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For Whom the Bell Tolled: 2019 Boxing Obituaries PART ONE

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A strong year for boxing was soured by the deaths of former ring notables and boxing personalities. In this annual year-end tribute, we acknowledge those that left us. The obits are running in two parts with the decedents listed chronologically according to the date of their passing. PART ONE covers January through May.

Jan. 2 – ALBERTO REYES – His father Cleto Reyes began manufacturing boxing gloves in the 1940s. Alberto took the company into the international market in the 1970s and Reyes gloves, originally made by hand, are now sold on five continents. Known as a puncher’s glove, Muhammad Ali used them for his rematch with Leon Spinks and Manny Pacquiao wouldn’t use any other kind. At age 63 or 66 (reports vary) in Mexico City.

Jan. 4 – MICKEY CRAWFORD – The Saginaw, Michigan welterweight fought seven times on national television during the era of the Gillette-sponsored Friday Night Fights. Crawford lacked a knockout punch but had the tools to scrape by such notables as Paddy DeMarco, Wallace “Bud” Smith, Gil Turner and Chico Vejar. He was 22-5-1 during a brief four-year career. At age 84 in Saginaw.

Jan. 13 – ADOLPH PRUITT – Born in Mississippi, Pruitt fought extensively in Honolulu where he had 21 of his 60 fights. During a 12-year career that began in 1961, he compiled a 46-12-2 record. A three-time world title challenger who competed at 140 and 147 pounds, he defeated such notables as Ernie “Indian Red” Lopez, Oscar “Shotgun” Albarado and Hedgemon Lewis. At age 79 in St. Louis.

Jan. 21 – JAN de BRUIN – A Dutchman, de Bruin was 54-10-6 in a 12-year career that began in 1942. He fought such notables as Dave Sands (L 10), Randy Turpin (L TKO 6), and Sugar Ray Robinson (L TKO 8) during Robinson’s second European tour. At age 95 in his birthplace of Rotterdam.

Jan. 24 – HUGH McILVANNEY – A ringside witness to all of the most celebrated fights during the last four decades of the 20th century, McIlvanney’s prose drew comparisons to A.J. Liebling, the highest compliment one can pay a boxing writer. The Scotland-born McIlvanney was voted Great Britain’s Sports Journalist of the Year seven times and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2009. At age 84 from cancer.

Feb. 7 – ROCKY LOCKRIDGE – Lockridge won the lineal 130-pound title in 1984 with a spectacular one-punch knockout of Roger Mayweather. During his career he fought a host of great fighters, finishing 44-9 with 36 knockouts. In retirement he battled substance abuse and became homeless, a story chronicled on the reality TV series “Intervention.” A series of strokes preceded his death at age 60 in his caregiver’s home in Camden, New Jersey.

Feb. 19 – JOSE “CHIQUILIN” GARCIA – An iconic Los Angeles sports photographer who was on a first name basis with athletes from sundry sports, “Chiquilin” covered hundreds of West Coast fights, big and small, and played a central role in developing La Opinion into one of America’s foremost Spanish-language newspapers. At age 78 in Huntington Park, CA.

MARCH 1 – EUSEBIO PEDROZA – Active from 1973 to 1986 (with a brief comeback in the early 1990s), Pedroza won the WBA featherweight title in 1978 with a 13th round TKO of Spain’s Cecilio Lastra and held the title for seven years and two months, during which he set a division record with 19 successful defenses. Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1999, Pedroza was 62 when he succumbed to pancreatic cancer in his native Panama City.

March 8 – FREEDA FOREMAN – The daughter of Big George Foreman, Freeda was working for UPS in South Carolina when she was lured into boxing by the promise of big money fights with Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, both of whom had recently turned pro in the footsteps of their famous fathers. But Freeda’s heart wasn’t in it and she retired after only six pro fights, having won five. At age 52 in her Houston-area home, a suicide.

March 10 – DANNY ROMERO SR – Many of Albuquerque’s best boxers learned the craft at Romero’s Hideout Boxing Club gym. Johnny Tapia trained here during his early days, but Romero’s prize prospect was his namesake son who won world titles in two weight divisions and fought crosstown rival Tapia in a big 115-pound unification fight in in 1997, losing a unanimous decision in Las Vegas. The elder Romero, who had a liver transplant in 2005, was 63 when he passed in Albuquerque.

March 20 – JAIME RIOS – A Panamanian, Rios won the inaugural WBA 108-pound world title in 1975 with a 15-round decision over Venezuela’s Rigoberto Marcano, but lost the belt 11 months later to Juan Antonio Guzman. He finished his career with a record of 22-5-1. At age 65 in Panama City.

March 20 – PETE TORO – One of boxing’s greatest spoilers, Toro twice defeated Bobby Cassidy and also forged upsets of Ted Whitfield and Rodrigo Valdes. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Bronx, Toro, an Army veteran, was 28-13-3 in a 13-year career that began in 1960. He was 82 when he passed away in Florida.

March 21 – FRANCO WANYAMA – From Kampala, Uganda, Wanyama represented his homeland in the Seoul Olympics before turning pro in Belgium. In the paid ranks, he defeated future world cruiserweight titlists Carl Thompson and Johnny Nelson and scored a decision over ranked heavyweight Jimmy Thunder who outweighed him by 31 pounds. He finished 20-7-2. At age 51 of a heart attack in Rugby, England.

April 1 – KEITH KOZLIN – A super middleweight who competed from 2008 to 2012, finishing 7-3-1, Kozlin was a well-known personality on the New England boxing scene. At age 37 in his hometown of West Warwick, R.I., a suicide.

April 6 – OLLI MAKI – A baker by trade, born in Kokkola, Finland, Maki appeared in the first world title fight in Scandinavia, opposing featherweight champion Davey Moore at Helsinki in 1962. It was Maki’s 12th pro fight and he had no business in the same ring with Moore, but 18 months later, fighting at his more natural weight, he captured the European 140-pound title. Maki made a cameo appearance in the boxing love story “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki,” an award winner at the 2016 Cannes film festival. At age 82 in a Helsinki nursing home.

April 12 – RAY JUTRAS – A lifelong resident of Lowell, Massachusetts, Jutras, who stood only 5-feet tall, turned pro and compiled a 29-6 record after winning the 1962 National Golden Gloves title at 118 pounds. At age 82 of a sudden heart attack.

April 18 – PAT DWYER – A hard punching middleweight who knocked out one of his opponents in 16 seconds, Dwyer, a Liverpudlian, compiled a 38-11-2 record during an 8-year career in which he fought such notables as Pierre Fourie, Kevin Finnegan, and Alan Minter. In retirement he ran a gym and promoted small boxing shows in Liverpool. At age 72 of undisclosed causes.

April 25 – HAL CARROLL – Born Horace Carroll in South Carolina, Carroll, who fought out of Syracuse, NY, was knocked out by light heavyweight champion Bob Foster in 1971 in a bid for Foster’s world title. He finished with a record of 31-10-1, the draw coming against heavily favored Mike Quarry. At age 78 from complications of a stroke in Syracuse where he owned an auto body shop.

April 26 – OLIVER HARRISON — A well-known boxing personality in Manchester, England, Harrison, born in Jamaica, had only 10 pro fights, winning six, but stayed in the game as a trainer. He was with Amir Khan through Khan’s first 17 pro fights and also worked with such notables as Martin Murray and Rocky Fielding. At age 59 in Manchester from cancer.

May 10 – BERT COOPER – A slugger who slugged it out with many of the era’s top heavyweights, Cooper, who patterned his style after his mentor Joe Frazier, was 38-25 (31 KOs) in a career that began as an 18-year-old cruiserweight. In 1991, as a late sub, he threw a scare into defending heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield before succumbing in the 7th frame. He battled alcohol and drug problems, but his death at age 53 in Philadelphia came as a result of pancreatic cancer.

May 11 – HAROLD LEDERMAN – A third-generation pharmacist, born in the Bronx, the perpetually cheerful Lederman was called boxing’s greatest roving ambassador; his love of the sport was infectious. He judged hundreds of fights, including many world title fights, before joining the HBO Boxing broadcast team as the “unofficial scorer” in 1986. At age 79 from cancer with his family by his side at a hospice in Rockland County, NY.

May 22 – JESSE LEIJA – A featherweight, Leija was the first fighter from San Antonio to reach the finals of the National Golden Gloves tournament and was 16-11-1 as a pro, but is best remembered as the father and trainer of former WBC 130-pound world champion Jesse James Leija. The elder Leija was 80 when he died in San Antonio after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

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Tyson Fury Returns on Saturday with a Familiar Foe in the Opposite Corner

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“Tyson Fury made a name for himself last night, one that already has a ready-made ring about it and will be destined to become familiar in boxing.” Alan Hubbard, a ringside correspondent for The (London) Examiner wrote those words after Fury wrested the British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles from Derek Chisora with a comprehensive 12-round decision on July 23, 2011.

Those words were prescient. Tyson Fury did go on to become a familiar name in the sport. Indeed, one could argue that at this moment in history no active boxer is more famous.

More than 11 full years have elapsed since Fury toppled Chisora. In the ensuing years, the Gypsy King outpointed Wladimir Klitschko in Germany to win the world heavyweight title, battled personal demons that sidelined him for two-and-half years, returned to the ring with a flourish, ultimately regaining the world heavyweight title, or at least a version of it, in the second chapter of his memorable trilogy with Deontay Wilder, and rising so high in the opinion of boxing enthusiasts that he would be favored over any other boxer on the planet.

Oh, and lest we forget, since defeating Chisora in 2011, Fury whipped Chisora again, stopping him after 10 one-sided frames in 2014. Fury’s eight-inch height advantage enabled him to control the distance vs. “Dell Boy” who was never knocked down but who absorbed a great deal of punishment before his chief second said, “no mas.”

A third meeting between Fury (32-0-1, 23 KOs) and the soon-to-be-39-year-old Chisora (33-12) would seem to be superfluous. Del Boy, coming off a narrow win over Kubrat Pulev, has lost three of his last four. But on Saturday, Dec. 3, they will go at it again. The venue is London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, capacity 62,850, and by all indications, despite a chill in the air (the temperature is expected to hover around 40 degrees), there won’t be too many empty seats.

For promoter Frank Warren, Fury vs Chisora is Plan B – he was hoping to match Fury against Anthony Joshua – but he believes that Fury has become so popular that he can make a tidy profit no matter who is in the opposite corner. The Gypsy King, once referenced as the enfant terrible of British boxing, has toned down his rhetoric (one might say that he proactively distanced himself from Kanye West) and become almost cuddly, a source of inspiration for many Brits, the first member of the black sheep Traveler community about whom this could ever be said.

Fury, needless to say, is a heavy favorite. The odds are in the 25/1 range. The co-feature is likewise looked upon as a mismatch. Daniel Dubois, who shares the diluted WBA heavyweight title with Oleksandr Usyk, is a consensus 16/1 favorite over Kevin Lerena (28-1, 19 KOs) who rides in on a 17-fight winning streak. The six-foot-one Lerena carried a career-high 234 pounds for his last assignment against ancient Mariusz Wach, but the South African southpaw has fought most of his career as a cruiserweight.

The undercard includes featherweight Isaac Lowe, Tyson Fury’s bosom buddy, and Hosea Burton, Fury’s cousin, both of whom appear to be matched soft in scheduled six-rounders, plus 18-year-old phenom Royston Barney Smith in a 4-rounder against a transplanted Nicaraguan.

This is a pay-per-view event in the UK, but U.S. fight fans who subscribe to ESPN+ can see it for free. The ring walks for the main event are expected to go about 4 pm ET.

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What Path will Yokasta Valle Choose Next?

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After the recent controversial ruling that made her a world champion in three different divisions, the fans of the Costa Rican Yokasta Valle are wondering: What path will the successful boxer choose next?

On Saturday, November 26th, in a fight of continuous exchanges with the then undefeated Argentine Evelyn Bermúdez (17-1-1, 6 KOs), “Yoka” Valle (27-2, 9 KOs) came out with her arm raised at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, where she won the IBF and WBO belts, which Bermúdez was defending for the seventh and second time, respectively.

Although the Costa Rican fighter (pictured on the right) went on the attack for practically the entire 10 rounds, the exchanges were even, give and take, with good moments for both fighters, which made it difficult to evaluate each round. Hence the discomfort of many fans, especially in the Bermúdez camp, with the card of judge Adalaide Byrd (99-91), which apparently had Bermúdez prevailing in only one round. Neither did Judge Daniel Sandoval’s card (97-93) represent what transpired in the ring, while Zachary Young’s score of 95-95 was more accurate, distributing five rounds for each combatant.

In the case of Byrd, she also received innumerable criticism in the first fight between Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin, which was held in September 2017 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and which ended with a favorable scorecard for each boxer and another of 114-114.

At that time, Byrd had judged more than 400 fights over a 20-year span, and her discordant scorecard of 118-110 reflected Canelo winning 10 rounds and GGG only two (the fourth and the seventh). Dave Moretti leaned towards Golovkin (115-113), while Don Trella (114-114) saw it even.

CHAMPION IN THREE CATEGORIES

Born in Matagalpa, Nicaragua on August 28, 1992 and living in Costa Rica since her childhood, Valle made her boxing debut at the age of 22 in the light flyweight category. In that first experience at the pro level, she defeated Mexican María Guadalupe Gómez by unanimous decision in four rounds, on July 26, 2014, in Alajuela, Costa Rica.

Two years later, in her twelfth fight, she conquered the IBF title at 102 pounds by split decision against Ana Victoria Polo in San José, Costa Rica. In December 2017, Valle suffered her first professional failure against the local Naoko Fujioka, who won by unanimous decision at Korakuén Hall in Tokyo where they fought for the vacant WBO light flyweight belt.

Six months later, on June 16, 2018, Valle lost again by unanimous decision against German Christina Rupprecht (11-0-1, 3 KOs) in Munich, a duel that was for the WBO strawweight interim belt. Rupprecht maintains that belt and is again in Valle’s sights.

Following those two setbacks, “Yoka” Valle compiled 14 victories, including the one she obtained in Marbella against Spaniard Joana Pastrana in August 2019, which she won by split decision securing the IBF 105-pound belt.

More recently, on September 8th in Costa Rica, Valle became a two-division champion at 105 pounds, by unanimously prevailing (the three judges scored the fight 100-90) over Vietnamese Thi Thu Nhi Nguyen, who ceded the WBO title. And then with her success against Bermúdez last weekend, Valle made history in Costa Rican boxing by adding her third crown in three different divisions (102, 105 and 108 pounds).

WHERE WILL YOKASTA VALLE GO NEXT?

Valle, who now owns two light flyweight titles (IBF and WBO) could next go in search of unification with Mexican Jéssica Nery (WBA super champion) or with Canadian Kim Clavel, who holds the WBC title. (Clavel and Nery collide on Thursday in Laval, Quebec.)

However, a more viable option would be to return to 105 pounds and seek a fight with American Seniesa Estrada (23-0, 9 KOs), who maintains the WBA belt, or with Rupprecht, who remains unbeaten. That seemed to be Valle’s immediate objective, as she affirmed it in the ring after defeating Nguyen. In an indirect reference to Seniesa Estrada and Tina Rupprecht, Valle said “I want the belts. I’ve been saying it from the beginning, I want the WBC and WBA next, whoever has ’em.”

At Friday’s weigh-in for her fight with Bermúdez, Valle stated “I want to fight the best. I want to be undisputed. When Tina (Rupprecht) and Seniesa (Estrada) were not available, my team and I made the decision to move up in weight and challenge Evelyn for her world title belts. I have to fight. [MarvNation CEO] Marvin Rodriguez presented this fight to me. This is the type of fight I want. It is champion versus champion. I want to give the fans these types of fights.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Kim Clavel caught the flu and pulled out on Wednesday just prior to the weigh-in. Her match with Jessica Nery was rescheduled for Jan. 13.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Hogan Photos

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Alvarez in Spanish

Please note any adjustments made for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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Regis Prograis Knocks Out José Zepeda and Clears the Way for José Ramírez

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American Regis Prograis had to wait three years and a month for the opportunity to hold a world crown once again. On Saturday, November 26, at the Dignity Health Sports Park, in Carson, California, Prograis faced José Zepeda for the vacant WBC junior welterweight belt. Prograis was victorious by applying chloroform to Zepeda in the eleventh round.

Previously, on October 26, 2019, Prograis (28-1, 24 KOs) had lost the WBA junior welterweight belt by majority decision to Scotsman Josh Taylor at the 02 Arena in England.

Since then, the thirty-three-year-old Prograis who is based in Houston, Texas has obtained four wins (including vs Zepeda), all before the limit, as proof of the devilish power of his powerful fists, especially the left one.

Prior to the duel with Zepeda (35-2, 27 KOs), most experts favored Prograis, who after winning the intense battle, recognized that it was the most demanding fight of his career. “That dude is tough, tough, tough. He came to fight, he probably gave me one of my hardest fights, I’m not even gonna lie,” said Prograis. “This dude is tough, bro. I’ve got so much respect for you. You prepared me to get this belt and hold this belt. I congratulate you. All the best to you, bro. Don’t stop, I feel like you can still be a world champion.”

Almost from the very beginning of the fight, Prograis showed greater speed with his hands and legs, and a general sense of technical superiority over Zepeda, who in the second round opened up a wound above his left eye with a legal blow.

From then on, Prograis’s strong impacts gradually undermined Zepeda’s resistance. Zepeda arrived totally exhausted in the eleventh round, where he received a straight left to the face, putting him in poor condition. A run with both fists from Prograis knocked him down and referee Ray Corona called the match with 59 seconds remaining in the round. This is the first setback that Zepeda has suffered by knockout in professional boxing.

On several occasions, Prograis has stated that he wants revenge against the undefeated Taylor (19-0, 13 KOs), but now, by order of the WBC, he must face American José Carlos Ramírez (27-1, 17 KOs).

Ramírez, 30 years old, is currently ranked second by the WBC. In February of 2019, in his second defense of his 140-pound belt, he defeated Zepeda by majority decision.

Twenty-five months later, Ramírez succumbed by unanimous decision to Taylor at the Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas, enabling the Scotsman to become the undisputed king of the category by winning the four most prestigious belts (WBA, WBC, WBO, IBF).

Recently, Ramírez expressed an interest in dueling with the main 140-pound contenders, including a second fight with Zepeda; although he did not rule out clashing with Prograis or Taylor. “Every fighter has the same amount of risk,” said Ramirez. “We’re a little under-promoted compared to other weight classes but I think that the best fights are at 140. You see guys fighting twice or three times, doing a trilogy. Honestly, I would love to face Regis, because I’ve never faced him. I would love to make the rematch with Zepeda, because he’s such a good fighter. Obviously I want Josh Taylor, man. I want Josh Taylor bad.”

Photo credit: Al Applerose

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Alvarez in Spanish.

Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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