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Holmes-Spinks I: The Grassy Knoll for Boxing’s Conspiracy Theorists

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The most enduring of American conspiracy theories involves a gunman who may or may not have existed and may or may not have been on a grassy knoll in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the subject of numerous speculative books and movies, all of which involve some individual’s ironclad take on what happened, why it happened and who was involved in making it happen, will always be grist for the mill for those still dissecting that national tragedy. More than a few of those arguments dispute the Warren Commission’s official conclusion that presumed killer Lee Harvey Oswald acted on his own and not in concert with unidentified, shadowy figures.

On a more recent and lesser scale, a raft of conspiracy theories arose in the wake of the alleged Aug. 10 jailhouse suicide of multimillionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, whose list of celebrity acquaintances includes two presidents of the United States and even a member of the British royal family. As was the case when nightclub owner Jack Ruby fatally shot Oswald before he could go on trial, conspiracy theorists on all sides have conjectured whether Epstein’s suspicious death was actually a hit and, if so, ordered by whom?

Boxing, with its blemished past dotted by nefarious power brokers and decisions that sometimes defy logic, also has provided conspiracy junkies with ample material to analyze and debate. Olympic boxing, often characterized as a cesspool of corruption, immediately comes to mind. So does the Sept. 10, 1993, majority draw in which WBC welterweight champion Pernell Whitaker, whom almost everyone without an official scorecard saw as the clear victor, was obliged to settle for a dissatisfying standoff with crowd favorite and Mexican national hero Julio Cesar Chavez in a bout that drew a live crowd of 60,000 or so in the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. Although Whitaker retained his title on the draw, he and his outraged supporters were convinced the outcome was predicated more on the WBC, headquartered in Mexico City, exerting behind-the-scenes influence to ensure that Chavez came away with his undefeated record still intact. Irrefutable truth is often difficult to pin down in such matters, but the 55-year-old “Sweet Pea,” who died after being struck by a car on July 14, went to his grave believing he had been cheated out of a deserved triumph that would have further embellished his Hall of Fame legacy.

Given its historical implications, what is arguably the grassy knoll of boxing remains the Sept. 21, 1985, pairing of long-reigning heavyweight champion Larry Holmes and undisputed light heavyweight titlist Michael Spinks, who was attempting to become the first (or maybe not) 175-pound champ to move up in weight and capture his sport’s most prestigious and lucrative prize.

Spinks – who came away with a razor-thin and controversial 15-round unanimous decision — was bidding to do something no other light heavyweight had ever done, although there are those who cite Tommy Burns, who outpointed heavyweight champ Marvin Hart over 20 rounds on Feb. 23, 2006, as the first 175-pound titlist to accomplish the feat. In any case, since Burns, 13 light heavyweight champs had tried and failed in their bids to become king of the heavyweights, a list that included such ring legends as Billy Conn, Archie Moore and Bob Foster.

Given the fact that the 35-year-old Holmes was making his 20th title defense and was widely considered as one of the best heavyweight champions of all time, he was installed as a prohibitive favorite over Spinks, who was not only bucking tradition but the perceived limits of his own body. Even respected Los Angeles Times sports columnist Jim Murray, noting that Spinks had weighed in at 199¾ pounds – heavier than such legendary heavyweight champions as and Jack Dempsey and Rocky Marciano ever did for title bouts – went a bit overboard in writing that the challenger looked “like a blowfish” and that his weight gain was accelerated by a 4,500-calorie-a-day diet that might be “all right for a guy getting ready to play Henry the Eighth.”

But Spinks’ bulking-up process was not the result of having scarfed down a bunch of French fries, chocolate milkshakes and doughnuts, but rather the calculated machinations of New Orleans-based fitness coach and nutritionist Mackie Shilstone, whose then-unorthodox methods would soon gain wider acceptance but then were seen by the boxing establishment as, well, somewhat bizarre.

“We have a scientific, unique program that is secret – a program that was developed specifically for Michael, using techniques that would be revolutionary for boxing,” Shilstone said to the bemusement of hidebound traditionalists.

Spinks, whose walking-around weight between light heavyweight matches was usually 10 pounds or so above the division limit, said he was already familiar working with Shilstone – to shed unwanted pounds.

“Mackie had already helped me lose weight to get down to light heavyweight,” Spinks said when contacted for this story. “He told me that if I wanted to fight Larry Holmes for the heavyweight championship, he could help me put the weight on the right way. And that’s what he did. He also said he wouldn’t take anything from what I already had, in terms of what I did well as a light heavyweight, that I still would be able to do all that as a heavyweight. He was right, too. I was as fast as a heavyweight as I was as a light heavyweight.”

Unlike Conn, Moore, Foster and other light heavyweight champs who made no secret of their ambition to storm and conquer the heavyweight division, Michael admits to initially lacking the burning desire to replicate the feat of his older brother and fellow 1976 Olympic gold medalist Leon Spinks, who dethroned WBC/WBA heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali via 15-round split decision in a monumental upset on Feb. 15, 1978. Leon had always been naturally larger than Michael, never weighing less than 194 pounds for any of his first 23 outings as a pro. The mere notion of moving up to heavyweight seemed unlikely and more than a bit risky to Michael, who figured he would continue to do what he’d already been doing, which was to dominate all comers at light heavy.

It was Butch Lewis, who promoted both Spinks brothers, who determined that Michael going to heavyweight was not only doable, but highly advisable financially.

“Butch told me I could fight Larry Holmes for the heavyweight championship,” the younger Spinks recalled. “I was, like, `What?’ He said, ‘Yeah, and you can beat him.’ I said, `You really think so?’ And he said, `Absolutely.’

“Butch (who was 65 when he died of a heart attack on July 23, 2011) had faith in me, so I took that and ran with it.”

Maybe what bottom-line Butch had was absolute faith in the economic realities of boxing, which always hold that heavyweight champions are vastly better-compensated than their light heavyweight counterparts. Consider these numbers: Michael Spinks’ purse for his final light heavyweight defense, an eighth-round stoppage of Jim MacDonald on June 6, 1985, was a relatively paltry $100,000, a pittance compared to the $1.1 million contract he signed to challenge Holmes.

Say what you will about the flamboyant Lewis, who was noted for wearing a tuxedo and bow tie but no shirt on fight night, but his steering of Michael Spinks’ career was a case study on how to milk the system for every available dollar. It was Lewis who made the bold call, after Spinks had followed up his stunner over Holmes by outpointing the “Easton Assassin” on another close and controversial call, a 15-round split decision in the rematch seven months later, to hold Spinks out of the heavyweight unification tournament being put together by HBO Sports president Seth Abraham and promoter Don King. In doing so Spinks passed on a potential $5 million payday against eventual tourney winner Mike Tyson, but he was paid about the same amount to defeat the formidable Gerry Cooney, putting into motion a series of events that led to his June 27, 1988, megafight with Tyson in Atlantic City. OK, so Spinks didn’t make it through the first round, but he received a career-high $13.2 million for what proved to be his final fight and only professional loss, a pretty nice parting gift when you get right down to it.

Holmes had his own potential date with destiny in that first clash with Michael Spinks. Were he to win, it would be his 49th consecutive victory without a loss, matching the record set by Marciano – ironically, against Archie Moore and, even more ironically, 30 years to the day after The Rock knocked out the Ol’ Mongoose in the ninth round in what turned out to be his final fight.

In the lead-up to the fight at The Riviera in Las Vegas, for which members of the Marciano family were invited guests, Holmes seemed to chafe at constantly being compared to a beloved fighter who had died in a crash of a small private plane on Aug. 31, 1969. “I’m not fighting Marciano,” Holmes complained. “He’s dead. I never knew him. I’m fighting for Larry Holmes, for me, for what I can do for my family.”

To Holmes, who was no stranger to the seven-figure club and who was down for a $3 million purse, there was a racial component to the constant comparisons to Marciano, who was white, much in the same manner that black baseball great Hank Aaron was the target of unfair and sometimes cruel criticism as he neared the sacrosanct record of 714 career home runs set by Babe Ruth. When Aaron passed Ruth by homering for the 715th time on April 8, 1974, the feat was celebrated by many Americans and baseball fans in general, but not by everyone.

Members of the Marciano family, who ostensibly had been summoned to congratulate Holmes in the event of his making it to 49-0, celebrated when the close decision for Spinks – by margins of 143-142 (twice) and 145-142 – was announced. That did not set well with Holmes, who felt such a display was disrespectful to him and, additionally, was the wrong call historically as long-reigning champions such as himself usually got the benefit of the doubt in close fights.

“I was robbed,” Holmes, in announcing one of his several retirements from boxing that didn’t stick, said at the postfight press conference, suggesting that alleged conspirators in influential places who finally had brought him down can “kiss me where the sun never shines,” which meant “my big black behind.”

Nor was Holmes any more disposed to be gracious to Peter Marciano, Rocky’s younger brother and the foremost keeper of the “Brockton Blockbuster’s” eternal flame. “You are freeloading off your dead brother,” Holmes told Peter, tossing in the zinger that “Rocky couldn’t carry my jockstrap.”

Months later, after the heat of the moment had long since cooled down, Holmes, in most instances a respectful and thoroughly decent man, offered a public apology to anyone he might have offended with his earlier intemperate remarks.

“I’m sorry for what I said, for the way things came out,” Holmes told a Boston reporter. “I don’t want to take anything away from Peter or the Marciano family. I haven’t slept for two months thinking about this.

“I’ve reached out to Peter Marciano. I’d like to get together with him, either in his town or mine (Easton, Pa.). There must be something that can be done to make this right.

“I have no hard feelings against Rocky Marciano. He was one of the greatest fighters of all time. His 49-0 record speaks for itself. If I hurt Marciano’s family, I regret it.”

What Holmes did not back away from, not then and not now, is his belief that he deserved to win both of his fights with Michael Spinks, with the first loss a thinly veiled and successful attempt to keep him from sidling up alongside the sainted Marciano.

“There was no doubt about it,” he said of a decision he still regards as a cold slap in the face. “I knew what they were going to do to me. I knew if I didn’t knock him out, I wasn’t going to get the decision.” Nor is he alone in that contention, just as there are Spinks partisans who are just as insistent that the judges got it right.

Asked if he thought then, or does now, that he did not receive all the credit he was due from Holmes and his other persistent proponents of the conspiracy theory that refuses to die, Spinks said it shouldn’t matter at this point. The record book indicates he won, so that should be that.

“It was a close fight, but I did think I won,” he reiterated. “There’s no animosity between me and Larry. We get along. He’s not really sore about it anymore. At one of his golf tournaments that I attended, he took the microphone and said something about how he’d lost to me, but that wasn’t all bad because he made so much money for losing.”

What Holmes wants to make clear more than anything is that he wants to forever bury any hint that race is or should still be a part of the discussion. He said there was too much of that in the past, and still too much now. He pointed out that Gerry Cooney, the white guy against whom his high-visibility fight was neatly divided into opposing racial camps, as well as Spinks have been regular participants in his charity golf tournament.

“Half of my family is white,” Holmes pointed out. “I’m not a racist. I don’t have anything against white folks or anybody else. My son is getting ready to be married in a couple of weeks to a white girl. My daughter is married to a white guy.

“I didn’t really care about racial s— then, and to this day I don’t care about it. Gerry Cooney is my friend. Now, I didn’t like the decisions in my fights with Michael Spinks, but you can’t dwell on that. You got to move past that.”

Which might be one man’s way of saying that any lingering ghosts on that figurative grassy knoll overlooking a boxing ring where a fight took place 34 years ago should finally be allowed to just fade away.

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David Avanesyan: “My Aggressive Style is Going to Give Crawford Problems”

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With determination and total confidence in his abilities, Russian David Avanesyan rejects the idea that he will be the “ugly duckling” when he faces Terence Crawford who will be defending his WBO welterweight title for the sixth time this December 10th.

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime for my family and me, one I will not take for granted,” Avanesyan said. “I know going in that I’m a huge underdog and no one is giving me a chance, but let me tell you, I’m going to surprise everyone watching. I’ve had enough time to prepare, so I’ll be ready for the southpaw.”

Thirty-four-year-old Avanesyan (29-3-1, 17 KOs) was born in Russia but resides in England, where he has been preparing for the momentous matchup against Crawford.

European champion in the welterweight division, Avanesyan has won six straight, all within the distance; the most recent being in the first round against Finnish Oskari Metz (16-1, 6 KOs) in London.

Ranked sixth by the WBO and seventh by the IBF, Avanesyan says he has learned many tricks over the years and is now a completely different and more mature boxer.

“Coming from the amateur ranks, I had to learn how to sit on my punches correctly, which can take a lifetime for some fighters. The bad habits that plagued me early in my career are now fixed. Today I’m a completely different fighter in the ring, and my last six fights have shown my growth when it comes to my power punching. I believe my aggressive style is going to give Crawford problems,” said Avanesyan.

Prior to his six-fight winning streak, Avanesyan was knocked out in the eighth round by California-based Lithuanian Egidijus Kavaliauskas in the city of Reno, Nevada where they fought for the NABF belt.

Avanesyan is not misguided as he assesses the enormous task ahead. “There’s a reason Terence Crawford is considered the best fighter in boxing, his skill set is amazing, and he knows how to win,” stated Avanesyan. “I know my hands are full, but I’m going to do everything I can to become a world champion. I need to stick to the game plan we have in place, and if adjustments need to be made during the fight, I will have to make them.”

Although Avanesyan logically praises Crawford’s career, the match-up has created a sea of ​​criticism for the undefeated Crawford (38-0, 29 KOs), who is ranked among the best pound for pound fighters. The vast majority of fans wanted to see him face his countryman, the undefeated Errol Spence Jr (28-0, 22 KOs), the current title holder of the other three most prestigious belts: the WBC, WBA and IBF.

But the thirty-five-year-old Crawford from Omaha, Nebraska says that regardless of his results and whatever adversary he faces, he will continue to be blamed by the people who just don’t like him.

“Before, I always cared a lot about what the fans say and say about me,” stated Crawford. “But the older I got, the more I came to the fact that you can’t please everyone. No matter what you do, no matter who you beat and how many fights you won, how many divisions you conquered, there will still be those who will not love you for their own reasons. It seems to me that all the great fighters went through this. All the greats who were before me, and all those who will be after me, it will be the same with everyone.”

In his brilliant professional career, Crawford has been world champion in three divisions: lightweight, super lightweight and welterweight.

Six years after his professional boxing debut, Crawford claimed the WBO 135-pound world title by unanimously defeating host Ricky Burns in Glasgow, Scotland.

Thirteen months later, Crawford added the vacant WBO 140-pound title by anesthetizing Thomas Dulorme in the sixth round. Dulorme could not endure Crawford’s powerful punch and visited the canvas three times in the fateful sixth round.

Crawford became the undisputed king of the super lightweight division in August 2017, when he chloroformed Namibian Julius Indongo in Lincoln, Nebraska. The African lost the WBA and IBF belts, while Crawford retained the WBC and WBO belts.

In June 2018, Crawford conquered the WBO welterweight belt after putting Australian Jeff Horn (20-3-1, 13 KOs) to sleep in the ninth round at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas.

Thanks to his blazing hand speed, ring savvy, counterpunching skills, as well as his ability to switch from right guard to left guard and back again, Crawford is considered a heavy favorite to take down Avanesyan.

*Note: As of December 2nd:  Crawford  -1600 / Avanesyan  +780

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Alvarez in Spanish.

Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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Juan Francisco Estrada Holds Off ‘Chocolatito’ Again

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Once again Juan Francisco Estrada jumped out in front early and Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez needed time to crank up the engine, but fell too far behind as the Mexican fighter won the vacant WBC flyweight world title on Saturday.

Estrada wins the trilogy 10 years in the making.

Once again Estrada (44-3, 28 KOs) surged ahead early in the fight against Nicaragua’s Gonzalez (51-4, 41 KOs) and then navigated toward another win, this time at the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona on the Matchroom Boxing card.

“We had excellent preparation at high altitude and I think we left the fight clear on who won the fight this time,” said Estrada about the third encounter.

Ten years ago, the trilogy began in Los Angeles as “Chocolatito” confronted an unknown fighter at the time in Estrada. The two surprised the crowd who expected Gonzalez to destroy yet another Mexican fighter. But it did not happen that night though Chocolatito proved too experienced and battered his way to victory in a light flyweight world title clash.

Then, in March 2021, Estrada finally fought Gonzalez in a rematch and the two engaged in a closely-fought super flyweight world title match. This time Estrada proved slightly better according to the judges and won by split decision in Dallas, Texas.

Few knew what to expect in a third encounter.

At first the coronavirus stalled plans for the trifecta so Chocolatito fought a replacement and dominated. Meanwhile Estrada fought another Mexican and did not look good.

On Saturday, a decade after their first encounter, Estrada looked fluid and accurate in dominating the first six rounds of the fight. Though he did not hurt Gonzalez, he was repeatedly scoring at will.

Gonzalez woke up around the seventh round.

Suddenly the Nicaraguan who was once considered the best fighter Pound for Pound showed up and fired rapid combinations. The spring in his legs suddenly appeared and the energy level was cranked up high after nearly being on idle.

Estrada suddenly found himself against the ropes forced to slip and slide away from Gonzalez’s powerful combination punches. A real fight suddenly erupted during the final six rounds.

“All fights are different and all fights are difficult and this was the most difficult one,” said Gonzalez, a four-division world champion.

Though neither fighter was ever visibly hurt, Gonzalez’s pressure kept Estrada expending too much energy trying to evade the Nicaraguan’s traps during the final six rounds.

“He always goes 100 miles an hour,” said Estrada of his nemesis.

Estrada used uppercuts and slide steps to maneuver against Gonzalez’s hard charges. It seemed to work and allowed the Mexican fighter more room and time to apply counter-measures.

In the final round, those maneuvers allowed Estrada to connect with a hard punch to the body that forced Chocolatito to cover up. It also allowed Estrada to unravel a combination that gave him the last round if needed. After 12 rounds one judge scored it 114-114, while two others saw it 116-112, 115-113 for Estrada who becomes the new WBC super flyweight world titlist.

“We did an excellent fight and I got the victory,” said Estrada. “I’ve always said Chocolatito is a future Hall of Famer.”

Gonzalez was gracious in defeat.

“What is important is we gave that good fight to the fans and we came out in good health,” Gonzalez said.

There is even talk of a fourth fight.

“As long as they pay well, of course,” said Gonzalez.

Other Fights

Julio Cesar Martinez (19-2, 14 KOs) retained the WBC flyweight world title by majority decision over Spain’s Samuel Carmona (8-1) in a rather dull affair. Mexico’s Martinez chased Carmon all 12 rounds in a fight that saw Carmona slap and run, then hold.

No knockdowns were scored and Martinez won 114-114, 117-111, 116-112.

Diego Pacheco (17-0, 14 KOs) ran over Mexico’s Adrian Luna (24-9-2) with three knockdowns in winning by stoppage in the second round of the super middleweight fight. It was no surprise.

The 21-year-old from South Central L.A. once again showed that despite his youth his power seems to be continually increasing as evident in the knockout win.

Now training with Team David Benavidez, the young super middleweight looked sharp, especially with the lead overhand right that floored Luna in the second round. Luna was floored two more times and the fight was wisely stopped by his own corner.

“You put in the hard work then you come in here and shine,” said Pacheco. “I joined team Benavidez this year.”

Nicaragua’s former world titlist Cristofer Rosales (35-6, 21 KOs) won a dog fight over Mexico’s Joselito Velasquez (15-1-1, 10 KOs) by unanimous decision after 10 rounds in a flyweight clash.

It was a back-and-forth struggle that saw the taller Rosales take over in the second half of the fight and win by simply out-punching Velasquez and handing the Mexican his first loss as a professional by scores 97-93 three times.

Photo credit: Milena Pizano

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Tyson Fury TKOs Derek Chisora in Round 10

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It was a chilly night in London but that didn’t deter a near-capacity crowd from turning out at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to witness the third rumble between Tyson Fury and Derek Chisora. The Gypsy King was heavily favored to retain his WBC and lineal heavyweight title and performed as expected. Indeed, this fight closely resembled their second encounter back in 2014.

In that bout, Chisora absorbed a terrific amount of punishment before his corner pulled him out at the conclusion of the 10th round. Tonight’s fight ended nine seconds earlier at the 2:51 mark of round 10 and it was the referee who terminated the match.

When is a heavyweight not a heavyweight? When the man in the opposite corner is substantially bigger. With an 8-inch height advantage and a 15-inch reach advantage, the six-foot-nine Fury was simply too big a mountain to climb for the brave Derek Chisora, a fighter who changed his nickname in mid-career, transitioning from “Dell Boy” to “War.”

Fury dominated round two, especially the last minute, a round in which he was credited with landing 18 power punches. The writing was on the wall for Chisora who ate a lot of thudding uppercuts in the ensuing rounds and ended the contest with a badly swollen right eye and a bloody mouth. With the victory, Fury improved his ledger to 32-0-1 with his 24th win inside the distance. The Zimbabwe-born Chisora falls to 33-13.

Oleksandr Usyk and Joe Joyce were in attendance and the Gypsy King addressed both before he left the ring. Calling Usyk “The Rabbit,” he indicated that he would fight Usyk next in a true unification fight, but said if there were a snag in negotiations he wouldn’t mind trading blows with the Juggernaut, Joe Joyce, who wore down and stopped former heavyweight title-holder Joseph Parker, a former Fury sparring partner, in his most recent engagement. However, Fury also revealed that he had an issue with his right elbow that may require surgery.

Co-Feature

In a heavyweight match that lasted only three rounds but was chock-full of action, Daniel Dubois overcame three knockdowns to retain his secondary WBA heavyweight title he won at the expense Trevor Bryan with a third-round stoppage of upset-minded Kevin Lerena.

In the opening stanza, Johannesburg’s Lerena, landed an overhand left on the top of Dubois’s head that put the Englishman on the canvas and left him all at sea. He went down twice more before the round was over, the first time of his own volition when he took a knee (reminiscent of his match with Joe Joyce) and the second from a glancing blow.

Dubois, whose legs are spindly for a man of his poundage, had trouble regaining his equilibrium in round two, but Lerena didn’t press his advantage. In the next frame, a short right from Dubois penetrated Lerena’s guard and down went the South African. Smelling blood, Dubois knocked him down again and was pummeling him against the ropes when the referee interceded just as it appeared that Lerena would be saved by the bell.

It was the fourth straight win for Dubois (19-1, 18 KOs) since his mishap versus Joyce. Lerena, who entered the bout on a 17-fight winning streak, lost for the second time in 30 fights.

Also

In a ho-hum affair, Denis Berinchyk, a 24-year-old Ukrainian, captured the European lightweight title and remained undefeated with a unanimous decision over French-Senagalese warhorse Ivan Mendy. Berinchyk (17-0, 9 KOs) was making his first appearance in London since winning a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics where he was a teammate of Oleksandr Usyk and Vasiliy Lomachenko.

The judges had it 117-112 and 116-112 twice for the Ukrainian. The 37-year-old Mendy, who has answered the bell for 380 rounds, falls to 47-6-1.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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