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The Friends of Tony Veranis, Part Two

Ted Sares

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The Friends of Tony Veranis, Part Two

During the period between 1966 and 1976, New England’s criminal underworld included many ex-boxers from the Boston area, many of whom were destined to die a violent death. Their intertwined histories would match those of George Higgins’s “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” except that here the common denominator is boxing.

Part One introduced many of the main characters including the notorious Joe “The Animal” Barboza. Next up is journeyman heavyweight George Holden who would meet his end along the banks of the Mystic River.

George Holden (1948-1973)

George, known as the “Medford Irisher,” fought mostly out of Portland, Maine as a heavyweight and chalked up a less-than-glorious record of 15-26-3. He went 9-3-3 in his first 15, but then the losses came in bunches and he would lose nine of his last 10. In his last bout against Jimmy McDermott (52-16-3), Holden disgraced himself by showing up drunk for which he was indefinitely suspended. He never fought again.

Like Rocco DiSiglio (introduced in Part One), little is known about Holden’s personal life except that he was a low-level operative in organized crime. Holden trained with the usual suspects and met a similar fate. On August 23, 1973, his body was found washed up along the mucky shoreline of the Mystic River in Charlestown, Mass. He had been executed gangland style with a gunshot to the head. George was 25 years old. His killers were never found. Holden’s murder was the 82nd homicide in the city of Boston in 1973.

Eddie Connors (1933-1975)

As a youth, Connors was a regular at the L Street Curley Gym and Bathhouse located in South Boston (i.e. Southie) where future gang leaders Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, James “Whitey” Bulger, and Frank “Cadillac Frank” Salemme hung out.

Eddie, nicknamed “Bulldog,” was a respected heavy-handed middleweight who fought like a bulldog during the ’50s and ran up a slate of 22-7-1 with 18 KOs against tough opposition. His last three fights — all losses by decision — were against Willie Green (27-4), Joe DeNucci (20-2 coming in), and former world champion Tony DeMarco (55-11-1). He also held the very capable George Monroe (37-13-3) to a draw. His brother James Connors (not to be confused with Jimmy Connors who fought out of New Bedford from 1957 to 1963 and who was trained by Clem Crowley) fought between 1959 and 1961 and retired with a 13-0-1 record.

Eddie would later use his boxing experience to handle drunk and disorderly customers in his notorious Bulldog Tavern in the edgy Savin Hill area of Dorchester –sometimes referred to as “Stab and Kill”— where he acted as both bartender and bouncer, and which he also used as his criminal headquarters for illegal gambling, drug dealing, loan sharking, and for planning armed robberies with his associates.

Later, because Connors was bragging too much about a murder he had helped orchestrate (of one James “Spike” O’Toole), the Bulldog had become a dangerous loose end. As such, he was set up for an ambush in The Dot. When Eddie arrived at a service station on Morrissey Blvd. on June 12, 1975, to make a pre-arranged phone call, a young Whitey Bulger, John “The Basin Street Butcher” Martorano, and Stephen Flemmi were waiting armed to the teeth. Connors was nearly cut in half in the phone booth by the hail of heavy artillery and the loose end was tied. Curiously, the deadly Martorano was the one who had machine gunned O’Toole in 1973.

Americo Sacramone (1937-1976)

When he finished his brief boxing career with a 5-1 record, Rico, from Everett, entered the rackets as member of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang. After being wounded in the hit on Buddy McLean in 1965, Rico went back to prison on a parole violation. In 1976, he was gunned down — this time for good — by parties unknown.

During his boxing days, Sacramone would often spar with the great Joe DeNucci (54-15-4), who later became the longstanding State Auditor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Tommy Tibbs (1934-1975)

While probably not a friend of Tony Veranis, Tommy (60-77-4) did fight George Monroe three times in 1953  — and just about everyone else including Willie Pep whom he beat in 1958 — and since Monroe fought to a draw against Eddie Connors in 1955, at least the possibility of a dotted line connection exists. Monroe was from Worcester and Tibbs made his residence in Boston. However, where Tommy warrants an honorable mention is the fact that he was shot and killed in a dispute in a Roxbury bar in 1975, one of the bloodiest years of living dangerously in Boston.

Back to Tony (1938-1966)

Meanwhile, after beating Al Pepin in his pro debut, Veranis continued his attention-grabbing run as a professional. He was described as “one tough SOB; a Wildman who was courageous in the ring.” Others said he was well-trained and “a great prospect and that his boxing style was that of a slugger.”

In 1957, Tony fought an astonishing 26 times (the majority at the Rollway Arena in Revere). Tony’s best win may have been on December 3, 1957, when he stopped — and retired — the talented Bobby Murphy (19-3-1). Bobby, a former USA New England welterweight titleholder, had impressive wins over Vic Cardell (65-25-7), Fitzie Pruden (50-21), Rocky Sullivan (66-43-12) and Jackie O’Brien (65-17-8), as well as a draw with top contender Chico Vejar (63-5-1). A win over Murphy meant something.

Tony’s last fight in 1957 was against rugged Barry Allison on December 17 against whom he fought to an admirable draw. Allison (40-19-2) was at the center of New England boxing during the 1950s but was never able to reach world championship level though many think he should have gotten the nod against Johnny Saxton in 1958. As for Tony, he slaughtered Silby Ford in a bloody encounter in February 1958, one that had blood-splattered ringsiders aghast as Silby’s teeth and mouthpiece were knocked out. This moved Tony’s record to 25-0-2 before dropping back-to-back fights to Allison in a rematch for Allison’s USA New England middleweight title and to undefeated Joe Devlin at the Boston Garden.

Tony’s loss to Allison was one in which he took a terrible beating and one that undoubtedly rendered him damaged goods going into the Devlin bout — not taking anything away from the crafty Joe who would retire undefeated. These two fights occurred within a 16-day span in March 1958. After his brutal knockout defeat to Devlin in which he was decked in every round, he was taken to Boston City Hospital in bad shape and remained in a coma before recovering some three month later. But his boxing days were over.

After boxing, Tony reportedly suffered from severe migraine headaches, nausea, temporary mood swings, and blackouts — maladies that apparently were not treated and pointed to brain damage. When combined with heavy drinking and depression, this lethal mix could only spell major trouble for an ex-boxer. Tony was arrested for an unidentified crime on December 23, 1963, and sent to prison in Norfolk, Massachusetts.

While incarcerated he supposedly became an altar boy to serve at prison mass, prompting the prison chaplain Father John Fitzgerald to say, “He wanted to get straightened out, and I think he did. He was a wonderful boy who’d run with a bad crowd. He frequently stopped in to see me… after he got out, and everything seemed to be all right. He took me to the fights, and he was with respectable fellows.” Some portrayed him as a friendly and quiet guy who was the victim of circumstances beyond his control, but other saw him as a small-time hoodlum and mean drinker with a bad personality change who was more brawn than brain. Street lore and my own in-depth research clearly support the latter depiction.

Tony soon found himself in debt to South Boston loan sharks and being overdue to such types was hardly conducive to one’s well-being. Tommy DePrisco, a Barboza associate, attempted to collect from Tony in a South Boston bar but was embarrassed, maybe even punched, and forced to leave as this was Tony’s hangout. The following night, hitman John Martorano was at Billy O’s tavern in Dorchester when Veranis braced him and reportedly slurred, “I’m Tony Veranis, you know who I am. I just had a beef with your friend [DePrisco]. I kicked him outta Southie with his tail between his legs, f*** him and f*** you, too.”

As Tony allegedly reached for his gun, the taller “Butcher” beat him to the punch and fired down into Tony’s skull twice, blowing what was left of his already damaged brains all over the place. His body was dumped in the Blue Hills wooded area off Route 28 near where Milton and Dedham meet. He had $2.83 in his pocket. This was the end result when two former altar boys met up at the wrong time in the wrong place. One was 27, the other 26. Tony may have been tougher with his fists, but the Basin Street Butcher was faster with his gun.

John Martorano: Last Man Standing

“You Just Kill Them Before They Kill You” John Martorano

Many claimed credit for the hit on Tony Veranis and a few even suggested that Barboza was involved, but the most reliable accounting is that Martorano (known as “The Executioner,” among other aliases) was responsible. Early on, Martorano, who also was an altar boy, a good athlete, and well-educated in private schools, showed a marked proclivity for conflict resolution. He eventually became the chief enforcer for the Whitey Bulger gang, running up an astounding tally of 20 confirmed hits (all carried out in a cold, detached, so-called “professional” manner).

One of John’s familial Old World core values was that of loyalty, and when he later learned that Bulger and Flemmi were FBI informants who leaked useful information, some of it even accusatory against John, he became enraged. The fact is, he flipped out and then proceeded to flip on the flippers, becoming a key government witness and in the process exposing the links between the Bulger gang and the FBI’s Boston office. In return for his “cooperation” and confession to 20 murders, he served only 12 years and received $20,000 gate money upon his release. Said U.S. Attorney Donald Stern, “The only thing worse than this deal was not doing this deal.”

martorano

martorano

Regarding his hits, Martorano incredibly and calmly said, “I always felt like I was doing the right thing. Even if it was wrong, I always tried to do the right thing.”

Strictly business? Hardly. These sociopaths were close to being serial killers and they loved it.

Today, while the mother of all rats, Whitey Bulger, was recently beaten to death in prison, John Martorano and Kevin Weeks (another deadly Bulger enforcer and righteous snitch who wrote the compelling “Brutal: The Untold Story of My Life Inside Whitey Bulger’s Irish Mob,” are free to walk the streets of Quincy, Dorchester, and South Boston having done their time and having made their deals. Maybe they take strolls on Carson Beach.

Unlike Barboza, they don’t need any witness protection because there is no one left from whom to be protected. Moreover, there IS something to be said for ratting out a rat.

John “Red” Shea (standup guy)

You don’t tell on anybody, you accept your responsibility, even if the other person can’t. You’re to be a man and keep your mouth shut. Period. There’s no gray area.” –Red Shea

There was another ex-boxer, but he chose another, more difficult path. His name was John “Red” Shea and he traded an exceptionally promising boxing career for a more lucrative life as an important operative and enforcer for the Bulger gang. But the thing about Red was that when he was finally caught, he didn’t flip, but held fast to the Irish code of silence. The 47-year-old Red served out his 12 years in prison without ratting out and is now considered a rare man of honor in the Boston area. He went on to write the hot selling “Rat Bastards: The Life and Times of South Boston’s Most Honorable Irish Mobster.” Red is now enjoying his freedom and the secrets of his life of crime most likely will be taken to the grave with him. His second book, “A Kid from Southie” was published to solid reviews.

Famous defense attorney Anthony Cardinale, a close friend of Red, once said, “He’s not big, but was very violent and very tough, and people are, to this day, scared to death of him…If, God forbid, I ever needed somebody next to me and I needed backup he’d be one of the first guys that I would ever go to.”

Joe DeNucci and Clem Crowley went on to live honorable and even celebrated lives before they passed, as did Joe Devlin, New Bedford’s Jimmy Connors, and Barry Allison. However, Eddie Connors, Rocky DiSiglio, Rico Sacramone, Joe Barboza, George Holden, and Tommy Sullivan — all fighters in the Boston area who were connected to one another in one way or another — were each murdered at a young age. I still meet with Jimmy Connors on a monthly basis in Dorchester and never tire of his stories from the past.

As an aside, I interviewed Joe Devlin about his fight with Tony at a lunch meeting at the Florian Hall in Dorchester. Among other things, Joe said that Tony’s brains were like “scrambled eggs.” Sadly, the affable Joe died of a heart attack on the very next day.

“Boxing got me out of a lot of trouble. It does that for a lot of kids.” – Tony Veranis

Pictured: Tony Veranis and Bob Murphy. The full photo has Pat MCarthy on the far left and Jimmy Connors on the far right.

 Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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

Matt McGrain

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It has been interesting to see how transient fighters are when they inhabit the smaller divisions. Up at cruiserweight, fighters spent on average 50% of the decade in their division to earn their spot among the top ten; here at 122lbs it is nearer 30%.

This results in a list of fighters with less purchase on the list, generally. Occasionally though, even at the smaller weights, a fighter will rack up a list of serious victories in a short space of time and hit the heights – and the divisional stalwart is also not unheard of. Here, one of each of these type towers over the rest of the decadal division but the numbers ten through three kick up a lot of interesting fights, and some very interesting fighters.

In accounting for these fighters, the term “one hit wonder” is used liberally. Here I am not seeking to denigrate either the fighter or his wider opposition; it merely denotes a fighter who has one win of real significance which is often accounted for in some detail.

This is another symptom of a generation of fighters happy to put on a mere four pounds to visit the next division up for their next big test.

10 – Rico Ramos

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 16-6 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

The tenth slot was a shootout between Kiko Martinez, who did a little more at the weight, and Rico Ramos, who did a little less, but who was defeated at the poundage only by Guillermo Rigondeaux; Martinez, meanwhile, was thrashed twice by Carl Frampton and once by Scott Quigg. The Scott Quigg tilts me towards Ramos, whose purple patch of 7-1 gets him over the line.

The jewel in his super-bantamweight crown for the period January 2010 until December 2019 was his come-from-behind knockout victory over Akifumi Shimoda, one of the top contenders of 2010 and 2011. Shimoda himself has a claim to the number ten spot based primarily upon his superb victory over Ryol Li Lee, but Ramos eliminated him when they clashed in Atlantic City in July of 2011.

Ramos, an American of Puerto Rican descent, had been boxing since he was eight years old but seemingly had no answer to the Shimoda jab which was opening up other opportunities for the Japanese; Ramos, circling to his right at the beginning of the seventh, brought Shimoda onto a left hand, but it was unheeded and Shimoda continued to boss the real-estate and find a home for his bodypunches. A right hand from Rico seemed to gather his attention though and having landed yet another left Rico finally had his man rooted to the spot, and circling, he landed a left hand as beautiful as any thrown in the 122lb decade. Shimoda was up at nine but immediately took a second header to the canvas.

Ramos was chased from the division by Rigondeaux, as noted, but certainly there is no shame there.

09 – Rey Vargas

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 34-0 Ranked For: 42% of the decade

Rey Vargas has traced an old-fashioned career arc, occupying a spot at super-bantamweight since 2015 and slowly creeping his way up the ranks to inhabit the number one spot, without, really, meeting anyone to justify that ranking. Sometimes longevity is its own reward.

His highest-ranking victim was Tomoki Kameda, and it showed when they met in July of last year; Tomoki had real success early and took a handy lead out of the first third of the fight. Vargas though is a freakishly tall superbantam at near 5’11 and he has the reach to match. From the fifth on, he deployed a controlling jab birthed by a pedigree amateur career that has been augmented by some serious professional experience. The double-uppercut right hand he landed in that round set him apart; the cards may have been a little wide but clearly Vargas was the right man.

He was the right man too five months previously when he was faced with another tough assignment in Franklin Manzanilla. Manzanilla, out of Venezuela, had scored an impressive victory over Julio Ceja in just four rounds in his previous fight and set some problems for Vargas with his rushes and fouling. Vargas found himself with cuts over both brows from “accidental” head-clashes as early as the eighth and Manzanilla had two points docked for hitting on the break and pushing. But Vargas showed some of his best boxing, dominating at distance with the jab and outlanding Manzanilla with fluid combination punching when they met at mid-range.

Vargas has a little more depth than these two fights – Azat Hovhannisyan and Ronny Rios have both made waves since he beat them – but they remain his fistic cornerstones, and despite some impressive boxing this makes him borderline for inclusion. His paper record and longevity in the ratings at 122lbs has seen me favour him over one-hit wonders like Jeffrey Mathebula and Akifumi Shimoda.

08 – Isaac Dogboe

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 21-2 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

Isaac Dogboe’s pressure appeared functional rather than thrilling before his big step up against Jessie Magdaleno in 2018. Magdaleno had been inactive but had also defeated no less a figure than Nonito Donaire in 2016 and was heavily favoured.

In the first round Dogboe was dropped while pressing Magdaleno too hard and he lost the third too, to a gorgeous Magdaleno counter left. But all the while his pressure was beginning to look a little more than workmanlike. He was adept at keeping Magdaleno moving and again and again Dogboe, out of London via Ghana, would fetch his man up against the ropes and let go. Still very much in touch on the scorecards after four, Magdaleno was being aggressively outgeneralled and was steadily losing touch with the fight. His solution was to come out at the opening of the fifth and attack; Dogboe promptly dropped him with a single left hook.

Dogboe so dominated Magdelano that night that the favourite found himself in need of a knockout by the ninth. The then world’s number one super-bantamweight showed no sign he might achieve it and in fact slipped further and further from his technical best, eventually reduced to sagging on the ropes and beckoning Dogboe in. It was a sorry sight and one the referee interrupted in the eleventh after Dogboe perpetrated the second knockdown of the round over his withering opponent.

It was an impressive and rather unexpected performance, albeit against an opponent who seemed to struggle a little with rust after a year out of the sport and it set Dogboe up as the world’s number one super-bantamweight.

Dogboe never added to his 122lb legacy though; his own nemesis was lurking in the wings.

07 – Emanuel Navarrete

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 31-1 Ranked For: 26% of the decade

Like Dogboe, Emanuel Navarrete fought the usual learning fights, stepped up to take on some journeymen and was then launched right into the deep end to face off with the world’s number one super-bantam. Dogboe-Navarrete was a fascinating contest in that it pitted a Johnny-come-lately against an even more recently arrived contender. Dogboe, as the man with the pedigree opponent on his ledger, was favoured.

Navarrete, who is tall with a reach that seems planetary, allowed Dogboe inside to do his work. It felt wrong and even dangerous until Navarrete landed a triple left hook, up and down, on the inside, to win the second round. From here he controlled the fight, impressive and dominant in out-fighting the smaller pressure fighter whose nightmare had come to visit him in the ring: a fighter he could not push back but rather who was pushing him back. The ninth through twelfth were a parade, the bigger man marching down the smaller pressure fighter in what amounts to the most disheartening position a pugilist of any kind can find himself.

Unfortunately for Dogboe he had a rematch clause. Navarrete, who now knew how Dogboe moved, thought and fought, beat him mercilessly in that rematch. The fight becomes difficult to watch around the eighth; Dogboe’s corner, brave to the near last, finally pulled him as he was blasted to the canvas in the twelfth and final round.

It seemed to me that something special had emerged in that fight, but the truth is we don’t yet know. Navarrete has fallen afoul of the ABC strap he wears in defending against underqualified challengers whose selection for their “title shot” is based upon matters other than fistic. So, the jury remains out on Navarrete, who nevertheless was impressive enough in his twin maulings of Dogboe to comfortably make the list.

06 – Jessie Magdaleno

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 27-1 Ranked For: 22% of the decade

Here, we meet the last of the one-hit-wonders on the list but Magdaleno possesses the finest of all of them: Nonito Donaire. Donaire, it is true, had had some of the glitter removed by Guillermo Rigondeaux, but in November of 2016 he remained the top contender to the legitimate title he had once held. Then Magdaleno came calling.

What most impressed me was Donaire’s near abandonment of his left hook. It was oft repeated that he had one of the “best left hooks in the sport” and if Bernard Hopkins had established the removal of such a potent weapon much ink would have been spent on his exaltation. Magdaleno was less fashionable and has remained so, but it was a wonderful technical achievement. Moving unhurriedly, seeking for single shots, he countered beautifully throughout with the right jab and right hook of his own, taking every opportunity to strike without – shades of Hopkins again – ever over-extending himself. The result was Donaire sheathing his own hook in obedience of the rule that you don’t hook with a hooker, while Magdaleno freely threw his own; to the body, especially, he was prestigious.

Donaire went to the straight right and a fascinating tussle ensued, summed up perfectly in the ninth where Donaire hurt Magdaleno on the ropes, only for Magdaleno to charge him and dominate the remainder of the round, putting him out of sight on the cards; Donaire closed with real strength as Magdaleno’s energy waned.

But the decision clearly belonged to Magdaleno.

It was not too long after this that Magdaleno ran into Dogboe. The reasonable question would be, if Dogboe beat Magdaleno how does Magdaleno come to be ranked above him here? It’s a fair question. The mathematics, for me, says that Magdelano’s defeat of Donaire is more impressive than Dogboe’s defeat of a rusty Magdaleno; I accept that this is arguable but balk at Magdaleno as low as eight given his wonderful performance against Donaire.

05 – Toshiaki Nishioka

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 4-1 Ranked For: 19% of the decade

Toshiaki Nishioka was the number one super-bantamweight coming into the decade and remained so until he was removed by the sumptuous power-punching of Nonito Donaire (and an over-excited referee).

How you feel about his overall standing here will depend upon how you feel about Rafael Marquez and his standing in October of 2011. Having lost three of his last six, including two of those wars with Israel Vazquez, Rafael was ostensibly on the slide, but the fight itself shows a fighter that, while no longer at his withering best, remained stoic and technically brilliant, very much a fighter that had to be mastered.

This, Nishioka did. To this day he maintains that Rafael is his most skilled opponent and he boxed with great care to control him, refusing to contest the inside and avoiding any over-commitment with the jab. Meanwhile he drilled Marquez with his trailing left, a wonderful punch that he throws with as much variety as anyone this century. Flying it quickly to the body was his stock in trade in the early going but he began to risk a wilder, wider, harder punch when he realised how wary Rafael had become. Rafael had success, not least in the second half of the eighth round where it seemed he might actually assume control of the fight, but Nishioka out-fought and out-worked the former lineal champion in the tenth and eleventh to put the decision to bed. It was a deeply impressive performance that cemented his status as the first number one super-bantam of the decade.

Nishioka’s other wins do little other than demonstrate his superiority over the field, especially his October 2010 contest with Rendall Munroe. Munroe brought guts but little else as the fight turned into something of a parade down the stretch; still, re-watching it was worth it for the feinted straight and uppercut through the middle that Nishioka used to tilt Munroe’s head back in the third.

Placing him at number five is a borderline call, but Nishioka was a clearer number one than anyone running eight through six. I am happy that should see him placed above, rather than below, the one-hit wonders.

04 – Leo Santa Cruz

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 24-1-1 Ranked For: 27% of the decade

Leo Santa Cruz departed 122lbs in 2015 with his undefeated record intact having made his impact on the first half of the super-bantamweight decade. His meaningful arrival at the poundage, the equivalent of a Mack truck pulling up inside a jewellery store, came in August of 2013 against Victor Terrazas. Terrazas, a tough, dangerous fighter was unsupported by the type of chin that would have made him genuinely world class. Nevertheless, the world’s number two contender was a serious proposition for Santa Cruz, and was coming off a nerveless, brutal battle with Cristian Mijares which he won by the narrowest of margins.

Terrazas started aggressively as Santa Cruz brought pressure, all high guard and work-rate. But, as we saw while looking at featherweight, Santa Cruz is much more than that. His punch selection is excellent, his sense for the backfoot superb for a front-foot fighter, his jab is thudding and accurate but he can box squarely enough – weight generally over his back leg, when he does so – to lead with the right without courting disaster. Terrazas was complimented during fight commentary for “making this an inside fight” – but an inside fight suits Santa Cruz just fine. He has reach and the technique to use it but is comfortable trying to land punches behind the elbows.

The two fought on even terms until they didn’t, when towards the end of the second Santa Cruz, tougher and better, opened up while the two stood head to head at the ropes. Terrazas emerged wounded and in the third, emerged giving ground. Dropped twice, he seemed broken in part by the psychological pressure, although it was the consistent, severe punching that did the damage.

Santa Cruz’s number two win was over Mijares, undoubtedly damaged goods, but still ranked. Santa Cruz couldn’t stop him, but what he did was in many ways worse: in a fight as different as that with Terrazas as could be imagined, he thrashed Mijares and rendered him a fistic irrelevance.

Santa Cruz was a very dangerous super-bantamweight.

03 – Carl Frampton

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 24-2 Ranked For: 35% of the decade

Carl Frampton slotted in right behind Santa Cruz at featherweight, but here he nips in just ahead of his great rival. A clash at 122lbs would have been helpful though – there is very little to separate them.

What does separate them is the additional work Frampton did at the very top of the division. He met no fewer than three top five contenders during his time fighting as Guillermo Rigondeaux’s understudy – the Cuban was champion throughout Frampton’s stay at the poundage – and soundly defeated all of them.

First up was Kiko Martinez, who Frampton had already defeated in a European title tussle but met again in 2014. Frampton, who probably entered his peak that night, couldn’t put the more experienced Martinez away as he had in their first fight but he did dominate almost completely with a healthy mix of jabs and bodyshots. Chris Avalos, who failed miserably when he moved up to featherweight but was a serious super-bantamweight, visited Frampton’s Belfast stronghold in 2015.  This was Frampton’s finest performance at the weight, his right hand excellent, despite the scruffy squabbling in the second his dominance near-complete.

Frampton’s final fight at 122lbs showed the toll weight-making was taking upon him. He was dominant over the first six against a reticent Scott Quigg, even breaking his jaw in the fourth, but the Englishman came on in the second half of the fight which was, in the end, very close.

Santa Cruz was more impressive in the victories he did have at 122lbs but it was Frampton, in the end, who scored the more numerous and more impressive victories.

02 – Nonito Donaire

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 18-5 Ranked For: 25% of the decade

The decade 2010-2019 produced two legitimate super-bantamweight champions and it is fitting that these two lead the pack. Nor is it close – there is so much clear blue water between Nonito Donaire at #2 and Carl Frampton at #3 that they may as well be on different lists.

Donaire stepped up to 122lbs in 2012 and immediately tackled a divisional strapholder, the number eight contender, Wilfredo Vazquez; after taking a decision form him over the twelve, it was Jeffrey Mathebula, the number six contender who towered over Donaire but nevertheless gave up a similar decision. This second fight is crucial because against both he and Vazquez it is possible to see Donaire over-reaching, under-boxing, pushing far too hard for the knockout which he openly demanded of himself in the press. In the tenth round of his fight with Mathebula, Donaire was so completely out-boxed that in the eleventh and twelfth he limited himself to his more direct sphere of influence and in doing so dominated Mathebula completely, cracking one of his teeth in the process. You could almost hear the penny drop.

I consider that Donaire found himself at 122lbs that night and the result was Donaire’s 118lb form suddenly materialising in the super-bantamweight division. His next fight was against no less a figure than Toshiaki Nishioka, the most accomplished fighter in the division, a meeting between the two best super-bantams in the world and so the beginning of a new lineage at the weight. Donaire was the absolute pinnacle of cool as far as his inherent aggression would allow; he won every round and devastated Nishioka in the ninth round of a non-competitive rout propelled by his right hand rather than left hook. When he butchered Jorge Arce two months later, in December of 2012, he had completed the single best unbroken run of the decade at 122lbs and one of the better runs at any weight.

This being boxing, the end of that run was just around the corner.

01 – Guillermo Rigondeaux

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 15-1 Ranked For: 92% of the decade

Donaire met with Cuban amateur legend Guillermo Rigondeaux in April of 2013 in a huge fight between the two best super-bantamweights in the world. It was also as one-sided as any top tier match of the decade as Rigondeaux, in absolute control for ten of the twelve rounds, picked Donaire’s wings off in a study of lethal economy.

Rigondeaux breaks rhythm. A combination of feints, very astute defensive dips and slips and single power-punches make establishment of offense against him agonising. Donaire, a fluid fighter who counter-pressures his opponents to the canvas, was particularly afflicted by the Rigondeaux malaise.  Rigondeaux threw infrequently; still he out-landed Donaire in every round but one.

The Cuban spent the years in which Donaire was tying together his superb 122lb run emerging from the pack and was just 6-0 when he tangled with number five contender Ricardo Cordoba. Rigondeaux dominated with ease until Cordoba snapped his head back with a jab, flashing him.  Rigondeaux responded in away entirely unacceptable to the American fight fraternity: he ran away.

Rigondeaux took a split decision and learned his final lesson: professional fighting in America calls for more fighting than amateur boxing does anywhere. Rico Ramos, then still unbeaten at 20-0, was the man to bear the brunt of this newly learned lesson as he was blasted to the canvas in the first round and tormented through the sixth when a body punch – and the better part of valour – kept him on the canvas.

So Rigondeaux was primed when he stepped into the ring with Donaire, for all that he was professionally inexperienced. Donaire was made to understand it and the litany of excuses he laid out after the fight – his shoulder was bad, he didn’t study his opponent, his was distracted by his wife’s pregnancy – could not disguise his out-and-out inferiority to Rigondeaux.

The argument as to who would be the decadal number one at 122lbs ended there, but there is more to recommend Rigondeaux as one of the longest serving lineal champions in boxing. In a division that sees fleeting commitment, even by its most prominent fighters, Rigondeaux’s devotion to super-bantamweight has been unusual.

He never became the superstar his management wanted to make him – too technical, too careful, too defensive – but there is no questioning his status as the best of the decade.

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Remembering “Doin’ Damage”

Ted Sares

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Remembering-Doin'-Damage

On June 3, 1997, Darroll “Doin’ Damage” Wilson met Courage “No Limit” Tshabalala at Philadelphia’s legendary Blue Horizon where no seat was a bad seat. The fight was a true Philly Classic, one of the most exciting fights of the year. The result was a surprise, but not as surprising as the upset that Darroll Wilson pulled off in March of the previous year when he fought the much bigger Shannon Briggs at the Convention Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Wilson vs. Briggs

Brooklynite Shannon Briggs (25-0) had achieved a reputation for being a guy who ended his fights early, as in first-round KO’s, but on this occasion, things kind of reversed themselves, as the gutsy Wilson (15-0-2 going in) survived a furious first round and then used his superior skills to shockingly take out “The Cannon” with a sharp left hook two rounds later.

Wilson, who lived close to Atlantic City in Mays Landing, N.J., had done considerable damage to his opponents until he met David Tua (24-0) in Miami and was KOd in the last second of an otherwise even first round by the streaking “Tuaman.” But losing to the short but super-powerful Tua was no disgrace. In fact, for Darroll, the best was yet to come.

 After beating limited Ron McCarthy, Darroll met the highly-touted Tshabalala (20-1). “Courage” had previously been shocked by Brian “Bam Bam” Scott (21-3) in the late Scott’s career definer in 1996, shattering the myth of the South African’s extraordinary power and alleged 72-1 amateur record (with 71 knockouts). Scott won using a fast and sharp combo, stopping him in the second round. Most of the 270-pound native of Kansas’s opponents had losing records which further amplified the shock factor– though Courage’s level of opposition was equally suspect.

Wilson vs Tshabalala (June 1997)

After Ed Darian Derian announced the fighters, the bell rang and Courage quickly decked Wilson with a power jab and then dictated matters for the rest of the round as he went on the stalk. The second round was uneventful until the last 15 seconds when Tshabalala opened up with a number of power shots. Wilson answered, but his answer came after the bell for which he received a firm warning.

Late in the third round, Wilson was hit clean by a perfect Courage right cross. He went down hard, got up, and then fell back down on Queer Street. Just as Referee Rudy Battle was about to signal the end of the fight, the round ended and Wilson was allowed to continue. Lou Duva, Courage’s manager, protested the call in his usual hyper/hysterical fashion but to no avail. Lou’s signature protests had acquired the feel of the little boy who cried wolf too often and this one was no exception.

Tshabalala came out fast in the next round trying to put away a still stunned Wilson, but the muscular Darroll did what he did against Briggs and, weathering the fierce storm, began to connect with his own shots. Both men went at it full-tilt boogie until the South African, exposing a stamina issue, finally went down, spit out his mouthpiece, and was counted out. He had nothing left. The Blue Horizon went bonkers.

Tshabalala had now participated in one of the upsets of the year and one of the most exciting fights of the year. Though a loser in both, he was nevertheless on everybody’s radar.

Bert Cooper (September 2002)

Darroll would go on to win some and lose some but against the very best opposition including David Izon, Frankie Swindell, Mike Rouse, Tim Witherspoon, Ray Mercer, and Oliver McCall. He ended his career in 2006 with a 27-10-2 slate and– before he took three years off–he scored another big win by stopping Bert Cooper (36-21) at the Blue Horizon in 2002. After this loss, Bert himself would take an eight-year hiatus from boxing, but for all practical purposes, he was done. (Cooper was a tragic figure with a deceptive record—a quintessentially sad boxing story– and the ups and downs of his life beg for a telling.)

As for Darroll Wilson, he always gave his best and on at least three occasions, he did some remarkable damage.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com or on Facebook.

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Leo Upends Williams as Boxing Returns to ‘Showtime’

Arne K. Lang

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Showtime Boxing kicked off their late summer/fall season tonight with a three-fight card behind closed doors at the Mohegan Sun Casino Resort in Uncasville, CT. Tonight’s show is the first of nine live boxing events that the cable TV giant announced on July 22. The season will run through Dec. 12 with the concluding match a WBC bantamweight title bout between defending title-holder Nordine Oubaali and ageless showstopper Nonito Donaire.

Unfortunately for Showtime, there was a COVID-19 complication right out of the box. Philadelphia bantamweight Stephen Fulton, who would have been the “A” side in tonight’s main event, tested positive on Wednesday, forcing some shuffling. Tramaine Williams was bumped up from the co-feature to challenge Angelo Leo for the WBO world super bantamweight title vacated by Emanuel Navarette.

Angelo Leo hadn’t prepared for a southpaw and it took him a bit find his groove, but he found it and won a fairly lopsided decision over a previously undefeated opponent who was fighting in his home state. The scores were 117-111 and 118-110 twice.

Leo, 26, worked the body well and had more fuel in his tank as the bout progressed into the late rounds. In winning, Leo became the first world title-holder from Albuquerque since Johnny Tapia. Promoted by Floyd Mayweather’s “Money Team”, he advanced his record to 20-0. It was the first pro loss for New Haven’s Williams who fell to 19-1.

It figures that Leo will make his first defense against Stephen Fulton.

Other Bouts

In another 122-pound match that was also penciled in for 12 rounds, Ra’eese Aleem thoroughly outclassed late sub Marcus Bates en route to a 10th round stoppage. This was their second meeting and Bates, who entered the contest 11-1-1, was looking to avenge his lone defeat. In their initial go in Philadelphia in April of 2018, Aleem won comfortably on the scorecards. Bates recently explained that loss away by saying that he believed that someone tampered with his water bottle, giving Aleem an advantage.

Aleem, 30, steadily broke Bates down. The referee halted the one-sided match when Bates, who appeared to have sprained his right wrist, turned his back on Aleem after absorbing a hard left hook. Aleem, the pride of Muskegon, Michigan, improved to 17-0 with his 12th knockout.

In the opener, a light heavyweight match slated for 10 rounds, Houston’s Joseph George (11-0, 7 KOs) landed a bombshell of a left uppercut in the ninth frame to put away Marcos Escudero (10-2) who was well ahead on the scorecards when lightning struck.

This was a rematch. When they fought last November on ShoBox, Escudero outworked George, but George landed the crisper punches and prevailed on a split decision. Escudero, who is from Argentina but had his early pro fights in Florida, outworked George again (George likes to fight with his back against the ropes, a strategy he needs to reconsider) but as they say, it only takes one punch in this business, and Joseph George, who is managed by NFL all-pro tackle Trent Williams, brought the howitzer.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / Showtime

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