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Collecting “Rookie” Cards of Boxing’s Biggest Stars: A Guide for Investors

Jeffrey Freeman

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Collecting “Rookie” Cards of Boxing’s Biggest Stars: A Guide for Investors

It might be hard to believe in this brave new world of fan-less live sports, but the trading card market is red-hot again. New retail card products sell out fast and increase in value even faster in the collector aftermarket. Mike Trout’s 2011 rookie cards have experienced meteoric growth while a mint condition 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle recently sold for more than five million dollars.

New baseball and basketball cards drive a speculative, volatile market. Valuable Juan Soto, Ronald Acuna and Fernando Tatis Jr. cards motivate collectors, breakers and investors. Zion Williamson rookie cards are a global phenomenon. Derek Jeter rookie cards are spiking. So too are rookie cards of Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan. Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback in NFL history and his short printed rookie cards (issued in 2000) reflect this in their high prices.

But what about boxing cards? While not nearly as popular or well distributed as other sports cards, boxing cards do exist. Let’s take a look at ten of boxing’s top stars and explore their rookie cards. We’ll identify the card in question and investigate its value and its availability.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.: Who better to start with than the undefeated money man of boxing? For collectors looking to add Mayweather’s valuable rookie card to their collection, look no further than his 1997 Brown’s Boxing card (#51) featuring a young Floyd, a flag, and the Brown’s corner stool logo. While not rare by contemporary standards, graded mint examples of the card can be found offered on Ebay with outrageous “buy it now” prices. In reality, the card can be purchased for less than a grand at major memorabilia shows or at the IBHOF’s annual boxing card show.

Manny Pacquiao: Unlike Mayweather, whose rookie card was released a year after he made his professional debut, Manny Pacquiao had to wait a few years before his rookie card came out inserted in a Japanese magazine with three other boxing cards. The 1999 Japan World Boxing card (#143) features a young Pacquiao in a boxing stance with “MP” on his trunks. The words “Manny Pacquiao” and “flyweight” are presented in English while the rest of the card is in Japanese. Condition sensitive because the card had to be hand cut from the others, it’s harder to find than the Mayweather rookie card and you can expect to pay nearly twice as much.

Anthony Joshua: The unified, two-time world heavyweight champion made his professional debut in 2013, a year after winning a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London. The Italian card manufacturer Panini issued a special boxed set that year called Adrenalyn XL London Olympics. The 350-card set was the official set of the 2012 games. Card #96 features a smiling AJ wearing an Olympic style jacket. Expect to pay a couple hundred for a clean mint copy.

Mike Tyson: Retired from active competition since 2005, Iron Mike boxed to a friendly draw with Roy Jones Jr. last year in boxing’s biggest PPV event of 2020. In 1986, Panini issued Tyson’s rookie card in their multi-sport Panini Supersport set. The card (#153) is actually a sticker and it was only distributed in Europe. It shows Tyson being interviewed. Ungraded, you will pay at least a hundred bucks for it while graded mint copies can sell for close to a thousand dollars.

jeffrey

Tyson Fury: The reigning WBC heavyweight champion debuted back in 2008. The wait for his rookie card took more than a decade. In 2020, Topps produced the first known trading card of Fury in their Topps NOW line commemorating sporting events in real time. After Fury defeated Deontay Wilder in February of 2020, a card was created by Topps depicting Fury, arms raised with his newly won green belt upon his shoulder. It reads: “Gypsy King Takes The Crown” and lists the date of the fight, 22/02/20. There were only 628 copies of the card made by Topps, making it somewhat of a bargain with current asking prices usually less than a hundred dollars.

Canelo Alvarez: Boxing’s best fighter began his career in 2005. Like Fury, it would take a while for a rookie card of Alvarez to be issued. In 2014, the California based Upper Deck created two Alvarez cards in two different sets, Upper Deck 25th Anniversary and Upper Deck Goodwin Champions. The Anniversary card (#61) is reminiscent of UD’s famous Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card while the decorative Goodwin Champions card (#13) depicts Alvarez at a weigh-in. Both cards are readily available and neither should set a collector back more than $50 for either card.

Gennady Golovkin: Ten years after his debut in 2006, the former unified middleweight champion saw his rookie card issued by Topps in their 2016 Allen & Ginter release. The popular hybrid set features mostly baseball players but also stars from other sports who don’t necessarily have any other mainstream cards to collect. Golovkin’s card (#161) is classy in its design and can be found, like the Alvarez cards, for less than fifty dollars in mint condition.

Errol Spence Jr.: One of the hottest young world champions boxing, Spence made his debut in 2012. Six years later in 2018, Leaf Trading Cards produced Spence’s rookie card and distributed it at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Cleveland. The truth is, the attractively designed card is by no means rare or hard to find. Don’t pay more than five dollars for one.

Roy Jones Jr.: Released just two years after his pro debut in 1989, RJ’s 1991 Kayo card was the first of many cards issued during his Hall of Fame career. Unfortunately, due to massive overproduction, Roy’s rookie card (#116) is effectively worthless and will likely continue to be for some time. Well known to most boxing fans, the Kayo card set was appealing but very plentiful. More valuable and more collectible are the 1993 and 1994 Brown’s Boxing cards of Jones.

Naoya Inoue: The Japanese bantamweight “Monster” debuted professionally in 2012. Two years later, his rookie card was issued in the 2014 Japanese BBM The Champ II set. Dan Rafael recently Tweeted about adding a copy to his impressive collection. Borderless and very attractive, the card (#31) features Inoue posing wearing boxing gloves—and with a WBC title belt on his waist. There is a current listing on Ebay for the card with the seller asking $125 for it.

You might be wondering about stars like Terence Crawford, Teofimo Lopez, and Gervonta “Tank” Davis. What are their rookie cards? Are they worth anything? Sorry to say but they don’t have rookie cards. Not yet anyhow. What they do have are unauthorized, custom made cards. These are often advertised as “rookie cards” but they are really just worthless novelty items. Buyers should beware of such cards and also of counterfeit versions of legitimate cards.

In conclusion, we might not all be able to afford a Mickey Mantle rookie card but any one of us can swing a Micky Ward rookie card. They were issued in 2010, the same year Ward’s biopic “The Fighter” was released in theaters. Sport King’s Ringside Boxing Round One set featured a trifecta of affordable Ward rookie cards; any one of which can be had for just a few bucks each.

Just don’t let your Mom throw them away!

***

Boxing Writer Jeffrey Freeman grew up in the City of Champions, Brockton, Massachusetts from 1973 to 1987, during the Marvelous career of Marvin Hagler. JFree then lived in Lowell, Mass during the best years of Irish Micky Ward’s illustrious career. A new member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a Bernie Award Winner in the Category of Feature Under 1500 Words, Freeman covers boxing for The Sweet Science in New England.

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Late Sub Jonnie Rice Bursts Michael Coffie’s Bubble on a PBC Card in Newark

Arne K. Lang

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Every thing that could go wrong went wrong as promoter Al Haymon and his associates were patching together tonight’s card at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. But it couldn’t have worked out better for journeyman heavyweight Jonnie Rice who turned his career around with a smashing TKO of heavily favored and previously undefeated Michael Coffie.

Positive Covid tests scuttled two 10-round fights on the undercard. The main event had already been disheveled when Coffie’s original opponent Gerald Washington flunked his Covid test. Enter Rice (pictured on the right) who was on standby and seized the moment.

Rice, a Columbia, South Carolina native who has been living and training in Las Vegas, came in sporting a 13-6-1 record but five of his wins had come against no-hopers in Tijuana and he had yet to defeat an opponent in a match where he was the “B” side. But these facts were misleading as five of his six losses had come against hot prospects with undefeated records and he had honed his craft sparring against the likes of Tyson Fury, Filip Hrgovic, and Michael Hunter.

Based on “strength of schedule,” Rice, 34, had the edge over Coffie, the 35-year-old ex-Marine who brought a 12-0 record but was relatively untested. And Rice, who started fast, took the fight to Coffie and out-landed him. Coffie’s left eye was swelling and he wasn’t firing back when the referee waived it off in the fifth round.

Dirrell-Brooker

Tonight’s PBC fare came in two helpings with appetizers and the main event on FOX preceding a club-level show on FOX’s affiliate FS1. The main event of the nightcap was a 10-round light heavyweight bout between Andre Dirrell and Christopher Brooker.

Dirrell, who previously held an interim version of the IBF 168-pound world title, looked very sharp coming off a 19-month layoff, scoring three knockdowns before the fight was waived off in the third round. The Flint, Michigan native improved to 28-3 (18). Philadelphia’s Brooker fell to 16-8.

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Junior middleweight Joey Spencer (13-0, 9 KOs) scored an 8-round unanimous decision over James Martin (7-3). Spencer won comfortably on the scorecards – 80-72 and 79-73 twice – but was unimpressive.

Local fan favorite Vito “White Magic” Mielnicki Jr (9-1, 5 KOs) rebounded from his first pro loss with an impressive second-round stoppage of Noah Kidd (6-4-2).

Philadelphia welterweight Karl Dargan (20-1, 9 KOs), a former two-time national amateur champion, returned to the ring after a long absence and  stopped LA’s Ivan Delgado (13-4-2) in the third round.

New Jersey heavyweight Norman Neely advanced to 9-0 (7) with a unanimous decision over rugged Texas brawler Juan Torres (6-4-1). Neely won all six rounds on all three cards.

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Leigh Wood’s Big Upset Spangles the Rebirth of Eddie Hearn’s Garden Party

Arne K. Lang

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Last summer, hamstrung by the pandemic, Eddie Hearn hit upon the idea of holding boxing events outdoors in the expansive backyard of the family estate on the outskirts of London (now Matchroom Sport headquarters) where he grew up. Four shows were staged there.

The series has been revived. Today was “episode 1” of Season Two of Matchroom Fight Camp, otherwise known as Eddie Hearn’s Garden Party. Two more shows are penciled in over the next two weekends.

The match-up getting the most buzz was the welterweight contest between fast-rising Conor Benn and battle-tested Adrian Granados. Unfortunately, Benn tested positive for Covid-19. But the main event, a WBA world featherweight title defense by Can Xu (aka Xu Can) against Nottingham’s Leigh Wood stayed intact and produced a memorable upset.

Xu, who is co-promoted by Oscar De La Hoya, was installed a 4/1 favorite. Although he wasn’t a big puncher with only three knockouts to his credit in 20 starts, he rode into Hearn’s backyard riding a 15-fight winning streak for the third defense of his WBA “regular” title. But he started slow, perhaps the result of ring rust — it was his first fight of 2021 after missing all of 2020 – and he never did crank up the volume that had carried him to victory in his three title fights.

Wood, a stablemate of Josh Taylor who has made great gains since hooking up with Ben Davison and Lee Wylie, landed the heavier punches and was ahead on the cards when he took the fight out of the judges’ hands in the final minute of the final round. He decked Xu with a hard right hand and then trapped him on the ropes, forcing the stoppage that came with only 17 seconds remaining.

The 32-year-old Wood improved to 25-2 (15). Xu falls to 18-3. The deposed champion has a rematch clause so we may have a sequel.

Other Bouts

Chris Billam-Smith, trained by Shane McGuigan, won a hard-fought 12-round split decision over Belfast’s Tommy McCarthy in a cruiserweight scrap with three domestic titles at stake. The judges had it 116-112 and 115-114 for Billam-Smith, now 13-1, with the dissenter favoring McCarthy (18-3) by a 115-114 tally.

McCarthy wobbled Billam-Smith late in the first round with on overhand right, but could never land his Sunday punch on the Bournemouth fighter in a see-saw struggle with many close rounds. There were no knockdowns but McCarthy suffered a cut over his right eye near the end of round six from an apparent head butt.

McCarthy had Carl Frampton helping out in his corner which infused the contest with the aura of a grudge match. Frampton was the best man at Shane McGuigan’s wedding, but their friendship dissolved in a bitter court fight. At the end of the grueling fight, Billam-Smith and McCarthy embraced in a show of mutual respect.

Liverpool super-welterweight Anthony Fowler whose lone setback came at the hands of Scott Fitzgerald (a split decision) won his sixth straight with an eighth-round stoppage of Germany’s Rico Mueller whose cornerman was on the ring apron when the slow-acting referee waived it off at the 2:12 mark. Fowler, who is also trained by Shane McGuigan, improved to 15-1 (11). His next bout is expected to come against fellow Scouser Liam Smith in October. This was the second fight this month for the game but out-gunned 33-year-old Mueller (28-4-1) who was subbing for veteran Tex-Mex campaigner Roberto Garcia who pulled out with a back injury.

Also, Jack Cullen (20-2-1, 9 KOs) scored a 10-round unanimous decision over Avni Yildirim (21-4) in a 10-round super middleweight contest. Yildirim, from Turkey, was looking to atone for his hollow performance against Canelo Alvarez this past February. While he had his moments, he was out-worked by the lanky Lancashire man who won by scores of 100-90, 08-92, and 97-93.

Photo credit: Alan Walton / Matchroom Boxing

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Avila Perspective, Chap 146: De La Hoya Returns Plus Other Boxing Notes

David A. Avila

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Sitting in front of several dozen reporters, the favorite son of Los Angeles area boxing, Oscar De La Hoya, and former MMA champion Vitor Belfort spoke about their mutual return to prizefighting.

“I can’t lie. I miss getting hit,” said De La Hoya.

It was a statement also shared by Belfort.

After years away from the prize ring, both return to exchange hits as boxing’s De La Hoya (39-6, 30 KOs) meets MMA’s Belfort (26-14, 18 KOs) on Sept. 11, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Triller Fight Club card will be shown on pay-per-view via FITE.tv and other modes.

De La Hoya, 48, last absorbed hits from a fighter when Manny Pacquiao battered him almost 13 years ago back in December 2008. It was a shock to the senses to see the great East L.A. fighter take blow after blow while unable to hit back.

He was only 35.

Many attribute that loss to a ridiculous agreement to weigh under 145 pounds before facing Pacquiao. At the time De La Hoya was the real gate attraction and pay-per-view king. He held all the cards but agreed to the demands acutely devised by Freddie Roach. It proved to leave De La Hoya too weak to fight back and after eight rounds the one-sided beating was stopped.

De La Hoya retired after that fight. Ironically, he called for a press conference and it was held right where he recently announced this upcoming fight against Belfort. It’s also near a statue built in his honor.

Sitting nearby, Belfort patiently waited his turn to speak. For the Brazilian MMA fighter, it’s only been a mere three years since he exchanged blows in a prize fight. It was a knockout loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 224 in Brazil.

When Belfort spoke to the media, he expressed a desire to get hit too.

“Its fun. I’m going to have joy when I get hit. You cannot get better than that,” said Belfort.

It’s a common sentiment held by former greats. I’ve heard the same comments from James “Lights Out” Toney who ridiculously was not voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame this past year.

Getting hit becomes as common as breathing for most professional fighters, especially those that began boxing at a young age such as De La Hoya.

“The truth is I miss it. I miss it very much,” said De La Hoya who began lacing up gloves as an amateur at five years old.

According to oddsmakers, Belfort is the favorite to win. Probably for a number of reasons including he fought a mere three years ago. Belfort is the heavier fighter and has fought foes in the 205 pound-division called light heavyweight in MMA. Plus, he is simply bigger than his foe.

“I hope I don’t end up killing him, but everything is on the table,” said Belfort. “If he doesn’t have joy in what he does he could come back in a coffin.”

Prizefighters are masochists. All truly good fighters have a streak of masochism inside. They know they’ll be pummeled with blows that truly hurt and they look forward to it. But the bitter truth is taking hits in your 30s and taking hits near your 50s are two vastly different scenarios.

It’s an extremely dangerous fight for both.

As someone who spent nearly a month in a hospital after experiencing a cerebral hemorrhage, otherwise known as a “brain bleed,” I’m stunned by the fact that more boxers are not damaged from brutal blows. I pray nothing like this occurs to De La Hoya, Belfort, or any retired boxer who returns to the prize ring for a possible payday.

They are prizefighters and like any former high-performance athlete, they miss competition.

“When you love it, no matter what happens, I’m ok with it,” said De La Hoya.

Fans will attend Staples Center by the thousands simply to see “the Golden Boy” once again and pay tribute to one of the greats. Many of those attending will be praying silently for the fighter’s safety.

I know I will.

England Fights

WBA featherweight titlist Xu Can (18-2, 3 KOs) defends against Leigh Wood (24-2, 14 KOs) on Saturday July 31, at Brentwood, England. DAZN will stream the world title fight.

This is the third defense for Can who has not fought in almost two years. The last defense was at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California when he soundly defeated Manny Robles III.

Can took the title from Puerto Rico’s Jesus Rojas, a rough and tumble fighter who takes a pound of flesh from everyone he faces. Against Can he was unable to deal out the usual punishment.

Wood is a former super bantamweight contender who has never really faced international competition. He did face former world champion Gavin McDonnell but was stopped. Perhaps the move up in weight will help.

Fights to Watch

Fri. Estrella TV 7 p.m. Erick Leon (14-1) vs Juan Marcos Rodriguez (10-3).

Sat. DAZN 11 a.m. Xu Can (18-2) vs Leigh Wood (24-2).

Sat. FOX 5 p.m. Michael Coffie (12-0) vs. Jonnie Rice (13-6-1)

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