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The Avila Perspective, Chap. 32: Crowd Control in the New World Order of Boxing

David A. Avila

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The new world order of Boxing

Hundreds of men dressed in black suits crisscrossed the plaza in packs of twos or threes with green lanyards hanging on their lapels at LA Live.

Our photographer and I navigated through the maze of dark suits in the main plaza toward Wolfgang Puck where Top Rank’s Bob Arum (pictured with WBC super lightweight world champion Jose Carlos Ramirez) sat to meet with various media and talk about the various boxing cards coming up.

Prizefighting has hit another stride with multiple cards clashing with each other in the coming weeks and months. Boxing promoters are butting heads with competing fight cards all over the country. It’s something boxing has not seen in decades.

“Boxing was like this in the 70s and 80s right after the Rocky movies and Sugar Ray Leonard and the Olympics,” said Arum who promoted during that earlier chapter of prizefighting. “You had all categories of boxing on Saturday afternoon on CBS, Sundays NBC and later ABC.”

The major networks are no longer involved with prizefighting but with the arrival of sports networks and sport apps eager to grab an attentive audience through membership deals, a new era has arrived.

Fans have choices now.

Last week rival promoters competed with Premier Boxing Champions staging a welterweight championship fight in Brooklyn, New York butting heads with a Golden Boy Promotions card in Houston, Texas.

One person caught in the middle was trainer Robert Garcia.

New York vs Texas

The Robert Garcia Boxing Academy in the hills of Riverside, Calif has become a hub for many of the best prizefighters in country. On a daily basis you can see champions like Abner Mares or prospects like Lindolfo Delgado and Joshua Franco.

Last Saturday veteran Josesito Lopez fought Keith Thurman for the WBA welterweight title at Barclays Center in Brooklyn while rising contender Vergil Ortiz entered the ring at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Garcia was caught in the middle. To further muddy the conflict, his daughter’s 15th birthday was taking place.

“I had to be there for Josesito’s fight,” said Robert Garcia who asked Josesito’s manager Mikey Garcia (also Robert’s younger brother) to get him a late flight to New York so that he could spend time with his daughter and get to Brooklyn in time for Lopez’s fight with Thurman.

It all worked out.

Lopez traded blows with Thurman and gave fans a competitive fight for 12 rounds. It was an unexpected result for most sports reporters covering the fight who had no idea of Lopez’s background other than his record. They expected the lean Southern Californian to get crushed if Thurman was anywhere near his usual self.

“Josesito did such a great job,” said Robert Garcia. “I had to be at Josesito’s fight. Look at the way he fought. He was more comfortable with me there.”

Garcia was impressed with Thurman as well.

“Thurman boxed pretty well. He looked good,” said Garcia. “He’s a great fighter, one of the best in the welterweight division.”

In Texas, on the same day, things were moving quite comfortably as Vergil Ortiz Jr. had his father and Robert Garcia Jr. working the corner in his fight against Mexico’s Jesus Valdez Barrayan. Ortiz stopped the sturdy Mexican fighter in five rounds though the lightweight from Sonora never was dropped.

“Vergil is special. You saw how he looked,” said Garcia. “He’s a hard worker.”

Ortiz was one of those who sparred with Josesito Lopez and others like Jose Carlos Ramirez and Lindolfo Delgado also added their time in the boxing ring. It’s pretty impressive preparation. And somehow the cross-country dilemma was solved triumphantly.

Carson vs Indio but no Mares

Next weekend the competition revs up again with fights on consecutive nights in Carson and Fresno. Abner Mares was supposed to clash with Gervonta Davis on Saturday but pulled out due to a late injury.

Team Garcia had devised a whole camp toward fighting southpaws with Mares and Ramirez preparing to face lefties in their mutual title fights for Saturday Feb. 9, and Sunday Feb. 10.

“I figured it would be easier to plan if they all were fighting southpaws,” said Robert Garcia who trains both Mares and Ramirez.

But with Mares pulling out, Garcia’s team will be focusing solely on Ramirez when he fights Jose Cepeda who switches between southpaw and orthodox stances.

“We’re ready for anything,” said Garcia.

In Indio, Golden Boy Promotions has a heavy duty fight card on Sept. 9, with every bout featuring TV worthy fighters at Fantasy Springs Casino. DAZN will stream the card.

Two world title fights take the forefront with WBC super bantamweight titlist Rey Vargas defending against Venezuela’s Franklin Manzanilla in a scheduled 12 round clash and Puerto Rico’s Alberto “Explosivo” Machado putting his WBA super featherweight title at stake against Blythe’s Andrew Cancio in another 12 round clash.

Just to add gasoline to the fire, top featherweight contender Jojo Diaz faces Charles Huerta in a 10 round sizzler. Back in the days of the Olympic Auditorium, this fight would have brought the city of Los Angeles to a standstill.

Huerta is a cagey veteran of nearly 20 years who can defeat anyone on a given day. Diaz is a former Olympian who beat then WBA featherweight titlist Jesus Rojas but could not make the required weight so was unable to claim the title despite winning. The match with Huerta is a tantalizingly good match.

Another Olympic Auditorium type fight pits Genaro Gamez against Ivan Delgado. This is going to be extremely interesting. Can the youthful talent of Gamez compete with Delgado’s toughness and experience?

It’s another firefight.

Other top fighters on the card include Azat Hovhannisyan, Oscar Duarte, Ferdinand Kerobyan, Rommel Caballero and Tureano Johnson.

Sunday

Arum, who promotes the Fresno, California fight card on Sunday Feb. 10, said one of the main reasons he likes ESPN is its willingness to put fight cards any day of the week.

“That’s the beauty of ESPN we can fight on a Sunday or a Thursday so we don’t run into conflicts,” said Arum the guru of boxing promotions.

This year promises to raise the roof off of the boxing arena.

Fights to Watch this week

Thurs. Jan. 31, UFC Fight Pass, 7 p.m. Aston Palicte (24-2-1) vs Jose Martinez (20-0-2); Brandon Cruz (6-0) vs. Edward Vazquez (5-0).

Fri. Feb. 1, Showtime, 10 p.m. Ronald Ellis (15-0-2) vs DeAndre Ware (12-1-2); Abraham Nova (14-0) vs Oluwaseun Joshua Wahab (18-0).

Sat. Feb. 2 ESPN, 7 p.m. Oscar Valdez (24-0) vs Carmine Tommasone (19-0); Elieder Alvarez (24-0) vs Sergey Kovalev (32-3-1); Teofimo Lopez (11-0) vs Diego Magdaleno (31-2).

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

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Canelo Conquers BJ Saunders Before a Record Crowd in Texas

Arne K. Lang

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Canelo-Conquers-BJ-Saunders-Before-a-Record-Crowd-in-Texas

Canelo Conquers BJ Saunders Before a Record Crowd in Texas

Tonight’s card at AT&T Stadium attracted an announced crowd of 73,126, smashing the previous record for an indoor fight in the United States (63,352 for Ali-Spinks II) – a feather in the caps of British promoter Eddie Hearn and the fellow who is widely seen as the guy who owns the joint, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. And, of course, it was also a feather in the cap of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez who added another world title belt to his collection while reaffirming his status as the sport’s top pound-for-pound fighter and demonstrating once again that he is boxing biggest draw. Alvarez upended previously undefeated Billy Joe Saunders whose corner pulled him out after the eighth round.

Alvarez (57-1-2, 38 KOs) entered the contest owning WBC and WBA belts at 168 pounds. Saunders (30-1, 14 KOs) held the WBO belt.

The fight was competitive through the first seven rounds. There were no indelible moments and at the midpoint it appeared that Saunders was settling into a groove. But  Canelo dominated the eighth, a round in which he opened a cut over Saunders’ right eye. The eye swelled up immediately and would have reduced Billy Joe to a one-eyed fighter had he insisted on continuing.

After the fight, Canelo said, “It wasn’t as difficult as I expected.” His next fight is expected to come against Caleb Plant, likely in September.  Plant holds the IBF belt, affording Canelo — who will be a big favorite — the opportunity to grab all four meaningful pieces of the 168-pound hardware.

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, Mexicali’s Elwin Soto (19-1, 13 KOs) successfully defended his WBO world light flyweight title with a ninth-round stoppage of former five-time world minimumweight champion Katsunari Takayama (32-9). This was a fan-friendly fight stopped too soon by notoriously erratic referee Laurence Cole, albeit the granite-chinned Takayama ate a lot of hard punches.

Soto came out strong and hurt Takayama twice in the opening round. It looked like a long night for 37-year-old Japanese invader who was making his second start since returning to the ring after a 48-month absence during which he came up short in an Olympic qualifying tournament. But Takayama fought his way back into the fight by being the busier man. In the end, however, youth prevailed and the hard-punching Soto, the younger man by 13 years, had his hand raised.

Also

In a strange pairing – strange because it pitted against a domestic-level Brit against a relatively obscure Frenchman at an American football stadium – Souleymane Cissokho, a Parisian by way of Senegal, won a split decision over Kieran Conway in a 10-round welterweight contest. This was a drab fight that had an unexpected moment of high drama in the ninth round when Conway, the bigger man but not known as a big puncher, put Cissokho on the canvas with an uppercut that landed on the left eye. Cissokho was hurt but made it through the round and was as good as new in the 10th.

A 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, Cissokko (13-0, 8 KOs) kept his undefeated record intact. The judges had it 96-93 and 95-94 for Cissokho and a head-scratching 97-92 for Conway (16-2-1), a Northampton man making his first appearance in a U.S. ring. The bout was originally scheduled for Dec. 12 in London, but Cissokho backed out in favor of a match two months ago in Dallas underneath Estrada-Gonzalez II.

In the opening bout of the pay-per-view, Cuban heavyweight Frank Sanchez, who is part of the Eddy Reynoso stable, won a six-round technical decision over Nagy Aguilera, improving to 18-0. In the sixth round, Sanchez struck Aguilera in the back of the head, a punch deemed accidental. Aguilera fell to his knees, toppled on his side, stumbled as he attempted to rise, and appeared seriously hurt. A doctor was called in and stopped the fight. The crowd acted as if it was a charade and let loose a torrent of boos.

Sanchez, allegedly 28, was on his way to pitching a shutout when the match was halted, but wasn’t impressive. Aguilera, a 34-year-old from Newburgh, New York, via the Dominican Republic, has won only six of his last 15 since his signature win, a first-round stoppage of former world-title holder Oleg Maskaev.

More

In the last of the four prelims that were streamed for free, former two-time world amateur champion Marc Castro advanced to 3-0 (3) with a fourth-round stoppage of Mexico’s Irving Macias Castillo (9-2). Castro started fast and Macias’s face was marked-up before the opening round was over. By the third round, Macias has a big welt over his right eye. The referee terminated the one-sided battle at the 2:04 mark of round four.

Keyshawn Davis scored a six-round unanimous decision over Jose Antonio Meza in a bout contested at 140 pounds. Considered the U.S. fighter with the best chance of medaling in Tokyo if he had remained an amateur, Davis, a 22-year-old southpaw from Norfolk, Virginia, advanced to 3-0. The hard-trying but outclassed Meza, from Durango, Mexico, declined to 6-5.

In a welterweight contest slated for eight, Canelo’s Guadalajara homey Christian Alan Gomez improved to 20-2-1 with his 18th knockout, dismissing late sub Xavier Wilson (11-3-1) in the second round. Wilson, from San Antonio, had been campaigning as a lightweight. The official time was 2:19.

Junior welterweight Kelvin Davis, the older brother of Keyshawn Davis, survived a scare to win a unanimous four-round decision over Jan Marsalek, a 33-year-old Czech making his U.S. debut. Davis got careless in the final round and Marsalek (8-3) put him on the deck with a scorching left hook. All three judges were in accord, giving Davis the win by a 38-37 margin.

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R.I.P. Miami Boxing Promoter Felix “Tuto” Zabala

Arne K. Lang

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RIP-Miami-Boxing-Promoter-Felix-Tuto-Zavala

Felix “Tuto” Zabala, the patriarch of a Miami-based boxing promotion firm, died on Thursday, May 6, from respiratory failure at age 83 after a long illness. Zabala promoted seven world champions before a 2001 stroke forced him to retire. His son, Felix “Tutito” Zabala Jr, succeeded him and the firm that he founded, All Star Boxing, continues to have a large presence in the sport.

Zabala was born in Cuba. After Fidel Castro came to power, he defected to Jamaica, where he drove a taxi for three months in Kingston and then it was on to San Juan, Puerto Rico and eventually Miami.

Zabala was in his mid-20s when he promoted his first shows in Puerto Rico and he continued to promote fights there after taking up residence in Florida.  As noted in a story in today’s Miami Herald, many of his San Juan promotions were fund-raisers for anti-Castro organizations.

Zabala’s first champion was Carlos “Teo” Cruz who won the world lightweight title with a 15-round split decision over heavily favored Carlos Ortiz at Santo Domingo, DR, in 1968. Among his other champions were Wilfredo Vazquez Sr who won world titles in three weight classes and Miguel “Happy” Lora. A Columbian, Lora became a big draw in the Miami area where he appeared on five shows for Zabala (and three more for Don King) including the Zabala promotion where he wrested the WBC bantamweight title from Daniel Zaragoza.

Zabala was instrumental in launching Boxeo Telemundo. Founded in 1989, the series is in its thirty-second year and still going strong.

When Zabala suffered his stroke, his son of the same name was the general manager of the Barcelona Dragons of the short-lived NFL Developmental League. “Tutito” returned to Miami to keep the family business afloat. His son, Felix III, Tuto’s grandson, now works by his side. All Star recently partnered with Top Rank on the April 24 show in Kissimmee where Emanuel Navarette defended his WBO world featherweight title with a 12th-round stoppage of Christopher Diaz.

“Tutito” learned the business at the knee of his father and was well-equipped to succeed him. In 1989, he became the firm’s interim president when Zabala Sr began a 32-month prison stint after pleading guilty to laundering $50,000 that passed through his hands from a drug dealer. The incident spawned a wonderful quote, one mindful of Jimmy Cannon’s famous line that boxing is the red light district of sports.

“Sure he did time, but there’s a lot of other guys involved in boxing who did a lot worse and haven’t been caught yet,” said Al Bonanni to Miami Herald writer Steve Wyche. Bonanni, a Miami policeman, ran the Police Athletic League gym and trained many of the boxers that appeared on Zabala’s cards.

It was a lapse in judgment for the elder Zabala whose reputation for integrity was confirmed by Angelo Dundee, among many others.

In addition to his son, “Felix “Tuto” Zabala is survived by two daughters and eight grandchildren. His wife Carmen passed away in 2014. We here at TSS send our condolences to his loved ones.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 134: Mexico vs World

David A. Avila

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Avila-Perspective-Chap-134-Mexico-vs-World

Avila Perspective, Chap. 134: Mexico vs World

A couple of Mexican champions lead the way to the Texas fight card as Saul “Canelo” Alvarez seeks to gather another world title and mini-bomber Elwin “La Pulga” Soto defends his title this weekend.

Canelo (55-1-2, 37 KOs) holds the WBC and WBA super middleweight belts and wants the WBO belt that Billy Joe Saunders (30-0, 14 KOs) holds. They meet Saturday, May 8, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. DAZN will stream the Matchroom Boxing card.

It’s not an easy fight, especially when you consider Saunders is a speedy southpaw who can easily run for 12 rounds. For those with good memories, another southpaw runner named Erislandy Lara gave a preview of that back in 2014. That fight bored most of the boxing world to tears. Let’s hope this one is better.

Fight fans want to see blows exchanged. Few want to see someone scurry around the boxing ring with nary a blow exchanged. It’s the primary reason people like brawls or prefer to watch people fight in the stands over spilt beer.

Canelo longs to establish himself as one of the greats in boxing and knows that by unifying the super middleweight division he can stamp his name in the history books. Only one other super middleweight did it. And he was a Brit.

Chasing Calzaghe

Joe Calzaghe was his name and to be more accurate he was Welsh. The “Italian Dragon” fought from 1993 to 2008 and ended his career with a flourish.

Calzaghe’s last three fights were against Mikkel Kessler, Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. Though he was floored by both Jones and Hopkins in the first round he rallied to win by decisions in the U.S., not in the United Kingdom. Quite a feat.

It’s never easy to fight another world champion so when Calzaghe fought Hopkins in Las Vegas back in April 2008, many Americans expected the Philly fighter to be too much for the Welshman. It was a rugged scrap as Hopkins manhandled Calzaghe early in the fight before adjustments were made and the Welshman simply out-hustled the defensive-minded Hopkins.

Calzaghe won by split decision in a razor close fight. He fought one more time against Jones and had a much easier time in defeating the former undisputed light heavyweight titlist. He simply retired with little fanfare from those here in the US, but the Welshman was a tough, tough customer with speed, footwork and a solid chin. One more thing: he was a southpaw.

When Canelo faces Saunders he’s fighting someone who somewhat resembles the physical elements of Calzaghe. One thing about Calzaghe, he never ran. He simply stood right in front of his foe and out-punched them.

Should Canelo win, he has a firm date against IBF super middleweight titlist Caleb Plant of Las Vegas in September.

“We have always been open about what our short- and long-term plans have been. I want to unify the 168lb division, and Caleb Plant would be next in line to secure that short term goal if successful against Billy Joe Saunders,” said Alvarez.

Mini-bomber from Mexicali

WBO light flyweight titlist Elwin Soto (18-1, 12 KOs) defends against Japan’s Katsunari Takayama (32-8, 12 KOs) who is moving up from minimumweight where he was the world titlist.

Soto, 24, hails from Mexicali, the border town east of Tijuana, and has fought on American soil four times. The Mexican champion known as “La Pulga” has a kamikaze style of fighting. He’s not keen on looking stylish unless you mean his hair style.

Ironically, the Mexican kamikaze will be fighting Takayama who at 37 years old returns to the wars after spending four years away between 2016 and 2020. He moved up one weight division after winning the vacant WBO minimumweight title in August 2016 and did not fight again until last December.

Takayama has been in the fight game for a while and actually fought Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez for the minimumweight world title back in 2009 when the great Nicaraguan fighter campaigned at that weight class. That’s quite a few years ago.

Takayama has been fighting 20 years professionally. That’s a lot of wear and tear. But against Soto the former minimumweight world champion should not worry about a boxing match, he just has to be wary of those bombs coming his way.

Dignity. Always Dignity.

This is a favorite movie line that my spouse and I like to repeat. It was uttered by dancer/actor Gene Kelly in the motion picture Singing in the Rain.

Premier Boxing Champions presents its second of three boxing cards at the Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday May 15, when WBC super bantamweight titlist Luis Nery defends against Brandon Figueroa.

Tijuana’s Nery has always been recognized as loaded with talent and also with too many tacos. He failed to make weight a few times as a bantamweight and now campaigns at super bantamweight. It’s one of the most talented divisions in prizefighting.

“I have a lot of respect for Brandon, but inside the ring, I am going to be the rudest person he’s ever met. Respect goes out of the window inside that ring. I am going to do everything to get the win,” said Nery.

Figueroa, 24, holds some version of the WBA super bantamweight title. Another fighter on this card, Danny Roman, held the original version that he won back in 2017 and then took the IBF version in 2019. He recently lost both belts, losing a split decision to Murodjon Akhmadaliev in January 2020.

The 122-pounders will be on display and its going to be a crackling affair.

Tickets are available now for the PBC fight card that takes place at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. Those outside of the area can watch on Showtime.

Fights to Watch

Fri. Telemundo 11:30 p.m. George Acosta (11-1) vs Gadwin Rosa (11-1).

Sat. DAZN 5 p.m. Saul Alvarez (55-1-2) vs Billy Joe Saunders (30-0); Elwin Soto (18-1) vs Katsunari Takayama (32-8); Kieron Conway (16-1-1) vs Souleymane Cissokho (12-0).

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