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The Hauser Report: Thurman – Lopez and More

Thomas Hauser

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The January 26 Premier Boxing Champions fight card at Barclays Center offered fans a mixed bag. There were thirteen bouts live and on various viewing platforms. Fans on site saw the predictable one-sided undercard bouts with one notable exception. In the second fight of the evening, Marsellos Wilder (Deontay’s younger brother) fought a late replacement from Kearney, Nebraska, named – depending on where one looks – William Deets or William Quintana.

Deets/Quintana came into the bout with 6 wins, 12 losses, and a meager two knockouts to his credit. Further burnishing his resume, he’d been out of action from mid-2013 through mid-2018 and, according to the Lincoln Journal Star, spent two years in prison after pleading no contest to charges that he sexually assaulted two women that he met online. Three additional women also came forward and made similar allegations against him. At his sentencing, the judge noted that Deets seemed to have “a low regard for women.”

Wilder dominated the early going to the point where the fight was almost stopped after two rounds. Then, in the fourth stanza, Marsellos got lazy. Deets-Quintana whacked him with a left-right combination, and Wilder went down. He rose on unsteady legs, fell into the ring ropes, and referee Al LoBianco properly stopped the contest with 25 seconds left in the bout.

That’s why they fight the fights instead of just mailing in the results.

Three bouts were televised on the Fox broadcast network.

Mongolian-born Tugstsogt Nyambayer (10-0, 9 KOs), who fights out of Los Angeles, announced his presence on the boxing scene with a 116-111, 115-112, 114-113 verdict over Claudio Marrero (23-2, 17 KOs) in a WBC featherweight elimination bout. Boxing writers and fans who spent years learning how to spell “Pacquiao” will track Tugstsogt’s career with trepidation.

Then it was time for Adam Kownacki (18-0, 14 KOs) vs. Gerald Washington (19-2-1, 12 KOs).

Kownacki looks as though his 260 pounds (give or take a few donuts) have been sculpted out of wet pancake mix. He’s a big, strong, affable man whose heart is unquestioned and defensive skills are suspect. Washington is a big, strong, better-sculpted fighter whose chin and punching power are in doubt. That combination made Kownacki a 5-to-1 betting favorite in what promised to be an entertaining fight.

A large vocal contingent of Polish-American fans made its feelings known as the fighters entered the ring. During the pre-fight introductions, Kownacki seemed happy to be there; Washington, not.

Adam came to fight. Gerald came to box. But Washington’s boxing wasn’t good enough to keep Kownacki off. There’s very little subtlety in the way Adam fights. It’s full speed ahead, throwing punches (mostly right hands), hit, get hit, and punch some more.

Kownacki staggered Washington with a series of right hands in round one. Fighting aggressively at the start of round two, Gerald opened a cut over Adam’s left eye. Then Kownacki dropped him with a right. Washington rose on wobbly legs, took a few more punches, and referee Harvey Dock stopped the bout at the 1:09 mark.

It was a statement win for Kownacki and his most impressive victory to date.

Two years ago, Washington lasted into the fifth round against Deontay Wilder and the eighth round against Jarrell Miller. Comparisons will be made, although that’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges.

Adam was able to walk through Washington’s jab. He won’t be able to do that against a world-class heavyweight.

The main event matched Keith Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs) against Josesito Lopez (36-7, 19 KOs).

Thurman, age 30, turned pro in 2007 and established himself as a champion in the true sense of the word when he decisioned Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia to claim the WBA and WBC titles. But he has been plagued by injuries in recent years, needing elbow surgery after his March 4, 2017, victory over Garcia and then suffering a deep bone bruise on his left hand during training. Those injuries kept Keith on the shelf for almost 23 months and led some to question his commitment to boxing.

“I can care less what people say and what they think about Keith Thurman,” Thurman noted during a February 24 media conference call. “‘Oh, he’s ducking guys. He’s getting injured to avoid people.’ There’s a lot of people that don’t understand what it means to be a world-class fighter. So a lot of opinions just really don’t get to me. If anything, some of them were humorous. You know – I’m Keith ‘One-Time’ Thurman. I’m Keith ‘Run-Time’ Thurman, Keith ‘Sometime’ Thurman, Keith ‘Once-Upon-a-Time’ Thurman. That was pretty amusing.”

“You always have to be a little worried about new injuries,” Thurman added. “There’s nothing wrong with your car until the day it decides to break down. So at the end of the day, it’s always in the back of my mind. Athletes and their bodies go through a lot of things.”

Thurman-Lopez was viewed in advance by many as a non-competitive showcase fight. Josesito is willing to go in tough. But when he does, the results tend to not be good. He was knocked out by Andre Berto, Marcos Maidana, and Canelo Alvarez, and had four other losses on his record.

When asked about being regarded as a low-level opponent, Lopez responded, “I wouldn’t say it offends me. There’s a lot of casuals that don’t understand the ins and outs and don’t realize what I bring to the table. You can’t really judge a fighter by his wins and losses. I’ve had some tough defeats and some close defeats. Wins and losses aren’t everything. I’m a better fighter than I’ve ever been. So it doesn’t matter how many bumps on the road I might have had throughout my career. It’s going to come as a surprise when I pull off the victory. I’m not new to the game. I know exactly what I have to do. I’ve just got to go out there and execute. People are overlooking me. Does it bother me? Not at all. It motivates me.”

But talk is cheap. Thurman was a prohibitive betting favorite with the odds running as high as 50-to-1 in some quarters.

It turned out to be an entertaining fight. Early in Thurman’s career, observers focused on his power. But he’s also a skilled defensive boxer – always moving and hard to hit – who transitions well from circling out of harm’s way to quick-strike offense.

Against Lopez, Thurman traded blow-for-blow when he had to but preferred to punch and keep moving rather than wait for a receipt. He had an edge in speed, power, and basic ring skills. Lopez kept coming forward, but his efforts were largely ineffective and his punches rarely found the mark the way they were intended to.

Late in round two, a textbook left hook up top deposited Josesito on the canvas.

Round seven saw one of those dramatic shifts that make boxing at its best the most compelling sport of all. Midway through the stanza, Lopez (who fought valiantly throughout the bout) shook Thurman with a straight right hand, then followed up with a left hook and another right.

Suddenly, Thurman was in trouble. “He had me buzzed and shaken up in the seventh round,” Keith admitted afterward.

For the next minute-and-a-half, Thurman backed away as fast as he could, throwing next to nothing and struggling to survive. He stayed on his feet but was on the short end of a 10-8 calculation on each judge’s scorecard.

Then, as suddenly as it had opened, Lopez’s window of opportunity closed.

The overwhelming majority of people at ringside thought Thurman won by a comfortable margin. CompuBox statistics are sometimes wide of the mark. But here, they showed undeniable superiority for Thurman in the form of a 247-to 117 advantage in punches landed.

Inexplicibly, ring judge Don Ackerman scored the bout even at 113-113. Order was restored by Tom Schreck (117-109) and Steve Weisfeld (115-111) who, unlike Ackerman, appeared to have watched the fight and understood what they were watching.

Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp

Thomas Hauser’s new email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Protect Yourself at All Times – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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Michael Coffie vs. Darmani Rock Smacks of Joe Joyce vs. Daniel Dubois

Arne K. Lang

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Although it wasn’t a world title fight, the match between Joe Joyce and Daniel Dubois which took place in London on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, attracted a lot of buzz. Only one heavyweight bout in 2020 was more eagerly anticipated, that being the rematch in February between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder.

Joyce vs. Dubois was that rare pairing of two undefeated heavyweights who were roughly at the same stage of their career. Dubois was 15-0 (14 KOs) heading in; Joyce was 11-0 (10).

And that brings us to the crossroads fight on Jan. 30 at the LA Shrine Expo between Darmani Rock (17-0, 12 KOs) and Michael Coffie (11-0, 8 KOs). Unlike Joyce vs. Dubois, this is not a well-marinated showdown, but yet there are some parallels, most notably it’s a match between unbeaten heavyweights in which the victor will undoubtedly make a big jump in public esteem and the loser, more than likely, will be pushed back into the shadows.

There was a big age gap in the Joyce-Dubois fight. The 35-year-old Joyce was the older man by 12 years. Likewise, Rock vs. Coffie features a young old-timer vs. an opponent who is merely young.

Michael Coffie, 34, came to boxing late after serving eight years in the Marine Corps. He entered the New York City Golden Gloves tournament on a whim and with virtually no formal training and yet he succeeded in reaching the finals.

When Coffie (pictured)  turned pro, his manager was none other than Randy Gordon, the former chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission who has kept his hand in boxing as a journalist and radio personality, co-hosting a boxing-themed talk show on Sirius FM with Gerry Cooney. Gordon knows more than a little about heavyweights, having been involved with Bonecrusher Smith who was briefly (very briefly) the WBA world heavyweight champion.

“(Bonecrusher) was not anywhere near the fighter that Mike is,” Gordon told Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez on the occasion of Coffie’s pro debut in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. On that night, Coffie needed only 61 seconds to dismiss his opponent, ending the contest with a short right hand. The sacrificial lamb, wrote Fernandez, “went down like an anvil dropped in the ocean.”

In his most recent fight, on Nov. 7, Coffie was matched against Minnesota veteran Joey Abell, a noted spoiler. Abell would have been a good measuring rod for assessing Coffie’s progress, but unfortunately the bout was over almost before it started. Early in the second round, Abell suffered a biceps injury while throwing a punch and couldn’t continue.

The “A” side in this fight, however, isn’t Coffie but the other guy. Darmani Rock, 24, had an outstanding amateur career, winning several important tournaments including the 2014 Youth World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. Rock was upset in the finals of the 2016 Olympic Trials and then turned pro, signing with Roc Nation, the deep pockets sports management company founded by Jay-Z.

darmani

Darmani Rock on the right

Questions have been raised, however, about Rock’s dedication. He weighed 278 pounds in his last fight, 30 pounds more than in his pro debut. (Coffie’s fighting weight also hovers around 270 and he is the same approximate height – both are listed at 6’5” — but Coffie has always been big.)  Moreover, Rock has been inactive for 15 months and may have trouble shaking off the rust.

Darmani Rock hails from Philadelphia; Michael Coffie from Brooklyn, more fodder for the tub-thumpers. Philadelphia was the stomping grounds of Smokin’ Joe Frazier. The City of Brotherly Love has arguably produced more good prizefighters per capita than any city in the country. Brooklyn spawned Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe, and Shannon Briggs, all of whom bubbled out of gritty Brownsville which also happens to be the neighborhood where Michael Coffie spent much of his youth until he was spirited away to a less threatening environment by foster parents.

I don’t want to get carried away with the Joyce-Dubois analogy. Joe Joyce had a stronger amateur pedigree than Darmani Rock. Daniel Dubois had a spectacular run leading up to his match with Joyce including a one-sided triumph over well-regarded Nathan Gorman. Moreover, neither Joyce nor Dubois had ever fought an opponent with a losing record. The same can’t be said of Coffie and Rock who have built their records on the backs of the usual suspects. Darmani Rock’s last two opponents were both 42 years old.

Moreover, Coffie vs. Rock isn’t the main attraction on the PBC card. Top billing goes to Caleb Plant’s 168-pound title defense against Caleb Truax.

As we recall, the Joyce-Dubois fight produced a major upset. Dubois was understood to be faster on his feet and more heavy-handed – considered more likely to turn the tide with a single punch – but youth was not served on that night at the historic Church House in Westminster. Joyce methodically peppered Dubois with his jab which caused a big lump to develop over Dubois’s left eye. The eye eventually shut completely and the fight ended in the 10th round with Dubois taking a knee and allowing himself to be counted out. Joyce’s victory elevated him to #2 in the WBO rankings, a notch below Oleksandr Usyk who is potentially his next opponent.

One doesn’t know what will transpire when Coffie fights Rock, but as Michael Buffer would say, “someone’s ‘O’ will have to go.” Fights of this nature are inherently intriguing and that goes double when the combatants are heavyweights.

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“One Night in Miami”: Film Review by Thomas Hauser

Thomas Hauser

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On February 25, 1964, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. defeated Charles “Sonny” Liston in Miami Beach over the course of six remarkable rounds to claim the heavyweight championship of the world. Late that night, the new champion found himself in a room at Hampton House (a black hotel in segregated Miami) with Malcolm X, several other followers of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, and football great Jim Brown. Soul singer Sam Cooke (a friend of Clay’s) had been at the fight, but there’s no historical record of his being in the hotel room with the others at that time.

One Night in Miami is built around imagining what transpired in that room amongst Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke. Directed by Regina King from a screenplay by Kemp Powers, it’s available on Amazon Prime.

The film fits into the genre known as historical fiction. Dramatic license was taken. Viewers should understand that, at times, it’s allegorical rather than an accurate factual recounting. The larger question is whether the film is impressionistically honest. The answer is “yes.”

One Night in Miami begins with the 1963 fight between Clay and Henry Cooper in London. It then segues to Cooke being treated rudely by an all-white audience at the Copacabana, followed by Jim Brown (the greatest running back in National Football League history) being reminded by a patronizing southern gentleman that he’s just a “n—–.” Next, we see Malcolm as the Nation of Islam’s most charismatic spokesman, after which the scene shifts to Liston-Clay I.

Thirty-four minutes into the film, the drama moves to Hampton House.

Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke were prominent in different ways. Each was young, black, and famous. But Malcolm was a social and religious figure of considerable intellect while the other three were known as entertainers.

The dialogue between the four men is light at first and then turns serious.

Malcolm is played by Kingsley Ben-Adir. On what should have been one of the greatest nights of his life, his world is slipping away. His deadly rupture with Elijah Muhammad is almost complete. Soon, Clay will abandon him. Ben-Adir comes across as a bit weaker and more tentative than one might expect, although Malcolm’s intellect is evident in his performance.

It’s hard to imagine anyone playing Cassius Clay well except the young Muhammad Ali. But Eli Goree bears a resemblance to Clay and is pretty good in the role.

Jim Brown was an intimidating physical presence. Aldis Hodge lacks this physicality but his performance is solid.

Leslie Odom Jr, who plays Sam Cooke, has star quality. He’s the only one of the four major actors who has the charisma and presence of the man he’s portraying. But as a result, Cooke has a stronger on-screen persona than Malcolm. That’s a problem as tensions between the two men boil over.

Toward the end of the film, Malcolm reveals that he intends to leave the Nation of Islam because of differences with Elijah Muhammad and will found a new organization.

“Who’s gonna be in this new organization?” Clay asks.

“I think lots of people will follow me over,” Malcolm answers. “Especially if you come with me.”

Clay, of course, didn’t follow Malcolm. He sided with Elijah Muhammad. One year later, he and Jim Brown were the only participants from the hotel room gathering as portrayed in the film who were still alive. Sam Cooke was shot to death in a California motel on December 11, 1964. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem.

One Night in Miami cautions us that our icons are flesh and blood human beings with strengths and flaws. In its best moments, the film is a powerful reminder that the issues of self-respect, black empowerment, and racial equality are timeless.

Pictured left to right: Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown), Kingsley Ben-Adir (Malcolm X) Leslie Odom Jr (Sam Cooke) Eli Goree (Cassius Clay)

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Staredown: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Crossover star Holly Holm Adds New Dimensions to Claressa Shields

Kelsey McCarson

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She laughs about it now, but back then it wasn’t all that funny.

Boxing champion Holly Holm was competing in her first professional MMA fight, and all her years of training inside the ropes as a world champion boxer had just taken over her entire body.

Holm had kicked her opponent down to the ground, so she did what any well-schooled boxer would do. She pivoted away from her fallen prey and headed over to the neutral corner.

All of that was wrong.

“What are you doing?” her coach yelled from cageside. “Finish her!”

It was Holm’s first big mistake in moving over from boxing to MMA, but she was lucky that night. It turned out that Holm’s opponent was finished whether she had run over there or not, so it was a lesson she could learn without much consequence.

But the instruction of that moment stands true today, so it’s just one of the many things Holm has shared with 25-year-old boxing champion Claressa Shields as the two-time Olympic gold medalist attempts to follow in her footsteps.

“I was thinking yeah, that will definitely happen to me!” Shields said.

After Shields signed a three-year promotional deal in December with the Professional Fighters League (PFL), the first thing Shields needed to do was look for the right gym.

Shields found that place at Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, one of the most famous MMA gyms in the country, and the one most recognized among the masses as the home gym of former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holm and pound-for-pound king Jon Jones.

Holm remains the only fighter (male or female) to have won legit world championships in both boxing and MMA, and Shields said Holm welcomed her to Jackson Wink with open arms.

“She’s been super great and very nice to me. We both come from the same background…and she actually turned out to be a world champion [in MMA], actually turned out to be really good,” Shields said.

But Holm’s funny story about her first MMA fight is something that points to just how large a hill Shields has decided to climb.

Whereas pop culture has just recently started to realize the power of habits through the work of writers such as Charles Duhigg and James Clear, it’s something professional fighters have known for a long time now.

“Oh, you’re going to have a habit of this because you used to box.”

That’s something Holm tells Shields almost every time they work together, and there are just so many examples.

In fact, just watching the 25-year-old boxing champion trying to learn to do all these new things in a different way is exhausting.

That Shields practically lives inside the gym for weeks at a time so she can train four or five times a day for all the kinds of things she never had to worry about before as a professional boxer is a testament to her seriousness and her courage.

But perhaps the most amazing part of the entire story is that Shields still plans on boxing.

While Holm won world championships in both sports, she achieved those things separately. Meanwhile, Shields said she wants to do the same thing Holm did but at the same time.

So, while I’m standing there with her inside an MMA cage in New Mexico, Shields is plotting fights in both sports. On one hand, she’s talking to me about a title unification bout in boxing against Marie-Eve Dicaire. On the other, she’s talking about future superfights in MMA against the likes of UFC champ Amanda Nunes.

“I’m trying to separate the two,” Shields said specifically about her training that day but she might as well have been talking about her whole life right about now.

It’s arguably the most amazing storyline right now in combat sports.

Shields started boxing when she was just 11 years old. She earned her first gold medal at the Olympics at 17 and her second four years later.

Today, Shields is a three-division world champion, and she says she’s not nearly finished adding to her growing number of boxing belts.

But all those years and all those successes have built so many habits. Ducking and slipping is great for boxing, but both become considerable detriments to defense when you suddenly have to worry about things like knees and kicks.

And what about wrestling and jiu-jitsu?

But all that stuff together is exactly what makes Shields’ epic decision to dare to be great at both sports at the same time so amazing in the first place.

Look, Shields might never accomplish the same amazing feat Holm did when she shocked Ronda Rousey in 2015 for the UFC women’s bantamweight championship.

But she’s aiming to eclipse that incredible mark anyway, and with Holm and many others offering Shields ideas about what she needs to think about as she climbs up the steepest hill she can find, she’ll definitely have her best chance at doing it.

Kelsey McCarson covers combat sports for Bleacher Report and Heavy.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

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