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Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Seven Boxers Who Have Been Inactive Too Long

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Professional boxers need to stay active for two reasons: (1) They have a short window to achieve their goals and leave the sport well-off financially, and (2) rest makes rust as my old friend Herb Lambeck, a prominent boxing oddsmaker, was wont to say. (MMA superstar Conor McGregor cited inactivity as a factor in his poor showing in his most recent fight. Prior to meeting Dustin Poirier, who knocked him out in the second round, McGregor had fought only two fights inside an octagon in the previous four years and one of those fights lasted only 30 seconds.)

Staying active during the COVID-19 era is a major challenge for many boxers. Listed below are seven who missed all of 2020 and who currently have nothing firmed-up for the immediate future. The seven are listed in descending order of inactivity.

Andrew Tabiti

Cruiserweight…Current Record: 17-1 (13 KOs), age 31

We last saw Tabiti on June 15, 2019. Yunier Dorticos was in the opposite corner. At stake was the IBF world cruiserweight title and a berth in the finals of the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament.

Dorticos, the Cuban “KO Doctor,” lived up to his nickname, knocking Tabiti from the ranks of the unbeaten in the 10th round with a smashing, one-punch knockout. The punch left Tabiti flat on his back, unconscious.

By now, Tabiti should have had at least one fight designed as a confidence-restorer, if not another high-risk assignment. Has he been sidelined by the coronavirus? Indirectly, yes. He trains at the Mayweather Gym in Las Vegas which has been closed for the better part of the last two months as a proactive measure to keep the virus away.

Rey Vargas

Featherweight…Current Record: 34-0, (22 KOs)…age 30

Vargas has been out of action since July 13, 2019, sidelined not by the coronavirus, but by an injury. Did he break his leg or his foot? And when did it happen? Reports are unclear, but it didn’t happen during the course of his most recent fight, a unanimous but yet unpopular decision over Tomoki Kameda in the fifth defense of his WBC 122-pound title. The organization would subsequently declare him “Champion in Recess” and then, more recently, make him the mandatory challenger for their featherweight title-holder Gary Russell Jr. Tall for his weight class, nearly 5’11”, it was inevitable that Vargas would eventually move up a notch.

Vargas left Golden Boy in January of last year and signed with PBC. There’s been no indication of when his fight with Russell may occur. The Russell brothers (it’s hard to tell them apart because they have the same first name) are never in a hurry to get back in the ring. Gary Russell Jr. has averaged one fight a year since 2015.

Keith Thurman

Welterweight…Current Record: 29-1 (22 KOs)…age 32

Thurman (pictured against PacMan) hasn’t fought since losing a split decision to the Filipino legend in July of 2019. Since that bout, he had surgery to correct an old hand injury. Hand and elbow injuries kept him out of the ring for 22 months following his victory over Danny Garcia in March of 2017 and prior to that he missed time with a neck injury suffered in a car accident.

Thurman hasn’t fallen completely off the radar. He has a following on social media and has served as a desk analyst for PBC boxing shows on FOX.

Keith Thurman “is one of the most beloved fighters in the world,” says a hammy FOX/PBC blurb promoting his TV work. “The welterweight division goes through Keith Thurman,” says Thurman.

Actually, it doesn’t. All the talk is about Errol Spence and Terence Crawford and when that megafight will finally get made. Thurman isn’t in that conversation. He called out Spence after Spence defeated Danny Garcia, but that “defi” created little buzz and Spence apparently has no inclination to fight him. Thurman would be wise to get back in the ring against any warm body just to remind people that he is still one of the top dogs in the welterweight division.

Marcus Browne

Light heavyweight…Current Record: 23-1 (16 KOs)…age 30

There are reports that there’s a fight in the works between Browne and 41-0 Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez, the former 168-pound world title-holder who is now campaigning as a light heavyweight. We will believe it when we see it.

We last saw the Staten Island southpaw in action on Aug. 3, 2019, when he suffered his first pro loss in a quirky bout with veteran Jean Pascal. Browne out-landed Pascal by a 2-to-1 margin, but suffered three knockdowns and the decision went against him by a 75-74 margin on all three cards after the bout was halted in the eighth frame following an unintentional head butt. With the upset, Pascal became a three-time light heavyweight title-holder.

Browne desperately wanted a rematch and thought it would happen early in 2020, but Pascal had other ideas. Meanwhile, Browne made news for all the wrong reasons. In March of 2020, he pleaded guilty in New Jersey to violating a protective order against an ex-girlfriend, the mother of one of his children. It was his fourth domestic violence incident.

Browne has some good wins on his ledger including a one-sided triumph over Badou Jack, but the former Olympian has yet to fulfill his promise and the sand is running out of the hourglass.

Kanat Islam

Middleweight…Current record: 27-0 (21 KOs)…age 36

Islam is an interesting specimen. An ethnic Kazakh, born in China, the two-time Olympian turned pro in the Dominican Republic and had several of his early bouts in Ecuador. He last fought on Oct. 26, 2019 in Kazakhstan.

It appeared that Islam was poised to become an important name in boxing when his contract was purchased by Egis Klimas in February of 2018 and he joined the camp of Vasyl Lomachenko in Oxnard, California. But a leg injury kept Islam out of action until July of the following year.

According to various reports, Islam was slated to return to the ring next month, but was forced to cancel the engagement because of unspecified health reasons. In Kazakhstan, he is getting his feet wet as a boxing promoter. We may have seen the last of him.

Diego De La Hoya

Super bantamweight…Current record: 22-1 (10 KOs)…age 26

Oscar De La Hoya’s cousin, Diego was ranked #3 in his weight class by the WBA heading into his contest with Ronny Rios in July of 2019. Rios stopped him in the sixth round. He returned to the ring five months later in his hometown of Mexicali and got back on the winning track with a 10-round unanimous decision over Venezuelan journeyman Renson Robles.

De La Hoya was having trouble making weight when he fought Rios and one suspects that he put on a lot of superfluous flesh in 2020. Mexicali, Mexico, has been especially hard hit by the pandemic. All of the boxing gyms were shut down in the spring and although they would reopen, they were shut down again and remain shuttered as we go to press. In fact, the mayor of Mexicali recently mandated a 6 p.m. curfew.

A former Mexican National Amateur champion, De La Hoya launched his pro career at age 19 at the MGM Grand. It figured that he would have roped in at least one secondary title by now, but that hasn’t happened and now he finds himself on the outside looking in.

Moruti Mthalane

Flyweight…Current Record: 39-2 (26 KOs)…age 38

The reigning IBF world flyweight champion, Mthalane has won 16 straight since getting stopped by Nonito Donaire way back in 2008. Ten of those 16 wins came in IBF title fights including stoppages of future champions Zolani Tete and John Riel Casimero.

Mthalane isn’t afraid to leave the comfort of his South African homeland. His last four fights were in Asia with the most recent coming in December of 2019. With a few more wins, he just may punch his ticket to the Boxing Hall of Fame, but at age 38, he’s running out of time and it doesn’t bode well that he missed all of 2020.

Mthalane, by all appearances, is marooned. South Africa is dealing with a second wave of COVID-19 infections. Gauteng Province, where Mthalane hangs his hat, is one of the hot spots. Travel in and out of the country is difficult. The Centers for Disease Control advises all Americans to avoid all travel to South Africa.

Photo credit: Ryan Hafey / PBC

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

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Johnny Famechon was a Hero in Australia Where Willie Pep Had a Bad Night

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Willie Pep was good at boxing. He wasn’t so good at math. Ah, but hold the phone; we are getting ahead of ourselves. This isn’t a story about Willie Pep, but about former world featherweight champion Johnny Famechon who passed away last Thursday, Aug. 4, in Melbourne, Australia, at age 77.

Famechon was five years old when his parents left his birthplace in Paris and settled in Melbourne. He came to the fore in an era when boxing was still a mainstream sport and home-grown champions were national idols. The locals turned out in droves for the parade in Johnny’s honor when he returned to Melbourne after taking the featherweight crown from the Cuban-born Spaniard Jose Legra in a big upset at London’s Prince Albert Hall.

HeraldSun

Famechon’s Welcome Home Parade

Famechon’s first title defense came against Japan’s Fighting Harada. They met in Sydney, Australia, on July 28, 1969.

At age 26, Harada was a battle-tested veteran. He previously held world titles at flyweight and bantamweight and would be remembered as the only man to defeat the great Brazilian boxer Eder Jofre, a feat he accomplished not once, but twice.

Only two boxers in history – Bob Fitzsimmons and Henry Armstrong – had won world titles in three of the eight classic weight divisions. Harada, who entered the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995, was bidding to become the third.

Team Harada insisted on a neutral referee. The British promoters chose Willie Pep. A legend in the sport, Pep had previously shared a ring with another Famechon, having out-pointed Johnny’s uncle Ray Famechon in a featherweight title defense at Madison Square Garden in 1950.

Some thought that Pep would favor Fighting Harada. American referees put a higher premium on aggression than did their foreign counterparts and Harada was a little buzzsaw who rarely took a backward step. But others thought that Pep’s selection favored Famechon, an elusive counterpuncher with whom the Connecticut “Will-‘o-Wisp” could identify; their styles were similar.

Pep had been the third man in the ring for four previous title fights, three in Jamaica and one in Brazil. But this fight would be different. He would be the sole arbiter. If the fight went the full 15 rounds, Willie Pep would be the judge and jury.

During the bout, Famechon scored one knockdown, sending Harada to the canvas in round five, but Harada scored three, knocking Famechon down in rounds two, 11, and 14. The last of the three knockdowns was the harshest, but Famechon made it to the final bell.

The fight ended in a clinch. Immediately upon separating the fighters, Pep raised both of their hands, a signal that the fight was a draw.

Fighting Harada’s handlers were outraged and demanded to see the scorecard. A policeman at ringside was empowered to give it a look-over (Australia had no boxing commission). What the policeman found was that there was indeed a discrepancy. However, it was the opposite of what Team Harada anticipated!

The fight was scored on the antiquated system whereby the winner of a round was awarded five points and the loser four points or less. In the case of an even round, both fighters got five points.

After 13 rounds, Fighting Harada had amassed 59 points on Pep’s card. He won the 14th round, giving him an aggregate total of 64 points. But when Pep added up the numbers “59” and “5” in the column where he kept the aggregate total, he came up with “65.”

Oops.

When Pep signaled that the fight was a draw, people stormed the ring from all sides. Newspaper reports said the belligerents were about evenly divided. Famechon, the Aussie, was the crowd favorite, but Fighting Harada was well-backed in the betting markets, a very big industry in Australia. Many were even angrier when Famechon was summoned back to the ring to have his hand raised.

The Famechon-Harada fight aired live on Japanese television. In Japan, there was a great outpouring of outrage. Pep had been instructed to score a round 5-4 if the round was narrow and 5-3 if there was a clear-cut winner. Despite the knockdowns, Pep scored every round 5-4 or 5-5. In the revised tally, he had Famechon winning 6-5-4 in rounds.

“Harada loses to referee” was the headline in Japan’s leading sports daily. Willie Pep made no friends in Australia either. There were shouts of “Yankee go home” as he left the ring.

Famechon and Harada met again five months later in Tokyo. One would assume that Fighting Harada proved superior and got a fair shake, winning the third title denied him in Sydney. But don’t assume.

Harada was well ahead after ten rounds but faded. On the deck in round 10, Famachon returned the favor three rounds later, knocking Harada down hard with a perfectly placed left hook. Harada was in dire straights when he came out for round 14 and Famechon put him away.

Harada never fought again and Famechon left the sport six months later after losing his crown to Vicente Saldivar. Johnny was only 25 years old, but had crammed 67 fights into a nine-year pro career and said enough is enough.

Famechon’s post-boxing life took a tragic turn in 1991 when he was hit by a car while out jogging on a Sydney highway. He spent several weeks in a coma and several years in a wheelchair but eventually recovered most of his motor skills and regained his speech to the point where he could serve as a boxing color commentator on television. In 2018, a larger-than- life statue of Famechon was unveiled at a public park in the Melbourne suburb of Frankston where he was a longtime resident.

For the record, Johnny Famechon finished his career with a record of 56-5-6 with 20 KOs. We here at The Sweet Science send our condolences to his loved ones.

Arne K. Lang’s latest book, titled “George Dixon, Terry McGovern and the Culture of Boxing in America, 1890-1910,” will shortly roll off the press. The book, published by McFarland, can be pre-ordered directly from the publisher (https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/clashof-the-little-giants) or via Amazon.

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Fast Results from Fort Worth Where Vergil Ortiz Jr Won His 19th Straight by KO

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In a match pushed back from March 19, Vergil Ortiz Jr moved one step closer to a mega-fight with Terence “Bud” Crawford or Errol Spence Jr or Boots Ennis with a ninth-round stoppage of England’s feather-fisted Michael McKinson. The end came 20 seconds into round nine when McKinson appeared to injure his knee as he fell to the canvas, an apparent residue of the body punch that put him on the deck late in the previous stanza. To that point, Ortiz had seemingly won every round.

It was the 19th win inside the distance in as many opportunities for Ortiz who resides in nearby Grand Prairie and was making his first start with new trainer Manny Robles. McKinson was undefeated heading in, but had scored only two knockouts while building his record to 22-0.

Ortiz, ranked #1 at welterweight by the WBA and the WBO, pulled out of the March 19 bout after being diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a muscle disorder associated with over-training.

Ortiz’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, says that Ortiz will fight the winner of Errol Spence vs Terence Crawford next assuming that the fight gets made, and if doesn’t get made, Ortiz’s next fight will be with one or the other. The WBA, which stamped tonight’s fight an eliminator, may push to have Ortiz fight their secondary title-holder, Eimantas Stanionis.

Co-Feature

Houston’s Marlen Esparza (13-1, 1 KO) successfully defended her WBA/WBC world flyweight title with a unanimous decision over plucky 4’11 ½” Venezuelan southpaw Eva Guzman who had won 14 straight coming in, albeit against soft opposition. The judges had it 98-92 and 99-91 twice.

Guzman (19-2-1) was game, but just didn’t have the physical tools to overcome Esparza whose lone defeat came at the hands of talented Seneisa Estrada.

Other Fights of Note

In a 10-round match contested at the catchweight of 150 pounds, Blair “The Flair” Cobbs rebounded from his first defeat with a career-best performance, a wide decision over former WBO 140-pound world titlist Maurice Hooker. It was the second straight loss for Hooker who returned to the ring after a 17-month hiatus and came out flat. Cobbs put him on the canvas in the opening frame with a combination and decked him twice more with straight lefts in round two.

Things got somewhat dicey for Cobbs in round five when he suffered a bad gash on his forehead from an accidental head butt, but Hooker, who had stablemate Bud Crawford in his corner, hesitated to let his hands go and couldn’t reverse the tide. The judges had it 96-91 and 97-90 twice for the flamboyant Cobbs who improved to 16-1-1 (10). Hooker, a consensus 5/2 favorite, lost for the third time in his last five starts and slumped to 27-3-3.

In the opener to the main portion of the DAZN card, Uzbekistan’s Bektimir Melikuziev (10-1, 8 KOs), a super middleweight growing into a light heavyweight, dominated and stopped overmatched Sladan Janjanin. Melikuziev put Janjanin down with a body punch in the opening minute of the fight and scored two more knockdowns before the bout was halted at the 2:18 mark of round three.

This was Melikuziev’s third fight back after his shocking one-punch annihilation by Gabriel Rosado. Janjanin, a well-traveled Bosnian who fought three weeks ago in Massachusetts, declined to 32-12 and was stopped for the eighth time.

Also

Chicago welterweight Alex Martin (18-4, 6 KOs) overcame a first-round knockdown to win a unanimous decision over 38-year-old Philadelphia journeyman Henry Lundy. The judges had it an unexpectedly wide 98-91, 97-92, 97-92.

Martin was coming off a points loss to McKinson and this bout was his reward for taking that fight on short notice. Lundy (31-11-1) has lost five of his last seven.

Floyd “Austin Kid” Schofield, a lightweight who appears to have a big upside, advanced to 11-0 (9 KOs) at the expense of Mexican trial horse Rodrigo Guerrero whose corner wisely pulled him out after five one-sided rounds. It was the ninth straight loss for Guerrero (26-15).

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Conlan Wins His Belfast Homecoming; Breezes Past Lackadaisical Marriaga

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“The Return of the Mick” was the label attached to tonight’s show at the SSE Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The reference was to local fan favorite Michael “Mick” Conlan who returned to his hometown in hopes of jump-starting his career after suffering his first pro loss in a brutal encounter with Leigh Wood.

In that bout, a strong “Fight of the Year contender, Conlan was narrowly ahead on all three cards heading into the 12th and final round when the roof fell in. Wood, who was making the first defense of his WBA world featherweight title on his home turf in Nottingham, knocked the favored Conlan unconscious and clear out of the ring.

This was the sort of fight that can shorten a man’s career. Hence the intrigue in Conlan’s homecoming fight tonight against Miguel Marriaga. On paper, the Colombian, a three-time world title challenger, was a stern test considering the circumstances.

To the contrary, Marriaga had no fire in his belly until the final round when he hit Conlan with a shot that buckled his knees. But, by then Conlan was so far ahead without overly exerting himself that there was virtually no chance of another meltdown.

While Conlan won lopsidedly, the scores – 99-89 and 99-88 twice – were somewhat misleading. True, “Mick” had Marriaga on the deck in rounds 7, 8, and 9, but the punches that put him there did not look particularly hard.

Conlan, 30, improved to 17-1 (8). Marriaga, 35, declined to 30-6.

After the fight, Conlan expressed the hope that Leigh Wood would give him a rematch.

Other Bouts of Note

In an entertaining 10-round welterweight scrap that could have gone either way, Belfast’s Tyrone McKenna (23-3-1, 6 KOs) rebounded from his defeat in Dubai to Regis Prograis (TKO by 6) with a hard-fought unanimous decision over 33-year-old Welshman Chris Jenkins (23-6-3). The judges favored the local fighter by scores of 97-94 and 96-95 twice.

Jenkins, a former British and Commonwealth title-holder, had the best of the early going, working the body effectively while frequently finding a home for his uppercut, but he could not sustain his advantage.

Thirty-four-year-old Belfast super middleweight Padraig McCrory who got a late start in boxing, scored the most important win of his career with a fifth-round stoppage of Marco Antonio Periban, a former world title challenger. McCrory had Periban on the deck three times – once in the second and twice in the fifth – before the bout was halted at the 2:14 mark of round five.

It was the fourth straight win inside the distance for McCrory who improved to 14-0 (8 KOs). Mexico’s Periban, who returned to the sport in April after missing all of 2020 and 2021, fell to 26-6-1.

Highly-touted welterweight Paddy Donovan improved to 9-0 (6) with an 8-round unanimous decision over Yorkshireman Tom Hall (10-3). The referee scored every round for Donovan, an Irish Traveler trained by Tyson Fury’s bosom buddy Andy Lee, the former world middleweight title-holder.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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