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It Wasn’t The Queen That Needed Saving as Andy Ruiz Jr. Dethroned Anthony Joshua

Bernard Fernandez

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Andy Ruiz

NEW YORK – The sellout crowd of 20,201, a significant percentage of whom had journeyed here from the United Kingdom, warmed up for the main event by turning Madison Square Garden into a mass karaoke performance. First they warmed up by loudly singing along to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” before attaining an even higher decibel level with an enthusiastic rendition of “God Save the Queen.”

As it turned out, it wasn’t Queen Elizabeth II who needed salvation Saturday night, but magnificently sculpted Briton Anthony Joshua, widely considered by this Union Jack-waving audience as the one, true king of the heavyweights. Although the 6-foot-6, 247-pound Joshua always has looked the part of an unconquerable warrior monarch, on this historic night he would be exposed as something less by a chubby fill-in opponent whose longshot bid to end AJ’s royal reign must have seemed only a bit more likely than one of his comparatively few on-site supporters winning the Powerball Lottery.

In what arguably was the most shocking upset since Buster Douglas knocked out seemingly invincible heavyweight champion Mike Tyson in Tokyo on Feb. 11, 1990, Ruiz (33-1, 22 KOs) arose from a third-round knockdown – the first time he’d been on the deck as a pro – to floor a stunned Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs) twice in the same round before tacking on two more knockdowns in round seven. Although Joshua beat referee Michael Griffin’s count after his fourth trip to the canvas, he stepped backward, on unsteady legs, to a neutral corner and put his arms atop the highest strand of the ropes. Griffin quite reasonably interpreted that as a sign of surrender and awarded Ruiz a technical knockout victory after an elapsed time of 1 minute, 27 seconds.

Thus did the seventh title defense for Joshua, the super heavyweight gold medalist at the 2012 London Olympics who was fighting for the first time on American soil, end on a discordant note. But the flip side of his supporters’ dejection was the sight of Ruiz, his considerable love handles jiggling like a shaken gelatin mold, leaping in exultation as his corner team rushed forward to celebrate with him.

Not that Ruiz, a U.S. citizen from Imperial Calif., who became the first fighter of Mexican descent to capture a world heavyweight championship, had surprised himself along with the thousands in attendance and many more around the world who watched the fight via the DAZN streaming service. No, far from it. Ruiz insisted he had known all along that he had all the attributes to defeat Joshua, his lack of a magnificent physique notwithstanding.

“Nobody thought I was going to win, but everybody that bet on me is going to make some serious money,” a smiling Ruiz said at the postfight press conference. (He went off at +1100 in the Las Vegas sports books, yielding a profit of $1,100 to anyone who bold enough to risk a $100 wager on him.)

“Before this fight was going to happen I was saying in a lot of interviews that I would rather fight AJ than any other heavyweight out there. I knew that I could beat him. Every fighter has flaws and I think AJ has bigger flaws than Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury.”

Wilder, the WBC heavyweight champion who has steadfastly maintained that it is he who most deserves to be recognized as the best of boxing’s big men, wasted no time in concurring with Ruiz’s estimation that Joshua, who had entered as the WBA, WBO and IBF titlist, has never deserved to be recognized as the No.  1 guy, and maybe not even as No. 2 or 3 or possibly even 4.

“He wasn’t a true heavyweight champion. His whole career was consisted of lies, contradictions and gifts,” Wilder almost giddily tweeted after Ruiz chopped down the Joshua tree. “Facts, and now we know who was running from who!”

Until the 6-2, 268-pound Ruiz backed up his bold talk with action, the heavyweight division was widely considered to be comprised of a top tier of Joshua, Wilder and lineal champion Tyson Fury, with everyone else occupying lower rungs on the ladder. Now the round-robin tournament almost everyone in boxing had hoped would happen, with Joshua, Wilder and Fury sorting things out among themselves, has had that exclusive party joined by a gate-crasher who, upon further reflection, probably always was more dangerous than many had imagined. That sometimes happen with fighters – any athletes, actually – who fail to score high on the eye test. More than a few naysayers have dismissed Ruiz as a legitimately elite heavyweight because what first caught their attention is his paunch instead of his quite respectable punch, not to mention his nimble feet and fast hands for a guy who, by his own admissions, will never be a male underwear model.

Although Ruiz has officially weighed in as high as 292½ pounds as a pro, and his weight for the Joshua bout was five pounds heavier than he had come in at for his most recent ring appearance, a fifth-round stoppage of Alexander Dimitrenko on April 20 in Carson, Calif., that outing took place just five weeks before he took on AJ. He was, by his somewhat relaxed standards, in excellent condition.

Still, some of the questions that were posed to Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, regarded the possibility of Joshua having taken Ruiz too lightly, if you’ll pardon the expression, or Ruiz being chosen because he might have been considered a relatively soft touch after the originally scheduled opponent, Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, was obliged to withdraw after failing three separate drug tests for banned substances. Hearn insisted that neither suggestion held any merit.

“I said in the buildup that this is a tougher fighter for Anthony than Jarrell Miller,” Hearn said. “They’re not dissimilar in (physical) stature, but Andy’s faster, he has better movement, a better boxing IQ. The Miller fight would have been much easier.”

But if Ruiz constituted such a threat, why didn’t Hearn replace Miller with Manuel Charr or Trevor Bryan, both of whom were lobbying for the pinch-hitting role and the fat payday that came with it?

“We wanted to give a proper fight,” Hearn answered. “With all respect to Manuel Charr and Trevor Bryan, they’re not worthy challengers. We wanted a proper test for AJ. When you come to Madison Square Garden, you’ve got to give the public a real fight. We knew that Andy Ruiz would give Anthony Joshua a real fight. Unfortunately, he gave him more of a fight than we hoped he would. We really felt that Anthony is the best heavyweight in the world and he would win tonight.”

Hearn said Team Joshua would enforce the clause for an immediate rematch, most likely to be held in November or December in the United Kingdom. It will be interesting to see if Joshua, whom Hearn said “will be absolutely devastated” when the realization of what had just happened kicks in, can replicate the feat of countryman Lennox Lewis, who was knocked out by Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman, but came back to avenge those losses in emphatic fashion.

“Great fighters come back and improve,” Hearn noted. “Some fighters come back the same (and lose again to the guy that beat them). The future will show how Anthony Joshua responds.”

For his part, Ruiz – who succeeded where past Mexican or Mexican-American heavyweight title challengers Chris Arreola (three times), Eric Molina (twice), Manuel Ramos and even Ruiz himself, in an earlier bout with then-champion Joseph Parker, didn’t – said he doesn’t anticipate being a one-hit wonder.

“I’m still pinching myself to see if this is real, man,” he said. “But this is not the only victory that I get. I’m not going to let the belts go.”

It might require another win inside the distance over Joshua, on his home turf, to convince any remaining doubters that Ruiz isn’t simply some incredibly lucky guy who caught a superior fighter on an off-night. At the time of the stoppage two judges – Julie Lederman and Michael Alexander – had Ruiz up by a single point, 57-56, while the third judge, Pasquale Procopio, actually had Joshua ahead by the same tally.

“I did not want to leave it up to the judges,” Ruiz said, a frame of mind he no doubt will carry into the do-over.

Several Undercard Bouts Also Were Keepers

A stellar undercard was punctuated by several bouts that were main-event worthy, the most notable of which was won by Callum Smith.

Smith (26-0, 19 KOs), the 6-foot-3 super middleweight from Liverpool, England, knocked down former three-time world title challenger Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam (37-4, 21 KOs) once in each round en route to being awarded a third-round TKO, enabling him to retain his WBA 168-pound belt as well as his WBC Diamond belt. Smith again called out unified middleweight champ Canelo Alvarez.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Brandon Adams Bursts Bohachuk’s Bubble in Puerto Rico

Arne K. Lang

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Brandon Adams Bursts Bohachuk’s Bubble in Puerto Rico

Ring City USA, a new promotional entity, debuted on Nov. 19, 2020 with a show staged in the parking lot of Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, CA. Ring City stayed outdoors for their first offering of 2021, but the company was a long ways from California. Tonight’s card was staged on a roundabout near a municipal gym in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

The headline attraction was an attractive match between junior middleweights Serhii Bohachuk and Brandon Adams. The bout was originally set for Dec. 3, but had to be pushed back when Bohachuk tested positive for the coronavirus.

Bohachuk, a 25-year-old California-based Ukrainian, had stopped all 18 of his previous opponents. He had never gone past six rounds. Brandon Adams, a former world title challenger, represented a step up in class.

Bohachuk was well on his way to winning a unanimous decision when the tide turned dramatically in round eight. Fighting on a slick canvas, Adams suddenly found a new gear, unloading a series of punches climaxed by a thunderous left hook as Bohachuk retreated. The Ukrainian beat the count, but was teetering on unsteady legs and the referee properly called a halt.

Adams was without his regular trainer, 80-year-old Dub Huntley, who remained back in LA as a health precaution. In winning, he elevated his records to 23-3 (15). It was his best performance since defeating Shane Mosley Jr in the finals of Season 5 of the “Contender” series.

In the co-feature, an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rico’s Bryan Chevalier improved to 15-1-1 (12) with a third-round stoppage of Peru’s Carlos Zambrano (26-2). Chevalier scored two knockdowns, the first a sweeping left hook that appeared to land behind Zambrano’s head, and the second a punch to the liver that left Zambrano in severe distress. The referee waived the fight off in mid-count.

The official time was 2:21. Chevalier, a tall featherweight (5’11”) made a very impressive showing; he bears watching. This was Zambrano’s first fight since April of 2017 when he was knocked out in the opening round by Claudio Marrero in a bout for the WBA interim featherweight title.

The TV opener was an entertaining fight between contrasting styles that produced a weird conclusion when Danielito Zorrilla was awarded a technical decision over Ruslan Madiyev. The bout was stopped at the 1:16 mark of round eight after Zorrilla sank to his knees after absorbing a punch to the back of the head. The ringside physician examined him for evidence of a concussion, but ultimately it was Zorrilla’s choice as to whether the bout would continue. He declined and was reportedly taken to a hospital for observation.

Madiyev, a California-based Kazahk, was the aggressor. He fought the fight in Zorilla’s grill, often bullying him against the ropes. In round five, he had a point deducted for hitting behind the head, squandering what was arguably his best round.

The fight went to the scorecards with Zorrilla winning a split decision (77-74, 77-75, 73-76), thereby remaining undefeated: 15-0 (12). Ironically, Madiyev (13-2, 5 KOs), suffered his previous loss in a similar fashion.

Madiyev’s new trainer Joel Diaz reportedly discouraged his charge from taking this fight for fear that he wouldn’t get a fair shake in Puerto Rico. Diaz’s apprehensions were well-founded.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Ring City USA

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Ed Odeven’s New Book Pays Homage to Sports Journalist Jerry Izenberg

Rick Assad

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It’s one thing to get to the top, but it’s something else entirely to remain there for more than half a century. Jerry Izenberg, longtime sports columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger, now semi-retired and living in Henderson, Nevada, has done just that.

Izenberg is the subject of Ed Odeven’s book, “Going 15 Rounds With Jerry Izenberg,” which was released New Year’s Eve and is available at amazon.com.

“By all accounts, he should be recognized as one of the greatest American sports columnists,” said Odeven, a 1999 graduate of Arizona State University who has lived in Japan since July 2006 and is the sports editor for the website Japan Forward. “A versatile professional, he was equally skilled at writing books and magazine articles and producing sports documentaries and crafting essays for the groundbreaking ‘Sports Extra’ television program on Channel 5 in New York in the 1970s.”

Odeven went on: “Jerry has seen everything and been seemingly everywhere. He brought gravitas to the newspaper sports section with decades of sustained excellence.”

During a seven-decade career in sports journalism, the 90-year-old Izenberg, found time to write 15 non-fiction books and one novel. His affinity for the manly sport is reflected in his 2017 book, “Once There Were Giants: The Golden Age Of Heavyweight Boxing.”

“From the 1950s to the present day [including recent years’ coverage of Tyson Fury and Manny Pacquiao, for instance, Izenberg has shined in his boxing coverage,” Odeven said. “You can’t ignore his remembrance pieces on fighters and boxing personalities across the decades [such as a terrific column on the late Leon Spinks in which he weaved a tapestry of the fighter’s life and his family’s struggles into a powerful piece], either.”

One of Izenberg’s favorite topics is Muhammad Ali.

“Izenberg first observed the great fighter’s infectious personality, popularity and boxing talent on display at the 1960 Rome Olympics,” Odeven said. “Cassius Clay was unlike any other famous pugilist in those days and for the rest of his life.”

Odeven spoke about the support Ali received from Izenberg: “When very few were publicly taking a stand to support Ali, Izenberg wrote columns that defended his right to fight. He took the boxing establishment to task for stripping Ali of his titles even while Ali’s case was making its way through the courts – and ultimately the United States Supreme Court.”

Izenberg, a graduate of Rutgers University who covered the first 53 Super Bowls, and Ali were close. “As friends, they were around each other in all corners of the earth,” Odeven said. “They shared highs and lows during periods of personal and professional success and disappointment.”

Here’s Jerry Izenberg talking about Ali’s humanity: “I was a single father and when my children came to live with me, they were very nervous. I took them to Deer Lake [Pennsylvania] for a television show I was filming as an advance to the Foreman-Ali fight. After the filming, knowing my situation, (Ali) took my son aside and put his arm around him and said, “Robert, you have come to live with a great man. Listen to him and you will grow to be a great man just like him.

“On the way up my daughter, who was seven, had said, ‘I hope Foreman beats him up because he brags too much and you always told me to not brag.’ “I told her, ‘you are seven and you have nothing to brag about. Both of these men are my friends. When you get there, keep your mouth shut.’ When we were packing up the equipment, he saw her in the back of the room and hollered, ‘come up here little girl. You with the braids.’ She was convinced I had ratted her out about what she said and tried her best to melt into the wall because she was frightened. As she walked toward him, she lost the power of speech and mumbled. He was 6-3 and she was 4-5. He grabbed her and held her over his head. ‘Is that man your daddy?’ All she could do was nod. ‘Don’t you lie to me little girl, look at him,’ and he pointed at me. ‘That man is ugly…ugly. You are beautiful, now gimme a kiss.’ On the way home she said, ‘I hope Muhammad can win,’ and I said, ‘you are just like the rest of them. The only difference is your age.’ He was one of my five best friends. When he died, I cried.”

Odeven offered his slant on why Izenberg was at home at major boxing events: “It was clear that Jerry was in a comfort zone on the week of a big fight, writing the stories that set the stage for the mano a mano encounter and the follow-up commentary that defined what happened and what it meant.”

Izenberg, noted Odeven, had worked under the legendary Stanley Woodward, as had Red Smith and Roger Kahn, among others, the latter most well-known for having penned the baseball classic, “The Boys Of Summer.” Many insist that Woodward, who read the classics, was the greatest sports editor.

Woodward, Odenven believes, helped shape Izenberg’s world outlook. “Izenberg became keenly aware of this human drama at its rawest form that existed in boxing,” he said, noting that in decades past the public was captivated by the big fights. “Examples, of course, include the first and third Ali-Frazier bouts and The Rumble In The Jungle [against Foreman]. Let’s not forget they were cultural touchstones.”

Referencing the third installment of Ali-Frazier in Manila, Izenberg said, “I’ve probably seen thousands of fights, but I never saw one when both fighters were exhausted and just wouldn’t quit…My scorecard had Ali ahead by one which meant if Joe knocked him down in the 15th, he would have won on my card. But there was no 15th because Joe’s trainer, Eddie Futch, ordered the gloves cut off after the 14th.

“At the finish, Ali collapsed. Later as Ali walked slowly up the aisle supported by his seconds, he leaned over toward the New York Times’ Dave Anderson and me and said through puffy lips, ‘Fellas. That’s the closest you will ever see to death.’”

Izenberg remembered his lead: “Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier did not fight for the WBC heavyweight title last night,” he wrote. “They did not fight for the heavyweight championship of the planet. They could have fought in a telephone booth on a melting ice flow. They were fighting for the championship of each other and for me that still isn’t settled.”

What makes Izenberg relevant even today? “His canvas was the global sports landscape and he explored the human condition in each of his columns in some way,” Odeven stated. “He recognized what made a good story and sought out individuals and topics that fit that description – and he still does.

“You could read a random stack of columns about any number of topics from the 1960s or ’90s and be enlightened and entertained at the same time…He has always had a razor- sharp eye for details that illuminate a column and a source’s words to give it added verve.” Moreover, added Odeven, Izenberg had a never-wavering commitment to championing a just cause: “Speaking out against racism and religious bigotry, he gave a voice to the voiceless or those often ignored.”

Note: Jerry Izenberg was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category in 2015.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 126: Viva Puerto Rico, Claressa Shields, Canelo and More

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 126: Viva Puerto Rico, Claressa Shields, Canelo and More

In the age of Covid-19 fights get canceled and re-arranged and that’s found here in this second attempt to stage Serhii Bohachuk versus Brandon Adams in a super welterweight showdown.

This pairing was first talked about back when the Dodgers and Lakers both won world championships last October. Finally, it’s ready to cast off.

Beautiful Puerto Rico will be the locale for Bohachuk (18-0, 18 KOs) when he meets Adams (22-3, 14 KOs) on Thursday March 4, at Felix Pintor Gym in Guaynabo. NBC Sports Network will televise the Ring City USA fight card.

“Flaco” Bohachuk has rampaged through the super welterweight division like a ravenous Ukrainian version of Pacman. Who can stop him?

Adams has fought the better competition including a world title match against Jermall Charlo that he lost by decision less than two years ago.

Other factors exist.

Bohachuk was formally trained by Abel Sanchez in Big Bear Mountain but now works with Manny Robles at sea level. Will it make a difference when he trades blows against the smaller but seemingly stronger Adams?

“We’re taking this fight seriously against Adams,” said Robles who has trained numerous world champions including Oscar Valdez and Andy Ruiz. “Adams is a very strong fighter.”

Bohachuk last fought deep in the heart of Mexico and emerged with a stoppage that saw him scrap with little-known but tough-as-nails Alejandro Davila. Both landed serious stuff but Bohachuk just had more firepower.

Adams says he has seen firepower like Bohachuk’s before. He went toe-to-toe with Charlo for the WBC middleweight title and never touched the canvas. He’s smaller but more muscular and has fought taller guys most of his career.

This is one of those fights that used to be held at the Olympic Auditorium back in the day. Ironically, there is a documentary that has just been released about those days before it was closed to boxing in 2005.

Added note: Fernando Vargas Jr. will also engage on the fight card. The son of “El Feroz,” Fernando Vargas Jr. fights out of Las Vegas and will be in his second pro fight as a super middleweight.

Women’s pay-per-view

An all-women fight card led by Claressa Shields takes place on Friday March 5. It will be streamed by FITE.tv beginning at 6 p.m. PT. Price is $29.99.

Shields (10-0) faces her toughest foe yet when she steps in the boxing ring against Canada’s undefeated Marie Eve Dicaire (17-0) for the undisputed super welterweight world championship.

Dicaire is a tall southpaw with speed and agility who has defeated several world champions.

Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and former undisputed middleweight world champion and super middleweight titlist who dropped down two weight divisions to pursue this venture.

Also, just added is Marlen Esparza, a USA Olympic bronze medalist, and current flyweight contender.

Esparza (8-1) agreed to fight on the pay-per-view card and meets Shelly Barnett (4-3-2) in a six-round bout set for the super flyweight division. Her last fight took place in October and she handed talented Sulem Urbina her first loss as a pro.

Barnett is a Canadian veteran of nine pro fights including an eight-round battle with Florida’s Rosalinda Rodriguez.

Rumor has it that Esparza is getting prepared for a showdown with Mexico’s Ibeth “La Roca” Zamora for the WBC flyweight world title later in the spring.

It’s a pretty good pay-per-view card that also features Danielle Perkins, Logan Holler and Jamie Mitchell in competitive fights. If you haven’t seen women fights, take a look. Shields alone can astonish with her fighting skills.

Canelo

That redhead from Mexico continues to decimate the competition whether its from England, Turkey or Russia. Line them up and let them fly.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez holds the WBA and WBC super middleweight world titles and was forced to fight the number one contender Avni Yildirim and promptly stomped him out like a bug on the rug.

Fans get upset. They don’t understand that ratings exist and with four or five sanctioning organizations all having different standings, a fighter like Alvarez who has two titles is forced to fight fighters ranked number one through 10. But it’s just a part of boxing that has to be done.

Alvarez had already skipped Yildirim before to fight Callum Smith for the WBA title which he won by unanimous decision. Now he will be meeting another Brit in Billy Joe Saunders who has the WBO version of the super middleweight title. It will take place on May 8, most likely in Las Vegas. That’s Cinco de Mayo weekend. Las Vegas needs the bank. Once again it depends on the Covid-19 situation.

Off topic, Canelo recently had an exchange with Claressa Shields who posted on social media that the Mexican redhead is one of her favorite fighters. She likes working on technique and posted one of her workouts where she is hitting a heavy bag with a combination that she saw Canelo use.

Canelo saw it and gave her a few tips. Champion to champion. That was kind of cool.

Farewell to L.A. Favorite

Featherweight contender Danny Valdez passed away on Sunday February 28 in Los Angeles. He was 81.

Valdez held the California Featherweight title when the state championship was not easy to gain. He also vied for the world title against Davey Moore in April 1961 in Los Angeles.

Many of his battles took place at the vaunted Olympic Auditorium where he fought the likes of Gil Cadilli and Sugar Ramos. Back in those days there was no better place to fight than the Olympic. But Valdez did engage in battles at Wrigley Field and the Hollywood Legion Stadium too.

Though Valdez fought up and down the West Coast in Oregon and California, he primarily battled at the Olympic Auditorium, a total of 24 times in all. If you ever watched a boxing card at the Olympic, it was a magical place.

Fights to Watch

(All Times are Pacific Time)

Thurs. 6 p.m. NBC Sports Network Serhii Bohachuk (18-0) vs Brandon Adams (22-3)

Fri. 6 p.m. FITE.tv.  Claressa Shields (10-0) vs Marie Eve Dicaire (17-0); Marlen Esparza (8-1) vs Shelly Barnett (4-3-2); Logan Holler (9-0-1) vs Schemelle Baldwin (3-1-2); Danielle Perkins (2-0) vs Monika Harrison (2-1-1); Jamie Mitchell (5-0-2) vs Noemi Bosques (12-15-3).

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