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Ajagba vs. Joyce: A Heavyweight SuperFight on Track for 2021

Bernard Fernandez

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Ajagba vs. Joyce: A Heavyweight SuperFight on Track for 2021

Every successful speculator, from P.T. Barnum to Bill Gates to Mark Zuckerberg to today’s pitchers of products on Madison Avenue, know that the secret to making a really big score in the marketplace is to know what the public will want before people realize they want it. Consumers at various times were subconsciously primed to buy heavily into traveling circuses, personal computers, social media innovations and frozen pork-belly futures because swayers of mass opinion predicted it would be so, and then took the necessary steps to turn their vision into reality. Not that every smart guy’s wager on what will be pans out, which is why some unfortunate executive at the Ford Motor Company wrongly gambled that highways in the late 1950s would soon be traveled by happy owners of new Edsels.

And so it is with boxing, particularly heavyweight boxing, where fortunes can be won or lost on the unhindered development of relatively little-known, at least for now, big men who might, if sufficiently talented, reasonably charismatic and properly handled, blossom into the next Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson.

Pugilistic visionaries willing to go on the record are Richard Schaefer and Shelly Finkel, men with established track records for coming up with massive winners in the ring and at the box office. Each has a major stake in a different developmental project, undefeated fighters who will be appearing in separate bouts next month. If both prospects take another impressive step forward, expect the hype machines only now beginning to herald their potential superstardom to be cranked up a bit higher.

Are you, Mr. Average Fight Fan, ready to turn your heart and contents of your wallet over to a pairing of England’s Joe “Juggernaut” Joyce and Nigeria’s Efe Ajagba sometime in 2021, or thereabouts? You say you’re not quite sure? Well, maybe you should pay closer attention to what goes down when Joyce (9-0, 9 KOs) squares off against former world title challenger Bryant Jennings (24-3, 14 KOs on July 13 in the 12-round main event in London, and Ajagba (10-0, 9 KOs) swaps punches with Ali Eren Demirezen (11-0, 10 KOs) on July 20 in a 10-rounder at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand, on the undercard of a show headlined by  WBA welterweight champion Keith Thurman’s defense against living legend Manny Pacquiao.

Because Joyce, the super heavyweight silver medalist at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, is 33 years of age and Ajagba just 25, Schaefer, the former CEO of Golden Boy Promotions who now heads up Ringstar  Sports, said his guy’s march toward high-visibility and big-bucks fights of necessity must be at an accelerated pace.

“When Joe signed with me he was 31,” Schaefer noted. “He’s 33 now, so he has to be fast-tracked. He made it clear that he didn’t want to be babied and, like (Vasiliy) Lomachenko, doesn’t want to fight 20 times before he fights someone who is ranked.”

So why the delay in Joyce, who is 6-foot-6 and was 261 pounds for his most recent ring appearance, a third-round stoppage of Russian veteran Alexander Ustinov on May 18, in turning pro?

“His dream was to go to the Olympics and represent the United Kingdom, but the super heavyweight qualification pool in England (for the 2012 London Games) was very deep, and Anthony Joshua filled that slot and won the gold medal,” Schaefer explained. “Joe had to wait another four years, and he went to Rio and got the silver medal. A lot of people thought he beat (France’s) Tony Yoka in the final and should have won the gold. In any case, his new goal is to become heavyweight champion of the world.

“If he beats Jennings he is in line to fight for the WBA `regular’ heavyweight title against the winner of (Manuel) Charr and (Trevor) Bryan.  The mere fact that his next fight is against an experienced contender like Jennings shows he is not afraid to step up and expects to continue to pass all tests with flying colors.”

Schaefer dares to compare Joyce to another ponderous puncher not known for swiftness of hand or foot.

“Some say Joe is very slow, and I wouldn’t disagree with that,” he conceded. “He is slow. But he’s big, very strong and he has an unbelievable chin, an iron chin. It’s going to take a missile to put this guy down. He reminds me of George Foreman. People said George was slow, but he was a terrific puncher and he also had a great chin.”

Ajagba’s main claim to fame to date is a bout that was scheduled to have taken place on Aug. 24 of last year, against journeyman Curtis Harper in Minneapolis, Minn. Harper (13-6, 9 KOs) left the ring and headed to his dressing room as the chiseled, 6-foot-5, 240-pound Ajagba made his way toward it, leading to claims that Harper had bolted in fear of taking an inevitable beatdown. Although Harper has insisted his retreat owed to unhappiness over the purse he was to have received, the legend of Ajagba as a Listonesque or Tysonesque intimidator – someone whose mere scowl can turn opponents into quivering mounds of jelly – has taken on a life of its own.

Finkel, who has managed such megastars as Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, and currently has a managerial role with WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, has high hopes that Ajagba will become as key a player in the big-man division as the aforementioned greats, and sooner rather than later.

ajagba mansour fight 10

“It’s early, but he has all the skills,” Finkel said of Ajagba, who is based in Stafford, Texas. “He trains all the time with Ronnie (Shields), which is a blessing, and he punches as hard as anyone, ever. Time will tell, but there’s no limit on how good he could become.”

Schaefer said there is ample reason for fight fans to begin looking ahead to a possible showdown of Joyce and Ajagba, if only because of the individuals who are backing them.

“Efe is with Shelly Finkel, Joe is with me,” he said. “I think Shelly and I have shown we have a great eye for talent, particularly with heavyweights. Shelly was telling me this is the most excited he’s been since he had Tyson.”

There are uncommonly deep eras for heavyweight boxing, sometimes followed by periods where lesser fighters are elevated to a status they could not have imagined a few years earlier. The talent-rich era that spanned the careers of Ali, Foreman and Joe Frazier, which also teemed with such gifted non-titlists as Jerry Quarry, Ron Lyle and Earnie Shavers, was followed by a more fallow period in which various alphabet belts were passed around by the likes of Mike Weaver, Pinklon Thomas, Tony Tubbs, Trevor Berbick and James “Bonecrusher” Smith. Larry Holmes, Ken Norton and Michael Spinks, all legitimately terrific, served as a bridge between the Ali/Frazier/Foreman glory days and the next golden age, when Tyson, Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, and Riddick Bowe helped to resuscitate big-man boxing.

It remains to be seen whether the present crop of top-tier heavyweights, headed by the presumed Big Four of Wilder, Tyson Fury, Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua, is eventually held in the same esteem as the Ali/Frazier/Foreman and Tyson/Holyfield/Lewis/Bowe elite groups. Maybe that will be the case, and maybe not. There is still much evidence to be provided that would serve to buttress either argument.

In 2021, when their promoters foresee Joyce and Ajagba crowding their way to the front of the line, will they find that one or more members of the current Big Four are still blocking their path? Might Wilder and Ajagba square off in a megafight in which Shelly Finkel is the only guaranteed winner?

There is always turnover, today yielding to tomorrow. Schaefer and Finkel agree that a bright new age of heavyweights is just beyond the horizon, boxing’s equivalent of baseball players who soon will make the jump from Triple-A to the majors and dominate when they get there.

In addition to Joyce and Ajagba, heavyweights who in time might take the place of more familiar names in the ratings include Yoka (5-0, 4 KOs), the 2016 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist from France; Filip Hrgovic (8-0, 6 KOs), a bronze medalist from Croatia at that Olympiad, and possibly the winner of the all-British matchup of Nathan Gorman (16-0, 11 KOs) and Daniel Dubois (11-0, 10 KOs), who vie for the vacant BBB of C title on July 13 in London.

“The next generation not only is going to be knocking on the door in the not-too-distant future, they’re going to kick down the door,” predicted Schaefer.

It should be remembered, however, that even those who would seem to have inside information are not always correct. In the Aug. 13, 1992, edition of the Philadelphia Daily News, I polled nine experts – past or future heavyweight champions Larry Holmes, George Foreman, Michael Spinks, Tim Witherspoon, Ernie Terrell and Tommy Morrison, onetime contenders Earnie Shavers and Marvis Frazier and legendary trainer Angelo Dundee – as to who would be the last man standing from a group that included Holyfield, Lewis, Bowe and Razor Ruddock. Tyson was then incarcerated on a rape conviction, and a sort of unofficial tournament was about to commence in which Lewis would mix it up with Ruddock on Oct. 31, 1992, in London and Holyfield, who had won the WBA/IBF/WBC titles by knocking out Tyson conquerer Buster Douglas, would defend against Bowe on Nov. 13, 1992, in Las Vegas.

The tally favored Ruddock, who received votes from Holmes, Witherspoon, Terrell, Shavers and Morrison. Bowe was the pick of Marvis Frazier and Dundee, Lewis got a single vote from Spinks. Holyfield was blanked, and Foreman, who picked winners of the two “semifinal” bouts, abstained from making a selection for the final on the basis that he would want to fight the survivor himself.

Said Shavers: “Ruddock is a real big puncher, and you know I’m partial to big punchers. You can never count a big puncher out. He’s got a chance to end things with one good shot right up to the last bell.” That view was seconded by Terrell, who opined that “Ruddock is too much of a puncher for Holyfield (in the final). Nobody can take Ruddock’s punch.”

Almost 27 years after I authored that story, this is what we know: Holyfield, Lewis and Bowe are enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Razor Ruddock is not.

Proving, as if we didn’t know it already, that nobody knows with any degree of certainty how the future will play out.

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When Muhammad Ali and Gerald Ford Met

Thomas Hauser

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When Muhammad Ali and Gerald Ford Met

On June 25, 2019 – one day after the United States Women’s National Team advanced to the quarter-finals of the World Cup – Eight by Eight magazine posted a video clip from an interview conducted in May in which Megan Rapinoe was asked, “Are you excited about going to the White House?”

Rapinoe is white and openly gay. She’s also the heart and soul of the United States Women’s National Team. On multiple occasions, she has followed Colin Kaepernick’s lead and declined to stand for the playing of the National Anthem.

“I’m not going to the f****** White House,” Rapinoe responded. “No, I’m not going to the White House.” Then, taking note of Donald Trump’s proclivities, she added, “We’re not going to be invited.”

The following day, Trump responded with a three-part tweet that read, “Women’s soccer player, @mPinoe, just stated that she is ‘not going to the F…ing White House if we win.’ Other than the NBA, which now refuses to call owners, owners (please explain that I just got Criminal Justice Reform passed, Black unemployment is at the lowest level in our Country’s history, and the poverty index is also best number EVER), leagues and teams love coming to the White House. I am a big fan of the American Team, and Women’s Soccer, but Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job! We haven’t yet invited Megan or the team, but I am now inviting the TEAM, win or lose. Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team. Be proud of the Flag that you wear. The USA is doing GREAT!”

Despite Trump’s tweet, no invitation to visit the White House was extended to the team after it won the World Cup. More recently, on July 14, Trump further inflamed passions with the following tweet that attacked four women of color who represent Congressional districts in different states.

“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly. and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough.”

It was a typical Donald Trump assault – vicious and inaccurate. Three of the four women he attacked were born in the United States. But facts and truth have long been irrelevant to this president.

Trump’s conflict with Megan Rapinoe brings back memories of a conversation I had with Gerald Ford in 1989 when I was researching a biography entitled Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times.

Ali was once one of the most reviled men in the America. He had accepted the teachings of a black separatist religion known as the Nation of Islam. Then, at the height of the war in Vietnam, he refused induction into the United States Army after uttering the immortal words, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.” He was stripped of his championship, precluded from boxing for more than three years, and faced five years in prison before his criminal conviction was overturned by the United States Supreme Court. Through it all, Ali persevered. On October 30, 1974, he dethroned George Foreman to reclaim the heavyweight championship of the world.

Then came an occasion that would have been unthinkable if today’s race-baiting president had been in office. On December 10, 1974, at the invitation of Gerald Ford, Muhammad Ali visited the White House.

“When I took office,” Ford told me thirty years ago, “we as a nation were pretty much torn apart. There were conflicts between families, in colleges, and on the streets. We’d gone through some serious race problems. The Vietnam War had heightened differences. And of course, there was the heritage of Watergate. One of the major challenges my administration faced was how we could heal the country. Not that everybody had to agree, but at least we should lower our voices and listen to one another. I think that, during the two-and-a-half years I was president, we did that. And having Muhammad Ali come to the Oval Office was part of our overall effort. I felt it was important to reach out and indicate individually as well as collectively that we could have honest differences without bitterness. So I wanted to meet Muhammad, not only because of my interest in sports, but because it was part of my overall effort to heal the wounds of racial division, Vietnam, and Watergate.”

How did the meeting go?

“I recall it quite well,” Ford reminisced. “I’ve always been interested in boxing. It goes back to my youth, when I can recall very vaguely Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney and then, later, Joe Louis. And I’ve always been a sports enthusiast. I always liked to meet the best in any part of the sporting world, and certainly Muhammad Ali was representative of that group. His visit was an enjoyable time for me. Muhammad never lacked for words, and it was a real pleasure to chat with him. We talked about some of his successes and my interest in sports. I’ve always respected what he accomplished in boxing. And he was a man of principle. I know there were some who thought he evaded his military responsibility, but I’ve never questioned anybody’s dedication to whatever religion they believe in. I give people the maximum benefit of the doubt when they take a stand predicated on conscience. That’s always been my philosophy, so I never joined the critics who complained about what he did and didn’t do during the Vietnam War. I accepted his decision.”

It’s sad how times have changed.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing  – will be published this autumn 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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Tureano Johnson Stops Ireland’s Jason Quigley at Fantasy Springs

David A. Avila

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INDIO, Calif.-Tureano Johnson bulled his way to victory over Ireland’s Jason Quigley to hand the middleweight his first loss and take the NABF middleweight title away by knockout on Thursday evening.

It was a battle of two middleweight contenders on the cusp of challenging for a world title soon.

Bahamian fighter Johnson (21-2-1, 15 KOs) showed a crowd at Fantasy Springs Casino accustomed to seeing Quigley (16-1, 12 KOs) win, but instead they saw him suffer his first defeat. It’s back to Ireland.

At one time Johnson was nearly selected to fight for a world title against Gennady “GGG” Golovkin or David Lemieux, but he was derailed first by Curtis Stevens and then Sergiy Derevyanchenko. He knew exactly what this fight meant to his career.

Quigley had trained for several years in Southern California, but more than a year ago he decided to return closer to home in the United Kingdom. But fighting at Fantasy Springs Casino is familiar territory for the Irish boxer. He had previously performed at the casino in Indio six previous times.

Number seven was not so lucky.

Quigley started off quickly by using a stiff jab and stiff rights while pivoting left or right against the rushes of Johnson. For the first two rounds he was on point and won the two rounds.

The third round saw Johnson amp up the pressure and switch to a southpaw stance. He pummeled Quigley who was stuck along the ropes. The next round was even worse for Quigley as Johnson connected with a body shot that seemed to drain Quigley of any color. His hands went down and Johnson worked with uppercuts and slick counters. The momentum had dramatically shifted to Johnson.

It was all Johnson from that point on as he dominated Quigley on the inside. The Irish fighter seemed drained of blood and could hardly fire a punch with any energy. It became clear that Quigley had no more strength to fend off the attacks of Johnson. Though he was battered the rest of the way he never succumbed to the tremendous uppercuts and right hands. At the end of the ninth round referee Eddie Hernandez consulted with the ringside physician and declared the fight over. Johnson was the winner by knockout.

“I come inside this ring with so much on my back. That struggle is behind me now. I come ready for this boy, he got heart. I threw the kitchen sink on him and he don’t quit,” said Johnson after the win. “I’m here to be a world champion. I want a Canelo, I want a Daniel Jacobs, I want them all.”

NABA Super Bantamweight Fight

A battle between Mexican and Argentine warriors saw Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez (16-2, 9 KOs) outslug the former Argentine Olympian Alberto Melian (5-1, 3 KOs) to take the NABA super bantamweight title by unanimous decision.

Baez started quickly with an aggressive pounding attack that didn’t allow Melian to gain traction. By the time the Argentine fighter figured out what to do it was far too late. After 10 rounds all three judges saw it 97-93 for Baez. Both fighters showed tremendous ability to absorb big blows.

The win gives Baez a foothold on a possible showdown against WBA world titlist Danny Roman.

Marlen

NABO female flyweight titlist Marlen Esparza showed Mexico’s Sonia Osorio she was the quicker fighter by simply beating her to the punch for the first six rounds. In the last two frames Osorio seemed to catch up with Esparza’s speed and began timing the incoming blows. Still, it wasn’t enough to take the regional title away as all three judges scored in favor of Esparza 79-73 twice and 78-74. There were no knockdowns in the fight that saw the former Olympian score repeatedly with right hands.

“I think I did alright,” said Esparza. “I didn’t like that she kept putting her head in my chest. The ref didn’t call it but at least he was letting us fight. I eventually found my timing and started catching her with the right hand”

It was Esparza’s second fight this year after spending a year off for marriage and giving birth.

Other Bouts

A flyweight fight saw two knockdowns with the first two blows fired by Rialto, Calif.’s Ricardo Sandoval (16-1, 11 KOs) who then was dropped himself by Oceanside, Calif.’s Marco Sustaita (12-2-1, 10 KOs) all in the first round.

In the second round Sustaita floored Sandoval again with a counter left hook that evened the fight on the score cards. But after that knockdown Sandoval took over by using jabs and movement. He won every subsequent round.

Sandoval boxed and moved and kept Sustaita off balance. And when it was advantageous Sandoval caught his opponent with right leads and uppercuts. It was a lead right that wobbled Sustaita in the fifth round and Sandoval jumped on the opportunity to close out the fight with six more solid blows. Referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:16 of the fifth round to give Sandoval the WBC Youth Intercontinental title by knockout.

Carlos Morales (19-4-3, 8 KOs) didn’t waste time in showing his boxing superiority over Philippine southpaw Rosekie Cristobal (15-5, 11 KOs) and winning by knockout in the lightweight clash. Morales took advantage of Cristobal’s wide lefts and rights and shot a counter right down the middle to knock down the Filipino in the second round. Cristobal got up but was hit with a three-punch combination and sent back down with a thud. Referee Rudy Barragan counted the Filipino fighter out giving Morales the win by knockout at 1:08 of the second round.

Paramount’s Charles Huerta (21-6, 12 KOs)) was cruising along when either a punch or head butt bloodied his nose and Recky Dulay (11-6, 8 KOs) took advantage in the last three rounds. But it was a little too late as Huerta had used a stiff jab and right uppercuts to mount a big lead. After eight rounds in a lightweight bout the judges scored it 78-74 twice and 77-75 for Huerta.

Coachella’s Anthony Reyes (7-0, 4 KOs) clashed heads with Washington’s Gilberto Duran (3-4, 3 KOs) but it didn’t slow him down from flooring the Yakima super bantamweight in the first round with a left hook. Duran survived the first knockdown but Reyes opened up with a furious attack including a three-punch combination that sunk Duran again for good. Referee Raul Caiz Jr. stopped the fight at 2:10 of the first round giving Reyes the win by knockout.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Trey Lippe-Morrison Poised to Rejoin the Ranks of Hot Heavyweight Prospects

Arne K. Lang

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Ask a knowledgeable boxing enthusiast to name the top heavyweight prospects and the names of Daniel Dubois, Efe Ajagba, and Filip Hrgovic are likely to fall off his lips. It’s doubtful he would name Trey Lippe-Morrison but Lippe-Morrison was in that conversation before he fell off the radar screen.

The buzz about Lippe-Morrison was initially all about genetics. He bears an uncanny resemblance to his late father, Tommy “The Duke” Morrison. Tommy the Duke, who died in 2013 at age 44, was an exciting fighter with a fearsome left hook who could fight a smart, tactical fight when the situation warranted as he showed in his 1993 match with ageless George Foreman.

Lippe-Morrison is out to prove that he’s something more than a sideshow and he has certainly taken care of business. Last night in San Jose, Costa Rica, carrying 230 pounds on his six-foot-three frame, Trey scored his 16th knockout in as many tries with a sixth-round stoppage of Venezuela’s Pedro Martinez.

Trey is managed by Tony Holden, the former Director of Boxing at the Buffalo Run Casino and a longtime boxing facilitator in Oklahoma. Holden nurtured Tommy Morrison into a world class fighter and believes that Trey has the potential to be just as good.

“It’s unbelievable how he resembles his father (in the ring),” Holden told a reporter for the Joplin Globe as Trey was preparing for his pro debut. “He cracks like his father, meaning he’s a big puncher. When I first saw him after two months of work, I was blown away.”

In reality, Trey looked very amateurish in his early pro fights. That was understandable as he had no amateur background whatsoever. He did not consider a career in boxing until he had used up his eligibility at Central Arkansas University where he was a member of the football team.

Holden shipped him off to Freddie Roach’s famous Wild Card gym to smooth out the wrinkles. The results were encouraging. Lippe-Morrison was never better than in his fight with Pittsburgh’s previously undefeated (13-0) Ed Latimore who was wacked out in the opening round.

That fight was back in September of 2016 and Trey has had only four fights in the interim. He missed all of 2017 with assorted injuries including a deep gash over his left eye sustained while sparring. He was slated to fight on a Top Rank/ESPN card in Oklahoma City in November of last year but had to pull out with a foot ailment.

Prior to last night’s fight, Lippe-Morrison had answered the bell for only 25 rounds. He was extended into the sixth by Martinez, an unsung 35-year-old fighter with a 10-1 record against no-name opponents who had been a pro for only four years. As the bout wore on, Trey appeared content to wear Martinez down with body punches. When Martinez dropped his gloves after absorbing a hard body shot in the opening minute of round six, the ref waved it off.

Although Lippe-Morrison remains a work in progress, it’s past time for Holden to crank up his level of competition. Writing in July of last year, Tulsa World reporter Bill Halston likened the mass of Trey’s former opponents to the Savannah State football team of 2012 that played Oklahoma State, losing 84-0. But Trey remains an intriguing prospect and if he really can crack like his late father he may well make big waves in boxing’s glamour division.

—-

The Lippe-Morrison fight was on the undercard of a 4-bout DiBella Entertainment promotion featuring Hannah Gabriels. Perhaps Costa Rica’s most famous sports personality, Gabriels (20-2-1), a three-time, two-division title-holder, successfully defended her WBA female 154-pound title with a 10-round unanimous decision over Argentina’s previously undefeated Abril Vidal, now 8-1. The scores were 96-94 and 97-93 twice.

Also, Houston junior welterweight O’Shaquie Foster improved to 16-2 (11) with an eighth-round stoppage of Peru’s Jesus Bravo (19-2-1). It was the sixth straight win for Foster, the subject of a recent profile in these pages.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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