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Will The Pandemic Hurt Boxing in the Long Term?: A Blockbuster TSS Survey

Ted Sares

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The question for our final survey of 2020: What long-range effects, if any, will the Pandemic have on Boxing as a business and/or as a sport? Participation was robust. We received 50 responses. The respondents are listed in alphabetical order.

Jim Amato — author, writer, historian, collector: The fans don’t seem to be as “into it” as they were before the pandemic hit. This can change though in the next six to twelve months. Promoters and matchmakers need to put together some mega battles. There are several waiting to be made. The boxers HAVE to be willing to take on their best opponent. The fans are getting restless with “build-up” contests. It’s time to s–t or get off the pot for everyone involved.

Russ Anber — elite trainer, cornerman, and owner of Rival Boxing Equipment: Boxing, or the business thereof, will ultimately reflect whatever is happening in the world and in other sports and businesses. A new set of rules has been imposed on the world, and as a species and a sport, boxing and its participants will adapt to the new world order.

Matt Andrzejewski –TSS writer: Short term there has been an impact. Boxing gyms closing and the essential elimination of club shows in the US are examples. But long term this sport is resilient and there will be no major impact. Just look at the recent Horn-Tszyu card in Australia. There is still plenty of demand worldwide for the sport and once fans are allowed in, you will see them come rushing back to fill arenas.

David Avila — TSS West Coast Bureau Chief: Those who consider boxing gyms a second home now realize how easy it can be taken away.

Jeff Bumpus writer; former professional boxer: I truly believe the results will be completely negligible. When the pandemic subsides, business will resume as it used to be. There were no real advantages or points of light to be taken from this period. Crowds are missed.

Steve Canton — voice of boxing in Florida: I don’t think the pandemic will have any long-range effect. It definitely has a short-term effect on both the sport and business of boxing. Fighters are not able to train and compete with the gyms being closed or limited and few shows being promoted with no (or few) spectators. There will be a time lapse before things are back to the way it was. We need gyms open, fighters (both amateur and professional) fighting, and shows being promoted in order to develop the “next generation” of stars. Eventually we will get there.

Anthony M. Cardinale, Esq. — fight manager: One good thing about the pandemic’s effect on the sport is to give the fighters, their managers, and hangers-on a better appreciation of the economics of the business of boxing. One critical revenue stream, site fees/ ticket sales, were stricken off the list and allowed the other side of the promotion to appreciate that you can only pay what is reasonable. As for the sport part, it has been interesting to see how little the crowd has to do with performance. Indeed, it let everyone watching know that the fighters are so focused that they do not hear the crowd, period. Finally, the lack of raucous crowd response to fan favorites, even when they miss, was taken out of the judging equation. I have always thought that the judges should have noise cancelling devices in order to better judge the bout; even on an subconscious level, crowd reaction plays too much into the judging.

Guy Casale — former professional boxer:  It’s similar to that of other sports! Until we’re out of the woods and better ways are perfected to treat this virus.

Michael Culbert — retired professional boxer; former Massachusetts state champion: It will have no effect; things will get back to normal.

Jill Diamond WBC International Secretary and “WBC Cares” Chair: Boxing will always exist. And, when the Pandemic hit, boxing was on an upward curve. I believe that unless the promoters and the platforms find a common ground, we may never find that momentum again. Other combat sports don’t suffer from this business model and will eclipse boxing; especially when so many homebound people hunger for sports. They need and deserve the best of the best. Unless we give that to them, we will probably be KO’d. Of course, the ones who are most vulnerable are our athletes. Let’s unite and do better.

Rick Farris — president and founder of the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame: As far as I am concerned, the boxing I loved died long ago. I only write about the sport I love, and it no longer exists. So, through the WCBHOF, I am able to live in the past. The art of boxing no longer exists

Bernard Fernandez — TSS mainstay, lifetime member of the BWAA, 2020 IBHOF Inductee: They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. The lack of live boxing, or even boxing before small, socially-distanced turnouts, might ignite a firestorm of interest once the sport is fully opened to fans not required to wear masks or to treat the person next to him as if he had a communicable disease, which might well have been the case. But little or no live boxing might have the opposite effect, and remind fans that life did and can go on without unfettered access to the pugilistic arts. Only time will tell which way the pendulum swings.

Sue Fox — legendary female boxer; founder/president of WBAN™ and IWBHF: In the long run boxing will continue to suffer for an unknown time. The smaller promoters do not have the advantage of television networks, etc. to help with their indoor events. I am wondering how boxing events behind closed doors will, in the “big picture,” be able to sustain itself?

Jeffrey Freeman — (aka KO Digest), TSS writer: With this week’s surprise announcement that President Trump and his wife now have the China Virus, I don’t know what to think about the future of anything anymore. What I do know is that the free world (and America in particular) is under communist attack and that professional sports are being weaponized against us in the name of social justice. It’s not as bad in boxing as in some other sports (not yet anyway) but it’s only a matter of time until the forces of destruction turn their attention to boxing as “the most racist” of all sports, pitting poor black fighters against other poor black fighters for the entertainment of white spectators.

Clarence George -writer and historian: The effects will be inevitable, but insignificant. After all, how much more marginalized can boxing get?

Randy Gordon-former head of the New York State Athletic Commission; former editor of The Ring magazine; host of SiriusXM Radio’s “At the Fights, Inc”: The Pandemic which has decimated many businesses throughout the world, is sure to leave a long, ugly scar for many years. Boxing, along with MMA, led the sports world back into competition, albeit on a smaller scale and behind closed doors. No fans in attendance obviously affects the paychecks of all involved. Throughout history. the world has recovered from all types of disasters. It will recover from this one. Only time will tell how long it takes.  However, the way boxing has come roaring back in the second half of 2020, my guess is that COVID-19 will not leave any long-term effects on the “Sweet Science.”

Lee Groves author, writer and the wizard of CompuBox: I believe that boxing has dealt with this virus better than most sports, and thus I believe that it will once again prove its resilience. That said, the environment has changed; more champions are engaging in non-title fights and some fighters are adopting an accelerated schedule, perhaps because they are generating smaller purses for fighting less risky opponents. The recent Charlo PPV, priced at $74.95 and going up against the NBA conference final and UFC 253, generated better than expected numbers, so that’s a good sign.

Henry Hascup — boxing historian and President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame: The big-time fighters and promoters will come back. But I believe the small-time promoters and gyms will get hurt so bad that they may never recover. Some of these gym owners don’t have the means to stay open without some support. This will not only hurt the club fighters and the amateur program, but it will also hurt the people that work in the corners and at the gyms as well. The Veteran Boxing Organizations have also been hurt.

Chuck Hasson — historian, author: Without fan attendance, the whole atmosphere becomes dull (even to televiewers) and gradually without the excitement and noise from the attendees, interest might dwindle. Hope not.

Kevin Iole — award-winning journalist; covers MMA and boxing for Yahoo Sports: The scary thing that promoters are going to face is that fans have discovered that they can live without the fights. They’ve found other things to do during the crisis. So, I think the long-term result is that promoters will be more fan-centric, pricing tickets better and making fights the fans want to see far more quickly than in the past.

Mark Kram Jr. — noted author and writer: What should happen? All boxing events should be suspended pending the arrival of a reliable vaccine. What will happen? Business as usual

Arne Lang TSS editor-in-chief, author, historian: As soon as the fans are allowed back in the arenas with no social distancing, there will be a flood of important fights like we haven’t seen before. Will the fans return in the same numbers? I don’t know. But I know that other sports have alienated many of their patrons during these troubling months (which isn’t a value judgment; merely a fact) and boxing — by comparison — has not. So, if there is a drop-off in attendance, I would not expect it to be as severe as with the NBA and NFL.

Jimmy Lange — former fighter and promoter: I don’t believe the Pandemic, once it’s over, will affect the sport itself. The business will be affected as the rest of the country is. Clearly, the bottom line in boxing is ”asses in seats”…until we can open up as a country, across the board, life will not be the same for ANY business.

Ron Lipton — member of NJ and NY Boxing Halls of Fame, former fighter, retired police officer, writer, pro referee: The Pandemic has already had the most destructive long range effect on boxing as a sport and business. I refereed at the last professional boxing show in New York doing the Co-Main event at the Barclays Center on March 7, 2020 with heavyweight Efe Ajagba. Since that date there has been no professional boxing event in New York State.  Everyone that loves Boxing wants to see it come back to the loyal boxing fans of New York with a venue adhering to all the protocol that the “Bubble” does in Las Vegas, Connecticut and elsewhere.

Robert Mladinich –– former fighter, author, writer, actor: Boxing was struggling in the U.S. even before the pandemic. Charging $75 for the PPV fight with the Charlo brothers during an economic downturn was idiotic. The nation is gripped by cynicism, pessimism, and world weariness. Boxing needs someone to make them feel positive and inspired. If ever there was a time to broadcast fights on free TV, it is now. I hope there is someone who can bring boxing back in the U.S. but I don’t see it happening any time soon.

Don Majewski — matchmaker, historian; affiliated with RING 8 and the NYSBHOF:  If you are not one of the big four — Top Rank, PBC, Matchroom or Golden Boy — you will not able to subsidize cards as you will not be able to sell tickets to full capacity–nor make deals with casinos as they will not get the TV exposure. Neither will they be able to have enough live gate attendance to justify paying a site fee. The prohibitive costs of the additional Covid tests and insurance will cripple smaller promoters. It will have a profound effect on younger boxers starting out who are not established amateur stars or Olympians subsidized by huge bonuses. And we have to induce fans to throw caution to the wind and return to arenas to attend bouts. The best solution is for promoters to be more proactive with streaming options and for major, privately owned arenas – ala Barclays Center and MSG and Resorts or Turning Star — to open their own boxing promotional entities and subsidize cards until we return to a semblance of normalcy.

Adeyinka Makinde U.K. barrister, author and contributor to the Cambridge Companion to Boxing: There will be a short to medium term effect that will be hurtful. The economic downturn of national economies will hit the pockets of fans who will not have their previous level of disposable income. And, of course, the limitations on public gatherings may endure even after the worst of the pandemic if the present modifications become ‘the new normal’. Boxing will have to adapt to survive long-term, and promoters need to think of ways to surmount this. They may want to tap into the strategies utilized by the UFC which has continued to stage events throughout the present crisis.

Scoop Malinowski — boxing writer, author, Mr. “Biofile”: I’m very concerned for boxing’s future. Boxing in America has been struggling and the virus factor will do further damage. There are no American stars who generate big box office and there are few super fights to spark a new golden era. Spence vs. Crawford, Fury vs. AJ must be made and they must deliver. Loma vs. Lopez can be the spark boxing so desperately needs.

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…Where does an aspiring pro fighter get their experience and, just as importantly, a pay-day? Is it possible that in the short-to-medium run, streaming of events will be the new model?… Harry Otty

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Paul Magno– writer, author, official: I’m going to be realistic–boxing will probably not learn a damn thing from this. I mean, that’s just what history tells us. The hope, however, is that the fans’ sluggish return and general post-layoff ambivalence will finally open eyes as to how much they’ve done to turn off a very loyal base. Maybe it’ll sound off an alarm about the current rotten, growth-poisoning business model. Maybe it’ll spark an effort towards exposing more people to the sport and cooperating more, knocking down some of the business obstacles to give fans the fights they want to see. I’m hoping against hope that the fans not rushing back to the sport after the COVID layoff will encourage change.

David Martinez — historian, writer: It is possible with no live fan base in attendance that the average fans will vanish as quickly as a Houdini act, with only the true loyalist to remain. Until we are “completely” free of this virus will boxing or any other sport be the way it was? My involvement in the sport of boxing goes back to 1961, so I have no intention of abandoning what has been embedded in my veins for almost 60 years. May God grant us wisdom and good health for all the human race.

Ernest Morales (aka Geno Febus) — former fighter, writer: The sport will continue to suffer economically having no live gate. The lack/shortage of quality fights has caused fans to lose interest. Promoters are desperately trying to squeeze the fans to pay MORE for LESS. Fighters will be forced to take fights they have been avoiding and accepting less money. Time for less posturing.

Diego Morilla – Argentine boxing correspondent; editor with the “The Ring en Español”: The effects will be felt for many years to come. During what we assume will be an 18-month situation in which travel restrictions, lockdowns and other limitations have seriously affected the economy in general, boxing felt the effect like no other sport. True, the individual nature of the sport made it easier for combatants to return to action, since you need to test a lower number of people for boxing than for any team sport. But the international character of the competition was almost completely lost since entire countries have endured a complete shutdown that will keep many fighters away from the ring and/or a significant level of competition for more than a year.

Harry Otty — (aka “Boxscribe”); historian: It seems like the gradual decline of boxing is following a long-established path. First, the arrival of TV negatively impacts small hall shows – the very places an apprentice would learn their trade – then the TV companies are looking for big-selling events for advertising etc, then for PPV with a decent headliner. From lots of small events, to fewer small events, then to smaller crowds, and now – thanks to social distancing – no crowds. Where does an aspiring pro fighter get their experience and, just as importantly, a payday? Training and sparring under these circumstances is also an issue. Just as with every professional sport, boxing without a crowd sucks; even if you get to ‘virtually ‘ attend. It is difficult to get excited by these events. On the horizon (Dec. 11) we have Joseph Parker vs Junior Fa – it will be good to see a big, well-attended boxing event again – hopefully the rest of the world will not be too far behind.

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 …That huge gap in level of activity and competition, combined with the psychological damage brought on by uncertainty and the overall feeling of “unfairness” of how things have played out, will prove to be a terrible combination in the near future, and in the long range it may reshape the entire boxing industry, with fighters resettling to boxing hotspots around the world just to avoid being left out in case of another event of this nature (a trend that has already started)…. -Diego Morilla

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Luis Pabon — elite referee: Covid has affected small promoters because without an audience it is not cost-effective to promote boxing. All of the boxers on the rise are affected accordingly. Others who are greatly impacted are the foreign officials like referees and judges…nobody talks about us…How long can the big promotors endure without a public? Will we get PPV to recover profits?

Russell Peltz — semi-retired promoter, manager; 2004 IBHOF Inductee: It is hurting the small promoters the most, the ones who fill the cupboards for the bigger promoters. They struggled without television and now they cannot operate without ticket sales. I see how the bigger promoters are using fighters they never would have used under normal circumstances because the talent pool has shrunk. Fighters have taken jobs and are not in the gym. I had one foot out the door before it started. It must be karma because 2020 was the first year since I began in 1969 that I did not take out a promoter’s license, only a manager’s license. I feel terrible for promoters who rely on ticket sales, especially Michelle Rosado (Raging Babe), one of the hardest-working promoters around today. She had to close down her sold out (SRO) March 27 card in Philly. Who knows when she will be able to resume? I feel terrible for the four- and six-round kids who lack financial backing. The only fights they can get now are against amateur monsters turning pro or undefeated blue-chip prospects.

Ross Puritty — former boxer (conqueror of Wladimir Klitschko): Short term it has been great for boxing because people don’t have much else to do but watch sports. It has reignited interest.

Dennis Rappaport-former promotor and manager: Short term the pandemic is extremely difficult and challenging for boxing. However, long term I don’t see any adverse effect as long as they ultimately eliminate it.

John Raspanti lead writer/editor for MaxBoxing; author: I don’t believe Covid-19 will have any long-term effects on boxing. For reference I look to is baseball, basketball and football. All have rebounded reasonably well. Football’s ratings are solid. As terrible as this crisis is, sports are very important and a necessary escape for our nation. Boxing will be fine.

Fred Romano – boxing historian, author, and former HBO Boxing consultant: As with other sports the pandemic is allowing people ample time to realize that they can survive without their regular dose. This is particularly troubling for boxing which was already struggling with creating interest in second-tier bouts. I believe the flagship bouts will bounce back in 2021 with respectable interest. As always, the sport will wade its way through the troubled waters with the a crop of stars ultimately emerging.

Dana Rosenblatt — former world middleweight title-holder: The “Vid” will not have any affect on the sport of boxing whether it be in the US or anywhere else in the world. The last time I checked, the oldest professions known to mankind are prostitution and fighting for money.

“Iceman” John Scully — manager, trainer, commentator, writer, historian: I think of all the kids who may have started boxing somewhere at a gym in this world over the last several months who now may never enter a gym after all. Kind of crazy but the next Sugar Ray Leonard or Roy Jones could have walked into a gym and in 10 years from now could have been a great fighter and a major star. The Butterfly Effect.

Mike Silver — author of The Night the Referee Hit Back: Since a live audience was no longer a priority before the virus, it will not be a priority when it finally goes away. Studio boxing was predicted a long time ago, but who knew it would take a pandemic to make it the rule rather than the exception? But unless the sport can develop new stars, promote attractive matches (don’t hold your breath waiting for Crawford vs. Spence) and have one champion per weight class it will never expand its fan base

Alan Swyer — filmmaker, writer, and producer of the acclaimed “El Boxeo”: I’d like to think that boxing will come back stronger than ever, but I doubt it. While boxers, trainers, and cutmen go without paychecks, the public’s interest wanes.  Meanwhile, Canelo fights legal battles, the excitement brewing in the heavyweight division fades, and what do we get in the meantime? Rumors of Tyson and Oscar returning, plus Manny facing McGregor. Those are the contemporary equivalents of Jesse Owens running against a race horse. We need better!

Ted Sares — TSS boxing writer: The pandemic is forcing Boxing to engage in too many sideshows and that can only hurt. The key is whether bubbles—the Eddie Hearn type– will be enough to hold the interest until a vaccine is discovered. If the pandemic lasts more than 9 months, the prognosis for boxing will be less than positive.

Rich Torsney — former fighter, boxing official:  I think it’s huge. Small time and mid-level promoters can’t finance shows without a live gate. Without feeder shows I don’t see how a boxer can be built to learn the craft. Even once the pandemic subsides, I believe there will be a shift in the public’s attitude in attending large gatherings of all types, not only boxing. And even a subtle shift will register big with promoters of club shows who are always on the edge regarding covering costs. Also, I’ve watched a few pretty good shows promoted by the big players in places like the MGM Bubble. My take on them is that the matchmaking aspects become even more critical. Without a live audience to add emotion, the participants must really come to fight or the channel will be turned. Action fighters may get the nod over stylists. I’m worried for the sport. Without a feeder program; amateur shows, club shows and mid-level shows, how does a boxer grow?

Bruce Trampler-Top Rank matchmaker; 2010 IBHOF inductee: Because promoters can’t sell tickets and most promoters don’t have TV backing, there is a huge drop-off in number of fight cards around the country and the world. Because there are hardly any shows, most fighters aren’t even in the gym. Why train when there is nothing to get ready for?  Best comparison is to Hollywood. Because film production is shut down, actors aren’t acting and directors aren’t directing. Theater owners have no films to show so nobody’s going to the movies.  At Top Rank, we’re fortunate that ESPN has given us X number of telecasts a year, but what about the dozens of other promoters who can’t afford to run shows without ticket sales?

Bob Triegerboxing and MMA writer; sports public relations consultant: Boxing will lose fans who either have found other ways to spend their time or have gotten into other sports. And I think we will lose some promoters who aren’t backed by TV or streaming deals, and club shows will be more rare, which will harm fighters’ development in the long run.

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…in the long run, boxing suffers greatly.  Fans find other areas of interest.  Fighters get a year or two older, amateurs can’t develop on USA Boxing cards, trainers and boxers stop going to the gym, and the sport gets set back several years which it can’t afford.  I don’t know if 2021 Olympics happen in Tokyo yet, but wait till you see how weak our 2024 team will be. — Bruce Trampler

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Peter Woodauthor, writer and former fighter: Just like Broadway theater, boxing will make it’s comeback—boxing is all about comebacks. Besides, boxing is theater—theater with blood. People can’t stay away

Gary “Digital” Williams — the voice of “Boxing on the Beltway”: I think there will be a lengthy transition while the sport tries to figure out where it’s going. My concern is how do they bring back the fans to the arenas? That will be the longest transition. That will definitely take some time.

Observations: 

There appears to be a split between those who believe boxing will survive despite the pandemic and those who believe it will suffer a serious setback.

Some think a live audience is necessary; others don’t.

Many acknowledged that small gyms are definitely in danger; in fact, the entire underbelly of boxing has been severely impacted. In this connection, Harry Otty asks a key question: “Where does an aspiring pro fighter get their experience and, just as importantly, a pay-day?”

Where do you stand? How do you think the pandemic will impact boxing going forward?

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

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There Was a Smorgasbord of Tasty Delights in Dueling TV Fight Cards

Bernard Fernandez

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Technology has not advanced to the point where someone can actually be in two places at the same time, but until that happens, the next best thing is the wonderful consolation prize of being able to watch one fight card live on television while recording the other for delayed perusal.

Maybe there can be too much of a good thing sometimes. If I were in a position where I had to make a choice to physically be in attendance at one site or another on Saturday night, it would have been difficult choosing between being there to witness Philadelphia’s emerging welterweight sensation, Jaron “Boots” Ennis, put on another spectacular show in dispatching former junior welter world champion Sergey Lipinets in the Showtime-televised main event in Uncasville, Conn., or another gritty performance by blue-collar, working-class hero Joe Smith Jr. as he finally won a world light heavyweight title with a hard-fought, typically inelegant and somewhat controversial majority decision over Russia’s Maxim Vlasov in the ESPN/ESPN+ card-topper at the Osage Casino in Tulsa, Okla.

In and of themselves, the two featured bouts, so different in execution and outcome but each compelling in their own way, would have satisfied most fight fans. But like a buffet line where diners can snack on tasty hors d’oeuvres –type fare before loading their plates with a preferred entrée item, each card offered additional value by way of televised undercard bouts.

The most dominant performance, and the one of highest potential value moving forward? That would be still another star-making turn by the 23-year-old Ennis (27-0, 25 KOs), who did pretty much whatever he wanted in becoming the first fighter to knock out Lipinets (16-2-1, 12 KOs), the 32-year-old former IBF junior welterweight titlist who had gone the distance with Mikey Garcia and had never been decked as a professional until he went down twice against Boots, who looks like he has the goods to soon take his place in the pantheon of outstanding fighters to represent the city of his birth.

OK, so the first ruled knockdown by referee Arthur Mercante Jr., which came in the fourth round, likely was an error of judgment as replays showed that Lipinets actually tripped on Ennis’ foot. But there was no mistaking what happened in the sixth round, when Ennis, who had been casually teeing off on the stocky Russian as if he were just another heavy bag to be pounded on in the gym, caught Lipinets with a right hook followed by a left uppercut. Lipinets went down flat onto his back, and Mercante immediately waved the massacre off, dispensing with the formality of initiating a count.

The ending meant that Ennis still had not been extended beyond the sixth round as a pro, but this relatively swift termination of a bout whose outcome seemed predetermined from the outset was more significant given Lipinets’ reputation as a tough, durable former champ who had never been so outclassed in matchups with other top-shelf performers. If Ennis hadn’t already stamped himself as a force to be reckoned with in the 147-pound weight class, his domination of Lipinets sent that message out loud and clear.

“Another special fighter from Philadelphia. Imagine that,” said Showtime blow-by-blow announcer Mauro Ranallo.

“More Boots Ennis,” studio host Brian Custer said when asked what he wanted next. “This kid is spectacular. Say his name. Jaron `Boots’ Ennis is going to be a problem in the welterweight division.”

What wasn’t there to like? Ennis has a smorgasbord of ring skills that would be difficult for even other elite 147-pounders to solve. He switches from orthodox to southpaw as fluidly and effectively as does arguably the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Terence “Bud” Crawford (37-0, 28 KOs), the WBO welterweight ruler. He occasionally employed the shoulder roll that was a staple of the great Floyd Mayweather Jr., and his penchant for finishing off his man when he has him in trouble pretty much is beyond dispute at this stage of a career whose best days might yet come.

According to CompuBox statistics, Ennis landed a ridiculously high percentage of his power shots (91 of 172, 52.9%), going to the body frequently as part of a well-thought-out strategy crafted by his father-trainer, Derrick “Bozy” Ennis. His next fight may well be against the formidable Yordenis Ugas (26-4, 12 KOs), a Miami-based Cuban, but by now it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to imagine him giving the welterweight division’s crème de la crème, Crawford and WBC/IBF titlist Errol Spence Jr. (27-0, 21 KOs) all they could handle. Perhaps Ennis would benefit from a bit more seasoning against higher-tier opponents, but if his time isn’t exactly right now, that time is fast approaching.

“I was just in there, having fun, doing me,” Ennis said of his unhurried but quite thorough thrashing of Lipinets. “You know, being real relaxed and putting on a show … I just coasted, I took my time and I broke him down.”

Joe Smith Jr. MD12 Maxim Vlasov

The backstory of Joe Smith Jr. – a card-carrying member of Local 66 from Long Island, N.Y., who spends his days pouring concrete, digging trenches, laying sheetrock, power-washing septic tanks and knocking down walls with a sledgehammer, and his nights training as a light heavyweight contender with a dream of making it all the way to a world title – always have been a bit more intriguing than what his limited skill-set has been able to produce inside the ropes.

This 31-year-old Everyman with a most common name is tough, determined and a dangerous puncher, but all that will carry him only so far now that he finally has that bejeweled belt (as winner of the vacant WBO 175-pound championship) he so long has coveted, by virtue of his hardly clear-cut majority decision over the unorthodox Russian Maxim Vlasov. Seemingly behind through 10 rounds, a bloodied and perhaps desperate Smith reached deep inside himself to win the last two rounds, drawing even on my unofficial, watching-at-home scorecard at six rounds apiece. He fared better with the judges in Tulsa, however, with David Sutherland joining me in seeing the fight as a 114-114 standoff, a determination overruled by the cards submitted by Gerald Ritter (115-112) and Pat Russell (115-113).

Presumably next up for Smith is a unification showdown with WBC/IBF ruler Artur Beterbiev (16-0, 16 KOs), the Canada-based Russian who is an even bigger puncher than Smith and is widely regarded as the best light heavyweight on the planet. Such a bout likely would mean a career-high payday for the newly wed Smith, but just as likely the end of his brief reign as an alphabet titlist.

“I want other belts,” Smith, who fought from the first round on with a worrisome cut above his left eye. “I want the big fights out there. I believe I’m going to start unifying belts.”

Finally the favorite – Smith (27-3, 21 KOs) had made his reputation on his inside-the-distance upsets of Andrzej Fonfara and nearly 52-year-old Bernard Hopkins – the easy-to-like Everyman’s coronation proved to be no easy task as Vlasov (45-4, 26 KOs) confused him in the early going with an unorthodox style that had him delivering punches from odd angles.

But Smith is difficult to discourage, and he kept pressing his attack in the hope he could find an opening to deliver the kind of put-away shot that had vanquished Fonfara and B-Hop. He got in some wicked licks, too, several times hurting Vlasov, who bled from the mouth from the seventh round on.

The 11th round was perhaps pivotal, as Vlasov went down, clearly from a punch. But referee Gary Ritter ruled that the delivered blow was an illegal rabbit punch, and he waved off the knockdown and gave Vlasov additional time to recover.

“I believe that round where I hurt him, he stuck his head down (and into the disputed punch),” Smith said. “I should have got the knockdown on that. I think I would have got the stoppage that round, but he pulled it off and made it out on his feet.”

It also could have been that, not getting credit for the knockdown, which conceivably might have opened the door to a knockout or a TKO, made Smith – who originally was to have fought Vlasov on Feb. 13, a date postponed when the Russian tested positive for COVID-19 – fight even harder the rest of the way. CompuBox listed him as landing a career-high 174 power shots, 68 coming in the last two rounds that he so clearly needed.

Whatever viewers might have thought of the decision, Smith-Vlasov was entertaining and competitive.

Efe Ajagba KO3 Brian Howard

Ajagba, a 26-year-old Nigerian, delivered one of the most emphatic one-punch knockouts of the year when he landed a jolting overhand right to the left ear of Howard, who went down in a heap, unconscious, his legs twisted beneath him. Referee Tony Crebs signaled the end of the fight immediately.

It was the second fight for the 6’6” Ajagba, who signed with Top Rank in August 2020, with his new support team of manager James Prince and trainer Kay Koroma. Whether he has bettered his circumstances for those changes (he previously was with Richard Schaefer’s Ringstar Sports, and worked with manager Shelly Finkel and trainer Ronnie Shields) is a matter of conjecture, but the promise – and punching power — he had exhibited beforehand seems to have remained intact.

“It’s my time to shine,” Ajagba said. “I’m coming for the heavyweights to become heavyweight champion of the world.”

He could get his shot, and maybe more quickly now that he is with Top Rank, which promotes the WBC titlist, Tyson Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs), with a full unification matchup with WBA/IBF/WBO champ Anthony Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs) close to being finalized.

Nigeria has a history for producing good fighters, the most renowned being the late former middleweight and light heavyweight champion, Dick Tiger, an enshrinee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The best Nigerian heavyweight likely was Ike Ibeabuchi, who might have been good enough to win a world title had it not been for mental and legal issues that landed him in prison. It remains to be seen if Ajagba can match or surpass Ibeabuchi, but he would appear to have a reasonable chance of doing so in comparison to Samuel Peter, Henry Akinwande, David Izonritei and Duncan Dokiwari.

“Efe Ajagba is one of the most gifted young heavyweights I’ve seen in quite some time,” Arum said when he signed him. “He has immense physical tools and a great work ethic. I have the utmost confidence that we’re looking at a future heavyweight champion.”

The two televised lead-ins to Ennis-Lipinets were IBF junior bantamweight champion Jerwin Ancajas’ unanimous decision over Jonathan Rodriguez and rising welterweight Eimantas Stanionis’ UD12 over former world title challenger Thomas Dulorme.

Jerwin Ancajas UD12 Jonathan Rodriguez

Ancajas (33-1-2, 22 KOs), who years ago drew the attention of fellow Filipino Manny Pacquiao, retained his title for the ninth time against mandatory challenger Rodriguez (22-2, 16 KOs) of Mexico, who was decked for the first time in his pro career in round eight.

Eimantas Stanionis UD 12 Thomas Dulorme

Stanionis (13-0, 9 KOs), from Lithuania, could eventually become a factor in the loaded welterweight division. He certainly didn’t do himself any harm with his win over tough Puerto Rican Dulorme (25-5-1, 16 KOs).

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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The Hauser Report: Notes and Nuggets

Thomas Hauser

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On Saturday, April 10, Ebanie Bridges fought Shannon Courtenay for the vacant WBA world bantamweight championship. The fact that Courtenay-Bridges was a “world championship” fight is an embarrassment.

John Sheppard (who oversees BoxRec.com) reports that one out of every seven women’s fights is for a sanctioning body belt, with “world” championships near the top of the pyramid. Indeed, Sheppard notes that boxing’s world sanctioning bodies have created more women’s “championship” belts than there are active women boxers.

Bridges entered her “world championship” fight with a 5-0 (2 KOs) ring record. But the caliber of her opponents was appalling. Taken in order, they were:

*         Mahiecka Pareno, whose two career wins came against a woman named Jean De Paz (who has never won a fight)

*         Laura Woods, whose only pro fight was against Bridges

*         Kanittha Ninthim, who has lost twelve of thirteen fights

*         Crystol Hoy, who has won one of eleven fights since 2010.

*         Carol Earl, age 45, whose only career victories came against fighters with a composite ring record of 0-16.

So how did Bridges quality for a “world championship” fight? Well, Bridges is – shall we say – voluptuous with long blonde hair and given to wearing bikinis. As Boxing Scene recently reported, “There is more footage and photos found online of Bridges in bikinis than there are of her actual fights.”

One might find further elucidation in statements that Bridges made recently to various outlets:

*         “There’s plenty of girls with more fights than me. The difference? It’s the way I look. Let’s be real. If I wore what everyone else wore, people wouldn’t be interested. You can criticize me as much as you like. But if I looked plain, then you wouldn’t even know this fight was happening. People will tune in to see if this girl wearing lingerie can actually fight or is she just a model? This is an entertainment business. Everyone wears underwear at weigh-ins. Do you want me to wear a paper bag?”

*         “It doesn’t matter what society thinks what you should be doing. If you want to do it, you just f****** do it. I want to stay strong with it. I won’t hide the fact that I’m beautiful. What the f***! I’m going to go over there and going to flex in my lingerie. I’m going to be who I am.”

*         “Hey for people who judge me on first sight, open your mind a little bit and maybe you can see that this girl is pretty f****** real even though she has fake tits.”

Prior to fighting Bridges, Courtenay had compiled a 6-1 (3 KOs) record against mediocre opposition. Shannon isn’t close to being a world-class fighter. But during the pre-fight promotion, she indicated that she took her trade seriously, saying, “I look at people like Katie Taylor that has done everything she could to raise the bar to allow women like me to fight for a living. And I don’t like it being disrespected by not talking about the boxing, talking about what someone’s gonna wear at a weigh-in. People like Katie Taylor didn’t work her backside off to pave the way for women like me and you to be in this position to talk about underwear.”

The fight itself was a pleasant surprise. Bridges was the physically stronger of the two women and the aggressor for most of the bout. Courtenay landed the cleaner punches but didn’t hit hard enough to keep Ebanie off her. A clash of heads in round two bloodied the scalp of each combatant.

Neither woman had a credible defense. A right hand wobbled Bridges in round five and began the process of closing her left eye. By round nine, the skin around it was a bulging purple mess and the eye was completely shut. At that point Ebanie couldn’t see right hands coming, but Shannon lacked the power to put her away. It was a good, honest, low-level club fight.

The judges ruled unanimously for Courtenay by a 98-92, 98-92, 97-94 margin. She deserved the nod but not by that much.

Ebanie Bridges has the right to present herself to the public the way she wants to. But for the WBA to sanction Courtenay-Bridges as a “world championship” fight shows how absurd WBA “world championships” can be and why today’s better women boxers don’t get the respect they deserve.

*     *     *

And now for boxing purists . . .

I correspond regularly by email with a reader named John. Most of our exchanges are about boxing. Some go beyond the sweet science. Among the thoughts he has expressed that are worth sharing are:

*         “No real fighter takes pride in losing with everyone watching. When did that become an act of courage, to make money on losing? That is not a fighter’s mentality. Never has been. That is an entertainer’s mentality, an actor’s job. Sometimes I get so angry to see people who have the chance of a lifetime do just that. If you want to let people use you, go ahead. But then you are no longer a fighter.”

*         “The loss of Hagler so suddenly really has affected people. His reach was deep into the boxing world. He carried himself as a Champion. Many people who are very critical of what boxing has become still look to Hagler as an example of what boxing is. Or should I say was? When did it all become a circus atmosphere in the ring? All this talking that means nothing. All the noise that drowns out the quiet truth of a fighter, men who walk into the ring and do what few men are gifted to do. We had something special. I hope we do not lose sight of that. It takes a lot to get my attention. But the loss of Hagler has stayed with me.”

*         “Things used to start with the idea of building something up in the boxing ring based on certain principles. I give you an honest display of good boxing, and you pull your money out and say you appreciate it.  Now everyone is so wrapped up in getting money. Every step of the way, every person has got to stick their hand in the pocket of the fight fan. It sickens me.”

*         “I do not expect everyone to know from experience what it is like to suffer from hunger. It is not a pleasant thing. Most people think being hungry is having lunch a few hours late. There are people who have grown up and gone to bed hungry many a night. And either you are one of them or you are not.”

Photo credit: Dave Thompson / MATCHROOM

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Staredown: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, Hauser was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Jaron Ennis KOs Sergey Lipinets and Other Results from the Mohegan Sun

David A. Avila

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Jaron Ennis KOs Sergey Lipinets and Other Results from the Mohegan Sun

Philly is on the up. Again.

Jaron “Boots” Ennis kicked his stature into another gear with an impressive knockout of former world champion Sergey Lipinets on Saturday.

“It’s on the up now for bigger and better fights,” said Ennis.

Those Philly fighters know how to do it.

Before a small audience Philadelphia’s Ennis (27-0, 25 KOs) showed that he’s ready for the elite level class by dominating the always tough Lipinets (16-2-1, 12 KOs) at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn.

Is there any other American welter looking for action?

Ennis walked into the arena with all of the physical advantages, but experience can be a tricky matter in the fight game. Lipinets was ready to provide the lesson.

For the first two rounds Ennis used his superior reach, height and speed to keep the former super lightweight world titlist from entering his domain. The Philly fighter wacked at the Russian fighter’s body and head while taking minimal return fire.

Lipinets finally found his way inside and both fighters traded big blows. A wicked right uppercut by Ennis connected and Lipinets bounced a right cross on the Philly fighter. Both absorbed the big blows with little effect.

Still, Ennis was winning all of the rounds and Lipinets realized that maintaining the status quo was not doing him any good. He increased his attack and slipped on Ennis foot and went down. It was incorrectly ruled a knockdown by the referee but it was the least of the Russian fighter’s problems.

Both fighters attacked the body but Lipinets shot one far below the belt and the fight was stopped for a moment. Lipinets was warned. Both went into attack inside and it seemed to be Lipinets best round. He seemed to find his way back into a groove.

“I saw he wasn’t as skilled on the inside as I was so that’s when I started getting a little closer,” Ennis said.

Ennis may have realized that Lipinets had a good round and he wasn’t about to allow another. As the two fighters re-engaged in their war inside, Ennis connected with a right hook to the chin and a left uppercut finished the job. Down went Lipinets and referee Arthur Mercante waved off the fight at 2:11 of the sixth round without a count.

“We worked on a lot of power shots and a lot of speed. That’s what we did,” said Ennis. “Everything is all natural.”

The impressive knockout of Lipinets proved that Ennis has more than enough ability to hang with the best welterweights around.

“Maybe one of the guys will want to fight me. Who knows?”, said Ennis.

Other Bouts

IBF super flyweight titlist Jerwin Ancajas (33-1-2, 22 KOs) floored Mexico’s Jonathan Rodriquez (22-2, 16 KOs) and hammered out a win by unanimous decision. But it wasn’t an easy fight. It never is when you put the Philippines versus Mexico.

Ancajas needed the win to keep his name handy for a possible match in the now heated super flyweight division that features Juan Francisco Estrada, Roman Gonzalez, and Carlos Cuadras.

A battle between welterweight contenders saw Eimantis Stanionis (13-0) power his way to a unanimous decision win after 12 rounds versus Thomas Dulorme (25-5-1).

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