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Blair Cobbs Took a Strange Route to his ‘Grand Arrival’ at the MGM Grand

Arne K. Lang

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The in-house pre-fight festivities for Saturday’s big boxing card at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas begin today (Tuesday, Oct. 29) with the Grand Arrivals. The main event fighters and the contestants in the major supporting bouts enter the hotel’s main lobby on a red carpet, a ceremony that harks to the the Academy Awards although the tradition dates back much farther.

The arrivals are staggered. Canelo Alvarez, being the A-side fighter in the main event, goes last. In the scheme of things, his grand arrival is the grandest. Blair Cobbs is in the vanguard.

For Cobbs, a flamboyant 29-year-old welterweight, the moment marks another milepost in his personal history, a history that could not be any more strange. Boxing has the best storylines of any sport and the Blair Cobbs’ saga ranks with the most bizarre.

Let’s begin by flashing back to the night of Dec. 19, 2004. A small airplane crash lands at a rural airport in Wheeling, West Virginia, where the plane is stopping to refuel on its way from Compton, California to Philadelphia. The pilot, the sole occupant, isn’t badly hurt and runs away, leaving behind his cargo.

When investigators comb through the plane, they find 525 pounds of cocaine with a reported street value of $24 million.

Eugene Cobbs, the courier, was indicted but ran off to Mexico before he was taken into custody. But he didn’t leave by himself. A widower, he wasn’t about to leave his two kids behind. So it was that Blair Cobbs found himself in Guadalajara where he resided for three years beginning at the age of 15.

Before he was uprooted, Cobbs was living in Hollywood in a home he describes as a beautiful mansion. Taking advantage of a multicultural waiver, he enrolled in nearby Beverly Hills High School, his dream school since seeing Stacy Dash in the movie “Clueless.”

As a freshman at BHHS, he hobnobbed with children of Hollywood celebrities, but aside from a few close friends, he felt like an outsider. It was awkward when someone asked “What does your dad do for a living?” — he really didn’t know – and staying aloof nipped the question in the bud.

In Mexico, where Cobbs discarded the name Blair in favor of his middle name, Romero, he was that much more of an outsider and had even fewer close friends. The boxing gym became his refuge.

As an amateur in Mexico, Cobbs once appeared on the same card with Canelo Alvarez. “He was on my undercard,” says Cobbs with a sly grin, noting that he, as the older boy, was accorded a more prestigious slot in the bout order.

The feds eventually tracked down Eugene Cobbs and brought him back to the United States to face the music. In 2010, he was sentenced to 151 months in prison for conspiracy to distribute cocaine and for operating an aircraft without a pilot’s license and was packed off to a penitentiary in New Jersey.

Blair Cobbs eventually returned to his birthplace, Philadelphia. From living in a fancy home in Hollywood, he went to living wherever he could, sometimes in his car, sometimes crashing on the sofa in the home of a good Samaritan. He took odd jobs, working as a delivery boy, as a helper in a boxing gym, “this and that.”

“I was totally unprepared for Philadelphia,” he says. He found a pillar in one of Philadelphia’s few bi-lingual churches, the Casa de Gloria, which he finds ironic as he isn’t fully fluent in Spanish despite having lived in Mexico.

Philadelphia is a great fight town, but Cobbs had trouble getting his pro career on track. “I had too much faith in my own ability to sign with just any promoter,” he says. His first and third pro fights were at a honky tonk in the unincorporated town of Ruffin, North Carolina.

In 2015, his career completely stalled and he was out of action for 30 months. During this period, he scooted off to Las Vegas for the express purpose of landing a contract with boxer-turned-promoter Floyd Mayweather Jr. – “my ‘Hail Mary’,” he says – but that didn’t work out and he returned to Philadelphia.

He wasn’t done trying, however. Somewhat later, he came west again, arriving in Las Vegas in a beat-up old Cadillac with his “motel,” a tent, in the trunk of the car, and this time his perspicacity bore fruit. He caught the eye of Greg Hannely, the driving force behind Prince Ranch Boxing, and finally had the support he needed to give boxing his full attention.

Cobbs’ career as a Prince Ranch fighter began inauspiciously with a 4-round bout at a dance club in Tijuana. It appeared that he was running in circles, back where he started on the honky tonk circuit, but Blair doesn’t look at it that way. “It broke the curse,” he says, referencing the drought, and indeed it has been almost all uphill from there, the lone flat note a technical draw resulting from an accidental clash of heads on a Golden Boy Promotions show in Los Angeles.

Golden Boy liked what they saw in Blair Cobbs. It wasn’t just his potential as a boxer, but his persona; he was a natural showman. He picked up the nickname “Flair” as an amateur in Philadelphia and it fits like a glove. “I have always been an oddball,” he says. “I’m thinking I may have been the youngest person that could do a double back flip. I was five or six years old.”

As a kid, Cobbs was a big fan of the “Power Rangers,” the animated superheroes in the children’s TV series and quite naturally became a fan of WWE. Ric Flair, he notes, was a little before his time, but Cobbs has mastered Flair’s signature “Woo!” which he uses in his ring walk and to punctuate his post-fight interviews. In the YouTube age, he has the “it” factor.

This gimmick obviously doesn’t sit well some boxing purists, but in person Blair Cobbs is affable and refreshingly down to earth. He is in his mischievousness mindful of the young fighter who would take the name Muhammad Ali. And he surprised this grizzled reporter when in recounting all the good breaks that came his way, he used the word “serendipitous.” (After interviewing dozens of boxers, this was a first.)

Blair Cobbs’ father was back in the news in 2014. Because of his good behavior, Eugene Cobbs was allowed to complete his sentence at a minimum security facility in West Virginia, a complex surrounded by a three-foot fence. One day he simply walked away and found his way back to Mexico where he had fathered a child with his girlfriend. But the feds caught up with him again and back to prison he went.

The good news for Blair is that his dad is now a free man, having just been released from a half-way house in Las Vegas. His father has never seen him fight as a pro and now has that opportunity.

Under the tutelage of co-trainers Bones Adams and Brandon Woods, Cobbs has made steady gains inside the ring. In March of this year and again in August, he was pitted against an unbeaten fighter who was fighting in his own backyard, specifically Ferdinand Kerobyan and Steve Villalobos. Blair passed both tests with flying colors. His record now stands at 12-0-1 (8 KOs).

On Saturday, Cobbs has been matched soft. His opponent, Carlos Ortiz, described in a press release as a battle-tested warrior, brings an 11-4 record but has lost three straight and those 11 wins were forged against opponents who were collectively 11-26. The guess is that Golden Boy, operating on the unlikely chance that Blair might be overwhelmed by the occasion – he will be performing before a worldwide television audience on DAZN, quite a departure from his early days in the boondocks – didn’t want to risk the chance that he would fail to wow (make that “Woo!”) the audience. Cobbs vs. Ortiz is compatible with a show that has a must-see main event hitched to a weak undercard.

Reporters in town for the show, in need of a story to complement their Canelo-Kovalev coverage, will be drawn to Blair Cobbs and he won’t disappoint. He’s a likeable young man whose life has been filled with high drama and improbable escapades (a few of which, I suspect, have been refracted through a vivid imagination).

Looking down the road, Cobbs can envision the day when his ring entrance will set a new benchmark. “I would like to come out on fire like a magic act,” he says. One doesn’t know if his career inside the ring will ever measure up to that hullabaloo, but he’s already a celebrity, and now a certified celebrity by virtue of getting the red carpet treatment at one of the world’s most glamorous resort hotels.

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Jason Moloney TKOs Baez

Arne K. Lang

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Top Rank was back inside the MGM Grand “Bubble” tonight for chapter six of their semi-weekly ESPN summer series. Jason Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney twins, accomplished what his brother Andrew Moloney was unable to accomplish in this ring on Tuesday night, adding a “W” to his ledger and looking good doing it. It came at the expense of Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez.

It was Jason Moloney’s second start on U.S. soil after coming up just a tad short in a bid for the vacant IBF world bantamweight title at Orlando in October of 2018. Against Baez, he fought a smart tactical fight, blunting the Mexican’s superior reach by fighting him at close quarters. Baez fought from the third round on with a cut over his right eye and then suffered a cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By then the fight was becoming increasingly one-sided and Baez’s corner did not let him come out for round eight.

Jason Moloney improved to 21-1 with his 18th knockout. Leonardo Baez, who took the fight on short notice after Maloney’s original opponent Oscar Negrete was forced to withdraw with a detached retina, slumped to 18-3.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Abraham Nova advanced to 19-0 with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow but won no new fans with a lackadaisical performance. Nova, born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic and raised in Albany, NY, showed little but his jab through the first seven rounds until hurting Sparrow with a big right hand in the eighth. The judges had it 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91.

Sparrow (10-2), whose lone previous loss was by disqualification, was making his first start in 15 months. He was slated to fight Ryan Garcia in Los Angeles last Sept. 14 but never made it to the weigh-in after being arrested by U.S. marshals on a charge of threatening a woman with a gun after she threw his clothes out the window…

Other Bouts

In an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Gonzalez advanced to 15-0 with a unanimous decision over Ecuador’s Luis Porozo (15-3). The scores were 76-74 and 77-73 twice.

Gonzalez wasn’t particularly impressive although he did score two knockdowns. He decked Porozo near the end of round two with a left hook following a straight left and decked him again near the end of round seven with a left uppercut to the body.

In a rather ho-hum fight, welterweight Vlad Panin improved to 8-1 with 6-round majority decision over San Antonio’s 36-year-old Benjamin Whitaker (13-4). Panin, a Belarusian who grew up in Las Vegas and earned a BA in English from UCLA, has a good back story but seemingly a limited upside in the fight game.

In an entertaining 6-round welterweight clash, Filipino campaigner Reymond Yanon improved to 11-5-1 with a split decision (59-55, 58-56, 56-58) over Clay Burns. A 33-year-old ex-Marine from Fort Worth, Burns declined to 9-8-2.

The opener, a heavyweight bout slated for six rounds, matched two Phoenix-based fighters in a rematch. Kingsley Ibeh, a former standout defensive lineman for the Washburn College Ichabods, avenged his lone defeat and improved to 4-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Waldo Cortes (5-3). Ibeh, who at 286 had a 39-pound weight advantage, softened Cortes up with a series of uppercuts and Cortes was on his way down when he was tagged with a glancing left hand. He got to his feet, but referee Vic Drakulich waived it off. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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