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Congrats to AJ, But Fat Andy Obliged His Redemption by Forgetting History

Bernard Fernandez

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A wise man, Spanish writer/philosopher George Santayana, once observed that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

All right, so the original quote attributed to Santayana, who was known for aphorisms, was worded slightly differently. But the rationale expressed in either version has remained the same almost forever, and in the specific case of now-dethroned heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz Jr., the closest parallel to the harsh life lesson he learned Saturday evening in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, took place on Feb. 11, 1990, in Tokyo.  Ruiz can be excused for not seeing the HBO telecast of Buster Douglas’ shocking, 10th-round knockout of heavyweight king Mike Tyson on that date because, well, the now-30-year-old Ruiz was still an infant, having been born only 155 days earlier. But you have to figure that by now he’d heard plenty about the most famous upset in boxing history, and how Douglas, the newly crowned champion and momentary toast of the pugilistic world, squandered his opportunity to be something more than a one-hit wonder by getting knocked out in the third round of his first and only title defense, by Evander Holyfield on Oct. 25, 1990, at The Mirage in Las Vegas.

There are, of course, several differences between the cruel price Ruiz must now pay for becoming too self-satisfied with his instant wealth and celebrity, as was the case with Douglas, who never again came within whiffing distance of the form he displayed, boxing-wise or belly-wise, that magical night (well, it was actually Sunday afternoon Tokyo time) in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Douglas went down on his back vs Holyfield and was counted out by referee Mills Lane; the disturbingly chubby Ruiz (33-2, 22 KOs) remained upright for the 12-round distance, but was handily out-boxed from the get-go in losing a wide unanimous decision in his rematch with Great Britain’s Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs), the man from whom he had lifted the IBF, WBA and WBO belts on a seventh-round stoppage in  their first meeting on June 1 of this year in New York’s Madison Square Garden. And while Douglas never did share the ring a second time with Tyson, relinquishing his WBC, WBA and IBF straps to a new opponent, Holyfield, whom he also did not face again, Ruiz’s precipitous fall from grace came in a do-over with Joshua, which may or may not be a precursor to a rubber match that suddenly seems neither assured nor in that much public demand.

“I  think I was chasing him too much instead of cutting off the ring,” said the ostensibly 6-foot-2 Ruiz, who officially weighed in at a preposterous 283.7 pounds, or 15.7 more than he did for his successful first go at Joshua, which was widely hailed as boxing’s biggest shocker since Douglas beat up the seemingly invincible Tyson. “I just felt like I couldn’t throw my combinations. But who wants to see a third fight?”

It would have been interesting to see if CompuBox, the punch-counting outfit, could have quickly scanned the sellout crowd of 15,000 in the outdoor stadium on the outskirts of Riyadh to tabulate how many hands went up in support of the possible rubber match that logic almost dictates will never happen. Where Ruiz, a United States citizen and the first heavyweight titlist of Mexican descent, was the taco-tasting flavor of the moment as soon as he had his hand raised against Joshua six months earlier, he now is teetering on the border of irrelevance, just as Douglas was when he demonstrated he did not have the will and discipline to ever again be the same fighter he was in cashing his lottery ticket against Tyson.  Ruiz, his considerable girth aside, still has fast hands and decent power for a man his size, but his waddling pursuit of AJ in the Saudi desert now stamps him as little more than a more mobile hippo in a river teeming with faster-moving crocodiles. With Ruiz’s seeming expulsion from the club, what had been a Big Four of heavyweight boxing again has been constricted to a Big Three, with Joshua reclaiming a favored place at the head table along with WBC champion Deontay Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KOs) and humongous  Brit Tyson Fury (29-0-1, 20 KOs), who technically remains the lineal champ.

Wilder and Fury are set to square off a second time on Feb. 22 at an undetermined site in a reprise of their classic first matchup, which ended in a controversial split draw on Dec. 1, 2018 at Los Angeles’ Staples Center. Some observers felt that the sharp-boxing Fury had banked enough rounds to get the nod, while dissenters sided with Wilder, who registered two knockdowns, including a 12th-round flooring from which Fury barely beat the count. Whomever survives that showdown automatically becomes the people’s choice to go for the undisputed title against Joshua, unless, of course, there is some sort of undisclosed contractual obligation for Wilder and Fury to swap punches a third time.

Nor is Joshua, who has expressed his desire to fully complete his collection of bejeweled championship belts, likely to voluntarily surrender any to accommodate Ruiz’s entreaties to get it on a third time. The WBO announced immediately after the fight that Joshua must make his mandatory defense against Oleksandr Usyk (17-0, 13 KOs) within 180 days, while the IBF wants AJ to defend against its mandatory challenger, Kubrat Pulev (28-1, 14 KOs). A pairing of Joshua and Usyk, the former undisputed cruiserweight champion who 17-0 with 13 KOs, is of much more global interest than Joshua-Ruiz 3 would be, and the likelihood is that AJ would accede to the IBF’s wishes rather than allow one of his titles to be vacated.

Where does that leave Ruiz? Likely back in the outer waiting room of title contention, where he either can buckle down and prove that he is not Buster Douglas Not-So-Lite by paying some dues to his craft instead of hefty restaurant bills. As Douglas – who ballooned to almost 400 pounds after his retirement from boxing — proved, it is one thing to enjoy living large, but it quite another to allow your appetites to go unchecked.

“It was his night,” Ruiz said of Joshua. “I don’t think I prepared as good as I should have. I gained too much weight, but I don’t want to give no excuses. He won, he boxed me around, but if we did the third (fight), best believe I will come in the best shape of my life.

“(The weight gain, from the 268 he came in for the first meeting with Joshua) kind of affected me a lot. I thought I would come in stronger and better. But you know what? Next time I am going to prepare better with my team. This time I tried to train myself at times, but no excuses. Anthony Joshua did a hell of a job.”

Perhaps a third Joshua-Ruiz bout, if it ever happens, should seek sponsorships from Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem. The subject of weight, both gained and lost, almost superseded more traditional boxing considerations from the time the rematch was announced right through the bell ending the 12th round.

For his part, Ruiz either was in denial or simply lying about the level of his conditioning, which is tied so closely to the number that is displayed on a scale. Even after arriving in Riyadh, he insisted that he expected to come in “around eight pounds” lighter than he had for the first fight with Joshua, an estimation that either was a blatant prevarication or one of the worst miscalculations ever. Despite already having an Adonis-type physique, Joshua had determined that he needed to slim down to increase his mobility and endurance, a goal which appeared to be achieved when he whittled himself from 247.75 pounds for the first fight to 237.8. His reconstructed body more closely resembled that of an Olympic gold medalist swimmer than an Olympic gold medalist fighter. This AJ looked less Lennox Lewis than Michael Phelps, and the boost in his stamina was evident as he pranced around the huge 22-foot ring like a frisky colt for all 12 rounds, peppering Ruiz’s reddened face with stiff jabs, occasional overhand rights and change-of-pace left hooks downstairs.

It will be interesting to see if AJ will retain his sleek, more mobile look when the time comes to get it on with so feared a slugger as Wilder, or as monstrously large a man as Fury. That is another story for another day, and that day is surely coming.

Not so certain is how the saga of Andy Ruiz Jr. transitions to another, perhaps final chapter. With fleshy love handles spilling over the waistband of his trunks like crème filling from a squeezed doughnut, he has never looked the part of an elite heavyweight, but his lumpy appearance belied real skills that might have been even more evident were he to eat to live instead of living to eat. Which brings us back to his predecessor of squandered opportunities, Buster Douglas.

When Douglas beat Tyson – not only beat him, but beat him up – he was inspired to perform at a higher level than ever before by the untimely death of his beloved mother, Lula Pearl Douglas. That motivation, coupled with Tyson’s arrogant belief that he need only to show up and another frightened foe would collapse before him, produced an unexpected outcome that has become the stuff of legend.

Fit as he had ever been at 231 pounds for the Tyson fight, rumors abounded that Douglas was having pizza regularly delivered him in the hotel sauna as he prepped for Holyfield. When the man from Columbus, Ohio, weighed in at a jiggly 246 for a title defense for which he was being paid $24.075 million, hundreds of spectators at the open-to-the-public event literally sprinted from their seats to the casino sports book to get bets down on Holyfield.

That scene, of course, could not be repeated in Riyadh because there is no legalized gambling in Saudi Arabia, although it might have been a kick to see men in flowing white robes and keffiyehs on their heads sprinting toward the nearest sports book, had one existed. And while there is no gambling tolerated in Saudi Arabia, the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages also is against the law, as is male fraternization with women (most of whom are wrapped up like mummies anyway) who aren’t their wives. In other words, the place is never to become as much a travel destination for fun-seeking Westerners as, say, Vegas, which is why it says here that Riyadh can never become as much of a fight town as the free-spending sheiks and promoter Eddie Hearn might want, despite the fact that Saudi backers ponied up a massive site fee somewhere between $40 million and $100 million to host Ruiz-Joshua 2. Oh, and there’s also that little matter of Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian governmental policies, which might explain why superstar golfer Tiger Woods has steadfastly declined to journey there the past couple of years to play in the Saudi Invitational tournament, despite offers of a $3 million appearance fee regardless of how he fared on the links.

So, we shall see whether Ruiz, a father of five who celebrated his stunner over Joshua by splurging on a mansion and Rolls-Royce, among other shiny new toys, finally reins himself in or continues to drift into the hazy limbo to which Buster Douglas is forever relegated. After Buster was knocked down by Holyfield, and seemed in no particular hurry to get up, the gentlemanly trainer Eddie Futch – who was there as an interested spectator, without any connection to either fighter – lambasted the now-former champion as he almost never did when speaking publicly about anyone.

“Buster Douglas fought a disgraceful fight,” said Mr. Eddie, now deceased. “He allowed himself to get in such poor condition that he had nothing – no snap, not one good punch in three rounds. For the heavyweight champion to come in such condition is just outlandish.”

And this, from Mike Trainer, Sugar Ray Leonard’s longtime attorney and adviser, who was serving as The Mirage’s boxing consultant at that time.

“We break our necks to give the public a great evening and to keep the promise, which is why we have a beautiful stadium. Wynton Marsalis, Sugar Ray Leonard and fireworks. We compliment Evander Holyfield for coming into the ring well-prepared to keep that promise. However, our attitude is that fight purses should be more along the lines of winner-take-all so that the only incentive is victory.”

That isn’t going to happen either, but it does give pause for thought when one of the two participants in a big-ticket fight shows up seemingly not prepared to give his best effort.

Photo credit: Mark Robinson / Matchroom

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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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