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Avila Perspective, Chap. 90: Travels with Henry Ramirez, Roger and More

David A. Avila

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Not all boxing trainers are wheeler-dealers like Henry Ramirez. One day he’s getting on a jet across country and another day he’s driving up the 101 Freeway with a carload of amateur boxers.

The jet-setting ways of Ramirez came to a sudden halt last week.

“It happened so fast. Within a day we were told to head home,” Ramirez said, who was in Washington D.C. with prizefighter Marcos Hernandez who was set to face James Kirkland at MGM National Harbor on a Premier Boxing Champions card.  It was canceled.

Ramirez and hundreds of other boxing people discovered that the Coronavirus had derailed all fight cards in March. Now they are learning that April is gone too.

“It’s crazy,” he said.

Ramirez has a small army of boxers ranging from eight-year-old amateurs to 30-year-old professionals at his Rain Cross Boxing Gym in Riverside, California. No matter the season, the gym cranks out noise like one of those chain guns.

“I’ve been doing this since 2000 back when Andy Suarez had a gym,” said Ramirez, who back then was boxing and helping the late Suarez train fellow boxers.

Andy Suarez passed away in 2006. Ramirez picked up the training baton and kept working with fighters like Josesito Lopez and Chris “the Nightmare” Arreola. Both still are active but Ramirez no longer trains them. He still has more than 30 boxers in his gym located in the northern end of Riverside.

“We’re pretty busy all of the time. California has one of the busiest boxing schedules in the country,” said Ramirez who had his crew ready to perform in Washington D.C., Orange County, San Diego County, Ventura County and also in Reno, Nevada.

All were shut down.

Worldwide nearly all boxing cards have been erased except in Mexico and South America were apparently the virus has not hit.

This past weekend Tijuana, Mexico, which sits on the other side of the U.S. border next to San Diego, California, had several boxing cards on the same night. Boxing did not skip a beat in Tijuana.

“The only thing they did was close some schools,” said Felipe Leon, a journalist living in Tijuana. “Everything else is normal.”

Normally, for Ramirez in Riverside, he would be hustling to arrange fights for his amateurs and his pros.

“They canceled the Golden Gloves,” said Ramirez who had several boxers ready to participate. “We had a fight at Chumash Casino, also on the Thompson Boxing card and in Reno that was scheduled. Now we lose all that money. That was a lot of money we were expecting to make that’s out of our hands now.”

The Riverside trainer gave all of his fighters time off for a short while so things can be re-assessed. He receives calls from all of his team wondering if they should head to the gym. He’s got a lot of eager beavers on his crew.

Ramirez has always been able to attract potential boxers to his gym. He credits television as his weapon.

“Basically, they see me working someone’s corner on television and they contact me,” he said. “Television is a big way to attract fighters.”

Over the years Ramirez has been seen working on numerous high-profile fights beginning with Arreola back in October 2005 when he fought Domonic Jenkins at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif. It was a televised fight that featured the late Vernon Forrest in the main event. Arreola won by knockout and continued to grow into a heavyweight contender.

Last Saturday, at the MGM National Harbor, Ramirez’s fighter Hernandez was set to perform in the main event that was being televised by FOX. It was canceled abruptly.

“We got there on Wednesday and by Thursday we were told they might not allow the public to see the fight. Then they told us to pack up and go home. They were canceling the fight and on Friday I was heading back home,” Ramirez said.

Rival fight cards in New York City were also canceled.

“We’re hoping things get back to normal by the middle of May,” said Ramirez who had potential fights set for May. “It’s crazy but not only sports is affected, it’s the whole world.”

Even the ever-busy Henry Ramirez has to slow down.

Roger Knows

Sadly, boxing great Roger Mayweather passed away. Many times I would talk to the former fighter turned trainer; whenever I could.

Very few knew boxing better than Roger Mayweather.

Unknown to many was his love for teaching the youth. Over the years he passed his knowledge on to hundreds of aspiring boxers of all ages.

One of those was Melinda Cooper one of the best female prizefighters of her era.

“He used to work a lot with Melinda,” said James Pena who mentored Cooper throughout her boxing career. “He went with us to at least five tournaments when she was very young. He bought her boxing shoes. He used to call her a bad MF.”

Pena remembers going to Midland, Texas for a tournament back in the 90s and with the money Mayweather was paid to assist, he used it for other things.

“He spent $500 to buy stuff for the other kids to eat at a restaurant,” said Pena of Mayweather. “He really enjoyed helping kids in boxing. He got a big kick out of it.”

My own familiarity with Mayweather came when he was coaching Laila Ali in Las Vegas. I would often visit the Top Rank Gym in town and would sit down and just talk boxing with Mayweather.

On one occasion some young aspiring boxing journalist sat in the small office with us and proclaimed that both Julio Cesar Chavez and Oscar De La Hoya were flukes.

“They’re all hype,” said this young guy.

Mayweather looked at him like he was a space alien.

“How are you going to say De La Hoya won world championships in seven weight divisions and call him a fluke,” said Mayweather to the surprised young writer. “You win any world title and you are a champion. If everybody could win a world title they would. You don’t know shit about boxing.”

Upset at the young journalist’s statement, he then proceeded to test his boxing IQ.

“Who do you think is the greatest fighter of all time?” asked Mayweather to the youngster.

The kid responded with somebody I can’t recall who.

Then, Mayweather looked at me and asked my opinion.

“I kind of think Sam Langford,” I answered.

Mayweather looked at me and did a double-take.

“You know boxing,” he said.

I swear, hearing Mayweather say that to me made my career. I had watched him as a fighter and as a trainer for Floyd Mayweather and considered him one of the top boxing minds in the world.

Mayweather then asked me which Las Vegas newspaper I worked for?

I answered I work for the Riverside newspaper. He looked at me in surprise.

“I see you here all the time,” Mayweather said. “I never see the Las Vegas guys in this gym.”

That day kind of inspired me to continue covering boxing like a madman. I’ve retold this story many times because I love the boxing world and all of its participants. No other sport has its history, personality and reach. Whether from Grand Rapids, Michigan or East Los Angeles; whether from Moscow, Dublin, Tokyo, Mexico City or Accra, Ghana, prizefighters come from all over the world.

Losing Roger Mayweather really hurts. We’ve lost another tie to boxing’s history and a man who contributed greatly to its continued success.

Rest in peace Roger Mayweather.

30 Years Ago

This St. Patrick’s Day was the 30th anniversary of the epic fight between Julio Cesar Chavez and Meldrick Taylor that took place in Las Vegas for the WBC super lightweight world title. It was March 17, 1990.

It brings back vivid memories for me.

At the time I was a fledgling journalist for a small free newspaper in the San Gabriel Valley area in Southern California. Money was tight and I could not afford pay-per-view television or cable network viewing. Back then I was living in the suburban city of Montebello. The Montebello Mall was just built and a new sandwich shop opened and claimed it was showing the Chavez-Taylor fight for customers.

I arrived early that day and got an elevated seating spot to watch the small television screen. By the time the main event appeared the place was packed with fans. I forget the name of the sandwich spot, it didn’t last more than a year.

That fight vividly remains in my memory. It was fiercely fought with both displaying their individual talent. Taylor had blinding speed and could take a heck of a punch. Chavez was relentless and his defense was better than most expected, especially against those Taylor combinations.

Of course, nobody knew that Chavez was far behind on two judges scores after 11 rounds, but the commentators felt he needed a knockdown or knockout to win. They were right, and Chavez did exactly that by dropping Taylor in the corner. Referee Richard Steele looked into his eyes and called the fight over with two seconds remaining. Chavez was declared the winner and inside the Montebello sandwich shop about 100 fans erupted in cheers.

I went home and told my live-in girlfriend at the time what had transpired. She just smiled. Oh well. Ironically my ex-girlfriend’s family was from Culiacan where Chavez hailed from.

That same sandwich shop also showed Roberto Duran’s upset of Iran Barkley a year earlier. It proved to be my savior for watching big fights.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Weekend Boxing Recap: The Mikey Garcia Stunner and More

Arne K. Lang

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Weekend Boxing Recap: The Mikey Garcia Stunner and More

Boxing was all over the map on the third Saturday of October with many of the shows pulled together on short notice as promoters took advantage of relaxed COVID constraints to return to business as usual. When the smoke cleared, a monster upset in Fresno overshadowed the other events.

Mikey Garcia, a shoo-in to make the Hall of Fame, was on the wrong side of it. Spain’s Sandor Martin, in his USA debut, won a well-deserved decision over Garcia at a Triple-A baseball park in Fresno.

Garcia, a former four-division belt-holder, was 40-1 coming in with his only loss coming at the hands of Errol Spence. Martin, a 28-year-old southpaw, brought a nice record with him from Europe (38-2) but with only 13 wins coming by way of stoppage it was plain that he wasn’t a heavy hitter. His only chance was to out-box Garcia and that seemed far-fetched.

But Martin did exactly that, counter-punching effectively to win a 10-round majority decision. Two judges had it 97-93 with the third turning in a 95-95 tally.

Neither Garcia nor Martin were natural welterweights. The bout was fought at a catch-weight of 145 pounds. After the bout, the Spaniard indicated a preference for dropping back to 140 where enticing opportunities await.

There was another upset, albeit a much milder one, in the co-feature where Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Gonzalez improved to 25-3-1 (14) while shearing the WBO world flyweight title from the shoulders of Mexicali’s Elwin Soto (19-2).

Soto was making his fourth defense of the title and rode into the match with a 17-fight winning streak. Gonzalez, a southpaw, had formerly fought for the WBO world flyweight title, getting stopped in seven rounds by Kosei Tanaka in Nagoya, Japan.

One of the judges favored Soto 116-112, but he was properly out-voted by his colleagues who had it 116-112 the other way.

Riga, Latvia

The first major fight on Saturday took place in Riga, Latvia, where hometown hero Mairis Briedis successfully defended his IBF cruiserweight title with a third-round stoppage of Germany’s Artur Mann who was on the deck three times before the match was halted at the 1:54 mark.

Briedis (28-1, 20 KOs) was making his first start since dismantling KO artist Yuniel Dorticos in the finals of season two of the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament. He scored the first of his three knockdowns in the waning seconds of round two when he deposited Mann (17-2) on the canvas with a straight right hand.

Although boosters of fast-rising WBO champ Lawrence Okolie would disagree, the Latvian is widely regarded as the best cruiserweight in the world. His only setback came when he lost a narrow decision to current WBA/IBF/WBO heavyweight champ Oleksandr Usyk in this ring in January of 2018. Now 36 years old, Briedis has yet to appear in a main event outside Europe. That’s undoubtedly about to change and a rematch with Usyk is well within the realm of possibility.

Newcastle, England

Chris Eubank Jr, whose fight two weeks ago in London with late sub Anati Muratov was cancelled at the 11th hour when Muratov failed his medical exam, was added to this Matchroom card and his bout with Wanik Awdijan became the de facto main event. A 26-year-old German, born in Armenia, Awdijan was 28-1 and had won 21 straight (against very limited opposition), but he was no match for Eubank Jr who broke him down with body shots, likely breaking his ribs and forcing him to quit on his stool after five frames.

Eubank Jr, 32, improved to 31-2 (23) His only defeats came at the hands of former world title-holder George Groves and BJ Saunders. He dedicated this fight to his late brother Sebastian Eubank who died in July while swimming in the Persian Gulf.

In other bouts, Hughie Fury, the cousin of Tyson Fury, stayed relevant in the heavyweight division with a stoppage of well-traveled German Christian Hammer and Savannah Marshall successfully defended her WBO world middleweight title with a second-round TKO of Lolita Muzeya.

Akin to Eubank-Awdijan, the Fury-Hammer fight also ended with the loser bowing out after five frames. A biceps injury allegedly caused Hammer to say “no mas,” but Fury, in what was arguably his career-best performance, was well ahead on the cards.

The Marshall-Muzeya fight was a battle of unbeatens, but Muzeya’s 16-0 record was suspicious as the Zambian had never fought outside the continent of Africa. She came out blazing, but Marshall, who improved to 11-0 (9) had her number and retained her title.

Brooklyn

In the featured bout of a TrillerVerz show at Barclays Center, Long Island’s Cletus Seldin, the Hebrew Hammer, knocked out William Silva in the seventh round. It was the fifth-straight win for the 35-year-old Seldin, a junior welterweight who was making his first start in 20 months.

Silva, a 34-year-old Brazilian who fights out of Florida, brought a 28-3 record. His previous losses had come at the hands of Felix Verdejo, Teofimo Lopez, and Arnold Barboza Jr. Seldin improved to 26-1 (22 KOs).

In other bouts, junior welterweight Petros Ananyan, a Brooklyn-based Armenian, improved to 16-2-2 (7) with a 10-round majority decision over local fighter Daniel Gonzalez (20-3-1) and Will Madera of Albany, NY, scored a mild upset when he stopped Jamshidbek Najmitdinov who was pulled out after five rounds with an apparent shoulder injury.

Najmitdinov, from Uzbekistan, was making his U.S. debut but he brought a 17-1 record blemished only by former world title-holder Viktor Postol. Madera improved to 17-1-3.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholand / Matchroom

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Emanuel Navarrete Retains WBO Featherweight Title in a San Diego Firefight

David A. Avila

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SAN DIEGO-WBO featherweight titlist Emanuel Navarrete won by unanimous decision over Joet Gonzalez in a slugfest that had fans cheering nonstop on Friday night. Fans were mesmerized by the savagery.

More than 2,000 fans saw Mexico City’s Navarrete (35-1, 29 KOs) and Southern California’s Gonzalez (24-2, 14 KOs) bounce brutal shots off each other for 12 successive rounds at Pechanga Sports Arena.

Both Navarrete and Gonzalez were about equal in height with the champion maybe a slight taller, but not by much. As soon as the first bell rang the two featherweights opened up in furious fashion.

Gonzalez was making his second attempt to grab a world title. His first attempt fell short a year ago. He was eager to atone for the defeat by clobbering Navarrete. Body shots were the weapon of choice.

The Mexican fighter Navarrete was accustomed to battling shorter fighters, this time the two were equal in size and in fury. Blows were flying in bunches and by the third round Gonzalez suffered a cut on his right cheek.

At several points Navarrete would connect with a solid blow and eagerly seek to finish the fight. Each time it happened Gonzalez would fight back even more furiously and beat back the champions attacks.

Gonzalez also connected with big shots and moved in for the kill only find Navarrete take a stand and fire back. Neither was able to truly gain a significant edge. After 12 rounds of nonstop action the decision was given to the judges. One scored it 118-110, two others saw it 116-112 all for Navarrete.

Fans were pleased by the decision and even more pleased by the breath-taking action they had witnessed.

Welterweights

Local fighter Giovani Santillan (28-0, 15 KOs) remained undefeated by unanimous decision after 10 rounds versus Tijuana’s Angel Ruiz (17-2, 12 KOs). The two southpaws were evenly matched.

San Diego’s Santillan was able to outwork Ruiz in almost every round. Though Ruiz has heavy hands he was not able to hurt Santillan even with uppercuts. It was clear very early in the fight that Santillan was the more technical and busier of the two. No knockdowns were scored.

After 10 rounds two judges scored it 100-90 for Santillan and a third saw it 99-91.

Other Results

Lindolfo Delgado (14-0, 12 KOs) battered and knocked down fellow Mexican Juan Garcia Mendez (21-5-2) in the last round of an 8-round super lightweight bout, but could not score the knockout win.

Delgado, a Mexican Olympian, was the quicker and stronger fighter yet discovered Garcia Mendez has a solid chin. All three judges scored it 80-71 for Delgado.

Puerto Rico’s Henry Lebron (14-0, 9 KOs) defeated Manuel Rey Rojas (21-6) by decision after eight rounds in a lightweight match.

Javier Martinez (5-0, 2 KOs) soundly defeated Darryl Jones (4-3-1) by decision after six rounds in a middleweight clash. Jones was tough.

Las Vegas bantamweight Floyd Diaz (3-0) knocked down Tucson’s Jose Ramirez (1-1) in the first round but was unable to end the fight early. Diaz won by decision.

Heavyweight Antonio Mireles (1-0) knocked out Demonte Randle (2-2) at 2:07 of the first round.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank for Getty Images

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Book Review

Russell Peltz’s “Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye”: Book Review by Thomas Hauser

Thomas Hauser

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Russell Peltz’s “Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye”: Book Review by Thomas Hauser

Russell Peltz has been promoting fights for fifty years and is as much a part of the fabric of Philadelphia boxing as Philly gym wars and Philly fighters. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004 and deservedly so. Now Peltz has written a memoir entitled Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye that chronicles his many years in the sweet science.

Peltz started in boxing before it was, in his words, “bastardized by the alphabet groups” and at a time when “world titles still meant something.”

“I fell in love with boxing when I was twelve,” he writes, “saw my first live fight at fourteen, decided to make it my life, and never looked back.” He promoted his first fight card in 1969 at age 22.

Peltz came of age in boxing at a time when promoters – particularly small promoters – survived or died based on the live gate. Peltz Boxing Promotions had long runs at the Blue Horizon in Philadelphia and both Harrah’s Marina and the Sands  in Atlantic City. His journey through the sweet science included a seven-year stint as director of boxing for The Spectrum in Philadelphia. At the turn of the century, he was a matchmaker for ESPN.

Along the way, Peltz’s office in Philadelphia was fire-bombed. He was robbed at gunpoint while selling tickets in his office for a fight card at the Blue Horizon and threatened in creative ways more times than one might imagine. He once had a fight fall out when one of the fighters was arrested on the day of the weigh-in. No wonder he quotes promoter Marty Kramer, who declared, “The only thing I wish on my worst enemy is that he becomes a small-club boxing promoter.”

Now Peltz has put pen to paper – or finger to keyboard. “The internet is often a misinformation highway,” he writes. “I want to set the record straight as to what actually went on in boxing in the Philadelphia area since the late-1960s. I’m tired of reading tweets or Facebook posts or Instagram accounts from people who were not around and have no idea what went on but write like they do.”

Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye is filled with characters (inside and outside the ring) who give boxing its texture. As Peltz acknowledges, his own judgment was sometimes faulty. Russell once turned down the opportunity to promote Marvin Hagler on a long-term basis. There are countless anecdotes about shady referees, bad judging, and other injustices. Middleweight Bennie Briscoe figures prominently in the story, as do other Philadelphia fighters like Willie “The Worm” Monroe, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, Stanley “Kitten” Hayward, and Matthew Franklin (later Matthew Saad Muhammad). Perhaps the best fight Peltz ever promoted  was the 1977 classic when Franklin knocked out Marvin Johnson in the twelfth round.

There’s humor. After Larry Holmes pitched a shutout against Randall “Tex” Cobb in 1982, Cobb proclaimed, “Larry never beat me. He just won the first fifteen rounds.”

And there are poignant notes. Writing about Tanzanian-born Rogers Mtagwa (who boxed out of Philadelphia), Peltz recalls, “He couldn’t pass an eye exam because he didn’t understand the alphabet.”

Remembering the Blue Horizon, Peltz fondly recounts, “”The Blue Horizon was a fight fan’s nirvana. The ring was 15-feet-9-inches squared inside the ropes. No fighter came to the Blue Horizon to pad his record. Fans wanted good fights, not slaughters of second-raters.”

That ethos was personified by future bantamweight champion Jeff Chandler who, after knocking out an obviously inept opponent, told Peltz, “Don’t ever embarrass me like that again in front of my fans.”

Thereafter, whenever a manager asked Peltz to put his fighter in soft to “get me six wins in a row,” Russell thought of Chandler. “I enjoyed promoting fights more than promoting fighters,” he writes. “If I was interested in promoting fighters, I would have been a manager.”

That brings us to Peltz the writer.

The first thing to be said here is that this is a book for boxing junkies, not the casual fan. Peltz is detail-oriented. But do readers really need to know what tickets prices were for the April 6, 1976, fight between Bennie Briscoe and Eugene Hart? The book tends to get bogged down in details. And after a while, the fights and fighters blur together in the telling.

It brings to mind the relationship between Gene Tunney and George Bernard Shaw. The noted playwright and heavyweight great developed a genuine friendship. But Shaw’s fondness for Tunney stopped short of uncritical admiration. In 1932, the former champion authored his autobiography (A Man Must Fight) and proudly presented a copy to his intellectual mentor. Shaw read the book and responded with a letter that read in part, “Just as one prayer meeting is very like another, one fight is very like another. At a certain point, I wanted to skip to Dempsey.”

Reading Thirty Dollars and a Cut Eye, at a certain point I wanted to skip to Hagler.

There’s also one jarring note. Peltz recounts how, when Mike Jones fought Randall Bailey for the vacant IBF welterweight title in Las Vegas in 2012, Peltz bet five hundred dollars against Jones (his own fighter) at the MGM Sports Book and collected two thousand dollars when Bailey (trailing badly on the judges’ scorecards) knocked Jones out in the eleventh round.

“It was a tradition from my days with Bennie Briscoe,” Russell explains. “I’d bet against my fighter, hoping to lose the bet and win the fight.”

I think Russell Peltz is honest. I mean that sincerely. And I think he was rooting for Mike Jones to beat Randall Bailey. But I don’t think that promoters should bet on fights involving their own fighters. And it’s worse if they bet against their own fighters. Regardless of the motivation, it looks bad. Or phrased differently: Suppose Don King had bet on Buster Douglas to beat Mike Tyson in Tokyo?

Philadelphia was once a great fight town. in 1926, the first fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney drew 120,000 fans to Sesquicentennial Stadium. Twenty-six years later, Rocky Marciano knocked out Jersey Joe Walcott at same site (renamed Municipal Stadium) to claim the heavyweight throne.

Peltz takes pride in saying, “I was part of Philadelphia’s last golden age of boxing.”

An important part.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press this autumn. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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