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The Hauser Report: From 9/11 to COVID-19

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The Hauser Report: From 9/11 to COVID-19

Felix Trinidad and Bernard Hopkins were supposed to fight at Madison Square Garden on September 15, 2001. Then 9/11 intervened. After Trinidad-Hopkins was postponed, I visited an empty Madison Square Garden on the night that would have been.

“Tonight was a perfect mid-September evening,” I wrote. “Clear skies, temperature in the low sixties, a hint of autumn in the air. No events were listed on the Garden marquee; just the digital image of an American flag at half-mast. This was to have been ‘ground zero’ tonight. Bernard Hopkins versus Felix Trinidad for the undisputed middleweight championship of the world. Screaming partisans had been expected to turn Madison Square Garden into a sea of red, white, and blue flags. Puerto Rican flags. A half-dozen uniformed New York City cops stood outside the employees entrance at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 33rd Street. Other cops were sprinkled in and around Penn Station, which lies beneath the Garden. The main arena was dimly lit, its floor still covered with ice put in place for New York Rangers practices earlier this week. Eventually, things will return to normal in America, although the definition of ‘normal’ will change.”

I thought about that night this week. Fight cards were scheduled to be promoted by Top Rank at Madison Square Garden on March 14 and March 17. The first of these was to have featured U.S. Olympian Shakur Stevenson. The second – a St. Patrick’s Day special – would have been headlined by Irish Olympian Michael Conlan. Then COVID-19 (an acronym for “coronavirus disease 2019”) intervened.

The 1918 influenza pandemic, commonly referred to as the Spanish flu, infected an estimated 500 million people (roughly 25 percent of the world population at that time). No firm numbers are available, but it’s estimated that the illness was responsible for 50 million deaths.

The population of the United States in 1918 was 106 million. An estimated 670,000 Americans died as a consequence of contracting the Spanish flu. That’s equivalent to 2.1 million deaths in the United States today.

Most fatalities from influenza occur in infants under the age of two and adults over age 70. The Spanish flu was unique in that almost half of the 670,000 deaths in the United States were of men and women between the ages of 20 and 40.

Most viruses abate during the warm summer months. The 1918 Spanish flu came in two waves. The second wave, which swept over America in October, was deadlier than the first.

The first cases of COVID-19 were traced to China in November 2019. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization formally classified the spread of the disease as a “pandemic.” As of this writing (March 14), more than 145,000 cases in 130 countries resulting in 5,400 deaths have been confirmed. That’s a death rate of 3.7 percent as compared to the one-tenth of one percent death rate for more common forms of influenza.

There have been more than 2,600 confirmed cases of COVID-19 resulting in 56 deaths in the United States.

All of these numbers are expected to rise.

Efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 have resulted in travel restrictions, the quarantine of geographic regions, event cancellations, and the shutdown of businesses. Schools and other institutions have closed their doors. Religious services have been canceled. Millions upon millions of people have changed their habits. Many are now working from home.

This is the new normal.

The sports world has ground to a halt.

Team rosters in baseball and other sports were depleted during World War II but the games went on. Champions like Joe Louis reported for military duty but professional boxing continued.

This is different.

On March 11, the National Basketball Association announced that it was canceling all games until further notice. That same day, the NCAA announced that the men’s and women’s basketball championship tournaments would be played with no one other than essential personnel allowed in the arenas. One day later, the NCAA announced that “March Madness” and all other NCAA winter and spring championship events had been canceled in their entirety.

On March 12, Major League Baseball announced that it was canceling all remaining spring training games and delaying the start of the regular season (scheduled for March 26) by at least two weeks.

On March 13, officials at Augusta National Golf Club announced that The Masters, scheduled for April 9 through April 12, had been postponed.

When the NBA, “March Madness,” Major League Baseball, and The Masters shut down, people pay attention.

Boxing matches in the United States and around the world have been canceled.

On March 11, governor Gavin Newsom announced that California public health officials had advised him that, until at least the end of March, gatherings of more than 250 people should be postponed. One day later, the California State Athletic Commission announced that all combat sports events in the state through the end of March had been canceled.

In New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, and New York Philharmonic Orchestra announced temporary closures. Broadway shows were suspended through at least April 12. For the first time since its inception 258 years ago, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade was postponed.

As for the Shakur Stevenson and Michael Conlan fight cards . . . On March 12, Top Rank issued a press release that read in part, “Due to the coronavirus pandemic and to ensure the health and safety of boxing fans and the fight participants, the March 14 and March 17 events at Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden will proceed without spectators. The only individuals granted access to the events will be essential production and support staff in addition to fighters and necessary team members and credentialed media. Both events will still be shown live on their respective ESPN platforms.”

The plan to hold the fights without spectators in the arena evoked the memory of baseball great Willie Keeler who, when asked for the secret of his success as a batter, replied, “Hit ’em where they ain’t.”

But on a more serious note; fighters risk their lives every time they step into the ring. State athletic commission inspectors and others who work in close proximity with fighters and their camps on fight night shouldn’t.

Moreover, COVID-19 has been taking a toll on hospital emergency rooms, which would make treatment for a fighter who is seriously injured during a fight even more problematic. Thus, on the night of March 12, Top Rank announced, “After close consultation with the New York State Athletic Commission, it has been determined that Saturday’s and Tuesday’s events cannot proceed in light of the ongoing Coronavirus crisis.”

Dozens of future fight cards have been canceled. Events like Daniel Dubois vs. Joe Joyce in London on April 11, Canelo Alvarez vs. Billy Joe Saunders in Las Vegas on May 2, and Anthony Joshua vs. Kubrat Pulev in London on June 20 are in limbo.

Sports will recover. There was no World Series in 1994 due to a rift between management and the Major League Baseball Players Association. Baseball survived and came back strong. More recently, NBA and NFL seasons have been shortened by labor unrest with no longterm damage to either league.

As for now; the immediate message is, “This is serious. This is not a time for games.”

9/11 was a blow to most Americans. But after the initial attacks, it didn’t directly threaten their lives. COVID-19 does. And it’s not a Democratic or Republican virus. It’s not a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim virus. It’s a not a straight, gay, or transsexual virus.

Medicine is far more advanced now that it was in 1918. But medicine can’t cure every malady (think cancer). And even under the best of circumstances, medical treatments take time to develop. As famed scientist Wernher von Braun noted, “Crash programs fail because they are based on the theory that, with nine women pregnant, you can get a baby a month.”

It’s likely that, no matter how devastating COVID-19 becomes, someday it will be looked upon as little more than a blip in the timeline of history. That’s how the 1918 pandemic appears to us now. But for those who live (and die) through the present crisis, the immediate consequences are very real. The 1918 pandemic seems less distant and more real in our minds now than it did a month ago.

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.

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Regis Prograis KOs Jose Zepeda at Dignity Sports Health Park

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Not all big bangers are the same.

Regis Prograis slugged it out with fellow knockout artist Jose “Chon” Zepeda and after 11 rounds of tactical battle ended the WBC super lightweight battle with a flourishing knockout on Saturday.

Prograis (28-1, 24 KOs) becomes the first two-time super lightweight champion from New Orleans after his win over Zepeda (36-3, 27 KOs) at SoCal’s Dignity Health Sports Park. It had been more than three years since he last held a world title.

“This was the hardest fight of my career,” said Prograis after the strategic clash between the super lightweight division’s biggest punchers.

The heavily favored Prograis and Zepeda were cautious under the cold outdoor weather arena. Many a previous world title match ended quickly under similar circumstances and both were wary.

Zepeda was slightly busier and able to connect early with his deceptively fast left cross. Though the first two rounds were not very action-packed, it seemed Zepeda landed more effective blows.

Then Prograis went to work.

“At first, I wanted to come out and box him. Maybe in the third round I caught my rhythm,” said Prograis. “Then he caught on to that.”

Behind his awkward head movements and more agile movements Prograis used jabs and counters to force Zepeda into a more defensive stance. Though neither fighter dominated a round it was the New Orleans native who dictated the pace and action.

Round after round was going into the books favoring Prograis, not until the eighth round did Zepeda make a move into a more aggressive mode and finally out-punched Prograis. But the former world champion adapted again.

Prograis and Zepeda slugged it out in the ninth round. Zepeda connected with a left uppercut but Prograis withstood the blow and continued moving forward. Once again Prograis out-punched Zepeda in a very close round.

Both seemed ready to make the 10th round their own and Zepeda connected with a left cross that landed flush. Prograis barely was moved and then increased his output and the two super lightweights exchanged furiously with the New Orleans fighter seeming to out-punch Zepeda again. It was a telling round.

Prograis had withstood Zepeda’s biggest blows and was ready to unload some of his firepower. He had dominated most of the fight behind his jab and quick combinations. Now he was ready for the big shells.

Both super lightweights opened up in the 11th round with each connecting early. Suddenly an overhand left by Prograis sent Zepeda reeling backward and he did not let up. A furious 13-punch barrage was unloaded and down went Zepeda. Referee Ray Corona did not bother to count and ended the fight at 59 seconds of the 11th round.

“In the 11th round I felt like taking him to deep waters and drown him,” said Prograis.

Once again Prograis holds a super lightweight world title.

“I heard the small talk. I heard the rumors. I want to congratulate Zepeda, that guy was tough, tough, tough. He gave me my hardest fight,” said an ecstatic Prograis. “Listen, I got 29 fights, this was probably my hardest fight.”

Yokasta Valle beats Evelin Bermudez

Seeking big challenges Yokasta Valle (27-2, 9 KOs) rallied after a slow start and out-boxed Argentina’s Evelin Bermudez (17-1-1, 6 KOs) to win the WBO and IBF light flyweight world titles by majority decision after 10 rounds.

After absorbing big right hands from Bermudez during the first two rounds, Valle solved the problem and out-hustled the taller world champion behind quick combinations and making the champion shift her feet. It was a simple but effective plan and led to Valle storming down the stretch with more effective punching.

Bermudez had steamrolled most of her opponents behind a relentless attack that focused mainly on her big right cross. But against Valle that punch was mostly eliminated after the third round.

Valle slipped under Bermudez’s attacks and countered with her combination punching. Occasionally the Costa Rican fighter connected with a big shot that caught the eye of the judges.

After 10 rounds, one judge scored it 95-95, while two others saw Valle the winner by majority decision 99-91, 97-93.

Valle, an IBF and WBO minimumweight world titlist, moved up a division to win her second weight division world title.

Conwell Wins

In a savage battle Ohio’s Charles Conwell (18-0, 13 KOs) bludgeoned his way to victory over Juan Carlos Abreu (25-7-1, 23 KOs) by unanimous decision after 10 rounds in a super welterweight contest. It was a skillful display of 1950s-style fighting that saw Conwell showcase his strength and canny punch selection in out-fighting veteran slugger Abreu.

Heavyweights

Former Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist Bakhodir Jalolov (12-0, 12 KOs) knocked out Curtis Harper (14-9) in the fourth round with a barrage if blows. Twice he knocked down Harper who had been deducted a point for an intentional head butt.

Vargas Brothers

Both sons of boxing great Fernando Vargas emerged victorious in their bouts. Fernando Vargas Jr. (7-0, 7 KOs) knocked out Alejandro Martinez (3-3-1) in the second round of their super welterweight bout. Amado Vargas (5-0, 2 KOs) won by decision after four rounds versus Osmar Hernandez (1-2) in a featherweight match.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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John Ryder and Fabio Wardley Triumph on Dueling Shows in London

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John Ryder and Fabio Wardley Triumph on Dueling Shows in London

If one were driving from Greenwich township in London to that city’s Wembley sector, or vice versa, one would travel about 18 miles. No doubt many hardcore British fight fans would have gladly made the trip if the starting times of today’s shows had been sufficiently staggered so that one could attend both events. But no, rival promoters Eddie Hearn (Matchroom) and Frank Warren (Queensberry) elected to go head-to-head.

Warren’s Greenwich show at the O2 Arena, which aired in the U.S. on ESPN+, had the main event with the highest stakes and the deepest undercard. Hearn’s show at Wembley, live-streamed on DAZN, had the allurement of heavyweights.

O2 Arena

The WBO interim 168-pound title was at stake plus pole position for a Cinco de Mayo showdown with Canelo Alvarez when Zach Parker squared off with countryman John Ryder. A second-generation boxer who came in undefeated (22-0, 16 KOs), Parker entered the ring an 11/5 favorite.

This was shaping up as a good fight, arguably tilting Ryder’s way, when Parker pulled out after four rounds with a broken right hand. It was a bitter defeat for the Derbyshire man who was making his first start of 2022 after matches with defending WBO title-holder Demetrius Andrade kept falling out.

Although Canelo Alvarez has no fear of Englishmen having defeated Matthew Hatton, Amir Khan, Liam Smith, Rocky Fielding, Callum Smith, and Billy Joe Saunders in world title fights. John Ryder, a 34-year-old southpaw, nicknamed “Gorilla,” may have the tools to make things interesting. Today’s win, albeit somewhat tainted, was his fourth straight after losing a controversial decision to Callum Smith in Smith’s hometown, elevating his record to 32-5 (18).

If Canelo chooses to spurn his mandatory and go in a different direction when he next laces on the gloves, the WBO will anoint John Ryder its full super middleweight champion.

Other O2 Bouts

Highly-touted middleweight Hamzah Sheeraz scored his 11th straight knockout and improved to 17-0 (13) with a fast beatdown of overmatched River Wilson-Bent (13-2-1) who was bruised and battered when the referee interceded in the waning seconds of round two. Sheeraz has been training in the U.S. at Joe Goossen’s Ten Goose Gym in California.

Southpaw Dennis McCann, a 21-year-old Irish Traveler, continued his climb up the super bantamweight ranks with an eighth round stoppage of Scotland’s Joe Ham. McCann (14-0, 8 KOs) was pummeling Ham (17-4) against the ropes when the bout was waived off. Ham hadn’t previously been stopped.

Knockout artist Sam Noakes, a lightweight, employed a vicious body attack to score his 10th stoppage in as many opportunities, halting Calvin McCord (12-1, 2 KOs) in the fourth frame. Noakes showed no after-effects of the broken thumb that had kept him out of the ring since March.

Junior welterweight Pierce O’Leary scored two knockdowns but wasn’t able to polish off Namibian import Emanuel Mungandjela who was still standing after 10 rounds. The judges had it 99-89, 99-90, and 96-92.

It was the first scheduled 10-rounder for O’Leary (11-0, 6 KOs), a Dubliner with a strong amateur pedigree. Mungandjela (16-4-1) was making his U.K. debut.

Wembley Arena

The main event pitted Dillian Whyte against Jermaine Franklin, but most of the pre-fight talk centered around the co-feature, a 12-round contest between Fabio Wardley and Nathan Gorman for the vacant British heavyweight title.

Wardley (14-0 heading in) had stopped his last 13 opponents while answering the bell for only 31 rounds, but the jury was still out on him. He had no amateur experience and was thought to be very much a work in progress. Nathan Gorman, Tyson Fury’s cousin, had come up short in his first crossroads fight, getting stopped by former amateur rival Daniel Dubois, but was considered something more than a gatekeeper.

Wardley rose to the occasion with the biggest win of his career, stopping Gorman (19-2) in the third frame in a fan-friendly fight. Gorman clearly won the first round and busted Wardley’s nose wide open in round two, but the Ipswich man, a protégé of Dillian Whyte, cranked up the juice at the sight of his own blood and scored two knockdowns before the second round was over. Another knockdown in the third prompted Gorman’s corner to toss in the towel.

Wardley

The main event was anticlimactic.

It was thought that Dillian Whyte, who has been matched tough throughout his career, would have little trouble with Saginaw, Michigan’s Jermaine Franklin who had misleading 21-0 record, lacked fight-altering power, had fought only once in the last three years, and came in at a too-heavy 257 pounds. But the “Body Snatcher,” in his first fight with trainer Buddy McGirt, delivered a lackluster performance while walking away with a majority decision (114-114, 116-112, 116-112).

Whyte, 35, improved his ledger to 29-3 (19) in what some are calling a hometown decision. To his credit, he came on strong in the final rounds after being rocked in the ninth. There is talk that he will be granted a rematch with Anthony Joshua who stopped him in the seventh round at this venue in December of 2015.

Other Wembley Bouts of Note

Welterweight Pat McCormack, a silver medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, was forced to go the distance for the first time in his young pro career, but swept all six rounds on the referee’s card, improving to 3-0 against Argentina’s clumsy, feather-fisted Christian Nicolas Andino (16-6-2). McCormack is trained by Ben Davison.

Derby super welterweight Sandy Ryan improved to 5-1 (2) with a wide decision over Argentine veteran Anahi Ester Sanchez (21-6). The scores were 98-92, 99-91, and 100-92. Ryan, who avenged her lone defeat at the pro level, spent 10 years in the amateurs racking up more than 50 wins.

Photo credits:

Ryder-Parker — Alex Morton / Getty

Wardley-Gorman — Mark Robinson / Matchroom

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Avila Perspective, Chap 213: Regis Prograis vs Jose Zepeda Harks to Pryor-Aguello

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Two of the most avoided super lightweights in the last 40 years, Jose “Chon” Zepeda and Regis Prograis cross paths. One a strong, intense athlete reared in the competitive American amateur boxing world and the other a learn-in-the-ring slugger with heavy fists.

Both are 33-year-old southpaws steeped in dangerous power.

Prograis (27-1, 23 KOs) meets Zepeda (36-2, 27 KOs) on Saturday, Nov. 26, at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. for the vacant WBC super lightweight title. FITE.TV pay-per-view will show the loaded card staged by MarvNation Promotions and Legendz Entertainment.

Not since Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello roamed the super lightweights in the early 1980s have two more dynamic fighters with advanced boxing pedigrees met in the prize ring.

Fans still debate their two fights that saw Pryor win consecutive clashes loaded in controversy regarding a mysterious bottle containing an unknown substance imbibed during the final rounds of their first fight. Pryor would proceed to stop Arguello twice in battles that still create excitement when seen.

Can Prograis and Zepeda deliver with equal zeal?

When Hurricane Katrina flooded Progais’ neighborhood in New Orleans his family was forced to move to Houston. In high school he was an outstanding athlete in football and engaged in the amateur boxing program. Errol Spence Jr. blocked his entry into the US Olympic team.

As a professional Prograis proved too strong for most foes and bludgeoned his way to a world title with dominant wins over Joel Diaz Jr., Terry Flanagan and Kiryl Relikh and won the WBA title. In October 2019, he met IBF titlist Josh Taylor of Scotland and lost the unification bout by majority decision to the Scotsman.

Since that loss few are willing to face Prograis who knocked out three foes in three years.

“When I was the world champion everybody called my name but once I didn’t have the belt it all stopped and I know I’m a dangerous fighter and that’s part of the reason,” said Prograis.

Zepeda took a different path.

The American-born Mexican fighter began performing professionally at the late age of 20 in Mexico, in the border town of Mexicali. His heavy hands immediately ended all four of his first pro fights via knockout.

Slowly Zepeda was matched against different style of fighters in Southern California club shows like Ontario, Commerce, Montebello and Burbank. He was always a deliberate and careful pugilist and never the wild swinging type. But if an opponent got too frisky Zepeda could easily unload the left or right to end the fight quickly. That was never more evident than last year when the braggadocious Josue Vargas attempted to intimidate him with words and shoving in a press conference. The Puerto Rican was bludgeoned in the first round in front of his own fans at Madison Square Garden.

Never flashy but deliberate, Zepeda likes finishing the fight inside the distance.

“I have all the experience I need. Regis Prograis is going to be fighting the best version of Jose Zepeda. I really believe it’s now or never,” Zepeda said.

Prograis respects Zepeda and vice versa. But he remains confident.

“I have more experience and I’ve been at the top already. If you compare strength, power, chin, stamina, speed, defense, I feel like I win every time. Every category, it’s me,” said Prograis. “He’s been hurt, he’s been dropped a bunch of times. I’ve never been hurt and I destroy people.”

Zepeda shrugs at the comments.

“Prograis is going to be very surprised by my power and speed. We’re both going to fight the way we’ve been fighting. He hits hard, I hit hard and both of us are desperate to win which will make for a great fight,” Zepeda says.

Expect one of the best super lightweight fights in the last 40 years when they finally exchange blows.

Women co-main

Argentina’s Evelin Bermudez (17-0-1, 6 KOs) defends the WBO and IBF light flyweight world titles against Costa Rica’s Yokasta Valle (26-2, 9 KOs) in a 10-round match. It’s Bermudez’s pressure versus Valle’s speed and agility.

Bermudez, 26, is younger, taller and relentless in her attacks, especially with the right hand. She loves the right and has no left hook. But she does possess a strong left jab to set up the right cross. She has never fought in the USA.

Valle, 30, has plenty of speed and has been working on her power with American-based trainer Gloria Mosquera. This will be a tough test for the Costa Rican who recently signed promotion deals with MarvNation and Golden Boy Promotions. This is her second fight in the USA and toughest foe since losing to Naoko Fujioka in 2017.

It’s a very tough match to predict the winner.

Others on the card include undefeated Ruben Torres, the tall lightweight promoted by Thompson Boxing Promotions. He was popular on social media for a recent knockout of a guy who tapped gloves with him and then was knocked out a single second later. Super welterweight Charles Conwell is another budding contender out of Cleveland. He’s extraordinarily strong for the weight class and opened eyes with his knockout of Kazakhstan’s Madiyar Ashkeyev who was undefeated when they met.

Also, two sons of the great Fernando Vargas are planned to fight too. Super welterweight prospect Fernando Vargas Jr. and featherweight Amado Vargas are scheduled to perform.

Doors open at 3 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at AXS.com.

Fights to Watch

Sat. DAZN 2:00 p.m. ET Dillian Whyte (28-3) vs Jermaine Franklin (21-0); Sandy Ryan (4-1) vs Anahi Sanchez (21-5).

Sat. ESPN+ 2:00 p.m. ET (main card) 5:00 p.m. ET (main event) Zach Parker (22-0) vs John Ryder (31-5).

Sat. FITE.TV ppv 9 p.m. ET (main card) 11:15 p.m. ET (main event) Regis Prograis (27-1) vs Jose Zepeda (36-2); Yokasta Valle (26-2) vs Evelin Bermudez (17-0-1); Ruben Torres (19-0) vs Eduardo Estela (13-1); Charles Conwell (17-0) vs Juan Carlos Abreu (25-6-1).

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Hogan Photos

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