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Deontay Wilder’s New Nuances Almost as Startling as His Trademark Right Hand

Bernard Fernandez

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Wilder

How much improvement can a fighter, any fighter, demonstrate in only 137 seconds? How many sandpaper-rough stylistic edges can be smoothed in that comparatively brief snippet of time?

Before WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder entered the ring at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn Saturday night, the one thing everyone knew he had was a booming right hand that had accounted for virtually all of his previous 39 knockout victories, 19 of which were one-round quickies. At first glance it appeared another case of the same devastating stuff when Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KOs) landed his signature shot with less than a minute remaining in the opening round. Semi-conscious challenger Dominic Breazeale (20-2, 18 KOs) crashed onto his back, his arms and legs outstretched as if he were being spread-eagled, with referee Harvey Dock going through the formality of counting him out after an elapsed time of 2 minutes, 17 seconds.

But it was in those two-plus minutes prior to an ending that everyone in the live turnout of 13,181 and a Showtime audience should have expected that Wilder, at the relatively advanced age of 33, revealed that he might be more than a one-trick pony. This Wilder didn’t just use his boarding-house-reach of a jab as a range finder; he snapped it out with some authority. He threw and landed an early left hook to the body, notable because the Wilder with whom fight fans were familiar was almost exclusively a headhunter. And, most telling of all, the two big right hands that did find the mark – he got Breazeale’s attention prior to the putaway blow with one that didn’t quite land flush – weren’t his typical roundhouses.

“The quickest point from A to B is always that straight line, that right hand straight down the middle,” color analyst Paulie Malignaggi said of what would appear to be a new and improved version of Wilder’s weapon of choice.

“I’m an intelligent fighter. I’m very smart in the ring with the way I set these guys up,” Wilder said at the post-fight press conference. But if that were so, these additional wrinkles or nuances would have been unveiled earlier in a career that hasn’t always been as appreciated as it might have been. He is still trained by Jay Deas and Mark Breland, so the logical conclusion is that what they likely have been telling him all along in the gym must finally have sunk in. If that is indeed the case, then Wilder, whose startling power when unleashed in any form made him an omnipresent threat, had in those 137 seconds transformed himself into an even more dangerous dude.

They say history has a way of repeating itself. Another large heavyweight of considerable renown, Lennox Lewis, fought much like the unpolished Wilder in the formative stages of his Hall of Fame career. But after Lewis relinquished his WBC title to seemingly no-hope challenger Oliver McCall, who dropped and then stopped him in the second round on May 13, 1995, in London, he fired trainer Pepe Correa and replaced him with Emanuel Steward, who had worked McCall’s corner the night “The Lion” became an ex-champ. Steward, a brilliant tactician, radically retooled Lewis, especially his jab, which was upgraded from pawing range-finder to the instrument that made the big Briton’s overhand right even more effective. Following perfunctory TKOs of Lionel Butler and Justin Fortune in his next two bouts, the best of Lewis was revealed on Oct. 7, 1995, in Atlantic City, N.J., when he floored a bloodied Tommy Morrison four times en route to winning via a sixth-round stoppage.

“I really feel like I have one of the superior jabs in the heavyweight division right now,” a beaming Lewis said after that fight, in which he showcased not only his spiffy new jab but a left hook that the pre-Steward version seldom dared to employ. “I wanted to see how Tommy Morrison would contend with it. The first couple of rounds, he contended with it. But as the rounds went by, I found my jab started to get to him.”

Is Wilder going to continue to utilize more of the tools in what would appear to be an expanded tool box? Difficult to predict. As sample sizes go, 137 seconds isn’t much. Even his destruction of the limited Breazeale may not be conclusive proof that he has matched or supplanted Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs) atop the heavyweight heap. The Englishman has three bejeweled championship belts (IBF, WBA, WBO) to Wilder’s one, and he is a wide favorite to retain them when he takes on late substitute challenger Andy Ruiz Jr. (32-1, 21 KOs) in Joshua’s U.S. debut June 1 in Madison Square Garden. There also are those who are convinced lineal champ Tyson Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs) is superior to Wilder, despite the fact Wilder dropped him twice in their Dec. 1 bout last year that ended in a split draw.  Unless or until Wilder again faces Fury, or Joshua, he will be obliged to continue convincing however many doubters remain unswayed by his string of exclamation-point knockouts.

“I display greatness when I step in the ring,” Wilder said. “I put fear in any man. I know I have tremendous power. That’s no secret. At this point I think I’ve proved myself, with the record that I have and many a body that done hit the canvas.”

Truth be told, it is becoming more and more difficult to dismiss Wilder as a crude, wild-swinging brawler who was absent the day fundamental boxing skills were being taught. You want to say that some of the nine title defenses he’s made were against fringe contenders that didn’t exactly constitute a Murderer’s Row? Fine, but he went toe-to-toe with Luis Ortiz and weathered a few sticky moments before winning on a 10th-round stoppage, and he came ever so close to knocking out Fury in the 12th round, a rare late bolt of lightning that likely preserved his undefeated record. Oh, and don’t forget that he was willing to go to Moscow to defend his title against Russia’s Alexander Povetkin, a bout which was scrapped when Povetkin tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

“Deontay will fight anyone,” said his co-manager, Shelly Finkel, who previously worked with, among others, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson. “He was willing to fight Joshua for very little comparative to what he was worth. When someone wants to make a fight, they make it. When we wanted to get Fury, we overpaid him. We gave him anything he wanted in order to make the fight.”

There almost certainly will be more concessions made by Team Wilder to procure a date with Joshua, not the least of which will be the requirement to travel to the United Kingdom, where Joshua sells out soccer stadiums. Joshua, who had handed Breazeale his only previous defeat, by seventh-round TKO on June 26, 2016, had publicly stated that he hoped Breazeale would last at least until the eighth round against Wilder, if only to keep up appearances.

Maybe he isn’t the least flawed of heavyweights, but with his ninth consecutive heavyweight title defense – matching the number for sixth place all time shared by Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Vitali Klitschko, Lewis and Tyson – he has entered the conversation for being one of the hardest-punching of big men. It is not yet where he wants to be, but as a launching pad for bigger and better things, it ain’t half-bad.

The Real Godzilla is 5-foot-5 and 118 pounds

As impressive as the bomb Wilder detonated on Breazeale’s jaw, the top performance of the day came half a world away, in Glasgow, Scotland, where Japan’s Naoya Inoue (18-0, 16 KOs), whose nickname is “The Monster,” looked like the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world with his second-round knockout of Puerto Rico’s Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-1, 12 KOs), the IBF bantamweight champion, in the semifinals of the World Boxing Super Series. Until Inoue floored him three times with left hooks Joe Frazier would have been proud of, Rodriguez, his face contorted in agony on each trip to the canvas, had never been knocked down as a professional.

Inoue’s victory moves him into the WBSS 118-pound final against veteran Nonito Donaire (40-5, 26 KOs), the WBA and WBC Diamond titlist who also has a pretty good left hook.

So dominant has the 26-year-old Inoue been that there were immediate suggestions he move up – way up – in the pound-for-pound ratings, maybe far enough up to supplant Vasiliy Lomachenko or Terence Crawford at No. 1, depending on which list you choose to believe. It’s a reason for legitimate discussion, because Inoue really is that good. Maybe he already has done enough to rise above the great Hall of Famer Fighting Harada as the best ever from the Land of the Rising Sun.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Maxim Dadashev Dead at Age 28

Arne K. Lang

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Maxim-Mad-Max-Dadashev

Junior welterweight boxer Maxim Dadashev passed away this morning (Tuesday, July 23) at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Prince George County, Maryland.  The news was confirmed by Dadashev’s trainer Buddy McGirt and his strength and conditioning coach Donatas Janusevicious.

Dadashev’s death was a result of injuries suffered in a fight four days earlier at the MGM casino-resort in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Dadashev’s match with Subriel Matias, scheduled for 12 rounds, was billed as a title eliminator with the victor first in line to face the winner of the upcoming match between Josh Taylor and Regis Prograis. It was the chief undercard bout on a show headlined by fast rising lightweight contender Teofimo Lopez.

Dadashev, who entered the contest undefeated (13-0) was facing another undefeated fighter in Puerto Rico’s Matias, also 13-0 but against suspect opposition. As the fight wore on, it became increasingly more one-sided with Dadashev absorbing heavy punches to the body and head. After the 11th round, Dadashev was pulled from the fight by McGirt.

Dadashev protested McGirt’s decision. He wanted to continue the fight although it was evident that he had no chance of winning without a knockout. But he had trouble walking as he repaired to his dressing room and began vomiting violently once there. Placed on a stretcher, he was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance where he underwent a two-hour operation for a subdural hematoma. A portion of his skull was reportedly removed in an effort to reduce the swelling.

Federal privacy laws prevented the hospital from releasing any details without the consent of his next of kin. As Dadashev lay in the hospital in an induced coma, his wife flew to be by his side from their home in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Reportedly 281-20 as an amateur, Dadashev had fought exclusively in the United States since turning pro. Managed by Egis Klimas and promoted by Top Rank, he trained in Oxnard, California, along with stablemates Vasiliy Lomachenko and Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

As expected, Buddy McGirt, who entered the International Hall of Fame this year, was devastated by the news. “He did everything right in training,” said McGirt, “no problems, no nothing….great, great guy. He was a trainer’s dream. If I had two more guys like him, I would need nobody else because he was truly dedicated to the sport.”

We here at TSS send our condolences to Dadashev’s family and loved ones.

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Good Night, Sweet Pea

Springs Toledo

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Good-Night-Sweet-Pea

Good Night, Sweet Pea

Bishop James E. Jones Jr.’s booming baritone was rising up through the rafters at the Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia. He was preaching about hands—your neighbor’s hands, the hand in yours now, the Father’s hands into which Jesus commended his spirit from the cross. “Sweet Pea’s HANDS,” he shouted, “took him to places HIS EYES NEVER IMAGINED!”

Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker, the greatest pure boxer since Willie Pep, lay in repose at the foot of the stage, his hands crossed at his belt. His coffin was black. An Olympic flag was draped over it and boxing gloves carefully arranged on top. The few thousand who attended his Saturday morning memorial service came to mourn and to celebrate a perfect fighter, an imperfect man, and a community that has long-since learned to look up no matter what.

Mark Breland was there. He came down from New York to honor the captain of an Olympic boxing team that won nine gold medals in 1984. Long gone is the fresh-faced amateur smiling under a laurel wreath, but Breland remains reed thin. He stood at the podium in a gray suit with a powder blue shirt and was too overwhelmed with grief to say much. “We knew him differently,” he said.

Kathy Duva, now a promoter, then his publicist, was there too. “Pound-for-pound,” she said. “That’s how he signed his autographs.” And that’s exactly what he was: the pound-for-pound best boxer in the world from September 1993 through March 1996, despite performances that struck the unsophisticated as pusillanimous. “He simply chose not to engage in outright brutality,” Duva said. “It was so much more fun to tease and toy with his opponents.” Whitaker teased and toyed with everyone, including a young Floyd Mayweather Jr. who, she said, “could not lay a glove on him” even as he sparred with those hands of his behind his back in 1996. Whitaker brought laughter into the midst of danger because of his cosmic level of skill, and because it kept boredom at bay. Merely making world-class fighters miss wasn’t enough; so he’d dart behind them and as they looked around to see where he went, he’d tap them on the rear end. When Roger Mayweather was known as “Black Mamba” and feared for his right hand, Whitaker—fighting here at the Norfolk Scope—yanked his trunks down in the middle of the sixth round.

“An imp with gold teeth,” said one wit during his glory days, “floating around that blue canvas like a cloud,” added Duva.

No one could outbox him. It isn’t easy to settle firmly on a lightweight in history who could. But the product of Young Park, a housing project just east of the Scope, wasn’t raised to shrink from violence. As a child, his father wouldn’t tolerate tears when he was hurt by neighborhood bullies. He’d turn him around. “Go back,” he’d say. “Give them everything you got.” When he was eight, he and nine-year-old Mario Cuffee got into a street fight and Clyde Taylor, a mailman who moonlighted as the neighborhood’s recreation director, hustled over and grabbed both by the scruff of the neck. “Do your fighting in the gym,” he said, and with permission from the boys’ parents, restaged the fight in the ring, with boxing gloves that looked like balloons. Whitaker lost that one, but found a mentor who began the process of transforming an undersized project kid into a giant of boxing and boxing history. Whitaker credited Cuffee almost as much. “Come to think of it,” Cuffee told me Monday, “I beat him that first fight, though I gotta come clean, he got me back a few years later.” When Whitaker fought Greg Haugen at the Coliseum in 1989, Cuffee bought a ticket and made his way across the Hampton Roads Beltway through a blizzard to see Haugen lose every round. At the post-fight press conference, Cuffee was standing in the back, “in cognito.” Whitaker spotted him and told the story of their fateful childhood fight. “Thanks Mario,” he said. Haugen, his face scuffed and swollen, looked up. “Yeah,” he said. “Thanks Mario.”

In Detroit, while still an amateur, he was invited to spar with Hector Camacho just as Floyd Mayweather was later invited to spar with him. Camacho couldn’t land a glove on him either. “He got mad and started fighting dirty,” Whitaker told the Newport News. “He grabbed me behind the head, pulled it down, and hit me with an uppercut. Then I grabbed him and threw him to the canvas and we started wrestling and fell out of the ring.” Whitaker offered to take it outside. Camacho talked a lot but never went near him again.

In 1984, after the Duvas had convinced Whitaker to throw in with Main Events, they introduced him to trainer George Benton. Benton, who understood the science of belligerent invisibility like no one else, took what Taylor had begun and finished it. He taught him to stop running around the ring, to stand on a dime; to see the difference between wasting energy and ducking and slipping just enough to let punches graze your hair or flick your ear. Benton made sure he became, in his words, “harder to hit than the numbers,” and a master at punching around, between, over, and under what’s coming in. “When I talk he stands and listens like a private would a general,” he said in 1986. “Sweet Pea’s going to be one of the best fighters ever.”

Seven years later, Whitaker swaggered into the ring against Julio Cesar Chavez, then 87-0 and rated by The Ring as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Whitaker fought him on a dime—twisting, rolling, fast-stepping outside his lead foot, and punching around, between, over, and under whatever came in. He had a trick that kept working. He’d turn his right shoulder in to narrow himself and hide his left until the moment it clubbed Chavez on the side of the head. You could hear it land—“whump!”—and it landed all night. In the ninth round, he was outfighting Chavez on the inside—“whump, whump!”—which no one had ever done. Chavez was befuddled and —“whump!”—puffing up. And then, at the end, 59,000 witnessed one of boxing history’s most egregious heists. Two of the three judges called the fight a draw. That’s what we were told anyway. Josè Sulaimàn, WBC president, countryman of Chavez, and favorite stooge of Don King, was seen collecting the scorecards after every round that night.

It is a grandiose irony. Whitaker put an exclamation point on Benton’s prediction in two fights he didn’t win. The second one was nearly as bad as the first.

At 33, he faced a 24-year-old Oscar De La Hoya, then 23-0 and rated by The Ring as the second best pound-for-pound fighter behind Roy Jones Jr. Whitaker made him look like a golem and won that fight too despite an official loss that stinks to this day. “The world saw it,” he said afterward, and smiled anyway, gold teeth gleaming. “The people saw it.”

Bishop Jones saw it. He remembered him standing triumphantly on the ropes before the decision against him was announced. He remembered it well.

“What I loved most about Sweet Pea Whitaker,” he told the mourners at the Norfolk Scope,

“.…was when he KNEW he had won the fight he DIDN’T WAIT on the referee to hold up his hands. He didn’t WAIT on the THE JUDGES to tell him whether or not he had won the fight, but if you look on the back of your programs, there’s a SIGNATURE MOVE that the champ would always do when he knew he had WON THE FIGHT. Family! HE WOULD THROW UP BOTH HIS HANDS!”

With that, Jones stepped back from the podium and thrust both hands in the air. When the people saw that, they roared as one. But Jones was just getting started, the crescendo wasn’t reached, not yet. He stopped them short. “EXODUS CHAPTER SEVENTEEN, VERSE ELEVEN! Whenever Moses held up…” and stepping back again, struck the same pose, “…HIS HANDS the people always had the victory…if the champ could hold up his hands in the middle of his fight, then SURELY you and I ought to HOLD UP OUR HANDS!”

Mario Cuffee jumped to his feet and thrust both hands in the air. Thousands, dressed in their best on the hottest day yet this year, rose as one and thrust both hands in the air. Whitaker’s signature move, multiplied. It was a transcendent moment; the spirit of a man—a father, a brother, a friend, a neighbor—merging with the spirit of the city he loved.

Bishop Jones lowered his gaze to the black coffin at the center of it all. “SWEET PEA!” he thundered as if to wake him up, “That one is for you! You got the victory! CHAMP!”

I closed my eyes and somewhere, I know, Whitaker opened his.

“—YOU GOT THE VICTORY!”

 

 

___________________

Special thanks to Dr. James E. Jones Jr. senior pastor and founder of Greater Grace Church in Portsmouth, VA.

 Springs Toledo is the author of Smokestack Lightning: Harry Greb, 1919, now available in paperback.

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Mad Max and Manny

Ted Sares

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Mad-Max-and-Manny

The crowd chants “Manny, Manny, Manny” at the weigh-in at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and Pacquaio’s beloved Pinoy fans are going wild. It’s a BIG event, bigger even than many heavyweight title fights.

Max

Meanwhile, Maxim “Mad Max” Dadashev’s wife Elizabeth is flying from her home in St. Petersburg, Russia, to be with her husband at a hospital in Maryland. Dadashev was critically injured on Friday night while suffering an upset loss to heavy-handed Puerto Rican bomber Subriel Matias at another MGM property, the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

Dadashev, 28, was 281-20 as an amateur, undefeated in 13 professional fights, and the IBF’s third-ranked junior welterweight, but Matias had his number and dominated throughout in a tough and grinding affair.

Capture 9

Maxim Dadashev

At the end of the 11th round, Buddy McGirt told his fighter, “I’m going to stop it, Max.” Dadashev protested. Maybe Max’s brain signaled no, maybe not. But his heart surely said “I’m not done.”

McGirt overruled him, a sage move, but unbeknownst to anyone the damage had been done and it was severe.

“He had one hell of a fight,” McGirt told the Washington Post. “Tough fight, tough fight; took a lot of tough body shots. I just think it was time to stop it. He was getting hit with too many shots. I said to him, ‘I’m stopping it.’ He said, ‘No, don’t.’”

The scores at the time of the stoppage were 109-100, 108-101 and 107-102 in favor of Matias. According to CompuBox, Matias out-landed Dadashev 319-157; 112 of Matias’ punches were body shots.

Max was stretchered out of the arena and rushed to UM Prince George’s Hospital where his skull was opened up to relieve the pressure caused by bleeding. The cavity reveals brain damage, and memories of Mago surface. The dreaded and familiar scenario then begins as he is put into an induced coma. Hopefully, the swelling goes down, the bleeding stops, and no blood clot appears as the later would make a terrible situation grave. In any event, Max will never box again. His well-publicized dream to win a world title will not be fulfilled.

In a post-fight interview, ESPN’s ringside analyst Tim Bradley said, “That’s a scary situation and every time you step foot in the ring you know that was always the talk that I would have with my wife. You know before I would step foot in the ring, I would sit her down, I would look at her and I would say, ‘Look at me, honey. Take a good look at me, open your eyes wide open because I might not come out the ring, for one, and I know I’m not coming out of the ring the same way that I came in.’”

Manny

Back to the big fight the following evening:

The crowd chants “Manny, Manny, Manny” as he enters the ring to battle Keith Thurman for still another championship as his worshipers are now virtually in a state of mass hysteria and begin singing and cheering loudly. The scene borders on the surreal.

Across the Pond

Earlier on Saturday, across the pond in London, heavyweight David Allen took a bad beating from 6’9” David Price and required oxygen. He also was stretchered out and sent to a hospital, adding to the angst. But he will be okay. According to his promoter, Eddie Hearn, Allen had a broken orbital bone and a damaged tongue, but brain scans suggested he was okay.

David Allen — “Very happy and proud of David Price. I will be okay, but the last 12 months or so my health has been deteriorating and I’m glad I hung on, took the chance, and made money. [I’m] now probably done.”

“Manny, Manny, Manny”

In Las Vegas, Manny has decked Thurman in the first round and the place is delirious. The crowd senses that this is his night although Thurman is not backing up. In the tenth, Pac almost puts “One Time” away after landing a devastating body punch.

Finally, the fight is over and Manny is declared the winner. The decibel count goes off the chart as the Pinoys sing “We Are The Champions.” Viewers hit the mute button. These are not fans as much as they are cultists. One wonders if those who are chanting even know that this has been a week where boxing exposed its grim side.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

Ted Sares is a member of Ring 8, a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA). He is an active power lifter and Strongman competitor in the Master Class.

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