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Marvin Hagler’s Legendary Career Was Largely Forged in Crucible of Philadelphia

Bernard Fernandez

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It would be technically incorrect to state that it all began for Marvelous Marvin Hagler during his frequent working visits to Philadelphia in the mid- to late-1970s. Hagler, arguably the best middleweight champion of all time (his name absolutely belongs in that discussion) turned pro on May 18, 1973, with a second-round knockout of Terry Ryan in a high school gym in the future superstar’s adopted hometown of Brockton, Mass. The southpaw slugger reportedly was paid just $50 for that bout, an insulting pittance for someone who had gone 55-1 as an amateur and had won the ’73 U.S. national championship.

Why didn’t Hagler, who was 66 when he unexpectedly passed away Saturday at his home in New Hampshire, delay his professional debut until after the 1976 Olympics, where he conceivably could have won a gold medal and, possibly, the immediate high visibility and generous early paydays that went to future nemesis Sugar Ray Leonard, the brightest American ring light at those Montreal Games? Hey, hanging around three years before he could cash checks for his boxing prowess was deemed too long a wait for someone who had grown up poor in the ghettos of Newark, N.J., the oldest child in a fatherless family of seven. Hagler figured it would take some time to work his way up the ladder and the kind of recognition his talent had always hinted at, but the process proved to be more laborious than he and co-managers Goody and Pat Petronelli could have imagined.

To say Hagler — who relocated in his late teens to Brockton, the hometown of legendary heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano — was avoided in the formative stages of his pro career is an understatement. He not only was really good, but a lefty to boot, so getting the kind of fights he needed to draw more attention to himself, in addition to honing his overall skill-set, proved to be an ongoing challenge.

The Petronellis found just such a crucible for Hagler’s refinement at the Spectrum in Philly, where their guy would fight five times, going just 3-2 with points losses to Willie “The Worm” Monroe and Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts.

“We knew if Marvin was going to develop into a champion, he had to go outside New England to fight,” Goody Petronelli told me in August 1991. “We went to Seattle and he got a draw with Sugar Ray Seales (a gold medalist at the 1972 Munich Olympics), but other than that he was 25-0 going into 1976 when we went down to Philadelphia to fight Bobby `Boogaloo’ Watts.

“When we got there, I remember the Spectrum promoter, Russell Peltz, telling me, `Guys from Boston can’t fight.’ But I looked Russell in the eye and I said, `This one can.’”

Goody, who was 88 when he died on Jan. 29, 2012 (he was preceded in death by Pat, who was 89 when he passed away on Sept. 10, 2011), said Philadelphia’s deep roster of tough, world-rated middleweights – Hagler swapped punches with Eugene “Cyclone” Hart and Bennie Briscoe, in addition to Monroe and Watts – was instrumental in helping their guy step up to the next level, at which he would remain for the remainder of his pro career, retiring with a 62-3-2 record following a controversial, split-decision defeat to Sugar Ray Leonard on April 6, 1987.

“All those Philadelphia fighters were tough,” Goody said. “We fought `The Iron’ down there. I called them `The Iron’ because they were as tough as iron. Whenever we fought one of ’em down there, I’d use the others as sparring partners.”

Goody Petronelli returned to the renamed First Union Spectrum on June 20, 2003, when another of his fighters, Ian Gardner, fought Dhafir Smith, from the Philadelphia suburb of Upper Darby. It was sort of like old times, except for the fact that Gardner, a middleweight, southpaw and with a shaved skull, only resembled Hagler before the opening bell rang, even though he did come away with an eight-round, unanimous-decision victory.

“You know what, it brought back memories, being here again,” Goody said, waxing nostalgic. “We had some wars down here with Marvin.”

Unlike certain fighters, who need someone to blame when they lose, discarding trainers, managers and promoters as if they were yesterday’s newspaper, Hagler remained fiercely loyal to the brothers Petronelli, who stood by him when it was still a bit questionable that he would fulfill the glorious destiny that eventually came to be his.

In a 1980 story that appeared in the Boston Globe, Hagler explained why he never considered leaving Goody and Pat for higher-profile or better-connected handlers.

“I didn’t trust anybody,” he said in recalling his financially desperate introduction to the pro ranks. “I had a dollar in my pocket and I kept it to myself. Goody and Pat amazed me. We’d go out to lunch and they’d say, `Keep your dollar. This is on us.’

“I’d think they were going to take it out of my paycheck and the end of the week (Hagler made ends meet in the interim by working as a swimming pool installer and roofer). But they didn’t. They said, `Marvin, when you make it big you can pay us back.’”

It is almost inconceivable given today’s accelerated path to the top for a few select fighters who get world title shots with a dozen or fewer bouts, but Marvelous Marvin – he legally added “Marvelous,” which previously had been only a nickname, in 1982 – had to wait until his 50th pro outing before he got such an opportunity against reigning WBC/WBA middleweight titlist Vito Antuofermo at the Caesars Palace Sports Pavilion. The split draw that enabled Antuofermo to retain his championship was widely derided, and left Hagler with a deep-seated suspicion of Las Vegas judges that was never more apparent than in the outrage he expressed in the aftermath of his setback to Leonard.

Hagler got another crack at the big prize on Sept. 27, 1980, when, in his 54th pro bout, he traveled to London to challenge the man who had dethroned Antuofermo, Alan Minter of England, in Wembley Stadium. There would be no pilferage by pencil this time as Hagler stopped Minter in three rounds, but the occasion was marred when unruly Minter fans began hurling objects into the ring.

Once anointed as the king of the 160-pounders, Hagler settled in for a long and productive stay upon the throne, logging 12 successful defenses. He went through most of the division like a scythe in tall grass, scoring wins inside the distance against Fulgencio Obelmejias, Antuofermo, Mustafa Hamsho, Caveman Lee, Tony Sibson and Wilford Scypion. But not every fight with his belt on the line was a walk through the park; his three-round war with Thomas Hearns has been called “the greatest seven minutes in boxing history,” and he also was extended in matches with Roberto Duran, Juan Domingo Roldan, John “The Beast” Mugabi and Hamsho (rematch).

The last time around for Hagler, although no one could have known it then, was the much-anticipated showdown with Leonard, who was on the plus end of the official scorecards submitted by JoJo Guerra (an almost-incomprehensible 118-110) and Dave Moretti (115-113) while Lou Filippo had Hagler up by 115-113.

At the postfight press conference, a bitterly disappointed Hagler complained that Leonard had fought like “a sissy” and “a girl,” while depicting himself as the aggressor, constantly stalking a fleeing opponent who couldn’t and didn’t hurt him, and whose only goal was survival.

“I put pressure on him, I took his best shots,” Hagler said. “If it wasn’t for me putting pressure on him, he wouldn’t have fought. He would have laid back. The man was dead on his feet, he was tired. I had to pressure him.

“I’ve never seen, for a championship fight, a split decision where the other guy (challenger) wins the fight. That’s not right. If it’s a split decision, it should go to the champion. I think he would have to beat me more decisively – knock me down, beat me real bad, in order to take the title away. And he didn’t do that.

“I still feel as though I’m the champion. I fought my heart out to keep my belt. It’s just not right. I think I’ve done a lot for boxing. I’ve been a true champion to the sport. It just puts a bitter taste in my mouth, the way they went and did this.”

Although a rematch seemed to be in order, it never came to be and Hagler opted to retire, seemingly with a fair amount of tread on his tires at the age of 32. He never yielded to the temptation to return, if indeed he ever felt such an urge, and thus joined the likes of Marciano, Michael Spinks and Lennox Lewis as elite fighters who stepped away from the ring and never came back.

Hagler found a degree of satisfaction in the next phase of his life upon moving to Milan, Italy, and becoming an actor, before moving back to the United States. He was the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Fighter of the Year in 1983 and ’85, and also was named Fighter of the Decade in the 1980s by Boxing Illustrated. A 1993 inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993, he drew crowds of adoring fans for public appearances where he was always gracious and accommodating.

He even was able to mend some bridges with Leonard, whom he blamed for resisting all overtures for the do-over that never happened.

“Hagler didn’t want to be around me for a while, which I understand,” Sugar Ray told me on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of their fight, in 2007. “But when we see each other now, we’re cordial. I was in Vegas for Oscar (De La Hoya) and Felix (Trinidad). Marvin was there. He asked to see me. We shook hands and spoke.

“After the fight, which Oscar lost, I saw Marvin the next morning before I went to the airport. I said, `Can you believe that decision? No way Oscar lost.’ He said, `Yeah, I believe it. It happened to me.’”

And now Marvin is gone, too soon, but at least he took his leave from this mortal coil on the night that two gallant smaller fighters, Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, engaged in what no doubt will be remembered as one of the best bouts of 2021. You have to figure the Marvelous One would find that to be an appropriate way to cross over to a celestial destination where great champions such as he presumably shall forever reign.

Here on earth, Hagler’s passing figures to again spark old and familiar debates regarding his place among the middleweights’ all-time greats, an exclusive club whose members include Harry Greb, Sugar Ray Robinson, Carlos Monzon, Bernard Hopkins and maybe a couple of others who merit consideration.

Hagler’s second wife, Kay, confirmed her husband’s death on social media. Marvin Hagler was a father of five children with his first wife, Bertha, and was also the half-brother of former middleweight contender Robbie Sims.

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Shakur Stevenson’s Star Turn Gets No Media Coverage in Atlanta

Bernard Fernandez

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Shakur Stevenson’s Star Turn Gets No Media Coverage in Atlanta

For that part of the sports world that takes notice of boxing, Shakur Stevenson announced himself as a superstar-in-the-making – well, maybe – in totally dominating and ultimately dethroning WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring Saturday night in Atlanta’s State Farm Arena. Shakur, the 24-year-old southpaw and 2016 Olympic silver medalist from Newark, N.J., seemingly hit Herring, 35, a combat-toughened but outgunned Marine Corps veteran, with everything but the proverbial kitchen sink en route to a 10th-round stoppage that wowed, among others, former junior welterweight and welterweight titlist and ESPN commentator Timothy Bradley Jr., who had chided Stevenson, a sometimes risk-adverse defensive wizard, as a “boring” fighter in his most recent bout on the Worldwide Leader, a 12-round scorecard shutout of Namibia’s Jeremia Nakathila on June 12 in Las Vegas.

After referee Mark Nelson stepped in to save the bleeding and battered Herring 1 minute, 30 seconds into round 10, Stevenson surprised Bradley by thanking him for providing the motivation he needed to ramp up his offensive output.

“Shakur tonight showed a ton of maturity,” Bradley said of the new-look, presumably more fan-friendly version of Stevenson that was on display. “The fact that he thanked me and said that I motivated him is a beautiful thing. That showed even more maturity, because that’s all that I want from these young fighters. I want them to grow.

“This is what I wanted to see from Shakur Stevenson. But I knew he had it in him, and he showed it tonight.”

Not that Bradley has completely bought into the notion of all that Stevenson could be, citing the lack of the only weapon – one-punch power – in his otherwise well-stuffed trick bag. Maybe that will come should Stevenson (17-0, 9 KOs) continue to enhance his man-strength, and maybe what you see now is all that fight fans can ever expect to get. In baseball terminology, Shakur Stevenson was more or less categorized by Bradley as a high-average singles hitter with enough gap power to accumulate a fair share of doubles that can get opponents out of there on accumulated damage. Who could complain if Stevenson, whose avowed goal is to become a superstar and fixture at or near the top of everyone’s pound-for-pound lists, continues to show flashes of such stylistic predecessors as Pernell Whitaker and Floyd Mayweather Jr.?

On this night and in the fight’s host city, however, Stevenson took a worse media-coverage battering from Eddie Rosario than he had administered to Herring (23-3, 11 KOs) with his fists. Rosario, a trade-deadline acquisition of the Atlanta Braves, slugged a three-run homer to lift his new team to a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series at nearby Truist Park, sending the Braves into their first World Series since 1999. For now, Rosario, who went 14-for-25 with three homers in winning the NLCS Most Valuable Player Award, is the toast of the town and the focus of reams of space in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports section. But it wasn’t only Rosario who siphoned attention in the local paper away from Stevenson; the fight might have gotten a few lines in the print editions, but online it was completely ignored by the AJC, Rosario’s hot bat followed in the pecking order by stories about the NBA’s Hawks losing at Cleveland, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets dropping a high-scoring contest at Virginia and a five-star high school defensive end prospect named Mykel Williams verbally committing to the No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs.

While it had to be frustrating to Stevenson and Atlanta’s fight fans for the event to be ignored by AJC, there were other deserving participants on the card who were similarly overlooked by the press in Georgia’s largest city. Not that anyone in the Internet age still pastes newspaper clippings into scrapbooks, but 19-year-old middleweight prospect Xander Zayas might be at a similar embryonic stage of development once occupied by Stevenson a couple of years ago. He deserved at least some recognition in the paper for his fourth-round stoppage of Dan Karpency, as did two other undercard fighters with celebrity familial ties: middleweight Nico Ali Walsh, grandson of the great Muhammad Ali, who scored a third-round TKO of James Westley II, and junior middleweight Evan Holyfield, son of four-time heavyweight champion and Atlanta-area resident Evander Holyfield – can it be nearly 30 years since “The Real Deal” shook off an early knockdown to stop Bert Cooper in seven rounds on Nov. 23, 1991, in Atlanta’s since-demolished Omni Coliseum? — who bombed out Charles Stanfield in two rounds.

But Atlanta is not the only metropolis that devotes fewer newspaper column inches, if any, to the sport that once made Evander Holyfield as important a local sports figure as any Falcon, Brave or Hawk. It will be up to Stevenson to break through, if he can, to a level where his every ring appearance becomes a must-see because boxing’s viability is and has always been largely tied to the popularity of its larger-than-life figures.

“I wanted a fun fight – show my skills, my boxing, my power,” Stevenson said of the modifications he and trainer/grandfather Wali Moses made from the relative dreariness of the wide points nod over Nakathila to the pulse-quickening pummeling of Herring, who apologized to the Marine Corps in general for his defeat, not that any such admission was necessary. Herring seemed to be contemplating retirement, but there has never been any occasion when he failed to conduct himself honorably inside the ropes.

The question now is, will Stevenson continue to hew to demonstrate the aggressiveness he exhibited against Herring? His comments following the Nakathila bout suggest that it might not always be so. His style is evolving, but what works better on one night might not be advisable on another.

“To be honest, I didn’t really like my performance,” Stevenson said after his paint-by-numbers dismissal of Nakathila. “I felt I could’ve performed a lot better. I was being real careful because he has power. He was real scary. I got the best defense in boxing. But I’ll be better in my next fight.”

Former super middleweight and light heavyweight champion Andre Ward, a 2021 inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame who also did commentary for Herring-Stevenson, said Shakur shouldn’t feel pressured to become something he is not in order to meet anyone else’s expectations.

“I think we got to kill some of these misnomers that have been around the sport for far too long, that fighters that go about their craft a certain kind of way, hit and don’t get hit, (means) there’s something not tough about them,” Ward said. “I heard that my whole career. Floyd Mayweather heard that his whole career. Just because a skillful fighter who can think and plays chess when everybody else is playing checkers doesn’t mean he can’t get down and dirty. It only means we’re going to get down and dirty when we have to.

“Fighters who have (high) IQs and skill, keep doing what you’re doing. Some people are going to like it and others won’t. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. If a good fighter has a bad night, he can still win every round. If a guy who takes two to (land) one had a bad night, it’s a pretty ugly night. He’s probably going to get knocked out or take a lot of punishment.

“I wasn’t who they wanted me to be. I just beat all those guys, all the guys they said were going to get me. I just kept winning. And winning covers a lot of problems and issues.”

A lot, for sure, not all. In addition to Whitaker, Mayweather and maybe Ward, there are elements of Stevenson’s makeup that call to mind the technical proficiency of two-time Cuban gold medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux, a former Top Rank fighter. Stevenson has been groomed by Top Rank for a prolonged and successful run at the elite level, but what so far has been a mutually beneficial working relationship could hinge in part to the fighter’s willingness to more regularly perform as he did against Herring than he did against Nakathila and a few other opponents that led to the perception that he was supremely talented, yes, but also a touch boring.

Prior to Rigondeaux’s release by Top Rank, company founder Bob Arum complained that his style leaned more to Masterpiece Theater than Rocky, which made Rigo a poor box-office and television attraction. Arum even said that when he brought the Cuban’s name up to HBO executives, “they throw up.”

There are many ways to win a prizefight, and now Shakur Stevenson has shown that he can win with chamber music or semi-heavy metal playing in the background. How far he advances in his march toward the truly elite status he is convinced is his destiny may be determined by the method he chooses to employ should a much-discussed showdown with Mexican blaster Oscar Valdez (30-0, 23 KOs) take place in 2022. The hard truth is that a lot of fight fans not only like, but require splashes of blood-and-guts mixed in with their favorite sport’s artistic side.

Editor’s Note: Bernard Fernandez, named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category with the class of 2020, was the recipient of numerous awards for writing excellence during his 28-year career as a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Daily News. Fernandez’s first book, “Championship Rounds,” a compendium of previously published material, was released in May of last year. The sequel, “Championship Rounds, Vol. 2,” with a foreword by Jim Lampley, arrives this fall. The book can be ordered through Amazon.com, in hard or soft cover, and other book-selling websites and outlets.

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Fast Results from Atlanta Where Shakur Stevenson Turned in a Masterful Performance

Arne K. Lang

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Former world featherweight title-holder Shakur Stevenson turned in his career-best performance tonight at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta while wresting the WBO 130-pound world title from the shoulders of Jamel Herring via a 10th-round TKO. At age 24, Stevenson was the younger man by 11 years and it was a case of youth being served.

As a pro, Stevenson (17-0, 9 KOs) has lost precious few rounds. The rap against him was that he is content to outclass an opponent, providing few fireworks. In this vein, the assumption was that tonight’s bout would be a tactical (i.e., tame) affair. But while there were no knockdowns and Shakur fought a measured fight, there was more snap in his punches than had been the norm and he finished the bout on a high note.

Early into the fight, Herring’s left eye began to swell. In round nine, Stevenson opened a nasty cut over Herring’s other eye. In round ten, with the cut bleeding profusely, Stevenson revved up his attack, forcing referee Mark Nelson to waive it off. The official time was 1:30.

After the fight, Stevenson called out his WBC counterpart Oscar Valdez. Herring, an ex-Marine and former U.S. Olympic team captain, falls to 23-3.

Other Bouts

Fast-rising 19-year-old middleweight Xander Zayas shellacked intrepid Dan Karpency whose father and chief cornerman pulled him out after four rounds. A future star, born in Puerto Rico, Zayas is now 11-0 (8). One of the three fighting brothers, Karpency (9-4-1) will return to his day job as a registered nurse at a maximum-security prison in Western Pennsylvania. He hadn’t previously been stopped

In the first bout airing on ESPN’s flagship station, middleweight Nico Ali Walsh, the 21-year-old grandson of Muhammad Ali, scored a third-round stoppage of scrappy but out-gunned James Westley II, a 36-year-old from Toledo, Ohio. Walsh (2-0, 2 KOs) knocked Westley down with a straight right hand in the waning seconds of round two and knocked him to his knees with another short right hand early in the next stanza. Westley wasn’t badly hurt, but his corner saw fit to throw in the towel.

Junior middleweight Evan Holyfield, one of 11 children fathered by the great Evander Holyfield, knocked Charles Stanford flat on his back with a harsh left-right combination in round two, advancing his record to 8-0 (6). The official time was 0:30. Stanford, a 35-year-old Cincinnati man with an MMA background, was 6-3 heading in.

Middleweight Troy Isley, a 23-year-old U.S. Olympian from Alexandria, VA, improved to 3-0 (2) with a first-round stoppage of 37-year-old Nicholi Navarro (2-2), a former Army Ranger from Denver. Isley rocked his overmatched opponent several times before putting him on the canvas with a combination, forcing the ref to intervene. The official time was 2:48.

In an upset, Erik Palmer saddled Atlanta’s Roddricus Livsey with his first defeat, winning a split decision. Palmer, from the Karpency family stable, was 12-14-5 heading in, versus 8-0-1 for Livsey. The scores were 58-56 twice and a curious 59-55 for the hometown fighter.

Haven Brady Jr, a 19-year-old featherweight from Albany, Georgia, improved to 4-0 (3) with a 4-round unanimous decision over Corpus Christi’s Roberto Negrete (3-1).  The scores favoring Brady were 40-36 across the board, but Negrete was no slouch.

Chicago welterweight Antoine Cobb made an impressive pro debut with a brutal one-punch knockout of Jerrion Campbell (2-2). It was all over in 58 seconds. Cobb, 25, is a protégé of former light heavyweight champion Montell Griffin.

In the opening bout on the card, 21-year-old Brooklyn lightweight Harley Maderos, a 2021 USA national champion, improved to 2-0 (1) with a 4-round unanimous decision over Deljerro Revello (0-2). Maderos scored a knockdown in the opening frame and won all four rounds on all four cards but wasn’t particularly impressive.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty images.

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Results from Tampa: Harold Calderon Survives Bite to Remain Undefeated

David A. Avila

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Undefeated welterweight Harold Calderon remained unbeaten despite strange tactics by late replacement Luis Florez that forced a premature end of the fight due to a disqualification on Saturday.

Calderon (26-0, 17 KOs) endured a change of opponents, and then outrageous tactics by Colombia’s Florez (25-22) including biting that ended the fight at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida.

“That m..f…just bit me,” said Calderon, a southpaw from Miami. “I’m sweet. I’m like sugar.”

For the first three rounds Florez seemed eager to trade blows with Calderon and chided the Florida fighter to attack. But once the lefty welterweight attacked the body, the Colombian fighter suddenly seemed not as eager.

Calderon took the fight inside and battered Florez on the inside. During one attack Florez motioned he was hit behind the head. That’s when the dirty tactics began including a bite on Calderon. After Calderon retaliated with a body shot, Florez took a knee and complained. The referee stopped the fight. It was later revealed that the referee disqualified Florez for biting.

Calderon said he’s anxious to fight any of the top 15 contenders if given an opportunity.

“I need somebody in the top 15,” he said.

Uzbekistan’s Otabek Kholmatov (4-0, 4 KOs) knocked out Colombia’s Juan Medina (12-9, 11 KOs) in the second round of their super bantamweight clash. Kholmatov, a southpaw, scored two knock downs in the first round. The tall Uzbeki fighter blew out Medina with more body blows to end the fight at 1:51 of the second round.

“I’ll be the champ,” Kholmatov said.

A super lightweight match saw Clarence Booth (21-4, 12 KOs) take time to figure out the awkward style of Alejandro Munera (6-4-4) and win by knockout at the seventh round.

Bantamweight contender Rosalinda Rodriguez (13-0, 3 KOs) fought last-minute replacement Elizabeth Tuani (1-4) and won by stoppage at 1:16 of the second round in a fight fought above 126 pounds. There was confusion because Tuani did not look hurt nor in danger of going down when the fight was stopped. Even Rodriguez looked perplexed.

“I was confused,” said Rodriguez. “She was putting up a fight.”

Other Bouts

Jean Guerra Vargas (6-0) survived a knockdown against Rueben Morales (0-2) to win a split decision. It seemed Vargas got lucky with the scoring. Morales was the dominant fighter for the first two rounds and lost gas. He was a last-day replacement.

Poland’s Adrian “Pretty Boy” Pinheiro (4-0, 4 KOs) knocked out Milton Nunez with a focused body attack in the first two rounds and scored two knockdowns with body shots. A couple of body sapping shots floored Nunez at 1:05 of the second round for the knockout in the heavyweight fight.

Bryan Lopez (3-0) knocked down wild swinging William Fauth (0-7) twice before scoring a knockout win at 1:56 of the second round of a super lightweight fight.

Hungarian heavyweight Istvan Bernath (8-0, 6 KOs) knocked out Mexico’s Guillermo Del Rio (3-4-1) with an overhand right at 2:30 of the first round.

A welterweight fight saw Bobby Henry start slowly and then floor Bryant Costello in the second round to turn things around and win by decision after four rounds.

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