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November’s Freak Fight in LA Poses a Dilemma for Boxing Journalists

Arne K. Lang

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A forthcoming prizefight at the Staples Center in Los Angeles is attracting a lot of buzz. On Nov. 9, Logan Paul and KSI (birth name Olajide William Olatunji) will meet in the ring for the second time. Their first fight, on Aug. 25 of last year, played to a full house at the Manchester Arena in Manchester, England, and drew $11 million in revenue between gate receipts and the $10 pay-per-view live stream on YouTube. That figure would have been substantially higher if not for widespread live stream piracy.

Logan Paul and KSI boxed six rounds to a draw using headgear and 12-ounce gloves. Both were novices. Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn, Great Britain’s most prominent boxing promoter, wanted no part of it. He said he considered the fight an embarrassment to the sport.

Hearn will promote the rematch. It will air on DAZN.

If not for Internet search engines, this grizzled reporter wouldn’t know Logan Paul from the man in the moon. Same goes for KSI. As I have come to learn, both are YouTube sensations, video bloggers who now have millions of followers on various social media platforms. Both have comedic and musical talent – KSI’s first release went to #1 in the U.K. in the R&B album category – but where they really excel is in marketing. Through shrewd self-promotion, both have attracted advertisers with deep pockets and have become millionaires while still in their mid-twenties.

The antics that preceded their first meeting were obviously inspired by the Mayweather-McGregor pre-fight tour, an orgy of F-bombs that pandered to adolescents, whatever their age. Logan Paul and KSI “asserted their superior manliness through base insults about strength, pain tolerance, attire, material possessions and sexual prowess,” wrote Vlad Savov in Verge, a publication that explores the role of mobile technology in shaping popular culture.

Freak fights are nothing new. Philadelphia huckster Damon Feldman (his older brother David Feldman promotes bare-knuckle fights) manufactured a slew of so-called Celebrity Boxing cards including a 2002 one-off that aired on the FOX network. In one of the bouts, infamous figure skater Tonya Harding swapped punches with Bill Clinton accuser Paula Jones who filled in for “Long Island Lolita” Amy Fisher whose appearance was nixed by her parole board. Needless to say, this was beyond tacky.

There have also been many freak fights that weren’t packaged as such. At a press luncheon to hype his match with Mike Tyson, Peter McNeeley asserted that he was going to wrap Iron Mike in a cocoon of horror. “Hurricane Peter” had as much chance of defeating Mike Tyson as a man plucked randomly off the street.

Damon Feldman’s Celebrity Boxing shows, like others of the ilk, were mis-named. They weren’t celebrity boxing matches but has-been-celebrity boxing matches. As Caryn James of the New York Times put it, they offered a 16th minute of fame to folks that had used up their 15 minutes.

The fight last summer between Logan Paul and KSI in Manchester was a different animal. In terms of their celebrityhood, Paul and KSI were in their prime. Moreover, they were both physically fit and the two cruiserweights — each weighed a shade under 190 pounds — brought to their scuffle more than a modicum of athleticism. Paul was an all-league linebacker at Westlake High School in suburban Cleveland and as a wrestler earned a berth in the state tournament. And both came out of the fight looking as if they had been in a fight.

What converted Eddie Hearn, however, was not the competitiveness of the fight, but the public reaction to it. “What I saw was a phenomenon, a sold-out arena, over one million PPV buys but more importantly an energy of a new audience to the sport of boxing,” he told a reporter to the (London) Sun.

Hearn will be making a few changes. The re-do will stay six rounds, but Paul and KSI will compete without headgear and with 10-ounce gloves rather than the 12-ounce gloves used in their first encounter. You won’t find the outcome of the first meeting up on BoxRec; the sport’s official record-keeper ignores exhibitions. But Paul-KSI II has been certified a legitimate professional fight.

Paul-KSI I was a doubleheader. Their younger brothers were matched-up in the prelim. (At his post-fight press conference, Jake Paul introduced his new clothing line.) The Nov. 9 sequel will be noosed to a conventional undercard. Rumor has it that new Matchroom signee Billy Joe Saunders will defend his newly-won WBO world super middleweight title in the co-feature. There’s also talk that Devin Haney will be added to the card if he emerges unscathed from next week’s encounter with Russia’s Zaur Abdullaev.

Traditionalists view Paul vs. KSI as a slap in the face to all the young fighters who are working hard to hone their craft, paying their dues, so to speak, in hopes of becoming good enough to eventually secure good purses and improve their standard of living. Others, myself included, are less turned-off by the fight than by the inevitable trash talking that will precede it. True, trash talking has always been part of the culture of prizefighting but the new breed of trash talker, a foul-mouthed lout in the Conor McGregor mold, can’t hold a candle to Muhammad Ali who trash talked with an impish wink that didn’t coarsen the language.

The dilemma for boxing journalists is that they can’t just ignore the Paul-KSI fight altogether. They have to report the news and as boxing events go, this is big news, so big that it has forced the promoters of the rematch between Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz, also scheduled for Nov. 9, to find a new date. But to what extent should their stories focus on the exchange of brickbats before the fighters’ touch gloves? Perhaps this is journalism, but if so it’s hackwork.

I know what some folks are thinking: “Dude, chill out, life will go on.” Bob Arum certainly feels that way. “If they make a buck in the ring, who the hell cares? There are things in life to get excited about, and this is not one of them,” said the octogenarian impressario to The Ring correspondent Michael Woods.

Arum certainly makes a valid point, but we are reminded that he hatched one of the greatest freak shows in “sports”, the failed jump over the Snake River Canyon in a steam powered rocket ship by motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel. In terms of the entertainment value it gave, the jump was on par with Tyson-McNeeley.

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Diego Magdaleno is Locked and Loaded for Saturday’s Fray in San Antonio

Arne K. Lang

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Diego Armando Magdaleno, the son of a former semi-pro soccer player, was named for Argentine soccer star Diego Armando Maradona. But Diego’s father Jesus is hardly disappointed that his son devoted his energies to a different sport than soccer as Diego, the oldest of Jesus’s three boys, has carved out a nice career as a boxer. On Saturday, he faces Isaac Cruz at the San Antonio Alamodome and a win could thrust him into a third crack at a world lightweight title. Magdaleno vs. Cruz will be televised as part of a SHOWTIME PPV event anchored by a battle between title-holders Gervonta “Tank” Davis and Leo Santa Cruz.

The bookies don’t know what to do with the Magdaleno-Cruz matchup. One can find odds on fights of lesser importance, but with the fight only four days away the pricemakers were in quandary. Team Magdaleno, however, is approaching the fight as if they are the “B” side. Mexico City’s Isaac Cruz, who boasts a 19-1-1 record and is undefeated in his last 15 starts, has a fan-friendly style and is only 22 years old. In theory, he has more value to the promoter going forward than Magdaleno (32-3, 13 KOs) who turns 34 this week.

Magdaleno relishes the underdog role. He was the “B” side in his most recent fight when he opposed Austin Dulay in Dulay’s hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, and he carved out a clear-cut 10-round decision. Dulay, the younger man by nine years and less experienced at the pro level, was in over his head. Their fight was nationally televised on FOX.

Diego Magdaleno was born in Beverly Hills, California, but unlike many folks born there wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. “We were more like the Beverly Hillbillies,” says Diego, a reference to the popular sitcom that ran on CBS from 1962 to 1971.

For many years, Diego’s father, an immigrant from Sahuayo in the Mexican state of Michoacan, worked at the flagship West LA branch of an iconic Greater Los Angeles hamburger chain. Diego’s parents now manage a 7-11 in Las Vegas.

When Magdaleno first laced on the gloves it was at the Brooklyn Avenue boxing gym in the gritty Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles, the same gym where Oscar De La Hoya trained for the Olympic Trials. He continued with the sport after his family – he has three older sisters – moved to Las Vegas.

Diego influenced both of his younger brothers to become boxers. Jessie Magdaleno surpassed him in name recognition when he upset Nonito Nonaire in November of 2016, earning him the WBO world super bantamweight title. Jessie lost the belt in his second defense, succumbing to Isaac Dogboe, but has won three straight since that mishap, advancing his record to 28-1. The youngest Magdaleno brother, Marco, was 4-0 as a pro when he abandoned the sport, having secured a job with good pay and benefits in the construction field.

Diego has applied some of his ring earnings toward a real estate investment in Scipio, Utah, where he owns a parcel of land adjacent to a pioneer home. Scipio is a four-hour drive from Las Vegas and figuratively a million miles away. What does one do for fun in Scipio, pop. 288? The first thing that popped up in our internet search was to go grab a sandwich at the Burger Barn.

There’s a back story there. The pioneer home, built in 1886, was recently purchased by Diego’s fiancée Shannon Torres, a descendent of one of Scipio’s founding families. She and Diego are restoring it. Diego professes to be amazed at the craftsmanship. “When we pulled up the carpets,” he said, “the original hardwood floors were still in great condition.”

Shannon Torres has a boxing background, having fought as an amateur and having sparred with the likes of Mia St. John. She is also a nutritionist. Diego confesses to having a sweet tooth, being fond of cheesecake and anything with peanut butter. “She knows how to make those things for me so they are not as unhealthy,” he says.

Magdaleno’s first loss came in April of 2013 when he lost a split decision to Ramon Martinez in Macao. Diego thought he won the fight, but only one of the judges concurred. At stake was Martinez’s WBO 130-pound world title. His second world title opportunity came against WBO lightweight champ Terry Flanagan on Flanagan’s turf in Manchester, England. That didn’t go well.

“When I got in the ring, it felt like there was sand under my shoes,” said Diego. “My right foot was sliding underneath me. I overcompensated and that caused me trouble.” Magdaleno loaded up on his punches, a fatal mistake, and was knocked out in the second round.

Top Rank dropped Magdaleno after that fight but would eventually bring him back to fight their rising star Teofimo Lopez. His fight with Austin Dulay was his first fight back after his loss to Lopez (TKO by 7) and his first with new trainer Bones Adams (pictured on the left) in his corner.

Mag

Isaac Cruz poses a different threat than Dulay partly because Cruz, who stands only 5’4 ½”, is a lot shorter. But Magdaleno is confident the result will be the same.

“His style is attack, attack, attack; it’s one-dimensional,” says Diego. “I have been in there and done things that this kid has never seen. I am a big step up for him.”

Unlike many prizefighters, Diego Magdaleno knows where he is heading after his career is finished; he is already a licensed real estate salesman with one listing to his credit. He’s bi-lingual despite having spent only three months living in Mexico, that as a first-grader, and his linguistic versatility will come in handy in his second career. “I know just enough Spanish to get by,” he says, but having heard him speak in his parents’ native tongue we can attest that he’s being much too modest.

For the time being, however, Diego isn’t looking past Saturday night. Magdaleno vs. Cruz is expected to go first on the four-fight PPV portion of the card which kicks off at 9:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. PT.

Magdaleno/Dulay photo credit: Stephanie Trapp

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Will Leo Santa Cruz’s High Volume Punching Stymie Big Hitter ‘Tank’ Davis?

Bernard Fernandez

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WBA “super” 130-pound champion Gervonta “Tank” Davis, short (5’5½”), short-armed (a 67½-inch reach) and powerful, has been described by some as a miniature Mike Tyson, which seems reasonable for an undefeated fighter who has won all but one of his 23 professional bouts inside the distance, more than a few of those knockouts of the spectacular variety. And if Davis’ comparisons to “Iron Mike” weren’t enough to stamp him as an emerging superstar, there is also the fact that he is a protégé of Floyd Mayweather Jr., the vainglorious owner of a 50-0 record and distinction as the richest prizefighter ever to lace up a pair of padded gloves. “Money” bills himself as TBE, “The Best Ever,” and he goes so far as to suggest that the big-hitting southpaw from Baltimore for whom he has such high hopes might someday approach his status as a cash-cow and true icon of the ring.

“The ultimate goal is to get him to surpass me,” the 43-year-old and ostensibly retired Mayweather said of the financial and fistic potential of Davis, who turns 26 on Nov. 7 and arguably is in the early stages of his prime. “I’ve been his age. Where he’s trying to go to, and what he’s trying to accomplish, I’ve already accomplished.”

Although Davis has appeared on the undercard of two Pay-Per-View shows headlined by his famous and fabulously wealthy mentor, both he and Mayweather consider his watershed Halloween night confrontation with WBA “super” featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 KOs), in San Antonio’s Alamodome, as Tank’s real coming-out party. It is, after all, Davis’ first time atop his own Showtime PPV event, perhaps the first of several such marquee appearances if the level of public interest in him continues to spike. Ascending to PPV status is a rite of passage both men consider to be a significant key to all the boxing kingdom has to offer, an exclusive club to which many aspire but only a chosen few are allowed to join. The tariff to boxing fans is a $74.95 subscription fee.

“I said, `Tank, you under Mayweather Promotions. So, it’s May-Per-View,” Mayweather told the kid who would be he during the first episode of Showtime’s “All-Access,” the infomercial whose purpose is to help convince pandemic-strapped fight fans to open their wallets.

“I’m grateful for what Floyd did for me, as far as opening doors,” said Davis, who signed with Mayweather Promotions in 2015. “If it wasn’t for Floyd, I wouldn’t have been a champion at 22. He gave me a chance to fight on his Pay-Per-View card. Now I’m here, on my own Pay-Per-View.”

To hear Mayweather and Davis tell it, it is Tank’s singular, reputation-boosting turn in the spotlight, with Santa Cruz more or less along for the ride. The Vegas sports books seemingly are complicit in that perception, with Tank anywhere from a -$350 to a whopping -$710 favorite, odds which could fluctuate throughout the rest of the week as more and larger wagers are placed. Despite his being a four-division world champion, Santa Cruz, the 32-year-old, Mexican-born resident of Rosemead, Calif., whose current title is that of WBA “super” super feather ruler, also considers this particular bout to be historic as it is also his first PPV appearance. And, no, he isn’t bothered by the long odds against him (which range from +260 to +475) or Davis’ reputation as a compact instrument of pugilistic destruction.

“Nobody believes in me,” he said, almost reveling in his rare role as an underdog. “They think I’m this other guy. But I asked for this fight for a reason ’cause I want to prove myself. I’m going to compete and give my all. I’m not scared.

“Gervonta Davis is a great fighter with great skills, great power. I think he’s the most dangerous fighter in the division. Why not go after him? To prove to the people that I’m not scared of nobody.”

Santa Cruz might not pack as much power as Davis, but his forte is high-volume punching. When he defeated Vusi Malinga via 12-round unanimous decision for the vacant IBF bantamweight strap on June 2, 2012, in Carson, Calif., CompuBox statistics revealed he had unfurled a remarkable 1,350 punches, an average of just under 113 per round. Nor were those numbers an aberration for the human perpetual motion machine; in his two confrontations with Abner Mares, both of which were won on points by Santa Cruz, the read-out showed Leo connecting on a combined 730 of 2,115. Many opponents scarcely have time to think, much less react, when Santa Cruz is firing shots with machine-gun rapidity. No wonder he dares to believe Davis will be similarly flustered.

“I think so,” Santa Cruz said when asked if the quantity of his fusillade will more than offset Davis’ superior quality in terms of power. “When you have a fighter on top of you, throwing punches, he’s not letting you think; he’s frustrating you. He’s not letting you do nothing.

“If I do that, it could be dangerous ’cause he’ll be waiting to counterpunch me, to land those big shots, the uppercuts and hooks. So, I got to do a very smart fight, a perfect fight, to beat him.”

For TV purposes, the storyline outside the ropes sometimes is nearly as important in selling the product as what takes place inside them. In that regard Davis and Santa Cruz, so seemingly different in some regards, are strikingly similar in that they were children of poverty, hardly unusual for a sport where years of deprivation can stoke a burning desire to succeed. Santa Cruz’s motivation might even be hiked a bit higher because of the ongoing medical circumstances of his trainer-father, Jose Santa Cruz Sr.

Jose Sr. could be the star of his own medical reality series, the most recent episode being his near-death brush with COVID-19. But the patriarch of a boxing family (brothers Jose Jr., Antonio and Roberto are also involved in Leo’s career) had previously survived a bout with sepsis, a potentially life-threatening infection, and, in 2016, the diagnosis of Stage 3 myeloma, a blood cancer, that invaded his bones. The father had to undergo weeks of radiation and chemotherapy, and although he pulled through Leo cited concerns for his dad’s health as a contributing factor in his sole pro defeat, in which he relinquished his WBA super featherweight title, by 12-round majority decision, to England’s Carl Frampton on July 30, 2016. Santa Cruz avenged that setback, also by majority decision, six months later.

Jose Sr. continues to serve as Leo’s trainer, but so many medical crises have been met and overcome by the father that the son has learned, as best he can, to cope.

And the COVID-19 which again could have brought Jose Sr. the eternal 10-count?

“When he went (into the hospital), they gave us little hope,” Leo said of his dad’s most recent downward plunge on an emotional roller-coaster on which the entire family has been obliged to have seats. “They said he was going to pass away, that he wasn’t going to last the night. We were all depressed and crying. His lungs were failing, his heart was failing. He coded two times; he died and they brought him back to life.

“I had memories of when he used to go on the bus with me, pushing me in the gym, telling me what to do. All those memories were playing in my mind. I really didn’t think he was going to make it. I thought they were going to call us and say, `Hey, your dad passed away.’ But we prayed, we had hope. Thank God, the next day we were told our dad was still in critical condition, but he was doing a little bit better. Day by day he improved. God listened. He made a miracle. My dad survived. Even the doctors were saying that they didn’t know how that happened.”

As was the case with Santa Cruz, who recalls the occasions when the family’s electricity was shut off because of unpaid bills, Davis’ childhood also was hardly a real-life version of Leave It To Beaver. In 1999, while his father was in prison and his mom was battling drug addition, he was placed into child protective services at the age of five. For the next several years he shuttled between foster homes and shelters. But then, at seven, he found his way into the boxing gym run by Calvin Grove, who knew the pitfalls of life on the streets (he had served 10 years behind bars on drug offenses) as well as the need throw-away children such as Gervonta Davis had to finding someone and something to believe in. Ford, now 56, is so much more than Tank’s trainer now; he also is his father-figure and inspiration not to become another faceless, nameless crime statistic.

“Boxing, I would say, saved my life,” Davis said. “All the guys I came up with that were older than me, they got killed. If you got one foot in the street and one foot in the gym, it’s not going to work. You got to be all the way committed with something.

“When I came to the gym, I felt the love that I needed as a child. Calvin basically raised me. What I been through and what I seen coming up, I knew I don’t want to go backwards in life. I know what that brings.”

In addition to Davis-Santa Cruz, the PPV portion of the undercard features the return, after a layoff of 13 months, of former WBA and WBC Diamond super lightweight champion Regis “Rougaroo” Prograis (24-1, 20 KOs), in a 10-rounder against Juan Heraldez (16-0-1, 10 KOs); the WBA junior welterweight title matchup of San Antonio’s Mario Barrios (25-0, 16 KOs) vs. Ryan Karl (18-2, 12 KOs), and a lightweight scrap pitting Diego Magdaleno (32-3, 13 KOs) against Isaac Cruz Gonzalez (19-1-1, 14 KOs).

Photo credit: Esther Lin / Mayweather Promotions

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HITS and MISSES from Another Weekend on the Boxing Beat

Kelsey McCarson

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Unlike last weekend, there wasn’t just one big fight card for everyone to watch. Instead, the boxing audience in the United States primarily had two separate fight cards to enjoy, one on Friday night from Mexico City featuring stalwart super flyweights, and another one on Saturday night from Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut featuring an important welterweight matchup between hopeful contenders.

Here are boxing’s latest HITS and MISSES from this weekend.

HIT: The Super Super Flyweights

Two of boxing’s best were on display when Juan Francisco Estrada stopped Carlos Cuadras in the 11th round of the main event in Mexico and Roman Gonzalez won a unanimous decision over Israel Gonzalez in the co-feature.

Both Estrada and Gonzalez are exceptional talents who have accomplished more during their impressive careers than most fighters could dream. The two rivals were thought to be on the way to an important rematch against each other a few years ago when Wisaksil Wangek, who fights under the name Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, burst onto the scene in 2017 to shockingly hand Gonzalez the first two losses of his Hall of Fame career as well as Estrada his first loss since Gonzalez defeated him by decision six years prior.

But Estrada has won five straight now, including his rematch against Sor Rungvisai last year, to set up one of the most scintillating fights in the super flyweight division in ages. Gonzalez is already considered by most to be an all-time great, and Estrada isn’t far behind him. After both won their latest fights, it looks like a rematch between the two is finally going to happen.

MISS: Long Delays for Viewers Between Bouts

It boggles my mind how none of the various television networks and streaming platforms in the sport have figured out anything to do worthwhile when fights end sooner than their scheduled number of rounds. It happens so often in the sport that it would seem reasonable to suggest somebody would have come along by now with some kind of plan. Just a few years ago, it seemed swing bouts were still on the table. What happened to those?

On Friday night, if one tuned in to watch the main card tripleheader on DAZN, one was presented with over 45 minutes of waiting around for the next fight to happen after WBC flyweight champ Julio Cesar Martinez needed just two rounds to stop Moises Calleros.

The single most frustrating part of the equation, which has probably been mentioned in this column before, is that Dana White and the UFC pulls it off every single fight card. So, the template already exists, but boxing television partners, even on ESPN where both the UFC and Top Rank coexist, refuse to use it.

HIT: DAZN’s Todd Grisham and Sergio Mora Impromptu Roadshow

Regardless, while I don’t believe it’s reasonable to hope for the beautiful accident that was Friday night on DAZN for every card, I could hardly be mad when DAZN’s dead air was filled with the antics of Todd Grisham and Sergio Mora, who were calling the action on the night. Both are probably underrated at what they do.

Their sometimes jovial, sometimes hostile banter is fun. No, people don’t tune in to hear these guys go back and forth with each other, but it was at least entertaining to hear their near-comedic and entirely impromptu routine, especially because it also surrounded the surreal experience of watching WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman make his in-ring television interview debut with boxing titleholders Mikey Garcia and Emanuel Navarrete.

Boxing is a strange culture. Sometimes even the bad parts of the sport can be good.

MISS: Lip Service from Everyone About Boxing’s Biggest Issue

One of the biggest boxing stories of the weekend was when retired boxing champ Floyd Mayweather ranted against title belts. Indeed, one of the most difficult things to explain to any outsider about the sport is how boxing’s complicated and somewhat absurd championship system works.

Of course, Mayweather is right about there being too many world champions in boxing. But the problem is that people who might actually be able to make those kinds of changes in the sport say things like that without actually doing anything about it. Heck, even WBO president Paco Valcarcel publicly stated that he agreed with Mayweather, even though that sanctioning organization now offers something called a WBO “Global” belt.

Mayweather, Valcarcel and others can’t simply point their fingers about the issue in hopes of getting it fixed. Instead, both men (and others) who wield actual money, power and influence in the sport, would be better served by actually taking measures to change things.

Mayweather, as a promoter, could keep his fighters from the alphabet gang altogether. And Valcarcel? The shortest and easiest path for him to help, short of shutting the WBO down right now, is to stop offering so many titles.

HIT: Matchmaking for Showtime’s Tripleheader

The matchmaker listed at BoxRec for Showtime’s tripleheader was Tom Brown, and it really should be pointed out what a terrific job he did in putting last Saturday’s card together. Of the three fights we saw on our televisions on Saturday night, all six fighters competing had a legitimate chance to win.

There were no gimmes on this card, and that’s rarely the case.

In fact, all the so-called A-sides had rough nights. Undefeated junior lightweight prospect Malik Hawkins suffered the first loss of his career via stoppage to Puerto Rico’s Subriel Matias. Rising 130-pounder Xavier Martinez almost did the same when he was knocked down twice in one round by Claudio Marrero before digging down deep to earn the decision. And the main event? Sergey Lipinets vs. Custio Clayton was such a hotly contested fight that it was scored a split-draw. So, Showtime’s latest card was a breath of fresh air in a sport sometimes too obsessed with promoting future fights over present matters.

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