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A Halloween-Inspired Homage to Bernard Hopkins

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A Halloween-Inspired Homage to Bernard Hopkins

A TSS CLASSIC — It is that time of year. The late-October autumn air on the East Coast is crisp and cool, and throughout America kids are looking forward to trick-or-treat. Go into any neighborhood and you’ll see jack-o-lantern faces carved into pumpkins, ghosts fashioned out of old bedsheets hanging from tree branches, cardboard witches taped to front doors.

Only two of Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins’ 55 professional bouts have taken place in October, but in a very real sense this is his special time, too. Why? Because he is boxing’s equivalent of Michael Myers, the impossible-to-kill night stalker of all those “Halloween” movies, the bogeyman who offed an inordinately high number of unsuspecting teenagers and routinely transformed Jamie Lee Curtis into a screaming, quivering mass of terrified victimhood.

Saturday night, in that haunted mausoleum known as Boardwalk Hall where he has done some of his best work, boxing’s ageless hobgoblin again came out of the shadows to spoil someone else’s party. This time it was the much-younger Kelly Pavlik –OK, so he isn’t exactly a teenager–who was executed. And that grimacing older fellow playing the role of Jamie Lee Curtis was Top Rank founder Bob Arum, who didn’t shriek out loud but looked like he just had swallowed a whole mess of something foul-tasting. Hopkins’ ridiculously easy, 12-round unanimous decision over Pavlik hadn’t followed the predicted script that called for him to finally be battered senseless and forever dragged from his bully pulpit.

“At least (Pavlik) gets to keep his titles,” a glum Arum said of Pavlik’s retention of his WBC and WBO middleweight belts that were not on the line in the 170-pound catchweight bout.

When will they ever learn? Arum has been bewitched, bothered and bewildered by Hopkins before. A few years ago, when Arum still had some promotional dibs on his once-favorite cash cow, Oscar De La Hoya, he promoted a Las Vegas doubleheader in which the Golden Boy and Hopkins were featured in separate bouts. The idea was that De La Hoya would remain loyal, Hopkins would also join the Top Rank fold and everyone would profit nicely from the arrangement. But De La Hoya formed his own company, took Hopkins with him and Arum, who can hold a grudge with the best of them, was left to simmer longer than Grandma’s home-made soup.

Of course, Hopkins has had that effect of any number of exasperated promoters who have tried to make him toe their company line. This guy not only marches to the tune of his own drummer, he has his own percussion section. Butch Lewis can’t string together five or six words, when speaking about Hopkins,  that do not include at least one expletive. Try as he might, even Don King never could bring B-Hop to heel. Lou DiBella still bristles when he thinks about what he believes to be Hopkins’ acts of betrayal. And Dan Goossen regards his brief but stormy association with Hopkins as something along the lines of a Greek tragedy.

“My biggest disappointment in boxing,” Goossen has often said of the pitched battles he waged with his most recalcitrant client behind the scenes. This from a guy who worked with Mike Tyson when Leg-Iron Mike was at or past the point of total mental meltdown.

To Hopkins’ way of thinking, promoters – well, perhaps not Golden Boy, in which he is a limited partner and, at least for now, on kissy-face terms – represent boxing’s power structure, which he claims is hell-bent on making fighters indentured servants with little or no charge over their own destinies. Other than beating up or embarrassing their gloved minions in the ring, there is nothing Hopkins enjoys more than tweaking the noses of those he is convinced have pooled their considerable resources to drive him from the sport.

So there Hopkins was, Michael Myers resurrected for the umpteenth time, chortling over the fact he had again rained on the parade of a perceived enemy. To the Philadelphian’s way of thinking, spoiling the undefeated record of Pavlik, Top Rank’s current marquee attraction, wasn’t just an isolated thundershower drenching Arum’s suddenly soggier operation; it was the landfall of a Category 5 hurricane capable of blowing a familiar tormentor right off the map.

“After Oscar beats (Manny) Pacquiao … look, I don’t want to wish nothing bad on anybody, but that might be the end of Top Rank,” said Hopkins, who might not daydream of such an outcome but clearly would not be despondent were it to come to that.

No wonder the Arums, Lewises, Kings, DiBellas and Goossens probably offer up nightly prayers that their favorite deity, or fate,  humbles Hopkins, or at least makes him grow old fast. Hasn’t this codger been on the verge of retirement now since, what, the first Clinton Administration?

“A few years ago we were here (at Boardwalk Hall) with our jaws on the floor, marveling at Bernard’s performance against Antonio Tarver,” said Mark Taffet, the HBO Pay Per View chief. “We had a beautiful retirement party for Bernard. I still have the big banner on our 11th floor at HBO. We made a beautiful framed photograph of that fight. But here we go again.

“I think I’ll ask Bernard for the $48 (cost of) the frame. I mean, where does he go now? I can’t believe anything this guy does. He continues to amaze us.”

Truth be told, Hopkins is the most accomplished fortysomething fighter the world has ever seen, and the competition for that designation isn’t even close. OK, so George Foreman flattened Michael Moorer to win the heavyweight championship for the second time at 45, unquestionably an inspiring feat, but Big George had lost every round until he delivered the takeout shot in Round 10, and he took terrible beatings in post-40 matchups with Alex Stewart and Axel Schulz, even though he won dubious decisions in those bouts. Archie Moore, the “Old Mongoose,” was the light heavyweight champ well into his 40s, but a French-Canadian fisherman with rudimentary skills, Yvon Durelle, knocked him down four times, including three in the first round, in their Dec. 10, 1958, first meeting in Montreal. Hopkins has been on the canvas exactly twice in his entire career, both of those coming in his Dec. 17, 1994, matchup with Ecuodorean Segundo Mercado, in Quito, Ecuador, for the vacant IBF middleweight crown. Even those flash knockdowns probably owed more to the thin air in Quito, which is 9,350 feet above sea level, and the fact Hopkins arrived there only four days before the fight, not nearly enough time to get acclimated to the altitude, than to the power in Mercado’s punches. Nonetheless, Hopkins salvaged a draw and he battered Mercado en route to a seventh-round TKO 4½ months later, in Landover, Md.

Almost from the time he broke through to the throne room Hopkins has busied himself making enemies, which might seem counterproductive until you examine those emotions which fuel his internal fire.

Hopkins is one of those athletes who seems happiest when he’s unhappy, like tennis’ John McEnroe. He doesn’t get mad, he gets even. Even the slightest provocation can get Hopkins stoked, and nothing lights that particular fire like the notion he is being dismissed, disrespected or disenfranchised.

Take his Sept. 29, 2001, battle with Felix Trinidad for the undisputed middleweight championship of the world. Everybody remembers how Hopkins twice grabbed and threw down the Puerto Rican flag at open-to-the-public press conferences, but the key to his finest performance ever, or at least until the dismantling of Pavlik, was Hopkins’ controlled rage at discovering that his own promoter, King, had had the Sugar Ray Robinson Trophy pre-engraved with the name of Trinidad, another King client, on it.

Like fellow paranoids Richard M. Nixon and Bobby Knight, Hopkins reads and listens to every negative thing anyone has written or said about him. He has compiled an enemies list, at least in his mind, and it pleases him greatly when those who would draw pleasure from his toppling are again left red-faced and embarrassed.

“They say Bernard is old,” Hopkins said at the postfight press conference early Sunday morning. “Yes, I am. They say Bernard is finished. They ain’t saying that now.

“I’m tired, man. I’m tired of proving myself to the same naysayers. Don’t y’all know you motivate me? I mean, what do I got to do, kill somebody? I’m the most underrated fighter when it comes to defense, when it comes to offense, when it comes to my heart. That’s why I always fight like I have to prove something.”

From a technical standpoint, Pavlik – who went off as a 5-1 favorite – probably was toast once Hopkins, who studies film as if he were Roger Ebert, detected that the Youngstown, Ohio, fighter’s big right hand was neutralized whenever he had to throw his payoff punch across his body. That’s why B-Hop continually moved to his right. But for emotional purposes, his victory might have been assured when one Internet writer beseeched Pavlik to “do boxing a favor” and “forever free him” and other dissidents of the torture of watching Hopkins, a defensive genius, make good fighters look bad.

Trash talker supreme that he may be, nothing inspires Hopkins like being on the receiving end of a really mean-spirited insult.

So, what if nine of his last 10 bouts have gone the distance, the exception being his ninth-round knockout of De La Hoya on Sept. 18, 2004? Hopkins is allowed to evolve, just as a strikeout pitcher has to resort to guile as he loses steam off his fastball. What we get nowadays is more a recital of chamber music than a KISS concert, but that does not detract from the fact he still produces classic material. Asked what it was that Pavlik found troubling about Hopkins’ unorthodox style, Pavlik’s trainer, Jack Loew, said, “Kelly had trouble adjusting to everything.”

If Hopkins has his way – and, gee, doesn’t it seem as if that happens quite a bit at this late stage of the game – then another aging legend, Roy Jones Jr., will find a way to win his Nov. 8 fight with Joe Calzaghe in Madison Square Garden, paving the way for a rematch of Jones-Hopkins I, which took place way back in May 22, 1993? Jones won that fight, for the vacant IBF middleweight championship, by close but unanimous decision.

“I’d like to fight Roy Jones again before I die,” Hopkins said.

Might be a long time coming. After all, everyone knows that you can’t eradicate the common cockroach, Michael Myers and Bernard Hopkins.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally ran on Oct. 20, 2008, under the title “Halloween’s Early for Hobgoblin Hopkins.” The two Bernards – Hopkins and Fernandez – will be formally inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame next year with the class of 2020. Fernandez joins TSS classmate Thomas Hauser in the “Observer” category.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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In a Massive Upset, Dakota Linger TKOs Kurt Scoby on a Friday Night in Atlanta

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Although it was an 8-rounder on a show with two “tens,” Kurt Scoby’s match with Dakota Linger was accorded main event status on tonight’s card at the Overtime Elite Arena in Atlanta. This had everything to do with Scoby (pronounced Scooby), a former record-setting college running back who was considered one of the brightest prospects in the 140-pound weight class. “[Scoby] works harder than almost anyone I’ve ever seen,” said veteran New York promoter Lou DIBella in a conversation with Keith Idec. “But he’s literally getting better after every fight and he’s got the hammer of Thor, man. He can punch through walls.”

The Duarte, California product who has relocated to Brooklyn and trains at Gleason’s Gym, was undefeated (13-0) heading in and was expected to make Linger his ninth straight knockout victim. But Linger, a 29-year-old Buckhannon, West Virginia policemen whose first ring engagements were in Toughman competitions, wasn’t intimidated by Scoby’s press clippings or by Scoby’s bodybuilder physique.

Linger, who improved to 14-6-3 with his tenth win inside the distance, took the fight right to Scoby and repeatedly found a home for his overhand right. In the sixth round, after Linger strafed the ever-retreating Scoby with a barrage of punches, referee Malik Walid determined that he had seen enough and waived it off. The decision seemed a tad premature, but neither Scoby nor his cornermen offered anything in the way of a protest.

Tournament results

In the first installment of an 8-man super welterweight tournament, Brandon Adams returned to boxing after his second three-year layoff and showed no ring rust whatsoever. Adams, a 34-year-old family-man who grew up in the Watts district of LA, dismissed Ismael Villareal with a wicked punch to the liver in the waning seconds of round three. The official time was 2:59.

A former wold title challenger, Adams who improved to 23-3 (16 KOs), has become the king of boxing tournaments. He first attracted notice in 2018 when he won the fifth edition of “The Contender” series, scoring a wide 10-round decision over Shane Mosley Jr in the championship round.

Villareal, a second-generation prizefighter from the Bronx whose dad fought the likes of Hector Camacho, declined to 13-3.

Adams next opponent will be Francisco Veron who will bring a record of 14-0-1 (10).

In an energetic 10-rounder, Veron, a Florida-based Argentine with a strong amateur pedigree, scored a unanimous decision over Mexico-born, LA southpaw Angel Ruiz (18-3-1). The judges had it 100-90, 99-91, and 96-94.

Ruiz certainly had his moments, but Veron launched and landed many more punches despite fighting the last six rounds with a damaged eye.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 281: The Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia Show

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Over the years bouts between old foes such as Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia tend to be surprising.

Yes, both are only 25 but have known each other for many years.

When undisputed super lightweight champion Haney (31-0, 15 KOs) steps into the prize ring at Barclays Center to meet challenger Garcia (24-1, 20 KOs) on Saturday, April 20, fans will be witnessing the continuation of a feud that began more than a decade ago.

And though the champion is a heavy favorite, familiarity is Garcia’s best weapon heading into their fight on the Golden Boy Promotions card that will be shown on PPV.COM with Jim Lampley and friends. DAZN pay-per-view is also streaming the card.

In many ways Haney and Garcia have ventured down the same path. From amateur sensations to fighting in Mexico while teens to asking for the biggest challenges available.

“Whichever version of Ryan shows up on April 20, I will be ready for him. Ryan Garcia is just another opponent to me,” said Haney who holds the WBC super lightweight title after his win over Regis Prograis.

The first time I saw Haney as a pro he battled the dangerous Mexican contender Juan Carlos Burgos at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula. It was an impressive performance against a fighter who fought three times for a world title.

Haney was 19 at the time.

My first look at Garcia as a pro was in his first bout in the U.S. when he met Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Cruz at the Exchange in downtown Los Angeles. The Boricua looked at Garcia and tried intimidating him with stares, taunts and the usual patter. During the fight both swung and missed until the second round when Garcia zeroed in and took him out.

Garcia had just turned 18, the legal age to fight in California.

Both fighters did not have the Olympics credentials that lead to fame. But their talent has allowed them to fight through the dense smoke that is professional boxing.

Haney has defeated numerous world champions such as Prograis, Vasyl Lomachenko and George Kambosos Jr., while Garcia has stopped champions Javier Fortuna and Luke Campbell.

As amateurs, Garcia and Haney battled six times with each winning three.

“They know each other very well,” said Oscar De La Hoya of Golden Boy Promotions. “Ryan is going to beat Devin Haney.”

Haney has a buttery-smooth style with one of the best jabs in boxing. He’s very adept at keeping distance and not allowing anyone to fight him inside. His reflexes are outstanding, yet he seldom fights inside. That’s his weakness.

Garcia fights tall and has superb hand speed and a lightning quick left hook. Though his defense lacks tightness his ability to rip off three-punch combinations in a blink of an eye pauses opponents from bullying their way inside.

“These guys always just look at me and look at me like I don’t know how to box,” said Garcia on social media. “Why was I one of the best fighters in the amateurs. Why was I a 15-time National champion…why did I beat everyone I came across.”

Haney is a strong favorite by oddsmakers to defeat Garcia. But you can never tell when it comes to fighters that know each other well and are athletically gifted.

When Sergio Mora challenged Vernon Forrest he was a big underdog. When Tim Bradley fought Manny Pacquiao the first time, he was also the underdog. And when Andy Ruiz met Anthony Joshua few gave him a chance.

Haney and Garcia have history in the ring. It should be an interesting battle.

PPV.COM

Jim Lampley will be leading the broadcast on PPV.COM for the Haney-Garcia card at Barclays and texting with fans on the card live. He will be accompanied by journalists Lance Pugmire, Dan Conobbio and former champion Chris Algieri.

The PPV.COM broadcast begins at 5 p.m. PT. and is available in Canada and the USA.

Other News

MMA stars Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal will be holding a media day event on Friday, April 19, at NOVO at L.A. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Diaz and Masvidal will be boxing against each other in a grudge match on June 1 at the KIA Forum in Inglewood, Calif. The two MMA stars met five years at UFC 244 with Masvidal winning by TKO over Diaz due to cuts.

This is a grudge match, but under boxing rules.

Fight card in Commerce, Calif.

360 Promotions returns to Commerce Casino on Saturday April 20 with undefeated super lightweight Cain Sandoval leading the charge.

Sandoval (12-0) faces Angel Rebollar (8-3) in the main event that will be shown live on UFC Fight Pass. Also on the card are two female events including hot prospect Lupe Medina (5-0) versus Sabrina Persona (3-1) in a minimumweight clash.

Doors open at 4 p.m.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Heavyweight Merry-Go-Round

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Heavyweight Merry-Go-Round

There were few surprises when co-promoters Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren and their benefactor HE Turki Alalshikh held a press conference in London this past Monday to unveil the undercard for the Beterbiev-Bivol show at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on June 1. Most of the match-ups had already been leaked.

For die-hard boxing fans, Beterbiev-Bivol is such an enticing fight that it really doesn’t need an attractive undercard. Two undefeated light heavyweights will meet with all four relevant belts on the line in a contest where the oddsmakers straddled the fence. It’s a genuine “pick-‘em” fight based on the only barometer that matters, the prevailing odds.

But Beterbiev-Bivol has been noosed to a splendid undercard, a striking contrast to Saturday’s Haney-Garcia $69.99 (U.S.) pay-per-view in Brooklyn, an event where the undercard, in the words of pseudonymous boxing writer Chris Williams, is an absolute dumpster fire.

The two heavyweight fights that will bleed into Beterbiev-Bivol, Hrgovic vs. Dubois and Wilder vs. Zhang, would have been stand-alone main events before the incursion of Saudi money.

Hrgovic-Dubois

Filip Hrgovic (17-0, 13 KOs) and Daniel Dubois (20-2, 19 KOs) fought on the same card in Riyadh this past December. Hrgovic, the Croatian, was fed a softie in the form of Australia’s Mark De Mori who he dismissed in the opening round. Dubois, a Londoner, rebounded from his loss to Oleksandr Usyk with a 10th-round stoppage of corpulent Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller.

There’s an outside chance that Hrgovic vs. Dubois may be sanctioned by the IBF for the world heavyweight title.

The May 18 showdown between Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury has a rematch clause. The IBF is next in line in the rotation system for a unified heavyweight champion and the organization has made it plain that the winner of Usyk-Fury must fulfill his IBF mandatory before an intervening bout.

The best guess is that the Usyk-Fury winner will relinquish the IBF belt. If so, Hrgovic and Dubois may fight for the vacant title although a more likely scenario is that the organization will keep the title vacant so that the winner can fight Anthony Joshua.

Wilder-Zhang

The match between Deontay Wilder (43-3-1, 42 KOs) and Zhilei Zhang (26-2-1, 21 KOs) is a true crossroads fight as both Wilder, 38, and Zhang, who turns 41 in May, are nearing the end of the road and the loser (unless it’s a close and entertaining fight) will be relegated to the rank of a has-been. In fact, Wilder has hinted that this may be his final rodeo.

Both are coming off a loss to Joseph Parker.

Wilder last fought on the card that included Hrgovic and Dubois and was roundly out-pointed by a man he was expected to beat. It’s a quick turnaround for Zhang who opposed Parker on March 8 and lost a majority decision.

Other Fights

Either of two other fights may steal the show on the June 1 event.

Raymond Ford (15-0-1, 8 KOs) meets Nick Ball (19-0-1, 11 KOs) in a 12-round featherweight contest. New Jersey’s Ford will be defending the WBA world title he won with a come-from-behind, 12th-round stoppage of Otabek Kholmatov in an early contender for Fight of the Year. Liverpool’s “Wrecking” Ball, a relentless five-foot-two sparkplug, had to settle for a draw in his title fight with Rey Vargas despite winning the late rounds and scoring two knockdowns.

Hamzah Sheeraz (19-0, 15 KOs) meets fellow unbeaten Austin “Ammo” Williams (16-0, 11 KOs) in a 12-round middleweight match. East London’s Sheeraz, the son of a former professional cricket player, is unknown in the U.S. although he trained for his recent fights at the Ten Goose Boxing Gym in California. Riding a skein of 13 straight knockouts, he has a date with WBO title-holder Janibek Alimkhanuly if he can get over this hurdle.

The Forgotten Heavyweight

“Unbeaten for seven years, the man nobody wants to fight,” intoned ring announcer Michael Buffer by way of introduction. Buffer was referencing Michael Hunter who stood across the ring from his opponent Artem Suslenkov.

This scene played out this past Saturday in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. It was Hunter’s second fight in three weeks. On March 23, he scored a fifth-round stoppage of a 46-year-old meatball at a show in Zapopan, Mexico.

The second-generation “Bounty Hunter,” whose only defeat prior to last weekend came in a 12-rounder with Oleksandr Usyk, has been spinning his wheels since TKOing the otherwise undefeated Martin Bakole on the road in London in 2018. Two fights against hapless opponents on low-budget cards in Mexico and a couple of one-round bouts for the Las Vegas Hustle, an entry in the fledgling and largely invisible Professional Combat League, are the sum total of his activity, aside from sparring, in the last two-and-a-half years.

Hunter’s chances of getting another big-money fight took a tumble in Tashkent where he lost a unanimous decision in a dull affair to the unexceptional Suslenkov who was appearing in his first 10-round fight. The scores of the judges were not announced.

You won’t find this fight listed on boxrec. As Jake Donovan notes, the popular website will not recognize a fight conducted under the auspices of a rogue commission. (Another fight you won’t find on boxrec for the same reason is Nico Ali Walsh’s 6-round split decision over the 9-2-1 Frenchman, Noel Lafargue, in the African nation of Guinea on Dec. 16, 2023. You can find it on YouTube, but according to boxrec, boxing’s official record-keeper, it never happened.)

Anderson-Merhy Redux

The only thing missing from this past Saturday’s match in Corpus Christi, Texas, between Jared Anderson and Ryad Merhy was the ghost of Robert Valsberg.

Valsberg, aka Roger Vaisburg, was the French referee who disqualified Ingemar Johansson for not trying in his match with LA’s Ed Sanders in the finals of the heavyweight competition at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Valsberg tossed Johansson out of the ring after two rounds and Johansson was denied the silver medal. The Swede redeemed himself after turning pro, needless to say, when he demolished Floyd Patterson in the first of their three meetings.

Merhy was credited with throwing only 144 punches, landing 34, over the course of the 10 rounds. Those dismal figures yet struck many onlookers as too high. (This reporter has always insisted that the widely-quoted CompuBox numbers should be considered approximations.)

Whatever the true number, it was a disgraceful performance by Merhy who actually showed himself to have very fast hands on the few occasions when he did throw a punch. With apologies to Delfine Persoon, a spunky lightweight, U.S. boxing promoters should think twice before inviting another Belgian boxer to our shores.

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