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The Hauser Report: Caleb Plant is Making His Mark

Thomas Hauser

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The July 20 IBF 168-pound title fight between Caleb Plant and Mike Lee wasn’t expected to be competitive. But it was a coming out party for one of boxing’s more compelling personalities.

Plant was born and raised in Tennessee. As his ring career progressed, he moved to Henderson on the outskirts of Las Vegas to hone his craft. On January 13 of this year, he scored an upset decision victory over Jose Uzcategui to claim the IBF belt and bring his record to 18-0 with 10 KOs. Prior to that, his hardscrabble origins had been scarred by tragedy.

Plant grew up in a home where alcohol and drug abuse were common. His own daughter, Alia, was born with severe brain damage.

“She had zero motor skills,” Caleb recounted last year. “She couldn’t sit up. She couldn’t hold her head up. She couldn’t lift her arm. She couldn’t eat. She ate through a tube in her stomach. I didn’t know if she was gonna know who I was. I didn’t know if she knew that I loved her. She was never gonna stand and say ‘I love you, dad’ or ‘Merry Christmas, dad.’ She’s not gonna know what it’s like to have friends. But what if I could just give her a nice life, a life that I didn’t have. What if I could work so hard that I can give her a life and things that I never had as a kid. We won’t be able to have the relationship that I had with my dad. But I’ll give her my all, my best, no matter what. This is what I can try to give her. A roof over her head; food in her stomach even if it’s not through her mouth.”

In 2015, at nineteen months of age, Alia was in the hospital on life support for the fifth and final time in her young life. Plant’s words speak for themselves.

“The doctors were telling me, ‘Mr. Plant, your daughter is gonna pass away. That’s a tough conversation to have. She was slowly going down and down and down and down. I went to her. It was just me, and I said, ‘You know, this has been a long nineteen months, and I know you have to be tired. And if you are over this, then I’m okay with that. I’m not gonna be mad at you. I’m not gonna be disappointed in you. I’m not gonna be upset with you. If you’re tired of this and you’re done and you don’t want to do this anymore, then your daddy supports you. And I’m gonna be right here.’ And right after that conversation – a conversation that I had never had with her before because, every time before, it was ‘No, this is not gonna happen’ – she started going down. I said, ‘I want you guys to take this stuff off of her because I don’t want her to pass with these tubes down her throat and an EEG machine on her head and sticky and all that stuff.’ They took all that stuff out. They cleaned her off and washed her hair. They took everything out. I got to sit there with her. She took her last breath at 10:55. And I just sat with her there for a long while.”

Adding to the tragedy in Plant’s life, his mother was shot and killed by a police officer in March of this year. According to the Tennessee Bureau of investigation, Beth Plant was being taken to a hospital by ambulance when she became unruly and pulled a knife from her backpack. The driver pulled over to the side of the road and called for assistance from law enforcement. When a policeman arrived, Plant came toward him brandishing the knife and he shot her.

After Plant’s mother died, Caleb posted a message on Facebook that read, “Love you forever and always momma. You always said ‘work hard bubba’ and I did. I know that we spent a lot of time wishing the relationship we had was different but you was still my momma. We both wished we could start from scratch so we could go back and you could have a fresh start with me and Maddie. Regardless you was one of the sweetest ladies I’ve ever come across. You had your demons but you’d give the shoes off your feet and your last dollar to someone who needed it less than you. I love you momma and I know you are up there with Alia now and her and grandma finally get to spend time together like we talked about way back. You are the first one out of all of us to see what Alia is really like so make the most of that and kiss her up and tell her that her daddy loves and misses her. I know in the end it’s your demons we always talked about that got the best of you. Maybe you always told me because you knew I’d understand because we shared some of the same ones.”

The saving grace in Plant’s life has been boxing.

“I’ve been boxing since I was nine years old,” Caleb says. “There ain’t never been a Plan B. Not to go to college. Not to get a nine-to-five. Not to get a job. Not to be in the NFL. Not any of that. All I’ve ever had is boxing. I’m from the metho-heroin capital of the U.S. where a mother will sell her child’s last toy for one Xanex. Where a mother will lock her son and her daughter in a room for hours, not taking care of them, just so she can be locked away in her room doing her own stuff. I’m from where the Bethesda Center gives out-of-date canned food to you because you ain’t got no food. There ain’t no Plan B.”

Elaborating on that theme during a July 1 media conference call, Plant declared, “Boxing has always been like a sanctuary for me. It’s been a place that I could go and be somebody. As a kid, I was somebody that nobody would want to be, living in a place where nobody would want to be in. When I got to go to the gym, then I got to be somebody that everybody wanted to be. Grown men looking up to me, oohing and ahhing. And once I got back out of those doors, I had to go back to being that kid that nobody wanted to be. So that became like an addiction for me, to want to be there, want to be in the gym.”

“Through everything that came and left in my life,” Plant continued. “Through all the things that I’ve lost, through all the things I’ve been deprived of or haven’t had, boxing has always stood by my side. Boxing has always been there for me through thick and thin. Boxing is like a woman. If you treat her right and you do good by her, then she’ll stand by you and she’ll do right by you. But she’s a jealous woman. And the difference between me and my opponent is, I haven’t glanced off of her. I haven’t endeavored into other things.”

Mike Lee comes from a world that Caleb Plant is unfamiliar with.

Lee went to high school at the Benet Academy in Lisle, Illinois. Virtually all of Benet’s students go on to college. Lee spent a year at the University of Missouri before transferring to Notre Dame, where he graduated with a degree in finance. “I relax by watching CNBC,” he told writer Kieran Mulvaney several years ago. “And I like reading the Wall Street Journal.”

For most of Lee’s ring career, he was well marketed and well protected by Top Rank. At one point, he parlayed his Notre Dame pedigree into a much-commented-upon Subway commercial. Recently, he left Top Rank to campaign under the Premier Boxing Champions banner. Now 32 (five years older than Plant), he came into Saturday night’s fight with a 21-0 (11 KOs) record and had fought his entire career at light-heavyweight or a shade higher.

Plant’s opposition had been suspect prior to his victory over Uzcategui. Lee’s opposition had been worse. “The typical Mike Lee opponent,” one matchmaker observed, “has had ten fights and won all but nine of them.”

Kick-off press conferences are usually characterized by the lack of anything eloquent being said. The May 21 press conference for Plant-Lee was different. Lee spoke first, voicing the usual platitudes.

“Every single fight is different. I don’t really care what his other opponents have done in or out of the ring. It doesn’t matter. On fight night, the bell rings, it’s just me and him. The best man will win. I’ve been in so many press conferences where opponents either talk shit or they’re dismissive or they’re respectful. I’ve beat them all. This is an incredible opportunity and I will make the most of it. I’m going to shock a lot of people”

Then it was Plant’s turn.

“I’ve been boxing my whole life,” Caleb said. “No college degree for me. No high school sports. No acting gigs. No Subway commercials. Just boxing, day in and day out, rain, sleet, or snow. He may have a financial degree. But in boxing I have a Ph.D and that’s something he don’t know anything about. Something else I have a Ph.D in is being cold and being hungry and being deprived, coming from very rock bottom. That’s something he don’t know anything about. So if this guy ever thought for one second that I would let him mess this up for me and send me back there; unlike him, I have everything to lose. This is how I keep a roof over my head and food in my belly. That’s something he don’t know anything about. So if he thinks he’s going to mess this up for me, he’s not half as educated as I thought he was.”

At times, the dialogue seemed to verge on class warfare. And it continued in that vein through fight week.

“There are zoo lions and there are jungle lions,” Plant said at the final pre-fight press conference two days before the bout. “The zoo lion will look at the jungle lion and think they’re the same thing. And from a distance they look the same. Until it’s time to eat or be eaten.”

“The trash talking goes back and forth,” Lee responded. “That’s as old as time. Nothing he’s saying is new. It’s all recycled stuff he’s heard on TV or heard in movies. It’s nothing new to me. It doesn’t even bother me. I laugh at it.”

Plant-Lee was broadcast live on Fox as a lead-in to the Pacquiao-Thurman pay-per-view card. Lee was a 15-to-1 underdog. The consensus was that he had as much chance of beating Plant in a boxing match as Yale would have of beating Notre Dame in football.

Nevada’s choice of 76-year-old referee Robert Byrd as third man in the ring was a bit of a surprise. Byrd was once a capable referee, but his performance in recent years has been erratic. The most egregious example of this was his mishandling of the June 15 World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight semi-final bout between Mairis Briedis and Krzysztof Glowacki.

Byrd is past the point where he can move nimbly around the ring and was out of position for much of Briedis-Glowacki. His judgment was also faulty. In round two while the fighters were in a clinch, Glowacki hit Breidis in the back of the head with a rabbit punch. Briedis retaliated by flagrantly smashing an elbow into Glowacki’s face, driving the Pole to the canvas. In a post-fight in-the-ring interview on DAZN, Briedis acknowledged the foul, saying, “I did a little bit dirty.”

Glowacki, for his part, noted, “The elbow was really strong and clear to the chin. I did not know what happened. I do not remember a lot after that.”

Byrd deducted a point from Briedis but didn’t give Glowacki additional time to recover. Still hurt, Glowacki was knocked down fifteen seconds later by a two-punch combination that ended with a right hand to the back of the head. He rose. The bell rang to end the round. And Byrd didn’t hear it.

“The bell’s gone,” DAZN blow-by-blow commentator Jim Rosenthal shouted. “They’re carrying on. Come on, referee. I can hear it. Get in there.”

But Byrd allowed the action to continue. With people at ringside waving their arms and screaming at him that the round had ended, he allowed Briedis to batter Glowacki for another eight seconds until Mairis scored another knockdown.

“He’s gone down after the bell,” Rosenthal proclaimed. “What is occurring in there? What is occurring? That bell was ringing for ages. It’s farcical. He’s saying he couldn’t hear the bell. He must have been the only one in the arena.”

A badly damaged Glowacki was allowed out of his corner for round three but the fight was stopped twenty seconds later. In the same post-fight interview on DAZN, Briedis conceded that he’d heard the bell ending round two but kept punching.

As for Plant-Lee, the fight lived down to expectations. Lee tried to fight aggressively but didn’t have the tools to do it. Plant was the faster, stronger, tougher, better schooled fighter. He dropped Lee with a lead left hook late in round one, dug effectively to the body throughout, and put Lee on the canvas thrice more in the third stanza. After the final knockdown, Byrd stopped the mismatch. According to CompuBox, Lee landed just eight punches in the entire bout.

It will be interesting to see how Plant progresses from here, in and out of the ring. In that regard, it should be noted that writer Jeremy Herriges talked at length recently with Carman Jean Briscoe-Lee (Alia’s mother, who was once Caleb’s companion). Thereafter, Herriges wrote a thought-provoking article for NY Fights that calls portions of Plant’s narrative into question.

A Missing Part of the Caleb Plant Story 

 

Meanwhile, Caleb remains a work in progress.

“I’m not a grown man,” he said during a July 1 media conference call. “I’m a growing man. So I’m going to continue to become better in the ring. I’m going to continue to become a better man outside the ring. Thus far, I think I’ve done a good job of handling that responsibility. If I just continue to follow what I’ve done, I think I’ll be on the right path.”

Let’s see how the journey unfolds.

Thomas Hauser’s new email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing – will published this autumn by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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The Fifty Greatest Flyweights of All Time: Part Five 10-1

Matt McGrain

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The Fifty Greatest Flyweights of All Time: Part Five 10-1

No lengthy introduction to this one; the word count is out of sight.  It may be worth your while to take it on in two or three chunks.

No apologies though.  These men deserve their due.

One final time, for the sweet souvenir:

This, is how I have them:

#10 -Masao Oba (1966-1973)

 Masoa Oba (or Obha), held a strap but never held the legitimate flyweight championship of the world; this did not stop him going on one of the most incredible tears in the history of 112lbs.

It would have been something special to have been ringside on the second of September 1968 when Oba clashed with Susumu Hanagata over ten rounds in what would be his last ever loss in what sounds a wonderful fight. These two would meet again further down the line but first for Oba came a chance to gain valuable experience as a stay-busy opponent for beltholder Bernabe Villacampo. Whoever selected Oba presumably did not keep his job as the Japanese out-worked and out-fought his more illustrious opponent over ten rounds in a non-title fight. The shockwaves resounded throughout the division.

Shockwaves deepened to seismic alarm when Oba was rewarded with a shot at a strap of his own against Berkrerk Chartvanchai. He dominated that fight from the first bell, working with fast pressure and fast hands, showing a narrow leading frame to his opponent, keeping his guard low but mobile. Such was his speed of thought and movement that a jab could be supplanted by an uppercut to the gut or a straight right hand from a suddenly square stance; there were chinks in his armour but taking advantage of them supposed that his thrilling offense could not close that gap. This was not the case against Chartvanchai, nor ever again in Oba’s career.

After two pinpoint lead right-hands broke Cahrvanchai’s resistance in the thirteenth, Oba took on the monstrous Betulio Gonzalez. Their fight was an extraordinary one, exquisitely narrow rounds early being decided by single right hands bought by an active left jab – but the late rounds were war. Oba emerged with a slender decision, contrary to my card of 8-7 for Gonzalez, but contrary, too, to rumors of a robbery.

Oba continued to tear up the division, winning another excellent fight with contender Fernando Cabanela in 1971, avenging himself upon the wild Susumu Hanagata the following year, then stopping Orlando Amores with precision punching before surviving a disastrous first round to stop the great Charchai Chionoi in the twelfth in 1973. It was a divisional massacre.

Perhaps it would have stopped there regardless; Oba had begun planning an assault on the bantamweight division. Alas, it was not to be. Aged just twenty-three his life was claimed in an automobile accident.  The similarities between his tragic demise and that of Salvador Sanchez – both dying at twenty-three, both in car accidents – are eerie.

Other Top Fifty Flyweights Defeated: Chartchani Chionoi (Top Ten), Betulio Gonzalez (15)

#09 – Pone Kingpetch (1954-1966)

There was something fragile and beautiful about Pone Kingpetch’s boxing, all movement and the search for proper distance, but there was nothing fragile about the man himself; he was durable and aggressive when called upon.

He took the title from a living nightmare in the ring and a man who should have enjoyed a mighty style advantage over him, Pascual Perez. Perez, who had reigned as king for six years, traveled to Thailand in 1960 and like so many before and after did not find it to his liking. Kingpetch took the title by virtue of a split decision, now seen as controversial in some corners. The surviving footage shows otherwise. The two fought a desperate struggle for territory, dominated in spells by Pone’s smart boxing moves launched from a height and reach advantage so large as to appear comical. Nat Fleischer’s 146-140 card in the Thai’s favor seems not unreasonable.

Either way, Pone put any debate to bed in an immediate rematch which he dominated and won by eighth round TKO. A persistent and sapping right hand to the body dropped Perez’s guard and resistance.

Kingpetch staged quality defenses against Mistunori Seki and Kyo Noguchi in 1961 and 1962 before being blasted out of his title by the great Fighting Harada in Japan. Harada, essentially a turbo-charged Perez, was sensational in taking out the champion but the Thai’s handy lead at the time of the stoppage inspired him to come again. In an immediate rematch in Thailand, Pone reclaimed his title in a fight for the ages.  No clash of styles was every more beautifully rendered as Pone found a way amid a storm of Harada leather. It was a deployment as old as the sport itself, a stiff, straight left, a right-hand lead to the body in close, a counter-right to the head. He was arguably a little fortunate in getting the nod, but it was no robbery.

The champion then met yet another great fighter in the shape of Hiroyuki Ebihara who blasted him out in a round and seemingly ended his career. Pone gathered himself once more and squeaked past Ebihara via decision in a glorious past-prime throwback.

That made him a three-time flyweight champion, an incredible achievement. As elegant a boxer as ever graced the division, Pone Kingpetch also brought steel and heart and a right hand to the body Joe Frazier would have given his bad eye for.

Other Top Fifty Flyweights Defeated: Pascual Perez (Top Ten), Hiroyuki Ebihara (12), Fighting Harada (40).

#08 – Chartchai Chionoi (1959-1975)

Chartchai Chionoi, the Thai legend, seemed just another fighter when he turned professional way back in the late fifties; by the time of his retirement in 1975 he stood as a two-time flyweight champion of the world and had contested no fewer than thirteen world-title fights. He was a true giant of the flyweight division and perhaps the first incontrovertibly great pure flyweight we have run across.

Glimmers of his huge potential shone through in his torrid 1963 defeat of Japanese 112lb champion Seisaku Saito in an otherwise bad year. Chionoi’s flirtation with a world ranking was inconsistent and the level of opposition he met equally so. It was something of a surprise then, when upon tempting champion Walter McGowan out to Thailand in December of 1966 he lifted the world flyweight title on a seventh-round stoppage. Chionoi’s strategy was machismo of which a Mexican would have been proud, essentially allowing McGowan to hit him with that cultured left while exacting a terrible tole with his own right. McGown was physically unequal to the task and crumbled not once but twice, the rematch in London especially exemplary of the Thai’s brutal style.

For his second defense, Chionoi matched a man more able to dish out punishment than even he in the form of Efren Torres. The two staged a trilogy in a storm of blood, their first fight, one of the great flyweight championship contests, as savage as anything that can be seen in the modern annals of boxing history, won by the champion in thirteen rounds. A terrible eye-injury cost him the title in their 1969 rematch, but Chinoi returned, mercilessly, thrillingly, once more dominating his brutal opponent with a body-attack now honed to perfection.

But three fights against so vicious an opponent perhaps signaled the end of his absolute prime. In his very next he seemed shell-shocked and vulnerable in dropping his title to Erbito Salavarria.

Even so marred he was capable of foiling the plans of elite fighters, ranked men, and his resume is bolstered by the names of Fritz Chervet, Berkeret Charvanchai and Berabe Villacampo.

A short-lived though devastating peak and some patchy results before and after his two-pronged tear at the division mean the upper limits of the top ten are beyond him, but there isn’t another fighter on this list quite like Chionoi.

Other Top Fifty Flyweights Defeated: Efren Torres (26).

#07 – Pancho Villa (1919-1925)

Perhaps the grinding poverty from which Filipino Pancho Villa rose cannot be understood by a western witness.

Abandoned by his father while just a baby, Villa was raised his mother, who herded goats. As a child he traveled to Manila to make his fortune and fell in first with a scraped together boxing gym and then an American promoter with connections to the uncrowned king of boxing, Tex Rickard. Rickard threw the exotic Villa to the wolves amid some questionable promotion and he was roundly beaten by the excellent Abe Goldstein and the brilliant Frankie Genaro – but Rickard took one look at the delight with which the New York crowd greeted Villa’s free-swinging hard-punching style and saw dollar signs.

When Genaro again bested Villa 1922 but priced himself out of a meeting with American champion Johnny Buff, Villa happily stepped in to fill the void. He had studied carefully and tempered his unhinged style for the American ring.  The first round he boxed against Buff was careful and thoughtful; by the seventh Buff was described as “a crimson smear”; in the eleventh his corner tossed the towel.

Four months after besting ring legend Frankie Mason, Villa found himself in the opposite corner to a ring immortal, “The Might Atom” Jimmy Wilde, tempted out of retirement for one last payday in defense of the flyweight championship most still hung upon him.

Villa controlled their contest completely. He out-fought and out-sped the older man from the third through to the desperate ending when he dropped a right-hook from a square stance depositing Wilde unconscious on his face

Wilde was magnanimous in defeat naming Villa a “great fighter who will make a good champion.”

This can be disputed. Already, Villa’s head was being turned by the bigger purses (and meals) that could be had at higher weights. At flyweight he staged three title defenses, the best of them against the excellent Benny Schwartz who he out-pointed over fifteen. His failure to defend against Genaro would be a black mark against his reign but articles were signed for that fight before first one, then the other pulled out with injury. His tragic death at just twenty-three cheated us of a final showdown

Regardless he stormed the United States with a style as violent and irresistible as his fistic descendant Manny Pacquiao and his destruction of Jimmy Wilde, albeit a faded version, carries serious weight of legacy.

Other Top Fifty Flyweights Defeated: Jimmy Wilde (Top Ten).

#06 – Benny Lynch (1931-1938)

We reach a false summit with this inclusion. Seven through ten are debatable with eleven through fourteen but here, at six, we meet our first indisputable member of The Ten. Benny Lynch, the greatest fighter to hail from my home country of Scotland, is a lock.

Born in the Gorbals, a notorious housing scheme in the city of Glasgow, Lynch was plying his trade in the thriving smokehouses and gyms of the Scottish fight scene by twenty-one. He would box almost one hundred and thirty contests. He would be stopped only in his last by which time he was weighing at a pudgy, drink-sodden 131lbs. An iron-born man hailing from an iron-hued city he had a natural talent and aptitude for fighting.

Emerging from the terrible chaos that shrouded the division after the abdication of Fidel LaBarba in 1927, Lynch positioned himself for glory in dusting two elite French fighters tempted to Glasgow for sizeable purses, Maurice Huguenin and Valentin Angelmann. His reward was a crack at a piece of the splintered title against Jackie Brown. Brown, an ironman in his own right, had been knocked out just once five years earlier, a slight for which he had three times wrought vengeance. Having boxed Lynch to a draw up at bantamweight earlier in 1935, experts predicted Brown would keep matters tight once more.

What they witnessed instead was a man possessed grasping his opportunity with both gloved hands.

Lynch was a puncher. Not a darkening one, but nor just a stinging one, as Brown would no doubt attest after swallowing a flush, trapping right hand in the first. Brown got up but he was never again in the fight. Lynch now deployed his left-hook, an even better punch, and Brown was sent to the canvas thrice more in the first. Keeping count of the knockdowns in the second round is difficult; the referee finally rescued the hapless Brown and Lynch had arrived.

Elite flyweights Pat Palmer and Syd Parker followed in the trail of destruction, both succumbing to stoppages, the former falling short in a crack at Lynch’s strap. Despite his dominance, the title picture remained confused. Lynch righted it early in 1937 when he bested Small Montana, the only other man on the planet with a claim to the flyweight championship. Their fight was not one-sided. Montana was perhaps the only man to really stretch the primed flyweight Lynch and according to the United Press report he stretched him all the way to the final round where their toe-to-toe battle was settled in the Scotsman’s favor.

He swaggered in the ring and launched sudden two-fisted attacks that sometimes seemed to have no end in front of crowds of forty-five thousand. He had it all.

In October of 1937, already beginning to slip, he met the murderous punching Peter Kane, then 42-0, my selection as the division’s #2 puncher; Lynch took what he had to give, doubled it, and banged him out in thirteen rounds. Harder, faster, better. But he would never make the flyweight limit again. Alcohol had overtaken him.

By 1938 his career was over. In 1946, just thirty-three years of age, Benny Lynch was dead.

Other Top Fifty Flyweights Defeated: Peter Kane (16)

#05 – Frankie Genaro (1920-1934)

 Olympic Gold medal winner Frankie Genaro may have been a genius. We have to be careful about hanging such a tag upon him as footage is at a premium, but nothing I have ever read has dissuaded me from this thinking.

His brilliance was most crystallized in his three-fight series with the puncher Pancho Villa. Just as the fights between Pone Kingpetch and Fighting Harada represent a special clash of styles so too do these two seem to have sapped the far reaches of excellence from one another although here there was never any doubt as to who was the better; Genaro took the decision from Villa on all three occasions.

The first meeting between the two was staged in July of 1922 and Genaro took full advantage of Villa’s green streak. In possession of a clean style advantage over his ultra-aggressive foe, Genaro slipped and countered his way through a relatively one-sided fight to take the decision. In their second contest fought just two months later, Genaro was again dominant, this time buzzing the Filipino with a right hand before unleashing his left hook to romp home once more, “a perfect combination of skill, superb boxing ability, speed and cool” according to one ringside reporter. This last cannot be underestimated. A hundred-fight career brought its share of disaster down on Genaro’s head but his temperament and the resulting generalship was never in doubt.

The two met for a third and final time early the following year and this time the fight was scheduled for fifteen rounds and was much, much closer. Genaro suffered a deep cut under his left eye and both fighters ended the contest smothered in his blood; but it was Genaro, who dominated the final three rounds with quick-handed forays into his opponent’s sphere of influence followed by slick retreats barracked by counterpunches.

Despite his domination of their trilogy, Villa remained a thorn in Genaro’s side, losing to him but somehow beating him to fights with both Johnny Buff and Jimmy Wilde. Villa then failed to defend against his old tormentor. Their third fight is close enough to wonder if Genaro would have slipped over the line against the Pinoy puncher in a title match, but he certainly would have started a favorite and unquestionably deserved the shot.

Genaro’s great career was defined by Villa but not limited to it. He also defeated many of the finest names from a stacked era, many of whom will be familiar to readers of this series. Valentin Angelmann, Ruby Bradley, Emile Pladner, Steve Rocco and Frenchy Belanger all fell to him at one time or another (though Pladner also once defeated him with an exquisite sounding liver-shot). It adds up to one of the most rendered resumes in the history of flyweight boxing.

Other Top Fifty Flyweights Defeated: Emile Pladner (37), Pancho Villa (Top Ten)

 #04 – Midget Wolgast (1925-1940)

Midget Wolgast is my favorite flyweight and one of the most outrageous geniuses in fistic history.

His boxing was a conflation of dizzying defensive wonderment and mobile attacking brilliance. He feinted his opponent forwards and then moved off the center line, his reactions to any offensive foray a deft slip of the head, but his own offense was what differentiates him from other great defensive wizards. Wolgast, who couldn’t punch to save himself, was unequalled at firing off blows while on the move. His bread and butter was a shrill pop of a jab that he could land whatever angles his balletic movement inflicted, and as an improviser he was second to none. When the time came to scrap, he moved in on his man, head working like a cat about to strike, deploying a swarming body attack of dizzying variety. He was a jazz musician in a pair of boxing gloves, and domination was his art.

This combination made him a disaster for a generation of flyweights. Willie Davies slumped to multiple defeats against him, their rivalry perhaps the greatest in flyweight history as Davies time and again pushed his opponent to the very brink but succeeded in winning only one of their seemingly endless stream of combats.

Even the beginnings of his excellence are too long to tell but his 1927 win over Izzy Schwarz is as fine a place as any. Schwartz was an experienced ring veteran, only moths away from his own victory over Willie Davies and a year from his victory in an NYSAC title fight, but he couldn’t do anything with Wolgast who, though still a teenager, clearly out-pointed him. Billy Kelly, Ernie Peters, Phil Tobias, Ruby Bradley, Johnny McCoy, Jackie Brown – the list of made men he befuddled starts here and just rolls on and on. In fact, no fighter on this list defeated more Ring or TBRB ranked contenders than Wolgast.  That bears repeating – Wolgast defeated more ranked men than any other fighter accounted for on this list, which is the same as saying anyone.

What keeps him from the top three is the brute fact that he never won the lineal title. Wolgast had a chance, too, albeit against Frankie Genaro. Both Genaro and Wolgast held a strap meaning neither held full recognition. They met in 1930 for all the marbles in a fight that could and perhaps should have been the greatest flyweight contest of all time – but failed to deliver. In a turgid, nervous affair, Genaro scored with a beautiful right hand in the second which closed Wolgast’s eye and set the fleet-footed magician on the run. He boxed and Genaro brought pressure, Genaro closing the stronger of the two to split the judges three ways for the draw. There would be no rematch.

He did lift a strap against the deadly Black Bill aged just nineteen, an incredible feat, but one that isn’t quite special enough to ghost him into the company of the three greatest champions in flyweight history.

Other Top Fifty Flyweights Defeated: Corporal Izzy Schwartz (50), Black Bill (36), Willie Davies (11).

#03 – Pascual Perez (1952-1964)

Pascual Perez was one of the great champions at any weight, winning the title and then successfully defending it on nine separate occasions. This was a part of his incredible 53-1-1 run, stretching from his first fight in 1955 and up to 1960, when the great Pone Kingpetch finally unseated him.

Nor was Perez protected by the Argentine tradition of giving out draws to favored sons. Perez came up hard, boxing under different names and in different cities. Not until he had traveled to Japan and unseated then champion Yoshio Shirai did he become a true hero to his people and a regular at the Estadio Luna Park in Buenos Aires.

The night he took the title in Japan, Perez weighed a mere 107lbs although standing just under five feet tall he was in no way underweight. Perez would never scale the full poundage of the flyweight limit in his championship career, though he embodied the style and did the damage of a much more physical man. A jab both probing and thudding was primary but he was happy to lead with the right hand and did so often; his wheelhouse was the inside, where he kept low and slugged to the body before deftly moving upstairs with the same savage precision. His demeanor in the ring was one of fierce attention.

That attention laid low numerous world class flyweights. When Shirai tried to fight fire with fire in their third and final match, Perez retired him with a right hand of fearsome construction. The same punch rudely dispatched the highly ranked Young Martin who was counted out tangled in the ropes like a drunkard. Dai Dower, ranked number two, lasted just seconds before a right hand from a square stance dropped him for the count. Men who lasted the distance often wish they hadn’t, and Perez travelled to Japan, Venezuela and The Philippines to make them feel that way.

His was the most complete championship run in the history of the division.

Almost.

Other Top Fifty Flyweights Defeated: Yoshio Shirai (23)

#02 – Jimmy Wilde (1911-1923)

Jimmy Wilde is number two.

Reader expectation has been an interesting aspect of this series and it is likely no aspect of reader expectation will be more well-worn than that of Jimmy Wilde as the greatest flyweight in history. He was ranked as such by Nat Fleischer, Charley Rose and Herb Goldman. Why then, is he not rated as such here?

Well, Wilde was inarguably the greatest ever to box at flyweight but my argument is he was not the greatest ever flyweight boxer. The true answer, as always, is criteria, and mine can be read in Part One, but the most important aspect to be remembered here is that this list “only considers fights that took place at flyweight or just above.” It is a flyweight list in the truest sense of the word.

What Wilde did against opponents weighing in above the flyweight limit is absurd. His victory over Joe Conn, a featherweight on a hot streak, is perhaps the single greatest win in boxing history. The temptation to credit him in this division while weighing twenty pounds less than Conn is enormous; but it wasn’t a flyweight match – it was a featherweight contest. In unpicking the history of the 112lb division then, it has no relevance.

As for Wilde’s championship legacy at flyweight, tracing it can be difficult. For some it can be counted from 1914 when he lifted the European flyweight title against the even smaller Eugene Husson, a fight also billed for something called the “gnatweight title”. This claim is muddied by Wilde’s fellow Welshman Percy Jones, who held the IBU flyweight title at the same time; he then lost that title to Joe Symonds. The Symonds claim was in turn strengthened over Wilde’s because he was able to defeat the man who stopped Wilde in 1915, Tancy Lee. When the gnatweight title fell by the wayside the European title Wilde held remained just that in terms of lineage while the IBU title, held by Jones and Symonds, morphs into the flyweight title – meanwhile America recognized no meaningful flyweight champion, though a “paperweight” title did receive fleeting attention.

This mess was born of a semi-recognized division which was as geographically moribund as any, ever.  Within this division, Wilde’s early involvement in competition for such titles does speak to his elite status, but he cannot be named the best flyweight in the world until 1916, especially not in the light of his knockout loss to Lee in 1915. From 1916 to 1920 though, Wilde was the Don and the single most significant flyweight in history as he became the overseer of the division’s transition to legitimacy. His destruction of Sid Smith in eight rounds at the very end of 1915 was the true beginning of his evisceration of the poundage and when he later turned the same trick in just three his confirmation as prime was complete. In between he forced Symonds to quit after twelve before avenging himself upon the still red-hot Tancy Lee that June. When he hosted and dominated American flyweight Young Zulu Kid in December his claim was beyond dispute. The first undisputed flyweight world champion had been born.

Between 1911 and 1920, Wilde lost to just one flyweight in Lee and he butchered his nemesis in the return. It is possible to be ultra-critical in pointing out that Wilde’s record of 1-1 against the best fly he ever fought is perhaps a little unsatisfactory, but Wilde settled their dispute in that second fight. This streak is the hottest of the hot and is paralleled only by the very greatest fighters in history; certainly, no flyweight ever recreated it. Wilde did all of this boxing with a savage abandon and in a style recreated by no fighters either before or after him, a style birthed by his power, his heart and his granite chin.

But questions concerning the depth of his opposition remain and his record in true championship fights, impressive in a generous reading at 7-1, pales in comparison to our divisional number one.

Other Top Fifty Flyweights Defeated: Sid Smith (44), Joe Symonds (43), Tancy Lee (22).

#01 – Miguel Canto (1969-1982)

15-1-1 are Miguel Canto’s corresponding numbers in lineal championship fights.

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam managed more defenses but readers of this series will be familiar with the problems his record presents – Canto racked up his numbers in perhaps the deepest flyweight division that has ever been mustered. Were he a heavyweight he would be lauded as the third great alongside Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis.

Canto first grabbed attention in 1971 when he defeated Alberto Morales, a capable and durable little fighter who was pitted against the same massed ranks of Mexican flys that Canto had to negotiate. A world-level fighter he held the Mexican title and would go on to defeat future champion Guty Espadas, but in three attempts he couldn’t undo the little magician. Canto had named himself the exceptional talent out of Mexico and a title-challenge was his reward.

But the title was in the possession of Betulio Gonzalez, an exceptional talent, as readers of Part Four will remember; Canto learned his final lesson on Venezuelan soil against Gonzalez dropping a close, questionable decision. The fighter that emerged from that majority decision defeat stood on a rare peak.

In 1975 Canto established a lineal claim in as dominant a fashion as any fighter, ever. In January, March and May of that year he defeated the three other most significant flyweights in the world: Shoji Oguma, Ignacio Espinal and Betulio Gonzalez. These five short months shape his flyweight legacy.

Against Oguma, a surging southpaw pressure-fighter who had the great gift of timing his rushes to cause maximum inconvenience to his opponents, it was the night of the right hand, a punch the Mexican used to tattoo his opponent’s head, gathering points. In his rematch with Gonzalez, Canto put on what may have been the greatest left-handed clinic in boxing history, which he repeated in their third and final match. His jab and hook hit the heights of pure rhythm and despite the majority decision won by distance and at a canter; no result could have more firmly underlined the enormous strides he had taken since their first fight.

Oguma, who Canto defeated three times in total, was horrified by that first decision loss questioning, much like Dick Tiger or Jake LaMotta before him, how he could have lost if he hadn’t been hurt? He reveals in this remark Canto’s great weakness. He never could punch, and of his swathe of title defenses only one was won on a stoppage.

But Canto wove this weakness into genius. The most interesting champions are always the ones who build upon their shortcomings and Canto is perhaps the shining example. When you can’t hit, every punch matters; Canto’s solution did not call for the wild stylings of Nico Locche nor the poor economy of Willie Pep. He riffed on technical excellence and you have to watch him carefully to see the magic as he gave ground in ever decreasing increments to slowly take control of the range or when boxing a great fighter like Betulio Gonzalez so slightly off the line that Gonzalez fights the whole fight as though he were on it. His elegance in taking his greatest failing and designing a fight that meant it just didn’t matter is more beautiful, more storied, more layered, than any puncher trying to trap a crafty contender onto a right hand.

But there was Mexican in him too. Past prime Canto took on a future champion, the puncher Antonio Avelar and went straight into the trenches with him. Canto was a fine infighter and the instincts of his blood were intact.

That fight was Canto’s final fling as a genuinely great fighter, and he had already lost a step. He lost his title to Chan-Hee Park in 1979 and although he was arguably a little unlucky in the return bout out in Japan, his time had passed. He had all but cleaned one of the truly great divisions.

That’s what truly great fighters do.

Other Top Fifty Flyweights Defeated: Gabriel Bernal (46), Shoji Oguma (31), Betulio Gonzalez (15).

For those of you who have read this series from first to last, I thank you.

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Beterbiev Embellishes His Claim as Top Light Heavy in Stopping Gvozdyk

Bernard Fernandez

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Minutes after Artur Beterbiev had scored three knockdowns of Oleksandr Gvozdyk that did count in the 10th round, prompting referee Gary Rosato to wave an end to an historic and entertaining light heavyweight bout, someone asked the winner if he knew he was actually behind on two of the three official scorecards at the time of the stoppage.

The bearded, Montreal-based Russian, who now has won all 15 of his professional outings inside the distance, didn’t seem to mind or care that he might have been in danger of losing on points, had it come to that. When you are accustomed to scoring knockouts, taking the outcome out of the hands of judges with pencils, the perhaps natural tendency is to assume that the familiar pattern will again play itself out as it always had.

“First knockdown, second knockdown, third knockdown, I don’t count,” Beterbiev said of a performance that wasn’t exactly flawless, but nonetheless might have embellished his claim of being the best 175-pound on the planet. “I am just working. I just continue working until the referee stop it.”

Now, about that bit of history that was made Friday night, before a pro-Gvozdyk on-site turnout of 3,283 in the Liacouras Center on Temple University’s North Philadelphia campus, and an ESPN viewing audience. It marked the just the fifth unification of the light heavyweight division since 2000. No fighter has held all four alphabet-organization titles since the dawn of the 21st century, something Beterbiev is eager to correct and Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum is just as eager to help him accomplish moving forward. Now that Beterbiev has added Gvozdyk’s WBC strap to the IBF belt he already held, not to mention the lineal title that also had belonged to the slick-boxing Ukrainian, Beterbiev believes he deserves to be more widely acknowledged as best of the best.

Although Beterbiev’s next fight, early in 2020, almost certainly will come against his IBF mandatory challenger, China’s Meng Fanlong (16-0, 10 KOs), he envisions more unification showdowns, against WBA champ Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11 KOs) and the winner of the Nov. 2 pairing of WBO ruler and fellow Russian Sergey Kovalev (34-3-1, 29 KOs) and WBA/WBC middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez (51-1-2, 35 KOs), especially if the survivor is Kovalev.

“Unification or mandatory, it doesn’t matter,” Beterbiev said. “I just continue. I’m focused on titles, not names.”

There might also be a rematch with Gvozdyk (17-1, 14 KOs) to be fitted into his schedule at some point, given the fact that “The Nail” actually led on the scorecards of judges John McKaie (87-84) and Ron McNair (86-85) through the nine completed rounds. John Poturaj was the dissenter, having Beterbiev ahead by 87-83.

Punch statistics seemingly did not support the tallies of McKaie and McNair, as Beterbiev outlanded Gvozdyk, 161 to 118, in total punches and 113-94 on power shots. But statistics alone do not tell the story; although Gvozdyk had his moments, Beterbiev did not seem visibly affected when he was on the receiving end. The same could not be said of Gvozdyk, who clinched often in the ninth round and visibly appeared to be gassed and hurting prior to the climactic 10th.

“Gvozdyk was outboxing him early, but the `Beast’ just wore him down and finally took him out,” said Bob Arum, who has both fighters in his deep promotional stable. “He’s one of the strongest light heavyweights I’ve ever seen. He has tremendous energy, takes a great punch and stays in there until he finally wears his opponent out.”

It also would appear that Beterbiev is not easily distracted, as evidenced by what happened in the closing moments of the first round, which Gvozdyk appeared to be winning. When Beterbiev wrestled Gvozdyk to the canvas without a punch being thrown, Rosato initiated a count, potentially turning a 10-9 round for Gvozdyk into a 10-8 for Beterbiev. Greg Sirb, head of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, quickly ruled that there had been no knockdown, but the possibility of a three-point swing in the very first round might have been unnerving to a lot of fighters. Not so with Beterbiev.

Twice more before the fateful 10th did Gvozdyk wind up on the deck, both times being ruled slips by Rosato, whom, Arum said, “didn’t cover himself in glory the whole fight.”

Despite the disappointingly small attendance — a majority of attendees apparently Ukrainian expatriates or visitors to the U.S. — the main event drew a Who’s Who of boxing notables: Tyson Fury, Bernard Hopkins, Vasiliy Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk, Andre Ward, Teofimo Lopez, Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, Richard Commey, Paulie Malignaggi and Jesse Hart.

In other bouts:

*The ESPN-televised lead-in to Beterbiev-Gvozdyk also was a star turn of sorts for Uzbekistani welterweight Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (17-0, 9 KOs), the IBF’s No. 1 contender who took a wide nine-round (yes, that’s right) unanimous decision over Luis Collazo (39-8, 20 KOs), the 38-year-old former WBA 147-pound title-holder from Brooklyn. An unintentional clash of heads in the 10th round opened a nasty cut in Collazo’s right eyelid, a companion piece to the cut above the left eye he had suffered earlier in the fight. If all that wasn’t enough, Collazo, a southpaw, appeared to have injured his left bicep in the fifth round.

“I would like to fight for the title next,” said Abdukakhorov, whose No. 1 ranking puts him at or near the front of the line for a shot at IBF champion Errol Spence Jr., who is recovering from a recent automobile accident. “If he’s ready to fight soon, I would like to fight him. If he has to vacate the title, then I will fight whoever they put in front of me.”

*Brothers Joseph Adorno and Jeremy Adorno, both from Allentown, Pa., continued to look like future stars. Joseph (14-0, 12 KOs), a 20-year-old lightweight, floored Argentina’s Damian Sosa (9-3, 7 KOs) twice en route to an emphatic first-round stoppage, while Jeremy (3-0, 1 KO), an 18-year-old super bantamweight, was never pressed in scoring a four-round unanimous decision over Misael Reyes (1-3), of Kansas City, Kan.

*South Philadelphia heavyweight Sonny “The Bronco” Conto (5-0, 4 KOs), a sparring partner of lineal champion Tyson Fury, gave local fans something to cheer about, if only briefly, when opponent Steve Lyons (5-6, 2 KOs), from Larose, La., embarrassed himself by quitting on his stool after the first round of a scheduled four-rounder.  During the three minutes during which Lyons gave the impression that he’d rather be back on the bayou, Conto landed a couple of hard, snapping jabs and pronounced himself as having the best in the division other than Fury’s. “He’s the present, I’m the future,” Conto said of Fury, who accompanied him during his ring walk.

*Julian “Hammer Hands” Rodriguez (14-0, 12 KOs), a super lightweight from Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., put Leonardo Doronio (17-17-3, 11 KOs) down and out with a nifty left hook to the jaw in the sixth round of a scheduled six-rounder.

*Super lightweight Josue Vargas (15-1, 9 KOs), of the Bronx, N.Y., pitched an eight-round shutout at Johnny Rodriguez (9-5-1, 6 KOs), of Denver, winning by 80-72 margins on all three scorecards. Vargas also registered a flash knockdown in in round two, so perhaps he was even shorted a point on those cards.

*On a night where light heavyweights topped the marquee, Michael Seals (24-2, 18 KOs), of Atlanta, did his best to drop his name into the mix of future challengers with a one-round stoppage of Argentina’s Elio Trosch (14-9-2, 7 KOs), the put-away coming on a left hook off a right cross.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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Puerto Rico’s Javier Flores Upsets Mexico’s Angel Ruiz in SoCal

David A. Avila

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ONTARIO, CALIF.-Anytime you place southpaws against each other expect a big bang.

Puerto Rico’s Javier Flores (15-2, 13 KOs), a left-handed slugger, walloped Mexican southpaw Angel “El Relampago” Ruiz (16-1, 12 KOs) with a knockout win in front of a near sold out crowd on Friday, Oct. 18, at the Doubletree Hotel.

It was not expected.

Ruiz walked in undefeated with a large crowd of support and departed with knowledge that whenever two southpaws clash you can expect the guy with a right hook to be victorious.

During the first round the speedy Ruiz was lighting up combinations on Flores who calmly bided his time with single punch counters. But the few counters that landed, including a short right hook, spelled doom for Ruiz.

Lefty versus lefty causes problems because they seldom fight each other. And when they do, it’s the right hook that is always unexpected. Things were going smoothly as the Mexican fighter unleashed torrid combinations against Flores who covered up in the first round.

Ruiz was filled with confidence in the second round and began opening up with even more combinations. Flores seemed more animated and exchanged with the Mexican fighter. Both exchanged once again and suddenly Flores connected solidly with a right hook and down went Ruiz. He was counted out by referee Jerry Cantu at 2:02 of the second round.

Flores calmly celebrated his win and was later congratulated by Ruiz. It was an explosive end and the crowd departed in awe at the sudden ending.

Other Results

George Acosta (8-1) pinned Mexico’s Roberto Almazan (9-13) against the ropes for most of their six round lightweight bout to win by decision. Whittier’s Acosta kept the pressure on Almazan who was content to be the counter-puncher and suffered the consequences. Though Acosta never really hurt Almazan he scored by simply being more aggressive. All three ringside judges scored the fight 60-54 for Acosta.

Local fighter Alec Zavala (4-0, 3 KOs) opened up in the first round with a four-punch combination that included a left hook to the body and knocked out Mexico’s Carlos Apodaca (3-14-2) at 1:02 of the round. It was the third knockout so far in the Eastvale super lightweight fighter’s career.

A high volume punching lightweight clash saw Canada’s Golden Garcia (11-0-2, 6 KOs) and Mexico’s Hector Garcia (14-7-3, 8 KOs) battle for six torrid rounds ending in a draw. Both fighters had their moments with the Mexican lightweight landing the harder punches earlier and the Canadian taking over the middleweight rounds with accurate combinations. But the fighter from Tijuana opened up with combinations of his own to convince all three judges to score it 57-57 a draw.

Ivan Zarate (1-0) scored a big knockdown in the first round over Mexico’s Neri Garcia (1-9) and that proved the difference in the four round super bantamweight bout. An overhand right floored Garcia but he rallied to win two rounds against Zarate who was making his pro debut. The younger brother of Isaac Zarate was able to escape with a decision win by scores 38-37 on all three judge’s cards.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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