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The Hauser Report…Kownacki-Helenius: That’s Why They Fight the Fights

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On March 7, FOX offered viewers a heavyweight tripleheader from Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Frank Sanchez (14-0, 11 KOs), who came out of the Cuban amateur system, was a 10-to-1 favorite over Joey Dawejko (20-7-4, 11 KOs). Efe Ajagba (12-0, 10 KOs), a Nigerian Olympian now living in Texas, was a 30-to-1 favorite over Razvan Cojanu (17-6, 9 KOs). And Adam Kownacki (20-0, 15 KOs) was listed at 20-to-1 over 36-year-old Robert Helenius (29-3, 18 KOs).

Things went according to plan. Until they didn’t.

Sanchez, age 27, has been matched professionally against a series of limited opponents. Dawejko, who comes from the Andy Ruiz school of physical conditioning, fit that mold. He’s generously listed as 5-feet-10-inches tall and weighed-in for the bout at 247 pounds. He’d also lost three of four fights since 2017.

Don Elbaum promoted Dawejko early in Joey’s ring career. At one point, Elbaum thought he might be a prospect Then Dawejko struggled through a stretch when he won once in five fights against ordinary opposition, and Elbaum realized that he’d never get beyond being a club fighter.

Still, Elbaum respects Dawejko. “Let me tell you something,” he says. “Joey’s not afraid of anybody. Maybe he should be, but he isn’t. Joey always gives you everything he has trying to win.”

Against Sanchez, everything that Dawejko had wasn’t enough. The fight resembled a sparring session. Sanchez, who lacks power but can box, settled into a safety-first, jab-and-move mode. Dawejko plodded forward but rarely landed cleanly and didn’t have the power to hurt Sanchez on the all-too-few occasions when he did hit him.

CompuBox credited Sanchez with outlanding Dawejko by a 116-to-46 margin. Mystifyingly, judge Kevin Morgan gave rounds one and ten to Joey. Those were the only rounds that Dawejko won on any of the judges’ scorecards.

Put Dawejko in the ring with a guy like Dawejko and it will be a good fight. Put him in the ring with a guy like Sanchez and it will be a stinker.

Ajagba vs. Cojanu was next up.

Ajagba, age 25, has fought the usual suspects. Cojanu, a 33-year-old Romanian now living in California, has beaten one fighter with a winning record in the past five years and has now lost five of his last six outings while being knocked out in four of them.

In the early rounds, Ajagba kept jabbing and trying to set up his right hand. He has a somewhat wooden style that suggests a fighter who’s boxing by the numbers. Cojanu fights in slow motion, throws wide punches, and leans forward, chin out, when he throws them. By round five, there were scattered boos from the crowd. In the press section, more people than usual were checking their smart phones for messages.

Then, in round six, Cojanu tired and Ajagba started landing consistently. By round eight, Razvan was exhausted and dropped to the canvas from an accumulation of blows. That would have been a good time to stop the fight, but referee Ron Lipton chose not to. So Cojanu took an ugly beating until dropping to one knee at the 2:46 mark of round nine when Lipton waved off the carnage. Ajagba had a 244-to-83 advantage in punches landed.

That set the stage for Kownacki-Helenius.

Kownacki who will turn 31 on March 27, is a likeable man with a crowd-pleasing “hit me, and then I’ll hit you back, and then we’ll hit each other some more” style. In recent years, he has fought a series of overmatched opponents while (some would say) being readied as a sacrificial lamb with the intention of serving him to Deontay Wilder.

Tyson Fury’s February 22 knockout victory over Wilder was a setback for Kownacki. Adam had passed on an opportunity to fight Anthony Joshua for what might have been a huge payday at Madison Square Garden last June. Now any world title fight was on a distant horizon.

Helenius, who was born in Sweden and fights out of Finland, was regarded as a “safe” opponent for Kownacki.

Ten years ago, “The Nordic Nightmare” was being groomed as a prospect himself. He beat Lamon Brewster, Samuel Peter, and Sergiy Liakhovich at a time when they’d been reduced to non-threatening opponents and won a controversial split decision over Dereck Chisora in Finland while Chisora was in the midst of a stretch that saw him lose four of five fights. More recently, Helenius had lasted twelve rounds against Dillian Whyte but lost eleven of them. He’d been knocked out by Johann Duhaupas and (eight months ago) Gerald Washington.

Kownacki matches up poorly against slick boxers. Helenius was once described as having the footwork of a stalagmite.

“Beating him doesn’t really do a lot for me,” Kownacki acknowledged at the final pre-fight press conference, “because I’m a big favorite in this fight.”

The crowd at Barclays Center was wholeheartedly behind Kownacki. This was his fifth fight in a row at the venue.

Adam had weighed in for the bout at 265 pounds (one under his career high); Helenius, a trimmer 238.

Earlier in the week, Cliff Rold had made a good point, writing about Kownacki (a volume puncher without much defense), “Watching boxing is supposed to be fun. That’s really the bottom line, isn’t it? A fun fighter is still something to look forward to. Everyone isn’t necessarily going to be the future of their division, a future great, a legacy carver, or any of the other things that can distract from the root of why fans devote time and attention to the sweet science. Saturday night against Helenius, no matter how long it lasts, we’re going to see some leather fly. Isn’t that really all we’re asking for?”

Kownacki won round one against Helenius by coming forward and throwing punches while Robert jabbed ineffectively and held. Round two was closer with Helenius inclined to trade and throwing the straighter punches. The third stanza belonged to Kownacki. He was throwing more and getting off first, outlanding Helenius by a 28-to-8 margin. Then . . .

Twenty seconds into round four, Kownacki got whacked with a straight right hand followed by a stiff jab that sent him to the canvas. He rose immediately, and referee David Fields incorrectly ruled it a slip. That call was soon academic.

Kownacki had been shaken. Five seconds after the action resumed, Helenius dropped him with a straight right hand followed by a left hook up top. Adam was on his feet at the count of three. This time, though, his legs were wobbly. Helenius battered him around the ring, and Fields halted the battle 68 seconds into the round.

Helenius had more left as a fighter than Kownacki and his team had realized. They disrespected him as an opponent and paid the price.

A little more than three months ago, Deontay Wilder and Andy Ruiz – both Premier Boxing Champions fighters – held all four heavyweight championship belts. And Kownacki was in line for a huge title-bout payday.

After losing to Helenius, Adam was reduced to saying, “It wasn’t my night. It’s boxing. Things just didn’t go my way tonight. He hit me with a good shot. I knew what was going on. I’m just upset with myself. It is what it is.”

There are two morals to the story:

(1) Things can change very quickly in boxing.

(2) A fighter should never go into the ring thinking he has an easy fight ahead of him. In boxing, despite the odds, anything can happen.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. On June 14, 2020, he will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / TGB Promotions

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

To comment on this story in The Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Thomas Hauser is the author of 52 books. In 2005, he was honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America, which bestowed the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism upon him. He was the first Internet writer ever to receive that award. In 2019, Hauser was chosen for boxing's highest honor: induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Lennox Lewis has observed, “A hundred years from now, if people want to learn about boxing in this era, they’ll read Thomas Hauser.”

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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