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Will Shields vs. Hammer Justify the Hype and Advance the Cause of Women’s Boxing?

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At long last, the (mostly) undisputed Biggest Women’s Boxing Match Ever is here. Now all that remains is for the two undefeated principals — who see themselves as fighting not only to advance their own level of stardom but for the higher purpose of benefitting their gender in a sport long dominated by men — to produce a riveting, two-way performance that comes at least reasonably close to justifying the hype.

But neither Claressa Shields (8-0, 2 KOs), the two-time Olympic gold medalist from Flint, Mich., who holds the women’s WBA, WBC and IBF middleweight championships, nor Germany’s Christina Hammer (24-0, 11 KOs), the WBO middleweight titlist, is predicting a fiercely competitive matchup that will resemble Hagler-Hearns in sports bras. Each sees herself as winning comfortably, perhaps even brutally, in the Showtime-televised 10-round main event Saturday night from the Adrian Phillips Ballroom in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall.

“Christina doesn’t know what’s coming for her,” Shields, 23, said recently from her training camp in Miami. “I’m going to break that Hammer in half. I’m just glad I’m going to get my chance to show her what a real champion is. Someone is going down on April 13 and I promise it’s not going to be me.”

Hammer, 28, holder of at least one sanctioning body’s version of a world championship since 2010, has heard such bluster before and silenced it where it counts, inside the ropes. She figures that Shields, her two gold medals and three pro titles notwithstanding, is too inexperienced and tightly wound to solve the riddle the statuesque fraulein has always posed to opponents who are unable to back up their bold talk with action.

“I know I have the skills to beat her,” Hammer said of Shields, “and my goal is to beat her badly.”

For the sake of a cause both women hold close to their hearts, here’s hoping that the clear demonstration of ring superiority each hopes to inflict upon the other is replaced by the kind of classic confrontation that happens all too seldom in women’s boxing, and especially when presumably elite fighters are involved. When it comes to sheer entertainment value, a case can be made that the best female bout ever took place on Aug. 21, 2016, when Heather “The Heat” Hardy came away with a scintillating, 10-round majority decision over Shelly Vincent at Brooklyn’s Coney Island with the vacant WBC International featherweight title on the line. Each woman entered with an 18-0 record, but with a combined total of just five victories inside the distance. They squared off again on Oct. 27 of last year in the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, with Hardy winning a 10-round unanimous decision and the vacant WBO featherweight crown, but despite the popularity of Hardy, a Brooklyn native, in the New York City area, she is 37 and at this stage of her career unlikely to ever command the kind of global attention that Shields, Hammer and very few other female fighters ever come close to achieving.

Two women’s fights that might have held the distinction of being the Best Ever never came off. One would have pitted Ann Wolfe, arguably the hardest-hitting, ass-kickingest woman ever to lace up a pair of gloves, against Laila Ali, the beautiful and skilled daughter of Muhammad Ali who obviously inherited part of her genetic makeup from her dad. The other was to have paired Lucia “The Dutch Destroyer” Rijker and Christy “The Coal Miner’s Daughter” Martin, the only female fighter to have appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on July 30, 2005. Each woman was to be paid $250,000, with promoter Bob Arum vowing to reward the winner with an additional $750,000, making her, if you’ll pardon the reference to the 2004 Academy Award-winning flick about a fictional female fighter, the real Million-Dollar Baby. That potential bit of history never came to fruition when Rijker suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in training and retired without ever having fought again.

With those distaff megafights forever remaining theoretical, it fell to the clash of celebrity offspring, Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, daughter of Smokin’ Joe Frazier, to square off in what was ambitiously labeled “Ali-Frazier IV.” The two went at it on June 8, 2001, at the Turning Stone Casino Hotel in Verona, N.Y., as if they somehow had been able channel a bit of what had made their fathers great. Laila came away with an eight-round majority decision in a scrap that was better than many had expected, but nonetheless was dismissed by some skeptics as an exploitation of the hallowed names of the participants’ fathers.

Now Shields and Hammer come along to build on all that had had been, or might have been, involving predecessors who at least had conferred a sheen of legitimacy on women’s boxing. They still face an uphill fight to reach whatever might be considered a summit, but there can be no denying that progress is being made in increments. On May 31, in midtown Manhattan, Shields will receive the second annual Christy Martin Award as Female Fighter of the Year (for 2018) from the Boxing Writers Association of America, which should add some additional incentive for her to follow through on her promise to introduce Hammer to the disappointment of defeat. No matter the outcome of Shields-Hammer, however, it is not a given that the winner will be universally hailed as the best woman boxer on the planet, not with the 2017 Christy Martin Fighter of the Year honoree, Norway’s undisputed world welterweight champion Ceciilia Braekhus (35-0, 9 KOs) and WBA/WBO lightweight titlist Katie Taylor (13-0, 6 KOs) of Ireland getting votes from their share of precincts.

Battles are won or lost, and barring a draw the Shields-Hammer fight will produce one of each. But winning wars of acceptance are quite another thing, and the stated goal of both women is to elevate their version of what used to be called a manly art to something at least within hailing distance of parity with their brothers.

“Of course this is our biggest fight ever,” Hammer said of the implications attached to her date with Shields. “We’ve never had a fight like this before. It will be a game-changer for women’s boxing.

“Times are changing. (The fight is on) Saturday night, prime time, with all four belts on the line. This is huge for women’s boxing. It’s going to change everything, and will show the world that women can be strong and earn good money.”

Shields is anxious to lead the way to bigger paydays for women boxers, but there are other things she wants from the fight game that will no longer consign her to the relative second-class citizenship that comes from having been born with two X chromosomes. She thinks women champions should also be scheduled for 12-round title bouts, at three minutes per round. Presently women fight two-minute rounds, with championship bouts limited to 10 rounds.

“I fight three-minute rounds in the gym, and against men, except when I get closer to a fight and I try to get reacclimated to the two-minute rounds,” she said. “I guess (the powers that be) want to protect us from ourselves, but that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard in my life. I’m just keeping it real. For one thing, I am a woman who chose to box. Two, I’m a grown woman. Three, I don’t need nobody to protect me but me.

“The only way women’s boxing will ever get paid the same as men, and be as respected, is for us to boxing three minutes for 12 rounds. There would be more knockouts.”

Photo credit: Jose Pineiro / SHOWTIME

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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In a Massive Upset, Dakota Linger TKOs Kurt Scoby on a Friday Night in Atlanta

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Although it was an 8-rounder on a show with two “tens,” Kurt Scoby’s match with Dakota Linger was accorded main event status on tonight’s card at the Overtime Elite Arena in Atlanta. This had everything to do with Scoby (pronounced Scooby), a former record-setting college running back who was considered one of the brightest prospects in the 140-pound weight class. “[Scoby] works harder than almost anyone I’ve ever seen,” said veteran New York promoter Lou DIBella in a conversation with Keith Idec. “But he’s literally getting better after every fight and he’s got the hammer of Thor, man. He can punch through walls.”

The Duarte, California product who has relocated to Brooklyn and trains at Gleason’s Gym, was undefeated (13-0) heading in and was expected to make Linger his ninth straight knockout victim. But Linger, a 29-year-old Buckhannon, West Virginia policemen whose first ring engagements were in Toughman competitions, wasn’t intimidated by Scoby’s press clippings or by Scoby’s bodybuilder physique.

Linger, who improved to 14-6-3 with his tenth win inside the distance, took the fight right to Scoby and repeatedly found a home for his overhand right. In the sixth round, after Linger strafed the ever-retreating Scoby with a barrage of punches, referee Malik Walid determined that he had seen enough and waived it off. The decision seemed a tad premature, but neither Scoby nor his cornermen offered anything in the way of a protest.

Tournament results

In the first installment of an 8-man super welterweight tournament, Brandon Adams returned to boxing after his second three-year layoff and showed no ring rust whatsoever. Adams, a 34-year-old family-man who grew up in the Watts district of LA, dismissed Ismael Villareal with a wicked punch to the liver in the waning seconds of round three. The official time was 2:59.

A former wold title challenger, Adams who improved to 23-3 (16 KOs), has become the king of boxing tournaments. He first attracted notice in 2018 when he won the fifth edition of “The Contender” series, scoring a wide 10-round decision over Shane Mosley Jr in the championship round.

Villareal, a second-generation prizefighter from the Bronx whose dad fought the likes of Hector Camacho, declined to 13-3.

Adams next opponent will be Francisco Veron who will bring a record of 14-0-1 (10).

In an energetic 10-rounder, Veron, a Florida-based Argentine with a strong amateur pedigree, scored a unanimous decision over Mexico-born, LA southpaw Angel Ruiz (18-3-1). The judges had it 100-90, 99-91, and 96-94.

Ruiz certainly had his moments, but Veron launched and landed many more punches despite fighting the last six rounds with a damaged eye.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 281: The Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia Show

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Over the years bouts between old foes such as Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia tend to be surprising.

Yes, both are only 25 but have known each other for many years.

When undisputed super lightweight champion Haney (31-0, 15 KOs) steps into the prize ring at Barclays Center to meet challenger Garcia (24-1, 20 KOs) on Saturday, April 20, fans will be witnessing the continuation of a feud that began more than a decade ago.

And though the champion is a heavy favorite, familiarity is Garcia’s best weapon heading into their fight on the Golden Boy Promotions card that will be shown on PPV.COM with Jim Lampley and friends. DAZN pay-per-view is also streaming the card.

In many ways Haney and Garcia have ventured down the same path. From amateur sensations to fighting in Mexico while teens to asking for the biggest challenges available.

“Whichever version of Ryan shows up on April 20, I will be ready for him. Ryan Garcia is just another opponent to me,” said Haney who holds the WBC super lightweight title after his win over Regis Prograis.

The first time I saw Haney as a pro he battled the dangerous Mexican contender Juan Carlos Burgos at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula. It was an impressive performance against a fighter who fought three times for a world title.

Haney was 19 at the time.

My first look at Garcia as a pro was in his first bout in the U.S. when he met Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Cruz at the Exchange in downtown Los Angeles. The Boricua looked at Garcia and tried intimidating him with stares, taunts and the usual patter. During the fight both swung and missed until the second round when Garcia zeroed in and took him out.

Garcia had just turned 18, the legal age to fight in California.

Both fighters did not have the Olympics credentials that lead to fame. But their talent has allowed them to fight through the dense smoke that is professional boxing.

Haney has defeated numerous world champions such as Prograis, Vasyl Lomachenko and George Kambosos Jr., while Garcia has stopped champions Javier Fortuna and Luke Campbell.

As amateurs, Garcia and Haney battled six times with each winning three.

“They know each other very well,” said Oscar De La Hoya of Golden Boy Promotions. “Ryan is going to beat Devin Haney.”

Haney has a buttery-smooth style with one of the best jabs in boxing. He’s very adept at keeping distance and not allowing anyone to fight him inside. His reflexes are outstanding, yet he seldom fights inside. That’s his weakness.

Garcia fights tall and has superb hand speed and a lightning quick left hook. Though his defense lacks tightness his ability to rip off three-punch combinations in a blink of an eye pauses opponents from bullying their way inside.

“These guys always just look at me and look at me like I don’t know how to box,” said Garcia on social media. “Why was I one of the best fighters in the amateurs. Why was I a 15-time National champion…why did I beat everyone I came across.”

Haney is a strong favorite by oddsmakers to defeat Garcia. But you can never tell when it comes to fighters that know each other well and are athletically gifted.

When Sergio Mora challenged Vernon Forrest he was a big underdog. When Tim Bradley fought Manny Pacquiao the first time, he was also the underdog. And when Andy Ruiz met Anthony Joshua few gave him a chance.

Haney and Garcia have history in the ring. It should be an interesting battle.

PPV.COM

Jim Lampley will be leading the broadcast on PPV.COM for the Haney-Garcia card at Barclays and texting with fans on the card live. He will be accompanied by journalists Lance Pugmire, Dan Conobbio and former champion Chris Algieri.

The PPV.COM broadcast begins at 5 p.m. PT. and is available in Canada and the USA.

Other News

MMA stars Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal will be holding a media day event on Friday, April 19, at NOVO at L.A. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Diaz and Masvidal will be boxing against each other in a grudge match on June 1 at the KIA Forum in Inglewood, Calif. The two MMA stars met five years at UFC 244 with Masvidal winning by TKO over Diaz due to cuts.

This is a grudge match, but under boxing rules.

Fight card in Commerce, Calif.

360 Promotions returns to Commerce Casino on Saturday April 20 with undefeated super lightweight Cain Sandoval leading the charge.

Sandoval (12-0) faces Angel Rebollar (8-3) in the main event that will be shown live on UFC Fight Pass. Also on the card are two female events including hot prospect Lupe Medina (5-0) versus Sabrina Persona (3-1) in a minimumweight clash.

Doors open at 4 p.m.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Heavyweight Merry-Go-Round

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Heavyweight Merry-Go-Round

There were few surprises when co-promoters Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren and their benefactor HE Turki Alalshikh held a press conference in London this past Monday to unveil the undercard for the Beterbiev-Bivol show at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on June 1. Most of the match-ups had already been leaked.

For die-hard boxing fans, Beterbiev-Bivol is such an enticing fight that it really doesn’t need an attractive undercard. Two undefeated light heavyweights will meet with all four relevant belts on the line in a contest where the oddsmakers straddled the fence. It’s a genuine “pick-‘em” fight based on the only barometer that matters, the prevailing odds.

But Beterbiev-Bivol has been noosed to a splendid undercard, a striking contrast to Saturday’s Haney-Garcia $69.99 (U.S.) pay-per-view in Brooklyn, an event where the undercard, in the words of pseudonymous boxing writer Chris Williams, is an absolute dumpster fire.

The two heavyweight fights that will bleed into Beterbiev-Bivol, Hrgovic vs. Dubois and Wilder vs. Zhang, would have been stand-alone main events before the incursion of Saudi money.

Hrgovic-Dubois

Filip Hrgovic (17-0, 13 KOs) and Daniel Dubois (20-2, 19 KOs) fought on the same card in Riyadh this past December. Hrgovic, the Croatian, was fed a softie in the form of Australia’s Mark De Mori who he dismissed in the opening round. Dubois, a Londoner, rebounded from his loss to Oleksandr Usyk with a 10th-round stoppage of corpulent Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller.

There’s an outside chance that Hrgovic vs. Dubois may be sanctioned by the IBF for the world heavyweight title.

The May 18 showdown between Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury has a rematch clause. The IBF is next in line in the rotation system for a unified heavyweight champion and the organization has made it plain that the winner of Usyk-Fury must fulfill his IBF mandatory before an intervening bout.

The best guess is that the Usyk-Fury winner will relinquish the IBF belt. If so, Hrgovic and Dubois may fight for the vacant title although a more likely scenario is that the organization will keep the title vacant so that the winner can fight Anthony Joshua.

Wilder-Zhang

The match between Deontay Wilder (43-3-1, 42 KOs) and Zhilei Zhang (26-2-1, 21 KOs) is a true crossroads fight as both Wilder, 38, and Zhang, who turns 41 in May, are nearing the end of the road and the loser (unless it’s a close and entertaining fight) will be relegated to the rank of a has-been. In fact, Wilder has hinted that this may be his final rodeo.

Both are coming off a loss to Joseph Parker.

Wilder last fought on the card that included Hrgovic and Dubois and was roundly out-pointed by a man he was expected to beat. It’s a quick turnaround for Zhang who opposed Parker on March 8 and lost a majority decision.

Other Fights

Either of two other fights may steal the show on the June 1 event.

Raymond Ford (15-0-1, 8 KOs) meets Nick Ball (19-0-1, 11 KOs) in a 12-round featherweight contest. New Jersey’s Ford will be defending the WBA world title he won with a come-from-behind, 12th-round stoppage of Otabek Kholmatov in an early contender for Fight of the Year. Liverpool’s “Wrecking” Ball, a relentless five-foot-two sparkplug, had to settle for a draw in his title fight with Rey Vargas despite winning the late rounds and scoring two knockdowns.

Hamzah Sheeraz (19-0, 15 KOs) meets fellow unbeaten Austin “Ammo” Williams (16-0, 11 KOs) in a 12-round middleweight match. East London’s Sheeraz, the son of a former professional cricket player, is unknown in the U.S. although he trained for his recent fights at the Ten Goose Boxing Gym in California. Riding a skein of 13 straight knockouts, he has a date with WBO title-holder Janibek Alimkhanuly if he can get over this hurdle.

The Forgotten Heavyweight

“Unbeaten for seven years, the man nobody wants to fight,” intoned ring announcer Michael Buffer by way of introduction. Buffer was referencing Michael Hunter who stood across the ring from his opponent Artem Suslenkov.

This scene played out this past Saturday in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. It was Hunter’s second fight in three weeks. On March 23, he scored a fifth-round stoppage of a 46-year-old meatball at a show in Zapopan, Mexico.

The second-generation “Bounty Hunter,” whose only defeat prior to last weekend came in a 12-rounder with Oleksandr Usyk, has been spinning his wheels since TKOing the otherwise undefeated Martin Bakole on the road in London in 2018. Two fights against hapless opponents on low-budget cards in Mexico and a couple of one-round bouts for the Las Vegas Hustle, an entry in the fledgling and largely invisible Professional Combat League, are the sum total of his activity, aside from sparring, in the last two-and-a-half years.

Hunter’s chances of getting another big-money fight took a tumble in Tashkent where he lost a unanimous decision in a dull affair to the unexceptional Suslenkov who was appearing in his first 10-round fight. The scores of the judges were not announced.

You won’t find this fight listed on boxrec. As Jake Donovan notes, the popular website will not recognize a fight conducted under the auspices of a rogue commission. (Another fight you won’t find on boxrec for the same reason is Nico Ali Walsh’s 6-round split decision over the 9-2-1 Frenchman, Noel Lafargue, in the African nation of Guinea on Dec. 16, 2023. You can find it on YouTube, but according to boxrec, boxing’s official record-keeper, it never happened.)

Anderson-Merhy Redux

The only thing missing from this past Saturday’s match in Corpus Christi, Texas, between Jared Anderson and Ryad Merhy was the ghost of Robert Valsberg.

Valsberg, aka Roger Vaisburg, was the French referee who disqualified Ingemar Johansson for not trying in his match with LA’s Ed Sanders in the finals of the heavyweight competition at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Valsberg tossed Johansson out of the ring after two rounds and Johansson was denied the silver medal. The Swede redeemed himself after turning pro, needless to say, when he demolished Floyd Patterson in the first of their three meetings.

Merhy was credited with throwing only 144 punches, landing 34, over the course of the 10 rounds. Those dismal figures yet struck many onlookers as too high. (This reporter has always insisted that the widely-quoted CompuBox numbers should be considered approximations.)

Whatever the true number, it was a disgraceful performance by Merhy who actually showed himself to have very fast hands on the few occasions when he did throw a punch. With apologies to Delfine Persoon, a spunky lightweight, U.S. boxing promoters should think twice before inviting another Belgian boxer to our shores.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 278: Clashes of Spring in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and LA

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