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Final Takeaways from Wilder-Fury and a Doleful Dissertation on Riddick Bowe

Arne K. Lang

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Final Takeaways from Wilder-Fury and a Doleful Dissertation on Riddick Bowe

I watched the Wilder-Fury fight from the cheap seats. Actually, I had no seat at all.

My press badge consigned me to the so-called auxiliary press section which was up in the rafters. One can’t work in that environment. There’s no table on which to plop one’s laptop; no power strip to keep it plugged in. And so, I watched the full undercard on the big TV in the press room and then went into the arena to catch the main go and the hoopla that preceded it.

The corridors leading into the arena were jammed with people hoping to score a ticket at the last minute. They were out of luck. The fight was a sellout. It was gridlock and for a moment I feared that the main event would start without me, but I managed to push my way through in time for the ring walks.

The arena was dark and it seemed that every seat in my assigned area was taken. And so, I walked up to the very top of the stairs and stood with my back against the wall, wedged in between two other standees including a friendly guy from New Zealand who, like me, had a press badge dangling from a chain around his neck.

From a reporter’s standpoint, there are certain benefits to being up in the rafters when the house is full. For one, you can get a better feel for the ambience. A boxing crowd skews younger and more boozed-up as one gets higher up in the stands and this translates into more exuberance. And that’s especially true when there are a lot of Brits in the house. They chant and sing in unison. Us poor Yanks just don’t know how to have so much fun.

I’m old school when it comes to ring walks. Spare me the razzmatazz. Mike Tyson didn’t need it. No fancy robe for him, nor tasseled trunks, not even socks. And yet when he walked down the aisle with a simple white towel draped over his bare shoulders, he exuded charisma.

And then, on Saturday, Tyson Fury was carried into the ring on a throne, dressed like a king with a big crown on his head as the PA system played Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” and, I’m forced to admit, it was magical. Talk about a tough act to follow.

I’ve seen boxers walk into the ring with fear unmistakably etched on their countenance as if they were walking to the gallows. Frank Bruno and Bruce Seldon could not mask that “tell” when they fought Mike Tyson. More often, a boxer’s expression on his ring walk is inscrutable which I suspect is a way of compensating for his anxiety.

What struck me about Tyson Fury’s ring entrance was that it betrayed no such apprehension; to the contrary, he oozed confidence as if this were nothing more than a tune-up fight. I swear, he looked like a chap who was headed off to a Halloween ball and had stopped for a few pints on the way to get a head start on the jollity. I couldn’t pick a winner in this fight, tilted toward Wilder, but as I watched Tyson Fury’s ring walk, I sensed that I had missed a great opportunity by failing to get down a wager on the Gypsy King.

Many years ago, when I was first credentialed for a fight (Larry Holmes vs. Tim Witherspoon was the headliner), they planted me in the third row. Since returning to boxing after a decade in which I busied myself writing college football annuals and such, it seems as if my career is in reverse gear. The next time there’s a really big fight in town, I may be consigned to the corridor with all those folks effectively left out in the rain.

Oh, well, it’s been a fun ride.

—-

Prior to the ring walks, three great heavyweight champions of recent vintage – Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, and Mike Tyson – were honored in the ring. Conspicuous by his absence was Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe, a 1990s-era contemporary.

royalty

Granted, this ceremony was the handiwork of WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman who presented each of the honorees with a medal and Riddick Bowe was no friend of the WBC. In 1992, he famously dumped his WBC world title belt in the trash rather than comply with the organization’s mandate that he fight top contender Lennox Lewis. But Bowe, whose lone setback in 45 pro fights came in chapter two of a storied trilogy with Holyfield, was no less formidable at his peak than the other three.

Having said that, it was better that he wasn’t included. His presence would have put a damper on the proceedings.

At age 52, Riddick Bowe is younger than Tyson, Holyfield, or Lewis. But in terms of how far he has slipped since his fighting days, he’s a lot older. Making his story more discouraging, he believes that he can still compete at a high level and actually has a manager out there banging the drums on his behalf.

Bowe’s last meaningful fight was way back in 1996 when he fought the second of back-to-back fights with Andrew Golota. After those two unruly scrums, he was inactive for almost eight full years. During this period, he joined the U.S. Marines but was discharged after only 11 days and served 17 months in prison for interstate domestic violence and kidnapping after a bizarre attempt to repair his fractured relationship with his wife Judy and their five children.

Bowe returned to boxing after his long absence and had three more fights, the last of which transpired in December of 2008 when he won an 8-round decision over a third-rater in Germany. More recently, he tried his hand at Muay Thai. On June 14, 2013, carrying 300 pounds on his flabby frame, he was stopped in the second round on a show in Thailand in which he failed to land a single blow, whether a punch or a kick. ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who watched the fight on YouTube, wrote that anyone who watched it “saw an old man with no remaining discernible skills.”

Bowe never transcended the sport like Tyson or Holyfield in large part because of his limited vocabulary. Of course, he never had a chance to develop that vocabulary because his loquacious manager Rock Newman insisted on doing all the talking. And now it appears that history has repeated. By all accounts, Bowe’s new manager is cut from the same mold. Meet Eli Karabell.

On his web site, Eli Karabell, a fellow in his early 20’s, informs us that he is a “Businessman, Investor, Public Servant, Innovator, Community Leader, Entrepreneur, Politician, Social Activist and President and CEO of the American Boxing Association, a post to which he was appointed (presumably by himself). In his hometown of St. Louis, he is quite the gadfly. According to an article in the Jan. 20, 2018 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Karabell antagonized former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens to such an extent that Greitens’ press secretary had to block his calls.

Since Nov. 23, a certain web site that we won’t name has run five ‘EXCLUSIVE’ stories quoting Karabell about Riddick Bowe’s comeback. In an early story, Karabell said, “I believe Mr. Bowe is the best fighter in the heavyweight division right now, bare none.” As for Bowe beginning his comeback with exhibitions, Karabell said that what he had in mind for him was proceeding directly into a series of 12-round fights.

More recently, Karabell expressed his frustration about failing to induce a top promoter into helping him facilitate Bowe’s comeback. Regarding Eddie Hearn, he said, “He has not read the contract (we sent him), will not respond to our offer and we believe he is trying to obstruct the process.”

Why wouldn’t he? In the immediate aftermath of his second fight with Andrew Golota, Bowe was slurring his words. During the trial that sent him to prison, Bowe’s attorneys argued that his conduct resulted from brain damage. A forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Neil Blumberg, testified that Bowe had suffered irreversible damage to the frontal lobe in his brain. More recently, a New York Times story by Alex Vadukul, published in 2015 – the year that Riddick Bowe was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame – noted that his voice “had warped into a slur.”

The nicest thing we can say about Eli Karabell is that he is pixilated. We have nothing nice to say about anyone in the boxing media who would give him a soapbox.

MGM Grand Garden photo compliments of Joe Santoliquito

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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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