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An Early Vote for Andy Ruiz from ‘Louisiana Lawman’ Chris Eubank

Arne K. Lang

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At the MGM Grand this past Saturday, a group of boxing writers were having a round table discussion in the media room when they were joined by an outsider. The visitor, who stayed until the meeting disbanded, brought a little glamour to the gathering. Several of the writers were too young to remember when Chris Eubank was in his heyday, but everyone recognized Eubank who has remained one of Great Britain’s most well-known sporting personalities.

During a 14-year career that consumed 52 bouts, only three men defeated him. Steve Collins and Carl Thompson did it twice; the other was Hall of Famer Joe Calzaghe who, like Thompson, caught Eubank at the tail end of his career. Eubank’s 1990 fight with Nigel Benn and his two fights with Michael Watson the following year rank among the most storied fights in British boxing history.

At age 53, Eubank is fit and trim, seemingly up to following the example of old foe Nigel Benn and plotting a comeback. But that isn’t happening. “There’s wear and tear there that you can’t see,” he says. Instead, Eubank will live vicariously through the efforts of his son of the same name. Chris Eubank Jr has a date with Matt Korobov in Brooklyn on Dec. 7. The younger Eubank has been preparing at the Mayweather Gym in Las Vegas.

During his fighting days, Chris Eubank was twice named England’s best dressed athlete. His name was also a fixture on polls of England’s most eccentric sportsman.

For a time, Eubank appeared in public dressed like a stereotypical born-to-the-manor, Regency Era gentleman with riding boots and a silver-tipped walking cane. His speech was concordant, more like that of a man of letters than that of a prizefighter. He was a pontificating philosopher in the words of author Donald McRae, a man who spoke in a “tortuously modulated manner.”

At the MGM, Eubank sported a solid black shirt, obviously custom-made, on which reposed a shiny silver badge. “There’s a new sheriff in town,” quipped Dan Rafael when Eubank casually took his seat with the assembled writers.

Eubank corrected him. “I’m a marshal, not a sheriff.”

And, indeed, he is. In March of last year, Eubank was formally sworn in as a city marshal in Opelousas, a predominantly black community buried deep in Louisiana’s Cajun Country. It’s basically an honorary position; he doesn’t carry a weapon. Eubank says that he is committed to spending three months of every year in Opelousas for the foreseeable future where he will assist local law enforcement in a public relations role.

Opelousas is a long way from London where he spent his formative years or, for that matter, Jamaica where Eubank spent a portion of his boyhood, or Atlantic City where he had his first five pro fights while staying with his mother in the grungy South Bronx. The fellow sure does get around.

An introduction to Opelousas’ Chief of Police Donald Thompson opened the door to the curious appointment. A number of civilians were issued various kinds of police badges while Thompson was in office, which became something of a scandal — he was voted out in last year’s November elections — but for Eubank, the badge, although adopted as a fashion accessory, isn’t merely for show..

“It’s important for boxers to be seen as protectors of the community at large,” he says. The city fathers of Opelousas have recognized him for his work speaking to youth groups about the importance of living a disciplined life.

At the MGM, Eubank took a seat next to mine at the table, allowing us to converse in low tones without intruding on other conversations. The talk naturally turned to the big fight coming up in Saudi Arabia.

Eubank insisted that he wasn’t surprised at all when Andy Ruiz upset Anthony Joshua and expects Ruiz to come out ahead again when they meet again on Dec. 7.

In Eubank’s view, the public gave too much credit to Joshua’s win over Wladimir Klitschko. “Klitschko had reigned for a long time,” he said, “but it was during an era when the heavyweight division was weak. It was much stronger back in the eighties and it is much stronger today.”

Eubank also believes that the public overreacted to Joshua’s more impressive physique. “The Adonis look doesn’t win in boxing,” he says, echoing an opinion held by old-time trainers.

Anthony Joshua didn’t take up boxing until he was 18 and was a relative novice on the international amateur scene when he won a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. He had answered the bell for only 32 rounds as a pro when he was matched against unexceptional Charles Martin in his first world title fight. “On the way to the title,” says Eubank, “Joshua was allowed to jump over several classes in school. He was still learning the art of boxing and still learning how to live the life of a fighter when he fought Ruiz. By contrast, Ruiz was very well-schooled.”

Eubank has always gushed over the potential of his son whom he once likened to Sugar Ray Leonard. “This is the most dangerous man on the planet,” he told Donald McRae prior to Junior’s 2014 fight with Billy Joe Saunders.

In that fight, Eubank Jr finished strong but came out on the short end of a split decision. More recently, he was out-boxed by George Groves who won a close but unanimous decision.

The elder Eubank had no quibble with the verdict. “My son had become in love with his power,” said Eubank, noting that Junior had knocked out Avni Yildirim in his previous fight. I told him (after the Groves fight), ‘you have to be clever, use your brains.’”

Eubank Jr has won two straight since that mishap, most recently a wide decision over former two-time title-holder James DeGale, plunging DeGale into retirement. Prior to that match, Eubank inked a three-fight deal with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions.

Eubank Jr (28-2, 21 KOs) is dropping back to middleweight for his match with Korobov (28-2-1, 14), a Miami-based Russian who is coming off a draw with Emmanuwel Aleem, a bout that most everyone thought that he won. If Eubank Jr prevails, that will likely boost him into a fight with Jermall Charlo, the undefeated WBC champion, provided that Charlo gets past Australia’s Dennis Hogan on the same card.

Chris Eubank, quite naturally, thinks his 30-year-old son is a lock. “Junior has the same drive to succeed that I once had,” he said. “He is obsessed with training. Korobov can’t match his speed. If you have speed, that puts you in a different class.” (For the record, Korobov, a southpaw, is 36 years old. The odds favoring Eubank Jr, roughly 12/5, aren’t that high, reflecting the fact that there’s a general opinion that the Russian, although not as athletic, has the higher ring IQ).

The elder Eubank arrived at the little confab in the MGM with an agenda. He is in the process of starting a foundation for retired boxers that have fallen on hard times. Eubank admires Al Haymon and says, “I’m sure it’s a program that Al would get behind.”

Eubank is no stranger to money woes. In 2005, he was reportedly bankrupt. With a tax debt exceeding $1 million, he was forced to sell his mansion. He insists that he is in fine fettle today from an economic standpoint and that is likely true as he commands a nice fee for personal appearances in Great Britain where millennials recognize him from his frequent appearances on TV reality shows. The camera likes him and he’s a good talker.

“I’m one of the lucky ones,” says Eubank, who appeared in 22 world title fights, winning 19. Someone who wasn’t so lucky, notes Eubank, is Kirkland Laing, the Jamaica-born Englishman who once held the British welterweight title and whose upset of Roberto Duran in 1982 was named The Ring magazine’s Upset of the Year. In 2003, nine years after leaving the sport, Laing was found living on the street.

Psychologists tell us that retirement can be stressful, especially for an individual whose identity is wrapped up in his work. A full-time professional boxer spends countless hours in the gym which becomes his surrogate home. When it’s time to let go, it’s difficult.

Many retired boxers, noted Eubank, need more than economic assistance: “Most are uneducated and need help with all the paperwork that comes with navigating the system and keeping their head above water.”

We wish Chris Eubank well with his foundation. When the web site is up and running, we will pass along the info. And if we ever get to Opelousas and run into trouble while there, hopefully a certain marshal will be able to pull a few strings.

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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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