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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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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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