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Sizing Up the Two Fascinating Heavyweight Contests in London This Weekend

Matt McGrain

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This Saturday night in London’s O2 Arena, two heavyweight clashes of no small matter are set to unfold under the Frank Warren Promotions banner. Daniel Dubois, 6’5, 240lbs, aged 21 with an unbeaten record comprised of eleven victories and ten knockouts is set to take on Nathan Gorman, 6’3, 250lbs, aged 22, also unbeaten, 16-0 with eleven knockouts. At stake is the British heavyweight title and much more.

George Orwell once expressed the opinion that journalism is merely printing what someone else does not want printed and everything else is just public relations and it is possible to paraphrase him in relation to boxing: the best fights are the ones that scare promoters. Frank Warren did not want this fight to take place. In fact, he tried to persuade both men, each of whom he represents, to pull out. Neither would. Fight fans are the winners.

Warren has also noted, correctly, that a loss here will cause neither man irreparable damage but for the loser, there is a certain price to pay.  A backwards step will be difficult to sell; for the triumphant heavyweight bigger fights loom.

One of which is almost certain to be the winner of Joe Joyce versus Bryant Jennings, the second heavyweight clash from this card. I named Joyce perhaps the most interesting of all the current heavyweight prospects earlier this year. The reason: he is a man in a hurry.  6’6″ and 255lbs, Joyce has gathered less professional experience than either Gorman or Dubois, but his other vital statistic is the key one: Joyce is 33 years old. This final number gives context to the name of the man in the other corner, former world championship challenger Bryant Jennings. 

Jennings, who stands 6’3″ and weighs in at 225lbs, is at the other end of his heavyweight adventure having been last legitimately ranked as a contender in early 2016 after his troubling defeat at the hands of Luis Ortiz. His loss to Ortiz (by TKO7) was in and of itself a crossroads fight, Jennings having most recently been defeated by champion Wladimir Klitschko.

Joyce Jennings face off

Joyce Jennings face off

His 2017 comeback was comprised only of crossroads fights denoting him as something of a gatekeeper, and when he eventually lost one to Oscar Rivas in January of 2019, his status was arguably reduced further, to that of journeyman. Jennings has journeyed to London to face Joyce, an underdog against a fighter with a third of his experience, unproven and flawed but a massive heavyweight with a massive punch. It’s an uncomfortable assignment for the 34-year-old Philadelphian, but a victory would re-elevate him.

Playing the long game is hard in the twilight of one’s career, but as Tony Thompson found out, it can be a profitable one.

And Jennings, for all that he is an underdog, is a very, very live one. The American always struck me as a cerebral fighter. He’s had to be, given the fact that he took up the sport late and jammed a lot into a relatively short run to the title. Criticized for standing in front of Wladimir, he stayed slippery, threw plenty of power punches and even managed to occasionally engage in the pocket where the champion held remorselessly – held so often that he was docked a point.

So while the champion was the clear winner Jennings discomforted the bigger, heavier puncher enough that he made errors in strategy and technique, despite the fact that in addition to the described physical advantages he was also the more seasoned fighter. 

Joyce has those same physical advantages but he is far and away the less experienced. If Jennings is capable of confounding (but not beating) a competitor like Wladimir, what, then, of a pup like Joyce?

The big Englishman, to be fair to him, has been moving in circles that make Jennings only a minor step up. He most recently blasted out two familiar names to heavyweight fight fans, brutalizing Deontay Wilder victim Bermane Stiverne in six rounds this February and savaging the enormous Alexander Ustinov in three rounds this May. He has been moved along and, on paper, Jennings is not out of keeping with the class of fighter he has been mixing with.

On paper.

In reality, Stiverne was pitifully out of shape at over 270lbs, and Ustinov’s best, too, was far behind him. More than that though, each man had a problem in common: they are slow of hand and foot.

Joyce, too, has problems in this department. He appears, at times, to be punching in treacle and in these two most recent matches, the speed of thought and exchange seemed at times almost comical. Make no mistake about Joyce: he is a born puncher. In this more than any other division, that is boon. He is also capable of work and he has good accuracy. 

Size; workrate; targeting. Give this combination to any trainer of note and he will bring you a heavyweight prospect. But that dearth of speed is a problem and it may be one Jennings can take advantage of.

When a new man meets a former world-title challenger, the only question, in the end, is what does the veteran have left? Jennings was badly beaten by another coming man this January in the shape of Oscar Rivas. Rivas hurt and dropped Jennings in the twelfth and then finished him on his feet via bombardment, but take note: had Jennings won the twelfth instead of being stopped he would have escaped with a draw.  That would have had ramifications. Oscar Rivas probably wouldn’t have landed his money fight with Dillian Whyte later this month and Jennings might have found himself in a role other than that of opponent.

These are fine margins and alarm bells are ringing for me. When slow meets skilled the outcome can be definitive in favor of the slicker man.  In the end though, I think the most likely outcome is a re-run of the Rivas fight. Jennings will not be a pushover. He will win rounds and make things difficult for Joyce – but Jennings has been hit and hard by Wladimir, Ortiz and Rivas, all punchers and in the case of the first two certainly slower of hand than he. Joyce to stop Jennings in a close fight is the sensible pick.

Frank Warren’s wishes to the contrary, this may land Joyce in the ring with the winner of Dubois and Gorman. This fight, if anything, is even more fascinating than the first. 

Dubois is devastating in his silence. Reluctant to speak, smiling, quiet, he has let everyone from Frank Bruno to Frank Warren do his talking for him in a series of interviews for which he has barely been present. The needle that exists between he and Gorman, supposedly dating back to a brief stint as roommates during their amateur days and in some tasty sparing sessions since, probably makes him uncomfortable. 

Gorman, who is related to Tyson Fury, is far more comfortable in executing his media duties. He is also overweight at 250lbs and cuts a far less impressive figure than his muscular opponent, something we saw recently in the shape of Anthony Joshua-Andy Ruiz; but the comparisons between the two contests don’t end there.

Like Ruiz, Gorman has a reach far shorter than his taller opponent and like Ruiz his reputation going in is that of a lesser puncher. Bringing pressure against a longer opponent who can punch is one of boxing’s toughest assignments because the toll is set. Moving a fighter out of position by swarming him is natural when you have the longer jab but when you have the shorter one, you buy your range with pain and points. Gorman is going to get hit. 

But once more Britain has produced an Adonis who has yet to answer questions about his gas tank. Think Frank Bruno or Joshua and think Dubois, perhaps. In his last contest Dubois was drawn into a thrilling shoot-out with a wild Ghanaian by the name of Richard Lartey. Dubois, unimpressed, was ultra-aggressive from the off, swinging two-handed but from the very beginning he had the appearance of a fighter that was uptight, blowing hard through his cheeks while throwing an odd mixture of stiff and limber bombs. Capable of speed on some punches, others appeared to be from the Joyce play book in that they sought to travel the furthest possible distance at no great speed. It made him vulnerable to counters.

Dubois took instruction well and shortened up his punches as he went, webbing his tiring opponent in an ever-decreasing circle, but he also showed a certain raggedness in his own work apparently born of fatigue. This may be an over-analysis; Dubois after all expected an easy knockout and after some fireworks, he got it, and with some rather pretty punches, too. But he also hinted at a blueprint for his own destruction: could Dubois perhaps be countered and outlasted? And if so, is Gorman the man to do it?

The bookies favor Dubois but there is a gathering sense on social media that Gorman can out-fight him. I think it boils down to a matter of technique and punch resistance which is saying nothing, really, as almost every boxing match does to one degree or another. But if Gorman has the technique to buy real estate without absorbing too much punishment, I think he will win the exchanges that result. This is the very key to this style clash revealed by Andy Ruiz: throw with the puncher and back yourself to land first. Gorman can beat Dubois to the punch often enough to amass enough points to take a hard-won decision. Doing it will be a matter of overcoming both a style and size advantage though, and that is a tall order that requires the right strategy and definitive technical advantages.

The balance here tips back towards Dubois because like his taller opponent, Gorman is unproven. The small matters that determine fights, that determine whole careers, will decide where the argument resides.

Either way, two fringe contenders are sure to emerge from Saturday night’s fights. This is the prediction that matters, and it is a sure one.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 82: Jason Quigley Returns to SoCal and More

David A. Avila

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Southern California prizefighting heats up with Jason Quigley headlining a fight card in Orange County and then, two days later, another fight card takes place in the heart of Los Angeles.

Ireland’s Quigley (17-1, 13 KOs) faces Mexico’s Fernando Marin (16-4-3, 12 KOs) on Thursday Jan. 23, at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, Calif. DAZN will stream the Golden Boy Promotions fight card live.

Quigley, 28, seeks to reclaim territory lost when he suffered a defeat last July against Tureano Johnson. Ironically, Marin would lose 10 days later in Hollywood to super welterweight contender Serhii Bohachuk.

For several years Quigley had trained in Southern California but decided to change trainers and location. He moved to Great Britain and still prepares near his native country but primarily fights in the U.S.

At one time Quigley clamored for a match against Gennady “GGG” Golovkin or Saul “Canelo” Alvarez but now finds himself trying to prove he belongs in the upper tier of the middleweight division. It’s loaded with talent.

Also on the same fight card will be popular North Hollywood super welterweight Ferdinand Kerobyan who was headed to contender status when he ran into Blair “the Flair” Cobbs. At the time Cobbs was an unknown quantity but no longer.

Kerobyan (13-1, 8 KOs) meets Azael Cosio (21-8-2) in an eight-round clash in the semi-main event at OC Hangar. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Red Boxing International

On Saturday Jan. 27, Red Boxing International hosts its first boxing card of the year at Leonardo’s Night Club located at 6617 Wilson Ave. L.A. 90001. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Super welterweight Bryan Flores (13-1, 6 KOs) meets Brandon Baue (15-17) in the main event  in the first event of the year for the ambitious promotion company. For the past two years Flores fought primarily in Tijuana, Mexico where he racked up six wins. Now he’s back on Southern California soil.

Another match features lightweights Angel Israel Rodriguez (5-0) facing off against Braulio Avila (3-6) in a six-round fight.

Rodriguez fights out of Pico Rivera, Calif. but recently fought in Costa Rica where he won by first round knockout in November. He will be fighting Avila who just fought two weeks ago at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, Calif.

It’s a long fight card with 11 bouts on the schedule.

JRock and Rosario

Boxing fans received another lesson on never underestimating a ranked contender regardless of the name recognition.

Jeison Rosario knocked out Julian “J Rock” Williams who was making the first defense of the WBA and IBF super welterweight world titles he won last year in my selection as “Fight of the Year.”

Rosario walked in with little recognition and was thought to be a soggy piece of bread for Williams. The long armed Dominican fighter walloped Williams in front of his hometown fans in Philadelphia. It was yet another warning for fans to understand that anyone who steps in the boxing ring ranked as a contender can do the unthinkable. In this case Rosario knocked out the champion in five rounds.

Many felt Williams was far too skilled, especially on the inside where he showcased those skills last May against former titlist Jarret Hurd. It was a remarkable display of the art of inside fighting. But against Rosario, he never got a chance to exhibit those skills.

The loaded super welterweight division has another dangerous champion in Rosario.

Fights to Watch

Thurs. 6 p.m. DAZN – Jason Quigley (17-1) vs Fernando Marin (16-4-3).

Sat. 6 p.m. Showtime – Danny Garcia (35-2) vs Ivan Redkach (23-4-1).

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Recalling Three Big Fights in Miami, the Site of Super Bowl LIV

Arne K. Lang

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The San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs collide on Feb. 2 in Miami in Super Bowl LIV (54) in what will assuredly be the biggest betting event to ever play out on American soil. It’s the 10th Super Bowl for the South Florida metropolis which ties it with New Orleans as the most frequent destination for football’s premier attraction.

With its heavily Latin population, Miami would seem to be natural for big fights. However, this hasn’t been the case. Several great champions fought here, including Roberto Duran who twice defended his world lightweight title in these parts, but these weren’t big fights. In the case of Duran, his opponents were lightly regarded and the Panamanian legend was still three years away from his first encounter with Sugar Ray Leonard, a match that increased his name recognition a hundred-fold.

There were, however, three fights in Miami that summoned the interest of virtually all of America’s A-list sportswriters. Here they are in reverse chronological order.

Aaron Pryor vs. Alexis Arguello (Nov. 12, 1982)

Alexis Arguello (72-5) was bidding to become boxing’s first four-division champion. In his way stood WBA junior welterweight title-holder Aaron Pryor (31-0, 29 KOs), a man now widely regarded as the best 140-pound boxer of all time.

Arguello, a Miami resident, having been exiled from his Nicaraguan homeland by the Sandanista rebel occupation, was a textbook boxer who defeated his opponents with surgical efficiency. Pryor was a typhoon. He mowed down his opponents with relentless pressure. It was a great style match-up and it didn’t disappoint. Contested before nearly 30,000 at Miami’s iconic Orange Bowl, Pryor vs. Arguello was a fight for the ages.

“There was power, finesse, poise, courage and a tremendous ebb and flow,” said Associated Press writer Ed Schuyler who dubbed it Manila in Miniature. In the ninth, 11th, and particularly the 13th rounds, Arguello hit Pryor with straight right hands that would have felled an ordinary fighter, but Pryor had an iron chin.

In the 14th, Pryor buckled Arguello’s knees with a straight right hand and then unloaded a furious combination as Arguello fell back against the ropes. He was out on feet when referee Stanley Cristodoulou intervened and he would lay prone on the canvas for several minutes before he could be removed to his dressing room.

Sonny Liston vs. Muhammad Ali (Feb. 25, 1964)

If you happen to find a poster for this fight with the name Muhammad Ali on it, don’t buy it. It’s bogus. Liston met up with Muhammad Ali in their second fight. In their first encounter, Liston opposed Cassius Clay.

Clay’s Louisville sponsors, after a brief flirtation with Archie Moore, settled on Angelo Dundee as his trainer. Angelo operated out of his brother Chris Dundee’s gym located at the corner of 5th Street and Washington Avenue in Miami Beach. The fighter who took the name Muhammad Ali trained here and kept a home in Miami for most of his first six years as a pro.

Clay/Ali was 22 years old and had only 19 fights under his belt when he was thrust against heavyweight champion Sonny Liston at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Liston was riding a 28-fight winning streak after back-to-back first-round blowouts of Floyd Patterson.

In a UPI survey, 43 of 46 boxing writers picked Liston. “Clay has no more chance of stopping Liston than the old red barn had of impeding a tornado,” wrote Nat Fleischer, the publisher of The Ring magazine.

This would be the first of many famous fights for Muhammad Ali who emerged victorious when Liston quit after the sixth frame citing an injured shoulder. What is not widely known, however, is that the fight, which was shown on closed-circuit in the U.S. and Canada, was a bust at the gate. The 16,448-seat Convention Center was only half full.

The expectation that Liston would take the lippy kid out in a hurry depressed sales, as did sky-high ticket prices ($250 tops when $100 was the norm). And there may have been more subtle factors. “This may not be the best place for a fight between two Negroes,” wrote Robert Lipsyte of the New York Times, cognizant that people of color were not welcome as guests at the ritzy beachfront hotels along Collins Avenue.

Jack Sharkey vs. W. L. (Young) Stribling (Feb. 27, 1929)

A big fight, as I define it, doesn’t have to be a blockbuster. An important fight that produces an upset automatically becomes a bigger fight in hindsight. The Sharkey-Stribling fight of 1929 didn’t draw an immense crowd by Jack Dempsey standards, but the turnout, reportedly 35,000, far exceeded expectations and the fight – which preceded Miami’s first Orange Bowl football game by six years — really established Miami as a potentially good place for a big sporting event.

Promoted by the Madison Square Garden Corporation, the bout was originally headed to a dog racing track but it quickly became obvious that a larger venue was needed. A stadium was erected on a Miami Beach polo field, taking the name Flamingo Park (not to be confused with the thoroughbred track of the same name).

Slated for 10 rounds, the bout was conceived as one of two “eliminators” to find a successor to Gene Tunney who had retired. What gave the fight it’s primary allure, however, was the North-South angle. Sharkey, born Joseph Zukauskas, hailed from Boston. Stribling, born into a family that traveled the fair circuit with a variety act, was from Macon, Georgia.

The fight, which aired on the NBC radio network, was a dud, a drab affair won by Sharkey who had the best of it in virtually every round. Both went on to fight Max Schmeling for the world heavyweight title. Stribling, dubbed the “King of the Canebrakes” by Damon Runyon, lost by TKO in fight that was stopped late in the 15th round. Sharkey took the title from Schmeling on a split decision after losing their first meeting on a foul.

Young Stribling died in a motorcycle crash at age 28, by which time he had engaged in 251 documented bouts, the great majority of which were set-ups. Jack Sharkey lived to be 91.

—-

The strong earnings of the Sharkey-Stribling bout inevitably drew the Madison Square Garden Corporation back to Miami for an encore. On Feb. 27, 1930, Jack Sharkey opposed England’s “Fainting” Phil Scott. Four years later, on March 1, 1834, Primo Carnera defended his world heavyweight title here against former light heavyweight champion Tommy Loughran, the Philadelphia Phantom.

Both bouts were big money losers, as were the great majority of major fights during this period. Eight months after the Sharkey-Stribling cash cow, the stock market crashed, plunging the United States into the Great Depression. Few Americans could afford to vacation in Florida, let alone travel anywhere for a big fight.

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Star Power: Ryan Garcia and Oscar De La Hoya at West L.A. Gym

David A. Avila

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Under gray skies and very cool temperatures Ryan Garcia arrived with his father and a couple of others at the Westside Boxing Gym on Monday.

Waiting anxiously were about 100 people comprised of mostly videographers and photographers who had already surrounded Oscar De La Hoya who arrived earlier.

Golden Boy greets the Flash.

Garcia (19-0, 16 KOs) has a fight coming soon against Nicaragua’s Francisco Fonseca (25-2-2, 19 KOs) on Friday Feb. 14, at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. The Golden Boy Promotions show will be streamed by DAZN.

“I’m ready for this fight,” Garcia said quickly.

Some say it has been a rather quick road for the fighter from Victorville known as the Flash. But if you ask Garcia, it has been too slow.

“I think he (Garcia) will be world champion this year,” said De La Hoya, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions.

Years ago, De La Hoya arrived with the same hoopla but his travel to the top seemed even faster. By his fifth pro fight he was matched with Jeff Mayweather. Yes, those Mayweathers. At the time Mayweather had fought 27 professional fights and had only two losses. De La Hoya stopped him in four.

In his eighth pro fight De La Hoya met Troy Dorsey, a tough Texan who had formerly held the IBF featherweight world title and who would later win a super featherweight world title. De La Hoya stopped him in one round.

Two years after winning the Olympic gold medal in Barcelona, the Golden Boy met WBO world titlist Jimmi Bredahl at the Olympic Auditorium and after dropping him several times finally stopped him in the 10th round. It was De La Hoya’s first world title and he was 21 years old.

Garcia is now 21 and ready to test the loaded lightweight division waters. For a while he was fighting at super featherweight, a division loaded with talent. But lightweights are the Maginot Line when it comes to boxing’s big hitters. Everybody can punch in the 135-pound limit lightweight division.

When Garcia met Romero Duno last November in Las Vegas many expected the speedy Victorville fighter to get his come-uppance. Instead the lanky slugger lit up the strong Filipino fighter and dropped him into the ether world.

It was mesmerizing stuff.

Now he’s back with a load of credibility after shutting down detractors with his devastating knockout win over Duno. It wasn’t supposed to be that easy. Just like it wasn’t supposed to be that easy when De La Hoya raced by world champions like Secretariat did in the Kentucky Derby decades ago. It’s not supposed to be that easy, but for some it truly is.

Garcia seems to be headed for a journey so remarkable that he has other world champions like WBC titlist Devin Haney eyeing him for their next challenges. It barely results in a yawn for the fighter who will be facing a very credible foe in Fonseca next month.

“I’m not even the champion and he’s calling me out,” said Garcia with a whatever kind of look.

Other fighters and promoters can see what Garcia represents and want to get a slice of it too. Its intangible yet most of the boxing world can sense something is coming and Garcia might be part of it.

That’s called star power and it’s difficult to explain. Some have it, many want it and others have no chance of ever attaining it.

Time will tell how far Garcia’s star power will venture.

One man lived that life and, in a sense, still lives that life and that is De La Hoya. Even he senses a déjà vu moment with Garcia.

“It’s why we made him one of the richest young prospects in boxing today,” De La Hoya said.

Expect several thousand ardent fans of Garcia to fill the seats on Valentine’s Day. How else can you explain it but, star power.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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