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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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Johnny Famechon was a Hero in Australia Where Willie Pep Had a Bad Night

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Willie Pep was good at boxing. He wasn’t so good at math. Ah, but hold the phone; we are getting ahead of ourselves. This isn’t a story about Willie Pep, but about former world featherweight champion Johnny Famechon who passed away last Thursday, Aug. 4, in Melbourne, Australia, at age 77.

Famechon was five years old when his parents left his birthplace in Paris and settled in Melbourne. He came to the fore in an era when boxing was still a mainstream sport and home-grown champions were national idols. The locals turned out in droves for the parade in Johnny’s honor when he returned to Melbourne after taking the featherweight crown from the Cuban-born Spaniard Jose Legra in a big upset at London’s Prince Albert Hall.

HeraldSun

Famechon’s Welcome Home Parade

Famechon’s first title defense came against Japan’s Fighting Harada. They met in Sydney, Australia, on July 28, 1969.

At age 26, Harada was a battle-tested veteran. He previously held world titles at flyweight and bantamweight and would be remembered as the only man to defeat the great Brazilian boxer Eder Jofre, a feat he accomplished not once, but twice.

Only two boxers in history – Bob Fitzsimmons and Henry Armstrong – had won world titles in three of the eight classic weight divisions. Harada, who entered the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995, was bidding to become the third.

Team Harada insisted on a neutral referee. The British promoters chose Willie Pep. A legend in the sport, Pep had previously shared a ring with another Famechon, having out-pointed Johnny’s uncle Ray Famechon in a featherweight title defense at Madison Square Garden in 1950.

Some thought that Pep would favor Fighting Harada. American referees put a higher premium on aggression than did their foreign counterparts and Harada was a little buzzsaw who rarely took a backward step. But others thought that Pep’s selection favored Famechon, an elusive counterpuncher with whom the Connecticut “Will-‘o-Wisp” could identify; their styles were similar.

Pep had been the third man in the ring for four previous title fights, three in Jamaica and one in Brazil. But this fight would be different. He would be the sole arbiter. If the fight went the full 15 rounds, Willie Pep would be the judge and jury.

During the bout, Famechon scored one knockdown, sending Harada to the canvas in round five, but Harada scored three, knocking Famechon down in rounds two, 11, and 14. The last of the three knockdowns was the harshest, but Famechon made it to the final bell.

The fight ended in a clinch. Immediately upon separating the fighters, Pep raised both of their hands, a signal that the fight was a draw.

Fighting Harada’s handlers were outraged and demanded to see the scorecard. A policeman at ringside was empowered to give it a look-over (Australia had no boxing commission). What the policeman found was that there was indeed a discrepancy. However, it was the opposite of what Team Harada anticipated!

The fight was scored on the antiquated system whereby the winner of a round was awarded five points and the loser four points or less. In the case of an even round, both fighters got five points.

After 13 rounds, Fighting Harada had amassed 59 points on Pep’s card. He won the 14th round, giving him an aggregate total of 64 points. But when Pep added up the numbers “59” and “5” in the column where he kept the aggregate total, he came up with “65.”

Oops.

When Pep signaled that the fight was a draw, people stormed the ring from all sides. Newspaper reports said the belligerents were about evenly divided. Famechon, the Aussie, was the crowd favorite, but Fighting Harada was well-backed in the betting markets, a very big industry in Australia. Many were even angrier when Famechon was summoned back to the ring to have his hand raised.

The Famechon-Harada fight aired live on Japanese television. In Japan, there was a great outpouring of outrage. Pep had been instructed to score a round 5-4 if the round was narrow and 5-3 if there was a clear-cut winner. Despite the knockdowns, Pep scored every round 5-4 or 5-5. In the revised tally, he had Famechon winning 6-5-4 in rounds.

“Harada loses to referee” was the headline in Japan’s leading sports daily. Willie Pep made no friends in Australia either. There were shouts of “Yankee go home” as he left the ring.

Famechon and Harada met again five months later in Tokyo. One would assume that Fighting Harada proved superior and got a fair shake, winning the third title denied him in Sydney. But don’t assume.

Harada was well ahead after ten rounds but faded. On the deck in round 10, Famachon returned the favor three rounds later, knocking Harada down hard with a perfectly placed left hook. Harada was in dire straights when he came out for round 14 and Famechon put him away.

Harada never fought again and Famechon left the sport six months later after losing his crown to Vicente Saldivar. Johnny was only 25 years old, but had crammed 67 fights into a nine-year pro career and said enough is enough.

Famechon’s post-boxing life took a tragic turn in 1991 when he was hit by a car while out jogging on a Sydney highway. He spent several weeks in a coma and several years in a wheelchair but eventually recovered most of his motor skills and regained his speech to the point where he could serve as a boxing color commentator on television. In 2018, a larger-than- life statue of Famechon was unveiled at a public park in the Melbourne suburb of Frankston where he was a longtime resident.

For the record, Johnny Famechon finished his career with a record of 56-5-6 with 20 KOs. We here at The Sweet Science send our condolences to his loved ones.

Arne K. Lang’s latest book, titled “George Dixon, Terry McGovern and the Culture of Boxing in America, 1890-1910,” will shortly roll off the press. The book, published by McFarland, can be pre-ordered directly from the publisher (https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/clashof-the-little-giants) or via Amazon.

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Fast Results from Fort Worth Where Vergil Ortiz Jr Won His 19th Straight by KO

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In a match pushed back from March 19, Vergil Ortiz Jr moved one step closer to a mega-fight with Terence “Bud” Crawford or Errol Spence Jr or Boots Ennis with a ninth-round stoppage of England’s feather-fisted Michael McKinson. The end came 20 seconds into round nine when McKinson appeared to injure his knee as he fell to the canvas, an apparent residue of the body punch that put him on the deck late in the previous stanza. To that point, Ortiz had seemingly won every round.

It was the 19th win inside the distance in as many opportunities for Ortiz who resides in nearby Grand Prairie and was making his first start with new trainer Manny Robles. McKinson was undefeated heading in, but had scored only two knockouts while building his record to 22-0.

Ortiz, ranked #1 at welterweight by the WBA and the WBO, pulled out of the March 19 bout after being diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a muscle disorder associated with over-training.

Ortiz’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, says that Ortiz will fight the winner of Errol Spence vs Terence Crawford next assuming that the fight gets made, and if doesn’t get made, Ortiz’s next fight will be with one or the other. The WBA, which stamped tonight’s fight an eliminator, may push to have Ortiz fight their secondary title-holder, Eimantas Stanionis.

Co-Feature

Houston’s Marlen Esparza (13-1, 1 KO) successfully defended her WBA/WBC world flyweight title with a unanimous decision over plucky 4’11 ½” Venezuelan southpaw Eva Guzman who had won 14 straight coming in, albeit against soft opposition. The judges had it 98-92 and 99-91 twice.

Guzman (19-2-1) was game, but just didn’t have the physical tools to overcome Esparza whose lone defeat came at the hands of talented Seneisa Estrada.

Other Fights of Note

In a 10-round match contested at the catchweight of 150 pounds, Blair “The Flair” Cobbs rebounded from his first defeat with a career-best performance, a wide decision over former WBO 140-pound world titlist Maurice Hooker. It was the second straight loss for Hooker who returned to the ring after a 17-month hiatus and came out flat. Cobbs put him on the canvas in the opening frame with a combination and decked him twice more with straight lefts in round two.

Things got somewhat dicey for Cobbs in round five when he suffered a bad gash on his forehead from an accidental head butt, but Hooker, who had stablemate Bud Crawford in his corner, hesitated to let his hands go and couldn’t reverse the tide. The judges had it 96-91 and 97-90 twice for the flamboyant Cobbs who improved to 16-1-1 (10). Hooker, a consensus 5/2 favorite, lost for the third time in his last five starts and slumped to 27-3-3.

In the opener to the main portion of the DAZN card, Uzbekistan’s Bektimir Melikuziev (10-1, 8 KOs), a super middleweight growing into a light heavyweight, dominated and stopped overmatched Sladan Janjanin. Melikuziev put Janjanin down with a body punch in the opening minute of the fight and scored two more knockdowns before the bout was halted at the 2:18 mark of round three.

This was Melikuziev’s third fight back after his shocking one-punch annihilation by Gabriel Rosado. Janjanin, a well-traveled Bosnian who fought three weeks ago in Massachusetts, declined to 32-12 and was stopped for the eighth time.

Also

Chicago welterweight Alex Martin (18-4, 6 KOs) overcame a first-round knockdown to win a unanimous decision over 38-year-old Philadelphia journeyman Henry Lundy. The judges had it an unexpectedly wide 98-91, 97-92, 97-92.

Martin was coming off a points loss to McKinson and this bout was his reward for taking that fight on short notice. Lundy (31-11-1) has lost five of his last seven.

Floyd “Austin Kid” Schofield, a lightweight who appears to have a big upside, advanced to 11-0 (9 KOs) at the expense of Mexican trial horse Rodrigo Guerrero whose corner wisely pulled him out after five one-sided rounds. It was the ninth straight loss for Guerrero (26-15).

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Conlan Wins His Belfast Homecoming; Breezes Past Lackadaisical Marriaga

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“The Return of the Mick” was the label attached to tonight’s show at the SSE Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The reference was to local fan favorite Michael “Mick” Conlan who returned to his hometown in hopes of jump-starting his career after suffering his first pro loss in a brutal encounter with Leigh Wood.

In that bout, a strong “Fight of the Year contender, Conlan was narrowly ahead on all three cards heading into the 12th and final round when the roof fell in. Wood, who was making the first defense of his WBA world featherweight title on his home turf in Nottingham, knocked the favored Conlan unconscious and clear out of the ring.

This was the sort of fight that can shorten a man’s career. Hence the intrigue in Conlan’s homecoming fight tonight against Miguel Marriaga. On paper, the Colombian, a three-time world title challenger, was a stern test considering the circumstances.

To the contrary, Marriaga had no fire in his belly until the final round when he hit Conlan with a shot that buckled his knees. But, by then Conlan was so far ahead without overly exerting himself that there was virtually no chance of another meltdown.

While Conlan won lopsidedly, the scores – 99-89 and 99-88 twice – were somewhat misleading. True, “Mick” had Marriaga on the deck in rounds 7, 8, and 9, but the punches that put him there did not look particularly hard.

Conlan, 30, improved to 17-1 (8). Marriaga, 35, declined to 30-6.

After the fight, Conlan expressed the hope that Leigh Wood would give him a rematch.

Other Bouts of Note

In an entertaining 10-round welterweight scrap that could have gone either way, Belfast’s Tyrone McKenna (23-3-1, 6 KOs) rebounded from his defeat in Dubai to Regis Prograis (TKO by 6) with a hard-fought unanimous decision over 33-year-old Welshman Chris Jenkins (23-6-3). The judges favored the local fighter by scores of 97-94 and 96-95 twice.

Jenkins, a former British and Commonwealth title-holder, had the best of the early going, working the body effectively while frequently finding a home for his uppercut, but he could not sustain his advantage.

Thirty-four-year-old Belfast super middleweight Padraig McCrory who got a late start in boxing, scored the most important win of his career with a fifth-round stoppage of Marco Antonio Periban, a former world title challenger. McCrory had Periban on the deck three times – once in the second and twice in the fifth – before the bout was halted at the 2:14 mark of round five.

It was the fourth straight win inside the distance for McCrory who improved to 14-0 (8 KOs). Mexico’s Periban, who returned to the sport in April after missing all of 2020 and 2021, fell to 26-6-1.

Highly-touted welterweight Paddy Donovan improved to 9-0 (6) with an 8-round unanimous decision over Yorkshireman Tom Hall (10-3). The referee scored every round for Donovan, an Irish Traveler trained by Tyson Fury’s bosom buddy Andy Lee, the former world middleweight title-holder.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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