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New Orleans Native Bernard Fernandez Enters the Boxing Hall of Fame

Arne K. Lang

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The Sweet Science is proud to announce that BERNARD FERNANDEZ, who for the last few years has written exclusively for this web site, and frequent TSS contributor THOMAS HAUSER have been named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observers category. The official announcement was made today (Dec. 4) by IBHOF Executive Director Ed Brophy.

Fernandez and Hauser are joined by nine other living inductees plus Frank Erne, active from 1892 to 1908, who joins the Hall in the Old-Timer category, and bare-knuckle battler Paddy Ryan, named in the Pioneer category.

Modern Era boxers Bernard Hopkins, Juan Manuel Marquez, and Shane Mosley are headed to Canastota, each having been named to the Hall in his first year of eligibility. Joining them are Pioneer women’s boxer Barbara Buttrick and Modern Era women’s boxers Christy Martin and Lucia Rijker. In the Non-Participant category, Lou DiBella, Kathy Duva, and the late Dan Goossen are the newest IBHOF inductees.

The newcomers will be formally enshrined on Sunday, June 14, the highlight of the four-day Hall of Fame Weekend festivities in Canastota, NY.

BERNARD FERNANDEZ

Bernard Fernandez was born in New Orleans in 1947 on a day when the city was being lashed by a powerful hurricane. Perhaps there’s a metaphor there, but it eludes us as the Bernard Fernandez we know is a peaceable fellow.

Fernandez first got the idea of pursuing a career in sports journalism when he won a city-wide essay contest for eighth-grade students at Catholic schools. The top prize was one dollar.

At New Orleans De La Salle High School, he worked on the school newspaper and yearbook. In the summer between his junior and senior years of high school, he landed a job as a copy boy in the Times-Picayune Sports Department. It was, he says, the best summer job a high school kid could ever have.

It was there at the Times-Picayune, which had the widest circulation of the city’s two daily papers, that he received his first byline while covering American Legion baseball games. After graduation, he studied journalism at LSU, the state’s flagship university in Baton Rouge.

That Fernandez would gravitate toward the boxing beat was perhaps inevitable as his father, also named Bernard, had boxed as an amateur and had six pro fights in San Diego while serving in the Navy, going 4-1-1 under the name Jack Fernandez. An only child, Bernard was particularly close to his father who held the rank of captain when he retired from the New Orleans Police Department.

Fernandez met his future wife, Anne Marie d’Aquin, on a blind date when he was a senior at De La Salle and she a sophomore at a sister school. (De La Salle was an all-boys high school back then; it is now coed.)

The young lady must have made quite an impression. Some guys — lots of guys — can’t remember the date of their wedding anniversary. Bernard remembers that and also the date when he first met Annie on that blind date: Feb. 12, 1965.

They were married in 1968. Bernard was then early into a six-year hitch with the United States Marine Corps Reserve, assigned to a helicopter unit at the Naval Station in Belle Chasse, Louisiana.

anne

Bernard and Annie, a retired ICU nurse, have four children and six grandchildren. His sons, Randall and Kevin, reside in the greater New Orleans area. Randall is a longtime deputy with the Jefferson Parish Police Department; Kevin is a Crime Scene investigator with the Gretna Police Department. His daughters, Melanie and Amy, reside in the Philadelphia area. Melanie is a tax consultant for an international company; Amy an office manager for a dentist/oral surgeon.

Last year, on the occasion of his 50th wedding anniversary, Fernandez wrote his most poignant column, a paean to Annie, his soulmate all these many years. Seldom has a blind date between teenagers turned out so well.

At the age of 22, Fernandez got his first full-time newspaper job at the Courier in Houma, a community an hour’s drive south of New Orleans. Quite unexpectedly, he was made the sports editor. The person that held that position quit right before he arrived.

He subsequently accepted positions at the Miami Herald, Jackson (MS) Daily News, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the Philadelphia Daily News where he spent the last 28 years of his newspaper career. With the Jackson paper, he covered his first live boxing event, the rematch between Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinks at the Louisiana Superdome. This was a big, big event, a front-page news story in many papers, not merely the front page of the sports section. In time, he would cover literally dozens of big fights. He was in the small contingent of U.S. fight writers in Tokyo to see the fight between Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas and had a bird’s-eye view of what was arguably the most famous upset in all of sports.

Philadelphia was a great fight town. When Fernandez arrived, the local gyms were bursting with world-class fighters. Moreover, nearby Atlantic City was in its heyday as a boxing Mecca. There were storylines galore for a boxing writer. And when things cooled down, he was assigned other beats. For a time, he covered the local NBA team, the 76ers, and Penn State football.

In 1998, Fernandez won the Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism. Four years later, he was named the President of the organization. He held that post from 2002 to 2005 and again in 2008 and 2009 after being wooed back for an encore.

Founded in 1926, the BWAA was originally called the Boxing Writers Association of Greater New York (there were a heck of a lot more boxing writers back in those days). During Bernard’s tenures as President, the BWAA tripled its membership in part by drawing in writers from a wider geographic spectrum.

In 2012, at the annual BWAA banquet, and without his foreknowledge, the organization’s annual writing awards were named the “Bernies” in his honor. Three years later, he received the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing. Today’s news coming out of Canastota is the capstone of a distinguished career ignited by the gift of a dollar from the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans.

It’s altogether fitting that Bernard Fernandez would be accorded this honor in Canastota, the little town in upstate New York whose name has become synonymous with the history of boxing. Bernard’s father’s favorite fighter was Carmen Basilio, the former welterweight and middleweight champion who had an incredible run beginning in 1955 when he appeared in The Ring magazine’s Fight of the Year in five straight years. Bernard Fernandez Sr, who died at age 75 in 1994, passed on his admiration for Basilio to his son.

There might not be an International Boxing Hall of Fame and, if there were, it certainly wouldn’t be located here, if not for Carmen Basilio. The IBHOF is a monument to Basilio, the son of an onion farmer who was born and bred right here in Canastota.

Bernard Fernandez has been to Canastota many times, he’s even been a presenter, but 2020 will be different and he will likely be overcome with emotion as he remembers those days long ago when he and his dad bonded as they sat watching Carmen Basilio on their little black-and-white TV.

And how appropriate that Fernandez is entering the Hall in the same year as Bernard Hopkins. No boxing writer has covered Hopkins’ career as meticulously as Fernandez. He was ringside for the bookends: Hopkins’ pro debut in Atlantic City on Oct. 11, 1988, and his farewell fight in Los Angeles thirty years later. And over the years they became good friends, as friendly as a sportswriter can be with an athlete without compromising his objectivity.

Back in 2006, Robert Mladinich wrote a wonderful profile of Bernard Fernandez. That piece concluded with a quote. “I might have five, six, seven years left as a writer,” he said. “In this business, one day you have a byline, the next day you don’t. Newspaper journalists are like sand castles because they are very impermanent.”

Well, he was certainly right about the last part. And that observation smacks of a hint of foreboding because in 2006 it wasn’t yet obvious just how deep the digital revolution would scar the traditional print media, an upheaval that would pitch thousands of journalists and other kinds of newspaper workers out of work.

But that bit about having only five, six, or seven years left as a writer, well that completely missed the mark. Bernard Fernandez is still going strong and those of us that enjoy reading well-crafted stories about boxing are the beneficiaries.

Congrats, Bernie.

Editor’s Note: A profile of Thomas Hauser will be forthcoming

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel  

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BJ Saunders Improves to 30-0 at the Expense of Mildewed Martin Murray

Arne K. Lang

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There was a time several months ago when it appeared that Billy Joe Saunders was in the driver’s seat as far as securing a match with Canelo Alvarez. The lucrative assignment went to BJ’s countryman Callum Smith, but there’s a strong possibility that Saunders and Canelo will lock horns in 2021. If so, Saunders will bring an unblemished record. Tonight, behind closed doors at Wembley Arena he advanced his ledger to 30-0 (14) with a predictably one-sided decision over UK veteran Martin Murray. Saunders was appearing in his seventh world title fight and making the second defense of his WBO 168-pound belt.

Saunders, a close friend and training partner of fellow Traveller Tyson Fury, represented England in the Beijing Olympics at the tender age of 17. Now 31 years old (but with the emotional maturity of an adolescent) he is the classic example of a cagey southpaw.  That’s another way of saying that while a purist can appreciate his artistry, he doesn’t have a fan-friendly style. He is the British equivalent of Demetrius Andrade.

Martin Murray was making his fifth stab at a world title. The 38-year-old campaigner from St. Helens, near Liverpool, previously fought Felix Sturm and Arthur Abraham in Germany, Sergio Martinez in Argentina, and Gennadiy Golovkin in Monte Carlo. His fight with Sturm ended in a draw, but that was back in 2011 and Murray has put a lot of mileage on his odometer in the interim. Tonight, that showed as he did not instinctively let his hands go when he saw an opening. The scorecards read 118-110, and 120-109 twice. Those scorecards were similar to Saunders’ tour-de-force vs. David Lemeiux, but that was an unexpected eye-opener, whereas tonight Billy Joe was expected to win as he pleased.

This may have been the last rodeo for Murray (39-6-1), five times a bridesmaid. He can leave with his head held high. Always in shape, only Golovkin was able to stop  him and it took GGG 11 rounds. BJ Saunders hopes to fight the winner of Canelo vs. Callum Smith, but there is also talk of a rematch with Chris Eubank Jr who gave him his toughest test back in 2014.

Co-Feature

In a lightweight match framed as a WBA title eliminator, James Tennyson (28-3, 24 KOs) blasted out previously undefeated Josh O’Reilly, now 16-1, in the opening round. It was the sixth straight win by TKO for Belfast’s Tennyson who moved up in weight after being stopped in the 4th round at Boston in a bid for Tevin Farmer’s IBF 130-pound title. O’Reilly, a Hamilton, Ontario native appearing in his first fight outside Canada, was on the deck twice before the referee waived off the mismatch. The official time was 2:14.

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Twenty-eight-year-old London light heavyweight Lerrone Richards improved to 14-0 (3) in a monotonous 8-round contest with 36-year-old Finland journeyman Timo Laine, 28-14 (15). Laine fought to survive, not to win, and Richards won every round on the referee’s card.

Undefeated super middleweight Zach Parker (19-0) was scheduled to fight former Edgar Berlanga victim Cesar Nunez, a 35-year-old Spaniard, but the fight fell out when a member of Nunez’s team tested positive for the coronavirus. Parker is ranked #2 by the WBO.

Photo credit: Dave Thompson / Matchroom Boxing

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Boxing Exhibitions: Side Show, New Angle, or Something Else? Part Two

Ted Sares

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Boxing Exhibitions: Side Show, New Angle, or Something Else? Part Two

YouTuber Jake Paul (2-0) says he wants to fight English YouTuber KSI, and then maybe Ryan Garcia, Conor McGregor, and some of the top UFC fighters (using boxing rules). This comes after his recent coldcocking of former NBA star Nate Robinson.

“There is a long list of opponents that I want, you know Conor McGregor, Dillon Danis. I’m going to knock them both out.”– Paul

Jake and his brother Logan are participants in a continuing side show and the more attention they get, the more this freak show will last. In that vein, this writer will no longer mention them except to quote the following from a poster named VashDBasher: “Hopefully these exhibition matches with these retired fighters don’t get out of hand. Not to mention these youtubers with single digit fights making more money than a lot of top prospects and contenders. Boxing is turning into a sham with…”

Exhibitions: The Fire Has Been Ignited; Will It Burn?

Jorge Arce and Julio Cesar Chavez, Sr. launched the tour when they faced off in September in Tijuana but it was done under the radar.

The super-hyped and much anticipated Tyson-Jones exhibition is now in the past, but already it appears that many others will take place. After all, this one—though a stylistic stinker– reportedly pulled in close to 1.2 million PPV buys!

“There’s a sucker born every minute.” – usually attributed to P. T. Barnum

Mike Tyson, coming in at a svelte 220 pounds wants to continue and asserts “my body feels splendid. I want to beat it up some more…I will do it again.” If he does, it may well happen in Europe.

Others are coming out of the woodwork sniffing around like dogs smelling Purina chow but the chow in this case is money and plenty of it. Suddenly, the “seniors tour” seems to enjoy the certainty of a Cher’s final tour. Ex- fighters like Glen McCrory, Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe, Johnny Nelson, Buster Douglas, Shannon Briggs, Erik Morales, Evander Holyfield, Marco António Barrera, and possibly Oscar De La Hoya (in a traditional comeback rather than an exhibition) are all looking to get in on the action.

 “The rumors are true, and I’m going to start sparring in the next few weeks.” –De La Hoya

The usually quiet Holyfield in particular has made a lot of noise saying among other things that, “Roy Jones was a good local opponent for Tyson, but a fight with me would be a global event and the only one fight that anyone wants to see is a fight between us. There is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t make it happen…”

But the “Real Deal” also has said he won’t fight for less than 25 million which is pretty much tantamount to saying he doesn’t want to fight.

Tyson vs. Holyfield III? Don’t bet on this one happening.

However, if there is money to be made, Floyd Mayweather Jr will be hovering about like a helicopter perhaps looking to fight Manny Pacquiao in a mega fight, but Manny may be looking to fight everybody’s favorite opponent, UFC star Conor McGregor. A real fight involving Floyd against a risky opponent would be of enormous interest, but keeping in mind that one of his mottos has been “my health is my wealth,” that is not something to bet on.

Ted Sares can be reached at  tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Errol Spence Jr’s Near-Death Experience Has Made Him More Well-Grounded

Bernard Fernandez

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Maybe it’s a good thing that Errol Spence Jr. had to learn the hard way that talent, like life, is a perishable commodity. Even so accomplished a world boxing champion as Spence had to discover that harsh reality in the blink of an eye, or however long as it took for his fast-moving sports car to veer out of control and produce a knockdown far more perilous than anything the man known as “The Truth” ever has had to face in the ring, or likely ever will.

The Errol Spence Jr. (26-0, 21 KOs) who puts his IBF and WBC welterweight championships on the line against two-division former titlist Danny “Swift” Garcia (36-2, 21 KOs) Saturday night in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, could have, and maybe even should have, died in the early morning hours of October 10, 2019, on a virtually open stretch of highway near Interstate 30 in downtown Dallas. Spence’s white Ferrari, capable of hitting speeds up to 200 mph, went over the center median and flipped over several times. It seemed miraculous that Spence (who was cited for misdemeanor driving under the influence), who sustained significant injuries, could be ejected from the car yet somehow recover to the point where he could fight another day.

“It’s just a miracle for things to turn out like they did,” Spence has said. “For anybody to be ejected out of a Ferrari … I mean, it could have been so much worse. I could have lost a leg, an arm. I could have been paralyzed or had brain damage. I could have been killed right then and there. But I didn’t have to deal with any of that. I’m just blessed. I’m definitely going to heed this warning. You go through what I did, you definitely don’t take things for granted as I once did.”

His professional return Saturday night will not only be met with as much public anticipation as is standard for fighters occupying as elite a level as does Spence, but even more so given his career-long 14½-month layoff (his most recent bout was a 12-round split decision over Shawn Porter on September 28, 2019) and questions attendant to how well he has recovered from his near-catastrophic experience. Has the ordeal in any way diminished him physically or psychologically? Was he imprudent in choosing to forego a less-risky tune-up fight for a matchup with the very formidable Garcia, who previously has held the WBC and WBA super lightweight and WBC welterweight belts? Can he demonstrate that he still is as special a fighter as he had been before his car crashed? Or maybe even better?

Not all of the answers will be provided in the Showtime Pay-Per-View main event, but enough will be to ascertain whether Spence can still claim to be the best 147-pound fighter on the planet (as listed in The Ring magazine ratings) or, even if victorious, reveal himself to be at least somewhat damaged goods.

Not that he was prone to preening and chest-thumping before, but, if anything, Spence, although highly confident he will come away with his undefeated record extended, still presents a public posture similar to that of his understated trainer, Derrick James. That is a stark contrast to the bombast for which Garcia’s father-trainer, Angel Garcia, is noted, and has even ratcheted up a notch for this fight. Angel has even gone on record as predicting that Danny will stop Spence in seven rounds.

“He’s going to go out there and show the world what true champions are made of,” Angel said of what he expects from his son, a +340 underdog in contrast to Spence’s -450 favoritism. “Danny don’t just know how to win, he knows how to kick your ass.”

Noting that his date with Spence had already been twice-delayed, the 32-year-old Danny figures all good things come to those who wait, and his patience is about to be rewarded. “Boxing is a sport of timing,” he said. “And the time is now. I feel great. I had a tremendous camp and did everything I’m supposed to do. Now it’s time to go out there and do what I do best, and win.

“I’ve been the underdog in many fights. I don’t worry about the critics or the media. I know that I’m a great champion, and a great fighter. And that’s what I’m going to prove Saturday night.”

James, for his part, is only too glad to yield the megaphone to Angel Garcia. He’s not about to talk smack about the Garcias because, well, he believes no good can come for those who brag about what they expect to do before they do it.

“I don’t make predictions for myself or my guy, but (Angel Garcia) is supposed to believe in himself,” James said. “He’s supposed to believe in what he thinks his son is going to do. Why wouldn’t he? At the same time, we feel the exact same way. I don’t go in there saying we are going to get a knockout. I can’t predict anything like that. But I can predict that we will be victorious.

“My guy’s quiet, I’m quiet. If you believe in yourself, you don’t have to talk about it.”

Any changes in Spence might not be obvious inside the ropes, but he insists his lifestyle has undergone a radical makeover that can only serve to benefit him in the time he has left at or near the top of a brutal sport that chews up and spits out those who can’t appreciate that today’s glory can soon become tomorrow’s memory.  For one thing, he has traded a Ferrari’s massive horsepower for, well, a different sort of horse power.

“I think it did renew my focus and got me back to the thing that got me to the top of the mountain,” he said of his reconfigured priorities stemming from the accident. “After a fight I started taking a week off, then two weeks off to a month off. Now I’m grinding hard again. You realize that having this time on earth is a luxury. Being young (Spence was 29 at the time of the crash, and is now 30), you think you’re invincible. You think nothing bad can happen to you. But when something does happen to you, you realize that time is important, especially time spent with your family and loved ones.

“That’s why I actually moved out of downtown (Dallas), got a ranch with horses, cattle and things like that. I got a pool and I’m outside with my kids. I just had a newborn son.”

Still, Spence knows that saying he’s as good, or better, than he previously had been is not going to convince any doubting Thomases until he delivers the goods. Danny Garcia, proud and tough, poses the test he needs to pass before any lingering suspicions can be laid to rest.

“I’m a realist,” Spence said. “I know people have a lot of questions. Am I still the same? Am I a shadow of myself? Those are questions that need to be answered.”

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