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Thomas Hauser’s Foreword to ‘Sporting Blood,’ Carlos Acevedo’s New Book

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The Internet has changed sportswriting, particularly when it comes to writing about boxing. Very few newspapers or magazines now have a writer on staff who understands the sport and business of boxing. Meanwhile, the number of websites devoted to the sweet science keeps growing. Some of these websites are quite good. Others are awful. Reprinting a press release with a new lead is not journalism. Simply voicing an opinion without more is not journalism.

As Carlos Acevedo – the author of Sporting Blood – wrote in another forum, “Boxing is immune to critical consensus because of the number of fanboys who pretend to be journalists. No other sport has such an unsophisticated mediascape covering it.”

Acevedo was born in the Bronx in 1972 and now lives in Brooklyn. He was drawn to boxing as a boy, grew up reading The Ring, and recalls being captivated by Larry Holmes, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, and Marvin Johnson. Decades later, when the Internet gave a platform to anyone with a computer and modem, he decided to write about the sweet science.

Acevedo’s journey as a boxing writer began in 2007. Two years later, he founded a website called The Cruelest Sport. Since then, he has written for numerous print publications and websites including Hannibal Boxing (his current primary outlet), MaxBoxing, Undisputed Champion Network, Boxing Digest, Boxing World, Remezcla, and Esquina Boxeo.

“I love the fights and the narrative that comes with them,” Carlos says. “Each fight is a story unto itself; a drama that exposes character and offers the ideal of self-determination.”

I’m not sure when I first became aware of Acevedo’s writing. I do remember laughing out loud years ago while reading his description of promoter Gary Shaw, who Carlos opined “deserves credit for tenacity, like certain insects that become immune over time to Raid and Black Flag.” I first quoted him in my own writing in 2011 in conjunction with less-than-stellar refereeing by Russell Mora and Joe Cortez.

“Incompetence is usually the answer for most of the riddles in boxing,” Acevedo wrote of Mora’s overseeing Abner Mares vs. Joseph Agbeko. “But Mora was a quantum leap removed from mere ineptitude. He was clearly biased in favor of Mares and, worse than that, seemed to enter the ring with a predetermined notion of what he was going to do. Mares had carte blanche to whack Agbeko below the belt as often as he wanted.”

As for Cortez’s refereeing in Floyd Mayweather vs. Victor Ortiz, Acevedo proclaimed, “Cortez, whose incompetence has been steadily growing, is now one of the perpetual black clouds of boxing. Why let Cortez, whose reverse Midas touch has marred more than one big fight recently, in the building at all on Saturday night?”

Acevedo doesn’t have a big platform. He doesn’t have a wealth of contacts in the boxing industry or one-on-one access to big names. In part, that’s because he has never compromised his writing to curry favor or ingratiate himself to the powers that be in an effort to gain access or ensure that he receives press credentials for a fight.

But Carlos has several very important things going for him: (1) He appreciates and understands boxing history; (2) He has an intuitive feel for the sport and business of boxing; and (3) He’s a provocative thinker and a good writer who puts thoughts together clearly and logically.

Look at the “Contents” page of Sporting Blood and you’ll see essays (in order) on Carlos Negron, Jack Johnson, Roberto Duran, Esteban De Jesus, Aaron Pryor, Don Jordan, Joe Frazier, Johnny Saxton, Wilfredo Gomez, Lupe Pintor, Davey Moore, Johnny Tapia, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Bert Cooper, Sonny Liston, Jake LaMotta, Ad Wolgast, Tony Ayala Jr, Al Singer, Michael Dokes, Eddie Machen, Mike Quarry, and Muhammad Ali.

That’s an eclectic mix. But each essay goes beyond the name of the fighter attached to it to underscore a fundamental truth about, and capture the essence of, boxing.

Acevedo calls boxing “a dark art.” Phrases like “the hard logic of the ring” characterize the gritty realism of his writing. Some of the thoughts in Sporting Blood that captured my attention include:

*         “Sadism, whether one admits it or not, is an essential part of boxing. So is masochism.”

*         “Nothing can take away from the terrible symmetry boxing gives its practitioners: a hardscrabble life, followed by a hardscrabble profession, followed by a hardscrabble retirement.”

*         “Disillusion is as much a part of boxing as the jab is.”

*         “In boxing, the enemies of promise are numerous: entourages, managers, promoters, injuries, other fighters. But self-destruction ranks up there with the best of the worst.”

*         “There is very little afterlife for a fighter who has failed to succeed.”

Acevedo has an economical writing style that leads readers to the intended destination without unnecessary verbiage or digressions. Consider his description of Aaron Pryor’s origins, a fighter who Carlos describes as “one of the most exciting fighters during an era when action was a prerequisite for fame.”

After noting that Pryor “matched his unbridled style in the ring with an apocalyptic personal life that kept him in boldface for over a decade,” Acevedo explains, “Aaron Pryor was an at-risk youth before the term came into vogue. Dysfunction was in his DNA. He was born out of wedlock in 1955 to an alcoholic mother whose moodiness could lead to impromptu gunplay. Sarah Pryor, who gave birth to seven children from five different fathers, occasionally whipped out the nickel-plated hardware when some of her brood became unruly. Years later, she wound up shooting her husband five times in the kind of supercharged domestic dispute in which the Pryor clan excelled.”

“Pryor,” Acevedo continues, “had a family tree whose branches were gnarled by tragedy. Its roots were blood-soaked. One of his brothers, Lorenzo, was a career criminal who eventually wound up doing hard time for an armed robbery conviction in Ohio. Another brother, David, became a transsexual hooker. His half-brother was shot and paralyzed by his father. His sister, Catherine, stabbed her lover to death. As if to solidify the epigenetics involved in the Pryor family – and to concretize the symbolism of the phrase ‘vicious cycle’ – Sarah Pryor had seen her own mother shot and murdered by a boyfriend when Sarah was a child.”

Want more?

“As an eight-year-old already at sea in chaotic surroundings,” Acevedo notes, “Pryor was molested by a minister.”

There . . . In a little more than two hundred words, Acevedo has painted a portrait. Do you still wonder why Aaron Pryor had trouble conforming to the norms that society expected of him?

In a chilling profile of Tony Ayala Jr, Acevedo writes, “In the ring, he was hemmed in by the ropes. For more than half his life, he was trapped behind bars. The rest of the time? He was locked inside himself.”

Ayala spent two decades in prison in conjunction with multiple convictions for brutal sexual assaults against women. Acevedo sets up the parallel between Ayala’s misogynist conduct and his ring savagery with a quote from the fighter himself about boxing.

“It’s the closest thing to being like God – to control somebody else,” Ayala declared. “I hit a guy and it’s like, I can do anything I want to you. I own you. Your life is mine, and I will do with it what I please. It’s a really sadistic mentality, but that’s what goes on in my mind. It’s really evil. There’s no other way to put it. I step into that dark, most evil part of me and I physically destroy somebody else, and I will do with them what I want.”

Acevedo also has a gift for dramatically recreating the action in classic ring battles. After recounting the carnage that Ad Wolgast and Battling Nelson visited upon each other on February 22, 1910, he observes, “What Wolgast and Nelson produced was not, in retrospect a sporting event, but a gruesome reminder of how often the line between a blood sport and bloodlust was crossed during an era when mercy was an underdeveloped concept in boxing.”

A vivid description of the December 3, 1982, title bout between Wilfredo Gomez and Lupe Pintor is followed by the observation, “At the core of these apocalyptic fights, where two men take turns punishing each other from round to round, lies the question of motivation. Not in the sporting sense; that is, not in the careerist sense or anything so mundane as competition, but in an existential sense. And while boxing lends itself far too often to an intellectual clam chowder (common ingredients: social Darwinism, atavism, gladiatorial analogies, talk of warriors), the fact remains that what Gomez and Pintor did to each other, under the socially-sanctioned auspices of entertainment, bordered on madness.”

This is powerful writing. Enjoy it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Reproduced by permission of Thomas Hauser and Hamilcar Publications, the book publishing arm of Hannibal Boxing Media, LLC.  Learn more about Sporting Blood and how to purchase it here: https://hamilcarpubs.com/books/sporting-blood-tales-from-the-dark-side-of-boxing/

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. He will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame with the Class of 2020.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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Johnny Famechon was a Hero in Australia Where Willie Pep Had a Bad Night

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Willie Pep was good at boxing. He wasn’t so good at math. Ah, but hold the phone; we are getting ahead of ourselves. This isn’t a story about Willie Pep, but about former world featherweight champion Johnny Famechon who passed away last Thursday, Aug. 4, in Melbourne, Australia, at age 77.

Famechon was five years old when his parents left his birthplace in Paris and settled in Melbourne. He came to the fore in an era when boxing was still a mainstream sport and home-grown champions were national idols. The locals turned out in droves for the parade in Johnny’s honor when he returned to Melbourne after taking the featherweight crown from the Cuban-born Spaniard Jose Legra in a big upset at London’s Prince Albert Hall.

HeraldSun

Famechon’s Welcome Home Parade

Famechon’s first title defense came against Japan’s Fighting Harada. They met in Sydney, Australia, on July 28, 1969.

At age 26, Harada was a battle-tested veteran. He previously held world titles at flyweight and bantamweight and would be remembered as the only man to defeat the great Brazilian boxer Eder Jofre, a feat he accomplished not once, but twice.

Only two boxers in history – Bob Fitzsimmons and Henry Armstrong – had won world titles in three of the eight classic weight divisions. Harada, who entered the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995, was bidding to become the third.

Team Harada insisted on a neutral referee. The British promoters chose Willie Pep. A legend in the sport, Pep had previously shared a ring with another Famechon, having out-pointed Johnny’s uncle Ray Famechon in a featherweight title defense at Madison Square Garden in 1950.

Some thought that Pep would favor Fighting Harada. American referees put a higher premium on aggression than did their foreign counterparts and Harada was a little buzzsaw who rarely took a backward step. But others thought that Pep’s selection favored Famechon, an elusive counterpuncher with whom the Connecticut “Will-‘o-Wisp” could identify; their styles were similar.

Pep had been the third man in the ring for four previous title fights, three in Jamaica and one in Brazil. But this fight would be different. He would be the sole arbiter. If the fight went the full 15 rounds, Willie Pep would be the judge and jury.

During the bout, Famechon scored one knockdown, sending Harada to the canvas in round five, but Harada scored three, knocking Famechon down in rounds two, 11, and 14. The last of the three knockdowns was the harshest, but Famechon made it to the final bell.

The fight ended in a clinch. Immediately upon separating the fighters, Pep raised both of their hands, a signal that the fight was a draw.

Fighting Harada’s handlers were outraged and demanded to see the scorecard. A policeman at ringside was empowered to give it a look-over (Australia had no boxing commission). What the policeman found was that there was indeed a discrepancy. However, it was the opposite of what Team Harada anticipated!

The fight was scored on the antiquated system whereby the winner of a round was awarded five points and the loser four points or less. In the case of an even round, both fighters got five points.

After 13 rounds, Fighting Harada had amassed 59 points on Pep’s card. He won the 14th round, giving him an aggregate total of 64 points. But when Pep added up the numbers “59” and “5” in the column where he kept the aggregate total, he came up with “65.”

Oops.

When Pep signaled that the fight was a draw, people stormed the ring from all sides. Newspaper reports said the belligerents were about evenly divided. Famechon, the Aussie, was the crowd favorite, but Fighting Harada was well-backed in the betting markets, a very big industry in Australia. Many were even angrier when Famechon was summoned back to the ring to have his hand raised.

The Famechon-Harada fight aired live on Japanese television. In Japan, there was a great outpouring of outrage. Pep had been instructed to score a round 5-4 if the round was narrow and 5-3 if there was a clear-cut winner. Despite the knockdowns, Pep scored every round 5-4 or 5-5. In the revised tally, he had Famechon winning 6-5-4 in rounds.

“Harada loses to referee” was the headline in Japan’s leading sports daily. Willie Pep made no friends in Australia either. There were shouts of “Yankee go home” as he left the ring.

Famechon and Harada met again five months later in Tokyo. One would assume that Fighting Harada proved superior and got a fair shake, winning the third title denied him in Sydney. But don’t assume.

Harada was well ahead after ten rounds but faded. On the deck in round 10, Famachon returned the favor three rounds later, knocking Harada down hard with a perfectly placed left hook. Harada was in dire straights when he came out for round 14 and Famechon put him away.

Harada never fought again and Famechon left the sport six months later after losing his crown to Vicente Saldivar. Johnny was only 25 years old, but had crammed 67 fights into a nine-year pro career and said enough is enough.

Famechon’s post-boxing life took a tragic turn in 1991 when he was hit by a car while out jogging on a Sydney highway. He spent several weeks in a coma and several years in a wheelchair but eventually recovered most of his motor skills and regained his speech to the point where he could serve as a boxing color commentator on television. In 2018, a larger-than- life statue of Famechon was unveiled at a public park in the Melbourne suburb of Frankston where he was a longtime resident.

For the record, Johnny Famechon finished his career with a record of 56-5-6 with 20 KOs. We here at The Sweet Science send our condolences to his loved ones.

Arne K. Lang’s latest book, titled “George Dixon, Terry McGovern and the Culture of Boxing in America, 1890-1910,” will shortly roll off the press. The book, published by McFarland, can be pre-ordered directly from the publisher (https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/clashof-the-little-giants) or via Amazon.

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Fast Results from Fort Worth Where Vergil Ortiz Jr Won His 19th Straight by KO

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In a match pushed back from March 19, Vergil Ortiz Jr moved one step closer to a mega-fight with Terence “Bud” Crawford or Errol Spence Jr or Boots Ennis with a ninth-round stoppage of England’s feather-fisted Michael McKinson. The end came 20 seconds into round nine when McKinson appeared to injure his knee as he fell to the canvas, an apparent residue of the body punch that put him on the deck late in the previous stanza. To that point, Ortiz had seemingly won every round.

It was the 19th win inside the distance in as many opportunities for Ortiz who resides in nearby Grand Prairie and was making his first start with new trainer Manny Robles. McKinson was undefeated heading in, but had scored only two knockouts while building his record to 22-0.

Ortiz, ranked #1 at welterweight by the WBA and the WBO, pulled out of the March 19 bout after being diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a muscle disorder associated with over-training.

Ortiz’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, says that Ortiz will fight the winner of Errol Spence vs Terence Crawford next assuming that the fight gets made, and if doesn’t get made, Ortiz’s next fight will be with one or the other. The WBA, which stamped tonight’s fight an eliminator, may push to have Ortiz fight their secondary title-holder, Eimantas Stanionis.

Co-Feature

Houston’s Marlen Esparza (13-1, 1 KO) successfully defended her WBA/WBC world flyweight title with a unanimous decision over plucky 4’11 ½” Venezuelan southpaw Eva Guzman who had won 14 straight coming in, albeit against soft opposition. The judges had it 98-92 and 99-91 twice.

Guzman (19-2-1) was game, but just didn’t have the physical tools to overcome Esparza whose lone defeat came at the hands of talented Seneisa Estrada.

Other Fights of Note

In a 10-round match contested at the catchweight of 150 pounds, Blair “The Flair” Cobbs rebounded from his first defeat with a career-best performance, a wide decision over former WBO 140-pound world titlist Maurice Hooker. It was the second straight loss for Hooker who returned to the ring after a 17-month hiatus and came out flat. Cobbs put him on the canvas in the opening frame with a combination and decked him twice more with straight lefts in round two.

Things got somewhat dicey for Cobbs in round five when he suffered a bad gash on his forehead from an accidental head butt, but Hooker, who had stablemate Bud Crawford in his corner, hesitated to let his hands go and couldn’t reverse the tide. The judges had it 96-91 and 97-90 twice for the flamboyant Cobbs who improved to 16-1-1 (10). Hooker, a consensus 5/2 favorite, lost for the third time in his last five starts and slumped to 27-3-3.

In the opener to the main portion of the DAZN card, Uzbekistan’s Bektimir Melikuziev (10-1, 8 KOs), a super middleweight growing into a light heavyweight, dominated and stopped overmatched Sladan Janjanin. Melikuziev put Janjanin down with a body punch in the opening minute of the fight and scored two more knockdowns before the bout was halted at the 2:18 mark of round three.

This was Melikuziev’s third fight back after his shocking one-punch annihilation by Gabriel Rosado. Janjanin, a well-traveled Bosnian who fought three weeks ago in Massachusetts, declined to 32-12 and was stopped for the eighth time.

Also

Chicago welterweight Alex Martin (18-4, 6 KOs) overcame a first-round knockdown to win a unanimous decision over 38-year-old Philadelphia journeyman Henry Lundy. The judges had it an unexpectedly wide 98-91, 97-92, 97-92.

Martin was coming off a points loss to McKinson and this bout was his reward for taking that fight on short notice. Lundy (31-11-1) has lost five of his last seven.

Floyd “Austin Kid” Schofield, a lightweight who appears to have a big upside, advanced to 11-0 (9 KOs) at the expense of Mexican trial horse Rodrigo Guerrero whose corner wisely pulled him out after five one-sided rounds. It was the ninth straight loss for Guerrero (26-15).

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Conlan Wins His Belfast Homecoming; Breezes Past Lackadaisical Marriaga

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“The Return of the Mick” was the label attached to tonight’s show at the SSE Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The reference was to local fan favorite Michael “Mick” Conlan who returned to his hometown in hopes of jump-starting his career after suffering his first pro loss in a brutal encounter with Leigh Wood.

In that bout, a strong “Fight of the Year contender, Conlan was narrowly ahead on all three cards heading into the 12th and final round when the roof fell in. Wood, who was making the first defense of his WBA world featherweight title on his home turf in Nottingham, knocked the favored Conlan unconscious and clear out of the ring.

This was the sort of fight that can shorten a man’s career. Hence the intrigue in Conlan’s homecoming fight tonight against Miguel Marriaga. On paper, the Colombian, a three-time world title challenger, was a stern test considering the circumstances.

To the contrary, Marriaga had no fire in his belly until the final round when he hit Conlan with a shot that buckled his knees. But, by then Conlan was so far ahead without overly exerting himself that there was virtually no chance of another meltdown.

While Conlan won lopsidedly, the scores – 99-89 and 99-88 twice – were somewhat misleading. True, “Mick” had Marriaga on the deck in rounds 7, 8, and 9, but the punches that put him there did not look particularly hard.

Conlan, 30, improved to 17-1 (8). Marriaga, 35, declined to 30-6.

After the fight, Conlan expressed the hope that Leigh Wood would give him a rematch.

Other Bouts of Note

In an entertaining 10-round welterweight scrap that could have gone either way, Belfast’s Tyrone McKenna (23-3-1, 6 KOs) rebounded from his defeat in Dubai to Regis Prograis (TKO by 6) with a hard-fought unanimous decision over 33-year-old Welshman Chris Jenkins (23-6-3). The judges favored the local fighter by scores of 97-94 and 96-95 twice.

Jenkins, a former British and Commonwealth title-holder, had the best of the early going, working the body effectively while frequently finding a home for his uppercut, but he could not sustain his advantage.

Thirty-four-year-old Belfast super middleweight Padraig McCrory who got a late start in boxing, scored the most important win of his career with a fifth-round stoppage of Marco Antonio Periban, a former world title challenger. McCrory had Periban on the deck three times – once in the second and twice in the fifth – before the bout was halted at the 2:14 mark of round five.

It was the fourth straight win inside the distance for McCrory who improved to 14-0 (8 KOs). Mexico’s Periban, who returned to the sport in April after missing all of 2020 and 2021, fell to 26-6-1.

Highly-touted welterweight Paddy Donovan improved to 9-0 (6) with an 8-round unanimous decision over Yorkshireman Tom Hall (10-3). The referee scored every round for Donovan, an Irish Traveler trained by Tyson Fury’s bosom buddy Andy Lee, the former world middleweight title-holder.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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