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Corrie Sanders’ Upset of Wladimir Klitschko Always Overshadowed by Ali-Frazier

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Corrie Sanders’ Upset of Wladimir Klitschko Always Overshadowed by Ali-Frazier

There are certain dates in boxing that are so consequential they are remembered annually, with reverence, for their historical significance. Perhaps no date fits that description more than March 8, 1971, the night when Joe Frazier scored a 15th-round knockdown of Muhammad Ali en route to winning a hard-fought, unanimous decision in Madison Square Garden in the “Fight of the Century.”

The upcoming anniversary of that remarkable event marks 49 years since “The Greatest” and “Smokin’ Joe” made magic together for the first of their three times sharing the ring, and the familiar written and spoken remembrances will again pay homage to arguably the most anticipated boxing match of all time. But the real tsunami of tributes will come in 2021, on the 50th anniversary of a megafight that seized the world’s attention as none before or since.

But there is another notable heavyweight fight that took place on another March 8, not exactly overlooked by history, but understandably relegated to a lesser place in a pecking order that forever shall reserve the top spot on that date for Ali-Frazier I. Still, Corrie Sanders’ shocking, second-round stoppage of WBO titlist Wladimir Klitschko on March 8, 2003, in Hanover, Germany, merits recognition both as a monumental upset and as a reminder that those who do not learn from history are sometimes obliged to repeat it.

Not exactly on the same elevated plateau as Ali-Frazier I, but not too far below it, is the celebrated date of Feb. 11, 1990, when Buster Douglas, a supposedly no-chance challenger to Mike Tyson’s supposedly invincible heavyweight championship reign, transformed the 42-to-1 odds against himself into the most stunning upset ever in boxing, and maybe in any sport, when he knocked out Tyson in 10 rounds in Tokyo. You say that Tyson went into that bout underprepared and overconfident? That Douglas dared to believe he was more than just another of Iron Mike’s designated victims? All true, but the parallels between Tyson-Douglas and Wlad-Sanders are eerily similar and cannot be dismissed.

Just as Douglas was generally considered to be a talented fighter whose mental lapses and indifferent approach to training made him less than he could have and maybe should have been, so, too, was Sanders, a 37-year-old South African southpaw, viewed as something of an underachiever, despite the 38-2 record with 30 KO victories he brought into his matchup with the younger and arguably more naturally talented of boxing’s Klitschko brothers.

Making the sixth defense of the WBO title he had won on a unanimous decision over slick-boxing southpaw Chris Byrd on Oct. 14, 2000, Klitschko was a huge favorite over Sanders, a Buster-like 40-1 long shot whose lack of peak conditioning for more than a few of his fights had become a recurring theme. When the always-impressively-muscled Wlad, whose intimidating nickname was “Dr. Steelhammer,” looked at Sanders, the fleshy guy bereft of six-pack abs, it must have been much the same as when Tyson made the mistake of writing off Douglas as just another fat impostor who would fall down the first time he got nailed solidly.

“He was what people in boxing call a `bum,’” Klitschko said in 2009 of his impression of Sanders, which soon proved to be incorrect. “I was tired. I’d been busy. I went into the ring thinking I’ll knock this guy out in one round and go home.

“This is the worst way to think. It’s a psychological disaster. You can’t think about vacation when you’re about to step in the ring. In my entire career, nobody ever beat me (like Sanders did).”

Klitschko’s miscalculation was apparent to HBO analyst George Foreman even before Sanders floored the Ukrainian twice in the first round and twice more in the second. Big George noted that Klitschko was “bone-dry” before the opening bell, a sign that he had not warmed up properly in his dressing room before making his way to the ring.

“Wladimir Klitschko seems so perfect, you wonder what’s wrong with him. Can Corrie Sanders find out?” Larry Merchant, another member of the HBO broadcast crew, said of the awe-inspiring man who had come in on a 16-bout winning streak, 15 of those victories coming inside the distance, including put-aways of such quality opponents as Axel Schulz, Monte Barrett, Frans Botha and Ray Mercer.

What was wrong with Wlad was something that had been demonstrated before, in his only pro defeat, an 11th-round TKO against American journeyman Ross Puritty on Dec. 5, 1998, and would again be demonstrated in losses inside the distance against Lamon Brewster and Anthony Joshua. Even in a unanimous, 12-round conquest of Samuel Peter on Sept. 24, 2005, in Atlantic City, N.J., Klitschko had to overcome three trips to the canvas. For all his obvious strengths, which are sure to gain him first-ballot induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2021, what “Dr. Steelhammer” lacked was a granite jaw. If you caught him just so, he could and would go down.

Whether or not Wlad’s falsely inflated sense of confidence for the Sanders fight extended to his trainer, Fritz Sdunek, or older brother Vitali Klitschko, the future WBC heavyweight titlist who also was a member of the corner team on that date, is a matter of conjecture. What is indisputable is that Vitali, clearly upset that referee Genaro Rodriguez had stopped the bout less than a half-minute into the second round, a reasonable action given those four knockdowns in quick succession, angrily confronted Sanders, shouting his intention to gain either revenge or a restoration of family pride, take your pick.

“This belt belongs to us!” Vitali, who had made a promise to his mother to always “protect” his younger brother, yelled at Sanders. “It is family property! You fight me next!”

For his part, Sanders, who figured he had just earned the right to savor his career highlight, felt Vitali’s vitriolic display was an improper intrusion.

“He should have let me have the moment, but he was shouting this and that,” the normally laid-back Sanders said of the tense exchange. “It was me who deserved the belt that night, no one else. He had no right to get into the ring as it was my time and not his. I simply told him, `I’ve beaten your brother and next time I’ll beat you.’”

As things turned out, it was indeed Vitali who got the next crack at Sanders, even though a do-over with Wlad seemingly was made to order for HBO, which, if rumors are correct, hadn’t been all that hot to televise the just-concluded fight, the consensus in the cable giant’s executive offices being that Wlad was so superior that Sanders would put up token resistance at best. But then Sanders vacated his newly won WBO title in December 2003 so that he could concentrate on a challenge for the presumably more prestigious WBC belt, which had become vacant in the wake of Lennox Lewis’ retirement. Lewis had retained his championship in his final fight, a sixth-round stoppage of a badly bleeding Vitali Klitschko on June 21, 2003, but he trailed on all three official scorecards at the time. HBO had no qualms whatsoever in signing off on a pairing of Vitali, known as “Dr. Ironfist,” with Sanders in a pugilistic version of the Hatfields vs. the McCoys.

Vitali avenged Wlad’s defeat by stopping Sanders in eight rounds on April 24, 2004, at Los Angeles’ Staples Center, but it was no cakewalk for the winner. Sanders, an all-around athlete who had played rugby and cricket as a schoolboy and had become so proficient at golf that he considered trying out for the PGA Tour, would go on to win three more bouts, but he called it quits, at 42, when he was TKO’ed in one round by 30-year-old Osborne Machimana on Feb. 2, 2008, for the South African heavyweight title.

The perspective of time has a way of either illuminating or diminishing the careers of certain fighters who are not easily categorized. In retrospect, Cornelius Johannes Sanders was, like Buster Douglas, probably better than what he was given credited for being throughout much of a career played out in relative anonymity. Sanders – who bore an unfortunate facial resemblance to Mark Gastineau, the former New York Jets defensive end who wasn’t nearly as successful a boxer as he was at sacking quarterbacks – had much of life still to live when, on Sept. 23, 2012, he died at 46, a day after being shot by robbers at a restaurant in Brits, South Africa, to celebrate a family member’s 21st birthday. He died a hero, trying to shield his teenage daughter, Marinique, during the premeditated attack.

Three Zimbabweans, all in their early 20s and first offenders, were convicted of murder, armed robbery and possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition. Each is serving what is tantamount to a 30-year sentence, a penalty not seemingly in keeping with the seriousness of the crimes committed.

“The loss against him changed a side of my character tremendously. It made me tougher and it made me better,” Wlad said upon being informed of Sanders’ death. “Without my experience with Corrie I wouldn’t be the same way.

“The boxing world will remember Corrie as a heavy hitter and a good man. I have nothing bad to say about Corrie at all.”

Was Corrie Sanders a one-hit wonder? Not really. Before his rout of Wlad, he had wins over such recognizable names as Johnny DuPlooy, Al “Ice” Cole, Bobby Czyz, Carlos De Leon and Bert Cooper. Would his status in global boxing been more established had he not been so intent on fighting primarily in South Africa, instead of moving to the United States as had been the case with several of his countrymen, like Botha? Probably. But home is where the heart is, and Corrie Sanders’ heart was forever anchored in the nation of his birth.

“Maybe I loved my country too much,” he once said.

Can’t fault a man for that.

Bernard Fernandez retired in 2012 after a 43-year career as a newspaper sports writer, the last 28 years with the Philadelphia Daily News. A former five-term president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, Fernandez won the BWAA’s Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism in 1998 and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service in 2005. On Jun 14, 2020, New Orleans native Fernandez — who now writes exclusively for The Sweet Science — will be formally inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Juan Francisco Estrada Holds Off ‘Chocolatito’ Again

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Once again Juan Francisco Estrada jumped out in front early and Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez needed time to crank up the engine, but fell too far behind as the Mexican fighter won the vacant WBC flyweight world title on Saturday.

Estrada wins the trilogy 10 years in the making.

Once again Estrada (44-3, 28 KOs) surged ahead early in the fight against Nicaragua’s Gonzalez (51-4, 41 KOs) and then navigated toward another win, this time at the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona on the Matchroom Boxing card.

“We had excellent preparation at high altitude and I think we left the fight clear on who won the fight this time,” said Estrada about the third encounter.

Ten years ago, the trilogy began in Los Angeles as “Chocolatito” confronted an unknown fighter at the time in Estrada. The two surprised the crowd who expected Gonzalez to destroy yet another Mexican fighter. But it did not happen that night though Chocolatito proved too experienced and battered his way to victory in a light flyweight world title clash.

Then, in March 2021, Estrada finally fought Gonzalez in a rematch and the two engaged in a closely-fought super flyweight world title match. This time Estrada proved slightly better according to the judges and won by split decision in Dallas, Texas.

Few knew what to expect in a third encounter.

At first the coronavirus stalled plans for the trifecta so Chocolatito fought a replacement and dominated. Meanwhile Estrada fought another Mexican and did not look good.

On Saturday, a decade after their first encounter, Estrada looked fluid and accurate in dominating the first six rounds of the fight. Though he did not hurt Gonzalez, he was repeatedly scoring at will.

Gonzalez woke up around the seventh round.

Suddenly the Nicaraguan who was once considered the best fighter Pound for Pound showed up and fired rapid combinations. The spring in his legs suddenly appeared and the energy level was cranked up high after nearly being on idle.

Estrada suddenly found himself against the ropes forced to slip and slide away from Gonzalez’s powerful combination punches. A real fight suddenly erupted during the final six rounds.

“All fights are different and all fights are difficult and this was the most difficult one,” said Gonzalez, a four-division world champion.

Though neither fighter was ever visibly hurt, Gonzalez’s pressure kept Estrada expending too much energy trying to evade the Nicaraguan’s traps during the final six rounds.

“He always goes 100 miles an hour,” said Estrada of his nemesis.

Estrada used uppercuts and slide steps to maneuver against Gonzalez’s hard charges. It seemed to work and allowed the Mexican fighter more room and time to apply counter-measures.

In the final round, those maneuvers allowed Estrada to connect with a hard punch to the body that forced Chocolatito to cover up. It also allowed Estrada to unravel a combination that gave him the last round if needed. After 12 rounds one judge scored it 114-114, while two others saw it 116-112, 115-113 for Estrada who becomes the new WBC super flyweight world titlist.

“We did an excellent fight and I got the victory,” said Estrada. “I’ve always said Chocolatito is a future Hall of Famer.”

Gonzalez was gracious in defeat.

“What is important is we gave that good fight to the fans and we came out in good health,” Gonzalez said.

There is even talk of a fourth fight.

“As long as they pay well, of course,” said Gonzalez.

Other Fights

Julio Cesar Martinez (19-2, 14 KOs) retained the WBC flyweight world title by majority decision over Spain’s Samuel Carmona (8-1) in a rather dull affair. Mexico’s Martinez chased Carmon all 12 rounds in a fight that saw Carmona slap and run, then hold.

No knockdowns were scored and Martinez won 114-114, 117-111, 116-112.

Diego Pacheco (17-0, 14 KOs) ran over Mexico’s Adrian Luna (24-9-2) with three knockdowns in winning by stoppage in the second round of the super middleweight fight. It was no surprise.

The 21-year-old from South Central L.A. once again showed that despite his youth his power seems to be continually increasing as evident in the knockout win.

Now training with Team David Benavidez, the young super middleweight looked sharp, especially with the lead overhand right that floored Luna in the second round. Luna was floored two more times and the fight was wisely stopped by his own corner.

“You put in the hard work then you come in here and shine,” said Pacheco. “I joined team Benavidez this year.”

Nicaragua’s former world titlist Cristofer Rosales (35-6, 21 KOs) won a dog fight over Mexico’s Joselito Velasquez (15-1-1, 10 KOs) by unanimous decision after 10 rounds in a flyweight clash.

It was a back-and-forth struggle that saw the taller Rosales take over in the second half of the fight and win by simply out-punching Velasquez and handing the Mexican his first loss as a professional by scores 97-93 three times.

Photo credit: Milena Pizano

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Tyson Fury TKOs Derek Chisora in Round 10

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It was a chilly night in London but that didn’t deter a near-capacity crowd from turning out at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to witness the third rumble between Tyson Fury and Derek Chisora. The Gypsy King was heavily favored to retain his WBC and lineal heavyweight title and performed as expected. Indeed, this fight closely resembled their second encounter back in 2014.

In that bout, Chisora absorbed a terrific amount of punishment before his corner pulled him out at the conclusion of the 10th round. Tonight’s fight ended nine seconds earlier at the 2:51 mark of round 10 and it was the referee who terminated the match.

When is a heavyweight not a heavyweight? When the man in the opposite corner is substantially bigger. With an 8-inch height advantage and a 15-inch reach advantage, the six-foot-nine Fury was simply too big a mountain to climb for the brave Derek Chisora, a fighter who changed his nickname in mid-career, transitioning from “Dell Boy” to “War.”

Fury dominated round two, especially the last minute, a round in which he was credited with landing 18 power punches. The writing was on the wall for Chisora who ate a lot of thudding uppercuts in the ensuing rounds and ended the contest with a badly swollen right eye and a bloody mouth. With the victory, Fury improved his ledger to 32-0-1 with his 24th win inside the distance. The Zimbabwe-born Chisora falls to 33-13.

Oleksandr Usyk and Joe Joyce were in attendance and the Gypsy King addressed both before he left the ring. Calling Usyk “The Rabbit,” he indicated that he would fight Usyk next in a true unification fight, but said if there were a snag in negotiations he wouldn’t mind trading blows with the Juggernaut, Joe Joyce, who wore down and stopped former heavyweight title-holder Joseph Parker, a former Fury sparring partner, in his most recent engagement. However, Fury also revealed that he had an issue with his right elbow that may require surgery.

Co-Feature

In a heavyweight match that lasted only three rounds but was chock-full of action, Daniel Dubois overcame three knockdowns to retain his secondary WBA heavyweight title he won at the expense Trevor Bryan with a third-round stoppage of upset-minded Kevin Lerena.

In the opening stanza, Johannesburg’s Lerena, landed an overhand left on the top of Dubois’s head that put the Englishman on the canvas and left him all at sea. He went down twice more before the round was over, the first time of his own volition when he took a knee (reminiscent of his match with Joe Joyce) and the second from a glancing blow.

Dubois, whose legs are spindly for a man of his poundage, had trouble regaining his equilibrium in round two, but Lerena didn’t press his advantage. In the next frame, a short right from Dubois penetrated Lerena’s guard and down went the South African. Smelling blood, Dubois knocked him down again and was pummeling him against the ropes when the referee interceded just as it appeared that Lerena would be saved by the bell.

It was the fourth straight win for Dubois (19-1, 18 KOs) since his mishap versus Joyce. Lerena, who entered the bout on a 17-fight winning streak, lost for the second time in 30 fights.

Also

In a ho-hum affair, Denis Berinchyk, a 24-year-old Ukrainian, captured the European lightweight title and remained undefeated with a unanimous decision over French-Senagalese warhorse Ivan Mendy. Berinchyk (17-0, 9 KOs) was making his first appearance in London since winning a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics where he was a teammate of Oleksandr Usyk and Vasiliy Lomachenko.

The judges had it 117-112 and 116-112 twice for the Ukrainian. The 37-year-old Mendy, who has answered the bell for 380 rounds, falls to 47-6-1.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Light Nips Glanton in Florida; across the pond, Kelly UD 12 Williamson in Newcastle

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ProBox TV, a fledgling promotional group co-founded by former world champions Roy Jones Jr, Juan Manuel Marquez, and Paulie Malignaggi, has found a home for their bi-monthly shows at an events center in Plant City, Florida, near Tampa. The main event of last night’s show (Friday, Dec. 2) was a well-matched 10-rounder between world ranked cruiserweights Brandon Glanton (pictured on the left) and David Light, both undefeated.

Light, a 31-year-old New Zealander who was 19-0 (12 KOs) heading in, had a strong amateur background that included a silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, but was virtually unknown outside the Antipodes, having fought almost exclusively on small shows in Auckland. Glanton, a 30-year-old Atlanta native who had trimmed down considerably since his days as a defensive lineman at HBCU Albany State, had caught the eye of hardcore fight fans with a thrilling split decision over previously unbeaten Efetobor Apochi on a TBS show in Minneapolis.

The oddsmakers made Glanton (17-0, 14 KOs heading in) a small favorite and after 10 hard rounds there were many who thought he deserved the nod. He turned the fight into a “phone booth” affair, pressing the action while working the body effectively, and scored the bout’s lone knockdown, knocking Light off his pins (he wasn’t badly hurt) in the final frame with what appeared to be a glancing blow. But two of the judges were more impressed by Light’s counter-punching, scoring the bout 97-92 and 95-94 for the kiwi, overruling the dissenter who had it 95-94 for Blanton.

It was the sort of fight that cries out for a rematch, but David Light will undoubtedly go in a different direction. Both he and Glanton were pointing toward a match with WBO title-holder Lawrence Okolie.

Newcastle

Earlier on Friday, across the pond in Newcastle, England, former Olympian Josh Kelly got the signature win that had eluded him with a lopsided 12-round decision over defending British 154-pound title-holder and former amateur teammate Troy Williamson.

This was Kelly’s third fight since David Avanesyan burst his bubble in a welterweight affair, stopping Kelly in the sixth stanza. The local fighter, who boosted his record to 13-1-1 (7) blamed his poor performance on his struggle to make weight.

The previously undefeated Williamson, 19-0-1 heading in, was making the second defense of the title he won in a barnburner with Ted Cheeseman. He went to post a small favorite, but was outclassed by Kelly who won by scores of 119-109, 119-111, and 118-110.

In the co-feature, Manchester’s Lyndon Arthur (21-1, 15 KOs) stayed relevant in the light heavyweight division with a second-round stoppage of overmatched Joel McIntyre (20-5). In his lone defeat, Arthur was TKOed by revenge-minded Anthony Yarde.

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