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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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The Hauser Report: Garcia-Redkach and More

Thomas Hauser

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Boxing made its debut at Barclays Center on October 20, 2012, with a fight card headlined by four world title bouts. Danny Garcia, Erik Morales, Paulie Malignaggi, Peter Quillin, Devon Alexander, Danny Jacobs, and Luis Collazo were in the ring that night. The franchise grew nicely. Fans who went to Barclays saw good featured fights with solid undercard bouts. But as of late, the arena’s fistic offerings have faded.

Barclays cast its lot with Premier Boxing Champions. And PBC has moved its prime content to greener pastures (green being the color of money). There were five fight cards at Barclays Center in 2019. Each one struggled to sell tickets.

January 25 marked the thirty-ninth fight card at Barclays. The arena was half empty. The announced attendance was 8,217 but that included a lot of freebies. There were six fights on the card. As expected, fighters coming out of the blue corner won all of them. That’s what happens when 6-0 squares off against 2-10-1.

Three of the fights were televised by Showtime Championship Boxing, which has also been diminished as a consequence of a multi-year output deal with PBC.

In the first of these bouts, Stephen Fulton (17-0, 8 KOs) and Ukrainian-born Arnold Khegai (16-0, 10 KOs) met in a junior-featherweight bout. Each had fought the usual suspects en route to their confrontation. There was a lot of holding and rabbit-punching which referee Steve Willis ignored. Eventually, Fulton pulled away for a unanimous-decision triumph.

Next up, Jarrett Hurd (23-1, 16 KOs) took on Francisco Santana (25-7, 12 KOs).

Hurd is a big junior-middleweight who held the WBA and IBF 154-pound titles until losing to Julian Williams last year. Santana is a career welterweight who had lost three of his most recent four fights and had won only three times in the last five years.

Hurd was expected to walk through Santana. But he was strangely passive for much of the fight, which led to the strange spectacle of Santana (the noticeably smaller, lighter-punching man) walking Jarrett down for long stretches of time. Francisco is a one-dimensional fighter and was there to be hit. When Jarrett let his hands go, he hit him. But he fought like a man who didn’t want to fight and didn’t let his hands go often enough.

By round seven, the boos and jeers were raining down. Hurd won a unanimous decision but looked mediocre. That’s the most honest way to put it. One wonder what tricks losing to Julian Williams last year played with his mind.

Also, it should be noted that, when the winning fighter thanks God in a post-fight interview and the crowd (which supported Jarrett at the start of the bout) boos at the mention of The Almighty, there’s a problem.

“The crowd didn’t love it,” Hurd acknowledged afterward. “But you gotta understand; I got the unanimous decision and I did what I wanted to do.”

The main event matched Danny Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs) against Ivan Redkach (23-4-1, 18 KOs).

Garcia had a nice run early in his career, winning belts at 140 and 147 pounds. But later, he came out on the losing end of decisions against Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter. Other than that, he has gone in soft for the past five years.

Redkach is a junior-welterweight who had won 5 of 10 fights during the same five-year time frame.

There was the usual pre-fight nonsense with Garcia telling reporters, “We picked Redkach because he’s dangerous and we knew he’d be tough.” But in truth, Redkach had been whitewashed by Tevin Farmer at 135 pounds and was knocked out at the same weight by John Molina Jr (who never won again).

Garcia, like Hurd, was a 30-to-1 betting favorite.

Redkach fought a safety-first fight. Also, safety second and third. There wasn’t one second when it looked as though he had a realistic chance of winning the fight or fought like he did.

One of the few proactive things that Ivan did do was stick out his tongue from time to time when Garcia hit him. Then, at the end of round eight, he bit Danny on the shoulder while they were in a clinch. At that point, one might have expected referee Benjy Esteves to disqualify Redkach. But Esteves seemed to not notice.

Rather than go for the kill after the bite, Garcia eased up and cruised to a unanimous decision. Meanwhile, by round eleven, the crowd was streaming for the exits. Most of the fans were gone by the time the decision was announced.

Garcia and Hurd had set-up showcase fights scheduled for them. And neither man delivered the way he should have.

Meanwhile, a final thought . . . Sunday, January 26, would have been Harold Lederman’s eightieth birthday.

Harold was the quintessential boxing fan and loved the sport more than anyone I’ve known. He never missed a fight at Barclays Center unless his health prevented him from coming or he was on the road for HBO. He died eight months ago.

As Saturday night’s fight card unfolded, I imagined Harold sitting beside me. He would have had a kind word for everyone who came over to say hello and loved every minute of it. Harold Lederman at the fights was a happy man.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book — A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing — was published 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. On June 14, 2020, he will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Fast Results from Brooklyn: No Surprises as Garcia and Hurd Win Lopsidedly

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight, Philadelphia’s Danny Garcia made his eighth appearance at Barclays Center. Garcia’s 2017 fight with Keith Thurman drew 16,533, the attendance high for a boxing show at the arena. A far smaller crowd was in attendance tonight to see Garcia take on Ivan Redkach in a non-title fight slated for 12 rounds.

Redkach, a 33-year-old LA-based Ukrainian, is a southpaw. That’s no coincidence. Garcia hopes to land big-money fights with Errol Spence and/or Manny Pacquiao, both southpaws.

Redkach (23-4-1 coming in) turned his career around in his last fight with a career-best performance, a sixth-round stoppage of former two-division title-holder Devon Alexander, a 15-year pro who hadn’t previously been stopped. But there was a class difference between he and Danny Garcia, a former WBA and WBC 140-pound world title-holder and former WBC 147-pound champion.

Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs) was simply sharper. His workrate slowed late in the fight, allowing the game Redkach to steal a few rounds, but at the final gun he was relatively unmarked whereas Redkach was conspicuously bruised. The scores were 118-110 and 117-111 twice. The crowd booed at intervals, understandable as they were subject to a drab 6-fight card that was even less interesting than it was on paper.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Jarrett Hurd, making his first start since losing his WBA/IBF super welterweight title to Julian Williams last May, went on cruise control from the opening bell and jabbed his way to a lopsided 10-round decision over Francisco Santana. Hurd, who improved to 24-1, finally let loose late in the 10th frame, putting Santana (25-8-1) on the canvas with a succession of left hooks, but by then many in the crowd had probably nodded off.

This was Hurd’s first fight with new trainer Kay Koroma who has drawn raves for his work with America’s elite amateurs. The scores were 97-92 and 99-90 twice. SoCal’s Santana has now lost five of his last eight.

The opening bout on the main TV portion of the card was a 12-round super bantamweight contest between Philadelphia’s Stephen Fulton and fellow unbeaten Arnold Khegai who currently trains in Philadelphia.

Fulton (18-0, 8 KOs) simply had too much class for Khegai (16-1-1), a Ukrainian of Korean heritage. Although Khegai frequently backed Fulton into the ropes, the Philadelphian had an air-tight defense and connected with many more punches. The fight went the full 12 with Fulton prevailing by scores of 116-112 and 117-111 twice.

If the WBO has its way, Fulton will proceed to a fight with Emanuel Navarrete, but don’t hold your breath as Navarrete is promoted by Bob Arum who undoubtedly wants to extract more mileage from him before letting him risk his belt against a crafty fighter like Stephen Fulton.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Sacramento Honors Diego ‘Chico’ Corrales

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight (Saturday, Jan. 25) former two-division world boxing champion Diego “Chico” Corrales will be posthumously inducted into the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame at the organization’s eighth annual induction ceremony at the Thunder Valley Casino Resort.

Corrales, who grew up in Sacramento, the son of a Columbian father and a Mexican mother, turned pro at age 18 and went on to compile a record of 40-5 (33 KOs). He won his first title in 1999 with a seventh-round stoppage of previously undefeated Robert Garcia. Now recognized as one of boxing’s top trainers, Garcia was making the fourth defense of his IBF 130-pound title.

Five years later, Corrales won the WBO world lightweight title with a 10th-round stoppage of Brazil’s previously undefeated Acelino Freitas. That set up a unification fight with the WBC belt-holder Jose Luis Castillo.

Corrales and Castillo met on May 7, 2005, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. To say they put on a great fight would be an understatement. The boxing writers in attendance will tell you that this was the greatest fight of all time. It was named Fight of the Decade by The Ring magazine.

The final round, the 10th, was unbelievable. Heading into the round, Corrales was ahead on two of the three scorecards, but his left eye was swollen nearly shut and during the round he was knocked down twice. No one would have faulted referee Tony Weeks for stopping the fight after the second knockdown. But, somehow, Corrales was able to rally, pulling the fight out of the fire with a barrage of punches that had Castillo out on his feet when Weeks waived it off.

Two years to the very day of this iconic fight, Diego “Chico” Corrales died in a motorcycle accident in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas when he rear-ended a car while traveling at a high rate of speed. He was 29 years old.

Corrales was a thrill-seeker. In a 2006 profile, Las Vegas Review-Journal boxing writer Kevin Iole enumerated these among Castillo’s hobbies: jumping out of planes from 14,000 feet, bungee jumping from 400 feet, snowboarding in treacherous terrain and scuba diving amid a school of sharks. “He lived his life the same way he fought,” said his promoter Gary Shaw, “with reckless abandon.”

It might seem odd that it took so long for Corrales to be recognized by the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame, but there was a period when Corrales’s name was mud in his hometown and perhaps the organization’s founder, Las Vegas sports radio personality T.C. Martin, a Sacramento native, thought it appropriate to let old wounds heal.

In 2001, shortly after suffering his first pro loss at the hands of Floyd Mayweather, Corrales pled guilty to felony domestic violence in the beating of his first wife and would serve 14 months in prison. “The whole family has worn a black eye for it,” Diego’s brother Esteban Corrales told Sacramento Bee reporter Marcos Bretan.

For all his recklessness, the incident didn’t jibe with his persona. In the company of Las Vegas sportswriters, the soft-spoken and well-spoken Corrales came across as polite and humble.

Corrales, one of five inductees in the 2020 class, joins three other boxers already installed in the Sacramento Hall: Pete Ranzany, Loreto Garza, and Tony “Tiger” Lopez.

Ranzany, a welterweight, fought four former or future world champions and was a fixture in Sacramento rings in the late 1970’s. Garza wrested the WBA super lightweight title from Argentina’s Juan Martin Coggi in France and successfully defended the belt here in Sacramento with a one-sided conquest of Vinny Pazienza. Lopez, Sacramento’s most popular fighter ever, made the turnstiles hum at the city’s largest arena where he fought eight of his 14 world title fights beginning with his 1988 humdinger with defending IBF 130-pound champion Rocky Lockridge.

Among the speakers at tonight’s confab will be Kenny Adams. Perhaps best known as the head trainer for the 1988 U.S. Olympic team that won eight medals in Seoul, Adams currently trains Nonito Donaire. He was with Diego Corrales for 24 fights, during which Corrales was 23-1, avenging the lone defeat by Joel Casamayor. Festivities start at 7 pm.

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