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

David A. Avila

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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.

aladdin

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 

To comment on this story in The Fight Forum CLICK HERE

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In Defense of Julie Lederman

Ted Sares

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Some years ago, Matt Podgorski (a former boxing official) came up with a formula for evaluating the performance of boxing judges worldwide by determining the percentage of instances his or her scores were consistent with the other two judges working the same fights. He called it the Pod Index. It was a rare effort to quasi-quantify the work of boxing judges. “Boxing and MMA judges are often evaluated based on whether or not they have had a controversial decision. This is a poor way to assign and regard professional judges,” said Podgorski in an interview with former RingTV editor Michael Rosenthal.

Matt’s Disclaimer: “We are not claiming that judges with low Pod Index scores are bad judges. The Pod Index is simply a measurement of round by round variation compared to other judges.”

Julie Lederman placed very high in Podgorski’s study. In fact, only one  veteran judge — Canada’s Benoit Roussel — had a better score.

For more information about the Pod Index, see http://theboxingtribune.com/2014/12/19/the-pod-index-a-step-in-the-right-direction/

Confirmation Bias

Some of this writer’s favorite judges, in addition to Lederman, are Steve Weisfeld, Glen Feldman, Dave Moretti, Glenn Trowbridge, Joe Pasquale, Max DeLuca, Hubert Earle, Benoit Roussel, Burt Clements, Rocky Young, Joel Scobie, Tom Shreck, Don Trella, William Lerch, Pinit Prayadsab, and Raúl Caiz, Jr. All of them have been maligned at one time or another.

Being a judge is a thankless endeavor and attention is mostly received when something controversial happens. Once a judgment is made about a bad job, that judgment influences future perceptions. This is known as “confirmation bias.”

Thus, Julie Lederman’s highly questionable scoring in the Loma-Lopez fight, though it didn’t change the result, will most certainly label her a bad judge, tarnishing her reputation despite all of the fine work she has done in the past. Moreover, it’s now fashionable to “pile on” and castigate her with a nasty Bob Arum leading the charge.

“…what kind of fight was she watching,…these judges are the craziest…I would advise any fighter I would have to ask the commission not to appoint her…” — Arum

This wasn’t the first time that Arum criticized Julie. Back in 2014, Tim Bradley and Diego Gabriel Chaves fought to a draw. Lederman scored the fight 116-112 in favor of Chaves. Arum had this to say: “She should never be allowed to work in Nevada again….Her scorecard for Chaves is an absolute disgrace …[She was appointed] because they let these [expletive] Showtime guys put a fight on the same night that we did it. They don’t have enough judges. They don’t have enough referees. They want to accommodate both parties. Why? Because they’ll do anything the [expletive] MGM asks them to do.”

“It’s easy to criticize boxing judges. But it’s not that easy to have a sound basis for the criticism. One needs to see the fight the judge saw to be in the position to rightly criticize. Critics should temper criticisms in light of the situations boxing judges are in when judging fights. And judges should likewise understand criticisms from the boxing public, however baseless these may seem.”  — Epifanio M. Almeda

Lederman, 52, is in her 24th year as a professional boxing judge. Her assignments have taken her to eight foreign countries and Puerto Rico. And she has been a fixture this year at the MGM Bubble, working 18 fights across seven shows without incident prior to this past Saturday night.

This, of course, does not excuse Julie’s scoring on Saturday (119-109 for Teofimo Lopez), but it needs to be kept in mind that she has been ranked high over the years and does not have in her past work a pattern of poor judging such as seemed to exist, for example, in Texas and which drew the ire of Paulie Malignaggi.

When she first hit the scene, cries of nepotism and politics accompanied her, but those complaints quickly evaporated. Whether she can bounce back from this controversy remains to be seen. This writer hopes she can.

Photo: Julie Lederman and her father are flanked by Henry Hascup, President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame and Aaron Davis, former President of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board

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

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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“—C’mon!” (from the pen of Springs Toledo)

Springs Toledo

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-C'mon

“—C’mon!” said Teofimo Lopez with two seconds left in the 12th round. It was a Brooklyn thing to say on a Brooklyn-type Saturday night, and Lopez timed it well. He’d just crashed two hooks at either side of Vasiliy Lomachenko’s head and ended their saga as it began—with sharp words.

“My son will destroy Lomachenko,” Lopez’s father told EsNews in August 2017. Three months later Lopez was in the gym mimicking his style. “Same side always,” he said as he tapped the bag and dipped to his right. “Nuthin’ different.” “Lomachenko is a diva,” he said last week. “I don’t like him … I’m the type of person, I say something I mean it. If you have a problem with it, come see me.” Lomachenko came to see him all right, and both brought their fathers as if the whole thing was a schoolyard scrap.

Lomachenko’s father is a silent sage. His modern training techniques are part of the “performance revolution” that has transformed every sport, including the sport that’s barely a sport, and not necessarily for the better. Papa Chenko’s futurama theories seem at once scientific and idiosyncratic. Pundits who never heard of Freddie Brown think they’re next-level stuff. There’s Lomachenko holding his breath under water to build lung strength; there he is touching that board with blinking lights to improve hand-eye coordination. When Lomachenko was 9, his father went so far as to enroll him in a Ukrainian folk dance school to expose him to hobak, hutsulka, and the kolomiyka, and you can see it in all the hopping and side-stepping he does around the ring at 32.

Papa Lopez is anything but silent, though he too is a sage—a naysaying sage with street instincts picked up during a few round trips through hell. He takes no one’s word for anything and if he takes a break from a tirade and asks a question, it has about as much tact as a shiv. When Lomachenko is holding his breath in the pool is someone else there too, denting his rib cage with hooks? Those lights blinking on the screen, do they feint? And dancing school? Dancing school? Brooklyn itself rolls its collective eyes.

Papa Lopez laughs without mirth at the consensus opinion, at the so-called experts. But he couldn’t laugh off the indisputable fact that Lomachenko has been knocking off a parade of world-class fighters. So he plopped down in front of YouTube to see for himself what was happening.

And what did he see?

He saw that the so-called Matrix style is a series of tricks; that Lomachenko is pulling fast ones on the gullible in the opposite corner and in press row. He saw opponents cooperating with him as he gauged their strengths and weaknesses in the first round or two and measured the distance between his glove and their chin. He saw them mesmerized by nothing-shots—“pitty pats,” he called them, “patty-cakes,” and wondered if it would have been easier or harder, given the language barrier, if Lomachenko just came out and asked them to throw something so he can find the best route around it to sock them in the chops.

Papa Lopez also saw that Lomachenko is preoccupied with not getting hurt; that he habitually slips, dips, and veers off to his right against the conventional stance. Teofimo, 23, saw the same thing. They both know why he prefers that direction: it’s the safest route.

His offense, which has two prongs and lots of frills, doesn’t contradict his preoccupation. Lomachenko wants to draw out his opponents to counter them. He stands a half-step off the perimeter where they can’t quite reach him and he can’t reach them. Then he baits them. If they take the bait, he hops in with a jab and then hops back out of reach. He’s making calculations, looking for patterns, and once he finds them he exploits them with minimal risk to himself because, like Floyd Mayweather, he already has a pretty good idea of what they’re going to throw. When is he most aggressive? When his opponent is least aggressive—out of position or covering up. He isn’t comfortable with uncalculated risks. Like Floyd, he wants control; and that only happens with an opponent’s cooperation.

Stanley Crouch, the late cultural critic and Brooklynite who was at least as contentious as Papa Lopez, understood the set-up. “What a boxer ideally wants to do is turn the opponent into an assistant in his own ass-whipping,” he said. “That’s really what you want the other guy to do—to assist you in whipping his ass.”

Lomachenko built a reputation on willing assistants.

And defeating him was easier than anyone anticipated. The fighter of the future bowed to all-American unruliness and old-fashioned fundamentals.

Old School’s comeback Saturday night was long, long overdue. Lopez used his strength and length to draw an invisible border with a warning that said “this far and no farther.” Then he enforced it. Instead of letting Lomachenko freely angle around him like he’s some stiff at the prom, he angled with him and threw punches. When Lomachenko slipped and sallied past his invisible border, he adjusted his distance and sent the dogs out. He stopped his momentum. He never let him take control. He never cooperated.

By the 8th round, Lomachenko realized that he had no chance to win unless he let go of his preoccupation with defense. He had to “sell out,” as Andre Ward said, by getting closer and sallying in when it wasn’t safe. Lomachenko won the 8th round—the first of only three that two judges scored his way—but it didn’t matter. His mouth had dropped open as if he was getting ready to admit futurama’s failure. “I heard him huffing and puffing and I knew I had him,” said Lopez.

The 12th round reminds us that Old School remains the gold standard in the sport that’s barely a sport. When Papa Lopez had a nervous moment in the corner and urged caution, Lopez refused. “I’m a fighter, I can’t give him that,” he said, as if to remind us that Old School is more than dust, that it’s a disposition.

Teofimo Lopez now stands in a succession of lightweight kings whose dispositions were the impetus behind achievements that make this succession very possibly the most majestic of them all: Joe Gans. Benny Leonard. Tony Canzoneri. Barney Ross. Henry Armstrong. Ike Williams. Carlos Ortiz. Roberto Duran. Julio Cesar Chavez. Pernell Whitaker.

Floyd Mayweather is in that succession too, but the business model that guided his career was rebuked Saturday night. Lopez pointed to the past, polished it up, and declared its superiority. “We’re bringing back what the Old School was. You fight the best and push on it. I’m not here to pick and choose who I want to fight because I want to defend my title and keep that 0,” he said and shook his head. “No. Nah!”

The lightweight king now beckons chief rivals Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia, and Gervonta Davis to disavow the business model and take up the red flag. He looks north to Josh Taylor and Jose Carlos Ramirez’s battle for the jr. welterweight crown and beckons either of them—or both.

 “—C’mon!”

 

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Kelsey McCarson’s HITS and MISSES: Takeover Edition

Kelsey McCarson

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Boxing is back!

Okay, boxing had technically been back for a few months now. But didn’t it seem to be more fully back to normal with the weekend’s lightweight unification battle between Teofimo Lopez and Vasiliy Lomachenko on ESPN?

Make that double the case now that another edition of HITS and MISSES follows the latest big weekend in boxing, the first installment since the global pandemic began. 

HIT: Teofimo Lopez’s Undisputed Takeover

It’s one thing to parade something like “Takeover” around as your nickname while promising to be the next great fighter in the sport. It’s quite another to actually pull that takeover off, and do it at the tender age of 23 against a three-division world champion that’s a massive betting favorite. 

But that’s what Lopez did on Saturday night in Las Vegas, and he accomplished it in a way that almost nobody expected. 

Lopez dominated Lomachenko from the start of the fight. He outboxed the clever southpaw savant in a way few people dreamed possible and took home the unanimous decision win. Even among the few who thought the young lion might somehow usurp the old guard, most of that crew thought it would probably be one big punch that sent Loma down for the count.

By the end of the night, Lopez had solidified his status as boxing’s newest superstar. He also became the first undisputed lightweight champion since Pernell Whitaker. 

But even if the whole WBC Franchise fiasco leaves you in a place that questions that specific designation, Lopez used his post-fight celebration time to call the other WBC belt holder Devin Haney about a possible future showdown. 

So, Lopez is the undisputed best thing to happen to boxing in a long time. 

MISS: Vasiliy Lomachenko’s Slow Start

I like to think Lomachenko is still somewhere out there right now feinting and shuffling his feet around like a dancer. Seriously, though, what was Lomachenko doing for most of Saturday night? He certainly wasn’t attempting to win the fight. 

Much was made by the ESPN announcers about how Lomachenko would start slow in fights because he liked to download his opponents’ movements before settling on his attacks. But Lomachenko didn’t seem all that interested in attacking Lopez until somewhere around the eighth-round. By that time, the 32-year-old was way too far down on the scorecards for anything to matter all that much.

Sure, the last third of the fight was fun to watch. Lomachenko did end up having his moments including a strong 11th round, but it would have been a better fight if Lomachenko had started sooner. 

Instead, the fighter ESPN has long argued deserved to be ranked above everyone else regardless of weight class dispassionately saw his titles ripped away from him with relative ease. 

HIT: Edgar Berlanga’s KO Streak

Last year, I noted that Berlanga’s incredible streak was probably a case of matchmaking gone awry and that Berlanga would likely suffer later in his career because he wasn’t getting any rounds under his belt that mattered. 

My reasoning? Even terrifying power punchers like Deontay Wilder and Gennadiy Golovkin didn’t dispatch their early opponents in such decisively one-sided ways. 

Maybe it was just the lack of boxing around due to the global pandemic, but now I’ve flipped on Berlanga’s knockout streak. The 23-year-old scored his 15th first-round stoppage in a row against Lanell Bellows on Saturday’s Top Rank on ESPN card. 

It’s become one of the most interesting and noteworthy streaks in the sport, and this time Berlanga stopped an opponent who had never suffered that fate before in any round, much less the first. 

Berlanga’s 15 KOs in 15 fights is good television. 

MISS: Boxing Judge’s Viral ‘Social Dilemma’

Lewis Ritson was awarded a split-decision victory over former lightweight titleholder Miguel Vazquez on Saturday in England in a junior welterweight bout dubbed by the Sporting News as the “worst decision of 2020.”

According to CompuBox, Ritson’s “constant forward movement and snappier punches” earned him the nod on two of the judges’ scorecards even though Vazquez had out-landed him in all the important punch stat categories (193-141 overall, 80-75 jabs, 113-66 power).

But the biggest controversy was the viral picture of judge Terry O’Connor apparently looking at his phone during the fight that he scored 117-111 for Ritson. 

That didn’t sit well with anyone who believes judges should be watching the fights they’re tasked with scoring.

But in the wake of Netflix’s documentary film “The Social Dilemma,” that shows just how ingenious today’s artificial intelligence is at boosting user engagement so companies can sell advertising time to the unwitting people on the other end who don’t know why they can’t put their phones down. Maybe O’Connor and others should be mandated to place their phones in a place they can’t be accessed during fights. 

That would keep the social media outrage that’s going on right now over the few seconds O’Connor spent looking away from the action and point it more toward what appears to be boxing’s bigger problem: phones or no phones, too many boxing judges don’t know how to score fights. 

HIT: The Wonder of Complementary Programming 

Boxing counterprograms itself so much these days through the different promotional companies and networks out there that it’s nice to enjoy at least one day in recent history where a big fight happened and there weren’t any other big fights attempting to grab our attention. 

Not only did that happen, but ESPN wisely chose not to split programming between it’s MMA and boxing audiences on Saturday. 

ESPN is the home to Top Rank on ESPN boxing as well as the world’s leading MMA promotional company, UFC.

Like Top Rank, the UFC had a massive fight card on its schedule on Saturday, and the boxing/UFC audiences are fractured enough that both cards could have somewhat reasonably ran against each other. 

Instead, the UFC’s Fight Night card in Abu Dhabi ran early in the evening, and it meant UFC fans who might be somewhat interested in the big fight in boxing could be funneled to the main card featuring Lopez vs. Lomachenko. 

That’s great for both sports, the promoters and ESPN, too. Top Rank’s Bob Arum and UFC’s Dana White might hate each other for personal and political reasons, but the rising tide of complementary programming on ESPN will ultimately have all ships rising. 

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

 

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