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Errol Spence Wins Split Decision and Other Results from L.A.

David A. Avila

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LOS ANGELES-Sometimes long shots pay off but not this time, as heavily favored IBF welterweight titlist Errol Spence Jr. eked out a victory over Shawn Porter to add the WBC welterweight world title to his collection on Saturday.

If this were thoroughbred horse racing the long shot would have paid off, instead it was prizefighting and Spence Jr. used a single left cross to Porter’s chin to separate himself and win the unification battle before a crowd of more than 16,000 fans at Staples Center.

For 12 solid rounds both Spence and Porter displayed how they reached championship status with two distinctly different but successful styles.

Porter jumped on Spence with his special blend of pressure fighting featuring head movement, side steps and barging forward with both fists pumping from all angles against the thin-framed southpaw Texan.

It took Spence several rounds to adapt.

Despite the steady pressure of Porter, the composed Spence relied on his high guard and pivots to evade the rushes of the eager Ohio fighter. Around the third round Spence began finding success with stinging shots to the body, especially with the left uppercut dig. But most of the punches were fired from close range.

Not wanting to show weakness, Porter opened up the fourth round with even more vigor and seldom allowed Spence his footing. In the following round Spence recaptured the lost ground with his own intensified attack. Back and forth each rallied against the other.

During a savage Porter attack in the 11th round, the clever Spence delivered a crisp sidewinder left cross to the shorter fighter’s chin and down went “Showtime” Porter. You could see that the Ohioan knew that could be the difference in the fight when his hand touched the canvas.

Porter acknowledged the knockdown to Spence then urged him to try it again. The round ended with no further examples of power but the confidence seemed to seep out of Porter’s usually confident face. Inside he knew that single left cross could be the difference between winning or losing. It was a three-point swing in scoring because Porter was winning the round until the knockdown.

The final round saw both try to open up, but they were either tired or cautious and it was difficult to pick the winner of the final frame. After 12 rounds one judge scored it 115-112 for Porter while two others scored it 116-111 for Spence who becomes the WBC and IBF welterweight champion.

“I give it to Shawn Porter, he’s a rough and tough fighter,” said Spence after the decision was read. “He always comes to fight. I wanted to show that I could sit there and hang with him.”

Porter was very gracious in defeat.

“He’s a strong kid. He got the split decision, he was victorious,” said Porter. “I think the knockdown was the difference.”

Benavidez Regains Title

David Benavidez (22-0, 19 KOs) regained the WBC super middleweight world title by knockout from titlist Anthony Dirrell (33-2-1, 24 KOs) when Dirrell’s corner asked the referee to stop the pummeling in the second half of the fight.

Until the eighth round the taller and younger Benavidez was in control of the fight but Dirrell refused to quit despite a gash above his right eye suffered during a heated exchange. Benavidez repeatedly battered Dirrell with wicked combinations but the Flint, Mich. fighter kept looking for a knockout blow through the blood and hammering.

The ringside physician inspected Dirrell’s eye on several occasion from the sixth round on but the fight resumed. And when Benavidez connected with heavy blows from there on, Dirrell refused to go down. It was an impressive display of valor.

In the eighth round Benavidez opened up with impunity and had Dirrell trapped in a corner when one the Michigan fighter’s cornermen asked to stop the fight. An inspector waved a towel as Benavidez battered Dirrell and referee Tom Taylor finally noticed and stopped the fight at 1:39 of round eight. Benavidez was declared the new WBC super middleweight world champion.

“It’s probably the hardest fight that I’ve been in; a very tactical fight. It wasn’t easy,” said Benavidez who hugged Dirrell immediately after the fight ended. “Now I’m a two-time world champion. I got a lot of respect for him.”

The respect was acknowledged several times during the fight as Dirrell asked to continue despite the bleeding cut and opportunities offered by the referee and ringside physician.

“I felt him. He fought his ass off and he did what he had to win the title,” said Dirrell. “Of course I could have kept going. I didn’t quit, I kept going. He likes to get in the inside. He’s a true champion.”

Benavidez reclaimed the WBC title he lost last year due to a failed drug test. When he had first won the title he was the youngest ever to win the title at 168 pounds.

Barrios

A battle for the WBA super lightweight world title saw Mario Barrios (25-0, 16 KOs) floor Russia’s Batyr Akhmedov (7-1, 6 KOs) in the fourth round and seem in total control. But after the knockdown, Akhmedov rallied furiously and mounted pressure on the taller fighter from San Antonio to win the later rounds.

Barrios was able to use his quickness and length at first, but once Akhmedov got inside he took control, especially in the second half of the fight. In the final round, with the Russian fighter winning many of the later rounds with pressure, Barrios connected with a well-placed right hand missile that dropped Akhmedov. He beat the count but lost the momentum and the round.

All three judges scored it for Barrios 114-112, 115-111, 116-111 who now holds the WBA world title in a division ripe with many talented fighters.

Josesito Wins

Josesito “Riverside Rocky” Lopez (37-8, 20 KOs) won by knockout over fellow warrior John “The Gladiator” Molina (30-9, 24 KOs) in the eighth round in a fight that surprised some that it passed the first round in a welterweight clash.

Lopez jumped on Molina with a lead right cross and floored Molina early in the first round. When the fight resumed Lopez decked Molina again with a counter right cross and it didn’t look good. But he survived.

If you followed Molina’s career, you know that he’s been floored before early in several fights and rallied to win by knockout. But not this time. Though Molina set several traps, Lopez was wary of them and used a long left jab and side steps to stay out of Molina’s power zone. It proved beneficial.

Molina mounted a rally in the fifth round when he connected with multiple overhand rights. One seemed to stun Lopez but he managed to avoid the follow-up blows from Molina.

In the seventh round, Lopez surprised Molina with a stiff jab and right cross and down went Molina for the first time since the first round. Lopez attacked until the bell ended the round.

“I knew John Molina was not going to quit. He’s a warrior,” said Lopez. “I had to keep on the pressure.”

After a lengthy huddle with the ringside physicians and Molina’s trainers, he was allowed to proceed to the eighth round. Lopez did not waste time and unleashed a furious five-punch combination that snapped Molina’s head back. Referee Ray Corona saw enough and stopped the fight with Molina standing at 39 seconds into the eighth round.

“It was a pleasure being in the ring with John Molina. I’m very thankful for all of these opportunities,” said Lopez.

Ghost

Former multiple-weight world champion Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero (36-6-1, 20 KOs)  looked sharp against an awkward but stealthy foe in Jerry Thomas (14-2-1, 8 KOs) of Kansas and won by unanimous decision after 10 rounds in a welterweight clash.

Thomas had a jitterbug type of defense and though it was tough to gauge, Guerrero has seen every type of style in his near 20-year career and pummeled the body. And when there was any doubt, he pummeled the body again.

Guerrero was in control for almost all 10 rounds but Thomas had his best round in the ninth round when he changed gears from all-defense to all-offense. The braided Thomas landed some flush uppercuts from the left and right and would not allow Guerrero to counter. Still, Guerrero slipped out of the attack and the round came to a conclusion. It was the only round Guerrero did not win.

Two judges scored it 99-91 and another 98-92 for Guerrero who fights out of Gilroy, Calif. the site of the assault by gunfire that took the lives of four at a Garlic Festival in August. Guerrero pledged to give part of his purse to the victim’s families.

Prelims

Michigan’s hard-hitting super welterweight Joey Spencer (9-0, 7 KOs) clobbered Travis Gambardella (5-1-2, 2 KOs) with body shots and double hooks to the head, dropping the Northeasterner three times in two rounds. Then Gambardella buckled down and fought back, connecting with a right that made Spencer pause. It looked like a competitive fight was on the horizon in the third round but when Spencer connected with a left hook to the head, referee Ray Corona stopped the fight. Gambardella argued to keep going but the fight was ruled over at 56 seconds of round three.

“He had been down three times. I think the ref didn’t want another tragic event and stopped the fight,” said Spencer.

Michoacan’s Jose “El Rayo” Valenzuela (5-0, 2 KOs), a southpaw, fired a double left cross to knock out Charles Clark (2-5-1, 1 KO) of Dallas in the first round of a super featherweight bout. After some tentative exchanges, Valenzuela and Clark opened up and the Mexican struck fast with a lead left cross and another one as Clark tumbled to the floor. The referee did not bother to count and ended the fight at 1:06 of the first round.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Carlos Morales and Mercito Gesta Fight to a Technical Draw in L.A.

David A. Avila

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LOS ANGELES-Two of L.A.’s most popular prizefighters collided with Mercito “No Mercy” Gesta and Carlos “The Solution” Morales matching wits and crowds before an accidental clash of heads ended the lightweight fight in a technical draw on Thursday night.

It was fun while it lasted.

Gesta (32-3-3, 17 KOs) and Morales (19-4-4, 8 KOs) tested each other before a sold out crowd at Belasco Theater. Both combatants brought their small armies of supporters to the downtown entertainment venue. It was colorful and it was loud.

Behind a small coterie of fans carrying blue, white and red flags, Gesta walked into the boxing ring with a well-known resume that includes two world title challenges. Morales walked with banda music playing loudly as he trotted into confidently to meet the classy Filipino fighter. The crowd was anxious.

Both fighters found it tough to connect against each other. Their defense was tight and their punches tighter. But soon Morales began finding the range and began shooting rights to the body and head.

Gesta, 32, a southpaw who moves smoothly on his toes, needed a little time before he began finding the range with body shots and shorter punches. In the third round, as the fight was heating up, a clash of heads occurred during an exchange of blows. Morales emerged with a small cut above his left eye. It would not go away.

For three more tense rounds the two popular fighters tested each other’s defense and neither could surge ahead to any definitive advantage. At the end of the sixth round the ringside physician looked at Morales and ruled he could not continue. According to California State Athletic Commission rules the fight was stopped because of an accidental cut and would go to the scorecards.

“The ref said the cut was too deep. I had trouble seeing out of my left eye. The medicine kept getting in my eye, and I kept trying to get it out,” said Morales, 29.

One judge saw Morales winning 58-56, but two others saw it 57-57 to make it a technical majority draw.

“I wanted to keep going, and I know he wanted to keep going,” said Gesta. “But that’s the way it is. This is boxing, and it happens. We can definitely do this again if the fans want it.”

Other Bouts 

Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Oquendo (31-6, 19 KOs) shut out Charles Huerta (21-7, 12 KOs) a local fighter by winning every round in their 10 round super featherweight showdown fought mainly in the trenches.

After a close opening round that saw Oquendo barge in and hold, Huerta seemed to be unable to match the Puerto Rican fighter’s energy. He was always a step behind in every round as Oquendo barreled his way inside and simply out-hustled Huerta. It was a surprising display for the local fighter from Paramount who has a large fan base.

All three judges correctly scored it the same 100-90 for Oquendo.

“I knew he was the kind of fighter who likes to trade and I think I used that to my advantage,” said Oquendo.

Texas super welterweight Travell Mazion (16-0, 12 KOs) won a hard fought 10 round bruising battle by unanimous decision over Mexico City’s Diego Cruz (19-8-2, 15 KOs). Both landed crushing blows against each other from the opening bell but it was the taller Mazion who was able to use his skills and size to his advantage. Surprisingly there were no knockdowns despite crushing blows from Cruz left hooks and Mazion right hand scud missiles.

Cruz had never been knocked out and though Mazion clobbered him with some bombs he also took a few himself to show he also has a pretty good chin. After 10 rounds one judge saw it 98-91 and two others 99-90 all for Mazion. Both hugged it out after the war.

“He was really tough. I knew he was going to come in with some hell of a shots, and he did, but I knew I was going to come up top,” said Mazion who fights out of Austin.

A battle between southpaws saw Evan Sanchez (6-0, 5 KOs) blast out Mexico’s Hector Hernandez (2-2, 1 KO) in a mere 23 seconds of their welterweight clash. If you blinked it was over as California’s Sanchez and Hernandez immediately exchanged and the undefeated lefty landed a crisp right hook and left cross combination that delivered Durango’s Hernandez to the floor. Though he beat the count, referee Raul Caiz saw that Hernandez was unsteady on his feet and stopped the contest giving Sanchez the win by knockout.

Undefeated lightweight Oscar Acevedo (6-0), a southpaw, had a little trouble with Darel Harris (3-18-1) but was able to pull out the win by landing the stronger punches. Harris gave problems with his skittish movements but only landed touch punches and seldom connected with any power. It works in the amateurs but not in the pros with judges that are looking for punches with force. After four rounds one judge scored it 39-37 and the other two 40-36 all for Acevedo who hails from Kansas.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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New Zealand Heavyweights Fa and Ahio Have a Home Field Advantage in Utah

Arne K. Lang

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Go West, young man,” said Andrew Greeley, a New Hampshire man by birth best remembered as the founder and publisher of the New York Tribune. Boxing promoter Lou DiBella, a hard-shell New Yorker, is the latest to heed Greeley’s famous admonition. This Friday, Nov. 15, DiBella is anchoring his long-running Broadway Boxing series in Salt Lake City.

With heavyweights Junior Fa and Hemi Ahio appearing in the main bouts, the Utah city was a natural destination. Fa (18-0, 10 KOs) and Ahio (15-0, 10 KOs) are New Zealanders, but their family roots are in the kingdom of Tonga.

Approximately one in every four Tongan-Americans resides in Utah. There are more than 9,000 Tongans in Salt Lake County, roughly a third of whom reside in Salt Lake City proper.

The presence of a large body of Tongans in Utah is a residue of the work of Mormon missionaries in Polynesia in the late 19th century. The population of Tonga is now about 60 percent Mormon. As a percentage of the population, Tonga ranks #1 in Mormons (more formally members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). Regional rival Samoa is #2.

It figured that when land became hard to acquire in Tonga, an agricultural nation, many emigrants would choose to settle in Utah where they knew they would be welcome.

In Utah, Tongan and Samoan males are noted for their prowess on the football field. The best high school players in the Beehive State are disproportionately Polynesian, and overwhelmingly Polynesian in the offensive and defensive lines. There’s now a fierce tug-of-war for their services between Utah’s two major universities and out-of-state schools, particularly schools in Washington, Oregon, and California. The head football coach at BYU, Kalani Sitake, was born in Tonga, but even he has had limited success in slaking the scattering of standout Polynesian players to out-of-state schools.

Tonga is a small country, so it’s no surprise that few Tongans have made their mark in professional boxing. Paea Wolfgramm was an Olympic silver medalist whose pro career never did gain traction. He retired with a pro record of 20-4 after getting stopped by Corrie Sanders. Samson Po’uha, who fought out of St. George, Utah, was a great prospect who lacked the discipline to maximize his potential. He was stopped by journeymen Jesse Ferguson and Craig Payne and by Andrew Golota.

As weird as it sounds, if Junior Fa and Hemi Ahio are looking for a former boxer to serve as a role model, we would suggest Vai Sikahema. Yes, the same Vai Sikahema who set NCAA records for punt returns at BYU, was a great special teams player in the NFL and, in retirement, settled into a nice career as a TV personality in Philadelphia.

Sikahema, who was born in Tonga, boxed in the amateurs. In 2008, 15 years after he left the NFL, Sikahema was matched against former baseball star Jose Canseco in a celebrity fight in Atlantic City. Sikahema gave away seven inches in height and 40 pounds, but he blew right through Canseco, knocking him down twice before the bout was stopped in the very first round.

Of the two Kiwi heavyweights on DiBella’s Salt Lake City show, Junior Fa is the most advanced. As an amateur, Fa, now 30 years old, split four fights with fellow New Zealander Joseph Parker who went on to win the WBO version of the world heavyweight title. He twice represented Tonga in the Commonwealth Games and had eight bouts in the semi-pro World Series of Boxing where he defeated highly touted Arslanbek Makhmudov and lost a 5-round decision to Oleksandr Usyk.

In his last two starts, Fa knocked out Neufel Ouatah, a hapless Frenchman, in the opening round and was extended the full 10 by ancient Dominic Guinn. For the Guinn fight, he carried 259 ½ pounds on his six-foot-five frame.

On Friday, Fa is matched against Toledo’s Devin Vargas, a former U.S. Olympian. As a pro, Vargas’s career was moving along smoothly until he was stopped in the sixth round by Kevin Johnson. By all appearances, Vargas then lost his passion for boxing. Fighting sporadically, he’s 4-4 since then with all four losses coming inside the distance. But in his last fight in August in Massachusetts, Vargas stopped house fighter Niall Kennedy so perhaps his enthusiasm for boxing has been re-kindled.

Hemi Ahio, 29, kas fought once previously in the United States, stopping unnoteworthy Ed Fountain on a DiBella show in Columbus, Ohio. His last start was in Saudi Arabia where he knocked out an undefeated (7-0) fighter from Germany who had previously fought only cadavers.

Short for a modern era heavyweight at 6’0”, Hemi’s torso coupled with his aggressive style of fighting has led some to anoint him the Tongan Tyson. He’s matched against fluffy Joshua Tufte (19-3, 9 KOs) who hails from Kernersville, North Carolina, and probably would have no stronger chance of winning if the fight were being held in Kernersville.

The Nov. 15 edition of Broadway Boxing will be live streamed on UFC Fight Pass starting at 8 pm PST/11 pm EST. Topping the undercard is a 10-round welterweight contest between Brooklyn-based-Ukrainian Ivan Golub (17-1, 13 KOs) and Columbia’s Janer Gonzalez (19-2-1, 15 KOs).

There’s something intrinsically magnetic about an undefeated heavyweight who may have a big upside, even if he’s being thrust against an opponent with scant chance of causing a derailment. On Friday we get two for the money and considering the venue, it’s a safe bet that both will bring their “A” game.

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Avila Perspective, Chap 73: Gesta vs Morales, Celebrity Boxing, Liston and More

David A. Avila

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One of the rewards for journalists following smaller boxing cards is watching new talent emerge. Every so often you spot the gold nuggets among the heap.

Some fighters stand out immediately before even stepping in the prize ring. Others walk in hesitantly with dirty towels wrapped around their shoulders.

On Thursday, Carlos “The Solution” Morales (19-4-3, 8 KOs) and Mercito “No Mercy” Gesta (32-3-2, 17 KOs), who arrived on the hard road of boxing, meet in a lightweight match set for 10 rounds at Belasco Theater in downtown L.A. DAZN will stream live.

Two classier guys you will never meet than Gesta and Morales.

Gesta, a southpaw from Cebu, Philippines, arrived in 2007 and immediately found work on casino fight cards in Arizona, California and Nevada. His athleticism was obvious and he raced through competition till he met Mexico’s Miguel Vazquez for the IBF lightweight world title.

In that first loss, fans learned what Gesta was all about. He was gracious in defeat and fans loved his character. From that point on more people wanted to see the Filipino lefty perform. After Top Rank let him go, Golden Boy Promotions picked up his contract and he became a staple on the Southern California fight scene.

Win or lose, fans adore Gesta who was trained by Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Boxing club in Hollywood but now works with Marvin Sonorio. A decision loss to WBA lightweight titlist Jorge Linares at the Inglewood Forum did nothing to diminish Gesta’s fan base.

“I need challenges and I like challenges,” said Gesta during an interview with Beto Duran on Golden Boy’s Ring Side show. “I still feel great and still feel in the game.”

How could you not like a fighter like Gesta?

On the opposite corner at Belasco Theater will be “The Solution” Morales.

When Morales first entered the professional fight scene he stumbled a bit with a loss then three consecutive draws. I saw all four fights in person. The Mexican-born fighter needed about two years to figure out what worked for him.

He’s found it.

Morales, a gym rat if I ever saw one, purchased his own gym in the Alhambra area. He’s a family man, worker and businessman all rolled into one. The Mexican fighter needed time to discover his assets in the ring and use them in a productive manner.

Though he’s lost three of his last six fights they all came against top competition such as world champion Alberto Machado, ranked contender Rene Alvarado and current star Ryan Garcia. In each and every one of those fights Morales was up to his neck in battle.

“I definitely need a win over a name like Mercito Gesta,” said Morales. “He’s been in the game a long time.”

In local gyms he spars with many of the best and on occasion they understand what “the Solution” is all about.

“He is very, very good,” said one visiting Japanese fighter who witnessed Morales knock out a sparring partner in one particular session. “A very professional style.”

Both Gesta and Morales represent the side of Los Angeles most fans don’t get to see. Once upon a time, matchups like these were common in the L.A. area. Golden Boy Promotions has been slowly building up these local fighters and if you have paid attention you know this will be a firecracker of a show.

This is a 1930s kind of match you used to see at the old Olympic Auditorium or Hollywood Legion Stadium when guys like Speedy Dado, Baby Arizmendi, Chalky Wright and Newsboy Brown would fight each other and fill the arena. Dado would bring the Filipino crowd, Arizmendi the Mexican crowd, Wright the African- American fans, Newsboy Brown the Jewish fans and so on.

Gesta versus Morales has that 1930s flavor. If you close your eyes you might expect a ghost or two from boxing’s past to be in attendance at Belasco Theater. It’s an old venue where famous bandleaders like Duke Ellington once played. It’s got a lot of history and this fight was tailor-made for the old stylish building.

Celebrity Boxing

Nowadays celebrities come from different directions.

Last week, celebrities who gained fame via social media avenues like YouTube.com, Twitter and Instagram, arrived at the Staples Center in Los Angeles with hands wrapped, gloves on and a license to box professionally.

Their names were not familiar to regular boxing fans, but to millions of youngsters and young adults who do not normally follow boxing, these guys named Logan Paul, KSI and Joshua Brueckner were super stars.

It was a massive hit according to DAZN and Matchroom Boxing, the promoters.

I walked around the arena to take a look at the people arriving to see the boxing card. What I saw were moms and their sons and daughters, groups of girls in their early teens, and pale boys who normally don’t see much sun because they’re usually planted behind a computer playing video games. They all had a blast.

Most of these fans had never seen live boxing and got their first glimpse of prizefighting at a high level when Ronny Rios defended his WBA Gold super bantamweight title against Colombia’s Hugo Berrio. The Santa Ana fighter Rios came out firing thudding body shots that echoed in the arena. You could hear the responses from the new fans who openly expressed their amazement with a roar of applause at the display of power.

It’s one thing to see a fight but a whole new thing to hear power shots bouncing off another human being. Rios pummeled Berrio up and down and eventually knocked out the Colombian with a three-punch combination in the fourth round. Fans were awestruck.

You never forget your first live prizefight. It burns in your memory forever. All of these new fans will never forget watching a live boxing card.

Watching the responses of the new kind of crowd was an experience in itself. Many of these fans will return for more. Their excitement was pure and untainted.

Showtime

A feature documentary visiting the life of Sonny Liston called “Pariah: The Lives and Deaths of Sonny Liston” makes its debut on Friday Nov. 15 on Showtime at 9 p.m. (PT).

Liston was one of the most mysterious and feared heavyweight champions of all time. Read the story by Bernard Fernandez to get a preview of what to expect from the documentary. It’s riveting stuff: https://tss.ib.tv/boxing/featured-boxing-articles-boxing-news-videos-rankings-and-results/61445-from-womb-to-tomb-the-fate-of-sonny-liston-was-seemingly-preordained

Though Liston died 49 years ago in December 1970, he’s still discussed by boxing people especially in Las Vegas where he lived and died.

Fights to Watch (all times Pacific Coast time)

Thurs. DAZN 7 p.m. Mercito Gesta (32-3-2) vs Carlos Morales (19-4-3).

Fri. ESPN+ 12 p.m. Rocky Fielding (27-2) vs Abdallah Paziwapazi (26-6-1).

Fri. Showtime 7:30 p.m. Erik Ortiz (16-0) vs Alberto Palmetta (12-1).

Sat. ESPN+ 12 p.m. Lee McGregor (7-0) vs Kash Farooq (13-0).

Photo credit: Kyte Monroe

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