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Spence and Garcia Concur that to be the Best, You Have to Beat the Best

Bernard Fernandez

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Spence & Garcia

There is a familiar saying, the originator of which no one seems to know, that holds that good and big always beats good and small. And it’s true in most forms of athletic competition, especially in team sports, where, all other things being equal, superior height (basketball) and heft (football) tend to reward obvious size advantages.

Given that admittedly imperfect rule of thumb, it stands to reason that the odds favor IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. (24-0, 21 KOs), a natural 147-pounder who stands 5-foot-9½ with a 72-inch reach compared to Mikey Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs), who is 5-6 with a 68-inch reach. Spence, who at 29 is also two years younger than Garcia, is the -363 choice in some sports books, meaning bettors would have to risk $363 to win $100. Garcia is +251, which would reward his backers with a $251 payoff on a $100 wager.

The gap in those numbers can and very likely will shrink when the two undefeated and rightfully celebrated fighters square off Saturday night in the Fox Sports Pay Per View main event at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. Although Spence, from the Dallas suburb of Desoto, is nominally the hometown guy, many spectators among a live turnout approaching and possibly even surpassing 40,000 are Mexican or Mexican-American and are apt to follow their hearts by putting their cash on Garcia, a life-long Cowboys fan (as is Spence) even though he grew up in Oxnard, Calif., and now resides in Moreno Valley, Calif.

Then again, maybe Garcia’s fans won’t be swayed so much by ethnic pride as by cold, calculating reason. There is another saying, also unattributed, that holds that big and good doesn’t necessarily beat great and small. Even if he comes up, well, a bit short in his ambitious bid to unseat Spence, the likelihood is that Garcia, still the WBC lightweight titlist as well as the former WBO featherweight and super featherweight and IBF super lightweight champ, already has done enough to guarantee his eventual enshrinement in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Spence, who would seem to be headed toward his own IBHOF induction, is not yet a lock to have his ticket punched to Canastota, N.Y. He probably is a few key victories shy of matching Garcia’s credentials as a ring immortal, which could explain his rationale for taking a fight some would say is as much a risk on his part as it is for Garcia. If Spence defeats Garcia, and even if he knocks him out, will he hear from skeptics claiming that all he did was to beat up an undeniably gifted but much smaller man?

Almost everyone agrees that Garcia, to his credit, is daring to be great by jumping up two weight classes to mix it up with arguably the top welterweight in the world. Spence’s participation, on the other hand, might owe more to the fact that his oft-stated objective — to fully unify the title at 147 — has been blocked at every turn, at least to date, which had the effect of steering him toward Garcia. As consolation prizes go, this one is about as good as anyone could have hoped for.

“I doubt (a fight with) Keith Thurman (the WBA “super” champion) would’ve happened at the Cowboys stadium, or me and Terence Crawford (the WBO champ) would’ve happened at the Cowboys stadium,” Spence reasoned. “I’m just grateful to be fighting at home, on Fox Pay Per View and against a great opponent like Mikey Garcia. It was an easy fight to make, too. He basically called me out. It’s a real good fight. I’m happy with it.”

He’s also happy because he believes, as does his trainer, Derrick James, that he will win for reasons that go beyond physical dimensions. On fight night the power-punching southpaw is absolutely certain he will not resemble Jess Willard, battered senseless by the much smaller but much better Jack Dempsey, or John Ruiz, made to look foolish by the much smaller but clearly more talented Roy Jones Jr. Spence and James have as much confidence in Spence’s impressive array of skills as Garcia has in his own well-stocked arsenal.

“I believe this fight, from my perspective, not only establishes Errol as a superstar, it enhances his status as a superstar, which I believe he already is,” James said. “If you go by social media, more people talk about Errol than just about any other fighter in the world. They speculate about him fighting this guy, that guy, some other guy. So, yeah, he’s already there. Anthony Joshua is a top seller, Canelo Alvarez is a top seller and Errol Spence Jr. is a top seller. This fight will prove beyond any doubt that he’s one of the top dogs in boxing.”

It is Spence’s contention that while other holders of welterweight titles, as well as big-name former champs, pay lip service to sharing the ring with him, they tend to be conveniently unavailable when it’s time to strike a deal. James claimed it has been that way since Spence journeyed to Sheffield, England, hometown of then-IBF welter champ Kell Brook, and wrested his title on a brutal, 11th-round stoppage on May 27, 2017. Brook, forced to take a knee in both the 10th and 11th rounds, came away with the orbital bone in his left eye shattered.

“Any trainer wants to have a complete fighter, someone who has a lot of strengths and no obvious weaknesses,” James said. “From the time I started training Errol, I asked him what the weakest part of his game was. Because we were going to build that part up. That’s what we did with his defense, and it’s why I think Errol is such a complete fighter. He has great defense now to go with great offense and great counterpunching. He’s the whole package.”

Garcia begs to differ, which is why he successfully lobbied his father, Eduardo, and brother-trainer, Robert, a former IBF junior lightweight titleholder, to go after Spence when the more prudent course might have been to take one or two less-daunting, welcome-to-the-neighborhood bouts at welterweight.

“He’s the best right now in the division,” Mikey Garcia said of his impatience to get it on with Spence. “I want to make a statement. I want to make a mark, and you know I have to do that against the best.

“I believe I’m a better fighter overall. When it comes to footwork, I think I have the better footwork. When it comes to speed, I think I have better speed. When it comes to defense, I have better defense. With timing, I have better timing. The only thing he has going for him that’s apparent is the size, height, weight and reach. I’ve always said I’m better than him. Not by a lot, but just enough to beat him.”

What about the perceived advantage for Spence in power, especially against a smaller guy who might not be able to bring his own formidable punch with him up two weight classes?

“A lot of people underestimate my power when they face me,” Garcia said. “They don’t see my physical size as a threat. But you know they feel the power once we’re in the ring and I definitely change their minds.”

BIG NAMES, BIG CROWDS IN `BIG D’

It is not generally known, but Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones once was a boxing promoter. In 1984, five years before he purchased the NFL’s most globally recognizable brand, he staged a fight card in Little Rock, Ark., that drew 2,500 spectators.

Perhaps it is no surprise then that early blueprints for Jones’ Xanadu of a football palace, now known as AT&T Stadium, included a layout for boxing that placed the ring on the blue star at the 50-yard line.

Jones, 76, still likes to involve himself with fights and fighters, only on a far more grandiose scale. AT&T Stadium, widely known as “Jerry’s World,” will be the site of its fourth major card Saturday night when IBF welterweight titlist Errol Spence Jr. and four-division ruler Mikey Garcia throw down in a matchup of undefeated champions that is expected to draw 45,000 or more spectators.

The first time AT&T Stadium, then known as Cowboys Stadium, welcomed a fight crowd was on March 13, 2010, when Manny Pacquiao retained his WBO welterweight title on a wide unanimous decision over Joshua Clotttey, a bout that had a paid attendance of 36,371 and overall turnout of 41,843. Pacquiao was the draw again when he outpointed Antonio Margarito, also on a unanimous decision, to win the vacant WBC super welterweight title. That fight drew another strong crowd of 41,734.

Now Spence-Garcia is out to surpass the stadium attendance record of 51,240 for a boxing match, set on Sept. 17, 2016, when hugely popular Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez lifted Liam Smith’s WBO super welterweight belt on a ninth-round knockout.

DAN JENKINS WAS DEAD SOLID PERFECT IN PRINT

It has been my unpleasant duty over the years to bid farewell to any number of noted boxing figures, including writers, who lost the scuffle with Father Time to which we all eventually fall victim.

Legendary sports writer Dan Jenkins was not a fight guy; he primarily wrote about college football and golf for Sports Illustrated, among other publications. But greatness should be acknowledged, and the Texas-bred Jenkins, who was 89 when he passed away on Thursday, was the author of 23 books, as well as the father of Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins, whose journalistic chops obviously were passed along by her dad.

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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The Fight of the Century: A Golden Anniversary Celebration

Arne K. Lang

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The-Fight-of-the-Century-A-Golden-Anniversary-Celebration

In professional boxing, fights can be rank-ordered as generic fights, big fights, bigger fights, mega-fights, and spectacles. The first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier wasn’t merely a spectacle, but the grandest spectacle of them all. This coming Monday, March 8, is the 50th anniversary of that iconic event.

Ali-Frazier I was staged at three-year-old Madison Square Garden, the fourth arena in New York to take that name. It drew a capacity crowd: 20,455 (19,500 paid). An estimated 60 percent of all the tickets sold fell into the hands of scalpers.

The fight was closed-circuited to more than 350 locations in the United States and Canada. At some of the larger venues, it established a new record for gate receipts, and this for an attraction that wasn’t produced in-house. In Los Angeles, 15,333 saw the fight at the Forum and 11,575 at the nearby Sports Arena.

Bill Ballenger, the sports editor of the Charlotte (NC) News, saw the fight at the Charlotte Coliseum. He reported that the audio – Don Dunphy did the blow-by-blow with Burt Lancaster and Archie Moore serving as color commentators – was loud enough to be heard outside the arena and that many folks, either unable or unwilling to purchase a ticket, loitered outside and followed the action in 30 degrees weather.

An estimated three hundred million people saw the fight worldwide. In England, by some estimates, half the population tuned in, watching either at home on BBC1 or at a theater where one could watch the fight unfold on a movie screen. Now keep in mind that in England the fight didn’t commence until 6:40 in the morning on a Tuesday!

Inside Madison Square Garden, the large flock of celebrities included many folks one wouldn’t expect to find at a prizefight. Marcello Mastroianni, Italy’s most famous movie star, made a special trip from Rome. Salvador Dali was there and Barbra Streisand and Ethel Kennedy, widow of Bobby Kennedy, seated next to her escort, crooner Andy Williams. Frank Sinatra was there working as a photographer for Life magazine. Lore has it that Sinatra wangled the assignment after failing to boat one of the coveted ringside seats.

The scene was made brighter by human “peacocks,” the label applied to Harlemites with an outrageous sense of fashion, and the electricity was palpable. When Ali appeared at the back of the arena, making his way from his dressing room to the ring, everyone had goosebumps.

The late, great New York sportswriter Dick Young once wrote that there is no greater drama than in the moments preceding a big heavyweight title fight and that was never more true than on March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden.

Ali (31-0, 25 KOs) and Frazier (26-0, 23 KOs) were both undefeated. Both had a claim to the heavyweight title, Ali because the belt had been controversially stripped away from him for his political beliefs. Opinions as to who would win were pretty evenly divided. In Las Vegas, Joe Frazier was the favorite at odds of 6 to 5. Across the pond in England, bookies were quoting odds of 11 to 8 on Ali.

Those that favored Ali were of the opinion that ‘Smokin’ Joe was too one-dimensional. That much was true. Joe was as subtle as a steam locomotive on a downhill grade. He ate Ali’s hardest punches, said Boston Globe reporter Bud Collins, as if they were movie house popcorn and he eventually wore Ali down. There was little doubt as to how the judges would see it after Joe knocked Ali down in the 15th round with a frightful left hook. When Ali arose, it appeared that he had been afflicted with a sudden case of the mumps. The decision was unanimous: 11-4, 9-6, 8-6-1.

This wasn’t the greatest fight of all time, but it was a fight that more than lived up to the hype. And, as several people have noted, the event took on a life of its own without the benefit of modern technology to push it along. The buzz was fueled in a large part by newspapers, the “antiquated” sort of newspapers that a fellow fished from his driveway or purchased at a newsstand on the way to or from work. If twitter and facebook had been around during Muhammad Ali’s prime, Ali would have blown the doors off the internet.

A cultural touchstone is an event that remains sealed in our memory. As we slide into old age, if we are lucky enough to live that long, we may not remember what we had for breakfast in the morning, but some long-ago events are as vivid as if they had happened just yesterday.

Boxing historian Frank Lotierzo has written poignantly about how overjoyed he was when he was surprised with the news that his father would be taking him to the fight. “To this day it remains the biggest thrill of my life!” wrote Lotierzo, who was then in the seventh grade. “And it’s not even close!”

I didn’t see the fight, but I can recall the faces of people that I overheard talking about it, people whose interest in the fight struck me as odd as I knew they had little interest in the world of sports. So, when the fight is replayed in its entirety on Sunday – it airs on ABC at 2 p.m ET and again at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN – I will be watching it for the first time. And it will be bittersweet as I will be reminded that I am in the twilight of my life and my thoughts will inevitably drift to my friends and loved ones that have left this mortal world in the years since that grand night in 1971 when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier locked horns in the Fight of the Century.

I get misty-eyed just thinking about it.

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Yoka TKO 12 Djeko in France: Claressa Pitches a Shutout on Ladies Day in Flint

Arne K. Lang

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Yoka-TKO-12-Djeko-in-France-Claressa-Pitches-a-Shutout-on-Ladies-Day-in-Flint

Yoka TKO 12 Djeko in France: Claressa Pitches a Shutout on Ladies Day in Flint

March 8 is International Women’s Day which is actually a formal holiday in many parts of the globe. It was somehow fitting that female boxers were on display on the Friday feeding into it, a weekend without a must-see attraction on the men’s side.

Today’s activity began in the French port city of Nantes where 2016 Olympic gold medal winners Tony Yoka and Estelle Mossely, husband and wife, kept their undefeated records intact, both advancing to 10-0, against European opponents. Yoka (10-0, 8 KOs) was matched against Joel “Big Joe” Djeko (17-3-1), a 31-year-old Brussels native of Congolese and Cuban extraction who had fought most of his career as a cruiserweight. Mossely, a lightweight who now goes by Yoka-Mossely, drew Germany’s Verena Kaiser (14-2).

At the Rio Olympiad, Yoka got by Filip Hrgovic in the semis and Joe Joyce in the finals to win the gold, winning both bouts by split decision. Both would be favored over the Frenchman in a rematch fought under professional rules.

Against the six-foot-six Djeko, Yoka controlled the fight with his jab, repeatedly backing his foe against the ropes. Very few of Djeko’s punches got through Yoka’s high guard. Had the fight gone to the scorecards, it would have been a rout for Yoka, but it didn’t quite get there as Djeko turned his back on the proceedings midway through the 12th round after absorbing a sharp jab and it went into the books as a TKO for Yoka. At stake was some kind of European title or a derivation thereof.

Mossely’s fight with Kaiser, slated for 10 two-minute rounds, followed a somewhat similar tack, save that it went the full distance. With only one knockout to her credit at the pro level, Mosseley, typical of female boxers, lacks a knockout punch. But she’s a good technician and had too much class for the German.

Flint

A Covid-19 limited crowd of perhaps 300 was on hand to watch hometown heroine Claressa Shields oppose IBF 154-pound title-holder Marie Eve Dicaire at a 4,400-seat arena in Flint. There were five bouts on the undercard, three of which were women’s bouts.

Claressa

Claressa Shields

Shields, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was seeking to become a four-belt title-holder in a second weight class, having previously turned the trick at 160. Dicaire, a 34-year-old southpaw, brought a 17-0 record but she had never won a fight inside the distance and all of her previous bouts took place in French-speaking Canada.

The self-proclaimed GWOAT, Shields has no peer between 154 and 168 pounds. Heading into this contest, she had hardly lost a round since meeting Hanna Gabriels and tonight was another total whitewash, her fourth overall in 10-round fights.

Claressa Shields, now 11-0 (2) may be too good for her own good. Her fights are so one-sided that they are monotonous. Her TV ratings have actually been falling. Today’s show was a $29.99 pay-per-view on FITE when the established networks refused to meet her purse demands. It will be interesting to see how many tuned in.

In another fight of note, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza, in her first fight as a bantamweight, dominated Toronto’s Shelly Barnett en route to winning a 6-round unanimous decision. There were no knockdowns, but the scorecards (60-54, 60-53 twice) were indicative of Esparza’s dominance.

Esparza, who pushed her record to 9-1 (1), came in ranked #1 by the WBC in the flyweight class. Her lone defeat came at the hands of rugged Seniesa Estrada. Barnett declined to 4-4-3.

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Brandon Adams Bursts Bohachuk’s Bubble in Puerto Rico

Arne K. Lang

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Brandon Adams Bursts Bohachuk’s Bubble in Puerto Rico

Ring City USA, a new promotional entity, debuted on Nov. 19, 2020 with a show staged in the parking lot of Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, CA. Ring City stayed outdoors for their first offering of 2021, but the company was a long ways from California. Tonight’s card was staged on a roundabout near a municipal gym in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

The headline attraction was an attractive match between junior middleweights Serhii Bohachuk and Brandon Adams. The bout was originally set for Dec. 3, but had to be pushed back when Bohachuk tested positive for the coronavirus.

Bohachuk, a 25-year-old California-based Ukrainian, had stopped all 18 of his previous opponents. He had never gone past six rounds. Brandon Adams, a former world title challenger, represented a step up in class.

Bohachuk was well on his way to winning a unanimous decision when the tide turned dramatically in round eight. Fighting on a slick canvas, Adams suddenly found a new gear, unloading a series of punches climaxed by a thunderous left hook as Bohachuk retreated. The Ukrainian beat the count, but was teetering on unsteady legs and the referee properly called a halt.

Adams was without his regular trainer, 80-year-old Dub Huntley, who remained back in LA as a health precaution. In winning, he elevated his records to 23-3 (15). It was his best performance since defeating Shane Mosley Jr in the finals of Season 5 of the “Contender” series.

In the co-feature, an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rico’s Bryan Chevalier improved to 15-1-1 (12) with a third-round stoppage of Peru’s Carlos Zambrano (26-2). Chevalier scored two knockdowns, the first a sweeping left hook that appeared to land behind Zambrano’s head, and the second a punch to the liver that left Zambrano in severe distress. The referee waived the fight off in mid-count.

The official time was 2:21. Chevalier, a tall featherweight (5’11”) made a very impressive showing; he bears watching. This was Zambrano’s first fight since April of 2017 when he was knocked out in the opening round by Claudio Marrero in a bout for the WBA interim featherweight title.

The TV opener was an entertaining fight between contrasting styles that produced a weird conclusion when Danielito Zorrilla was awarded a technical decision over Ruslan Madiyev. The bout was stopped at the 1:16 mark of round eight after Zorrilla sank to his knees after absorbing a punch to the back of the head. The ringside physician examined him for evidence of a concussion, but ultimately it was Zorrilla’s choice as to whether the bout would continue. He declined and was reportedly taken to a hospital for observation.

Madiyev, a California-based Kazahk, was the aggressor. He fought the fight in Zorilla’s grill, often bullying him against the ropes. In round five, he had a point deducted for hitting behind the head, squandering what was arguably his best round.

The fight went to the scorecards with Zorrilla winning a split decision (77-74, 77-75, 73-76), thereby remaining undefeated: 15-0 (12). Ironically, Madiyev (13-2, 5 KOs), suffered his previous loss in a similar fashion.

Madiyev’s new trainer Joel Diaz reportedly discouraged his charge from taking this fight for fear that he wouldn’t get a fair shake in Puerto Rico. Diaz’s apprehensions were well-founded.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Ring City USA

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