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John Ryder and Vergil Ortiz Sparkle on an Otherwise Pedestrian Card

Arne K. Lang

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John Ryder and Vergil Ortiz

“To fight in Las Vegas was amazing,” said John Ryder after his third round knockout of Bilal Akkawy on Saturday. It would have been more amazing if more folks were on hand to see it.

Perhaps it’s an indicator of upward mobility, but Mexican fight fans are behaving more and more like the fat cats that formerly turned out in droves for big Vegas fights, by which we mean that they are now arriving fashionably late. Canelo vs. Jacobs was a sellout, attracting an announced crowd of 20,203, but the arena looked to be 90 percent empty when the bell sounded for the Ryder vs. Akkawy squabble.

Ryder was originally scheduled to appear in the co-feature against Canadian knockout artist David Lemieux. When Lemieux had to pull out with a hand injury, Ryder was pushed down the totem pole. His bout with Akkawy was knocked all the way down to third-from-the bottom of an eight-fight card in which the opener went off shortly after 3:00 pm local time. At that hour, there were more folks milling outside the arena than had ventured inside.

In terms of exposure, the event’s promoter, Golden Boy, did John Ryder no favors. But it worked out okay. Ryder (pictured on the right) delivered a career-best performance.

Bilal Akkawy, although undefeated (20-0-1), was something of a mystery. From Sydney, Australia, he had limited U.S. exposure, having appeared only twice stateside in bouts slated for eight rounds. But he was Canelo Alvarez’s chief sparring partner, which in theory was highly beneficial, and he came highly touted from no less an authority than Hall of Fame trainer Johnny Lewis, the grand old man of Australian boxing, who dubbed him the hardest puncher, pound for pound, in Australia today.

Akkawy never got a chance to display his power. Ryder, nicknamed the Gorilla, beat him to the punch. In the third round, in a bout that started very slowly, Ryder, a southpaw, floored the Aussie with a splendid right hook and then pummeled him against the ropes when he arose on unsteady legs, forcing the referee to waive it off.

The next fight for Ryder, a Londoner, is expected to come against countryman Callum Smith who meets the ubiquitous TBA (purportedly Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam) on June 1 on the Joshua-Ruiz card at Madison Square Garden. The undefeated Smith holds a version of the WBA super middleweight title. At the moment, the other parcel belongs to Canelo who also owns two title belts in the division below it.

John Ryder vs. Callum Smith would be a big fight in England, but if we had a say we would prefer to see Ryder fight a healthy David Lemieux before taking on the title-holder. And although Lemieux would undoubtedly be favored, we wouldn’t bet against Ryder, 30, who appears to be in peak form. Since losing a controversial split decision to Liverpool’s Rocky Fielding in Liverpool, Ryder has won four straight inside the distance against opponents who were collectively 89-2-1 going in.

Vergil

The other smashing performance on Saturday’s show was turned in by 21-year-old Vergil Ortiz Jr. who knocked out former world title challenger Mauricio Herrera.

This bout was set up for Ortiz to win. At age 38, Herrera was shopworn. However, he hadn’t previously been stopped and here he was not only just stopped, but stopped in a brutal fashion.

Knocked down in the waning seconds of the second round, Herrera had a dazed look about him when the bell sounded for round three and Ortiz wasted no time applying the finisher. A right cross did the damage and Herrera was out cold before he was grazed by a left hook as he crumpled. The official time was 0:29 of round three. Ortiz, now 13-0, has never gone the distance, winning all of his fights by knockout.

Ortiz, who started boxing as an amateur at the age of eight, is from Grand Prairie, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, but has been training in California under Robert Garcia since turning pro under the Golden Boy banner. His performance came as no big surprise to TSS West Coast Bureau Chief David Avila who made this observation last December: “If (Ortiz) touches someone it seems to send 10,000 volts through their body. Their eyes roll and their muscles become paralyzed.”

You can call Virgil Ortiz Jr. the West Coast version of Teofimo Lopez, also 21 years old, albeit it’s an imperfect analogy as Teofimo fights one weight class down.

For Herrera, Ortiz came in at a career high 147 pounds. Standing 5’10”, he has the frame to grow into a junior middleweight, if not a full-fledged middleweight someday down the road, but he has indicated that he will be dropping back to 140.

There’s a delicious fight in the 140-pound weight class coming up later this month between Josh Taylor and Ivan Baranchyk, both undefeated, and an even more delicious match if the Scotsman wins, as expected, boosting Taylor into a showdown with Regis Prograis. Throw Ortiz’s name in the mix and the division takes on an even brighter tint.

Odds and Ends

Gennady Golovkin, who was ringside on Saturday, described the Canelo-Jacobs fight as “a little boring,” likening it to a sparring match. That echoed my sentiments as I watched the fight from my perch in the auxiliary press section.

The first round was a “feeling-out” round but then Jacobs, who let Canelo dictate the pace, took it to the extreme. Looking at my notes, I also labeled rounds two and three “feeling-out” rounds.

The first boos, I noted, were heard in round five. The crowd came alive in round eight, but the booing returned intermittently, reaching a crescendo in round 11. All the while, however, it struck me that Canelo was fighting a smart fight. Yes, he could have made it fan friendlier as the jabs that Jacobs landed had little sting to them, but his first priority was winning and early into the fight he could sense that he was building a comfortable lead.

The unsatisfying-ness may redound well to us fans going forward. By all accounts, the leading contenders for Canelo’s next go are WBO middleweight title-holder Demetrius Andrade (assuming he gets past Majiec Sulecki on June 29) or Triple-G. Of the two, a fight with Andrade – whose last four fights have gone the full 12 rounds – has the greater probability of mirroring the Canelo-Jacobs clinker.

For fear of alienating the fans, Golden Boy may let Canelo-GGG III go forward sooner rather than later. Hooray for that.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Hogan Photos / Golden Boy

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Tyson Fury Roared and Deontay Wilder Remained Silent at their L.A. Presser

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TSS special correspondent LAUREN RODRIGUEZ was on the scene for the Top Rank Promotions press conference in downtown Los Angeles on June 15 at which the third meeting between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder was formally announced. Here is her report.

The third fight between Tyson “Gypsy King” Fury (30-1, 21 KOs.) and Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) will go down July 24th in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena. This continued mash-up between the two comes 16 months since their last bout. The first fight, in December 2018, ended in a draw and their second in February 2020, ended in a victory for Fury in the 7th round.

Fury carried the press conference while Wilder remained largely muted.

The WBC champion Fury remains undefeated, a status he is adamant in maintaining. The heavyweight boasted a white suit patterned with images of himself in a crown and wearing the belt he won off Wilder.

“This is a reminder of what happened to him last time, this is a remembrance suit of Deontay Wilder’s ass-kicking.”

The “Gypsy King,” an entertainer, left little words unsaid as he berated his silent opponent.

“It shows how weak a mental person is, it shows the emotional effect the last fight had on his life… I was worried about him after the defeat I gave him,” said Fury.

An Alabama native, Wilder has a 93% knockout rate, the highest rate for any heavyweight.

Wilder wanted no part in other questions from Q/A moderator Christina Poncher, or the media, as he remained silent with headphones and sunglasses to shield him from questions.

Wilder’s trainer, longtime friend and former heavyweight contender Malik Scott answered very few questions for the fighter as tensions rose.

“He’s very stubborn, like most legends and gifted people they have their things with them. As long as he gives me what I want in the gym, I don’t care about the stubbornness cause we’re going to get this done,” said Scott.

If it’s one thing Fury and team all agree on, it’s that history will repeat itself in this third fight come July.

When it comes to what we can expect this time, Fury’s trainer SugarHill Steward stated, “All I have to say is, over time, he [Fury] now has power to knock a man out with one punch. His boxing IQ is one-punch knockout power.”

In Gypsy King fashion, we will have an entertaining show come next month. Fury intends on moving his weight all the way to 300, so he can give Wilder a bigger knockout in the ring and fans a bigger show.

“This time I’m hoping to take him out early, one, two, three rounds max.”

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Tokyo-Bound Aussie Heavyweight Justis Huni Stops Rugged Paul Gallen in the 10th

Arne K. Lang

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Had Justis Huni fought Paul Gallen two months ago, the match would have been trashed as little more than exhibition. During his record-tying 19 years in rugby, Gallen evolved into one of Australia’s most well-known sporting personalities. When Gallen took up boxing in 2014, it was thought that he did it as a lark; as a way of cashing in on his name recognition. And his first 11 opponents were a motley bunch of former rugby players, MMA fighters, 40-somethings, and boxing novices.

Then came the night of April 21, 2021. In a shocker, Gallen demolished former WBA heavyweight titlist Lucas “Big Daddy” Browne in less than two minutes. “Gallen transformed from a rugby league player to a bona fide prize fighter before our very eyes,” said prominent Australian sports journalist Andrew McMurtry.

That knocked Lucas Browne out of a lucrative match with Justis Huni and vaulted Paul Gallen, who turns 40 in August, to the head of the queue. They met Wednesday night (Australia time) at a convention center in Sydney and Huni, five-and-a-half inches taller, 15 pounds heavier, and the younger man by nearly 18 years, saddled Gallen (11-1-1) with his first defeat.

Heading into the fight, Gallen conceded that the heavily favored Huni was faster. However, he thought that he could wear the bigger man down. “If I get through those first four to five rounds, I’ll be in his face the whole time and I think I can knock him out late,” he said.

It proved to be the other way around. Huni dominated the fight and when he knocked Gallen down in the 10th with a big right hook, the referee stepped in and stopped it. But Gallen, who had a bum shoulder from his rugby days and thought that he fought most of the fight with a broken rib, showed tremendous heart.

It was the fifth professional fight for Huni (5-0, 4 KOs) who won the Australian heavyweight title in his pro debut. Of Dutch, Swedish, Samoan, and Tongan heritage, he quit school at age 15 to give boxing his full attention and will represent Australia in the Tokyo Olympics which start next month.

Brisbane-born Huni is already being talked-about as the best-ever Australian-born heavyweight. The rap against him is a lack of one-punch knockout power which won’t be a detriment in Tokyo.

In undercard bouts of note, Brisbane middleweight Isaac Hardman (11-0, 9 KOs) scored a 4th-round stoppage of Emmanuel Carlos (12-2) and middleweight Andrei Mikhailovich, a Russian residing in Auckland, New Zealand, advanced to 16-0 (9) with a second-round stoppage of previously undefeated Alex Hanan (13-1).

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Three Pros are Joining the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team, Ruffling Some Feathers

Arne K. Lang

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USA Boxing, the agency that controls amateur boxing in the United States, has a rule that prohibits professional boxers from competing in their tournaments. That rule remains in effect, but yet three pro boxers – middleweight Troy Isley, lightweight Keyshawn Davis, and featherweight Duke Ragan – will suit up for the United States in the forthcoming Tokyo Games. The announcement, which fell largely under the radar, came on June 7.

USA Boxing is subservient to AIBA, the sport’s international governing body, and to the International Olympic Committee. The Boxing Task Force of the IOC changed the rules to allow Isley, Davis and Ragan to compete and the honchos at USA Boxing are none too happy about it.

Blame the Covid-19 pandemic which forced the postponement and ultimately the cancellation of several qualifying tournaments including the “Americas” tournament in Buenos Aires at which boxers from 42 national federations – including the United States — would be competing for the Olympic slots allocated to this region. A total of 286 boxers from around the world will compete in Tokyo in the eight men’s and five women’s weight divisions with the coveted slots dispersed among four Continental Regional Divisions.

With no tournament, the Task Force redesigned the quota allocation process using world rankings to determine the national squads. The rankings were formulated using a point system from events held between January 2017 and October 2019.

The re-jiggering opened the door for Isley, Davis, and Ragan to rejoin the team. Isley and Davis had their first pro fight in February of this year. Ragan turned pro in August of 2020.

Team USA protested that the BTF allocation was unfair to the boxers that finished first in the final domestic qualifying tournament (December 2019 in Lake Charles, Louisiana), but their claim was denied. Isley and Ragan were knocked out of that tournament before reaching the finals; Davis finished first when his opponent in the finals took ill and had to pull out, but he was subsequently booted off the team, reputedly for missing too many practices which he attributed to a family health emergency. That unfrocking has been rescinded.

Before he left the team, Keyshawn Davis was considered the U.S. boxer with the best chance of winning a gold medal in Tokyo. A southpaw, he earned his spurs at the Alexandria Boxing Club in North Alexandria, Virginia, which was also the home gym of Troy Isley who lived right down the street.

The common thread between all three of the returnees is Kay Koroma who coached Davis and Isley at the Alexandria club where he was the top lieutenant to the club’s patriarch Dennis Porter and at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs where he served as an assistant to Billy Walsh. Duke Ragan, who hails from Cincinnati, is Koroma’s nephew.

Koroma came to the fore in 2016 when he earned raves for his work with Olympians Claressa Shields. Shakur Stevenson, Charles Conwell and others. But Koroma, one of the hottest young trainers in the sport, won’t be available to work with the 2020/21 team before it heads off to Tokyo. “My plate is too full,” he told The Sweet Science.

Koroma, like many of his former pupils, turned pro himself. He continues to work with Shakur Stevenson, whom he has known since Shakur was 13 years old, he assists veteran coach Al Mitchell with Mikaela Mayer and he recently replaced Ronnie Shields as the head trainer of rising heavyweight contender Efe Ajagba.

Isley, Davis, and Ragan comprise three-fifths of the men’s Olympic team. Super heavyweight Richard Torrez Jr and welterweight Delante “Tiger” Johnson flesh out the quintet.

USA Boxing released a letter to its membership expressing frustration over the decision of the IOC Task Force which killed the dreams of seven boxers who hoped to snare an Olympic berth at the Buenos Aires tournament or, barring that, the Last Chance tournament in Paris which was also a casualty of the pandemic. The letter can be read at the USA Boxing web site.

The seven boxers who were fenced out are:

Darius Fulgham (heavyweight, Houston, TX)

Rahim Gonzalez (light heavyweight, Las Vegas, NV)

Joseph Hicks (middleweight, Lansing, MI)

Charlie Sheehy (lightweight, Brisbane, CA)

Bruce Carrington (featherweight, Brooklyn, NY)

Anthony Herrera (flyweight, East Los Angeles, CA)

and

women’s flyweight Andrea Medina (San Diego, CA).

USA Boxing insists there are no plans to allow professionals to compete for the United States in the 2024 Olympiad and beyond. This is a one-shot exception forced by a unique circumstance. But, needless to say, when it comes to amateur boxing, nothing is etched in stone.

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