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Lou Savarese: Houston’s Humble Heavyweight Champ

Kelsey McCarson

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Savarese

Lou Savarese could hardly contain himself.

There he was, just four years after his last professional boxing match, a Bronx-born, boxing behemoth bursting into the room to tell his family about finally getting a speaking part as an actor on HBO’s hit TV series “The Sopranos”.

“Ma! Ma! I got a speaking part!” Savarese roared.

“That’s great,” muttered Ma as she went on with her business and his brother strolled by just in time to add a joke.

“Yeah, but are there going to be subtitles?”

Thus cued the laugh track for this scene, one that seems straight out of a Savarese family inspired sitcom. There was love. There were laughs. There were fights. They all had accents.

All these years later, the 53-year-old ex-boxer credits his success, both inside the ring and out, largely due to his family of origin.

“I was so lucky,” said Savarese. “Boxing is a very unstable sport, so it was good to have that kind of stability when I went home. They would keep me humble.”

Savarese’s humble attitude helped him parlay his excellent boxing career, one that stretched 18 years and included bouts against heavyweight greats Mike Tyson, George Foreman and Evander Holyfield, into becoming one of Houston’s most successful and popular local boxing figures.

Local in the sense that Savarese has become synonymous with the phrase “Houston’s heavyweight champion” as he is so often labeled by local newspaper and magazine writers tasked with covering his various business exploits. This has happened repeatedly over the years despite Savarese not actually being from Houston (he’s from White Plains, New York) and never technically becoming the heavyweight champion of the world unless one counts the fringe title he won when he knocked out Buster Douglas in the opening round.

Still, Savarese did fight a who’s who of heavyweight greats, and his performances in at least some of the fights lend themselves to the idea that Savarese-the-almost-champ might have become a legitimate heavyweight titleholder in just about any other era had he gotten the chance.

Savarese was a heavyweight contender during one of the division’s best eras. Typically, the 1990s, led by Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe, are considered by historians to be deeper and better than most other eras except for probably the 1970s when Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and a young George Foreman plied their trades.

Savarese, who considers himself a boxing historian, said there was no doubt in his mind which of the two eras was best.

“I think the 1970s was definitely the best because even the [secondary level] heavyweights back then were really good,” said Savarese. “You had guys like George Chuvalo, Oscar Bonavena and Bob Foster around. There were so many great guys back then.”

Still, Savarese, the historian, knew the era he fought in was also considered elite.

“Our era–we had some really good guys in it, too.”

It was interesting to get the boxer’s input on all the great heavyweights Savarese faced during his career, especially when it came to the question about which one he thought was the best overall.

“Believe it or not, probably Riddick Bowe,” said Savarese. “I fought him in the amateurs. He should have been the greatest heavyweight ever. He was amazing. He had everything. He had such heavy hands. He could punch. He could fight inside. He could fight outside. Not many guys could do all that. In the history of big guys, he was probably the best inside fighter. He had the whole package. He should have been the greatest fighter ever.”

Savarese said he admired Holyfield greatly, the first undisputed cruiserweight champion who went on to do the same at heavyweight.

“Holyfield, to me, was the guy who did the most with his ability,” said Savarese. “He just had so much heart. I probably hit him harder than I ever hit anybody and he didn’t go down. And he came back and knocked me down. That kinda sucked. He was just too strong and had a lot of heart.”

And while Tyson scored a first-round knockout over Savarese during their encounter in 2000, Savarese admitted after some prodding that he didn’t really agree with the quick stoppage.

“I didn’t get it. I mean everything happens for a reason and hindsight is 20/20. I had been hurt way worse than that. I had been down and come back before. Lance Whitaker hit me with like 18 unanswered punches and I came back to win that fight.”

Admittedly, having never seen the fight before I was to meet Savarese later that day, I was also surprised to see it had been halted so quickly. Boxing is a funny sport. What appears a blowout loss on BoxRec can sometimes look so different when you actually watch the action.

“I would have liked to keep fighting,” said Savarese. “I think the referee kind of got overwhelmed because Tyson clipped him. In our corner, we thought they had stopped the fight because of that. We thought they had disqualified him. We had no idea they were stopping the fight. I got up pretty quickly. He’s a great finisher, though, so who knows? Maybe he would have stopped me, but I would have liked the chance to keep going.”

Savarese really does seem like a champion in the truest sense of the word. In fact, Savarese is exactly the person people probably picture in their heads when they imagine meeting a heavyweight boxing champion. He’s humble. He’s honest. He’s kind. He’s 6-foot-5 and looks like he can punch a hole through a brick wall.

He’s basically Rocky Balboa.

Besides, Savarese boxed well enough against Foreman in 1997 to have one of the judges total a scorecard in his favor in the split-decision loss. That fight was for Foreman’s lineal heavyweight championship, the same title Foreman had won three fights prior by knocking out Michael Moorer in the tenth round.

Had things gone just a little differently for Savarese that night, perhaps he would have had his hand raised as the heavyweight champion of the world.

“It was a close fight,” said Savarese. “I mean, I might be biased because it’s me.”

But perhaps most impressively of all, Savarese is genuine in the way that only ex-boxers seem to pull off with any sort of regularity. It’s a funny thing that boxing, a sport deemed crude and crass by some, can at the same time produce such delightful human beings.

All things considered, Savarese enjoyed a tremendous career. Since the very first day he started boxing, Savarese has known what he wanted to do with his life. More importantly, he made the decision to go out and do it.

“I love it,” said Savarese. “I always wondered why I liked it so much, and it sounds crazy, but it’s just the simplicity of it. I love training. Even when I lost, I could always just come back and train harder.”

That, of course, technically ended when Savarese retired following his 2007 unanimous decision loss to Holyfield. But Savarese’s shirts still hang off of him like he just finished doing a thousand pushups, and he’s still heavily involved in the sport in multiple ways.

Savarese is the most successful local boxing promoter of the last decade and part owner of both the Main Street Boxing & Muay Thai gym in downtown Houston as well as a new gym, Savarese Fight Fit West U, on Bellaire Blvd.

While boxing fans know Main Street as one of Houston’s oldest and most successful local fight gyms, Savarese’s new endeavor, which opened about eight months ago, caters to a different sort of crowd.

Here people from all walks of life, including oil and gas executives, attorneys, rabbis and even moms in yoga pants, take a giant leap into the world of boxing together, and for many of them, it’s their very first exposure to the sport. Where some of these kinds of people do exist in more traditional gyms like Main Street, Savarese Fight Fit West U practically screams for them to come and check things out.

It’s posh, clean and branded to sell to a certain kind of crowd.

Even the heavy bags are upgraded from traditional fare. Equipped with electronic sensors that measure how many times someone hits the bag and with what force, it’s the kind of gym just about any person could walk into and want to try things out.

“Everyone gets really competitive about it. It also helps with accountability. Because sometimes when people train, they get to talking to each other and lose track of what they’re doing.”

That Savarese would be part of such a successful looking new venture shouldn’t really be all that surprising. After all, beyond Savarese’s ring exploits and even after his various stints on TV and in movies, he just seems to be a special person who knows this life is for him and so goes about doing his best to live it.

Savarese is the person maybe every professional fighter should someday grow up to be. While his brother might have been mostly wrong about people needing subtitles to understand him when he speaks, there remains something homey and comfortable about Savarese that invites people to be warm-hearted and jovial toward him. Perhaps that alone is what has brought Savarese such good fortune, or maybe, like he said, it really can be traced back his family.

“I just enjoy life and try to do my own thing,” said Savarese. “I’ve been really lucky.”

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Fast Results from Las Vegas: Tyson Fury Overcomes Doughty Otto Wallin

Arne K. Lang

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LAS VEGAS, NV — Otto Wallin proved to be a more formidable opponent than Tyson Fury’s last victim, Tom Schwarz, by a long shot. One could sense that this wouldn’t be a walkover for the Gypsy King when Wallin backed Fury into a neutral corner in round two and got off a good volley of punches.

Wallin opened a what became a very nasty gash over Fury’s right eye in round four. He pawed at it continually throughout the fight which went the full distance. Fury seemed to think that the cut resulted from a clash of heads, but the replay indicated otherwise. Near the end of round six, Wallin rubbed the cut with the laces of his gloves, earning a mean look from Fury and referee Tony Weeks who did not deduct a point.

Fury prefers to fight off the back foot until he has his opponent hurt, but with the cut he fought with more of a sense of urgency, pressing forward. The fight turned messy over the final third as the contest turned into an occasional hug-fest.

Wallin, who came in undefeated (20-0), landed some hard shots in the final round, but by then he needed a knockout to win. The final scores were 116-112, 117-111, and 118-110. The 118-110 tally was severe as it distorts the fact that this was a hard fight for the Gypsy King  who improved his ledger to 29-0-1.

The promoters say the rematch with Deontay Wilder, the second bout of a planned trilogy, is set for February but Wallin may have wrecked those plans. It would seem that Fury will need more time to heal that cut.

Co-Feature

Based on raw numbers, it figured that the fight between defending WBO world 122-pound champion Emanuel Navarrete and Juan Miguel Elorde would be competitive. Both had identical records (28-1) and both were riding long winning streaks; 23 straight wins for Navarrete and 18 straight for Elorde. But the son of Filipino boxing legend Flash Elorde was out of his league. Navarette, who is a big featherweight, was too strong for him. Near the end of round three, Elorde received a standing 8-count when he landed against the ropes, which kept him upright. Twenty-six seconds into the next round, it was all over, Mora halting the bout to protect Elorde from taking more punishment. Referee Russell Mora from Mexico City,

The victorious Navarette, from Mexican City, was making the third defense of the title he won from Isaac Dogboe. Las Vegas hasn’t been good to Elorde whose lone prior defeat came at nearby Mandalay Bay in a 4-round contest.

Other Bouts

In a mild upset, Jose Zepeda, won a 10-round unanimous decision over Jose Pedraza (26-3). A 2008 Olympian for Puerto Rico and former two-division belt-holder, Pedraza declined to 26-3.

Zepeda (33-2), a native Californian who entered the ting draped in the Mexican flag, did his best work early and late. In the middle rounds it appeared that Pedraza was taking control with superior marksmanship but he couldn’t sustain it. The seventh round was furious as were the waning moments of the 10th. All three judges had it 97-93.

In an 8-round featherweight bout, Isaac Lowe, a fellow Traveler and stablemate of Tyson Fury, remained undefeated with an 8-round unanimous decision over Mexico City’s Ruben Hernandez. The scores were 78-74 and 77-75 twice.

Lowe, who showed good boxing skills but isn’t a hard puncher improved to 19-0-2 (6 KOs). Hernandez falls to 25-5-2. Featherweights.

In the first walk-out fight, Guido Vianello, a 6’4″, 240-pound heavyweight from Rome, Italy, improved to 5-0 (5 KOs) at the expense of Cassius Anderson,  35-year-old former Toledo U. linebacker, whose corner pulled him out after the fourth round. Vianello knocked Anderson down in the first few seconds of the fight, but Anderson wasn’t of a mind to leave that quick.

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Fast Results from The Big Apple: Haney, Hunter, and Serrano Win Handily

Arne K. Lang

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Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Promotions was at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden tonight with a 10-bout card that produced no surprises. In the featured bout, 20-year-old lightweight Devin Haney stayed on course for a hoped-for showdown with Vassiliy Lomachenko with a dominant performance over Russia’s little-known Zaur Abdullaev. The fight was stopped after four one-sided rounds with Abdullaev apparently suffering from a fractured cheekbone.

Haney (23-0, 15 KOs) was far more athletic. Abdullaev, who brought an 11-0 record into his U.S. debut, had trouble handling Haney’s speed and was simply overwhelmed by Haney who was the far busier fighter.

Co-Features

Amanda Serrano, who has won more titles in more weight classes than Carter has pills, added the WBO world featherweight title to her dossier with a lopsided decision over fellow Brooklynite Heather Hardy. This fight appeared that it would end early; Serrano’s punches were harder and cleaner. But Hardy, seven years older at age 37, refused to fold and actually did some good work in the middle rounds. The scores were 98-92 and 98-91 twice.

Serrano improved to 37-1-1. It was the first pro loss for Hardy who fell to 22-1.

In a 12-round heavyweight contest, Michael Hunter won his sixth straight, improving to 18-1, with a 12-round unanimous decision over previously unbeaten Sergey Kuzmin (15-1). Although Hunter is on a nice roll, this was not the sort of performance likely to win him any new fans. His best moment came in round five when he knocked Kuzmin flat on his back with a left hook, but from that point on, he seemed content to out-box his Russian adversary who had a 37-pound advantage but was conspicuously slower.

All three judges had it 117-110. After the bout, Hunter expressed a desire to fight Alexander Povetkin on the Joshua-Ruiz II card in Saudi Arabia on Dec. 7.

Other Bouts of Note

It was a mixed bag for 32-year-old Azerbaijan heavyweight Magomedrasul Majidov who won his pro debut with a fourth-round stoppage of Ed Fountain but didn’t look all that impressive. More was expected of Majidov, a three-time world amateur champion who scored three wins over Anthony Joshua as an amateur. Fountain (12-7) lost his fifth straight.

Kazakh welterweight Daniyar Yeleussinov, a two-time Olympian and 2016 gold medalist, looked sensational while advancing his record to 8-0 (4) with a vicious first-round knockout of Reshard Hicks. Yeleussinov, who is trained by his father, knocked Hicks to the the canvas twice, the second of which left Hicks face down, forcing referee Ron Lipton to end the bout without the formality of a count. It was the first pro loss for Hicks (12-1-1), a 34-year-old ex-G.I. from Killeen, Texas.

Uzbekistan super bantamweight Murodjon Akhmadaliev improved to 7-0 (6 KOs) with a fourth-round stoppage of Columbia’s Wilner Soto (22-7). This was a stay-busy fight for the 24-year-old former Olympian who was originally slated to challenge WBA/IBF title-holder Daniel Roman who had to withdraw because of a shoulder injury suffered in sparring. Akhmadaliev toyed with the overmatched Soto for the first three rounds before unleashing the heavy artillery.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom Boxing USA

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The Avila Perspective, Chap. 64: New York, L.A. and Las Vegas Fights

David A. Avila

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Three of the Big Four promoters in prizefighting are showcasing young and old talent in the next two days from New York City to Los Angeles.

Las Vegas speedster Devin Haney (22-0, 14 KOs) headlines a Matchroom Boxing card at Madison Square Theater in Manhattan when he fights Russia’s Zaur Abdullaev (11-0, 7 KOs) on Friday Sept. 13. DAZN will stream the boxing card live.

Dripping with talent, Haney has passed all of the tests so far in his brief and meteoric career including rumbling with Mexican tough guys like Juan Carlos Burgos and obliterating Antonio Moran.

But like all prospects and young contenders, the big question always is can he take a punch?

Abdullaev only has 11 fights and though he has seven knockouts, he has yet to face quality opposition. But his backers say he can fight and that’s all anyone can hope to see.

The fight native New Yorkers and followers of the female fight world want to see is the world title clash between Brooklyn’s undefeated Heather Hardy (22-0, 4 KOs) defending the WBO featherweight strap against Brooklyn’s Amanda Serrano (36-1-1, 27 KOs) in a 10 round semi-main event. It’s going to be a dog fight.

The WBC Diamond belt will be another reward for the winner. Both girls will be tested for PEDs in accordance with WBC rules. For years female prizefighters were virtually untested.

Los Angeles – Munguia, Ryan Garcia and Franchon

WBO super welterweight titlist Jaime Munguia (33-0, 26 KOs) of Mexico meets Ghana’s Patrick Alottey (40-3, 30 KOs) in a world title challenge on Saturday Sept. 14, at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. This Golden Boy Promotions card will be part of the Mexican Independence Day weekend celebration and also Munguia’s last foray in the 154-pound weight class.

Munguia’s lack of defense has made every fight a 50/50 proposition and even this fight against the shorter Alottey could test the Mexican’s chin. The Ghanaian fighter has 30 knockouts on his resume with all wins taking place in Africa.

Ryan “The Flash” Garcia will bring his army of fans to the outdoor arena once again. The last time he fought at Dignity Health Sports Park it was called the StubHub Center and he slugged it out with the very tough Puerto Rican Jayson Velez in May 2018. That night the slender fighter won by decision.

For about a year Garcia has been working under the tutelage of Eddy Reynoso in San Diego and the change was immediately visible. The head trainer for Saul “Canelo” Alvarez has tweaked Garcia’s defense and head movement. He has also polished the vast offensive weaponry the 21-year-old possesses. He’s still learning.

Garcia (18-0, 15 KOs) faces Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow (10-1, 3 KOs) who walked into a press conference in the Golden Boy Building with singing artist Usher. The big question most are asking is if Usher will be present at the fight on Saturday. That’s not Garcia’s query.

“Avery can fight and he’s got skills. He’s no pushover,” said Garcia, adding that the lightweight division is growing with young budding talent. “The new generation is here with Teofimo (Lopez), Devin (Haney), I’m excited and want to be in the best fights to show that I belong with these other fighters.”

Also on the boxing card will be women’s WBC super middleweight titlist Franchon Crews (5-1) who was scheduled to face WBC heavyweight world titlist Alejandra Jimenez who was dropping down in weight for the fight. But the Mexican fighter was allegedly unable to obtain a visa and could possibly be replaced by former foe Maricela Cornejo (13-3, 5 KOs).

Crews defeated the classy Cornejo for the world title a year ago in Las Vegas and the Mexican middleweight had sought a rematch. Cornejo was recently posting photos of herself in Israel on her social media accounts. If she does accept the fight it definitely shows Cornejo has confidence and that’s a big plus. One of the remarkable things from their first fight was watching Cornejo clapping and congratulating Crews in earnest after their fight. It was a sincere gesture and made me appreciate Cornejo even more.

Las Vegas – Fury, Navarrete

England’s Tyson Fury, the lineal heavyweight world champion, meets Sweden’s Otto Wallin in a battle of undefeated heavyweights at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on Saturday Sept. 14. ESPN will show and stream the Top Rank fight card.

Fury (28-0-1, 20 KOs) who defeated Wladimir Klitschko for all of the titles back in November 2015, then dropped out of the boxing world for a few years. He has returned to activity and is changing the boxing landscape with both his charisma and fighting skills. His fight against Deontay Wilder last December was one of the more memorable heavyweight world title fights in the last 30 years.

Wallin (20-0, 13 KOs) is a southpaw who can crack as almost all heavyweights can. He’s represented by Mark Taffet, the former HBO executive who leads the career of female star Claressa Shields. That should say a lot about the big Swede’s talent.

Also on the card is Emanuel Navarrete (28-1, 24 KOs), the WBO super bantamweight titlist who fought just last month in Los Angeles against Francisco De Vaca and knocked him out in three rounds. He defeated Isaac Dogboe for the title last December and then stopped him in the rematch last May. He’s an angular looking fighter with long arms, incredible stamina and knockout power. He will be meeting Juan Miguel Elorde (28-1, 15 KOs) of the Philippines in another world title fight.

Fights to Watch

Fri. 6 p.m. PT DAZN – Devin Haney (22-0) vs Zaur Abdullaev (11-0), Heather Hardy (22-0) vs Amanda Serrano (36-1-1).

Sat. 3:30 p.m. PT DAZN – Jaime Munguia (33-0) vs Patrick Alottey (40-3), Ryan Garcia (18-0) vs Avery Sparrow (10-1), Franchon Crews (5-1) vs Maricela Cornejo (13-3).

Sat. 4:30 p.m. PT ESPN+ – Tyson Fury (28-0-1) vs Otto Wallin (20-0), Emanuel Navarrete (28-1) vs Juan Miguel Elorde (28-1).

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom Boxing

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