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The Avila Perspective, Chap. 39: A Boxing Journey on L.A. Freeways

David A. Avila

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a boxing journey in LA

Life as a boxing journalist can be like an Uber driver, especially dealing with the bumper-to-bumper traffic of Southern California.

Prizefighting has leaped to another speed warp since last year and this year makes last year seem like the Griffith Park carousel standing still.

Another barrage of boxing cards sweeps the Southern California region beginning tomorrow in Hollywood, the film capitol of the world, then followed by Saturday and Sunday events. Golden Boy Promotions begins its DAZN deal this Thursday that entails a monthly fight show on Thursday nights.

First up will be gentleman prizefighter Mercito “No Mercy” Gesta the southpaw lightweight contender who trains with the venerable Freddie Roach. The main event takes place at the Avalon Theater and doors open at 4 p.m. DAZN will stream the event.

A.M.

If covering the prizefighting world has appeal, one must realize that waking up early or staying awake late comes with the territory. These are not banking hours.

On Monday, around 3 a.m. the day started for me. Making coffee without waking up our dog (a boxer) has become an art I’ve learned to master. I proceed to plant myself on a recliner sofa with my laptop and begin the week’s work.

Waking up this early allows me to catch up with fighters, promoters and managers in the East Coast before they slip into higher gear. It also provides me time to get stories written before I drive through the heart of Los Angeles. Traffic is your enemy at any time of the day or night. And any time I venture into L.A. it’s an all-day affair.

Lawnmower man

First destination on the list: a Premier Boxing Champions press conference took place at the Palm Restaurant near LA Live. Former two-division champion Danny “Swift” Garcia and Adrian Granados met the media at the swanky restaurant that serves $100 steaks. It’s an 11a.m. event and for me and photographer Alonzo Coston that means taking off from our location in the Inland Empire at 9:30 a.m. at the latest.

We arrive a few minutes late but just in time to grab a seat as Garcia and Granados walk in dressed in dark suits.

Both are quick-witted guys.

“Your a** is grass and I’m the lawnmower baby,” chided Garcia to Granados that immediately ignited laughter from the reporters and others.

That comment was countered.

“Nobody cuts grass better than a Mexican,” said Chicago’s Granados, a Mexican fighter that elicited more laughter from the crowd.

Anytime you get a Mexican and a Puerto Rican in a prize ring expect an explosion of unusual proportions. Anything can happen as boxing fans saw last month when Mexican-American fighter Andrew Cancio knocked out Puerto Rico’s Alberto Machado to take the WBA featherweight title away. Machado had never lost.

Granados, 29, has six losses but has never been beaten decisively despite trading blows with Shawn Porter, Adrien Broner and Felix Diaz. Many could even argue he won each and every one of those fights.

“Adrian Granados could arguably be sitting up here with a record of 27-1, since all but one of his losses have been by split or majority decision, and usually it’s in his opponent’s backyard,” said Tom Brown president of TGB Promotions.

Puerto Rico versus Mexico never disappoints. They meet on April 20 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif.

Norwalk

After speaking with both Garcia and Granados we jumped back in the car and headed to the suburban city of Norwalk, Calif. about 20 miles southeast.

Expected to be at the Legendz Gym but who could not make the media day was Ryan “The Flash” Garcia. Instead, the several dozen reporters at the outdoor boxing complex received their first glimpse of world champion Angel “Tito” Acosta of Puerto Rico who holds the WBO light flyweight belt.

“My goal right now is to keep defending my title, but if the opportunity to unify presents itself, we will take it,” said Acosta who is co-promoted by Golden Boy Promotions and Cotto Promotions. “But right now, I’m not thinking about any other opponent. I’m focused on Ganigan Lopez. After that, we can talk about other opponents.”

It’s another Puerto Rico versus Mexico matchup.

Acosta (19-1, 19 KOs) defends against Mexico’s Ganigan Lopez (35-8, 19 KOs) on March 30 at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif. DAZN will stream.

Also on the same card will be Ireland’s undefeated welterweight Aaron McKenna. The tall prizefighter known as “the Silencer” has spent more than a year in Southern California. In that time he’s noticed the difference between Ireland and Southern California.

“There are so many more gyms here. In every gym there seems to be a world champion or contender,” said McKenna, 19, from Smithborough, Ireland. “The sparring is brilliant.”

Top Rank in OC

Heavyweights and featherweights lead the Top Rank fight card on Saturday March 23, at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, Calif. The fight card will be shown on ESPN.

A battle of former super bantamweight world champions finds Rico Ramos (30-5, 14 KOs) meeting Jessie Magdaleno (25-1, 18 KOs) in a featherweight clash set for 10 rounds.

Ramos, 31, trains in Maywood with Rudy Hernandez and has been racking up wins since his last loss back in 2015 against Claudio Marrero. He’s beaten some tough guys but has met the enemy and that enemy is making weight. Working with Hernandez is sought to be the remedy for that problem. This is a make or break fight for the slick fighting Ramos.

Magdaleno, 27, fights out of Las Vegas now and like Ramos his enemy is the weight scale. He has not fought since losing the WBO world title to Isaac Dogboe by knockout and that was nearly a year ago. He’s a southpaw with serious pop and will need to be sharp against Ramos. It’s a very good match between former world champions.

Also, heavyweight contender Kubrat Pulev (26-1, 13 KOs) of Bulgaria meets Bogdan Dinu (18-1, 14 KOs) of Romania in a 10 round fight.

Pulev, 37, has only lost to Wladimir Klitschko and that was back in November 2014. Since then he’s beaten Dereck Chisora, Samuel Peter and others.

Dinu, 32, has only lost to Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller and that was this past November in Kansas. He’s accustomed to fighting in Eastern Europe and now faces an Eastern European in Pulev. Somebody has got to go.

Doors open at 3:30 on Saturday.

Hollywood Again

Tom Loeffler’s 360 Promotions returns to the Avalon Theater in Hollywood for another of its popular shows on Sunday March 24. This time super welterweights lead the card.

Serhii “El Flaco” Bohachuk (12-0, 12 KOs) has an extremely tough assignment facing southpaw speedster Cleotis “Mookie” Pendarvis (21-4-2, 9 KOs) in the main event set for eight rounds.

Bohachuk, 23, is part of the Big Bear crew and is taught by Mexican style trainer Abel Sanchez. This will be his fourth appearance on the Hollywood Fight Night series on Vine Street near Hollywood Blvd. that usually brings a celebrity or two to the party. On paper this might be the Ukrainian’s toughest foe.

Pendarvis, now 32, has been around the block and has a defensive style that is tough to crack. He won’t be standing still for Bohachuk unless the legs are gone for the lefty speedster who has fought talented foes like Mauricio Herrera, Dierry Jean, and Steve Quinonez. He was often hired as a sparring partner by those facing Floyd Mayweather.

Though talented, Pendarvis never met expectations and after a nearly four-year layoff he was signed by a manager who took him to Mexico where he reeled off four consecutive victories the past two years.

Also on the card will be two other Abel Sanchez proteges from Kazakhstan Ali Akhmedov and Meiirum Nursultanov in separate bouts.

A number of local L.A. fighters fill the card including bantamweight George Navarro whose last fight at the same venue ended in a spectacular knockout win. Another returning fighter will be stylish Adrian Corona a super featherweight from Rialto, Calif.

Doors open at 3 p.m.

The marathon of prize fights continues in Southern California and we’re only in March. Imagine once the weather heats up. This year looks to be the busiest in the history of prizefighting in Southern California. It might possibly be the busiest any region has ever been for staging prize fights in history.

I may need a helicopter to get around.

Photo credit: LA Magazine

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Jason Moloney TKOs Baez

Arne K. Lang

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Top Rank was back inside the MGM Grand “Bubble” tonight for chapter six of their semi-weekly ESPN summer series. Jason Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney twins, accomplished what his brother Andrew Moloney was unable to accomplish in this ring on Tuesday night, adding a “W” to his ledger and looking good doing it. It came at the expense of Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez.

It was Jason Moloney’s second start on U.S. soil after coming up just a tad short in a bid for the vacant IBF world bantamweight title at Orlando in October of 2018. Against Baez, he fought a smart tactical fight, blunting the Mexican’s superior reach by fighting him at close quarters. Baez fought from the third round on with a cut over his right eye and then suffered a cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By then the fight was becoming increasingly one-sided and Baez’s corner did not let him come out for round eight.

Jason Moloney improved to 21-1 with his 18th knockout. Leonardo Baez, who took the fight on short notice after Maloney’s original opponent Oscar Negrete was forced to withdraw with a detached retina, slumped to 18-3.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Abraham Nova advanced to 19-0 with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow but won no new fans with a lackadaisical performance. Nova, born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic and raised in Albany, NY, showed little but his jab through the first seven rounds until hurting Sparrow with a big right hand in the eighth. The judges had it 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91.

Sparrow (10-2), whose lone previous loss was by disqualification, was making his first start in 15 months. He was slated to fight Ryan Garcia in Los Angeles last Sept. 14 but never made it to the weigh-in after being arrested by U.S. marshals on a charge of threatening a woman with a gun after she threw his clothes out the window…

Other Bouts

In an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Gonzalez advanced to 15-0 with a unanimous decision over Ecuador’s Luis Porozo (15-3). The scores were 76-74 and 77-73 twice.

Gonzalez wasn’t particularly impressive although he did score two knockdowns. He decked Porozo near the end of round two with a left hook following a straight left and decked him again near the end of round seven with a left uppercut to the body.

In a rather ho-hum fight, welterweight Vlad Panin improved to 8-1 with 6-round majority decision over San Antonio’s 36-year-old Benjamin Whitaker (13-4). Panin, a Belarusian who grew up in Las Vegas and earned a BA in English from UCLA, has a good back story but seemingly a limited upside in the fight game.

In an entertaining 6-round welterweight clash, Filipino campaigner Reymond Yanon improved to 11-5-1 with a split decision (59-55, 58-56, 56-58) over Clay Burns. A 33-year-old ex-Marine from Fort Worth, Burns declined to 9-8-2.

The opener, a heavyweight bout slated for six rounds, matched two Phoenix-based fighters in a rematch. Kingsley Ibeh, a former standout defensive lineman for the Washburn College Ichabods, avenged his lone defeat and improved to 4-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Waldo Cortes (5-3). Ibeh, who at 286 had a 39-pound weight advantage, softened Cortes up with a series of uppercuts and Cortes was on his way down when he was tagged with a glancing left hand. He got to his feet, but referee Vic Drakulich waived it off. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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