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For Whom The Bell Tolled: 2020 Boxing Obituaries PART TWO

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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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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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