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For Whom The Bell Tolled: 2020 Boxing Obituaries PART TWO

Arne K. Lang

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The terrible pandemic that swept the globe in 2020 did not spare the boxing community. Looking over our list of boxing notables that left us this year, we found 10 individuals whose deaths were attributed in whole or in part to COVID-19. Their age at death ranged from 61 to 95 with a mean age of 76.2 and they represented five countries: the United States, England, Italy, Argentina, and Mexico.

On an upbeat note, the year ended without a single ring fatality. We would like to interpret this as a sign of greater vigilance by those entrusted with the responsibility of keeping boxers safe, but ruefully concede that an abbreviated schedule may have played a larger role.

Here is PART TWO of our annual end-of-year report in which we pay homage to those for whom the final bell tolled. The decedents are listed chronologically according to the date of their passing. Part Two covers July through December.

July

15 – Travell Mazion

A rising junior middleweight contender with a 17-0 record, Mazion perished when his car crossed the median and slammed into an incoming car on a highway near his hometown of Austin, Texas. He was 24 years old.

18 – Dickie Cole

A former amateur boxer, judge, and referee, Cole served the sport in several administrative capacities, most notably as the head of the Texas commission, a post he held for more than two decades. Credited with wooing big fights to the Lone Star State, he drew flack for his autocratic ways, alleged conflicts of interest (he sold insurance to boxers and promoters) and his alleged nepotism. At age 89 in Dallas of heart disease.

24 – Nazeem Richardson

“Brother Nazeem” trained dozens of fighters in Philadelphia before achieving national recognition for his work with Bernard Hopkins. He also trained Shane Mosley for three of Mosley’s biggest fights. Richardson suffered a stroke in 2008 and had been in ill health for several years. At age 56 in Philadelphia.

26 – Willie Savannah

A longtime trainer and gym operator in Houston, Savannah mentored such notables as Ronnie Shields and Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz. Evander Holyfield and the Charlo twins, among many others, used his facility, but he was most proud of his amateur program and its impact on turning around troubled kids. At age 85 of kidney failure.

August

4 – Tony Doyle

The Salt Lake City bruiser sparred hundreds of rounds with Muhammad Ali. As a pro he was 40-16-1 with the draw coming in a 10-round affair with Jerry Quarry in the first of their three meetings. “Irish Tony” reportedly defeated Joe Frazier as an amateur, but Frazier whacked him out in two rounds when they met up as pros in the first main event at Philadelphia’s spanking new Spectrum. At age 76 in Draper, Utah, where he was battling dementia.

5 – Pete Hamill

As a young reporter he took to hanging around Cus D’Amato’s Gramercy Gym where he developed a great friendship with future light heavyweight champion Jose Torres. A central character in Hamill’s 1978 novel “Flesh and Blood” is plainly based on D’Amato. Late in his life, the legendary newspaperman and author wrote poignantly of his disillusionment with the sweet science. At age 85 in his native Brooklyn.

6 – Wilbert “Skeeter” McClure

As an amateur, the Toledo, Ohio native won two National Golden Gloves titles and a gold medal as a light middleweight at the 1960 Rome Olympiad where his roommate was Cassius Clay. As a pro, he was 24-8-1 while finding time to earn a Ph. D. in counseling psychology on the GI Bill, his gateway to the quiet life of an academician and psychotherapist in Boston. For a time, he was Chairman of the Massachusetts Athletic Commission. At age 81 of natural causes.

7 – Chuck Lincoln

The older brother of the late heavyweight contender Amos “Big Train” Lincoln, Chuck Lincoln, a Korean War veteran, carved out an 11-1-1 record as a pro and then became the linchpin of amateur boxing in Portland, Oregon. Thad Spencer, Ray Lampkin, and Michael Colbert were among his students. At age 88 after a long battle with kidney disease.

22 – Sandro Mazzinghi

A two-time world champion at 154 pounds, Mazzinghi was 64-3 (2 NC) in a career that began in 1961. Two of his three losses were to countryman Nino Benvenuti, the first of which, in Milan, was Italy’s Fight of the Century. At age 81 in his native Pontedera in Tuscany where he owned a vineyard.

29 – Fritz Chervet

Hailed as the best fighter born and raised in Switzerland, the “Bernese Fly” competed from 1962 to 1976 and finished with a mark of 59-9-2. He twice fought Chartchai Chionoi for the world flyweight title, losing the first encounter on cuts and the second on a controversial split decision. At age 77 following a stroke at his home near his birthplace in Bern.

31 – Jean Baptiste Mendy

A French citizen born in Senegal, Mendy won the WBC and WBA world lightweight titles, in that order, late in a 17-year career that began in 1973. He finished 55-8-3. At age 57 in Paris of pancreatic cancer.

September

3 – Terry Daniels

Daniels showed promise as an up-and-comer on the Texas circuit, but was no match for Joe Frazier when they met on Super Bowl Eve in New Orleans in 1972. Smokin’ Joe stopped him in the fourth and it was all downhill for Daniels from that point; he won only seven of his last 33 fights. In Willoughby, Ohio, at age 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

10 – Alan Minter

He out-pointed defending middleweight champion Vito Antuofermo at Las Vegas in 1980 to become the first British boxer in 69 years to capture a world title on U.S. soil.  He butchered Antuofermo in the rematch, but was then butchered by Marvin Hagler in a fight best remembered for the antics of the pro-Minter hooligans who turned Wembley Stadium into a riot zone. He finished 39-9 with most of his losses the result of cuts. At age 69 after a long battle with cancer.

October

11 – Ricardo Jiminez

A newspaperman turned publicist, Jiminez boosted the careers of a slew of mostly Spanish-speaking boxers while employed by Top Rank and other leading West Coast fight factories. Hugely admired by his peers, Jiminez shared the 2006 BWAA “Good Guy” award with his Top Rank colleague Lee Samuels. At age 64 four days after suffering a stroke.

28 – Miguel Angel Castellini

Nicknamed “Cloroformo,” Castellini won the WBA 154-pound title with a 15-round decision over Spain’s Jose Duran in Madrid and lost it in his first defense to Eddie Gazo in Managua. In retirement he ran a boxing gym in downtown Buenos Aires that broke tradition by welcoming female boxers. At age 73 after a lengthy hospital stay for a myriad of health issues including COVID-19.

November

7 – Reginaldo Kuchle

He promoted hundreds of shows in Mexico during a career spanning more than four decades. A strong supporter of female boxing, he and his son Osvaldo were the driving forces behind a weekly show on the Televisa network. At age 77 of a heart attack after recovering from COVID-19.

9 – Fernando Atzori

Born on the island of Sardinia, Atzori won a gold medal in the 112-pound class at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He was 44-6-2 as a pro, including a 10-2-1 mark in bouts billed for the European Boxing Union Flyweight Title. In Florence at age 78 after a lengthy illness.

17 – Royal Kobayashi

A 1972 Olympian who was briefly a world title-holder at 122 pounds, Kobayashi finished 35-8 (27) in a nine-year career that began in 1973. Four of his losses came in world title fights including stoppages as the hands of all-time greats Alexis Arguello, Wilfredo Gomez, and Eusebio Pedroza. At age 71 of cancer in his native Kumamoto where he was working as a security guard.

18 – Juan Domingo Roldan

The barrel-chested middleweight forged a 67-5-2 (47) record during an 11-year career and retired to the life of a successful rancher-businessman in the dairy industry. His biggest fights were in Las Vegas where he came up short in world title fights vs Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns. At age 63 in San Francisco, Argentina, the city of his birth, from complications of COVID-19.

December

18 – Frankie Otero

Born in Havana and raised in Hialeah, Florida, the boyishly handsome Otero climbed up the lightweight rankings on club shows in Miami Beach where he had 43 of his 60 fights. He finished 49-9-2 (31) with two of his losses coming at the hands of Scotland’s renowned Ken Buchanan. At age 72 of bone cancer in Hialeah where he had a successful career in real estate and dabbled as a matchmaker.

23 – Frankie Randall

A three-time title-holder at 140 pounds, “The Surgeon” etched his name into boxing lore in 1994 when he outpointed Mexican icon Julio Cesar Chavez who was 89-0-1 going in. Frequently on the wrong side of a controversial decision, he finished 58-18-1 after losing 13 of his last 16, including a loss on points to Chavez in their rubber match in Mexico City when he was 42 years old. At age 59 at a nursing home in his hometown of Morristown, TN, where he had a long battle with dementia.

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Avila Perspective, Chap 130: Jaron ‘Boots’ Ennis, Super Fly and More

David A. Avila

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A stacked weekend of marquee fights is led by top American welterweight prospect Jaron “Boots” Ennis tasked with meeting the challenge of Russia’s Sergey Lipinets in Connecticut.

The undefeated Ennis (26-0, 24 KOs) faces former super lightweight world titlist Lipinets (16-1-1, 12 KOs) on Saturday April 10, at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville. Showtime will televise the loaded PBC card.

Philadelphia’s Ennis walks into the boxing ring with all of the physical advantages including height, reach, speed and even more pro fights. But Lipinets does indeed know what it’s like to fight against a world champion.

“I think the opposition that I’ve faced is definitely better than what Ennis has faced. I went 12 rounds with Mikey Garcia and I faced a two-time champion in Lamont Peterson,” said Lipinets. “Those guys have pushed me to the edge before. Ennis has more pro fights than I do, he just hasn’t been pushed in the same way in his fights.”

This will be an opportunity for the athletically gifted Ennis to discover if he cracks the elite level.

“I’ve been trying to get these types of guys in the ring for about two-and-a-half years. I’ve been trying to get former world champions and top ten guys. It just didn’t happen. I finally got my chance and you guys are going to see a whole different animal. A whole different beast. It’s time for me to do my thing,” said Ennis, 23.

Lipinets, 32, realizes that time is running out and needs a win against an avoided prospect like Ennis to re-introduce himself to the fickle boxing world.

“Ennis is a young and up-and-coming fighter. All we want is a shot at the title and everything that comes with it. A win in this fight will give us all of that. I want to get my crack at the big dogs in the division,” said Lipinets who trains in Southern California.

Both fighters are explosive types with extreme confidence in their abilities.

Superfly

Also on the same fight card, long-reigning IBF super flyweight world titlist Jerwin Ancajas (32-1-2, 22 KOs) yearns to be part of the super flyweight wars that have emerged with fighters Juan Francisco Estrada, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, Kazuto Ioka and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai.

The super flyweight division has become one of the hottest in boxing.

“I want to fight whoever is left after the four-man tournament between Rungvisai, Chocolatito, Estrada and (Carlos) Cuadras. I’m always calling the name of any titleholder in my division, so I would fight Ioka too,” said Ancajas, a Filipino southpaw who has held the IBF super fly title since September 2016. “I want a signature fight because I’m tired of people criticizing me for not fighting anybody.”

Ancajas, 29, meets Mexico’s Jonathan Rodriguez (22-1, 16 KOs) another one of those little-known Mexican sluggers that can upset any fighter looking too far ahead.

“Ancajas is a great champion, but he’s never faced someone like me. I’m going to put the pressure on him from the very beginning Saturday night and show him that he has a great Mexican fighter standing in his way,” said Rodriguez.

Early Fights

A welterweight battle between Conor Benn (17-0) and Samuel Vargas (31-6-2) takes place on Saturday April 10, from London. The Matchroom Boxing card will be streamed on DAZN at 11 a.m. Pacific Time.

British-born Benn is the son of the great Nigel Benn and was slated for a showdown with another British prospect Josh Kelly. But that fighter was upended by David Avanesyan this past February who knocked out Kelly. Matchroom Boxing had to re-arrange somethings and now it’s Benn versus Vargas.

Vargas is tough.

The last time we saw Vargas he was getting clobbered by knockout artist Vergil Ortiz Jr. but never touched the floor. Whoever fights Vargas learns quickly that he’s a dangerous fighter with a head made of steel.

Does Benn have enough boxing skills to switch to plan B when a knockout win isn’t possible?

We shall see.

On the same card two female world title fights take place with the vacant WBA bantamweight title up for grabs between England’s Shannon Courtenay and Australia’s Ebanie Bridges. Also, WBO middleweight titlist Savannah Marshall defends against Maria Lindberg.

Light Heavyweight Title

A fight for the vacant WBO light heavyweight title will try and take place again when Joe Smith Jr. (26-3, 21 KOs) the hard-hitting blue-collar worker from Long Island takes his hammer fists to Tulsa, Oklahoma to face Max Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs) on Saturday April 10. ESPN will show the Top Rank fight card.

They tried fighting each other before but the coronavirus epidemic knocked the first attempt out of the water. Here they go again.

Smith, 31, has tried before and been defeated before. But every time someone thinks its all over for the construction worker, he knocks somebody out to regain a footing. He knocked out former champion Eleider Alvarez and defeated Jesse Hart to get to this spot.

Vlasov, 34, has been around for many years and displays an aptitude for doing what’s necessary to survive. Can he find that same ingredient to fend off Smith?

It should be a worthy world title fight.

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Jaron ‘Boots’ Ennis Advancing to Heights Beyond What His Brothers Achieved

Bernard Fernandez

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Is fast-rising welterweight contender Jaron “Boots” Ennis the Next Big Thing in boxing’s deepest and arguably best division? To hear veteran Showtime analyst Steve Farhood tell it, the 23-year-old Philadelphian just might be, with his already blue-chip stock apt to increase in value should he take care of business Saturday night against Sergey Lipinets in the Showtime Championship Boxing main event at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

“I think so much of him, I believe he will not only win his stiffest test, but win impressively,” Farhood said of the youngest and best of the three Ennis brothers to box professionally. “And when he does, that’ll show he belongs with the very best of the welterweights.”

Asked what the immediate future might hold for Ennis (26-0, 24 KOs) should the young knockout artist do unto the 32-year-old Lipinets (16-1-1, 12 KOs) what he did to 16 of his 17 most recent opponents, which is to win inside the distance, Farhood opined that the door to indisputably elite status could swing open sooner rather than later.

“Now that fighters are fighting again (as COVID-19 concerns begin to lift), I would say within a year,” Farhood predicted. “After Lipinets, is there really a point in moving backward? I think Boots and Danny Garcia obviously would be a very special fight in Philadelphia. A Garcia, a Shawn Porter or a Keith Thurman, fighters on that level, are all within reach over the next 12 months, if he looks dominant against Lipinets, which I believe he will.”

Should Boots meet or exceed Farhood’s most optimistic projections, a vision shared by his father-trainer, Derrick “Bozy” Ennis, a down-the-road showdown with either or both of the 147-pound weight division’s superstars, Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr., could await. But the family patriarch expects some of the bigger names to be unavailable to his son, for one reason or another.

“Danny don’t want to fight my son,” Bozy said. “Danny wouldn’t even spar with my son. And Shawn Porter already said, `I ain’t fighting Boots Ennis. I know his father, I know his brothers. The only way I’d take that fight is if he keeps calling me out. But otherwise I’m not fighting that young killer if I don’t have to. He’s too fast, too slick.’

“Some of the top guys are talking about moving up (to junior middleweight), so we’d still have a shot at one of those titles if they open up. Spence is talking about going to 154 if he doesn’t get certain fights. Now, he did say he might fight Boots down the line. I’ll give him credit for that. Crawford? He’s not interested in fighting Boots. His people already said that. All I can say is that some of these guys, they either got to s— or get off the pot and move on. If need be, we’ll go after (Yordenis) Ugas and Jamal James. They’re top guys.”

Big talk, of course, is cheap and means nothing if not backed up by in the ring. The suggestions Bozy Ennis is tossing around like confetti that some of the premier welterweights are avoiding Boots as if he were a communicable disease might or might not be accurate. One thing, though, is certain: the highest aspirations that members of the Ennis family are now reserving for its brightly shining baby boy were also once held for Boots’ older brothers Derek “Pooh” Ennis and Farah Ennis, both of whom made it part of the way up the ladder to the big time before their careers stalled.

Pooh, the eldest brother whose last pro bout was in 2014, compiled a 24-5-1 record with 13 KO victories competing in the super welterweight and middleweight classifications, along the way holding the Pennsylvania and USBA 154-pound championships. Farah, who briefly was the NABF 168-pound titlist, was 22-2 with 12 KOs and hasn’t fought since 2015.

In a 2018 interview, Bozy said the gap separating Boots and his brothers mostly owes to little brother taking care not to make some of the mistakes his siblings made.

“Derek and Farah talk to Jaron all the time, which helps,” Bozy said then. “They say, `Don’t do what I did when I was younger, when I had a chance to be better than I was.’ My older boys had talent, but they weren’t always as focused as they should have been. They let the women get to them. Hey, it happens.”

Familial genetics, however, is not always a true indicator of outcome. Henry and Tommie Aaron hold Major League Baseball’s record for combined home runs by brothers with 768, but Hammerin’ Hank had 755 of them to Tommie’s 13. Jose and Ozzie are identical twins, but Jose blasted 462 homers over 17 MLB seasons while Ozzie, two inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter, failed to go deep even once in his three seasons in The Show. Focus and dedication are factors in any athlete’s success, sure, but talent is not always evenly distributed among blood relatives.

“The two older brothers both got beat on ShoBox, interestingly,” recalled Farhood. “I think the difference between Boots and them is just natural talent.

“You often see in basketball that the son of a coach is a point guard. Kids like that have a comfort level and feel for the game. I get that same impression with Boots. Growing up around Bozy, being around in the gym literally from the time he was a baby, his upbringing shows. But it’s not only that. He has a lot of natural ability to go with that lifetime of familiarity with boxing. You put all that together and you get what looks like the perfect package.”

Predictions of future stardom were made early on for Boots Ennis, who was widely considered to be the best young fighter to come out of Philly since Meldrick Taylor was a 17-year-old gold medalist at the 1984 Olympics and went on to win world titles at both junior welterweight and welterweight. Some prodigies can sag under such heavy expectations, but to date Boots seems to have embraced his role as the emerging face of Philadelphia boxing.

“Being in the main event on Showtime brings more attention, but I like it,” he said in the lead-up to his important 12-round matchup with the capable Lipinets, which some knowledgeable insiders view as an almost pick ’em fight. “I like being in the spotlight. I like to shine, so it’s nothing new. Now it’s fight time. I am locked in and ready to rock and roll.”

Boots Ennis comes in either on a 16-fight knockout streak, or not. In his most recent ring appearance, against veteran South African southpaw Chris van Heerden, a clash of heads in the first round caused a severe cut to van Heerden’s forehead and the bout being declared a no-contest. Whether that NC ended the impressive run of early endings or not is a matter of opinion, not that it matters to Boots in any case.

“Some people might look at a knockout on April 10 as the 17th consecutive knockout. Some might view it as the start of a new knockout streak,” he said. “For me, I don’t really care as long as I come out victorious. That’s all that matters to me. I’m not looking for a knockout, but I’m going to take it if it comes.”

Despite his burgeoning reputation as a power puncher, Boots believes his best days as a lights-out finisher are still ahead.

“I don’t feel I have my man strength yet,” he offered. “I feel it will be one or two more years until I fully have my man strength. The crazy part is, I feel like in a fight, I still haven’t thrown a real power shot and really sat down on a punch yet. Everything I’ve been knocking guys out with has been all-natural strength.”

Again, Saturday night’s outcome is hardly a fait accompli. Although Boots is ranked No. 7 by the WBO, No. 9 by the IBF and No. 12 by the WBC, the Kazakhstan-born, California-based Lipinets matches or exceeds those ratings, currently as the IBF’s No. 3 contender, and No. 9 by both the WBO and The Ring magazine. But, with advantages of three inches in height and a whopping seven inches in reach for Boots, the fight could be a virtual replay of the taller, longer-armed Jamel Herring’s almost casual dismissal of Carl Frampton last week.

“He’s very confident, sure, but that’s all right if he can back it up,” Farhood said of Ennis. “To me, the ultimate test of a really hot prospect is when he moves up in class. Does he just win, or does he win more impressively than what a lot of people anticipated? So far, for each step along the way, for Boots the answer has been yes. I think it will be again Saturday night.”

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

A New Orleans native, Bernard Fernandez retired in 2012 after a 43-year career as a newspaper sports writer, the last 28 years with the Philadelphia Daily News. A former five-term president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, Fernandez won the BWAA’s Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism in 1998 and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service in 2015. In December of 2019, Fernandez was accorded the highest honor for a boxing writer when he was named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame with the Class of 2020. Last year, Fernandez’s anthology, “Championship Rounds,” was released by RKMA Publishing.

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Jesse James Leija vs. Micky Ward: A Dry-gulch in San Antonio

Ted Sares

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Late in his career, Jesse James Leija was involved in two fights that ended in controversy under eerily similar circumstances. The first came in July of 2001 when Leija, a former world title-holder, was paired against Hector Camacho Jr at Brooklyn’s new minor league baseball stadium. Camacho Jr was 32-0 at the time; Leija 42-5-2.

In the fifth round, a cut was opened across Camacho’s right eyelid. At the end of the round, ringside physician Dr. Robert Polofsky examined the cut, which did not appear to be all that bad to television or ringside viewers.

Camacho could be heard (at least by this listener) saying ‘I can’t see.” Polofsky agreed with him, as he ordered the fight stopped, and under the rules it went to the scorecards. After much confusion, arguing, consultation, and stalling, the cards were read and unbelievably all three favored Camacho. He was ahead 49-46 on two of the cards and 48-47 on the third. The technical decision was roundly booed by an announced crowd of 6,012, even though Camacho, from Spanish Harlem, was effectively fighting in his hometown.

The doctor, referee Steve Smoger, and the judges did not to talk to the media. Whether they were ordered to stay silent by the New York State Athletic Commission is open to debate.

Hector Camacho Jr. remained unbeaten, but his tainted victory tarnished his image as the WBA’s number-one-ranked super lightweight. Leija and his manager, Lester Bedford, called Camacho a quitter, an accurate description to most of the viewers. Leija had badly hurt Camacho in the fight, and it was clear that junior wanted no more of what the veteran brought to the table.

Thankfully, the decision was later ruled a no-contest. The commission ruled that the bell should not have rung to begin the sixth round. Since the bell rang incorrectly, the official cards should not have been consulted under a New York boxing rule, and there could not be a decision, the panel said.

But this fight has haunted “Machito” ever since, and his legacy as a warrior was impacted by it. The backlash was vicious.

Leija-Ward

Less than seven months later, Leija met “Irish” Micky Ward at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, Texas. Akin to Leija-Camacho Jr, the bout aired on HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” series. And the very same thing that happened to Leija in Brooklyn happened to Ward in Leija’s hometown.

The Lowell, Massachusetts warrior opened a cut over Leija’s right eye with what replays clearly showed to be a short left hook, but referee Laurence Cole inexplicably called it a butt. When the referee went to Leija’s corner, Leija, despite his legitimate warrior reputation, said he couldn’t see, and the fight was stopped. Ward’s corner was shocked and pleaded with Leija to continue. They appealed to his reputation.

They might have appealed to the Texas Commission but the head of it was the colorful and beloved Dickie Cole, Laurence’s father, so they passed.

The outcome was fortunate for Leija. Ward, often a slow starter, was rapidly getting into his rhythm and beginning to land his signature body shots. It would only be a matter of time before he caught up with the fading Leija. But Ward would be ambushed, dry-gulched in San Antonio.

For some strange reason, this one escaped notoriety and has remained under the radar, but it was every bit as bad as the Camacho fiasco, maybe worse, particularly since Leija was a guy who came to fight. At the very least, it should have been called a no-contest. Ward, for his part, never blamed Leija for what happened.

Camacho received a brutal backlash; Leija received virtually none, even though this was terribly wrong. Oddly, Leija would retire in his corner once again in his very next fight when his corner pulled him out with a busted eardrum after six rounds against Kostya Tszyu.

Sometimes things happen for the best. Ward went on to fight and beat Arturo Gatti at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut instead of engaging in a rematch with Jesse James Leija. The rest is rich history.

After losing to the great Tszyu, Leija won four in a row before losing his final fight to, of all people, Arturo Gatti. Leija was knocked down twice and stopped in the fifth round of their bout at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. He announced his retirement a week after this fight but would remain in boxing as a trainer.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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