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News Flash: Sucker Punch at Weigh-in Sinks Shields-Habazin Clash

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Claressa Shields, considered the most dominant female fighter in the world, was scheduled to fight Croatia’s Ivana Habazin tomorrow, Oct. 5, for the vacant WBC/WBO 154-pound title live on SHOWTIME (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT). The latest news coming out of Flint, Michigan, Shields’ hometown and the site of tomorrow’s event, is that the fight is off because of an incident at today’s weigh-in.

According to various sources, Habazin’s trainer Bashir Ali (aka James Ali Bashir) got into an argument with a member of Shields’ entourage as the scales were being prepared for the weigh-in. Before the actual weigh-in, he was sucker punched, hit from behind with such force that he was knocked unconscious. The person with whom Bashir Ali was arguing was said to be female. The person that attacked him was male.

When her trainer hit the floor, Habazin rushed to his aid, sobbing. He was conscious when he was removed to a hospital on a stretcher where he reportedly was scheduled for facial surgery. A clearly distraught Habazin accompanied him. The police reportedly took a suspect into custody but did not name him.

Mark Taffet, Shields’ manager, hopeful that the bout could be salvaged, made this statement to the assembled media: “As long as we make sure her trainer is OK and Ivana is in a good frame of mind, we’ll expect the weigh-in to take place later and look forward to everything going forward.”

A later tweet from ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. said the fight was OFF. The new main event, originally the semi-main, pits Jaron “Boots” Ennis (23-0, 21 KOs) against Argentina’s Demian Daniel Fernandez (12-1, 9 KOs) in a 10-round welterweight contest. Also on the TV portion of the show is 10-round heavyweight match between Jermaine Franklin (19-0, 13 KOs) and Pavel Sour (11-1, 6 KOs), a little-known, 36-year-old Czech.

The weigh-ins for those fights went ahead as scheduled without incident.

Bashir Ali (pictured in this 2018 photo with Ukrainian heavyweight Vlad Sirenko) spent 17 years as an assistant to Emanuel Steward at Detroit’s fabled Kronk Gym. Before that, he was a member of Muhammad Ali’s team at Ali’s training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania. Originally from New Jersey, he is a man in his 70s.

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A two-time Olympic gold medalist, Shields (9-0, 2 KOs) was looking to win a world title in a third weight division after previously winning 168- and 160-pound belts. Habazin (20-3, 7 KOs) suffered all three of her losses in fights sanctioned for world titles, losing to Serbia’s Eva Bajic, Norway’s Cecilia Braekhus, and Sweden’s Mikaela Lauren.

We will have further details as they develop.

Photo credit: Jake May, M Live

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Joshua Franco’s Journey from San Antonio to World Champ

David A. Avila

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Joshua Franco’s Journey from San Antonio to World Champ

Texas native Joshua “El Professor” Franco captured the WBA super flyweight title after a rugged five-year journey with a studious approach not meant for the weak-minded.

“It’s a great feeling. I’m blessed to have a world title and I’m blessed to finally getting that support,” said Franco.

Under the umbrella of the coronavirus pandemic Franco (17-1-2) ventured to Las Vegas and stripped the WBA title from Australia’s Andrew Moloney (21-1) with a unanimous decision win. It capped an adventurous road filled with bloody wars, draws and a loss.

But on June 23, referee Tony Weeks raised the hand of Franco who was better prepared for yet another war against an undefeated fighter.

Ring toughness has become a staple for at least one California-based promotion company.

“I give a lot of credit to Roberto Diaz for the matchmaking and the way he brought Franco along. He was matched pretty tough,” said Eric Gomez, president of Golden Boy Promotions. “He has a loss and a couple of draws, but I think that’s the reason he won the fight.”

It was a long-planned strategy for the San Antonio fighter who arrived in 2015 along with fellow gym buddy Hector Tanajara. Super flyweights seldom get noticed by boxing fans. But even as an amateur, experts saw something in Franco.

Robert Garcia spotted the two San Antonio fighters who were amateurs. After looking at videos the pair were signed by the former super featherweight world champion as a manager and trainer.

“We fought in a PAL tournament in Oxnard. He had asked me for videos. After they saw it we started talking. It didn’t take too long. Robert was talking to promoters about me and Hector. That’s how it started,” said Franco about his signing with Garcia.

Golden Boy Promotions was called and the fighters met with the Los Angeles-based group to discuss strategy.

“It’s a great feeling to have a plan and sit down together with the fighter and his team to make them champions,” said Gomez about their initial meetings with Franco and his management. “Hopefully they become stars and move on to even better fights, unification fights. Move up in weight. It’s a great feeling building something together.”

From the start the heady Franco was matched tough in small shows in downtown Los Angeles. The Belasco Theater was the site for many of his early excursions into the pro world.

“Coming out of amateurs I had to adjust to having different smaller gloves. But I was sparring with Carlos Cuadras, Abner Mares when I had only one or two pro fights,” said Franco about his early days as a professional. “Sparring with them really helped me a lot and gave me a lot of experience. They are world champions and I’m very blessed to have had that.”

Unlike most young pros Franco’s fights were televised and seen throughout the Southwest region including his home state Texas.

“It was a blessing to be able to fight on Estrella TV, to get that exposure as a super flyweight it was a blessing. We don’t get that kind of exposure in Texas. But everyone in San Antonio they were watching supporting me and Hector. It’s a good feeling to have everyone’s support.”

Defining Moment

One battle in particular boosted his confidence and it took place in Texas.

“It was in Dallas I had fought Bryan Bazan on the Canelo-Liam Smith undercard. That was the first time I had really felt real power and that somebody could pop. I don’t know what happened in that fight but something inside me turned a switch on. I started letting my hands go, everything started coming naturally and I got a really big knockout on that card and that’s how I started getting exposure,” said Franco about his pivotal fight on September 2016. “That’s the fight that really made me bite down and show everything that I had – my distance, my jab, my power, it opened up people’s eyes as well.”

Franco would proceed to open more eyes with three brutal clashes in a year’s span against Oscar Negrete that resulted in two draws and one victory. Television audiences and those in attendance were mesmerized by the violent exchanges.

When the coronavirus pandemic shut down boxing for several months promoters were left scrambling for available talent. Top Rank was the first to open up the door for American prizefighting and invited Franco to one of their cards.

“Carl Moretti reached out and I have a great relationship with him and he reached out and he offered a couple of fights and one of them was the Franco fight and we accepted it,” said Gomez about the offer from Moretti, the vice president of Operations for Top Rank.

Franco said he received notice seven weeks in advance.

“When my dad called, right away I said, let’s do it. I’m ready. Let’s go for it,” said Franco about receiving news of the title bid. “I got my flight out the next day and then I was back in Riverside.”

Fighting in Las Vegas under the new protocols was an experience for Franco, but once inside the boxing ring everything fell into place.

Moloney was fighting for the first time as the WBA titlist and was undefeated with 14 knockouts in 21 fights. Though Las Vegas odds-makers favored the champion from Australia, smart money saw Franco’s experience as a major obstacle. They were correct.

Franco was able to weather the early storm by Moloney who attempted to power through the American fighter’s defense. But early on it was apparent that the San Antonio native’s experience against elite boxers in sparring and in actual fights was proving too perplexing for the Aussie.

An 11th round knockdown finalized the tilt toward Franco’s favor. All three judges scored it for Franco but closer than expected after the impressive performance.

“He was different from (Oscar) Negrete that’s for sure. I kind of expected more from him. I really didn’t see anything special about him,” said Franco about Moloney. “I know he had a world title and I was just there to take it from him.”

Social media erupted with news of Franco’s win for the world title.

“It shows when you’re dedicated and work hard you can definitely reach your goals and dreams,” said multi-division world champion Mikey Garcia on social media. “Now he’s a world champ.”

The plaudits did not stop there.

“After the fight Robert Diaz and Oscar De La Hoya both messaged me and said great job. Oscar told me to enjoy yourself responsibly and get ready for the next one to defend the title. That was some motivation from De La Hoya. I know I made everyone proud at Golden Boy. I brought them back a world title and that’s a good feeling,” says Franco.

A rematch clause will be respected and both will meet again in the boxing ring.

“He had a rematch clause before we signed the fight and hopefully we get to do it again. I don’t see it going the distance this time,” said Franco citing his experience and resume in the recent past including wars against Negrete and others.

His promoters agree.

“He’s been in some tough fights. I’m very happy and proud of Joshua Franco,” said Gomez adding that the rugged journey was meant for a reason. “When you have those tough fights it only makes you better.”

Now Franco has the WBA super flyweight world title.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Takam UD 10 Forrest; Castro Dismantles Juarez

Arne K. Lang

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Another edition of Top Rank’s semi-weekly ESPN summer series took place tonight in the so-called Bubble at the MGM Conference Center in Las Vegas. Heavyweights Carlos Takam and Jerry Forrest topped the bill.

In a slow-moving fight, 39-year old French-Cameroonian globetrotter Takam, subbing for Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, improved to 39-5-1 with a unanimous decision. Takam (pictured on the right) dominated early, but he slowed down after suffering a cut below his right eye from an accidental clash of heads and Forrest, although out-weighed by 20 pounds, seemingly clawed his way back into the fight. However, Takam’s big early lead proved insurmountable as evident by the scorecards: 98-92, 97-93, 96-94. Forrest, from Newport News, Virginia, entered the fight having won 19 of his previous 20, but against very soft opposition. With the loss, his record fell to 26-4.

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, Phoenix featherweight Carlos Castro turned in a very impressive performance, stopping Cesar Juarez whose corner pulled him out after the fourth round. Castro, who improved to 26-0 (11), took control from the get-go with a very balanced attack. Although Juarez (25-9) isn’t a full-time boxer – he’s a practicing attorney in Mexico City – he had some good wins on his ledger and previously went 12 with Nonito Donaire.

Castro entered the contest ranked #3 by the WBC, #7 by the IBF, and #8 by the WBO. With Emanuel Navarette abandoning the 122-pound class, Castro appears poised to fight for the title that Navarette is vacating.

Other Bouts

In a six-round junior lightweight class between former state Golden Gloves champions, Joshafat Ortiz improved to 7-0 with a majority decision over Joshua Orta. The scores were 57-57 and 58-56 twice.

Ortiz, a Puerto Rican from Reading, Pennsylvania, had longer arms and quicker hands. The hard-trying Orta, from Springfield, Mass., suffered his first pro loss, declining to 6-1.

The TV opener was a 6-round middleweight contest between Cleveland’s Fred Wilson Jr. and Donte Stubbs of Riverside, CA. Wilson had a five-inch height advantage and a better amateur pedigree, but he had no antidote for Stubbs’ high-pressure attack and suffered his first pro loss after opening his career 6-0-2. Stubbs knocked Wilson down with a sweeping right hook late in round three and again late in round five and Wilson had a point deducted for excessive holding in round four, a dubious call by Celestino Ruiz, a newcomer to Nevada’s pool of referees. Stubbs, who lost a close fight to Isiah Jones nine days ago, advanced to 7-1 by scores of 58-54 and 58-53 twice.

Off TV

The welterweight contest between Corey Champion (2-3) and Peter Cortez (2-2) lasted less than one full round, but it was quite a barnburner. There were four knockdowns in all, three by the victorious Champion, including a rare double knockdown that was caught on tape.

Champion

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Zepeda Outclasses Castaneda; Lopez Upsets Vences

Arne K. Lang

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Former two-time world title challenger Jose Zepeda was the headliner tonight as Top Rank returned to “The Bubble” for another Tuesday edition of their semi-weekly summer series. In an uninteresting fight, Zepeda, a southpaw who competes at 140 pounds, improved to 32-2 with a unanimous decision over San Antonio’s Kendo Castaneda (17-2). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Zepeda, who came close to upsetting Jose Carlos Ramirez on Ramirez’s turf in Fresno and then scored a mild upset over Jose Pedraza in his last start, simply had too much class for Castaneda who took the fight on seven days notice after Ivan Baranchyk suffered a a rib injury in training. Castaneda did his best work in rounds 6, 7, and 8, but Zepeda, who built up an early lead, pulled away in the homestretch.

Co-Feature

San Jose junior lightweight Andy Vences has now lost two of his last three after losing a 10-round split decision to Mexicali spoiler Luis Alberto Lopez. There were no knockdowns, but both fighters suffered cuts as a result of accidental head butts. Two judges favored Lopez 96-94 with the dissenter favoring Vences (23-2-1) by the same margin.

Vences, who had the bigger frame, recovered nicely after taking a battering in round six and apparently did enough to win the fight, but two of the judges thought otherwise. Lopez (21-2) has won nine of his last 10.

Other Bouts

In an 8-round lightweight contest, Andres Cortes came on strong over the second half of the fight to win a unanimous decision over Alejandro Salinas and keep his undefeated record intact. Cortes suffered a cut over his left eye in round two and was knocked down by an overhand right two rounds later, but never lost his composure.

A Las Vegas native, Cortes originally signed with Mayweather Promotions after a strong amateur career but was a free agent heading into tonight’s match and reputedly will formally join the Top Rank team after tonight’s showing where he advanced his record to 13-0. Salinas, from Youngstown, Ohio, declined to 10-3. (9).

The TV opener was a 4-round bantamweight contest between Gabriel Muratalla and Sergio Lopez. This was the fourth pro fight for Muratalla, the oldest of two fighting brothers. He stopped each of his first three opponents in the opening round, but Lopez, who wasn’t intimidated, extended him the distance in a good action fight. The judges had it for Muratalla by scores of 39-37 and 40-36 twice. Lopez falls to 4-6-3.

Off TV

In what was undoubtedly the most impressive showing of the night, San Diego welterweight Genaro Gamez (10-1, 7 KOs) rebounded from his lone defeat with a first round blast-out of Reymond Yanang (11-6-1). A straight right hand collapsed Yanang who appeared here two weeks ago, winning a split decision over Clay Burns.

Eric Puente improved to 3-0 with a majority decision over Diego Elizondo (2-2-2) in a 4-round lightweight clash. The scores were not shared with the TV audience.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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