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Sergiy Derevyanchenko and the Harsh Reality of Boxing

Thomas Hauser

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When Oscar De La Hoya was nearing the end of his storied ring career, he offered a stark assessment of the risks inherent in the trade he had chosen.

“I hate getting hit,” De La Hoya said. “Getting hit hurts. It damages you. When a fighter trains his body and mind to fight, there’s no room for fear. But I’m realistic enough to understand that there’s no way to know what the effect of getting hit will be ten or fifteen years from now.”

Boxers are not like ordinary people. They court danger and have a tolerance for pain that most of us think we can imagine but can’t. That harsh reality was on display when Gennady Golovkin and Sergiy Derevyanchenko met in the ring at Madison Square Garden on October 5 in a fight that will be long remembered as a showcase for the brutal artistry of boxing.

Derevyanchenko, age 33, was born in Ukraine and now lives in Brooklyn. He had roughly four hundred amateur fights in the Ukrainian amateur system which gave him a wealth of experience but also put considerable wear and tear on his body. He turned pro in 2014 and, prior to facing Golovkin, had a record of 13 wins against 1 loss with 10 knockouts. The loss came in his one outing against a world-class opponent – a 115-112, 115-112, 113-114 split-decision defeat at the hands of Danny Jacobs at Madison Square Garden last year.

Derevyanchenko is soft-spoken with a brush haircut, often impassive face, and eyes that can be hard. He understands some English but prefers to have questions translated into Russian and answer in his native language.

“I don’t like to talk about myself,” Derevyanchenko says. “I’m a private person. The attention that comes with boxing is a double-edged sword. For the money it helps me make, the attention is good. But the loss of privacy sometimes, especially when I am out with my family, it is not so good.”

Golovkin, age 37, is well known to boxing fans. Born in Kazakhstan, now living in Los Angeles, he brutalized a succession of pretty good fighters like Matthew Macklin and David Lemieux en route to becoming the best middleweight in the world. But thirty months ago, Gennady struggled to win a narrow decision on points over Danny Jacobs at Madison Square Garden. Thereafter, he’d had four fights: gimme knockouts of Vanes Martirosyan and Steve Rolls and two outings against Canelo Alvarez. The first Golovkin-Canelo fight (which most observers thought Gennady won) was declared a draw. The second ended with a credible 115-113, 115-113, 114-114 decision in Canelo’s favor, the first loss of Golovkin’s ring career.

Golovkin-Derevyanchenko crystalized how bizarre the business of boxing has become in recent years.

Last year, the IBF stripped Golovkin of its 160-pound belt for not fighting a mandatory defense against Derevyanchenko. Then Jacobs beat Derevyanchenko for the vacant IBF title but lost to Canelo Alvarez in his next outing. Thereafter, the IBF stripped Canelo for not fighting a mandatory defense against Derevyanchenko despite the fact that Sergiy’s only win after losing to Jacobs was a decision over lightly-regarded Jack Culcay. Thus, Golovkin was fighting Derevyanchenko for the same belt he was stripped of for not fighting Sergiy last year.

If that sounds strange, the money being thrown around was stranger.

Traditionally, a fighter had to win one or more big fights before getting a seven-figure purse. But DAZN, ESPN, Fox, and Showtime are locked in a bidding war that has led to huge license fees that often bear no correlation to revenue generated for a network by its fighters.

DAZN (which has a multi-fight deal with Golovkin) wanted Golovkin-Derevyanchenko as the launching pad for the final quarter of its 2019 season. The network was already locked into a deal that would pay Gennady a reported purse of $7,500,000 in cash plus $7,500,000 in stock in DAZN’s parent company to fight on October 5. DAZN then leaned on promoter Eddie Hearn to contribute significantly to Derevyanchenko’s purse to bring Sergiy into the fold.

Thus it was that Derevyanchenko (a largely unknown fighter with thirteen pro victories on his resume and who had never beaten a world-class fighter) was rewarded with a purse totalling $5,200,000 to fight Golovkin. Training expenses, manager Keith Connally’s share, taxes, and whatever PBC took (Derevyanchenko is a PBC fighter) came out of that total. Still, very few fighters in history have had a payday approaching that number. A marketable belt was at stake, but the fight wasn’t even for “the” middleweight championship of the world (a title that presently resides with Canelo).

“I like the sport,” Sergiy said when asked about boxing three days before fighting Golovkin. “I like the business. The business is crazy now.”

It certainly is. And adding to the drama, there was no rematch clause. Win or lose, Derevyanchenko would be contractually free to fight any opponent on any network after fighting Golovkin.

There was no trash-talking by either side during the build-up to the fight. The only sour note came at a sitdown with reporters just prior to the final pre-fight press conference when Golovkin was asked one question too many about a possible third fight against Alvarez.

“All these questions about Canelo,” Gennady answered. “It’s your problem, not mine.”

Golovkin was a 4-to-1 betting favorite over Derevyanchenko. He and Sergiy had each fought on even terms against Jacobs. But styles make fights. And the feeling was that, while Gennady and Sergiy had similar styles, Golovkin did everything a little bit better. He hit harder, took a better punch, was a shade faster, and so on down the line. ESPN asked eleven of its boxing reporters to predict the outcome of the fight. Ten thought that Golovkin would win by knockout. The eleventh chose Gennady by decision.

But while few insiders predicted that Derevyanchenko would win, no one was counting him out.

The question most often asked when the outcome of the fight was discussed was whether Golovkin had slipped with age. And if so, how far? Also, Derevyanchenko was in the best condition of his life, having spent six weeks in California preparing for the bout at Victor Conte’s SNAC conditioning facility.

This was Sergiy’s chance to prove that he belonged at the table with boxing’s top-echelon middleweights.

“Gennady has been a great champion but his time is coming to an end,” Derevyanchenko prophesied. “I want to be the one who makes it come to an end.”

Wearing a black Nike track suit with white trim, Derevyanchenko arrived in his dressing room at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night at 8:20 PM.

The room was roughly thirty feet long and twenty feet wide with a linoleum floor styled to look like hardwood planks. Ten folding cushioned metal-frame chairs were set against the walls. A two-seat, green imitation-leather sofa fronted a large flat-screen television mounted on the wall opposite the door. A college football game – Oregon vs. California – was underway.

Some fighters – Manny Pacquiao for one – like lots of action in their dressing room. Ricky Hatton’s dressing room was a mad cacophony of music and dancing from the moment he entered until he left for the ring.

Derevyanchenko prefers calm and no distractions. For the next two hours, he was remarkably quiet and self-contained. Except for manager Keith Connolly, no one would even look at a cell phone. From the moment Sergiy entered the room until he walked to the ring, everything was businesslike and low-key.

After leaving the room briefly for a pre-fight physical, Derevyanchenko returned, sat on a folding metal chair with his hands clasped behind his head, and stretched out his legs. Then he moved to the sofa and adopted a similar position.

A handful of people came and went – Sergiy’s wife, Iryna, Pat Connolly (Keith’s father), PBC representative Sam Watson.

Co-trainers Andre Rozier and Gary Stark, Sergiy Konchynsky (a friend of Derevyanchenko’s since childhood), and cutman Mike Bazzel were a constant presence. Unlike Jacobs-Derevyanchenko, when Rozier (who trained both men) worked Danny’s corner, Sergiy’s team was now unified.

At nine o’clock, Sergiy rose from the sofa, walked over to a shrink-wrapped package that contained 24 bottles of Aquafina, opened a bottle, and took a sip. Then he began changing into his boxing gear, folding his street clothes neatly before putting them aside.

At 9:05, referee Harvey Dock came in and gave Sergiy his pre-fight instructions: “There is no three-knockdown rule . . . If your mouthpiece comes out . . . If you score a knockdown . . .”

When Dock was done, Keith Connolly raised the issue of Golovkin hitting opponents on the back of the head and asked the referee to affirm that he would take strict action in the event of a foul. Dock promised to enforce the rules. Connally repeated his point and got the same answer the second time around.

At 9:15, Stitch Duran (Golovkin’s cutman) came in to watch Stark wrap Sergiy’s hands.

Rozier fiddled with the TV remote until the DAZN undercard appeared on the screen.

At 9:34, the wrapping was done.

Sergiy began stretching on his own.

Connolly handed him a smart phone. Al Haymon was calling to wish Sergiy well. The conversation was short, a ten-second best wishes for the fight.

Sergiy put a white towel on the floor and continued stretching. When that was done, he stood up and Stark led him through more stretching exercises.

Konchynsky approached Maggie Lange (the lead New York State Athletic Commission inspector in the room) and showed her a silver cannister labeled “Boost Oxygen.”

“Is it all right if we use this?”

“What is it?” Lange countered.

“Oxygen.”

“I don’t know,” Lange said. “Let’s go for a ruling.”

Konchynsky and the inspector left the room to consult with the powers that be.

Derevyanchenko began shadow boxing.

“It’s your night, bro,” Rozier told him.

Konchynsky and Lange returned. The powers that be had said “no” to Boost Oxygen.

Stark gloved Derevyanchenko up.

Sergiy pounded his gloves together and hit the pads with the trainer.

Mike Bazzel greased him down.

Rozier led the group in a brief prayer.

Golovkin’s image appeared on the TV monitor. If he and Sergiy weren’t about to fight each other, one could imagine them sitting side-by-side in someone’s living room watching the fight together on television. By virtue of their origins and trade, they had more in common than most people in the arena.

Sergiy shadow boxed a bit more, then paced back and forth, deep in thought. He had followed these rituals many times before. But the stakes had never been this high. Glory and a possible eight-figure payday for his next fight if he won. And the very real possibility that he would be physically damaged before the night was done. This wasn’t a movie about life. It was the real thing. More than anyone else, fighters know what’s at stake every time they enter the ring.

*

Even “name” fighters have been struggling at the gate lately in the United States. Golovkin was no exception. In the days leading up to the fight, a large number of tickets had been given away by the promotion. Even so, the announced attendance of 12,577 was far short of capacity.

Golovkin had fought in the main arena at Madison Square Garden on four previous occasions and twice in MSG’s smaller Hulu Theater. He was the crowd favorite.

Both men started cautiously. Then, two minutes into round one, Derevyanchenko ducked low as Golovkin threw a right hand. The punch landed just behind the top of Sergiy’s head and put him down.

“He hit me in the back of the head,” Derevyenchenko said later. “I didn’t see the punch, but it didn’t really affect me that much. I got up and I wasn’t really hurt, so it was nothing too bad.”

But the round had been up for grabs until that point. Now it was a two-point round for Golovkin. And the next stanza brought something very bad for Sergiy. A left hook landed cleanly and opened an ugly gash on his right eyelid.

Referee Harvey Dock mistakenly ruled that the cut had been caused by an accidental head butt. And because the New York State Athletic Commission doesn’t allow for instant video review, that ruling stood although it’s unclear what information was transmitted to the fighters’ corners.

Be that as it may, Derevyanchenko was now at a distinct disadvantage. Cutman Mike Bazzel swabbed adrenaline into the cut and applied pressure after every round. But he was never able to completely stop the flow of blood. The dripping was a distraction. And as the bout progressed, Sergiy had increasing difficulty seeing Golovkin’s punches coming.

“The cut really changed the fight,” Sergiy said afterward. “I couldn’t see at times. And he was targeting the eye.”

Now Derevyanchenko was in a hole. But a fighter can’t let his mind wander to what happened the round before or several punches ago. He has to stay in the moment.

Sergiy’s response to adversity was to fight more aggressively. “When I started moving [in the first two rounds],” he explained later, “I felt like I was giving him room and I was getting hit with those shots that he threw. That’s why I started taking the fight to him and getting closer and not giving him room to maneuver.”

The strategy worked. Golovkin appeared to have the heavier hands. But Derevyanchenko began winning the war in the trenches. Several body shots hurt Gennady. He seemed to be tiring and losing his edge. One had the feeling that, if Sergiy’s eye held up and he was able to take the fight into the late rounds, an upset was possible. Golovkin had a look about him that said,  “Either I’m getting old or you’re good.”

Brutal warfare followed. Choose your metaphor. Two men walking through fire. A dogfight between pitbulls.

The crowd roared through it all.

Neither man shied away from confrontations. In round eleven, Sergiy’s left eyelid (the one that hadn’t been cut) noticeably puffed up. It round twelve, it looked like a balloon. Both men dug as deep as it was possible to dig. And then some.

Most ringside observers thought Derevyanchenko won the fight by a narrow margin. But before the decision of the judges was announced, DAZN blow-by-blow commentator Brian Kenny observed, “You come into the fight with a certain mindset. Golovkin is the favorite. You expect him to do better.”

That mindset was reflected in the judges verdict: Frank Lombardi 115-112, Eric Marlinski 115-112, Kevin Morgan 114-113 – all for Golovkin. The crowd booed when the decision was announced. They weren’t booing Gennady, who had fought as heroically as Sergiy. They were booing the decision. A draw would have been equitable. One point in favor of Golovkin was within the realm of reason. 115-112 (7 rounds to 5 for Gennady) was bad judging.

Golovkin himself seemed to acknowledge the iffy nature of the decision when he said in the ring after the fight, “I want to say thank you so much to my opponent. He’s a very tough guy. This is huge experience for me. This was a tough fight. I need to still get stronger in my camp. I need a little bit more focus. Right now, it’s bad day for me. It’s a huge day for Sergiy. Sergiy was ready. He showed me such a big heart. I told him, ‘Sergiy, this is best fight for me.'”

That thought was echoed by Johnathon Banks (Golovkin’s trainer), who later acknowledged, “I don’t remember the exact scores, but I thought the fight was a lot closer than that.”

After the fight, the skin around Derevyanchenko’s eyes was swollen to the point where each eye was almost shut. His right eyelid was purple, bulging, and sliced open. There was a huge pocket of blood beneath his left eyelid.

Neither fighter attended the post-fight press conference. Sergey Konchynsky came into Derevyanchenko’s dressing room, packed Sergiy’s civilian clothes in a gym bag, and left. Then he went with Derevyanchenko to Bellevue Hospital where they were joined by Golovkin who was brought in as a precautionary measure.

“It took forever at the hospital,” Keith Connolly recalls. “Sergiy and Gennady might have been the only patients there who weren’t handcuffed to a gurney.”

Derevyanchenko was stitched up and released from the hospital around 5:00 AM. Then he, Iryna, Konchynsky, and Connolly went to the Tick-Tock Diner on 34th Street where Sergiy ate blueberry pancakes before going back to his hotel to sleep.

The middleweight division has some quality fighters. Derevyanchenko can now be counted among them. The way he fought against Golovkin on Saturday night raised his profile. Big-money bouts that might be available to him in the near future include a rematch against Gennady or an even more lucrative outing against Canelo Alvarez on Cinco de Mayo weekend in 2020. Alternatively, Al Haymon might come to manager Keith Connolly with an offer for Sergiy to fight WBC 160-pound beltholder Jermall Charlo.

But for now, let’s celebrate the courage and fortitude that Sergiy Derevyanchenko and Gennady Golovkin showed in the ring while battling against one another. And remember: Fighters are damaged every time they step into the ring. Fights like this take a heavy toll on both fighters. And sometimes the winner is damaged more than the loser.

PHOTO (c): Wojtek Urbanek

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – A Dangerous Journey; Another Year Inside Boxing – is being published this autumn 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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Art of Boxing Series: Sergio ‘The Latin Snake’ Mora of East L.A.

David A. Avila

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Art of Boxing Series: Sergio ‘The Latin Snake’ Mora of East L.A.

Not all prizefighters are built or fight the same. This is a series devoted to those who mastered the art of boxing.

Meet Sergio Mora the “Latin Snake”.

Thumping neighborhood boys in an East Los Angeles backyard led to eventually winning a reality television tournament called The Contender, to winning a world championship and now sitting as an expert analyst for DAZN’s boxing series.

It’s been an extraordinary journey for Mora, the boxer from East L.A. who traded punches against neighbors and relatives as a teen for fun.

“We called it barbecue boxing,” said Mora of his inauspicious discovery of his talent. “We used to box each other when I was a kid in junior high. We made videos of the fights. You can look it up. I was knocking out older guys.”

A few boxing experts advised that he should look deeper into the sport and he did. After a few hits and misses looking for a gym, he found a perfect location at a Montebello gym. He hooked up with a trainer named Dean Campos and advisor in John Montelongo and they made history together.

“I owe it all to Dean and John,” said Mora now 39.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Mora’s natural abilities included quickness, agility and the ability to absorb punishment. He also relished competition and proving others wrong.

But the East L.A. youngster finally put all of his traits together artistically when he followed the advice of the young trainer Campos whose radical boxing ideas fit perfectly.

“Nobody believed in his unorthodox ideas but they worked for me,” said Mora.

For several years Mora and Campos and Montelongo befuddled the amateur competition, first in Southern California and then nationally. He made the semi-finals of the 2000 Olympic Trials and fought to a draw with Darnell Wilson. Somebody decided to determine the winner by who threw the most punches. Wilson threw more punches and moved forward.

It was a severe disappointment for Mora.

The Contender

After three years of dwelling in the amateur boxing world Mora and his team entered the non-structured prizefighting universe not knowing what to expect.

Though Campos taught an unorthodox style of fighting to Mora, the youngster didn’t feel confident in using its assets to full capacity in the beginning.

“It wasn’t until I fought a guy named Charles Blake that I used everything that Dino (Campos) taught me,” said Mora who fought the undefeated Blake at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim in 2001. “I did everything he told me and I won pretty easily.”

It was also the first time I spotted Mora and quickly determined he would be difficult to beat especially with that fighting style that utilized his speed and agility. I had never seen or heard of Mora before but he stood out.

Two months later he fought again at the Pond and then in June 2001 he fought a hard-charging opponent named Warren “War Dog” Kronberger. It was a middleweight fight set for six rounds but War Dog kept running into Mora’s punches and was stopped in three.

After the fight I met the team and discovered Mora was from East L.A. near my family’s home. I don’t know if he remembers, but I told him he was going to be a world champion someday. It was the first time I ever said that to a fighter though I had been a boxing reporter since 1985.

For the next several years Mora kept knocking off opposition with his crouching tiger style and soon a television production company came calling. Actually, it was a radio announcement during a morning Hip Hop show calling for all boxers interested in making $1 million dollars in a television tournament.

“I was driving in the morning listening to Big Boy when he made the announcement,” said Dean Campos who trains Mora. “I couldn’t believe what I heard and I told Sergio and John about it. They didn’t believe me at first until we went to San Diego to spar somebody and they asked if we were going to try out.”

A reality television show called the Contender pit young talented fighters against each other and housed them together in a studio-made home. Week by week the NBC network telecast the show to millions of living rooms across the country.

After months of auditions and tryouts Mora was among those selected.

Filming was done in Pasadena and those prizefighters who participated were Peter Manfredo Jr., Ishe Smith, Alfonso Gomez, Jesse Brinkley and several others including Mora.

The fights were taped and later shown to the public in edited form. But few outside of the production crew knew who the winners were for many weeks. The finals of the first season took place at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The winner would take home $1 million dollars and a free truck among other things including a promotion deal.

Fans of boxing did not like watching edited fights but despite the many criticisms from hardcore fans, when the finals took place on May 24, 2005, thousands of fans showed up in Las Vegas to watch Manfredo battle Mora in the championship fight.

Manfredo’s fans arrived in droves and shouted “Pi-Ta!” “Pi-Ta” which confused many who were not familiar with the New England accent. Manfredo fans were shouting the first name Peter but it comes out as Pi-Ta. Southern California fans arrived but were muted in comparison to the East Coast fans.

It was a surprise to see Manfredo in the semi-final because he had lost earlier to Alfonso Gomez. But he returned as a wild card participant and vanquished his way to the finals against Mora who had defeated Najai Turpin, Ishe Smith, and Jesse Brinkley to get to the finals.

In the finals the boisterous crowd saw Mora defuse Manfredo’s attacks and win the seven-round middleweight The Contender championship fight by unanimous decision. Mora went from unknown boxer to a nationally and internationally recognized prizefighter in not just the boxing world, but households everywhere.

The East L.A. youngster who was 24 years old at the time, suddenly morphed from impoverished boxer to bankable fighter. His team also benefited from the massive exposure. It also remained the same three members from start to finish with Dean Campos serving a trainer and manager, John Montelongo as assistant trainer and benefactor and Mora the fighter.

“Rolando Arrellano who worked as a manager and promoter said he couldn’t believe we had been together that long with no changes,” said Campos, who managed Mora’s fighting career without a written contract. “Nobody else does that, but we never wrote anything down.”

Montelongo, a motorcycle police officer, always took care of the team’s needs especially in terms of equipment and facilities. In the beginning Mora would train at the Montebello Police headquarters small gym.

Forrest, Mosley and More

For several years Mora continued fighting under the Contender promotions banner and always sought better competition. After a 10-round draw against Elvin Ayala in Carson, the East L.A. native decided to accept any world title match.

“I didn’t want to slip up so I figured let’s just go for a big fight,” said Mora. “That’s when we got the offer for Vernon Forrest, may he rest in peace.”

When the fight was announced only two boxing writers picked Mora to win. Those two were the only journalists familiar with the boxing abilities of the stance switching fighter. It was not seen as a competitive fight by other writers or announcers.

“Vernon Forrest really under-estimated me,” said Mora who had sparred Forrest once at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood years earlier. “It was my one of my most satisfying wins because I proved I was good enough to beat one of the best.”

Mora utilized his crouching style to perfection and basically stymied most of Forrest’s attacks. Though it appeared the East L.A. boxer won clearly, one judge saw it a draw but two saw Mora out-performing the champion.

After capturing the WBC super welterweight title Mora went on a celebration binge according to his own words. Three months later they fought again.

“We had a rematch clause and I partied too much,” said Mora. “I was in no way ready for Vernon Forrest in the second fight. He beat me good in the rematch.”

Two years later Mora accepted a fight against Sugar Shane Mosley at the Staples Center on September 2010. It remains the biggest disappointment in Mora’s career.

Mosley and Mora battled 12 rounds in a slow-moving battle in which both engaged in counter-punching. There was a weight problem Mora suffered that resulted in him weighing 157 pounds instead of the 154 contracted weight.

“There was something wrong with the scale in the hotel for the B side of the fight card,” said Mora. “Almost everyone on the B-side missed their weight.”

Regardless of losing weight before the fight, Mora felt he was far enough ahead in the fight to win handily against Mosley.

“I should have listened to my corner,” said Mora. “Dino told me that I needed to throw more punches, that it could be a close fight. But I thought I was comfortably ahead. It was a huge mistake on my part. I lost a lot of money because of it.”

Sergio measures Shane

Sergio measures Shane

After 12 rounds the fight was scored a split-decision draw. The HBO commentators eviscerated Mora and not Mosley.

Mora remained a viable contender for the remainder of his career and on August 2015 he was offered a shot at the WBA middleweight title against Daniel Jacobs at Brooklyn, New York. He eagerly accepted the fight.

“He really underestimated me and thought he would run over me,” said Mora of their clash at Barclays Center. “He knocked me down with a punch. I’ve never been hit that hard before. But then I knocked him down when he ran into my punch. It was a perfectly placed left hook.”

The fight proceeded but in the second round the two middleweights got entangled and Mora went down to the floor writhing in pain from a severe ankle injury. He could not go on.

“Jacobs leaned on me with his full body and it just tore my ligament,” said Mora.

The fight was ruled a knockout win for Jacobs and though they would meet again Mora’s leg had seen better days. He lost in the rematch badly a year later by technical knockout in the seventh round.

“I had no legs anymore,” said Mora regarding the rematch held a year later. “It was my worst training camp. I don’t think I ever looked good even in sparring. But Jacobs was the better man and was definitely the hardest puncher I ever faced.”

Mora fought once more against his old pal Alfredo “El Perro” Angulo. They had sparred many times over the years especially when they both trained at the same gyms in South El Monte and in Montebello.

“I love Angulo but it was a fight,” said Mora. “I won the first half of the fight and he won the second half of the fight. But fans will tell you it was one of the most entertaining fights I’ve ever been in.”

Mora won the fight that night on April 2018 and it was the final time Mora entered the prize ring.

DAZN

One day Mora received an unlisted phone call and answering it led to another change in his boxing life.

“I never answer unknown numbers but for some reason I answered it. I’m glad I did,” said Mora.

That phone call was from John Learing of Perform Group who wanted him as an analyst for the DAZN boxing series. They put Mora on a live broadcast for a prize fight and ever since that night he has been a regular analyst on DAZN’s boxing shows.

“It’s been one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had,” said Mora. “Not only do I get to stay in boxing, I love what I do and I love the challenges. It’s hard work and I’m learning every day.”

Mora has steadily established himself as an acute analyst whose own ring intelligence plays out with his new work as a boxing journalist. He’s always been a quick study especially when it pertains to the sweet science.

“Now I’m learning the other side of boxing,” said Mora who had 36 pro bouts in an 18-year career as a prizefighter. “I really love it.”

Few would have predicted that the East L.A. kid who didn’t pack a big punch would last in this business. Instead, Mora mastered the art of boxing that allowed him to match blows against some of the best that ever fought. And he won.

Photos credit: Al Applerose

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Re-visiting the Walker Law of 1920 which Transformed Boxing

Arne K. Lang

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One hundred years ago this week, on March 24, 1920, a boxing reform bill sponsored by Sen. James J. Walker passed the New York State Senate. The bill ultimately became law and its provisions came to be adopted by law-makers in other states, bringing some uniformity to the most anarchic of popular sports. And what better time to re-visit this transformative legislation than now, the centennial?

Prizfighting was an outlaw sport in the Empire State until 1896 when the legislature passed the Horton Law which allowed bouts up to 25 rounds with five-ounce gloves in buildings owned or leased by a chartered athletic club. New York was a beehive of world class boxing during the days of the Horton Law, but the hubbub was short-lived. A spate of fixed fights and ring fatalities sparked a cry for reform and the law was repealed in 1900.

The Lewis Law, which supplanted the Horton Law, reduced the maximum number of rounds from 25 to 10 and stipulated that no decision would be rendered. The Lewis Law also restricted patronage to members of the athletic club sponsoring the event.

The Frawley Law of 1911 re-opened the fights to the general public but otherwise left the provisions of the Lewis Law pretty much intact. The most important fight in New York during the Frawley Law days was Jess Willard’s defense of his world heavyweight title against Frank Moran at Madison Square Garden in 1916. The fight went the distance, the full 10 rounds, and Willard had the best of it although you wouldn’t know that from the official decision as there was none.

During the last years of the nineteen-teens, several boxing reform bills were presented to the New York legislature. In fact, the Walker Bill was one of four that was taken under consideration. When it finally came to pass, the no-decision rule had been struck down by a 1919 amendment to the Frawley Law that gave the referee the authority to designate the winner.

A key feature of the Walker Law was that everyone involved in a boxing match — from the lowliest spit-bucket carrier to the promoter — had to be licensed. This included managers, matchmakers, referees, judges, ring doctors; even the ring announcer. The licensees were accountable to the boxing commission, a panel appointed by the governor. The commission had the power to approve matches, assign the officials, and establish and collect fees.

The Walker Law approved matches up to 15 rounds and allowed official decisions. Two judges would determine the winner and if they disagreed, the referee would act as the tie-breaker.

Previous laws allowed prizefighting under the guise of sparring exhibitions. The Walker Law made no distinction and this took the police out of the equation. Historically, it was the Sheriff’s responsibility to determine if a bout should be stopped because it had become too one-sided; too brutal. And if, pray tell, one of the contestants died as a result of blows received, his opponent and his opponent’s chief second and perhaps others would be arrested and charged with manslaughter.

Under the Walker Law, the decision of whether to stop a match rested with the referee or the ring physician or the highest-ranking boxing official at ringside. A boxer could now fight full bore without worrying that he could be charged with a crime.

After passing the Senate, the Walker Law passed the Assembly by a margin of 91-46. It was signed into law by Gov. Al Smith on May 24, 1920 and took effect on Sept.1. This ignited a great flurry of boxing in the Empire State. By March of 1924, the state had licensed 6,123 boxers.

The Walker Law became the template that lawmakers in other jurisdictions followed when they introduced their own boxing bills. Cynics would have it that the most attractive feature of the Walker Law to those that embraced it was the tax imposed on gate receipts. In New York under the guidelines of the Walker Law, it was 5 percent.

This wasn’t too far off the mark. The drive to legalize boxing picked up steam in the Depression when state coffers were depleted and new sources of revenue were needed to cushion the fallout. By 1934, boxing was legal in every state in the union, but not in every county. Nowhere was the Walker Law adopted word for word – every politician had to put his own little spin on it, tweaking this and that – but the map of boxing, from an organizational standpoint, became less disjointed.

For the record, the first boxing show under the imprimatur of the Walker Law was held on Sept. 17, 1920 at Madison Square Garden. Joe Welling fought Johnny Dundee in the featured bout. It was the eighth meeting between the veteran lightweights. Welling won a unanimous decision, which is to say that both judges gave the bout to him (their scores were not made known). Ten weeks later, after two intervening bouts, Welling returned to Madison Square Garden to face lightweight champion Benny Leonard. This would go into the books as the first title fight under the Walker Law. Welling was stopped in the 14th round.

James J. “Jimmy” Walker spent 15 years in Albany, the first four as an Assemblyman, but would be best remembered as New York City’s flamboyant Jazz Age mayor. He served two terms, defeating his opponents in landslides, but was forced to resign before his second term expired, leaving office in disgrace. In January of 1941, at the third annual dinner of the Boxing Writers Association, Walker was honored for his “long and meritorious service” to the sport and in 1992 he would be enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Walker (pictured) was a fascinating man, the big city version, in many respects, of Louisiana’s colorful Huey “Kingfish” Long. In a future article, we’ll peel back the layers and take a closer look at the man who did so much to popularize boxing.

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Featured Articles

Think you know boxing? Then Man Up and Take Our New Trivia Test

Arne K. Lang

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Thin-you-know-boxing?-Then-Man-Up-and-Take-Our-New Trivia-Test

Beneath his salty exterior, Roger Mayweather had the soul of a scholar when the subject turned to the history of boxing. We suspect that Mayweather, who left us on March 17, would have fared pretty well on this 15-question multiple-choice trivia quiz and we dedicate it to him.

All good trivia tests should have a connecting thread. Here the common theme is “places,” more exactly U.S. cities and towns.

This isn’t an easy quiz. We have too much respect for our readers to dumb it down. Get more than half right and give yourself a passing grade. Twelve or more correct answers and proceed to the head of the class.

Here’s the catch: To find the correct answers, you need to go to our FORUM (Click Here). There this trivia test will repeat with the correct answers caboosed to the final question.

  1. In 1970, Muhammad Ali returned to the ring after a 43-month absence to fight Jerry Quarry in this city:

(a) Miami

(b) Atlanta

(c) Houston

(d) Landover, Maryland

 

  1. Rocky Kansas and Frank Erne, recent inductees into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Old-Timer category, were products of this city:

(a) Buffalo

(b) Hartford

(c) Scranton

(d) Portland, Maine

 

  1. The July 1, 1931 match between heavyweight title-holder Max Schmeling and Young Stribling was the icebreaker event in the largest stadium ever built to house a baseball team. What city?

(a) Detroit

(b) Cleveland

(c) St. Louis

(d) Milwaukee

 

  1. Jake LaMotta was from the Bronx, but he acquired his most avid following in this city where he lifted the world middleweight title from Marcel Cerdan.

(a) Detroit

(b) Chicago

(c) Cleveland

(d) Syracuse

 

5.  Jess Willard was called the Pottawatomie Giant because he hailed from Pottawatomie County. What state?

(a) Oklahoma

(b) Kansas

(c) Montana

(d) West Virginia

 

  1. There is a statue of former welterweight champion Young Corbett III, born Raffaele Giordano, in this California city.

(a) Oakland

(b) Bakersfield

(c) Anaheim

(d) Fresno

 

  1. Elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2011, this iron-chinned bantamweight was stopped only once in 163 documented fights. Fill in the blank:

______ Pal Moore.

(a) Laredo

(b) Memphis

(c) Peoria

(d) Pasadena

 

  1. More of the same. Fill in the blank.

(a) George Lavigne, the ______ Kid            Boston

(b) Jack Johnson, the ______ Giant            Joplin

(c) Jeff Clark, the _______     Ghost           Saginaw

(d) Jack Sharkey, the _______ Gob            Galveston

 

9. In the 1930s, there was a second Madison Square Garden in this southwestern city. Future light heavyweight champion John Henry Lewis had several of his early fights here:

(a) Albuquerque

(b) El Paso

(c) Pueblo

(d) Phoenix

 

  1. Match the fighter with his nickname.

(a) Max Baer                  (1) Astoria Assassin

(b) Paul Berlenbach      (2) Fargo Express

(c) Billy Petrolle            (3) Livermore Larruper

(d) Bud Taylor              (4) Terre Haute Terror

 

  1. Match these boxers with the city with which they are associated.

(a) Fritzie Zivic and Charley Burley         (1) San Francisco

(b) Johnny Coulon and Ernie Terrell       (2) New Orleans

(c) Abe Attell and Fred Apostoli               (3) Chicago

(d) Pete Herman and Willie Pastrano      (4) Pittsburgh

12. The first great prizefight in Nevada, pitting James J. Corbett against Bob Fitzsimmons, was held here:

a. Goldfield

b. Carson City

c. Reno

d. Las Vegas

 

13. On March 28, 1991, Sugar Ray Leonard headlined a boxing show at the new Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY. Who was his opponent?

(a) Larry Bonds

(b) Wilfred Benitez

(c) Donny Lalonde

(d) Floyd Mayweather Sr.

 

  1. Match these Hall of Fame boxing writers with the city in which they spent the bulk of their newspaper careers:

 

(a) Jack Fiske                   (1) New York

(b) Michael Katz              (2) Philadelphia

(c) Jerry Izenberg            (3) San Francisco

(d) Bernard Fernandez    (4) Newark

 

  1. Match these Hall of Fame boxing promoters with the city that served as their headquarters:

(a) Herman Taylor         (1) Boston

(b) Rip Valenti               (2) Philadelphia

(c) Sam Ichinose           (3) Los Angeles

(d) George Parnassus    (4) Honolulu

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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