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

Bernard Fernandez

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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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Boxing Odds and Ends: Ramirez-Postol, Taylor-Serrano and More

Arne K. Lang

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It takes a strong constitution to be a boxing promoter because things always go wrong. The only law that governs boxing is Murphy’s Law.

Carl Frampton’s first fight under the Top Rank banner was slated for Aug. 10 of last year in Philadelphia. With the fight five days away, Frampton suffered a freak injury while sitting in a hotel lobby. A boy playing behind a curtain knocked over a seven-foot pillar which fell on Frampton’s left hand, fracturing it.

This was the second time that a Frampton fight was knocked out by a freak injury. Two years earlier, a homecoming fight in Belfast had to be scrapped when Frampton’s opponent, Andres Gutierrez, slipped in the shower in his hotel on the eve of the battle and suffered severe facial injuries.

The latest bout to fall out because of an odd development is Jose Ramirez’s Feb. 2 WBC/WBO lightweight title defense against Viktor Postol at a Chinese golf resort south of Hong Kong. The event fell victim to the coronavirus, more exactly the fear it has instilled.

The virus, which produces flu-like symptoms that are resistant to conventional antibiotics, apparently originated at an outdoor food market in the city of Wuhan where live animals are sold. The numbers vary with each new story, but according to one account there have been 444 confirmed cases in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital city, and 653 cases worldwide including two in the United States, a man in his 30’s living near Seattle and a Chicago woman in her 60’s.

The fear of a pandemic (an epidemic becomes a pandemic when it spreads across multiple geographic regions of the world) has led to some drastic measures. The Chinese government has reportedly put 12 cities on lockdown, blocking traffic in and out. At many airports, visitors arriving from China are being screened. There are now thermal cameras than can record a person’s body temperature remotely.

Jose Ramirez (pictured with his promoter Bob Arum) was scheduled to leave for China yesterday (Jan. 23) but was intercepted. Viktor Postol is already there and apparently stranded until an outgoing flight can be arranged.

The Ramirez-Postol fight was to air on ESPN. No make-up date has been set.

– – –

British promoter Eddie Hearn says he’s close to finalizing a fight between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano. Hearn says the fight will take place in the U.S. in April. It figures that Madison Square Garden is the frontrunner.

If the fight comes off on schedule, this will be the biggest women’s fight in history!

That’s because the odds attached to the fight figure to be in the “pick-‘em” range and that guarantees that boxing writers and others in the boxing community will be surveyed to get their picks – about which there figures to be considerable disagreement – and that will greatly enhance the pre-fight buzz.

Taylor, 33, last fought in November in Manchester, England, advancing her record to 15-0 (6 KOs) with a unanimous decision over Christina Linardatou, a fighter from Greece via the Dominican Republic. It was Taylor’s first fight at 140 after previously unifying the lightweight title with a hard-fought decision over Belgium’s Delfine Persoon.

Amanda Serrano, a 31-year-old southpaw, born in Puerto Rico and raised in Brooklyn, has won titles in five weight divisions. She last fought as a featherweight, turning away gritty Heather Hardy, but has competed as high as 140. Boasting a 37-1-1 record, she’s won 23 straight, 18 by stoppage, 10 in the opening round

What sets women boxers apart from their male counterparts is that the women have a significantly lower knockout ratio. Amanda Serrano is the glaring exception.

Despite a less eye-catching record, Taylor has arguably fought the stiffer competition considering her extensive amateur background. As a pro, her victims include Cindy Serrano, Amanda’s older sister by six years. Taylor whitewashed her in a match at Boston Garden, prompting the elder Serrano sister to call it a career.

– – –

The most bizarre (non)story to appear in a boxing web site this week involved former unified heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe. A man representing Bowe, identified as Eli Karabell, was frustrated because Eddie Hearn wasn’t returning his calls. Karabell had offered Hearn the right of first refusal on Bowe’s next fight.

Bowe, now 51 years old, last fought in a boxing ring in 2008 when he returned to the sport after a three-and-half year absence for an 8-round bout in Germany. In 2013, he appeared in a kickboxing fight in Thailand where he was stopped in the second round after being knocked down five times by leg kicks.

“Will there be another chapter to write for Bowe?” concluded the author of this piece.

Egads, let’s hope not.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Crawford, Canelo, Caleb Plant and More

Arne K. Lang

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Crawford, Canelo, Caleb Plant and More

Although a lot of disinformation comes out of the mouths of boxing promoters, Bob Arum was apparently serious when he broached the idea of a two-fight series between Terence Crawford and Conor McGregor, the first fight to be conducted under MMA rules and the second under boxing rules.

Crawford is amenable. “I just have to have the proper time to prepare myself,” he told ESPN’s Dan Rafael. “…I haven’t been in that (wrestling) environment in a long time, but most definitely I feel I can compete with anyone given the proper time to train on the MMA side, being that I have a wrestling background.”

Crawford, 32, last wrestled in middle school so he would certainly need a refresher course. However, he would have a better chance of defeating Conor McGregor in an MMA match than McGregor would have of defeating him in a boxing match. So, if Arum’s proposed two-fight series ever comes off, the tailpiece may be unnecessary.

– – –

As first reported by ESPN’s Steve Kim, Andy Ruiz Jr. has dumped trainer Manny Robles. According to Kim’s report, Ruiz’s father informed Robles of the decision and said it was Al Haymon’s idea.

Andy Ruiz appears to be one of those people that can gain weight just looking at food. He weighed 297 ½ pounds for his pro debut at age 19, carried 268 pounds for his first meeting with Anthony Joshua, and ballooned up to 283 ½ for the rematch after leading reporters to believe that he had actually slimmed down for the sequel.

Ruiz, noted Kim, went from a feel-good story to a cautionary tale in just six months.

– – –

Who ya’ gonna believe?

A certain disreputable web site, bragging that it had an exclusive, told its readers that Canelo Alvarez had settled on Billy Joe Saunders as his next opponent and that they would meet on Cinco de Mayo in Las Vegas. The next day, Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, a far more trustworthy source, reported that Ryota Murata had emerged as the frontrunner and that negotiations were underway to stage the fight in Japan.

Perhaps it makes sense for Canelo to promote his brand in a new market. However, if he fights Murata, who holds a WBA belt, he would reportedly be dropping back to 160 and at age 29 he appears to have outgrown the weight class.

Stay tuned.

– – –

If Caleb Plant were an NBA player, his name would be Kevin Love. Plant, who recently married FOX/PBC reporter Jordan Hardy, is the only U.S.-born, non-Hispanic white person among the various champions in the 17 weight divisions.

Plant, who hails from tiny Ashland City, Tenn. (23 miles from Nashville) defends his IBF super middleweight title on Feb. 15 at Nashville’s 20,000-seat Bridgestone Arena. In the opposite corner will be Germany’s Vincent Feigenbutz who will be making his U.S. debut.

The 24-year-old Feigenbutz, who turned pro at age 16, has won 10 straight and 30 of his last 31. He represents a big step up in class from Plant’s last opponent, Mike Lee, who was in way over his head.

– – –

A sad note from South Africa: Five days after the death of trailblazer Peter Mathebula, his widow, Emma Gabaitsiwe Mathebula, died suddenly of an apparent heart attack. Peter Mathebula’s funeral, originally set for Saturday, has been pushed back until Tuesday and will now be a joint funeral.

Mathebula, who won the WBA world flyweight title in 1980, basically died a pauper, having sold all of  his boxing memorabilia to keep his head above water. His heirs had reached out to the government for assistance in defraying the costs of his burial.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 82: Jason Quigley Returns to SoCal and More

David A. Avila

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Southern California prizefighting heats up with Jason Quigley headlining a fight card in Orange County and then, two days later, another fight card takes place in the heart of Los Angeles.

Ireland’s Quigley (17-1, 13 KOs) faces Mexico’s Fernando Marin (16-4-3, 12 KOs) on Thursday Jan. 23, at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, Calif. DAZN will stream the Golden Boy Promotions fight card live.

Quigley, 28, seeks to reclaim territory lost when he suffered a defeat last July against Tureano Johnson. Ironically, Marin would lose 10 days later in Hollywood to super welterweight contender Serhii Bohachuk.

For several years Quigley had trained in Southern California but decided to change trainers and location. He moved to Great Britain and still prepares near his native country but primarily fights in the U.S.

At one time Quigley clamored for a match against Gennady “GGG” Golovkin or Saul “Canelo” Alvarez but now finds himself trying to prove he belongs in the upper tier of the middleweight division. It’s loaded with talent.

Also on the same fight card will be popular North Hollywood super welterweight Ferdinand Kerobyan who was headed to contender status when he ran into Blair “the Flair” Cobbs. At the time Cobbs was an unknown quantity but no longer.

Kerobyan (13-1, 8 KOs) meets Azael Cosio (21-8-2) in an eight-round clash in the semi-main event at OC Hangar. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Red Boxing International

On Saturday Jan. 27, Red Boxing International hosts its first boxing card of the year at Leonardo’s Night Club located at 6617 Wilson Ave. L.A. 90001. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Super welterweight Bryan Flores (13-1, 6 KOs) meets Brandon Baue (15-17) in the main event  in the first event of the year for the ambitious promotion company. For the past two years Flores fought primarily in Tijuana, Mexico where he racked up six wins. Now he’s back on Southern California soil.

Another match features lightweights Angel Israel Rodriguez (5-0) facing off against Braulio Avila (3-6) in a six-round fight.

Rodriguez fights out of Pico Rivera, Calif. but recently fought in Costa Rica where he won by first round knockout in November. He will be fighting Avila who just fought two weeks ago at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, Calif.

It’s a long fight card with 11 bouts on the schedule.

JRock and Rosario

Boxing fans received another lesson on never underestimating a ranked contender regardless of the name recognition.

Jeison Rosario knocked out Julian “J Rock” Williams who was making the first defense of the WBA and IBF super welterweight world titles he won last year in my selection as “Fight of the Year.”

Rosario walked in with little recognition and was thought to be a soggy piece of bread for Williams. The long armed Dominican fighter walloped Williams in front of his hometown fans in Philadelphia. It was yet another warning for fans to understand that anyone who steps in the boxing ring ranked as a contender can do the unthinkable. In this case Rosario knocked out the champion in five rounds.

Many felt Williams was far too skilled, especially on the inside where he showcased those skills last May against former titlist Jarret Hurd. It was a remarkable display of the art of inside fighting. But against Rosario, he never got a chance to exhibit those skills.

The loaded super welterweight division has another dangerous champion in Rosario.

Fights to Watch

Thurs. 6 p.m. DAZN – Jason Quigley (17-1) vs Fernando Marin (16-4-3).

Sat. 6 p.m. Showtime – Danny Garcia (35-2) vs Ivan Redkach (23-4-1).

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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