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Elder Statesman Saoul Mamby (1947 – 2019) Was Even More Perseverant Than B-Hop

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I think I interviewed the late Saoul Mamby just once. There might have been a time or two more, but I can’t say for sure, given the thousands of fights I have covered in my four-decades-plus on the boxing beat, not all of which made a deep enough impression on my memory that I can instantly dial up time, place and details.  In any case, it is that first occasion I was at ringside for a Saoul bout I recall now, for reasons that only peripherally touch upon his participation in the main event that night at Resorts International Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J.

It was Oct. 11, 1988. I was there to report for the Philadelphia Daily News on what I seem to recall was a seven-bout card, headlined by the 10-round junior welterweight matchup pitting up-and-coming John Wesley Meekins, 23, and 41-year-old warhorse Mamby, a former WBC super lightweight champion on the way down. Eighteen years younger, stronger and faster, Meekins negated Mamby’s edge in experience to win a majority decision.

The Bronx-born, Brooklyn-based Mamby’s status as a former world titlist in and of itself seemingly should be enough to commemorate his passing, at age 72, after a lingering illness. But the reason that date still registers with me so much later is this: a 23-year-old ex-convict from Philadelphia, Bernard Hopkins, made an inauspicious pro debut on the Meekins-Mamby undercard with a four-round majority decision loss to Clinton Mitchell.

Hopkins, you’ve heard about. Inactive for 20 months after the loss to Mitchell, he would come up the hard way, eventually becoming a middleweight champion (setting a record with 20 title defenses, since tied by Gennadiy Golovkin) and light heavyweight champion. He also holds the record for being the oldest widely recognized world titlist, making the last successful defense of his IBF 175-pound belt with a split decision over Beibut Shumenov, from whom he also annexed the WBA strap, on April 19, 2014, when B-Hop was 49.

By then a legend for his longevity as well as his many signature victories, Hopkins was just 29 days shy of his 53rd birthday for his final fight, on Dec. 17, 2016, when he was tagged with the only loss inside the distance in his exemplary, 28-year career, going out in eight rounds against 27-year-old construction worker Joe Smith Jr. in Inglewood, Calif. Only then did Hopkins concede that he was as susceptible to the one opponent, Father Time, that no fighter can stave off indefinitely.

I have covered dozens of Bernard Hopkins fights, many of which were for the PDN, tying us so closely in some people’s minds that we have almost come to be viewed as joined at the hip. Roy Jones Jr. even has referred to me as “Bernard Hopkins Fernandez.” And don’t think that more than a few people see some significance in the fact that we both will be formally inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on June 14, 2020, B-Hop in the Modern category and I in the Observer category.

But, as remarkable as Hopkins has been for achieving what he did in a sport that is harsh and unforgiving to those who try to hang on too long, consider this: Saoul Mamby, incredibly, was 60 when he appeared in his last sanctioned fight, losing a 10-round unanimous decision to 32-year-old ham-and-egger Anthony Osbourne on March 8, 2008, in Georgetown, Guyana. Osbourne, a Jamaican, entered the ring then with a 6-27-1 record.

Given the spate of aging fighters who either have launched or were contemplating ill-advised comebacks, most notably former middleweight and super middleweight champion Nigel Benn at 55 (he ultimately decided against it), Mamby’s name had been bandied about quite a bit recently as a prime example – maybe the prime example — of someone who, as in the words of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, “raged, raged against the dying of the light” of a ring career he hoped to prolong for as long as possible.

Unlike Hopkins, so celebrated now for surviving as long and as successfully as he did at the highest levels of boxing, Saoul Mamby is not likely to ever be posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, despite the WBC super lightweight title he claimed with a 14th-round TKO of Sang Hyum Kim on Feb. 23, 1980, and retained through five defenses.  He was a good but not especially remarkable, 33-12-5, with 12 KOs when he finally yielded his championship to Leroy Haley on a unanimous decision on Feb. 13, 1983, coming up short again in his bid to reclaim the same title, again by UD, to then-champ Billy Costello on Nov. 3, 1984. His final record after the loss to Osbourne shall forever stand at 45-34-6, with 18 wins by KO or TKO.

But consider this: even as he regressed from champion to trial horse, enduring an eight-fight losing streak along the way, Mamby lost only one time inside the distance, a first-round stoppage against 23-year-old contender Derrell Coley on Aug. 13, 1993. Saoul was 46 then and Coley came in at 20-0-1 with 14 KOs.

Records, however, are merely statistics, from which conclusions can be twisted to fit someone’s preferred narrative. It should be noted that Mamby, a Vietnam veteran, gave the great Roberto Duran, the reigning lightweight champ, all he could handle in losing a 10-round, non-title unanimous decision on May 4, 1976. But the “Hands of Stone” was just one of the top-tier fighters with whom Mamby swapped punches, a list that also includes Costello, Coley, Edwin Viruet, Antonio Cervantes, Esteban De Jesus, Buddy McGirt, Maurice Blocker and Javier Castillejo.

Mamby was unquestionably a lesser version of himself when he squared off against Meekins, a New York City resident who never did quite fulfill the championship promise he flashed for a time as a hot prospect. Still, I made Saoul the focus of my story for the PDN, which I thought to be of possibly greater interest to readers.

“It’s a tribute to him that he’s still able to do what he does,” Meekins said of Mamby. “He obviously takes care of himself. I personally can’t even imagine what it would be like to be fighting when I’m his age.”

A prophetic look into the future. Meekins was 29 when he quit the ring in 1994, with a 24-5-2 record with 17 wins by KO.

Mamby, by this time apparently accustomed to the reality that he no longer was the “A” side of most of the bouts in which he participated, shrugged off another loss that, once upon a time when he was still a champion, he likely would have won.

“It wasn’t too bad a performance on my part, considering that I only had a week to get ready,” he told me “I have no complaints. I did my best. The judges said it wasn’t good enough.:

And now for the part that I find most surprising, given what would transpire later. The story I wrote for my newspaper ran a few inches longer than the hole into which it was assigned, so most of the copy that made it into print dealt with the main event. Some of the undercard bouts – including the one involving the debuting Hopkins – didn’t make the cut.

Many years later, I asked Hopkins if he remembered who the main-event fighters were on the night he turned pro. He said he wasn’t sure.

“It was John Wesley Meekins and Saoul Mamby,” I said.

“Oh, yeah, John Meekins,” Hopkins replied. “Good young fighter. From New York, I think.”

The passage of time has made it easier to forget some of what Saoul Mamby did as the most elder of boxing’s once-active elder statesmen. Now that he’s gone, I don’t ever want to make that mistake again.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A Travesty of a Heavyweight ‘Title Fight’ and More

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It’s official. On Wednesday, Feb. 22, a formal press conference was held in Sofia, Bulgaria, to announce the forthcoming fight between Mahmoud Charr, formerly known as Manuel Charr, and Kubrat Pulev. They will meet in Bulgaria’s capital city on March 30 at a 12,000-seat arena.

Charr vs Kubrat bears the imprimatur of a world heavyweight title fight (WBA version). Charr is considered the champion, notwithstanding the fact that others have held the title since he first laid claim to it more than six years ago.

The WBA, as we know, recognizes two champions in some weight classes, a “super” champion and a “regular” champion. The “super” designation was created in 2000. It was designed to segregate title-holders into levels of accomplishment. In theory, a “super” champion has made five successful defenses and is recognized as a world title-holder by at least one of the three other major sanctioning bodies. “Super” champions are allowed certain liberties with respect to mandatory title defenses.

The bifurcation was greeted with hoots of derision. The Panama-based WBA trivialized the sport.

Mahmoud Charr

Mahmoud Charr was born in Beirut but has resided in Germany since he was a little boy. He won the vacant title with a 12-round decision over unexceptional Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany.  It was a close fight. TSS ringside correspondent Phil Woolever had Ustinov winning 7 rounds to 5, but conceded that the verdict could not be called an injustice.

The title that Charr won was vacated by Ruslan Chagaev who won the belt from Fres Oquendo, lost it to Lucas Browne, and got it back by decree when Browne’s post-fight urine tests showed evidence of banned substances. But Chagaev never fought again. His fight with Browne was his last.

Charr’s first defense was to come against Fres Oquendo. Slated for March 23, 2019 in Cologne after being pushed back from September of the previous year, the match never came to fruition when Charr tested positive for two banned substances. Things get really muddled from here with Charr pushed to the sideline by legal battles complicated by Don King’s shenanigans. King arranged a fight in Florida between Charr and his fighter Trevor Bryan and succeeded in getting Bryan the WBA belt when Charr was unable to get a visa. The belt is vacant again after Bryan was knocked out by Daniel Dubois who, in turn, was knocked out by “super” champion Oleksandr Usyk.

There are more threads to this saga but let’s not go there. Suffice it to say that after defeating Ustinov, Charr was out of action for the next three-and-a-half years. He’s had only three fights since 2017 and to say that his opponents were men of low repute would be giving them the best of it. In his most recent assignment, in December of 2022, he scored a second-round stoppage over 46-year-old Swiss-Albanian slug Nuri Seferi. That brought his record to 34-4 (20). He has been stopped three times, most recently in 2015 when he was halted in five frames by future cruiserweight champion Maris Briedis.

Kubrat Pulev

Kubrat Pulev will have the home field advantage in Sofia. Charr will have youth on his side. He’s 39; Pulev is 42.

Pulev sports a 30-3 record. The losses came at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko (L KO 5), Anthony Joshua (L KO 9), and Derek Chisora (L SD 12). He last fought in December at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, CA, where he won a lopsided decision over Polish journeyman Andrzej Wawrzyk.

In a previous engagement here at the Hangar, a concert hall that seats a shade over 3,000, he TKOed Bogdan Dinu. That bout is remembered mostly for what happened after it ended. In an incident that went viral on social media, Pulev surprised Jennifer Ravalo, a self-styled journalist, with a kiss on the lips. That animated women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred and led to an 8-page spread in Playboy (of Ravalo, not Allred). The California State Athletic Commission fined and suspended Pulev and mandated that he undergo sexual harassment training. The suspension lasted 120 days.

The match between Charr and Pulev, says a blurb about it, is an “eagerly anticipated” clash between “two evergreen living legends.” We will let you provide the punchline, The winner is expected to fight Martin Bakole who was knocked out by Michael Hunter.

Jake Paul

Jake Paul, the enfant terrible of prizefighting, returns this Saturday on a card in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that will air on DAZN. Paul, a so-called influencer who brought his big social media following with him when he took up fisticuffing, is coming off a first-round stoppage of Andre August, a no-name fighter from Texas. Saturday’s sacrificial lamb is a fellow from Dickinson, North Dakota (by way of Benicia, California) named Ryan Bourland.

Bourland, who is reportedly 35 years old but looks older, scored his signature win in 2018 when he avenged a previous defeat with a 10-round majority decision over Jose Hernandez. He has fought only one since then, TKOing a fighter with a losing record in a 6-rounder at a lodge on a remote Indian reservation in North Dakota. That improved his ledger to 17-2 (6 KOs).

Regarding Jake Paul, Thomas Hauser once wrote that he’s worked hard to become a better boxer and is “certainly better than a Golden Gloves novice.” There was a time when this reporter, perhaps naively, thought that Jake had the potential to become a legitimate top-15 cruiserweight, but his recent choice of opponents suggests that he is comfortable just spinning his wheels.

His bout with Bourland will play second fiddle to Amanda Serrano’s featherweight title defense against Germany’s Nina Meinke (18-3, 4 KOs). Although Amanda has a lot of mileage on her odometer, she is expected to have little difficulty with Meinke. In another bout of note, Puerto Rican campaigners Jonathan Gonzalez (27-3-1, 14 KOs) and Rene Santiago (12-3, 9 KOs) will meet in a 12-rounder with Gonzalez’s WBO light flyweight title at stake.

—-

Let’s conclude this write-up on an upbeat note. Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, a frequent TSS contributor, informs us that his fifth and presumably final anthology is nearing completion with a likely release date of April or May. “Championship Rounds, Round 5” includes a foreword by Gerry Cooney and has drawn glowing reviews from the likes of Dave Kindred and Dr. Gordon Marino who both had an early peek at the manuscript. Kindred, a renowned sportswriter and author, was the subject of a 2021 piece on “60 Minutes.” Marino, a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, has written extensively about boxing for the Wall Street Journal.

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Results from Orlando where Berlanga KOed McCrory in a Possible Prelude to Canelo

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Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom organization was at the Caribe Royale tonight, a non-gaming resort near Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Unbeaten super middleweights Edgar Berlanga and Padraig McCrory squared off in the main event.

The fight started slow, but it soon became apparent that McCrory, a 35-year-old father of three from Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a domestic-level fighter, notwithstanding his undefeated (18-0) record. Berlanga, whose last five fights had gone the distance, roughed him up with some dirty tactics before taking him out in the sixth round with a crunching right hand that sent the Irishman face-first to the canvas. As McCrory pulled himself upright on rubbery legs, the towel flew in from his corner. The official time was 2:44.

As well-documented, Berlanga opened his pro career with 16 consecutive first-round knockouts. Nonetheless, he was let go by Top Rank in what purportedly was an amicable divorce. This was his second fight under the Matchroom banner. Eddie Hearn signed him with an eye on scoring a big-money match with Canelo Alvarez. The red-headed Mexican superstar is committed to returning to the ring in May on Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas, but hasn’t yet locked in an opponent.

If Berlanga gets the nod, he would be a heavy underdog, but the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico angle (coupled with Berlanga’s new-found reputation as a dirty fighter) would make it an easy sell.

Co-Feature

In only his third professional fight, Cuban defector Andy Cruz was bumped into the co-feature. That was in recognition of his amateur pedigree. Among his accomplishments, he was 4-0 vs. Keyshawn Davis with the last win coming in the gold medal round of the Tokyo Olympics.

Cruz, 28, was expected to win as he pleased against his Mexican opponent, Bryan Zamarripa, and he did win all 10 rounds on all three scorecards, but in common with many great Cuban amateurs, he seemed to lack something in the power department. Zamarripa was 14-2 heading in.

Other Bouts of Note

In a 12-round welterweight contest that was devoid of drama, Uzbekistan native Shakhram Giyasov, an Olympic silver medalist who has lost precious few rounds as a pro, won a lopsided technical decision over well-recycled 34-year-old Mexican Pablo Cesar Cano.

Giyasov (15-0, 9 KOs) sent Cano (35-9-1) to the canvas in the third round with a body punch. At the end of round 11, as their feet were tangled, he pushed Cano to the canvas and the Mexican ostensibly suffered a broken ankle when he fell. That sent the bout to the scorecards where the decision (109-99 x3) was a formality. With the victory, Giyasov earned a shot at WBA belt-holder Eimantas Stanionis.

The 12-round bantamweight match between Antonio Vargas and Jonathan Rodriguez, two fighters of Puerto Rican descent, was framed as a WBA bantamweight title eliminator. Rodriguez, the underdog, floored Vargas in the opening stanza. He had scored a stunning first-round knockout of 27-1 Khalid Yafai in his previous start and it appeared that another upset was brewing. But the match quickly turned one-sided in favor of Vargas who put Rodriguez on the canvas in the very next frame (and had two points deducted for hitting him after the bell) and then put him down again at the end of round seven with a sweeping left hook after which Rodriguez’s corner properly pulled him out.

Vargas, a 2016 Olympian who had home field advantage in Florida, improved to 18-1 (10 KOs) and became the mandatory opponent for Takuma Inoue who won earlier today in Tokyo. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Rodriguez declined to 17-2-1.

The opening bout on the TV portion of the card was a 10-round flyweight affair that looked like a runaway for showboating Yankiel Rivera until gritty Andy Dominguez made things interesting.

Rivera, who improved to 5-0 (2), was Puerto Rico’s lone representative in the Tokyo Olympics. In Mexico-born Andy Dominguez, he was fighting a former three-time New York City Golden Gloves champion who was also unbeaten (10-0 heading in). Rivera dominated the match but was caught napping in round nine and Dominguez, although all busted-up, hurt him and almost put him down. That was most lopsided round of the fight, but also the only round that Dominguez won in the eyes of the judges.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Junto Nakatani Turns in Another Masterclass on Saturday’s Tripleheader in Tokyo

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In a rather odd juxtaposition, several of boxing’s best little men were on display today at Japan’s National Sumo Arena in Tokyo. The best of the lot, Junto Nakatani, improved to 27-0 (20 KOs) while tearing away the WBC world bantamweight title from Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (28-4-5) who was making the first defense of the title he won in Las Vegas in May when he upset Nonito Donaire.

It was a one-sided beatdown. Nakatani, who had a 5-inch height advantage, won every round before ending the contest in the sixth. The end came at the 1:12 mark when Nakatani terminated the affair with his second knockdown. The first came earlier in the round, the result of a straight left hand. The finisher was a big right hook.

With the victory, Nakatani became a world title-holder in a third weight class. He’s an outstanding talent, worthy of pound-for-pound consideration, and would be favored in a unification fight with Takuma Inoue.

Inoue, the younger brother of pound-for-pound king Naoya “Monster” Inoue, did his part to bring the match to fruition with a ninth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jerwin Ancajas in the main event. Inoue (19-1, 5 KOs) was making the first defense of the WBA diadem he won with a wide decision over Venezuela’s mildewed Liborio Solis. That title was conveniently vacated by Takuma’s renowned brother.

This figured to be the most competitive match on the card and Ancajas (34-4-2) had his moments before Inoue ended the contest at the 0:44 mark of round nine with a four-punch combination climaxed by a shot to the liver. Heading in, Ancajas, who had a long title reign at 115, was 9-2-1 in world title fights and hadn’t previously been stopped.

In the first of the three title fights, 29-year-old Kosei Tanaka became a four-weight belt-holder in record time with a unanimous decision over Mexicali’s stubborn but out-classed Christian Bacasegua “Rocky” Rangel. At stake was the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title.

Tanaka, who previously held belts at 105, 108, and 112, started slow but the outcome was never in doubt after he knocked “Rocky” to the canvas in the eighth frame. The judges had it 119-108, 117-110, and 116-111. With the victory, Tanaka improved to 20-1 (11). In his only defeat, he was stopped by countryman Kazuto Ioka. He hunkers for a rematch but, if it happens, he might wish that it hadn’t. Ioka is long in the tooth – he turns 35 next month – but is very good and shows no signs of slowing down. Rangel (22-5-2) had won nine straight heading in, but against questionable opposition and was making his first start outside Mexico.

The Teiken Promotions card was presented in association with Top Rank and aired in the U.S. on ESPN+.

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