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50 Years in Boxing: Philly’s J Russell Peltz Shares His Golden Memories

Bernard Fernandez

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When he was a 22-year-old kid embarking on a boxing journey that might have ended almost as quickly as it began, J Russell Peltz – with big dreams and not-so-deep pockets — never considered issuing anything as portentous as a mission statement. But if he had, it might have read something like this:

You know what the secret is to surviving as a boxing promoter? Making good matches. It’s that simple. If you want to make a good match, you make a good match. If you want to get your guy a guaranteed win, pair him easy. But don’t charge your customers $50 or $75 to watch that garbage.

Peltz said that for a story I did for the Philadelphia Daily News in November 2012. Making good, competitive and entertaining matches has always been the touchstone of his remarkable longevity in a cannibalistic sport which tends to devour those not smart enough or tough enough to survive in the long term. But while Peltz has known both flush and lean times, adapting as necessary at junctures along the way, the guiding principle of Philly boxing’s onetime “Boy Wonder” has never changed. It is why he has been inducted into seven Halls of Fame and outlasted a host of competitors who sought to knock him off the local throne upon which he remains firmly ensconced. He said he still gets as much of a charge from seeing a dandy scrap as he did when, for his 14th birthday, his father took him to his first live fight card. What young Russell – the J in his full name, as was the case with the S with former President Harry S Truman, stands for nothing — saw that night left an indelible impression. Somehow, some way, he would make the fight game more than an avocation, but his life’s work.

Peltz’s first foray into the business end of boxing came on Sept. 30, 1969, when middleweight Bennie Briscoe needed just 52 seconds to dispose of Tito Marshall at the Blue Horizon, the main event of a card that included such young, future Philly legends as Eugene “Cyclone” Hart and Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts. It was an astounding debut for Peltz, with a standing-room-only crowd of 1,606 jamming the 1,300-seat arena.

There would, of course, be some whiffs along with the home runs before Peltz evolved into an entrenched, iconic figure in his hometown’s fight scene. Both the hits and the misses have contributed to making him who and what he is, the sum total of his five-decade love affair with the sweet science to be celebrated first at an invitation-only Golden Anniversary Reception on Thursday, Sept. 26, at the 2300 Arena in South Philly, preceding an eight-bout fight card at the same site on Oct. 4. Dubbed “Blood, Sweat and 50 Years,” that show – topped by a six-rounder pitting Victor Padilla (5-0, 5 KOs) of Berlin, N.J., by way of his native Puerto Rico, against Romain Tomas (8-2, 1 KO) of Brooklyn, N.Y. — will be staged by Raging Babe Promotions’ Michelle Rosado, a Peltz protégé. In addition to her mentor being the guest of honor, Peltz also is serving as matchmaker, a role for which he has justifiably gained much distinction.

It also might be the last time Peltz acts in that capacity, an indication that, just possibly, his 50-year anniversary in boxing might mark the beginning of the end of a storied career which he has been contemplating for some time. In that same November 2012 Philadelphia Daily News story in which he issued his ersatz mission statement, Peltz dropped hints that nothing, not even his involvement in boxing, can last forever.

“At points in the last five years, I’ve thought about retiring,” he said then. “I think about it now. I’m certainly not going to be doing this when I’m an old man. I don’t want to be doing this when I’m an old man.

“Really, I don’t know how much longer I’ll go on. Maybe I’ll get out when I’m 70 or 71. But whenever I think about quitting, I become involved with a fighter (who piques his interest).”

And now? Peltz turns 73 on Dec. 9, hardly an old man in terms of his energy and enthusiasm, but he is inarguably a senior citizen according to the Social Security administration.

“I don’t think I’ll be making matches after Oct. 4,” he said when contacted for this story. “I don’t have the temperament to do it anymore. I can’t tolerate the mentality of a lot of the fight people in Philly who don’t want to fight other Philly guys. That’s what made Philly the fight town that it was.

“I go around the house screaming and Linda (his wife) says, `I know why you’re screaming. You’re making matches again. You said you weren’t going to do it. When you do it, you’re impossible to live with.’

“I think what I want to do is to advise fighters, maybe manage fighters. Some of these kids today deserve their own careers rather than being served up as cannon fodder for top prospects for Top Rank, Golden Boy, Eddie Hearn and PBC.”

If Peltz does in fact hew to that somewhat altered philosophy, it would in some ways represent his coming full circle. Despite whatever misgivings he might harbor about professional boxing as presently constituted, he has always gotten an adrenalin rush from identifying and nurturing young fighters who remind him of the twentysomething firebrand he used to be. For all his musings about stepping aside, it would stun no one if he elected to keep on keeping on in the manner of Top Rank founder Bob Arum, an occasional associate who is 87 and still active, or his dear, departed friend Don “War a Week” Chargin, a licensed promoter in California for a record 69 years who was 90 when he passed away on Sept. 28, 2018. Chargin was another staunch proponent of the concept that fans deserved real fights, tough fights, and not setups designed to make protected house fighters look better than they probably are.

But regardless of what the future holds for Peltz, the past 50 years make for an improbable tale even in a sport where improbable tales are more the norm than the exception. It starts even in advance of the Briscoe-Marshall bout that the golden anniversary celebrants will cite as his official launching point.

Then a sports writer for the now-defunct Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Peltz had been squirreling away portions of his salary for the express purpose of establishing enough of a nest egg so that he could take the plunge. Toward that end, he says he spent “countless hours” in the Blue Horizon office of building owner and veteran fight promoter Jimmy Toppi, pestering the older man with questions about how to make his dream of doing what Toppi did a reality.

Two weeks before Briscoe-Marshall, Peltz resigned as a full-fledged member of The Bulletin sports staff, although he did keep his hand in as a one-night-a-week, part-timer as a hedge against possible disaster on fight night.

“I had saved up about $5,000, which was a lot of money back then for someone my age,” Peltz recalled. “The woman who became my first wife asked me, before we got married, ‘What makes you think you can do this?’ I told her it’d take me about six months to blow the five grand, but then I’d have this great scrapbook to show my kids one day about the time their daddy was a boxing promoter.”

Not that he completely went through his savings, but Peltz – whose contingency plan was – gulp – to go back to sports writing if the grand experiment came a cropper – hit some dry holes after Briscoe-Marshall. He was obliged to seek and receive a loan of between $2,000 and $3,000 from his dad, Bernard, to help underwrite his second year as a struggling fight promoter. It also didn’t help that Peltz’s wife, he said, absolutely hated boxing and was providing no moral support on the home front.

“I told my father that if I couldn’t pay him back by the end of the season, I’d just go back to the newspaper business,” Peltz said. “I was making $7,500 a year at The Bulletin. My first year putting on shows at the Blue Horizon I cleared $4,600 from September through May. But in the summer of 1970, I accidentally found out that Bennie Briscoe’s contract was for sale. I knew that was my ace in the hole after I asked my brother-in-law (Arnold Weiss) to buy Bennie’s contract, which he did.”

But even that ace in the hole –- Briscoe, who three times fought for the middleweight championship of the world and appeared 45 times in all on Peltz-promoted or co-promoted cards – might not have been enough to keep Peltz’s nascent operation moving forward. What was needed was some positive publicity, which he got from then-Daily News sports writer Tom Cushman.

“If it hadn’t been for Tom Cushman, I never would have made it,” Peltz noted. “I met him when he came east to cover Temple  (Peltz’s alma mater) in the All-College (basketball) Classic, which they held every December in Oklahoma City. I was there covering for The Bulletin and The Temple News. We got friendly. So when I decided to become a boxing promoter, Tom, who by then was at the Daily News, thought it was really cool that a 22-year-old kid would do that. He gave me a load of good press, even more than I got at my own paper.”

There would be other puzzle pieces that fell into place at precisely the right moment. Now reasonably established if not exactly getting rich doing shows at the Blue Horizon and The Arena in West Philly, Peltz got his shot at the big time – or what seemed to be the big time – when in 1973 he was approached about becoming the director of boxing at the 18,000-seat Spectrum, home of the NBA’s 76ers and NHL’s Flyers.

“I got a call late in 1972 from Lou Scheinfeld at the Spectrum,” Peltz recalled. “Monday nights were dark there and it was costing them money to have nothing going on. I met with the Spectrum people and they hired me for a salary against a percentage of the profits. The first year we ran 18 shows and lost money on 16 of them. We were hemorrhaging money, and it had nothing to do with Monday Night Football in the fall.

“Allen Flexor, who was the Spectrum’s vice president and comptroller, asked me to go to lunch, ostensibly to fire me. We talked for a while and I said, `If I can get the Philly guys to fight each other, I can turn this thing around.’ He basically said `OK, we’ll give you some rope and see what you can do.’ I put up signs in all the gyms in the city about a meeting to be held at Joe Frazier’s Gym on such-and-such a night in December. I wanted all the managers and trainers to come to that meeting, and 50 to 60 of them showed up. I said, `Look, the Spectrum has the Sixers, the Flyers, concerts, Disney on Ice, the circus. They don’t need us. Unless you guys start fighting each other, we’re going to go back to The Arena, and I know you don’t want to do that.”

Given the depth and quality of Philadelphia fighters at the time – a mother lode of talent with Briscoe, Hart, Watts, Willie “The Worm” Monroe, Stanley “Kitten” Hayward, Matthew Saad Muhammad, Jeff Chandler and other main-event-worthy locals – it was a plan that could not have failed. But it might have, had not one influential dissenter passed away unexpectedly.

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left to right: Bob Montgomery, Harold Johnson, Peltz, Matthew Saad Muhammad, Jeff Chandler

“If Yank Durham (Frazier’s manager and trainer) hadn’t died in September of ’73, we would have had big problems because he was against Philly vs. Philly,” Peltz continued. “But Eddie Futch took over after Yank died and he knew the value, coming from the Olympic Auditorium (in Los Angeles) when all those great Mexican fighters fought each other. Eddie said, `Let’s make Willie the Worm against Cyclone Hart,’ which was a monster show with a turnout of 10,000-plus. From the beginning of 1974 until the end of ’78 the Spectrum was as big as (Madison Square) Garden and the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. Everybody wanted to fight at the Spectrum, and everybody did.”

But when the casinos in Atlantic City opened later in the decade, that siphoned from the Spectrum’s fan base to the point where the fight dates diminished, along with the massive crowds. But, Peltz says, wistfully, “Those last five years there were wonderful. I got a bonus every year.

“When Briscoe fought (Marvin) Hagler, it was a 10-round fight and we had a crowd of 15,000. It wasn’t for some bulls— title, either. We had good fighters and they weren’t afraid to fight other good fighters.”

There were occasional missteps for Peltz, too, which probably was to be expected. “A lot of good fighters slipped through my fingers,” he said, citing Hagler and Buster Douglas as two he might have signed to promotional deals before their price tags exceeded his budget. “You learn as you go, but you never stop making mistakes.”

So, if he had to choose his single best moment in boxing, and the worst experience, what would they be?

“You always fall in love with your first fighter,” he said of his continuing devotion to Briscoe, who was 67 when he died on Dec. 28, 2010. “That’s never going to change.

“My most memorable moment was Bennie’s fifth-round knockout of Tony Mundine on Feb. 25, 1974, at the Palais de Sport in Paris. “Mundine, an Australian, was like the heir apparent to (middleweight champion Carlos) Monzon. He was a certified star, who had beaten Emile Griffith and Max Cohen in Paris.

“I saw Reg Gutteridge (a British sports journalist who was doing color commentary for the telecast) in the hotel lobby before we left for the arena. He said, `I don’t get it. Mundine is the toast of Paris. He can name his price to fight Monzon. Why would he tune up with Briscoe?’

“It was a monster fight, as big as it could be without it being for a world title when world titles really meant something. Just a magical night. I was shooting film from the top row and when Bennie finally got him out of there, the camera was shaking because my hands were shaking.”

Another significant plus, both on the professional and personal levels, was Peltz’s marriage to second wife Linda, who understood she would have to share her husband with boxing and hasn’t minded it at all. It’s amazing what domestic tranquility can do for a fight promoter’s peace of mind at the office and at ringside.

“We started dating in February of 1976,” Peltz said. “Her first fight was the rematch between Briscoe and Hart, which drew 12,000 people to the Spectrum. She sat with me in the first row.

“Everybody loves Linda. People say, `How bad can Russell be? Linda married him.’  And there’s no doubt she’s smoothed over a lot of things through the years. She brought together some people in boxing I just couldn’t talk to, just like she brought together some estranged family members I hadn’t spoken to in years.”

The giddy highs of Briscoe over Mundine, and spousal bliss, were countered by what Peltz said remains his greatest disappointment in boxing, even more painful than the horrendously unjust decision that went against Peltz’s fighter, Tyrone Everett, in his Nov. 30, 1976, challenge of WBC super featherweight champion Alfredo Escalera at the Spectrum, a split decision that remains high on the list of boxing’s most outrageous heists.

“The low point of my career had to be my relationship with ESPN when I was hired to be their director of boxing (in October 1998),” Peltz said. “It was just a scam, a setup. I lost most of my power pretty quickly. At first I thought, `After all these years of making good fights, it’s finally paid off. They’re hiring me because they know I’m going to make more good fights.’

“Three or four months into the deal the people who hired me moved on to ABC and I was left to deal with the ol’ boys club which essentially turned me into an errand boy. I hung in there until the fall of 2004, but after six to eight months it was just agony. I got blamed for a lot of bad fights that were on ESPN I had nothing to do with.”

Peltz needn’t worry about any blame he might have received when weighed against the credit he has deservedly gotten. Seven Halls of Fame are proof enough that he has done far more right than wrong, and that some Boy Wonders can age gracefully with their place in history forever secured.

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Three Punch Combo: Gvozdyk-Beterbiev Thoughts and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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Three Punch Combo — For hardcore fans, one of the most attractive fights of the year takes place on Friday when undefeated light heavyweight champions Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KO’s) and Artur Beterbiev (14-0, 14 KO’s) battle in a title unification bout. This contest will headline an ESPN televised card from the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, PA. Here are a few subtle things that could play a factor in how this fight plays out.

A Tactical Fight?

Twenty years ago, Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad met in a welterweight title unification fight. It was a super fight between two explosive punchers. Everyone expected fireworks, but as we all know, it turned into an all-out chess match for twelve rounds.

When two big punchers meet, sometimes we get fireworks and sometimes each fighter respects the other’s power so much that they both become somewhat tentative inside the ring.

Keep in mind we have seen in several Gvozdyk fights a somewhat cautious approach. He will take what is given and nothing more. As for Beterbiev, he has typically been a very aggressive fighter (more on that later) but has had his moments where caution has entered his mindset. Just take a look back at his 2017 fight with Enrico Koelling.

I know it is the unpopular opinion but we could certainly see a very tactical chess match between these two on Friday.

Beterbiev’s Defense and Chin

Beterbiev, as noted, is a very aggressive fighter. But with that aggression comes an almost complete lack of focus on the defensive side of the game.

So far, Beterbiev’s offense has been his best defense as many times his opponents have simply been too fearful of opening up. But at times the cracks have shown. Callum Johnson, for example, wasn’t afraid to throw in spots and when he did, his punches landed.

In that fight, we saw Beterbiev get hurt and dropped. Beterbiev showed a ton of heart to come back from that moment and later stop Johnson, but his chin is certainly a question mark. And Gvozdyk, aside from carrying one-punch power, is a very sharp and accurate puncher who has shown excellent finishing skills thus far in his career.

Gvozdyk’s Mindset

A little more than ten months ago, Gvozdyk wrested away the title from Adonis Stevenson. But on what was supposed to be the night where Gvozdyk’s dream came true, things almost turned tragic as Stevenson suffered a brain bleed that nearly took his life.

Gvozdyk has had one fight since against journeyman Doudou Ngumbu. Though Gvozdyk won easily, there was something about his performance that just didn’t feel right. Gvozdyk had a fighter in front of him who offered little resistance but seemingly didn’t want to fully step on the gas.

In order to compete with Beterbiev, we have to see the same Gvozdyk that we saw against Stevenson. But has Gvozdyk’s mindset permanently been altered by the events of that evening?

Under The Radar Fight

A pivotal crossroads bout in the welterweight division between Luis Collazo (39-7, 20 KO’s) and Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (16-0, 9 KO’s) is also on Friday’s ESPN broadcast. The winner will be in prime position for a title shot in 2020.

Collazo, a world welterweight titlist back in 2005, is in the midst of yet another career resurrection. After getting stopped by defending WBA welterweight champion Keith Thurman in 2015, Collazo has won three straight. And these wins were not against subpar opposition. Two were against up-and-coming young fighters in Sammy Vasquez and Bryant Perrella; the other against fringe contender Samuel Vargas.

At age 38, Collazo has proven he still has plenty in the tank and has clawed back up the rankings in the welterweight division. But to get one more shot at a title, Collazo must find a way to get past another young up-and-comer in Uzbekistan’s Abdukakhorov.

Abdukakhorov, 26, is coming off the biggest win of his pro career this past March when he won a 12-round unanimous decision over former 140-pound title challenger Keita Obara. That win boosted Abdukakhorov into the number one position in the IBF at welterweight and in line to one day be the mandatory challenger for current belt-holder Errol Spence Jr.

Stylistically, I love this matchup. Abdukakhorov is an aggressive boxer-puncher. He will look to press the attack and won’t be afraid to lead looking to land his best punch which is the overhand right. Collazo is a southpaw who is a natural counterpuncher. He will look to make Abdukakhorov’s aggression work against him and should find plenty of opportunities to do so.

I think we are going to get an action-packed, competitive fight. This should serve as an excellent appetizer to Gvozdyk-Beterbiev.

What’s Next For Dmitry Bivol?

This past Saturday, Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11 KO’s) successfully defended his WBA light heavyweight title with a wide unanimous decision over Lenin Castillo (20-3-1, 15 KO’s). Though it wasn’t the most exciting performance, the win keeps Bivol in line for bigger opportunities down the road. So, what’s next for him?

Saturday’s title defense marked Bivol’s second consecutive appearance on the streaming service DAZN. DAZN needs future opponents for its two biggest stars in Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. Clearly part of the reason for DAZN showing interest in Bivol is geared toward him potentially getting one or the other down the road.

Though Alvarez is fighting at light heavyweight in November, this appears to be a one-time appearance for the Mexican superstar in that division. He is likely headed back to middleweight or the 168-pound weight class. As for Golovkin, he has fought his entire 13-year career at middleweight. A move at some point soon to 168 would not be a surprise.

Bivol and his team have made it very clear that he can get down to 168. With DAZN’s two biggest stars hovering around that division, a move down to 168 seems likely.

The WBA champion at 168 is Callum Smith who is slated for a title defense in November against UK countryman John Ryder. Assuming Smith prevails, he would make a logical opponent for Bivol in the spring of 2020.

Smith-Bivol would be a big fight between two young undefeated fighters and the winner would then be in position for a mega fight later in 2020 against either Alvarez or Golovkin.

But what if Smith goes a different direction following the Ryder fight? If that is the case, Bivol may instead just look to dip his toes in the water at 168 with someone like Rocky Fielding.

Fielding is a tough, gritty competitor who is popular in the UK and has name recognition in the US based on his fight last December with Canelo. But as we saw in that fight, Fielding is very limited.

Fielding is just the type of opponent who could bring out the best in Bivol. A spectacular knockout would help erase some of Bivol’s recent lackluster performances. And this would, of course, make Bivol much more marketable for a future date with Alvarez or Golovkin.

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The First Coming of George Foreman: A Retrospective

Rick Assad

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This coming Oct. 30 is the 45th anniversary of the Ali-Foreman fight. Boxing has had its fair share of memorable fights across the decades, but few have been more talked about than “The Rumble in the Jungle.”

The 60,000 fans in attendance watching at the 20th of May Stadium in Kinshasa, Zaire and the record–setting one billion viewers taking it in around the globe, including 50 million who watched via pay-per-view on closed circuit television, will never forget what happened inside the ring.

Foreman, who was recognized as the world heavyweight champion by the World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council, the only sanctioning bodies that mattered, entered with a 40-0 record and 37 knockouts. Ali owned a 44-2 mark with 31 knockouts, but wasn’t the same fighter after being stripped of his titles and missing three-and-a-half years between 1967 and 1970 after refusing induction into the military based on his religious convictions.

Both stood 6-feet-3. Foreman weighed 220 pounds and Ali 216, but the latter was giving away seven years in age, 32 to 25.

The fight commenced with Ali on the offensive, but Foreman, a 4-to-1 betting favorite, rallied to close the gap by the end of the opening frame.

In the second round, Ali allowed “Big George” to bang away at his arms and body, using what he later described as the “rope-a-dope,” which helped tire Foreman out.

As the fight continued, Foreman’s once fierce arsenal was reduced to half its potency and in the eighth round Ali eventually found his range.

Ali now threw punches at will, and when Ali buzzed Foreman with a quick right and knocked him to the canvas, Zack Clayton, the referee, had seen enough.

Having lost for the first time as a professional, Foreman was bitter and even claimed that his trainer and manager, Dick Sadler, put something in his water just minutes before the opening bell.

“It’s not like the water beat me,” Foreman said in writer Jonathan Eig’s biography, “Ali.” “Muhammad beat me. With a straight right hand. Fastest right hand I’d ever been hit with in my life. That’s what beat me. But they put drugs in my water.”

In time, though, Foreman would mellow, saying, “Before that, I had nothing but revenge and hate on my mind, but from then on, it was clear. I’ll never be able to win that match, so I had to let it go. It just wasn’t my night.”

The Road to Zaire

Foreman’s sweet and outgoing personality wasn’t on display when he began his pro career shortly after winning a gold medal at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

To the contrary, Foreman was a mean and angry young man after spending his childhood in Houston’s tough Fifth Ward.

Growing up with six siblings and without much on the table to eat will create a crusty exterior.

Everyone needs an escape. Football was that for Foreman, who idolized Jim Brown, arguably the NFL’s greatest running back.

But it was boxing that saved him and helped turn his hardscrabble life around.

At 15, Foreman grew tired of high school and dropped out, joining the Job Corps.

This is where he was introduced to boxing and through hard work and dedication went on to earn a berth on the U.S. Olympic boxing team, going on to win a gold medal at the 1968 Summer Games.

This was a turbulent year. It was the year in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a Presidential hopeful, were assassinated. Blacks were rioting in many American cities over grievances including police harassment, the Viet Nam War was raging half a world away and college students were protesting our involvement in that very unpopular war.

This was the ugly backdrop against which the 1968 Olympic Games were being contested.

Two black American track stars, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, were front and center in Mexico City after placing first and third respectively in the 200-meter dash. At the medal stand, Smith and Carlos raised their clenched fists wrapped in black gloves skyward while the National Anthem played, which triggered a chorus of boos from those inside the stadium.

Foreman waltzed through each round of the heavyweight tournament and took the gold medal by stopping Lithuania’s Jonas Cepulis, representing the Soviet Union, in the second round.

Foreman then pulled out a small American flag and walked around the ring, bowing to the crowd.

Many Americans fell in love with Foreman because of that simple gesture of waving the flag.

“I had a lot of flak,” said Foreman years later of the flag-waving incident. “In those days, nobody was applauded for being patriotic. The whole world was protesting something. But if I had to do it all again, I’d have waved two flags.”

Foreman’s professional career began in grand fashion in June 1969 at New York’s Madison Square Garden when he scored a third-round TKO over Don Waldhelm.

The next six fights concluded by knockout or TKO before Foreman triumphed over Peruvian trial horse Roberto Davila by unanimous decision at the Garden in October 1969.

Three more victories followed by knockout or TKO before Foreman registered a unanimous decision over journeyman Levi Forte in Miami Beach in December 1969.

With three more wins coming by knockout or TKO, Foreman was now 15-0.

In his next fight, Argentine veteran Gregorio Peralta extended him the 10-round distance, after which Foreman won 24 in a row inside the distance, including a 10th round TKO of Peralta in a rematch in May 1971 at the Oakland County Coliseum Arena where he grabbed his first championship belt, the North American Boxing Federation strap.

Ten victories followed including a second round TKO over undefeated Joe Frazier in Kingston, Jamaica, in January 1973, where he took away Frazier’s WBA and WBC world title belts.

Foreman then knocked out Jose Roman in the first round in Tokyo, Japan in September 1973 and followed that up with a second round TKO of Ken Norton in Caracas, Venezuela in March 1974. Then it was off to Zaire to meet Ali with the unified title at stake.

Post-Ali

In January 1976 Foreman returned to the ring after a 16-month absence and knocked out Ron Lyle in the fifth round at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in The Ring magazine Fight of the Year. Four more wins by TKO would follow before losing a 12-round unanimous decision to Jimmy Young in March 1977 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

In the dressing room after the fight, Foreman, suffering from heatstroke and exhaustion, said he had a near-death experience in which he claimed to have been in a hellish place of nothingness and despair. Foreman pleaded with God to save him.

Foreman said God told him to change his ways and at that moment he became a born-again Christian, dedicating his life to his Lord.

Foreman stopped fighting and became a streetcorner evangelist before opening his own church, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in Houston.

Foreman focused his attention on his family and congregation and opened a youth center in his name

He was only 28 years old when he turned his back on boxing and a decade would pass before he would re-enter the sport.

Second Coming

In November of 1994, twenty years after he lost to Ali, Foreman, now 45 years old, upset Michael Moorer with a 10th round knockout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and became the oldest fighter ever to win a championship.

Regaining the title was a byproduct of Foreman’s desire to raise money for his congregation.

Today, Foreman is a bigger-than-life personality who draws people to him.

Young and old, black and white and everything in-between gravitate to the 70-year-old, two-time heavyweight champion like a magnet.

Boxing did indeed rescue George Foreman who concluded his Hall of Fame career with 76 wins, five losses and 68 knockouts.

old george

“If I hadn’t found boxing, I wouldn’t have been able to fulfill half of my dreams,” he said. “In fact, I didn’t know how to dream until I found boxing.”

Very few fighters rise through the ranks and claim a world championship title. To replicate this achievement after being off for a decade is truly incredible.

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Life After DOOMSDAY: Assessing the Career of “Superman” Stevenson

Jeffrey Freeman

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On December 1, 2018, the five-year reign of Adonis “Superman” Stevenson came to a violent end in the eleventh round of a WBC light heavyweight title fight in Quebec City, Canada. The 41-year-old defending champion was battling to make the tenth defense of the world championship he’d won in 2013 with a shocking first round knockout of “Bad” Chad Dawson in Montreal.

Hammered into defeat so severely by new champion Oleksandr “The Nail” Gvozdyk, Stevenson was hospitalized where he spent six weeks in an induced coma to save his life.

To his haters on Twitter and beyond, this was welcomed as overdue karma—poetic justice. To everyone else, it was seen as a great fight up for grabs before Gvozdyk grabbed the victory.

Support from within the global boxing community for the wounded pugilist has been positive and encouraging. That same dynamic is happening again on social media for Errol “The Truth” Spence Jr., the welterweight champion injured in a car wreck last Thursday in Dallas, Texas.

Now in long-term recovery while healing from a boxing-related brain injury, the boxing life of Adonis “Superman” Stevenson is officially over. His career is a closed book. Let’s review it.

TRUTH AND JUSTICE

Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1977, Stevenson immigrated to Canada with his family in 1984. Writing last year for The Fight City online, author Ralph M. Semien illustrates what followed:

“By 14 he was out of control, spending time on the streets, and soon enough he was part of a violent gang and headed for disaster. Eventually he became involved in an organized sex-for-hire service in Montreal. Stevenson was arrested, tried, convicted and he served his jail time. When released from prison in 2001, he made a pact with himself to turn his back on the street gang lifestyle and everyone associated with it, that he would never again break the law.”

GRAPHIC NOVEL

Five years later in 2006 after a successful campaign in the amateurs where he boxed at middleweight for Canada and won a pair of national titles for his new country, Stevenson turned professional at super middleweight under the promotional guidance of Yvon Michel. His was your typical boxing story of overcoming a troubled past to carve out a brighter, better future.

He ran his record to 13-0 against gradually increasing competition before a 2010 setback TKO against so-called journeyman Darnell Boone. Buzzed late in the opening frame by a sneaky right uppercut and a hard left hook, Stevenson was easy pickins for Boone early in the second round.

A year later, Stevenson returned to the ring; winning six fights and a few minor super middleweight title belts. Most importantly during this transitional period in his career, Stevenson avenged his upset loss to Boone, punishing “Deezol” before knocking him out cold in the sixth.

“He definitely got better and earned his spot,” concedes Boone.

When an opportunity came to fight for the WBC light heavyweight title in 2013, Stevenson took full advantage, putting Chad Dawson down and out with a single, lethal left hook to the chin. The reign of Superman was up, up and away and boxing seemed to welcome its new action hero.

But not so fast, speeding bullet.

American fans and media never let Stevenson forget about his checkered past as a convicted street hustler. And if all that wasn’t enough, soon they were labeling him a “ducker” and a “cherry picker” for his apparent refusal to fight Sergey Kovalev and/or Eleider Alvarez.

Despite the constant negative press painting him as the bad guy, he was actually a very likeable man with a huge smile. Stevenson was also wildly popular in Canada and his title fights were entertaining events where more often than not, he left opponents twitching in a mangled heap.

Unsatisfied with Stevenson’s choice of title challengers, Oscar De La Hoya’s The Ring magazine in 2015 officially withdrew (stripped) its recognition of Stevenson as the “real” World Light Heavyweight Champion. To the Bible of Boxing, Stevenson was an unrepentant sinner.

By that point, Stevenson had made six defenses of his WBC light heavyweight title with wins against Tavoris Cloud, Tony Bellew, Andrzej Fonfara, Dmitry Sukhotskiy, Sakio Bika and Tommy Karpency. That super-fight with “Krusher” Kovalev never happened and it never will.

Who’d have won?

Does it even matter anymore?

I’ll give common opponent Darnell Boone the last word on it. “Kovalev. Because he’s the more sound boxer. Adonis did the same thing in every fight. Paw with the jab, paw with the jab, left.”

“He never really mixed it up,” insists Boone. “Kovalev is throwing combinations. He’s moving, punching off the angles. He knows exactly how to use his height and leverage with his punches. Kovalev keeps you on the outside, away from getting on the inside on him. He fights tall.”

That’s all true but was there more to Stevenson’s game than just predictable one-punch power with the left hand? Trained by Javon “Sugar” Hill, Stevenson was a KRONK fighter. He improved as he got older and deeper into his profession. His southpaw offense was almost always good enough to be his defense. Trading with him was suicidal. And as a body puncher, he was underrated.

In 2016, he knocked out Thomas Williams Jr. with a viciously quick left hook. In 2017, he rematched Fonfara and blew him away in two rounds. In 2018, before the Doomsday loss to Gvozdyk, there was a grueling, disputed draw with super middleweight Badou Jack.

I had Stevenson up by a point in a war that should’ve garnered more consideration for Fight of the Year honors. Unfortunately, the anti-climactic draw took some of the shine off a classic.

If only the Al Haymon-handled fighter had been more willing to mix it up with the big names, critics would probably be more kind to him today, especially if he’d beaten Kovalev, something that doesn’t exactly look like an impossibility when looking back at the proposed match-up.

Against Ward and Alvarez, Kovalev showed susceptibility to a determined attack, particularly to the body. In his penultimate fight against “The Ripper” Jack, Stevenson put the kind of hurt on Badou’s body late in the fight that may have been very difficult for Kovalev to overcome.

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN

How should Stevenson be viewed in the light of light heavyweight history? Keep in mind that not everybody was so thrilled to get in the ring with him. Edwin “La Bomba” Rodriguez spoke for years of facing him “in the future” but in the end it was all just talk. After Rodriquez was knocked out by Williams Jr. in 2016, Williams Jr. was knocked out by Stevenson three months later.

Though he’ll never be rated as one of the all-time greats in the weight class, Stevenson should be recognized for what he actually was. Not just a champion, Stevenson was THE champion.

He beat the man who beat Bernard Hopkins. He was a one-punch power puncher, an action fighter, a defending world champion until he could defend that world championship no more.

Along the way, Stevenson picked up a Fighter of the Year award in 2013 while many of his knockouts were considered Knockout of the Year candidates. He was the WBC light heavyweight champion for sixty-six months, an unusually long time in today’s watered-down era of weight jumping and belt dumping. He retained his world title nine times, with only Bika, Fonfara, and Jack going the distance. Stevenson’s final record is 29-2-1 with 24 KO’s.

DOOMSDAY CLOCKED

And so with the Teddy Atlas trained Gvozdyk beating him senseless in the corner last December, boxing’s ultimate kryptonite (time) finally caught up to Superman Stevenson but not before the Haitian sensation made his improbable impact on the modern boxing landscape.

Stevenson Gvozdyk Wescott 770x513

Stevenson’s desire to become a boxing champion probably saved his life while his desire to remain a boxing champion nearly cost him his life. We don’t yet know the final butcher’s bill.

What we do know is that Stevenson has had to relearn how to walk and talk. That’s how unpredictable and ironic this sport is: a PBC fighter supposedly protected by Al Haymon was nearly killed by an undefeated Ukrainian clearly up to the challenge of fighting (and beating) him.

Last week Stevenson uploaded a video on Instagram. He’s seen in the gym, moving on his feet, wearing a pair of pink boxing gloves while lightly working over a heavy bag as fiance Simone God and their new daughter Adonia look on. “I love you,” posted God to her miraculous man.

To review: Stevenson Adonis escaped his dying homeland before it imploded. He then crash-landed in Canada where he was adopted by the Canadian people. He did the crime(s) then he did the time; paying whatever debt he owed to society for his transgressions. He won and lost his battles by the power of his own fists. As a human being, he is truly transformed.

“Superman” Stevenson is dead.

Long live Adonis Stevenson…

EDITOR’S NOTE: After receiving this story, yet another boxer suffered a serious head injury. Patrick Day, a 27-year-old junior middleweight from Freeport, New York, was knocked out by Charles Conwell in the tenth-round last night on the Usyk-Witherspoon undercard and is now fighting for his life in a Chicago area hospital where he has been placed in a medically induced coma. On behalf of the entire editorial staff at The Sweet Science, I’d like to offer our thoughts and prayers for Day’s full recovery.

Boxing Writer Jeffrey Freeman grew up in the City of Champions, Brockton, Massachusetts from 1973 to 1987, during the Marvelous career of Marvin Hagler. JFree then lived in Lowell, Mass during the best years of Irish Micky Ward’s illustrious career. A new member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a Bernie Award Winner in the Category of Feature Under 1500 Words, Freeman covers boxing for The Sweet Science in New England.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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