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Pernell Whitaker, Short List All Time Great

Bernard Fernandez

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Pernell Whitaker was, by most accounts, the best defensive fighter since Willie Pep, maybe even better. His ability to stay in the pocket and make frustrated opponents hit nothing but air, answering their misfires with stinging counterpunches, was a form of pugilistic genius beyond replication until Floyd Mayweather Jr. came along. But even Mayweather might not have matched Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker’s uncanny gift for ducking and dodging incoming shots, Matrix-style. It was almost as if he were in a rainstorm without an umbrella, yet somehow able to avoid getting wet.

All right, so even a legendary fighter’s quick-twitch reflexes figure to slow nearly two decades after his retirement from the ring. Whitaker was 55 and well removed from his remarkable prime when he was struck by a car while crossing a Virginia Beach, Va., street Sunday night, sustaining fatal injuries.  But here’s the thing: the driver whose vehicle slammed into the four-division former world champion didn’t swerve out of control, and he apparently wasn’t exceeding the posted speed limit. There is no fleeing villain for Whitaker’s many admirers to castigate (the driver, who stayed with Whitaker, has not been charged with a crime), and emergency medical personnel were quickly on the scene to render whatever assistance they could, to no avail.

Pernell Whitaker, who was to hit-and-not-be-hit boxing what baseball’s Ozzie Smith was to art of playing shortstop, was pronounced dead at the scene. His official time of passing was listed as 10:04 p.m. EDT.

The only possible explanation is familiar to all boxers who were surprised to find themselves on the canvas, woozy, and being counted out. The blow that is most apt to result in a knockout is the stealthy one you don’t see coming. It’s just that this knockout, steel against flesh and bone, was forever.

Kathy Duva, the Main Events CEO who has known Whitaker even before the clever southpaw, a gold medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, signed with her now-deceased husband Dan’s promotional company as part of arguably the greatest crop of U.S. boxers ever to come out of the same Olympiad, finds it as ironic as it is tragic that someone known for being nearly untouchable inside the ropes could have forgotten the first safety rule for all pedestrians: Look both ways before stepping onto any roadway, especially if it’s late at night and that roadway is not particularly well-illuminated.

“For a guy who almost never got hit to die that way … It’s insane. Ironic. I guess that’s the only word for it,” said Duva, still nearly overwrought with emotion 12 hours after a fighter she so liked and respected, and with whom she had remained in fairly regular contact, perished so unexpectedly.

Asked if she thought Whitaker’s face belonged on a figurative Mount Rushmore of the greatest defensive fighters ever, Duva said, “Oh, absolutely. And, really, he’s on a lot of people’s lists of the greatest fighters of all time, and not just for his defense. He belongs there, too.”

Over the course of his 17-year pro career, Whitaker won world titles as a lightweight, junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight. Considering the high level of competition he routinely faced, his 40-4-1 record, with 17 KOs and one no-decision, would be impressive, but it is even more so upon closer examination. His first “loss,” by split decision to WBC lightweight champion Jose Luis Ramirez in Paris on March 12, 1988, was a heist by pencil so blatant wanted posters should have been distributed seeking the arrests of judges Newton Campos and Louis Michel for crimes against sensibility.

After winning a one-sided unanimous decision over IBF lightweight titlist Greg Haugen (Whitaker won 35 of the 36 rounds on the three judges’ combined scorecards), he exacted his revenge upon Ramirez on Aug. 20, 1989, in Whitaker’s hometown of Norfolk, Va., retaining his IBF strap while adding the vacant WBC belt on a UD so obviously in his favor that it could have been scored by Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Ronnie Milsap. This time Whitaker was only marginally less dominant than he had been against Haugen, winning 33 of 36 rounds on the cards.

“Sweet Pea’s” emergence as boxing’s top pound-for-pound performer earned him recognition as 1989’s Fighter of the Year from both the Boxing Writers Association of America and The Ring magazine, but his skyrocketing confidence in his own ability, almost bordering on arrogance, was tempered by his lingering belief that powerful, behind-the-scenes players not only were hesitant to give him his due, but were actively plotting to stick it to him again as had been the case in the first Ramirez bout.

That sense of foreboding appeared at least somewhat justified the night of Sept. 10, 1993, in San Antonio’s Alamodome, when he defended his WBC welterweight championship against Mexican superstar Julio Cesar Chavez, who came in 87-0 and had the crowd of nearly 60,000 squarely behind him. But Whitaker did to Chavez that night what he had done to so many other opponents, which was to confuse and frustrate El Gran Campeon with an unorthodox fight plan that had him frequently going down onto his haunches, the most successful bit of duckwalking since Chuck Berry was strutting along 1950s stages, playing his guitar just like ringing a bell and belting out Johnny B. Goode.

Although almost everyone in the press section had Whitaker winning eight to 10 of the 12 rounds, judges Mickey Vann and Franz Marti each saw the fight as a 115-115 standoff (the third judge, Jack Woodruff, had Whitaker ahead by 115-113), making for a hugely controversial majority draw that again left the American feeling as if he’d been gut-shot.

“I knew this might happen, but still it was like a bad dream,” a disbelieving Whitaker said. “It was like someone put a knife in me and twisted it.

“I whipped his ass, and easily. I mentally and physically beat him. I put an old-fashioned project beating on him. A housing authority beating. A ghetto beating.”

There were those who predicted the draw was designed to set the stage for an even bigger rematch, but neither Kathy Duva nor I believed it. Chavez, also a great fighter, might have wanted a do-over as much as Whitaker, but his promoter Don King would decide who he would fight going forward, and His Hairness understood that Whitaker’s unorthodox and impenetrable style was always going to be problematic for JCC.

Did his disappointment over the disputed outcome of the fight with Chavez weigh so heavily on Whitaker that it affected him throughout the remainder of his career? Maybe, maybe not. He strung together an eight-fight winning streak after Chavez, but lost a relatively wide unanimous decision to Oscar De La Hoya in a fight that seemed much closer, and to some people’s way of thinking could have gone the other way.

Convinced he had been shafted again, Whitaker followed the De La Hoya fight with a close, 12-round points nod over Andrey Pestryaev in a WBA welterweight elimination bout, which was later changed to a no-decision when Whitaker tested positive for cocaine. He did not fight again for 16 months, and when he returned it was for a beatdown at the hands of IBF welterweight champ Felix Trinidad, in which Whitaker suffered a broken jaw. Disregarding the pain, Whitaker went the distance, whereupon he again put himself on a shelf for 26 months, coming back for a scheduled 10-rounder against journeyman Carlos Bojorquez on April 27, 2001, in which Whitaker was stopped in the fourth round on the advice of ring physician Dr. Margaret Goodman when it became clear that Whitaker was a one-armed fighter unable to deal with the effects of a broken clavicle.

Finally, it was over. Whitaker went back home to Norfolk, where he occasionally trained fighters, but largely stayed under the radar, his once-gleaming reputation tarnished by occasional reports of his ongoing brushes with the law over his cocaine habit. In June 2002, he was convicted of cocaine possession after a judge found he had violated terms of a previous sentence by overdosing on cocaine in March of that year.

“He had demons, but when he was in the ring that was when he was in control and when he was happy and when he was the very best at what he did, and he wanted to show that to everybody,” Duva said in another interview, with ESPN.

By all accounts, however, Whitaker had exorcised many of the demons that had made him an unhappy semi-recluse. A first-ballot inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2007, he returned to Canastota, N.Y., in June to participate in the festivities for the 2019 induction ceremonies and took delight in being greeted warmly by fight fans. He also had accepted an invitation to leave for Las Vegas on Thursday to do a similar meet-and-greet with the public at the MGM Grand in advance of Saturday’s big PBC on Fox Sports PPPV fight between Manny Pacquiao and Keith Thurman.

All of which makes his sudden death so much more shocking to those who were encouraged that he was finding his way back to a better life in and out of boxing, a life that always should have been afforded him by virtue of his rare and special gift.

Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson, a big boxing buff and as much an artist in his own sphere as Whitaker had been in his, tweeted, “Pernell `Sweet Pea’ Whitaker was in the class of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard as one of the most entertaining fighters of my lifetime.”

Former ESPN boxing analyst Max Kellerman, now with ESPN, also ladled out the praise, tweeting, “The best lightweight I ever saw passed away (Sunday night). Yes, that includes Roberto Duran, Floyd Mayweather, Ike Williams and anyone else you want to mention … He was one of the three greatest pure boxers who ever lived.”

For those who always want to remember the best of Pernell Whitaker, there is consolation knowing that his passing appears to be nothing more than a terrible accident, the kind that can happen on any street, at any time, and to anyone.

“I guess he was wearing dark clothes, the road was dark and the driver didn’t see him,” Devon Whitaker, 27, the youngest of Pernell’s four surviving children, said of what he thought might have happened. Virginia Beach Police spokesperson Linda Kuehn noted that the investigation is still ongoing, “However, it does not appear that drugs, alcohol or speed were factors in the crash.”

Rest in peace, Sweet Pea. It was my pleasure watching you work.

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The Bones Adams Story (Part Two)

Arne K. Lang

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When Bones Adams retired from boxing, he was still in his mid-twenties. The kid from Henderson, Kentucky, now lived in Henderson, Nevada, a suburb of Las Vegas, and before leaving the sport he had made enough money to go on a home-buying spree.

Real estate in the form of rental homes was a sound investment, or so everyone told him. But that was before the Great Recession, a scourge that clobbered real estate speculators and new homeowners, hitting Las Vegas especially hard.

“Suddenly,” says Bones, looking back, “a house next door to one of my mine, a house that looked a lot like mine,” was on the market for half the price that I paid for mine. I didn’t have the equity to ride out the storm.”

One of Bones’ best friends worked as a limousine driver for Charles Horky. The friend suggested that Bones join the team. Horky, a big fight fan, hired him in a flash.

Horky was an American success story. Starting with one limousine, he built a mini-empire. His fleet serviced the MGM Grand properties, of which there were eight on the Las Vegas Strip. Many of his regular clients were celebrities.

A town like Las Vegas attracts a lot of predators. Charles Horky fit right in. The FBI would allege that he didn’t merely turn a blind eye when his drivers supplied hookers and drugs – cocaine, meth, Ecstasy – to his customers, but that he encouraged it and demanded a cut of the action. Then there was the little matter of unauthorized charges on credit cards, a common scam in Vegas, particularly in “gentleman’s” clubs. “What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas,” goes the slogan, and what often stays is a lot more money than a visitor remembers spending.

On Dec. 13, 2012, the FBI arrested Charles Horky and eight of his employees or associates, including four limousine drivers, on racketeering charges. Clarence “Bones” Adams, identified in the papers as one of the limousine drivers, was caught up in the sting.

“I did some stuff I shouldn’t have,” Bones acknowledged when this reporter broached the subject. But he says he wasn’t a limousine driver except on his first day of work because Horky thought he was more valuable out in the field working as a starter, a person that works with the concierge at a hotel. (In Las Vegas, a taxi driver is prohibited from carrying more than five passengers. For larger parties, it’s often cheaper to hire a limo than taking multiple cabs.)

At his initial hearing, Bones pleaded not guilty. The attorney he hired, confident that he would receive only a slap on the wrist, got him to change his plea. Indeed, probation was what the prosecutors recommended. But the judge thought otherwise and Bones would serve six months at the federal correctional institution in Taft, California.

– – –

When we caught up with Bones Adams last week, he had just returned from shepherding his three youngest children to school (Bones has a daughter, Alexa, from a previous marriage). It entailed three stops – a high school, a middle school, and an elementary school. The school buses don’t service his neighborhood, an upper-middle-class neighborhood in the southwest part of Las Vegas.

The home that Adams shares with Millette, his wife of 14 years, and their children has a very deep back yard. Situated at the end of the long driveway is a 3,200-square foot building that houses a two-car garage and the boxing gym. The previous owner was a custom glass maker. This was his workshop.

Bones Adams doesn’t speak well of his former manager Cameron Dunkin, but Bones concedes that Dunkin did him a big favor when he sold his contract to James Prince. The change-over was made shortly after Bones’ first match with Paulie Ayala.

Prince, the Houston-based rap music mogul, was previously involved in the careers of Floyd Mayweather Jr, with whom he had a big falling out, and Andre Ward, among others. Today he is connected to a stable of boxers in Las Vegas who compete under the Prince Ranch insignia, the most notable of whom is former U.S. Olympian Michael Hunter who meets undefeated Sergey Kuzmin at Madison Square Garden on Sept. 13 in a match that will leave the winner well-positioned for a shot at a world heavyweight title.  Undefeated super bantamweight Raeese Aleem (pictured with Bones) is one of several rising contenders.

The gym that sits in Bones’ backyard was designed for Prince Ranch fighters but isn’t exclusively for them. “Basically,” says Bones, “whenever there is a really big fight in town, one of the fighters comes here.” Amir Khan used the gym to put the final touches on his preparation for Canelo Alvarez. Daniel Jacobs did likewise. More recently, Manny Pacquiao and his trainer Freddie Roach were here during the final days preceding PacMan’s fight with Keith Thurman. Tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood, the gym offers a marquee fighter a level of privacy he is unlikely to find elsewhere.

pac

pac

When Khan was here in May of 2016, Bones Adams wasn’t yet immersed in the daily routine of a trainer. It would be more accurate to say that he was the facility’s caretaker. But he and Khan forged a relationship and when Khan was in the market for a new trainer – having left Virgil Hunter, who trained him for his bout with Terence Crawford — he thought of his new buddy back in Las Vegas.

Amir Khan is no longer an “A side” fighter in the United States. Canelo Alvarez starched him with one punch and he was flayed on social media for his weak showing against Crawford. But Khan, an Olympic silver medalist for England at age 17, remains one of the most well-known sporting personalities in the U.K. His supposedly tempestuous relationship with his attractive American-born wife has been a steady source of fodder for the tabloids.

Bones spent two-and-a-half weeks with Khan in Khan’s hometown of Bolton and another two-and-a-half weeks in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where Khan finished his training for his fight with Billy Dib, a late sub for India’s Neeraj Gorat who had to pull out after being injured in a car crash. The fight was hyped as a landmark event that would pave the way to a succession of bigger fights in Saudi Arabia.

The Arab nation has been in the news lately and we asked Bones for a few tips on the unlikely chance that we would ever go there. “I was told that I shouldn’t strike up a conversation with a woman I didn’t know, but what I found was that things had loosened up,” he said. “However, ‘no touching’ is still the rule (a no-no that covers everything from a handshake to a hug). The people over there were very warm. We were treated very well.”

Late in his boxing career, Bones’ hairline began to recede. The recession has now completed its journey, perhaps with a little assistance from a barber, and Bones is fashionably bald. But he looks younger than his age; the muscles in his arms are taut, fittingly so for a man who preaches that a boxing-themed workout is the best workout of all for a man that wants to stay physically fit.

Capture

When Bones looks back on his boxing career, he thinks about what might have been if those that had influence over his career had done a better job of looking out for his interests and if the deck hadn’t been rigged against him in several of his most important fights. But the bitterness has long since dissipated, usurped by an understanding that there were times when his life could have spiraled completely out of control and an appreciation for those that reeled him back in. Foremost is his wife Millette, whose name Bones spells out to make certain the reporter gets it right.

It’s been a bumpy ride for Clarence “Bones” Adams, but he is now in a good place. Back in the day, the WBA stripped him of his title for no good reason other than they could, but looking back Bones can see that owning all the title belts in the world wouldn’t have amounted to a hill of beans if he hadn’t met Millette who has stood by his side through thick and thin.

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Mexican Stalwarts Navarrete and Magdaleno Break-in the Banc of California

David A. Avila

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Mexican Stalwarts Navarrete and Magdaleno Break-in the Banc of California

LOS ANGELES-A new stadium got its boxing baptismal with two brutal Mexican wars to re-introduce Los Angeles fans to international prizefighting on Saturday evening.

WBO titlist Emanuel “El Vaquero” Navarrete of Mexico City retained the world title by knockout and former champion Jessie Magdaleno proved pure violence still prevails in Mexican style boxing in front of 3,944 fans at Banc of California Stadium.

Soccer took a back seat on Saturday.

It was baptism under fire as Navarrete (28-1, 24 KOs) roasted fellow Mexican Francisco “Panchito” De Vaca (20-1, 6 KOs) who was willing to jump into the flames but found it too hot to withstand. However, he did try.

De Vaca arrived with only six knockout wins in 20 fights but that didn’t stop him from exchanging with the slightly taller and aggressive Navarrete. From the opening sound of the bell each traded blows, with Navarrete landing two vicious left uppercuts to punctuate the first round.

Though Navarrete won the round, De Vaca proved to have a sturdy chin.

The challenger from Phoenix erupted in the second round with a more aggressive attitude, but quickly discovered he was on the floor looking up after absorbing a sidewinder right cross from Navarrete. He got up and renewed the attack.

De Vaca never wavered from exchanging blows with the champion but it proved to be futile as the harder hitting Navarrete seemed to move the challenger back with each connected blow. De Vaca was hurt but refused to submit as Navarrete pummeled him with blows from multiple angles. After what seemed like a minute filled with machine-like blows, referee Raul Caiz stopped the fight though De Vaca never went down at 1:54 of round three to give Navarrete the win by knockout.

“De Vaca showed his fighting heart. He gave 100 percent in the ring tonight,” said Navarrete, who hopes to return to Los Angeles. “I want to continue the tradition of Mexican boxing in Los Angeles. I want to fill arenas and follow in the footsteps of Mexican legends.”

Top Rank’s Bob Arum said Navarrete will be returning to the boxing ring next month in Las Vegas on the same fight card as lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury on Sept. 14.

Magdaleno

Former super bantamweight world champion Jessie Magdaleno (27-1, 18 KOs) won by technical decision over Tijuana’s Rafael Rivera (27-4-2, 18 KOs) in a fight stopped due to an accidental elbow slicing a cut on the Las Vegas fighter.

“He’s an aggressive fighter, he’s a warrior as we say in boxing,” said Magdaleno, who did not think it was an intentional elbow.

Magdaleno, a southpaw, breezed through three rounds with his slick boxing and power shots to the body. Rivera found it difficult to find openings until a clash of heads caused a cut on Magdaleno’s nose. Rivera was able to capitalize on the former super bantamweight world champion’s concern over the blood running down his nose.

In the next three rounds Magdaleno began targeting the body with strong lefts and rights. It seemed to visibly slow down Rivera. A left cross in the seventh round staggered Rivera who was barely able to stay on his feet.

Rivera gutted out the pain and battled back in the eighth round with renewed vigor. It looked like he was willing to go down swinging.

Magdaleno expected Rivera to come out smoking in the ninth round and he did not disappoint. Both slugged it out in the corner, with Magdaleno decking Rivera with a short left cross but the Tijuana fighter beat the count and returned to the battle. During another exchange, an inadvertent elbow by the Mexican fighter sliced the side of Magdaleno’s right eye. Blood spewed out and referee Tom Taylor, on the advice of the ringside physician, stopped the fight at 2:55 of the ninth round.

The fight was decided by the score cards with two judges at 89-81 and a third at 88-82, all for Magdaleno.

“It felt great, I felt strong, better than ever,” said Magdaleno about fighting in the 126-pound featherweight division. “I took off the ring rust. We fought smart. We put on our boxing shoes and out-boxed him.”

The former WBO super bantamweight who lost the title to Isaac Dogboe last year, now feels his victory over Rivera should open the door to a world title fight in the featherweight division.

When asked who he would like?

“I want them all, it don’t matter,” Magdaleno said.

Other Bouts

Super lightweight prospect Arnold Barboza (22-0, 9 KOs) was too big and too strong for Filipino Ricky Sismundo (35-15-3, 17 KOs) and battered the willing fighter for all four rounds. A three-punch combination by South El Monte’s Barboza dropped Sismundo in the third round who beat the count and tried battling back. In the fourth round, Barboza continued the attack and at the end of the fourth round referee Ray Corona stopped the fight as Sismundo dropped to a knee at the end of the stanza.

Barboza was coming off a knockout win over former world champion Mike Alvarado and may be ready for a world title shot.

Kazakhstan’s Janibek Alimkhanuly floored Canada’s Stuart McLellan twice before ending the fight with a flourish of blows that forced referee Rudy Barragan to end the fight at 2:51 of the fifth round.

Alimkhanuly retains the WBO Global and WBC Continental America’s middleweight belts. He fights out of Los Angeles and is trained by Buddy McGirt.

A welterweight clash saw South Africa’s Chris Van Heerden (28-2-1, 12 KOs) win by unanimous decision over Russia’s Aslanbek Kozaev (33-3-1, 8 KOs) in a bloody eight round war. The fight started slowly with Van Heerden hitting and moving but after cuts suffered by both fighters, the two began exchanging heavy blows to the delight of the crowd. Both bled heavily for the last four rounds but let loose with everything just in case the fight was stopped. After eight rounds two judges saw it 79-73 and a third 78-74 for Van Heerden.

After a close two rounds, Javier Molina (20-2, 8 KOs) put some distance between himself and Manuel Mendez (16-6-3, 11 KOs) to win by unanimous decision in a super lightweight match. Molina was able to take control with some nifty counter punches that caught Mendez walking in. It was never an easy fight as Mendez battled through each round. But after eight rounds two judges scored it 79-73 and a third 78-74 all for Molina.

“I moved down to 140 pounds and it felt comfortable,” said Molina, a former 2008 US Olympian who fights out of Norwalk, Calif. “It felt good to be back in the ring.

Dominican southpaw Elvis Rodriguez dropped lefty Jesus Gonzalez with a short right hook in the first round of their super lightweight bout. The Texan got up and was caught with a jab left cross and down he went again. Referee Rudy Barragan halted the fight at 1:40 of the first round. Rodriguez is trained by Freddy Roach.

Russian lightweight Dmitry Yun (2-0) survived two knockdowns to win by decision over Austin’s Javier Martinez (4-7, 3 KOs). The Texan floored Yun with the first blow he landed –a right cross – in the opening round, then repeated it with a counter right cross in the third round. But problems with his mouthpiece and lack of footwork kept Martinez from gaining ground on the fleet but light punching Yun. Two judges scored it 57-54 and a third 56-54, all for Yun.

New Mexico’s Brian Mendoza (18-0, 13 KOs) brutalized Miami’s Rosemberg Gomez (20-8-1, 16 KOs) with body shots and eventually ended the fight at 2:12 of the first round in their welterweight clash.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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WBO Title-holder Emanuel Navarrete Defends at Banc of California Stadium

David A. Avila

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WBO Title-holder Emanuel Navarrete Defends at Banc of California Stadium

LOS ANGELES-World champions are gathering at a busy street corner of Los Angeles that has been the site of numerous heroic, villainous and emotional moments in the history of the second largest city in the USA.

Two full scale riots erupted and flamed out on that corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Figueroa Avenue in the 60s and 90s.

A presidential debate took place between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon on those same grounds when they were running in 1960.

NBA superstars Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan performed their magic on that corner too.

On Saturday, WBO super bantamweight titlist Emanuel Navarrete (27-1, 23 KOs) defends against Arizona’s Francisco De Vaca (20-0, 5 KOs) in the main event at the sparkling new Banc of California Stadium. ESPN will show the Top Rank fight card.

The stadium stands on the same location where the LA Memorial Sports Arena once stood proudly until it fell into disarray and was torn down several years back.

Sixty years ago, the first world championship boxing match was held on these same grounds and fans saw France’s Alphonse Halimi lose to Mexico’s Jose Becerra by fifth round knockout at the LA Memorial Sports Arena. Seven months later they fought again next door at the LA Coliseum and Becerra won by knockout again.

That was only the beginning, others like Muhammad Ali, Archie Moore, Sugar Ray Robinson, Bobby Chacon, Jerry Quarry, Danny “Lil Red” Lopez, Ruben Olivares, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Amir Khan all fought on those same grounds.

Imagine, when Navarrete (pictured above) rises from his corner to fight Phoenix’s De Vaca on Saturday, he will be continuing the ever-growing streak of civil and professional fights that took place on that same historic street corner.

WBO Super Bantamweight Title

Navarrete erupted on the fight scene like a ghost when he first defeated Isaac Dogboe last December at Madison Square Garden. It was supposed to be a Broadway opening for Dogboe, but instead turned into a horror story as those long arms of the Mexican fighter proved perplexing. The rematch was even more horrific for Dogboe.

Now the Mexico City fighter meets little known challenger De Vaca, who comes from an area that has recently been developing boxing talent in the desert city of Phoenix.

“The truth is that it doesn’t matter who is my opponent. I always prepare 100 percent for each of my fights, and this was no exception,” said Navarrete, 24, who is making his second defense of the WBO title. “We already did the hard work in the gym, and we are ready for a great fight. If De Vaca comes to fight hard, I am prepared to go even harder. I’m ready to give a great battle to all the fans.”

Can De Vaca do what Navarrete did to Dogboe last year?

“I wanted to fight for a world title since I was 5 years old, and now that we have the opportunity, we are going to make our dream come true this Saturday,” said De Vaca, 24, who fought once in Southern California back in 2016. “Come Saturday, there will be a new world champ for Phoenix and Michoacán. I’m coming for that world title.”

Co-Main

Former super bantamweight titlist Jessie Magdaleno (26-1, 18 KOs) meets Rafael Rivera (27-3-2, 18 KOs) in a featherweight match set for 10 rounds. After struggling to make the 122-pound super bantamweight limit, the Las Vegas southpaw now fights at 126 pounds. It’s made a difference.

“He’s a totally different person at 126 pounds,” said Frank Espinoza who manages Magdaleno. “Even the way he talks and thinks is different. Who would have thought four pounds would make such a difference.”

Magdaleno, the former WBO super bantamweight titlist, now meets Tijuana’s Rivera who never fails to provide high intensity fisticuffs.

“I don’t take none of these guys lightly. Every opponent is difficult. He’s fought great fighters. He’s been in there with great fighters and done a hell of a job. I can’t overlook him because he’s here to put on a great show as well,” said Magdaleno, 27. “He throws a lot of punches, and he’s quick. That’s what I am, and that’s what is going to make a hell of a fight for this fight card.”

Rivera fought featherweight champion Leo Santa Cruz earlier this year. Though he lost by decision, he gained fans for his ferocity.

“I’ve been fighting against top-level fighters for a long time, so I feel confident and secure that whether it’s against a world champion or a former champion, I’ll put up a good fight,” said Rivera, 25. “Jessie is a good fighter. I’ve seen him fight before. He’s an aggressive fighter, but I’m just here to do my work.”

It’s a rather strong and lengthy fight card to baptize the new stadium into the world of prizefighting. Expect a lengthy line of fans on the same corner where many historic events have taken place.

Boxing has returned to the same street corner where legends like Ali, Sugar Ray, Quarry and Schoolboy Chacon previously performed. It’s a corner with many memories, both pleasant and notorious.

Photo credit: Hector De La Cruz

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