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Jack ‘Kid’ Berg: This Is The Guy

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A TSS CLASSIC FROM THE PEN OF JONATHAN RENDALL — Listening to Bernard Hopkins attempting to outdo Howard Eastman with apocalyptic descriptions of his early life in the ghetto, I was reminded of my friendship with the late Jack “Kid” Berg, unofficial light-welterweight champion of the world in the early 1930s and first conqueror of the legendary and previously unbeaten Cuban, Kid Chocolate.

I am sure Hopkins’ upbringing was as hard as he says, but equally certain that in his own early life Berg suffered privations that Hopkins could not hold a candle to. Moreover, in the three years of our rather bizarre friendship, I certainly never heard Berg complain about it once. Born Judah Bergman in Odessa, Russia, in 1909, the son of a Rabbi, Berg emigrated to London’s East End as an infant. He lived in a tenement with no hot water, bathroom or heating and had little, if any, formal education to speak of. Gentile gangs attempted to beat the daylights out of him on a regular basis. Living an independent, urchin life straight from the pages of Oliver, Berg survived by picking pockets and removing men’s hats by stringing cotton across streets at head level. Berg would retrieve the hats and the men, grateful and unsuspecting, would tip him a shilling.

Berg showed me around that tenement in the late 1980s, when it was inhabited by Bangladeshi families. Apparently a statue of him has now been put up nearby, but I have not seen it. He made his professional debut when just 14 years old, at a time when boy boxers were commonplace and the hero of Jewish and indeed British boxing was Ted “Kid” Lewis, from whom Berg took his moniker. Many of his early bouts took place at backstreet venues with names like Premierland and Wonderland. Berg also showed me round what remained of Premierland, by then a disused warehouse in London’s City district with weeds growing out of its window frames.

Berg could not believe the state it had got into, nor that Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis was not still around somewhere nearby. A highly intelligent and, it has to be said, crafty man when necessary, almost like an 80-year-old Just William character when I met him, Berg was in a certain amount of denial about his age, and tended to think he was still 25 years old, particularly when it came to women.

Berg was barely 20 when he snapped the long unbeaten run of Kid Chocolate at the Polo Grounds in Harlem in June 1930, in what was a huge, if forgotten, fight. He received a purse of $66,000, a massive payday at the time, and one that set him up for life. The junior-welterweight title was not widely recognized, however, and in Berg’s biggest opportunity, a challenge for the world lightweight title against Tony Canzoneri in Chicago Stadium in April 1931, he gave perhaps the worst performance of his career, losing in three rounds and barely landing a blow. In truth, quite apart from the obstacle of the formidable Canzoneri, Berg was severely weight-drained, the lightweight limit by then a step too far for his 5ft 9in frame. That is what the record books say, anyway. I am not so sure about that figure for his height. Jack was quite vain about it and had concealed insteps inside the Cuban heels he wore.

He was quite something to look at. After retiring from boxing, he became a movie stuntman, working mainly in Westerns. This gave him a wardrobe for life, and he was seldom without a bootlace tie. He smoked cigars incessantly – Optimos that were sent to him from New York.

All his defeats apart from Canzoneri, Berg put down to the effects of womanising, which he believed weakened his legs, but which he said he couldn’t resist. He was particularly defiant about his defeat by Billy Petrolle, who had him down seven times – but only because, Berg insisted, “I was messing around with this particular broad.” Most of his big fights took place in the United States, and he had a penchant for the American vernacular. He finished boxing in 1946 at the age of 35, with an extraordinary record of 157 victories (with 61 knockouts), 26 losses, and nine draws. Known for his prodigious punch-rate, Berg’s moniker was “The Whitechapel Windmill” or, in America, “Whirlwind.”

He was managed by Frankie Jacobs and trained by the late Ray Arcel, that most distinguished and honourable of trainers, who saw off the Mob in the form of Frankie Carbo et al and regarded Berg as almost a son and his favourite fighter, even though Arcel trained many other champions, including Roberto Duran. Berg had arrived in his custody off a boat from England in 1928, when he was 18 and, according to Arcel, “Looked like a little girl.” Arcel was soon disabused of such notions. “Not only could he fight,” Arcel once recalled. “But he thought he was God’s gift to the ladies. You had to watch him like a hawk.”

I first met Berg through a publican and former professional bantamweight named Gary Davidson, who used to run the Thomas A’Beckett on the Old Kent Road, a famous boxing pub in South London and very much in fight game territory. Davidson was one of the good guys, which is saying something in life, let alone in boxing. Tragically he was taken prematurely by motor-neurone disease while barely in middle age, but at great expense had made the Beckett into a worthy shrine to the Noble Art. The last time I looked it was empty and virtually derelict, but then it was thriving.

Davidson had commissioned a giant painting of all Britain’s world champions, and Berg was the only one I didn’t recognize. Davidson soon put me right, saying, “With no disrespect to the others, that is the greatest fighter this country has produced.”

Most of my meetings with Jack started off at his large house in West London, where he lived with his wife Morya, a striking-looking woman, and ended up somewhere in Soho. Despite his age Berg was still an active driver in his little red car, which he drove extremely aggressively, indeed specialising in curb side confrontations. Shortly before I met him, he had been arrested for chinning another, much younger motorist, but turned up in court in a borrowed wheelchair and was let off.

STEPNEY

Berg’s favourite place in Soho was Kettner’s, now part of a pizza chain, but in Berg’s gallivanting days a renowned brothel. Its change of usage seemed to have passed him by, leading to some interesting exchanges. I became so engrossed in Berg’s extraordinary story that I travelled to Cuba on his behalf to find Kid Chocolate, who was rumoured to be alive after years of being presumed dead. For a time there had also been a Kid Chocolate impersonator in a Chicago bar, who was rumbled when one of the real Chocolate’s former opponents walked in and asked him if he knew how to stop a punch. This “Kid Chocolate” demonstrably didn’t.

After a few days in the ruined but beautiful streets of Havana, having employed several street kids to help in the search, I was led to the house of the actual Chocolate, real name Eligio Sardinias, who at 79 was a year younger than Jack. He was a rum-sodden alcoholic but obliging, and one could not help feeling for him greatly – professional boxing had of course been banned by Fidel Castro, and Chocolate had been backed by the now despised “Americanos.” He was an unwanted symbol of an unwanted past. He lived in appalling squalor but in the same large house that his ring earnings had bought – for years it housed a famous gym, and Sugar Ray Robinson, a friend, was pictured training there in the 1950s.

Before the rum got to him Chocolate talked lucidly and remembered Berg well, but said a Cuban named Kid Charrol was the best boxer he had met. He showed me what remained of his old gown, in brown silk with “Chocolate Kid” inscribed on the back. A few weeks later he was reported dead, news which astonished Berg when I told him. “He was only a young man,” he remarked.

I also accompanied Berg to New York for the 90th birthday party of Ray Arcel. There, among a stellar cast that included Holmes, Graziano, Zale, LaMotta and Pep, as well as contemporary champions such as Breland and McGirt, Berg stole the show with an emotional speech about how much Arcel meant to him. On the way out, I was collared by an octogenarian former fighter who, pointing at Berg, announced, ‘Forget all the others. This is the guy. This guy is really the one.’

Coincidentally there was a musical named “Legs,” about the ‘30s gangster Legs Diamond, playing on Broadway at the time. Berg knew Diamond well, having once been threatened with death by him for attempting to chat up Diamond’s girlfriend at the Harding Hotel, where Berg lived one floor beneath Mae West. “We had to do a lot of fast talking to get out of it,” was Arcel’s recollection. Berg had also been au fait with Harlem nightlife, and was a regular at the Cotton Club, whose benefactor, Owney Madden (played in the movie by Bob Hoskins), had been a big Berg fan.

Perhaps unwisely, I agreed to Berg’s repeated requests to go to Harlem to inspect the Polo Grounds, even though I knew they had been demolished long ago. First we overshot and landed in South Bronx, then back in Harlem were accosted by a street gang that were disbelieving when I explained that Berg had been a former fighter.

“Oh yeah, how many KOs you have?” asked the gang leader. “Quite a few,” Berg said. “You want me to try it?”

After that the gang could not have been more helpful amid the bleak housing project that had once been the site of the Polo Grounds, even pointing out some remaining steps upon which Berg said he was convinced one of his cornerman had been stabbed on the way to the ring to face Chocolate.

I also took Berg to the Roseland Dancehall and paid 25 bucks to a rather beautiful 60-year-old Latin woman so she would dance with him. However, Berg abandoned her after one dance, saying she was too old. Then we went to Gallagher’s steak restaurant, where there was a picture of Berg up, and he showed his pick-pocketing skills were still intact by removing the watches of about a dozen members of the Puerto Rican police force who were on a training exercise in New York. They were not pleased, even when Jack gave the watches back.

After we got back to England I began managing a fighter named “Sweet C” McMillan whom Berg took great interest in, declaring him to be the “new Kid Chocolate.” He took even more interest in a Jewish fighter called Gary “Kid” Jacobs from Scotland, a useful welterweight apparently named in the tradition of Kid Lewis and Berg. Jacobs’s management did not know what they had let themselves in for by adopting this marketing strategy. Berg trailed him like a protective bloodhound, saying “Gary is the new me.” Once in the gym when we were there, Jacobs, who was sensible enough to play along with it, asked Berg if he had any specific tips. “Lay off women before a fight,” Berg replied. “Just remember what happened with me and Billy Petrolle.”

In his last year or so Berg moved to the Essex coast. Morya died before him. So did Ray Arcel. To the end he followed his usual routines. He remained friends with Kid Lewis’ son, Morgan, to the last, believing he had a protective duty towards him, and still went to Soho. Some regarded Berg as something of a pest, but I felt the opposite. He was someone who resolutely refused to countenance the banality of ordinary life, and was determined to live a mythic one, visiting again and again its landmarks. He himself had established them, after all.

Berg was a great admirer of the young Mike Tyson, saying, “Mike’s a rough boy, like me.” He fervently believed Tyson had “come looking for him,” in a benign way, while on a British promotional tour in 1987. Maybe he had. As such, it is likely Berg would have approved of Bernard Hopkins, another “rough boy.” Berg’s was quite a life. And one I feel Hopkins would appreciate.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story appeared on these pages on Feb. 16, 2005. The story contains remnants of Rendall’s 1997 book “This Bloody Mary is the Last Thing I Own,” which won Britain’s prestigious Somerset Maugham Award. Jonathan Rendall, whose writing style drew comparison to gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, died in January of 2013 in Ipswich, England, at age forty-eight of apparently natural causes.

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Usyk vs. Chisora Sets the Table for a Strong Night of Boxing

Arne K. Lang

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It’s been largely lost in the ragout, at least on this side of the pond, but Saturday’s busy fight docket includes the return of Oleksandr Usyk, the former Olympic gold medalist who left the cruiserweight ranks as a legitimate four-belt champion. The 33-year-old Usyk (17-0, 13 KOs), opposes tough but erratic Dereck Chisora, a 36-year old Londoner by way of Zimbabwe. Chisora (32-9, 23 KOs), has won five of his last six, the setback occurring in his second encounter with arch-rival Dillian Whyte.

Usyk vs. Chisora, a Matchroom promotion, will play out at Wembley Arena with no fans in attendance. The Ukrainian southpaw is ranked among the top three heavyweight contenders by all four major sanctioning bodies although he has fought only once as a heavyweight, turning away under-trained late sub Chazz Witherspoon who was all in after seven frames. Usyk weighed 215 for that contest and is expected to come in about 230 for Chisora.

Usyk, who has anglicized his first name to Alexander on his English-language twitter feed, is a big favorite, but this is a tricky fight for him. The consensus 2018 Fighter of the Year, Usyk has fought only twice since unifying the cruiserweight title with a lopsided decision over Murat Gassiev in July of that year and 55 weeks have elapsed since his last start. If he needs the early rounds to shake off ring rust, he could find himself clawing out of a hole, and sometimes the hole is too deep as Usyk’s stablemate Vasiliy Lomachenko can attest. Moreover, Usyk has yet to face a naturally bigger man who can bang as hard as “Del Boy.”

The Usyk-Chisora card will air in North America on DAZN with the main event ring walks anticipated about 6 pm ET.

The tiff is hitched to an interesting undercard. Once-beaten Welshman Lee Selby, briefly the IBF featherweight champion, tangles with Australia’s undefeated (18-0) George Kambosos Jr. Savannah Marshall, who saddled Claressa Shields with her only amateur loss, meets former Shields opponent Hannah Rankin with a vacant world middleweight title at stake, Belfast’s Tommy McCarthy opposes Belgium’s Bilal Laggoune for a domestic cruiserweight title, and then there’s the heavyweight fight attracting buzz between popular Yorkshireman David Allen and Christopher Lovejoy.

The buzz surrounds the mysterious 36-year-old Lovejoy who is 19-0 as a pro with all but two of those KOs coming in the opening round.

All of Lovejoy’s fights were staged in Tijuana. Only one of his opponents brought a winning record. For a certain stripe of fighter, Tijuana is the equivalent of a feed lot, a place where livestock go to get fattened up before they are sent off to the slaughterhouse. David Allen is limited, but the most likely scenario in this fight is that it ends with Lovejoy sitting on his stool.

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Diego Magdaleno is Locked and Loaded for Saturday’s Fray in San Antonio

Arne K. Lang

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Diego Armando Magdaleno, the son of a former semi-pro soccer player, was named for Argentine soccer star Diego Armando Maradona. But Diego’s father Jesus is hardly disappointed that his son devoted his energies to a different sport than soccer as Diego, the oldest of Jesus’s three boys, has carved out a nice career as a boxer. On Saturday, he faces Isaac Cruz at the San Antonio Alamodome and a win could thrust him into a third crack at a world lightweight title. Magdaleno vs. Cruz will be televised as part of a SHOWTIME PPV event anchored by a battle between title-holders Gervonta “Tank” Davis and Leo Santa Cruz.

The bookies don’t know what to do with the Magdaleno-Cruz matchup. One can find odds on fights of lesser importance, but with the fight only four days away the pricemakers were in quandary. Team Magdaleno, however, is approaching the fight as if they are the “B” side. Mexico City’s Isaac Cruz, who boasts a 19-1-1 record and is undefeated in his last 15 starts, has a fan-friendly style and is only 22 years old. In theory, he has more value to the promoter going forward than Magdaleno (32-3, 13 KOs) who turns 34 this week.

Magdaleno relishes the underdog role. He was the “B” side in his most recent fight when he opposed Austin Dulay in Dulay’s hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, and he carved out a clear-cut 10-round decision. Dulay, the younger man by nine years and less experienced at the pro level, was in over his head. Their fight was nationally televised on FOX.

Diego Magdaleno was born in Beverly Hills, California, but unlike many folks born there wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. “We were more like the Beverly Hillbillies,” says Diego, a reference to the popular sitcom that ran on CBS from 1962 to 1971.

For many years, Diego’s father, an immigrant from Sahuayo in the Mexican state of Michoacan, worked at the flagship West LA branch of an iconic Greater Los Angeles hamburger chain. Diego’s parents now manage a 7-11 in Las Vegas.

When Magdaleno first laced on the gloves it was at the Brooklyn Avenue boxing gym in the gritty Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles, the same gym where Oscar De La Hoya trained for the Olympic Trials. He continued with the sport after his family – he has three older sisters – moved to Las Vegas.

Diego influenced both of his younger brothers to become boxers. Jessie Magdaleno surpassed him in name recognition when he upset Nonito Nonaire in November of 2016, earning him the WBO world super bantamweight title. Jessie lost the belt in his second defense, succumbing to Isaac Dogboe, but has won three straight since that mishap, advancing his record to 28-1. The youngest Magdaleno brother, Marco, was 4-0 as a pro when he abandoned the sport, having secured a job with good pay and benefits in the construction field.

Diego has applied some of his ring earnings toward a real estate investment in Scipio, Utah, where he owns a parcel of land adjacent to a pioneer home. Scipio is a four-hour drive from Las Vegas and figuratively a million miles away. What does one do for fun in Scipio, pop. 288? The first thing that popped up in our internet search was to go grab a sandwich at the Burger Barn.

There’s a back story there. The pioneer home, built in 1886, was recently purchased by Diego’s fiancée Shannon Torres, a descendent of one of Scipio’s founding families. She and Diego are restoring it. Diego professes to be amazed at the craftsmanship. “When we pulled up the carpets,” he said, “the original hardwood floors were still in great condition.”

Shannon Torres has a boxing background, having fought as an amateur and having sparred with the likes of Mia St. John. She is also a nutritionist. Diego confesses to having a sweet tooth, being fond of cheesecake and anything with peanut butter. “She knows how to make those things for me so they are not as unhealthy,” he says.

Magdaleno’s first loss came in April of 2013 when he lost a split decision to Ramon Martinez in Macao. Diego thought he won the fight, but only one of the judges concurred. At stake was Martinez’s WBO 130-pound world title. His second world title opportunity came against WBO lightweight champ Terry Flanagan on Flanagan’s turf in Manchester, England. That didn’t go well.

“When I got in the ring, it felt like there was sand under my shoes,” said Diego. “My right foot was sliding underneath me. I overcompensated and that caused me trouble.” Magdaleno loaded up on his punches, a fatal mistake, and was knocked out in the second round.

Top Rank dropped Magdaleno after that fight but would eventually bring him back to fight their rising star Teofimo Lopez. His fight with Austin Dulay was his first fight back after his loss to Lopez (TKO by 7) and his first with new trainer Bones Adams (pictured on the left) in his corner.

Mag

Isaac Cruz poses a different threat than Dulay partly because Cruz, who stands only 5’4 ½”, is a lot shorter. But Magdaleno is confident the result will be the same.

“His style is attack, attack, attack; it’s one-dimensional,” says Diego. “I have been in there and done things that this kid has never seen. I am a big step up for him.”

Unlike many prizefighters, Diego Magdaleno knows where he is heading after his career is finished; he is already a licensed real estate salesman with one listing to his credit. He’s bi-lingual despite having spent only three months living in Mexico, that as a first-grader, and his linguistic versatility will come in handy in his second career. “I know just enough Spanish to get by,” he says, but having heard him speak in his parents’ native tongue we can attest that he’s being much too modest.

For the time being, however, Diego isn’t looking past Saturday night. Magdaleno vs. Cruz is expected to go first on the four-fight PPV portion of the card which kicks off at 9:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. PT.

Magdaleno/Dulay photo credit: Stephanie Trapp

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Will Leo Santa Cruz’s High Volume Punching Stymie Big Hitter ‘Tank’ Davis?

Bernard Fernandez

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WBA “super” 130-pound champion Gervonta “Tank” Davis, short (5’5½”), short-armed (a 67½-inch reach) and powerful, has been described by some as a miniature Mike Tyson, which seems reasonable for an undefeated fighter who has won all but one of his 23 professional bouts inside the distance, more than a few of those knockouts of the spectacular variety. And if Davis’ comparisons to “Iron Mike” weren’t enough to stamp him as an emerging superstar, there is also the fact that he is a protégé of Floyd Mayweather Jr., the vainglorious owner of a 50-0 record and distinction as the richest prizefighter ever to lace up a pair of padded gloves. “Money” bills himself as TBE, “The Best Ever,” and he goes so far as to suggest that the big-hitting southpaw from Baltimore for whom he has such high hopes might someday approach his status as a cash-cow and true icon of the ring.

“The ultimate goal is to get him to surpass me,” the 43-year-old and ostensibly retired Mayweather said of the financial and fistic potential of Davis, who turns 26 on Nov. 7 and arguably is in the early stages of his prime. “I’ve been his age. Where he’s trying to go to, and what he’s trying to accomplish, I’ve already accomplished.”

Although Davis has appeared on the undercard of two Pay-Per-View shows headlined by his famous and fabulously wealthy mentor, both he and Mayweather consider his watershed Halloween night confrontation with WBA “super” featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 KOs), in San Antonio’s Alamodome, as Tank’s real coming-out party. It is, after all, Davis’ first time atop his own Showtime PPV event, perhaps the first of several such marquee appearances if the level of public interest in him continues to spike. Ascending to PPV status is a rite of passage both men consider to be a significant key to all the boxing kingdom has to offer, an exclusive club to which many aspire but only a chosen few are allowed to join. The tariff to boxing fans is a $74.95 subscription fee.

“I said, `Tank, you under Mayweather Promotions. So, it’s May-Per-View,” Mayweather told the kid who would be he during the first episode of Showtime’s “All-Access,” the infomercial whose purpose is to help convince pandemic-strapped fight fans to open their wallets.

“I’m grateful for what Floyd did for me, as far as opening doors,” said Davis, who signed with Mayweather Promotions in 2015. “If it wasn’t for Floyd, I wouldn’t have been a champion at 22. He gave me a chance to fight on his Pay-Per-View card. Now I’m here, on my own Pay-Per-View.”

To hear Mayweather and Davis tell it, it is Tank’s singular, reputation-boosting turn in the spotlight, with Santa Cruz more or less along for the ride. The Vegas sports books seemingly are complicit in that perception, with Tank anywhere from a -$350 to a whopping -$710 favorite, odds which could fluctuate throughout the rest of the week as more and larger wagers are placed. Despite his being a four-division world champion, Santa Cruz, the 32-year-old, Mexican-born resident of Rosemead, Calif., whose current title is that of WBA “super” super feather ruler, also considers this particular bout to be historic as it is also his first PPV appearance. And, no, he isn’t bothered by the long odds against him (which range from +260 to +475) or Davis’ reputation as a compact instrument of pugilistic destruction.

“Nobody believes in me,” he said, almost reveling in his rare role as an underdog. “They think I’m this other guy. But I asked for this fight for a reason ’cause I want to prove myself. I’m going to compete and give my all. I’m not scared.

“Gervonta Davis is a great fighter with great skills, great power. I think he’s the most dangerous fighter in the division. Why not go after him? To prove to the people that I’m not scared of nobody.”

Santa Cruz might not pack as much power as Davis, but his forte is high-volume punching. When he defeated Vusi Malinga via 12-round unanimous decision for the vacant IBF bantamweight strap on June 2, 2012, in Carson, Calif., CompuBox statistics revealed he had unfurled a remarkable 1,350 punches, an average of just under 113 per round. Nor were those numbers an aberration for the human perpetual motion machine; in his two confrontations with Abner Mares, both of which were won on points by Santa Cruz, the read-out showed Leo connecting on a combined 730 of 2,115. Many opponents scarcely have time to think, much less react, when Santa Cruz is firing shots with machine-gun rapidity. No wonder he dares to believe Davis will be similarly flustered.

“I think so,” Santa Cruz said when asked if the quantity of his fusillade will more than offset Davis’ superior quality in terms of power. “When you have a fighter on top of you, throwing punches, he’s not letting you think; he’s frustrating you. He’s not letting you do nothing.

“If I do that, it could be dangerous ’cause he’ll be waiting to counterpunch me, to land those big shots, the uppercuts and hooks. So, I got to do a very smart fight, a perfect fight, to beat him.”

For TV purposes, the storyline outside the ropes sometimes is nearly as important in selling the product as what takes place inside them. In that regard Davis and Santa Cruz, so seemingly different in some regards, are strikingly similar in that they were children of poverty, hardly unusual for a sport where years of deprivation can stoke a burning desire to succeed. Santa Cruz’s motivation might even be hiked a bit higher because of the ongoing medical circumstances of his trainer-father, Jose Santa Cruz Sr.

Jose Sr. could be the star of his own medical reality series, the most recent episode being his near-death brush with COVID-19. But the patriarch of a boxing family (brothers Jose Jr., Antonio and Roberto are also involved in Leo’s career) had previously survived a bout with sepsis, a potentially life-threatening infection, and, in 2016, the diagnosis of Stage 3 myeloma, a blood cancer, that invaded his bones. The father had to undergo weeks of radiation and chemotherapy, and although he pulled through Leo cited concerns for his dad’s health as a contributing factor in his sole pro defeat, in which he relinquished his WBA super featherweight title, by 12-round majority decision, to England’s Carl Frampton on July 30, 2016. Santa Cruz avenged that setback, also by majority decision, six months later.

Jose Sr. continues to serve as Leo’s trainer, but so many medical crises have been met and overcome by the father that the son has learned, as best he can, to cope.

And the COVID-19 which again could have brought Jose Sr. the eternal 10-count?

“When he went (into the hospital), they gave us little hope,” Leo said of his dad’s most recent downward plunge on an emotional roller-coaster on which the entire family has been obliged to have seats. “They said he was going to pass away, that he wasn’t going to last the night. We were all depressed and crying. His lungs were failing, his heart was failing. He coded two times; he died and they brought him back to life.

“I had memories of when he used to go on the bus with me, pushing me in the gym, telling me what to do. All those memories were playing in my mind. I really didn’t think he was going to make it. I thought they were going to call us and say, `Hey, your dad passed away.’ But we prayed, we had hope. Thank God, the next day we were told our dad was still in critical condition, but he was doing a little bit better. Day by day he improved. God listened. He made a miracle. My dad survived. Even the doctors were saying that they didn’t know how that happened.”

As was the case with Santa Cruz, who recalls the occasions when the family’s electricity was shut off because of unpaid bills, Davis’ childhood also was hardly a real-life version of Leave It To Beaver. In 1999, while his father was in prison and his mom was battling drug addition, he was placed into child protective services at the age of five. For the next several years he shuttled between foster homes and shelters. But then, at seven, he found his way into the boxing gym run by Calvin Grove, who knew the pitfalls of life on the streets (he had served 10 years behind bars on drug offenses) as well as the need throw-away children such as Gervonta Davis had to finding someone and something to believe in. Ford, now 56, is so much more than Tank’s trainer now; he also is his father-figure and inspiration not to become another faceless, nameless crime statistic.

“Boxing, I would say, saved my life,” Davis said. “All the guys I came up with that were older than me, they got killed. If you got one foot in the street and one foot in the gym, it’s not going to work. You got to be all the way committed with something.

“When I came to the gym, I felt the love that I needed as a child. Calvin basically raised me. What I been through and what I seen coming up, I knew I don’t want to go backwards in life. I know what that brings.”

In addition to Davis-Santa Cruz, the PPV portion of the undercard features the return, after a layoff of 13 months, of former WBA and WBC Diamond super lightweight champion Regis “Rougaroo” Prograis (24-1, 20 KOs), in a 10-rounder against Juan Heraldez (16-0-1, 10 KOs); the WBA junior welterweight title matchup of San Antonio’s Mario Barrios (25-0, 16 KOs) vs. Ryan Karl (18-2, 12 KOs), and a lightweight scrap pitting Diego Magdaleno (32-3, 13 KOs) against Isaac Cruz Gonzalez (19-1-1, 14 KOs).

Photo credit: Esther Lin / Mayweather Promotions

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