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`Big Baby’ Mess is Proof of Bigger PEDs Problem Than Most Would Care to Admit

Bernard Fernandez

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Big Baby

And then there were 71 … or maybe 710, if the alarmists are to be believed.

With the three positive tests that have served to knock Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller out of his scheduled June 1 challenge of IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden – hopefully, we won’t see Miller in any bout for the foreseeable future – the ugly head of performance-enhancing drugs has again arisen in boxing. Until more drastic steps are taken to correct the problem, such as longer suspensions, hefty fines and even permanent expulsion, cheaters who think they can get away with creating an edge for themselves through chemistry will forever conspire to erode the public’s faith in the notion of legitimate, unsullied competition in the ring.

Almost as disturbing as Miller’s flagrant flouting of the rules of boxing, as well as of common decency – hey, it’s hard to argue that a mistake was made when you test dirty three times in quick succession, and for three different banned substances – is the fact that another certified PEDs violator, Manuel Charr, was quick to nominate himself as the most logical available candidate for replace “Big Baby” in the corner opposite Joshua six weeks hence.

“I have been training since January,” the 37-year-old Charr (31-4, 17 KOs) said when his hoped-for window of opportunity opened after Miller’s boxing license was pulled by the New York State Athletic Commission, itself hardly a bastion of competence and integrity. “I was tested by VADA and can prove that I am clean. I am ready, willing and able to challenge Joshua on June 1 at the Garden.”

But, to my way of thinking, Charr’s claims to have scrubbed off any lingering taint from his recent PEDs past is coming too soon to merit consideration for a high-interest, well-paying (Miller was to make a career-high $4.875 million for the dream shot he may never get again) gig against Joshua. It was barely a year ago that Charr, just a few days before a scheduled fight for the “regular” WBA championship against the aged Fres Oquendo in September 2018, tested positive for Drostanolone and Trenbolone, both banned substances. The fight was called off, and rightly so. If the powers that be were truly serious about eradicating the PEDs problem, a dirty fighter would not be in the mix for a world title bout, and maybe any fight, little more than a year after twice testing positive.

To determine to my own satisfaction how deep the issue goes, I did an Internet search to find out how many fighters had worn or are wearing the scarlet letter “D” for drug violations. The criteria for such a designation is four-fold: 1. Fighters who had been suspended by a sporting body (an international governing body, a national federation or a professional league) for illegal PEDs and/or banned drug use; 2. Publicly admitted such use; 3. Been found to have taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs by a court of law; 4. Been suspended by a sporting body for failure to submit to mandatory drug testing.

There are now 71 names on the list of fighters who met one or more of criteria, 18 of whom are heavyweights. But it’s not just the number of miscreants that is disturbing; it’s the level of their achievement in the sport that casts a long shadow not only in the here and now, but into the future. With the addition of Miller, the Who’s Who of tainted heavyweights includes Evander Holyfield, Vitali Klitschko, Tyson Fury, Tommy Morrison, Francois Botha, Roy Jones Jr. (OK, so he had only one fight as a heavyweight, but it was for a world title and he won), James Toney, Shannon Briggs, Chris Arreola, Alexander Povetkin, Luis Ortiz, Dillian Whyte, Jameel McCline, Bermane Stiverne, Erkan Teper, Mariusz Wach and Andrzej Wawrzyk.

That’s quite a group. It features eight fighters who were heavyweight champions, six more who fought for the title and still another, Miller, who was to have fought for the title until he got caught, in a manner of speaking, holding a dripping syringe.

Boxing greatness, of course, is much harder to tarnish that than in baseball, where Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro have been denied induction into their sport’s Hall of Fame because of proven or even widely suspected PEDs use. Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson also have been denied enshrinement in Cooperstown, N.Y., because of gambling, a vice, including the throwing of fixed fights, that hasn’t kept several standout fighters out of Cooperstown’s equivalent place of honor in Canastota, N.Y. Holyfield and Vitali Klitscko have plaques hanging in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and Jones and Toney almost certainly will have theirs on those hallowed walls as soon as they become eligible, with Fury also a strong candidate for eventually getting there.

But it isn’t the names of fighters who have been associated with PEDs that is as much a concern as the names of countless others that might have crossed over onto the dark side and never been caught. Consider some downright scary numbers. On Sept. 7 on this website, Thomas Hauser authored a story entitled 1,501 Tests, One Reported Positive? What’s Going On With USADA and Boxing? By comparison, Dr. Margaret Goodman, president of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA), reported that close to 4 percent of the tests for illegal PEDs conducted by VADA came back positive. That 4 percent benchmark if applied to the 1,501 tests conducted by the USADA would have resulted in 60 positive tests results.

Although testing for PEDs is more extensive and accurate than ever, it is also true that whenever a better mousetrap is invented, the mice get smarter when it comes to making off with the cheese. New drugs, less easily detectable, are constantly being whipped up in basement laboratories by enterprising chemists, who also busy themselves concocting better masking agents. Victor Conte, disgraced founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) that was a focal point of the late-1990s/early 2000s baseball PEDs scandal, spent four months in 2006 and upon his release he became a crusader not only for cleansing baseball of the scourge of PEDs, but all sports. Whatever victories are achieved on that front, however, are matched by setbacks elsewhere. It should be noted that Conte once noted that boxing, more so than other sports which are more stringently regulated, was the “wild, wild West” of PEDs, a frontier that has yet to be fully tamed.

The task confronting the most relentless and vigilant members of the clean-up crew need only to point to Alexander Povetkin as a reason why fighters like Miller feel it is worth the fairly slim risk of being detected to go the PEDs route.

Povetkin, a Russian, was to have challenged WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder on May 21, 2016, in Moscow until he tested positive for a banned substance, Meldonium. A follow-up, or “B” test, also conducted by VADA came back positive as well and the fight was scrapped, much to the consternation of Team Wilder. The super heavyweight gold medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Povetkin is regarded in some circles as almost a petri dish of chemical enhancement because of Russia’s tacit, and possibly outright, involvement in PEDs in quest for nationalistic glory through sports. Consider the 2014 Winter Olympics staged in Sochi, Russia, the most expensive Olympiad ever at a staggering cost of $51 billion and the pet project of Russian president Vladimir Putin. So pervasive was Russia’s involvement in PEDs that all 389 Olympic athletes from that country initially were banned from competing at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics, although the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) eventually relented and allowed 271, including all 11 boxers, to participate.

Despite Povetkin’s twice testing positive, he was given a virtual slap on the wrist by the WBC, which cut his indefinite suspension for doping to one year before reconsidering again and giving him a get-out-of-jail-even-earlier card. Povetkin, a former WBA heavyweight titlist, stopped Johann Duhaupas in six rounds on Dec. 17, 2016, tacked on three victories after that and he again fought for the world championship on Sept. 22 of last year, losing on a seventh-round TKO to Joshua in London’s Wembley Stadium.

Possibly believing that whatever masking agents he might have used would fool VADA testers, Miller – who had weighed 300-plus pounds for his three most recent fights – instead drew a triple whammy. His first failed drug test was for GW1516, which is said to increase aerobic power and endurance in the obese and elderly. Seeing as how Miller doesn’t turn 31 until July 15, it is reasonable to conclude his objective had more to do with his high body-fat percentage than the number of candles on his next birthday cake.

Miller at first vehemently denied partaking of any performance-enhancing drug, but when a subsequent re-testing came up positive for Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and Erythropoietin (EPO), he changed tactics and basically begged for forgiveness in the court of public opinion and from whichever drug-testing entities and sanctioning bodies might be disposed to cut him a Povetkin-sized break.

“This is your boy, `Big Baby’ Miller here,” he said in a video posted on social media. “A lot can be said right now. I gonna get straight to the point. I messed up. I messed up. I made a bad call. A lot of ways to handle a situation, (but) I handled it wrongly and I’m paying the price for it. Missed out on a big opportunity, and I’m hurtin’ on the inside. My heart is bleeding right now.

“I hurt my family, my friends, my team, my supporters. But I’m gonna own up to it, I’m gonna deal with it, I’m gonna correct it and I’m gonna come back better.”

No doubt Miller is sorry – that he got caught. He had been caught doing PEDs before, in 2014, when he was into kickboxing. He sure as hell wouldn’t have been sorry had he somehow masked his PEDs to get past the VADA testers and, as a better boxer through chemistry, upset Joshua. He would have accepted any praise and rewards as his just due.

Here’s hoping Miller, a Brooklyn native, gets hit with a minimum two-year suspension that sticks, and he comes away with the realization that just because a lot of people cheat and cut corners that doesn’t make it right.

Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport, told ESPN that his fighter will go ahead and make his U.S. debut as scheduled on June 1 against a yet-unnamed opponent whose qualifications must include one absolutely essential attribute.

“It worried me that fighters feel the only way they can beat AJ is by taking banned substances,” Hearn said. “One thing we know is Miller is out. AJ’s new opponent for June 1 will be announced (this) week. Clean fighters only need apply.”

Here’s hoping also that there is a lesson to be learned here, and more fighters come to understand that PEDs are not their ticket to dream fulfillment. Sometimes the flip side of a dream is a very real nightmare.

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Avila Perspective, Chap 130: Jaron ‘Boots’ Ennis, Super Fly and More

David A. Avila

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A stacked weekend of marquee fights is led by top American welterweight prospect Jaron “Boots” Ennis tasked with meeting the challenge of Russia’s Sergey Lipinets in Connecticut.

The undefeated Ennis (26-0, 24 KOs) faces former super lightweight world titlist Lipinets (16-1-1, 12 KOs) on Saturday April 10, at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville. Showtime will televise the loaded PBC card.

Philadelphia’s Ennis walks into the boxing ring with all of the physical advantages including height, reach, speed and even more pro fights. But Lipinets does indeed know what it’s like to fight against a world champion.

“I think the opposition that I’ve faced is definitely better than what Ennis has faced. I went 12 rounds with Mikey Garcia and I faced a two-time champion in Lamont Peterson,” said Lipinets. “Those guys have pushed me to the edge before. Ennis has more pro fights than I do, he just hasn’t been pushed in the same way in his fights.”

This will be an opportunity for the athletically gifted Ennis to discover if he cracks the elite level.

“I’ve been trying to get these types of guys in the ring for about two-and-a-half years. I’ve been trying to get former world champions and top ten guys. It just didn’t happen. I finally got my chance and you guys are going to see a whole different animal. A whole different beast. It’s time for me to do my thing,” said Ennis, 23.

Lipinets, 32, realizes that time is running out and needs a win against an avoided prospect like Ennis to re-introduce himself to the fickle boxing world.

“Ennis is a young and up-and-coming fighter. All we want is a shot at the title and everything that comes with it. A win in this fight will give us all of that. I want to get my crack at the big dogs in the division,” said Lipinets who trains in Southern California.

Both fighters are explosive types with extreme confidence in their abilities.

Superfly

Also on the same fight card, long-reigning IBF super flyweight world titlist Jerwin Ancajas (32-1-2, 22 KOs) yearns to be part of the super flyweight wars that have emerged with fighters Juan Francisco Estrada, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, Kazuto Ioka and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai.

The super flyweight division has become one of the hottest in boxing.

“I want to fight whoever is left after the four-man tournament between Rungvisai, Chocolatito, Estrada and (Carlos) Cuadras. I’m always calling the name of any titleholder in my division, so I would fight Ioka too,” said Ancajas, a Filipino southpaw who has held the IBF super fly title since September 2016. “I want a signature fight because I’m tired of people criticizing me for not fighting anybody.”

Ancajas, 29, meets Mexico’s Jonathan Rodriguez (22-1, 16 KOs) another one of those little-known Mexican sluggers that can upset any fighter looking too far ahead.

“Ancajas is a great champion, but he’s never faced someone like me. I’m going to put the pressure on him from the very beginning Saturday night and show him that he has a great Mexican fighter standing in his way,” said Rodriguez.

Early Fights

A welterweight battle between Conor Benn (17-0) and Samuel Vargas (31-6-2) takes place on Saturday April 10, from London. The Matchroom Boxing card will be streamed on DAZN at 11 a.m. Pacific Time.

British-born Benn is the son of the great Nigel Benn and was slated for a showdown with another British prospect Josh Kelly. But that fighter was upended by David Avanesyan this past February who knocked out Kelly. Matchroom Boxing had to re-arrange somethings and now it’s Benn versus Vargas.

Vargas is tough.

The last time we saw Vargas he was getting clobbered by knockout artist Vergil Ortiz Jr. but never touched the floor. Whoever fights Vargas learns quickly that he’s a dangerous fighter with a head made of steel.

Does Benn have enough boxing skills to switch to plan B when a knockout win isn’t possible?

We shall see.

On the same card two female world title fights take place with the vacant WBA bantamweight title up for grabs between England’s Shannon Courtenay and Australia’s Ebanie Bridges. Also, WBO middleweight titlist Savannah Marshall defends against Maria Lindberg.

Light Heavyweight Title

A fight for the vacant WBO light heavyweight title will try and take place again when Joe Smith Jr. (26-3, 21 KOs) the hard-hitting blue-collar worker from Long Island takes his hammer fists to Tulsa, Oklahoma to face Max Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs) on Saturday April 10. ESPN will show the Top Rank fight card.

They tried fighting each other before but the coronavirus epidemic knocked the first attempt out of the water. Here they go again.

Smith, 31, has tried before and been defeated before. But every time someone thinks its all over for the construction worker, he knocks somebody out to regain a footing. He knocked out former champion Eleider Alvarez and defeated Jesse Hart to get to this spot.

Vlasov, 34, has been around for many years and displays an aptitude for doing what’s necessary to survive. Can he find that same ingredient to fend off Smith?

It should be a worthy world title fight.

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Jaron ‘Boots’ Ennis Advancing to Heights Beyond What His Brothers Achieved

Bernard Fernandez

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Jaron-Boots-Ennis-Advancing-to-Heights-Beyond-Whar-his-Brothers-Achieved

Is fast-rising welterweight contender Jaron “Boots” Ennis the Next Big Thing in boxing’s deepest and arguably best division? To hear veteran Showtime analyst Steve Farhood tell it, the 23-year-old Philadelphian just might be, with his already blue-chip stock apt to increase in value should he take care of business Saturday night against Sergey Lipinets in the Showtime Championship Boxing main event at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

“I think so much of him, I believe he will not only win his stiffest test, but win impressively,” Farhood said of the youngest and best of the three Ennis brothers to box professionally. “And when he does, that’ll show he belongs with the very best of the welterweights.”

Asked what the immediate future might hold for Ennis (26-0, 24 KOs) should the young knockout artist do unto the 32-year-old Lipinets (16-1-1, 12 KOs) what he did to 16 of his 17 most recent opponents, which is to win inside the distance, Farhood opined that the door to indisputably elite status could swing open sooner rather than later.

“Now that fighters are fighting again (as COVID-19 concerns begin to lift), I would say within a year,” Farhood predicted. “After Lipinets, is there really a point in moving backward? I think Boots and Danny Garcia obviously would be a very special fight in Philadelphia. A Garcia, a Shawn Porter or a Keith Thurman, fighters on that level, are all within reach over the next 12 months, if he looks dominant against Lipinets, which I believe he will.”

Should Boots meet or exceed Farhood’s most optimistic projections, a vision shared by his father-trainer, Derrick “Bozy” Ennis, a down-the-road showdown with either or both of the 147-pound weight division’s superstars, Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr., could await. But the family patriarch expects some of the bigger names to be unavailable to his son, for one reason or another.

“Danny don’t want to fight my son,” Bozy said. “Danny wouldn’t even spar with my son. And Shawn Porter already said, `I ain’t fighting Boots Ennis. I know his father, I know his brothers. The only way I’d take that fight is if he keeps calling me out. But otherwise I’m not fighting that young killer if I don’t have to. He’s too fast, too slick.’

“Some of the top guys are talking about moving up (to junior middleweight), so we’d still have a shot at one of those titles if they open up. Spence is talking about going to 154 if he doesn’t get certain fights. Now, he did say he might fight Boots down the line. I’ll give him credit for that. Crawford? He’s not interested in fighting Boots. His people already said that. All I can say is that some of these guys, they either got to s— or get off the pot and move on. If need be, we’ll go after (Yordenis) Ugas and Jamal James. They’re top guys.”

Big talk, of course, is cheap and means nothing if not backed up by in the ring. The suggestions Bozy Ennis is tossing around like confetti that some of the premier welterweights are avoiding Boots as if he were a communicable disease might or might not be accurate. One thing, though, is certain: the highest aspirations that members of the Ennis family are now reserving for its brightly shining baby boy were also once held for Boots’ older brothers Derek “Pooh” Ennis and Farah Ennis, both of whom made it part of the way up the ladder to the big time before their careers stalled.

Pooh, the eldest brother whose last pro bout was in 2014, compiled a 24-5-1 record with 13 KO victories competing in the super welterweight and middleweight classifications, along the way holding the Pennsylvania and USBA 154-pound championships. Farah, who briefly was the NABF 168-pound titlist, was 22-2 with 12 KOs and hasn’t fought since 2015.

In a 2018 interview, Bozy said the gap separating Boots and his brothers mostly owes to little brother taking care not to make some of the mistakes his siblings made.

“Derek and Farah talk to Jaron all the time, which helps,” Bozy said then. “They say, `Don’t do what I did when I was younger, when I had a chance to be better than I was.’ My older boys had talent, but they weren’t always as focused as they should have been. They let the women get to them. Hey, it happens.”

Familial genetics, however, is not always a true indicator of outcome. Henry and Tommie Aaron hold Major League Baseball’s record for combined home runs by brothers with 768, but Hammerin’ Hank had 755 of them to Tommie’s 13. Jose and Ozzie are identical twins, but Jose blasted 462 homers over 17 MLB seasons while Ozzie, two inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter, failed to go deep even once in his three seasons in The Show. Focus and dedication are factors in any athlete’s success, sure, but talent is not always evenly distributed among blood relatives.

“The two older brothers both got beat on ShoBox, interestingly,” recalled Farhood. “I think the difference between Boots and them is just natural talent.

“You often see in basketball that the son of a coach is a point guard. Kids like that have a comfort level and feel for the game. I get that same impression with Boots. Growing up around Bozy, being around in the gym literally from the time he was a baby, his upbringing shows. But it’s not only that. He has a lot of natural ability to go with that lifetime of familiarity with boxing. You put all that together and you get what looks like the perfect package.”

Predictions of future stardom were made early on for Boots Ennis, who was widely considered to be the best young fighter to come out of Philly since Meldrick Taylor was a 17-year-old gold medalist at the 1984 Olympics and went on to win world titles at both junior welterweight and welterweight. Some prodigies can sag under such heavy expectations, but to date Boots seems to have embraced his role as the emerging face of Philadelphia boxing.

“Being in the main event on Showtime brings more attention, but I like it,” he said in the lead-up to his important 12-round matchup with the capable Lipinets, which some knowledgeable insiders view as an almost pick ’em fight. “I like being in the spotlight. I like to shine, so it’s nothing new. Now it’s fight time. I am locked in and ready to rock and roll.”

Boots Ennis comes in either on a 16-fight knockout streak, or not. In his most recent ring appearance, against veteran South African southpaw Chris van Heerden, a clash of heads in the first round caused a severe cut to van Heerden’s forehead and the bout being declared a no-contest. Whether that NC ended the impressive run of early endings or not is a matter of opinion, not that it matters to Boots in any case.

“Some people might look at a knockout on April 10 as the 17th consecutive knockout. Some might view it as the start of a new knockout streak,” he said. “For me, I don’t really care as long as I come out victorious. That’s all that matters to me. I’m not looking for a knockout, but I’m going to take it if it comes.”

Despite his burgeoning reputation as a power puncher, Boots believes his best days as a lights-out finisher are still ahead.

“I don’t feel I have my man strength yet,” he offered. “I feel it will be one or two more years until I fully have my man strength. The crazy part is, I feel like in a fight, I still haven’t thrown a real power shot and really sat down on a punch yet. Everything I’ve been knocking guys out with has been all-natural strength.”

Again, Saturday night’s outcome is hardly a fait accompli. Although Boots is ranked No. 7 by the WBO, No. 9 by the IBF and No. 12 by the WBC, the Kazakhstan-born, California-based Lipinets matches or exceeds those ratings, currently as the IBF’s No. 3 contender, and No. 9 by both the WBO and The Ring magazine. But, with advantages of three inches in height and a whopping seven inches in reach for Boots, the fight could be a virtual replay of the taller, longer-armed Jamel Herring’s almost casual dismissal of Carl Frampton last week.

“He’s very confident, sure, but that’s all right if he can back it up,” Farhood said of Ennis. “To me, the ultimate test of a really hot prospect is when he moves up in class. Does he just win, or does he win more impressively than what a lot of people anticipated? So far, for each step along the way, for Boots the answer has been yes. I think it will be again Saturday night.”

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

A New Orleans native, Bernard Fernandez retired in 2012 after a 43-year career as a newspaper sports writer, the last 28 years with the Philadelphia Daily News. A former five-term president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, Fernandez won the BWAA’s Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism in 1998 and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service in 2015. In December of 2019, Fernandez was accorded the highest honor for a boxing writer when he was named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame with the Class of 2020. Last year, Fernandez’s anthology, “Championship Rounds,” was released by RKMA Publishing.

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Jesse James Leija vs. Micky Ward: A Dry-gulch in San Antonio

Ted Sares

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Late in his career, Jesse James Leija was involved in two fights that ended in controversy under eerily similar circumstances. The first came in July of 2001 when Leija, a former world title-holder, was paired against Hector Camacho Jr at Brooklyn’s new minor league baseball stadium. Camacho Jr was 32-0 at the time; Leija 42-5-2.

In the fifth round, a cut was opened across Camacho’s right eyelid. At the end of the round, ringside physician Dr. Robert Polofsky examined the cut, which did not appear to be all that bad to television or ringside viewers.

Camacho could be heard (at least by this listener) saying ‘I can’t see.” Polofsky agreed with him, as he ordered the fight stopped, and under the rules it went to the scorecards. After much confusion, arguing, consultation, and stalling, the cards were read and unbelievably all three favored Camacho. He was ahead 49-46 on two of the cards and 48-47 on the third. The technical decision was roundly booed by an announced crowd of 6,012, even though Camacho, from Spanish Harlem, was effectively fighting in his hometown.

The doctor, referee Steve Smoger, and the judges did not to talk to the media. Whether they were ordered to stay silent by the New York State Athletic Commission is open to debate.

Hector Camacho Jr. remained unbeaten, but his tainted victory tarnished his image as the WBA’s number-one-ranked super lightweight. Leija and his manager, Lester Bedford, called Camacho a quitter, an accurate description to most of the viewers. Leija had badly hurt Camacho in the fight, and it was clear that junior wanted no more of what the veteran brought to the table.

Thankfully, the decision was later ruled a no-contest. The commission ruled that the bell should not have rung to begin the sixth round. Since the bell rang incorrectly, the official cards should not have been consulted under a New York boxing rule, and there could not be a decision, the panel said.

But this fight has haunted “Machito” ever since, and his legacy as a warrior was impacted by it. The backlash was vicious.

Leija-Ward

Less than seven months later, Leija met “Irish” Micky Ward at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, Texas. Akin to Leija-Camacho Jr, the bout aired on HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” series. And the very same thing that happened to Leija in Brooklyn happened to Ward in Leija’s hometown.

The Lowell, Massachusetts warrior opened a cut over Leija’s right eye with what replays clearly showed to be a short left hook, but referee Laurence Cole inexplicably called it a butt. When the referee went to Leija’s corner, Leija, despite his legitimate warrior reputation, said he couldn’t see, and the fight was stopped. Ward’s corner was shocked and pleaded with Leija to continue. They appealed to his reputation.

They might have appealed to the Texas Commission but the head of it was the colorful and beloved Dickie Cole, Laurence’s father, so they passed.

The outcome was fortunate for Leija. Ward, often a slow starter, was rapidly getting into his rhythm and beginning to land his signature body shots. It would only be a matter of time before he caught up with the fading Leija. But Ward would be ambushed, dry-gulched in San Antonio.

For some strange reason, this one escaped notoriety and has remained under the radar, but it was every bit as bad as the Camacho fiasco, maybe worse, particularly since Leija was a guy who came to fight. At the very least, it should have been called a no-contest. Ward, for his part, never blamed Leija for what happened.

Camacho received a brutal backlash; Leija received virtually none, even though this was terribly wrong. Oddly, Leija would retire in his corner once again in his very next fight when his corner pulled him out with a busted eardrum after six rounds against Kostya Tszyu.

Sometimes things happen for the best. Ward went on to fight and beat Arturo Gatti at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut instead of engaging in a rematch with Jesse James Leija. The rest is rich history.

After losing to the great Tszyu, Leija won four in a row before losing his final fight to, of all people, Arturo Gatti. Leija was knocked down twice and stopped in the fifth round of their bout at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. He announced his retirement a week after this fight but would remain in boxing as a trainer.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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