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Call Marvel Comics, Claressa Hammers Hammer in Making Like Wonder Woman

Bernard Fernandez

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Shields Vs. Hammer

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Her effort was exemplary, but the superlatives that flowed like floodwaters after a dominant Claressa Shields fully unified the women’s middleweight boxing championship with a 10-round unanimous decision over Christina Hammer suggested that the two-time Olympic gold medalist from Flint, Mich., had suddenly risen to a place of singular achievement for a female fighter.

Forget more realistic comparisons to such past women’s pugilistic icons as Lucia Rijker and Laila Ali. To hear her most ardent supporters tell it, Shields has taken on the persona of a comic-book superhero. Think Wonder Woman, or maybe Captain Marvel.

“I think tonight’s fight will go down in the history books as an epic battle with the likes of Ali-Frazier, Leonard-Hearns and De La Hoya-Trinidad,” gushed Dmitriy Salita, president of Salita Promotions, whose enthusiasm ran wild when speaking about the emerging lead pony in his stable. “With this dominating and captivating performance, Claressa Shields is well on her way to being as revered as Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Serena Williams, Michael Jordan, Pele and others at the top of their game.”

Also verbally genuflecting at the altar of Claressa was Mark Taffet, the former HBO executive who serves as her manager and one of her most ardent drum-beaters.

“You saw tonight a performance for the ages,” Taffet said at the postfight press conference in Boardwalk Hall. “This is a night for history. It’s her-story. Claressa Shields dreamed it, she willed it and she brought it to the table. She set out to be undisputed and she did it faster (in just her ninth pro bout) than anyone in the history of the sport. And she’s just beginning on her journey.”

Nor was the 23-year-old Shields (9-0, 2 KOs) inclined to aw-shucks her thorough thrashing of Hammer (24-1, 11 KOs) – two judges had her winning by 98-91 margins, the other by 98-92 — as just another day at her roped-off office. She can preen and posture with the cockiest of her male counterparts, and after paying the briefest of lip service to her vanquished German opponent, whom she conceded has a decent jab, she went the full Ali in proclaiming herself at this early stage of her professional career as the female GOAT.

“I thought I finished her in the eighth round. I thought I saw a white towel coming in the ring,” said Shields, who incorrectly believed that Hammer’s corner had surrendered prior to the beginning of the ninth round. “I was, like, `Oh, (crap). We got a knockout! I was so pumped. I thought the fight should have been stopped. She was holding on. She held me excessively. But I just told myself, `Stay cool, stay calm.’

“I wanted to land the perfect punch to get her out of there. (The judges) said 98-92 (and 98-91, twice). Give me 100-90. Give me my credit, man. I beat her ass every round.

“I am the greatest woman of all time!”

But being recognized as the best female fighter ever, a matter of some debate despite Team Shields’ breathless proclamations, could possibly stunt Shields’ long-range plans as much as to advance them. Asked what kind of follow-up bout could possibly match or top her dismissal of the highly regarded Hammer, Shields, who weighed 159.4 pounds for the Showtime-televised main event, said she thought she could pare down to 154 for a clear-the-decks go at Norway’s Cecilia Braekhus (35-0, 9 KOs), the undisputed women’s welterweight champion, or bulk back up to super middleweight for a revenge clash with the United Kingdom’s Savannah Marshall (5-0, 3 KOs), who handed her the only loss of her career, amateur or pro, prior to the 2012 London Olympics.

“I want to fight Cecilia Braekhus at 154,” said Shields, who not only added Hammer’s 160-pound WBO title to the IBF, WBC and WBA belts she already held, but was presented with The Ring magazine’s first women’s championship belt as well. “Bring it on, baby. That’s who I want next. If not her, give me Savannah Marshall. I’ll kill her.”

What about a possible rematch with Hammer, 28, who had held titles in three different weight classes dating back to October 2010?

“She was better than me,” Hammer conceded. “Sometimes s— in boxing happens. But I am a champion and a champion for a long time. I will come back stronger.”

But a do-over with Shields might prove a tough sell to the public after such a one-sided affair that most would presume would result in a repeat of the original. The gap between Hammer and Shields was never more evident than in round eight, when Shields likely would have scored a KO were it not for the two-minute rounds as currently mandated in women’s boxing.

“Can we get three-minute rounds now?” wondered Shields, who on May 31 will receive the second annual Christy Martin Award as 2018’s Female Fighter of the Year from the  Boxing Writers Association of America. “I think I proved (women) can do 10 rounds and two minutes a round, but in order for women to get knockouts, in order for women to get equal pay, we need 12 rounds and three minutes.”

No doubt Shields struck a blow for gender equity, or for the narrowing of the gender inequity gap. But if she thinks she someday can command the kind of multimillion-dollar purses that routinely went or go to Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Canelo Alvarez, that ain’t ever gonna happen. If she fights and pummels Braekhus as she did Hammer, an already shallow talent pool of possible opponents will get even more shallow, as likely victims will want to be compensated far more handsomely than the market is apt to bear. Maybe three-minute rounds will eventually happen, but Shields might soon discover that there is such a thing in boxing as a fighter being too good for his (or her) own good.

The seven-bout card in the Adrian Phillips Ballroom at Boardwalk Hall featured another women’s world title bout, with Argentina’s Brenda Karen Carabajal (16-4-1, 9 KOs) claiming the vacant IBF featherweight belt with a 10-round unanimous decision over Russia’s Elena Gradinar (9-1, 2 KOs).

There were three male heavyweight fights, two of which featured young up-and-comers and the other a grizzled former world champion who could be nearing the end of a long and mostly productive career.

Jermaine Franklin (18-0, 13 KOs), the 25-year-old prospect from Saginaw, Mich., scored a 10-round, unanimous decision over veteran Rydell Booker (25-2, 12 KOs), of Detroit, the 38-year-old ex-con from Detroit who lost 13 years from his promising career after being found guilty of felony possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Franklin might yet develop into the best young American heavyweight as projected by some, but Booker was no more than semi-impressed, saying, “He needs a lot of work. He stays too centered with his head. But he’s all right. What he has on his side is youth.”

At least Franklin got in some needed work. Swedish southpaw Otto Wallin (20-0, 14 KOs), who was making his U.S. debut, never made it through the first round as he and Nick Kisner (21-4-1, 6 KOs), of Baltimore, inadvertently clashed heads early on in their scheduled 10-rounder. Kisner suffered a cut over his right eye that was deemed serious enough by the ring physician that a no-contest was declared. That had to be a disappointment for Wallin, who came as the fifth-ranked heavyweight in the world by both the IBF and WBA. “To me, (Kisner’s) cut didn’t look that bad,” said Wallin, 28. “It’s a shame because I trained really hard for this fight and was looking to put on a show for fans in America.”

Samuel Peter (37-7, 30 KOs) briefly held the WBC heavyweight title, but that was many pounds and long ago. Now 38, the erstwhile “Nigerian Nightmare,” who resides in Las Vegas, had pared down from 330-plus pounds last September to the 259 he weighed for his scheduled 10-rounder against Mexican journeyman Mario Heredia (16-6-1, 13 KOs). Although Peter did score a second-round knockdown and was seven points up on one judge’s card, Heredia came away with the upset when the other two judges favored him by margins of 77-74 and 76-75. “I just came off a layoff,” said the disappointed Peter. “I need to go home, practice more and see if I can come back again.”

In other bouts, super bantamweight Marcus Bates (9-1-1, 8 KOs), of Washington, D.C. scored the only TKO of the evening when Jesse Angel Hernandez 9-12-3, 7 KOs) did not come out for the fourth round of their scheduled eight-rounder, and Atlantic City middleweight Isiah Seldon (13-2-1, 4 KOs), son of former WBA heavyweight champ Bruce Seldon, overcame a first-round knockdown to post a six-round unanimous decision over Bryan Goldsby (5-10), of Macon, Ga.

Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp / 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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BJ Saunders Improves to 30-0 at the Expense of Mildewed Martin Murray

Arne K. Lang

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There was a time several months ago when it appeared that Billy Joe Saunders was in the driver’s seat as far as securing a match with Canelo Alvarez. The lucrative assignment went to BJ’s countryman Callum Smith, but there’s a strong possibility that Saunders and Canelo will lock horns in 2021. If so, Saunders will bring an unblemished record. Tonight, behind closed doors at Wembley Arena he advanced his ledger to 30-0 (14) with a predictably one-sided decision over UK veteran Martin Murray. Saunders was appearing in his seventh world title fight and making the second defense of his WBO 168-pound belt.

Saunders, a close friend and training partner of fellow Traveller Tyson Fury, represented England in the Beijing Olympics at the tender age of 17. Now 31 years old (but with the emotional maturity of an adolescent) he is the classic example of a cagey southpaw.  That’s another way of saying that while a purist can appreciate his artistry, he doesn’t have a fan-friendly style. He is the British equivalent of Demetrius Andrade.

Martin Murray was making his fifth stab at a world title. The 38-year-old campaigner from St. Helens, near Liverpool, previously fought Felix Sturm and Arthur Abraham in Germany, Sergio Martinez in Argentina, and Gennadiy Golovkin in Monte Carlo. His fight with Sturm ended in a draw, but that was back in 2011 and Murray has put a lot of mileage on his odometer in the interim. Tonight, that showed as he did not instinctively let his hands go when he saw an opening. The scorecards read 118-110, and 120-109 twice. Those scorecards were similar to Saunders’ tour-de-force vs. David Lemeiux, but that was an unexpected eye-opener, whereas tonight Billy Joe was expected to win as he pleased.

This may have been the last rodeo for Murray (39-6-1), five times a bridesmaid. He can leave with his head held high. Always in shape, only Golovkin was able to stop  him and it took GGG 11 rounds. BJ Saunders hopes to fight the winner of Canelo vs. Callum Smith, but there is also talk of a rematch with Chris Eubank Jr who gave him his toughest test back in 2014.

Co-Feature

In a lightweight match framed as a WBA title eliminator, James Tennyson (28-3, 24 KOs) blasted out previously undefeated Josh O’Reilly, now 16-1, in the opening round. It was the sixth straight win by TKO for Belfast’s Tennyson who moved up in weight after being stopped in the 4th round at Boston in a bid for Tevin Farmer’s IBF 130-pound title. O’Reilly, a Hamilton, Ontario native appearing in his first fight outside Canada, was on the deck twice before the referee waived off the mismatch. The official time was 2:14.

More

Twenty-eight-year-old London light heavyweight Lerrone Richards improved to 14-0 (3) in a monotonous 8-round contest with 36-year-old Finland journeyman Timo Laine, 28-14 (15). Laine fought to survive, not to win, and Richards won every round on the referee’s card.

Undefeated super middleweight Zach Parker (19-0) was scheduled to fight former Edgar Berlanga victim Cesar Nunez, a 35-year-old Spaniard, but the fight fell out when a member of Nunez’s team tested positive for the coronavirus. Parker is ranked #2 by the WBO.

Photo credit: Dave Thompson / Matchroom Boxing

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Boxing Exhibitions: Side Show, New Angle, or Something Else? Part Two

Ted Sares

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Boxing Exhibitions: Side Show, New Angle, or Something Else? Part Two

YouTuber Jake Paul (2-0) says he wants to fight English YouTuber KSI, and then maybe Ryan Garcia, Conor McGregor, and some of the top UFC fighters (using boxing rules). This comes after his recent coldcocking of former NBA star Nate Robinson.

“There is a long list of opponents that I want, you know Conor McGregor, Dillon Danis. I’m going to knock them both out.”– Paul

Jake and his brother Logan are participants in a continuing side show and the more attention they get, the more this freak show will last. In that vein, this writer will no longer mention them except to quote the following from a poster named VashDBasher: “Hopefully these exhibition matches with these retired fighters don’t get out of hand. Not to mention these youtubers with single digit fights making more money than a lot of top prospects and contenders. Boxing is turning into a sham with…”

Exhibitions: The Fire Has Been Ignited; Will It Burn?

Jorge Arce and Julio Cesar Chavez, Sr. launched the tour when they faced off in September in Tijuana but it was done under the radar.

The super-hyped and much anticipated Tyson-Jones exhibition is now in the past, but already it appears that many others will take place. After all, this one—though a stylistic stinker– reportedly pulled in close to 1.2 million PPV buys!

“There’s a sucker born every minute.” – usually attributed to P. T. Barnum

Mike Tyson, coming in at a svelte 220 pounds wants to continue and asserts “my body feels splendid. I want to beat it up some more…I will do it again.” If he does, it may well happen in Europe.

Others are coming out of the woodwork sniffing around like dogs smelling Purina chow but the chow in this case is money and plenty of it. Suddenly, the “seniors tour” seems to enjoy the certainty of a Cher’s final tour. Ex- fighters like Glen McCrory, Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe, Johnny Nelson, Buster Douglas, Shannon Briggs, Erik Morales, Evander Holyfield, Marco António Barrera, and possibly Oscar De La Hoya (in a traditional comeback rather than an exhibition) are all looking to get in on the action.

 “The rumors are true, and I’m going to start sparring in the next few weeks.” –De La Hoya

The usually quiet Holyfield in particular has made a lot of noise saying among other things that, “Roy Jones was a good local opponent for Tyson, but a fight with me would be a global event and the only one fight that anyone wants to see is a fight between us. There is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t make it happen…”

But the “Real Deal” also has said he won’t fight for less than 25 million which is pretty much tantamount to saying he doesn’t want to fight.

Tyson vs. Holyfield III? Don’t bet on this one happening.

However, if there is money to be made, Floyd Mayweather Jr will be hovering about like a helicopter perhaps looking to fight Manny Pacquiao in a mega fight, but Manny may be looking to fight everybody’s favorite opponent, UFC star Conor McGregor. A real fight involving Floyd against a risky opponent would be of enormous interest, but keeping in mind that one of his mottos has been “my health is my wealth,” that is not something to bet on.

Ted Sares can be reached at  tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Errol Spence Jr’s Near-Death Experience Has Made Him More Well-Grounded

Bernard Fernandez

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Maybe it’s a good thing that Errol Spence Jr. had to learn the hard way that talent, like life, is a perishable commodity. Even so accomplished a world boxing champion as Spence had to discover that harsh reality in the blink of an eye, or however long as it took for his fast-moving sports car to veer out of control and produce a knockdown far more perilous than anything the man known as “The Truth” ever has had to face in the ring, or likely ever will.

The Errol Spence Jr. (26-0, 21 KOs) who puts his IBF and WBC welterweight championships on the line against two-division former titlist Danny “Swift” Garcia (36-2, 21 KOs) Saturday night in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, could have, and maybe even should have, died in the early morning hours of October 10, 2019, on a virtually open stretch of highway near Interstate 30 in downtown Dallas. Spence’s white Ferrari, capable of hitting speeds up to 200 mph, went over the center median and flipped over several times. It seemed miraculous that Spence (who was cited for misdemeanor driving under the influence), who sustained significant injuries, could be ejected from the car yet somehow recover to the point where he could fight another day.

“It’s just a miracle for things to turn out like they did,” Spence has said. “For anybody to be ejected out of a Ferrari … I mean, it could have been so much worse. I could have lost a leg, an arm. I could have been paralyzed or had brain damage. I could have been killed right then and there. But I didn’t have to deal with any of that. I’m just blessed. I’m definitely going to heed this warning. You go through what I did, you definitely don’t take things for granted as I once did.”

His professional return Saturday night will not only be met with as much public anticipation as is standard for fighters occupying as elite a level as does Spence, but even more so given his career-long 14½-month layoff (his most recent bout was a 12-round split decision over Shawn Porter on September 28, 2019) and questions attendant to how well he has recovered from his near-catastrophic experience. Has the ordeal in any way diminished him physically or psychologically? Was he imprudent in choosing to forego a less-risky tune-up fight for a matchup with the very formidable Garcia, who previously has held the WBC and WBA super lightweight and WBC welterweight belts? Can he demonstrate that he still is as special a fighter as he had been before his car crashed? Or maybe even better?

Not all of the answers will be provided in the Showtime Pay-Per-View main event, but enough will be to ascertain whether Spence can still claim to be the best 147-pound fighter on the planet (as listed in The Ring magazine ratings) or, even if victorious, reveal himself to be at least somewhat damaged goods.

Not that he was prone to preening and chest-thumping before, but, if anything, Spence, although highly confident he will come away with his undefeated record extended, still presents a public posture similar to that of his understated trainer, Derrick James. That is a stark contrast to the bombast for which Garcia’s father-trainer, Angel Garcia, is noted, and has even ratcheted up a notch for this fight. Angel has even gone on record as predicting that Danny will stop Spence in seven rounds.

“He’s going to go out there and show the world what true champions are made of,” Angel said of what he expects from his son, a +340 underdog in contrast to Spence’s -450 favoritism. “Danny don’t just know how to win, he knows how to kick your ass.”

Noting that his date with Spence had already been twice-delayed, the 32-year-old Danny figures all good things come to those who wait, and his patience is about to be rewarded. “Boxing is a sport of timing,” he said. “And the time is now. I feel great. I had a tremendous camp and did everything I’m supposed to do. Now it’s time to go out there and do what I do best, and win.

“I’ve been the underdog in many fights. I don’t worry about the critics or the media. I know that I’m a great champion, and a great fighter. And that’s what I’m going to prove Saturday night.”

James, for his part, is only too glad to yield the megaphone to Angel Garcia. He’s not about to talk smack about the Garcias because, well, he believes no good can come for those who brag about what they expect to do before they do it.

“I don’t make predictions for myself or my guy, but (Angel Garcia) is supposed to believe in himself,” James said. “He’s supposed to believe in what he thinks his son is going to do. Why wouldn’t he? At the same time, we feel the exact same way. I don’t go in there saying we are going to get a knockout. I can’t predict anything like that. But I can predict that we will be victorious.

“My guy’s quiet, I’m quiet. If you believe in yourself, you don’t have to talk about it.”

Any changes in Spence might not be obvious inside the ropes, but he insists his lifestyle has undergone a radical makeover that can only serve to benefit him in the time he has left at or near the top of a brutal sport that chews up and spits out those who can’t appreciate that today’s glory can soon become tomorrow’s memory.  For one thing, he has traded a Ferrari’s massive horsepower for, well, a different sort of horse power.

“I think it did renew my focus and got me back to the thing that got me to the top of the mountain,” he said of his reconfigured priorities stemming from the accident. “After a fight I started taking a week off, then two weeks off to a month off. Now I’m grinding hard again. You realize that having this time on earth is a luxury. Being young (Spence was 29 at the time of the crash, and is now 30), you think you’re invincible. You think nothing bad can happen to you. But when something does happen to you, you realize that time is important, especially time spent with your family and loved ones.

“That’s why I actually moved out of downtown (Dallas), got a ranch with horses, cattle and things like that. I got a pool and I’m outside with my kids. I just had a newborn son.”

Still, Spence knows that saying he’s as good, or better, than he previously had been is not going to convince any doubting Thomases until he delivers the goods. Danny Garcia, proud and tough, poses the test he needs to pass before any lingering suspicions can be laid to rest.

“I’m a realist,” Spence said. “I know people have a lot of questions. Am I still the same? Am I a shadow of myself? Those are questions that need to be answered.”

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