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Avila Perspective, Chap. 84: Ben Lira, Jojo Diaz and More

David A. Avila

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If you watched the super featherweight championship fight between a Philly fighter and South El Monte fighter last week in Miami, one man crucial to the ending was barely visible.

Ben Lira was the name mentioned who proved critical for his experience in the ringside corner of Jojo Diaz. The new IBF super featherweight titlist was engaged in a top-level prize fight against champ Tevin Farmer in a vibrant display of the art of fighting inside.

It was a great fight to see and one that would not have continued had Lira not solved the bloody gash on Diaz’s top left eyelid – gash that looked like it had been sliced by a razor in a bar fight in East L.A.

No problem. Lira (pictured) stopped the cut like a slight-of-hand magician.

Long has Lira resided in Southern California and for the last 40 years the small city of South El Monte has been his headquarters, home and the locale for this wizard of prizefighting including its many facets.

Over the decades the South El Monte boxing guru has tutored many a world champion and contender like Lupe Aquino, Miguel Angel Gonzalez, Hector Lopez, John Molina Jr., and now Jojo Diaz.

And not only men, but women too.

Mexico’s Mariana “Barby” Juarez was led to Lira in the early 2000s and it was with him that she began to learn the intricacies of professional fighting. She later brought her sister Lourdes Juarez and now, almost 20 years later, the sister tandem have become leaders in the female fight world.

Many other women learned boxing skills through Lira too and would go on to win national amateur titles.

Now Lira teams up with Abel Sanchez and makes the journey to Big Bear Lake on a regular basis. He’s worked with Gennady Golovkin, Murat Gassiev and Sergey Kovalev and now supports Sanchez with super welterweight contender Serhii Bohachuk at the ever-growing boxing camp.

Lira has long been a trainer, not just a cut man. He’s also a manager and promoter when necessary.

If anyone in the Southern California boxing landscape does not know Lira, then that person is truly not involved in boxing.

Lira is boxing in Southern California.

It’s ironic that during last week’s Miami fight card, Sergio Mora was serving as analyst for DAZN. It wasn’t too long ago that Mora was a regular at Lira’s South El Monte Boxing gym. I can vividly remember those sparring wars Mora had against Antonio Margarito, Alfredo Angulo and Jesus Soto Karass. All were regulars at that gym.

Back in late 2012, other sparring sessions there involved Jojo Diaz, Oscar Valdez, Joel Diaz, Saul Rodriguez, and several other boxers that had just turned professional. Watching those violent proceedings was Gennady Golovkin. Time sure flies. Two of those kids are now world champions. Back then they were barely adjusting to the pros.

More Jojo and Tevin

Jojo Diaz became the fifth member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team to capture a world title, joining Errol Spence Jr. and Jose Ramirez, among others.

During their IBF title clash, Tevin Farmer and Diaz fought where each other breathes – within striking distance. It was incredible stuff especially if you followed both fighters’ careers.

As amateurs and early in their professional careers, Diaz and Farmer used to run around jabbing and moving and refusing to engage more than one punch at a time. But over the last few years they have departed from the amateur style and adopted the professional art of infighting. James Toney stuff. Watching them do their thing inside was classic. I found myself replaying their fight over and over.

Not everyone can fight inside. It takes special talent, skills, reflexes and confidence to do what they did last Saturday. Anyone can run around and jab and move. Amateurs do it all of the time. But last Saturday, Farmer and Diaz gave a boxing thesis on inside fighting. A+ stuff. I hope they meet again.

Thursday at Fantasy Springs

Oscar “Jaguar” Negrete returns to the boxing ring and for the first time in over two years he won’t be fighting Joshua Franco.

Negrete (18-2-2, 7 KOs) meets Alberto Melian (6-1) in the 10-round main event at Fantasy Springs Casino on Thursday, Feb. 6. The Golden Boy card will be streamed by DAZN.

After three epic clashes with Franco, the Colombian bantamweight Negrete gets to test the bantamweight waters with a new opponent in Argentina’s Melian. It’s a good matchup on paper.

One extra addition to the boxing card will be a flyweight female clash between Sulem Urbina and Noemi Bosques in a six-round contest.

All the Russells and Rigondeax

Gary Allen Russell Jr. and his two brothers Gary and Gary take part on a TGB Promotions fight card on Saturday, Feb. 8, in Allentown, Penn. Showtime will televise.

Russell (30-1, 18 KOs) defends the WBC featherweight title against Tungstsogt Nyambayar (11-0, 9 KOs) in the main event at PPL Center. This is Russell’s fifth defense of the title since winning it in March 2015. The speedy southpaw has beaten solid competition and might be facing his toughest yet on Saturday.

Mongolia’s Nyambayar defeated another speedy southpaw Claudio Marrero a year ago. It was his only fight of the year. But Russell has cobwebs on him too. Expect a pretty good fight between southpaws. Both can punch.

Two other Russells also fight on Saturday night – Gary Antuanne Russell, 23, and Gary Antonio Russell, 27. Their fights may not be televised.

Cuba’s touted Guillermo Rigondeaux returns to the ring as a bantamweight and challenges Venezuela’s Liborio Solis (30-5-1, 14 KOs), a former super flyweight world champion in the co-main event.

“I want to make a statement and solidify my legacy as one of the best Cuban fighters ever. I want the boxing world to be talking about me, as I seek to become a world champion once again,” said Rigondeaux (19-1, 13 KOs) a former super bantamweight titlist dropping down in weight for this fight.

Fights to Watch

Thurs.  DAZN 7 p.m. Oscar Negrete (18-2-2) vs Alberto Melian (6-1).

Sat. DAZN 11 a.m. Mark DeLuca (24-1) vs Kell Brook (38-2); Terry Harper (9-0) vs Eva Wahlstrom (23-1-2).

Sat. Showtime 6 p.m. Gary Russell Jr. (30-1) vs Tungstsogt Nyambayar (11-0); Guillermo Rigondeaux (19-1) vs Liborio Solis (30-5-1).

Photo credit: Carlos Angel

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Daniel Jacobs Edges Past Gabe Rosado on a Matchroom card in Florida

David A. Avila

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Former world champion Daniel Jacobs needed the last round to win by split decision against upset-minded Gabe Rosado and keep his place in line on Friday for lucrative super middleweight matchups.

But when the ring announcer erroneously announced the winner was from Philadelphia, confusion reigned for a moment until Jacobs was correctly called the winner.

Brooklyn’s Jacobs (37-3, 30 KOs) jumped out ahead against Philly fighter Rosado (25-13-1, 14 KOs) and held on for the win in front of no fans at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. For a second, many thought Rosado had won.

Both were careful during the first three rounds measuring each other’s distance and looking for openings to counter. There were very few.

It was the kind of fight expected by those who know boxing: two veterans with immense experience against top-flight world champions. Mistakes were few.

Jacobs, a former middleweight world champion, had fought Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin in close but losing efforts.

Rosado had battled Golovkin too, six years ago in a bloody affair that ended in a loss. He had also lost to other champions like Peter Quillin and Jermell Charlo. But none were able to knock him out.

Both were aware of each other’s reputation. Bitter words had been exchanged for years and now they finally got their chance to prove their mettle and they did.

Though Jacobs was recognized as a knockout puncher, Rosado’s resilience was just as well known. Both neutralized each other for most of the fight with their feints and jabs to the body. Neither was willing to leave openings for each other.

Jacobs scored big with a left uppercut at the end of the seventh round. While Rosado wowed viewers with a sizzling right cross in the 11th round.

It was 1950s style, boxing with intelligence. Each found it difficult to land combinations, let alone find openings to score knockout blows. Instead, they had to be satisfied with scoring enough to convince three judges the actual winner.

Neither was able to pull out ahead with any conviction.

After 12 rounds one judge saw Rosado the winner 115-113 while two others saw Jacobs the winner 115-113 to give him the win by split decision.

“It felt just a little weird. It felt like a sparring match,” said Jacobs about fighting without fans in the audience. “This wasn’t a valiant effort.”

Rosado was certain he was the true winner.

“I thought I won the fight. I surprised him,” said Rosado who trained with Freddie Roach for this fight. “I’m a veteran, I know how to fight.”

Indeed, he does.

Jacobs now stands poised to fight one of many super middleweight champions in need of a marquee name.

“I live to see another day,” he said honestly.

Other Bouts

Kazakhstan’s Daniyar Yeleussinov (10-0, 6 KOs) proved he was not an easy touch and knocked out former world champion Julius Indongo (23-3, 12 KOs) to march forward in the welterweight division while grabbing the vacant IBF Inter-Continental title.

In a fight featuring southpaw versus southpaw Yeleussinov caught Indongo with a roundhouse left the first time they exchanged and down went the former super lightweight world champion. Indongo beat the count and survived the round.

Indongo wasn’t as lucky in the second round as Yeleussinov again connected with a left and down went the fighter from Namibia again. He would not get up at 1:24 of round two giving the knockout win for Yeleussinov.

A battle between undefeated heavyweights saw Azerbaijan’s Mahammadrasul Majidov (3-0, 3 KOs) use roundhouse rights to stagger the heavier Sahret Delgado (8-1) to win by knockout in the third round. Majidov actually helped Delgado get to his stool after knocking him out on his feet at 47 seconds of the third round.

Emmanuel Tagoe (32-1) defeated Mason Menard (36-5) by majority decision after a 10- round lightweight fight that saw a lot of clinching and leaning.

Nikita “White Chocolate” Ababiy (10-0) out-fought Detroit’s Brandon Maddox (7-4-1) to win by unanimous decision after six rounds in a middleweight clash. Ababiy hurt Maddox with body shots but found Maddox more resilient than expected.

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Pradabsri Upsets Menayothin, Ends the Longest Unbeaten Streak of Modern Times

Arne K. Lang

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During the wee hours in the Americas, a big upset was brewing in Thailand. In Nakhon Sawan, a city roughly 150 miles north of Bangkok, Panya Pradabsri (aka Petchmanee CP Freshmart) out-pointed Wanheng Menayothin (aka Chayaphon Moonsri) in a domestic clash with international significance. Manayothin entered the bout with a 54-0 (18) record and was making the 13th defense of his WBC world minimumweight title.

Pradabsri had been defeated only once in 35 previous starts, but only 11 of his 34 victories had come against fighters with winning records. According to ringside reports, he kept Menayothin at bay with good fundamentals, a stiff jab, and good lateral movement. All three judges had it 115-113. The fight wasn’t without controversy as Menayothin finished stronger and many folks scoring off the live video thought that he had done just enough to retain his title.

How good was/is Menayothin? That’s a question that serious boxing fans will likely debate for decades.

In the summer of 2019, Menayothin signed a co-promotional deal with Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions. At time, GBP president Eric Gomez described him as one of the best fighters in the world. “We really want to bring him to the U.S. so people can see how talented he really is,” Gomez told England’s Sky Sports.

Menayothin was expected to make his U.S. debut in April of this year, but the pandemic ruined that plan. Earlier this year, he announced his retirement, but rescinded it after only two days.

Scottish boxing historian Matt McGrain, who has an exclusive arrangement with this web site, had lukewarm opinion of the Thai mighty-mite although he rated him the second-best 105-pound boxer of the decade, trailing only his countryman Thammanoon Niyomtrong (aka Knockout CP Freshmart).

“He is disciplined, strong, brings good pressure and is armed with a very decent range of punches,” said McGrain, “(but his record) is comprised mostly of men any competent fighter would be expected to beat.”

Although only one boxer from Thailand has been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame (Khaosai Galaxy, class of 1999), the Southeast Asia nation has produced some outstanding boxers over the years – Chartchoi Chionoi, Sot Chitalada, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai to name just a few. The difference between these fighters and Wanheng Menayothin is that they all left the comfort zone of their homeland to score one or more important wins on foreign soil.

Menayothin may yet display his wares in a U.S. ring. But at age 35, an advanced age for small fighters in particular, we won’t get to see him at his best and now that his bubble has been burst, disinviting further comparisons to Mayweather and Marciano, the curiosity factor has been tempered.

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Yoka vs. Hammer Kicks Off the Thanksgiving Weekend Slate on ESPN+

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PRESS RELEASE— Tony Yoka, the dynamic heavyweight punching Parisian, aims to impress in his ESPN platform debut. Yoka, who won a super heavyweight gold medal for France at the 2016 Rio Olympics, will fight veteran Christian Hammer in a 10-rounder Friday at H Arena in Nantes, France.

Yoka-Hammer will stream live and exclusively this Friday, Nov. 27 in the United States on ESPN+ beginning at 2:55 p.m. ET/11:55 a.m. PT.

The ESPN+ stream will also include the return of unbeaten 2016 French Olympic gold medalist Estelle Yoka-Mossely against Pasa Malagic in an eight-round lightweight bout. Yoka and Yoka-Mossely, who have been married since 2018, welcomed their second child in May.

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Earlier this year, Yoka inked a promotional agreement with Top Rank, which will co-promote him with Ringstar France.

“Tony Yoka’s potential is limitless, and he is a grounded young man who is motivated to be a great professional fighter,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “France has never had a world heavyweight champion, and I believe Tony is the one to bring the sport’s biggest honor home.”

The 28-year-old Yoka’s stellar amateur run included a berth at the 2012 London Olympics and gold medals at the 2015 World Championships and 2010 Youth Olympic Games. Before his triumph in Rio, he’d already defeated the likes of former heavyweight world champion Joseph Parker and current undefeated prospects Joe Joyce and Ivan Dychko. At the Rio Olympics, he defeated Croatian standout Filip Hrgović in the semifinals and edged Joyce in the gold medal match.

As a professional, Yoka (8-0, 7 KOs) made his debut in June 2017 with a second-round stoppage over the previously undefeated Travis Clark. Apart from a decision win over Jonathan Rice in his second outing, Yoka has stopped every foe, including durable Englishman David “White Rhino” Allen and former European champion Alexander Dimitrenko. He made his 2020 debut Sept. 25 and stopped former world title challenger Johann Duhaupas in one round.

Hammer (25-6, 15 KOs) has fought many of the leading heavyweight names during his 12-year career, falling short against Tyson Fury, Luis Ortiz and Alexander Povetkin. He’s notched myriad upset victories, including a highlight-reel knockout over David Price and a 2016 split decision over Erkan Teper for the WBO European belt. In March 2019, he went the 10-round distance against Ortiz and has not been stopped since Fury forced him to retire on his stool after eight rounds in their February 2015 clash.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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