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In a Mild Upset, Joe Smith Jr. Dominates and Outpoints Jesse Hart

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Ringside report by TSS Special Correspondent Dave Weinberg….ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Four years after beating the legend, Joe Smith, Jr. punished the protege’ Saturday night.

The Long Island, N.Y. light-heavyweight followed his shocking victory over Bernard Hopkins in 2016 with an impressive performance that netted a 10-round, split decision over Philadelphia’s Jesse Hart at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

“I was a little worried there when they said it was a split decision,” Smith said. “That made me nervous, but I thought I put enough pressure on him and landed enough punches to win.”

Smith clearly dominated the bout, but was forced to settle for a confounding, split decision outcome. Judges Eugene Grant (97-92) and Joseph Pasquale (98-91) agreed with most ringside observers in giving Smith a decisive edge. However, judge James Kinney favored Hart by a 95-94 margin, drawing the ire of almost the entire announced crowd of 3,415 at Hard Rock Live Etess Arena. The angry fans even included Hart’s promoter, Top Rank President Bob Arum.

“That was a good fight that was good for boxing,” Arum said. “And then you have a judge who screws it all up. I promote Jesse Hart, but it was clear to everyone that Joe Smith won that fight. That was just horrible. That judge should be banned from ever working a fight again. There should be an investigation.”

Grant and Pasquale correctly rewarded Smith for his relentless, aggressive effort.

Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) took control from the outset, working his way inside and battering Hart with body shots, overhand rights and uppercuts that snapped Hart’s head back and sent sprays of sweat flying.

Hart (26-3, 21 KOs), who claimed to have hurt his right hand in his final sparring session, tried to fight back, but couldn’t hold off Smith’s charges. Smith nearly ended the bout in the seventh round, jolting Hart with a straight right that forced him to drop to one knee. Hart popped up, but barely made it through the round.

“Jesse showed a lot of heart,” Smith said. “I had him hurt a few times, but he had the will to make it through.”

Hart entered the ring wearing an “Executioner” mask as a tribute to Hopkins, who served as a mentor for Hart while growing up in Philadelphia.

Hart, son of former Philadelphia middleweight Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, pursued Saturday’s fight with Smith in hopes of avenging Smith’s stunning victory over Hopkins in 2016 in which he literally knocked Hopkins out of the ring en route to an eighth-round TKO.

Instead, Smith scored another win over a Philly fighter.

“That’s two Philly guys I’ve beaten and that feels great,” Smith said. “I would have liked to have ended this one the same way, but I’m happy about the win.”

In the co-feature, Omaha, Neb. super-middleweight Steven Nelson (16-0, 13 KOs) used relentless pressure to wear down Cem Kilic (14-1) of Los Angeles and earn an eighth-round TKO. Kilic’s trainer, Buddy McGirt, noticed his fighter was wearing down and wisely threw in the towel at 1:44 of the round.

“Losing a fight is not the end of the world,” said McGirt, who gained acclaim while in Arturo Gatti’s corner for many of his fights in Atlantic City. “It’s better to live to fight another day.”

The best fight of the undercard saw lightweights Joseph Adorno (14-0-1), Allentown, Pa. and Tijuana, Mexico’s Hector Garcia (14-7-4) battle to an eight-round draw. Both fighters displayed grit, toughness and determination in an exciting slugfest.

Beachwood, N.J. super-middleweight Chris Thomas (14-1-1, 9 KOs) earned a controversial, first-round TKO over Brazil’s Samir Barbosa (37-17-3). Thomas landed about a half-dozen straight punches before referee Sparkle Lee jumped in and stopped the bout at 42 seconds while Barbosa looked on in disbelief. Fans responded by showering the ring with boos.

“(Barbosa) staggered just a little bit and just wasn’t answering back,” Lee said. “Why wait until he got seriously hurt?”

Trenton welterweight Shinard Bunch (6-1, 5 KOs) earned a bizarre, sixth-round TKO over Kenya’s Dennis Okoth (4-3-1). With 20 seconds left in a competitive bout, Okoth spit out his mouthpiece and walked over to his corner, forcing referee Dennis Franciosi to halt the fight. Okoth told officials that he was feeling dizzy. He was taken to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center City Campus as a precaution. Bunch got sick in his dressing room after the fight.

Welterweight Xander Zayas (3-0, 2 KOs), a high school senior in Plantation, Fla., went the distance for the first time in his young career with a four-round, unanimous decision over Corey Champion (1-2), of Louisa, Va. Zayas punished Champion throughout the bout, leaving him with a bloody nose, but couldn’t put him away.

Philadelphia heavyweight Sonny Conto (6-0, 5 KOs) was awarded a first-round knockout when Detroit’s Curtis Head (5-5) took a knee after a body shot to his 271-pound frame and stayed on the canvas while Franciosi completed his 10-count at 2:08 of the opening round.

Joseph Adorno’s brother, Jeremy Adorno (4-0), gained a four-round, unanimous decision over Fernando Ibarra (2-3), of Fairfield, Ca.

– – –

A former sports columnist for Press of Atlantic City, DAVE WEINBERG has been covering boxing in A.C. and elsewhere since 1982. He’s a member of the Atlantic City and New Jersey Boxing Halls of Fame and a multiple award winner for the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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Remembering ‘Rocky Estafire,’ One Tough Syrian

Ted Sares

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On Sept. 9, 1978, a Bayonne, New Jersey brawler who was billed as Rocky Estafire when he was first starting out, stopped slick Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts in Jersey City giving notice that he was becoming a force to be reckoned with in the middleweight division. Watts was no slouch having split a pair with Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

”Strictly LaMotta style,” said Paddy Flood of his fighter who would come to be known by his real name, Mustafa Hamsho.

In 1980, he beat undefeated Wilford Scypion and followed that up with close wins over Curtis Parker and Alan Minter in 1981 leading to his first of two title clashes with Hagler. This bloody encounter, won by Hagler on an 11th-round TKO, left both fighters needing stiches.

“Throughout Hagler’s nonstop, 11th-round barrage, Hamsho kept coming on. He didn’t win a round, but he did take the battle of the stitches, 55-5,” wrote Pat Putnam in Sports Illustrated. “I don’t know what his corner was waiting for…The meat from his eyes was hanging down. But I can’t let that bother me. I just have to think, better him than me,” said Hagler.

More from Putnam: “When Hagler had left the hospital, the doctors were still working over Hamsho, who, until his trainer, Al Braverman, jumped into the ring to stop the fight, looked as though he would run out of blood before he ran out of heart. He was badly cut under both brows: Each wound was at least two inches long and half an inch wide. There was another slice under his left eye. He didn’t win a round from any of the three officials.”

Al Braverman, who co-managed Hamsho with the aforementioned Flood, once described the Syrian’s style as follows: “….”He’s got no style. He just wades in, throwing punches from any angle.”  He also possessed great stamina, a granite chin and incredible courage, along with head and shoulder butts, elbows, low blows, shoves, holding, chops behind the head, and whatever he could get away with.

The Matinee Idol

Bobby Czyz was 20-0 when he met Hamsho at the Convention Center in Atlantic City on Nov. 20, 1982. The undefeated New Jersey lad with the somewhat strange moniker of “Matinee Idol” and the high IQ had solid wins over Danny Long, Teddy Mann, Oscar Albarado, Elisha Obed, and Robbie Sims. Against Hamsho he was stepping up in class but he was a solid opponent for the Syrian who was 34-2-2 coming in.

If Bobby won, he would position himself for a shot at Marvelous Marvin, but Hamsho mauled and mugged the future world light heavyweight champion over ten rounds and won a convincing UD. (The rest of the Bobby Czyz story is told in “The Boxer Who Became a Bagger,” a remarkable and poignant article by sports columnist Steve Politi that first appeared in the Newark Star-Ledger.)

Wilfred Benitez

HIs UD victory over Wilfred Benitez (45-2-1) in 1883 was pure Hamsho featuring elbows, butts, and low blows. The third round was difficult to watch as the compact Syrian rendered a brutal beating on “El Radar,” using accurate nonstop shots coming from all directions. Between slips and knockdowns, Wilfred hit the deck four times.

Clearly, Benitez had faded, but Hamsho hastened the process and helped point the legendary Puerto Rican in a downward direction. Wilfred looked sluggish and poorly conditioned; he was not the same Benitez who knocked out Maurice Hope in spectacular fashion or out-boxed Roberto Duran for 15 rounds. Something was wrong.

But even in top shape, Benitez would have struggled against Hamsho with his mauling, brawling, non-stop pressure. Hamsho could make anyone look bad.  (Wilfred Benitez would lose several more outings after the Hamsho beatdown. Matthew Hilton finished the job with a terrifying KO in 1986. Wilfred’s story is a terribly sad one as he now requires constant care.)

Hamsho would lose another fight with Hagler—this time quickly and badly– and then go 6-2 before retiring in 1989 with a record of 44-5-2.

Those who were fortunate enough to see him fight remember a fan-pleasing, all-action combination of Vito Antuofermo, Michael Katsidis, Antonio Margarito, and Gene Fullmer.

Amir Khan and Prince Naseem Hamed are two very high profile, proud Muslim fighters. Mustafa Hamsho’s name can be added.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Miguel Madueno Scores His 12th Straight Knockout at Ontario, Calif

David A. Avila

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Ontario, CA — A return of fans to the Inland Empire saw Mexico’s Miguel Madueno extend his consecutive knockout streak to a dozen at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario, California on Friday.

It was the first fan-filled event for a Thompson Boxing card in the “I.E.” in almost two years.

Lightweight contender Madueno (26-0, 24 KOs) of Culiacan powered his way to his 12th consecutive knockout and this came at the expense of fellow Mexican Jose Luis Rodriguez (25-15-1, 13 KOs) with a focused attack to the body.

Rodriguez was clever and tough and would not allow Madueno to overwhelm him during the first four rounds. But in the fifth he was not as lucky as a four-punch barrage to the body sent him to one knee. He beat the count but was overwhelmed by Madueno who forced referee Raul Caiz to end the fight at 2:46 of the fifth round.

“In reality I thought I would end it early,” said Madueno about seeking an early knockout. “But he could take it.”

In the co-main event Japan’s Katsuma Akitsugi (7-0) outhustled Northern California’s Eros Correa (10-1) after eight rounds in a bantamweight scrap to win by majority decision.

Akitsugi, a southpaw, and Correa both showed quick hands and good chins. But the Japanese fighter was always on attack and Correa resorted to holding from the second round on. He was never warned by the referee for excessive holding. It could have helped him get back in the fight.

Every time Akitsugi entered the danger zone Correa would grab ahold like an MMA fighter instead of fighting on the inside. While Correa held Akitsugi punched and that proved the difference as two judges scored it 78-74 for Akitsugi, while a third saw it 76-76.

“I could not box my style at all,” said Akitsugi, 23. “I’m glad I brought the win home.”

Other Bouts

San Bernardino’s Esteban Munoz (5-1, 3 KOs) knocked out Tijuana’s Manuel Martinez (6-5-4) with a body shot in the first round. He could not beat the count. Munoz had stunned Martinez earlier with a counter right. Then he found an opening to the body and delivered a right to the gut and down went Martinez. He was counted out at 1:50 of the first round.

Coachella’s Lazaro Vargas (4-0) out-worked Ulises Rosales (0-5) over four rounds of a super bantamweight match to win by unanimous decision 40-36 on all three cards.

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Oscar Rivas is Boxing’s First Bridgerweight Champ; Tops Spunky Ryan Rozicki

Arne K. Lang

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Back in January, the World Boxing Council announced that they were creating a new weight division. Tailored to boxers weighing between 200 and 224 pounds, they named it Bridgerweight. Tonight, at the Olympia Theatre in Montreal, the first WBC bridgerweight champion was crowned. Montreal-based Oscar Rivas, a 2008 Olympian representing his native Columbia, turned the trick with a unanimous 12-round decision over fellow Canadian Ryan Rozicki, advancing his record to 28-1 (19).

Rozicki, who is from Nova Scotia, out-performed expectations. Although he had knocked out all 13 of his opponents since turning pro in 2016, he hadn’t defeated anyone of note and hadn’t fought beyond six rounds. He drew the assignment when Rivas’s original opponent Bryant Jennings was scratched because of his refusal to accept Canada’s COVID protocols for unvaccinated foreigners. (A match between Rivas and Jennings would have been a rematch of their Jan. 18, 2019 contest in Verona, New York, a rather ho-hum match that had a dramatic ending when Rivas turned up the heat in the 12th round.)

Rivas, 34, was making his second start since suffering his lone defeat, a setback on points in a 12-round contest with Dillian Whyte in London. The heavier man by 19 pounds, he dominated the first two frames, rocking Rozicki in the opening stanza, but the Nova Scotian clawed his way back into the fight. Rivas had a strong penultimate round and although he had a point deducted for holding in the final stanza, it did not factor into the outcome. The judges had it 116-111 and 115-112.

What’s next for Oscar Rivas? Logically a bout with Evgeny Romanov. A 36-year-old Russian with a 16-0 (11-0 mark), Romanov was ranked #2 behind Rivas in the WBC’s latest set of bridgerweight rankings. Romanov’s claim to fame is that he TKOed Deontay Wilder is in amateur days, but that was way back in 2008.

Another possibility, and one likely to attract more buzz, would be a bout with Alen Babic. A 30-year-old Brit by way of Croatia, the colorful, free-swinging Babic (8-0, 8 KOs) has a date later this month in London with Texas trial horse Eric Molina.

The best guess, however, is that Rivas will discard the belt and go back to competing as a heavyweight. The bridgerweight title, we suspect, like many of the lesser titles, will be perpetually vacant, which likely wouldn’t trouble the WBC at all as they will gather up a sanctioning fee from a bridgerweight title fight whether there is an incumbent or not.

There were two 8-rounders offering chief support, but both were cancelled when the opponents failed to pass muster. Left in the lurch were “A side” Canadians Sebastien Bouchard, a welterweight, and Steve Rolls, a middleweight.

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