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Avila Perspective, Chapter 36: Cubans, Claressa Shields and More

David A. Avila

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Cubans

Smooth as a yard of silk, and slick as a pool of oil, best explains what boxing fans can expect to see when Cuban fighters Erislandy Lara and Luis Ortiz step in the ring for their respective battles this weekend.

Cuban style boxing represented at its best.

Not everyone prefers the wait-for-the-moment kind of fighting that Cubans employ, but if you do, then you are in for a treat. Both Lara and Ortiz excel in this boxing strategy.

Lara (25-3-2, 14 KOs) steps in the boxing ring against undefeated Brian Castano (15-0, 11 KOs) of Argentina for a version of the WBA super welterweight title on Saturday, March 2. A heavyweight co-main event features Ortiz versus Christian Hammer (pictured).

Showtime will televise the two fights from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

In his last fight Lara was run over by Jarrett Hurd nearly a year ago. The fight resulted in a split decision loss for the Cuban southpaw but many felt he legitimately was vanquished by the bigger and more aggressive fighter. This time Lara faces an aggressive but smaller Argentine slugger. It should be a perfect fit.

Like most Cubans taught that island style of boxing, Lara is a lefty who waits until you make a mistake then pounces on you. Patience is his weapon and nobody out-waits Lara. But if the opponent is aggressive, then the Cuban style can be a thing of beauty if utilized correctly.

“Saturday, it’ll be my time to take his belt,” said Lara at the media day on Wednesday. “Castano is undefeated but he hasn’t fought anyone yet. He’s definitely never fought anyone close to my level. After Saturday night, he won’t be undefeated anymore.”

Castano, 29, hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina and you never know what to expect from that boxing country. They can surprise you like Marcos Maidana did years ago in his big stage arrival.

“I’m very proud to be representing Argentina here at Barclays Center on a card of this magnitude on Showtime. I couldn’t be any happier because I know what this moment can represent to others. Its motivation that fighters from Argentina can make it to the highest level,” Castano said.

In the heavyweight clash another left-handed Cuban enters the fray.

Ortiz (30-1, 26 KOs) returns to the ring and faces Germany’s Christian Hammer (24-5, 14 KOs) in a 10-round heavyweight clash.

The big Cuban heavyweight still moves pretty well at age 39 and he has a foe standing in front of him who doesn’t like movement. But Hammer has fought guys like Alexander Povetkin and Tyson Fury so he has experience with top tier heavyweights.

“I take every fight against top fighters and I will fight them anywhere in the world. I want to be a champion, so I know I have to travel,” said Hammer. “I have to go in there and prove myself. I’m going to leave it all in the ring and show the best version of myself.”

Ortiz is a classic example of the Cuban style. He probes and punches judiciously and when he spots a mistake he takes advantage with lightning speed for his size and age. This is his moment to prove he still belongs with the top 10 heavyweights.

“I know he can go 12 rounds with a top fighter like he did with Alexander Povetkin, so we’re not taking any chances,” said Ortiz. “I’m not Povetkin though. So he’s not going the distance with me.”

If you like smooth style boxing this fight card is for you.

An uncle of mine that we call “Feo” Teo – he’s called Feo (ugly) because that’s what he calls everyone else – always boasts Cuban boxers are the best. He constantly brings up fighters like Jose Napoles, Sugar Ramos and Teofilo Stevenson. But you can’t believe everything he tells you. He also claims he’s the most handsome man in Southern California.

Claressa and Christina

Female prizefighting still has ground to make up in terms of recognition but if you are looking for a reason to watch the best, then make room on your calendar for the battle between undefeated middleweights Claressa Shields and Christina Hammer on April 13. Showtime will televise the event that takes place at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

For those boxing fans that saw female boxing before and didn’t like it, well, all I can say is don’t base your opinions on the past. This is the present and these female prizefighters are a notch above anything in the past.

Hammer, 28, has that classic European style that most of the female boxers have. She boxes and moves while sticking out the jab and using her height and reach to out-point the opposition. She’s a strong girl who fights out of Germany and has been tested once in a fight against France’s Anne Sophie Mathis. That fight ended in a disqualification and a no contest after it was ruled Hammer was knocked out by an illegal punch. That was five years ago. Since then the tall German middleweight has pretty much had her way in beating American middleweights Kali Reis and Tori Nelson easily.

Shields, 23, has a totally different style from most female prizefighters. She’s like a dragster fueled by nitro, she explodes on the opposition. She can box, she can bang and she can out-talk anyone. But what most people don’t know is she’s a student of the boxing game. She knows boxing in and out. If you want to talk about Sugar Ray Robinson, Roberto Duran or James Toney that’s OK by her. She lives, sleeps and drinks boxing 24/7.

“I study tapes of old fights all the time,” said Shields.

How many females do you know that can talk boxing and know more than you?

As my uncle Feo would say “that’s heaven baby.”

Heavyweight Tantrums

A couple of days ago a Twitter battle between Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza and Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn took place over the revelation that a contract by representatives for WBC titlist Deontay Wilder was sent to multiple belt holder Anthony Joshua and allegedly refused, ignored or not seen.

The other heavyweight, Tyson Fury, recently signed a mega deal with Top Rank and ESPN that further muddied the heavyweight picture. Fury is considered the true lineal heavyweight world champion by many because he defeated Wladimir Klitschko when he held all the titles. But then he took time off because of personal issues and all hell broke loose. Now there are three heavyweights who all claim to be the real heavyweight champion of course.

Last December, at the Staples Center in L.A., both Fury and Wilder engaged in a roaring heavyweight battle that ended in a split draw after 12 raucous rounds. That didn’t answer any questions; it simply added more fuel to the fire. Now a rematch between the same two is on hold because Fury already has a date set up. But recently, it was announced that Fury does plan to meet with Wilder in September. We shall see.

First up to bat is Joshua who meets Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller at Madison Square Garden in New York City on June 1. DAZN will stream the heavyweight title fight card.

Danny “Baby-Face Assassin” Roman

From the moment he won the WBA super bantamweight title in Japan, the Los Angeles native Danny Roman has openly sought to unify all of the world titles in the 122-pound weight division.

Roman, 28, finally gets his wish.

On April 26, at the Inglewood Forum, Roman (26-2-1, 10 KOs) puts his WBA title on the line against Australia’s TJ Doheny (21-0, 15 KOs) a southpaw who has the IBF version. The unification bout will be streamed on DAZN.

“It will be a new experience for me because I’m not fighting a challenger, I’m fighting another belt holder. It’s exciting in a lot of ways. I’ll be at my best because I’m planning to add another title on April 26,” said Roman.

For those not familiar with Roman, he’s defended the title three times since dethroning Japan’s Shun Kubo in August 2017 by knockout. In every defense Roman has defeated opponents with at least four inches in height advantage. But when he meets Doheny he will be looking the Aussie dead-in-the-eye.

“Nothing is easy at this point. It’s going to be a heck of a fight,” said Roman. “Two World Champions fighting for control of the division. What more could you want?”

Fights to watch

Thurs. 6 p.m. UFC Fight Pass – Ray Ximenez (18-1) vs. Luis Alberto Lopez (16-1).

Fri. 11:30 p.m. Telemundo – Ricardo Franco (22-2) vs. Ricardo Nunez (29-8).

Sat. 3:30 p.m. PT YouTube.com/Showtime – undercard at Barclays Center

Sat. 6 p.m. Showtime – Erislandy Lara (25-3-2) vs. Brian Castano (15-0); Luis Ortiz (30-1) vs. Christian Hammer (24-5).

Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp / SHOWTIME

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Vergil Ortiz Jr KOs Brad Solomon at Fantasy Springs (plus Undercard Results)

David A. Avila

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INDIO, Calif.-Vergil Ortiz Jr hunted and pursued the elusive Brad Solomon for several rounds before lowering the boom with three knockdowns and ultimately stopping the formerly unstoppable fighter for a knockout victory on Friday.

It’s on to bigger and better things.

Ortiz (15-0, 15 KOs) proved that styles didn’t matter and Solomon’s (28-2, 9 KOs) slippery moves couldn’t prevent the brutal outcome before several hundred fans and two Boxing Hall of Famers at Fantasy Springs Casino. It was Solomon’s first ever loss by knockout.

Despite winning all of his previous fights by stoppage, the lean Texan who trains in Riverside, Calif. had never fought a boxer with the pedigree of Solomon. It was the main question remaining for Ortiz. Could he figure out the winning equation to defeat a pure boxer?

He had the answer in his pocket all of the time.

Solomon moved smoothly around the ring from the opening bell. Ortiz followed with his tight guard and snap quick punches to the body and head. The first round revealed that Ortiz’s quick hands were just as quick as Solomon’s and much more powerful.

“I had to utilize my jab, figure out the right time to throw a punch,” said Ortiz. “He came to fight.”

After three rounds of chase and pursue, both fighters exchanged briefly and a body shot by Ortiz convinced the fleet opponent to go back on his toes. While trying to move away Ortiz fired a stiff left jab and down went Solomon. Body shots followed and Solomon was visibly affected by them. On one occasion he feigned a low blow but referee Raul Caiz ruled it was a clean blow.

“I can’t lie. I don’t think he was hurt right there,” said Ortiz of the jab knockdown. “

The subsequent blows would prove otherwise in the next round.

Ortiz opened up the fifth round at a rapid pace and though Solomon tried evasive maneuvering, it all proved in vain especially after a six-punch volley by Ortiz. Down went Solomon in the corner but he was able to beat the count. Solomon got up and tried to use his quickness to avoid Ortiz’s charge but a double left hook to the head sent him down once again. Referee Caiz waved the fight over at 2:22 of the fifth round to give Ortiz the knockout win and retain the WBA Gold welterweight title.

“I just took my time,” said Ortiz. “He’s difficult to figure out and made me use my brain.”

Ortiz, 21, continued his domination of the welterweight division though many felt Solomon could stall his rapid ascent to the top.

El Flaco

Serhii “Flaco” Bohachuk (17-0, 17 KOs) continued his knockout streak but needed a little time to figure out the switching tactics of Colombia’s Carlos Galvan (17-10-1, 16 KOs). But after five rounds he discovered that the body attack was the key. Bohachuk floored Galvan three times in the fifth round, two by body shots and the end came at 1:40 of the fifth round.

Other Bouts

Puerto Rico’s Alberto “El Explosivo” Machado (22-2, 18 KOs) snapped a two-fight losing streak by moving up to the lightweight division and knocking out Dominican Republic’s Luis Porozo (14-2, 7 KOs) with body shots in the second round. Machado had problems making the 130-pound super featherweight limit and showed a move up in weight was beneficial as he dropped Porozo three times until referee Tom Taylor ended the fight at 2:59 of the second round for a win by knockout.

Machado is co-promoted by Miguel Cotto Promotions and Golden Boy Promotions.

Alexis Rocha (15-0, 10 KOs) withstood an all-out assault from Mexico’s Robert Valenzuela Jr. (17-2, 16 KOs) early in the welterweight title fight and used a withering body attack to break down the taller fighter. After that it was all downhill sledding for the Santa Ana fighter who broke the will of Valenzuela with bludgeoning blows to the left and right side of the body.

“I was being lazy to be honest, so it’s my fault,” said Rocha on being bloodied by a counter uppercut while punching. “It’s very important, I came to fight and throw body punches to wear my opponent down. I think that’s very key in boxing in general.”

At the end of the fifth round the Mexican fighter was holding on. The fight was stopped at the end of the fifth round giving Rocha the win by knockout and he retains the WBC Continental Americas title in the welterweight division.

“I knew the body shots were taking a toll on him,” Rocha said. “Today was a good learning experience.”

Bektemir Melikuziev (4-0, 3 KOs) boxed his way to a unanimous decision victory over Vaughn Alexander (15-4, 9 KOs) in a 10-round fight for the WBA Continental Americas title. But it was sort of strange to see a guy nicknamed “the Bully” dance around the ring avoiding contact. Still, he won every round but disenchanted fans with his unwillingness to exchange with the muscular Alexander. No knockdowns were scored in the fight. All three judges saw it 100-90 for Melikuziev.

Luis Feliciano (14-0, 8 KOs) knocked down Herbert Acevedo (16-3-1, 6 KOs) early in the 10 round NABF super lightweight title fight and then cruised to victory by unanimous decision. The Puerto Rican who trains in Southern California pummeled Acevedo’s body before delivering a two-punch combination that sent the challenger to the deck. It was Feliciano’s first defense of the title he captured by decision over talented Genaro Gamez.

“I give props to Herbert Acevedo. He’s a tough and rugged fighter. I thought he was out when I dropped him in the third round. I tried to get the finish, but he weathered the storm,” said Feliciano. “I’m happy to finish the year with a win, and we are on to the next.”

A super welterweight fight saw Ferdinand Kerobyan (13-1) destroy Fernando Carcamo (23-11) with two knockdowns in the first round and the fight was stopped at 1:46 of the first round.

A super middleweight match ended in the third round by knockout win for Erik Bazinyan (24-0) over Saul Roman (46-14),

Hall of Fame

Also present at the Golden Boy Promotions boxing card were Oscar De La Hoya and Bernard Hopkins who was recently voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame by the boxing writers. He will join De La Hoya who was inducted several years ago.

Hopkins was selected last week along with Sugar Shane Mosley and Juan Manuel Marquez. Their induction takes place next June in Canastota, New York. It’s quite an honor and well deserved for one of the greatest middleweights in the history of the sport. He also captured the light heavyweight world title. We will have more on this great Philadelphia prizefighter in the coming months.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Frank Erne Enters the Boxing Hall of Fame, a Well-Deserved Honor

Arne K. Lang

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Former featherweight and lightweight champion Frank Erne was back in the news last week with the announcement that he is entering the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Erne and the other members of the newest class will be formally enshrined on Sunday, June 14, 2020.

Mr. Erne won’t be able to attend the induction ceremony. He’s been dead since 1954. However, were he alive, he would have the satisfaction of knowing that this honor is well-deserved.

Frank Erne competed from 1892 to 1908. Of his 53 documented fights, 21 were slated for 20 rounds or more. His opponents included George Dixon, Terry McGovern, and Joe Gans, all of whom went into the Hall of Fame with the inaugural class of 1990. Dixon, a bantamweight, McGovern, a featherweight, and Gans, a lightweight, are widely considered the best of all time in their respective weight classes. Erne defeated Dixon and Gans although both turned the table in rematches.

Frank Erne becomes the first fighter born in Switzerland to enter the IBHOF. When he was six or seven years old (reports vary) his parents moved to Buffalo, New York. In his early teens, he found work as a pinsetter in a bowling alley that was part of a larger complex that included a boxing gym. An instructor there, a boxing professor as they were called back then, took Erne under his wing.

Erne had his early fights in Buffalo. In 1895, he went to New York and attracted national notice with back-to-back knockouts of Jack Skelly. A Brooklyn man, Skelly was such an outstanding amateur that there was little backlash when he was sent in against featherweight champion George Dixon in his very first pro fight (the opening match in the Carnival of Champions at New Orleans, an event climaxed by the historic fight between John L. Sullivan and James J. Corbett).

Skelly was no match for Dixon and ultimately no match for Frank Erne. Two months after their second meeting, Erne had his first of three encounters with Dixon. Their initial go was a 10-rounder that was fairly ruled a draw. The rematch was set for 20 rounds with Dixon’s title on the line.

Here’s Nat Fleischer’s post factum: “Erne proved to be in every respect a superior boxer on this occasion for he outpointed Dixon at long range, beat him decisively at in-fighting, had it all over Dixon in ring generalship, besides possessing courage and fearlessness.” The ringside correspondent for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, more measured in his assessment, called it “one of the fiercest and cleanest fights, as well as one of the most scientific, that has ever been seen.”

Dixon had lost only twice previously, the first by disqualification and the other in a 4-round contest, and would win back his title in the rubber match, clearly out-pointing Erne in a match that went 25 rounds.

Making weight was always a problem for Frank Erne. After surrendering his title to Dixon, he moved up to lightweight and challenged George “Kid” Lavigne. They fought twice.

In their first meeting, Lavigne, the fabled “Saginaw Kid,” retained his title thanks to a generous referee who scored the fight a draw, but justice was served in the rematch which was staged at an outdoor arena on the outskirts of Buffalo on the day preceding the Fourth of July,1899. Despite injuring his hand in the seventh frame, Erne gave Lavigne a good drubbing and had his hand raised at the conclusion of the 20-round match. He now had the distinction of winning world titles in two separate weight classes.

Erne first met Joe Gans in March of 1900 when Gans was still in his prime. The match, slated for 25 rounds, ended in the 12th when Gans suffered a terrible injury to his left eye – some reports say the eye was knocked out of its socket – from an accidental clash of heads. The referee ruled that Gans was at fault and awarded the contest to Erne. Based on newspaper reports, that was a fair adjudication as Erne, the defending champion, had all the best of it, leaving Gans in great distress at the end of the previous round.

Gans avenged the defeat 26 months later, knocking out Erne in the opening round at Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada, across the Niagara River from Buffalo. Erne’s unrelenting battle with the scales had finally caught up with him.

Erne retired the following year, but returned five years later and had one more fight, winning a 10-round decision in Paris over British veteran Curly Watson in a fight billed for the welterweight championship of France. He remained in the French capitol for some time thereafter, working as a boxing instructor and promoting a few fights before returning to the United States and taking up residence in New York City.

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Frank Erne was no fool with his money, but the stock market crash of 1929 dealt him a severe blow and he was forced to seek regular employment. He became a salesman for a fuel company.

Erne won’t be around for his formal IBHOF induction, but he wasn’t completely forgotten in his dotage. On Jan. 9, 1951, the day after his 76th birthday, he received a special award at the silver anniversary dinner of the Boxing Writers Association, a gala affair held in the posh Starlight Room of the Waldorf-Astoria with entertainment provided by Jimmy Durante and other nightclub headliners.

Erne wasn’t honored only for his in-ring exploits, but for his good character. During World War II and again during the Korean War, it was common for famous boxers of yesteryear to visit wounded soldiers in VA hospitals and regale them with stories from their fighting days to boost their spirits. Frank Erne, although he had some infirmities, was especially active in this regard, “indefatigable” said New York Times sports editor Arthur Daley.

Frank Erne, it says here, is a worthy addition to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Kudos to the electors who placed him on their ballot.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 76: Welterweights Vergil, Terence and More

David A. Avila

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In the words of many boxing journalists, fighters, trainers and promoters “styles make fights,” and those differences can lead to unpredictable outcomes. The weekend brings a few stylish welterweights on display from California to New York.

Welterweight ingénue Vergil Ortiz Jr. (14-0, 14 KOs) enters the world of unpredictability when he meets Brad Solomon (28-1, 9 KOs) a swift-moving veteran on Friday, Dec. 13, at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif. DAZN will show the loaded Golden Boy Promotions fight card.

It’s Ortiz’s third year as a professional and fifth time performing at the Indio casino. It’s also where he made his pro debut back in July 2016 when he began his remarkable string of 14 consecutive knockout wins.

Solomon, 36, has made a career of fighting pressure fighters and making them miss or defusing their power. Only Russia’s Konstantin Ponomarev, who was trained at the time by Abel Sanchez, was able to hang a loss on the Georgia fighter’s ledger.

Can Ortiz handle the style difference?

“Vergil can do more than people think,” said Vergil Ortiz Sr., father of the lanky welterweight slugger. “He can box any style.”

As a professional, Ortiz has yet to fight someone like Solomon with his juke and move style of fighting. As an amateur he did face speedsters like Ryan Garcia. As a pro, this will mark his first in the prize ring. It should be interesting.

Power Packed Support

Knockout artist Ortiz leads a power packed-boxing card that includes a number of Golden Boy’s best knockout punchers like Bektemir Melikuziev, Alberto Machado and Luis Feliciano. All of these guys can punch and are looking to put the cap on 2019.

That’s a lot of firepower.

But also on the card is someone fighting for 360 Promotions named Serhii Bohachuk, otherwise known as “El Flaco.” Just like Ortiz, Bohachuk has never allowed the final bell to be rung against 16 foes so far. He is going for 17 when he fights Carlos Galvan (17-9-1) in a super welterweight fight set for eight rounds. Don’t expect to hear the final bell whenever the Ukrainian trained by Mexican style coach Abel Sanchez gets in the ring.

Bohachuk could be following in the footsteps of another guy formerly trained by Abel Sanchez named Gennady Golovkin. It’s still too early, but he looks pretty good so far.

New York City

Top welterweight Terence Crawford (35-0, 26 KOs) defends the WBO welterweight title against Lithuania’s Egidijus “Mean Machine” Kavaliauskas (21-0-1, 17 KOs) on Saturday, Dec. 14, at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. ESPN will televise the Top Rank card.

In the crowded and talented world of the welterweights, Crawford could very well be the best of them all. If only he could prove it. The Omaha-Nebraska prizefighter has tried every enticement possible to lure Errol Spence Jr., Danny “Swift” Garcia, Shawn Porter and Manny Pacquiao. Nothing works.

What does work for Crawford has been a reputation as one of the best prizefighters in the world pound for pound. Some tab him as the very best especially when it comes to speed, agility and the ability to innovate on the spot. He has few peers.

Facing Crawford will be Kavaliauskas who trains in Oxnard with a number of Eastern Europeans including Vasyl Lomachenko. They share the same management. He’s never faced anyone close in talent to Crawford. Except, maybe inside of his own gym.

“I’m not focused on no other opponent besides the opponent that’s in front of me. My goal is to make sure I get the victory come this weekend, and that’s the only person I’m focused on now,” said Crawford. “Anyone else is talk. It goes in one ear and out the other. He’s young, hungry and I’m not taking him lightly.”

Crawford has been chasing stardom for a number of years. What better place than New York City’s Madison Square Garden to showcase his skills to the public. At age 32, Crawford is running out of sand.

Lightweight Title Fight

The co-main event on Saturday at Madison Square Garden features IBF lightweight titlist Richard Commey (29-2, 26 KOs) defending against wunderkind Teofimo Lopez (14-0, 11 KOs).

But this weekend truly belongs to the welterweights.

Next Week

Southern California will be packed with boxing. It’s a last gasp before the end of 2019.

Ontario, California will be hosting a very large Premier Boxing Champions fight card at the Toyota Center on Saturday Dec. 21.

WBC super welterweight titlist Tony Harrison finally defends against Jermall Charlo in a rematch and it won’t be friendly. These guys hate each other.

“He’s fake,” said Harrison when they last met in Los Angeles for a press conference.

It won’t be pretty when they meet next week.

Tickets are on sale. Go to this link for more information: https://www.toyota-arena.com/events/detail/premier-boxing-champions

Fights to Watch

Fri. DAZN 4:30 p.m. Vergil Ortiz (14-0) vs Brad Solomon (28-1); Serhii Bohachuk (16-0) vs Carlos Galvan (17-9-1).

Sat. Facebook 5 p.m. Diego De La Hoya (21-1) vs Renson Robles (16-6).

Sat. ESPN 6 p.m. Terence Crawford (35-0) vs Egidijus Kaviliauskas (21-0-1); Teofimo Lopez (14-0) vs Richard Commey (29-2).

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