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Alex Garcia Might Have Gotten There Ahead of Andy Ruiz Jr.

Bernard Fernandez

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Alex Garcia Might Have Gotten There Ahead of Andy Ruiz Jr.

Making history by getting there first is something that can never be taken away from Andy Ruiz Jr., who became the first Mexican or Mexican-American heavyweight champion when he shocked IBF/WBA/WBO titlist Anthony Joshua of Great Britain on a seventh-round technical knockout at Madison Square Garden on June 1. Some characterized Garcia’s victory as an upset almost on a par with Buster Douglas’ conquest of the seemingly invincible Mike Tyson in Tokyo on Feb. 11, 1990.

Ruiz, who was born and still resides in Imperial, Calif., not far from the Mexican border, flew to Mexico City two days after stopping Joshua for a celebratory meeting with Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

“Me becoming the first Mexican heavyweight champion of the world, it’s a blessing,” gushed the 30-year-old Ruiz, who almost instantly became a national hero of that country, so rich in boxing history with such legendary champions (including those of Mexican descent) in lower weight classes as Julio Cesar Chavez, Salvador Sanchez, Canelo Alvarez, Ruben Olivares, Oscar De La Hoya, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, Miguel Canto, Carlos Zarate, Erik Morales, Ricardo Lopez, Fernando Vargas and Mikey Garcia.

The coronation of Ruiz further reduces the memory of what another Mexican-American heavyweight contender, Alex Garcia, might have accomplished nearly a quarter-century earlier. Garcia seemingly was in line for a fat, seven-figure title shot, but blew the gig because of a greedy manager who put him into a low-paying ($15,000) stay-busy bout with dangerous journeyman Mike Dixon that turned out horribly wrong. More on that in a bit.

A lot of puzzle pieces would have to fall into place for more Mexican heavyweight history to be made, beginning with a repeat victory for Ruiz over Joshua in a contractually mandated rematch whose particulars have yet to be negotiated. If Ruiz can hang onto his bejeweled straps in the do-over, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a future defense might be arranged against another Mexican-American, longtime contender Chris Arreola, who is 0-3 in shots at the big prize but could soon find himself back in the mix. Hey, it’s boxing. Stranger things have happened.

The 38-year-old Arreola (38-5-1, 33) insists he will retire if he loses Saturday’s Fox-televised 12-round matchup with fellow power puncher Adam Kownacki (19-0, 15 KOs) at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. But if he wins, and especially if he wins inside the distance, he thinks it just might lead to a go against Ruiz, in what would be the first all-Mexican world heavyweight title bout. Kownacki, 30, also has history on his mind, holding firm to the belief that an impressive victory over Arreola might put him in position to become the first-ever Polish heavyweight champion.

“I was happy for him, for his family, because he deserves it,” Arreola said of Ruiz (33-1, 22 KOs), an acquaintance of long standing whose unexpected rout of Joshua, who was floored four times, stands in stark contrast to Arreola’s failed bids for world titles against Vitali Klitschko, Bermane Stiverne and Deontay Wilder, all of which came on knockouts or stoppages. “I’ve known the kid since he was 17 years old and he’s always been hungry. He’s always worked hard. He’s always been a big boy, but he’s always been a big boy with skill.

“I was elated for him. I was elated for the Mexican fans that finally had a Mexican champion. He did it, man. And honestly, a lot of pressure came off me.”

If there are common links between Ruiz, who made Mexican boxing history, and Arreola, who for so long had wanted to, the main ones deal with their hardscrabble upbringings and apparent aversion for always showing up for fights in prime condition.

Although Ruiz’s hometown is Imperial, he frequently has made the relatively short trip (20 miles) to Mexicali, where his grandfather in the 1960s ran a gym that was something less than splendidly furbished. Not that life on the U.S. side of the border was any easier or more privileged for the large kid with the constantly famished appetite.

“Everyone had it tough there because it’s just a small town near the Mexican border,” Ruiz said in an interview with the New York Times. “Lots of drug smuggling. There’s gangs. Cartels. But luckily, boxing saved my life. It kept me disciplined, it kept me away from the streets.”

Ruiz might always have been hard on the inside, but that internal grit sometimes was difficult to detect as it always came wrapped in a flabby exterior. Particularly fond of Snickers candy bars, he waddled into the ring against Joshua at a jiggly 268 pounds, his love handles lapping over the waistband of his trunks like waves during a tropical storm’s landfall. But in boxing, as in everything else, appearances sometimes can be deceiving.

Like Ruiz, Arreola long has been viewed as a heavyweight whose potential has been blunted by a supposed lackadaisical approach to training. Several inches taller than Ruiz at 6-3, he has fought as low as 229 pounds and as high as 262¼, but he insists conditioning will not be a problem against Kownacki after three months in the gym with new trainer Joe Goossen.

More physically imposing than either Ruiz or Arreola with his robe off was Garcia, whose Mexican-American roots made him attractive as a possible title challenger in the early to mid-1990s. Garcia had a deserved reputation as a tough customer, first as a standout middle linebacker at San Fernando (Calif.) High School and later as a gang member who served five years in various state penal institutions before shifting his pro career into high gear.

There was talk of Garcia being in line for a $1 million payday to fight then-WBO champion George Foreman, but Garcia’s then-manager, a Los Angeles attorney, insisted the smart play was to hold off a while longer, at which point Garcia’s purse would have risen to $5 million. But Foreman was dethroned by Tommy Morrison, and Garcia was put in for chump change and a couple of vacant minor titles against Dixon, whose 16-30 career record is deceiving considering that he shared the ring at various times with the likes of Lennox Lewis, Ray Mercer, Bruce Seldon, Corrie Sanders, Herbie Hide, Oliver McCall, Michael Grant, Larry Donald, Jameel McCline, Kirk Johnson, Buster Mathis Jr. and Zeljko Mavrovic, among others.  Dixon floored Garcia with a left hook to the temple in the second round, and when the favorite arose it was on wobbly legs. Dixon went right at him and was whaling away when referee Joe Cortez stopped the fight.

It hardly seemed to matter that Garcia got some too-little, too-late revenge in the rematch with Dixon on May 24, 1994, winning a 10-round unanimous decision. The seven-figure window of opportunity that had been so conspicuously open not that long ago had just as conspicuously slammed shut.

Might Garcia have beaten Foreman or Morrison? Probably not. But then that’s what everyone had predicted of Douglas vs. Tyson and, later on, Ruiz vs. Joshua. Garcia might have been a movie star of sorts, cast in the role of Minoso Torres in the 1992 film Diggstown, but real boxing matches do not follow scripts. There would be no visit to the Mexican presidential palace for Garcia, who did not even get the multiple failed shots at the title that went to Arreola or the successful one that went to Ruiz.

Proving once again that boxing history is a constantly moving target.

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Yoka TKO 12 Djeko in France: Claressa Pitches a Shutout on Ladies Day in Flint

Arne K. Lang

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March 8 is International Women’s Day which is actually a formal holiday in many parts of the globe. It was somehow fitting that female boxers were on display on the Friday feeding into it, a weekend without a must-see attraction on the men’s side.

Today’s activity began in the French port city of Nantes where 2016 Olympic gold medal winners Tony Yoka and Estelle Mossely, husband and wife, kept their undefeated records intact, both advancing to 10-0, against European opponents. Yoka (10-0, 8 KOs) was matched against Joel “Big Joe” Djeko (17-3-1), a 31-year-old Brussels native of Congolese and Cuban extraction who had fought most of his career as a cruiserweight. Mossely, a lightweight who now goes by Yoka-Mossely, drew Germany’s Verena Kaiser (14-2).

At the Rio Olympiad, Yoka got by Filip Hrgovic in the semis and Joe Joyce in the finals to win the gold, winning both bouts by split decision. Both would be favored over the Frenchman in a rematch fought under professional rules.

Against the six-foot-six Djeko, Yoka controlled the fight with his jab, repeatedly backing his foe against the ropes. Very few of Djeko’s punches got through Yoka’s high guard. Had the fight gone to the scorecards, it would have been a rout for Yoka, but it didn’t quite get there as Djeko turned his back on the proceedings midway through the 12th round after absorbing a sharp jab and it went into the books as a TKO for Yoka. At stake was some kind of European title or a derivation thereof.

Mossely’s fight with Kaiser, slated for 10 two-minute rounds, followed a somewhat similar tack, save that it went the full distance. With only one knockout to her credit at the pro level, Mosseley, typical of female boxers, lacks a knockout punch. But she’s a good technician and had too much class for the German.

Flint

A Covid-19 limited crowd of perhaps 300 was on hand to watch hometown heroine Claressa Shields oppose IBF 154-pound title-holder Marie Eve Dicaire at a 4,400-seat arena in Flint. There were five bouts on the undercard, three of which were women’s bouts.

Claressa

Claressa Shields

Shields, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was seeking to become a four-belt title-holder in a second weight class, having previously turned the trick at 160. Dicaire, a 34-year-old southpaw, brought a 17-0 record but she had never won a fight inside the distance and all of her previous bouts took place in French-speaking Canada.

The self-proclaimed GWOAT, Shields has no peer between 154 and 168 pounds. Heading into this contest, she had hardly lost a round since meeting Hanna Gabriels and tonight was another total whitewash, her fourth overall in 10-round fights.

Claressa Shields, now 11-0 (2) may be too good for her own good. Her fights are so one-sided that they are monotonous. Her TV ratings have actually been falling. Today’s show was a $29.99 pay-per-view on FITE when the established networks refused to meet her purse demands. It will be interesting to see how many tuned in.

In another fight of note, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza, in her first fight as a bantamweight, dominated Toronto’s Shelly Barnett en route to winning a 6-round unanimous decision. There were no knockdowns, but the scorecards (60-54, 60-53 twice) were indicative of Esparza’s dominance.

Esparza, who pushed her record to 9-1 (1), came in ranked #1 by the WBC in the flyweight class. Her lone defeat came at the hands of rugged Seniesa Estrada. Barnett declined to 4-4-3.

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Brandon Adams Bursts Bohachuk’s Bubble in Puerto Rico

Arne K. Lang

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Brandon Adams Bursts Bohachuk’s Bubble in Puerto Rico

Ring City USA, a new promotional entity, debuted on Nov. 19, 2020 with a show staged in the parking lot of Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, CA. Ring City stayed outdoors for their first offering of 2021, but the company was a long ways from California. Tonight’s card was staged on a roundabout near a municipal gym in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

The headline attraction was an attractive match between junior middleweights Serhii Bohachuk and Brandon Adams. The bout was originally set for Dec. 3, but had to be pushed back when Bohachuk tested positive for the coronavirus.

Bohachuk, a 25-year-old California-based Ukrainian, had stopped all 18 of his previous opponents. He had never gone past six rounds. Brandon Adams, a former world title challenger, represented a step up in class.

Bohachuk was well on his way to winning a unanimous decision when the tide turned dramatically in round eight. Fighting on a slick canvas, Adams suddenly found a new gear, unloading a series of punches climaxed by a thunderous left hook as Bohachuk retreated. The Ukrainian beat the count, but was teetering on unsteady legs and the referee properly called a halt.

Adams was without his regular trainer, 80-year-old Dub Huntley, who remained back in LA as a health precaution. In winning, he elevated his records to 23-3 (15). It was his best performance since defeating Shane Mosley Jr in the finals of Season 5 of the “Contender” series.

In the co-feature, an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rico’s Bryan Chevalier improved to 15-1-1 (12) with a third-round stoppage of Peru’s Carlos Zambrano (26-2). Chevalier scored two knockdowns, the first a sweeping left hook that appeared to land behind Zambrano’s head, and the second a punch to the liver that left Zambrano in severe distress. The referee waived the fight off in mid-count.

The official time was 2:21. Chevalier, a tall featherweight (5’11”) made a very impressive showing; he bears watching. This was Zambrano’s first fight since April of 2017 when he was knocked out in the opening round by Claudio Marrero in a bout for the WBA interim featherweight title.

The TV opener was an entertaining fight between contrasting styles that produced a weird conclusion when Danielito Zorrilla was awarded a technical decision over Ruslan Madiyev. The bout was stopped at the 1:16 mark of round eight after Zorrilla sank to his knees after absorbing a punch to the back of the head. The ringside physician examined him for evidence of a concussion, but ultimately it was Zorrilla’s choice as to whether the bout would continue. He declined and was reportedly taken to a hospital for observation.

Madiyev, a California-based Kazahk, was the aggressor. He fought the fight in Zorilla’s grill, often bullying him against the ropes. In round five, he had a point deducted for hitting behind the head, squandering what was arguably his best round.

The fight went to the scorecards with Zorrilla winning a split decision (77-74, 77-75, 73-76), thereby remaining undefeated: 15-0 (12). Ironically, Madiyev (13-2, 5 KOs), suffered his previous loss in a similar fashion.

Madiyev’s new trainer Joel Diaz reportedly discouraged his charge from taking this fight for fear that he wouldn’t get a fair shake in Puerto Rico. Diaz’s apprehensions were well-founded.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Ring City USA

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Ed Odeven’s New Book Pays Homage to Sports Journalist Jerry Izenberg

Rick Assad

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It’s one thing to get to the top, but it’s something else entirely to remain there for more than half a century. Jerry Izenberg, longtime sports columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger, now semi-retired and living in Henderson, Nevada, has done just that.

Izenberg is the subject of Ed Odeven’s book, “Going 15 Rounds With Jerry Izenberg,” which was released New Year’s Eve and is available at amazon.com.

“By all accounts, he should be recognized as one of the greatest American sports columnists,” said Odeven, a 1999 graduate of Arizona State University who has lived in Japan since July 2006 and is the sports editor for the website Japan Forward. “A versatile professional, he was equally skilled at writing books and magazine articles and producing sports documentaries and crafting essays for the groundbreaking ‘Sports Extra’ television program on Channel 5 in New York in the 1970s.”

Odeven went on: “Jerry has seen everything and been seemingly everywhere. He brought gravitas to the newspaper sports section with decades of sustained excellence.”

During a seven-decade career in sports journalism, the 90-year-old Izenberg, found time to write 15 non-fiction books and one novel. His affinity for the manly sport is reflected in his 2017 book, “Once There Were Giants: The Golden Age Of Heavyweight Boxing.”

“From the 1950s to the present day [including recent years’ coverage of Tyson Fury and Manny Pacquiao, for instance, Izenberg has shined in his boxing coverage,” Odeven said. “You can’t ignore his remembrance pieces on fighters and boxing personalities across the decades [such as a terrific column on the late Leon Spinks in which he weaved a tapestry of the fighter’s life and his family’s struggles into a powerful piece], either.”

One of Izenberg’s favorite topics is Muhammad Ali.

“Izenberg first observed the great fighter’s infectious personality, popularity and boxing talent on display at the 1960 Rome Olympics,” Odeven said. “Cassius Clay was unlike any other famous pugilist in those days and for the rest of his life.”

Odeven spoke about the support Ali received from Izenberg: “When very few were publicly taking a stand to support Ali, Izenberg wrote columns that defended his right to fight. He took the boxing establishment to task for stripping Ali of his titles even while Ali’s case was making its way through the courts – and ultimately the United States Supreme Court.”

Izenberg, a graduate of Rutgers University who covered the first 53 Super Bowls, and Ali were close. “As friends, they were around each other in all corners of the earth,” Odeven said. “They shared highs and lows during periods of personal and professional success and disappointment.”

Here’s Jerry Izenberg talking about Ali’s humanity: “I was a single father and when my children came to live with me, they were very nervous. I took them to Deer Lake [Pennsylvania] for a television show I was filming as an advance to the Foreman-Ali fight. After the filming, knowing my situation, (Ali) took my son aside and put his arm around him and said, “Robert, you have come to live with a great man. Listen to him and you will grow to be a great man just like him.

“On the way up my daughter, who was seven, had said, ‘I hope Foreman beats him up because he brags too much and you always told me to not brag.’ “I told her, ‘you are seven and you have nothing to brag about. Both of these men are my friends. When you get there, keep your mouth shut.’ When we were packing up the equipment, he saw her in the back of the room and hollered, ‘come up here little girl. You with the braids.’ She was convinced I had ratted her out about what she said and tried her best to melt into the wall because she was frightened. As she walked toward him, she lost the power of speech and mumbled. He was 6-3 and she was 4-5. He grabbed her and held her over his head. ‘Is that man your daddy?’ All she could do was nod. ‘Don’t you lie to me little girl, look at him,’ and he pointed at me. ‘That man is ugly…ugly. You are beautiful, now gimme a kiss.’ On the way home she said, ‘I hope Muhammad can win,’ and I said, ‘you are just like the rest of them. The only difference is your age.’ He was one of my five best friends. When he died, I cried.”

Odeven offered his slant on why Izenberg was at home at major boxing events: “It was clear that Jerry was in a comfort zone on the week of a big fight, writing the stories that set the stage for the mano a mano encounter and the follow-up commentary that defined what happened and what it meant.”

Izenberg, noted Odeven, had worked under the legendary Stanley Woodward, as had Red Smith and Roger Kahn, among others, the latter most well-known for having penned the baseball classic, “The Boys Of Summer.” Many insist that Woodward, who read the classics, was the greatest sports editor.

Woodward, Odenven believes, helped shape Izenberg’s world outlook. “Izenberg became keenly aware of this human drama at its rawest form that existed in boxing,” he said, noting that in decades past the public was captivated by the big fights. “Examples, of course, include the first and third Ali-Frazier bouts and The Rumble In The Jungle [against Foreman]. Let’s not forget they were cultural touchstones.”

Referencing the third installment of Ali-Frazier in Manila, Izenberg said, “I’ve probably seen thousands of fights, but I never saw one when both fighters were exhausted and just wouldn’t quit…My scorecard had Ali ahead by one which meant if Joe knocked him down in the 15th, he would have won on my card. But there was no 15th because Joe’s trainer, Eddie Futch, ordered the gloves cut off after the 14th.

“At the finish, Ali collapsed. Later as Ali walked slowly up the aisle supported by his seconds, he leaned over toward the New York Times’ Dave Anderson and me and said through puffy lips, ‘Fellas. That’s the closest you will ever see to death.’”

Izenberg remembered his lead: “Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier did not fight for the WBC heavyweight title last night,” he wrote. “They did not fight for the heavyweight championship of the planet. They could have fought in a telephone booth on a melting ice flow. They were fighting for the championship of each other and for me that still isn’t settled.”

What makes Izenberg relevant even today? “His canvas was the global sports landscape and he explored the human condition in each of his columns in some way,” Odeven stated. “He recognized what made a good story and sought out individuals and topics that fit that description – and he still does.

“You could read a random stack of columns about any number of topics from the 1960s or ’90s and be enlightened and entertained at the same time…He has always had a razor- sharp eye for details that illuminate a column and a source’s words to give it added verve.” Moreover, added Odeven, Izenberg had a never-wavering commitment to championing a just cause: “Speaking out against racism and religious bigotry, he gave a voice to the voiceless or those often ignored.”

Note: Jerry Izenberg was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category in 2015.

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