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Avila Perspective, Chap. 78: Adventures in the I.E., Favorite Moments and Tank

David A. Avila

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Perspective, Chap. 78: Adventures in the I.E., Favorite Moments and Tank Davis

Accidents happen but once in a while they produce surprisingly good results.

When Jermell Charlo defeated Tony Harrison by knockout to win back the WBC super welterweight world title last weekend in the Toyota Arena in Ontario, California, it unexpectedly presented one of the best boxing cards of the year to fans in the Inland Empire; an area otherwise known as the “I.E.”

Despite a postponement due to injury and changes in venue, Premier Boxing Champions cobbled together a large boxing card filled with shocking upsets, turn-arounds and skilled prizefighting.

It was the best fight card by anyone all year that I attended.

The super welterweight world title fight was supposed to take place back in June in Las Vegas. But when Harrison hurt his ankle the fight was canceled and Charlo fought someone else in the casino town.

One of the people working with TGB told me that the rematch was headed for Dignity Health Sports Park formerly known as the StubHub Center. But a few opposed the idea and opted to go to Ontario where the late great Dan Goossen had presented multiple fight cards in the past.

It worked.

The Inland Empire has become the center of the world when it comes to prizefighting in my estimation.

Hear me out.

Three of the most powerful boxing training camps are situated in the Inland Empire: Robert Garcia Boxing Academy is in Riverside; Joel and Antonio Diaz have their gym in Indio; and Abel Sanchez has the Summit in Big Bear Mountain. All three gyms are located in the I.E.

That trio of gyms represents dozens of the best fighters in the world. And when you add about 30 more boxing gyms spread out in the same area it further emphasizes my point that the I.E. is the eye of the hurricane.

Fans in that area are rabid for boxing.

For me it represented an opportunity to drive for only 15 minutes instead of two to three hours on crowded freeways and stopped traffic. It was the same for the thousands of fans from the I.E. who showed up at the Toyota Arena. Usually the I.E. fans are forced to drive to Los Angeles or Las Vegas to watch boxing. But not on Dec. 21.

A couple of years ago a Las Vegas demography expert told me that the casino capital of the world charts which people are their bread and money. According to this expert from the MGM properties, the majority of its visitors arrive from the Inland Empire.

It makes sense.

Inland Empire residents are accustomed to driving for large chunks of time to get to work in Los Angeles or Orange County. They also are willing to attend sporting events in Los Angeles or Las Vegas; unlike residents of Los Angeles or Orange County who are basically spoiled and prefer to stay in their own counties.

So, when a marquee fight card was placed smack in the middle of the I.E., they willingly arrived despite little advertisement and even less reporting by local newspapers and television.

The TGB and PBC fight card was a success anyway.

My Best of the Year

It’s the end of 2019, the best year for boxing in my estimation in two decades. I consider 1999 one of the best in boxing for the last 20 years with multiple mega fights that included Felix Trinidad versus Oscar De La Hoya, Lennox Lewis versus Evander Holyfield twice and a few others.

Though mega fights were rare in 2019, one that did occur took place in Saudi Arabia with Anthony Joshua reclaiming the heavyweight title from Andy Ruiz. But there were many other electrifying fight cards on a smaller scale throughout the year worldwide that presented multiple candidates for Fight of the Year starting with the super featherweights Can Xu vs. Jesus M. Rojas; followed by super bantamweight battle between Danny Roman and TJ Doheny, plus the super flyweight rematch between Juan Francisco Estrada and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in Los Angeles. The following month of May saw super welterweights Julian Williams and Jarrett Hurd battle toe to toe for 12 rounds; in June the first heavyweight clash between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz took place; welterweights Errol Spence Jr. and Shawn Porter met in September; super lightweights Regis Prograis and Josh Taylor clashed in October; and Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire collided in December. All were tremendous fights and truly made 2019 one for the ages.

For me three fights in particular stood out and grabbed me.

In January a super featherweight world title fight saw China’s Can Xu out-slug Puerto Rico’s punching machine Jesus M. Rojas in Houston, Texas that proved to be the opening salvo for 2019. Xu won that fight with a tireless abundance of strategic punching in bunches seldom seen. Both fighters were a blur of fists and fury. Xu won the fight and became a national hero in China.

In April, the super bantamweight unification clash between Roman and Doheny in the Inglewood Forum was a slam bam affair that just grew fiercer by the round. Roman took the lead and when it looked like Doheny was done he suddenly put on the reverse brakes and an all-out war commenced. Roman eventually won but both gave a cup of their soul in their 12-round battle. On the same card, Mexico’s Estrada’s rematch with Thailand’s Sor Rungvisai resulted in a perfect example of how to diffuse a bully of a puncher with the science of boxing. It was memorable stuff on the same night in the same boxing ring.

The month of May saw a formerly undefeated super welterweight titlist Jarrett Hurd engage Philadelphia’s Julian Williams in a rarely seen battle of inside fighting that harkened back to the 1950s and 60s. It was inside fighting at its best with both exhibiting a high art form of fighting close quarters with neither fighter clinching or grabbing. It also showed how a good referee can also contribute to a wonderful display of boxing. The sweet science was never sweeter than that fight held in Fairfax, Virginia. It’s the type of fight that James Toney made famous.

Though many may not agree I just have to pick Williams and Hurd as the Best Fight of 2019 in my eyes. It should be shown to fighters, trainers, promoters, matchmakers, referees and judges everywhere on the art of fighting inside. Beautiful stuff.

The year 2019 was also in my estimation the best in 20 years for its pure number of memorable fights.

Gervonta vs Gamboa in Last Hurrah for 2019

Gervonta “Tank” Davis meets Yuri Gamboa on Saturday Dec. 28, at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. Showtime will televise the battle for the vacant WBA lightweight world title.

Davis (22-0, 21 KOs) left the super featherweight division and meets former featherweight champion Gamboa (30-2, 18 KOs) to try out the heavier weight division.

One thing about Cuba’s Gamboa has always been his desire to entertain fans. Unlike other Cuban fighters he never puts fans to sleep with a defensive first strategy. He goes for broke.

Last year Gamboa put up his own money to salvage his career by self-promoting a boxing card in Florida. It paid off. Now he’s set to meet one of the most dynamic punchers below 147 pounds in Davis. It won’t be easy but you can never count out Gamboa. He can whack too.

“I’m very appreciative to have this opportunity to fight for the world title on Saturday night. I have to make the best of this position that I’m in. I’m still at the level where I know that I can compete and beat the best fighters in the sport,” said Gamboa. “I’ve faced stronger fighters than Gervonta and I’ve been able to beat them. He’s not going to bring anything I haven’t seen.”

Davis has always possessed power and speed in abundance. Let’s face it. The man has no neck. You can’t hurt a man with no neck. Just kidding. But Davis has shown a considerable chin though he’s rarely had to prove it.

If you haven’t seen Davis or Gamboa before, well, you are in for a treat. They don’t play around.

“Saturday night it’s going to be an action-packed fight and we’ll see who’s got what it takes,” said Davis. “I know that Gamboa is a tough opponent and he’ll lay it all on the line. If it goes 12 rounds, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m looking to make this a great fight for me and also for the fans.”

Fights to Watch

Sat. Showtime 6 p.m. Gervonta Davis (22-0) vs Yuri Gamboa (30-2); Badou Jack (22-2-3) vs Jean Pascal (34-6-1).

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The Hauser Report: Garcia-Redkach and More

Thomas Hauser

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Boxing made its debut at Barclays Center on October 20, 2012, with a fight card headlined by four world title bouts. Danny Garcia, Erik Morales, Paulie Malignaggi, Peter Quillin, Devon Alexander, Danny Jacobs, and Luis Collazo were in the ring that night. The franchise grew nicely. Fans who went to Barclays saw good featured fights with solid undercard bouts. But as of late, the arena’s fistic offerings have faded.

Barclays cast its lot with Premier Boxing Champions. And PBC has moved its prime content to greener pastures (green being the color of money). There were five fight cards at Barclays Center in 2019. Each one struggled to sell tickets.

January 25 marked the thirty-ninth fight card at Barclays. The arena was half empty. The announced attendance was 8,217 but that included a lot of freebies. There were six fights on the card. As expected, fighters coming out of the blue corner won all of them. That’s what happens when 6-0 squares off against 2-10-1.

Three of the fights were televised by Showtime Championship Boxing, which has also been diminished as a consequence of a multi-year output deal with PBC.

In the first of these bouts, Stephen Fulton (17-0, 8 KOs) and Ukrainian-born Arnold Khegai (16-0, 10 KOs) met in a junior-featherweight bout. Each had fought the usual suspects en route to their confrontation. There was a lot of holding and rabbit-punching which referee Steve Willis ignored. Eventually, Fulton pulled away for a unanimous-decision triumph.

Next up, Jarrett Hurd (23-1, 16 KOs) took on Francisco Santana (25-7, 12 KOs).

Hurd is a big junior-middleweight who held the WBA and IBF 154-pound titles until losing to Julian Williams last year. Santana is a career welterweight who had lost three of his most recent four fights and had won only three times in the last five years.

Hurd was expected to walk through Santana. But he was strangely passive for much of the fight, which led to the strange spectacle of Santana (the noticeably smaller, lighter-punching man) walking Jarrett down for long stretches of time. Francisco is a one-dimensional fighter and was there to be hit. When Jarrett let his hands go, he hit him. But he fought like a man who didn’t want to fight and didn’t let his hands go often enough.

By round seven, the boos and jeers were raining down. Hurd won a unanimous decision but looked mediocre. That’s the most honest way to put it. One wonders what tricks losing to Julian Williams last year played with his mind.

Also, it should be noted that, when the winning fighter thanks God in a post-fight interview and the crowd (which supported Jarrett at the start of the bout) boos at the mention of The Almighty, there’s a problem.

“The crowd didn’t love it,” Hurd acknowledged afterward. “But you gotta understand; I got the unanimous decision and I did what I wanted to do.”

The main event matched Danny Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs) against Ivan Redkach (23-4-1, 18 KOs).

Garcia had a nice run early in his career, winning belts at 140 and 147 pounds. But later, he came out on the losing end of decisions against Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter. Other than that, he has gone in soft for the past five years.

Redkach is a junior-welterweight who had won 5 of 10 fights during the same five-year time frame.

There was the usual pre-fight nonsense with Garcia telling reporters, “We picked Redkach because he’s dangerous and we knew he’d be tough.” But in truth, Redkach had been whitewashed by Tevin Farmer at 135 pounds and was knocked out at the same weight by John Molina Jr (who never won again).

Garcia, like Hurd, was a 30-to-1 betting favorite.

Redkach fought a safety-first fight. Also, safety second and third. There wasn’t one second when it looked as though he had a realistic chance of winning the fight or fought like he did.

One of the few proactive things that Ivan did do was stick out his tongue from time to time when Garcia hit him. Then, at the end of round eight, he bit Danny on the shoulder while they were in a clinch. At that point, one might have expected referee Benjy Esteves to disqualify Redkach. But Esteves seemed to not notice.

Rather than go for the kill after the bite, Garcia eased up and cruised to a unanimous decision. Meanwhile, by round eleven, the crowd was streaming for the exits. Most of the fans were gone by the time the decision was announced.

Garcia and Hurd had set-up showcase fights scheduled for them. And neither man delivered the way he should have.

Meanwhile, a final thought . . . Sunday, January 26, would have been Harold Lederman’s eightieth birthday.

Harold was the quintessential boxing fan and loved the sport more than anyone I’ve known. He never missed a fight at Barclays Center unless his health prevented him from coming or he was on the road for HBO. He died eight months ago.

As Saturday night’s fight card unfolded, I imagined Harold sitting beside me. He would have had a kind word for everyone who came over to say hello and loved every minute of it. Harold Lederman at the fights was a happy man.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book — A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing — was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. On June 14, 2020, he will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Fast Results from Brooklyn: No Surprises as Garcia and Hurd Win Lopsidedly

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight, Philadelphia’s Danny Garcia made his eighth appearance at Barclays Center. Garcia’s 2017 fight with Keith Thurman drew 16,533, the attendance high for a boxing show at the arena. A far smaller crowd was in attendance tonight to see Garcia take on Ivan Redkach in a non-title fight slated for 12 rounds.

Redkach, a 33-year-old LA-based Ukrainian, is a southpaw. That’s no coincidence. Garcia hopes to land big-money fights with Errol Spence and/or Manny Pacquiao, both southpaws.

Redkach (23-4-1 coming in) turned his career around in his last fight with a career-best performance, a sixth-round stoppage of former two-division title-holder Devon Alexander, a 15-year pro who hadn’t previously been stopped. But there was a class difference between he and Danny Garcia, a former WBA and WBC 140-pound world title-holder and former WBC 147-pound champion.

Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs) was simply sharper. His workrate slowed late in the fight, allowing the game Redkach to steal a few rounds, but at the final gun he was relatively unmarked whereas Redkach was conspicuously bruised. The scores were 118-110 and 117-111 twice. The crowd booed at intervals, understandable as they were subject to a drab 6-fight card that was even less interesting than it was on paper.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Jarrett Hurd, making his first start since losing his WBA/IBF super welterweight title to Julian Williams last May, went on cruise control from the opening bell and jabbed his way to a lopsided 10-round decision over Francisco Santana. Hurd, who improved to 24-1, finally let loose late in the 10th frame, putting Santana (25-8-1) on the canvas with a succession of left hooks, but by then many in the crowd had probably nodded off.

This was Hurd’s first fight with new trainer Kay Koroma who has drawn raves for his work with America’s elite amateurs. The scores were 97-92 and 99-90 twice. SoCal’s Santana has now lost five of his last eight.

The opening bout on the main TV portion of the card was a 12-round super bantamweight contest between Philadelphia’s Stephen Fulton and fellow unbeaten Arnold Khegai who currently trains in Philadelphia.

Fulton (18-0, 8 KOs) simply had too much class for Khegai (16-1-1), a Ukrainian of Korean heritage. Although Khegai frequently backed Fulton into the ropes, the Philadelphian had an air-tight defense and connected with many more punches. The fight went the full 12 with Fulton prevailing by scores of 116-112 and 117-111 twice.

If the WBO has its way, Fulton will proceed to a fight with Emanuel Navarrete, but don’t hold your breath as Navarrete is promoted by Bob Arum who undoubtedly wants to extract more mileage from him before letting him risk his belt against a crafty fighter like Stephen Fulton.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Sacramento Honors Diego ‘Chico’ Corrales

Arne K. Lang

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Tonight (Saturday, Jan. 25) former two-division world boxing champion Diego “Chico” Corrales will be posthumously inducted into the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame at the organization’s eighth annual induction ceremony at the Thunder Valley Casino Resort.

Corrales, who grew up in Sacramento, the son of a Columbian father and a Mexican mother, turned pro at age 18 and went on to compile a record of 40-5 (33 KOs). He won his first title in 1999 with a seventh-round stoppage of previously undefeated Robert Garcia. Now recognized as one of boxing’s top trainers, Garcia was making the fourth defense of his IBF 130-pound title.

Five years later, Corrales won the WBO world lightweight title with a 10th-round stoppage of Brazil’s previously undefeated Acelino Freitas. That set up a unification fight with the WBC belt-holder Jose Luis Castillo.

Corrales and Castillo met on May 7, 2005, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. To say they put on a great fight would be an understatement. The boxing writers in attendance will tell you that this was the greatest fight of all time. It was named Fight of the Decade by The Ring magazine.

The final round, the 10th, was unbelievable. Heading into the round, Corrales was ahead on two of the three scorecards, but his left eye was swollen nearly shut and during the round he was knocked down twice. No one would have faulted referee Tony Weeks for stopping the fight after the second knockdown. But, somehow, Corrales was able to rally, pulling the fight out of the fire with a barrage of punches that had Castillo out on his feet when Weeks waived it off.

Two years to the very day of this iconic fight, Diego “Chico” Corrales died in a motorcycle accident in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas when he rear-ended a car while traveling at a high rate of speed. He was 29 years old.

Corrales was a thrill-seeker. In a 2006 profile, Las Vegas Review-Journal boxing writer Kevin Iole enumerated these among Castillo’s hobbies: jumping out of planes from 14,000 feet, bungee jumping from 400 feet, snowboarding in treacherous terrain and scuba diving amid a school of sharks. “He lived his life the same way he fought,” said his promoter Gary Shaw, “with reckless abandon.”

It might seem odd that it took so long for Corrales to be recognized by the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame, but there was a period when Corrales’s name was mud in his hometown and perhaps the organization’s founder, Las Vegas sports radio personality T.C. Martin, a Sacramento native, thought it appropriate to let old wounds heal.

In 2001, shortly after suffering his first pro loss at the hands of Floyd Mayweather, Corrales pled guilty to felony domestic violence in the beating of his first wife and would serve 14 months in prison. “The whole family has worn a black eye for it,” Diego’s brother Esteban Corrales told Sacramento Bee reporter Marcos Bretan.

For all his recklessness, the incident didn’t jibe with his persona. In the company of Las Vegas sportswriters, the soft-spoken and well-spoken Corrales came across as polite and humble.

Corrales, one of five inductees in the 2020 class, joins three other boxers already installed in the Sacramento Hall: Pete Ranzany, Loreto Garza, and Tony “Tiger” Lopez.

Ranzany, a welterweight, fought four former or future world champions and was a fixture in Sacramento rings in the late 1970’s. Garza wrested the WBA super lightweight title from Argentina’s Juan Martin Coggi in France and successfully defended the belt here in Sacramento with a one-sided conquest of Vinny Pazienza. Lopez, Sacramento’s most popular fighter ever, made the turnstiles hum at the city’s largest arena where he fought eight of his 14 world title fights beginning with his 1988 humdinger with defending IBF 130-pound champion Rocky Lockridge.

Among the speakers at tonight’s confab will be Kenny Adams. Perhaps best known as the head trainer for the 1988 U.S. Olympic team that won eight medals in Seoul, Adams currently trains Nonito Donaire. He was with Diego Corrales for 24 fights, during which Corrales was 23-1, avenging the lone defeat by Joel Casamayor. Festivities start at 7 pm.

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