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Retirement Benefits for ex-Boxers: It’s Past Time to make it Happen

Ted Sares

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Professional basketball players, baseball players, football players, hockey players, and even soccer players all have negotiated benefit packages including important pension features. Because of their team structure, these sports were readily unionized when that option became viable. In fact, during Marvin Miller’s tenure as the Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (1966 to 1982) the baseball union became one of the very strongest in the labor movement. Creighton Miller paved the way in football.

They made it happen. And the athletes they represented wisely paid heed to what the prominent American labor leader Cesar Chavez once said, to wit: “You are never strong enough that you don’t need help.”

Boxing

The uniqueness of boxing and its lack of structure impedes reform and, incidentally, makes unionization a virtual impossibility (though Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, the late Johnny Lira, and others have tried). Moreover, the business of boxing has never been known for its ethics and responsiveness to the need of the boxers, especially in the area of benefits.

“The biggest crime in boxing has always been that nobody gives a fighter a thought. It’s all greed and how much they can squeeze out of the fighter.”—Ray Arcel

Boxing writer Caryn Tate recently stated the issue as follows:

“One of the most overlooked difficulties in the sport of boxing is that the fighters are on their own when it comes to career choices. The sport has never had a union for its athletes, nor any sort of national oversight committee to look out for the boxers’ best interests. It all comes down to the team a fighter selects to sign contracts with, the promoters and managers who handle most of the business side of things for the athletes. Some are honest and look out for their fighters; but it’s not uncommon for many to take advantage of the athlete who may not have the business education to know what red flags to avoid ahead of time.”

The sad fact is that few fighters leave on their own terms unless have risen to the tip of the boxing iceberg. And, even then, unless they are smart enough to get the right financial advice, retirement benefits may be hard to come by. Hell, how do you spell “annuity”?

Reputedly ex-boxer and current trainer Mark Breland knew how. Here’s a snippet from an article about Breland that appeared in the September 27, 2009 online edition of the New York Daily News (no byline):

“[Mark] Breland is one of the few fighters who knew when to quit and who got the most out of a successful boxing career. He has his wits about him, no worries about money and is still on the threshold of new horizons… He was well-guided by some fine fight people, such as Shelly Finkel and the late Ray Arcel. Compare Breland’s after-fight life with those of Willie Pep and Sandy Sadler and you get a totally different picture.”

With appropriate expertise and financial assistance — with a focus on diligence, annuitization, and fund management — how difficult can it be to set up a plan similar to a 401(k) in which a small percentage of each purchased ticket (including PPV) is transferred into a central fund and matched in some equitable manner? Translating the concept (or something similar) to reality is long overdue, and each day that boxers go without such needed assistance is a day that a boxer leaves the sport with less than he or she came in with.

Of course, there are other important variables that come into play such as the Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996, the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, the Professional Boxing Amendments Act of 2003, and, of course, the possibility of a national boxing commission, but these should not become red herrings that impede the need for a pension plan; they should become enablers to help make it happen.

The need to establish and enforce standards and uniformity has been discussed seemingly forever, but red herrings like “I am not for government control” continue to obstruct. The fact is, boxing DOES NEED government control! And the more we deny it based on convenient and/or manufactured philosophical arguments, the longer the problem will persist. Also impeding progress are the many political appointees (aka hacks) who often make up part of state boxing commissions.

There is, however, one state boxing commission that has been in the forefront of providing benefits to former boxers. In my next article, we’ll delve into this agency’s plan for assisting ex-boxers, a plan that unfortunately needs major improvements.

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and Strongman competitors and plans to compete in at least three events 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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A Toast to Busy Bee Emanuel Navarrete, a Fighter from the Old School

Ted Sares

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In the last 12 months, super bantamweight Emanuel “Vaquero” Navarrete has fought five times. That’s close to Old School-type activity.

No one in Mexico gave Navarette much notice until he stopped Luis Bedolla Orozco (18-2) in Guadalajara in 2017. He turned more heads when he KOed Filipino veteran Glenn Porras in January 2018 and fans outside Mexico began to take serious note of this no-nonsense youngster (now just 24) when he stopped Columbia’s “El General” Jose Sanmartin (26-4-1) five months later.

That win, his eighth straight by stoppage, earned him an interim belt and opened the door to a world title shot. It came on Dec. 8, 2018 at Madison Square Garden against undefeated (20-0) WBO world super bantamweight champion Isaac “Royal Storm” Dogboe.

Navarrete, five inches taller at 5’7”, shocked the hard-punching Brit (by way of Ghana) to win a decision and become the new champion. The scores were 115-113, 116-112, and 116-112, but more to the point, Dogboe’s post-fight face looked like it had gone through the proverbial meat grinder. The tall Mexican had fought tall and picked the much smaller Dogboe apart with precise and pinpoint punching.

The rematch proved that Emanuel’s first win was no fluke as he showed late round power in stopping Dogboe in the 12th. He again used his height advantage, showed great stamina and strength, was accurate with his punches, and once again the too-short Dogboe’s face looked like he was on the wrong end of a big city mugging.

His first title defense came against Francisco De Vaca (20-0) who is a fixture at the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix, Arizona. This one lasted three rounds as Vaquero (“cowboy” in English) used a neat uppercut to stun De Vaca in the second and then rendered a terrible beating in the third to end the fight—one that should have been halted earlier by referee Raul Caiz Sr. who seemed far more “brave” than the fighters.

On September 14, 2019, Navarrete used his signature wide left hooks and uppercuts to end matters in the middle of the third round against Juan Miguel Elorde (28-1). Juan Miguel, the grandson of Filipino boxing legend Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, made the mistake of engaging Navarrete in a firefight and lost. This one took place at the T Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and boxing fans now knew who this tall super bantamweight was.

In his most recent fight — this one in Mexico — Navarrete put on another display of accurate power punching to stop Francisco Horta (20-3-1) at 2.09 of round 4. After a somewhat typical slow start, Navarrete found his groove and began serious stalking, using looping combinations at strange angles inside and outside, finally catching Horta on the ropes in the fourth, ending matters with stunning closure. It was his 25th straight win dating back to 2012 when he was defeated by one Daniel Argueta by 4-round decision.

Navarrete, one of seven current Mexican world title-holders, is now looking to unify at 122. He also might be interested in fighting Naoya Inoue if “Monster” moves up in weight, and given Inoue’s recent fight with Nonito Donaire in which he showed that he is human after all, this one could be a sizzler.

As to his chances for “Fighter of the Year,” they are probably slim, but that has nothing to do with whether he deserves it and everything to do with poor public relations. Yes, a solid case can be made for Josh Warrington, but enough with the Canelo, Loma, Usyk types who fight twice a year.

Emanuel Navarrete is more active than any other title-holder or top contender and has a KO percentage of 84% despite the fact that his last five opponents had a combined record of 108-5-1 coming in. And he has a fan-friendly style, stalking, stunning, and closing his opponents with controlled violence. In many respects, he fights like a pre-scandal and prime Antonio Margarito, except he is more technically sound. The fact is, Vaquero, the pride of San Juan Zitlaltepec, is super exciting and doesn’t seem to have any noticeable weaknesses.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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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

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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