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Avila Perspective, Chap. 79: Boxing 101 (Part One)

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 79: Boxing 101 (Part One)

In a dusty room in a loft-style apartment in Montebello began my adventure into the world of prizefighting as a journalist.

A very small throw-away newspaper that was circulated in the San Gabriel Valley area of Southern California was looking for a writer. The publisher had been printing left wing newspapers for more than a decade when he realized there was no financial reward.

One day this publisher ran into me at a supermarket and asked if I would be interested in writing for his brand-new publication. The content, he added, would be left to my whim.

For about a week I thought about what content would suit his readers. The newspaper was going to be circulated at night clubs, bars, restaurants and fast food joints in Pasadena, East L.A. Rosemead, San Gabriel and Montebello.

Catching the eye of the reader was key and I also needed a topic that wouldn’t date so quickly. After eliminating a few sports, I realized that boxing suited this new newspaper perfectly. Most of the people reading would be Latino and most Latinos love boxing. It’s also a sport that is based on big moments and big events.

It was April 1985 and one of the lesser known stars of the boxing world was a light flyweight world champion named Jung Koo Chang. His other moniker was the “Korean Hawk” and he would terrorize the world of 108-pounders from 1983 to 1989. I wrote my first feature on this little-known terror.

But in that same month a tantalizing fight was taking place in Las Vegas between Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns on April 15. It would be the first actual prize fight that I would sit down and write an analysis on. That epic fight was my baptism into the world of boxing journalism. It remains one of the greatest three-round fights in history.

For two years I scavenged sports pages of newspapers, magazines and other throw-away newspapers looking for boxing material. Our newspaper was doing pretty good and the publisher was pleased by the results. According to him the owners of the clubs and restaurants saw people going into their places of business looking for our newspaper. They wanted to read about boxing.

In 1984 the legendary Main Street Gym closed its doors and in 1987 the world of boxing lost Aileen Eaton who passed away in November. She had promoted boxing for decades and following her death the Olympic Auditorium no longer produced weekly shows.

With the departure of the Main Street Gym and Eaton, the local Los Angeles newspapers virtually eliminated the sport of boxing from their beats. In 1989 the Herald-Examiner shut its doors and with no stiff competition the Times had no real rivals to keep them headed in the right direction.

For five years I wrote for the L.A. Times and during that span it was always a battle convincing sports editors that boxing was not dead just because the Main Street Gym and Eaton were no longer around. Sports editors always think they know best. Usually, they have no actual sports background aside from journalism. Most definitely they have no expertise other than dabbling in sports here and there. And when it comes to boxing, they have zero knowledge other than watching it on television once in a while. It’s not completely their fault.

From birth I was raised in boxing. I’ll get to that later.

The Second Golden Boy 

Around 1993, Oscar De La Hoya arrived on the pro boxing scene and with him began a reboot for boxing on the West Coast as his success and popularity increased.

When girls of all ages begin flocking to boxing cards it sparks interest from all sectors. Even the sports editors take notice from behind their dusty desks and myopic mind sets.

De La Hoya’s media success was slow at first as newspapers and television networks drudgingly got up off their butts to cover his fights. Though he was born and raised in East Los Angeles and was the only American to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing at the 1992 Barcelona Games, the media was slow to cover his ascent.

I was reporting news for the Times but not sports news. One of the editors knew about my East L.A. background and asked me to do a feature on De La Hoya’s influence at his old stomping grounds. That was my actual re-introduction to covering the boxing world in 1993.

Because of this feature on De La Hoya, I connected with the original Golden Boy, another East L.A. fighter named Art Aragon. During his span of success from the 1940s to 1960s, the original Golden Boy could pack an arena like the Olympic Auditorium and Hollywood Legion Stadium. He was gold.

At first Aragon poo-pooed the Golden Boy label given to De La Hoya. Seven years later he nodded that De La Hoya was indeed an even better Golden Boy than he had been after winning several division world titles and selling out the Staples Center that had just opened in October 1999.

Though De La Hoya was beaten by split decision against Shane Mosley, his popularity and financial drawing power made him a powerful force not only in boxing, but the sports world period.

Since 1993 the sport of boxing has flourished and grown to unimaginable levels never seen before in Southern California. More than 100 gyms fire up their lights and host dozens of fighters each day of the week except Sundays.

Boxing has become an invisible force in the Southern California landscape and has now spread to Texas, Arizona and Nevada like radiation spread from an Atomic blast. Prizefighting permeates like a blanket over the entire Southwest region of the US and not in niche sport fashion.

Back in the 1990s you could count on one hand the number of boxing gyms in Los Angeles. Las Vegas was another place where three or four gyms provided a place to train. Today both areas have more than four dozen gyms each within their city limits.

Branching Out

De La Hoya started his own promotion company Golden Boy Promotions in 2002 and continues to succeed. He has the top earner in prizefighting with Mexico’s Saul “Canelo” Alvarez who signed a $365 million dollar deal with DAZN.

From Golden Boy promotions spawned Premier Boxing Champions after Al Haymon split from the L.A.-based company and began his own boxing organization.

One of the key directions PBC took was reinvigorating the East Coast and African American prizefighting. They had taken a severe hit when it came to getting exposure in the fight game. Most of the action was taking place in Las Vegas and very little in New York City or the surrounding region.

In 2010, Haymon had several fighters including Chris Arreola. But soon he was signing multiple boxing prospects, especially after the 2012 London Olympics. Suddenly young fighters like Errol Spence Jr. Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter, Danny Garcia, Deontay Wilder and Daniel Jacobs were showing up on fight cards.

Some fighters failed but most proved to be very talented.

The best of the Haymon-advised fighters was, of course, Floyd “Money” Mayweather who was toppling the older generation of champions and now headed to a collision course with Canelo Alvarez in a battle of undefeated fighters.

Mayweather and Alvarez met in the boxing ring on September 14, 2013.

(Part 2 begins next week)

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The Canelo-Yildirim Travesty was Another Smudge on ‘Mandatory’ Title Defenses

Arne K. Lang

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Canelo Alvarez’s rout of grossly overmatched Avni Yildirim has once again cast a harsh light on the “mandatory challenger” gambit employed by the sport’s world sanctioning bodies. Canelo successfully defended his WBC 168-pound belt this past Saturday in Miami when Yildirim’s corner pulled him out after only three rounds.

During the nine minutes of actual fighting, Yildirim was credited with landing only 11 punches, none of which appeared to have been launched with bad intentions. A person posting on a rival web site likened Yildirim’s woeful performance to that of Nate Robinson’s showing against Jake Paul. Another snarky poster said that faint-hearted Adrien Broner, by comparison, had the heart of a lion. True, the 29-year-old Turk was sent in against a beast, but one yet has a right to expect more from a contest packaged as a world title fight.

Yildirim was coming off a loss. In his previous fight, he lost a split decision to Anthony Dirrell in a bout that was stopped in the 10th round by the ringside physician because of a bad cut over Dirrell’s left eye that resulted from an accidental head butt. He hadn’t won a fight in three-and-a-half years, not since out-pointing 46-year-old Lolenga Mock who predictably faded late in the 12-round fight, enabling Yildirim to win a narrow decision. Earlier in his career, he was stopped in the third round by Chris Eubank Jr in a fight that was one-sided from the get-go.

So, how exactly did Avni Yildirim build himself into position to become the mandatory opponent for the sport’s top pound-for-pound fighter? Did he “earn” this opportunity and the rich payday that came with it by submitting the winning bid in an auction? Is that a rhetorical question?

In an ESPN Q & A, the award-winning writer Mark Kriegel said that Canelo-Yildirim was payback for certain favors that were granted to Canelo by the WBC, citing the organization’s new “Franchise Champion” category and to their decision to countenance Canelo’s fight with Callum Smith for their vacant 168-pound title. But this doesn’t answer the question as to how Yildirim ascended to the role of a mandatory challenger; it merely informs us why Canelo agreed to take the fight.

This was the second great mismatch in 10 weeks involving a mandatory challenger. On Dec. 18, Gennadiy Golovkin opposed Poland’s Kamil Szeremeta in the first defense of the IBF middleweight title that he won with a hard-earned decision over Sergiy Derevyanchenko. The feather-fisted Szeremeta was undefeated (21-0, 5 KOs) but hadn’t defeated an opponent with a recognizable name.

This was a stroll in the park for GGG. Szeremeta was a glutton for punishment – he lasted into the seventh round — but at no point in the fight did he pose a threat to the 38-year-old Kazakh. Golovkin knocked him down four times before the plug was pulled.

In theory, the “mandatory challenger” ruling forestalls the very abuses with which it has become identified. It prevents a champion from fighting a series of hapless opponents while a more worthy challenger is left out in the cold. One could say that it stands as an example of the law of unforeseen consequences, save that it would be naïve to think that the heads of the sanctioning bodies didn’t foresee this versatility and venally embrace it.

Historians will likely lump Avni Yildirim with such fighters of the past as Patrick Charpentier and Morrade Hakker who were accorded mandatory contender status by the WBC so that they could be fodder for a title-holder in a stay-busy fight. Charpentier was rucked into retirement by Oscar De La Hoya who dismissed the overmatched Frenchman in three one-sided rounds at El Paso in 1998. Hakker was thrown in against Bernard Hopkins at Philadelphia in 2003. He brought his bicycle with him, so to speak, and thus lasted into the eighth.

In common with Yildirim and a slew of other mandatory challengers (Vaughn Bean comes quickly to mind), Charpentier and Hakker had misleading records. Steve Kim, in an article for this publication, said that Hakker’s record was more inflated than the Goodyear blimp.

A mandatory title defense isn’t always a rip-off. One wonders where Tyson Fury would be career-wise today if the WBO hadn’t established the Gypsy King as the mandatory challenger to Wladimir Klitschko, setting the wheels in motion for a changing of the guard. That worked out well for the good of the sport as Fury, after some disconcerting speed bumps, would prove to be a breath of fresh air.

But a mandatory title defense between evenly-matched opponents remains a rarity and there’s no end in sight to the charade.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Canelo Pummels Yildirin Into Submission in Three One-Sided Frames

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Saul “Canelo” Alvarez dismissed Avni Yildirim like a bothersome fly to retain the WBA and WBC super middleweight titles by technical knockout in a mandatory fight on Saturday.

Challenge completed.

After less than three months from his last victory, Canelo (55-1-2, 37 KOs) returned to the boxing ring and battered Turkey’s Yildirim (21-3, 12 KOs) to submission at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida. Callum Smith or Yildirim please take your seat.

It was just 70 days ago that Alvarez took the WBA title away from England’s Smith but the Mexican redhead was eager to return to the ring and dominated Yildirim like the former sparring partner he was.

It was hardly a contest.

Yildirim spent most of 2020 working with Southern California’s famed trainer Joel Diaz, but there is only so much a teacher can teach. Regardless of the expertise given to the Turkish fighter the trainer can’t jump in the boxing ring. Despite repeated admonishments by Diaz, his fighter just could not pull the trigger.

“It doesn’t matter who trains him I just do my work and listen to my corner,” said Alvarez “I feel very strong at this weight.”

Alvarez pummeled Yildirim like a punching bag early and often during the first two rounds. Left and right uppercuts pierced through Yildirim’s guard and body shots pummeled the body. Return fire was seldom exchanged.

After two rounds of sustaining punishment to the head and body, Yildirim attempted to fire back. He paid for his gamble with a counter right fired through the guard by Canelo and down went the challenger.

Though Yildirim survived the third-round knockdown, as he returned to the corner his trainer Diaz warned that another round like the third would force a stoppage. Diaz decided after further inspection to end the fight then and there at the end of the third round.

“I said I would get the knockout and I got the knockout,” said Alvarez.

The win sets up a showdown with England’s Billy Joe Saunders who holds the WBO super middleweight world title.

“This year it’s going to be very special against BJ Saunders,” said Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn who is planning their encounter for May 8. “It’s going to be one of the biggest fights of the year.”

Canelo said he is eager for the pending encounter.

“He’s a difficult fighter. He has the WBO title and we need to go for him,” said Alvarez.

Alvarez said his plans are to continue making history as a Latino fighter winning undisputed world titles in the super middleweight division.

“In Latin America it hasn’t been done,” Alvarez said. “I want to make history.”

Other Bouts

McWilliams Arroyo walked through Abraham Rodriguez’s punches and won by technical knockout in the fifth round to win the interim WBC flyweight title.

Despite a change of opponents within the last week Arroyo (21-4, 15 KOs) was able to adapt to last-minute opponent Rodriguez (27-3, 13 KOs) and work the body and head until the Mexican fighter’s corner tossed in the white towel to end the fight at 1:41 of the fifth round.

A battle of heavyweights between China’s Zhilei Zhang (22-0-1, 17 KOs) and America’s Jerry Forrest (26-4-1) ended in a majority draw after 10 rounds. Despite three early knockdowns scored by Zhang, the momentum changed after Forrest attacked the body inside. The scores were 95-93 Forrest and 93-93 twice for a majority draw.

In a super middleweight fight between two extremely tall prospects Diego Pacheco (11-0, 8 KOs) won by unanimous decision over Rodolfo Gomez Jr. after eight rounds. No knockdowns were scored between the two fighters who each towered at 6-feet 4-inches.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Results from Auckland: Parker UD 12 Fa; Ahio KO 7 Long

Arne K. Lang

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New Zealand heavyweights Joseph Parker and Junior Fa met four times as amateurs and each man won twice. On Saturday night in Auckland, they met for the first time as professionals and the heavily favored Parker broke the deadlock with a 12-round unanimous decision.

The bout beat the clock, in a fashion. During the match the crowd at the waterfront arena, estimated at 8,500, was informed that Auckland was reverting to Phase Three effective at 6:00 in the morning, following the discovery of a new Covid-19 infection. That meant, among other things, that public gatherings would be restricted to 10 people and schools would be open only to the children of essential workers.

The fight was a rather drab affair in which both men had trouble landing clean punches, perhaps owing partly to ring rust. Parker (28-2, 21 KOs) was making his first start in 12 months; Fa (19-1, 10 KOs) had been inactive since November of 2019.

Parker, the former world title challenger who went the distance with Anthony Joshua, had the upper hand in the early rounds and opened a small cut over Fa’s left eye in the seventh round, perhaps the result of an errant elbow. The cut became larger and bled profusely as the bout continued but it was never in danger of being stopped.

Parker had a worried look on his face as he awaited the reading of the scores, but he had nothing to fear. The judges had it 115-113, 117-111, and a head-scratching 119-109.

After the fight, Parker said, “It was a lot closer than we expected.”

Ahio vs. Long

The undercard was rubbish, but the Ahio-Long fight warrants a mention. A stablemate of Junior Fa, Hemi Ahio improved to 17-0 (12) with a wicked seventh-round knockout of Julius Long who was thoroughly gassed when Ahio caught him against the ropes and landed his haymaker. They had previously met in a 6-round affair that went the distance.

If the name Julius Long sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because he’s been around since 2001. Listed at seven-foot-one but likely an inch or two shorter, the boxer nicknamed the Towering Inferno came to New Zealand in 2013 to serve as a sparring partner for David Tua and never left.

Nearly 15 full years have elapsed since Long was whacked out in the opening round by Samuel Peter on a Duva Promotions card at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Casino.

George Kimball was ringside for TSS and described the scene: “The overmatched Long had already been down once when Peter smashed him with a left-right combination…(Long) hit the ropes with such force that he shot back off them like he was bouncing from a trampoline. Unfortunately for Long, the slingshot effect propelled him straight into the path of the right hand Peter had dispatched toward his head, effectively doubling the force of the blow. Long went down as if he had been whacked with a sledgehammer and lay motionless on the canvas. Referee Arthur Mercante Jr waved it off without a count, but he could have counted to 100.”

Long is now 43 years old. Since his crushing defeat by Samuel Peter, he is 4-17-1 and counting his defeat last night has been stopped seven more times. For his rematch with Akio, he weighed in at 326 ¾ pounds, more than 100 pounds more than his opponent.

In his adopted home, Julius Long, who grew up in Detroit, is a qualified chef, an occupation that requires an apprenticeship and many hours of training. He supplements his income moonlighting as a freelance prizefighter. By all accounts, he’s a very likeable man, but someone needs to take away his boxing gloves and burn them.

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