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Fury vs. Wilder Echoed Holmes-Shavers; Now the Gypsy King Has an Easier Assignment

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It’s not an exhibition bout per se, but Saturday night’s matchup of lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and Sweden’s Otto Wallin at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, to be streamed via ESPN+, almost certainly should be considered a mortal-lock victory for the “Gypsy King.” Fury, coming off a blowout of Tom Schwarz, is -3,500 according to the most recently posted wagering line, meaning you’d have to put up $3,500 on him to come away with a skimpy $100 profit. Wallin is a +1,300 long shot, both lines indicating that the Scandinavian southpaw absolutely should not be looked upon as a potential second coming of the late Ingemar Johansson. Despite his undeservedly high No. 4 ranking from the WBA, Wallin has about as legitimate a chance of taking down Fury as might Bjorn Ulvaeus, the 74-year-old singer/songwriter for the Swedish pop group ABBA, whose last single to chart in the U.S. was in 1981.

Instead of his typical boasting, Fury (28-0-1, 20 KOs) is doing his darndest to portray the scheduled 12-rounder, if it lasts that long, as something akin to serious competition. He cites Wallin’s WBA ranking as proof that the Swedish mystery man (20-0, 13 KOs) isn’t merely a steppingstone on the way to a much-anticipated rematch with WBC champion Deontay Wilder, or maybe a go at the winner of the Dec. 7 do-over between WBA/IBF/WBO titlist Andy Ruiz Jr. (33-1, 22 KOs) and former unified champ Anthony Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs). If Fury elects to take an even bolder stab at acting humble, he might mention that, in his American debut on April 20, 2013, at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, he was on the wrong end of a flash knockdown in the second round against former cruiserweight king Steve Cunningham, who at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds and with an 82-inch reach, was giving away 44 pounds, six inches in height and three inches in reach. Fury regrouped from that momentary embarrassment and went on to win on a seventh-round stoppage.

But, hey, that was then and this is now. Nobody ever knows with absolute certainty what will transpire inside the ropes, but it says here that the biggest, most-compelling heavyweight fight that can be made in the foreseeable future, even bigger and more compelling than Ruiz-Joshua II, is a second pairing of Wilder and Fury, who fought to a controversial, entertaining and ultimately inconclusive split draw on Dec. 1, 2018, at the Staples Center in LA.

It is what happened in the 12th and final round of that fight that fully legitimized Fury in my mind, maybe even more so than his functional if excitement-deficient points dethronement of the long-reigning Wladimir Klitschko on Nov. 28, 2015 in Dusseldorf, Germany. It is easy for any talented fighter to look good when he is having his way with an outclassed opponent, quite another when that fighter has to pick himself off the deck against a power hitter accustomed to having his hand raised once he puts his man down and seemingly out.

I would have liked to ask Fury if he answered any questions about himself by not only barely beating the count against Wilder, who to all the world appeared to think he had just registered his 41st exclamation-point victory in 42 bouts, but my request for a one-on-one telephone interview hit a snag while wending its way through channels. Still, like Earnie Shavers, another big bopper from another era with a ridiculous knockout percentage, Wilder can be excused for believing that Fury, who was nailed with a jolting overhand right and follow-up left hook before his shaven skull bounced hard off the canvas, was done for the night. Nor was the “Bronze Bomber” alone in that assumption.

After Wilder sent an unmoving Fury flopping onto his back as if tranquilized, Showtime blow-by-blow announcer Mauro Ranallo nearly hyperventilated in screaming, “Deontay Wilder has done it!” But referee Jack Reiss had another idea and initiated a count that more than a few others in his position would have dispensed with. He had reached nine when Fury lurched to his feet, prompting analyst Paulie Malignaggi to say, almost in disbelief, “Wow, he got up.”

Not only was Fury up, but after fending off a cavalry-charge attack by a disbelieving Wilder, he even dipped deep enough inside himself to carry the fight to the WBC champion in the closing moments.

“At that moment (of the knockdown), did anyone in this arena really think Tyson Fury was going to get up?” veteran analyst Al Bernstein asked, rhetorically.

“Guys, I thought the fight was over when Deontay Wilder dropped Fury,” Ranallo chipped in.

Malignaggi then added another astute observation, noting that “maybe hitting the canvas woke (Fury) up.”

The entire sequence of events reminded me of another fight, the rematch of WBC heavyweight champion Larry Holmes and knockout artist Shavers, on Sept. 28, 1979, at Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace. Holmes was riding his best weapon, a stinging, accurate, state-of-the-art jab, to a big lead on the scorecards when, in the final minute of the seventh round, Shavers – whose nickname, “The Acorn,” had been conferred upon him by Muhammad Ali – delivered a crushing right hand that had primarily contributed to 56 of his 58 inside-the-distance victories up to that point. Holmes went down as so many others had, rolled onto his side and decided, hey, I’ve come this far, why not get up and go a bit more?

Shavers, as Wilder would nearly 39 years later, raised his arms in exultation on his way to a neutral corner, so certain was he that he had just become heavyweight champion of the world. But when he turned around, Holmes was upright and prepared to carry on, which he did en route to winning via 11th-round TKO.

“I always tell Earnie that he hit me too hard,” Holmes would often say later. “If he hadn’t hit me quite so damn hard, he would have knocked me out for sure. That punch actually kind of woke me up when I hit the floor.

“Man, I still got knots in my head where he hit me. Earnie could punch very hard, incredibly hard. I hear people say, `Aw, man, he couldn’t possibly hit that hard as everybody says. They think that the stories about Earnie’s power are exaggerated. It’s no exaggeration. That power was real.”

There are means, scientific means, of calibrating a boxer’s punching power. The usual formula is for them to drill a padded bag in which instruments are housed to measure pounds per square inch. But fight fans aren’t particularly geeky, and the word of a respected champion usually means more to them than a computer printout. In 2003 Shavers was listed as the 10th greatest puncher of all time by The Ring, which is understandable considering that Holmes, Muhammad Ali, Ken Norton, Ron Lyle, Tex Cobb and Joe Bugner all tabbed him as the hardest puncher they ever faced. Another list – aren’t all of these things subjective? – had Mike Tyson as the hardest-hitting heavyweight of all time with Shavers No. 6. Holmes fought both but was nearly 40 years of age and hadn’t fought for two years when, with scant time to train, he was stopped in four rounds by Tyson on Jan. 22, 1988.

“There’s no doubt in my mind who hit the hardest – Earnie Shavers,” the “Easton Assassin” said when contacted for this story. “Mike Tyson hit me when I wasn’t in shape. I was in shape for Earnie Shavers, so when he hit me I was able to get up. Mike Tyson knocked me down and I got up, but I wasn’t in any kind of shape. If you’ve been off for two years and you don’t get a couple of months to get ready for a fight like that, you’re probably going to get knocked out.”

It would be interesting if there was some way to accurately gauge the power of a Shavers, and the resiliency of an in-his-prime all-time great like Holmes, in relation to the power of Wilder and the recuperative powers of Fury. All any fight fan can do is to marvel at the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object, which is when any boxing match can elevate itself from sporting event to incredibly high drama.

Here’s hoping that Wilder-Fury does not remain on the back burner much longer. Until it does come to pass, snack on the celery stalk of Fury vs. Wallin until the real entrée is served piping hot.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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