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Ending a Boxing Career the Right Way: The Bookend Battalion

Ted Sares

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Most boxing careers reflect a variation of a bell-shaped curve. The downward slope on the right-hand side indicates the decline of the fighter in question. Sometimes, when a fighter is at the top of his game—like Larry Holmes, for example– the peak flattens and doesn’t spiral down. And often, a fighter might make a successful final run but lose his last career bout like Tony Bellew who won 10 straight before being waxed by Oleksandr Usyk. Lonnie Smith won 14 straight against horrible competition before stepping up and losing to Disobelys Hurtado in his last tiff. These somewhat predictable patterns are part of what makes up boxing.

The number of fighters who begin and finish on the upswing are much fewer. Here are a few:

Tony Alongi (1959-1967)

This under-the-radar and tough heavyweight was a fixture at the Auditorium in Miami Beach during the 60s and was 28-0 before being upset by Rudolfo Diaz in 1962. Tony lost again in1963—this time to Billy Daniels and then went on a final tear going 11-0-4. The draws were to George Chuvalo, Jerry Quarry (twice), and Bill McMurray. Tony bookended his admirable career nicely to finish 40-2-4.

Eder Jofre (1957-1976)

One fighter who epitomized perfect bookends was the legendary Brazilian “O Galo Do Ouro” (aka “Golden Bantam”) Eder Jofre who ended his magnificent career with a 72-2-4 record. During a two-year period in the mid-60s, Jofre lost twice to Fighting Harrada and drew with one Manny Elias. He was 47-0-3 coming into the first Harrada affair and 25-2-1 thereafter. The Golden Bantam was one of the very best pound-for-pound fighters of all time

Bobby Chacon (1972-1988)

Known as “The Schoolboy,” Bobby was 19-0 before being stopped by the legendary Ruben Olivares. After losing to Cornelius Boza-Edwards in a 1981 thriller, Chacon ended his illustrious run going 14-1 against strong opposition. His overall 59-7-1 record landed him in the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF).

“Tex” Cobb (1977-1993)

Randall “Tex” Cobb finished his career with a 42-7-1 mark facing off with some tough hombres along the way including Earnie Shavers, Ken Norton, Michael Dokes (twice), Larry Holmes, Buster Douglas, and Eddie Gregg He lost four between 1964 and 1985, but he won his first 17—all but one by stoppage.

After being taken apart by unheralded Collier in 1986, Tex closed out his colorful career by going18-0-1-1 including a win over a faded Leon Spinks in 1988. The other wins were over limited opposition but wins are wins.

Mickey Goodwin (1977-1994)

This left-hook artist out of Kronk was 33-1-1 when he suffered a monster stoppage upset in 1985 at the hands of Darryl “The Atomic Dog” Spain (6-6 at the time). The late and beloved Goodwin — sometimes known as ”Sneaky Pea” — then reeled off seven straight to close out at 40-2-1.

“It’s a shame that Mickey’s name will never carry the same weight as Tommy Hearns. But once upon a time, they were literally equals. I remember it well.” Karl Ziomek

Steve Collins (1986-1997)

The “Celtic Warrior” started fast winning 16 in a row before losing to Mike McCallum in 1960. He lost two more in 1992 but then, fighting mostly out of his native Ireland, he finished by winning 15 including nods over Chris Eubank (twice) and Nigel Benn (twice). Given his record of 36-3 and the off-the-wall level of his opposition, it’s a mystery why he is not in the IBHOF.

Billy Costello (1979-1999)

This Kingston, NY native was victorious in his first 30 outings before being shocked and destroyed by Lonnie Smith in 1985. Alexis Arguello would then stop Billy six months later. Costello regrouped and won his final eight including big one against Juan LaPorte in 1999 bringing his final slate to 40-2.

Jorge Paez (1984-2003)

“El Maromero” had an old school record of 79-14-5 and after his last career loss in 1999 to Jose Luis Castillo, he launched an undefeated streak of 18. Prior to his first defeat on U.S. soil to Tony Lopez, he had gone 35-2-3. “The Clown” won in streaks and was very underrated.

Fabrice Tiozzo (1988-2006)

In a 48-2 career, this outstanding French light heavy lost only two bouts –both to Virgil Hill. One in 1993, the other in 2000. He was 25-0 coming into the first fight, and finished his slate at 23-1 for almost perfect bookends. He also fought extremely tough competition which begs the question of why he isn’t in the IBHOF.

Rodney Toney (1992-2007)

“The Punisher,” a boxer-puncher type, hit the pros running and went 19-0-2 before being derailed by slick Quincy Taylor in 1995. After dropping three between 1996-1997, he bookended his career nicely by going undefeated in his final eight.

Michael Moorer (1988-2008)

Moorer finished with a possibly Hall of Fame-beckoning record of 52-4-1. He won his first 35 matches against solid opposition but came a cropper against Big George Foreman in 1994. After being embarrassed in 30 seconds by David Tua in 2002, “Double M” went 9-1 including a rousing upset stoppage over Vassiliy Jirov in 2004.

Herbie Hide (1989-2010)

“The Dancing Destroyer” lost four by stoppage between 1995 and 2004 and then retired. Hide had won his first 25—most by KO. He then returned to action in 2006 and proceeded to run off 14 straight wins to finish with a fine 49-4 record—one that was well bookended.

Vitali Klitschko (1996-2012)

“Dr. Ironfist” was 27-0 when he lost his first one in a major upset to Chris Byrd in 2000. Upon losing to Lennox Lewis in a bloodbath in 2003, the Doctor clubbed and bludgeoned his way to several big wins before retiring in 2004. In October 2008, Klitschko made one of the most remarkable comebacks in boxing history when he TKOd a prime Sam Peter (30-1). He then won nine more against stiff opposition to finish with a Hall of Fame record of 45-2 and a KO percentage of 87.23%

Jermain Taylor (2001-2014)

The highly touted Taylor started his boxing career 27-0-1 before losing back-to-back fights to Kelly Pavlik in 2007 and 2008. He was then savaged by Carl Froch and Arthur Abraham in 2009 during the Super Six Tourney and took two years off to regain his health before returning to the ring to beat Jessie Nicklow in 2011. By then, he was badly damaged goods, but he still managed to win four more and in his very last fight and against all odds, he beat Sam Soliman (44-11) to win the IBF World Middleweight Title after which he lapsed back into serious outside-the-ring issues.

“The downward spiral of a former champion is one of the hardest things to witness, especially when it is a former Olympian and undisputed middleweight champion.” Jules Philippe-Auguste

Shannon Briggs (1992-2016)

“The Cannon” got out of the gate fast winning his first 25 before getting damaged by Darrol “Doin’ Damage” Wilson in 1996. In 2010, in Hamburg, Germany, he was damaged for real (and hospitalized) by Vitali Klitschko. He stayed away from boxing until 2014 when he launched his final winning streak of nine. It came against less-than-compelling opposition, but did give him a fine final mark of 60-6-1.

There are others with similarly interesting records to peruse but they didn’t make the cut. Johnny “The Entertainer” Nelson came close as he finished with an undefeated streak of 21 but his start was abysmal. Bash Ali finished with 20 wins but again his start left something to be desired.  Willie de Wit (20-1-1) came close and so did Oleg Maskaev and Sung Kil Moon.

“Canelo” is a work in progress with 42-0-1 in the front and 10-1-1 in the rear.

There are others. Can you name some?

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Late Sub Jonnie Rice Bursts Michael Coffie’s Bubble on a PBC Card in Newark

Arne K. Lang

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Every thing that could go wrong went wrong as promoter Al Haymon and his associates were patching together tonight’s card at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. But it couldn’t have worked out better for journeyman heavyweight Jonnie Rice who turned his career around with a smashing TKO of heavily favored and previously undefeated Michael Coffie.

Positive Covid tests scuttled two 10-round fights on the undercard. The main event had already been disheveled when Coffie’s original opponent Gerald Washington flunked his Covid test. Enter Rice (pictured on the right) who was on standby and seized the moment.

Rice, a Columbia, South Carolina native who has been living and training in Las Vegas, came in sporting a 13-6-1 record but five of his wins had come against no-hopers in Tijuana and he had yet to defeat an opponent in a match where he was the “B” side. But these facts were misleading as five of his six losses had come against hot prospects with undefeated records and he had honed his craft sparring against the likes of Tyson Fury, Filip Hrgovic, and Michael Hunter.

Based on “strength of schedule,” Rice, 34, had the edge over Coffie, the 35-year-old ex-Marine who brought a 12-0 record but was relatively untested. And Rice, who started fast, took the fight to Coffie and out-landed him. Coffie’s left eye was swelling and he wasn’t firing back when the referee waived it off in the fifth round.

Dirrell-Brooker

Tonight’s PBC fare came in two helpings with appetizers and the main event on FOX preceding a club-level show on FOX’s affiliate FS1. The main event of the nightcap was a 10-round light heavyweight bout between Andre Dirrell and Christopher Brooker.

Dirrell, who previously held an interim version of the IBF 168-pound world title, looked very sharp coming off a 19-month layoff, scoring three knockdowns before the fight was waived off in the third round. The Flint, Michigan native improved to 28-3 (18). Philadelphia’s Brooker fell to 16-8.

More

Junior middleweight Joey Spencer (13-0, 9 KOs) scored an 8-round unanimous decision over James Martin (7-3). Spencer won comfortably on the scorecards – 80-72 and 79-73 twice – but was unimpressive.

Local fan favorite Vito “White Magic” Mielnicki Jr (9-1, 5 KOs) rebounded from his first pro loss with an impressive second-round stoppage of Noah Kidd (6-4-2).

Philadelphia welterweight Karl Dargan (20-1, 9 KOs), a former two-time national amateur champion, returned to the ring after a long absence and  stopped LA’s Ivan Delgado (13-4-2) in the third round.

New Jersey heavyweight Norman Neely advanced to 9-0 (7) with a unanimous decision over rugged Texas brawler Juan Torres (6-4-1). Neely won all six rounds on all three cards.

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Leigh Wood’s Big Upset Spangles the Rebirth of Eddie Hearn’s Garden Party

Arne K. Lang

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Last summer, hamstrung by the pandemic, Eddie Hearn hit upon the idea of holding boxing events outdoors in the expansive backyard of the family estate on the outskirts of London (now Matchroom Sport headquarters) where he grew up. Four shows were staged there.

The series has been revived. Today was “episode 1” of Season Two of Matchroom Fight Camp, otherwise known as Eddie Hearn’s Garden Party. Two more shows are penciled in over the next two weekends.

The match-up getting the most buzz was the welterweight contest between fast-rising Conor Benn and battle-tested Adrian Granados. Unfortunately, Benn tested positive for Covid-19. But the main event, a WBA world featherweight title defense by Can Xu (aka Xu Can) against Nottingham’s Leigh Wood stayed intact and produced a memorable upset.

Xu, who is co-promoted by Oscar De La Hoya, was installed a 4/1 favorite. Although he wasn’t a big puncher with only three knockouts to his credit in 20 starts, he rode into Hearn’s backyard riding a 15-fight winning streak for the third defense of his WBA “regular” title. But he started slow, perhaps the result of ring rust — it was his first fight of 2021 after missing all of 2020 – and he never did crank up the volume that had carried him to victory in his three title fights.

Wood, a stablemate of Josh Taylor who has made great gains since hooking up with Ben Davison and Lee Wylie, landed the heavier punches and was ahead on the cards when he took the fight out of the judges’ hands in the final minute of the final round. He decked Xu with a hard right hand and then trapped him on the ropes, forcing the stoppage that came with only 17 seconds remaining.

The 32-year-old Wood improved to 25-2 (15). Xu falls to 18-3. The deposed champion has a rematch clause so we may have a sequel.

Other Bouts

Chris Billam-Smith, trained by Shane McGuigan, won a hard-fought 12-round split decision over Belfast’s Tommy McCarthy in a cruiserweight scrap with three domestic titles at stake. The judges had it 116-112 and 115-114 for Billam-Smith, now 13-1, with the dissenter favoring McCarthy (18-3) by a 115-114 tally.

McCarthy wobbled Billam-Smith late in the first round with on overhand right, but could never land his Sunday punch on the Bournemouth fighter in a see-saw struggle with many close rounds. There were no knockdowns but McCarthy suffered a cut over his right eye near the end of round six from an apparent head butt.

McCarthy had Carl Frampton helping out in his corner which infused the contest with the aura of a grudge match. Frampton was the best man at Shane McGuigan’s wedding, but their friendship dissolved in a bitter court fight. At the end of the grueling fight, Billam-Smith and McCarthy embraced in a show of mutual respect.

Liverpool super-welterweight Anthony Fowler whose lone setback came at the hands of Scott Fitzgerald (a split decision) won his sixth straight with an eighth-round stoppage of Germany’s Rico Mueller whose cornerman was on the ring apron when the slow-acting referee waived it off at the 2:12 mark. Fowler, who is also trained by Shane McGuigan, improved to 15-1 (11). His next bout is expected to come against fellow Scouser Liam Smith in October. This was the second fight this month for the game but out-gunned 33-year-old Mueller (28-4-1) who was subbing for veteran Tex-Mex campaigner Roberto Garcia who pulled out with a back injury.

Also, Jack Cullen (20-2-1, 9 KOs) scored a 10-round unanimous decision over Avni Yildirim (21-4) in a 10-round super middleweight contest. Yildirim, from Turkey, was looking to atone for his hollow performance against Canelo Alvarez this past February. While he had his moments, he was out-worked by the lanky Lancashire man who won by scores of 100-90, 08-92, and 97-93.

Photo credit: Alan Walton / Matchroom Boxing

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Avila Perspective, Chap 146: De La Hoya Returns Plus Other Boxing Notes

David A. Avila

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Sitting in front of several dozen reporters, the favorite son of Los Angeles area boxing, Oscar De La Hoya, and former MMA champion Vitor Belfort spoke about their mutual return to prizefighting.

“I can’t lie. I miss getting hit,” said De La Hoya.

It was a statement also shared by Belfort.

After years away from the prize ring, both return to exchange hits as boxing’s De La Hoya (39-6, 30 KOs) meets MMA’s Belfort (26-14, 18 KOs) on Sept. 11, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Triller Fight Club card will be shown on pay-per-view via FITE.tv and other modes.

De La Hoya, 48, last absorbed hits from a fighter when Manny Pacquiao battered him almost 13 years ago back in December 2008. It was a shock to the senses to see the great East L.A. fighter take blow after blow while unable to hit back.

He was only 35.

Many attribute that loss to a ridiculous agreement to weigh under 145 pounds before facing Pacquiao. At the time De La Hoya was the real gate attraction and pay-per-view king. He held all the cards but agreed to the demands acutely devised by Freddie Roach. It proved to leave De La Hoya too weak to fight back and after eight rounds the one-sided beating was stopped.

De La Hoya retired after that fight. Ironically, he called for a press conference and it was held right where he recently announced this upcoming fight against Belfort. It’s also near a statue built in his honor.

Sitting nearby, Belfort patiently waited his turn to speak. For the Brazilian MMA fighter, it’s only been a mere three years since he exchanged blows in a prize fight. It was a knockout loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 224 in Brazil.

When Belfort spoke to the media, he expressed a desire to get hit too.

“Its fun. I’m going to have joy when I get hit. You cannot get better than that,” said Belfort.

It’s a common sentiment held by former greats. I’ve heard the same comments from James “Lights Out” Toney who ridiculously was not voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame this past year.

Getting hit becomes as common as breathing for most professional fighters, especially those that began boxing at a young age such as De La Hoya.

“The truth is I miss it. I miss it very much,” said De La Hoya who began lacing up gloves as an amateur at five years old.

According to oddsmakers, Belfort is the favorite to win. Probably for a number of reasons including he fought a mere three years ago. Belfort is the heavier fighter and has fought foes in the 205 pound-division called light heavyweight in MMA. Plus, he is simply bigger than his foe.

“I hope I don’t end up killing him, but everything is on the table,” said Belfort. “If he doesn’t have joy in what he does he could come back in a coffin.”

Prizefighters are masochists. All truly good fighters have a streak of masochism inside. They know they’ll be pummeled with blows that truly hurt and they look forward to it. But the bitter truth is taking hits in your 30s and taking hits near your 50s are two vastly different scenarios.

It’s an extremely dangerous fight for both.

As someone who spent nearly a month in a hospital after experiencing a cerebral hemorrhage, otherwise known as a “brain bleed,” I’m stunned by the fact that more boxers are not damaged from brutal blows. I pray nothing like this occurs to De La Hoya, Belfort, or any retired boxer who returns to the prize ring for a possible payday.

They are prizefighters and like any former high-performance athlete, they miss competition.

“When you love it, no matter what happens, I’m ok with it,” said De La Hoya.

Fans will attend Staples Center by the thousands simply to see “the Golden Boy” once again and pay tribute to one of the greats. Many of those attending will be praying silently for the fighter’s safety.

I know I will.

England Fights

WBA featherweight titlist Xu Can (18-2, 3 KOs) defends against Leigh Wood (24-2, 14 KOs) on Saturday July 31, at Brentwood, England. DAZN will stream the world title fight.

This is the third defense for Can who has not fought in almost two years. The last defense was at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California when he soundly defeated Manny Robles III.

Can took the title from Puerto Rico’s Jesus Rojas, a rough and tumble fighter who takes a pound of flesh from everyone he faces. Against Can he was unable to deal out the usual punishment.

Wood is a former super bantamweight contender who has never really faced international competition. He did face former world champion Gavin McDonnell but was stopped. Perhaps the move up in weight will help.

Fights to Watch

Fri. Estrella TV 7 p.m. Erick Leon (14-1) vs Juan Marcos Rodriguez (10-3).

Sat. DAZN 11 a.m. Xu Can (18-2) vs Leigh Wood (24-2).

Sat. FOX 5 p.m. Michael Coffie (12-0) vs. Jonnie Rice (13-6-1)

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