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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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Book Review

Thomas Hauser is the Pierce Egan of Our Generation

Arne K. Lang

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Thomas Hauser is the Pierce Egan of our generation. Two centuries ago, Egan chronicled the goings-on in the world of prizefighting in a series of articles. When he had completed a bunch of these, he knotted them together in a compendium under the title Boxiana; or Sketches of Ancient Pugilism. The first volume was issued in 1813. Four more volumes would follow.

Pierce Egan was drawn to the sport of prizefighting during the so-called Regency Era in England when prizefighting, although an outlaw sport, enjoyed a great burst of popularity. Aristocrats and commoners alike, bluebloods and lowlifes, caravanned to the big fights which of necessity were held outside areas of dense population. But, as indicated by the sub-title of “Boxiana,” Egan was also interested in the history of prizefighting which pre-dated the Regency Era. He wasn’t the first historian of the Sweet Science (a term that he coined), but he was certainly the most influential. Nearly 200 years after his death, a fellow interested in learning about the roots of modern prizefighting is encouraged to start by dredging up a reprint of “Boxiana.” (Or, if one doesn’t wish to be that immersive, checking out one of several collections by the great New Yorker essayist A.J. Liebling who rucked Egan out of obscurity.)

Which brings us to Thomas Hauser.

In common with Pierce Egan, Hauser gathers previously published articles about boxing into a book. A Hauser compendium has become an annual tradition at his publishing house, the University of Arkansas Press. Hauser’s latest offering, the 15th in the series, is fresh off the press. It bears the title Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing. TSS readers will recognize some of the nuggets as they first appeared at this web site.

Two hundred years from today, if mankind still exists, folks interested in the goings-on in the world of boxing during the first decades of the 21st century, will be directed to the writings of Thomas Hauser. And I have no doubt that a complete set of his annual anthologies, although released in paperback, will be a prized collectable.

Pierce Egan did round-by-round reports of major fights, but he was more interested in things that happened outside the ring. He saw the big picture; prizefighting as an ecosystem. Hauser likewise views the sport through a wide lens. The power brokers command his attention, as do those on the periphery. Hauser once wrote a story about ring card girls that was a fun read and would have also fit neatly as an insert in a textbook on the sociology of work.

“The boxing scene,” wrote Hauser, “is about so much more than the fights.”

In his role as an investigative reporter, for which he has won several awards, Hauser has written extensively about PED abuse in boxing and about the failings of the New York State Athletic Commission.

There’s less about PEDs in his newest book than in previous editions, inevitable perhaps considering that boxing activity in 2020 was stunted by the pandemic, but the NYSAC gets its usual comeuppance. The agency “has long been a favor bank for powerful economic interests and a source of employment at various levels for the politically well connected,” says Hauser, who informs us that for several higher-up employees, and one woman in particular, the job there is basically a sinecure and a good paying one at that.

Another recurrent theme in Hauser’s writings is boxing’s waning popularity among America’s youth and what can be done about it. In a story titled “Why Doesn’t Boxing Attract More Young Fans?” Hauser lists 11 reasons why it doesn’t, each of which can be reconfigured into a prong to be used in a campaign to stanch the erosion and reverse the trend.

None of Hauser’s compendiums would be complete without book reviews. Several years ago, Hauser wrote that “the written history of Muhammad Ali is an ongoing construction” and, in 2020, new construction continued at a brisk pace; there was a spate of new Ali books.

Hauser, needless to say, is well-versed in the subject matter. He interviewed more than 150 people for his 1991 book, “Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times,” long considered the definitive Ali biography, and he takes a fine-tooth comb to any book that traverses the same territory. Factual inaccuracies gall him and he doesn’t hesitate to point them out in reviews of books concerning Ali by Todd Snyder, Stuart Cosgrove, and Rahaman Ali (Muhammad Ali’s brother) and in a book for young readers ostensibly co-authored by book-seller extraordinaire James Patterson.

“Broken Dreams” is divided into four sections, the last of which is titled “Boxing and the Coronavirus.” There are some stories in this section that I suspect wouldn’t make the cut if Hauser were assembling the book today. He writes that “the restoration of normalcy (in boxing) will be a long, slow process.” With the benefit of hindsight, the future wasn’t quite so gloomy.

Among my favorite stories in Hauser’s newest compilation, which clocks in at 308 pages, is a long piece about Gleason’s Gym which, like Madison Square Garden, is currently in its fourth location. There are 44 components in all, modules of various length, and it’s the sort of book that one can open to any page and find something interesting.

Notes

Thomas Hauser and Pierce Egan have other things in common aside from their association with prizefighting. Both wrote about other things. Egan, who died in 1849, achieved his greatest success with a work of fiction, Life in London, about the escapades of Corinthian Tom and his country cousin Jerry, excitement-seekers who flouted the norms of society as they caroused about the London metropolis. The book gave rise to a long-running play, to a popular 18th-century expression (“Tom and Jerrying” denoted a rowdy night on the town), to a once-popular Christmas cocktail, and to a cat and mouse team in a children’s animated cartoon series.

In his review of Hauser’s Ali biography, Dave Anderson of the New York Times noted that this was Hauser’s 14th book and that seven of his previous books were novels. Among the non-fiction books that Hauser authored prior to “Ali” was “The Execution of Charles Horman” about the murder of an American journalist who disappeared in Chile during a right-wing military coup. It was adapted into the Oscar-winning screenplay for the movie “Missing” starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek.

Lastly, a caveat: Although A.J. Liebling thought Pierce Egan was a real hoot, the average reader will likely find Boxiana hard to digest. The book is freighted with slang terms, some of Egan’s invention, that long ago disappeared from the lexicon.

Egan eventually turned away from boxing cold-turkey, purportedly disgusted by too many fixed fights. If Hauser follows his example, let’s hope that it doesn’t happen any time soon.

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Shakur Stevenson’s Star Turn Gets No Media Coverage in Atlanta

Bernard Fernandez

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Shakur Stevenson’s Star Turn Gets No Media Coverage in Atlanta

For that part of the sports world that takes notice of boxing, Shakur Stevenson announced himself as a superstar-in-the-making – well, maybe – in totally dominating and ultimately dethroning WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring Saturday night in Atlanta’s State Farm Arena. Shakur, the 24-year-old southpaw and 2016 Olympic silver medalist from Newark, N.J., seemingly hit Herring, 35, a combat-toughened but outgunned Marine Corps veteran, with everything but the proverbial kitchen sink en route to a 10th-round stoppage that wowed, among others, former junior welterweight and welterweight titlist and ESPN commentator Timothy Bradley Jr., who had chided Stevenson, a sometimes risk-adverse defensive wizard, as a “boring” fighter in his most recent bout on the Worldwide Leader, a 12-round scorecard shutout of Namibia’s Jeremia Nakathila on June 12 in Las Vegas.

After referee Mark Nelson stepped in to save the bleeding and battered Herring 1 minute, 30 seconds into round 10, Stevenson surprised Bradley by thanking him for providing the motivation he needed to ramp up his offensive output.

“Shakur tonight showed a ton of maturity,” Bradley said of the new-look, presumably more fan-friendly version of Stevenson that was on display. “The fact that he thanked me and said that I motivated him is a beautiful thing. That showed even more maturity, because that’s all that I want from these young fighters. I want them to grow.

“This is what I wanted to see from Shakur Stevenson. But I knew he had it in him, and he showed it tonight.”

Not that Bradley has completely bought into the notion of all that Stevenson could be, citing the lack of the only weapon – one-punch power – in his otherwise well-stuffed trick bag. Maybe that will come should Stevenson (17-0, 9 KOs) continue to enhance his man-strength, and maybe what you see now is all that fight fans can ever expect to get. In baseball terminology, Shakur Stevenson was more or less categorized by Bradley as a high-average singles hitter with enough gap power to accumulate a fair share of doubles that can get opponents out of there on accumulated damage. Who could complain if Stevenson, whose avowed goal is to become a superstar and fixture at or near the top of everyone’s pound-for-pound lists, continues to show flashes of such stylistic predecessors as Pernell Whitaker and Floyd Mayweather Jr.?

On this night and in the fight’s host city, however, Stevenson took a worse media-coverage battering from Eddie Rosario than he had administered to Herring (23-3, 11 KOs) with his fists. Rosario, a trade-deadline acquisition of the Atlanta Braves, slugged a three-run homer to lift his new team to a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series at nearby Truist Park, sending the Braves into their first World Series since 1999. For now, Rosario, who went 14-for-25 with three homers in winning the NLCS Most Valuable Player Award, is the toast of the town and the focus of reams of space in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports section. But it wasn’t only Rosario who siphoned attention in the local paper away from Stevenson; the fight might have gotten a few lines in the print editions, but online it was completely ignored by the AJC, Rosario’s hot bat followed in the pecking order by stories about the NBA’s Hawks losing at Cleveland, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets dropping a high-scoring contest at Virginia and a five-star high school defensive end prospect named Mykel Williams verbally committing to the No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs.

While it had to be frustrating to Stevenson and Atlanta’s fight fans for the event to be ignored by AJC, there were other deserving participants on the card who were similarly overlooked by the press in Georgia’s largest city. Not that anyone in the Internet age still pastes newspaper clippings into scrapbooks, but 19-year-old middleweight prospect Xander Zayas might be at a similar embryonic stage of development once occupied by Stevenson a couple of years ago. He deserved at least some recognition in the paper for his fourth-round stoppage of Dan Karpency, as did two other undercard fighters with celebrity familial ties: middleweight Nico Ali Walsh, grandson of the great Muhammad Ali, who scored a third-round TKO of James Westley II, and junior middleweight Evan Holyfield, son of four-time heavyweight champion and Atlanta-area resident Evander Holyfield – can it be nearly 30 years since “The Real Deal” shook off an early knockdown to stop Bert Cooper in seven rounds on Nov. 23, 1991, in Atlanta’s since-demolished Omni Coliseum? — who bombed out Charles Stanfield in two rounds.

But Atlanta is not the only metropolis that devotes fewer newspaper column inches, if any, to the sport that once made Evander Holyfield as important a local sports figure as any Falcon, Brave or Hawk. It will be up to Stevenson to break through, if he can, to a level where his every ring appearance becomes a must-see because boxing’s viability is and has always been largely tied to the popularity of its larger-than-life figures.

“I wanted a fun fight – show my skills, my boxing, my power,” Stevenson said of the modifications he and trainer/grandfather Wali Moses made from the relative dreariness of the wide points nod over Nakathila to the pulse-quickening pummeling of Herring, who apologized to the Marine Corps in general for his defeat, not that any such admission was necessary. Herring seemed to be contemplating retirement, but there has never been any occasion when he failed to conduct himself honorably inside the ropes.

The question now is, will Stevenson continue to hew to demonstrate the aggressiveness he exhibited against Herring? His comments following the Nakathila bout suggest that it might not always be so. His style is evolving, but what works better on one night might not be advisable on another.

“To be honest, I didn’t really like my performance,” Stevenson said after his paint-by-numbers dismissal of Nakathila. “I felt I could’ve performed a lot better. I was being real careful because he has power. He was real scary. I got the best defense in boxing. But I’ll be better in my next fight.”

Former super middleweight and light heavyweight champion Andre Ward, a 2021 inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame who also did commentary for Herring-Stevenson, said Shakur shouldn’t feel pressured to become something he is not in order to meet anyone else’s expectations.

“I think we got to kill some of these misnomers that have been around the sport for far too long, that fighters that go about their craft a certain kind of way, hit and don’t get hit, (means) there’s something not tough about them,” Ward said. “I heard that my whole career. Floyd Mayweather heard that his whole career. Just because a skillful fighter who can think and plays chess when everybody else is playing checkers doesn’t mean he can’t get down and dirty. It only means we’re going to get down and dirty when we have to.

“Fighters who have (high) IQs and skill, keep doing what you’re doing. Some people are going to like it and others won’t. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. If a good fighter has a bad night, he can still win every round. If a guy who takes two to (land) one had a bad night, it’s a pretty ugly night. He’s probably going to get knocked out or take a lot of punishment.

“I wasn’t who they wanted me to be. I just beat all those guys, all the guys they said were going to get me. I just kept winning. And winning covers a lot of problems and issues.”

A lot, for sure, not all. In addition to Whitaker, Mayweather and maybe Ward, there are elements of Stevenson’s makeup that call to mind the technical proficiency of two-time Cuban gold medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux, a former Top Rank fighter. Stevenson has been groomed by Top Rank for a prolonged and successful run at the elite level, but what so far has been a mutually beneficial working relationship could hinge in part to the fighter’s willingness to more regularly perform as he did against Herring than he did against Nakathila and a few other opponents that led to the perception that he was supremely talented, yes, but also a touch boring.

Prior to Rigondeaux’s release by Top Rank, company founder Bob Arum complained that his style leaned more to Masterpiece Theater than Rocky, which made Rigo a poor box-office and television attraction. Arum even said that when he brought the Cuban’s name up to HBO executives, “they throw up.”

There are many ways to win a prizefight, and now Shakur Stevenson has shown that he can win with chamber music or semi-heavy metal playing in the background. How far he advances in his march toward the truly elite status he is convinced is his destiny may be determined by the method he chooses to employ should a much-discussed showdown with Mexican blaster Oscar Valdez (30-0, 23 KOs) take place in 2022. The hard truth is that a lot of fight fans not only like, but require splashes of blood-and-guts mixed in with their favorite sport’s artistic side.

Editor’s Note: Bernard Fernandez, named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category with the class of 2020, was the recipient of numerous awards for writing excellence during his 28-year career as a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Daily News. Fernandez’s first book, “Championship Rounds,” a compendium of previously published material, was released in May of last year. The sequel, “Championship Rounds, Vol. 2,” with a foreword by Jim Lampley, arrives this fall. The book can be ordered through Amazon.com, in hard or soft cover, and other book-selling websites and outlets.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel

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Fast Results from Atlanta Where Shakur Stevenson Turned in a Masterful Performance

Arne K. Lang

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Fast-Results-from-Atlanta-Where-Shakur-Stevenson-Turned-in-a-Masterful-Performance

Former world featherweight title-holder Shakur Stevenson turned in his career-best performance tonight at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta while wresting the WBO 130-pound world title from the shoulders of Jamel Herring via a 10th-round TKO. At age 24, Stevenson was the younger man by 11 years and it was a case of youth being served.

As a pro, Stevenson (17-0, 9 KOs) has lost precious few rounds. The rap against him was that he is content to outclass an opponent, providing few fireworks. In this vein, the assumption was that tonight’s bout would be a tactical (i.e., tame) affair. But while there were no knockdowns and Shakur fought a measured fight, there was more snap in his punches than had been the norm and he finished the bout on a high note.

Early into the fight, Herring’s left eye began to swell. In round nine, Stevenson opened a nasty cut over Herring’s other eye. In round ten, with the cut bleeding profusely, Stevenson revved up his attack, forcing referee Mark Nelson to waive it off. The official time was 1:30.

After the fight, Stevenson called out his WBC counterpart Oscar Valdez. Herring, an ex-Marine and former U.S. Olympic team captain, falls to 23-3.

Other Bouts

Fast-rising 19-year-old middleweight Xander Zayas shellacked intrepid Dan Karpency whose father and chief cornerman pulled him out after four rounds. A future star, born in Puerto Rico, Zayas is now 11-0 (8). One of the three fighting brothers, Karpency (9-4-1) will return to his day job as a registered nurse at a maximum-security prison in Western Pennsylvania. He hadn’t previously been stopped

In the first bout airing on ESPN’s flagship station, middleweight Nico Ali Walsh, the 21-year-old grandson of Muhammad Ali, scored a third-round stoppage of scrappy but out-gunned James Westley II, a 36-year-old from Toledo, Ohio. Walsh (2-0, 2 KOs) knocked Westley down with a straight right hand in the waning seconds of round two and knocked him to his knees with another short right hand early in the next stanza. Westley wasn’t badly hurt, but his corner saw fit to throw in the towel.

Junior middleweight Evan Holyfield, one of 11 children fathered by the great Evander Holyfield, knocked Charles Stanford flat on his back with a harsh left-right combination in round two, advancing his record to 8-0 (6). The official time was 0:30. Stanford, a 35-year-old Cincinnati man with an MMA background, was 6-3 heading in.

Middleweight Troy Isley, a 23-year-old U.S. Olympian from Alexandria, VA, improved to 3-0 (2) with a first-round stoppage of 37-year-old Nicholi Navarro (2-2), a former Army Ranger from Denver. Isley rocked his overmatched opponent several times before putting him on the canvas with a combination, forcing the ref to intervene. The official time was 2:48.

In an upset, Erik Palmer saddled Atlanta’s Roddricus Livsey with his first defeat, winning a split decision. Palmer, from the Karpency family stable, was 12-14-5 heading in, versus 8-0-1 for Livsey. The scores were 58-56 twice and a curious 59-55 for the hometown fighter.

Haven Brady Jr, a 19-year-old featherweight from Albany, Georgia, improved to 4-0 (3) with a 4-round unanimous decision over Corpus Christi’s Roberto Negrete (3-1).  The scores favoring Brady were 40-36 across the board, but Negrete was no slouch.

Chicago welterweight Antoine Cobb made an impressive pro debut with a brutal one-punch knockout of Jerrion Campbell (2-2). It was all over in 58 seconds. Cobb, 25, is a protégé of former light heavyweight champion Montell Griffin.

In the opening bout on the card, 21-year-old Brooklyn lightweight Harley Maderos, a 2021 USA national champion, improved to 2-0 (1) with a 4-round unanimous decision over Deljerro Revello (0-2). Maderos scored a knockdown in the opening frame and won all four rounds on all four cards but wasn’t particularly impressive.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty images.

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