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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 

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Book Review

Ed Odeven’s New Book Pays Homage to Sports Journalist Jerry Izenberg

Rick Assad

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It’s one thing to get to the top, but it’s something else entirely to remain there for more than half a century. Jerry Izenberg, longtime sports columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger, now semi-retired and living in Henderson, Nevada, has done just that.

Izenberg is the subject of Ed Odeven’s book, “Going 15 Rounds With Jerry Izenberg,” which was released New Year’s Eve and is available at amazon.com.

“By all accounts, he should be recognized as one of the greatest American sports columnists,” said Odeven, a 1999 graduate of Arizona State University who has lived in Japan since July 2006 and is the sports editor for the website Japan Forward. “A versatile professional, he was equally skilled at writing books and magazine articles and producing sports documentaries and crafting essays for the groundbreaking ‘Sports Extra’ television program on Channel 5 in New York in the 1970s.”

Odeven went on: “Jerry has seen everything and been seemingly everywhere. He brought gravitas to the newspaper sports section with decades of sustained excellence.”

During a seven-decade career in sports journalism, the 90-year-old Izenberg, found time to write 15 non-fiction books and one novel. His affinity for the manly sport is reflected in his 2017 book, “Once There Were Giants: The Golden Age Of Heavyweight Boxing.”

“From the 1950s to the present day [including recent years’ coverage of Tyson Fury and Manny Pacquiao, for instance], Izenberg has shined in his boxing coverage,” Odeven said. “You can’t ignore his remembrance pieces on fighters and boxing personalities across the decades [such as a terrific column on the late Leon Spinks in which he weaved a tapestry of the fighter’s life and his family’s struggles into a powerful piece], either.”

One of Izenberg’s favorite topics is Muhammad Ali.

“Izenberg first observed the great fighter’s infectious personality, popularity and boxing talent on display at the 1960 Rome Olympics,” Odeven said. “Cassius Clay was unlike any other famous pugilist in those days and for the rest of his life.”

Odeven spoke about the support Ali received from Izenberg: “When very few were publicly taking a stand to support Ali, Izenberg wrote columns that defended his right to fight. He took the boxing establishment to task for stripping Ali of his titles even while Ali’s case was making its way through the courts – and ultimately the United States Supreme Court.”

Izenberg, a graduate of Rutgers University who covered the first 53 Super Bowls, and Ali were close. “As friends, they were around each other in all corners of the earth,” Odeven said. “They shared highs and lows during periods of personal and professional success and disappointment.”

Here’s Jerry Izenberg talking about Ali’s humanity: “I was a single father and when my children came to live with me, they were very nervous. I took them to Deer Lake [Pennsylvania] for a television show I was filming as an advance to the Foreman-Ali fight. After the filming, knowing my situation, (Ali) took my son aside and put his arm around him and said, “Robert, you have come to live with a great man. Listen to him and you will grow to be a great man just like him.

“On the way up my daughter, who was seven, had said, ‘I hope Foreman beats him up because he brags too much and you always told me to not brag.’ “I told her, ‘you are seven and you have nothing to brag about. Both of these men are my friends. When you get there, keep your mouth shut.’ When we were packing up the equipment, he saw her in the back of the room and hollered, ‘come up here little girl. You with the braids.’ She was convinced I had ratted her out about what she said and tried her best to melt into the wall because she was frightened. As she walked toward him, she lost the power of speech and mumbled. He was 6-3 and she was 4-5. He grabbed her and held her over his head. ‘Is that man your daddy?’ All she could do was nod. ‘Don’t you lie to me little girl, look at him,’ and he pointed at me. ‘That man is ugly…ugly. You are beautiful, now gimme a kiss.’ On the way home she said, ‘I hope Muhammad can win,’ and I said, ‘you are just like the rest of them. The only difference is your age.’ He was one of my five best friends. When he died, I cried.”

Odeven offered his slant on why Izenberg was at home at major boxing events: “It was clear that Jerry was in a comfort zone on the week of a big fight, writing the stories that set the stage for the mano a mano encounter and the follow-up commentary that defined what happened and what it meant.”

Izenberg, noted Odeven, had worked under the legendary Stanley Woodward, as had Red Smith and Roger Kahn, among others, the latter most well-known for having penned the baseball classic, “The Boys Of Summer.” Many insist that Woodward, who read the classics, was the greatest sports editor.

Woodward, Odenven believes, helped shape Izenberg’s world outlook. “Izenberg became keenly aware of this human drama at its rawest form that existed in boxing,” he said, noting that in decades past the public was captivated by the big fights. “Examples, of course, include the first and third Ali-Frazier bouts and The Rumble In The Jungle [against Foreman]. Let’s not forget they were cultural touchstones.”

Referencing the third installment of Ali-Frazier in Manila, Izenberg said, “I’ve probably seen thousands of fights, but I never saw one when both fighters were exhausted and just wouldn’t quit…My scorecard had Ali ahead by one which meant if Joe knocked him down in the 15th, he would have won on my card. But there was no 15th because Joe’s trainer, Eddie Futch, ordered the gloves cut off after the 14th.

“At the finish, Ali collapsed. Later as Ali walked slowly up the aisle supported by his seconds, he leaned over toward the New York Times’ Dave Anderson and me and said through puffy lips, ‘Fellas. That’s the closest you will ever see to death.’”

Izenberg remembered his lead: “Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier did not fight for the WBC heavyweight title last night,” he wrote. “They did not fight for the heavyweight championship of the planet. They could have fought in a telephone booth on a melting ice flow. They were fighting for the championship of each other and for me that still isn’t settled.”

What makes Izenberg relevant even today? “His canvas was the global sports landscape and he explored the human condition in each of his columns in some way,” Odeven stated. “He recognized what made a good story and sought out individuals and topics that fit that description – and he still does.

“You could read a random stack of columns about any number of topics from the 1960s or ’90s and be enlightened and entertained at the same time…He has always had a razor- sharp eye for details that illuminate a column and a source’s words to give it added verve.” Moreover, added Odeven, Izenberg had a never-wavering commitment to championing a just cause: “Speaking out against racism and religious bigotry, he gave a voice to the voiceless or those often ignored.”

Note: Jerry Izenberg was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category in 2015.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 126: Viva Puerto Rico, Claressa Shields, Canelo and More

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 126: Viva Puerto Rico, Claressa Shields, Canelo and More

In the age of Covid-19 fights get canceled and re-arranged and that’s found here in this second attempt to stage Serhii Bohachuk versus Brandon Adams in a super welterweight showdown.

This pairing was first talked about back when the Dodgers and Lakers both won world championships last October. Finally, it’s ready to cast off.

Beautiful Puerto Rico will be the locale for Bohachuk (18-0, 18 KOs) when he meets Adams (22-3, 14 KOs) on Thursday March 4, at Felix Pintor Gym in Guaynabo. NBC Sports Network will televise the Ring City USA fight card.

“Flaco” Bohachuk has rampaged through the super welterweight division like a ravenous Ukrainian version of Pacman. Who can stop him?

Adams has fought the better competition including a world title match against Jermall Charlo that he lost by decision less than two years ago.

Other factors exist.

Bohachuk was formally trained by Abel Sanchez in Big Bear Mountain but now works with Manny Robles at sea level. Will it make a difference when he trades blows against the smaller but seemingly stronger Adams?

“We’re taking this fight seriously against Adams,” said Robles who has trained numerous world champions including Oscar Valdez and Andy Ruiz. “Adams is a very strong fighter.”

Bohachuk last fought deep in the heart of Mexico and emerged with a stoppage that saw him scrap with little-known but tough-as-nails Alejandro Davila. Both landed serious stuff but Bohachuk just had more firepower.

Adams says he has seen firepower like Bohachuk’s before. He went toe-to-toe with Charlo for the WBC middleweight title and never touched the canvas. He’s smaller but more muscular and has fought taller guys most of his career.

This is one of those fights that used to be held at the Olympic Auditorium back in the day. Ironically, there is a documentary that has just been released about those days before it was closed to boxing in 2005.

Added note: Fernando Vargas Jr. will also engage on the fight card. The son of “El Feroz,” Fernando Vargas Jr. fights out of Las Vegas and will be in his second pro fight as a super middleweight.

Women’s pay-per-view

An all-women fight card led by Claressa Shields takes place on Friday March 5. It will be streamed by FITE.tv beginning at 6 p.m. PT. Price is $29.99.

Shields (10-0) faces her toughest foe yet when she steps in the boxing ring against Canada’s undefeated Marie Eve Dicaire (17-0) for the undisputed super welterweight world championship.

Dicaire is a tall southpaw with speed and agility who has defeated several world champions.

Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and former undisputed middleweight world champion and super middleweight titlist who dropped down two weight divisions to pursue this venture.

Also, just added is Marlen Esparza, a USA Olympic bronze medalist, and current flyweight contender.

Esparza (8-1) agreed to fight on the pay-per-view card and meets Shelly Barnett (4-3-2) in a six-round bout set for the super flyweight division. Her last fight took place in October and she handed talented Sulem Urbina her first loss as a pro.

Barnett is a Canadian veteran of nine pro fights including an eight-round battle with Florida’s Rosalinda Rodriguez.

Rumor has it that Esparza is getting prepared for a showdown with Mexico’s Ibeth “La Roca” Zamora for the WBC flyweight world title later in the spring.

It’s a pretty good pay-per-view card that also features Danielle Perkins, Logan Holler and Jamie Mitchell in competitive fights. If you haven’t seen women fights, take a look. Shields alone can astonish with her fighting skills.

Canelo

That redhead from Mexico continues to decimate the competition whether its from England, Turkey or Russia. Line them up and let them fly.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez holds the WBA and WBC super middleweight world titles and was forced to fight the number one contender Avni Yildirim and promptly stomped him out like a bug on the rug.

Fans get upset. They don’t understand that ratings exist and with four or five sanctioning organizations all having different standings, a fighter like Alvarez who has two titles is forced to fight fighters ranked number one through 10. But it’s just a part of boxing that has to be done.

Alvarez had already skipped Yildirim before to fight Callum Smith for the WBA title which he won by unanimous decision. Now he will be meeting another Brit in Billy Joe Saunders who has the WBO version of the super middleweight title. It will take place on May 8, most likely in Las Vegas. That’s Cinco de Mayo weekend. Las Vegas needs the bank. Once again it depends on the Covid-19 situation.

Off topic, Canelo recently had an exchange with Claressa Shields who posted on social media that the Mexican redhead is one of her favorite fighters. She likes working on technique and posted one of her workouts where she is hitting a heavy bag with a combination that she saw Canelo use.

Canelo saw it and gave her a few tips. Champion to champion. That was kind of cool.

Farewell to L.A. Favorite

Featherweight contender Danny Valdez passed away on Sunday February 28 in Los Angeles. He was 81.

Valdez held the California Featherweight title when the state championship was not easy to gain. He also vied for the world title against Davey Moore in April 1961 in Los Angeles.

Many of his battles took place at the vaunted Olympic Auditorium where he fought the likes of Gil Cadilli and Sugar Ramos. Back in those days there was no better place to fight than the Olympic. But Valdez did engage in battles at Wrigley Field and the Hollywood Legion Stadium too.

Though Valdez fought up and down the West Coast in Oregon and California, he primarily battled at the Olympic Auditorium, a total of 24 times in all. If you ever watched a boxing card at the Olympic, it was a magical place.

Fights to Watch

(All Times are Pacific Time)

Thurs. 6 p.m. NBC Sports Network Serhii Bohachuk (18-0) vs Brandon Adams (22-3)

Fri. 6 p.m. FITE.tv.  Claressa Shields (10-0) vs Marie Eve Dicaire (17-0); Marlen Esparza (8-1) vs Shelly Barnett (4-3-2); Logan Holler (9-0-1) vs Schemelle Baldwin (3-1-2); Danielle Perkins (2-0) vs Monika Harrison (2-1-1); Jamie Mitchell (5-0-2) vs Noemi Bosques (12-15-3).

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Ramirez vs. Taylor Adds Luster to an Already Strong Boxing Slate in May

Arne K. Lang

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Boxing will heat up big-time in May. Canelo Alvarez will defend his WBC 168-pound title on May 8 against Billy Joe Saunders. Two weeks later, WBC/WBO 140-pound champion Jose Ramirez (26-0, 17 KOs) meets his IBF/WBA counterpart Josh Taylor (17-0, 13 KOs). Teofimo Lopez’s title defense against George Kambosos may transpire in May and now there’s talk that Manny Pacquiao will also return in May with Mikey Garcia in the opposite corner.

The Ramirez-Taylor fight was announced today (March 2). The match between the undefeated belt-holders, both former Olympians, will produce the fifth unified champion of the four-belt error. Middleweights Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor, junior welterweight Terence Crawford, and cruiserweight Oleksandr Usyk are the only boxers to have held this distinction.

Ramirez vs. Taylor will be on ESPN. The fight appears headed to an MGM Grand property in Las Vegas. The T-Mobile Arena, the city’s largest indoor sports arena, is likely in the running. The arena houses the city’s professional hockey team, the Golden Knights, which played their first game in many moons with fans in attendance on Monday. Attendance was capped at 15 percent of capacity and the game was a “sellout” with all 2,605 available seats attracting occupants.

Josh Taylor, who made his pro debut in El Paso, of all places, will be making his second appearance in Las Vegas, assuming the fight transpires there. The Tartan Tornado appeared at the MGM Grand Garden on Jan. 28, 2017, on a card topped by the WBA featherweight title rematch between Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz. Taylor and Frampton then shared the same trainer, Shane McGuigan.

In the words of Bob Arum, “Ramirez vs. Taylor is the best boxing has to offer, two elite fighters in the prime of their careers colliding in a legacy-defining matchup for the undisputed championship of the world. It’s a true 50-50 fight….”

In boxing, unlike other sports, anything under 2-to-1 is basically a “pick-’em” fight, so Arum isn’t far off the mark. For the record, however, the first betting lines to appear show the Scotsman the favorite in the 7-to-4 range, a price obviously based on the assumption that the fight will be held in Nevada, or at least anywhere other than Glasgow or Fresno.

Ramirez didn’t look sharp in his last outing when he scored a majority decision over Victor Postol at the MGM Bubble. Ramirez said he was burned-out after a long training camp – the fight was postponed twice – and said he thought the sterile atmosphere affected him; he was used to feeding off the energy of a crowd. Josh Taylor also had a tough time with Postol when they met in a 12-round bout at Glasgow on June 23, 2018 (the gritty Ukrainian is a tough nut to crack), but one would not have gleaned that from the scorecards which were soaked with hometown bias.

Josh Taylor’s last fight was at fan-less York Hall in London. The Scotch southpaw was entitled to a breather after his epic encounter with Regis Prograis and the IBF had just the ticket in mandatory challenger Apinun Khonsong. Taylor dismissed the overmatched Thai in the opening round with a body punch. This was Taylor’s first fight with new trainer Ben Davison.

The last time that Arum called an upcoming match a 50-50 fight, he was hyping the all-Mexican showdown between Miguel Berchelt and Oscar Valdez. That was no 50-50 fight, Berchelt was a solid favorite, but as it turned out, the pricemakers had underestimated the underdog who delivered the goods in a wildly entertaining skirmish.

On paper, Ramirez vs. Taylor will also be a very entertaining affair.

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