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The Top Ten Light-Heavyweights of the Decade 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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The light-heavyweight decade just passed was neither as impressive as cruiserweight nor as underwhelming as heavyweight when placed under the microscope; most notable was the emergence of no fewer than six lineal champions, an impressive number that will not be bettered and might tell any one of a hundred stories depending on who is writing it.

I welcome you to my telling.

10 – Oleksandr Gvozdyk

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 17-1 Ranked For: 10% of the Decade

Tavoris Cloud came close to grabbing the number ten spot, but his second most impressive win after his 2010 defeat of Glen Johnson is his points decision over Gabriel Campillo from 2012. This, sadly, is a straight-up robbery despite Campillo suffering a disastrous first round. It’s a very good fight though, and if you have the time, check it out. I did actually look at Campillo then, because despite the fact he has lost many of his keynote contests, he was repeatedly abused on the cards, against Cloud, against Beibut Shumenov and in the draw with Karo Murat, but there isn’t quite enough there to make the ten. I looked briefly at Andrzej Fonfara, who did as much to eliminate Campillo from contention as any other fighter but despite all the right names, Fonfara tended to meet them on all the wrong dates, when they were well past prime.

So, I went back to the future and have named as the #10 light-heavyweight for the decade the last lineal champion but one, Oleksandr Gvozdyk. Gvozdyk inflicted terrible injuries on the long-reigning champion Adonis Stevenson and so it seems ghoulish to dwell upon how they were dealt, but the big clue came in the third round when Stevenson was dropped hard. He was nimble, quick-handed and already had a nice line in feints with glove and boot.  He essentially outlasted a much more seasoned fighter to take the stoppage victory in eleven.

He managed just a single defense before an even more deadly Artur Beterbiev caught up with him, but I think he did just enough on his run to the Stevenson fight to get the nod, picking off the likes of Tommy Karpency and Isaac Chilemba as early as ninth and tenth fights.

09 – Chad Dawson

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 7-5-0-1 Ranked For: 45% of the Decade

Chad Dawson’s run from 2006 to 2009 was legitimately special but was brought to a juddering halt by Jean Pascal in the summer of 2010. Dawson was a preeminent light-heavyweight of the time but the last decade was not kind to him, as reflected in his paper record. So, the question isn’t whether he should rank any higher here, but whether he should rank at all.

I’ve come down on the side of “yes” due to just three fights and in essence just one. Dawson bounced back from Pascal with a very impressive win over Adrian Diaconu who had his own problems with Pascal but remained a ranked contender and a well-organized, doughty opponent. Dawson outboxed him cleanly over twelve in his first fight with Emmanuel Steward in his corner and from here moved on to a contest with true champion Bernard Hopkins.

Hopkins, ancient and brilliant, suffered a separation of his left shoulder and the fight was abandoned, originally awarded to Dawson, later rendered a no-contest making a rematch a necessity. Dawson, whose style had elements of the cutie, turned stalker for Diaconu and it was a style he re-embraced for his contests with Hopkins. Working behind a jab, his superior speed and an occasional flurry brought him what should have been a clear points win despite the majority decision the judges found.

As unsatisfying as these fights were, they represent a summit in that Dawson became the true light-heavyweight champion of the world. When he lost it in a disastrous first round knockout loss to the decade’s defining champion, Adonis Stevenson, it spelled the end for him as a top contender. He has continued to box but has yet to earn another meaningful victory at the poundage, a harsh indictment of his late career.

The early career sneaks him in at number nine.

08 – Jean Pascal

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 10-5-1-1 Ranked For: 68% of the Decade

It feels very much as though Jean Pascal has been around forever and certainly his longevity is reflected in the touchstone fighters he has met across the decade. How many men faced both Hopkins and Dawson and Bivol and Elieder Alvarez?

Despite this, Pascal has failed to nail up the kind of scalps that might be expected from so many years spent on the dangerous side of the street. He lost to all of the above, bar one, and his second-best result is arguably his last – a twelve round split over #8 contender Badou Jack scored in dying days of a decade he once ruled over. Their fight was a lo-fi classic, all tension and surges, first one way, then the other and the cards reflected this, Pascal’s sudden spurts of activity and jab (excellent when he used it) enough to get him across the line in a split decision. It was a rough, difficult, contest and not the type of fight a veteran tends to win.

In the fight immediately prior to this came another surprising and exciting victory, this time over the much younger Marcus Browne. In many ways this was the ultimate old-man mugging, as Pascal lost every round – except the ones that mattered. Buying himself three points on the cards by way of knockdowns, Pascal turned a sure defeat into a sure victory as he was out-sped, out-hit but not-out-thought or outpointed. He won by way of technical decision over eight rounds and by a single point after an accidental headbutt opened a gusher on Browne’s forehead.

So, Pascal finalized his case with mere hours of the decade remaining, but it was a victory that he earned when it was only months old that cements his place. In August of 2010 another accidental headbutt resulted in another technical decision in the favor of Pascal, this time after eleven, the victim, Chad Dawson. That made Pascal the lineal champion.

07 – Eleider Alvarez

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 21-1 Ranked For: 52% of the Decade

Eleider Alvarez is the most underrated fighter on this list, and although I don’t feel great about him slipping in ahead of Jean Pascal, it helps that Alverez defeated him.

Pascal, as it happened, had several special nights before him, but at the time it felt like Alvarez was clearing up on the last generation as Isaac Chilemba (then still ranked, a part of so many of these stories), Lucian Bute and Pascal all fell to him. The Chilemba fight was dull and close, the Pascal fight a jab clinic with Alvarez in control, however the judges scored it, but it was against Bute that Alvarez showed what might be possible. Bute was the mere remains of the fighter that had impressed years previously, but Alvarez dazzled with his speed and heavy-handedness, thrashing him in five.

A Columbian by birth, Alvarez fights out of fistic hotspot Montreal but went in the summer of 2018 to the United States to face Sergey Kovalev. Kovalev’s air of invincibility had been crushed forever by Andre Ward, but he had re-established himself as the number one contender to the legitimate title when Eleider came calling. The Columbian, in truth, was marginally outboxed through the first six rounds but Kovalev never appeared entirely comfortable while stalking his man. In the seventh, behind on the cards and with the fight ebbing away, Alvarez followed up a swift feinted jab with a booming right hand over the top that set Kovalev on his trunks; his follow-up was sensational and saw him a winner on the three-knockdown rule.

Alvarez was out-classed by a jab-right hand strategy in the rematch, and that puts the brakes on his standing here. He remains, at thirty-five, a serious player in the division.

06 – Dmitry Bivol

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 17-0 Ranked For: 25% of the Decade

Dmitry Bivol is currently ranked the world’s #1 contender to Artur Beterbiev’s championship and joyfully, that fight will likely be made for 2020. In 2018 and 2019, Bivol cleared out several fighters belonging to the last generation and picked off two live contenders from this one, and it’s enough to see him ensconced in the decade’s divisional top ten.

Bivol impressed in bombing out Cedric Agnew and Trent Broadhurst in 2017 but his first fight of 2018, against Sullivan Barrera, was when he was confirmed top tier. Barrera was highly ranked, a puncher, and tough. Bivol won every minute of every round and stopped him in the twelfth. No light-heavyweight was ever so assured after so few fights. The footwork was quick and sure. His jab was so good it stripped Barrera almost entirely of his own jab, and he went literal clusters of rounds without landing one. The right hand behind is as fast as any in boxing despite his size and the body-attack is deployed as a part of a layered offense, strategic, opportunistic. Bivol has the depth in offense of a much, much more experienced man.

Once more pitted against generational leftovers behind this win, Bivol completely dominated the scorecards against Isaac Chilemba and Jean Pascal. These were fighters on the slide but what was impressive was that Bivol was at no point out-thought by either. His defensive surety and offensive riffing meant that both men failed to find tactical cracks in Bivol’s boxing armor despite whatever fleeting successes they achieved.

When he turned in similarly one-sided cards against the fresher, hungrier Joe Smith, Bivol’s completeness was signaled. He has been imperious and dominant against a wide range of quality opposition in a short timeframe.

05 – Bernard Hopkins

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 5-3-1-1 Ranked For: 46% of the Decade

If you remember 2010-2019 the same way I do, you remember Bernard Hopkins beating up an ancient Roy Jones and thinking “that makes sense, now he’ll retire.”

He didn’t retire and in fact he had some of the most thrilling fights of his career – yes thrilling – before him. Chief among these was his December 2010 battle with Jean Pascal. Pascal, by then lineal champion, dropped Hopkins twice in the contest but was so summarily outboxed that many believed he was lucky to escape with the draw. An immediate rematch was fought.

This fight had George Foreman, whose record as the oldest champion in boxing history was about to be supplanted, “on the edge of his seat” with excitement, a response to the tension that purveyed each round. Emanuel Steward called it “the best fight” Hopkins had boxed since his knockout of Felix Trinidad.  It was an astonishing display and a unanimous points victory over a prime, young, hungry champion boxing in his hometown. Hopkins was under heavy pressure early but leading with the right hand placed a clearly uncertain Pascal back in his box. He sniffed the decision out by a point on my card.

Hopkins was not always so much fun at light-heavyweight and when he ran into Chad Dawson in his next two fights (a no contest and a loss) the fun seemed to be over; but writing Hopkins off is foolish. He came back and out-smarted Tavoris Cloud, then the #2 contender in the world, punishing him for every little mistake, scraping up enough points for a clear decision. He was by then forty-eight years old. Karo Murat and Beibut Shumenov fared little better – Shumenov even became the first Hopkins opponent to visit the canvas in a decade; then the wheels came off a little with a wide loss to Sergey Kovalev before he was knocked clean out of the ring and the sport by Joe Smith.

But he will never be forgotten. During a decade of life when most men are looking to wind down, Hopkins wound up and he wound up a big chunk of the light-heavyweight division.

04 – Andre Ward

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 11-0 Ranked For: 14% of the Decade

I had no clue what to do with Andre Ward when I realized I had to rank him. 11-0 for the decade, sure, but less than that at 175lbs where he hovers at around half a dozen contests. It’s not a great deal.

But the more I thought about it the less troubling it seemed. Sure, he didn’t spend a lot of time in the division, but his numerical record is a site better than that of Chad Dawson, as is his paper one. The reason is his two duels with Sergey Kovalev.

The first, fought in late 2016, ached with tension. Kovalev dominated the first two rounds and even dumped Ward on the end of a one-two in the second but the American’s adaptability is his great strength.  His original plan was to scavenge punches while taking as little risk as possible but Kovalev saw straight through that and sought to dominate him behind the jab. In the third, Ward spent some time taking chances, nothing radical, but enough to make Kovalev think about his speed. In the sixth he pot-shot the body; he wrestled, he out-hit Kovalev in ugly clinches in a desperately close fight.

And that’s the key here. Ward identified early that he was outgunned and mashed a whole series of small adaptations into a strategic quilt that he used it to make the fight close. I had Kovalev winning by a point, but his success was as much making it reasonable for him to have won as in winning. It was a tortuous fight to score.

Most media favored Kovalev making a rematch inevitable. Famously, or infamously, Ward landed significant low blows in this fight, in the second, when he appeared to be losing control, the seventh, and the eighth, where punches deemed either borderline or low depending on your perspective resulted in a stoppage win for Ward.

What to make of all this? A desperately close first fight that could be scored any one of three ways, a controversial stoppage in the second? In the end, I honor those results. I won’t overturn the decision in such a close fight for ranking purposes and a stoppage is a stoppage. This means Ward has the best and second-best wins on this list. It’s the top five for him!

03 – Artur Beterbiev

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 15-0 Ranked For: 50% of the Decade

Current champion Artur Beterbiev spent longer in the decadal rankings than the likes of Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson, all while competing in just fifteen professional fights. He achieved this by being matched tough but brilliantly early. In just his sixth fight he met Tavoris Cloud, who had lost back to back against Bernard Hopkins and Adonis Stevenson but remained ranked at #7 and was a sure challenge for a green professional, albeit one who had rated a crack amateur.

Beterbiev blew through Cloud in two rounds, already boxing like an AI/human hybrid, his control of ring center absolute, his variety and technical surety on offense outstanding. Probably there is no “correct” way to box, but for the four short minutes this fight lasted that seemed arguable. Inside, outside, offense, defense, against a world-class opponent on the slide, Beterbiev was devastating.

A few months later Beterbiev, still nothing but a baby in professional terms, took on Gabriel Campillo, the big, awkward light-heavyweight who was robbed against Cloud three years before. This was a different type of challenge: one that was mobile, quick, a slippery boxer with a nice line in unorthodox offense.  Beterbiev found him in just four, with shorter, harder punches than Cloud was able to land on Campillo in twelve.

Beterbiev is a wrecking-machine, a new incarnation of the east European technician, a Russian raised on boxing who studied at a Sports School from the age of sixteen. His title-winning performance against Gvozdyk was seminal, wearing him out, out-landing and finally bullying him to the canvas, echoing their meeting in the amateurs. He is going to take some beating, though at thirty-five years of age this exquisite form surely can’t last much longer.

02 – Adonis Stevenson

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 16-2-1 Ranked For: 56% of the Decade

When Adonis Stevenson separated Chad Dawson from his senses in the first minute of their 2013 championship contest he became, for around half that time, everyone’s favorite fighter. The grotesque over-celebration in Dawson’s stunned face, followed by nine title defenses during which the highest ranked opponent he met was Andrzej Fonfara (5), made him rather less popular.

The truth of those defenses is inescapable, however. While Stevenson may not have shown much interest in meeting the best in the division once he’d easily dispatched the champion, he did dispatch the champion, and he did stage the defenses. Years of ranking fighters has taught me that they should be ranked in accordance with what they did do, rather than what they did not. Stevenson’s title reign made him the definitive champion for the decade and the opposition he did meet saw him build the number two light-heavyweight resume for that timeframe.

It is constructed in part of men who are on this list (Dawson, Cloud) and men who were considered for it at some stage (Fonfara, Karpency). As a puncher, he’s arguably unequalled even in this company and remains undervalued as a boxer. His reign came to a tragic end when Gvozdyk repeatedly found and hurt him in their 2018 contest, hospitalizing him and injuring him seriously. That he was recovered enough in October to attend the WBC convention and take the stage under his own steam is testimony enough to his fighter’s heart and was a fitting end to the light-heavyweight decade.

01 – Sergey Kovalev

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 29-4-1 Ranked For: 84% of the Decade

I remember Sergey Kovalev’s 2013 arrival in the UK very well.  He was here to take on Nathan Cleverly, who due to his holding a mathematics degree and having the word “clever” in his name was repeatedly lauded for his “ring IQ” by the British press, who also made him a favorite. In fact, he was about to be hopelessly outgunned by a fighter who may look like a mere prototype for Bivol or Beterbiev right now, but who in his day was every bit as intimidating as either of those men.

Kovalev landed in England having brutalized Campillo earlier that year; he didn’t rank with the truly elite combination artists of the decade, but he had a two-piece and a three-piece as good as literally anyone boxing, and he laid it out for Campillo that night. The Spaniard was gone in three rounds. Cleverly would get as far as the fourth.

All of this made Kovalev a strapholder, something he would remain for much of the rest of the decade, but he would never become the true world champion. That title was held by Adonis Stevenson and Stevenson wanted no part of Kovalev. As a writer who upholds the “tradition” (dubious, as there were conflicting claims in every era) of one division, one champion, this requires some explaining: if Stevenson managed nine defenses of the legitimate world title, how can Kovalev be justified as ranking above him?

True championship status is indeed a heavy indicator of pre-eminence, but it is far from definitive. The reasoning for Kovalev’s standing as the finest light-heavyweight of the decade is simple: he defeated more ranked contenders; he defeated more top five contenders; he defeated the number one ranked contender on two separate occasions; he sat atop the division for longer; he looked a better fighter.

The last of these points is disputable, the rest is not. It was clear when Kovalev embarrassed the ageing Hopkins that he was not just dangerous, but special; twice stopping Jean Pascal, who had never even been down before his first contest with Kovalev, rendered him terrifying. Even after he was toppled by Ward and then, later, by Eleider Alvarez, he returned to the top of the rankings. Now, in 2020, years after his savage prime ended, Kovalev remains ranked among the new generations of former Soviet-bloc light-heavyweights, even the embarrassing loss to middleweight Saul Alvarez not enough to flush him out of the top five.

The decade captured both the worst and the best of Kovalev and that makes appraising his reign complex. What makes him the clear number one is the timing that emerged around him. Clearly the best of the first decadal generation, emerging talent didn’t have time to build a conquering resume.

First by default is still first; nobody came close to overhauling him.

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Teddy Atlas: Trainer, Ringside Analyst, and now a Podcaster

Arne K. Lang

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As a teenager, Teddy Atlas was a troublemaker. One could have predicted that he would grow into a man who would get thrown out of places. And that has proved true. He’s been thrown out of London and thrown out of Australia.

Ah, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Atlas needs no introduction. During a 21-year-career as a ringside analyst with ESPN, his face and distinctive voice became synonymous with boxing. Since leaving that role with the network – not of his own volition – he has transitioned into a podcaster while continuing to bob up now and then as the trainer of an important boxer seeking to elevate his game.

Atlas didn’t quite know what a podcast was when he was approached to do the audio program. Anything “high tech” was never his bag. He still doesn’t e-mail.

Rob Mohr, the founder and partner of a public relations firm called Hit Hard Media, pitched the idea to Teddy. “He said to me, ‘Listen Teddy, I think you have a voice that should be heard and I think there’s an audience out there,’” recalled Atlas. But Teddy would not have come on board if his daughter Nicole, an attorney, hadn’t pushed him to give it a try. (Atlas also has a son, Teddy III, who is the assistant director of college scouting for the Las Vegas Raiders with aspirations of someday becoming an NFL GM).

Mohr serves as the producer of the podcast which is done in a studio in New York. Mohr’s friend Ken Rideout is Teddy’s sidekick on the podcast which is called “THE FIGHT with Teddy Atlas.” Mohr and Rideout, who reside on opposite coasts, New York and California, have a Massachusetts tie and a shared passion for long-distance running. Mohr is one of the world’s top amateur triathletes.

Rideout is a financial advisor. He had no previous connection to boxing, unless one were to count the time that he was a prison guard working alongside Micky Ward. But he has always been a big fan of the sport. “Commenting on boxing is like my dream job,” he says. On the air, Atlas, who has a tendency to ramble, does most of the talking.

Mohr’s assumption was prophetic; there is indeed an audience out there. The podcast has been running a little over a year. As of last week, the episodes had attracted over 10 million views, one million downloads, and 800,000 subscriptions. Atlas’s unfiltered take on all things pugilistic is a welcome respite in a sport saturated with hyperbole and chicanery. Teddy doesn’t care if some of his opinions rile the fat cats at the top of the boxing food chain. We suspect he rather enjoys it.

Before he started talking into a microphone, Teddy Atlas attracted notice as a trainer. A disciple of the late Cus D’Amato, who molded Floyd Patterson and Mike Tyson into world heavyweight champions, Atlas has been associated with 18 world title-holders. He gave up training several years ago, but teaching is in his blood and he would be lured back on several occasions. Most recently, he handled Oleksandr Gvozdyk for three fights beginning with Gvozdyk’s upset of Adonis Stevenson, an 11th round stoppage that earned the Ukrainian the lineal light heavyweight title.

Atlas didn’t reach out to Gvozdyk. Egis Klimas, Gvozdyk’s promoter, reached out to him. But Atlas wouldn’t give his consent until he got to know the fighter a little better.

“My only qualification was that he had to be a decent person; a person I would like to be around,” says Atlas who had previously applied the same yardstick to Tim Bradley. Before taking on Bradley, who reached out to him, Teddy spent three days with Bradley in Bradley’s hometown of Palm Springs.

Teddy Atlas is a no-nonsense trainer, a hard taskmaster. He concedes that his style isn’t for everyone. But a trainer of Atlas’s stripe would seem to be an especially good fit for a boxer with a reputation for being a slacker. It was inevitable that his name would be linked with former heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz who weighed an ungainly 283 ½ pounds for his rematch with Anthony Joshua.

We broached the subject of him possibly training Ruiz during a long telephone conversation with Atlas on Sunday. He told us what he then told his listeners the next day. Yes, Ruiz’s people had reached out to him and there was one follow-up call, but that was it; they never called back. And he told them that if they wished to explore it further, then Ruiz would have to come to New York so that they could get further acquainted, “so I could see how comfortable I am with the fighter and if he and his team would be comfortable with me.”

Atlas did not reveal that he had these conversations until someone at the other end let the cat out of the bag. However, on Monday’s podcast, he came with a meticulous list of things that Andy Ruiz could do to improve, both inside and outside the ropes. The list had the scent of a job application.

In addition to being a noted trainer and broadcaster, Teddy Atlas is also known as a great philanthropist.

He started the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, named for his late father who practiced medicine in Staten Island for 55 years, doing house calls until he was 80 years old, and built two hospitals, the first a 22-bed unit that was eventually purchased by the city and torn down to make way for the Verrazano Bridge and the second a unit roughly three times as large that lasted for 35 years. At these facilities, Dr. Atlas administered to the poor, performing tonsillectomies and delivering babies and such, for free. (There were no HMOs in those days, notes Atlas.)

The Dr. Atlas Foundation, in a nutshell, helps people in need, covering the cost of hospital care, building ramps for the handicapped, and whatnot. Thanksgiving means free turkeys for the poor and Christmas means free toys for the kids. The foundation, notes the well-known New York sportswriter Wallace Matthews, “raises money and puts it directly into the hands of the people who need it, without being funneled through the hands of highly paid fundraisers and publicists.”

The foundation holds an annual dinner. The most recent edition was the twenty-third. At the dinner, sportscaster Bob Ley, the longest tenured employee at ESPN when he retired last June, was presented an award named for the late investigative reporter Jack Newfield. “He was my friend, a gutsy writer who didn’t care about the repercussions,” says Atlas of the man who wrote “Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King.” The foundation also honors Newfield by helping to subsidize a scholarship for a journalism student at Hunter College, Jack Newfield’s alma mater.

The annual Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation dinner is held on the Thursday before Thanksgiving. “For whatever reason,” says Atlas, “my dad always took off on Thursdays. In my mind, it was the only day of the week that he could join us (in spirit).”

The foundation also supports youth programs which until recently included three boxing gyms, two on Staten Island and one in Brooklyn. The gyms were formerly run by the Police Athletic League which backed out under pressure from “reformers” who thought that the instructors were teaching kids how to fight rather than how to box.

Teddy balked at keeping the gyms afloat, but reconsidered. “I came to see them as havens,” he says, “as shelters.” But he insisted that certain rules had to be followed.  Among them, a boy had to bring his report card to stay enrolled and he had to pull up his pants.

By one measure, these gyms — The Dr. Atlas Cops & Kids Gyms — were enormously successful. Atlas guesses that they produced 100 Golden Gloves champions. Alumni include U.S. Olympian and future light heavyweight champion Marcus Browne, Chris Colbert, currently ranked #1 at 130 pounds by the WBA, and two hot young prospects who were lured out of the amateur ranks by Eddie Hearn: middleweight Nikita “White Chocolate” Abibay and welterweight Reshat Mati.

As these gyms were becoming powerhouses, they lost track of their mission, says Atlas, with the result that Dr. Atlas’s name is no longer attached to them. Asked if he was particularly proud of one of the former attendees, Atlas cited a girl from Brooklyn who was living in a car with her mother when she started attending the Flatbush gym. She is now serving in the U.S. Navy.

Okay, about those instances when Teddy Atlas was 86ed, kicked out the door as if he were toxic:

The first occurred in London at the 2012 Olympics, his fourth for NBC. Some of the scores turned in by the judges were head-scratchers which was nothing new for Olympic boxing. “Corruption was happening right before my eyes,” says Atlas. Referencing a bus that brought Olympic officials to London, he said on the air “they should turn that into a Department of Corrections bus and get them out of here.”

Dr. Ching-Kuo Wu, the Taiwanese architect who was the president of AIBA, the international governing body of amateur boxing, had Atlas and his broadcast partner Bob Papa physically removed from the arena.

The second incident occurred in July of 2017 in Brisbane, Australia, where Atlas worked the welterweight title fight between Manny Pacquiao and Brisbane-native Jeff Horn. The title changed hands when Horn, a massive underdog, won a unanimous decision. The decision didn’t sit well with Atlas whose commentary during the fight was deemed by the locals and others to be very biased toward Horn.

After the fight, there was talk of a rematch with speculation that the fight would go back to Australia. Dean Lonergan, Jeff Horn’s promoter, said that if that were to be the case, then he would demand that ESPN remove Atlas from the broadcasting team. And barring that, he told reporters, “I will lobby the Immigration Minister to not allow Teddy Atlas through our border.”

Ever the cynic, Atlas still believes that the decision favoring Jeff Horn was a “business decision.” And as for being persona non grata in Australia, Atlas quips, “I don’t know if I have been thrown out of better places, but I have never been thrown out of a bigger place.”

“Telling it like it is” was the self-styled catchphrase of the abrasive sportscaster Howard Cosell, a catchphrase that invited a lot of derision. Teddy Atlas tells it like it is and that catchphrase fits him a lot better than it fitted Cosell. You may not always agree with him, but you know the man is genuine.

P.S. – A new podcast normally goes up on Mondays. Check it out.

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Art of Boxing Series – Tim “Desert Storm” Bradley (Part Two)

David A. Avila

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Tim Bradley appeared on the professional boxing circuit like an unpinned grenade and exploded on the Southern California scene.

When Bradley began fighting regularly under the Thompson Boxing banner and defeating veterans and fellow prospects with ease, the biggest questions were how far can he go and where did he come from?

Thompson Boxing Promotions was barely in its fourth year of existence and suddenly and surprisingly had a fighter with amazing fighting skills and an aptitude to match. The matchmaker and head of operations Alex Camponovo was handed the duty of guiding the early career of Bradley.

It was quite an experience to see Bradley perform on club shows in Ontario and see him electrify audiences with his abundance of talent. It was simply no-contest as he buzz-sawed through the competition with his speed and quick reflexes.

I remember wondering how the bigger boxing promotion companies missed signing Bradley. At the time, Top Rank and Don King Productions were at the top of the heap and Main Events had some pretty good fighters too. Golden Boy Promotions had started a few years earlier but was in its infant stage.

So how did every one of these companies miss Bradley?

One thing that did seem apparent was his size. He was small at 140 pounds and too muscular to drop down to 135-pound lightweight. Though he showed outstanding speed, his power was not what other fighters at the super lightweight class were able to do and that’s to deliver eye-popping knockouts.

But Bradley could out-box almost anyone’s socks off and not by running.

Thompson Boxing’s matchmaker Camponovo, who was also brand new to the boxing world, realized he needed to move Bradley quickly. Both Camponovo and Bradley were relatively unknown to the boxing powers and that was an advantage early.

Conversely, being new to the game caused unexpected problems.

The first time Thompson Boxing staged a Bradley fight outside of his power base in the Inland Empire, problems arose. A fight card was held at the L.A. Athletic Club in downtown Los Angeles and Bradley was set to face a Brazilian fighter named Marcos Andre Rocha Costa.

According to his record he had one fight and one loss. But no way to verify if that was indeed Rocha Costa. When he appeared in the boxing ring, the Brazilian was about seven inches taller and a southpaw.

Bradley walked into the ring on July 21, 2005 eager to please the crowded venue that had people hanging over the side of an elevated running track that surrounded the ring. Everyone was excited.

Immediately both fighters engaged in high volume punching and it was apparent that the taller Brazilian was extremely talented. Around the third or fourth round, Rocha Costa connected solidly and buzzed Bradley who teetered a bit. It could have been the end. Instead, Bradley erupted in the next round and slipped into another gear that Rocha Costa could not match. Referee Pat Russell stopped the fight as Bradley had battered his way to victory by knockout.

It was an impressive turnaround.

After the fight, the Brazilian fighter surprisingly said he had seven wins and one loss. Both Bradley and Camponovo had dodged a tremendous bullet.

Bradley returned to the Inland Empire and racked up more wins at the Doubletree Hotel and Omega Products International, including a victory that handed him the WBC Youth title that ranked him in the top 20. Those wins also led to a co-promotional deal with Gary Shaw Productions who had a television deal with Showtime.

But first, he needed to beat Africa’s Nasser Athumani who had 24 pro fights and 17 wins by knockout when they met on April 13, 2007.

“I fought a guy named Athumani, an African guy, and he hit hard like a son-of-a-gun. That guy could punch,” said Bradley about the southpaw slugger from Kenya. “He had more knockouts than I had fights and he hit me with an uppercut in the first round. I ended up stopping him but I don’t remember anything about the fight. I was out man.”

Another big moment arrived a few months later on July 27, 2007 when he met Mexico’s rising star Miguel “El Titere” Vazquez who had only one loss. That single Vazquez loss was on his pro debut against a youngster named Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. He had not lost another fight since when he stepped in the outdoor boxing ring at Omega Products International in Corona, California.

“He broke my rib, man. I fought from the second round on with a broken rib,” said Bradley of his confrontation with Vazquez who would later become a world champion in the lightweight division.

Bradley was promised a world title shot if he could defeat Vazquez. When he suffered the broken rib early in the fight, his trainer Joel Diaz asked him if he wanted to stop the fight and lose his place in line for the world title

“I had to bite the bullet or the title and everything we worked for was down the drain if I quit. I had to fight. I had to bite down and go through the pain and it hurt every time I threw a punch. Vazquez had no clue he hurt my ribs. I didn’t show it. We were taught that. He was extremely tough,” said Bradley of that fight against the future lightweight world champion.

Bradley won the fight by unanimous decision using primarily a jab.

World Titles or Bust

Junior Witter was a clever switch-hitting speedster in the mold of Prince Naseem Hamed and grabbed the WBC super lightweight title with a unanimous decision over DeMarcus “Chop, Chop” Corley. He was coming off back-to-back knockout wins over Arturo Morua and Vivian Harris when he met Bradley in Nottingham, England on May 10, 2008.

Bradley and his team arrived early and immediately discovered that being the challenger was indeed a challenge.

First, his corner man Samuel Jackson was denied entry into the country because of his name. The actor Samuel Jackson had been banned from returning to the United Kingdom for an earlier incident. So, when Bradley’s corner man of the same name arrived, he was blocked at the airport for a long while until the mix-up was cleared. Then, when they arrived for their room, they discovered it was too small for everyone to fit.

No problem, they just found more rooms.

Bradley confessed to being totally prepared for Witter. He also knew that he was unknown to the champion and the crowds expecting to see Witter blow out the American called “Desert Storm.”

“It was one of those things. They didn’t know me. When you fight guys from other countries you don’t know what they have,” said Bradley who had prepared diligently for Witter for more than a year studying film.

As an amateur Bradley was taught by Hall of Fame trainer Al Mitchell to study film of prospective opponents. He had sat with the trainer many times as an amateur in Marquette, Wisconsin looking at tapes of other fighters and breaking down their strengths and assets.

Bradley retained the habit of studying opponents and used it as a weapon. When he faced Witter he was more than prepared for battle despite the crowd.

“I would study him every night for at least an hour and a half. I would just try to come up with a game plan,” said Bradley. “He was so awkward there wasn’t one thing I could do. But he made mistakes pulling back. I had to set things up. I knew I had a bigger gas tank. He would fade in the second half and I had to come out stronger in the second half.”

Witter was also open for an overhand right and Bradley connected in the sixth round to change the momentum drastically and push the fight in his own favor. After 12 rounds Bradley was declared the winner by split decision.

“I caught him by surprise,” said Bradley. “He didn’t know anything about me.”

Neither did American fans at the moment, when Bradley returned to his own country with the WBC title wrapped around his waist. But that would change quickly as he faced a murderer’s row in the super lightweight division.

Beginning in September 2008, Bradley faced Edner Cherry, WBO titlist Kendall Holt, Nate Campbell, undefeated Lamont Peterson, undefeated Luis Abregu, undefeated Devon Alexander and then Joel Casamayor in succession and emerged without a defeat.

In two of the fights against Peterson and Alexander, the Palm Springs area fighter was the underdog and passed each foe with dominating performances.

It was hefty stuff but, after Casamayor, his next fight would be the test of all tests when he met Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on June 9, 2012.

Pacman and Marquez

Pacquiao had just defeated Mexico’s masterful counter-puncher Juan Manuel Marquez by majority decision in yet another close fight in their third meeting. The speedy southpaw was looking for someone other than Marquez and signed to fight Bradley on June 2012.

In a match that featured two speedy and under-sized welterweights, Bradley seemed more energetic throughout the 12-round fight while Pacquiao seemed to take his foot off the pedal for two minutes each round. Then the Filipino superstar would increase the intensity in the last minute or so and attempt to basically steal the round.

It worked with one judge, but two others saw Bradley the more dominant fighter and he won the WBO welterweight title by split decision. Pacquiao and his fans were incensed and to this day Bradley gets attacked through social media by the keyboard minions whenever the subject arises.

“The first fight was the biggest disappointment and that changed me. It was actually a blessing and a curse at the same time. I got my opportunity to fight Manny Pacquiao and be able to make big time money,” said Bradley about the after-effects. “But after the fight I was ridiculed and demonized. But now there is nothing that can faze me. It’s turned me into a man that can accept any kind of criticism. It doesn’t matter what anybody says to me. The curse is I would never have that victory. It would never be fulfilling to me.”

But it’s in the record books. Forever.

That fight changed Bradley and also might have changed Pacquiao too. Right after the Bradley loss, he signed to fight Marquez a fourth time six months later. Pacquiao exchanged knockdowns with the Mexican fighter and then ran into a Marquez right cross that knocked him out. It was the most decisive win between the two.

Pacquiao would fight Bradley again in two rematches but not before the Palm Springs fighter defeated Marquez by split decision on October 2013. It remains Bradley’s most satisfying win of his career.

“I beat Marquez after he knocked Manny out,” said Bradley of his fight with Marquez that took place at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on October 2013. “That was my most fun fight.”

Bradley said he had always studied Marquez, especially in his fights against Pacquiao; and he picked up a few clues about the Mexican counter-puncher that he calls “the perfect fighter” and one of the best in boxing.

“I countered the counter. Fighters at the top level, every time your hand leaves your face you got to expect something to come back. They have a high IQ and are quick on the trigger,” said Bradley about fighting top opposition. “Marquez is probably the second- best counter puncher. Floyd (Mayweather) is the best. I knew something was going to come back. I knew I had to finish and I had to be first and I had to be last.”

The plan worked smoothly and Bradley won by split decision.

“I fought the game plan I wanted to fight. I had fun. It was the easiest $4 and half million I ever made in a fight. It was so easy,” said Bradley.

After Marquez came Pacquiao in the rematch. In fact, he would fight Pacquiao a third time too and lose both by decision.

“He beat me fair and square,” said Bradley about the two losses to Pacquiao.

Bradley lost only two fights in his entire pro career and both were to Pacquiao. That’s a pretty incredible career feat and proves his mastery of the art of boxing. He was never known as a knockout puncher nor did he have size or long arms. He simply used tools he was born with to the umpteenth degree.

Still Studying

Today, Bradley is part of ESPN’s team of boxing commentators alongside Joe Tessitore, Bernardo Osuna, Mark Kriegel, and fellow boxer Andre Ward.

Just as he did as a fighter, Bradley prepares like a demon when it comes to analyzing upcoming fights. He finds it strange that many active prizefighters do not study their opponents.

“You have to be a student of the game. I don’t understand how you don’t do that. None of these guys study opponents or study boxing. I don’t understand how you don’t watch your sport. I don’t get it,” said Bradley of those who don’t study film of old fights or prospective foes.

Studying upcoming match ups is what he still does when at home.

“I still watch boxing today. I just love the craft of it. I love the sweet science of it. I love where the underdog learns to beat the favorite,” said Bradley on the preparation through film study.

As part of the ESPN television commentating team he’s developed a reputation for being straight up.

“They call me the Charles Barkley of boxing,” jibes Bradley of former basketball’s star Barkley’s reputation doing basketball analysis for TNT. “I make my opinion based on my knowledge of the sport. I’m not one of those guys that say all the Top Rank guys are going to win. I thought Deontay Wilder was going to win. I’m not one of those biased types.”

Like fans, fighters and everyone who loves the sport of professional boxing, he looks forward to the return of prizefighting when this worldwide epidemic ends.

“I love my job. I love being around the guys and the game. Being around Andre Ward, Bernardo Osuna, Tessitore and Mark Kriegel, honestly, I think we are the best,” said Bradley, 36. “I’m the crazy one.”

Crazy about boxing.

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A Ray to Remember

Bernard Fernandez

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A-Ray-to-Remember

Monday, April 6, marks the 33rd anniversary of the storied fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler. In 2007, in conjunction with the 20th anniversary, Philadelphia Daily News boxing writer Bernard Fernandez looked back at that event through the eyes of Sugar Ray Leonard with whom he had arranged an exclusive interview. Fernandez’s feature-length story ran under the title “A Ray to Remember.”

With Bernard’s permission, we are re-printing that story in its entirety. A 2020 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee, the multi-decorated Fernandez is the author of “Championship Rounds,” a soon-to-be-published anthology.

A Ray to Remember

The image is one of eternal youth, the impossibly gifted and charismatic young father smiling and cutting up with his giggling tyke of a son.

But the popular soft-drink commercial in which Ray Leonard Sr. and Ray Jr. appeared together aired in 1980, when certain boxers, if not boxing itself, were still seen as having broad enough appeal to sell products to America.

The 2007 vintage Ray Leonard Sr., better known to his many fans as Sugar Ray, remains handsome and charismatic. But, at 50, his working attire now runs more toward tailored suits and tasseled, Italian-made loafers than to satin trunks and tasseled boxing shoes. It has been more than 10 years since he attempted to summon the old magic in a final, futile comeback bid.

But during a luminescent prime in which he transcended his sport as few have, the quick-handed, steel-willed kid from suburban Washington, D.C., gave the public more than a few moments that are indelibly burned into the pages of boxing history. There was the gold medal he won at the 1976 Montreal Olympics; his stirring, late-round comeback in his first showdown with Thomas Hearns; the night he so dominated the great Roberto Duran in their first rematch that the “Hands of Stone” up and quit in the eighth round.

For all those peaks in a Himalayan career, however, perhaps the most towering accomplishment occurred on April 6, 1987, in a temporary outdoor stadium erected on the tennis courts at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. That’s when Leonard emerged from one of several retirements to shock undisputed middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler, who was widely regarded as near-invincible. In the Vegas sports books, the odds against Leonard were incredibly long for someone of his stature. More than a few members of the media even expressed concern for his immediate and long-term health.

Today is the 20th anniversary of Hagler-Leonard, a prizefight that seized the attention of the entire world, but the years always melt away in the mind of the man who manufactured one of boxing’s most unforgettable upsets. All Leonard has to do is close his eyes for the memories to come flooding back, as warm and vivid as ever.

“I swear, I look at my kids and wonder where the time went,” Leonard said in an exclusive interview with the Daily News recently. “Can it really have been 20 years? One day, you look at your son and he’s a little boy. Before you know it, he’s sprouting facial hair and is three or four inches taller than you. You’re, like, `Wow.’ Ray Jr. is 33 now.

“It’s funny how the good memories stick with you longer. Human nature, I suppose. I could always tell in the dressing room, when I was warming up, if it was going to be a good night or a long night. If you don’t feel like you have it that night, it is the most frightening thing for a fighter. I felt that way against Hector (Camacho, who stopped Leonard in five rounds on March 3, 1997, in Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall, his final bout). I felt the same thing before the first Duran fight, before the second Hearns fight, before the fight with Terry Norris.

“Fighters know when they have it. They know. When I was younger and I had those little moments of doubt, which were rare, I was usually able to overcome them. After Camacho, I knew I never wanted to experience a moment like that again. It’s like you have a vision you’re about to die and you can’t do anything about it.

“But against Hagler, I just felt like I was as ready as I possibly could be.”

Hagler-Leonard, like the first matchup of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield that was delayed for years, was a long time coming. Leonard had spent a sizable chunk of his career at welterweight, moving up to junior middleweight at around the same time Hagler was establishing himself as one of the finest 160-pound champions of all time. Everyone assumed that Leonard would move up to middleweight and challenge Hagler, probably sooner rather than later.

In the spring of 1982, however, Leonard was inadvertently poked in the left eye by the gloved thumb of a sparring partner The eye immediately reddened and his vision became blurred. The blurring cleared up after a short time, but the spots in his line of vision did not.

A detached retina was diagnosed, and Dr. Ron Michels operated on Leonard’s eye to repair the damage. Although advances in laser technology have made the reattachment of retinas a common surgical procedure, back then the injury was serious enough to end careers.

Although Michels assured him that his left eye was fully healed, Leonard, who had impulsively retired and unretired twice, wrestled with the fear that continuation of his career might leave him sightless. That, and the urging of his first wife, Juanita, edged him toward a momentous decision.

Ever the showman, Leonard rented the Baltimore Civic Center on November 9, 1982, for a black-tie gala attended by 10,000 fans and special guests. Among those on hand was Hagler, who also wore a tuxedo for what he presumed would be the announcement that the fight everyone wanted to see finally was going to be made.

In a ring that had been set up for the occasion, Leonard looked at Hagler and addressed the crowd. “A fight with this great man, with this great champion, would be one of the greatest fights in history,” Leonard said. “Unfortunately, it’ll never happen.”

There was a gasp, followed by stunned silence. Hagler felt, with some justification, he had been sandbagged. This is not what he came to hear.

But even as he was saying the words, Leonard had doubts about their validity in the long term.

“Yeah,” I said, `This is it. I’m done,’ but I’m not sure in my heart I believed it,” Leonard said. “I think I realized I might change my mind later, but I felt pressured to do the logical thing, which was to retire.

“I was, what, 26 years old then? I was a young guy still at the top of my game. But I guess I just wanted to put an end to the questions. My mind told me what to say, but in my heart my competitive fire was still burning.”

The flame might have been set on low, but it never went out. Leonard accepted a position as a boxing analyst for HBO, which allowed him to be at ringside for a number of Hagler’s title defenses.

“Marvin became my friend,” Leonard said. “We’d talk. There was no barrier between us because I was out of it; he didn’t consider me a threat to him. So he told me things that I mentally stored away.

“When he came for the grand opening of a restaurant in Bethesda, Maryland, I had a little piece of, we were drinking champagne. He said, `Yeah, man, I’m not motivated. I’m starting to get cut easily.’ It didn’t seem like he was into boxing that much anymore.

“I don’t know how significant that conversation was, but it was one of a lot of factors in my decision to come back.”

Perhaps the most crucial of those factors was Hagler’s performance in a tougher-than-expected, 11th-round knockout of John “The Beast” Mugabi on March 10, 1986.

“It was a cold night in Vegas,” Leonard recalled. “I saw Mugabi outjabbing and outboxing Hagler. It was a bad, bad night for Marvin, even though he won. It took a toll on him physically. It also seemed to me that he wasn’t focused.”

Leonard – who had had only one bout since February 1982, a ninth-round stoppage of Philadelphia journeyman Kevin Howard on May 11, 1984, in which Leonard was floored himself – made another announcement. He was back, and he was going after Hagler.

“When I said I was coming out of retirement, the reporters wanted to know who my tuneup fight was going to be against,” Leonard said. “I said, `No tuneup. I’m going straight to Marvin.’ Even my brother Roger thought I had lost it. There was no one, besides my father, who believed I had a prayer.

“Well, there was my father and Mike Trainer (Leonard’s longtime attorney/adviser). I talked to Mike after I came back from watching Hagler-Mugabi. I said, `Michael, me and Hagler, who wins?’ He looked me right in the eye and said, `Ray Leonard can’t beat Hagler. But Sugar Ray Leonard can.’

“When he said that, I didn’t understand at first. Looking back at it now, it made sense. He was saying Ray Leonard – the civilian, the businessman, the media personality – couldn’t win a fight like that. But if I could get back to being Sugar Ray, I could win.”

The buildup to the fight was of Super Bowl proportions. Hundreds of media from around the world converged on Las Vegas, not so much to cover a competitive event as to chronicle Leonard’s seemingly doomed quest.

But Leonard soaked up the skepticism and fed off it, all the while employing every psychological ploy he could think of.

“I worked Hagler from Day 1, even before I had the slightest imagination of fighting him,” Leonard said. “I studied this man day in and day out. I guess I did it subconsciously, when I was commentating for HBO. I’d study his mannerisms.

“Then, when Mike Trainer and I were negotiating (with Hagler’s manager-trainers, Goody and Pat Petronelli), we played angles. We’d give them this, take back that. To Hagler and his people,  none of it was relevant. All they saw was the dollar signs. They never even considered the possibility that Hagler might lose.

“Look, Hagler made a ton of money. I made a ton, too. Both parties were satisfied. It wasn’t until after the fact that they were dissatisfied. They complained that we got to pick the brand of gloves that were used, the number of rounds the fight was scheduled for.”

As was the case with Muhammad Ali’s “Rope-a-Dope” strategy against George Foreman,  Leonard concocted a plan to steal rounds with flurries in the last half-minute of close ones. It proved a stroke of genius.

“I told (cornerman) Ollie Dunlap in the dressing room, `30 seconds before the end of the round, yell. Let me know,” Leonard said. “He did that, and I’d flurry. It won rounds for me, no question.”

It also helped that Hagler, a southpaw, came out in an orthodox posture for the first two rounds.

“When the bell rang for the first round, I was all nervous energy,” Leonard said. “I might have talked the trash, but now it was time to put up or shut up. I really didn’t know if I still had it. I hoped it was there. But when Hagler came out fighting righthanded, it gave me an opportunity to get settled.”

Hagler, who maintains to this day that he deserved to win, was so enraged by the split decision against him – judges JoJo Guerra and Dave Moretti scored it 118-110 and 115-113 for Leonard, while Lou Fillippo had Hagler ahead, 115-113 – that he never fought again. The Brockton, Massachusetts, native lives in Milan, Italy, where he is a part-time actor.

“Hagler didn’t want to be around me for a while, which I can understand,” Leonard said. “But when we see each other now we’re cordial. I was in Vegas for Oscar (De La Hoya) and Felix (Trinidad). Marvin was there. He asked to see me. We shook hands and spoke.

“After the fight, which Oscar lost, I saw Marvin the next morning before I went to the airport. I said, `Can you believe that decision? No way Oscar lost.’ He said, `Yeah, I believe it. It happened to me.’”

Leonard was 2-2-1 in his five fights after Hagler, retiring at the age of 40. These days he enjoys the company of his second wife, Bernadette, and the youngest of his four children, Camille, 10, and Daniel, 6. He plays some golf, skis and has a prominent role with The Contender reality boxing series on ESPN.

“There’s no void that needs to be filled,” Leonard insisted. “There’s a fullness, a direction, to what I do. I am not in a hurry to go anywhere or do anything. I just want to stay creative and stimulated. I’m reconnecting with my older kids (including son Jerrell, 23). I feel good about where I’ve been, who I am now and where I’m going.

“Hagler and I had great, illustrious careers. We’re living our lives. You can’t hold onto the past forever. You have to move on.”

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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