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Beterbiev Embellishes His Claim as Top Light Heavy in Stopping Gvozdyk

Bernard Fernandez

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Minutes after Artur Beterbiev had scored three knockdowns of Oleksandr Gvozdyk that did count in the 10th round, prompting referee Gary Rosato to wave an end to an historic and entertaining light heavyweight bout, someone asked the winner if he knew he was actually behind on two of the three official scorecards at the time of the stoppage.

The bearded, Montreal-based Russian, who now has won all 15 of his professional outings inside the distance, didn’t seem to mind or care that he might have been in danger of losing on points, had it come to that. When you are accustomed to scoring knockouts, taking the outcome out of the hands of judges with pencils, the perhaps natural tendency is to assume that the familiar pattern will again play itself out as it always had.

“First knockdown, second knockdown, third knockdown, I don’t count,” Beterbiev said of a performance that wasn’t exactly flawless, but nonetheless might have embellished his claim of being the best 175-pound on the planet. “I am just working. I just continue working until the referee stop it.”

Now, about that bit of history that was made Friday night, before a pro-Gvozdyk on-site turnout of 3,283 in the Liacouras Center on Temple University’s North Philadelphia campus, and an ESPN viewing audience. It marked the just the fifth unification of the light heavyweight division since 2000. No fighter has held all four alphabet-organization titles since the dawn of the 21st century, something Beterbiev is eager to correct and Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum is just as eager to help him accomplish moving forward. Now that Beterbiev has added Gvozdyk’s WBC strap to the IBF belt he already held, not to mention the lineal title that also had belonged to the slick-boxing Ukrainian, Beterbiev believes he deserves to be more widely acknowledged as best of the best.

Although Beterbiev’s next fight, early in 2020, almost certainly will come against his IBF mandatory challenger, China’s Meng Fanlong (16-0, 10 KOs), he envisions more unification showdowns, against WBA champ Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11 KOs) and the winner of the Nov. 2 pairing of WBO ruler and fellow Russian Sergey Kovalev (34-3-1, 29 KOs) and WBA/WBC middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez (51-1-2, 35 KOs), especially if the survivor is Kovalev.

“Unification or mandatory, it doesn’t matter,” Beterbiev said. “I just continue. I’m focused on titles, not names.”

There might also be a rematch with Gvozdyk (17-1, 14 KOs) to be fitted into his schedule at some point, given the fact that “The Nail” actually led on the scorecards of judges John McKaie (87-84) and Ron McNair (86-85) through the nine completed rounds. John Poturaj was the dissenter, having Beterbiev ahead by 87-83.

Punch statistics seemingly did not support the tallies of McKaie and McNair, as Beterbiev outlanded Gvozdyk, 161 to 118, in total punches and 113-94 on power shots. But statistics alone do not tell the story; although Gvozdyk had his moments, Beterbiev did not seem visibly affected when he was on the receiving end. The same could not be said of Gvozdyk, who clinched often in the ninth round and visibly appeared to be gassed and hurting prior to the climactic 10th.

“Gvozdyk was outboxing him early, but the `Beast’ just wore him down and finally took him out,” said Bob Arum, who has both fighters in his deep promotional stable. “He’s one of the strongest light heavyweights I’ve ever seen. He has tremendous energy, takes a great punch and stays in there until he finally wears his opponent out.”

It also would appear that Beterbiev is not easily distracted, as evidenced by what happened in the closing moments of the first round, which Gvozdyk appeared to be winning. When Beterbiev wrestled Gvozdyk to the canvas without a punch being thrown, Rosato initiated a count, potentially turning a 10-9 round for Gvozdyk into a 10-8 for Beterbiev. Greg Sirb, head of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, quickly ruled that there had been no knockdown, but the possibility of a three-point swing in the very first round might have been unnerving to a lot of fighters. Not so with Beterbiev.

Twice more before the fateful 10th did Gvozdyk wind up on the deck, both times being ruled slips by Rosato, whom, Arum said, “didn’t cover himself in glory the whole fight.”

Despite the disappointingly small attendance — a majority of attendees apparently Ukrainian expatriates or visitors to the U.S. — the main event drew a Who’s Who of boxing notables: Tyson Fury, Bernard Hopkins, Vasiliy Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk, Andre Ward, Teofimo Lopez, Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, Richard Commey, Paulie Malignaggi and Jesse Hart.

In other bouts:

*The ESPN-televised lead-in to Beterbiev-Gvozdyk also was a star turn of sorts for Uzbekistani welterweight Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (17-0, 9 KOs), the IBF’s No. 1 contender who took a wide nine-round (yes, that’s right) unanimous decision over Luis Collazo (39-8, 20 KOs), the 38-year-old former WBA 147-pound title-holder from Brooklyn. An unintentional clash of heads in the 10th round opened a nasty cut in Collazo’s right eyelid, a companion piece to the cut above the left eye he had suffered earlier in the fight. If all that wasn’t enough, Collazo, a southpaw, appeared to have injured his left bicep in the fifth round.

“I would like to fight for the title next,” said Abdukakhorov, whose No. 1 ranking puts him at or near the front of the line for a shot at IBF champion Errol Spence Jr., who is recovering from a recent automobile accident. “If he’s ready to fight soon, I would like to fight him. If he has to vacate the title, then I will fight whoever they put in front of me.”

*Brothers Joseph Adorno and Jeremy Adorno, both from Allentown, Pa., continued to look like future stars. Joseph (14-0, 12 KOs), a 20-year-old lightweight, floored Argentina’s Damian Sosa (9-3, 7 KOs) twice en route to an emphatic first-round stoppage, while Jeremy (3-0, 1 KO), an 18-year-old super bantamweight, was never pressed in scoring a four-round unanimous decision over Misael Reyes (1-3), of Kansas City, Kan.

*South Philadelphia heavyweight Sonny “The Bronco” Conto (5-0, 4 KOs), a sparring partner of lineal champion Tyson Fury, gave local fans something to cheer about, if only briefly, when opponent Steve Lyons (5-6, 2 KOs), from Larose, La., embarrassed himself by quitting on his stool after the first round of a scheduled four-rounder.  During the three minutes during which Lyons gave the impression that he’d rather be back on the bayou, Conto landed a couple of hard, snapping jabs and pronounced himself as having the best in the division other than Fury’s. “He’s the present, I’m the future,” Conto said of Fury, who accompanied him during his ring walk.

*Julian “Hammer Hands” Rodriguez (14-0, 12 KOs), a super lightweight from Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., put Leonardo Doronio (17-17-3, 11 KOs) down and out with a nifty left hook to the jaw in the sixth round of a scheduled six-rounder.

*Super lightweight Josue Vargas (15-1, 9 KOs), of the Bronx, N.Y., pitched an eight-round shutout at Johnny Rodriguez (9-5-1, 6 KOs), of Denver, winning by 80-72 margins on all three scorecards. Vargas also registered a flash knockdown in in round two, so perhaps he was even shorted a point on those cards.

*On a night where light heavyweights topped the marquee, Michael Seals (24-2, 18 KOs), of Atlanta, did his best to drop his name into the mix of future challengers with a one-round stoppage of Argentina’s Elio Trosch (14-9-2, 7 KOs), the put-away coming on a left hook off a right cross.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Crawford, Canelo, Caleb Plant and More

Arne K. Lang

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Although a lot of disinformation comes out of the mouths of boxing promoters, Bob Arum was apparently serious when he broached the idea of a two-fight series between Terence Crawford and Conor McGregor, the first fight to be conducted under MMA rules and the second under boxing rules.

Crawford is amenable. “I just have to have the proper time to prepare myself,” he told ESPN’s Dan Rafael. “…I haven’t been in that (wrestling) environment in a long time, but most definitely I feel I can compete with anyone given the proper time to train on the MMA side, being that I have a wrestling background.”

Crawford, 32, last wrestled in middle school so he would certainly need a refresher course. However, he would have a better chance of defeating Conor McGregor in an MMA match than McGregor would have of defeating him in a boxing match. So, if Arum’s proposed two-fight series ever comes off, the tailpiece may be unnecessary.

– – –

As first reported by ESPN’s Steve Kim, Andy Ruiz Jr. has dumped trainer Manny Robles. According to Kim’s report, Ruiz’s father informed Robles of the decision and said it was Al Haymon’s idea.

Andy Ruiz appears to be one of those people that can gain weight just looking at food. He weighed 297 ½ pounds for his pro debut at age 19, carried 268 pounds for his first meeting with Anthony Joshua, and ballooned up to 283 ½ for the rematch after leading reporters to believe that he had actually slimmed down for the sequel.

Ruiz, noted Kim, went from a feel-good story to a cautionary tale in just six months.

– – –

Who ya’ gonna believe?

A certain disreputable web site, bragging that it had an exclusive, told its readers that Canelo Alvarez had settled on Billy Joe Saunders as his next opponent and that they would meet on Cinco de Mayo in Las Vegas. The next day, Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, a far more trustworthy source, reported that Ryota Murata had emerged as the frontrunner and that negotiations were underway to stage the fight in Japan.

Perhaps it makes sense for Canelo to promote his brand in a new market. However, if he fights Murata, who holds a WBA belt, he would reportedly be dropping back to 160 and at age 29 he appears to have outgrown the weight class.

Stay tuned.

– – –

If Caleb Plant were an NBA player, his name would be Kevin Love. Plant, who recently married FOX/PBC reporter Jordan Hardy, is the only U.S.-born, non-Hispanic white person among the various champions in the 17 weight divisions.

Plant, who hails from tiny Ashland City, Tenn. (23 miles from Nashville) defends his IBF super middleweight title on Feb. 15 at Nashville’s 20,000-seat Bridgestone Arena. In the opposite corner will be Germany’s Vincent Feigenbutz who will be making his U.S. debut.

The 24-year-old Feigenbutz, who turned pro at age 16, has won 10 straight and 30 of his last 31. He represents a big step up in class from Plant’s last opponent, Mike Lee, who was in way over his head.

– – –

A sad note from South Africa: Five days after the death of trailblazer Peter Mathebula, his widow, Emma Gabaitsiwe Mathebula, died suddenly of an apparent heart attack. Peter Mathebula’s funeral, originally set for Saturday, has been pushed back until Tuesday and will now be a joint funeral.

Mathebula, who won the WBA world flyweight title in 1980, basically died a pauper, having sold all of  his boxing memorabilia to keep his head above water. His heirs had reached out to the government for assistance in defraying the costs of his burial.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 82: Jason Quigley Returns to SoCal and More

David A. Avila

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Southern California prizefighting heats up with Jason Quigley headlining a fight card in Orange County and then, two days later, another fight card takes place in the heart of Los Angeles.

Ireland’s Quigley (17-1, 13 KOs) faces Mexico’s Fernando Marin (16-4-3, 12 KOs) on Thursday Jan. 23, at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, Calif. DAZN will stream the Golden Boy Promotions fight card live.

Quigley, 28, seeks to reclaim territory lost when he suffered a defeat last July against Tureano Johnson. Ironically, Marin would lose 10 days later in Hollywood to super welterweight contender Serhii Bohachuk.

For several years Quigley had trained in Southern California but decided to change trainers and location. He moved to Great Britain and still prepares near his native country but primarily fights in the U.S.

At one time Quigley clamored for a match against Gennady “GGG” Golovkin or Saul “Canelo” Alvarez but now finds himself trying to prove he belongs in the upper tier of the middleweight division. It’s loaded with talent.

Also on the same fight card will be popular North Hollywood super welterweight Ferdinand Kerobyan who was headed to contender status when he ran into Blair “the Flair” Cobbs. At the time Cobbs was an unknown quantity but no longer.

Kerobyan (13-1, 8 KOs) meets Azael Cosio (21-8-2) in an eight-round clash in the semi-main event at OC Hangar. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Red Boxing International

On Saturday Jan. 27, Red Boxing International hosts its first boxing card of the year at Leonardo’s Night Club located at 6617 Wilson Ave. L.A. 90001. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Super welterweight Bryan Flores (13-1, 6 KOs) meets Brandon Baue (15-17) in the main event  in the first event of the year for the ambitious promotion company. For the past two years Flores fought primarily in Tijuana, Mexico where he racked up six wins. Now he’s back on Southern California soil.

Another match features lightweights Angel Israel Rodriguez (5-0) facing off against Braulio Avila (3-6) in a six-round fight.

Rodriguez fights out of Pico Rivera, Calif. but recently fought in Costa Rica where he won by first round knockout in November. He will be fighting Avila who just fought two weeks ago at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, Calif.

It’s a long fight card with 11 bouts on the schedule.

JRock and Rosario

Boxing fans received another lesson on never underestimating a ranked contender regardless of the name recognition.

Jeison Rosario knocked out Julian “J Rock” Williams who was making the first defense of the WBA and IBF super welterweight world titles he won last year in my selection as “Fight of the Year.”

Rosario walked in with little recognition and was thought to be a soggy piece of bread for Williams. The long armed Dominican fighter walloped Williams in front of his hometown fans in Philadelphia. It was yet another warning for fans to understand that anyone who steps in the boxing ring ranked as a contender can do the unthinkable. In this case Rosario knocked out the champion in five rounds.

Many felt Williams was far too skilled, especially on the inside where he showcased those skills last May against former titlist Jarret Hurd. It was a remarkable display of the art of inside fighting. But against Rosario, he never got a chance to exhibit those skills.

The loaded super welterweight division has another dangerous champion in Rosario.

Fights to Watch

Thurs. 6 p.m. DAZN – Jason Quigley (17-1) vs Fernando Marin (16-4-3).

Sat. 6 p.m. Showtime – Danny Garcia (35-2) vs Ivan Redkach (23-4-1).

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Recalling Three Big Fights in Miami, the Site of Super Bowl LIV

Arne K. Lang

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The San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs collide on Feb. 2 in Miami in Super Bowl LIV (54) in what will assuredly be the biggest betting event to ever play out on American soil. It’s the 10th Super Bowl for the South Florida metropolis which ties it with New Orleans as the most frequent destination for football’s premier attraction.

With its heavily Latin population, Miami would seem to be natural for big fights. However, this hasn’t been the case. Several great champions fought here, including Roberto Duran who twice defended his world lightweight title in these parts, but these weren’t big fights. In the case of Duran, his opponents were lightly regarded and the Panamanian legend was still three years away from his first encounter with Sugar Ray Leonard, a match that increased his name recognition a hundred-fold.

There were, however, three fights in Miami that summoned the interest of virtually all of America’s A-list sportswriters. Here they are in reverse chronological order.

Aaron Pryor vs. Alexis Arguello (Nov. 12, 1982)

Alexis Arguello (72-5) was bidding to become boxing’s first four-division champion. In his way stood WBA junior welterweight title-holder Aaron Pryor (31-0, 29 KOs), a man now widely regarded as the best 140-pound boxer of all time.

Arguello, a Miami resident, having been exiled from his Nicaraguan homeland by the Sandanista rebel occupation, was a textbook boxer who defeated his opponents with surgical efficiency. Pryor was a typhoon. He mowed down his opponents with relentless pressure. It was a great style match-up and it didn’t disappoint. Contested before nearly 30,000 at Miami’s iconic Orange Bowl, Pryor vs. Arguello was a fight for the ages.

“There was power, finesse, poise, courage and a tremendous ebb and flow,” said Associated Press writer Ed Schuyler who dubbed it Manila in Miniature. In the ninth, 11th, and particularly the 13th rounds, Arguello hit Pryor with straight right hands that would have felled an ordinary fighter, but Pryor had an iron chin.

In the 14th, Pryor buckled Arguello’s knees with a straight right hand and then unloaded a furious combination as Arguello fell back against the ropes. He was out on feet when referee Stanley Cristodoulou intervened and he would lay prone on the canvas for several minutes before he could be removed to his dressing room.

Sonny Liston vs. Muhammad Ali (Feb. 25, 1964)

If you happen to find a poster for this fight with the name Muhammad Ali on it, don’t buy it. It’s bogus. Liston met up with Muhammad Ali in their second fight. In their first encounter, Liston opposed Cassius Clay.

Clay’s Louisville sponsors, after a brief flirtation with Archie Moore, settled on Angelo Dundee as his trainer. Angelo operated out of his brother Chris Dundee’s gym located at the corner of 5th Street and Washington Avenue in Miami Beach. The fighter who took the name Muhammad Ali trained here and kept a home in Miami for most of his first six years as a pro.

Clay/Ali was 22 years old and had only 19 fights under his belt when he was thrust against heavyweight champion Sonny Liston at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Liston was riding a 28-fight winning streak after back-to-back first-round blowouts of Floyd Patterson.

In a UPI survey, 43 of 46 boxing writers picked Liston. “Clay has no more chance of stopping Liston than the old red barn had of impeding a tornado,” wrote Nat Fleischer, the publisher of The Ring magazine.

This would be the first of many famous fights for Muhammad Ali who emerged victorious when Liston quit after the sixth frame citing an injured shoulder. What is not widely known, however, is that the fight, which was shown on closed-circuit in the U.S. and Canada, was a bust at the gate. The 16,448-seat Convention Center was only half full.

The expectation that Liston would take the lippy kid out in a hurry depressed sales, as did sky-high ticket prices ($250 tops when $100 was the norm). And there may have been more subtle factors. “This may not be the best place for a fight between two Negroes,” wrote Robert Lipsyte of the New York Times, cognizant that people of color were not welcome as guests at the ritzy beachfront hotels along Collins Avenue.

Jack Sharkey vs. W. L. (Young) Stribling (Feb. 27, 1929)

A big fight, as I define it, doesn’t have to be a blockbuster. An important fight that produces an upset automatically becomes a bigger fight in hindsight. The Sharkey-Stribling fight of 1929 didn’t draw an immense crowd by Jack Dempsey standards, but the turnout, reportedly 35,000, far exceeded expectations and the fight – which preceded Miami’s first Orange Bowl football game by six years — really established Miami as a potentially good place for a big sporting event.

Promoted by the Madison Square Garden Corporation, the bout was originally headed to a dog racing track but it quickly became obvious that a larger venue was needed. A stadium was erected on a Miami Beach polo field, taking the name Flamingo Park (not to be confused with the thoroughbred track of the same name).

Slated for 10 rounds, the bout was conceived as one of two “eliminators” to find a successor to Gene Tunney who had retired. What gave the fight it’s primary allure, however, was the North-South angle. Sharkey, born Joseph Zukauskas, hailed from Boston. Stribling, born into a family that traveled the fair circuit with a variety act, was from Macon, Georgia.

The fight, which aired on the NBC radio network, was a dud, a drab affair won by Sharkey who had the best of it in virtually every round. Both went on to fight Max Schmeling for the world heavyweight title. Stribling, dubbed the “King of the Canebrakes” by Damon Runyon, lost by TKO in fight that was stopped late in the 15th round. Sharkey took the title from Schmeling on a split decision after losing their first meeting on a foul.

Young Stribling died in a motorcycle crash at age 28, by which time he had engaged in 251 documented bouts, the great majority of which were set-ups. Jack Sharkey lived to be 91.

—-

The strong earnings of the Sharkey-Stribling bout inevitably drew the Madison Square Garden Corporation back to Miami for an encore. On Feb. 27, 1930, Jack Sharkey opposed England’s “Fainting” Phil Scott. Four years later, on March 1, 1834, Primo Carnera defended his world heavyweight title here against former light heavyweight champion Tommy Loughran, the Philadelphia Phantom.

Both bouts were big money losers, as were the great majority of major fights during this period. Eight months after the Sharkey-Stribling cash cow, the stock market crashed, plunging the United States into the Great Depression. Few Americans could afford to vacation in Florida, let alone travel anywhere for a big fight.

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