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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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Introducing Top Prospect Raeese Aleem, the Pride of Muskegon

Arne K. Lang

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At age 29, Raeese Aleem has yet to appear in a 10-round fight, but that will almost assuredly happen this year. The undefeated (15-0, 9 KOs) super bantamweight from Muskegon, Michigan, takes another step in that direction on Friday, Feb. 14, when he opposes San Antonio’s Adam Lopez (16-3-2) at Philadelphia in a bout that will air on “ShoBox,” the long-running SHOWTIME series that’s been a springboard for 81 fighters who went on to win world titles.

Aleem earned a black belt in karate before taking up boxing and becoming a four-time Michigan Golden Gloves champion. As an amateur, he and his coach Terry Markowski did a considerable amount of traveling between meets to find good sparring. Grand Rapids, an amateur boxing hotbed, was just down the road, but Detroit and Chicago were a good three hours away and on occasion they went on an even longer excursion into Ohio.

Aleem turned pro in 2011 and had his first 10 fights on the Midwest circuit, venturing as far north as Green Bay and as far south as Cincinnati. At the time, he worked in the produce department of Meijer’s, a regional rival of Walmart. His bosses, he notes, were generous in letting him juggle his work schedule around his boxing assignments.

For a boxer with designs on winning a world title, the Midwest circuit is like a bicycle with training wheels. Aleem had to shake free of it to see how far he could go. Besides, getting fights was getting tougher and tougher. There’s a 28-month gap in his pro timeline that includes all of 2013. He had several fights fall out during this frustrating quiescence.

If you’re an aspiring film actor, you go to Hollywood. If you’re an aspiring boxing champion, you go to Las Vegas. Not a week goes by without a young fellow turning up here to test his mettle in one of the many local gyms with the hope of attracting the eye of one of the major promotional firms.

“When I came to Las Vegas,” says Aleem who has a daughter back in Michigan, “I had no family here, no friends.” He was directed to Barry’s boxing gym, run by ex-boxer Pat Barry and his wife Dawn, retired Las Vegas police officers, and started training under their son-in-law Augie Sanchez. But Sanchez, the last man to defeat Floyd Mayweather Jr (accomplished when they were amateurs), had other priorities. He is an assistant coach with Team USA which obligates him to spend a good deal of his time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Things started looking up for Aleem when he joined the Prince Ranch stable under the management of Greg Hannley. At the Prince Ranch Gym, where the head trainer is Bones Adams, he has sparred with such notables as Nonito Donaire and former WBO 122-pound champion Jessie Magdaleno.

Aleem doesn’t miss the weather in Muskegon, a lakefront city where sub-freezing temperatures are the norm in the dead of winter and snow is forecast for all of next week. But he still has one foot in his hometown, as evident by his unbroken bond with Terry Markowski. In an era when some boxers appear to change trainers as often as they change their underwear, Aleem has remained loyal to Markowski who has been in his corner for all of his pro fights and will be there again on Feb. 14.

Markowski, who teaches boxing at the Muskegon Rec Center, is a protégé of Muskegon’s most esteemed boxer, the late Kenny Lane. The epitome of a crafty southpaw, Lane, a lightweight and junior welterweight, was a three-time world title challenger during a 100-fight career that began in 1953.

The relationship between Raeese Aleem and Terry Markowski dates back to 2003 when Aleem resided in the nearby village of Ravenna, where Aleem’s father, the patriarch of a large blended family, planted Raeese and his siblings to get them away from the temptations of Muskegon which has several blighted areas. “It was a culture shock for me when I started going to school in Ravenna,” says Aleem, looking back, as none of his schoolmates looked like him.

This will be Aleem’s fifth fight in Pennsylvania where he has made four of his last five starts. The connecting thread is Reading, Pennsylvania gym operator-turned-promoter Marshall Kauffman who has been credited with keeping boxing vibrant in the Keystone State.

This being Aleem’s national television debut, it’s important that he make a good showing. His Las Vegas trainer Bones Adams, a former world champion in Aleem’s weight division, expects nothing less. “I’m confident he will be a world champion someday,” says Adams.

Photo credit: Mario Serrano / Prince Ranch Boxing

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A Bouquet for Danny Garcia in This Week’s Edition of HITS and MISSES

Kelsey McCarson

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Two-division champion Danny Garcia had the spotlight all to himself over the weekend in a stay-busy fight against Ivan Redkach on Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It was the main event of a Showtime Championship Boxing tripleheader that had the odd privilege these days of not being counterprogrammed by a Top Rank show on ESPN or any other kind of boxing card on DAZN.

So Garcia, 31, from Philadelphia, had the chance to remind people how excellent a fighter he is in full force, which would help him greatly in his effort to secure an unlikely bout against WBA champ Manny Pacquiao or remain first in line to face WBC and IBF champ Errol Spence whenever the Texan recovers from the injuries he sustained in a car accident in October.

But did Garcia pull it off? Here’s the latest edition of HITS and MISSES.

HIT – Danny Garcia’s Pristine and Precise Technique 

The best parts about Garcia were on full display against Redkach. That was made easier by Redkach’s lack of anything that might have given Garcia any real problems, but nonetheless Garcia was able to show the lovely footwork and balanced countering ability that made him so formidable at junior welterweight. There’s just something special about seeing Garcia fight. The economy of his movement inside a boxing ring is something that is just plain different than just about any other world-class fighter in the world today. In a fight that most people probably would have preferred he just skipped, and one that didn’t turn out to be any different than everyone expected, at least Garcia’s beautiful boxing was on display.

MISS – Showtime Sparring Sessions

In addition to Garcia-Redkach, Showtime rounded out its tripleheader with undefeated junior featherweight Stephen Fulton taking on former Muay Thai fighter Arnold Khegai and former unified junior middleweight champion Jarrett Hurd taking on career welterweight Francisco Santana. While Fulton’s fight against Khegai seemed like a legitimate prizefight, there was something about the other two bouts that screamed sparring sessions. That was especially the case for Hurd’s bout. Not only was Hurd in there with a middling welterweight, but he also used the rounds of the fight to work on vastly different boxing techniques than what made him so popular in the first place. Showtime might not have the pull they once had with the people over at the PBC offices, but they for sure need to get more involved in vetting matchups if they hope to remain afloat within the competitive boxing landscape of today.

HIT – Stephon Fulton’s Title Chances at 122 Pounds

Fulton is a very solid boxer who digs to the body and has a fast, clean jab. Khegai was the perfect kind of opponent for the 25-year-old. He was very game and never stopped trying to win. Additionally, his background in Muay Thai offered some different looks to Fulton that should help him on his way toward world title contention. In the end, Fulton outworked Khegai to hand the tough 27-year-old the first loss of his career. Now let’s hope Fulton is off to bigger and better things such as challenging for a world title. He’s ready right now.

MISS – Andy Ruiz’s Continued Soap Opera

The best thing former unified champion Andy Ruiz could have done after blowing the rematch against Anthony Joshua in December is getting right back to work in the gym. What better way to show trainer Manny Robles that he was taking responsibility for his actions than to get right back to work with the same team he had just let down so badly? Instead, Ruiz fired Robles and is considering other trainers. That would make more sense if there had been some sort of tactical error in the fight. But Ruiz already admitted he simply didn’t train for arguably the biggest fight of his life, and that’s not anyone’s fault but his own.

HIT – Former Middleweight Titleholder Andy Lee’s Second Act

It appears former WBO middleweight champion Andy Lee found his second act in life as a trainer, which makes a ton of sense if you followed Lee’s career under the tutelage of the late Emanuel Steward. Lee, 39, left Ireland after his amateur days to live with Steward in Detroit and train at Kronk. The two had a very close personal relationship and that experience ultimately helped Lee win the world title in 2014 two years after Steward’s passing. Now, Lee is passing on what he knows in the same way Steward did with him to other fighters. He trains and manages Irish upstart Paddy Donovan, is guiding Jason Quigley back to contention and even helped orchestrate distant cousin Tyson Fury bringing on Javan “SugarHill” Steward for the heavyweight’s upcoming rematch against Deontay Wilder.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott

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The Hauser Report: Garcia-Redkach and More

Thomas Hauser

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Boxing made its debut at Barclays Center on October 20, 2012, with a fight card headlined by four world title bouts. Danny Garcia, Erik Morales, Paulie Malignaggi, Peter Quillin, Devon Alexander, Danny Jacobs, and Luis Collazo were in the ring that night. The franchise grew nicely. Fans who went to Barclays saw good featured fights with solid undercard bouts. But as of late, the arena’s fistic offerings have faded.

Barclays cast its lot with Premier Boxing Champions. And PBC has moved its prime content to greener pastures (green being the color of money). There were five fight cards at Barclays Center in 2019. Each one struggled to sell tickets.

January 25 marked the thirty-ninth fight card at Barclays. The arena was half empty. The announced attendance was 8,217 but that included a lot of freebies. There were six fights on the card. As expected, fighters coming out of the blue corner won all of them. That’s what happens when 6-0 squares off against 2-10-1.

Three of the fights were televised by Showtime Championship Boxing, which has also been diminished as a consequence of a multi-year output deal with PBC.

In the first of these bouts, Stephen Fulton (17-0, 8 KOs) and Ukrainian-born Arnold Khegai (16-0, 10 KOs) met in a junior-featherweight bout. Each had fought the usual suspects en route to their confrontation. There was a lot of holding and rabbit-punching which referee Steve Willis ignored. Eventually, Fulton pulled away for a unanimous-decision triumph.

Next up, Jarrett Hurd (23-1, 16 KOs) took on Francisco Santana (25-7, 12 KOs).

Hurd is a big junior-middleweight who held the WBA and IBF 154-pound titles until losing to Julian Williams last year. Santana is a career welterweight who had lost three of his most recent four fights and had won only three times in the last five years.

Hurd was expected to walk through Santana. But he was strangely passive for much of the fight, which led to the strange spectacle of Santana (the noticeably smaller, lighter-punching man) walking Jarrett down for long stretches of time. Francisco is a one-dimensional fighter and was there to be hit. When Jarrett let his hands go, he hit him. But he fought like a man who didn’t want to fight and didn’t let his hands go often enough.

By round seven, the boos and jeers were raining down. Hurd won a unanimous decision but looked mediocre. That’s the most honest way to put it. One wonders what tricks losing to Julian Williams last year played with his mind.

Also, it should be noted that, when the winning fighter thanks God in a post-fight interview and the crowd (which supported Jarrett at the start of the bout) boos at the mention of The Almighty, there’s a problem.

“The crowd didn’t love it,” Hurd acknowledged afterward. “But you gotta understand; I got the unanimous decision and I did what I wanted to do.”

The main event matched Danny Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs) against Ivan Redkach (23-4-1, 18 KOs).

Garcia had a nice run early in his career, winning belts at 140 and 147 pounds. But later, he came out on the losing end of decisions against Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter. Other than that, he has gone in soft for the past five years.

Redkach is a junior-welterweight who had won 5 of 10 fights during the same five-year time frame.

There was the usual pre-fight nonsense with Garcia telling reporters, “We picked Redkach because he’s dangerous and we knew he’d be tough.” But in truth, Redkach had been whitewashed by Tevin Farmer at 135 pounds and was knocked out at the same weight by John Molina Jr (who never won again).

Garcia, like Hurd, was a 30-to-1 betting favorite.

Redkach fought a safety-first fight. Also, safety second and third. There wasn’t one second when it looked as though he had a realistic chance of winning the fight or fought like he did.

One of the few proactive things that Ivan did do was stick out his tongue from time to time when Garcia hit him. Then, at the end of round eight, he bit Danny on the shoulder while they were in a clinch. At that point, one might have expected referee Benjy Esteves to disqualify Redkach. But Esteves seemed to not notice.

Rather than go for the kill after the bite, Garcia eased up and cruised to a unanimous decision. Meanwhile, by round eleven, the crowd was streaming for the exits. Most of the fans were gone by the time the decision was announced.

Garcia and Hurd had set-up showcase fights scheduled for them. And neither man delivered the way he should have.

Meanwhile, a final thought . . . Sunday, January 26, would have been Harold Lederman’s eightieth birthday.

Harold was the quintessential boxing fan and loved the sport more than anyone I’ve known. He never missed a fight at Barclays Center unless his health prevented him from coming or he was on the road for HBO. He died eight months ago.

As Saturday night’s fight card unfolded, I imagined Harold sitting beside me. He would have had a kind word for everyone who came over to say hello and loved every minute of it. Harold Lederman at the fights was a happy man.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book — A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing — was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. On June 14, 2020, he will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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