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Harper and Jonas Battle to a Draw in Episode 2 of ‘Matchroom Fight Camp’

Arne K. Lang

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The second edition of Eddie Hearn’s “Fight Camp” summer series unfolded today in the backyard of the mansion that serves as the Matchroom Sport headquarters in Brentwood, Essex, England. The main event was ostensibly the 12-round bout for the Commonwealth cruiserweight title between Chris Billam-Smith and Nathan Thorley, but most of the pre-event talk was about the women’s match between Terri Harper and Natasha Jonas which went last in the program. Harper was making the first defense of the WBC world super featherweight title that she took from long-reigning title-holder Ewa Wahlstrom in February.

Harper vs. Jonas, originally scheduled for April 24, was the first-ever female world title fight between two Brits and it proved to be a very entertaining scuffle, building on the momentum of the inaugural Fight Camp offering last Saturday when Ted Cheeseman and Sam Eggington put on a splendid show.

When the smoke cleared, Terri Harper retained her belt by virtue of earning a draw, but the question of which English boxer was superior remained unanswered.

At age 23, Harper was younger by 13 years, but Liverpool’s Jonas, a 2012 Olympian, had the stronger amateur pedigree. Jonas started fast but Harper had the edge plus youth on her side as the bout wended into the final furlongs. In round eight, however, Jonas rocked her with a left-right combination and she hurt her again in the next round.

Harper had to dig deep in the final round to arrest the momentum and she rose to the occasion, staving off defeat. The judges had it 96-94 for Harper, 96-95 for Jonas, and 95-95.

Harper remained undefeated at 11-0. It was the second loss for Jonas in 11 pro fights.

Terri Harper is a good human interest story. Before she was coaxed out of retirement in 2017, she was peeling potatoes in a fish and chips shop in her hometown of Denaby in County Yorkshire. As for her next fight, she now has three apparent options: a unification fight with Poland’s Ewa Brodnicka, the WBO belt-holder and a recent Matchroom signee, a match with Mikaela Mayer (Brodnicka’s “mandatory”), or a rematch with Natasha Jonas. Whatever develops, her next match will be eagerly anticipated.

Other Bouts

The fight between Chris Billam-Smith and Nathan Thorley, which actually went second in the bout order, was a soft defense for Billam-Smith. Trained by Shane McGuigan, Billam-Smith (11-1, 10 KOs) blasted out Thorley in the second round. He ended the one-sided scrap with a short right hand as Thorley was boring in, knocking him to his knees. Thorley beat the count, but his legs were unsteady and the referee properly stopped it.

A 27-year-old Welshman, Thorley came in undefeated (14-0), but he had been feasting on slop – his previous opponents were collectively 106-549 – and the result wasn’t unexpected. The official time was 2:05.

In a 10-round contest in the super-welterweight division, Liverpool’s Anthony Fowler, another Shane McGuigan protégé, improved to 13-1 (10) with a seventh-round stoppage of game but out-gunned Adam Harper (9-2). Fowler, a gold medal winner at the 2014 Commonwealth Games as a middleweight, had no fear of the light-punching Harper and was in full control from the get-go. His lone defeat came by split decision to rising contender Scott Fitzgerald.

In a featherweight contest, 20-year-old Leeds southpaw Ivan “Hopey” Price improved to 3-0 with a 6-round shutout over Jonny Phillips (5-5).

A fifth fight, a scheduled 8-round clash between lightweights Kane Baker and Aqib Fiaz, was canceled when Fiaz took ill.

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At the Moment Boxing is Dormant, but There Will Be Fireworks Aplenty in February

Arne K. Lang

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At the Moment Boxing is Dormant, but There Will Be Fireworks Aplenty in February

The month of January has been quiet on the boxing front and that’s putting it mildly. And making matters worse, the month’s best offering, a Golden Boy card on Jan. 30, bit the dust when Sergey Kovalev tested positive for a banned substance, harpooning his bout with Bektemir Melikuziev and forcing the cancellation of the entire card.

Once considered a shoo-in for Canastota, Kovalev has degenerated into a longshot and his match with Melikuziev didn’t figure to help his chances. The Uzbek southpaw, a Bronze medalist at the Rio Olympiad, has only six pro fights under his belt but is so highly regarded that the bookies installed him a 7/2 favorite.

Showtime has a PBC card on Jan. 23 headlined by a WBO world title match between super bantamweights Angelo Leo and Stephen Fulton, there’s an intriguing heavyweight match on the 29th between musty Manuel Charr and Don King’s undefeated Trevor Bryan, and Caleb Plant is slated to defend his IBF 168-pound belt the following night against Caleb Truax, but that’s it for this month, quite a limp slate, even considering that January is historically a slow month for the sweet science.

The good news is that things will heat up in February.

February 13

The 13th will be a particularly busy day. The action kicks off in the afternoon (U.S. time) when Josh Warrington, the Leeds Warrior, defends his IBF world featherweight title against Mexico City’s Mauricio Lara on a Matchroom/DAZN card. Warrington (30-0, 7 KOs) doesn’t pack a hard punch, but makes up for it with a high-octane attack. He will go to post a solid favorite over Lara (21-2, 14 KOs).

That evening, two West Coast shows will compete for eyeballs.

In Las Vegas, Joe Smith Jr. (26-3, 21 KOs) opposes Russia’s Maxim Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs) for the vacant WBA light heavyweight title. A Long Island construction worker who has branched out and started a tree surgery business, Smith will be forever remembered as the man who rucked Bernard Hopkins into retirement, but based on his recent efforts that was certainly no fluke. In bouts with Jesse Hart and former title-holder Eleider Alvarez, Smith showed that he is a skilled craftsman with a high boxing IQ.

The are two title fights on the Golden Boy card going head-to-head in Indio, CA. It’s Brazil vs. Argentina when Brazil’s Patrick Teixeira (31-1, 22 KOs) opposes Brian Castano (16-0-1, 12 KOs). Teixeira will be making his first start since copping the WBO 154-pound title with a mild upset of Carlos Adames in November of 2019. That was a bloody battle in which Teixeira overcame a big deficit to pull the fight out of the fire.

Teixeira will dress as the underdog vs. Castano, a second-generation professional boxer who was reportedly 181-5 as an amateur and who recently held a version of the WBA light middleweight title (doesn’t everybody?). The draw on Castano’s ledger came in a spirited skirmish with Erislandy Lara.

Teixeira vs. Castano will more than likely precede the match between Joseph “Jojo” Diaz (31-1, 15 KOs) and Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (15-0, 12 KOs) in the bout order. Diaz will be making the first defense of the IBF 130-pound title he won from Tevin Farmer in January of last year. Rakhimov, a native of Tajikistan who currently resides in Ekaterinburg, Russia, will be making his U.S. debut.

Feb. 20

The featured bout of the second Matchroon/DAZN event of 2021 is a 12-round welterweight contest between David Avanesyan (26-3-1, 14 KOs) and Josh Kelly (10-0-1, 6 KOs). The well-traveled Avanesyan has turned his career around after suffering a sixth-round stoppage at the hands of Egidijus Kavaliauskas in February of 2019. Since then, he’s won three straight in Spain, including back-to-back knockouts of the highly-touted and previously undefeated Spaniard, Kerman Lejarraga.

England’s Kelly, a former Olympian, is moving up in class, but at last look he was a very slight favorite over his Russian adversary. Akin to Warrington vs. Lara, the match is expected to take place at Wembley Arena where Anthony Joshua TKOed Kubrat Pulev before 1,000 fans on Dec. 12.

The all-Mexico showdown between Miguel Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) and Oscar Valdez (28-0, 22 KOs) is the crème-de-la-crème of the February docket. On paper this bout, a Top Rank promotion pushed back from Dec. 12 when Berchelt tested positive for COVID, will warrant consideration for Fight of the Year.

Berchelt, who will be defending his WBC 130-pound world title, has knocked out 15 of his last 17 opponents. This will be the third fight at 130 for Valdez, a two-time Olympian who successfully defended his WBO world featherweight title six times before vacating the belt because he was having trouble making the weight.

If Berchelt  (pictured on the left) is victorious, he is expected to move up to lightweight where some rich paydays await in potential fights with Vasyl Lomachenko and bevy of young hotshots. If Valdez wins, it is expected that he will pursue a unification fight with the winner of the forthcoming match between Carl Frampton and Jamel Herring.

Top Rank honcho Bob Arum has indicated that both the Smith-Vlasov and Berchelt-Valdez fights will be staged in Las Vegas at an MGM property, but not necessarily at the MGM Grand where Top Rank promoted 24 shows without fans during the pandemic.

Feb. 27

On the last Saturday of the month, fight fans in the U.S. can take in a doubleheader if they can roust themselves out of bed in the middle of the night. In Auckland, New Zealand (18 hours ahead of New York), there’s a big domestic clash between heavyweights Joseph Parker (27-2, 21 KOs) and Junior Fa (19-0, 10 KOs). These two have been on a collision course since 2009 when Fa, the older man by 27 months, defeated Parker in the first of their four meetings as amateurs. Parker won two of the next three to even the series at 2-2.

Here we have a bout with international significance that is also a match for neighborhood bragging rights. Parker and Fa grew up in the same South Auckland neighborhood and attended the same LDS church. But yet it won’t be hard to contort this fight into a grudge match. Parker’s family roots are in Samoa; Fa’s in Tonga. The two nations have a fierce rivalry in rugby.

This fight was more than two years in the making and when the bout was finally signed, 9,000 tickets went on sale to the general public.

Later that day, at a yet undetermined site in London, Carl Frampton (28-2, 16 KOs) seeks to become a title-holder in a third weight class when he challenges WBO 130-pound title-holder Jamel Herring (22-2, 10 KOs). The twice-postponed fight will air in the U.S. on ESPN+.

Frampton is currently a consensus 3/2 favorite over Herring who suffered an eye injury over his right optic, described as scraped lens, in his messy September fight with billy goat Jonathan Oquendo. A former Marine and former Olympian, Herring currently trains with Terence Crawford in  Omaha

As we move into March, the first Saturday will bring the rematch between Dillian Whyte and Alexander Povetkin. Whyte dominated the first meeting until Povetkin found a home for a hellacious uppercut in the fifth frame, terminating the bout. Whyte, at age 32 the younger man by nine years, is favored to avenge that bitter defeat. As for the location, promoter Eddie Hearn has had conversations with potential suitors in Gibraltar and Monaco.

So, hang in there, fight fans. January may be dry, but there’s a whole bunch of interesting fights lurking around the corner.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 121: Prizefighting in 2021

David A. Avila

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Prizefighting actually dipped underground for the past nine months with professional boxers training illegally in darkened gyms behind shuttered windows and locked doors.

It still remains an underground sport.

The slow death cloud of the coronavirus led to government restrictions forbidding large gatherings especially in enclosed facilities. Boxers still train.

It was a primary reason that prizefighting among the elite was never more bare.

When Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder met at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for their rematch, a crowd of more than 15,000 fans witnessed the heavyweight spectacle. That took place on February 22, and it was the last hurrah in 2020.

A new year begins but the old ways of doing things are no longer in place. Those large purses are unattainable without fans, but it’s difficult to convince the prizefighters. All they know is they want to get paid with pre-2020 checks.

Very few of the top male prizefighters took to the prize ring.

One leading American matchmaker, who did not wish to go on record, said fighters do not understand that ticket sales are an important aspect of the fight game. Many prizefighters feel they are underpaid and being cheated when offered purses that fall under their pre-2020 monies.

No fans, no money.

Television or streaming app revenue is not enough without the clicking of the turnstile.

Fans are the reason that fighters get paid and without fans prizefighting does not exist.

Reality in 2021

Before the advent of television, prizefighters were paid strictly on the basis of ticket sales. The more fans a fighter could attract, the bigger the purse. When television arrived it drastically changed the landscape.

Television networks who delve into boxing bring their own budgets and cable networks like HBO and Showtime drastically changed the landscape. Instead of thousands, millions were being paid to the stars. Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather were the prizefighters leading the way past $20 and $30 million dollar purses. MMA still hasn’t reached those figures. Not even close, unless they are fighting against a boxer as Conor McGregor did several years ago.

During the past three years new players arrived with streaming apps like ESPN+ and DAZN entering the boxing world. One primary advantage has been its worldwide ability to transmit boxing events. However, because not all of the world has access to high tech, those streaming apps are still in the pioneering phase when it comes to building a fan base. At the moment, television still holds the upper hand but the gap is closing quickly.

Lately, DAZN has taken to inserting sponsors logos into their live programming without skipping a beat. It was only a matter of time before they realized the capabilities of inserting commercials digitally. It’s not a new idea; it was explored decades ago by our own BoxingChannel.tv.

Still, as long as the pandemic exists and fans are unable to attend boxing cards the mega fights that drive prizefighting will not take place. The arrival of various vaccines for the coronavirus are a big plus for the sport emerging out of the underground state of boxing. But the fighters need to fight.

Tyson Fury needs to meet Anthony Joshua in a battle for the heavyweight championship and Errol Spence Jr. must fight Terence Crawford this year. Others like Teofimo Lopez are doing their part to open the eyes of fans to the new breed of prizefighters who can fight, talk and excite with their electrifying skills.

Potential stars like Serhii Bohachuk, Vergil Ortiz Jr. and Charles Conwell are catching the eye of fans and all are basically around the same weight classes. They took advantage of the openings for television and streaming spots.

Prizefighters everywhere need to understand this pandemic may last longer than you think. God forbid, but there could be another looming around the corner. It’s time to go for broke and get back in the prize ring. Time is not on your side.

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Remembering Young Stribling on the Centennial of his First Pro Fight

Arne K. Lang

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This coming Sunday, Jan. 17, marks the 100th anniversary of the pro debut of one of boxing’s most interesting characters. On this date in 1921, Young Stribling, carrying 118 pounds, won a 4-round decision over Kid Dombe in the opening bout of a 4-bout card at the auditorium (it had no name) in Atlanta, Georgia. Stribling would go on to fight for the world heavyweight title and would leave the sport as boxing’s all-time knockout king, a distinction that commands an asterisk.

Stribling’s effort against Dombe, who was billed as Georgia’s newsboy champion, made a strong impression on the ringside reporter for the Atlanta Constitution. “A young gentleman,” he wrote, “is destined to become mighty popular in the squared circle. He is Young Stribling of Macon, and a classier bit of boxing machinery hasn’t been uncovered in these parts in a good many years.” Stribling failed to stop his opponent, but left him “badly mussed-up.”

Young Stribling, born William Lawrence Stribling, bubbled into a great regional attraction. Name a place in Georgia – Albany, Americus, Augustus, Bainbridge, Rome, Savannah, Thomasville, etc. – and Stribling fought there. As the star forward on his high school basketball team, one of the best teams in the country, he never ventured far from home for a boxing match until he was deep into his career.

Many of Stribling’s fights were held in conjunction with fairs and carnivals and some others were staged in vaudeville houses. Stribling was the son of professional acrobats. As a young boy, he and his younger brother Herbert performed alongside their parents in a novelty act, a mock prizefight done up in slapstick.

Stribling attracted national attention in 1923 when he opposed veteran Mike McTigue, the reigning light heavyweight champion. The bout was held in a 20,000-seat wooden arena in Columbus, Georgia.

A New Yorker, but an Irishman by birth, McTigue brought his own referee, which wasn’t uncommon in those days. The arbiter was Harry Ertle, a City Marshal in Jersey City, famed as the third man in the ring for Jack Dempsey’s fight with Georges Carpentier, the first fight with a million-dollar gate.

“The road is a treacherous place,” a wizened old fight manager was overheard saying at New York’s fabled Stillman Gym. And Columbus, Georgia, a town situated on the banks of the Chattahoochee River and purportedly a Ku Klux Klan stronghold, was certainly a treacherous place for Team McTigue on that balmy October afternoon.

After 10 rather pedestrian rounds, Ertle called the fight a draw. But he was in such a hurry to exit the ring that he did not make his verdict clear. Rather than call the combatants to the center of the ring and raise both their arms, he merely pointed at both corners, “spreading his hands as a baseball umpire calling a baserunner safe after a slide.”

Ertle didn’t get far. He was immediately accosted by the head of the local organizing committee who upon confirming that Ertle had scored the bout a draw, ordered the referee back into the ring. “You will never get out of here (if you don’t give the fight to Stribling),” he said. “We have all the railroad stations covered.”

Ertle went back into the ring, awarded the fight to Stribling, and then three hours later in the safety of a private residence, he signed a statement saying that his original decision should stand. The incident made all the papers and made Stribling a household name in houses where folks read the sports pages.

When Stribling fought McTigue, he was only 18 years old. And he was fast growing into his body, tipping the scales for the fight at 165 pounds.

Stribling and McTigue renewed acquaintances five months later in Newark, New Jersey. In a shocker, the “Georgia Schoolboy” dominated the Irishman. Stribling won all 12 rounds in the estimation of one ringside reporter. He had McTigue almost out in the 11th and again in the 12th but reverted to clowning and let him off the hook. “It was a bad habit,” said a reporter, “that the kid picked up working the country fair circuit.”

Because New Jersey was then a “no-decision” state, McTigue was allowed to keep his title. Stribling would get another chance at the belt in June of 1926 when he met McTigue’s conqueror Paul Berlenbach at Yankee Stadium.

Boxing writers fawned over Young Stribling who seldom appeared in public without his parents; his father was his chief cornerman. His parents’ names were “Ma” and “Pa,” or that’s what condescending East Coast writers always called them.

The Stribling-Berlenbach fight, wrote syndicated sportswriter Damon Runyon, “was the most widely advertised and most eagerly anticipated event of some years in New York.” The crowd, reportedly 56,000, “attracted more political bigwigs and social and sporting dignitaries than you could shake a stick at.” And the fight, marred by excessive clinching, was a dud. It went the full 15 rounds and Berlenbach, the Astoria Assassin, won decisively (the scores were not announced).

It was back to the drawing board for Young Stribling, which meant back to the life of a barnstormer. Over the next 33 months, he had 75 (!) documented fights and lost only once, that coming at the hands of clever Tommy Loughran in a 10-round bout at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. That impressive run boosted him into a match with Jack Sharkey, an “eliminator” in which the winner would be one step removed from fighting for the world heavyweight title vacated by Gene Tunney.

Stribling vs. Sharkey was the last important bout arranged by Tex Rickard who died seven weeks before the bout materialized in an arena erected on a polo field in Miami Beach. It was North against South, and the crowd, nearly 35,000, was solidly against Sharkey, the Boston Gob. But Stribling came up short again in a rather disappointing, albeit closely contested 10-round affair. There was little dissension when the New York referee gave the fight to the Bostonian.

Later that year, Max Schmeling defeated Paulino Uzcudun at Yankee Stadium, setting the stage for a Sharkey-Schmeling fight for the vacant title. In the fourth round, Sharkey was disqualified after sending Schmeling to the canvas with a punch that was palpably low.

After his setback to Jack Sharkey, Young Stribling fought his way back into contention with wins over three ranked opponents after splitting a pair of suspicious fights with Primo Carnera in Europe. In fact, in a 1930 poll of 55 sportswriters by the New York Sun, Stribling was named the best heavyweight, out-polling both Sharkey and Schmeling. When the German picked Stribling for his first title defense, he was, in the eyes of many people, choosing his most worthy challenger.

Carnera vs. Stribling was the icebreaker event at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, the new home of the city’s baseball team, the Indians. The bout came to fruition on the eve of the Fourth of July in 1931, two days after the cavernous ballpark was formally dedicated in an elaborate ceremony.

Stribling started fast, but Schmeling ultimately proved too strong for him. In the 15th round, Schmeling knocked him to the canvas and then pummeled him into a helpless condition, forcing the referee to intervene and waive it off. This wasn’t a great fight, but it was a quite a spectacle, notwithstanding the fact that there were a lot of empty seats. The Ring magazine named it the Fight of the Year.

This would be Young Stribling’s last big-money fight. In his final ring appearance, he outpointed light heavyweight title-holder Maxie Rosenbloom in a 10-round non-title fight in Houston. According to BoxRec, he left the sport with a record of 224-13-14 with 129 knockouts, a record eventually broken by Archie Moore who would be credited with 131.

About those knockouts: It came to be understood that many were bogus, not fictional, but rather set-ups on the carnival circuit where he padded his record against someone with whom he was well-acquainted. But there are also some curious knockouts on Archie Moore’s ledger. On Moore’s list of KO victims one finds the names of Professor Roy Shire and Mike DiBiase, popular grunt-and-groan wrestlers.

As to Young Stribling’s fistic legacy, historians are all over the map. The biography of Stribling by Jaclyn Weldon White (Mercer University Press, 2011) is titled “The Greatest Champion that Never Was.” That’s a bit over the top. The reality is that when Stribling was matched against his strongest opponents, his Sunday punch was missing in action.

You won’t find Stribling’s name on Matt McGrain’s 2014 list of the 100 Greatest Heavyweights of All Time. Stribling checks in at #23 on McGrain’s list of the all-time greatest light heavyweights and, with all due respect to McGrain, that also strikes us as a bit off-kilter, not giving Stribling enough credit. In more than 250 documented fights, he was stopped only once, that coming with 14 seconds remaining in the 15th and final round of his bout with Max Schmeling.

Regardless of where you choose to place him, Young Stribling was certainly colorful.

Young Stribling lived his life in the fast lane, and with him that isn’t a cliché. He loved to fly, and when he headed off somewhere in his six-seater, said a reporter, “he would take the plane off the ground in a shivering climb so steep veteran flyers gasped.” On the highways, his preferred mode of travel was a motorcycle.

Stribling married his high school sweetheart and they had three children. On Oct. 1, 1933, he left his home in Macon on his motorcycle and never returned. A head-on crash with an incoming car sent him to the hospital where he died the next day from internal injuries. Ma and Pa were there with him in his final hours, as was his wife who had given birth to a baby boy eight days earlier in this very same hospital.

William Lawrence “Young” Stribling was 28 years old when he drew his final breath. He packed a lot of living into those 28 years, including a whirlwind boxing career that took flight 100 years ago this coming Sunday.

Note: The photo is the cover photo from the October 1924 issue of The Ring magazine

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