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It Was TV Mogul Michael King, Not Don King, Who `Discovered’ Dominic Breazeale

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Dominic Breazeale

The late Michael King obviously had an eye for talent. One of six siblings who inherited a failing television syndication company, King World, from their father Charles King in the early 1980s, Michael and his similarly prescient older brother Roger believed they could go international with a Chicago talk-show host with a strictly local audience. Oprah Winfrey is now arguably the most powerful woman in the entertainment industry, and a billionaire. But Oprah wasn’t the only beneficiary of Michael King’s vision of what American viewers might like to see; he also shepherded such modest little game shows as Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! to iconic status, making Pat Sajak, Vanna White and Alex Trebek, among others, hugely popular and highly compensated celebrities.

Not that Michael King, whose income from his deceased father’s company at the time he and Roger took over was $150 a week from Little Rascals reruns, was satisfied with being a king- (and queen-) maker for daytime TV. After he made his vast fortune, Michael, a rabid sports fan and New Jersey native, became a minority stakeholder in the New York Yankees, New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets and New Jersey Devils. Still, it troubled him that the United States had ceased, or was in the process of doing so, to be the world’s foremost power in Olympic boxing, particularly a heavyweight division that once was dominated by the likes of American gold medalists and future pro superstars Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman.

King, who was 67 when he died on May 27, 2015, from complications arising from pneumonia (Roger, then 63, had passed away on Dec. 8, 2007), decided he had the determination and deep pockets necessary to restore his country’s ebbing place in that particular global world order. He founded All American Heavyweights in 1986 in Carson, Calif., with the idea of recruiting large and talented athletes from other sports, primarily football and basketball, if their dreams of making it in the NFL or NBA were not fulfilled.

“A great athlete in any sport can pick up another sport faster than most people,” King – who sold King World to CBS in 1999 for $2.5 billion in stock – said of his grand scheme to produce a pugilistic version of Oprah, and maybe even several of them. “It (America’s receding place at the heavyweight table) really all stems from a lack of talent and lack of apprenticeship for trainers. The pipeline is dead … It’s not an NCAA sport, so it’s totally dependent on the Olympic program, and that NGB (USA Boxing is its national governing board) does not have a lot of resources.

“Instead of getting some thug off the street, why not tap into the greatest talent pool in the United States? You’re talking about elite athletes who are in great shape, who are really big, who are unbelievably coordinated, and they are articulate college graduates.”

About 3,000 recruited candidates eventually bought into King’s sales pitch, or at least those made on his behalf by talent scouts who fanned across the nation in search of diamonds in the rough. With one exception, all were found wanting in one way or another. The sole survivor of the now-defunct All American Heavyweights, Dominic Breazeale (20-1, 18 KOs), gets his second crack at his sport’s most prestigious prize when he takes on WBC champion Deontay Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs) in the Showtime-televised main event Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The 6-foot-7, 255-pound Breazeale, now 33, previously challenged IBF heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua on June 25, 2016, before a sellout crowd in Joshua’s hometown of London. Although Breazeale became only the second of Joshua’s 17 opponents to that point to last more than three rounds, his relative inexperience at the elite level – not surprising for someone who didn’t even take up boxing until he was 23 – was evident and he was dropped twice in the seventh round, at which point the fight was stopped by referee Howard John Foster.

Since then Breazeale, the U.S.’s super heavyweight representative at the 2012 London Olympics, has put together three straight victories, all inside the distance. He said he is a much improved version of himself than the one who gamely took a licking from Joshua. Not only that, but he opined that Wilder, his -900 favoritism (a bettor would have to wager $900 on him to win $100) notwithstanding, isn’t nearly as polished as Joshua, who has added the WBA and WBO titles to his now three-belt collection. Breazeale is convinced he will delay or even end speculation about a Joshua-Wilder unification showdown by upsetting Wilder, preferably by knockout, and thus earn the do-over with the big Briton he has wanted since he suffered his first and only pro defeat.

“I don’t see any fundamental skills,” Breazeale, who will be making his first ring appearance with new trainer Virgil Hunter, said of Wilder, the Tuscaloosa, Ala., native who took a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “He hasn’t grown. He hasn’t changed. Yeah, he’s got a big right hand, but don’t we all in the heavyweight division? We all have knockout power.

“It’s going to be an explosive night. You’ve got two 6-7 guys. I’m super-excited to be involved in the event, and I’m super-excited to get a big KO win. I think I’m walking into a fight where I’m the more-skilled, more-athletic fighter.”

Trash talk is the coin of the verbal realm when it comes to hyping high-visibility boxing matches, but the animosity between Breazeale and Wilder, despite their commonality as American Olympians, gives no hint of being manufactured. The bad blood between them dates back to Feb. 25, 2017, when they both appeared on the same card at the Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Ala. Wilder defended his IBF title with a fifth-round stoppage of Gerald Washington in one of his periodic return bouts in his home state, with Breazeale knocking out Izuagbe Ugonoh in the fifth round as the lead-in. There was a later confrontation at the hotel where both fighters and their entourages were staying, the blame for which depends on who’s telling the story.

“He insulted my wife in a situation that was not boxing-related,” Breazeale said. “The gratification of getting my personal revenge, knocking out Deontay Wilder, is a lot bigger than a win or a KO on any other given night.”

Not surprisingly, Wilder claims it was he who was the aggrieved party. He said Breazeale’s brash prediction is just so much hot air.

“I’m going to smash this fly,” vowed Wilder, who will be making his ninth title defense. “This is a personal fight for me. When I take a fight personal, something magical is going to happen. I haven’t been this excited about destroying an opponent since Bermane Stiverne (in their first fight, in 2015).

“I’ve already stated what I want to do, and I’m gonna do what I say I’m gonna do, just like I do all the time. But with this particular opponent I’m gonna make sure I do it in the most painful way possible.”

If it is Breazeale whose hand is raised, however, it is fairly certain he will acknowledge someone who is no longer around, a would-be maker of miracles who lost, by his estimation, “tens of millions of dollars” on All American Heavyweights but still somehow might hit it big from beyond the grave.

Michael King.

“The idea (of Brezeale trying his hand at boxing) first came across in a phone call,” Breazeale recalled. “I told the gentleman that called, Joe Onowar, who was the recruiter, that he was crazy. There was no way in hell I was going to pick up boxing at 23 after I’d done football, basketball, track, baseball, hockey, wrestling, all that as a kid. I had never set foot in a boxing gym. Besides, I thought I was at the end of my athletic career. Honestly, at the time I thought it was a dumb, dumb idea.

“Three months later I had my first amateur fight. Eighteen months after that I was a U.S. Olympian (losing in the first round, 19-8, to Russia’s Magomed Omarov). Now, 10 years later, I’m fighting for the WBC world title.

“I think Michael King was the smartest man on the planet. For me to be the one to come out on top from 3,100 athletes who went through that the door … I thought Mr. King trying to turn Division I athletes into professional boxers was crazy then, but now I think it was a phenomenal idea.”

Breazeale, from Glendale, Calif., almost certainly wouldn’t have given boxing a try had he been a better NFL prospect. He had some good moments during his two seasons as Northern Colorado’s quarterback, and he admits having entertained thoughts of latching on with an NFL team. But he went undrafted and came to realize that dream was never going to be realized. That’s when another dream, Michael King’s, became his dream as well.

Asked if he would ever have considered boxing had he been a good enough pro football prospect to be drafted in, say, the first three rounds in 2008, Breazeale said, “No way. I was pursuing the NFL. Things didn’t pan out the way I wanted, but Michael King was still there when the NFL door closed. I thought, `I’m a big man, I’m powerful, I’m aggressive.’ That type of thing.  So why not?”

What Breazeale did not realize – not then, anyway – is that he had a genetic connection to boxing that had nothing at all to do with Michael King. It was New Year’s Eve, the last day of 2015, and Breazeale was training for a Jan. 23 fight with Amir Mansour at the Staples Center in Los Angeles when he was told that his mother, Christina “Tina” Breazeale, 56, had suffered a massive heart attack. Shortly after her son arrived at the hospital, she died.

As Breazeale and his three siblings went through his mother’s possessions, he found boxes containing boxing items from the biological father, Harold Lee Breazeale, he barely knew, including a Golden Gloves state championship belt, boxing shoes, a mouth guard and some news stories.

“I can’t believe she didn’t tell you,” a family member told Dominic.

“I have the pedigree, and I didn’t even know it,” Breazeale said in describing the moment to the Los Angeles Times. “I guess it’s natural to me. It’s in blood.”

Another thing: when a much younger Dominic, who had tried his hand at just about every sport and was good at all of them, asked his mom if it would be all right for him to go to a boxing gym with some of his friends to see if he’d like it, she put her foot down. She told him to “stick to football and basketball.”

“It makes sense now,” said Breazeale, who considers his stepfather, Terry, to be his dad of choice. “There was no explanation, just a `No, you’re not doing it.’ She was a huge supporter of what I do, but she wanted to keep me away from boxing.”

It’s funny how things work out sometimes. It might even be the perfect scenario, should Breazeale, the ex-quarterback, wind up shocking Wilder, the former star wide receiver for his high school football team. Breazeale would necessarily have to be the guy pitching most of the leather, with Wilder the target for all those bombs.

Might even be good enough for Breazeale to wangle a guest shot on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Somewhere, somehow, you’d have to think Michael King would approve.

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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Boxing Odds and Ends: A Travesty of a Heavyweight ‘Title Fight’ Jake Paul and More

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It’s official. On Wednesday, Feb. 22, a formal press conference was held in Sofia, Bulgaria, to announce the forthcoming fight between Mahmoud Charr, formerly known as Manuel Charr, and Kubrat Pulev. They will meet in Bulgaria’s capital city on March 30 at a 12,000-seat arena.

Charr vs Kubrat bears the imprimatur of a world heavyweight title fight (WBA version). Charr is considered the champion, notwithstanding the fact that others have held the title since he first laid claim to it more than six years ago.

The WBA, as we know, recognizes two champions in some weight classes, a “super” champion and a “regular” champion. The “super” designation was created in 2000. It was designed to segregate title-holders into levels of accomplishment. In theory, a “super” champion has made five successful defenses and is recognized as a world title-holder by at least one of the three other major sanctioning bodies. “Super” champions are allowed certain liberties with respect to mandatory title defenses.

The bifurcation was greeted with hoots of derision. The Panama-based WBA trivialized the sport.

Mahmoud Charr

Mahmoud Charr was born in Beirut but has resided in Germany since he was a little boy. He won the vacant title with a 12-round decision over unexceptional Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany.  It was a close fight. TSS ringside correspondent Phil Woolever had Ustinov winning 7 rounds to 5, but conceded that the verdict could not be called an injustice.

The title that Charr won was vacated by Ruslan Chagaev who won the belt from Fres Oquendo, lost it to Lucas Browne, and got it back by decree when Browne’s post-fight urine tests showed evidence of banned substances. But Chagaev never fought again. His fight with Browne was his last.

Charr’s first defense was to come against Fres Oquendo. Slated for March 23, 2019 in Cologne after being pushed back from September of the previous year, the match never came to fruition when Charr tested positive for two banned substances. Things get really muddled from here with Charr pushed to the sideline by legal battles complicated by Don King’s shenanigans. King arranged a fight in Florida between Charr and his fighter Trevor Bryan and succeeded in getting Bryan the WBA belt when Charr was unable to get a visa. The belt is vacant again after Bryan was knocked out by Daniel Dubois who, in turn, was knocked out by “super” champion Oleksandr Usyk.

There are more threads to this saga but let’s not go there. Suffice it to say that after defeating Ustinov, Charr was out of action for the next three-and-a-half years. He’s had only three fights since 2017 and to say that his opponents were men of low repute would be giving them the best of it. In his most recent assignment, in December of 2022, he scored a second-round stoppage over 46-year-old Swiss-Albanian slug Nuri Seferi. That brought his record to 34-4 (20). He has been stopped three times, most recently in 2015 when he was halted in five frames by future cruiserweight champion Maris Briedis.

Kubrat Pulev

Kubrat Pulev will have the home field advantage in Sofia. Charr will have youth on his side. He’s 39; Pulev is 42.

Pulev sports a 30-3 record. The losses came at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko (L KO 5), Anthony Joshua (L KO 9), and Derek Chisora (L SD 12). He last fought in December at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, CA, where he won a lopsided decision over Polish journeyman Andrzej Wawrzyk.

In a previous engagement here at the Hangar, a concert hall that seats a shade over 3,000, he TKOed Bogdan Dinu. That bout is remembered mostly for what happened after it ended. In an incident that went viral on social media, Pulev surprised Jennifer Ravalo, a self-styled journalist, with a kiss on the lips. That animated women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred and led to an 8-page spread in Playboy (of Ravalo, not Allred). The California State Athletic Commission fined and suspended Pulev and mandated that he undergo sexual harassment training. The suspension lasted 120 days.

The match between Charr and Pulev, says a blurb about it, is an “eagerly anticipated” clash between “two evergreen living legends.” We will let you provide the punchline, The winner is expected to fight Martin Bakole who was knocked out by Michael Hunter.

Jake Paul

Jake Paul, the enfant terrible of prizefighting, returns this Saturday on a card in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that will air on DAZN. Paul, an influencer who brought his big social media following with him when he took up fisticuffing, is coming off a first-round stoppage of Andre August, a no-name fighter from Texas. Saturday’s sacrificial lamb is a fellow from Dickinson, North Dakota (by way of Benicia, California) named Ryan Bourland.

Bourland, who is reportedly 35 years old but looks older, scored his signature win in 2018 when he avenged a previous defeat with a 10-round majority decision over Jose Hernandez. He has fought only one since then, TKOing a fighter with a losing record in a 6-rounder at a lodge on a remote Indian reservation in North Dakota. That improved his ledger to 17-2 (6 KOs).

Regarding Jake Paul, Thomas Hauser once wrote that he’s worked hard to become a better boxer and is “certainly better than a Golden Gloves novice.” There was a time when this reporter, perhaps naively, thought that Jake had the potential to become a legitimate top-15 cruiserweight, but his recent choice of opponents suggests that he is comfortable just spinning his wheels.

His bout with Bourland will play second fiddle to Amanda Serrano’s featherweight title defense against Germany’s Nina Meinke (18-3, 4 KOs). Although Amanda has a lot of mileage on her odometer, she is expected to have little difficulty with Meinke. In another bout of note, Puerto Rican campaigners Jonathan Gonzalez (27-3-1, 14 KOs) and Rene Santiago (12-3, 9 KOs) will meet in a 12-rounder with Gonzalez’s WBO light flyweight title at stake.

—-

Let’s conclude this write-up on an upbeat note. Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, a frequent TSS contributor, informs us that his fifth and presumably final anthology is nearing completion with a likely release date of April or May. “Championship Rounds, Round 5” includes a foreword by Gerry Cooney and has drawn glowing reviews from the likes of Dave Kindred and Dr. Gordon Marino who both had an early peek at the manuscript. Kindred, a renowned sportswriter and author, was the subject of a 2021 piece on “60 Minutes.” Marino, a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, has written extensively about boxing for the Wall Street Journal.

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Results from Orlando where Berlanga KOed McCrory in a Possible Prelude to Canelo

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Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom organization was at the Caribe Royale tonight, a non-gaming resort near Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Unbeaten super middleweights Edgar Berlanga and Padraig McCrory squared off in the main event.

The fight started slow, but it soon became apparent that McCrory, a 35-year-old father of three from Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a domestic-level fighter, notwithstanding his undefeated (18-0) record. Berlanga, whose last five fights had gone the distance, roughed him up with some dirty tactics before taking him out in the sixth round with a crunching right hand that sent the Irishman face-first to the canvas. As McCrory pulled himself upright on rubbery legs, the towel flew in from his corner. The official time was 2:44.

As well-documented, Berlanga opened his pro career with 16 consecutive first-round knockouts. Nonetheless, he was let go by Top Rank in what purportedly was an amicable divorce. This was his second fight under the Matchroom banner. Eddie Hearn signed him with an eye on scoring a big-money match with Canelo Alvarez. The red-headed Mexican superstar is committed to returning to the ring in May on Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas, but hasn’t yet locked in an opponent.

If Berlanga gets the nod, he would be a heavy underdog, but the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico angle (coupled with Berlanga’s new-found reputation as a dirty fighter) would make it an easy sell.

Co-Feature

In only his third professional fight, Cuban defector Andy Cruz was bumped into the co-feature. That was in recognition of his amateur pedigree. Among his accomplishments, he was 4-0 vs. Keyshawn Davis with the last win coming in the gold medal round of the Tokyo Olympics.

Cruz, 28, was expected to win as he pleased against his Mexican opponent, Bryan Zamarripa, and he did win all 10 rounds on all three scorecards, but in common with many great Cuban amateurs, he seemed to lack something in the power department. Zamarripa was 14-2 heading in.

Other Bouts of Note

In a 12-round welterweight contest that was devoid of drama, Uzbekistan native Shakhram Giyasov, an Olympic silver medalist who has lost precious few rounds as a pro, won a lopsided technical decision over well-recycled 34-year-old Mexican Pablo Cesar Cano.

Giyasov (15-0, 9 KOs) sent Cano (35-9-1) to the canvas in the third round with a body punch. At the end of round 11, as their feet were tangled, he pushed Cano to the canvas and the Mexican ostensibly suffered a broken ankle when he fell. That sent the bout to the scorecards where the decision (109-99 x3) was a formality. With the victory, Giyasov earned a shot at WBA belt-holder Eimantas Stanionis.

The 12-round bantamweight match between Antonio Vargas and Jonathan Rodriguez, two fighters of Puerto Rican descent, was framed as a WBA bantamweight title eliminator. Rodriguez, the underdog, floored Vargas in the opening stanza. He had scored a stunning first-round knockout of 27-1 Khalid Yafai in his previous start and it appeared that another upset was brewing. But the match quickly turned one-sided in favor of Vargas who put Rodriguez on the canvas in the very next frame (and had two points deducted for hitting him after the bell) and then put him down again at the end of round seven with a sweeping left hook after which Rodriguez’s corner properly pulled him out.

Vargas, a 2016 Olympian who had home field advantage in Florida, improved to 18-1 (10 KOs) and became the mandatory opponent for Takuma Inoue who won earlier today in Tokyo. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Rodriguez declined to 17-2-1.

The opening bout on the TV portion of the card was a 10-round flyweight affair that looked like a runaway for showboating Yankiel Rivera until gritty Andy Dominguez made things interesting.

Rivera, who improved to 5-0 (2), was Puerto Rico’s lone representative in the Tokyo Olympics. In Mexico-born Andy Dominguez, he was fighting a former three-time New York City Golden Gloves champion who was also unbeaten (10-0 heading in). Rivera dominated the match but was caught napping in round nine and Dominguez, although all busted-up, hurt him and almost put him down. That was most lopsided round of the fight, but also the only round that Dominguez won in the eyes of the judges.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Junto Nakatani Turns in Another Masterclass on Saturday’s Tripleheader in Tokyo

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In a rather odd juxtaposition, several of boxing’s best little men were on display today at Japan’s National Sumo Arena in Tokyo. The best of the lot, Junto Nakatani, improved to 27-0 (20 KOs) while tearing away the WBC world bantamweight title from Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (28-4-5) who was making the first defense of the title he won in Las Vegas in May when he upset Nonito Donaire.

It was a one-sided beatdown. Nakatani, who had a 5-inch height advantage, won every round before ending the contest in the sixth. The end came at the 1:12 mark when Nakatani terminated the affair with his second knockdown. The first came earlier in the round, the result of a straight left hand. The finisher was a big right hook.

With the victory, Nakatani became a world title-holder in a third weight class. He’s an outstanding talent, worthy of pound-for-pound consideration, and would be favored in a unification fight with Takuma Inoue.

Inoue, the younger brother of pound-for-pound king Naoya “Monster” Inoue, did his part to bring the match to fruition with a ninth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jerwin Ancajas in the main event. Inoue (19-1, 5 KOs) was making the first defense of the WBA diadem he won with a wide decision over Venezuela’s mildewed Liborio Solis. That title was conveniently vacated by Takuma’s renowned brother.

This figured to be the most competitive match on the card and Ancajas (34-4-2) had his moments before Inoue ended the contest at the 0:44 mark of round nine with a four-punch combination climaxed by a shot to the liver. Heading in, Ancajas, who had a long title reign at 115, was 9-2-1 in world title fights and hadn’t previously been stopped.

In the first of the three title fights, 29-year-old Kosei Tanaka became a four-weight belt-holder in record time with a unanimous decision over Mexicali’s stubborn but out-classed Christian Bacasegua “Rocky” Rangel. At stake was the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title.

Tanaka, who previously held belts at 105, 108, and 112, started slow but the outcome was never in doubt after he knocked “Rocky” to the canvas in the eighth frame. The judges had it 119-108, 117-110, and 116-111. With the victory, Tanaka improved to 20-1 (11). In his only defeat, he was stopped by countryman Kazuto Ioka. He hunkers for a rematch but, if it happens, he might wish that it hadn’t. Ioka is long in the tooth – he turns 35 next month – but is very good and shows no signs of slowing down. Rangel (22-5-2) had won nine straight heading in, but against questionable opposition and was making his first start outside Mexico.

The Teiken Promotions card was presented in association with Top Rank and aired in the U.S. on ESPN+.

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