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The Best Alley Fight Companion?

Ted Sares

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Sports commentator Pat Summerall once said, “If I’m gonna fight in the alley, I want [Scott] LeDoux with me.” Known as “The Fighting Frenchman,” LeDoux was indeed a rough, tough, 6’2”, 220 lb. road warrior out of Minnesota who fought the very best during the golden age of heavyweights in the 70s—a time when big boppers like Frazier, Ali, Quarry, Norton, Foreman, Shavers, Chuvalo, Terrell, Weaver, Jeff Merritt, Mac Foster, Joe Bugner, Leroy Jones, Jimmy Young, and Jimmy Ellis, among others, roamed the landscape. LeDoux fought tough guys because he was a tough guy during an era of tough guy heavyweights.

He also was a genuine nice guy and that probably disqualifies him from being a prime alley companion, Pat Summerall notwithstanding.

Others, of course, come to mind like Big George Foreman (first version), Sonny Liston (any version), Iron Mike Tyson, Earnie Shavers, Deontay Wilder, and 6’9” giant Tyson Fury. Each is suitable.

Speaking of giants, the 7’2″ Nikolai “The Russian Giant” Valuev has the ability to impress upon others a sinister demeanor threatening enough to scare away most potential alley opponents; yet his yen for writing poetry gives pause to his suitability. Also working against this monster is the fact that in 2011 he was elected to the Russian Parliament.

If this writer needed a companion when potentially engaging in an alley fight in, say, Chicago or New York City, he might consider Joe “The Boss” Hipp, also called by the less politically correct “Indian” Joe Hipp.

A fringe contender Back in the Day, Hipp, a member of the Blackfoot Tribe, was rough, tough, and durable. He was a gritty southpaw heavyweight out of Yakima, Washington, and the type of guy you didn’t want to meet in an unfriendly bar. He had plenty of heart, a strong chin, and exuded an extraordinary malevolence in the ring.

He was 24-2 and on a three-fight winning streak when he met Tommy “The Duke” Morrison in Reno, Nevada on a hot sunny afternoon in June 1992. Tommy (32-1) was on a four-fight winning streak of his own and was a strong favorite in what promised to be a pier six brawl. In the end, the fight exceeded expectations.

While Hipp lost in a bone-breaking, bloodletting non-stop ring war that featured shattered cheek bones, a broken jaw, fractured hands, and severe cuts, he exhibited traits that clearly would make him a marvelous companion to take with you into the alley. The late Tommy Morrison wouldn’t be all that bad either.

The President

But wait. Joe must step aside for royalty—he must make way for none other than the President, Ikemefula Charles “Ike” Ibeabuchi.

Pat Summerall wasn’t broadcasting when this heavyweight out of Nigeria burst onto the scene but if he had been, he might have changed his mind about Scott LeDoux.

Ike did his thing from 1994 to 1999, compiling a 20-0 mark with 15 wins coming by way of stoppage. Although he scored a rattling stoppage of Chris Byrd in what turned out to be Ike’s final pro fight, his 1997 upset of David Tua remains the signature moment of his ring career.

In this one, the 6’2″, 244 pound Nigerian with a reach of 77 inches, opened his tool box to reveal Tyson-like hand speed, controlled ferocity, solid footwork, devastating power, counter-punching ability and a rock-sold chin (he was able to walk through Tua’s best left hooks all night).

Both men threw heavy stuff and neither took a backward step. In the process, Ibeabuchi and Tua set a CompuStat heavyweight division record with 1,730 punches thrown. Ike also set the individual CompuStat record by throwing an incredible 975 punches, an average of 81 per round.

Ike had put the division on notice. After knocking out the previously undefeated Byrd, a slick southpaw, no one wanted to fight him. Quoting Lou DiBella, people were saying, “This guy’s a ****** animal. What do I need him for?” This, of course, is one of several good reasons why Ike bumps Joe Hipp from consideration.

The Demons

But there is more — much more, as Ike’s inner demons began to emerge and actualized what everyone hoped would not happen.

A couple of months after the Tua win, Ike was arrested for kidnapping the 15-year-old son of his former girlfriend and crashing his car into a concrete pillar on a Texas highway, badly injuring the boy. He pleaded guilty to false imprisonment, was sentenced to three months in jail, and paid a $500,000 civil settlement.

In July 1999, he was accused of attempted sexual assault of a Las Vegas escort in his hotel room at The Mirage casino. Other assaults then came to light and Ike was eventually sent to a state mental facility where he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After an extremely lengthy trail, he was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment.

Ike’s trainer Curtis Cokes saw the warning signs. Cokes is quoted as saying: “His biggest problem is that he just doesn’t obey the rules. He wants to break the law…He needs help, and he and his family don’t see that. He thinks everybody’s after him. If Ike looks in the mirror, he’ll see the real problem. Something’s wrong with Ike…”

The most thorough account of the rise and fall of Ike “The President” Ibeabuchi is found in Eric Raskin’s excellent 2017 HBO From the Vaultarticle titled “Unrealized: The Story of Ike Ibeabuchi, The Great Lost Heavyweight.” It is written as an oral history.

Lou DiBella relates: “He was a prodigy. He had amazing power. He had fierce determination and he had no fear of anybody, and he believed that he was the king, that nobody could beat him. He’d walk into the ring and you would almost have this vision of a bull coming at a matador with the steam coming out of the nostrils. Unfortunately, here was a very scary man both in and out of the ring. And it’s unfortunate that we’ll never know what could have been.”

Former boxing publicist Greg Juckett says,There was a paranoia there. I don’t know what the clinical neurosis, the definition of it would be. But there was definitely a paranoia with Ike….He was very untrustworthy of people and something would occasionally scare him. He was a very quiet guy. Quiet to the point where it was a little unsettling.”

Other quotes are more disturbing. Sage matchmaker Eric Bottjer recalls saying to his boss, Ibeabuchi’s promoter, the late Cedric Kushner, “This guy’s crazy. He’s going to hurt somebody. I don’t want it to be me or you or anybody else. But he’s quite capable of killing somebody.”

In 2014, having served out his term, Ike made a much-publicized move to reignite his career, only to be picked up again by ICE. In 2016, he got arrested in Arizona for a probation violation and remains on a lifetime probation in that state.

Ike is back behind bars. It has been reported that he is due for release from the Arizona State Penal System later this month, whereupon he may be deported. Whatever the case, it seems unlikely that he will ever fight again.

Like Joe Hipp, Ike exhibited traits that clearly would make him a great companion to take with you in an alley fight, but his were clearly different. They were dangerous traits possibly fueled by paranoia and attendant mental issues. Still, if The Ringmagazine named him “Boxing’s Most Dangerous Man,” as it did in 1999, then I don’t need any more convincing. He’s my pick.

Ted Sares is a lifetime member of Ring 10, a member of Ring 8, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA). He is an active power lifter and Strongman competitor in the Master Class.

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Fast Results from London: Massive Heavyweight Joe Joyce Keeps on Rolling

Arne K. Lang

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Ponderous but formidable Joe Joyce moved one step closer to a title fight tonight at the Wembley Arena with a sixth-round stoppage of Carlos Takam. Carrying 264 pounds on a six-foot-six frame, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist was simply too big for his 40-year-old French-Cameroonian adversary.

In his previous bout, Joyce methodically dismantled favored Daniel Dubois with a steady dose of his thudding right jab. Dubois quit in the 10th round with a busted eye socket. Tonight’s fight followed a somewhat similar pattern.

Takam landed some good shots in the first two rounds as Joyce was slow to find his rhythm, but Joyce stuck to his game plan which was to wear him down and Takam’s punches gradually lost steam in the face of Joyce’s constant pressure.

Early in round six, Joyce rocked Takam with a big right hand and didn’t let him off the hook. Takam protested when the referee indicated that he had seen enough and the stoppage did strike many as premature, but the handwriting was on the wall for the veteran who declined to 39-6-1. The official time was 0:49.

Joyce is of Scotch-Irish and Nigerian descent. College educated with a degree in fine arts, he acknowledges that he has no great passion for the sport of boxing and is in it for the financial rewards, not the glory. At age 35, he isn’t going to get any better, but he appears to have a rock-solid chin and his nickname, Juggernaut, is quite fitting.

Joyce entered the bout ranked #2 by the WBO, a notch below Oleksandr Usyk who challenges title-holder Anthony Joshua on Sept. 25.

Other Bouts of Note

Ekow Essuman, a 32-year-old Nottingham man, born in Botswana, unseated British and Commonwealth welterweight champion Chris Jenkins, winning on an eighth-round stoppage. A hard right hook followed by a flurry of punches forced the referee to waive it off. The official time was 0:53.

Essuman, who was favored in the 3/1 range, improved to 15-0 with his sixth win inside the distance. A Welshman, Jenkins (22-4-3) was making the fourth defense of his domestic title.

London super welterweight Hamzah Sheeraz, who has been training at the Ten Goose Gym in Van Nuys, California, improved to 13-0 (9 KOs) with a fifth-round stoppage of Spain’s Ezequiel Gurria (15-2). Gurria was down twice in the fifth round before the bout was halted at the 2:23 mark.

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Steen, Bocachica, and Martino Jules Stay Unbeaten in Cornhuskerland

Arne K. Lang

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The long-running Showtime series ShoBox:The New Generation was at the Heartland Events Center in Grand Island, Nebraska last night. Super middleweight Isaiah Steen and welterweight Janelson Figueroa Bocachica, both of whom are managed by 2020 BWAA Manager of the Year David McWater, were featured in the main bouts.

Cleveland’s Steen, the half-brother of 2016 U.S. Olympian Charles Conwell, improved to 16-0 (12) with a 10-round unanimous decision over previously undefeated Kalvin Henderson (14-1-1). Steen started slow and slowed down again in the final two rounds, but dominated the middle rounds and won by scores of 96-94 and 97-93 twice. Henderson, a part-time schoolteacher in Fayetteville, Arkansas who earned a degree in music from the University of Arkansas, was hampered by a pulled muscle in his right shoulder which he believes happened in the fourth round.

Steen hopes to land a spot on the big show coming up in Cleveland in five weeks. Charles Conwell is already booked. He will oppose Massachusetts veteran Mark DeLuca in a supporting bout to the freak fight between Jake Paul and Tyrone Woodley.

Janelson Figueroa Bocachica, a Detroit native of Puerto Rican ancestry, kept his undefeated record intact, but just barely. He was held to a draw by Shinard Bunch who appeared to have done enough to edge it.

Bunch, whose middle name is Showtime (no fooling) fights out of Trenton, New Jersey and is trained by Chino Reyes who guided Jason Sosa and Tevin Farmer to world titles. He entered the bout with a 15-1 (13) record but was moving up in class in his first scheduled 10-rounder. Only six of his wins had come against opponents with winning records.

Bocachica (17-0-1) performed below expectations for the second straight fight, having been hard-pressed to turn away Mark Reyes Jr. in his previous go. One of the judges scored it for him (96-94) but the others had it 97-93 Bunch and 95-95.

The TV opener was an 8-round featherweight contest between Martino Jules, a 24-year-old southpaw from Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Aram Avagyan, a 30-year-old Armenian who began his pro career in Russia and is currently domiciled in California.

Although neither were big punchers, the Armenian had the odds in his favor. A 2016 Olympian, he had fought the tougher schedule and was the bigger man, coming in two pounds over the featherweight limit (which reportedly cost him $2000). But his performance was sloppy – he was repeatedly warned for leading with his head – and the decision was a foregone conclusion when Jules was credited with scoring a knockdown late in the final round.

In his biggest win to date, Martino Jules improved to 11-0. It was the first pro loss for the 30-year-old Avagyan who declined to 10-1-2.

Photo credit: Esther Lin / SHOWTIME

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Les Bonano, Mr. Boxing in New Orleans, Enters the NOLA Sports Hall of Fame

Bernard Fernandez

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He is perhaps the final ruler of what remains of a fraying and depleted boxing kingdom in the formerly great fight town of New Orleans. For 50-plus years Les Bonano has fought the good fight, both when things were going well or not so much in a unique American city familiar with pronounced pendulum swings not necessarily linked to his favorite sport.

Now, at 78, the boxing lifer who accepted the baton in a relay race of sorts whose previous carriers included such similarly distinctive local legends as Whitey Esneault, Allen “Black Cat” Lacombe and “Leapin’” Louie Messina, all of whom have taken their earthly 10-count, gets the championship turn none of his fighters were quite able to present him when he is inducted Saturday night into the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame at the Hilton Riverside.

Bonano thus will become the 13th person affiliated with boxing to be enshrined in the GNOSHOF – hey, 13 is a number “Black Cat” Lacombe (who, like Messina, is not an inductee) would surely love, were he still around – but it might be a long time before No. 14, if there ever is one, gets the next call to the hall. All 12 of the previous pugilistic honorees are deceased, and those potential candidates who might have a case for being recognized have to date drawn scant support from a selection committee whose members are not seemingly disposed to acknowledge their places in the city’s once-rich boxing history. Before it was the “Big Easy,” New Orleans was known as “the city that care forgot.”  In terms of boxing in the here and now, 21st century NOLA might be more aptly described as “the city that forgot to care.”

But any woulda, coulda, shoulda arguments that have been waged or will continue to be on that front can’t detract from Les Bonano’s five-decade march to a level of recognition in his hometown that few boxing figures have attained. In boxing parlance, he will have gone the distance, arguably a longer trek and arguably a more improbable one than any of his predecessors.

“There is such a tremendous honor. I’ve won some awards, but this will be the greatest in my life,” he said when informed that he had finally gained entry into the exclusive boxing wing of the GNOSHOF. “It means so much to me, it’s hard for me to explain. I can’t put it into words.”

It is the fickle finger of fate that touches boxing’s peripheral presences – promoters, trainers, cut men, etc. – to either bask in the glow of their involvement with elite fighters, or be shrouded in the shadows along with their charges who never quite make it all the way to the top of the mountain. Angelo Dundee is a global legend, an inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, in no small part because he trained, among others, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Carmen Basilio. The same can be said of Emanuel Steward, Eddie Futch, Freddie Roach and any number of other chief seconds who were fortunate to bring their knowledge and expertise to the corners of fighters who were world-class talents and commanded the spotlight. Instantly identifiable promoters such as Don King, Bob Arum, Tex Rickard and others have plaques hanging in Canastota, N.Y., because they handled the big acts.

Bonano began his boxing journey, as so many do, as a jack of all trades. He is primarily known as a promoter of fight cards in New Orleans and its environs these days, but he also has served as a trainer, cut man and doer of all things that are necessary in a trade where general handiness can be rewarding.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of good people in boxing,” he recalled. “And I was a sponge. I wanted to know everything. I learned from everyone that I could. Vincent Arnona (also not a GNOSHOF inductee) was a great New Orleans trainer and a legendary cut man who taught me everything he knew. I think I had success because I incorporated methods from all the different people that I met and worked with.”

Among Bonano’s guides along the way were Lacombe, a boxing and thoroughbred racing handicapper whose N’Awlins accent was as thick as Bonano’s, and Messina, a promoter who staged shows involving world-rated welterweights Percy Pugh and Jerry Pellegrini. Home-grown main-eventers, Pugh (black) and Pellegrini (white) regularly drew full houses before loud, enthusiastic audiences in Municipal Auditorium in the 1960s and early ‘70s. And when they squared off for the Southern 147-pound championship on March 3, 1968, the joint was filled to overflowing. The slick-boxing Pugh won a 15-round unanimous decision over the harder-hitting Pellegrini, a virtual replay of the 10-round UD Pugh scored in their first meeting on Sept. 21, 1967.

“So many people were there, or wanted to be there and couldn’t get in,” Bonano, who later employed Pugh as a trainer of some of his fighters, said of those standing-room-only turnouts promoted by Messina in the 5,000-seat arena. “It’s something I’ll never forget. The place was packed, man.”

Neither Pugh nor Pellegrini ever got the chance to fight for a world title, however, which is a distinction several of the more prominent members of Bonano’s promotional stable were able to accomplish. Light heavyweight Jerry Celestine, an ex-con who came out of the Orleans Parish Prison boxing program instituted by Bonano when Les served in the OPP sheriff’s department, upset third-ranked Vonzell Johnson and later challenged WBA champ Michael Spinks, losing on an eighth-round stoppage. Melvin Paul floored Charlie “Choo Choo” Brown in the 15th round when they squared off for the vacant IBF lightweight title, but Brown beat the count and won a close and controversial (in Bonano’s opinion) split decision. And John “Super D” Duplessis got a shot at WBC/IBF super lightweight kingpin Julio Cesar Chavez, but, predictably, he had no chance against an all-time great and was whacked out in four rounds.

It is Paul’s narrow loss on points to Brown, a Philadelphian fighting in nearby Atlantic City, N.J., that has been most irksome to Bonano, who referred to the outcome as a “hometown” decision.

“Melvin thought he had the fight won,” Bonano said. “He ran to the side of the ring and was calling out to his wife and celebrating on the ropes. The (pro-Brown) crowd was going crazy, but Brown somehow was standing up. I was screaming at Melvin to knock him out, but he couldn’t hear me. Brown wobbled on his feet for about 30 seconds and was saved by the bell. Melvin was robbed.”

Although denied his own world titlist, Bonano had ample opportunity to be involved with indisputably great fighters – Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr., Roberto Duran and Larry Holmes, among others — when he worked in conjunction with bigger-name promoters Bob Arum and Lou DiBella to bring fights to Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis, Miss., within easy driving distance of New Orleans.

When Esneault, the legendary New Orleans trainer whose own list of fighters included world champions Willie Pastrano, Ralph Dupas and Freddie Little, as well as title challengers Bernard Docusen and Tony Licata, was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2016 (I served as his presenter), it reminded me of what New Orleans fight writer Waddell Summers wrote about “Mr. Whitey” when he passed away on Jan. 20, 1968, at the age of 76.

“When Whitey Esneault died, the Golden Age of boxing in New Orleans was laid to rest in St. Rich No. 2 cemetery,” Summers predicted. But that gloomy pronouncement might not have been absolutely accurate, even if Esneault was a World War I veteran whose life experiences dated back to the 19th century. New Orleans was once one of boxing’s hottest of hotbeds, the site of the Sept. 7, 1892, megafight, fought under the still-new Marquess of Queensberry Rules, in which “Gentleman” Jim Corbett dethroned John L. Sullivan, the “Boston Strongboy,” on a 21st-round knockout. The city’s deep roots in boxing date back further than that, to the 1870 pairing of Jem Mace and Tom Allen in what was considered the first legitimate heavyweight prizefight.

In later and more flush times, the Louisiana Superdome was the site of Muhammad Ali’s reclaiming of the heavyweight championship (for a record third time) on a 15-round UD over Leon Spinks on Sept. 15, 1978, a Mardi Gras-level event witnessed by an announced crowd of 63,350, and Roberto Duran’s “No Mas” surrender to Sugar Ray Leonard on Nov. 25, 1980, which drew a turnout of about 30,000. On a somewhat smaller scale, Roy Jones Jr. defended his WBA, WBC and The Ring light heavyweight belts on a 10th-round RTD over 30-1 underdog Eric Harding on Sept. 9, 2000, in the New Orleans Arena (now Smoothie King Center), now the home of the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans.

Bonano doesn’t want to be New Orleans’ last inclusion in the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame; he is a staunch proponent of Pugh getting the recognition he believes is long overdue, and he also figures the committee that approved him might want to take a look at Licata and Messina. But of perhaps greater importance is the need to rebuild upon traditions that are on the verge of going permanently fallow, unless a new face in an old place steps forward to accept the baton from Bonano.

Can New Orleans boxing be revived to a reasonable facsimile of what it once was?

“First of all, you gotta have somebody local that can develop into a world-class fighter, to draw attention to the game,” Bonano said. “Once that happens, you’d see a lot of young guys get involved in boxing, a lot of spectators coming back to see fights. But there has to be a lead person to draw that attention.”

And is there a possible successor to himself that might be ready to embark onto his own long journey toward the GNOSHOF?

“I got a good friend of mind named Toby Wattigney, who loves boxing,” Bonano offered. “He’s a trainer. I think that Toby will wind up taking over as a promoter. He’s great and I really believe he will carry on the tradition I’m leaving behind.”

Here’s hoping Wattigney can fill the large footsteps of New Orleans’ last (for now) link to what was. But, hey, miracles can and sometimes do happen. After all, the New Orleans Saints did win Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7, 2010.

In addition to Bonano, other inductees into the GNOSHOF (*for those now deceased, **for those also enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame), listed alphabetically with the year in which they are enshrined, are:

*Referee Elmo Adolph (2000)

**Former lightweight champion Joe “Old Bones” Brown (1970)

*Fighter and promoter Marty Burke (1978)

**Three-division former world champion Tony Canzoneri (1984)

*Former welterweight contender Bernard Docusen (1976)

*Former WBA/WBC super welterweight champion Ralph Dupas (1978)

**Trainer Ernest “Whitey” Esneault (2016)

*Dr. Eddie Flynn, a gold medalist at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics (1981)

*Harry Gamble, a multiple-sport athlete, including boxing, at Tulane University (1983)

**Former bantamweight champion Pete Herman (1971)

**Former unified light heavyweight champion Willie Pastrano (1973)

*Former world-rated featherweight Jimmy Perrin (1979)

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