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Boxing Odds and Ends: Return of the Overweights and More

Arne K. Lang

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The 1980s brought two new sanctioning bodies into boxing. The IBF, founded in 1983, and the WBO (1988) came along to challenge the established organizations.

More organizations meant more “champions.” For a time, the heavyweight division was a revolving door of title-holders. The claimants, with very few exceptions, were aligned with Don King.

Many of the 1980s-era heavyweights that came through the revolving door were on the flabby side; their “love handles” made their trunks fit tight. Investigative reporter Jack Newfield blamed King, postulating that his ensemble of heavyweights had become so demoralized by his double-dealing that they had lost the incentive to stay in shape. Budd Schulberg acidly observed that a new classification had been born: the overweights.

We were reminded of Schulberg’s snarky sobriquet while watching the fights this weekend. Don King’s latest heavyweight “champion,” Trevor Bryan, weighed in for his fight with Bername Stiverne carrying 267 ½ pounds. His previous career high was 248 and that was for an opponent with a 2-24 record. The following night, love handles were on display again when Darmani Rock opposed Michael Coffie. Rock, 24, fell from the ranks of the unbeaten when Coffie stopped him in the third round.

rock

rock

It would be too easy to blame Trevor Bryan’s ungainly appearance on King. He was inactive for all of 2019 and all of 2020 and it isn’t as easy to stay in shape nowadays with so many gyms and fitness centers shuttered because of the pandemic. As for Darmani Rock, he actually slimmed down from his recent fights, albeit the 261 pounds he carried were still too many, or at least too indecorously distributed.

Let’s hope the overweights don’t take over boxing’s glamour division.

Don King’s fiasco in Florida inspired both laughter and derision. The World Boxing News, a popular U.K.-based website, reacted by ex-communicating the World Boxing Association. They removed all WBA belts from their Champions list and said that a unification fight would no longer be recognized as such if it involved the WBA and only one of the other three major bodies.

For the honchos at this web site, sanctioning Bryan vs. Stiverne as a title fight was the last straw. Trevor Bryan is now the WBA “regular” champion which presumably makes Anthony Joshua an irregular champion. The WBA “champion in recess” is Mahmoud “Manuel” Charr who last fought in 2017.

This decision undoubtedly drew a “thumbs up” from prominent boxing writer Dan Rafael who has been in the forefront of the drive to shame the World Boxing Association into cutting back on their number of champions, as they once indicated that they would. Rafael has been flogging the Panama-based organization with words like rancid and putrid since at least 2009.

We doubt that the WBN’s new policy will make a difference, but we can certainly appreciate the sentiment. What we would suggest is that Joe Santoliquito, the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, draft a letter condemning the World Boxing Association, a letter that every member of the BWAA would be invited to sign, and that this letter would then be forwarded to the heads of the various state boxing commissions with a recommendation that they put the WBA under suspension until such time as the WBA gets its house in order. Every state boxing commission has the authority to suspend an entity or individual whose conduct is deemed to be detrimental to the sport.

Agreed, there are drawbacks. There are still states in the union that have no boxing commission and bad consequences would inevitably follow if fights were diverted to these places where safety precautions are lax. Moreover, a state boxing commission does more than regulate the sport. Although not explicitly stated, a commission is expected to be an arm of economic development and in these trying times where dwindling tax revenues have forced many government agencies to tighten their belts, no commission wants to be in the position of turning away business. Moreover, de-frocking the WBA could open a Pandora’s box as the other organizations are hardly paragons of virtue.

We would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this matter.

Ryan Garcia created quite a buzz when he posted on his Instagram page a mock-up of a poster promoting a bout between him and Manny Pacquaio. True, everything Garcia does nowadays creates a buzz. The 22-year-old unmarried father of two has the aura of a matinee idol (a term, by the way, that originated in the days of vaudeville where the audience for matinees consisted of many unmarried women who were discouraged from going out after dark without a male escort).

Our first reaction when we heard this was that Garcia, or rather his publicist and/or business manager, was pulling our string. Garcia is a lightweight. Pacquiao’s last 16 fights, beginning with his 2009 bout with Miguel Cotto, were contested at welterweight. True, they could meet in the middle, say at a catchweight of 141 pounds, but at age 42 it’s hard to envision PacMan burning off the weight.

Naysayers assumed that a bout between Garcia and Pacquiao would take the form of an exhibition. A spokesperson for Garcia, Guadalupe Valencia, and Garcia himself, insist the fight will be genuine. Moreover, Valencia told ESPN that Team Pacquiao initiated the talks.

It’s being said that Garcia vs. Pacquiao will take place in late May or early June. We will bet money that it doesn’t happen with the understanding that all bets are off if it’s an exhibition. Regardless, the only title that will be at stake will be one that hasn’t been contrived yet. Ryan Garcia doesn’t currently own one. Manny Pacquiao, who last fought in July of 2019, winning a split decision over Keith Thurman, owned the irregular version of the WBA welterweight title until a few days ago when it was stripped from him. PacMan was simultaneously named the WBA “champion in recess.”

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Tyson Fury Roared and Deontay Wilder Remained Silent at their L.A. Presser

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TSS special correspondent LAUREN RODRIGUEZ was on the scene for the Top Rank Promotions press conference in downtown Los Angeles on June 15 at which the third meeting between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder was formally announced. Here is her report.

The third fight between Tyson “Gypsy King” Fury (30-1, 21 KOs.) and Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) will go down July 24th in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena. This continued mash-up between the two comes 16 months since their last bout. The first fight, in December 2018, ended in a draw and their second in February 2020, ended in a victory for Fury in the 7th round.

Fury carried the press conference while Wilder remained largely muted.

The WBC champion Fury remains undefeated, a status he is adamant in maintaining. The heavyweight boasted a white suit patterned with images of himself in a crown and wearing the belt he won off Wilder.

“This is a reminder of what happened to him last time, this is a remembrance suit of Deontay Wilder’s ass-kicking.”

The “Gypsy King,” an entertainer, left little words unsaid as he berated his silent opponent.

“It shows how weak a mental person is, it shows the emotional effect the last fight had on his life… I was worried about him after the defeat I gave him,” said Fury.

An Alabama native, Wilder has a 93% knockout rate, the highest rate for any heavyweight.

Wilder wanted no part in other questions from Q/A moderator Christina Poncher, or the media, as he remained silent with headphones and sunglasses to shield him from questions.

Wilder’s trainer, longtime friend and former heavyweight contender Malik Scott answered very few questions for the fighter as tensions rose.

“He’s very stubborn, like most legends and gifted people they have their things with them. As long as he gives me what I want in the gym, I don’t care about the stubbornness cause we’re going to get this done,” said Scott.

If it’s one thing Fury and team all agree on, it’s that history will repeat itself in this third fight come July.

When it comes to what we can expect this time, Fury’s trainer SugarHill Steward stated, “All I have to say is, over time, he [Fury] now has power to knock a man out with one punch. His boxing IQ is one-punch knockout power.”

In Gypsy King fashion, we will have an entertaining show come next month. Fury intends on moving his weight all the way to 300, so he can give Wilder a bigger knockout in the ring and fans a bigger show.

“This time I’m hoping to take him out early, one, two, three rounds max.”

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Tokyo-Bound Aussie Heavyweight Justis Huni Stops Rugged Paul Gallen in the 10th

Arne K. Lang

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Had Justis Huni fought Paul Gallen two months ago, the match would have been trashed as little more than exhibition. During his record-tying 19 years in rugby, Gallen evolved into one of Australia’s most well-known sporting personalities. When Gallen took up boxing in 2014, it was thought that he did it as a lark; as a way of cashing in on his name recognition. And his first 11 opponents were a motley bunch of former rugby players, MMA fighters, 40-somethings, and boxing novices.

Then came the night of April 21, 2021. In a shocker, Gallen demolished former WBA heavyweight titlist Lucas “Big Daddy” Browne in less than two minutes. “Gallen transformed from a rugby league player to a bona fide prize fighter before our very eyes,” said prominent Australian sports journalist Andrew McMurtry.

That knocked Lucas Browne out of a lucrative match with Justis Huni and vaulted Paul Gallen, who turns 40 in August, to the head of the queue. They met Wednesday night (Australia time) at a convention center in Sydney and Huni, five-and-a-half inches taller, 15 pounds heavier, and the younger man by nearly 18 years, saddled Gallen (11-1-1) with his first defeat.

Heading into the fight, Gallen conceded that the heavily favored Huni was faster. However, he thought that he could wear the bigger man down. “If I get through those first four to five rounds, I’ll be in his face the whole time and I think I can knock him out late,” he said.

It proved to be the other way around. Huni dominated the fight and when he knocked Gallen down in the 10th with a big right hook, the referee stepped in and stopped it. But Gallen, who had a bum shoulder from his rugby days and thought that he fought most of the fight with a broken rib, showed tremendous heart.

It was the fifth professional fight for Huni (5-0, 4 KOs) who won the Australian heavyweight title in his pro debut. Of Dutch, Swedish, Samoan, and Tongan heritage, he quit school at age 15 to give boxing his full attention and will represent Australia in the Tokyo Olympics which start next month.

Brisbane-born Huni is already being talked-about as the best-ever Australian-born heavyweight. The rap against him is a lack of one-punch knockout power which won’t be a detriment in Tokyo.

In undercard bouts of note, Brisbane middleweight Isaac Hardman (11-0, 9 KOs) scored a 4th-round stoppage of Emmanuel Carlos (12-2) and middleweight Andrei Mikhailovich, a Russian residing in Auckland, New Zealand, advanced to 16-0 (9) with a second-round stoppage of previously undefeated Alex Hanan (13-1).

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Three Pros are Joining the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team, Ruffling Some Feathers

Arne K. Lang

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USA Boxing, the agency that controls amateur boxing in the United States, has a rule that prohibits professional boxers from competing in their tournaments. That rule remains in effect, but yet three pro boxers – middleweight Troy Isley, lightweight Keyshawn Davis, and featherweight Duke Ragan – will suit up for the United States in the forthcoming Tokyo Games. The announcement, which fell largely under the radar, came on June 7.

USA Boxing is subservient to AIBA, the sport’s international governing body, and to the International Olympic Committee. The Boxing Task Force of the IOC changed the rules to allow Isley, Davis and Ragan to compete and the honchos at USA Boxing are none too happy about it.

Blame the Covid-19 pandemic which forced the postponement and ultimately the cancellation of several qualifying tournaments including the “Americas” tournament in Buenos Aires at which boxers from 42 national federations – including the United States — would be competing for the Olympic slots allocated to this region. A total of 286 boxers from around the world will compete in Tokyo in the eight men’s and five women’s weight divisions with the coveted slots dispersed among four Continental Regional Divisions.

With no tournament, the Task Force redesigned the quota allocation process using world rankings to determine the national squads. The rankings were formulated using a point system from events held between January 2017 and October 2019.

The re-jiggering opened the door for Isley, Davis, and Ragan to rejoin the team. Isley and Davis had their first pro fight in February of this year. Ragan turned pro in August of 2020.

Team USA protested that the BTF allocation was unfair to the boxers that finished first in the final domestic qualifying tournament (December 2019 in Lake Charles, Louisiana), but their claim was denied. Isley and Ragan were knocked out of that tournament before reaching the finals; Davis finished first when his opponent in the finals took ill and had to pull out, but he was subsequently booted off the team, reputedly for missing too many practices which he attributed to a family health emergency. That unfrocking has been rescinded.

Before he left the team, Keyshawn Davis was considered the U.S. boxer with the best chance of winning a gold medal in Tokyo. A southpaw, he earned his spurs at the Alexandria Boxing Club in North Alexandria, Virginia, which was also the home gym of Troy Isley who lived right down the street.

The common thread between all three of the returnees is Kay Koroma who coached Davis and Isley at the Alexandria club where he was the top lieutenant to the club’s patriarch Dennis Porter and at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs where he served as an assistant to Billy Walsh. Duke Ragan, who hails from Cincinnati, is Koroma’s nephew.

Koroma came to the fore in 2016 when he earned raves for his work with Olympians Claressa Shields. Shakur Stevenson, Charles Conwell and others. But Koroma, one of the hottest young trainers in the sport, won’t be available to work with the 2020/21 team before it heads off to Tokyo. “My plate is too full,” he told The Sweet Science.

Koroma, like many of his former pupils, turned pro himself. He continues to work with Shakur Stevenson, whom he has known since Shakur was 13 years old, he assists veteran coach Al Mitchell with Mikaela Mayer and he recently replaced Ronnie Shields as the head trainer of rising heavyweight contender Efe Ajagba.

Isley, Davis, and Ragan comprise three-fifths of the men’s Olympic team. Super heavyweight Richard Torrez Jr and welterweight Delante “Tiger” Johnson flesh out the quintet.

USA Boxing released a letter to its membership expressing frustration over the decision of the IOC Task Force which killed the dreams of seven boxers who hoped to snare an Olympic berth at the Buenos Aires tournament or, barring that, the Last Chance tournament in Paris which was also a casualty of the pandemic. The letter can be read at the USA Boxing web site.

The seven boxers who were fenced out are:

Darius Fulgham (heavyweight, Houston, TX)

Rahim Gonzalez (light heavyweight, Las Vegas, NV)

Joseph Hicks (middleweight, Lansing, MI)

Charlie Sheehy (lightweight, Brisbane, CA)

Bruce Carrington (featherweight, Brooklyn, NY)

Anthony Herrera (flyweight, East Los Angeles, CA)

and

women’s flyweight Andrea Medina (San Diego, CA).

USA Boxing insists there are no plans to allow professionals to compete for the United States in the 2024 Olympiad and beyond. This is a one-shot exception forced by a unique circumstance. But, needless to say, when it comes to amateur boxing, nothing is etched in stone.

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