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Has the U.S. Lost its Presence in Boxing? Part One of a New Survey

Ted Sares

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More than 50 boxing notables shared their thoughts in our latest TSS survey. They came from all walks of boxing – former fighters, officials, writers, publicists, commentators, and especially boxing historians. We are listing the respondents alphabetically. PART ONE goes “A” through “L.”

I sincerely thank our respondents for their participation, particularly in these very difficult times.

JIMBO AMATO-author, writer, historian and memorabilia collector: From 175 pounds and up the Americans have faded on the international scene. From 168 down they are well represented. There are many potential big money fights there to made at the international level. This could be a very exciting year for boxing fans if the promoters could get these bouts put together.

RUSS ANBER-elite cornerman, trainer, owner of Rival Boxing Equipment: We need to define “major player in professional boxing” and the US still remains the land of opportunity as it pertains to the big fights and big events. The closest rival is the UK but if it doesn’t involve a UK fighter; they don’t have the same interest. The US is still a major player except there are now more players. The World Boxing Super Series is an example.  If you are talking about fighters, the answer is an unequivocal YES. Whether on the amateur or professional scene, the US and many western countries have lost their dominance as a result of the tide of professionals now making their way into the game from the former Soviet Bloc. The amateur game is a glaring example as it becomes a look into the future of what is to come. The US once the most powerful amateur nation in the world has had little success internationally compared to the reign of terror they once had. Two decades ago a top ten in any weight class was filled with  Americans. Those numbers have gone down as Eastern fighters have emerged. From the Klitschkos, to Loma, Usyk, Golovkin, Beterbiev, Bivol, etc. All these great fighters have come from countries that didn’t even turn pro a short time ago.

MATT ANDRZJEWSKI-TSS boxing writer: The US has definitely not lost its presence as a major player in boxing. The biggest fights, such as Fury-Wilder II, still mostly take place in the US and there is plenty of activity on a weekly basis in US based shows. The sport is more than alive and well in the United States.

DAVID AVILA-TSS West Coast Bureau Chief:  Absolutely not. Without being nationalistic, boxing is thriving more than ever before. Fighters come to the U.S. to make more money and have a bigger presence. Anywhere else is a small pond compared to the U.S. A big example remains the California area  remains the Southern California area that boasts more than 100 boxing gyms. Fighters from every part of the world are found in these gyms and get here any way they can. These are facts. Canelo moved from Mexico to the US and makes more money than almost every athlete in the world save baseball player Mike Trout and a few others.

BOB BENOIT-referee, judge, former fighter, and retired Massachusetts State Trooper: Yes, the USA has lost its dominance in World Boxing, thanks to the lack of promotion of pro and amateur boxing. Amateur boxing is run by those who don’t know the difference between a left jab and a right cross.

BRIAN “THE BIZZ” BIZZACK-historian, moderator of “Bizzy On Boxing”: Sadly, I believe this is true. The reasons are many: The collapse of the amateur system, the lack of quality trainers nowadays, the modern-day emergence of professional basketball and football as our primary sports of interest, and last but perhaps not least — the proliferation of sanctioning bodies and ‘world titles’ over the last few decades. This has alienated and confused the more casual mainstream sports fan, and for the young boy or man that once dreamed of capturing a singular WORLD crown (like Louis, Robinson, Marciano, Ali, and many others) what true “glory” is there… in capturing one of four, or god forbid seven or eight???

STEVE CANTON-the face of boxing in Florida: Most definitely. There are no good old-school trainers today who know how to properly train the tried and proven techniques. They are constantly trying to invent new ways and, as a result, we have fighters who can’t really fight. Today, it is two guys standing in front of each other banging away. It is “my turn, your turn” since they don’t know what else to do. When one throws punches the other waits until he is done and then it is their turn to throw punches. Fighters fight so infrequently, there are too many meaningless belts, the best don’t fight the best, too much PED use and cheating in the sport and on and on and on. Meanwhile, around the world fighters are busy, fighting frequently and building big fan bases. I still don’t see much in the way of better technique; I just see more activity which provides more opportunity to fighters in other countries.

ANTHONY CARDINALE-boxing manager, advisor, and nationally prominent defense attorney: I disagree. While many great fighters are coming out of Eastern Europe and Great Britain, we have many more top ten fighters in every weight class from the USA, and many more scheduled professional bouts. That said, one of the problems I see going forward is the practical demise of our amateur boxing programs here. Too many kids are opting to go pro instead of keeping in top international amateur competition which will only help them in the future.

GUY CASALE-former boxer, retired detective: I agree. The U.S. boxers don’t train or have the mindset of the boxers of years ago. Unlike their counterparts, U.S. fighters lack the hunger/drive!

MONTE COXformer boxer, historian: The number of participants in the U.S has greatly declined over the years. Circa 1920 there were 20 boxing shows a week in New York City alone, that’s more than a thousand shows just in the Big Apple. There were less than 600 boxing shows in the entire U.S for the year 2017, the last year I have stats for. A decline in participants means a decline in performance. So yes, boxing has declined.

JILL DIAMOND-WBC International Secretary; WBC Cares Chair: I don’t think there’s any one player or presence anymore. It’s a global sport and the different internet platforms have reinforced that. Having said that, some of the great talent and promoters are from the USA, and Vegas still draws record crowds.

CHARLIE DWYER-former fighter, professional referee, member of US Marines Boxing Hall of Fame: US dominance in boxing diminished since the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. Once the Eastern European fighters were allowed turn pro and leave their countries, the face of professional boxing changed worldwide.

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“Today’s fighters have trainers, assistant trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionists, spiritual advisors, massage therapists, matchmakers, booking agents, promoters, co-promoters, publicists, cutmen, “better training methods,” and assorted hangers-on and… are tired after a few rounds. Yesterday’s fighters had a trainer and promoter….and they went 15 rounds non-stop. The future is not what it used to be.” — Steve Canton

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RICK FARRIS-former Boxer and President of the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame: I agree that America has lost its place in both professional & amateur boxing. The last American male to win an Olympic Gold Medal was Andre Ward, who was an exceptional pro & amateur champion. He was the last, and I do not expect better in the future. If not for America being so weak in boxing, Eastern Europe would not be getting any notice, as they are not better than they were, just have less competition. I see little future for America in boxing, except for our females who have carried the torch alone.

BERNARD FERNANDEZ- TSS mainstay, lifetime member of the BWAA and 2020 IBHOF inductee: The United States’ domination of basketball ended, in a way, with the great success of the 1992 “Dream Team.” The world observed, and the world wanted its own Michael Jordan. Now the tide is turning in other international sports, including boxing and tennis. The rest of the planet wants what we have, or had, while the USA dares to think it can become a world power in soccer on a par with Europe and South America. A big reason for the lack of depth in boxing: quality big men, who might have become heavyweights, channeling their energies into football and basketball.

JERRY FITCH-writer, author, and historian: I do think boxing is not a major player in the US anymore, certainly not anywhere near what so many have enjoyed earlier, even 25-30 years ago. I feel boxing started going downhill when more and more alphabet groups were added. Then more weight classes were added. And whether anyone agrees or not I feel young kids nowadays could care less about boxing. Those with athletic ability turn to basketball or football. We have a hard time in Cleveland getting anywhere near 100 kids to enter the Golden Gloves. In the 1950s sometimes 100 kids entered from one gym locally. And there are not nearly enough quality trainers these days.

JEFFREY FREEMAN-(aka KO DIGEST); TSS writer: As evidenced by their deranged, degenerate reaction to Fury-Wilder 2 (on the internet and beyond) it is obvious to me that American fans and media can no longer handle heavyweight championship boxing in America. They make a mockery of it. The sport and its participants are much better served by the British fans and by the British business model for big time professional boxing.

RICK GAGNE-historian: The U.S. isn’t the powerhouse that it was, but we still have more champions than any other country. We never were kings of the little men. Our amateur program has devolved far more than the pros.

CLARENCE GEORGE-writer and historian: The U.S. is still a major player, though perhaps not as major as it once was. A significant change is the location of heavyweight championship fights. But this phenomenon predates Anthony Joshua-Andy Ruiz Jr. II by several decades. Think of Joe Frazier vs. George Foreman in Kingston, Jamaica, on January 22, 1973; Foreman vs. Ken Norton in Caracas, Venezuela, on March 26, 1974; Foreman vs. Muhammad Ali in Kinshasa, Zaire, that October 30; and Ali vs. Frazier in Quezon City, the Philippines, on October 1, 1975. Harrumph — all those bouts should have taken place at Madison Square Garden.

LEE GROVESwriter, author, researcher and CompuBox punch counter: I don’t think the U.S. has lost its presence as a major player but it is sharing the stage with more players. Fighters outside of the U.S. still see value in being seen — and being marketed — in America (see Tyson Fury) but boxing has become an even more global sport thanks to the Internet. To me, the more the merrier. As long as boxing grows, it’s all good.

HENRY HASCUP- boxing historian and President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame: Up until the late 1960’s the three most popular sports in the US were baseball, horse racing and boxing. Now boxing is way down the list because we have so many other sports that are played or we watch on TV. I believe the fighters are much more popular in some other countries as US major sports stars are in other sports! However, in 2019 the US had a total of 603 shows, which is still more than any other country.

CHUCK HASSON-historian and writer: For over a century U.S. boxing was the pinnacle of world boxing. But in recent years, with the influx of top Eastern European boxers helping to infuse huge interest throughout the continent and terrific fighters from Britain, Ireland, Germany, it has made for a golden age of European boxing. After being behind the U.S. for so long, it’s nice to see them stepping out from under our shadow. But I am hopeful we can take back the mantle soon.

DANNY HOWARD-boxing writer: Boxing is a global sport and the decline of a strong American presence among competitors was only really a talking point for the heavyweight division. This isn’t anything new. The biggest fights in the world still happen in America. Americans aren’t exactly flocking to support their homegrown heroes, they just want blood and guts like every other fight fan, regardless of what language they speak or where they come from.

BRUCE KIELTYbooking agent; boxing historian: There is no question that US boxing continues a long slide downhill. Amateur boxing is on life-support in most areas. Today’s millennials find MMA far more violent and entertaining and perfect for those with minute attention spans. MMA has been successfully marketed as a blood sport and doesn’t have the number of corrupt sanctioning bodies that are such a drag on boxing. Also, boxing during periods of high employment is seen as an unnecessary low-paying and dangerous pursuit.

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“They ought to cut this junk-throwing at boxing. The mollycoddles  and pinheads  never gave it a square deal.”  – John L. Sullivan

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STUART KIRSCHENBAUM-Boxing Commissioner Emeritus, State of Michigan: I agree the US has lost its presence. Once the King of Sports, it’s food chain…young amateur boxers, have virtually dried up. As a way out of ethnic ghettos there are easier ways to success, some not legal. The sport is homeless in the sense that public recreation centers and privately owned gyms with boxing programs are too costly to maintain and liability is too rampart. Regular local boxing shows are rare with the disappearance of promoters willing to risk financial loss and contracted professionals with no venues to develop their careers. Newspapers and TV news have done away with boxing writers. You can never see the top boxers on TV unless you skip paying for your prostate medication and subsidize some temporary millionaire via your cable bill. The average sports fan is clueless who the major boxing champions are.

JIM LAMPLEY-legendary anchor of the HBO broadcasting team; 2015 IBHOF inductee: Obviously it is premature and exaggerated to suggest the US is not a “major player” in boxing or in any other form of entertainment. The audience here is too big for that. Is the nation’s position in the talent pool diminishing?? Maybe, but that has mostly to do with the growth of talent development in other countries. Pacquaio and Mayweather demonstrated the economic pyramid is no longer controlled by heavyweights exclusively, so now the whole planet wants to get on board. It’s the natural momentum of globalism, and it cannot be wished away.

ARNE LANG-TSS editor in chief, author, historian: There are actually three questions here depending on how one chooses to define “lost its presence.” Forgetting Saudi Arabia for the moment, the richest fights are still held on U.S. soil. All foreign pros dream about fighting in the U.S. From a skillfulness standpoint, however, the former Soviet bloc countries have vaulted ahead of us, notably in the four weight divisions from 160 to 200. How do I feel about it? I’m indifferent, but it would be nice to see the USA Olympic team recapture some of its lost glory.

RON LIPTON-former fighter, current pro referee, boxing historian and writer, member of the New Jersey and New York Boxing Hall of Fame and retired police officer: The U.S. has not lost its presence as a major player in professional boxing. The allure to defending your championship in the magic atmosphere of Madison Square Garden will never lose its prestige and luster. The boxing history there is written in stone and has an electricity that you feel and take with you after each major fight show. The fight fans that come to so many venues throughout the U.S. with so many wonderful locales radiating boxing excitement, keep the U.S. at the forefront of boxing excitement on planet earth.  I have respect for all the fan loyalty in other countries and what it means to all the boxing fans therein, yet we here in the U.S. feel the same way.

Coming Next: PART TWO (M-W) plus observations.

Photo: Ukrainian stablemates Oleksandr Usyk, Vasyl Lomachenko, and Oleksandr Gvozdyk

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Book Review

Thomas Hauser is the Pierce Egan of Our Generation

Arne K. Lang

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Thomas Hauser is the Pierce Egan of our generation. Two centuries ago, Egan chronicled the goings-on in the world of prizefighting in a series of articles. When he had completed a bunch of these, he knotted them together in a compendium under the title Boxiana; or Sketches of Ancient Pugilism. The first volume was issued in 1813. Four more volumes would follow.

Pierce Egan was drawn to the sport of prizefighting during the so-called Regency Era in England when prizefighting, although an outlaw sport, enjoyed a great burst of popularity. Aristocrats and commoners alike, bluebloods and lowlifes, caravanned to the big fights which of necessity were held outside areas of dense population. But, as indicated by the sub-title of “Boxiana,” Egan was also interested in the history of prizefighting which pre-dated the Regency Era. He wasn’t the first historian of the Sweet Science (a term that he coined), but he was certainly the most influential. Nearly 200 years after his death, a fellow interested in learning about the roots of modern prizefighting is encouraged to start by dredging up a reprint of “Boxiana.” (Or, if one doesn’t wish to be that immersive, checking out one of several collections by the great New Yorker essayist A.J. Liebling who rucked Egan out of obscurity.)

Which brings us to Thomas Hauser.

In common with Pierce Egan, Hauser gathers previously published articles about boxing into a book. A Hauser compendium has become an annual tradition at his publishing house, the University of Arkansas Press. Hauser’s latest offering, the 15th in the series, is fresh off the press. It bears the title Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing. TSS readers will recognize some of the nuggets as they first appeared at this web site.

Two hundred years from today, if mankind still exists, folks interested in the goings-on in the world of boxing during the first decades of the 21st century, will be directed to the writings of Thomas Hauser. And I have no doubt that a complete set of his annual anthologies, although released in paperback, will be a prized collectable.

Pierce Egan did round-by-round reports of major fights, but he was more interested in things that happened outside the ring. He saw the big picture; prizefighting as an ecosystem. Hauser likewise views the sport through a wide lens. The power brokers command his attention, as do those on the periphery. Hauser once wrote a story about ring card girls that was a fun read and would have also fit neatly as an insert in a textbook on the sociology of work.

“The boxing scene,” wrote Hauser, “is about so much more than the fights.”

In his role as an investigative reporter, for which he has won several awards, Hauser has written extensively about PED abuse in boxing and about the failings of the New York State Athletic Commission.

There’s less about PEDs in his newest book than in previous editions, inevitable perhaps considering that boxing activity in 2020 was stunted by the pandemic, but the NYSAC gets its usual comeuppance. The agency “has long been a favor bank for powerful economic interests and a source of employment at various levels for the politically well connected,” says Hauser, who informs us that for several higher-up employees, and one woman in particular, the job there is basically a sinecure and a good paying one at that.

Another recurrent theme in Hauser’s writings is boxing’s waning popularity among America’s youth and what can be done about it. In a story titled “Why Doesn’t Boxing Attract More Young Fans?” Hauser lists 11 reasons why it doesn’t, each of which can be reconfigured into a prong to be used in a campaign to stanch the erosion and reverse the trend.

None of Hauser’s compendiums would be complete without book reviews. Several years ago, Hauser wrote that “the written history of Muhammad Ali is an ongoing construction” and, in 2020, new construction continued at a brisk pace; there was a spate of new Ali books.

Hauser, needless to say, is well-versed in the subject matter. He interviewed more than 150 people for his 1991 book, “Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times,” long considered the definitive Ali biography, and he takes a fine-tooth comb to any book that traverses the same territory. Factual inaccuracies gall him and he doesn’t hesitate to point them out in reviews of books concerning Ali by Todd Snyder, Stuart Cosgrove, and Rahaman Ali (Muhammad Ali’s brother) and in a book for young readers ostensibly co-authored by book-seller extraordinaire James Patterson.

“Broken Dreams” is divided into four sections, the last of which is titled “Boxing and the Coronavirus.” There are some stories in this section that I suspect wouldn’t make the cut if Hauser were assembling the book today. He writes that “the restoration of normalcy (in boxing) will be a long, slow process.” With the benefit of hindsight, the future wasn’t quite so gloomy.

Among my favorite stories in Hauser’s newest compilation, which clocks in at 308 pages, is a long piece about Gleason’s Gym which, like Madison Square Garden, is currently in its fourth location. There are 44 components in all, modules of various length, and it’s the sort of book that one can open to any page and find something interesting.

Notes

Thomas Hauser and Pierce Egan have other things in common aside from their association with prizefighting. Both wrote about other things. Egan, who died in 1849, achieved his greatest success with a work of fiction, Life in London, about the escapades of Corinthian Tom and his country cousin Jerry, excitement-seekers who flouted the norms of society as they caroused about the London metropolis. The book gave rise to a long-running play, to a popular 18th-century expression (“Tom and Jerrying” denoted a rowdy night on the town), to a once-popular Christmas cocktail, and to a cat and mouse team in a children’s animated cartoon series.

In his review of Hauser’s Ali biography, Dave Anderson of the New York Times noted that this was Hauser’s 14th book and that seven of his previous books were novels. Among the non-fiction books that Hauser authored prior to “Ali” was “The Execution of Charles Horman” about the murder of an American journalist who disappeared in Chile during a right-wing military coup. It was adapted into the Oscar-winning screenplay for the movie “Missing” starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek.

Lastly, a caveat: Although A.J. Liebling thought Pierce Egan was a real hoot, the average reader will likely find Boxiana hard to digest. The book is freighted with slang terms, some of Egan’s invention, that long ago disappeared from the lexicon.

Egan eventually turned away from boxing cold-turkey, purportedly disgusted by too many fixed fights. If Hauser follows his example, let’s hope that it doesn’t happen any time soon.

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Shakur Stevenson’s Star Turn Gets No Media Coverage in Atlanta

Bernard Fernandez

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Shakur Stevenson’s Star Turn Gets No Media Coverage in Atlanta

For that part of the sports world that takes notice of boxing, Shakur Stevenson announced himself as a superstar-in-the-making – well, maybe – in totally dominating and ultimately dethroning WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring Saturday night in Atlanta’s State Farm Arena. Shakur, the 24-year-old southpaw and 2016 Olympic silver medalist from Newark, N.J., seemingly hit Herring, 35, a combat-toughened but outgunned Marine Corps veteran, with everything but the proverbial kitchen sink en route to a 10th-round stoppage that wowed, among others, former junior welterweight and welterweight titlist and ESPN commentator Timothy Bradley Jr., who had chided Stevenson, a sometimes risk-adverse defensive wizard, as a “boring” fighter in his most recent bout on the Worldwide Leader, a 12-round scorecard shutout of Namibia’s Jeremia Nakathila on June 12 in Las Vegas.

After referee Mark Nelson stepped in to save the bleeding and battered Herring 1 minute, 30 seconds into round 10, Stevenson surprised Bradley by thanking him for providing the motivation he needed to ramp up his offensive output.

“Shakur tonight showed a ton of maturity,” Bradley said of the new-look, presumably more fan-friendly version of Stevenson that was on display. “The fact that he thanked me and said that I motivated him is a beautiful thing. That showed even more maturity, because that’s all that I want from these young fighters. I want them to grow.

“This is what I wanted to see from Shakur Stevenson. But I knew he had it in him, and he showed it tonight.”

Not that Bradley has completely bought into the notion of all that Stevenson could be, citing the lack of the only weapon – one-punch power – in his otherwise well-stuffed trick bag. Maybe that will come should Stevenson (17-0, 9 KOs) continue to enhance his man-strength, and maybe what you see now is all that fight fans can ever expect to get. In baseball terminology, Shakur Stevenson was more or less categorized by Bradley as a high-average singles hitter with enough gap power to accumulate a fair share of doubles that can get opponents out of there on accumulated damage. Who could complain if Stevenson, whose avowed goal is to become a superstar and fixture at or near the top of everyone’s pound-for-pound lists, continues to show flashes of such stylistic predecessors as Pernell Whitaker and Floyd Mayweather Jr.?

On this night and in the fight’s host city, however, Stevenson took a worse media-coverage battering from Eddie Rosario than he had administered to Herring (23-3, 11 KOs) with his fists. Rosario, a trade-deadline acquisition of the Atlanta Braves, slugged a three-run homer to lift his new team to a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series at nearby Truist Park, sending the Braves into their first World Series since 1999. For now, Rosario, who went 14-for-25 with three homers in winning the NLCS Most Valuable Player Award, is the toast of the town and the focus of reams of space in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports section. But it wasn’t only Rosario who siphoned attention in the local paper away from Stevenson; the fight might have gotten a few lines in the print editions, but online it was completely ignored by the AJC, Rosario’s hot bat followed in the pecking order by stories about the NBA’s Hawks losing at Cleveland, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets dropping a high-scoring contest at Virginia and a five-star high school defensive end prospect named Mykel Williams verbally committing to the No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs.

While it had to be frustrating to Stevenson and Atlanta’s fight fans for the event to be ignored by AJC, there were other deserving participants on the card who were similarly overlooked by the press in Georgia’s largest city. Not that anyone in the Internet age still pastes newspaper clippings into scrapbooks, but 19-year-old middleweight prospect Xander Zayas might be at a similar embryonic stage of development once occupied by Stevenson a couple of years ago. He deserved at least some recognition in the paper for his fourth-round stoppage of Dan Karpency, as did two other undercard fighters with celebrity familial ties: middleweight Nico Ali Walsh, grandson of the great Muhammad Ali, who scored a third-round TKO of James Westley II, and junior middleweight Evan Holyfield, son of four-time heavyweight champion and Atlanta-area resident Evander Holyfield – can it be nearly 30 years since “The Real Deal” shook off an early knockdown to stop Bert Cooper in seven rounds on Nov. 23, 1991, in Atlanta’s since-demolished Omni Coliseum? — who bombed out Charles Stanfield in two rounds.

But Atlanta is not the only metropolis that devotes fewer newspaper column inches, if any, to the sport that once made Evander Holyfield as important a local sports figure as any Falcon, Brave or Hawk. It will be up to Stevenson to break through, if he can, to a level where his every ring appearance becomes a must-see because boxing’s viability is and has always been largely tied to the popularity of its larger-than-life figures.

“I wanted a fun fight – show my skills, my boxing, my power,” Stevenson said of the modifications he and trainer/grandfather Wali Moses made from the relative dreariness of the wide points nod over Nakathila to the pulse-quickening pummeling of Herring, who apologized to the Marine Corps in general for his defeat, not that any such admission was necessary. Herring seemed to be contemplating retirement, but there has never been any occasion when he failed to conduct himself honorably inside the ropes.

The question now is, will Stevenson continue to hew to demonstrate the aggressiveness he exhibited against Herring? His comments following the Nakathila bout suggest that it might not always be so. His style is evolving, but what works better on one night might not be advisable on another.

“To be honest, I didn’t really like my performance,” Stevenson said after his paint-by-numbers dismissal of Nakathila. “I felt I could’ve performed a lot better. I was being real careful because he has power. He was real scary. I got the best defense in boxing. But I’ll be better in my next fight.”

Former super middleweight and light heavyweight champion Andre Ward, a 2021 inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame who also did commentary for Herring-Stevenson, said Shakur shouldn’t feel pressured to become something he is not in order to meet anyone else’s expectations.

“I think we got to kill some of these misnomers that have been around the sport for far too long, that fighters that go about their craft a certain kind of way, hit and don’t get hit, (means) there’s something not tough about them,” Ward said. “I heard that my whole career. Floyd Mayweather heard that his whole career. Just because a skillful fighter who can think and plays chess when everybody else is playing checkers doesn’t mean he can’t get down and dirty. It only means we’re going to get down and dirty when we have to.

“Fighters who have (high) IQs and skill, keep doing what you’re doing. Some people are going to like it and others won’t. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. If a good fighter has a bad night, he can still win every round. If a guy who takes two to (land) one had a bad night, it’s a pretty ugly night. He’s probably going to get knocked out or take a lot of punishment.

“I wasn’t who they wanted me to be. I just beat all those guys, all the guys they said were going to get me. I just kept winning. And winning covers a lot of problems and issues.”

A lot, for sure, not all. In addition to Whitaker, Mayweather and maybe Ward, there are elements of Stevenson’s makeup that call to mind the technical proficiency of two-time Cuban gold medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux, a former Top Rank fighter. Stevenson has been groomed by Top Rank for a prolonged and successful run at the elite level, but what so far has been a mutually beneficial working relationship could hinge in part to the fighter’s willingness to more regularly perform as he did against Herring than he did against Nakathila and a few other opponents that led to the perception that he was supremely talented, yes, but also a touch boring.

Prior to Rigondeaux’s release by Top Rank, company founder Bob Arum complained that his style leaned more to Masterpiece Theater than Rocky, which made Rigo a poor box-office and television attraction. Arum even said that when he brought the Cuban’s name up to HBO executives, “they throw up.”

There are many ways to win a prizefight, and now Shakur Stevenson has shown that he can win with chamber music or semi-heavy metal playing in the background. How far he advances in his march toward the truly elite status he is convinced is his destiny may be determined by the method he chooses to employ should a much-discussed showdown with Mexican blaster Oscar Valdez (30-0, 23 KOs) take place in 2022. The hard truth is that a lot of fight fans not only like, but require splashes of blood-and-guts mixed in with their favorite sport’s artistic side.

Editor’s Note: Bernard Fernandez, named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category with the class of 2020, was the recipient of numerous awards for writing excellence during his 28-year career as a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Daily News. Fernandez’s first book, “Championship Rounds,” a compendium of previously published material, was released in May of last year. The sequel, “Championship Rounds, Vol. 2,” with a foreword by Jim Lampley, arrives this fall. The book can be ordered through Amazon.com, in hard or soft cover, and other book-selling websites and outlets.

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Fast Results from Atlanta Where Shakur Stevenson Turned in a Masterful Performance

Arne K. Lang

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Former world featherweight title-holder Shakur Stevenson turned in his career-best performance tonight at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta while wresting the WBO 130-pound world title from the shoulders of Jamel Herring via a 10th-round TKO. At age 24, Stevenson was the younger man by 11 years and it was a case of youth being served.

As a pro, Stevenson (17-0, 9 KOs) has lost precious few rounds. The rap against him was that he is content to outclass an opponent, providing few fireworks. In this vein, the assumption was that tonight’s bout would be a tactical (i.e., tame) affair. But while there were no knockdowns and Shakur fought a measured fight, there was more snap in his punches than had been the norm and he finished the bout on a high note.

Early into the fight, Herring’s left eye began to swell. In round nine, Stevenson opened a nasty cut over Herring’s other eye. In round ten, with the cut bleeding profusely, Stevenson revved up his attack, forcing referee Mark Nelson to waive it off. The official time was 1:30.

After the fight, Stevenson called out his WBC counterpart Oscar Valdez. Herring, an ex-Marine and former U.S. Olympic team captain, falls to 23-3.

Other Bouts

Fast-rising 19-year-old middleweight Xander Zayas shellacked intrepid Dan Karpency whose father and chief cornerman pulled him out after four rounds. A future star, born in Puerto Rico, Zayas is now 11-0 (8). One of the three fighting brothers, Karpency (9-4-1) will return to his day job as a registered nurse at a maximum-security prison in Western Pennsylvania. He hadn’t previously been stopped

In the first bout airing on ESPN’s flagship station, middleweight Nico Ali Walsh, the 21-year-old grandson of Muhammad Ali, scored a third-round stoppage of scrappy but out-gunned James Westley II, a 36-year-old from Toledo, Ohio. Walsh (2-0, 2 KOs) knocked Westley down with a straight right hand in the waning seconds of round two and knocked him to his knees with another short right hand early in the next stanza. Westley wasn’t badly hurt, but his corner saw fit to throw in the towel.

Junior middleweight Evan Holyfield, one of 11 children fathered by the great Evander Holyfield, knocked Charles Stanford flat on his back with a harsh left-right combination in round two, advancing his record to 8-0 (6). The official time was 0:30. Stanford, a 35-year-old Cincinnati man with an MMA background, was 6-3 heading in.

Middleweight Troy Isley, a 23-year-old U.S. Olympian from Alexandria, VA, improved to 3-0 (2) with a first-round stoppage of 37-year-old Nicholi Navarro (2-2), a former Army Ranger from Denver. Isley rocked his overmatched opponent several times before putting him on the canvas with a combination, forcing the ref to intervene. The official time was 2:48.

In an upset, Erik Palmer saddled Atlanta’s Roddricus Livsey with his first defeat, winning a split decision. Palmer, from the Karpency family stable, was 12-14-5 heading in, versus 8-0-1 for Livsey. The scores were 58-56 twice and a curious 59-55 for the hometown fighter.

Haven Brady Jr, a 19-year-old featherweight from Albany, Georgia, improved to 4-0 (3) with a 4-round unanimous decision over Corpus Christi’s Roberto Negrete (3-1).  The scores favoring Brady were 40-36 across the board, but Negrete was no slouch.

Chicago welterweight Antoine Cobb made an impressive pro debut with a brutal one-punch knockout of Jerrion Campbell (2-2). It was all over in 58 seconds. Cobb, 25, is a protégé of former light heavyweight champion Montell Griffin.

In the opening bout on the card, 21-year-old Brooklyn lightweight Harley Maderos, a 2021 USA national champion, improved to 2-0 (1) with a 4-round unanimous decision over Deljerro Revello (0-2). Maderos scored a knockdown in the opening frame and won all four rounds on all four cards but wasn’t particularly impressive.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty images.

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