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

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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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In a Massive Upset, Dakota Linger TKOs Kurt Scoby on a Friday Night in Atlanta

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Although it was an 8-rounder on a show with two “tens,” Kurt Scoby’s match with Dakota Linger was accorded main event status on tonight’s card at the Overtime Elite Arena in Atlanta. This had everything to do with Scoby (pronounced Scooby), a former record-setting college running back who was considered one of the brightest prospects in the 140-pound weight class. “[Scoby] works harder than almost anyone I’ve ever seen,” said veteran New York promoter Lou DIBella in a conversation with Keith Idec. “But he’s literally getting better after every fight and he’s got the hammer of Thor, man. He can punch through walls.”

The Duarte, California product who has relocated to Brooklyn and trains at Gleason’s Gym, was undefeated (13-0) heading in and was expected to make Linger his ninth straight knockout victim. But Linger, a 29-year-old Buckhannon, West Virginia policemen whose first ring engagements were in Toughman competitions, wasn’t intimidated by Scoby’s press clippings or by Scoby’s bodybuilder physique.

Linger, who improved to 14-6-3 with his tenth win inside the distance, took the fight right to Scoby and repeatedly found a home for his overhand right. In the sixth round, after Linger strafed the ever-retreating Scoby with a barrage of punches, referee Malik Walid determined that he had seen enough and waived it off. The decision seemed a tad premature, but neither Scoby nor his cornermen offered anything in the way of a protest.

Tournament results

In the first installment of an 8-man super welterweight tournament, Brandon Adams returned to boxing after his second three-year layoff and showed no ring rust whatsoever. Adams, a 34-year-old family-man who grew up in the Watts district of LA, dismissed Ismael Villareal with a wicked punch to the liver in the waning seconds of round three. The official time was 2:59.

A former wold title challenger, Adams who improved to 23-3 (16 KOs), has become the king of boxing tournaments. He first attracted notice in 2018 when he won the fifth edition of “The Contender” series, scoring a wide 10-round decision over Shane Mosley Jr in the championship round.

Villareal, a second-generation prizefighter from the Bronx whose dad fought the likes of Hector Camacho, declined to 13-3.

Adams next opponent will be Francisco Veron who will bring a record of 14-0-1 (10).

In an energetic 10-rounder, Veron, a Florida-based Argentine with a strong amateur pedigree, scored a unanimous decision over Mexico-born, LA southpaw Angel Ruiz (18-3-1). The judges had it 100-90, 99-91, and 96-94.

Ruiz certainly had his moments, but Veron launched and landed many more punches despite fighting the last six rounds with a damaged eye.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 281: The Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia Show

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Over the years bouts between old foes such as Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia tend to be surprising.

Yes, both are only 25 but have known each other for many years.

When undisputed super lightweight champion Haney (31-0, 15 KOs) steps into the prize ring at Barclays Center to meet challenger Garcia (24-1, 20 KOs) on Saturday, April 20, fans will be witnessing the continuation of a feud that began more than a decade ago.

And though the champion is a heavy favorite, familiarity is Garcia’s best weapon heading into their fight on the Golden Boy Promotions card that will be shown on PPV.COM with Jim Lampley and friends. DAZN pay-per-view is also streaming the card.

In many ways Haney and Garcia have ventured down the same path. From amateur sensations to fighting in Mexico while teens to asking for the biggest challenges available.

“Whichever version of Ryan shows up on April 20, I will be ready for him. Ryan Garcia is just another opponent to me,” said Haney who holds the WBC super lightweight title after his win over Regis Prograis.

The first time I saw Haney as a pro he battled the dangerous Mexican contender Juan Carlos Burgos at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula. It was an impressive performance against a fighter who fought three times for a world title.

Haney was 19 at the time.

My first look at Garcia as a pro was in his first bout in the U.S. when he met Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Cruz at the Exchange in downtown Los Angeles. The Boricua looked at Garcia and tried intimidating him with stares, taunts and the usual patter. During the fight both swung and missed until the second round when Garcia zeroed in and took him out.

Garcia had just turned 18, the legal age to fight in California.

Both fighters did not have the Olympics credentials that lead to fame. But their talent has allowed them to fight through the dense smoke that is professional boxing.

Haney has defeated numerous world champions such as Prograis, Vasyl Lomachenko and George Kambosos Jr., while Garcia has stopped champions Javier Fortuna and Luke Campbell.

As amateurs, Garcia and Haney battled six times with each winning three.

“They know each other very well,” said Oscar De La Hoya of Golden Boy Promotions. “Ryan is going to beat Devin Haney.”

Haney has a buttery-smooth style with one of the best jabs in boxing. He’s very adept at keeping distance and not allowing anyone to fight him inside. His reflexes are outstanding, yet he seldom fights inside. That’s his weakness.

Garcia fights tall and has superb hand speed and a lightning quick left hook. Though his defense lacks tightness his ability to rip off three-punch combinations in a blink of an eye pauses opponents from bullying their way inside.

“These guys always just look at me and look at me like I don’t know how to box,” said Garcia on social media. “Why was I one of the best fighters in the amateurs. Why was I a 15-time National champion…why did I beat everyone I came across.”

Haney is a strong favorite by oddsmakers to defeat Garcia. But you can never tell when it comes to fighters that know each other well and are athletically gifted.

When Sergio Mora challenged Vernon Forrest he was a big underdog. When Tim Bradley fought Manny Pacquiao the first time, he was also the underdog. And when Andy Ruiz met Anthony Joshua few gave him a chance.

Haney and Garcia have history in the ring. It should be an interesting battle.

PPV.COM

Jim Lampley will be leading the broadcast on PPV.COM for the Haney-Garcia card at Barclays and texting with fans on the card live. He will be accompanied by journalists Lance Pugmire, Dan Conobbio and former champion Chris Algieri.

The PPV.COM broadcast begins at 5 p.m. PT. and is available in Canada and the USA.

Other News

MMA stars Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal will be holding a media day event on Friday, April 19, at NOVO at L.A. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Diaz and Masvidal will be boxing against each other in a grudge match on June 1 at the KIA Forum in Inglewood, Calif. The two MMA stars met five years at UFC 244 with Masvidal winning by TKO over Diaz due to cuts.

This is a grudge match, but under boxing rules.

Fight card in Commerce, Calif.

360 Promotions returns to Commerce Casino on Saturday April 20 with undefeated super lightweight Cain Sandoval leading the charge.

Sandoval (12-0) faces Angel Rebollar (8-3) in the main event that will be shown live on UFC Fight Pass. Also on the card are two female events including hot prospect Lupe Medina (5-0) versus Sabrina Persona (3-1) in a minimumweight clash.

Doors open at 4 p.m.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Heavyweight Merry-Go-Round

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Heavyweight Merry-Go-Round

There were few surprises when co-promoters Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren and their benefactor HE Turki Alalshikh held a press conference in London this past Monday to unveil the undercard for the Beterbiev-Bivol show at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on June 1. Most of the match-ups had already been leaked.

For die-hard boxing fans, Beterbiev-Bivol is such an enticing fight that it really doesn’t need an attractive undercard. Two undefeated light heavyweights will meet with all four relevant belts on the line in a contest where the oddsmakers straddled the fence. It’s a genuine “pick-‘em” fight based on the only barometer that matters, the prevailing odds.

But Beterbiev-Bivol has been noosed to a splendid undercard, a striking contrast to Saturday’s Haney-Garcia $69.99 (U.S.) pay-per-view in Brooklyn, an event where the undercard, in the words of pseudonymous boxing writer Chris Williams, is an absolute dumpster fire.

The two heavyweight fights that will bleed into Beterbiev-Bivol, Hrgovic vs. Dubois and Wilder vs. Zhang, would have been stand-alone main events before the incursion of Saudi money.

Hrgovic-Dubois

Filip Hrgovic (17-0, 13 KOs) and Daniel Dubois (20-2, 19 KOs) fought on the same card in Riyadh this past December. Hrgovic, the Croatian, was fed a softie in the form of Australia’s Mark De Mori who he dismissed in the opening round. Dubois, a Londoner, rebounded from his loss to Oleksandr Usyk with a 10th-round stoppage of corpulent Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller.

There’s an outside chance that Hrgovic vs. Dubois may be sanctioned by the IBF for the world heavyweight title.

The May 18 showdown between Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury has a rematch clause. The IBF is next in line in the rotation system for a unified heavyweight champion and the organization has made it plain that the winner of Usyk-Fury must fulfill his IBF mandatory before an intervening bout.

The best guess is that the Usyk-Fury winner will relinquish the IBF belt. If so, Hrgovic and Dubois may fight for the vacant title although a more likely scenario is that the organization will keep the title vacant so that the winner can fight Anthony Joshua.

Wilder-Zhang

The match between Deontay Wilder (43-3-1, 42 KOs) and Zhilei Zhang (26-2-1, 21 KOs) is a true crossroads fight as both Wilder, 38, and Zhang, who turns 41 in May, are nearing the end of the road and the loser (unless it’s a close and entertaining fight) will be relegated to the rank of a has-been. In fact, Wilder has hinted that this may be his final rodeo.

Both are coming off a loss to Joseph Parker.

Wilder last fought on the card that included Hrgovic and Dubois and was roundly out-pointed by a man he was expected to beat. It’s a quick turnaround for Zhang who opposed Parker on March 8 and lost a majority decision.

Other Fights

Either of two other fights may steal the show on the June 1 event.

Raymond Ford (15-0-1, 8 KOs) meets Nick Ball (19-0-1, 11 KOs) in a 12-round featherweight contest. New Jersey’s Ford will be defending the WBA world title he won with a come-from-behind, 12th-round stoppage of Otabek Kholmatov in an early contender for Fight of the Year. Liverpool’s “Wrecking” Ball, a relentless five-foot-two sparkplug, had to settle for a draw in his title fight with Rey Vargas despite winning the late rounds and scoring two knockdowns.

Hamzah Sheeraz (19-0, 15 KOs) meets fellow unbeaten Austin “Ammo” Williams (16-0, 11 KOs) in a 12-round middleweight match. East London’s Sheeraz, the son of a former professional cricket player, is unknown in the U.S. although he trained for his recent fights at the Ten Goose Boxing Gym in California. Riding a skein of 13 straight knockouts, he has a date with WBO title-holder Janibek Alimkhanuly if he can get over this hurdle.

The Forgotten Heavyweight

“Unbeaten for seven years, the man nobody wants to fight,” intoned ring announcer Michael Buffer by way of introduction. Buffer was referencing Michael Hunter who stood across the ring from his opponent Artem Suslenkov.

This scene played out this past Saturday in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. It was Hunter’s second fight in three weeks. On March 23, he scored a fifth-round stoppage of a 46-year-old meatball at a show in Zapopan, Mexico.

The second-generation “Bounty Hunter,” whose only defeat prior to last weekend came in a 12-rounder with Oleksandr Usyk, has been spinning his wheels since TKOing the otherwise undefeated Martin Bakole on the road in London in 2018. Two fights against hapless opponents on low-budget cards in Mexico and a couple of one-round bouts for the Las Vegas Hustle, an entry in the fledgling and largely invisible Professional Combat League, are the sum total of his activity, aside from sparring, in the last two-and-a-half years.

Hunter’s chances of getting another big-money fight took a tumble in Tashkent where he lost a unanimous decision in a dull affair to the unexceptional Suslenkov who was appearing in his first 10-round fight. The scores of the judges were not announced.

You won’t find this fight listed on boxrec. As Jake Donovan notes, the popular website will not recognize a fight conducted under the auspices of a rogue commission. (Another fight you won’t find on boxrec for the same reason is Nico Ali Walsh’s 6-round split decision over the 9-2-1 Frenchman, Noel Lafargue, in the African nation of Guinea on Dec. 16, 2023. You can find it on YouTube, but according to boxrec, boxing’s official record-keeper, it never happened.)

Anderson-Merhy Redux

The only thing missing from this past Saturday’s match in Corpus Christi, Texas, between Jared Anderson and Ryad Merhy was the ghost of Robert Valsberg.

Valsberg, aka Roger Vaisburg, was the French referee who disqualified Ingemar Johansson for not trying in his match with LA’s Ed Sanders in the finals of the heavyweight competition at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Valsberg tossed Johansson out of the ring after two rounds and Johansson was denied the silver medal. The Swede redeemed himself after turning pro, needless to say, when he demolished Floyd Patterson in the first of their three meetings.

Merhy was credited with throwing only 144 punches, landing 34, over the course of the 10 rounds. Those dismal figures yet struck many onlookers as too high. (This reporter has always insisted that the widely-quoted CompuBox numbers should be considered approximations.)

Whatever the true number, it was a disgraceful performance by Merhy who actually showed himself to have very fast hands on the few occasions when he did throw a punch. With apologies to Delfine Persoon, a spunky lightweight, U.S. boxing promoters should think twice before inviting another Belgian boxer to our shores.

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