the longest layoff. Luckily for me I got to spend a lot of time with my wife in Katmandu, Nepal. A lot of new life experiences.

“Then, when I was trying to get back in the ring, I had another injury to my left hand. The doctors were telling me, `You’re not going to be out forever,’ but it felt like forever.”

It also felt pretty painful. You wouldn’t think that something that initially was described as a “deep bruise” would have such potentially disastrous ramifications.

“When it occurred it was painful enough to where it hurt to land a jab on my sparring partner with 16-ounce gloves,” Thurman recalled. “If I can’t punch my sparring partner with a jab, I knew I wasn’t going to get a fight date.”

And now?

“In the back of my mind, yeah, we (Thurman refers to himself and trainer Dan Birmingham in a collective sense) were a little worried about things going into the future. But we’re also doing our best to stay positive. We feel great, we’re ready for this fight and I just want my health to hold up because I want to be an active fighter at the top of the welterweight division once again. I believe I will be able to do that even if I do have to monitor things.

“Maybe I do have to make adjustments in my fight style, but I’ll do whatever it takes to continuously showcase the skills and talents that I have. I’ve always been versatile. There are many ways to get to the finish line when it comes to a 12-round championship fight. I didn’t knock out Shawn (Porter) and I didn’t knock out Danny. I’m hard to beat even if I’m not trying to knock you out.”

The possibility of Thurman, or any fighter, making allowances for a chronic hand condition is real. Floyd Mayweather Jr., as gifted, rich and successful as he is, underwent a stylistic makeover that was largely wrought by his tender mitts. Boxing historian Bert Sugar, who was 75 when he passed away in 2012, said he was aware of the problem that dates back to Floyd’s childhood.

“My wife is from Grand Rapids, Mich. (Mayweather’s hometown), and when we went there to visit her family I sometimes would go over to Buster Mathis’ gym,” Sugar recalled in April 2007. “I remember seeing this little eight-year-old kid, who even then was magnificent. And even then that kid’s hands were very fragile.”

Veteran trainer and TV analyst Teddy Atlas believes Mayweather’s defense-heavy, less-risk-taking approach to his craft is an outgrowth of a bad experience associated with those oft-throbbing hands.

“The only knockdown of Floyd’s career, against Carlos Hernandez (on May 26, 2001), wasn’t really a knockdown,” Atlas said, also in 2007. “His right hand was hurting him so much that he doubled over in pain and his glove brushed the canvas. The referee saw it and called it a knockdown, which, technically, I guess it was.

“Against (Carlos) Baldomir (a fight which Mayweather won on a 12-round unanimous decision on Nov. 12, 2006), Floyd went all-out early, going for the knockout, but he hurt his hands so badly he could barely use them in the later rounds.”

It will be interesting to see if Thurman winces whenever he connects with a hook or a jab against Lopez because, well, usually when you land a punch it’s supposed to hurt the hitee more than the hitter. But like the man said, there are lots of ways to win a prizefight, and lots of ways to again be recognized as the welterweight division’s top performer.

“I am the truth,” Thurman said, playful again. “It is what it is, man. I belong here. Have I held my position? Some people say yes. Some people say no. Where do you put Keith Thurman? Maybe he’s No. 1. Maybe he’s No. 2. Oh, wait, but you have that Crawford guy now, so, well, he’s No. 3.”

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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Maxim Dadashev Dead at Age 28

Arne K. Lang

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Maxim-Mad-Max-Dadashev

Junior welterweight boxer Maxim Dadashev passed away this morning (Tuesday, July 23) at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Prince George County, Maryland.  The news was confirmed by Dadashev’s trainer Buddy McGirt and his strength and conditioning coach Donatas Janusevicious.

Dadashev’s death was a result of injuries suffered in a fight four days earlier at the MGM casino-resort in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Dadashev’s match with Subriel Matias, scheduled for 12 rounds, was billed as a title eliminator with the victor first in line to face the winner of the upcoming match between Josh Taylor and Regis Prograis. It was the chief undercard bout on a show headlined by fast rising lightweight contender Teofimo Lopez.

Dadashev, who entered the contest undefeated (13-0) was facing another undefeated fighter in Puerto Rico’s Matias, also 13-0 but against suspect opposition. As the fight wore on, it became increasingly more one-sided with Dadashev absorbing heavy punches to the body and head. After the 11th round, Dadashev was pulled from the fight by McGirt.

Dadashev protested McGirt’s decision. He wanted to continue the fight although it was evident that he had no chance of winning without a knockout. But he had trouble walking as he repaired to his dressing room and began vomiting violently once there. Placed on a stretcher, he was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance where he underwent a two-hour operation for a subdural hematoma. A portion of his skull was reportedly removed in an effort to reduce the swelling.

Federal privacy laws prevented the hospital from releasing any details without the consent of his next of kin. As Dadashev lay in the hospital in an induced coma, his wife flew to be by his side from their home in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Reportedly 281-20 as an amateur, Dadashev had fought exclusively in the United States since turning pro. Managed by Egis Klimas and promoted by Top Rank, he trained in Oxnard, California, along with stablemates Vasiliy Lomachenko and Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

As expected, Buddy McGirt, who entered the International Hall of Fame this year, was devastated by the news. “He did everything right in training,” said McGirt, “no problems, no nothing….great, great guy. He was a trainer’s dream. If I had two more guys like him, I would need nobody else because he was truly dedicated to the sport.”

We here at TSS send our condolences to Dadashev’s family and loved ones.

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Good Night, Sweet Pea

Springs Toledo

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Good-Night-Sweet-Pea

Good Night, Sweet Pea

Bishop James E. Jones Jr.’s booming baritone was rising up through the rafters at the Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia. He was preaching about hands—your neighbor’s hands, the hand in yours now, the Father’s hands into which Jesus commended his spirit from the cross. “Sweet Pea’s HANDS,” he shouted, “took him to places HIS EYES NEVER IMAGINED!”

Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker, the greatest pure boxer since Willie Pep, lay in repose at the foot of the stage, his hands crossed at his belt. His coffin was black. An Olympic flag was draped over it and boxing gloves carefully arranged on top. The few thousand who attended his Saturday morning memorial service came to mourn and to celebrate a perfect fighter, an imperfect man, and a community that has long-since learned to look up no matter what.

Mark Breland was there. He came down from New York to honor the captain of an Olympic boxing team that won nine gold medals in 1984. Long gone is the fresh-faced amateur smiling under a laurel wreath, but Breland remains reed thin. He stood at the podium in a gray suit with a powder blue shirt and was too overwhelmed with grief to say much. “We knew him differently,” he said.

Kathy Duva, now a promoter, then his publicist, was there too. “Pound-for-pound,” she said. “That’s how he signed his autographs.” And that’s exactly what he was: the pound-for-pound best boxer in the world from September 1993 through March 1996, despite performances that struck the unsophisticated as pusillanimous. “He simply chose not to engage in outright brutality,” Duva said. “It was so much more fun to tease and toy with his opponents.” Whitaker teased and toyed with everyone, including a young Floyd Mayweather Jr. who, she said, “could not lay a glove on him” even as he sparred with those hands of his behind his back in 1996. Whitaker brought laughter into the midst of danger because of his cosmic level of skill, and because it kept boredom at bay. Merely making world-class fighters miss wasn’t enough; so he’d dart behind them and as they looked around to see where he went, he’d tap them on the rear end. When Roger Mayweather was known as “Black Mamba” and feared for his right hand, Whitaker—fighting here at the Norfolk Scope—yanked his trunks down in the middle of the sixth round.

“An imp with gold teeth,” said one wit during his glory days, “floating around that blue canvas like a cloud,” added Duva.

No one could outbox him. It isn’t easy to settle firmly on a lightweight in history who could. But the product of Young Park, a housing project just east of the Scope, wasn’t raised to shrink from violence. As a child, his father wouldn’t tolerate tears when he was hurt by neighborhood bullies. He’d turn him around. “Go back,” he’d say. “Give them everything you got.” When he was eight, he and nine-year-old Mario Cuffee got into a street fight and Clyde Taylor, a mailman who moonlighted as the neighborhood’s recreation director, hustled over and grabbed both by the scruff of the neck. “Do your fighting in the gym,” he said, and with permission from the boys’ parents, restaged the fight in the ring, with boxing gloves that looked like balloons. Whitaker lost that one, but found a mentor who began the process of transforming an undersized project kid into a giant of boxing and boxing history. Whitaker credited Cuffee almost as much. “Come to think of it,” Cuffee told me Monday, “I beat him that first fight, though I gotta come clean, he got me back a few years later.” When Whitaker fought Greg Haugen at the Coliseum in 1989, Cuffee bought a ticket and made his way across the Hampton Roads Beltway through a blizzard to see Haugen lose every round. At the post-fight press conference, Cuffee was standing in the back, “in cognito.” Whitaker spotted him and told the story of their fateful childhood fight. “Thanks Mario,” he said. Haugen, his face scuffed and swollen, looked up. “Yeah,” he said. “Thanks Mario.”

In Detroit, while still an amateur, he was invited to spar with Hector Camacho just as Floyd Mayweather was later invited to spar with him. Camacho couldn’t land a glove on him either. “He got mad and started fighting dirty,” Whitaker told the Newport News. “He grabbed me behind the head, pulled it down, and hit me with an uppercut. Then I grabbed him and threw him to the canvas and we started wrestling and fell out of the ring.” Whitaker offered to take it outside. Camacho talked a lot but never went near him again.

In 1984, after the Duvas had convinced Whitaker to throw in with Main Events, they introduced him to trainer George Benton. Benton, who understood the science of belligerent invisibility like no one else, took what Taylor had begun and finished it. He taught him to stop running around the ring, to stand on a dime; to see the difference between wasting energy and ducking and slipping just enough to let punches graze your hair or flick your ear. Benton made sure he became, in his words, “harder to hit than the numbers,” and a master at punching around, between, over, and under what’s coming in. “When I talk he stands and listens like a private would a general,” he said in 1986. “Sweet Pea’s going to be one of the best fighters ever.”

Seven years later, Whitaker swaggered into the ring against Julio Cesar Chavez, then 87-0 and rated by The Ring as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Whitaker fought him on a dime—twisting, rolling, fast-stepping outside his lead foot, and punching around, between, over, and under whatever came in. He had a trick that kept working. He’d turn his right shoulder in to narrow himself and hide his left until the moment it clubbed Chavez on the side of the head. You could hear it land—“whump!”—and it landed all night. In the ninth round, he was outfighting Chavez on the inside—“whump, whump!”—which no one had ever done. Chavez was befuddled and —“whump!”—puffing up. And then, at the end, 59,000 witnessed one of boxing history’s most egregious heists. Two of the three judges called the fight a draw. That’s what we were told anyway. Josè Sulaimàn, WBC president, countryman of Chavez, and favorite stooge of Don King, was seen collecting the scorecards after every round that night.

It is a grandiose irony. Whitaker put an exclamation point on Benton’s prediction in two fights he didn’t win. The second one was nearly as bad as the first.

At 33, he faced a 24-year-old Oscar De La Hoya, then 23-0 and rated by The Ring as the second best pound-for-pound fighter behind Roy Jones Jr. Whitaker made him look like a golem and won that fight too despite an official loss that stinks to this day. “The world saw it,” he said afterward, and smiled anyway, gold teeth gleaming. “The people saw it.”

Bishop Jones saw it. He remembered him standing triumphantly on the ropes before the decision against him was announced. He remembered it well.

“What I loved most about Sweet Pea Whitaker,” he told the mourners at the Norfolk Scope,

“.…was when he KNEW he had won the fight he DIDN’T WAIT on the referee to hold up his hands. He didn’t WAIT on the THE JUDGES to tell him whether or not he had won the fight, but if you look on the back of your programs, there’s a SIGNATURE MOVE that the champ would always do when he knew he had WON THE FIGHT. Family! HE WOULD THROW UP BOTH HIS HANDS!”

With that, Jones stepped back from the podium and thrust both hands in the air. When the people saw that, they roared as one. But Jones was just getting started, the crescendo wasn’t reached, not yet. He stopped them short. “EXODUS CHAPTER SEVENTEEN, VERSE ELEVEN! Whenever Moses held up…” and stepping back again, struck the same pose, “…HIS HANDS the people always had the victory…if the champ could hold up his hands in the middle of his fight, then SURELY you and I ought to HOLD UP OUR HANDS!”

Mario Cuffee jumped to his feet and thrust both hands in the air. Thousands, dressed in their best on the hottest day yet this year, rose as one and thrust both hands in the air. Whitaker’s signature move, multiplied. It was a transcendent moment; the spirit of a man—a father, a brother, a friend, a neighbor—merging with the spirit of the city he loved.

Bishop Jones lowered his gaze to the black coffin at the center of it all. “SWEET PEA!” he thundered as if to wake him up, “That one is for you! You got the victory! CHAMP!”

I closed my eyes and somewhere, I know, Whitaker opened his.

“—YOU GOT THE VICTORY!”

 

 

___________________

Special thanks to Dr. James E. Jones Jr. senior pastor and founder of Greater Grace Church in Portsmouth, VA.

 Springs Toledo is the author of Smokestack Lightning: Harry Greb, 1919, now available in paperback.

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Mad Max and Manny

Ted Sares

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Mad-Max-and-Manny

The crowd chants “Manny, Manny, Manny” at the weigh-in at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and Pacquaio’s beloved Pinoy fans are going wild. It’s a BIG event, bigger even than many heavyweight title fights.

Max

Meanwhile, Maxim “Mad Max” Dadashev’s wife Elizabeth is flying from her home in St. Petersburg, Russia, to be with her husband at a hospital in Maryland. Dadashev was critically injured on Friday night while suffering an upset loss to heavy-handed Puerto Rican bomber Subriel Matias at another MGM property, the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

Dadashev, 28, was 281-20 as an amateur, undefeated in 13 professional fights, and the IBF’s third-ranked junior welterweight, but Matias had his number and dominated throughout in a tough and grinding affair.

Capture 9

Maxim Dadashev

At the end of the 11th round, Buddy McGirt told his fighter, “I’m going to stop it, Max.” Dadashev protested. Maybe Max’s brain signaled no, maybe not. But his heart surely said “I’m not done.”

McGirt overruled him, a sage move, but unbeknownst to anyone the damage had been done and it was severe.

“He had one hell of a fight,” McGirt told the Washington Post. “Tough fight, tough fight; took a lot of tough body shots. I just think it was time to stop it. He was getting hit with too many shots. I said to him, ‘I’m stopping it.’ He said, ‘No, don’t.’”

The scores at the time of the stoppage were 109-100, 108-101 and 107-102 in favor of Matias. According to CompuBox, Matias out-landed Dadashev 319-157; 112 of Matias’ punches were body shots.

Max was stretchered out of the arena and rushed to UM Prince George’s Hospital where his skull was opened up to relieve the pressure caused by bleeding. The cavity reveals brain damage, and memories of Mago surface. The dreaded and familiar scenario then begins as he is put into an induced coma. Hopefully, the swelling goes down, the bleeding stops, and no blood clot appears as the later would make a terrible situation grave. In any event, Max will never box again. His well-publicized dream to win a world title will not be fulfilled.

In a post-fight interview, ESPN’s ringside analyst Tim Bradley said, “That’s a scary situation and every time you step foot in the ring you know that was always the talk that I would have with my wife. You know before I would step foot in the ring, I would sit her down, I would look at her and I would say, ‘Look at me, honey. Take a good look at me, open your eyes wide open because I might not come out the ring, for one, and I know I’m not coming out of the ring the same way that I came in.’”

Manny

Back to the big fight the following evening:

The crowd chants “Manny, Manny, Manny” as he enters the ring to battle Keith Thurman for still another championship as his worshipers are now virtually in a state of mass hysteria and begin singing and cheering loudly. The scene borders on the surreal.

Across the Pond

Earlier on Saturday, across the pond in London, heavyweight David Allen took a bad beating from 6’9” David Price and required oxygen. He also was stretchered out and sent to a hospital, adding to the angst. But he will be okay. According to his promoter, Eddie Hearn, Allen had a broken orbital bone and a damaged tongue, but brain scans suggested he was okay.

David Allen — “Very happy and proud of David Price. I will be okay, but the last 12 months or so my health has been deteriorating and I’m glad I hung on, took the chance, and made money. [I’m] now probably done.”

“Manny, Manny, Manny”

In Las Vegas, Manny has decked Thurman in the first round and the place is delirious. The crowd senses that this is his night although Thurman is not backing up. In the tenth, Pac almost puts “One Time” away after landing a devastating body punch.

Finally, the fight is over and Manny is declared the winner. The decibel count goes off the chart as the Pinoys sing “We Are The Champions.” Viewers hit the mute button. These are not fans as much as they are cultists. One wonders if those who are chanting even know that this has been a week where boxing exposed its grim side.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

Ted Sares is a member of Ring 8, 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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