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‘Golden’ Promoter J Russell Peltz, a Philly Boxing Icon, Isn’t Done Quite Yet

Bernard Fernandez

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Linda Peltz, J Russell Peltz’s wife of 42 years, said her husband has “been dropping hints for 15 years” about permanently relocating to Florida and doing whatever it is that so many septuagenarian East Coast snowbirds do when taking up residence in the land of sun and sand.

But while the legendary Philadelphia boxing promoter (pictured in his younger days), who celebrated his 50 years in the sport Friday night with a nine-bout card at the 2300 Arena in South Philly, might again be entertaining thoughts of retirement, he apparently is not prepared to fully turn himself over to a less stressful, boxing-free existence of shuffleboard and occasional excursions to the jai alai arena and greyhound track.

Oh, sure, the Peltzes will return to Florida in mid-November, as they routinely have in recent years, but the time Russell spends away from his hometown and the sport which he never quite seems to let go of, or it of him, is primarily for the purpose of recharging batteries that sometimes run down but are never completely sapped dry.

“He has another fight card on the 31st of January at Parx (Casino and Racing, in Bensalem, Pa.),” Linda Peltz noted, a sure sign that Russell will again be returning to familiar turf like a swallow finding its way back to Capistrano.

But what about Russell’s increasingly frequent suggestions that he is finally prepared to whittle down his boxing duties, if not eliminate them altogether?

“It’s up to him,” Linda said. “I just want to see him happy. Whatever makes him happy makes me happy.”

The man himself certainly seemed content enough during an event that had been labeled as “Blood, Sweat & 50 Years,” the culmination of a week’s worth of kudos that included his ceremonial signing of the “Spectrum S,” the oversized letter that hung on the iconic South Philly sports and music venue until it was demolished in 2009. The space where the Spectrum, for which Peltz was director of boxing from 1972 to ’80, once stood is now a parking lot adjacent to Citizens Bank Park, home of baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies. Members of the Philadelphia City Council also presented a resolution honoring Peltz’s contribution to the city over the past half-century.

“I think everybody had a good time,” said Peltz, who did not address the near-capacity-crowd but was conspicuously visible in his front-row ringside seat. “It was a nice evening. I’m very honored and humbled by it.”

For the record, the main event was a six-round unanimous decision for 20-year-old junior welterweight Colombian Victor Padilla (6-0, 5 KOs), now living in Berlin, N.J., over Romain Tomas (8-3, 1 KO), a Frenchman now living in Brooklyn, N.Y. It marked the first time in Peltz’s five-decade career he had been involved in a card headlined by a six-rounder, but then the all the fighters who took their turn in the ring had to understand that their roles were in support of someone who might never have another night quite like this.

“It was a lot of stress putting this show together and keeping it together,” Peltz said. “We had nine competitive fights, and I’m glad about that. Honestly, I just want to manage and advise fighters in the future. Making matches is too hard today. If you knew what we had to go through, bailing one guy out of jail this week and having another guy pull out with some bogus illness …”

Peltz made his reputation by making competitive fights, not by feeding a procession of imported designated victims to house fighters with artificially inflated records, which makes him even more of an anachronism than he would be had he shown up for his golden anniversary in the polyester leisure suits he favored for a time in the 1970s. He said too many managers just want to pad their fighters’ records with setups on the way to undeserved big paydays, a trend which he said is even more insidious and difficult to eliminate now than it has been in the past.

The likelihood is that Peltz will eventually turn over even more of his business operation to Michelle Rosado, of Raging Babe Promotions, a protégé who said boxing in general, and specifically in and around Philadelphia, would suffer if her mentor holds fast to his intention to wash his hands of matchmaking. It was Rosado, better-versed in social media and other 21st century marketing strategies than her old-school role model, who orchestrated most if not all of the golden anniversary festivities

“Matchmaking alone is like a full-time job,” Rosado said. “There’s an art to it. You really have to be crafty at it, and nobody is better at doing it than Russell. I tell him, `You just do the matchmaking, because you’re a genius at it, and I’ll do everything else.’”

Obviously, Peltz and Rosado will have to put their heads together to come up with a distribution of duties that can leave both parties satisfied.

“I can’t let him leave yet,” Rosado said of Peltz’s eyeing of any sort of exit. “I’m not ready for him to retire, I’m not ready for him to go to Florida. He’s still too good and still too sharp to give this up. Philly needs him. I need him. I’m not letting him go anywhere.”

Although there were many faces present that were or should have been familiar to knowledgable boxing people – among those in attendance were Bernard Hopkins, Teddy Atlas, WBC light heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk (who takes on IBF titlist Artur Beterbiev in a unification showdown at the 2300 Arena on Oct. 18), Lou DiBella and Golden Boy president Eric Gomez – it was curious that the only fighters who had fought on Peltz shows were Hopkins (two bouts at the Blue Horizon early in B-Hop’s career), George Hill (now a ringside judge, but a onetime heavyweight who appeared on Peltz’s debut card on Sept. 30, 1969) and former IBF super welterweight champion Robert “Bam Bam” Hines. It would have been nice if some of Peltz’s most popular regulars, like “Joltin’” Jeff Chandler, Charles Brewer, “Rockin’” Rodney Moore, Stanley “Kitten” Hayward, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts and Eugene “Cyclone” Hart had dropped by, but that might be a matter for another day.

In other bouts:

*Junior middleweights Isaiah Wise (7-2-2, 4 KOs), of North Philadelphia, and Roque Zapata (6-2-5), of Culpepper, Va., by way of his native Panama, fought to a six-round draw in a do-over of their Dec. 2, 2016, bout, which Zapata won on a four-round majority decision.

*Sydney Maccow (7-8, 3 KOs), a junior welter from Brooklyn, scored a six-round UD over North Philadelphia’s Marcel Rivers (7-2, 4 KOs), a fight in which both participants went down once.

*Lightweight Gerardo Martinez (5-1, 1 KO), of Coatesville, Pa., by way of Mexico, scored a five-round – yes, that’s right – unanimous decision over veteran journeyman Osnel Charles (13-20-1, 2 KOs), of Atlantic City, N.J.

*Welterweight Shinard Bunch (3-1, 3 KOs), of Trenton, N.J., took care of business quickly in scoring a first-round knockout of Baltimore’s Kevin Womack (9-19-3, 7 KOs).

*West Philly lightweight Shamar Fulton Banks (4-0-1, 3 KOs) also made it a short night in scoring a first-round stoppage of Leonardo Kenon (3-8, 1 KO), of Quincy, Fla.

*Sahret Delgado (8-0, 7 KOs), a Puerto Rican heavyweight now fighting out of Berlin, N.J., was obliged to go the four-round distance for the first time in winning a four-round UD over Joel Caudle (8-4-2, 5 KOs), of Raleigh, N.C. Their combined weight was 520.4 pounds.

*Lightweight Christopher Burgos (2-4-1, 1 KO) scored a four-round UD over Tyree Arnold (0-3) in an all- North Philly pairing.

*Seifullah Jihad Wise (4-7, 1 KO), a North Philly lightweight, came away with a four-round UD over Vinnie Denierio (3-7, 1 KO), of Elmira, N.Y.

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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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