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Damon Feldman, the `16 Minute Man,’ Aims to Bring His Wild Story to Silver Screen

Bernard Fernandez

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Feldman

What do Jose Canseco, Tonya Harding, Rodney King, Danny Bonaduce, Joey Buttafuoco, Lindsay Lohan’s father, Vai Sikahema, El Wingador, Octomom, a semi-notorious Philadelphia TV meteorologist and an aging Philly sports writer attempting to channel his onetime inner tough guy have in common?

At first glance, most people outside of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, would conclude there couldn’t possibly be a link attaching such disparate individuals. But that assumption would be incorrect.

Meet Damon Feldman, the undefeated former super middleweight turned Celebrity Boxing huckster and unifier of all those seemingly mismatched parts. Once labeled “King of the D-List” in a Philadelphia magazine article that was something less than complimentary, the now-44-year-old Feldman is aiming for an alphabetical upgrade to another title of sorts, possibly “King of the B-Flicks.” Earlier this month he hosted a gathering at a Drexel Hill, Pa., restaurant that drew two media members (I constituted half of the press corps) and about 50 prospective donors for the movie he intends to make about his occasionally tragic, sometimes infuriating, relentlessly optimistic and thoroughly improbable life.

If enough well-heeled backers can be brought on board, 16 Minute Man, the same title as Feldman’s 2017 book that never made it onto the New York Times bestseller list, will reach silver screens nationwide sometime in 2020. He hopes to raise $50,000 in developmental money, a tiny acorn which, if all goes as planned, will transform into the mighty $5 million to $10 million oak he said it would take to make the film – if it actually advances beyond the theoretical — as much as a commercial and critical success as 2010’s The Fighter, the tale of scrappy “Irish” Micky Ward and his drug-addicted brother-trainer, Dicky Eklund, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won two.

“Jackie (Borock) and Scott (Weiner) were doing a documentary on me,” Feldman noted. “After watching Mark Wahlberg’s movie about Micky Ward, who no doubt was an accomplished fighter, I thought, `I really do have a story to tell, too.’ I wrote my book in jail (more about that later), Jackie jumped on board and, well, here we are.”

But, meanwhile, the show must go on. Feldman – that “16 Minute Man” moniker refers to the 15 minutes of fame avant garde artist Andy Warhol once predicted everyone in the future would have – figured quasi-celebrities whose time limit as public figures had expired might need some fast cash or an ego boost that would accompany a bit of renewed exposure. Those sufficiently desperate for either or both reasons thus were susceptible to the sales pitch thrown by a natural self-promoter whose thwarted dream had been to become a world champion fighter. But harsh reality has a way of sometimes morphing lofty ambition into something less grandiose. Feldman’s 68th Celebrity Boxing card will take place on June 8 at the Showboat Hotel in Atlantic City, with the main event pitting Natalie Didonato, most recently seen on the reality TV show Mob Wives, against female pro rassler Scarlett Bordaux. In the on-deck circle for June 29 in Los Angeles: Mark Wahlberg’s best friend Henry “Nacho” Laun, featured on still another reality TV series, The Wahlbergers, vs. Megan Markle’s half-brother, Thomas Markle Jr.

Just who would pay to see such low-rent matchups? Well, probably more than might be imagined. Rubber-neckers inevitably gather to see barroom brawlers or schoolyard kids go at it, and the stakes are hiked if the punch-throwers have retained even a thin vestige of fame or familiarity.

For Feldman, his legitimate goals sidetracked, the realization of the different course his life was about to take came after he was obliged to retire as an active boxer.

“I took odd jobs. I was down the (Jersey) Shore one weekend and saw these two guys fighting, a bar fight, and I thought, `We should do this in the ring,’” Feldman recalled in the Philadelphia magazine article authored by Don Steinberg which appeared in the December 2009 issue. His start was relatively modest, the staging of a Tough Guy tournament which drew eight participants of varying skill levels and 500 or so spectators for the one-night event. After expenses were paid and a winner announced, Feldman came away with a profit and the notion that what worked once would work again, and bigger, if presented as outrageously as possible and with a loquacious front man – himself –serving as carnival barker.

In retrospect, Feldman probably was destined to spend a large chunk of his life in some form of boxing.  Son of noted Philadelphia trainer Marty Feldman, his interest in the fight game and his inevitable place in it spiked when he was one of the “Faces in the Crowd” featured in the Aug. 15, 1983, issue of Sports Illustrated. There on page 69 was a photo of the then-13-year-old Damon and a caption that read: Damon Feldman, Broomall, Pa. Damon, 13, scored a second-round knockout of Joe Antepuna to win the Philadelphia Junior Olympic boxing title in the 13-and-under 112-pound class. He has been boxing since age five and has an 8-1 record with two KOs.

There was never any question that Damon, who was and still is billed as the “Jewish Rocky,” would continue to hone his craft and assume his rightful place in the family business as a pro. Maybe, if he could just catch a break, he could go even further than his dad, who fashioned a 20-3 record with 17 KOs as a hard-hitting middleweight before transitioning as a trainer, most notably as the chief second of world-rated brothers Frank “The Animal” Fletcher and Anthony “Two Guns” Fletcher, as well as IBF light heavyweight titlist “Prince” Charles Williams. Also bearing the Feldman imprimatur was Damon’s older brother David, five years his senior, who would go 4-1 with four KOs before hanging up his gloves.

Damon’s history – his mom, Dawn Feldman, who had divorced Marty, was brutally attacked by an unidentified assailant shortly after their divorce in 1974 and suffered a broken neck that left her a quadriplegic – and ethnicity made him a popular and sympathetic figure as he stitched together a 9-0 record that included four KOs. Only four years old at the time his mother was assaulted, Damon and his brother never lived with her again. It speaks well of the now-deceased Dawn that, despite her physical limitations, she became something of an artist and poet despite spending most of her remaining years in rehab facilities. Nor was she the only victim of a horrific crime that was never solved; for the next six years, until they moved in with Marty, who had been struggling to earn a living, Damon and David were human pinballs, bouncing around to three different foster homes.

Was Damon good enough to someday rise above undercard status at the Blue Horizon? He says yes, definitely. “All I ever wanted to be was a world champion,” he said. “It was my hope and dream to drive down to North Philadelphia every single day and train in the same gym as Bernard Hopkins, Robert Hines and all those guys. I wanted that belt more than anything.”

Feldman’s promoter, J Russell Peltz, said he tried to pair the likeable local kid with beatable opponents, but it would take a leap of faith to imagine him seeing his world-championship dream through to fruition. Nor is Peltz the biggest fan of Feldman as the face of low-grade Celebrity Boxing. “Damon has always been more about promoting himself than his events,” Peltz is quoted as saying in the Philadelphia magazine story. “He’s more about the sizzle than the steak.”

Whatever Feldman could have been as a fighter became a moot point when he slipped outside a grocery store in Broomall and took a nasty fall. “The curb broke as I walked off it and I just fell,” he recalled. “I hit my neck and my head, messed my disk up.” He never fought again, at least in a sanctioned bout, and, despondent and angry about his adjusted circumstances, entered into what might be described as the infuriating and reprehensible phase of a topsy-turvy existence.

Although he tried his hand at promoting legitimate fight cards, five of which came off, Feldman proved to be less than an exemplary businessman as well as something of a loose cannon. He began drinking more heavily until it became a problem, although he is adamant in refusing to state he is or ever was an alcoholic. His promoter’s license was revoked by the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission when, in 2005, an argument over tickets and money at a pre-fight meeting turned violent. The other promoter placed his hand upon an increasingly agitated Feldman, who scored a one-punch knockout with a left hook.

Even worse, in October 16, 2016, he struck a woman, with whom he had been involved romantically, several times with a closed fist and enough force that police, upon arriving at her home, found her bleeding from the nose, head and face.

Feldman served 13 months of a two-year jail sentence after pleading guilty to simple assault and recklessly endangering another person. He now says the incident that led to his incarceration was the “stupidest mistake of my life, but I learned from it and I came back. I’m not a quitter.”

So why is Feldman, who said this most recent redemptive chapter of his thick volume of ups and downs owes in large part to his parental devotion to his 12-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter, still as much or more of a celebrity as the D-Listers who populate his fight cards? It might be because, warts and all, he’s essentially an impassioned salesman of himself and his brand. He has been a guest on Howard Stern’s nationally broadcast radio program, at last count, 10 times and on Philadelphia drive-time sports station WIP, hosted by Stern’s Philly equivalent, Angelo Cataldi, perhaps 10 times that. Former Philadelphia Daily News gossip columnist Dan Gross regularly featured references to Feldman and any of his off-the-wall gimmicks because what else is a gossip column about?

Feldman’s first foray into Celebrity Boxing, in 1997, was limited in scope, the main event pitting Diego Ramos, a Philadelphia disc jockey, and John Bolaris, a weatherman for a Philly TV station. But Bolaris, a good-looking guy who got frequent mentions in Gross’ gossip column for his man-about-town squiring of a steady stream of beautiful and high-profile women, was the prototype of the type of participant Feldman knew could fill a 500- to 800-seat room. Bolaris would have been an even more surefire draw if his appearance had come 13 years later, when he was drugged by a couple of Russian bar girls working for an international crime syndicate in Miami’s South Beach. Seeking to confront the women, Bolaris met with them again, was slipped another roofie and awoke hours later with a pounding headache and $43,000 worth of charges on his American Express card. He contacted law enforcement officials, which led to 17 arrests, but instead of being hailed as a hero for the busting of so many nefarious types, as Bolaris had hoped, he was roundly derided for finding himself in such a humiliating situation and was fired by his station.

In other words, Bolaris at almost any stage of his television career was just the sort of “celebrity” that Feldman has sought out like a heat-seeking missile.

“I was a young guy, suffering and depressed,” Feldman said of his state of mind after his boxing career ended and his promoter’s license yanked. “Doing Celebrity Boxing shows became, like, my high. I just loved doing what I was doing. Anybody whose name was in the tabloids I tried to get in my ring. It’s like my nickname. I try to give all of them their 16th minute of fame.”

For appearance fees ranging from $1,500 to $5,000, Feldman has successfully enticed a string of down-on-their-luck notables to swing away at others of their ilk. Even when he failed to make sensationalistic bouts that were purposefully leaked to the media, he got the kind of publicity that promoters of “real” boxing would kill for. He attempted to pair Rodney King, the “Can’t we all just get along?” victim of a 1991 beatdown by Los Angeles cops, with one of the police officers involved in the incident, which drove the Rev. Al Sharpton to near-hysterics. The LA cop didn’t participate, but King mixed it up with an ex-cop from Chester, Pa., Simon Aouad, whom King defeated.

Another proposed fight that got lots of media attention but didn’t happen would have pitted Marvin Hagler Jr. against Ray Leonard Jr., the non-boxer sons of legendary fighting fathers. But it’s not just the near-misses with which Feldman has generated headlines; his most successful promotion to date was a matchup of Canseco, the steroid-fueled slugger of 462 major league home runs and the author of a tell-all book which outed Oakland teammate Mark McGwire as a fellow juicer, and a grown-up Bonaduce, the freckle-faced, red-haired kid everyone remembered from his time on TV sitcom The Partridge Family. Canseco seemingly got the better of Bonaduce, a friend of Feldman’s, over three rounds, but the fight ended in a controversial draw (even Celebrity Boxing outcomes apparently can be disputed), leading to accusations that the fix was in.

Canseco, maybe more than any Celebrity Boxing contestant, is associated with Feldman. The large and heavily muscled former baseball player, at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, unwisely consented to duke it out in 2008 with former Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles punt returner Vai Sikahema, who celebrated his touchdowns by whacking away at padded goal posts as if he were still the kid from Tonga who had been groomed by his father to become a champion boxer until he decided he liked football better. Sikahema, a two-time Pro Bowler who was then a sports director for a Philly TV station, tore into the much larger Canseco like a famished lion going after a stricken wildebeest. “I think I can safely say that 105,000 Tongans are well aware that I am fighting Jose Canseco,” Sikahema said before the bout. “I do not intend to disappoint them.”

Perhaps remembering the thrashing he took from Sikahema, Canseco, who was scheduled to appear in the main event of a 2011 Feldman-promoted event in Atlantic City, chose to stay home and sent identical twin brother Ozzie to fight in his stead. The ruse was immediately apparent when Ozzie stripped off his shirt and his upper-torso tattoos were different from Jose’s. The fight was called off and Feldman sued Jose for breach of contract.

Feldman also was instrumental in Celebrity Boxing making it all the way to network television in 2002, with Fox airing two hour-long episodes featuring celebs who were a cut above D-Listers, at least in terms of how famous they once had been. In the first installment, Bonaduce floored Greg Williams, of The Brady Bunch, five times before Williams’ corner threw in the towel in the second round. Tonya Harding, the disgraced figure skater who also fought for Feldman, had her way with a clearly frightened Paula Jones, alleged consort of former President Bill Clinton, who at one point attempted to hide behind the referee. Jones surrendered in the third and final round, allowing Harding to skate away with a TKO victory.

But it was a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not matchup in the second installment that had to qualify as the most memorable Celebrity Boxing bout ever. In one corner was ultra-skinny former NBA center Manute Bol, all 7-foot-7 of him, against 400-pound-plus former NFL defensive lineman William “The Refrigerator” Perry. The Fridge basically ran out of gas moments after leaving his corner for round one, but he somehow stayed on his feet to the final bell, eating a smorgasbord of jabs from Bol, whose 102-inch reach might have been more incredible than his height.

Although TV Guide ranked Celebrity Boxing on Fox No. 6 on its “50 Worst TV Shows of All Time” later in 2002, Feldman takes pride in having had a hand in it. “I worked out a deal with (Fox) because it was my concept,” he said. “They only did the two shows, but they did pretty good numbers. After that I just continued to do my own thing.”

Full disclosure: I did a Celebrity Boxing turn for Feldman in July 2002, for no compensation, with any money I would have received going to the Don Guanella School (now closed) for intellectually disabled children. My opponent was Philadelphia attorney George Bochetto, a former commissioner for the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission best known in boxing circles as the lawyer who represented former heavyweight contender Randall “Tex” Cobb in his libel lawsuit against Sports Illustrated, which resulted in a $10.7 million judgment for Cobb, later overturned on appeal. Bochetto – younger, leaner and a guy who regularly trained as a boxer three or four days a week – had everything going for him. But I was the son of a left-hooking former welterweight, and I wanted to see what, if anything, I had left. I did not inform my wife of my intentions until it was announced in my newspaper, which led her to ask, at a higher decibel level than I’d ever heard from her, “Are you nuts?”

George preferred to fight at a distance that suited him, and he was more accurate than I expected with the overhand right. But I bored in at every opportunity, trying to force him to the ropes and unloading left hooks and uppercuts with both hands. In effect, he was making Muhammad Ali moves and I was doing my best Joe Frazier impersonation. The split decision went to George, but the judge who had me ahead, the late, great Jack Obermayer, had been ringside for thousands of fights so I’m always going to think I really won.

Win or lose, though, my wife told me I was retired forever. Probably a wise decision on her part.

For those interested, more information on the movie project can be found at 16minutemanmovie.com.

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 Top Ten Flyweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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The Top Ten Flyweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

As we near the end of a lengthy series, a reminder of our criteria.

These are decadal lists, placing under the microscope the fights and fighters that occurred between January first, 2010 and December the thirty-first 2019; no fights outside these dates are considered.

Fights that occurred outside the weight class to hand, in this case flyweight, are only of passing interest – we appraise here the men who fought at 112lbs only. In doing so I utilise a number of different tools, from the video upload sites delightfully stuffed with boxing of all shapes and sizes, to the DVDs I continue to buy with inexplicable regularity to the detailed rankings helping to decipher who was who the day two contenders met.

Those rankings are from Ring Magazine from 2010 through 2012 before the founding of the TBRB allows independent rankings to be utilised for the remainder of the decade.

Finally, achievement, the who and the how, are given much heavier weight than more speculative concerns like perceived skillset and projected head-to-head predictions.

With the boring stuff out of the way, allow me to introduce you to the top ten flyweights of the decade past.

10 – Sonny Boy Jaro

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 17-7-5 Ranked For: 10% of the decade

The Tale of Sonny Boy Jaro is one of the great and under-told stories of the decade.  A journeyman, he also had an iron will that saw him bounce his equally iron-hewn physique from 108lbs up to 118lbs and back, fighting a busy schedule in his native Philippines and beyond. Problematically, he would also lose whenever he stepped up to elite level.

Until he ran into the great Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. That Jaro was able to beat him is astonishing.  Then ranked the world’s number eight fighter pound-for-pound, Wonjongkam was probably approaching a place where he might have been ready to be taken, but he just didn’t lose to the likes of Jaro, a type he ran into often. Jaro though, had learned his trade. He hurt the champion with the very first punch he threw and dropped him with the fourth or fifth, then he stayed right on him throwing consistent, hard punches, staying rough and aggressive. In the sixth, Wonjongkam was suddenly and finally worn, down twice, the second time dangerously under a vicious assault; the fight was waved off.

Jaro, alas, did not shake off his tendency to lose the big ones and dropped the title in his first defence. This makes Jaro’s hold on the number ten spot a little tenuous, but the fact is that nobody in contention held anything like as superb a win over so accomplished a fighter. From Daigo Higa to Artem Dalakian to Hernan Marquez, nobody did enough to supplant him.

09 – Amnat Ruenroeng

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 20-3 Ranked For: 22% of the decade

First, let’s get Amnat Ruenroeng’s 2015 defeat of John Riel Casimero out of the way. You can read about this insane parody of a prize-fight, for which Ruenroeng receives no credit, here. As I wrote at the time, “referee Larry Doggett…was very clearly guilty of, at the least, ineptitude. Like much in life that is truly ludicrous, it was funny and tragic in equal measures.”

His best win neutralised by his indiscipline, Ruenroeng’s victories of note become a little thin on the ground, but as we have seen, there is no depth of competition for these lowest slots. 2014 was his key year and in May Kazuto Ioka, one of the better 108lb boxers in the world, stepped up. It was bizarre to see the smaller man bringing the pressure while Ruenroeng maneuvered, seemingly spooked by Ioka’s beltline work and prodding straight; he found the gaps though, especially for an impressive uppercut which allowed him to hang on to Ioka’s coattails and a late rally saw him hold on to his strap in a widely judged split decision where each and every card somehow seemed reasonable.

This confusion, this chaos, is Ruenroeng’s hallmark, and whether he was throwing knees and elbows or waiting and deploying his jab, he had an air of intimidation matched by his ability to get under his opponent’s skin. Against McWilliams Arroyo he was dropped in the sixth by a winging left hook, cast adrift on the cards left and in need of five of the remaining six rounds. He got them. He got them by swapping out his cautious countering for sudden, rampant aggression and discombobulating holding and wrestling, culminating in his throwing Arroyo to the canvas in the tenth. Arroyo, furious and thrown from his rhythm, won only the last of the second six.

Ruenroeng earned supplemental wins over Rocky Fuentes and Shiming Zou and was a bubbling, vicious handful for absolutely every flyweight he ever met.

08 – John Riel Casimero

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 15-4 Ranked For: 19% of the decade

After being mugged by Amnat Ruenroeng in Bangkok, Filipino John Riel Casimero was made to wait an entire year for a rematch, to be fought on neutral territory in China. Preparation was disastrous for Ruenroeng who managed to weigh in over the super-flyweight limit on his first attempt, finally making the 112lb limit four hours later at the hotel in front of few witnesses. Whatever occurred, Ruenroeng looked sharp in bagging the first but his dark arts were firmly under the control of referee Tony Weeks, although he did manage to cast Casimero to the canvas in both the third and the fourth.

But later in the fourth, Casimero did the casting, dumping Ruenroeng into prayer position with a lighting left hook as the two twisted inside. Ruenroeng made it up but in what must rate as the most satisfying moment of his career, Casimero achieved his revenge, untidily but definitively by knockout in the fourth.

This was a good summary of Casimero in those flyweight days. He was brave and direct but sometimes disorganised; fun but a little frothy although he had more than enough though to see off future beltholder Charlie Edwards, among others. Casimero couldn’t hold the poundage long enough to make a serious dent but he is happily locked above his nemesis Amnat Ruenroeng, a real case of the good guy finishing first.

07 – Pongsaklek Wonjongkam

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 17-2-1 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (also known as Phongskorn Wonjongkam or Pongsaklek Sitkanongsak) is the greatest flyweight on this list – but as far as the decade goes, we capture only the last meaningful wins of a once pre-eminent fighter’s career, followed by his shocking loss to Sonny Boy Jaro. Behind that loss, Wonjongkam achieved no other wins of interest and in fact managed to throw in another shocking loss.

In 2010 though, Wonjongkam was holding onto the very last of it and in the ring with the division’s number one contender no less, Koki Kameda. In an impressive veteran’s performance, Wonjongkam won clear, despite the inexplicable drawn card found by judge Predrag Aleksic. He can be seen punishing Kameda for even minor transgressions in positioning, finding him with punches if Kameda moved across him rather than taking a half step back and going across him, forcing Kameda to circle more widely, taking more steps than he would have wished, forgoing the range and movement he appeared to have trained for. Perhaps not unrelated was Pongsaklek’s strong finish. Despite being the more shopworn of the two, he dominated the late action.

A year later, Wonjongkam met the final ranked contender he would defeat in his storied career in the form of Edgar Sosa, a near peer, a man born just two years after him who nevertheless had fought just over half the contests. It showed. Once more Wonjongkam finished the fight the stronger of the two in winning a wide decision victory fighting at a fast pace but he earned that right by out-hitting his fresher opponent throughout the entire contest, by wasting little, by knowing where his opponent was at almost all times. These behaviours are learned rather than taught and it was wonderful to watch a master of them ply his trade.

Not so much that Wonjongkam could be installed at number six though; he does post losses to Jaro, perhaps the least likely true champion since James Douglas, and then Rey Megrino, a professional loser of the type Wonjongkam had been beating up for walking-around-money for years. Still, his sun setting on the era was one of the events of the flyweight decade.

06 – Kosei Tanaka

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 15-0 Ranked For: 11% of the decade

Kosei Tanaka stepped up to 112lbs early in 2018, quickly tested the water versus the overmatched Ronnie Baldonado, then steamed headlong into Sho Kimura and the fight of the flyweight decade.

Writing about Tanaka back in 2015 with his record at just 4-0, I named him the world’s brightest prospect but pointed out that his mobile but aggressive style was a demanding one. “Does he have the engine for it?” was my question. “If he does, will he hold his power late enough for it to matter?”

Tanaka answered the first of these questions gloriously and forever against Kimura. Kimura, at that time the world’s number two contender, is a granite-jawed pressure fighter with the type of insistent pressure that only elite power can dissuade. Tanaka whaled on him early, a glorious left hook to the body his main power shot, but straight punches and dashing hooks were sprinkled liberally throughout. Tanaka has delightful footwork but rather than moving (some short late spells aside) he used it to form a tight, constricting circle while throwing serious punches with a fluidity which would have pleased Roman Gonzalez. Kimura, ceding rounds early, nevertheless threw return punches relentlessly, himself a technician of no small note.

Re-watching them for this article (and for any other reason I can think of) I had the sense that each man’s punch resistance relative to the other’s power meant they could barely hold one another’s punches comfortably enough to retain form and no more; slightly more power on either side would have upset the rhythm of this glorious fight. As it was, each hurt the other but once, Tanaka bending Kimura’s knee briefly in the second, himself stalling under the fuselage that was the height of Kimura in the twelfth and final round.

A lifelong atheist, I occasionally pray for a rematch.

Also, in my 2015 appraisal of Tanaka I claimed that his power would remain a limiting factor – that “I don’t think he will ever be the kind of fighter to be rescued by his power.” One of the great glories of following Tanaka’s career has been watching him emerge as a puncher, not a darkening one, but something more than just stinging, too. He proved this most of all in August of 2019 against number ten contender Jonathan Gonzalez. Gonzalez is far from impossible to stop, the trick has been pulled twice before but it was Tanaka’s relentlessness that impressed me as much as anything else. He determined to apply pressure to a moving opponent and at some point around the sixth his technically sound punches morphed into technically competent meathooks. Gonzalez went from moving to outright fleeing to being lashed to the canvas by a body-attack that is painful to watch.

One suspects the next flyweight decade will belong to Tanaka.

05 – Akira Yaegashi

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 16-5 Ranked For: 15% of the decade

Akira Yaegashi wasn’t really a flyweight but a Japanese superfight with Toshiyuki Igarashi was impossible to turn down; Yeagashi won and found himself on an exciting, enriching and impressive flyweight adventure as well as the legitimate flyweight champion of the world. It made his legacy.

Igarashi just didn’t have the power to keep Yaegashi under control, nor the silk to throw fluidly enough on the move to consistently outscore him, so the fight devolved into a brutal and aggressive shoot-out, a fight that Igarashi could not possibly hope to win. Yaegashi was the champion of the world. He beat up a wilted Oscar Blanquet in his first defence and then matched the number three contender, Edgar Sosa, a tough fighter in the best form of his life.

Yaegashi thrashed him. This fight was a little different, the Japanese working to keep one step ahead of his opponent, but generally speaking, he was a shark in the ring, irrefutable upon smelling blood but vulnerable when he ran up against superior firepower. Such was his fate in 2014 when he ran into the irresistible Roman Gonzalez in the absolute prime of his career.

He immediately dipped back down to 108lbs, where he probably belonged, re-emerging briefly at flyweight in 2019 where he suffered another loss. More of Yaegashi, who may prove to be underrated in a pound-for-pound sense, next time, but credibly cracking the top five at 112lbs is no mean feat. It will be his highest divisional ranking.

04 – Brian Viloria

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 12-4 Ranked For: 66% of the decade

It makes me uncomfortable when a fighter’s keynote win is a fighter from the division below moving up, but I make an exception for Brian Viloria in the case of Giovani Segura, who moved up from 108lbs to take him on at 112lbs in 2011. Segura was, at that time, ranked among the top ten fighters in the world pound-for-pound having twice blasted out the great Ivan Calderon and if anyone deserves the nod four pounds north it is him. Viloria though demonstrated how much those four pounds can matter, negotiating Segura’s hard-swung punches to stop him in eight one-sided but exciting rounds.

This fight came as a part of Viloria’s golden 2011/12 run and even more exciting had been Viloria’s nine round destruction of Julio Cesar Miranda five months earlier. Viloria, a powerful puncher, dropped Miranda in seven but the number seven contender came back steaming and an electric battle for territory followed, fought at pace and for the most part on the inside, a fight which Viloria won. Miranda, unable to fight going backwards, was neatly dispatched in the ninth.

Viloria looked near invincible when he was dominating but in fact he was easier to hit than is normal for an elite flyweight. This cost him later in his career when he had slowed down a bit and in truth, despite his lingering in the rankings until 2018, his last truly meaningful win came in late 2012 over the excellent Hernan Marquez. This was a painful memory for me as Hernan was one of my favourites and Viloria soundly thrashed him around the ring, dropping him in the first and fifth before stopping him in the tenth. Viloria was a fighter of real talent on offence, but a certain vulnerability meant he was always to come up short against the division’s true elite.

03 – Moruti Mthalane

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 14-0 Ranked For: 95% of the decade

South African Moruti Mthalane cracked the Ring Magazine rankings back in 2008 behind his defeat of the formerly ranked Australian Hussein Hussein. Today, TBRB ranks him at number two and although he was removed for six months for inactivity in 2013, he has spent 95% of the decade past operating as a ranked flyweight. This is astonishing.

And yet, rather like Omar Narvaez at 115lbs, although the overall career-arc is impressive, the detail feels underwhelming. In thirteen years hunting straps Mthalane has met so few Ring/TBRB ranked contenders it can be painted a deliberate strategy. In fact, Mthalane never met a fighter ranked higher than nine, which is a travesty.

Almost despite himself though, Mthalane built a solid resume in taking on lowly or unranked fighters who would reach the top of this division or who had previously made their mark. Such victories bookend his decade.

In September 2010 Mthalane posted a knockout over the budding (but ranked) flyweight Zolani Tete. Tete was unbeaten at 13-0, but Mthalane just rounded him up with an insidious pressure that must be awful for an inexperienced fighter to face, before dispatching him in the fifth. Six months later he pulled an almost identical trick against none other than John Riel Casimero.  Nearly ten years later Mthalane stopped former champion Akira Yaegashi in nine. Three different seek-and-destroy missions played out against three different opponents with ten years separating the first and the last; it is impressive stuff.

Mthalane’s legacy problem is that in between, he did so little of note, Muhammad Waseem and Masayuki Kuroda his best performances in the interim, but his longevity and his undefeated status for the decade impresses so much he is rendered at #3. That he made a victim of Yaegashi last year gets him over that line.

02 – Juan Francsico Estrada

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 28-3 Ranked For: 31% of the decade

Juan Francisco Estrada emerged from 108lbs with the brakes off, matching the world’s number one contender Brian Viloria in June of 2013 in an immediate and violent assault on the division.

Clearly unintimidated, Estrada stepped into Viloria’s wheel-house and out-fought him there, matching his armaments, and out-hitting him. It was the seventh when the divisional number one finally broke before him and the fight was a foregone conclusion from that point. Estrada did not drop another round on my scorecard.

Variety was the key for Estrada in this fight. He eschewed the jab in favour of leading with right hands, left hooks, and especially uppercuts, sometimes stepping in with the front foot and bringing up an “L” while face to face with his prestigious foe. It was a risky strategy and Estrada suffered for it in the sixth, but as he continued to mix leads at speed regardless of cost, Viloria found himself more and more on the end of punches he was not prepared to counter. Once the pre-counter was beaten out of him he fought on without real hope.

Rocketed to the very top of the division, Estrada certainly did no hiding meeting ranked contenders Milan Melindo and Giovani Segura (by then an established flyweight) and the sliding Hernan Marquez. Of these, his performance against the unbeaten Melindo most impressed me. His left, as always, weaved magic, a combination of push jabs, uppercuts, hooks, especially to the body and of course feints; but it seemed that the right spoke more forcefully than it had until this match, too. A slingy, overhand punch was perhaps the most damaging and persistent he threw, and a menacing right uppercut, though less frequent, partnered it.

A preference for the brutal, heart-rending knockout he scored against Marquez is valid but either way, it’s a resume and execution worthy of the number one spot. Sadly, he once again has to make do with number two, which is the same position he landed at 115lbs. An old adversary edged him out.

01 – Roman Gonzalez

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 25-2 Ranked For: 29% of the decade

Juan Francisco Estrada may have had the best uppercut/power-punch combination of the flyweight decade, but there were no other two-pieces, combinations or flurries of any designation where any flyweight could rival Roman Gonzalez. He is a superb puncher and perhaps the best composite puncher in the division’s entire history. His coming to flyweight was a sure reckoning.

Gonzalez had probed the division for years but arrived in earnest in 2013 against no-less a figure than Francisco Rodriguez, a component rather than a great fighter, but one who is always in great fights. Rodriguez’s Mexican approach could not stand Gonzalez though, who turned him away in seven. One year later he stood in the ring with Akira Yaegashi, the flyweight world champion.  Yaegashi had until this day demonstrated a heart of oak and elite punch-resistance but he never recovered from what Gonzalez fed him.

No fighter is more comfortable at all distances than Gonzalez and he gave a masterclass in seek and destroy when Yaegashi tried to move. Yaegashi tried to check his man’s momentum with brave forays but over and again he was out-hit, out-thought. Never was the right hand better; Gonzalez threw it in all shapes and at all ranges and at many different carefully selected targets. The glove eventually became a living feint, something that made Yaegashi flinch away in uncertainty, even as Gonzalez began to wind up the left. The referee eventually intervened after the second knockdown of the fight in the ninth round, and a new champion was birthed.

Gonzalez did good business in the top five as king, without making his claim as one of the great ones.  He staged four defences, chief among them Edgar Sosa and Brian Viloria ranked four, and McWilliams Arroyo ranked seven. He brooked no resistance, rolling over Sosa in two, outfighting a brave Brian Viloria who managed to survive for nine rounds, before finally going the distance with Arroyo. This last is the most fascinating fight of these three in that Arroyo found a way to survive.  Gonzalez ceded the opening rounds, as he often did against bigger men, but, like Joe Louis, like Ray Robinson, once he had found you, he had found you for all time. Gonzalez decoding how a man below 112lbs moves is the same as his winning the fight, going on all available evidence.

Arroyo covered up, staged resistances but he was outhit for the third through to the twelfth by four and five punch combinations, narrow, webbed punches within which net Gonzalez responded to movement with the same sensitivity as a spider detecting prey. He took the closest range against Arroyo, a good fighter, and beat him up. This is Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez distilled.

It is also the last of him as a great fighter. He remains, to this day, a good one but his final fight at 112lbs was his last where he was able to work with fighters who did not hold over him a prohibitive size advantage. When he departed the division for the richer purses at 115lbs he also broke the lineage of the longest lineal title in the world, dating back to Miguel Canto and the 1970s. It was a prestigious crown to abandon.

You sense it would have come about either way though. Roman Gonzalez could be fighting at the weight still and it is unlikely they would have found a man to defeat him – whenever he departed the division he would have taken the title with him.

The uncontested number one decadal flyweight.

The other lists:

Heavyweight

Cruiserweight

Light-Heavyweight

Super-Middleweight

Middleweight

Light-Middleweight

Welterweight

Light-Welterweight

Lightweight

Super-Featherweight

Featherweight

Super-Bantamweight

Bantamweight

Super-Flyweight

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In Defense of Julie Lederman

Ted Sares

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In-Defense-of-Julie-Lederman

Some years ago, Matt Podgorski (a former boxing official) came up with a formula for evaluating the performance of boxing judges worldwide by determining the percentage of instances his or her scores were consistent with the other two judges working the same fights. He called it the Pod Index. It was a rare effort to quasi-quantify the work of boxing judges. “Boxing and MMA judges are often evaluated based on whether or not they have had a controversial decision. This is a poor way to assign and regard professional judges,” said Podgorski in an interview with former RingTV editor Michael Rosenthal.

Matt’s Disclaimer: “We are not claiming that judges with low Pod Index scores are bad judges. The Pod Index is simply a measurement of round by round variation compared to other judges.”

Julie Lederman placed very high in Podgorski’s study. In fact, only one  veteran judge — Canada’s Benoit Roussel — had a better score.

For more information about the Pod Index, see http://theboxingtribune.com/2014/12/19/the-pod-index-a-step-in-the-right-direction/

Confirmation Bias

Some of this writer’s favorite judges, in addition to Lederman, are Steve Weisfeld, Glen Feldman, Dave Moretti, Glenn Trowbridge, Joe Pasquale, Max DeLuca, Hubert Earle, Benoit Roussel, Burt Clements, Rocky Young, Joel Scobie, Tom Shreck, Don Trella, William Lerch, Pinit Prayadsab, and Raúl Caiz, Jr. All of them have been maligned at one time or another.

Being a judge is a thankless endeavor and attention is mostly received when something controversial happens. Once a judgment is made about a bad job, that judgment influences future perceptions. This is known as “confirmation bias.”

Thus, Julie Lederman’s highly questionable scoring in the Loma-Lopez fight, though it didn’t change the result, will most certainly label her a bad judge, tarnishing her reputation despite all of the fine work she has done in the past. Moreover, it’s now fashionable to “pile on” and castigate her with a nasty Bob Arum leading the charge.

“…what kind of fight was she watching,…these judges are the craziest…I would advise any fighter I would have to ask the commission not to appoint her…” — Arum

This wasn’t the first time that Arum criticized Julie. Back in 2014, Tim Bradley and Diego Gabriel Chaves fought to a draw. Lederman scored the fight 116-112 in favor of Chaves. Arum had this to say: “She should never be allowed to work in Nevada again….Her scorecard for Chaves is an absolute disgrace …[She was appointed] because they let these [expletive] Showtime guys put a fight on the same night that we did it. They don’t have enough judges. They don’t have enough referees. They want to accommodate both parties. Why? Because they’ll do anything the [expletive] MGM asks them to do.”

“It’s easy to criticize boxing judges. But it’s not that easy to have a sound basis for the criticism. One needs to see the fight the judge saw to be in the position to rightly criticize. Critics should temper criticisms in light of the situations boxing judges are in when judging fights. And judges should likewise understand criticisms from the boxing public, however baseless these may seem.”  — Epifanio M. Almeda

Lederman, 52, is in her 24th year as a professional boxing judge. Her assignments have taken her to eight foreign countries and Puerto Rico. And she has been a fixture this year at the MGM Bubble, working 18 fights across seven shows without incident prior to this past Saturday night.

This, of course, does not excuse Julie’s scoring on Saturday (119-109 for Teofimo Lopez), but it needs to be kept in mind that she has been ranked high over the years and does not have in her past work a pattern of poor judging such as seemed to exist, for example, in Texas and which drew the ire of Paulie Malignaggi.

When she first hit the scene, cries of nepotism and politics accompanied her, but those complaints quickly evaporated. Whether she can bounce back from this controversy remains to be seen. This writer hopes she can.

Photo: Julie Lederman and her father are flanked by Henry Hascup, President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame and Aaron Davis, former President of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board

Ted Sares can be reached on Facebook or at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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“—C’mon!” (from the pen of Springs Toledo)

Springs Toledo

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-C'mon

“—C’mon!” said Teofimo Lopez with two seconds left in the 12th round. It was a Brooklyn thing to say on a Brooklyn-type Saturday night, and Lopez timed it well. He’d just crashed two hooks at either side of Vasiliy Lomachenko’s head and ended their saga as it began—with sharp words.

“My son will destroy Lomachenko,” Lopez’s father told EsNews in August 2017. Three months later Lopez was in the gym mimicking his style. “Same side always,” he said as he tapped the bag and dipped to his right. “Nuthin’ different.” “Lomachenko is a diva,” he said last week. “I don’t like him … I’m the type of person, I say something I mean it. If you have a problem with it, come see me.” Lomachenko came to see him all right, and both brought their fathers as if the whole thing was a schoolyard scrap.

Lomachenko’s father is a silent sage. His modern training techniques are part of the “performance revolution” that has transformed every sport, including the sport that’s barely a sport, and not necessarily for the better. Papa Chenko’s futurama theories seem at once scientific and idiosyncratic. Pundits who never heard of Freddie Brown think they’re next-level stuff. There’s Lomachenko holding his breath under water to build lung strength; there he is touching that board with blinking lights to improve hand-eye coordination. When Lomachenko was 9, his father went so far as to enroll him in a Ukrainian folk dance school to expose him to hobak, hutsulka, and the kolomiyka, and you can see it in all the hopping and side-stepping he does around the ring at 32.

Papa Lopez is anything but silent, though he too is a sage—a naysaying sage with street instincts picked up during a few round trips through hell. He takes no one’s word for anything and if he takes a break from a tirade and asks a question, it has about as much tact as a shiv. When Lomachenko is holding his breath in the pool is someone else there too, denting his rib cage with hooks? Those lights blinking on the screen, do they feint? And dancing school? Dancing school? Brooklyn itself rolls its collective eyes.

Papa Lopez laughs without mirth at the consensus opinion, at the so-called experts. But he couldn’t laugh off the indisputable fact that Lomachenko has been knocking off a parade of world-class fighters. So he plopped down in front of YouTube to see for himself what was happening.

And what did he see?

He saw that the so-called Matrix style is a series of tricks; that Lomachenko is pulling fast ones on the gullible in the opposite corner and in press row. He saw opponents cooperating with him as he gauged their strengths and weaknesses in the first round or two and measured the distance between his glove and their chin. He saw them mesmerized by nothing-shots—“pitty pats,” he called them, “patty-cakes,” and wondered if it would have been easier or harder, given the language barrier, if Lomachenko just came out and asked them to throw something so he can find the best route around it to sock them in the chops.

Papa Lopez also saw that Lomachenko is preoccupied with not getting hurt; that he habitually slips, dips, and veers off to his right against the conventional stance. Teofimo, 23, saw the same thing. They both know why he prefers that direction: it’s the safest route.

His offense, which has two prongs and lots of frills, doesn’t contradict his preoccupation. Lomachenko wants to draw out his opponents to counter them. He stands a half-step off the perimeter where they can’t quite reach him and he can’t reach them. Then he baits them. If they take the bait, he hops in with a jab and then hops back out of reach. He’s making calculations, looking for patterns, and once he finds them he exploits them with minimal risk to himself because, like Floyd Mayweather, he already has a pretty good idea of what they’re going to throw. When is he most aggressive? When his opponent is least aggressive—out of position or covering up. He isn’t comfortable with uncalculated risks. Like Floyd, he wants control; and that only happens with an opponent’s cooperation.

Stanley Crouch, the late cultural critic and Brooklynite who was at least as contentious as Papa Lopez, understood the set-up. “What a boxer ideally wants to do is turn the opponent into an assistant in his own ass-whipping,” he said. “That’s really what you want the other guy to do—to assist you in whipping his ass.”

Lomachenko built a reputation on willing assistants.

And defeating him was easier than anyone anticipated. The fighter of the future bowed to all-American unruliness and old-fashioned fundamentals.

Old School’s comeback Saturday night was long, long overdue. Lopez used his strength and length to draw an invisible border with a warning that said “this far and no farther.” Then he enforced it. Instead of letting Lomachenko freely angle around him like he’s some stiff at the prom, he angled with him and threw punches. When Lomachenko slipped and sallied past his invisible border, he adjusted his distance and sent the dogs out. He stopped his momentum. He never let him take control. He never cooperated.

By the 8th round, Lomachenko realized that he had no chance to win unless he let go of his preoccupation with defense. He had to “sell out,” as Andre Ward said, by getting closer and sallying in when it wasn’t safe. Lomachenko won the 8th round—the first of only three that two judges scored his way—but it didn’t matter. His mouth had dropped open as if he was getting ready to admit futurama’s failure. “I heard him huffing and puffing and I knew I had him,” said Lopez.

The 12th round reminds us that Old School remains the gold standard in the sport that’s barely a sport. When Papa Lopez had a nervous moment in the corner and urged caution, Lopez refused. “I’m a fighter, I can’t give him that,” he said, as if to remind us that Old School is more than dust, that it’s a disposition.

Teofimo Lopez now stands in a succession of lightweight kings whose dispositions were the impetus behind achievements that make this succession very possibly the most majestic of them all: Joe Gans. Benny Leonard. Tony Canzoneri. Barney Ross. Henry Armstrong. Ike Williams. Carlos Ortiz. Roberto Duran. Julio Cesar Chavez. Pernell Whitaker.

Floyd Mayweather is in that succession too, but the business model that guided his career was rebuked Saturday night. Lopez pointed to the past, polished it up, and declared its superiority. “We’re bringing back what the Old School was. You fight the best and push on it. I’m not here to pick and choose who I want to fight because I want to defend my title and keep that 0,” he said and shook his head. “No. Nah!”

The lightweight king now beckons chief rivals Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia, and Gervonta Davis to disavow the business model and take up the red flag. He looks north to Josh Taylor and Jose Carlos Ramirez’s battle for the jr. welterweight crown and beckons either of them—or both.

 “—C’mon!”

 

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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