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

Ted Sares

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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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3 Punch Combo: Scoping Out Teofimo vs Nakatani, Ajagba vs Demirezen and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — Boxing on ESPN+ returns this Friday with a card from the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, MD headlined by the fast-rising lightweight sensation Teofimo Lopez (13-0, 11 KO’s). Lopez will be facing the undefeated Masayoshi Nakatani (18-0, 12 KO’s) of Japan in a final IBF eliminator to become the mandatory challenger for champion Richard Commey (29-2, 26 KO’s). While Lopez is a known commodity to most boxing fans, the same cannot be said of Nakatani. So just who is this unheralded fighter from Japan and does he pose any threat to Lopez?

Nakatani, 30, turned pro in 2011 after an amateur career that by most accounts consisted of somewhere between 50 and 60 bouts. As a pro, he has never fought more than three times a year and never outside of Japan, but by managing to stay undefeated he has crept into the Top 15 rankings of three of the four major sanctioning bodies in the lightweight division.

Looking closer Nakatani’s resume, the overall level of his competition is highly questionable.  Probably his best win was in his eighth pro fight when he won a 12-round unanimous decision against Ricky Sismundo. Sismundo has sprung some surprises in the past and as a matter of fact gave undefeated rising contender Maxim Dadashev a scare earlier this year, but this is the same Ricky Sismundo who was defeated by Ruslan Madiyev last week in California, bringing his record to 35-14-3.

Other than Sismundo, the names on Nakatani’s resume are hardly recognizable.

Nakatani, an orthodox fighter, is tall for the lightweight division standing nearly six feet in height. As such, he likes to work behind the left jab. However, that jab is not very sharp or powerful, but used as more of a range finder and to set up his right hand. Sometimes he will follow the right with a left hook but his primary offense is the left jab followed by the right.

Nakatani is not that athletic or quick inside the ring. His hand speed is below average for the division. He is also not a powerful or heavy handed puncher. The knockouts are more from his level of competition than anything else.

Here are a few other notes on Nakatani based on my observations: He does not like to fight on the inside and will initiate clinches when his opponent closes the distance. And he has a habit of trying to avoid punches with his legs, often times pulling straight back with his hands down. He has gotten clipped quite a few times but fortunately for him those fighters that have done so have not possessed big punching power.

I actually do think Nakatani is the strongest opponent for Lopez to date. That being said, however, I do not think he will give Lopez much trouble. Teofimo may get frustrated some by Nakatani’s constant clinching on the inside, and he may get hit with a few range finding jabs, but expect another Lopez knockout here sometime in the first half of the fight.

Under The Radar Fight

The attention of the boxing world this week is going to be focused on the big welterweight pay-per-view title fight between Manny Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KO’s) and Keith Thurman (29-0, 22 KO’s). Also on the show is an intriguing heavyweight fight that is falling deep under the radar between a pair of 2016 Olympians in Efe Ajagba (10-0, 9 KO’s) and Ali Eren Demirezen (11-0, 10 KO’s).

Ajagba, 25, represented his native country of Nigeria in the Super Heavyweight division of the 2016 Olympics where he lost to Ivan Dychko in the quarterfinals. Since turning pro, he has really turned heads, building a reputation as a fearsome puncher.

Ajagba is a big imposing heavyweight. He stands 6’5” tall and possesses a massive 85-inch reach. Best described as an aggressive boxer puncher, he will press the action, often times behind a very stiff and powerful left jab from the orthodox stance. Very athletic for a man his size, he possesses above average hand speed for the heavyweight division. His best trait is his power; he possesses legitimate one punch knockout power in both fists. The natural tools are all there for Ajagba to potentially one day be a dominant force in the division.

But there are things Ajagba needs to work on, namely his defense. Right now, he lacks any sort of head movement and often poses in front of his opponents after punching them to admire his work. He hasn’t paid yet for his lack of attention to defense but that may change as his competition rises.

Demirezen, 29, represented Turkey in the Super Heavyweight division of the 2016 Olympics where he lost to Filip Hrgovic in his opening fight. Since turning pro he hasn’t had much fanfare, but has amassed quite an impressive early pro record while fighting mostly in Germany.

Though he may not have the imposing physique of Ajagba, Demirezen possesses some solid skills as well as some surprising athleticism. As a matter of fact, I’d go so far as to call him a poor man’s version of Andy Ruiz Jr.

Demirezen will look to apply pressure behind the left jab and work combinations with his quick hands behind that jab. He does not really possess one-punch power but is heavy handed and his punches can take a cumulative effect on his opponents. His best punch is a quick left hook to the body that he often lands with precision.

If physiques won a boxing match, this would be no contest. But as we saw with Joshua-Ruiz, physiques don’t always win. Ajagba will be favored and rightfully so, but Demirezen can fight. This is an interesting fight between two undefeated heavyweight prospects who were recent Olympians and one that I am very much looking forward to on Saturday.

Prospect Watch – Luis Arcon

 There is a lot that gets me excited about the future of the sport. Not only is the sport being broadcast like it never has before but we have many good prospects who are beaming with talent. So many good prospects, as a matter of fact, that some very talented young fighters are falling a bit under the radar. One such fighter is junior welterweight Luis Arcon who moved to 8-0 with 8 knockouts this past Friday with a third-round knockout of Mario Lozano.

Like many of today’s top prospects, Arcon has a strong amateur pedigree. His amateur background includes representing his native country of Venezuela in the 2016 Olympics.

Arcon, 27, turned pro in March of 2018 in Mexico. So far he has breezed through his competition though it must be noted that he hasn’t faced the toughest of challenges. But he has looked very good so far in his early pro career and has been flashing some incredible talent.

Fighting from the orthodox stance, Arcon likes to work behind a well-timed and very powerful left jab. His footwork is excellent and he often positions himself at the right angles to land combinations behind that jab. He possesses very fast hands and can often fire off a volley of power shots before his opponent can react.

And then there is the power. Perhaps this is what stands out most when watching Arcon on video. Granted, as noted earlier, the competition has not been the stiffest, but he has displayed devastating knockout power in both fists. His best punch is the left hook to the body which often has a paralyzing effect on his opposition.

With his amateur background, Arcon is ready to take the next step in his career. His game is polished and he possesses massive power in both of his hands. He belongs on all top prospect lists and has a bright future in this sport.

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R.I.P. Pernell ‘Sweet Pea’ Whitaker, One of the All-Time Greats

Arne K. Lang

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Tributes are pouring in for Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker who was killed last night (Sunday, July14) after being struck by a car while walking across a busy intersection in Virginia Beach, Virginia. An Olympic gold medalist who won six world titles in four weight classes,  Whitaker was a defensive wizard. At his peak he was considered the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. In 2002, The Ring magazine named him the 10th best boxer of the last 80 years.

Whitaker, who turned 55 in January, turned pro in 1984 at Madison Square Garden on a show that included five of his U.S. Olympic teammates – Evander Holyfield, Mark Breland, Meldrick Taylor, Tyrell Biggs, and Virgil Hill.

As a pro, Whitaker was managed by Main Events, a Duva family company, and did most of his training in Philadelphia under the watchful eye of George Benton. In his 17th pro fight, Pernell ventured to Paris to challenge WBC lightweight champion Jose Luis Ramirez who was 100-6 going in. Whitaker came up short on the scorecards, losing a split decision.

This ranked among the worst decisions in boxing history. Whitaker’s chief second Lou Duva accused WBC president Jose Sulaiman of fixing the fight so as not to spoil an all-Mexico showdown between Ramirez and Julio Cesar Chavez.

Two fights later, Whitaker won his first title, taking the IBF lightweight belt from Greg Haugen. Pernell won all 12 rounds on two of the cards. He added the WBC belt in a rematch with Jose Luis Ramirez, winning a wide decision, and added the WBA belt with a first-round stoppage of Puerto Rico’s Juan Nazario in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

Between his first fight with Ramirez and his April 4, 1997 encounter with Oscar De La Hoya in Las Vegas, Whitaker was undefeated, a span of almost 10 years consisting of 26 fights. During this run he won world titles at 140 and 154 pounds before dropping back to welterweight for four successful title defenses.

There was one “blemish” late in this 26-fight run, a draw at the San Antonio Alamodome with Julio Cesar Chavez. This was also controversial. The post-fight report by William Nack was the cover story in Sports Illustrated. The headline was “Robbed!”

Sweet Pea lost a unanimous decision to De La Hoya that most ringsiders thought was a lot closer than what was reflected by the scorecards (DLH won by margins of 4, 6, and 6 points). A poll of 26 ringside reporters by the Las Vegas Review Journal revealed that 14 scored it for Whitaker with one having it a draw.

Six months after his bout with De La Hoya, Whitaker opposed Andrey Pestryaev at Foxwood’s Resort in Connecticut. He won a unanimous decision but wasn’t himself. A post-fight urine test revealed the presence of cocaine. That dictated a six-month suspension during which he failed a random drug test. He wouldn’t step back into the ring until Feb. 20, 1999, when he opposed IBF welterweight champion Felix Trinidad at Madison Square Garden.

This would the first fight in Whitaker’s remarkable career that he lost without controversy. Trinidad broke Pernell’s jaw during the bout and retained his title with a clear-cut unanimous decision.

Whitaker retired, but launched a comeback 26 months later with a fight in Lake Tahoe against Mexican journeyman Carlos Bojorquez. In this fight, Whitaker suffered a fractured clavicle in the second round. He soldiered on, but 27 seconds into the fourth, seeing that Whitaker was a one-armed fighter in considerable pain, referee Joe Cortez pulled the plug. This would be the final fight of his career. He left with a record of 40-4-1 and 1 “NC” (the Pestryaev contest).

Less than 48 hours later, back home in Norfolk, Virginia, Whitaker was rushed to the hospital with an apparent overdose. His girlfriend called 911 after finding him having a seizure on the floor of the bathroom, his body covered in sweat.

Sweet Pea, who worked as a boxing and personal trainer in retirement, appeared to have it all together back in June of 2007 when he was formally inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. His emotional speech was the highlight of the induction ceremony. But in 2014 he was back in the news again when he was forced to evict his 73-year-old mother from the home she had occupied for 30 years. He said that he could no longer afford to maintain the home which he had always kept in his name. The United Press wire story said that Whitaker had squandered millions on drugs and legal expenses.

The man that struck Whitaker with his vehicle remained on the scene. Preliminary reports indicate that the driver was not impaired in any way. We here at The Sweet Science extend our condolences to Whitaker’s family and loved ones.

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The Battle of Wits Between Roach and Birmingham May Decide PacMan vs. Thurman

Bernard Fernandez

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The Battle of Wits Between Roach and Birmingham May Decide PacMan vs. Thurman

It is the boxers who are the center of attention, of course, and that is how it always has been and always should be. But there are a select few high-visibility bouts in which the lead trainers play a more significant role than usual, so much so that their prefight and in-fight strategizing could make the difference between victory and defeat for their guy.

Although it isn’t an undercard attraction in its own right, a mental scrap worth monitoring pits Freddie Roach, Manny Pacquiao’s longtime strategist and a seven-time winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America Eddie Futch Award as Trainer of the Year, against Dan Birmingham, a two-time BWAA Futch winner whose status as one of the elite trainers has dimmed somewhat over the past decade and a half. But the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Birmingham’s reputation could be buffed and polished to its former sheen should Keith “One Time” Thurman win as spectacularly as he has vowed to do on July 20.

The matchup of Pacquiao vs. Thurman might turn out to be just such a fight in which a spotlight, for better or worse, is shone upon the handiwork of the trainers. Those in attendance in Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena won’t able to hear their spoken instructions between rounds, but subscribers to the PBC on Fox Sports Pay Per View telecast should pay close attention to what takes place in those vital one-minute interludes when all the preparation that went before is either working as planned, or is undergoing a hurried rewrite on the fly. Seemingly unlikely victories have been procured, more often than casual observers of the sweet science might realize, because the chief second offers just the right bit of tactical advice or just the right inspirational message at precisely the right moment.

The prevailing story lines before the first punch that counts is thrown have been fairly standard stuff: Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KOs), the living legend and only world champion in eight separate weight classes, attempting to extend the outer limits of his prime at the improbable age of 40, and Thurman (29-0, 22 KOs), the WBA welterweight champion and 10 years Pacquiao’s junior, out to demonstrate that injuries and two-plus years of near-total inactivity haven’t done to him what the natural laws of diminishing returns might or might not have done to the Fab Filipino.

If there were sports books odds dealing with the corner battle involving Roach and Birmingham, Roach, a disciple of the late, great Eddie Futch who has had Pacquiao’s ear for their 16 years together, with the exception of a one-bout absence, almost certainly would be as much a favorite as Mike Tyson was over Buster Douglas or Anthony Joshua over Andy Ruiz Jr. Roach, 59, doesn’t need to make a case for his future induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame as he already has been enshrined, in 2012. Should Pacquiao demonstrate that he is still an elite fighter of the here and now instead of a cherished but faded icon of the past, Roach could take a step toward an almost-unimaginable eighth Futch Award.

And Birmingham?

Like Roach, a former lightweight who posted a 40-13 record with 15 knockouts in a professional career that spanned from 1978 to ’86, Birmingham is a life-long devotee to a sport that got under his skin at an early age and took permanent root. Unlike Roach, who at one point was 25-2 and world-rated under the tutelage of the sainted Futch, Birmingham, 68, never even sipped the proverbial cup of coffee as a pro. He began boxing at 15, weighing all of 112 pounds, in his gritty hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, until he decided that sun and surf were preferable to soot and rust, necessitating a relocation to more pleasant environs along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

There are other differences between Roach and Birmingham, both subtle and stark. As a devotee to Futch, Roach was always in relatively close proximity to the old master’s retinue of stars and hot prospects, laying the groundwork for Roach to begin his own career as a trainer, if not exactly at the top, then at least a ways removed from the bottom. Birmingham, whose other passion besides boxing is rock ’n’ roll – he describes himself as a “guitar-playing 1960s hippie who was at Woodstock” – also had a mentor in Ben Getty, Thurman’s original coach, who took the Ohio transplant on as an assistant trainer to Thurman, then a youthful prodigy.

And while Roach has long since established his bona fides apart from Futch, who was 90 when he passed away on Oct. 10, 2001, to some it might appear that Birmingham is still playing the role of understudy to Getty, who was 63 when he died unexpectedly in 2009.

Thurman was a seven-year-old kid with no discernible purpose in life when he came into contact with Getty, a former serviceman whose post-military life had been unceremoniously reduced to that of a janitor at a Clearwater elementary school. It was Getty who brought Thurman to his after-school YMCA boxing program, where he learned – and loved – to shadowbox, jump rope and spar. It was like the boxing version of Luke Skywalker mastering nuances of The Force under Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda.

“Ben Getty was a very special man,” Thurman said in 2015.  “He was the one who taught me to go for the KO. He used to say this line that pissed me off a lot. I don’t know if he said it to piss me off, or if he just said it because he never wanted me to forget. But he used to say, `You are nothing without your power.’ It took me a long time to understand what that really meant.

“To me at first it was real basic. I took it as telling me I can’t box. Maybe to a degree he did mean that, but throughout the years as I reflect, I think he just never wanted me to forget how important my power is, and how my power has the ability to change the outcome of a fight.”

Getty’s sudden death left a still-developing Thurman at a career crossroads. Shelly Finkel, manager of or adviser to some of boxing’s greatest champions and biggest draws, recommended that Thurman turn himself over to Roach, whose Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles had become a preferred destination for fighters such as himself, brimming with potential yet to be maximized. Thurman politely declined, choosing instead to remain on home turf and with Getty’s right-hand man, Birmingham, who might have been better known at that time than Getty thanks to those two Futch Awards. Thurman continues to publicly revere Getty, wearing trunks with “Ben” stitched across the waistband. You might think that Birmingham takes at least some umbrage to that, but he insists it isn’t so.

“It hasn’t been uncomfortable at all,” Birmingham said of his station as a sort of ersatz Getty, as far as Thurman is concerned. “Ben Getty and I were very close friends. I gave him the keys to my gym so he and Keith could come and go as they pleased. When Ben passed away, just a couple of days later Keith came to me and asked, `Would you take over?’ I said, `Absolutely.’

“Keith’s history with Ben makes my job a lot easier. I don’t have to teach him any basics, that’s for sure. We just analyze the opponent, see what we need to do on fight night to win, and I train him that way. Pacquiao is a diverse fighter. He’s got quick hands, quick feet and he’s a good boxer. He’s fairly unpredictable.”

Not so Thurman, who apparently is holding firm to Getty’s sacred mandate that punching power must remain his No. 1 priority. He has predicted that Pacquiao will go down inside of six rounds, which might be easier said than done even against a Manny who no longer is at peak form.

Make no mistake, though, Birmingham should not be considered a Getty clone that has slavishly adhered to every verse from the Gospel of Ben. In 2004 and 2005, the years he won his Futch Awards, Birmingham was boxing’s tastiest flavor of the moment. His charge Ronald “Winky” Wright, who was inducted into the IBHOF in 2018, outpointed Shane Mosley in a super welterweight unification showdown on March 13, 2004, and followed that up with another points nod over Mosley the same year. In 2005, Wright turned in a career-best performance, utterly dominating Felix Trinidad en route to a one-sided decision, to which he added another UD12 over veteran Sam Soliman.

While Birmingham primarily was recognized for his work with Wright, he augmented his rising profile by taking a lesser talent, 2000 U.S. Olympian, Jeff “Left Hook” Lacy, to the IBF super middleweight title in 2004. Lacy won four times in those two years, three coming inside the distance.

It should be noted that Wright, a clever southpaw who was never known for his ability to get opponents out of there with one shot or even a semi-fusillade of them, was far different stylistically than is Thurman. It therefore seems reasonable to assume that this updated version of Dan Birmingham is no more an exact duplicate of Ben Getty than Freddie Roach is of Eddie Futch.

There are different methods by which a trainer gets his fighter to rise to the occasion when the stage is most brightly lit. Angelo Dundee, Lou Duva and Richie Giachetti, all regrettably gone, embodied the motivational techniques favored by excitable men of Italian heritage. Who can forget Dundee, in maybe the signature moment of his remarkable career, forcefully telling Sugar Ray Leonard, “You’re blowing it, son!”  after the 12th round of his epic welterweight unification matchup with Thomas Hearns on Sept. 16, 1981. An energized Leonard, his eyes swollen and behind on the scorecards, responded by flooring the Hit Man in the 13th round and stopping him in the 14th.

Futch and George Benton, also regrettably gone, were more professorial in their demeanor, rarely raising their voices and disinclined to resort to rah-rah stuff. If Thurman, who has a Nepalese wife and has walked the Himalayas in a quest to find some measure of inner serenity, were to seek out some ancient and wise soothsayer he could do worse than to come across some Tibetan version of a Futch or Benton.

So pay keen attention to the 60-second breaks between rounds when Roach – who, it should be noted, is listed as Pacquiao’s co-trainer, in addition to Manny’s friend and associate Buboy Fernandez – and Birmingham dispense their abbreviated instructions. Whoever wins those small battles of the brain might determine who wins the larger conflict inside the ropes.

Photo credit: Andy Samuelson / Premier Boxing Champions

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