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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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Jeison Rosario’s Upset Crowns This Week’s Edition of HITS and MISSES

Kelsey McCarson

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Jeison Rosario’s Upset Crowns This Week’s Edition of HITS and MISSES

There’s was plenty of quality boxing action available for consumption this weekend in the U.S., particularly on Saturday evening because of the competing cards put forth by the PBC on FOX and Top Rank on ESPN crews that have become chief rivals over the last year.

But what were the biggest HITS and MISSES seen during all the action? That’s what you’re here to find out.

HIT – Jeison Rosario’s Stunning Upset for two 154-pound Titles

Nobody expected Rosario to dethrone unified junior middleweight champion Julian Williams on Saturday night at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, but the massive underdog overcame the situation anyway to vault himself to the top of the junior middleweight division. The thing that saved Rosario was his stunning power. He appeared to be out-boxed by Williams early in the fight, but that changed just as soon as it became apparent Williams was slinging only his fists while Rosario was working with sledgehammers. Now the division has become more crowded than ever at the top with all roads amazingly leading to Rosario, the little known 24-year-old from the Dominican Republic who now owns the WBA and IBF titles.

MISS – Chris Colbert’s Fail to Impress

Junior lightweight prospect Chris Colbert was given a great chance by the PBC to impress fight fans on national television on the undercard of Williams-Rosario, but the talented 23-year-old didn’t make the most of the opportunity. Sure, Colbert was taking a step up in competition by taking on former world titleholder Jezreel Corrales for a vacant interim belt, but Colbert mostly came across as a talented fighter who just doesn’t seem quite capable of putting it all together yet. Colbert won the fight, but it wasn’t interesting or noteworthy in any way. Judging by how the PBC has worked in the past, he’ll get plenty more chances to shine, but I’m not sure anyone but the people who stand to gain monetarily from the fighter’s success will be looking forward to it.

HIT –  Eleider Alvarez’s Epic KO of Michael Seals

Former light heavyweight titleholder Alvarez scored the early leader for knockout of the year against Seals in the main event at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York. The fight was fairly lackluster until the explosive ending in the seventh round. It was an important victory for Alvarez, who was coming off losing his title to Sergey Kovalev via decision last February. Alvarez is 35, so it was imperative for him to get back to action and remind people he’s still a viable contender in the 175-pound ranks. And there’s no better way to do that in boxing than by thunderous knockout.

MISS – Felix Verdejo’s Fresh Start Starts Stale

Verdejo is still only 26 years old, but after defeating Manuel Rojas in a lightweight bout at Turning Stone, the once highly regarded prospect doesn’t appear to be any closer today than he was yesterday to living up to the tremendous promise he once possessed. To be completely fair to Verdejo, it was only his first fight under new trainer Ismael Salas and the fighter still has time on his side. Still, there appears to be plenty of work to do if Verdejo is ever to become a world champion. In fact, he didn’t look all that materially different from the fighter who was knocked out in 2018.

HIT – Floyd Mayweather Wins Prestigious BWAA Award 

I honestly had some concern that Mayweather wouldn’t win the BWAA’s Fighter of the Decade award before it was announced on Friday via press release. After all, Mayweather lost the previous decade’s top honor to Manny Pacquiao in 2010, and Sports Illustrated had just named Andre Ward its Fighter of the Decade winner the week prior. It’s only one person’s opinion, of course, but I think there would have been something wrong with Mayweather not picking up the honor at least once in the last two decades. After all, he’s quite easily the generation’s best overall fighter and he’s transcended the sport to mainstream celebrity status, too. Congrats to Mayweather for winning the well-deserved honor.

Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp / TGB Promotions

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South African Trailblazer Peter Mathebula Dead at Age 67

Arne K. Lang

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Peter Mathebula wasn’t a great fighter. He suffered nine losses during his 45-bout career. He was stopped five times. But Mathebula, who died yesterday (Jan. 18) at age 67, was a historically important fighter. He was the first black South African to win a world title. He was the first South African boxer of any color to win a world title on foreign soil. His predecessors, bantamweights Vic Toweel and Arnold Taylor, won their titles in Johannesburg. Mathebula won his in Los Angeles.

Mathebula took the WBA flyweight title on a split decision from Korea’s Tae-Shik Kim on Dec. 12, 1980 at LA’s Olympic Auditorium. The fight was originally headed to Seoul but Mathebula was denied a visa.

In those days, South Korea barred tourists from South Africa as a protest against that country’s policy of apartheid. Mathebula was a victim of apartheid, but that made no difference as the ban was a blanket ban, covering all South Africans, regardless of color.

Olympic Auditorium matchmaker Don Fraser acquired the orphanded fight. Southern California had a large Korean population and Fraser thought the fight would go over big with this demographic.

The fabled Olympic Auditorium was noted for raucous SRO crowds. But not on this particular night. The crowd was overwhelmingly Korean-American, but there weren’t more than 3,000 in attendance. Kim vs. Mathebula didn’t resonate with the Olympic Auditorium regulars.

The fight was very close but most thought the decision was fair. The Korean started fast, wrote LA Times ringside reporter Mark Heisler, but Mathebula fought his way back into the fight in the middle rounds and won the 14th and 15th stanzas on his card, sufficient he thought to secure the win.

The victory made Mathebula a big star in South Africa. His purse for the fight with Tae-Shik Kim was only $7,500 (approximately $23,500 in today’s dollars) but he made up for it in endorsements. He appeared in ads for automobiles, Old Buck Gin, Bostonian shoes and a line of splashy clothes according to Joseph Lelyveld, the New York Times man on the scene.

Mathebula’s celebrityhood crossed racial lines. Newspapers that took little cognizance of goings-on in the black community showered Mathebula with a copious amount of ink. When he defended his title against Argentina’s Santos Laciar, it was front page news in white and black newspapers.

Mathebula opposed Laciar a mere 13 weeks after winning his title in Los Angeles. The match was held in Soweto’s Orlando Stadium, a facility built to house the Pirates, Soweto’s all-black soccer team. Three years earlier, South Africa had legalized interracial sporting events but few whites dared venture into Soweto which was ground zero for anti-apartheid demonstrations.

Despite the great esteem in which Mathebula was held, the fight wasn’t a sellout. A local black nationalist organization launched a campaign to boycott the fight on the grounds that the government, which paid to set up Mathebula in a fancy hotel and paid for his motorcades, was using international mixed-race sporting events as a propaganda tool, an early illustration of what has come to be called “sportswashing.”

Peter Mathebula couldn’t catch a break and that may have impacted his performance against the Argentine. It was woeful. Laciar knocked him down in the fifth and then bull-rushed him out of the ring (the ref called it a push) and the bout was stopped in the eighth with Mathebula complaining that his vision was compromised.

Before the year was out, Mathebula lost twice more. Fighting on hostile turf in Venezuela, he was stopped twice by Betulio Gonzalez, first in the 10th and then in the sixth. A three-time world title-holder, Gonzalez had a great career but he was approaching his 32nd birthday, old for a flyweight, and his best days were behind him.

In the span of less than 10 full months, Peter Mathebula went from the penthouse to the proverbial outhouse, but with the passage of time his people remembered his historic achievement in Los Angeles and pretty much forgot the slew of disappointments that quickly followed. The word “legend” suffuses reports of his death in South African papers.

Mathebula reportedly had multiple health issues and spent the last three weeks of his life in Leratong Hospital in the province of Gauteng, not far from the all-black township where he was born. May he rest in rest in peace.

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Ringside in Verona: Alvarez Capsizes Seals Plus Undercard Results

Matt Andrzejewski

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VERONA, NY — The main event of an ESPN televised card at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, NY between light heavyweight contenders Eleider Alvarez (25-1, 13 KO’s) and Michael Seals (24-3, 18 KO’s) started with a whimper but ended with a bang. After six-plus rounds of lackadaisical action, Alvarez scored a stunning sensational one punch knockout just before the end of the seventh round of their scheduled ten round fight.

The first three rounds saw more clinches than punches landed. Seals seemed to be looking to land one perfect punch and in doing so barely unleashed any punches. Alvarez, for his part, was not very active in these rounds but certainly moved his hands more and landed more than Seals.

In round four, Seals came out much more aggressive and had his best round of the fight. But in the fifth, Seals went back to looking for that one punch and Alvarez took back control of the action. Toward the end of the round, Alvarez staggered Seals with a right hand.

Alvarez continued to be in control of the fight in rounds six and seven by simply moving his hands more. And then towards the end of round seven, Alvarez connected with a picture perfect overhand right that sent Seals crashing to the canvas. Referee Danny Schiavone did not reach a full 10-count before waiving the fight off.

For Alvarez, this was a big bounce-back win after his loss to Sergey Kovalev in their light heavyweight title rematch last February. With the light heavyweight division flush with talent, it seems Alvarez is in prime position to get a big opportunity his next time out.

In the co-feature, lightweight contender Felix Verdejo (26-1, 16 KO’s) put on a workmanlike effort in winning a wide ten round unanimous decision against Manuel Rey Rojas (18-4, 5 KO’s). While Verdejo was in complete control of the contest from the opening bell, the performance certainly lacked sizzle and may raise even more questions on the potential of the once can’t-miss prospect.

Verdejo utilized a very patient approach throughout the night working behind the left jab. While the jab was effective, Verdejo only occasionally looked to unleash power punches behind that jab. Reyes, for his part, played mostly defense keeping a very tight guard and looking to selectively counter Verdejo’s jab.

Verdejo’s defense, which had been criticized in the past, looked better but still showed some leaks. In the fifth round, Reyes landed a sharp right hand flush on the jaw of Verdejo that seemed to momentarily get Verdejo’s attention. And in the ninth, Reyes landed a hard right that snapped Verdejo’s head back. If Reyes could punch harder, either of those two rights may have altered the course of the fight.

But aside from those brief moments from Reyes, Verdejo dictated all the action. He easily out-worked and out-landed the mostly defensive minded Reyes. In the end it is a win for Verdejo and he can proceed forward towards what he hopes will be an eventual title shot in the lightweight division.

In a bizarre heavyweight fight between two former 2004 Olympians, Devin Vargas (22-6, 9 KO’s) was awarded a disqualification victory in the eighth and final round against Victor Bisbal (23-5, 17 KO’s). Bisbal scored a knockdown in round two with a left hook but was deducted two points in round four for various infractions.  Aside from the knockdown round, Vargas seemed to out-hustle and out-land Bisbal. Ahead on all three scorecards (67-63 twice and 66 -64) entering the final round, Vargas absorbed a low blow from Bisbal. At this point, referee Michael Ortega decided to disqualify Bisbal.

Abraham Nova (18-0, 14 KO’s) scored a one-sided fourth-round TKO of tough veteran Pedro Navarette (30-25-3, 19 KO’s) in a lightweight contest that was scheduled for eight rounds. Nova scored knockdowns in rounds two, three and four before the fight was waived off.

Knockout out artist Jonathan Guzman (24-1, 23 KO’s) rose from the canvas to score a fourth-round knockout of Rodolfo Hernandez (30-10-1, 28 KO’s) in a 122-pound slugfest. The heavily favored Guzman scored two knockdowns with body shots in the opening stanza and appeared on his way to an easy win. But Hernandez flipped the script in round three with a hard right hand just before the bell sounded that put Guzman on the canvas and nearly out. The two went toe to toe in the fourth when a vicious left hook to the body from Guzman put Hernandez down and this time out for good.

In a battle of former world title challengers, Freddie Roach trained Christopher Diaz (25-2, 16 KO’s) scored a wide eight round unanimous against Adeilson Dos Santos (19-8, 15 KO’s) in a featherweight contest. Diaz dominated the fight from the opening bell and hurt Dos Santos on a few occasions but ultimately had to settle for the decision victory.

The opening fight of the night saw heavyweight prospect Jared Anderson (3-0, 3 KO’s) easily dispatch Andrew Satterfield (5-4, 3 KO’s) in the first round of their scheduled four round fight. Anderson scored two knockdowns in what was a dominant performance.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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