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Avila Perspective, Chap. 94: Eddie “Animal” Lopez and the Power of Boxing

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Most people around the world like boxing. It’s a fact that goes unnoticed by American newspapers and television outlets that cover sports, but not in other countries.

Team sports have the upper hand when it comes to media coverage. But the sweet science has its devout followers too.

Years ago I accidentally discovered that boxing, especially prizefighting, had a somewhat secret following even in UCLA’s prestigious halls of academic learning.

Back before the Internet was publicly known, newspapers were a primary source for information and several student newspapers provided me with opportunities to learn the craft of writing and news gathering.

As students we would gather inside the office reading major newspapers like the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, looking for possible stories to adapt or follow up. On one particular day I came across a story that involved a heavyweight fighter named Eddie “the Animal” Lopez. He was quoted saying that he would fight Muhammad Ali for $1 dollar.

That caught my attention and when I mentioned it the others laughed. I asked the editor-in-chief of the La Gente newspaper if it would be OK to pursue the story. He thought it was a great idea and another writer asked to go with me.

We made some calls and found a day that we could drive to downtown Los Angeles to the historic Main Street Gym. It was during the early 1980s; it could have been 1980 when we walked into the second story gym with a camera in my hand and a note pad.

It wasn’t my first time visiting the gym but it had been years since I had been there. At the top of the stairs we were greeted, or to be more accurate, acknowledged by someone who asked for the person we were trying to find. After we told this person, he yelled out something and a few minutes later Eddie “The Animal” Lopez arrived like magic. He wasn’t a very tall heavyweight and you wouldn’t describe him as physically cut like Ken Norton. But his ability to work his way inside against taller fighters and his mental toughness were things you could not teach.

Lopez was a unique character. He was raised in East L.A. near the Ramona Projects and despite having a hard edge was one of the most affable prizefighters I ever met. He showed us around and was eager to introduce us to Alberto Davila who he called a great boxer. A few years later Davila would win the bantamweight world title.

We asked Lopez about his encounter with Ali at the Beverly Hills press conference and he was kind of impressed that we knew about it. He mentioned the name of the sportswriter who penned the story and said that he was looking for a fight and would love to fight the great Muhammad Ali.

After about 20 minutes of interviewing we asked permission to take photos of Lopez while training. The gym wasn’t really conducive for photographs but we managed to obtain a few decent photos.

One week after the interview we published the story in La Gente newspaper and it was circulated throughout the UCLA campus and in a few news stalls in the nearby areas like Santa Monica, West L.A. and Beverly Hills. We drove to the Main Street Gym and dropped off a few copies for the gym and Lopez.

Later that week we drove through the streets of East L.A. and dropped off more copies to various restaurants like Manuel’s El Tepeyac, Ciros, Andy’s Super Burger, Chronis and Troy’s Burgers. We made a habit of delivering newspapers to news stands on Whittier Boulevard in East L.A. My family lived about four blocks from Garfield High School in East L.A. It’s a school I attended for a semester before getting booted out.

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Lopez would soon fight former world champion Leon Spinks to a split draw after 10 back and forth rounds in a heavyweight fight at The Aladdin in Las Vegas. His last fight was against the very tough Tony Tucker in 1984 and he would lose by knockout in the ninth round. If you knew anything about Lopez it was that he could take a punch.

The rugged East L.A. heavyweight passed away nearly three years ago. I saw him one time after a fight at the Olympic Auditorium. He was a very popular fighter and fans loved him.

Power of Boxing

Students enjoyed the story and made me realize that boxing’s appeal was universal, even with university students. I kept that knowledge handy so when big fights emerged we invited fellow students to our large three-bedroom apartment in Palms near the MGM Studios in Culver City, California. We packed the apartment with students on the night that Thomas Hearns fought Sugar Ray Leonard on September 16, 1981.

The popularity of our fight party for UCLA students got me thinking the next time a big fight arrived – we could charge for admission. Not that we were making money for profit, but enough to buy pizza, beer, soda and rent a room at a nearby hotel that carried a new cable network HBO. Nobody at UCLA had HBO.

On November, 1982, the next mega fight arrived and matched two legendary fighters in the fearsome Aaron Pryor and Nicaragua’s Alexis Arguello. Their first encounter took place at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida.

As part of a UCLA Latino student newspaper La Gente we shared an office with the Afro-American student newspaper Nommo and became very close friends. When Pryor met Arguello it was a perfect opportunity to have another fight party and we organized a good one.

Of course most of the Latinos cheered for Arguello and most of the Black students cheered for Pryor and when it was over we all agreed we saw one heck of a fight. It would happen again 10 months later and we organized another party.

The memory of all of us students cheering and enjoying two great prize fights remains one of my fondest memories. Many of those students are still good friends of mine. We’ve lost a few over the years, but man, we had some good times.

Everywhere life would take me I discovered the power of boxing. When I took a part-time job at an outdoor news stand near Beverly Hills called Robertson News and Magazines on Robertson Avenue and Pico Boulevard, I met many customers there that shared my love for boxing. Some of the patrons were famous actors, musicians, dancers and writers and all had immense interest in prizefighting like Michael Jackson, Bubba Smith, Gene Simmons, Milton Berle and many others.

Strangely, because I was working at a news stand, I would glance through various newspapers from around the country. I noticed that almost all were void of boxing news. I remembered this information when I later was hired as a journalist for weekly throw-away newspapers and later still as a writer for daily newspapers. I would use this information much later when I pursued a career in journalism.

Fans

What Americans fail to realize – especially news media outlets – is the popularity of boxing worldwide. It’s an ignorance that has continued for three decades. But the arrival of streaming has made boxing’s universal appeal more obvious to even the most ignorant. Boxing will always be around even when team sports disappear.

Fans of boxing don’t wear t-shirts with emblems of their favorite fighters or display pennants in their bedroom. Some may have a photo or poster of their favorite fighter but the lack of boxing coverage keeps prizefighting in somewhat darkness. But then a big fight comes along and suddenly the mania begins.

Can the sport survive today with this pandemic? Will fans watch a prize fight that has no fans in the audience?

I would not bet against boxing.

Even though most gyms have closed, two boxing compounds remain functioning but keep outsiders from coming in. Abel Sanchez has the Summit Gym in Big Bear, California and despite only having two boxers in residence at the moment, they are both still training and ready to battle like Navy Seals.

Cecilia Braekhus the unified welterweight champion of the world has been in Big Bear since the beginning of the year. She has a tentative date against Chicago’s Jessica McCaskill who also remains in training.

In Riverside, several boxers remain on a training compound including Vergil Ortiz Jr. and WBC super lightweight titlist Jose Carlos Ramirez. Both stay and reside at the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy compound and have not stepped off the property. Both have kept training despite the lack of a fight date. But they are ready to go.

“We won’t really have a problem as all the guys are living, eating and training together so it’s not going to affect us too much. Jose Ramirez always wants to spar Vergil Ortiz, because he gets the best work from him,” said Robert Garcia to Matchroom Boxing’s Anthony Leaver.

But fighting without fans present has become an important factor to survive at the moment.

“Having millions of people watching on TV is just not the same as having the live crowd cheering your name, or against you which can motivate you, it’s something boxing needs but we’re going to have to deal with it and teach our fighters how to handle it,” Garcia said.

Most fans have never been to a live boxing event. When you consider this fact, you realize that boxing will continue to thrive, but not in the normal capacity for a short while. Still, watching on television or through streaming devices carries immense appeal.

For decades my huge family always gathered around for the big fights. Whether in East L.A., San Antonio, or even Las Vegas you know that other families look forward to boxing events. Today, any individual with a smart phone can watch live boxing at the click of an app.

It’s the power of boxing.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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How Soon Before We Know the Fate of Ryan Garcia and Will the Result Stand?

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How Soon Before We Know the Fate of Ryan Garcia and Will the Result Stand?

Today. May 23, the results of Ryan Garcia’s B-sample were made known, The findings were congruent with the A-sample as they are in almost 100 percent of the cases. (Why wouldn’t they be? Both samples are derived from the same urine specimen. The B-sample, notes ESPN’s Mike Coppinger, is a safeguard to ensure that that there was no lab contamination or other error involved in the test that produced the original finding.)

As if there were any doubts, the B-sample confirmed that Garcia had the banned substance Ostarine in his system when he fought Devin Haney at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on April 30. Ostarine, popular among body builders, helps build muscle mass, improve stamina, and quicken recovery time.

What’s next for Ryan Garcia? He will undoubtedly be fined and suspended by the New York State Athletic Commission. But, as they say, the wheels of justice grind slowly.

Unlike the Nevada Commission, which meets every month, typically on the last Tuesday, the New York Commission does not meet at regular intervals. At their next meeting, whenever that is, one can expect representatives of the Garcia and Haney camps to stand before the body and argue in favor of their preferred dispensation.

It behooves Acting Executive Director Matthew Delaglio to recommend a course of action. He could, in theory, recommend exonerating Garcia, not even a slap on the wrist, or he could recommend coming down hard on the 25-year-old boxer in ways that would cost him a substantial sum of money and bar him from fighting in New York ever again. The other commissioners – there are currently only four – get to vote on it.

And what about changing the decision, retroactively declaring Devin Haney the winner?

There’s actually a precedent for it.

On April 30, 2016, Badou Jack defended his WBC world super middleweight title against Romanian-Canadian campaigner Lucian Bute, a former 168-pound title-holder, at the Armory in Washington, DC. After 12 rounds, one of the judges favored Bute, but the others had it even and the match was scored a draw.

On May 27, it was revealed that Bute’s post-fight urine specimen tested positive for Ostarine. He insisted the finding was wrong and exercised his right to have the B-sample evaluated.

Eleven weeks later, on Aug. 12, the DC Commission informed the WBC that Bute’s B-Sample confirmed the presence of Ostarine.

Lucian Bute still insisted that he was innocent. He blamed the finding on a contaminated supplement provided to him by his strength and conditioning coach and he threatened to sue the San Diego lab that manufactured the supplement. Neither Ostarine nor any other banned substance was listed in the ingredients of the supplement that Bute ingested with the understanding it would help him sleep and recover from a strenuous workout.

The DC Commission eventually accepted the argument that Bute did not knowingly use a banned substance, but still fined him $50,000 (in the form of a donation to the WBC Clean Boxing Program) and changed the result of the fight from a draw to a win by disqualification for Badou Jack. The revised outcome appears that way in boxrec, the official record-keeper of the United States Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports.

Here’s the interesting thing: The DC Commission did not resolve this case until the day after Thanksgiving and the public announcement didn’t come until the following week when one of the commissioners returned from a vacation. This case dragged on forever.

Ryan Garcia and his legal team continue to maintain his innocence. “Kingry” was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia last weekend for the Fury-Usyk megafight and while there he was interviewed by DAZN reporter Emily Austin. In the video clip, which was widely disseminated, Garcia said, “I feel a little hurt and damaged by the accusations that are put on me because I know for fact that I’m not a cheater, never been a cheater. I’m dead hurt. I’ve put in so much work in my whole life, since I was seven years old, and it’s just one of my greatest victories is now being, you know, has a little bit of an asterisk because of a lie….I cry at night sometimes knowing that they’re trying to taint my victory.”

Devin Haney doesn’t turn 26 until November. Heading into his fight with Ryan Garcia, he was 31-0. At the same age, Floyd Mayweather Jr. was 27-0.

Because of his tender age, Haney was accorded a reasonable shot at breaking Mayweather’s 50-0 mark. A reversal of the decision would keep him on that path, albeit with an asterisk and the odds of him achieving that milestone dimmed substantially the first time that Garcia planted him on the deck. “Kingry” knocked him down three times in total en route to winning a majority decision and now that victory — his signature triumph — may be erased from his ledger.

Who will prevail? Stay tuned but don’t hold your breath. The adjudication may not come anytime soon.

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In a One-Sided Beatdown, Batyr Jukembayev TKOs Shopworn Ivan Redkach

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In a One-Sided Beatdown, Batyr Jukembayev TKOs Shopworn Ivan Redkach

The noted trainer Brian “BoMac” McIntyre had two fighters on tonight’s ProBox card in Plant City, Florida, and brought along the ace of his stable, Terence Crawford, to provide moral support.

The main event, contested at 140 pounds, had an Eastern European flavor pitting Kazakhstan’s Batyr Jukembayev against LA-based Ukrainian Ivan Redkach. Jukembayev, Crawford’s stablemate, needed no moral support as Redkach fought a survivor’s fight for as long as it lasted. A 33-year-old southpaw, the Kazkh won every second of the fight until the mismatch was halted at the 2:18 mark of round five.

It was the fifth straight win for Jukembayev (23-1, 17 KOs) whose only defeat was inflicted by Subriel Matias, the current holder of the IBF world title at 140. Redkach (24-7-1) was stopped for the fourth time including a fight with Regis Prograis where he succumbed to a phantom low blow. Now 38 years old, he should not be allowed to fight again. His showing tonight bore stark evidence that he is completely shot.

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a 10-round junior lightweight affair, Jonhatan Cardoso, a 25-year-old Brazilian, advanced to 17-1 (15) with a split decision over LA’s Adam “Bluenose” Lopez. This figured to be a fan-friendly fight and didn’t disappoint. Both fighters threw punches in bunches although Lopez’s workrate declined in the late rounds.

Lopez, now 17-6-1, is better than his record. His first five losses came against opponents who were collectively 109-6 at the time that he fought them. The son of the late Hector Lopez, an Olympic silver medalist for Mexico and a three-time world title challenger, “Bluenose” doesn’t have a signature win, but has a signature moment. He knocked Oscar Valdez down hard in their first of two meetings, a fight he took on 1-day notice when Valdez’s original opponent was scratched after coming in 11 pounds overweight. As a pro he has limitations, but is a high-octane fighter who rarely has a bad fight.

Two of the judges favored Cardoso. Their tallies were 99-91 and 96-94. The dissenter favored Lopez 97-93. The scores were all over the map, but the right guy wn.

Also

In the TV opener, Omaha-bred junior welterweight Charles Harris Jr scored a unanimous 6-round decision over Oceanside, California’s Kyle Erwin. The judges had it 58-56 and 59-55 twice.

A protégé of “BoMac,” Harris Jr., who began his pro career in Mexico at age 16, improved to 9-1 (7). It was the second pro loss for Erwin (7-2) whose lone prior defeat was the result of a cut.

In an unrelated matter, today (May 22) was the day that Ryan Garcia’s B-sample would be opened and analyzed. So we were all led to believe.

Confoundingly, it appears that opening the urine specimen and testing the contents aren’t performed on the same day. Dan Rafael enlightened us. “Will take a few days for results but certainly possible it could stretch into early next week due to weekend and holiday,” Rafael tweeted today on his Fight Freaks Unite platform.

Why wasn’t this made known beforehand so that fight journalists could plan their day accordingly? I place the blame on the New York State Athletic Commission.

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Oleksandr Usyk from a Historical Perspective 

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Oleksandr Usyk flipped the heavyweight division onto its head this past Saturday night in the Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, travelling a long way from home to seal his greatest victory. Usyk, small by modern heavyweight standards, towers over most men at 6’3″ and 220lbs and sporting a reach that lineal champions Ezzard Charles or Joe Walcott would have killed for. Things have changed though, and in the middle rounds of his war with Tyson Fury, Usyk suddenly appeared tiny. Fury, a giant at around 6’8” and over 260lbs seems a heavyweight for this century. Usyk, a journeyman in the most ancient sense of the word, feels like a throwback to a more savage time. His greatest achievements have taken place on foreign soil. The last time he boxed at home was almost a decade ago and given the situation in Ukraine and given Usyk’s 37 years, it is unlikely he will ever box there again.

Usyk took chances in the seventh and especially the eighth to take charge of a fight that seemed to be slipping away from him. In the vertigo inducing ninth, it was he, not Fury who appeared the giant. Usyk draped the Englishman over the ropes like so much fresh meat and tenderised him to within an inch of unconsciousness, the sheer hugeness of Fury perhaps preventing a referee’s intervention on behalf of his opponent, and not for the first time. Against both Deontay Wilder (the first fight) and Otto Wallin, a more squeamish official would have stepped in and stopped the fight, and here, too, there was a case. If Usyk seems a throwback, then Fury has been refereed like one, spared stoppages likely to be inflicted upon his peers, he was allowed once again to continue boxing, as Joe Louis was against Max Schmeling, or Jack Dempsey was against Luis Pirpo. But with Fury buckled at the knees, Usyk seemed the true heavy man in the ring.

In historical terms, Usyk is not a small heavyweight. He would have dwarfed “The Galveston Giant” Jack Johnson in the ring and loomed large over “Big” George Foreman. Usyk has every attribute necessary to make an unpleasant evening for Joe Louis, but it should be noted that while his footwork and speed and technical excellence would be the source of the discomfort, his excess of height and reach are the wildcards. Usyk would seem two to three weight classes bigger than Rocky Marciano, mainly because he is, and the towering Sonny Liston would look up. Circus strongman Jess Willard and the mob-sponsored Primo Carnera would both look down on Usyk – but not by that much. Usyk would stand eye to eye with Muhammad Ali but prime-for-prime he would outweigh him by ten pounds, as he would Larry Holmes. We must skip Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield and reach all the way into the Lennox Lewis era before we find men from history that truly out-size Usyk on a consistent basis.

Size, as Usyk has proven, is far from everything. Big by historical standards, he is small by modern standards. What else is now true in the wake of the seismic fistic events of Saturday night? Firstly, Usyk is unquestionably ranked the #1 heavyweight in the world. Of this, there can be no dispute. Accounting for his two wonderful defeats of another “super” heavyweight, Anthony Joshua, he is 3-0 against the rest of the top five and sitting unassailably at the head of the heavyweight table. More, and I have been surprised to see it disputed in some corners, Usyk is now almost as equally unassailably the pound-for-pound number one. The only fighter breathing the same air as Usyk right now is Naoya Inoue. Inoue has been operating at or near the highest level for longer, but the level of his opposition has not been as rarefied. Comparing the first phase opposition defeated by Naoya to the murderer’s row of cruiserweights that Usyk ran into during the Super Six series can lead to only one conclusion. Although Naoya’s busy, weight-class-bursting style has topped him out for most of the past two to three years, only one of these men has consistently been beating bigger, taller, longer opposition at the highest level, and that is Usyk. It is not a matter of opinion – he is the smallest man in my heavyweight top ten.

01 – Oleksandr Usyk

02 – Anthony Joshua

03 – Joseph Parker

04 – Tyson Fury

05 – Filip Hrgovic

06 – Zhilei Zhang

07 – Agit Kabayel

08 – Daneil Dubois

09 – Martin Bakole

10 – Joe Joyce

Usyk lives among giants now and where there is parity of height (Kabayel) he is the lighter man by 15 pounds. This is not true of Naoya, who despite his weight-hopping, still manages to run into fighters of the same height and of shorter reach. The opposition argument is narrow, but the relative size opposition is not and there is no pound-for-pound credential more significant than that of consistently out-fighting bigger men. Usyk has done so and will continue to do so for as long as he fights. There is simply no smaller man in his class.

Not since the heyday of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield has a lineal heavyweight champion consistently fought bigger men and not since Mike’s hype-infused prime has a heavyweight menaced the number one pound-for-pound spot. Usyk has not enjoyed anything like the same machine support as Mike did; indeed, he has laboured in the shadow of more prominent men until such time as he thrashed them. He is a true manifestation of pound-for-pound glory in the unlimited class. Where does this leave him in terms of all-time standing?

I am reluctant to rate active fighters for reasons that are obvious enough; Usyk could be pole-axed in three by an irate Fury in a December rematch and all this ink is for naught. But what I am willing to do is play let’s pretend and imagine Usyk as retired and consider his place in heavyweight history now.

Usyk’s raw numbers are low-grade at just 22-0 with 14 knockouts. Worse, most of this was built in the cruiserweight division and not the heavyweight division. Against men weighing in as heavyweights, Uysk is essentially 7-0, and only 3-0 against ranked opposition. On the other hand, one of these victories came against Daniel Dubois, now ranked, and the 3-0 was posted against Tyson Fury, generally held to be the best or second-best heavyweight in the world, and Anthony Joshua, ranked behind only Fury at the time of his first fight with Usyk. So, when he stepped up, he stepped up to tackle the best in the world and has become lineal as a result. It’s a hard ledger to wrestle with, but fortunately we have a career that is comparable in the shape of Gene Tunney.

Tunney, a career light-heavyweight, earned a heavyweight legacy built of essentially one man: Jack Dempsey. Past-prime and inactive, Dempsey was ripped apart by Tunney in their legendary first fight and did better in a losing effort against the genius “Fighting Marine” in a rematch, much like Joshua did against Usyk. Tunney then boxed the limited but game Tom Heeney and retired. The rest of his heavyweight career was spent beating great middleweights like Harry Greb and limited losing-streak gatekeepers like Charley Weinert and Martin Burke. One thing that must be noted is that Tunney is matching men who are smaller than Usyk’s cruiserweight opposition to his heavyweight credit. Men like Mairis Briedis and Murat Gassiev would have been big men in Tunney’s era, but they aren’t counted towards heavyweight legacy for the Ukrainian – either would constitute Tunney’s second-best heavyweight scalp, I think. Tunney’s wider resume does not necessarily include fighters who compare that favourably even to Dereck Chisora or Chaz Witherspoon, the men who make up Usyk’s second layer of opposition.

The point is, Tunney was made a legend for defeating a champion. Both Fury and Joshua were active, physically enormous fighters that Usyk simply unmanned with a type of genius Gene Tunney would have stood to applaud. Tunney appended to his light-heavyweight career the important part of a heavyweight career – the part where you fight and beat the champion, and it has made him a stalwart of heavyweight history. This, Usyk too has achieved, but I have been more impressed with Usyk’s summit than Tunney’s. To be direct: Usyk should rate higher at heavyweight than Tunney.

What that means is that the top twenty at heavyweight is the minimum Usyk can expect from history’s eye should he retire undefeated. In such a case, I would place Usyk in this sort of company:

18 – Ezzard Charles

19 – Oleksandr Usyk

20 – Jersey Joe Walcott

21 – James J Corbett

22 – Peter Jackson

23 – Ken Norton

24 – Max Schmeling

25 – Vitali Klitschko

26 – Riddick Bowe

27 – Gene Tunney

Also illustrative of a point is Tunney’s career pre-heavyweight. Tunney, every bit as brilliant as Usyk in the ring (although notably smaller, and successful against notably smaller opposition), laced up his gloves on close to ninety occasions and his level of competition dwarfs that of Usyk. That is no indictment. All it really means is that Usyk isn’t among the thirty greatest fighters ever to have drawn breath, like Tunney is. He can join an enormous and star-studded cast that includes Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins and Carlos Monzon in that. I do think, though, that Oleksandr Usyk’s career, were it to end tomorrow, could be readily compared to that of Evander Holyfield and that means that an unbeaten Usyk, lineal cruiserweight and heavyweight champion of the world, current pound-for-pound king, is within spitting distance of a list that captures the fifty greatest fighters in history.

56 – Ruben Olivares

57 – Wilfredo Gomez

58 – Vicente Saldivar

59 – Oleksandr Usyk

60 – Evander Holyfield

61 – Ted Kid Lewis

62 – Lou Ambers

63 – Rocky Marciano

64 – Abe Attell

65 – Manuel Ortiz

A retired Naoya Inoue would join him in the top seventy, I think, and a retired Bud Crawford the top ninety.

Boxing is dead, haven’t you heard?

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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