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Where Will Boxing Be 10 Years from Today? A New TSS Quarterly Survey

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The question for the third quarterly survey of 2019 was “Where do you see the sport/business of boxing 10 years from now?”

Thirty-six noted boxing buffs shared their thoughts. The respondents are listed alphabetically.

RUSS ANBER — trainer, elite cornerman, and owner of Rival Boxing Equipment: Around 1935, as Joe Louis was on his way to being a star, newspapers of the day and media in general, begged the question, “Can Louis save a dying sport?” Boxing is, and always has been cyclical. The success and popularity of boxing has ALWAYS depended on which fighter is carrying the sport. The success, popularity and visibility of the sport has always rested on the shoulders of its biggest stars. Seek out the greatest fighters of any era and you will find an era filled with promise and popularity. Robinson, Louis, Marciano, Ali, Leonard, Tyson are just a few examples. If 2029 blesses us with a fighter who captures the sport’s attention and imagination, we will experience another great time in boxing. If not, we will love it and wait till the next star comes along. Like we always do!

MATT ANDRZEJEWSKI — TSS writer: Boxing will be thriving in 2029 but the landscape will be much different from today. For one, the sanctioning bodies we see today won’t exist. They will finally have been pushed out of the sport after more outlandish acts and replaced by one central ratings system comprised of a panel of experts. And I think we see one dedicated boxing streaming network that broadcasts the sport 24/7, showing thousands of live events each year. The bigger fights will still find their way to traditional outlets (ESPN, etc) while the rest of the sport is covered through this one dedicated streaming outlet.

DAVID AVILA — TSS West Coast Bureau Chief: It’s one of the most pivotal and mysterious moments in boxing history right now. The introduction of streaming and the departure of HBO’s interest in the sport has opened the door to either a massive explosion of growth or an implosion that could send boxing spinning without a foundation.

BOB BENOIT — former pro boxer and now professional referee: it will be going down the drain.

STEVE CANTON — the face of boxing in South Florida: I see things about the same but becoming a little less relevant in the U.S. and more popular on a world-wide basis. As our state commissions continue to over-regulate our sport and make it more expensive and harder to promote events, we will have fewer and fewer shows. As new training techniques and procedures continue to cause boxers to become less proficient in the science of boxing, it might make for semi-exciting bouts with unskilled boxers wailing away on each other. The great teachers have or are dying off and the good athletes today are competing with athletic skills but not boxing skills.

ANTHONY CARDINALE, esq. — longtime legal advisor to many boxers: Thriving, if all title holders were mandatory challengers for other organization’s title holders in a playoff style tournament like the WSB format.

JILL DIAMOND — WBC International Secretary and chairperson and global ambassador for “WBC Cares”: Boxing is a traditional sport. It has gotten safer (and thank the WBC for this), but little else has changed. What has changed are the delivery systems and the subsequent plus and minus issues that result. My hope is that we have unified champions, more validation for the women, and greater opportunities for the boxers, based on ability rather than deal making.

CHARLIE DWYER — former fighter and professional referee: Boxing will continue for better or worse.

BERNARD FERNANDEZTSS mainstay and lifetime Member of the BWAA: With the introduction of DAZN and ESPN+, you have to wonder how much further technology — the means by which we see the fights — can go. Will there be more such ways of bringing the action to viewers? Better, to my way of thinking, of getting the various streaming systems, more standard (as of now) television outlets and promotional concerns and to find a way to play nice and put on the very best fights instead of erecting more barriers to hinder such matchups. Also, the various alphabet organizations need to curb their insatiable appetite for creating more extraneous and unnecessary awards and titles, such as the WBCs new “franchise” championship for Canelo Alvarez. You’d think they were spending money faster than U.S. politicians, which would be a pretty neat trick. Actually, the alphabet groups are more about generating money, for themselves, than spending it. They want FANS to spend it.

LEE GROVES — writer, author, and wizard of CompuBox: Streaming services will make up the vast majority of boxing telecasts, and, with the introduction of the WBC’s “Franchise Champion” belt in addition to the subordinate titles created by the other sanctioning bodies, initiate unprecedented business for those companies charged with making those belts. Hopefully, the fighters and the fights will continue to serve as the solid foundation that has, to this point, kept the sport’s chaotic administrative and political side from sinking it.

HENRY HASCUP — historian; President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame: Hopefully I am wrong but I see the BIG getting BIGGER and the SMALL getting SMALLER or even worse in 10 years. Meaning the big promoters will run out the small guys and that is terrible because boxing needs the little guy to develop the fighters that don’t have the Big backing of the Big guys!

CHUCK HASSON — noted boxing historian and co-author of Philadelphia’s Boxing Heritage: I think 10 years from now things in boxing will be pretty much like now, going through peaks and valleys like it always has with good exciting fights plus lousy promoters who focus on building their fighters and don’t worry about making good fights for the fans.

JACK HIRSCH — former President and now life time member of the BWAA: Great question and one that is hard to predict. My feeling is that with the advanced technology boxing will continue to thrive, but of course it all depends on who the major players will be.

BRUCE KIELTY — booking agent; boxing historian: Unless the television networks (and streaming services, promoters, boxers, etc.) realize that the sanctioning body system isn’t working, boxing will continue to diminish about 1 or 2 % a year. Unlike sports run by professional executives/player representatives (MLB, NFL, NBA, etc.), boxing remains in the Stone Age.

STUART KIRSCHENBAUM — Boxing Commissioner Emeritus, Michigan: For boxing to be significant as a sport and no less a business ten years from now there needs to be an influx of participants. Without a skilled work force …that being boxers…the sport will fade away and be a footnote on a Google search. In Detroit…budget cuts closed the majority of these facilities such as Kronk. Aspiring trainers have tried to open up storefronts but the reality of paying rent and keeping the utilities turned on have become a challenge and a formula for closure in most cases. The young ethnic minority has always been the feeder to the success of boxing but too many quicker paths to financial success, whether legal or not, has changed things. I sadly predict the demise of boxing as we know it now. But then again, Floyd Mayweather Jr. will be making another comeback, so who knows?

JIM LAMPLEY — linchpin of the HBO announcing team for 31 years; 2015 IBHOF inductee: Just as has been the case for the past 128 years, boxing will arrive at its 138th birthday as a perpetually troubled, under-organized, constantly under-achieving but unusually thrilling and surprising public attraction. Its unique adventure as the most entrepreneurial of all sports will not yield to intelligent unification. The overwhelming bulk of its highest quality performers will remain largely anonymous compared to their peers in more conventional sports. Its putative competitor, MMA, will by then have a demonstrably larger audience and greater day to day impact.  But once or twice a year, as has always been the case, boxing will momentarily unify a global audience for a must-see event, and occasionally those events will produce incomparable and unforgettable drama. Unique drama, because at its best, Boxing is still the best.

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                           Boxing Will Never Die Because of its Fraternity—Anonymous

ARNE LANGTSS editor-in-chief, author, historian: Two quick thoughts: (1) Boxing is resilient; if you had a quarter for every time that someone wrote that boxing was on the ropes, you would have a big mound of quarters. (2) By some measures, boxing is healthier today than it has been in quite some time. Having said that, I don’t believe that boxing will ever have the pull that it once had among the English-speaking people of North America without more ethnic diversity….and that’s something that you shouldn’t wish for as it would likely mean that the economy had gone to pieces, enfeebling all economic groups.

JIMMY LANGE — former fighter (appeared on the “Contender” series) and promoter: Nowadays fighters want to be spectacular, but with no substance. It doesn’t work like that. To be great goes WAY beyond the 36 minutes under the lights. It’s a lifestyle. I don’t see hunger these days. I see kids, men, contenders, taking a second to readjust their headphones while they are shadow boxing. The powers that be will continue with the newest way to market and the newest mediums to get eyes on the product. The product will be fine. Venues will fill, viewers will tune in, and it will be lucrative for all. However, the product will continue to be diminished. The public doesn’t care, because they don’t know the difference.

RON LIPTONNJ Boxing Hall of Fame, former fighter, retired police officer, pro referee:  Boxing will flourish 10 years from now or a hundred years from now as it always has. There are ups and downs as in all sports but the inherent lure in our blood still resonates the electric excitement of a good fight. All you need to help it are great fights with top talent facing each other. If the rival promoters and the fighters are willing to make matches that the public wants, then boxing will always flourish. Dynamic buildups of the big punchers like Tyson, rugged solid fighters like Canelo, defensive brash talent like Mayweather, and the type of boxer who will fight anyone and bring in the fans like Ali did are all it takes. You have to have a guy who loves to fight, that is the main thing I know after all my years in professional boxing. We must preserve the fight teachers who can pass on what we know and then the ground remains fertile for more abounding talent to emerge.

ADEYINKA MAKINDEU.K. barrister, author and contributor to the Cambridge Companion to Boxing: I prefer to give an idealist’s vision rather than a pessimistic one. Therefore, I see boxing gravitating towards elimination competitions which put belts at stake with the objective being the unification of divisions: a best-case scenario assuming that the sanctioning bodies will not wither away. I also foresee rigorous Olympic-style testing for PEDs and same day weigh-ins. Time to begin a crusade for logos in boxing: a rejection of the persistent chaotic state of the sport and an insistence on sanity and a correct order of organizing the sport for the benefit of its participants and the fans.

SCOOP MALINOWSKI — boxing writer, author, Mr. “Biofile”:  In America I see it becoming WWF, certain designated manufactured stars who will be protected to maximize earnings. Mayweather, Canelo and next Wilder – the first three major protected counterfeit franchises. The other side of the matrix will be the real authentic unprotected champions – Loma, GGG, Usyk, Crawford, Pacquiao. Curious to see how the two matrix sides blend – or divide.

DAVID MARTINEZ — historian, www.dmboxing.com:  It will be like wrestling was back in the day before Vince McMahon brought in the WWE – promoters governing their own fighters, champions, territories!

LARRY MERCHANT – HBO boxing commentator emeritus; 2009 IBHOF inductee: I’m 88. Where do you think I’ll be in 10 years?

ROBERT MLANDINICH — former NYPD detective, author and boxing writer: I think it will be fine if the broadcast entities make it easier for technophobes to watch the fights. Many fans have no idea how to access DAZN or ESPN+. Also, if Andy Ruiz Jr. can string together a few good wins, he will help create a new legion of fans that could last for 10 years. He is such a breath of fresh air and a guy that casual fans can relate to.

ERNEST MORALES — former fighter: Honestly, being ‘old school’ I can’t see it getting any better, in fact WORSE. The game is being held HOSTAGE, in the hands for the millionaires: promoters, streaming outfits, managers. Fighters pick and choose who they won’t/will fight. Weight clauses, titles becoming worthless and actually thrown back in the faces of the ABC orgs because “champions” refuse to fight well deserved mandatory challengers. It isn’t going to get any better in ten years, nor twenty, unless the fans take a stand, which it seems they won’t.

CHARLIE NORKUSPresident, Ring 8, Veteran Boxers Association: On the surface, boxing looks to be a vibrant sports entity today. The heavyweight division alone has produced some intriguing match-ups lately with boxing fans filling the various houses. The business side looks promising too as the newcomer on the block, DAZN, has signed some talent for their pool. But the lower tier of local boxing cards has taken a hit. New rules in New York governing insurance for fighters has caused somewhat of a drop in the local card shows, but thankfully they still exist. I would like to think that 10 years from now fight cards won’t be so cost-prohibitive as to prevent them from showcasing the young talent in this area. Boxing has always been said to be on the ropes for one reason or another over its many eras, and I am sure it would still remain the status quo. The real threat just might be the surging MMA cards taking control over the remaining boxing crowd.

RUSSELL PELTZvenerable Philadelphia boxing promoter and 2004 IBHOF inductee: There will be more fighters with belts than without belts.

             If everyone wins a belt, then no one wins. – Anonymous

FRED ROMANO — boxing historian, author and former HBO Boxing consultant: For generations they have been saying that boxing is a dying sport. However, boxing is the Rasputin of sports. I expect it to continue to thrill fans throughout the world regardless of deficiencies in governing bodies, the existence of fractured titles and an ever- changing demographic and technological landscape.

LEE SAMUELS — Top Rank publicist emeritus; 2019 IBHOF inductee: Years ago we asked Bob Arum “will there always be fighters and great fights?” and he said, “absolutely: there will always be those who want to get into the ring and box and there will always be fans who want to see the big fights.”

TED SARES — TSS writer: Absolutely the same as Lee Groves, to wit: “Streaming services will make up the vast majority of boxing telecasts, and, with the introduction of the WBC’s “Franchise Champion” belt, in addition to the subordinate titles created by the other sanctioning bodies, initiate unprecedented business for those companies charged with making those belts.”

ICEMAN JOHN SCULLY — manager, trainer, commentator, writer, historian, former boxer: In 10 years from now the sanctioning bodies will have decimated the World Championships to the extent that nobody will know who the Champions are and even people in the boxing game such as myself won’t even care anymore.

MIKE SILVER — author, writer, historian: Boxing is in a transition stage and it does not bode well for the future. The demented circus that is professional boxing today will only get worse. Technology combined with a completely unregulated sport will make for even more confusion. Boxing will actually become even more dumbed-down than it is today. In 2029 every boxer who wins his first pro bout will be awarded some kind of title belt. So figure about 500 new champions per year. What is so absurd and disheartening is that the media and the clueless fans will still accept the garbage being thrown at them, just as they do now. You can see the handwriting on the wall with the announcement that Canelo has just been named the new “Franchise” champion by the WBC, for the sole purpose that he can now fight whoever he wants and remain champion until he is ready for an assisted living facility. This kind of outlandish corruption and stupidity is breathtaking. Why are we still paying attention to this crap? But a fight is a fight, right? So what the hell. Bottom line: It can’t get better.

MICHAEL STEWART — former professional fighter and “Contender” series contestant: I think fewer young people will go into the amateurs as there will be more options for them. This will impact boxing ten years from now in a somewhat negative way.

ALAN SWYER — filmmaker, writer, and producer of the acclaimed El Boxeo: My hope is that ten years from now boxing will be even more of a worldwide sport, with the heavyweight division strong again and the Olympics assuming the importance it had when it spawned the likes of Ali, Oscar, and Sugar Ray Leonard. My fear is that it will continue to accept its position as a niche sport not even covered by most major newspapers.

GARY “DIGITAL” WILLIAMSthe voice of “Boxing on the Beltway”: Boxing ten years from now may be in a little bit of trouble. The issues that AIBA is having with the International Olympic Committee may end up having a ripple effect when it comes to harvesting new talent. Fortunately, there should be established pro talent that may lead the way.

PETER WOOD — author, writer and former fighter: This is a good question. I hope this article will be dug up and read in the year 2029 — and that I’m one of those reading it…Boxing will be revered more than ever in the future. Why? Because the more elevated and sophisticated society becomes, the more it’s need will be to counterbalance itself with its primal origin.

Observations:

This time around, more ex-fighters responded and, like the others, there was a good dose of cynicism in their posts. A major complaint involved too many belts for too many titles with Canelo’s new WBC “Franchise Title” receiving particular scorn.

But there was a good deal of optimism as well. David Avila’s savvy response sounded a balanced warning, to wit: “The introduction of streaming and the departure of HBO’s interest in the sport has opened the door to either a massive explosion of growth or an implosion that could send boxing spinning without a foundation.”

Now it’s your turn: Where do you see Boxing ten years from now?

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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Who Murdered Peter Bufala? A ‘Whodunit’ with a Boxing Backdrop

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On Friday, Oct. 8, 1976, Peter Bufala returned home from work just as a new day was dawning. The Las Vegas baccarat dealer pulled his Cadillac into his circular driveway, exited his car, walked toward his front door, and was felled by two bullets from a 9 mm handgun, one entering his chest and the other his brain. A neighbor fetching his morning newspaper found him lying in a pool of blood on his front lawn. He was dead when the police arrived. He was 33 years old and left behind a wife and two young daughters.

A 12-year resident of the fast-growing southern Nevada gambling mecca, Bufala grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania, a blue collar suburb of Philadelphia. He had come here to rekindle his boxing career.

A Middle Atlantic amateur featherweight champion, he had begun his pro career on a high note, winning a 4-round decision over a fellow novice on a show at New York’s St. Nicholas Arena that included Rubin “Hurricane” Carter who would go on to fight for the world middleweight title but would be best remembered for the many years he spent behind prison walls for his alleged involvement in a triple homicide.

Following his New York engagement, Bufala fought in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Virginia. As a pro, he never fought in his home state and there was a reason for it. In 1961, while undergoing a routine medical examination at an amateur show, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur. The Pennsylvania Boxing Commission rescinded his license. He subsequently underwent a series of tests at Temple University Medical Hospital and was given a clean bill of health, but the Pennsylvania authorities were unyielding and, bit by bit, in a day when news traveled slowly, other jurisdictions fell into line.

Nevada was the Wild West. The regulators there had looser standards and Bufala resumed his career on Sept. 2, 1964 at the Castaways, out-pointing his opponent in a 5-round match to improve his ledger to 7-3. The publicity man misspelled his name, adding an extra “f”, and he would remain Pete Buffala whenever his name appeared in the sports section of the local papers.

Fifty years ago, in 1964, approximately 165,000 people resided in all of sprawling Clark County, home to Las Vegas. The thought that Vegas would someday host a Formula 1 Grand Prix or a Super Bowl, two of the grandest sports spectacles in the world, was preposterous. The only local sport that ever made the national news wire was boxing.

The fulcrum was Bill Miller, a hot-headed boxing junkie from Elmira, New York, who owned a saloon on the Las Vegas Strip that he out-fitted with a boxing gym in the basement. Miller’s “Strip Fight of the Week,” which bounced from one little casino to another during a run that lasted well over a decade, bucked the national trend. Small fight clubs, with very few exceptions, had fallen by the wayside, a development triggered by the mass production of televisions.

Miller was hardly immune to all the little hassles that plague a grass-roots boxing promoter. Matches were constantly falling out. But he had several things working in his favor. As opportunities dried up elsewhere, journeymen boxers were drawn here by the promise of steady work. And although Miller couldn’t afford to pay enough to make boxing a full-time profession, good-paying jobs were plentiful in the construction and hospitality industries.

To be certain, there were also push factors. Chester, Pennsylvania, a shipbuilding hub during World War II, had fallen on hard times, plagued by unemployment and racial strife. Lowell, Massachusetts, a city known for its vibrant amateur boxing culture, was likewise hurting economically with row after row of textile factories sitting vacant. Lowell produced Eddie Andrews, a hard-hitting middleweight who would be the first fighter to make promoter Miller any significant money without having to take him on the road to a larger precinct or overseas.

Andrews supplemented his ring earnings dealing blackjack at Caesars Palace. For a time, Ralph Dupas was a co-worker. A former world title-holder at 154 pounds, Dupas settled in Las Vegas in the mid-1960s as his career was winding down and remained here until his encroaching dementia passed the tipping point and family members brought him home to his native New Orleans to live out his final days.

Returning to Peter Bufala, he worked his way up the ladder on Miller’s promotions, eventually topping the marquee for a fight with Johnny Brooks. They fought at the Hacienda, a grind joint at the south end of the Strip (where Mandalay Bay now sits) on April 13, 1965. Brooks was nothing special, but he was better than his 17-6-3 record. He would go on to last the distance in 10-round fights with future Hall of Famers Emile Griffith and Carlos Monzon.

Bufala was bloodied in the third round and knocked down in the fourth, but mounted a furious rally and at the end of the 10 rounds the judges could not pick a winner and the match went into the books as a draw. Working on the “5-point-must” system, the scores were 46-44 Bufala, 46-45 Brooks, and 46-46. (Trivia time: The 46-46 tally was turned in by ringside judge Harry Reid who would go on to become the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate. Nowadays, visitors flying in to Las Vegas arrive at Harry Reid International Airport.)

Had Bufala won the bout, his next fight would have been a 12-rounder against Reno’s Dave Patterson, the Nevada Lightweight Champion. But when he returned to the ring the following month, it was in a 6-rounder against an unsung fighter from Los Angeles named Davey White and, in a shocker, White blasted him out in the second round.

Bufala announced his retirement after this fight. It warranted scarcely a mention in the Las Vegas papers, but the folks back in Chester hadn’t forgotten him. “Pete Bufala Quits Boxing for Health,” read the bold headline on the sports page of the June 9, 1965 issue of the Delaware County Daily Times. The accompanying story said that Buffala, “Chester’s most promising professional fighter,” had emerged from his most recent bout with a blot clot in his neck and was troubled by chronic back problems. (Buffala would have one more fight before quitting the sport for good. He won his final fight, a 6-rounder, bringing his final record, per boxrec, to 16-5-2.)

Bufala never returned to Chester. He married a local girl and, in short order, was a father of three, two girls and a boy who tragically died at 16 months when he crawled into a plastic laundry bag and suffocated as his mother was distracted writing checks.

In December of 1973, the MGM Grand opened on the southeast corner of the busiest intersection on the Las Vegas Strip. This was the city’s original MGM Grand that would take the name Bally’s and was recently re-branded the Horseshoe. With 2,100 rooms, a 1,200-seat showroom and a jai alai fronton, the MGM Grand made its competitors look puny by comparison. Peter Bufala was there on opening night, dealing baccarat.

In terms of the money put at risk, baccarat is the crème-de-crème of card games. It attracts the whales, the high-rollers that leave the biggest tips. On a good night at a high-end establishment like the MGM Grand, it wasn’t uncommon for a dealer to rake in $500 in gratuities. Bufala worked the graveyard shift (likely 9 pm to 5 am; it varied by hotel), the most coveted shift for a dealer in a day when visitors to Las Vegas were more nocturnal than they are today.

One didn’t get to be a baccarat dealer in a ritzy joint by working his way up from the bottom. One had to know the right people. In the vernacular, one got juiced into the job. And the juicer might expect a kick-back.

One of the most influential people in Las Vegas was an outsider who tried to keep a low profile, Gaspare “Jasper” Speciale. A transplanted New York bookmaker, Speciale co-owned and managed the Tower of Pizza restaurant which sat a stone’s throw from the MGM Grand on the opposite side of the street. Speciale opened doors for dozens of people seeking employment in the hospitality industry. If one was new in town and needed work in a hurry, Jasper was the man to see.

Until the arrival in Las Vegas of the notorious Tony Spilotro, Speciale was the city’s premier private money lender. He would eventually serve four years in a federal prison for loan-sharking.

Whenever there was a murder in Las Vegas that had the earmarks of a mob hit, speculation always centered on Gaspare Speciale. It mattered not that he was active in his church and donated lavishly to local charities. Moreover, he had a warm spot in his heart for prizefighters. In the spacious backyard of his home, chockablock with mementos of his boyhood in New York City, there was a replica of Stillman’s Gym complete with a punching bag and rubbing tables.

Another theory, although one that acquired less currency, pointed the finger at Bufala’s father-in-law who was the beneficiary of Peter’s life insurance policy. The two were partners in a small sporting goods store where it was rumored that one could purchase an unregistered firearm.

On the day that Peter Bufala was assassinated, the story about it in the Las Vegas Sun, an afternoon paper, said that the former boxer had no bad habits – he didn’t drink, smoke, gamble or chase women — and that he was well-liked by everyone that knew him. But, said a police detective, “Someone wanted him dead and eventually we’re going to find out who that someone is and why.”

Forty-seven years after the fact, the who and the why remain as baffling as ever. If Peter Bufala were alive today, he would be 80 years old. This is a mystery that will likely never be solved.

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The Hauser Report: Foster-Nova at MSG and Other Notes

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The Hauser Report: Foster-Nova at MSG and Other Notes

Boxing returned to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, courtesy of Top Rank and ESPN. The festivities started at 5:30 PM and lasted until close to midnight. That meant there was plenty of time to talk with boxers and boxing enthusiasts like Rosie Perez, Gerry Cooney, and (drumroll please) former lineal heavyweight champion Shannon Briggs.

Briggs was in the house as part of an effort to lay the groundwork for a boxing gym and a documentary about the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Who does Shannon think is the best of today’s heavyweights?

“I don’t know,” Briggs answered. “I thought it was Tyson Fury, but his fight against Ngannou was weird. And Wilder against Parker; that was weird too. Joshua; you never know where his head is at. And I’m still not sure about Usyk as a heavyweight. Like I said, it’s weird.”

Briggs also said that he has signed a contract for an eight-round boxing match against former UFC champion Rampage Jackson to be contested on June 1 in Qatar and that he is slated to receive a purse of $5,000,000. I hope Shannon gets a letter of credit from a reliable bank sooner rather than later.

As for the fights at hand; the nine-bout card went pretty much as expected. Some of the “A-side” fighters were there because they’re prospects; others because they’re ticket-sellers. Top Rank has two Hall of Fame matchmakers – Bruce Trampler and Brad Goodman – so the favorites went nine for nine.

Arnold Gonzalez won a decision over Charles Stanford who was one of the opponents brought in a while back to get knocked out by Evan Holyfield.

Ofacio Falcon, who has been steered clear of fighters who might test him, fought Edward Ceballos (who couldn’t test him). Falcon won every round on each judges’ scorecard.

Isaah Flaherty (who can fight going forward and going forward) was cut high on the forehead by an accidental clash of heads in round one and forced the action against Julien Baptiste en route to a six-round shutout decision.

Referee Benjy Esteves let a fight between Euri Cedeno and Antonio Todd go on too long before saving Todd from further damage by halting the beating in round five.

Later, referee Shada Murdaugh let an overmatched Moses Johnson hit the canvas five times in the first round (the knockdown that started it all was mistakenly called a push, so there were only four official knockdowns) before waiving off things in favor of Italian heavyweight Guido Vianello late in the stanza.

Andres Cortes was battering Bryan Chevalier around the ring when Chevalier’s corner appropriately waved a white towel late in round four.

The best prospects on the card were Bruce “Shu-Shu” Carrington and Delante “Tiger” Johnson.

Johnson (11-0, 5 KOs) squared off against Paulo Cesar Galdino (13-7-2, 9 KOs, 4 KOs by). Galdino had won only one of his last five fights, and that was against an opponent with three wins in 13 outings. Referee Ricky Gonzalez wisely called a halt to the action with Galdino taking a beating in round one.

Carrington (10-0, 6 KOs) is a slick stylish fighter. Bernard Torres (18-1, 8 KOs) had been chosen as his opponent because he’s one-dimensional, slower than Shu-Shu, and doesn’t have much of a punch. As the fight wore on, Torres (a 10-to-1 underdog) had the look of a man who was thinking, “I have no idea how to solve this puzzle that’s in front of me.” Late in round four, Carrington (who can whack when he sets down on his punches) launched a brutal right hand that deposited Torres face down, unconscious on the canvas.

The main event matched O’Shaquie Foster (21-1, 12 KOs) against Abraham Nova (23-1, 16 KOs, 1 KO by).

Foster won the vacant WBC 130-pound title by decision over Rey Vargas last year and, trailing badly on the judges’ scorecards, salvaged his belt with a dramatic twelfth-round knockout of Eduardo Hernandez three months ago. He deserves credit for working his way up from B-side status in several earlier outings to where he is today.

Nova was an 8-to-1 underdog. But Foster-Nova turned into a hard, grinding fight with neither man able to establish dominance over the other. Referee Steve Willis did a good job of controlling the action without inserting himself in the flow more than necessary. I had Foster winning by one point with a flash knockdown that he scored in round twelve being the difference. The judges favored O’Shaquie with a 116-111, 115-112, 113-114 split verdict.

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Kansas City’s dramatic overtime victory over San Francisco in last Sunday’s Super Bowl drew the largest viewing audience in the history of television. So it’s safe to assume that many of you who are reading this column watched the game. With that in mind, I’d like to comment on the furor surrounding 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan’s much-criticized decision to receive the ball first after winning the coin toss at the start of overtime.

The NFL’s overtime format for playoff games differs from the rules used during the regular season. Each team is guaranteed one possession in a playoff game unless the defense scores a touchdown or safety on the other team’s first possession. If the game is tied after each team has possessed the ball once, the next score wins.

Shanahan elected to receive the kick-off at the start of overtime. San Francisco marched down the field, but their drive stalled at the Chief’s 9-yardline and the 49ers settled for a 27-yard field goal.

Then it was Kansas City’s turn. And even though the Chiefs were trailing, they had a slight tactical edge because they knew what they had to do; tie or win. Punting wasn’t an option. So when Kansas City was faced with a fourth-down-and-one situation on its own 34-yard-line, the Chiefs went for the first down and Patrick Mahomes kept the drive alive with an 8-yard run. Ten plays later, Kansas City scored the winning touchdown.

Did Shanahan “blow it”?

No.

If the game had been tied after the teams had one possession each, the next score of any kind would have won. And the 49ers would have had the ball first on each exchange of possessions from that point on until the end of the second overtime. That would have been a significant advantage.

Also, consider the fact that Kansas City had scored only one touchdown in sixty minutes of play prior to the overtime.

Shanahan and the 49ers lost the game. They didn’t “blow it” with what I think was a reasonable coin-toss decision.

—-

The future of Sports Illustrated is in doubt. Last month (on January 19), a series of unpaid financial obligations reached critical mass and massive layoffs decimated its editorial staff. SI is likely to survive in some form, perhaps as an online-only publication. But its glory years are in the past.

Sports Illustrated was first published in 1954. Spectator sports were on the verge of exploding in popularity in tandem with the expansion of television. SI rode that wave. It was one of the first national publications to understand and exploit the growing popularity of pro football. Its editorial staff recognized Muhammad Ali’s prowess as a fighter and his importance as a social and political figure while most mainstream publications still referred to him as “Cassius Clay.” Long-form articles and in-depth reporting made it a “writers’ magazine” of the highest order. Wordsmiths like Frank Deford, Herbert Warren Wind, Paul Zimmerman, Dan Jenkins, Jim Murray, William Nack, Robert Creamer, Tex Maule, Jack Olsen, Roy Blount Jr., Walter Bingham, and Rick Reilly plied their trade for SI. Its print circulation peaked at more than three million subscribers. The annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue (inaugurated in 1964) became a national institution.

Boxing (according to the SI archive) was featured on the magazine’s cover 138 times. Forty of those covers belonged to Muhammad Ali. Only Michael Jordan (with fifty covers) surpassed that total. Other cover subjects from the sweet science (listed alphabetically) included Carmen Basilio, Nino Benvenuti, Riddick Bowe, George Chuvalo, Gerry Cooney, Oscar De La Hoya, Buster Douglas, Roberto Duran, Joe Frazier, Marvis Frazier, Gene Fullmer, Joey Giardello, Marvin Hagler, Gypsy Joe Harris, Roy Harris, Thomas Hearns, Larry Holmes, Evander Holyfield, Ingemar Johansson, Sonny Liston, Danny Lopez, Ray Mancini, Rocky Marciano, Christy Martin, Floyd Mayweather, Tom McNeeley, Carlos Monzon, Ken Norton, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Patterson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Earnie Shavers, Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, Mike Tyson, Chuck Wepner, and Pernell Whitaker. To that list, one could add Don King and (most recently) Jake Paul.

From its inception, SI chose a “sportsman of the year” (later referred to on occasion as its “sportswoman” or “sports team” of the year). Three boxers were accorded that honor: Ingemar Johansson (in 1959), Muhammad Ali (1974), and Sugar Ray Leonard (1981).

But in recent years, the economics of publishing have changed. And the instant flow of information in a digital age made a sports weekly less relevant. In 2018, Sports Illustrated became the property of Meredith Corporation which acquired Time Inc. (SI’s parent company). A series of licensing agreements and resales involving the magazine followed. In 2020, it transitioned from a weekly to a monthly publication. Meanwhile, the quality of its editorial content was declining.

Worse, SI seemed to be losing its moral compass. For some subscribers, the final straw came when the magazine designated Deion Sanders as its 2023 “Sportsman of the Year”.

That honor (as defined by Sports Illustrated) is bestowed annually upon the athlete or team whose performance most embodies “the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement.” In its article celebrating the choice of Sanders, SI talked at length about how Deion had “transformed a moribund Colorado football program” and “transformed a community.” Nothing was said about his removing more than sixty scholarship players from the team roster (young men who had enrolled at Colorado in good faith) and replacing them with players brought to the university through the transfer portal.

Mark Whicker (whose credits include the BWAA’s Nat Fleischer Award for Career Excellence in Boxing Journalism) put the matter in perspective when he wrote, “SI was celebrating an egomaniacal huckster who ran off dozens of players who didn’t fit his template, with his son’s media company taping every move. In doing so, he dislocated lives and relationships. Some refugees said that Sanders never even bothered to learn their names.”

The selection of Sanders might have engendered a lot of publicity and “clicks” for SI. But did he really (Colorado finished the season with a 4-and-8 record) embody “the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement” more than Shohei Ohtani (whose 2023 season was unmatched in baseball history), Nikola Jokic (arguably the best big man ever who led the Denver Nuggets to the 2023 NBA crown), and Novak Djokovic (who cemented his status as the best tennis player of all time in 2023)?

I grew up with Sports Illustrated. I began reading the magazine when I was a boy. It has been in my home ever since. In 1991, I crossed an item off my “bucket list” when I wrote an article that was published in SI. On numerous occasions, I’ve relied on its archives for research. I miss the magazine that it was.

That magazine isn’t coming back.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – MY MOTHER and Me – is a personal memoir that will be published by Admission Press this spring and is available for pre-order at Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/My-Mother-Me-Thomas-Hauser/dp/1955836191/ref=sr_1_1?crid=5C0TEN4M9ZAH&keywords=thomas+hauser&qid=1707662513&sprefix=thomas+hauser,aps,80&sr=8-1

In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Friday Night Fights: Nontshinga Wins by TKO in Oaxaca; O’Shaquie by SD at MSG

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Fridau-Night-Fights-Nontshinga-Wins-by-TKO-in-Oaxaca-O'Shaquie by SD at MSG

South Africa’s Sivenathi Nontshinga (13-1, 10 KOs) came from behind to recapture the IBF light flyweight (108-pound) title with a 10th-round stoppage of Mexico City’s Adrian Curiel in Oaxaca, Mexico in the featured bout of a Matchroom card that aired on DAZN.

This was a rematch. Last November in Monte Carlo, the the supposedly feather-fisted Curiel with only four stoppages to his credit in 28 pro bouts, snatched the title from him and changed the trajectory of his career with a shocking one-punch, second-round knockout. In that bout, Nontshinga was a massive favorite but tonight the roles were reversed with Curiel favored in the 9 to 5 range in large part because of the locale.

Curiel, whose record declined to 24-5-1, was conspicuously ahead after eight frames. He was the aggressor and the busier man and it didn’t help Nontshinga’s cause that he was docked a point in round seven after a clash of heads. But late in round nine, there was a sudden turnabout when the fighter from South Africa’s Eastern Cape rocked his Mexican foe with a big left hook. Curiel was saved by the bell and it was all over 44 seconds into the next round when veteran Texas referee Mark Calo-oy pulled the plug with Curiel trapped in a neutral corner eating a barrage of punches with nothing coming back in return.

A rematch is in order although Nontshinga may seek a match with WBC/WBA title-holder Kenshiro Teraji, the paramount fighter in the weight class, or perhaps the winner of the forthcoming fight between WBO belt-holder Jonathan Gonzalez and his Puerto Rican countryman Rene Santiago.

Co-Feature

Mexico City’s Mauricio Lara (26-3-2) and Hermosillo’s Daniel Lugo (27-2-1) battled to a 10-round draw. It was the first fight at 130 for ex-featherweight champion Lara who was making his first start since last May when he was out-pointed by Leigh Wood in their rematch in Manchester, England.

The Theater at Madison Square Garden

O’Shaquie Foster (22-2, 12 KOs) successfully defended his WBC 130-pound world title with a hard-earned decision over Abraham Nova (23-2) in the featured bout of a Top Rank card that aired on ESPN. The 30-year-old Foster, who hails from Orange, Texas, and trains in Houston, was making the second defense of the title he won with an upset of previously undefeated Rey Vargas.

It was the 12th straight win for Foster after his career was interrupted by legal troubles. Late in the final round,  he put Nova on the canvas with a sweeping left hook. Referee Steve Willis hesitated before starting a count, uncertain whether it was a true knockdown, but replays showed that it was a legitimate knockdown, albeit of the flash variety. Two judges had it for Foster (116-111 and 115-112) with the dissenter favoring Nova by a 114-113 tally.

Co-Feature

Las Vegas junior lightweight Andres Cortes (21-0, 12 KOs) scored an impressive fourth-round stoppage over Bryan Chevalier (20-2-1). Cortes, who was credited with landing 23 power punches in the last full round, was too strong for his lanky, five-foot-eleven Puerto Rican opponent whose corner tossed in the towel at the 2:17 of round four.

Also

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, a featherweight contest slated for “10,” Bruce “Shu Shu” Carrington made a significant jump in public esteem with a brutal one-punch knockout of Bernard Torres (18-2). Carrington, who is big for the weight class and had a 6-inch reach advantage, set the tempo and ended the contest with a sweeping right hand at the 2:59 mark of round four. Torres landed face first and the bout was stopped without the formality of a count. “She Shu” represents the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, but has been training in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma.

Torres, a Filipino by birth who has been living in Norway, lives to fight another day. He is booked to fight again on April 6 in Oslo.

Other Bouts of Note

Italian heavyweight Guido Vianello, a 2016 Olympian, improved to 12-1-1 (10) with a first-round demolition of Huntington, Long Island’s Moses Johnson (11-2-2). Early in the opening round, Vianello buzzed Johnson with a short fight hand to the temple. Referee Shada Murdaugh apparently thought it was an illegal rabbit punch followed by a push and called time out rather than start a count. But Johnson wasn’t right and would be on the canvas four more times before Murdaugh finally stopped it with only one second remaining in the round. “It was not his best night,” said broadcaster Bernardo Osuna referencing Murdaugh in a great understatement.

In his career-best performance, Cleveland super lightweight Delante “Tiger” Johnson, a Tokyo Olympian, improved to 11-0 (6 KOs) with a first-round stoppage of Brazilian southpaw Paulo Galdino (13-8-2). Johnson decked Galdino in the opening round with a short left uppercut and then went for the kill. Moments after snapping Galdino’s head back with a short right hand, the referee stepped in and stopped the fight. The official time was 2:49.

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