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The Top Ten Super-Middleweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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The Top Ten Super-Middleweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Super-middleweight offers a surprisingly shallow decadal well with a top two written in stone, no defined number ten and a fuzzy nine through six, although, as always, meetings between some of those fighters helped straighten a few things out.

That the 168lb Super Six tournament, the inaugural super series, was mid-flow on January 1st 2010 means that not all of those results are considered, which hits some harder than others. It took some time for a new generation to traverse the rubble left behind by the monstrous divisional number one and two, but when they did they flooded the top five, usurping men like Mikkel Kessler who left the best part of his career behind in the 00s.

The picture is complicated and often the differences between fighters are small but it made for a fascinating if under-whelming 168lb decade.

10 – David Benavidez

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 22-0 Ranked For: 32% of the Decade

A surprising inclusion, David Benavidez makes it in at ten based, in all honesty, upon the total absence of an outstanding candidate.

Lucian Bute was the early runner, and at the dawn of the decade it would have been hard to imagine him not making a list like this; a final paper record for the decade of 7-5 all but excludes him though and his best win being over a collapsing Glen Johnson is the final nail in that particular fistic coffin.  Andre Dirrell ran him close but actually achieved surprisingly little between his controversial 2009 loss to Froch and his 2015 defeat to James DeGale. It’s not clear-cut, but Benavidez is the right choice.

He survived a startling gut-check in 2017 when dropped by Romanian tough Ronald Gavril in the final frame of his first twelve round contest in a fight he won by the narrowest of margins. Benavidez proved the value of such lessons in an immediate rematch, winning almost every round in a near-shutout of high caliber.

As 2019 came to an end and with this list (then only thought of) completely bereft of a tenth entry, Benavidez stopped Anthony Dirrell, then the number four contender, to seal the low spot. It was an impressive performance as he out-hustled and out-jabbed a faster-handed fighter, a layered offense built of two-handed attacks to body and head barracking severe pressure. Benavidez has a bright future, here he is lauded for his fledgling past.

09 – Arthur Abraham

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 16-6 Ranked For: 66% of the Decade

Arthur Abraham lost majority of his big fights in the 2010s; by disqualification to Andre Dirrell; by shutout against Carl Froch; by outclass against Andre Ward: even against elite prospects once he had limped past his prime.

The two things that speak for him here are his dogged commitment to the weight-class, which he inhabited from 2010 until his retirement in 2018 and his series victory over Robert Stieglitz. Stieglitz, himself a contender himself for this list, was a highly ranked and formidable fighter who prioritized a regional rivalry with Abraham above all other things. Abraham, out of Armenia, had relocated to Germany, just as Stieglitz had done from Russia; the German yard seemed big enough for only one super-middleweight.

Abraham puts me in mind of a less dangerous Huck, which is perhaps damning with faint praise.  Nevertheless, it is hard not to see the similarities in the first fight between Abraham and Stieglitz as Abraham overcame a relative paucity of activity to surge from the ropes and win key sections of key rounds and a narrow decision. The fight was so close (I scored it a draw) that a rematch was inevitable, and Abraham lost that rematch, his left eye closed by an unerring Stieglitz right hand which saw him stopped in three one-sided and foul-filled rounds. In the third fight, by which time Stieglitz was being favored, the men were sharing a purse of over $3m; Abraham, viewed, perhaps, as sliding, was as good in the second half of this fight as he had ever been. In a chaotic, filthy match his punching was consistently cleaner, his footwork markedly better even in the exhausted twelfth round in which he received a beating for more than two minutes before countering with a gorgeous uppercut to seal the victory with a knockdown. In the fourth and final fight, Abraham was at last able to see off his great rival in a sixth-round stoppage.

This series is the bedrock of Abraham’s ranking in the 10s, his biggest wins over Jermaine Taylor and Edison Miranda all coming in the 00s.

08 – Gilberto Ramirez

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 34-0 Ranked For: 49% of the Decade

The inclusion here of Gilberto Ramirez may raise some eyebrows but in truth, leaving him out is next to impossible. He defeated Arthur Abraham after all, and so clinically that only Andre Ward and perhaps Carl Froch can claim to have matched him.

What most impressed me about Ramirez, who fought Abraham on the undercard of the Manny-Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley rematch from 2016, was how he handled the veteran’s tempo. Abraham had been fighting at title level for as long as Ramirez had been fighting and he ceded the tempo of the fight to the younger man early, allowing him to force the pace. Ramirez eschewed the classic mistake of pushing too hard. He accepted responsibility as the general and then boxed at his own steady rate, deploying a beautiful right hook to the body, moving well but not excessively, jabbing the Abraham high guard to keep him occupied, finding what gaps there were.

It was a beautiful performance.

Abraham, it might be argued, was past prime – it is worth reminding the reader though that he had just turned in two of his career’s best in 2014 and 2015 against Stieglitz. That was the Abraham Ramirez faced.

Ramirez spent almost the entire decade fighting at the poundage and his raw numbers are impressive. It’s jarring to see him at number eight, and perhaps revealing of 168lbs strength in depth, but he’s unquestionably a special fighter and arguably has the best signature win of anyone outside the top six.

A quick word for Andre Dirrell, who also holds a win over Abraham from 2010 but doesn’t make the list. Fairly or unfairly (and it’s unfair as Dirrell was clearly winning the fight at the time of the stoppage), a victory by disqualification is less impressive than a wide UD, so Dirrell misses out.

07 – James DeGale

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 20-3-1 Ranked For: 56% of the Decade

The most instructive fight of James DeGale’s career, and perhaps his best, is his 2015 points victory over Andre Dirrell. DeGale, slightly out-sped, was clearly uncomfortable in the very early moments of the round, Dirrell’s quick jab and a gorgeous counter-uppercut giving him pause for thought. A beautiful left hand from a stance neither southpaw nor orthodox but somewhere in between (DeGale switched), changed the direction the fight seemed to be taking. DeGale took over.

Then, in the seventh, he gassed. It was clear and it was sad, a fighter gone from close control fostered by deep combinations to walking in wide circles with low hands, pot-shotting. He clearly lost the seventh, eighth, ninth and then the tenth. It made his heart-fuelled rally in the eleventh and twelfth all the more thrilling.

A Rolls-Royce with a scooter’s gas-tank, DeGale’s great flaw made him a much more interesting fighter, drawing him into thrillers where a man of his talents probably would otherwise have coasted. It cost him dearly in legacy, however – every blip on DeGale’s record owes something to his stamina issues.

Dirrell was clearly his best win and to be frank it is troubling to me that his second is likely Caleb Truax – but Truax was only highly ranked as a super-middleweight because he had previously beaten DeGale in one of his most pronounced fades; he was barely able to avoid a repeat in the rematch.

That said, he could have taken a victory in his hairline defeat to early nemesis George Groves, sending him off on a different trajectory. Having looked carefully at him here, however, I’m struck by the idea that given his very real limitations, DeGale squeezed almost everything he could have from his rather fascinating career.

06 – Mikkel Kessler

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 4-1 Ranked For: 38% of the Decade

At first I thought Kessler’s decadal legacy may be the weakest of all the divisional number sixes we will run into. A wonderful fighter, he threw punches in anger just five times at the beginning of the decade and never ranked higher than #2. His inclusion here stands upon what is likely the single best 168lb performance of the decade not executed by Andre Ward, the April 2010 clash between he and Carl Froch.

Prime Kessler was such a rare sight. No fighter of the era struggled so desperately with injuries – back, eye, and especially elbow troubles tormented him; but on that April night in Denmark you saw the closest thing we ever saw to Kesslerian perfection.

Not that he had it all his own way; the fight was thrilling, brutal, accompanied by some horrible facial injuries and some violent punches. Technically superior to Froch and sporting arguably the best traditional one-two punch in the sport at that time, Kessler survived one of Froch’s patented late surges to pull out the final rounds on my card and win a desperately narrow decision. It was a thing of savage beauty.

He lost the rematch but in between did some fine work, including an unprecedented three round destruction of Brian Magee and a crushing knockout of super-six competitor Allan Green. So on second thoughts, Kessler is just about good for this spot, not an outstanding number six but probably not a problematic one.

05 – George Groves

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 21-4 Ranked For: 77% of the Decade

When George Groves met James DeGale in 2011 their combined record was 22-0, prospects foolishly but gloriously jumping the gun to settle a domestic rivalry that hadn’t even had the proper time to coagulate.

DeGale was favored; Groves won, a fascinating and tension-filled combat, unexpectedly boxing off the back foot to out-squabble and counter his way to the narrowest of victories. It was not undisputed by ringsiders.

Groves and DeGale never met again and their respective careers plunged in and out of the choppy 168lbs waters, now one pre-eminent, now the other. Both achieved the number one contender’s spot, both won straps, neither lifted the undisputed, legitimate championship of the world and here, in the end, I have Groves edging him out in terms of legacy.

Groves made his mark, but he did it the hard way, with grit, gumption, heart and nerve. People forget how close he was to retirement after his loss to Badou Jack and how much his status within the fight game was propped up by his two exciting losses to Carl Froch. Exciting losses are fine, perhaps, for gathering cash but are worth very little in the cold eyes of history.

It was important for Groves to carry on after the loss to Jack because his two most important wins, over Martin Murray and Chris Eubank, came after that night. This hardly makes for an impenetrable top-five resume for the decade, but as we’ve seen, competition is a little sparse and so his determination to fight on where so many may have slung in the towel scrambles him over the line.

04 – Callum Smith

Peak Ranking: Ch Record for the Decade: 27-0 Ranked For: 38% of the Decade

So, Groves becomes the gatekeeper to the decade’s true elite. Numbers four, three and two all defeated him and for each of them he was a win of major importance, none more so than Callum Smith.

This is true for two reasons. Firstly, Groves was nothing less than the world’s number one contender, and with no true champion on the throne, the most important fighter at the poundage.  For all that he was sliding, he had also summitted. The man to knock him off his perch was always going to benefit, and that man was Smith.

Secondly, Smith only arrived as a major force taking significant scalps at the decade’s end. The Groves fight, in 2018, was his first of any true global significance. After this he mercilessly buried contender Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam in just three rounds before running into the diminutive John Ryder where he was arguably lucky to get a unanimous nod in a close fight.

Against Groves though, he had been dominating, imperious. Groves, who scored his two most meaningful career wins in the previous eighteen months, had only ever been stopped by Carl Froch, but this was something else again. There was a sense of overlapping generations, even eras, as Smith, who looked bigger, stronger, flat-out healthier, faster and more powerful, countered and battered Groves around the ring. It felt like the emergence of someone a little special.

His shaky performance against Ryder has since cast doubt upon that perception, but not upon his placement here. Smith is locked into the top five.

03 – Badou Jack

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 18-3-3 Ranked For: 48% of the Decade

Badou Jack’s 168lb career is fascinating and scoring his cornerstone fights is fascinating. Jack met Anthony Dirrell (W, MD), George Groves (W, SD), Lucian Bute (Draw, later changed to a DQ after Bute tested positive for drugs) and James DeGale (D). All fights that were called controversial for one source of another and all back to back. We don’t have the space here to deep-dive each but a brief summary is called for.

His fascinating tussle with Dirrell is one of my favorite lo-fi combats of the decade and sees Jack slowly take over from his more highly ranked opponent, finally going to work on him on the ropes to take a justified decision in a fight that seemed at times contested in the proverbial phone-booth, yet somehow rambled across the whole ring. Against Groves, in another fine fight, Jack started faster, scoring a knockdown with a pair of flashing right hands in the first, and finished the stronger, rattling his man with that same punch in the twelfth. Once more, the fight was close, but the scoring was justifiable. Against Bute, Jack was unlucky to see the official scorecards a draw, but this wrong was righted when Bute was unfortunately busted for performance enhancing drugs, the fight now listed a win for Jack. Finally, against DeGale, a justifiable draw was rendered, but given that he threw more punches and landed at a higher rate and came reasonably close to a stoppage in the twelfth, he can probably count himself a little unlucky here.

Jack’s appearance at number three may be unexpected to some, but it shouldn’t be. He mixed it at the highest level and for the most part he came off best. His single loss at the weight, a bizarre first round defeat to the little-known Derek Edwards should arguably relegate him to the fourth spot, but Smith arrived just one fight too late to overhaul him for me.

02 – Carl Froch

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 7-2 Ranked For: 50% of the Decade

I did no analysis at all before installing Carl Froch at number two and I’m glad that this decision has been borne out by the review. Nobody came close to usurping him and the gap between two and three is probably bigger than the gap between three and nine.

Froch lost twice. In 2011, he was outclassed by one of the best super-middleweights in history, our number one, and the year before he was pipped by Mikkel Kessler in a thriller. The rematch, too, would be thrilling and is among the most fascinating I have seen in terms of adjustment and counter-adjustment deciding the outcome. Froch was “basic” according to Antonio Tarver and so many others, but in fact he was layered and thoughtful. If the Kessler performance doesn’t persuade you, the Arthur Abraham one certainly will. Froch turned pure-boxer that night, in his ungainly way, to all but shut Abraham out on the cards. Whether he was throwing over a thousand punches (Kessler II) or fighting in staged raids against a supposedly superior opponent (Lucian Bute), Froch tended to find a way to win.

And he did so against a glorious level of opposition, taking more ranked scalps than anyone on this list outside of Ward while actually doing slightly more damage to the top five. Froch squeezed every single drop out of his potential during a run (2008-2014) held to be the most difficult ever traversed by a British fighter. Had Andre Ward never been born, Froch would be the clear number one for the decade.

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01 – Andre Ward

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 11-0 Ranked For: 47% of the Decade

Andre Ward was born, however, and stands as a number one even more unassailable than Oleksandr Usyk who seemed so imperious at cruiserweight. In truth, he’s not that far ahead of Froch in terms of his 168lb resume, but the difference maker is his crushing victory over the divisional decadal number two, so one-sided as to be trivial.

Froch, who showed so many adaptions in his career, could do nothing with Ward. He tried the backfoot when Ward outfought him ring center, then he tried those two-handed surges that did so much damage against so many world class opponents. Ward was one step ahead of him at every turn, technically out-matching him with a left-hook stood against his high guard and also matching him for strength, so surprising for those who had not been paying attention; but Ward had done the same in out-classing Mikkel Kessler two years before and was never out-muscled in any fight I ever saw him in. A stinging rather than a hurtful puncher, he was otherwise as complete a fighter as walked the earth.

Why, it was often asked, did nobody just rush him? Ultra-aggressive fighters like Sakio Bika, Arthur Abraham and Froch, why didn’t they just try to boom through him and make him pay? And the answer is that it was really, really hard. Froch got in and threw body punches and tried to rough his man up and was consistently out-fought and out-mauled, it was Ward, not Froch who won these spells. Abraham ended up stacked behind his ear-muffs, being savagely punished to the body. Allan Green, Chad Dawson, Edwin Rodriguez, they all had plans and they all failed utterly.

“I’m bitterly disappointed,” said Froch after Ward demoted him to the era’s number two for all time.  “He’s a very tricky, very slick very awkward…very good fighter.  Credit to Andre Ward.”

Every man who ever faced Andre Ward ended up similarly disappointed. His was an understated reign of terror. The man brooked no resistance.

Photo credit: Tom Casino / SHOWTIME

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Book Review

“Sparring with Smokin’ Joe” is a Great Look into a Great, Complicated Man

Phil Woolever

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BOOK REVIEW – Some rare moments arrive, as either a blessing or a curse, to cast definitive impressions of how someone might be remembered. As anyone reading this should well know, such a moment occurred 50 years ago today (March 8, 1971) at Madison Square Garden for Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali.

For Frazier, a punishing 15-round victory became the foundation to his legacy. That leads us to Sparring with Smokin’ Joe by Glenn Lewis, the latest biographical volume to focus on Frazier, with a timely release date close to the “Fight of the Century” anniversary that should provide plenty of solid promotional material for the book.

As a piece of literature the book, published by Rowman & Littlefield, stands up quite well on its own, and as a piece of boxing literature it stands out, through previously unpublished situational information on Frazier.

I found it to be a must-read for Frazier fans and a solid plus for most boxing libraries.

Author Lewis is a graduate school professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) and director of journalism at the affiliated York College with decades of expertise on his resume. This project is expertly constructed and reads very smoothly throughout. Beside the many insightful instances regarding Frazier himself, a very thoughtful portrait of his son Marvis Frazier runs through the narrative, which also conjures a vivid depiction of Frazier’s Broad Street Gym in North Philadelphia.

The book’s unique highlight is the ongoing tale of traveling with Frazier and his all-white band (with multiple Berklee school members) during a tour of southern states.

The first 140 pages or so (out of a listed 256), make up a fascinating memoir of getting to know Frazier and his circle during 1980, around four years after his second crushing defeat to George Foreman. At that point in his life, Frazier was trying to settle into retirement, guide Marvis’s culminating amateur career, and transition from boxing superstar to fledgling vocal attraction.

I devoured the opening sections of the book with reader’s glee, far more than enough to highly recommend Lewis’ book, but toward the end it seemed maybe he should have quit while and where he was ahead.

The last third gets substantially less engaging. The author grew distanced from his subject’s proximity and it shows, as the tale becomes far more familiar in relating already well-documented fight data.

There is still some fine perspective from Lewis like Joe’s hugely destructive obsession with rushing Marvis into disaster versus Larry Holmes, but for many of the closing segments you could cut and paste the same period of Frazier’s career out of Mark Kram Jr’s recent book Smokin’ Joe (2019) and gain a bit more personal touch.

That’s not at all to imply that the boxing writing is weak. Lewis makes an excellent case that Frazier won the rematch with Ali, not only the first fight; which leads to justified speculation on what could have occurred had Frazier gotten the second nod. Back then I shared Lewis’ opinion on the scoring, and his detailed analysis inspires taking another look at the replay.

Some minor gym characters or business associates become animated as if they’re standing in front of you, but I was disappointed in how a charming, complicated guy like Jimmy Young was overlooked and how larger-than-life characters like Gil Clancy and especially George Benton (a living example of where playwright August Wilson drew inspiration) came across rather subdued compared to the boisterous conversationalists I spoke with many times not long after the year Lewis’s story begins.

There are also a couple of minor omissions that, though based on very brief listings, still stick out when considering Lewis’s scholarly, journalistic credentials.

James Shuler is mentioned, but there’s nothing about his tragic death in a motorcycle accident a week after losing to Tommy Hearns in a minor title fight, nor the touching story about Hearns at the funeral, offering to put the belt in Shuler’s coffin. Frazier’s restaurant, Smokin’ Joe’s Corner, is also listed a couple times but there is no mention of the horrible murders that took place there during an inside job robbery and how that tragedy probably put the final nail into Frazier’s aspirations in the food industry.

I also hoped for some tidbits from Frazier’s thoughtful and wise older brother Tommy who provided me with some rare insights (and had an offbeat sense of humor about his name), a stoic trickster who seemed to lovingly enjoy putting his famous sibling on the spot.

Still, the overall impression I got was fantastic. A memoir should share time, location, emotion, and reflection. Lewis achieves all those things many times over.

Which leads to my primary, personal takeaway of this very worthwhile book. Based on a few of the lengthy encounters I was lucky enough to share with Joe Frazier (boxing and non-boxing related), it’s difficult for me to imagine that a canny observer like Lewis didn’t emerge from the amazing and enviable access he got with more wild tales, especially from nights on the road.

So, I’d have to guess, and bet, that Lewis let some of the more sensational situations or quotes remain aloft in the mist of the past, which to me is admirable, even more so in these social media dominated days.

Here’s a non-controversial quote that is included, which provides a sample of the many fine nuggets to be found:

“I don’t think you’re less of a man for crying,” said Joe, taking me by surprise. “It’s healthy for you. I cry if something goes wrong- I’ll cry right out. But if I cry out of anger, look out! Somebody’s in trouble. Crying shows a man has heart and helps him out of his pressures. Just don’t cry for nothing.”

I could almost hear Frazier’s voice when I read that, and descriptions of places I’ve been like Frazier’s gym read true enough to give the entire book an aura of accuracy.

A dozen excellent photographs serve as a first-class coda.

Fifty years after his biggest triumph, Joe Frazier remains a compelling topic in the discourse of sociological significance. This well written tribute does him plenty of justice.

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The Fight of the Century: A Golden Anniversary Celebration

Arne K. Lang

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In professional boxing, fights can be rank-ordered as generic fights, big fights, bigger fights, mega-fights, and spectacles. The first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier wasn’t merely a spectacle, but the grandest spectacle of them all. This coming Monday, March 8, is the 50th anniversary of that iconic event.

Ali-Frazier I was staged at three-year-old Madison Square Garden, the fourth arena in New York to take that name. It drew a capacity crowd: 20,455 (19,500 paid). An estimated 60 percent of all the tickets sold fell into the hands of scalpers.

The fight was closed-circuited to more than 350 locations in the United States and Canada. At some of the larger venues, it established a new record for gate receipts, and this for an attraction that wasn’t produced in-house. In Los Angeles, 15,333 saw the fight at the Forum and 11,575 at the nearby Sports Arena.

Bill Ballenger, the sports editor of the Charlotte (NC) News, saw the fight at the Charlotte Coliseum. He reported that the audio – Don Dunphy did the blow-by-blow with Burt Lancaster and Archie Moore serving as color commentators – was loud enough to be heard outside the arena and that many folks, either unable or unwilling to purchase a ticket, loitered outside and followed the action in 30 degrees weather.

An estimated three hundred million people saw the fight worldwide. In England, by some estimates, half the population tuned in, watching either at home on BBC1 or at a theater where one could watch the fight unfold on a movie screen. Now keep in mind that in England the fight didn’t commence until 6:40 in the morning on a Tuesday!

Inside Madison Square Garden, the large flock of celebrities included many folks one wouldn’t expect to find at a prizefight. Marcello Mastroianni, Italy’s most famous movie star, made a special trip from Rome. Salvador Dali was there and Barbra Streisand and Ethel Kennedy, widow of Bobby Kennedy, seated next to her escort, crooner Andy Williams. Frank Sinatra was there working as a photographer for Life magazine. Lore has it that Sinatra wangled the assignment after failing to boat one of the coveted ringside seats.

The scene was made brighter by human “peacocks,” the label applied to Harlemites with an outrageous sense of fashion, and the electricity was palpable. When Ali appeared at the back of the arena, making his way from his dressing room to the ring, everyone had goosebumps.

The late, great New York sportswriter Dick Young once wrote that there is no greater drama than in the moments preceding a big heavyweight title fight and that was never more true than on March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden.

Ali (31-0, 25 KOs) and Frazier (26-0, 23 KOs) were both undefeated. Both had a claim to the heavyweight title, Ali because the belt had been controversially stripped away from him for his political beliefs. Opinions as to who would win were pretty evenly divided. In Las Vegas, Joe Frazier was the favorite at odds of 6 to 5. Across the pond in England, bookies were quoting odds of 11 to 8 on Ali.

Those that favored Ali were of the opinion that ‘Smokin’ Joe was too one-dimensional. That much was true. Joe was as subtle as a steam locomotive on a downhill grade. He ate Ali’s hardest punches, said Boston Globe reporter Bud Collins, as if they were movie house popcorn and he eventually wore Ali down. There was little doubt as to how the judges would see it after Joe knocked Ali down in the 15th round with a frightful left hook. When Ali arose, it appeared that he had been afflicted with a sudden case of the mumps. The decision was unanimous: 11-4, 9-6, 8-6-1.

This wasn’t the greatest fight of all time, but it was a fight that more than lived up to the hype. And, as several people have noted, the event took on a life of its own without the benefit of modern technology to push it along. The buzz was fueled in a large part by newspapers, the “antiquated” sort of newspapers that a fellow fished from his driveway or purchased at a newsstand on the way to or from work. If twitter and facebook had been around during Muhammad Ali’s prime, Ali would have blown the doors off the internet.

A cultural touchstone is an event that remains sealed in our memory. As we slide into old age, if we are lucky enough to live that long, we may not remember what we had for breakfast in the morning, but some long-ago events are as vivid as if they had happened just yesterday.

Boxing historian Frank Lotierzo has written poignantly about how overjoyed he was when he was surprised with the news that his father would be taking him to the fight. “To this day it remains the biggest thrill of my life!” wrote Lotierzo, who was then in the seventh grade. “And it’s not even close!”

I didn’t see the fight, but I can recall the faces of people that I overheard talking about it, people whose interest in the fight struck me as odd as I knew they had little interest in the world of sports. So, when the fight is replayed in its entirety on Sunday – it airs on ABC at 2 p.m ET and again at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN – I will be watching it for the first time. And it will be bittersweet as I will be reminded that I am in the twilight of my life and my thoughts will inevitably drift to my friends and loved ones that have left this mortal world in the years since that grand night in 1971 when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier locked horns in the Fight of the Century.

I get misty-eyed just thinking about it.

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Yoka TKO 12 Djeko in France: Claressa Pitches a Shutout on Ladies Day in Flint

Arne K. Lang

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Yoka TKO 12 Djeko in France: Claressa Pitches a Shutout on Ladies Day in Flint

March 8 is International Women’s Day which is actually a formal holiday in many parts of the globe. It was somehow fitting that female boxers were on display on the Friday feeding into it, a weekend without a must-see attraction on the men’s side.

Today’s activity began in the French port city of Nantes where 2016 Olympic gold medal winners Tony Yoka and Estelle Mossely, husband and wife, kept their undefeated records intact, both advancing to 10-0, against European opponents. Yoka (10-0, 8 KOs) was matched against Joel “Big Joe” Djeko (17-3-1), a 31-year-old Brussels native of Congolese and Cuban extraction who had fought most of his career as a cruiserweight. Mossely, a lightweight who now goes by Yoka-Mossely, drew Germany’s Verena Kaiser (14-2).

At the Rio Olympiad, Yoka got by Filip Hrgovic in the semis and Joe Joyce in the finals to win the gold, winning both bouts by split decision. Both would be favored over the Frenchman in a rematch fought under professional rules.

Against the six-foot-six Djeko, Yoka controlled the fight with his jab, repeatedly backing his foe against the ropes. Very few of Djeko’s punches got through Yoka’s high guard. Had the fight gone to the scorecards, it would have been a rout for Yoka, but it didn’t quite get there as Djeko turned his back on the proceedings midway through the 12th round after absorbing a sharp jab and it went into the books as a TKO for Yoka. At stake was some kind of European title or a derivation thereof.

Mossely’s fight with Kaiser, slated for 10 two-minute rounds, followed a somewhat similar tack, save that it went the full distance. With only one knockout to her credit at the pro level, Mosseley, typical of female boxers, lacks a knockout punch. But she’s a good technician and had too much class for the German.

Flint

A Covid-19 limited crowd of perhaps 300 was on hand to watch hometown heroine Claressa Shields oppose IBF 154-pound title-holder Marie Eve Dicaire at a 4,400-seat arena in Flint. There were five bouts on the undercard, three of which were women’s bouts.

Claressa

Claressa Shields

Shields, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was seeking to become a four-belt title-holder in a second weight class, having previously turned the trick at 160. Dicaire, a 34-year-old southpaw, brought a 17-0 record but she had never won a fight inside the distance and all of her previous bouts took place in French-speaking Canada.

The self-proclaimed GWOAT, Shields has no peer between 154 and 168 pounds. Heading into this contest, she had hardly lost a round since meeting Hanna Gabriels and tonight was another total whitewash, her fourth overall in 10-round fights.

Claressa Shields, now 11-0 (2) may be too good for her own good. Her fights are so one-sided that they are monotonous. Her TV ratings have actually been falling. Today’s show was a $29.99 pay-per-view on FITE when the established networks refused to meet her purse demands. It will be interesting to see how many tuned in.

In another fight of note, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza, in her first fight as a bantamweight, dominated Toronto’s Shelly Barnett en route to winning a 6-round unanimous decision. There were no knockdowns, but the scorecards (60-54, 60-53 twice) were indicative of Esparza’s dominance.

Esparza, who pushed her record to 9-1 (1), came in ranked #1 by the WBC in the flyweight class. Her lone defeat came at the hands of rugged Seniesa Estrada. Barnett declined to 4-4-3.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel

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