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Dubai Poised to Mirror Saudi Arabia in the New World Order of Boxing

Arne K. Lang

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The royal family of Saudi Arabia is committed to making their fiefdom a major player in the world of professional boxing. The grand finale of the super middleweight tournament of the 2018 World Boxing Super Series (Callum Smith vs. George Groves) was held in Saudi Arabia as was Amir Khan’s last fight against overmatched Billy Dibs. Those fights, in retrospect, were overtures to the big shebang on Dec. 7, the rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr.

Saudi Arabia’s next-door neighbor, the United Arab Emirates, is poised to join the party. Tomorrow’s show at the plush new Caesars Palace resort at Bluewaters, a man-made island overlooking Dubai, is the latest manifestation of the incursion of boxing into the Arab world.

This isn’t the first boxing show in Dubai. In 2008, former heavyweight champion Michael Moorer closed the curtain on his pro boxing career in Dubai, knocking out South Carolina no-hoper Shelby Gross in the opening round. That allowed Moorer to bookend his career with KOs in one, taking his leave on the same note on which he walked in the door. (You could probably win a few bar bets with this piece of trivia.)

When that odd event took place, there was only one registered professional boxer in all of the UAE.

That number is growing in leaps and bounds thanks to Ahmed Seddiqi, the driving force behind Dubai’s Round 10 Boxing Club. Founded in 2013, Round 10 is the first gym in Dubai built specifically for boxing.

Seddiqi (pictured on the left with his cousin and business partner Abdulla Khoory) subsequently became a regional manager for MTK Global, a powerful boxing management company with a murky past. His association with MTK Global, which is now headquartered in Dubai, gave him the resources to bring in fighters from overseas to spiff up his promotions. And the relationship between Top Rank and MTK Global gave Dubai boxing greater exposure via Top Rank’s affiliation with ESPN+.

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Seddiqi and MTK Global manufactured the inaugural boxing show at Caesars Palace Dubai this past Sept. 13. The main event pitted Pakistan’s Muhammad Waseem against Conrado Tanamor of the Philippines. The super flyweights were penciled in to fight eight rounds.

Tomorrow’s show has a larger budget reflected in a more interesting main event. England’s Jack Catterall, ranked #1 by the WBO at 140 pounds, opposes Timo Schwarzkopf, the Kosovo-born German, in a match slated for 10.

The undefeated Catterall (24-0, 13 KOs) is on a collision course with WBC/WBO 140-pound title-holder Jose Carlos Ramirez. That bout will almost assuredly take place, notwithstanding the fact that the fans would much prefer to see Ramirez, the pride of Fresno, in a unification fight with Josh Taylor and that Ramirez’s next title defense will apparently come against Viktor Postol, a bout seemingly headed to China in February.

Catterall is handled by longtime British promoter Frank Warren who currently has a very cozy relationship with Ramirez’s promoter Bob Arum, an upshot of their shared financial interest in Tyson Fury. Being ranked #1 by the WBO carries sway with Arum who is a de facto member of the WBO Board of Directors. Arum’s current title-holders (Terence Crawford, Vasyl Lomachenko, Jamel Herring, Shakur Stevenson, Emanuel Navarrette, and Ramirez) sport WBO colors.

For Dubai locals, the undercard holds more appeal than the main event. Vijender Singh and Muhammad Waseem, who returns for an encore after knocking out Conrado Tanamor in the opening round, have built-in fan bases in a country where immigrants outnumber natives by a 9/1 margin with ex-pats from India (27.5 percent) and Pakistan (12.5 percent) comprising 40 percent of the total immigrant population.

Vijender Singh, 34, is a three-time Olympian. In 2008, in the second of his three Olympic engagements, he won the bronze medal — the first Olympic medal of any kind for a boxer from India. He returned to his homeland a national hero, a man who would transcend boxing in the world’s second-most populous country, appearing in layouts in popular fashion magazines and on numerous TV shows.

Singh (11-0, 8 KOs) signed a multi-fight contract with Top Rank in November of last year. His opponent, Charles Adamu, is a 42-year-old Ghanaian with a 33-14 record.

Adamu, who went 12 rounds with Carl Froch back in 2004, has been stopped only twice but Singh, despite being relatively inactive, expects to win comfortably. “I don’t expect him to put up too much of a challenge because I have noticed he is slower than me…So I am relaxed, nothing to worry there,” he told a reporter for the Hindustan Times.

In common with Singh, Muhammad Waseem (9-1, 7 KOs) is the most well-known boxer in a country where cricket is the national sport. The Quetta, Pakistan, native, 32, previously fought for the IBF world flyweight title, losing a close but unanimous decision to South Africa’s Moruti Mthalene in Kuala Lumpur.

Waseem has something in common with headliner Jack Catterall. Both spent an extensive amount of time in Las Vegas at the Mayweather Gym. Catterall helped Floyd Mayweather Jr prepare for his bout with Manny Pacquiao. For a time, Muhammed Waseem’s head trainer was Jeff Mayweather.

Waseem had a wealth of international amateur experience, but has answered the bell for only 61 rounds as a pro. By contrast, his Mexican opponent, former WBC light flyweight champion Ganigan Lopez (36-10, 19 KOs), has answered the bell for 311 rounds. It’s an interesting match, notwithstanding the fact that Ganigan, 38, was knocked out just six weeks ago by a journeyman in Mexico City.

In common with the first boxing show at Caesars Palace Dubai, tomorrow’s event is called the Rotunda Rumble. The Rotunda is the free-standing entertainment venue at the resort, a structure, says management, inspired by the Roman Pantheon although for most folks the referent would be an Eskimo’s igloo. Nearby on the island, accessible to the mainland by a causeway, sits the world’s largest ferris wheel.

rotunda

Can boxing at Caesars Palace Dubai ever match the heyday of boxing at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas? That’s very doubtful. In Las Vegas, the early Caesars Palace shows in the indoor tennis pavilion were designed to showcase the property. The fights were televised on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Management expected an increase in casino activity, but were surprised at the extent of the increase. Boxing, they quickly learned, was a magnet for high rollers, the impetus for raising the bar, begetting the outdoor extravaganzas.

Caesars Palace Dubai is a non-gaming hotel. There is no legal gambling in the Arab world. Moreover, the crowds at the fights in Dubai will never resemble the crowds at the big fights in Las Vegas where a secondary diversion is ogling the scantily-clad young women who arrive on the arms of their benefactors. Dubai is a country where an unmarried couple can be arrested for sharing a hotel room.

But let’s not sell Dubai short. You won’t find a pari-mutuel window at Dubai’s swanky Meydan Racecourse, but since 1996 the facility has been home to the world’s richest thoroughbred horse race. So, if the nation’s rulers become enamored of boxing, it’s a fair guess they will parrot neighboring Saudi Arabia and go all in.

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Jeison Rosario’s Upset Crowns This Week’s Edition of HITS and MISSES

Kelsey McCarson

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Jeison Rosario’s Upset Crowns This Week’s Edition of HITS and MISSES

There’s was plenty of quality boxing action available for consumption this weekend in the U.S., particularly on Saturday evening because of the competing cards put forth by the PBC on FOX and Top Rank on ESPN crews that have become chief rivals over the last year.

But what were the biggest HITS and MISSES seen during all the action? That’s what you’re here to find out.

HIT – Jeison Rosario’s Stunning Upset for two 154-pound Titles

Nobody expected Rosario to dethrone unified junior middleweight champion Julian Williams on Saturday night at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, but the massive underdog overcame the situation anyway to vault himself to the top of the junior middleweight division. The thing that saved Rosario was his stunning power. He appeared to be out-boxed by Williams early in the fight, but that changed just as soon as it became apparent Williams was slinging only his fists while Rosario was working with sledgehammers. Now the division has become more crowded than ever at the top with all roads amazingly leading to Rosario, the little known 24-year-old from the Dominican Republic who now owns the WBA and IBF titles.

MISS – Chris Colbert’s Fail to Impress

Junior lightweight prospect Chris Colbert was given a great chance by the PBC to impress fight fans on national television on the undercard of Williams-Rosario, but the talented 23-year-old didn’t make the most of the opportunity. Sure, Colbert was taking a step up in competition by taking on former world titleholder Jezreel Corrales for a vacant interim belt, but Colbert mostly came across as a talented fighter who just doesn’t seem quite capable of putting it all together yet. Colbert won the fight, but it wasn’t interesting or noteworthy in any way. Judging by how the PBC has worked in the past, he’ll get plenty more chances to shine, but I’m not sure anyone but the people who stand to gain monetarily from the fighter’s success will be looking forward to it.

HIT –  Eleider Alvarez’s Epic KO of Michael Seals

Former light heavyweight titleholder Alvarez scored the early leader for knockout of the year against Seals in the main event at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York. The fight was fairly lackluster until the explosive ending in the seventh round. It was an important victory for Alvarez, who was coming off losing his title to Sergey Kovalev via decision last February. Alvarez is 35, so it was imperative for him to get back to action and remind people he’s still a viable contender in the 175-pound ranks. And there’s no better way to do that in boxing than by thunderous knockout.

MISS – Felix Verdejo’s Fresh Start Starts Stale

Verdejo is still only 26 years old, but after defeating Manuel Rojas in a lightweight bout at Turning Stone, the once highly regarded prospect doesn’t appear to be any closer today than he was yesterday to living up to the tremendous promise he once possessed. To be completely fair to Verdejo, it was only his first fight under new trainer Ismael Salas and the fighter still has time on his side. Still, there appears to be plenty of work to do if Verdejo is ever to become a world champion. In fact, he didn’t look all that materially different from the fighter who was knocked out in 2018.

HIT – Floyd Mayweather Wins Prestigious BWAA Award 

I honestly had some concern that Mayweather wouldn’t win the BWAA’s Fighter of the Decade award before it was announced on Friday via press release. After all, Mayweather lost the previous decade’s top honor to Manny Pacquiao in 2010, and Sports Illustrated had just named Andre Ward its Fighter of the Decade winner the week prior. It’s only one person’s opinion, of course, but I think there would have been something wrong with Mayweather not picking up the honor at least once in the last two decades. After all, he’s quite easily the generation’s best overall fighter and he’s transcended the sport to mainstream celebrity status, too. Congrats to Mayweather for winning the well-deserved honor.

Photo credit: Stephanie Trapp / TGB Promotions

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South African Trailblazer Peter Mathebula Dead at Age 67

Arne K. Lang

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Peter Mathebula wasn’t a great fighter. He suffered nine losses during his 45-bout career. He was stopped five times. But Mathebula, who died yesterday (Jan. 18) at age 67, was a historically important fighter. He was the first black South African to win a world title. He was the first South African boxer of any color to win a world title on foreign soil. His predecessors, bantamweights Vic Toweel and Arnold Taylor, won their titles in Johannesburg. Mathebula won his in Los Angeles.

Mathebula took the WBA flyweight title on a split decision from Korea’s Tae-Shik Kim on Dec. 12, 1980 at LA’s Olympic Auditorium. The fight was originally headed to Seoul but Mathebula was denied a visa.

In those days, South Korea barred tourists from South Africa as a protest against that country’s policy of apartheid. Mathebula was a victim of apartheid, but that made no difference as the ban was a blanket ban, covering all South Africans, regardless of color.

Olympic Auditorium matchmaker Don Fraser acquired the orphanded fight. Southern California had a large Korean population and Fraser thought the fight would go over big with this demographic.

The fabled Olympic Auditorium was noted for raucous SRO crowds. But not on this particular night. The crowd was overwhelmingly Korean-American, but there weren’t more than 3,000 in attendance. Kim vs. Mathebula didn’t resonate with the Olympic Auditorium regulars.

The fight was very close but most thought the decision was fair. The Korean started fast, wrote LA Times ringside reporter Mark Heisler, but Mathebula fought his way back into the fight in the middle rounds and won the 14th and 15th stanzas on his card, sufficient he thought to secure the win.

The victory made Mathebula a big star in South Africa. His purse for the fight with Tae-Shik Kim was only $7,500 (approximately $23,500 in today’s dollars) but he made up for it in endorsements. He appeared in ads for automobiles, Old Buck Gin, Bostonian shoes and a line of splashy clothes according to Joseph Lelyveld, the New York Times man on the scene.

Mathebula’s celebrityhood crossed racial lines. Newspapers that took little cognizance of goings-on in the black community showered Mathebula with a copious amount of ink. When he defended his title against Argentina’s Santos Laciar, it was front page news in white and black newspapers.

Mathebula opposed Laciar a mere 13 weeks after winning his title in Los Angeles. The match was held in Soweto’s Orlando Stadium, a facility built to house the Pirates, Soweto’s all-black soccer team. Three years earlier, South Africa had legalized interracial sporting events but few whites dared venture into Soweto which was ground zero for anti-apartheid demonstrations.

Despite the great esteem in which Mathebula was held, the fight wasn’t a sellout. A local black nationalist organization launched a campaign to boycott the fight on the grounds that the government, which paid to set up Mathebula in a fancy hotel and paid for his motorcades, was using international mixed-race sporting events as a propaganda tool, an early illustration of what has come to be called “sportswashing.”

Peter Mathebula couldn’t catch a break and that may have impacted his performance against the Argentine. It was woeful. Laciar knocked him down in the fifth and then bull-rushed him out of the ring (the ref called it a push) and the bout was stopped in the eighth with Mathebula complaining that his vision was compromised.

Before the year was out, Mathebula lost twice more. Fighting on hostile turf in Venezuela, he was stopped twice by Betulio Gonzalez, first in the 10th and then in the sixth. A three-time world title-holder, Gonzalez had a great career but he was approaching his 32nd birthday, old for a flyweight, and his best days were behind him.

In the span of less than 10 full months, Peter Mathebula went from the penthouse to the proverbial outhouse, but with the passage of time his people remembered his historic achievement in Los Angeles and pretty much forgot the slew of disappointments that quickly followed. The word “legend” suffuses reports of his death in South African papers.

Mathebula reportedly had multiple health issues and spent the last three weeks of his life in Leratong Hospital in the province of Gauteng, not far from the all-black township where he was born. May he rest in rest in peace.

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Ringside in Verona: Alvarez Capsizes Seals Plus Undercard Results

Matt Andrzejewski

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VERONA, NY — The main event of an ESPN televised card at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, NY between light heavyweight contenders Eleider Alvarez (25-1, 13 KO’s) and Michael Seals (24-3, 18 KO’s) started with a whimper but ended with a bang. After six-plus rounds of lackadaisical action, Alvarez scored a stunning sensational one punch knockout just before the end of the seventh round of their scheduled ten round fight.

The first three rounds saw more clinches than punches landed. Seals seemed to be looking to land one perfect punch and in doing so barely unleashed any punches. Alvarez, for his part, was not very active in these rounds but certainly moved his hands more and landed more than Seals.

In round four, Seals came out much more aggressive and had his best round of the fight. But in the fifth, Seals went back to looking for that one punch and Alvarez took back control of the action. Toward the end of the round, Alvarez staggered Seals with a right hand.

Alvarez continued to be in control of the fight in rounds six and seven by simply moving his hands more. And then towards the end of round seven, Alvarez connected with a picture perfect overhand right that sent Seals crashing to the canvas. Referee Danny Schiavone did not reach a full 10-count before waiving the fight off.

For Alvarez, this was a big bounce-back win after his loss to Sergey Kovalev in their light heavyweight title rematch last February. With the light heavyweight division flush with talent, it seems Alvarez is in prime position to get a big opportunity his next time out.

In the co-feature, lightweight contender Felix Verdejo (26-1, 16 KO’s) put on a workmanlike effort in winning a wide ten round unanimous decision against Manuel Rey Rojas (18-4, 5 KO’s). While Verdejo was in complete control of the contest from the opening bell, the performance certainly lacked sizzle and may raise even more questions on the potential of the once can’t-miss prospect.

Verdejo utilized a very patient approach throughout the night working behind the left jab. While the jab was effective, Verdejo only occasionally looked to unleash power punches behind that jab. Reyes, for his part, played mostly defense keeping a very tight guard and looking to selectively counter Verdejo’s jab.

Verdejo’s defense, which had been criticized in the past, looked better but still showed some leaks. In the fifth round, Reyes landed a sharp right hand flush on the jaw of Verdejo that seemed to momentarily get Verdejo’s attention. And in the ninth, Reyes landed a hard right that snapped Verdejo’s head back. If Reyes could punch harder, either of those two rights may have altered the course of the fight.

But aside from those brief moments from Reyes, Verdejo dictated all the action. He easily out-worked and out-landed the mostly defensive minded Reyes. In the end it is a win for Verdejo and he can proceed forward towards what he hopes will be an eventual title shot in the lightweight division.

In a bizarre heavyweight fight between two former 2004 Olympians, Devin Vargas (22-6, 9 KO’s) was awarded a disqualification victory in the eighth and final round against Victor Bisbal (23-5, 17 KO’s). Bisbal scored a knockdown in round two with a left hook but was deducted two points in round four for various infractions.  Aside from the knockdown round, Vargas seemed to out-hustle and out-land Bisbal. Ahead on all three scorecards (67-63 twice and 66 -64) entering the final round, Vargas absorbed a low blow from Bisbal. At this point, referee Michael Ortega decided to disqualify Bisbal.

Abraham Nova (18-0, 14 KO’s) scored a one-sided fourth-round TKO of tough veteran Pedro Navarette (30-25-3, 19 KO’s) in a lightweight contest that was scheduled for eight rounds. Nova scored knockdowns in rounds two, three and four before the fight was waived off.

Knockout out artist Jonathan Guzman (24-1, 23 KO’s) rose from the canvas to score a fourth-round knockout of Rodolfo Hernandez (30-10-1, 28 KO’s) in a 122-pound slugfest. The heavily favored Guzman scored two knockdowns with body shots in the opening stanza and appeared on his way to an easy win. But Hernandez flipped the script in round three with a hard right hand just before the bell sounded that put Guzman on the canvas and nearly out. The two went toe to toe in the fourth when a vicious left hook to the body from Guzman put Hernandez down and this time out for good.

In a battle of former world title challengers, Freddie Roach trained Christopher Diaz (25-2, 16 KO’s) scored a wide eight round unanimous against Adeilson Dos Santos (19-8, 15 KO’s) in a featherweight contest. Diaz dominated the fight from the opening bell and hurt Dos Santos on a few occasions but ultimately had to settle for the decision victory.

The opening fight of the night saw heavyweight prospect Jared Anderson (3-0, 3 KO’s) easily dispatch Andrew Satterfield (5-4, 3 KO’s) in the first round of their scheduled four round fight. Anderson scored two knockdowns in what was a dominant performance.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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