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Losing But Winning

Ted Sares

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Losing But Winning

Joey LaMotta once told his brother Jake,You win, you win. You lose, you still win.” He was alluding to Jake’s next fight against inept Billy Fox. Throwing the fight would get him a shot at the champ, Marcel Cerdan. This was a nod to the dark side of boxing.

The expression can have other meanings as well. When Miguel Cotto lost to Floyd Mayweather Jr., his face reflected the many blows Floyd had landed. However, Cotto walked away with enough money to never have to worry again financially. He lost but he won big, and that scenario has been repeated many times in this modern era of PPV and big payday fights

However, the expression as used below reflects something more soulful—something that touches upon the fighting spirit of boxers.

Paulie Malignaggi

After Paulie Malignaggi lost a brutal fight to Miguel Cotto in June 2006, Lou DiBella said, “I think everyone knew (Paulie) was flashy and had a big mouth and was a cocky kid. I don’t think anyone knew he had that kind of grit and heart….I think in defeat he made the biggest statement of his career — that ‘I am a real fighter and I can stand up to anybody, even a bigger, stronger guy.’ ”

Despite a broken orbital bone that made his cheek look grotesque, he fought to win and in the process won over Cotto’s tough Puerto Rican fans who applauded him after the fight. Paulie lost, but he really won because now everyone knew that in addition to all the flash and bling, there was true grit. Paulie gained more from that loss than Cotto did from the win.

Azumah Nelson

Going back all the way to 1982, Ghana’s Azumah Nelson exploded onto the scene even though he was knocked out in the 15th round by Salvador Sanchez in front of relatively few fans at Madison Square Garden.

The crowd was small (5,575 paid) because few knew who Nelson was. That would never be the case after the fierce and furious war in which Nelson gave the legendary Sanchez all he could handle and then some. After an even battle in the early rounds, “Chava” was able to turn the tide to some extent in the seventh when he floored “The Professor” with a short hook. However, Nelson fought back and even won two late rounds using sheer aggression and grit. By the 14th stanza, the buzz around ringside was that a possible upset was in the making. Nelson had shocked onlookers by his ability to win several fierce exchanges and even shake up Sanchez.

In the 15th round, Nelson again pressed the action but a right and then a left hook rocked the gallant challenger and he was now ripe for the taking. Out on his feet, he continued to punch aimlessly and was put down hard, but incredibly he got up ready to continue until referee Tony Perez stepped in and performed a mercy stoppage.

This would be Sanchez’s last fight before he was fatally injured in a car crash. As for Nelson, his remarkable career then took off and he would eventually join “Chava” in the International Boxing Hall of Fame

As Michael Carbert poignantly writes in Fight City: “The truth remains that a young Azumah Nelson gave an electrifying performance that night, an astonishing exhibition of heart and determination that could only have been withstood and overcome by a boxer of equal courage and even greater talent. Salvador Sanchez had already proved himself a truly great boxer, but on that summer night in New York City he put the finishing, final touch on a Hall of Fame legacy just before it all came to an end. Before the young Salvador….fatally underestimated a risky maneuver on a dusty, narrow Mexican road, and left boxing fans to forever speculate as to what might have been.”

Azumah Nelson lost but he also won on that night in New York City. He had gained the respect of aficionados, writers, and other fighters.

Others

There have been other fights where the loser actually increased his stock, turbo-charging his career. When recently retired George “The Saint” Groves fought fellow Brit Carl “The Cobra” Froch in the first of their two fights in November 2013, he almost upset Froch, dropping him in the first round and then being stopped in a highly controversial and seemingly premature fashion in the ninth round.

Ray Mancini’s late round loss to Alexis Arguello in 1981 and Emanuel Augustus’s losing effort against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2000 did nothing to hurt their careers.

Fast Forward

On January 26, 2019, undefeated welterweight champion Keith “One Time” Thurman defended his WBA title with a majority decision over grizzled veteran Josesito Lopez who has fought extremely stiff opposition over the course of his career. Judges Tom Schreck (117-109) and Steve Weisfeld (115-111) both saw it for Thurman, while judge Don Ackerman somehow had it a 113-113 draw—apparently giving Lopez rounds for stalking.

Thurman was expected to shake off ring rust caused by a two-year hiatus from the ring and halt Lopez in the late rounds, and “One Time” did control matters until the seventh when the stalking Lopez suddenly came to life and almost stopped Thurman. A Lopez left hook, followed by a straight right, hurt Thurman who then went into survival mode. Lopez, however, would not let up, also winning the eighth as he landed more hard shots on a backtracking Thurman. Finally Keith regained control and went on to win.

While Thurman may get a great payday if a fight against Manny Pacquiao is made, it was Lopez who got the cheers from the fans. Rather than be a patsy (i.e. a designated loser), the “Riverside Rocky” left Barclays Center in Brooklyn with his tough guy  reputation well intact. He left with more than he came in with and that’s what boxers do when they lose but “win.”

Editor’s note: How many other examples can you think of? We welcome your input.

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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NEWS FLASH: Leon Spinks Hospitalized; Reportedly Fighting for His Life

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The gossip site TMZ is reporting that Leon Spinks is hospitalized in Las Vegas and is fighting for his life. TMZ acquired this information from Spinks’ wife Brenda Glur Spinks after spying her social media post. “It’s been a tough year for us,” she wrote. “Leon has endured a lot of medical problems. I’m reaching to ask that you pray for my Beautiful Husband Leon. So that he may overcome the obstacles that crossed his path.”

Her sentiment was echoed by Leon’s son Leon Spinks III who posted this message on his facebook page: “My Dad isn’t doing so good now and his wife Brenda Glur Spinks and I ask that u pray that he weather’s this storm. My dad is all I have left and I really appreciate it if yall let God know that he is not in this battle alone.”

A gold medal winner at the 1976 Olympics, Spinks, 66, is best remembered for upsetting Muhammad Ali in 1978 to win the world heavyweight title. He lost the title back to Ali in his next fight.

This is a developing story. As new details emerge, we will share them with you.

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Crawford-Kavaliauskas is the Main Go, but ‘The Takeover’ is the Stronger Allurement

Arne K. Lang

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Crawford-Kavaliauskas is the Main Go, but ‘The Takeover’ is the Stronger Allurement

Terence Crawford puts his undefeated record and his WBO welterweight title on the line Saturday when he opposes Egidijus Kavaliauskas at Madison Square Garden on ESPN. Kavaliauskas is no slouch. The two-time Olympian for Lithuania is also undefeated (21-0-1, 17 KOs), but Crawford is so highly regarded that he is a massive favorite.

If one were arranging the bouts according to the degree of intrigue, using the odds as the barometer, Crawford vs Kavaliauskas wouldn’t sit atop the marquee. That honor would go the IBF lightweight title fight between Richard Commey and Teofimo Lopez. Moreover, it’s a fair guess that if this fight were to fall out (perish the thought) it would result in more refunds than if Crawford were a late scratch.

The challenger, Lopez, is favored, currently in the vicinity of 9/4, but this is a price that usually translates into a very competitive fight and the stakes are high. The winner will almost assuredly advance to a rich engagement with Vasiliy Lomachenko who holds the other three meaningful 135-pound title belts

Commey (29-2, 26 KOs) won the IBF lightweight title – it was conveniently vacant – with a second-round stoppage of Russia’s Isa Chaniev and stopped Raymundo Beltran in eight rounds in his first title defense. Commey dominated both fights, scoring seven knockdowns in all, but the Russian was a sad excuse for a world title challenger and Beltran, although a solid pro, was past his prime at age 38.

Commey’s two losses came in back-to-back fights in 2016 and both were by split decision. He lost to Robert Easter Jr in Reading, Pennsylvania, and then, eight weeks later, was upended by Denis Shafikov before a tiny crowd at an actual boxing gym in Moscow.

There was nothing controversial about those losses, but in both instances Commey was in hostile territory. Toledo’s Easter brought a large delegation of fans to Reading and Shafikov was fighting on his home turf. The crowd on Saturday will almost assuredly be skewed against Commey again, but it won’t be as pronounced. Commey, born and raised in Ghana, has a home in the Bronx. Lopez was born in Brooklyn, a bond that his Brooklyn-born promoter Bob Arum likes to emphasize, but grew up in Davie, Florida.

Teofimo

At age 22, Teofimo Lopez (14-0, 11 KOs) is almost 10 years younger than Richard Commey. A year ago, at this very venue, he scored his most memorable triumph, a highlight-reel, 44-second, one-punch knockout of Mason Menard that was named the TSS Knockout of the Year. He has won three fights in the interim, most recently a 12-round decision over Masayoshi Nakatani.

Teofimo won comfortably on the scorecards, but his performance left much to be desired. The Japanese was a tall, rangy fighter. In Richard Commey, he is meeting a man of similar height. Both are listed at five-foot-eight.

Lopez has developed a large following in a short time and his in-ring heroics are only part of the story. He’s quite the showman. After each win he adds an exclamation point with a celebratory back-flip and outside the ring his brash persona has enhanced his notoriety.

When a fighter has a common surname, it helps to have a unique first name. The reality is that Lopez would not have built his brand as fast if his first name had been, say, Miguel, or Carlos, or Juan. And he had the foresight to supplement his unique first name with a unique nickname: The Takeover.

The nickname, says Lopez, doesn’t just refer to taking over a specific weight division (he’ll move up to 140 before the year 2020 is over) but, rather, taking over the whole sport in the sense of becoming boxing’s biggest pay-per-view attraction. Early into his pro career, he began calling out Lomachenko.

Teofimo’s biggest cheerleader is his Honduras-born father and trainer of the same name and the elder Lopez has even more hubris than his son. “My son is too strong for Lomachenko….he would walk through anything that Lomechenko throws at him,” Teofimo Sr. told veteran boxing writer Bill Tibbs prior to his son’s match with Mason Menard. “Liston, he has God-given gifts and he’s simply the best out there. (My son) has the best parts of Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard, GGG, Floyd, Andre Ward, all the best of them in him.”

The Lopez that defeated Nakatani would not have defeated Vasiliy Lomachenko. And there are those that think he won’t beat Richard Commey unless he brings his “A’ game. It’s an interesting fight.

—–

The main fights on Saturday’s Top Rank boxing card will air on ESPN’s flagship station. The boxing card, which opens with the rematch between Michael Conlan and Vladimir Nikitin, follows the show in which the Heisman Trophy is presented to LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. The Heisman telecast will begin at 8 pm EST.

The same situation prevailed last year when Top Rank’s Madison Square Garden card was headlined by the fight between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Jose Pedraza. To the consternation of diehard boxing fans, the Heisman presentation show ran late. Don’t be surprised if it happens again.

Photo credit: Stacy Verbeek

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Will U.S. Olympic Boxers Fare Better in Tokyo Thanks to Yesterday’s Ruling?

Arne K. Lang

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The road to the medal round for U.S. boxers at the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics just got easier. But maybe not.

“Russia Banned From The Tokyo Olympics” screamed yesterday’s headline, but reading between the lines there’s more to the story. A more carefully worded headline would have read “Russian Olympic Athletes in Limbo.”

We have been down this road before. WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, recommended banning Russia from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The agency accused Russian authorities of a massive cover-up that erased hundreds of positive test samples.

WADA then did something of an about-face and decided to evaluate each case individually. Ultimately, 278 Russian athletes were approved to compete in Rio; 111 were denied. All 11 Russian boxers who survived the various qualifying events made the cut.

This new ban (which will be appealed) also emanates from WADA which alleges that the Russian authorities continued the massive cover-up using the “disappearance methodology.” But, if upheld, it’s a more severe penalty in that it bans Russia from major international sporting events for the next four years. That would include the World Cup, the biggest sporting event in the world by far. The next edition of the World Cup is slated for 2022 in Qatar.

“There’s still…the possibility of clean athletes to compete in the Games,” Svetlana Romashina, a five-time Olympic gold medalist in synchronized swimming, told Moscow correspondent Andrew Roth of The Guardian. “I believe the punishment of clean athletes to be unacceptable,” continued Romashina. “We have done nothing wrong.”

The reality, as it now stands, is that Russian boxers and other Russian athletes, if deemed clean, will be able to compete in Tokyo, just not under the Russian banner. As is common in some wrestling tournaments, their affiliation will be “unattached.” And Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is a big fan of amateur boxing and other combat sports, won’t be there. The ban prohibits Russian officials from attending major international sporting events if their team has been expelled.

—–

Historically, the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team has excelled in the Summer Games. But that’s yesterday’s news. In the last three Olympics, U.S. male boxers won only three medals, one silver and two bronze. By contrast, during the same period, Russian boxers walked off with 10 medals including three gold.

The prognosis for the 2020 U.S. team looked dim once again when the U.S. contingent earned only one medal (a silver by lightweight Keyshawn Davis) at the recent AIBA men’s World Championships in Ekaterinburg, Russia. The host team garnered four medals, including three gold. If one conjoined the Russian squad with former Soviet Union satellites Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the count grows to seven gold medals (of a possible eight) and 15 medals overall.

Russia’s gold medalists at the World Championships were welterweight Andrey Zamkovoy (pictured), middleweight Gleb Bakshi, and heavyweight Muslim Gadzhimagomedov. Zamkovoy and the heavyweight (who will badly need a new name if he ever turns pro) are outstanding amateurs and may have been favored to win their divisions in Tokyo.

Zamkovoy, 32, represented Russia in the 2012 and 2016 Games and medaled in 2012 where he defeated Errol Spence Jr en route to the semi-finals. The heavyweight (a cruiserweight by pro standards) is an ever-improving, 22-year-old, six-foot-four southpaw who has already amassed an amateur record of 60-5.

The competition for the U.S. team at overseas tournaments has gotten a lot tougher in the last two decades as several Eastern European countries have become more like Cuba, investing state resources into their amateur boxing programs with an eye to building a powerhouse. Perhaps the WADA edict will aid the U.S. boxing team in shaking the doldrums in 2020, but that assumption seems premature.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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