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Sizing Up the Two Fascinating Heavyweight Contests in London This Weekend 

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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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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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