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Deontay Wilder’s Lame Excuse Gets No Brownie Points for Originality

Arne K. Lang

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Deontay Wilder’s Lame Excuse Gets No Brownie Points for Originality

Deontay Wilder had 43 pro fights under his belt before he suffered his first pro loss. But the Alabama knockout artist didn’t just lose to Tyson Fury in their rematch. In the court of public opinion, he fell from grace with a thud.

Knocked down twice before referee Kenny Bayless waived the fight off in the seventh stanza, the Bronze Bomber initially blamed his woeful performance on the elaborate costume that he chose for his ring walk. Reportedly costing $40,000, the rhinestone-studded outfit – which didn’t stand out or photograph well in the dark arena – was designed, said Wilder, to celebrate Black History Month, but it’s a fair guess that most folks wouldn’t have made that connection. This reporter’s first impression was that Wilder got his months mixed up and thought that Halloween fell in February.

The costume, said to weigh 40 pounds, was cumbersome: “I didn’t have no legs from the beginning of the fight,” Wilder told Yahoo’s Kevin Iole. “In the third round, my legs were just shot all the way through.”

costume

Finding excuses for a bad outing is old hat in sports, especially boxing, and the list of excuses is long. In blaming his performance on his ring costume, Deontay Wilder invented a new category.

He should have left it at that, but this past Saturday, in a rambling and somewhat incoherent two-minute video, Wilder doubled-down with a hackneyed excuse, alleging, among other things, that his water was spiked with some sort of muscle relaxer. He pointed the finger of blame at co-trainer Mark Breland.

The “someone messed with my water” accusation is hoary. It likely first cropped-up in the bare-knuckle era.

James J. Jeffries, who won the world heavyweight title from Bob Fitzsimmons, was undefeated when he retired in 1904. Reluctant to return to the ring, he eventually succumbed to the fervent plea to come back and restore the title to the white race.

Jeffries was favored over Jack Johnson when they met at Reno in 1910 in the first Fight of the Century, but Big Jeff was a shell of his former self and won nary a round until the bout was stopped in the 15th.

In hindsight, the outcome was predictable. In retirement, Jeffries’ weight ballooned to 315 pounds and after trimming down he still had plenty of rust to shed after being out of action for almost six full years. But immediately there was talk that Jeffries had been drugged, talk that he encouraged. “It would have been impossible for me to break down in the condition I was in, so suddenly, unless someone got to me in an underhanded way. That I was tampered with is a certainty,” he said.

The famous sportswriter Robert Edgren “confirmed” the persistent rumor in a story written for Liberty magazine in 1926, but put a new spin on it. According to Edgren, it wasn’t Jeffries’ water that was spiked, but rather a cup of tea that Jeffries consumed after being conned into thinking that his wife had made it for him. “They gave him enough (sedative) to knock out an elephant,” wrote Edgren, a longtime pal of Jim Jeffries.

Flash forward to 1995 and one finds George Foreman making a similar accusation regarding his iconic 1974 “Rumble” with Muhammad Ali. In his autobiography “By George,” co-authored with Joel Engel, Foreman accused his former trainer/manager Dick Sadler of dehydrating him and said that Sadler may have also tainted his water. He further alleged that Sadler had taken $25,000 from him to give to referee Zack Clayton as an insurance policy to make certain Clayton would not disqualify him. He conceded that he did not know if the referee received the under-the-table payment or if Sadler had kept the money for himself.

Foreman reiterated the part about the water in his 2007 book “God in my corner,” his first of two collaborations with Ken Abraham. “I almost spit it out,” Foreman said. “(I told Sadler), ‘Man, I know this water has medicine in it.’ I climbed into the ring with that medicinal taste still lingering in my mouth.…After three rounds, I was as tired as if I had gone 15.” (Upon hearing this, Muhammad Ali purportedly quipped, “there was worse medicine waiting for him when he got in the ring.”)

Foreman’s 1995 book caused him some flack. Dick Sadler, who had been with Foreman since the advent of George’s pro career – and had worked with other boxers before him, notably Archie Moore – was well-respected in the boxing community. Moreover, it didn’t jibe that Foreman, who replaced Sadler with Gil Clancy following his loss to Ali, rehired Sadler as his lead trainer in 1977 following his loss to Jimmy Young (albeit they would never team up again in an actual fight as Foreman abandoned boxing for the ministry).

When Foreman reiterated his allegation in his 2007 book, there was no backlash whatsoever. By then, Big George had charmed his way into the hearts of millions and to smudge him was tantamount to sacrilege. And Sadler was no longer around to defend himself. He died in 2003 at age 88.

Commenting on Deontay Wilder’s most recent allegation, Kevin Iole used the word heinous.

We get it. Mark Breland, the former Olympic gold medalist and former two-time welterweight champion, is a man of unimpeachable integrity. Throwing him under the bus was contemptible. However….lighten up, Kevin.

Aside from some of Wilder’s homies, it’s doubtful that anyone is giving any credence to Deontay’s bizarre accusations. Breland, who thus far hasn’t seen fit to dignify Wilder’s assertion with a rebuttal — at least not publicly – won’t have trouble finding other fighters to train; his reputation is solid.

Wilder’s frustration may have clouded his judgment. There was a rematch clause in his contract with Tyson Fury, but Fury’s co-managers Frank Warren and Bob Arum found a loophole in the fine print that has enabled them to renege on the deal. Fury will now face someone else when he next steps into the ring – reputedly in London in December with Agit Kabayel in the opposite corner – while Wilder’s career is in limbo.

It has been written that those with a financial stake in Wilder’s career were likely chagrined by these latest developments. We doubt that. It will serve Wilder well to keep his name in the news, even if he comes across as a buffoon. Someday, someone will write the story of his life, an “as told to” book where Wilder will share in the royalties – shucks, fighters of far lesser importance have been the subject of authorized biographies, some even with the backing of strong publishing houses.

When that book is written, it will garner a few more sales if Wilder sticks tight to his conspiracy theories. Just ask George Foreman.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The WBA’s 50-Year-Old Cruiserweight Contender and More

Arne K. Lang

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Boxing’s seniors tour continues on Sept. 11 when Oscar De La Hoya returns to the ring after an absence of almost 13 years to fight former MMA star Vitor Belfort. The bout is scheduled for eight two-minute rounds and will count against De La Hoya’s professional boxing record which currently stands at 39-6 (30). More details will be revealed tomorrow at a Los Angeles press conference.

De La Hoya turned 48 in February. If he is looking for inspiration, he need look no further back than this past Saturday where cruiserweight Firat Arslan continued his ascent toward yet another world title shot with a fourth-round stoppage of Argentina’s Ruben Eduardo Acosta. Arslan is older than Oscar, he’s 50!

The match took place in Goeppingen, Germany, before a small gathering in Firat Arslan’s gym. It was sanctioned by the WBA for an “international” belt. A southpaw of Turkish descent, Arslan (pictured on the right) entered the contest ranked #5 by the repugnant organization and will presumably move up a notch.

Arslan is in his 24th year as a pro. His signature win was a 12-round decision over Virgil Hill in 2007. Hill was then 43 years old. Coincidentally, the man that Arslan just defeated was also 43.

The victory over Hill, a future Hall of Famer, earned Arslan a world cruiserweight title. He lost it to Guillermo Jones after one successful defense and would come up short in three other stabs at a world cruiserweight title, losing to Marco Huck twice and to Yoan Pablo Hernandez.

One doesn’t know if Ruben Eduardo Acosta turned up in Germany intent on rendering an honest effort. He went down three times from body shots and was counted out on his last trip to the mat. But the Argentine sported a decent record (38-17-5) and had gone seven years without being stopped, a pocket of 17 fights.

There’s an obvious difference between Arslan and De La Hoya. Arslan was out of the ring for 21 months after losing his title to Jones, but has otherwise maintained a steady schedule. His weight has never ballooned between fights and he has the physique of a man twenty years younger. De La Hoya has led a sedentary life since leaving the ring and is effectively starting over. He figures to weigh about 170 for Vitor Belfort which would be 25 pounds more than he carried for his last fight against Manny Pacquiao.

De La Hoya vs. Belfort is being promoted by Triller and will air on FITE. Triller and FITE are also collaborating on the Aug. 3 event at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden. The headline attraction of what will supposedly be a 10-fight card finds heavyweight contender Michael “The Bounty” Hunter taking on former amateur rival Mike “White Delight” Wilson.

Those attending the event who are over the age of 15 must provide proof of full vaccination or a negative test result within the previous 72 hours. Despite this potential deal-breaker, tickets purportedly disappeared fast, portending a complete sell-out.

Of course, there’s more to the event than boxing. Local rap groups DIPSET and THE LOX will battle it out in a competition ballyhooed as iconic in the promotional literature.

—-

A more compelling fight takes place in North London on Sept. 25 when IBF/WBO/WBA heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua defends his belts against former unified cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk. It will be the first boxing event at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium which opened in April of 2019. Built for the Tottenham Hotspurs, a Premier League soccer club, the stadium was also conceptualized with an eye toward housing an NFL team.

The soccer pitch is retractable. Underneath is an artificial turf for American football. Having the football field at a lower level than the soccer pitch will allow spectators in the first row to see over the heads of football players and coaches standing on the sideline. In soccer, the front row can be closer to the playing field because soccer players sit on chairs when they are not in the game. Moreover, the stadium has a separate entrance dedicated to NFL events and the press sections for American football and for soccer are configured differently.

Pro football fans in the U.S. tuning in on television will be get a bird’s eye view of the new stadium on Oct. 10 and again Oct. 17 when the NFL plays games in London, renewing a tradition that was interrupted last year by Covid-19. The NFL recently signed a 10-year deal with the landlord of Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

For the record, the Oct. 10 game features the Falcons against the Jets. On Oct. 17, it’s the Jaguars against the Dolphins. Both games will start at 9:30 am ET, 6:30 am PT. Football fans on the West Coast are advised to set their alarm clocks.

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Fast Results from London: Massive Heavyweight Joe Joyce Keeps on Rolling

Arne K. Lang

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Ponderous but formidable Joe Joyce moved one step closer to a title fight tonight at the Wembley Arena with a sixth-round stoppage of Carlos Takam. Carrying 264 pounds on a six-foot-six frame, the 2014 Olympic silver medalist was simply too big for his 40-year-old French-Cameroonian adversary.

In his previous bout, Joyce methodically dismantled favored Daniel Dubois with a steady dose of his thudding right jab. Dubois quit in the 10th round with a busted eye socket. Tonight’s fight followed a somewhat similar pattern.

Takam landed some good shots in the first two rounds as Joyce was slow to find his rhythm, but Joyce stuck to his game plan which was to wear him down and Takam’s punches gradually lost steam in the face of Joyce’s constant pressure.

Early in round six, Joyce rocked Takam with a big right hand and didn’t let him off the hook. Takam protested when the referee indicated that he had seen enough and the stoppage did strike many as premature, but the handwriting was on the wall for the veteran who declined to 39-6-1. The official time was 0:49.

Joyce is of Scotch-Irish and Nigerian descent. College educated with a degree in fine arts, he acknowledges that he has no great passion for the sport of boxing and is in it for the financial rewards, not the glory. At age 35, he isn’t going to get any better, but he appears to have a rock-solid chin and his nickname, Juggernaut, is quite fitting.

Joyce entered the bout ranked #2 by the WBO, a notch below Oleksandr Usyk who challenges title-holder Anthony Joshua on Sept. 25.

Other Bouts of Note

Ekow Essuman, a 32-year-old Nottingham man, born in Botswana, unseated British and Commonwealth welterweight champion Chris Jenkins, winning on an eighth-round stoppage. A hard right hook followed by a flurry of punches forced the referee to waive it off. The official time was 0:53.

Essuman, who was favored in the 3/1 range, improved to 15-0 with his sixth win inside the distance. A Welshman, Jenkins (22-4-3) was making the fourth defense of his domestic title.

London super welterweight Hamzah Sheeraz, who has been training at the Ten Goose Gym in Van Nuys, California, improved to 13-0 (9 KOs) with a fifth-round stoppage of Spain’s Ezequiel Gurria (15-2). Gurria was down twice in the fifth round before the bout was halted at the 2:23 mark.

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Steen, Bocachica, and Martino Jules Stay Unbeaten in Cornhuskerland

Arne K. Lang

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The long-running Showtime series ShoBox:The New Generation was at the Heartland Events Center in Grand Island, Nebraska last night. Super middleweight Isaiah Steen and welterweight Janelson Figueroa Bocachica, both of whom are managed by 2020 BWAA Manager of the Year David McWater, were featured in the main bouts.

Cleveland’s Steen, the half-brother of 2016 U.S. Olympian Charles Conwell, improved to 16-0 (12) with a 10-round unanimous decision over previously undefeated Kalvin Henderson (14-1-1). Steen started slow and slowed down again in the final two rounds, but dominated the middle rounds and won by scores of 96-94 and 97-93 twice. Henderson, a part-time schoolteacher in Fayetteville, Arkansas who earned a degree in music from the University of Arkansas, was hampered by a pulled muscle in his right shoulder which he believes happened in the fourth round.

Steen hopes to land a spot on the big show coming up in Cleveland in five weeks. Charles Conwell is already booked. He will oppose Massachusetts veteran Mark DeLuca in a supporting bout to the freak fight between Jake Paul and Tyrone Woodley.

Janelson Figueroa Bocachica, a Detroit native of Puerto Rican ancestry, kept his undefeated record intact, but just barely. He was held to a draw by Shinard Bunch who appeared to have done enough to edge it.

Bunch, whose middle name is Showtime (no fooling) fights out of Trenton, New Jersey and is trained by Chino Reyes who guided Jason Sosa and Tevin Farmer to world titles. He entered the bout with a 15-1 (13) record but was moving up in class in his first scheduled 10-rounder. Only six of his wins had come against opponents with winning records.

Bocachica (17-0-1) performed below expectations for the second straight fight, having been hard-pressed to turn away Mark Reyes Jr. in his previous go. One of the judges scored it for him (96-94) but the others had it 97-93 Bunch and 95-95.

The TV opener was an 8-round featherweight contest between Martino Jules, a 24-year-old southpaw from Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Aram Avagyan, a 30-year-old Armenian who began his pro career in Russia and is currently domiciled in California.

Although neither were big punchers, the Armenian had the odds in his favor. A 2016 Olympian, he had fought the tougher schedule and was the bigger man, coming in two pounds over the featherweight limit (which reportedly cost him $2000). But his performance was sloppy – he was repeatedly warned for leading with his head – and the decision was a foregone conclusion when Jules was credited with scoring a knockdown late in the final round.

In his biggest win to date, Martino Jules improved to 11-0. It was the first pro loss for the 30-year-old Avagyan who declined to 10-1-2.

Photo credit: Esther Lin / SHOWTIME

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