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25 Years Gone, This Old Welterweight is Still a Champion in My Eyes

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I never saw my favorite fighter in action. His last professional fight took place before I was born. There are no videotapes of him boring in, springing from a crouch and landing his trademark left hook. All that remains of his boxing legacy are a few yellowed newspaper clippings, the memories of a diminishing number of elderly friends and family members and, oh, yes, a framed poster from Aug. 18, 1944, that lists his name as an undercard performer for a show headlined by the great Archie Moore. The Mongoose fought Jimmie Hayden; my favorite fighter fought Jimmy Hatmaker.

By all accounts, Bernard “Jack” Fernandez Sr. – whose nickname was conferred by someone long, long ago because his boxing style supposedly was reminiscent of Jack Dempsey’s – was no one’s idea of a great fighter. Boxing did not bring him wealth and fame, only a few trophies from his amateur days in New Orleans and a love of the sport he passed on to his only son. But the old clippings, and the enthusiastic recollections of those who saw him fight, are enough to make me think that he must have been entertaining to watch. The word – confirmed by the somewhat unnatural configuration of his nose and ears – is that my favorite fighter, a scrappy welterweight, always gave as good as he got. Those who knew him then enthusiastically told me of his willingness to take one – or two, or three – to connect with one of his own.

One clipping, previewing Archie Moore’s 10-round main event with Amado Rodriguez in San Diego, described my favorite fighter thusly: “The opener matches Jack Fernandez, a wild-hooking slugger, against a good shock absorber, Mike Pacheco.”

Another, in the New Orleans States-Item, was a personal note from Art Burke, a fellow New Orleanian who later served as the newspaper’s executive sports editor, to then-sports editor Harry Martinez, who reprinted the letter in his column.

“We had a monthly `smoker’ here at the gymnasium Wednesday night (which opened with the returns of the Joe Louis-Billy Conn fight) and one of our New Orleans Reservists, Jack Fernandez, fought on the eight-bout boxing program and scored the only clear-cut knockout of the night,” Burke, a member of the U.S. Naval Reserves then serving in San Diego as was my father, wrote to Martinez. “You may remember this boy since he reached the semifinals of the Sugar Bowl boxing tournament in 1940. His victory was all the more thrilling by the fact that the boy he kayoed in the second round was Utah state 145-pound boxing champion for three straight years and had not been knocked out in 75 fights.”

It was my dad who taught me how to defend myself – and was called to the principal’s office at St. Stephen School when, as a second-grader, I dispatched a would-be bully with, you guessed it, a left hook. Obviously, the nuns there had not seen Ingrid Bergman’s reel-life portrayal of Sister Benedict in The Bells of St. Mary’s. The real-life Sister Marie’s preferred remedy for left-hooking second-graders: detention for life, and lots of knuckle-rapping with rulers.

It was my dad who, when he wasn’t pulling a night shift, sat with me and explained what was going on during telecasts of the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. The only fifth-grader at St. Stephen who idolized Carmen Basilio as my classmates did, say, Mickey Mantle, there were many nights when I went to sleep with Don Dunphy’s voice in my head.

It was my dad who took me to amateur cards at St. Mary’s Italian gym, where world champions Ralph Dupas and Willie Pastrano (later trained by Angelo Dundee) first learned boxing from the venerable Whitey Esneault.

It was my dad who took me to pro shows at Municipal Auditorium to see the likes of New Orleans-born lightweight champion Joe “Old Bones” Brown and “Hammerin’” Henry Hank, a middleweight from Detroit who fought so often for promoter Louie Messina I believed he, too, was local.

It was my dad who was buttons-popping proud when I succeeded Elmer Smith on the Daily News boxing beat in October 1987.

For nearly seven years, my dad was my primary sounding board. He saw on TV most of the fights I covered and, those few he didn’t, I sent tapes for his review. He’d make observations, again giving me the benefit of his wisdom and insight. We’d speak at least once a week, and the conversation often turned to boxing. It was not nearly our only common bond, but it was a shared passion.

Once, when my dad was in town for a visit, I took him to the Blue Horizon, where he was introduced to America’s most knowledgable boxing crowd by ring announcer Ed Derian. I also took him to Las Vegas, for the rematch between Mike Tyson and Razor Ruddock, and to London, where his most lasting memory was not of the fight he had come to see, in which Lennox Lewis knocked out Ruddock, but of a one-hour coffee-shop sitdown with Dundee, with whom he spent more time discussing Dupas and Pastrano than Angelo’s more famous pupils, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard.

Dad always thanked me for providing him a re-entry of sorts into a long-closed chapter of his life, but no trips I arranged to glitzy arenas could ever repay the debt I owed. It wasn’t just boxing he taught me; it is said that that an honest man’s pillow is his peace of mind, and my father, who retired as a much-decorated New Orleans police captain in 1972, never spent a conflicted night.

My dad passed away on March 4, 1994, after suffering a heart attack. He was 74. I flew to New Orleans and made it in time to be with him in what proved to be the final hour of his life. The fighter in him, I’m convinced, wouldn’t allow him to take the 10-count until I arrived.

When I came onto this beat, I hoped that someday I would be fortunate enough to win the Nat Fleischer Memorial Award, a lifetime achievement award conferred by the Boxing Writers Association of America. I could envision my dad sitting at my table, smiling, living a championship of sorts through me.

On Friday night, I will receive the Fleischer in New York. My wife, mother and three of my four children will be there for the high point of my newspaper career.  So, too, will several of my friends.

My favorite fighter also will be there. Oh, it’s not quite in the manner in which I had envisioned, but he’ll be there. The empty seat at our table won’t really be empty. Those who love you never really leave, and the old left hooker has never left me. Not then, not now, not ever.

Yo, Dad, we did it.

Postscript: There have been other moments in my life, and in the lives of those who were fortunate enough to know my father, for which I wish he could have been there. Although all my adult children are old enough to have known and loved him, the same can’t be said of his six great-grandchildren who can’t truly relate to the verbal history of our family as it pertains to a patriarch who left this world before they arrived in it. But it is not only the lives of the rich, famous or much-accomplished that deserve to be remembered and commemorated. A recent obituary in my former newspaper, the Philadelphia Daily News, paid tribute to an unsung hero who had just passed away at 76, Jim Nicholson, who for many years wrote touching, informative and surprisingly personal obituaries about regular people who at first glance might seem to have led ordinary, mundane existences. But everyone has a story to tell, Jim reasoned, and everyone has something about them that is special and worthy of recognition. Jim made an art form of obituary writing. I wish he could have authored a piece about the old left-hooker which would have allowed readers to know him as I did. Jack Fernandez might not have been a world champion boxer, but he was a world champion human being and role model. I thank TSS readers for allowing me this opportunity to let you know a little about who and what he was, and the legacy he created that I strive every day, not always successfully, to live up to.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this story appeared 20 years ago this week in the April 6, 1999, editions of the Philadelphia Daily News.

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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Results from Orlando where Berlanga KOed McCrory in a Possible Prelude to Canelo

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Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom organization was at the Caribe Royale tonight, a non-gaming resort near Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Unbeaten super middleweights Edgar Berlanga and Padraig McCrory squared off in the main event.

The fight started slow, but it soon became apparent that McCrory, a 35-year-old father of three from Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a domestic-level fighter, notwithstanding his undefeated (18-0) record. Berlanga, whose last five fights had gone the distance, roughed him up with some dirty tactics before taking him out in the sixth round with a crunching right hand that sent the Irishman face-first to the canvas. As McCrory pulled himself upright on rubbery legs, the towel flew in from his corner. The official time was 2:44.

As well-documented, Berlanga opened his pro career with 16 consecutive first-round knockouts. Nonetheless, he was let go by Top Rank in what purportedly was an amicable divorce. This was his second fight under the Matchroom banner. Eddie Hearn signed him with an eye on scoring a big-money match with Canelo Alvarez. The red-headed Mexican superstar is committed to returning to the ring in May on Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas, but hasn’t yet locked in an opponent.

If Berlanga gets the nod, he would be a heavy underdog, but the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico angle (coupled with Berlanga’s new-found reputation as a dirty fighter) would make it an easy sell.

Co-Feature

In only his third professional fight, Cuban defector Andy Cruz was bumped into the co-feature. That was in recognition of his amateur pedigree. Among his accomplishments, he was 4-0 vs. Keyshawn Davis with the last win coming in the gold medal round of the Tokyo Olympics.

Cruz, 28, was expected to win as he pleased against his Mexican opponent, Bryan Zamarripa, and he did win all 10 rounds on all three scorecards, but in common with many great Cuban amateurs, he seemed to lack something in the power department. Zamarripa was 14-2 heading in.

Other Bouts of Note

In a 12-round welterweight contest that was devoid of drama, Uzbekistan native Shakhram Giyasov, an Olympic silver medalist who has lost precious few rounds as a pro, won a lopsided technical decision over well-recycled 34-year-old Mexican Pablo Cesar Cano.

Giyasov (15-0, 9 KOs) sent Cano (35-9-1) to the canvas in the third round with a body punch. At the end of round 11, as their feet were tangled, he pushed Cano to the canvas and the Mexican ostensibly suffered a broken ankle when he fell. That sent the bout to the scorecards where the decision (109-99 x3) was a formality. With the victory, Giyasov earned a shot at WBA belt-holder Eimantas Stanionis.

The 12-round bantamweight match between Antonio Vargas and Jonathan Rodriguez, two fighters of Puerto Rican descent, was framed as a WBA bantamweight title eliminator. Rodriguez, the underdog, floored Vargas in the opening stanza. He had scored a stunning first-round knockout of 27-1 Khalid Yafai in his previous start and it appeared that another upset was brewing. But the match quickly turned one-sided in favor of Vargas who put Rodriguez on the canvas in the very next frame (and had two points deducted for hitting him after the bell) and then put him down again at the end of round seven with a sweeping left hook after which Rodriguez’s corner properly pulled him out.

Vargas, a 2016 Olympian who had home field advantage in Florida, improved to 18-1 (10 KOs) and became the mandatory opponent for Takuma Inoue who won earlier today in Tokyo. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Rodriguez declined to 17-2-1.

The opening bout on the TV portion of the card was a 10-round flyweight affair that looked like a runaway for showboating Yankiel Rivera until gritty Andy Dominguez made things interesting.

Rivera, who improved to 5-0 (2), was Puerto Rico’s lone representative in the Tokyo Olympics. In Mexico-born Andy Dominguez, he was fighting a former three-time New York City Golden Gloves champion who was also unbeaten (10-0 heading in). Rivera dominated the match but was caught napping in round nine and Dominguez, although all busted-up, hurt him and almost put him down. That was most lopsided round of the fight, but also the only round that Dominguez won in the eyes of the judges.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Junto Nakatani Turns in Another Masterclass on Saturday’s Tripleheader in Tokyo

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In a rather odd juxtaposition, several of boxing’s best little men were on display today at Japan’s National Sumo Arena in Tokyo. The best of the lot, Junto Nakatani, improved to 27-0 (20 KOs) while tearing away the WBC world bantamweight title from Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (28-4-5) who was making the first defense of the title he won in Las Vegas in May when he upset Nonito Donaire.

It was a one-sided beatdown. Nakatani, who had a 5-inch height advantage, won every round before ending the contest in the sixth. The end came at the 1:12 mark when Nakatani terminated the affair with his second knockdown. The first came earlier in the round, the result of a straight left hand. The finisher was a big right hook.

With the victory, Nakatani became a world title-holder in a third weight class. He’s an outstanding talent, worthy of pound-for-pound consideration, and would be favored in a unification fight with Takuma Inoue.

Inoue, the younger brother of pound-for-pound king Naoya “Monster” Inoue, did his part to bring the match to fruition with a ninth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jerwin Ancajas in the main event. Inoue (19-1, 5 KOs) was making the first defense of the WBA diadem he won with a wide decision over Venezuela’s mildewed Liborio Solis. That title was conveniently vacated by Takuma’s renowned brother.

This figured to be the most competitive match on the card and Ancajas (34-4-2) had his moments before Inoue ended the contest at the 0:44 mark of round nine with a four-punch combination climaxed by a shot to the liver. Heading in, Ancajas, who had a long title reign at 115, was 9-2-1 in world title fights and hadn’t previously been stopped.

In the first of the three title fights, 29-year-old Kosei Tanaka became a four-weight belt-holder in record time with a unanimous decision over Mexicali’s stubborn but out-classed Christian Bacasegua “Rocky” Rangel. At stake was the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title.

Tanaka, who previously held belts at 105, 108, and 112, started slow but the outcome was never in doubt after he knocked “Rocky” to the canvas in the eighth frame. The judges had it 119-108, 117-110, and 116-111. With the victory, Tanaka improved to 20-1 (11). In his only defeat, he was stopped by countryman Kazuto Ioka. He hunkers for a rematch but, if it happens, he might wish that it hadn’t. Ioka is long in the tooth – he turns 35 next month – but is very good and shows no signs of slowing down. Rangel (22-5-2) had won nine straight heading in, but against questionable opposition and was making his first start outside Mexico.

The Teiken Promotions card was presented in association with Top Rank and aired in the U.S. on ESPN+.

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Rising Contenders Gor Yeritsyan and Cain Sandoval Stay Unbeaten at Chumash

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Rising Contenders Gor Yeritsyan and Cain Sandoval Stay Unbeaten at Chumash

Two Southern California-based fighters cracked the top 10 list on Friday in Central California on the 360 Promotions card.

Armenia’s Gor Yeritsyan (18-0, 14 KOs) captured the WBC Continental Americas welterweight title with a steady and persistent attack against defensive-minded Quinton Randall (13-2-1, 3 KOs) of Texas at Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, California.

“This is my first step,” said Yeritsyan (pictured with promoter Tom Loeffler). “Remember my name.”

Yeritsyan was always on attack but had prior knowledge and preparation under trainer Freddie Roach for the counter-punching style of Randall. He pounded away while rarely unleashing more than three-punch combinations. It was effective.

Randall was never over-run by the strong Armenian fighter but he rarely stepped into an offensive mode. That cost him over the 10 rounds and all three judges scored for Yeritsyan who captured the WBC title and will now be ranked in the top 10.

“My opponent was a very good boxer,” Yeritsyan said of Randall.

In a super lightweight match, young firebrand Cain Sandoval (12-0, 11 KOs) met former contender Javier Molina (22-6, 9 KOs) and had his knockout streak snapped, but still won by unanimous decision. The Sacramento fighter now has the WBC Continental Americas super lightweight title.

Molina has never been stopped and showed why over the 10 rounds. In his 15-year career despite facing knockout punchers such as Jesus Ramos Jr., Amir Imam, and Artemio Reyes, none of his losses were via knockout.

Despite a consistent Sandoval battering from the third round on, nothing seemed to penetrate Molina’s defense. But when Sandoval directed his blows to the body it opened up more opportunities and the Sacramento fighter maintained control.

After 10 rounds all three judges scored in favor of Sandoval by unanimous decision, but his knockout streak was stopped. Molina’s streak pf never being knocked out continues.

“I thought I would stop him,” said Sandoval. “I just want to win.”

Other Bouts

Central California’s Jorge Maravillo (9-0, 8 KOs) out-fought Santa Ana’s Jesus Gonzalez (7-2-1) in a six-round super welterweight fight. Maravillo, who is trained by Max Garcia in Salinas, used crisp rights to batter the gritty Gonzalez especially inside.

Maravillo was sharp throughout the fight and though his knockout streak was snapped it took a determined Gonzalez to gut out the fight after being dominated in the fifth round. All three judges scored it 60-54 for Maravillo.

Upland, California’s Daniel “Chuckie” Barrera (5-0-1) floored veteran Jonathan Almacen (7-10-3) twice in the second round with lefts. The end came at 2:35 of the round when Barrera knocked out the Filipino fighter with a left hook in a super flyweight match.

Cuba’s Osvel Caballero (5-0, 4 KOs) was too sharp and too strong for Jason Buenaobra (10-10-3) and won by stoppage at 2:22 of the fourth round in a featherweight fight.

A super bantamweight clash saw Mexico’s Alfredo Castro (10-0, 7 KOs) and Riverside, California’s Ezekiel Flores (4-3) engage in a back-and-forth battle for six rounds. Castro could not miss with the right cross and Flores could not miss with uppercuts. But two knockdowns by Castro proved the difference and he won by unanimous decision after six exciting rounds.

Photo credit: Lina Baker

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