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Brother Naazim’s Remarkable Life is Now a Wrap

Bernard Fernandez

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Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra once noted that “you can see a lot of stuff by looking,” and part of the legend of Naazim Richardson, who passed away today at 56 after years of declining health, is his attention to even the most seemingly mundane of details, like the wrapping of a fighter’s hands.

Although Richardson’s place in his hometown of Philadelphia’s boxing annals was already secure, or mostly so, his national and global profile rose considerably the night of January 24, 2009, when he served, for the first time, as the chief second for “Sugar” Shane Mosley, who was 37 years of age and a 4-1 underdog heading into his challenge of WBA welterweight champion Antonio Margarito in Los Angeles’ Staples Center. Margarito was being hailed as one of the sport’s most devastating punchers after he had beaten the great Miguel Cotto bloody in winning by 11th-round stoppage six months earlier.

But in Margarito’s dressing room before the fight to observe the wrapping of his hands, a chore for which many untrained or disinterested state inspectors often give short shrift, Richardson spotted something that very well may have been a determining factor in the outcome, a rousing 11th-round TKO by Mosley. Officials for the California State Athletic Commission, alerted to the fact Margarito’s hand wraps were illegal (and may well have been for the Cotto fight and others, which might be why Margarito was suspended for one year by the CSAC), agreed that Richardson’s objection was valid. All of a sudden, Margarito’s’s vaunted power seemed less so with rewrapped hands, and after the seventh round, as Mosley continued to pound away at the Mexican, HBO blow-by-blow announcer Jim Lampley excitedly advised viewers that every big-name fighter considering a change in his corner would soon have Richardson’s phone number on speed-dial.

As was his wont, “Brother” Naazim, a devout Muslim disinclined to seek out the spotlight, refused to take much credit for his fighter’s bravura performance. Nor was everyone inclined to give him his due then; noted trainer Teddy Atlas even downplayed the hand-wraps issue, calling Richardson the “flavor of the month” in a business that is “fickle that way.”

The same scene played out earlier, on September 29, 2001, with Richardson serving as the assistant trainer under Bouie Fisher for Bernard Hopkins’ middleweight unification showdown with the favored Felix Trinidad in Madison Square Garden. Again in the opponent’s dressing room to observe the hand-wrapping, he pointed out a violation to inspectors for the New York State Athletic Commission who almost needed to be prodded into adhering to commission rules prohibiting “layering.” Hopkins then went out and dominated from the opening bell, scoring a dramatic 12th-round TKO, arguably the most impressive performance of his long career.

“If you put on tape, then gauze, then tape, then gauze, it’s like a (plaster) cast. Naazim did a brilliant job in spotting what (Felix Trinidad Sr.) was doing with the wraps,” Hopkins said in describing layering, which is in violation of rules that stipulate tape cannot be applied directly over the knuckles, and that the required 10 yards of gauze and two yards of tape must be applied in one winding.

Once again, the modest Richardson – who returned to his training duties after recovering from the stroke he suffered in 2008 — was disinclined to try to horn in on Hopkins’ moment of glory. “Bernard just didn’t get hit a lot,” he said. “If Trinidad had bricks in (his gloves), he still wouldn’t have beaten Bernard that night.”

A 2014 inductee into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame, Richardson would move up from Hopkins’ assistant trainer to the top spot after B-Hop and Fisher had a falling out in 2006, being the primary voice in the corner for several more of the cagey veteran’s signature victories. In addition to his work with Hopkins and Mosley, a Californian, he also received kudos for the improvements made on his watch by another Philly guy, cruiserweight champion Steve “USS” Cunningham.

“He worked with some good fighters, and it was obvious they were all fundamentally sound,” Atlas, who came to regard Richardson as something more substantial than a flavor of the month, said upon hearing of his fellow trainer’s passing. “That’s the mark of a good trainer. He gave his fighters a base upon which to raise their skill level.”

John DiSanto, founder of Phillyboxinghistory.com, is a historian of Philadelphia boxing and he said that Richardson has earned his place alongside a great fight town’s most legendary trainers.

“Naazim will always be remembered as one of the best trainers to come out of Philly,” DiSanto said. “Just an amazing guy. There was nobody who liked to talk boxing more than him. If the conversation was about boxing, he’d just wear you out. He’d talk you under the table.

“The guy’s a legitimate star, and he’ll be greatly missed.”

But while Richardson is mostly known now for his association with world champions such as Hopkins, Mosley and Cunningham, he first began to draw attention as the father of a couple of eight-year-old phenoms, identical twins Rock and Tiger Allen, as well as Mike and Karl Dargan, whom he coached at the Concrete Jungle Gym in North Philadelphia.

As precocious grade-schoolers, the Allen twins drew attention for being able to crank out literally thousands of pushups and in tandem winning dozens of national tournaments. They were to have become as renowned and accomplished as was Hopkins, but a dark cloud arose at the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials in Tampa when both twins were disqualified. Tiger was the only one of the 96 entrants to fail to make weight, coming in a whopping 4½ pounds over the 125-pound limit. Rock won his opening match in the 132-pound weight class, but the reigning U.S. national champion was disqualified when officials of USA Boxing determined that Tiger had attempted to weigh in in his stead, and signed paperwork indicating he was Rock.

Rock swallowed his disappointment and returned for the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials, earning a spot on the American squad that competed in Athens, Greece, where he lost his first-round bout.

Upon turning pro, Rock, more dedicated to achieving his pro goals, was 15-0 with seven KOs as a rising welterweight prospect when he and Tiger, both 29, were both seriously injured in a one-vehicle crash on June 7, 2011. It weighed heavily on him that two young fighters he had defeated at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials, Lamont Peterson and Devon Alexander, went on to become world champions as pros.

“He’s seeing guys that he beat go on with their careers,” the father said in May 2013. “You don’t think it bothers him that he won’t – can’t – be where they are? It does, man. It hurts.”

Naazim Richardson’s passing closes the book on a chapter of Philadelphia boxing that, at varying turns, is both celebrated and controversial. But one thing is undeniable: when it came to anything related to the sport to which he devoted so much of his life, as DiSanto noted, Naazim Richardson definitely knew his stuff.

– – –

A New Orleans native, Bernard Fernandez retired in 2012 after a 43-year career as a newspaper sports writer, the last 28 years with the Philadelphia Daily News. A former five-term president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, Fernandez won the BWAA’s Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism in 1998 and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service in 2005. Last year, Fernandez was accorded the highest honor for a boxing writer when he was named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame with the class of 2020.

This past April 30, Fernandez’s memoir, “Championship Rounds,” was released by RKMA Publishing. For more information about “Championship Rounds” including where to purchase the book CLICK HERE.

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Late Sub Jonnie Rice Bursts Michael Coffie’s Bubble on a PBC Card in Newark

Arne K. Lang

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Every thing that could go wrong went wrong as promoter Al Haymon and his associates were patching together tonight’s card at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. But it couldn’t have worked out better for journeyman heavyweight Jonnie Rice who turned his career around with a smashing TKO of heavily favored and previously undefeated Michael Coffie.

Positive Covid tests scuttled two 10-round fights on the undercard. The main event had already been disheveled when Coffie’s original opponent Gerald Washington flunked his Covid test. Enter Rice (pictured on the right) who was on standby and seized the moment.

Rice, a Columbia, South Carolina native who has been living and training in Las Vegas, came in sporting a 13-6-1 record but five of his wins had come against no-hopers in Tijuana and he had yet to defeat an opponent in a match where he was the “B” side. But these facts were misleading as five of his six losses had come against hot prospects with undefeated records and he had honed his craft sparring against the likes of Tyson Fury, Filip Hrgovic, and Michael Hunter.

Based on “strength of schedule,” Rice, 34, had the edge over Coffie, the 35-year-old ex-Marine who brought a 12-0 record but was relatively untested. And Rice, who started fast, took the fight to Coffie and out-landed him. Coffie’s left eye was swelling and he wasn’t firing back when the referee waived it off in the fifth round.

Dirrell-Brooker

Tonight’s PBC fare came in two helpings with appetizers and the main event on FOX preceding a club-level show on FOX’s affiliate FS1. The main event of the nightcap was a 10-round light heavyweight bout between Andre Dirrell and Christopher Brooker.

Dirrell, who previously held an interim version of the IBF 168-pound world title, looked very sharp coming off a 19-month layoff, scoring three knockdowns before the fight was waived off in the third round. The Flint, Michigan native improved to 28-3 (18). Philadelphia’s Brooker fell to 16-8.

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Junior middleweight Joey Spencer (13-0, 9 KOs) scored an 8-round unanimous decision over James Martin (7-3). Spencer won comfortably on the scorecards – 80-72 and 79-73 twice – but was unimpressive.

Local fan favorite Vito “White Magic” Mielnicki Jr (9-1, 5 KOs) rebounded from his first pro loss with an impressive second-round stoppage of Noah Kidd (6-4-2).

Philadelphia welterweight Karl Dargan (20-1, 9 KOs), a former two-time national amateur champion, returned to the ring after a long absence and  stopped LA’s Ivan Delgado (13-4-2) in the third round.

New Jersey heavyweight Norman Neely advanced to 9-0 (7) with a unanimous decision over rugged Texas brawler Juan Torres (6-4-1). Neely won all six rounds on all three cards.

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Leigh Wood’s Big Upset Spangles the Rebirth of Eddie Hearn’s Garden Party

Arne K. Lang

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Last summer, hamstrung by the pandemic, Eddie Hearn hit upon the idea of holding boxing events outdoors in the expansive backyard of the family estate on the outskirts of London (now Matchroom Sport headquarters) where he grew up. Four shows were staged there.

The series has been revived. Today was “episode 1” of Season Two of Matchroom Fight Camp, otherwise known as Eddie Hearn’s Garden Party. Two more shows are penciled in over the next two weekends.

The match-up getting the most buzz was the welterweight contest between fast-rising Conor Benn and battle-tested Adrian Granados. Unfortunately, Benn tested positive for Covid-19. But the main event, a WBA world featherweight title defense by Can Xu (aka Xu Can) against Nottingham’s Leigh Wood stayed intact and produced a memorable upset.

Xu, who is co-promoted by Oscar De La Hoya, was installed a 4/1 favorite. Although he wasn’t a big puncher with only three knockouts to his credit in 20 starts, he rode into Hearn’s backyard riding a 15-fight winning streak for the third defense of his WBA “regular” title. But he started slow, perhaps the result of ring rust — it was his first fight of 2021 after missing all of 2020 – and he never did crank up the volume that had carried him to victory in his three title fights.

Wood, a stablemate of Josh Taylor who has made great gains since hooking up with Ben Davison and Lee Wylie, landed the heavier punches and was ahead on the cards when he took the fight out of the judges’ hands in the final minute of the final round. He decked Xu with a hard right hand and then trapped him on the ropes, forcing the stoppage that came with only 17 seconds remaining.

The 32-year-old Wood improved to 25-2 (15). Xu falls to 18-3. The deposed champion has a rematch clause so we may have a sequel.

Other Bouts

Chris Billam-Smith, trained by Shane McGuigan, won a hard-fought 12-round split decision over Belfast’s Tommy McCarthy in a cruiserweight scrap with three domestic titles at stake. The judges had it 116-112 and 115-114 for Billam-Smith, now 13-1, with the dissenter favoring McCarthy (18-3) by a 115-114 tally.

McCarthy wobbled Billam-Smith late in the first round with on overhand right, but could never land his Sunday punch on the Bournemouth fighter in a see-saw struggle with many close rounds. There were no knockdowns but McCarthy suffered a cut over his right eye near the end of round six from an apparent head butt.

McCarthy had Carl Frampton helping out in his corner which infused the contest with the aura of a grudge match. Frampton was the best man at Shane McGuigan’s wedding, but their friendship dissolved in a bitter court fight. At the end of the grueling fight, Billam-Smith and McCarthy embraced in a show of mutual respect.

Liverpool super-welterweight Anthony Fowler whose lone setback came at the hands of Scott Fitzgerald (a split decision) won his sixth straight with an eighth-round stoppage of Germany’s Rico Mueller whose cornerman was on the ring apron when the slow-acting referee waived it off at the 2:12 mark. Fowler, who is also trained by Shane McGuigan, improved to 15-1 (11). His next bout is expected to come against fellow Scouser Liam Smith in October. This was the second fight this month for the game but out-gunned 33-year-old Mueller (28-4-1) who was subbing for veteran Tex-Mex campaigner Roberto Garcia who pulled out with a back injury.

Also, Jack Cullen (20-2-1, 9 KOs) scored a 10-round unanimous decision over Avni Yildirim (21-4) in a 10-round super middleweight contest. Yildirim, from Turkey, was looking to atone for his hollow performance against Canelo Alvarez this past February. While he had his moments, he was out-worked by the lanky Lancashire man who won by scores of 100-90, 08-92, and 97-93.

Photo credit: Alan Walton / Matchroom Boxing

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Avila Perspective, Chap 146: De La Hoya Returns Plus Other Boxing Notes

David A. Avila

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Sitting in front of several dozen reporters, the favorite son of Los Angeles area boxing, Oscar De La Hoya, and former MMA champion Vitor Belfort spoke about their mutual return to prizefighting.

“I can’t lie. I miss getting hit,” said De La Hoya.

It was a statement also shared by Belfort.

After years away from the prize ring, both return to exchange hits as boxing’s De La Hoya (39-6, 30 KOs) meets MMA’s Belfort (26-14, 18 KOs) on Sept. 11, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Triller Fight Club card will be shown on pay-per-view via FITE.tv and other modes.

De La Hoya, 48, last absorbed hits from a fighter when Manny Pacquiao battered him almost 13 years ago back in December 2008. It was a shock to the senses to see the great East L.A. fighter take blow after blow while unable to hit back.

He was only 35.

Many attribute that loss to a ridiculous agreement to weigh under 145 pounds before facing Pacquiao. At the time De La Hoya was the real gate attraction and pay-per-view king. He held all the cards but agreed to the demands acutely devised by Freddie Roach. It proved to leave De La Hoya too weak to fight back and after eight rounds the one-sided beating was stopped.

De La Hoya retired after that fight. Ironically, he called for a press conference and it was held right where he recently announced this upcoming fight against Belfort. It’s also near a statue built in his honor.

Sitting nearby, Belfort patiently waited his turn to speak. For the Brazilian MMA fighter, it’s only been a mere three years since he exchanged blows in a prize fight. It was a knockout loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 224 in Brazil.

When Belfort spoke to the media, he expressed a desire to get hit too.

“Its fun. I’m going to have joy when I get hit. You cannot get better than that,” said Belfort.

It’s a common sentiment held by former greats. I’ve heard the same comments from James “Lights Out” Toney who ridiculously was not voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame this past year.

Getting hit becomes as common as breathing for most professional fighters, especially those that began boxing at a young age such as De La Hoya.

“The truth is I miss it. I miss it very much,” said De La Hoya who began lacing up gloves as an amateur at five years old.

According to oddsmakers, Belfort is the favorite to win. Probably for a number of reasons including he fought a mere three years ago. Belfort is the heavier fighter and has fought foes in the 205 pound-division called light heavyweight in MMA. Plus, he is simply bigger than his foe.

“I hope I don’t end up killing him, but everything is on the table,” said Belfort. “If he doesn’t have joy in what he does he could come back in a coffin.”

Prizefighters are masochists. All truly good fighters have a streak of masochism inside. They know they’ll be pummeled with blows that truly hurt and they look forward to it. But the bitter truth is taking hits in your 30s and taking hits near your 50s are two vastly different scenarios.

It’s an extremely dangerous fight for both.

As someone who spent nearly a month in a hospital after experiencing a cerebral hemorrhage, otherwise known as a “brain bleed,” I’m stunned by the fact that more boxers are not damaged from brutal blows. I pray nothing like this occurs to De La Hoya, Belfort, or any retired boxer who returns to the prize ring for a possible payday.

They are prizefighters and like any former high-performance athlete, they miss competition.

“When you love it, no matter what happens, I’m ok with it,” said De La Hoya.

Fans will attend Staples Center by the thousands simply to see “the Golden Boy” once again and pay tribute to one of the greats. Many of those attending will be praying silently for the fighter’s safety.

I know I will.

England Fights

WBA featherweight titlist Xu Can (18-2, 3 KOs) defends against Leigh Wood (24-2, 14 KOs) on Saturday July 31, at Brentwood, England. DAZN will stream the world title fight.

This is the third defense for Can who has not fought in almost two years. The last defense was at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California when he soundly defeated Manny Robles III.

Can took the title from Puerto Rico’s Jesus Rojas, a rough and tumble fighter who takes a pound of flesh from everyone he faces. Against Can he was unable to deal out the usual punishment.

Wood is a former super bantamweight contender who has never really faced international competition. He did face former world champion Gavin McDonnell but was stopped. Perhaps the move up in weight will help.

Fights to Watch

Fri. Estrella TV 7 p.m. Erick Leon (14-1) vs Juan Marcos Rodriguez (10-3).

Sat. DAZN 11 a.m. Xu Can (18-2) vs Leigh Wood (24-2).

Sat. FOX 5 p.m. Michael Coffie (12-0) vs. Jonnie Rice (13-6-1)

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