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The Hauser Report: Glen Sharp’s “Punching from the Shadows” (Book Review)

Thomas Hauser

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McFarland & Company publishes books about boxing on a regular basis. Some of them are solid works that contribute to the historical record of the sport. Others have the feel of vanity publishing, although McFarland doesn’t take payment from authors. On occasion, a particularly good book makes its way through the pipeline. Punching from the Shadows by Glen Sharp is a particularly good book.

Sharp has an undergraduate degree in economics and an M.A. in English. He has worked in state government for more than thirty years and is currently an analyst and editor at the California Energy Commission. Within that milieu, his most unique credential is that he boxed professionally for a year before retiring with a 1-and-2 ring record. His sojourn through the sweet science is realistically and evocatively written from the early roots of his journey to the end.

“I had major league dreams but not even minor league success and was haunted by my failure for years,” Sharp writes in the Preface to his book. “I thought telling my rise-and-fall story about a boxer that does not have much rise to it might be of help to me, too.”

Sharp grew up in a reasonably comfortable middle-class environment in a small farm town in Illinois.

“A common social confusion is that economic impoverishment is what leads people into boxing,” he notes. “But that is not the case. People are attracted to boxing or not, just as they are drawn to writing or acting or playing a musical instrument. But boxing is such difficult, painful, and dangerous work that the temptation to turn away from its call is difficult to ignore, and this is especially so when opportunities for an easier life are available elsewhere. Poverty does not force someone to begin boxing. There are billions of poor people in the world but not billions of boxers. But having some money in the bank, or even a chance to obtain cash any other way than by fighting, can lead someone to stop, which I would eventually discover for myself.”

Sharp’s introduction to boxing, his first sparring session, the Golden Gloves, and other rites of passage are well told. He recreates the sights and sounds of gym life well. He had decent physical gifts (in his imagination, he fancied himself a smaller version of Joe Frazier) and recalls, “I had been gifted with the ability to punch, especially with my left hand, in the same way other guys can throw a ball ninety-five miles an hour or more. I might not have had the best location, so to speak, or any off-speed stuff to set up my power, but I could rear back and fire.”

He also recreates an early amateur fight that saw a trainer named Alex Sherer in his corner.

“I had a difficult first round with the guy I was fighting,” Sharp recounts. “He landed lot of punches on me, including one right hand that left my nose bleeding. My nose wasn’t broken but the faucet was certainly on. As I sat on the stool in my corner after the round, Alex climbed into the ring and wiped my face with a towel. I was breathing heavily already and, with every exhalation, a fine mist of blood would float into the air between us. Alex, kneeling right in front of me, looked like he was in a state of shock. I thought he was worried about me but I was wrong. “This is a brand new shirt, goddam it,” he yelled at me, pointing at his chest while the red cloud settled on him like fog upon the ground. “This is the first day I’ve worn it.” He stood up and stepped back to look at the damage. “Jesus Christ,” he kept yelling. “A f****** brand new shirt and you’re getting blood all over it.”

Eventually, Sharp took his quest to the next level.

“A young person with decent athletic ability can be taught well enough to compete successfully at lower levels of boxing without having to discover how brave he is,” he notes. “At some point, however, as he progressively fights stiffer competition, it will become apparent how much of a stomach he has for boxing.”

Sharp had the stomach for it. At least, he thought he did. But his motivation was suspect. After graduating from college, in his words, “I began living like a lot of directionless college graduates, which is a lifestyle not much different than being in school except it’s better because you don’t have to attend classes. I worked out sporadically, getting in shape for a fight when drinking beer and having fun got boring. I stayed in decent condition, but the inconsistency of training did not allow for much in the way of skill development.”

But reality was calling.

“The world expected me to become a contributing member of society,” he recalls. “Going to school was never fun for me and could sometimes involve a lot of work, but at least it allowed me to partially avoid the responsibilities of life. It finally dawned on me to become a professional boxer. After graduating from college, I didn’t see any other option for me. Some people might laugh at the idea of a guy fighting professionally because he is too lazy or egotistical to get a job, but it doesn’t seem funny to me.”

In late-1981, Sharp decided to turn pro and took a job as a service attendant on the night shift in a gas station to pursue his ring career. Joe Risso (a restaurant owner who knew virtually nothing about the business of boxing) became his manager. Former middleweight champion Bobo Olson (who might have had trouble training a fish to swim) was hired by Risso as Glen’s trainer.

Sharp’s relationship with Olson was doomed from the start. First, Bobo was disinterested in his new charge. And second, he insisted that Sharp fight “out of a shell.” But Glen didn’t have the physical gifts to implement that style.

“Each boxer,” Sharp explains, “has a basic style of fighting which reflects his physical assets and limitations, his personality and temperament, how much punishment he is willing and able to endure, his experience, and who trained him and how. But all successful boxers develop their own particular style for the same root reason – to land punches while at the same time minimizing the number of punches the opponent lands in return. As an amateur, I had two main talents. I could punch hard and I could take a punch. I relied on that ability and accepted the consequences of my other shortcomings. I knew what I had to do to win, and I knew how I would lose if I could not impose myself on my opponent. Everything about my fights made sense to me, even when they were not going well. I needed to learn how to pace myself. How to throw decoy punches. How to set up big punches. How to counter more cleanly and strategically. How to make my counterpunching so smooth and effective that my offense and my defense were not clearly distinguishable. I needed to improve a lot. None of the teaching that I needed, however, would have conflicted with my intent to become a smart slugger. My intentions would have become more sophisticated, but not more confused.”

“But Bobo’s demands,” Sharp continues, “were alien to me both physically and psychologically. Neither my body nor my mind was designed to fight like Bobo wanted, and I knew it. With Bobo’s shell, I punched less often, less quickly, less powerfully, and less accurately. My defensive skills were reduced. I couldn’t move my head as freely or as quickly. I couldn’t follow my opponent’s punches as well as I had before. I knew what Bobo wanted was wrong for me, and so I was at war with myself. Boxing is a difficult enough sport when you are comfortable with what you are trying to do in the ring. Trying to bring someone else contentment by parroting what he or she wants is suicidal.”

Then Yaqui Lopez came into Sharp’s life.

Lopez was a world class fighter who had fallen just short in championship outings against John Conteh, Victor Galindez, and Matthew Saad Muhammad. Like Sharp, he fought as a light-heavyweight.

In March 1982 (two months before Sharp’s first pro fight), Joe Risso arranged for Glen to spar with Lopez several days a week. That meant training with Olson in Sacramento on some days and driving to Stockton to spar with Yaqui on others. Sharp’s exposition of the year that he spent as Lopez’s sparring partner is superb:

*          “This is what the first day with Yaqui felt like. I knew I was going to get the worst of it when I was in the middle of the ring, when I was at the end of his jab. I expected that. I didn’t know exactly how bad the worst of it was going to be, but I knew it was going to be kind of bad. What I didn’t expect was for it to be the same when I was inside his reach, boxing at close quarters. There was no place I could find to mount any kind of offense. There was no punch I could throw from any angle that seemed to bother Yaqui at all. In the three rounds we boxed that day, I don’t think I landed a single punch. I got pieces of him, glancing blows off the top of his head or body punches that he did not completely block, but I did not land any clean shots. Worse than that, there was no place in the ring I found to be safe. Everywhere I moved, I was at Yaqui’s mercy. He picked me apart with his jabs and rights from a distance. When I stepped closer, he would combine the right hands with left hooks. When I got on top of him, he would blast me with uppercuts along with the hooks. Yaqui was better than me in every phase of boxing. He had an absolute advantage in everything we were doing in the ring, and I had never experienced that before.”

*           “There was not much drama or art to be seen in my boxing with Yaqui. He quickly established that he was the hunter and I was the prey. Although I would occasionally challenge this hierarchy, my efforts always proved to be unsuccessful except for the briefest of moments. Until meeting Yaqui, I had something of an alpha male attitude about myself, always thinking I was the hunter in a boxing ring, and so my demotion was hurtful psychologically as well as physically. Every time I attempted to assert myself and temporarily reverse our roles, he would become even more assertive in response.”

*           “In the short-term, in the course of a fight, you can commit yourself to taking more punches than you world normally enjoy. You might make that commitment because you see it as your only chance to win. But in daily sparring, there is no competition to win a contest, and it becomes difficult to commit yourself to taking that level of punishment on a regular basis day after day. I would go home every day and stand under the shower for fifteen or twenty minutes, hoping the water pounding on my head would balance the throbbing coming from the other direction. I tried not to think about how it was going to happen all over again the next day. In the worst of the days with Yaqui, I did not feel much like someone who used his sparring with world class talent as a learning experience. I thought of myself as being more like the aging failed fighters who were just trying to make a few dollars by letting themselves be punched around.”

*           “As physically demanding as boxing with Yaqui was, the most difficult part was emotional as I saw no light at the end of the tunnel. You develop a unique perspective on life when you rise at six in the morning to run a few miles and one of your first waking thoughts is that, later in the day, you are going to get beat up. Every day during the hour drive to Stockton, my stomach would tighten as I went over what would take place once I got there, knowing there was nothing I could do or change to stop what was going to happen, knowing the next day was going to be the same. I could not ask for relief, either. Yaqui was not taking cheap shots at me, he was only doing his job, and I was the one who had put myself in the position of being his sparring partner. You cannot ask another man to lighten up on you. You can wish for pity. You can hope the guy kicking your butt begins to feel sorry for you, or at least his cornermen do and tell their guy to ease up a bit. You can even think about developing a religious life with the hope God might have mercy on your soul. But you cannot ask the guy you are boxing with to lighten up on you.”

Sharp’s first professional fight was contested in Stockton on May 5, 1982. The opponent was an 0-and-1 novice named Lamont Santanas.

“Besides boxing differently depending upon whether I was training in Stockton or Sacramento,” Sharp writes, “I had two completely different training routines. I had Bobo’s routine when he was in the gym, and I trained like Yaqui when I was with him and Bobo was not around. Not only were there differences in personalities and struggles for power, I was being taught two entirely different ways to fight. Every morning upon waking, I would remind myself what kind of fighter I was supposed to be that day.”

Against Santanas, Sharp won a four-round decision but recalls, “I only won this fight because I regressed to my amateur style. Three months of training with Bobo, and I fought better by ignoring most of what he had taught me. I knew my amateur approach was not the ticket to long-term success, but Bobo was not taking me where I needed to go, either.”

Eight weeks later, Sharp was in the ring again. His original opponent fell out. Glen was then required to weaken himself by dropping down to 165 pounds to face a 6-and-12 journeyman named Michael Hutchinson (the only opponent that Risso could get on short notice). Making matters worse, Hutchinson blew off the weight and came in at 174 pounds.

“This describes my relationship with Joe pretty well,” Sharp writes. “He was a good decent person in most every way. He didn’t know anything about boxing, though, and was even less aware of how little he knew. Joe wanted to be a deal maker. He thought having a manager’s license made him a player in the world of boxing. What having a manager’s license means in reality, though, is that the manager could afford the thirty dollars application fee for a license. It was his job to have said that his fighter who had barely eaten for the past week so he could lose an extra eight pounds was not going into the ring with someone who hadn’t starved himself at all. The manager makes his money because he is supposed to protect his fighters from the promoters and matchmakers and other managers who have other priorities and interests. But that’s not what Joe did.”

Meanwhile, shortly before the bout, Olson called and told Glen that he had hurt his back and would be unable to work his corner for the fight.

“Bobo told me to box the way he had taught me,” Sharp recalls. “I thanked him and hung up the phone. It was the last time we would speak.”

Yaqui Lopez was in Sharp’s corner for the fight against Hutchinson. Glen picks up the narrative after the first round.

“The next thing I remember, I am sitting on the stool in my corner as the bell rings. Thinking the next round had just begun, I stood and took a step toward the center of the ring, but Yaqui grabs my arm and tells me the fight is over.

“Who won?” Sharp asked.

Looking back on that moment, Glen observes, “A good general rule in boxing is that, if you have to ask who won the fight you were just in, the answer is probably the other guy. Hutchinson had dropped me with a right hand and, when I rose, he hit me with about a dozen more punches before the referee stopped the fight. This all happened in the first round, and I have no memory of it.”

Thereafter, insult was added to injury.

“The morning after the fight,” Sharp recounts, “I called one of the doctors employed by the California Athletic Commission as ringside physicians during fights and explained my nose had been broken in Stockton the night before. He asked about the swelling, and I told him it was substantial. He said I should make an appointment for the next week when the swelling had subsided, and I did. When I saw [him] a week later, I had no bruising or swelling, and the only evidence that my nose had been broken was that it was crooked and made noises when I inhaled. The doctor said the bone was already healing and that he could no longer treat me for a broken nose. ‘You should have come here last week,’ he said, ‘before the bone began to set.’”

On November 27, 1982, Sharp entered the ring for the third and final time as a professional boxer. The opponent, Joe Dale Lewis, was making his pro debut and would finish his career with 2 wins, 9 losses, and 7 KOs by. Glen was stopped on cuts in the third round.

“My head was hanging in the air like a pinata,” Sharp writes. “Lewis must have thought it was his birthday. I could not figure out how he was hitting me so easily. I have replayed this fight in my mind thousands of times. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion over and over again. I could see the punches coming, but I could not get out of the way. I knew I was confused by what was happening, but I could not understand why what was happening was happening the way it was. It’s called freezing. I stood in front of Lewis like a deer caught in headlights. I have not been shy about expressing how disappointed I was with those around me [with regard to the weight issue] when I lost my fight with Mike Hutchinson. But this loss rests squarely on my shoulders. This was all mine.”

After the loss to Lewis, any thoughts that Sharp had of becoming a world-class fighter were in the past.

“I was a 1–2 fighter who had lost two fights in a row,” he acknowledges. “And those two losses did not happen by accident. I still thought I could probably become a decent fighter, but the world is full of decent fighters. It is one thing to be a utility infielder on a major league baseball team. But it is something completely different to be a utility boxer, to be a club fighter. I had lost hope that I could become a really good fighter, good enough to make the kind of money that validated the decision to box in the first place. If I was going to end up sitting at a desk anyway, why would I want to spend the next ten years just making ends meet – getting beat, getting hurt, wearing my body and my mind out – to eventually need the same sort of job I had been desperately trying to avoid, only to be ten years behind in that race.”

So Sharp retired. But something was eating away at his soul. In his words, “When Marlon Brando’s character, Terry Malloy, said to his brother in On the Waterfront, ‘I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody,’ he is talking about being someone to himself. When he said he could have had class, he meant he could have had self-respect. He could have been proud of the character he played in his own story if he had only allowed himself to play that role. That is what he most wanted in life.”

Sharp wasn’t proud of himself. To the contrary, the more time passed, the more he became ashamed of how he had approached boxing.

“The idea of a professional boxer being someone who makes money from fighting is true only in the most literal sense,” he writes. “One is a professional more as a function of attitude than a matter of compensation. My aim was to be a successful professional boxer so I didn’t have to get a job, which means I was destined to fail. My attraction to boxing was legitimate, but the relationship I developed with it was not. Boxing is a skill sport more than it is an athletic contest, and I was athletic enough to have become skilled enough. But I had not done the work necessary. Then I ran away from it when the work became too demanding. It is not easy to see yourself being less honorable than you thought you were.”

In 1987, Sharp started thinking about a comeback.

“I began training again,” he writes, “to finally make the commitment that I had failed to do when younger and had led to the failure. I hoped it was not too late. I wanted the story of my life in boxing to be an honorable one, even if unsuccessful. It was an attempt to atone for squandering a gift I had taken for granted when young and not realized how much I loved.”

Sharp trained for close to three years. Then reason prevailed in the form of advice from boxing minds wiser than his own. He never fought again.

Punching from the Shadows deserves a wide audience. Sharp brings a lot to the table. Unlike most writers, he has been in the ring. His journey through boxing was standard in some ways but unusual in others. And he writes well. Things that the reader thinks will happen don’t. And things that the reader is sure will never happen do. There’s a self-revelatory examination of Sharp’s personal relationships – particularly with his father and some of the women he dated – but not so much that it becomes cumbersome.

There are short axiomatic observations:

*         “Very little in life is as truthful as a fight.”

*         “Two contests are going on in a boxing ring, the boxer with his opponent and the boxer with himself.”

*         “The fight itself is often fun. Waiting for the fun to begin is not.”

*         “Getting concussions is probably not the best way to learn how to box.”

At times, the book is an intelligent exploration of the psychology of boxing.

“For the boxer,” Sharp explains, “two primal and perfectly natural responses – either fighting or taking flight – must find a way to live with each other. Being brave is not a matter of mindlessly throwing caution to the wind. Strength of character is required to hold both heroic intent and the desire to be safe in balanced tension with one another. A tremendous amount of work is required to strengthen oneself to hold that tension, to remain mindful, which is a state of awareness that strives to perform courageously but not unintelligently so.”

In other places, Punching from the Shadows is an engaging primer on boxing fundamentals.

Sharp offers an exceptionally good explanation of Joe Frazier’s fighting style and Frazier’s strengths and weakness as a fighter. Other insights include:

*         “All good fighters learn to regulate their breathing, inhaling and exhaling rhythmically, a pattern upon which everything else is based. Every punch, every feint, every defensive move, every step forward or backward or sideways is coordinated with breathing. This reminds me of the schoolyard maxim that, if you ever get into a fight with someone who breathes through his nose, you should probably turn around and run because that guy knows what he is doing.”

*         “The face is rubbed with Vaseline primarily so that, when it is hit with a punch, the leather gloves will slide off the skin more easily than otherwise would happen, reducing the chances of the facial skin being cut by a punch. The body is rubbed with Vaseline to make sure the opponent’s gloves are in contact with grease as often as possible. Every time boxers are close together or punching to the body or in a clinch, the gloves are rubbing against Vaseline, becoming coated with grease.”

*         “Although hitting the speed bag can look impressive, I don’t know that it provides much benefit. The idea is that it increases your hand-eye coordination. But once you learn what you are doing and get a feel for the rhythm of the specific bag you are hitting, you can do it with your eyes closed. I would think that developing hand-eye coordination requires the eyes to at least be open. But I could be wrong because a guy with a 1–2 record obviously has a lot to learn about boxing.”

In the preface to Punching from the Shadows, Sharp writes, “I hope that you find me to be a pretty good storyteller, because I sure wasn’t much of a fighter.”

Sharp is better than a pretty good storyteller. He’s first-rate.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing – will be published next month by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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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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Life-After-Doomsday-Assessing-the-Career-of-Superman-Stevenson

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.

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