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Literary Notes: Gerry Cooney and More

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Gerry Cooney’s life is a cautionary tale that, with a lot of effort on his part, has taken a happy turn.

Beaten physically and emotionally in childhood by an abusive father, Cooney turned to boxing and was one of the hardest punching heavyweights of all time. At age 25, he was on the cover of Time Magazine. On June 11, 1982, he took Larry Holmes into the thirteenth round on a night when Holmes was as good a fighter as he had ever been before or would be again.

If Cooney had beaten Holmes, he would have been the biggest sports superstar in America. But by then, the seeds of self-destruction had been sown. Alcohol and drug abuse were undermining his potential as a fighter and wreaking havoc on his personal life. He’s happy now – a loving husband and father – and has been clean for more than thirty years.

Cooney’s story is told in Gentleman Gerry (Rowman & Littlefield), a book co-authored with John Grady. Before discussing the book, I should make full disclosure. Gerry is a friend. We have lunch together on a regular basis. We sit together at fights. I know him as someone who’s thoughtful, generous, and admirably self-aware with regard to the road he has traveled. That makes reading Gentleman Gerry frustrating because of the manner in which his journey is chronicled.

Famous people often collaborate with a third party to tell their story. But almost always, the story is recounted in the subject’s voice. Gentleman Gerry is told in Grady’s voice. “I” and “me” are used only in places where Grady inserts himself into the narrative. Thus, an intensely personal journey becomes less personal and its emotional impact is dulled. Thoughts that would have been powerful coming directly from Gerry’s mouth are less so when filtered through Grady’s retelling.

Too often, the writing lapses into stilted flowery prose. For example, writing about meeting Gerry for the first time to discuss working together on the book, Grady recounts, “The morning sun gently blanketed the dining establishment’s well-maintained patio, providing a welcomed balance to the cool invigorating breeze that persistently greeted the diners.”

That’s accompanied by unnecessary hyperbole. Jimmy Young is referenced as one of “the greatest talents the [heavyweight] division ever produced.” Sportscaster Len Berman is “legendary” and heavyweight contender Ron Lyle is a “legend.”

Assertions such as the claim that Jack Johnson has been “largely unappreciated by history” lead one to wonder what history Grady has been reading. We’re told that Mike Tyson experienced “a stable nuturing environment” when he lived with Cus D’Amato in Catskill. But we now know that was hardly the case. Grady calls Holmes-Cooney the first “authentic megafight” of the post-Ali era. This shortchanges Ray Leonard’s encounters with Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran. He also tells us that Cooney and Holmes were guaranteed $10 million each for their battle. But Holmes was in the clutches of Don King at the time. His purse was less than one-third of that amount.

We’re never told what it felt like when Gerry was being punched in the face by his father. What could have been a fascinating window into Gerry’s mind – an exchange of blows that resulted when a bullying high school football coach challenged him to a sparring session in the school wrestling room – is reduced to two paragraphs.

There are flashes of good writing. Referencing the euphoria in the moments after Gerry’s 54-second demolition of Ken Norton, Grady writes, “There was no future nor past – just the moment.”

But that night, the good part of Gerry’s career came to an end. He tried cocaine for the first time.

Grady writes at length about the perils of substance abuse in an often clinical style.

Re alcohol: “Given his genetics and the power of his addiction symptoms, Gerry’s addiction was activated upon his first introduction to chemicals. The first drink is a landmark one for an alcoholic. It is a time when experimentation – with the user unaware of the horrific consequences to be paid – unites genetics, social learning behaviors, and the brain-changing processes to manifest the disease of addiction. It is a self-activated illness.”

And cocaine: “As people turn to substances, not only to deal with negative emotions but also to prolong and heighten positive ones, they develop tolerance. This leads to increased use to get the same high which only works for a while. In time, substances are required simply to feel ‘normal’ and, later, to avoid the horrors of physical withdrawal.”

But Grady never tells us how Gerry experienced being high. Don’t just tell me that he was snorting cocaine. Show me!

Gentleman Gerry is most satisfying when Gerry is allowed to speak for himself. “I want to talk about what happened and maybe change some things for today’s fighters, hopefully help some people out along the way,” he’s quoted as saying. “I had a great career, had a lotta fun, a lot of troubles. I look back and it’s tough to think about what could have been. But then I think I’m lucky as hell. There are guys of my generation walking on their heels, not able to enjoy life. If I became champion of the world, who knows, maybe I’d be one of those guys. I’ve had a lot of great times, met a lot of great people. I’m very fortunate. That’s the bottom line. And I’m able to appreciate all of it.”

In sum, Gerry Cooney looks back on his life with understanding. He’s happy and satisfied with where he is today. But there’s a tinge of regret that, with all the assets he had to work with, a good career as a fighter could have been better. That’s how I feel about this book.

*    *    *

Randy Gordon (former chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission who now co-hosts a boxing talk show on SiriusXM with Gerry Cooney) has written a memoir entitled Glove Affair (Rowman & Littlefield).

There’s a detailed account of Don King and WBC president Jose Sulaiman trying to bribe Gordon with a huge stack of hundred-dollar bills in the hope that Gordon would set aside Mike Tyson’s managerial contract with Bill Cayton. Readers will also find an intriguing and extremely unflattering portrait of longtime NYSAC staff member Marvin Kohn.

Then there’s Nat Fleischer, who founded The Ring in 1922 and reigned supreme at the magazine until his death fifty years later.

Gordon holds the legendary Fleischer in high regard. But as boxing historian Craig Hamilton noted recently, “Too often, Fleischer represented his personal opinion as fact. And even when he was just reporting facts, there were too many things he got wrong. Also,” Hamilton added, “as Fleischer advanced through life, he held onto the belief that the fighters he saw and read about when he was young were the best ever. He idolized fighters like Stanley Ketchel and built them up to be more than they were. The magazine was less biased than his books because it had to appeal to contemporary fans. But even there, there were problems.”

In 1969, Gordon, then a student at Long Island University, met Fleischer. “Here are the top ten heavyweights of all time,” Fleischer told him. Then he handed Gordon a list:

  1. Jack Johnson
  2. James J. Jeffries
  3. Bob Fitzsimmons
  4. Jack Dempsey
  5. James J. Corbett
  6. Joe Louis
  7. Sam Langford
  8. Gene Tunney
  9. Max Schmeling
  10. Rocky Marciano

Joe Louis #6? No Muhammad Ali? No Sonny Liston? That’s not a good list.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book –  Protect Yourself at All Times — was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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Andy Ruiz and Filip Hrgovic on the Road to Oleksandr Usyk

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Mexican-American Andy Ruiz and Croatian Filip Hrgovic were instructed by the IBF to begin negotiations for their fight for the Interim heavyweight title, which consequently provides the winner with the opportunity to face the champion Oleksandr Usyk who also holds the WBO and WBA super champion belts.

Ruiz (35-2, 22 KOs) and Hrgovic (15-0, 12 KOs) have 30 days, expiring on February 19, to reach an agreement. Otherwise, the IBF will hold a public auction to see who will promote the bout.

The IBF decision took into account the fact that Hrgovic is the top-ranked contender, while Ruiz is ranked third. The second slot is vacant.

About a year ago, the IBF had confirmed the fight between Ruiz and Hrgovic, with the intention of defining a mandatory challenger for southpaw Usyk (20-0, 13 KOs), but the American withdrew from negotiations due the fact that he was recovering from an alleged injury.

Thirty-three-year-old Ruiz from Imperial, California was victorious in his last two bouts, the most recent on September 4th in Los Angeles by unanimous decision against Cuban southpaw Luis “King Kong” Ortíz (33-3, 28 KOs).

After the victory over Ortíz, Ruiz stated that his immediate goal is to face former world champion Deontay Wilder (43-2-1, 42 KOs) as a victory over Wilder would provide him with the opportunity to face Brit Tyson Fury (33-0-1, 24 KOs), the current WBC champion.

A few weeks later, Ruiz received a boost from the WBC, which confirmed at their 60th annual convention in November that the winner of the fight between Ruiz vs Wilder would face the winner of Fury vs Derek Chisora  ​​(33-13, 23 KOs).

Fury, thirty-four years old, had no difficulty in defeating Chisora by way of chloroform in the tenth round on December 3rd at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.

However, now after the IBF mandate, Ruíz’s long-awaited confrontation with Wilder remains in limbo. Recently, Malik Scott, Wilder’s coach, expressed that although Ruíz is a strong adversary, he is not on the same level as Wilder.

Scott stated, “Andy Ruiz is a serious test. Not just for Deontay but for anybody. But for a disciplined Deontay, in my opinion, Andy Ruiz doesn’t even come close to being in the same league as him. Because what beats Andy Ruiz? Discipline! An old [Chris] Arreola gave him trouble just with discipline. Andy’s problem is he can’t beat disciplined fighters. I had Arreola winning by two rounds. Against Deontay, Andy is going to reach, he has to, we’re taller, and when he reaches, he’s going to pay like he’s never paid before.”

Prior to Ruiz’s recent two victories, he lost by unanimous decision to Brit Anthony Joshua on December 7, 2019 in Saudi Arabia. Only six months had passed since Ruiz knocked out Joshua in the seventh round and seized the IBF, WBA and WBO belts from him on June 1 at New York’s legendary Madison Square Garden.

Hrgovic, three years younger than Ruiz and born in Zagreb, Croatia, comes off a difficult win against Chinese southpaw Zhilei Zhang (24-1-1, 19 KOs) at the Superdome in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Although the three officials handed in scorecards of 115-112 (2x) and 114-113 in favor of Hrgovic, Zhang had sent the European to the canvas in the opening round.

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Álvarez in Spanish.

Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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Artem Dalakian, Sunny Edwards, and the Most Storied Title in Boxing

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When the mighty Roman Gonzalez departed the 112lb division in 2016 he vacated the title and broke the longest remaining lineage in the sport. In a moment of quiet heartbreak for the boxing aficionado, the final direct link with boxing’s glorious past was cut forever.

That lineage had begun back in 1975 with perhaps the greatest flyweight champion, Miguel Canto.  Canto cleaned house that year, shading the wonderful Betulio Gonzalez and the evergreen Shoji Oguma, part of a calendar year that saw him go 6-0 and establish his absolute pre-eminence in the deepest of flyweight divisions. In 1979, old in the face, Canto was out-worked and even in some ramshackle way out-jabbed by a swarming, aggressive Korean named Chan Hee Park. Park was a good fighter, Shoji Oguma lay in wait to send him tumbling with counter-rights, taking his turn in an impressive second tour. In 1981, the new generation asserted itself in the form of Antonio Avelar.  Avelar seemed, briefly, to be the real deal but he was unseated by a murderous punching Colombian, Prudencio Cardona, who inflicted upon Avelar the most violent knockout in flyweight history.

This heralded the advent of a series of caretaker champions, good fighters, all, but no great ones as the early eighties evaporated while the hot-potato flyweight championship passed from Fredy Castillo to Eleoncio Mercedes to Charlie Magri and others, none of them holding it for more than a matter of months. When the mighty Sot Chitalada wrestled it from the last caretaker champion in 1984, Canto finally had a descendent who could be named a peer. In two spells, Chitalada held the title into the 1990s whereupon it was ripped from him by the Thai Maungchai Kittikasem who then dropped it to an early emergent of the Soviet and former Soviet schools in Yuri Arbachakov.  Arbachakov was the first flyweight whose legacy was to suffer at the hands of the ABC title-belt madness, his record-breaking spell as champion marred by matches with WBC-nominated journeymen. Despite his lengthy title reign, Yuri managed to fight men who were held to belong in the top ten just twice as champion.

Less than a year after the lineal title and Arbakachov were parted, it would be wrapped around the waist of a youngster named Manny Pacquiao, who had crushed Chatchai Sasakul in eight who had in turn outpointed Arbachakov. From the madness of the alphabet soup to the emergence of one of the greatest fighters of our time, the story of the flyweight lineal championship is the story of modern boxing untrampled by titular uncertainty. The history of the championship, of the divisional king, can be traced back to a time when Muhammad Ali ruled the world and so a fistic tendril connects Ali, a hero to his people, to Pacquiao, a hero to his. Pacquiao nearly ruined it all though.  Manny missed weight for his 1999 match with Boonsai Sangsurat and had he won that fight, the title would have been vacated as he departed the weight forever, but fortunately, a weight-drained mess, he was crushed in three rounds.

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam then, when he lifted the title in 2001, became the latest great to trace his lineage back to Canto. Wonjongkam’s reign was as modern as can be imagined, dictated thoroughly by ABCs, fought almost exclusively in his backyard, and despite amassing an astonishing twenty title defences in two spells as king, his win resume underwhelms. A list of the worst ever lineal title challengers would draw heavily from Wonjongkam’s opposition.

Wonjongkam made way for Sonny Boy Jaro of The Philippines who made way for Toshiyuki Igarashi and Akira Yaegashi, both of Japan, underlining what has always been the most international of championships. And finally, at the end of the longest road in modern boxing, the title was lain at the feet of a great fighter from Nicaragua, the wonderful Roman Gonzalez.

Roman Gonzalez was my favourite fighters for years, I watched his boxing obsessively. More than a decade ago, I wrote an article predicting his eventual enshrinement as a pound-for-pound number one and his likely vanquishment by a southpaw, even going so far as to predict this would occur up at 115lbs, all of which came true. But it cut me when he stepped aside in 2016, the lineage that had begun with Canto destroyed, a lineage that had run through four different abdications and coronations at 160lbs, that ran all the way back to the last golden age of the flyweight division.

From the ashes, finally, a phoenix menaces. Far from stipulated, certainly not sure, but stirring. On Saturday night, Ukrainian Artem Dalakian (pictured) came to London to meet David Jimenez on the undercard of the Artur Beterbiev-Anthony Yarde fight. Dalakian-Jimenez is one of those rare and wonderful fights British and American fans are sometimes treated to, elite combat athletes who struggle to secure rewarding purses fighting low on a card which a just sport might see them headline. Jimenez, the challenger for Dalakian’s strap, refutes befuddlement with aggression, boxable but brutal, left floundering early in the biggest fight of his career against Ricardo Sandoval only to button up and fire forwards, hard-scrabbling enough rounds to conquer his more cultured foe. This would be his approach, too, against Dalakian. Dalakian is a fighter of no small culture whose activity suffered during those COVID months but with a legacy that stretches back to the last generation of top flyweights and a victory over Brian Viloria. Having boxed just twenty rounds in three years he was now bringing an unfortunate mix of rust and, at thirty-five years old, age.

Nevertheless, for me he dominated Jimenez. The younger man was reasonably quick-handed and tried to remain ambitious in his rushes, but Dalakian was never less than the cleaner puncher and rested on a steeper bank of experience that saw him nullify his more aggressive foe inside while consistently out-scoring him outside. It was a thoroughly impressive performance that confirmed Dalakian’s remaining superiority over most of the rest of the division. Jimenez, in just his thirteenth fight, had established himself firmly in the divisional top five and likely has a future at 112lbs if he wants it. This was a crossroads fight only in the sense that it tested the last generation with the new, and the new was found wanting.

This victory, a unanimous decision over twelve, was a significant one for Dalakian, however. For me, it establishes him as the number one flyweight in the world but at worst he is the number two. The man with whom he shares the top table is one Sunny Edwards, a London boy and very much the division’s coming man. Edwards has boxed nearly as many contests in the upper echelons of the division as Dalakian, and Dalakian’s victory over Viloria aside, Edwards probably has the most meaningful victory of the two having defeated the ageing Moruti Mthalane in early 2021. The recency of his important victories is the source of the tension concerning the number one divisional flyweight currently.

Sunny

Sunny Edwards

The hope is the two will settle this in the ring.

While it is not unusual for a fighter to arrive from foreign shores and never be seen in a British ring again, it is more often the case that they arrive with targeted opposition when they are boxing at title level, and from Dick Tiger to Zolani Tete, Britain welcomes foreign winners with open arms. It is likely that Dalakian has been brought to Britain to tease a fight with the only man in the division that might be seen as his better and in the only fight either man could hope to box and be similarly enriched. Some promotional tensions exist, but what would be unusual money for a flyweight contest might tip the scales.

And if they settle it in the ring, as the number one and number two flyweight contenders, they will start a new lineage, a new passage of the flyweight title. More than that, the fight would be a fascinating and evenly matched contest between Dalakian, a technician who will likely be forced to box with pressure as a result of his physical limitations and Edwards, a quick-footed slickster who will nevertheless have to commit to outworking maybe the only fighter in the division with superior straight punches. That is not to say that Mexican Julio Cesar Martinez will be excluded – clearly the division’s number three, he may yet have a say.

But if a new and meaningful lineage is to begin it is Dalakian and Edwards, the two best flyweights on the planet, who must seed it.

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Emanuel Navarrete Aims to Become Champion in a Third Weight Class on Friday

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Champion in both the super bantamweight and featherweight categories, the strong Mexican puncher Emanuel Navarrete will try to be champion at 130 pounds on Friday, February 3, when he faces Australian Liam Wilson at the Desert Diamond Arena in the city of Glendale, Arizona. ESPN will be broadcasting the fight.

For Navarrete (36-1, 30 KOs), who has a 31-fight winning streak since his one and only setback in July 2012, the duel with Wilson will be his debut into the super featherweight division.

Navarrete, 28 years old and born in San Juan Zitlaltepec, defeated his countryman Eduardo Báez with a sixth-round knockout last July in San Diego, California, where the winner made his third successful defense of the WBO featherweight title.

Subsequently, Navarrete decided to seek the WBO championship at 130 pounds which had been vacated after the talented American southpaw Shakur Stevenson (19-0, 9 KOs) was unable to make weight on the scale before unanimously defeating Brazilian Robson Conceicao on September 23rd in New Jersey.

The WBO accepted Navarrete’s request to fight for the vacant title and opened the doors to fellow Aztec Oscar Valdez (30-1, 23 KOs), ranked second by the WBO and third by the WBC.

But in December, Valdez’s camp announced that he was withdrawing from the fight after undergoing a medical evaluation. Australian Liam Wilson (11-1, 7 KOs), ranked third by the WBO, was designated to take Valdez’s place.

A confident Navarrete stated: “This is my opportunity to become a three-division world champion. I am going for that crown. Liam Wilson is a good fighter, but this is my moment, and everyone will see a much more complete ‘Vaquero’ Navarrete that has a lot of thirst for victory. My ideal weight is 130 pounds, and that will be demonstrated on February 3rd when I become world champion for Mexico and San Juan Zitlaltepec. Wilson will not get in the way of my dream.”

Navarrete began his string of 31 wins after losing in four rounds against his compatriot Daniel Argueta on July 26, 2012, at the José Cuervo Hall in the finals of the XVIII Gold Belt Tournament. Despite the setback, Navarrete was the one declared champion of the contest, as Argueta failed to show up for the mandatory weigh-in.

Although he is on the verge of conquering his third championship in a third weight division, Navarrete has not defined what his immediate steps will be.

“Let’s see how things evolve,” Navarrete said. “We will see how I feel (at 130 pounds), and then make the right decision. It all depends on how I perform in February and analyze the result. How my body assimilates to the new weight class and things like that.”

Likewise, Navarrete confirmed that he was having difficulty making 126 pounds and that during his career in both the super bantamweight and featherweight divisions he had tried to unify the titles with the other champions without success.

“You know that I have been seeking unification fights in other weight classes,” stated Navarrete. “That is what I want, and what I’m looking for. I hope I can unify in this weight class (130 pounds). But first I hope to win against Wilson, and then we will decide.”

When analyzing his possibilities in the super featherweight division, Navarrete said that he has a tall stature which can benefit him. In the same sense, he considered that now at 130 pounds he will not have to wear himself out to make weight so he will be strong.

Wilson, 26 years old, won the vacant WBO International belt against Argentine Adrián Rueda (37-2, 32 KOs) on June 29th of last year in Brisbane, Australia. Wilson’s lone loss came from Filipino southpaw Joe Noynai (20-3-2, 8 KOs), who knocked him down once in the 1st round, twice in the 4th round, and again in the fifth round on July 7, 2021, in Newcastle, Australia, before referee Phil Austin stopped the lopsided match.

Wilson, however, got even eight months later in a rematch where he chloroformed Rueda in the second round and regained the WBO Asia-Pacific title.

For his upcoming fight, Wilson has set up a seven-week training camp in Washington DC at Headbangers Boxing Gym where Isaac Dogboe trains. Dogboe has fought Navarrete twice and can hopefully provide some valuable insight. “I’m only going off YouTube footage, so to get the advice off Isaac and his trainer over here, they’ve been in the corner against him, they’ve seen him in person, up close, so I have to take their advice onboard,” Wilson added.

Wilson is confident going into this fight, even though he has less professional experience. “He’s been in these fights so many times before. This is my first 12-rounder,” Wilson said. “In a sense, he has every reason to overlook me – I’ve only been in 10 rounders, he’s been 12 rounds multiple times, he’s a two-division world champion and for him it’s just another fight, for me it’s what I’ve dreamed of. I think I’ll be the bigger, stronger fighter. I believe I’ll be the biggest puncher he’s fought.”

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Álvarez in Spanish.

Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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